Written by Vladimir Moss



     For at least four decades now, the Local Churches of World Orthodoxy have been preparing for a "Great and Pan-Orthodox Council" that would legitimize and complete the great and pan-heretical doctrine of ecumenism and introduce various innovations - the new calendar, reduced fasts, relaxed rules for marriage, etc. - that have been the goal of renovationists since at least the early 1920s. At first, these preparations aroused great interest and some anxiety in the Orthodox world, as we see, for example, in the writings of Fr. Justin Popovich. But as time passed, and no "Great and Pan-Orthodox Council" was convened in spite of numerous preparatory meetings, the suspicion arose that this Council would never be convened, so we didn?t need to worry about it (as if the apostatic agreements made by the World Orthodox with various kinds of heretics in this period were not enough to worry about!). However, as a very informative article by Nikolai Kaverin has shown,[1] it looks as if a more determined push towards the convening of the Council is being undertaken by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. He has called on the heads of the Local Orthodox Churches to prepare for the convening of the Council in 2015, and has invited them to come together in Constantinople on March 9, the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, in order to speed up the arrangements.


     The patriarch proposes the following agenda:-


1. The Orthodox diaspora. The definition of the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Churches beyond the bounds of their national frontiers.

2. The procedure for recognizing the status of Church autocephaly.

3. The procedure for recognizing the status of Church autonomy.

4. The diptychs. The rules for mutual canonical recognition among the Orthodox Churches.

5. The establishment of a common festal calendar.

6. The rules and obstacles for the celebration of the sacrament of marriage..

7. The question of fasting in the contemporary world.

8. Links with other Christian confessions.

9. The ecumenical movement.

10. The contribution of Orthodoxy to the establishment of the Christian ideals of peace, liberty and fraternity.


     No great surprises here - and no mention of the great unspoken obstacle to unity among the World Orthodox: Constantinople's claims to a strong form of primacy that many, especially in the Russian Church, consider to be a kind of "eastern papism".


     Constantinople is pulling out all the stops in order to consolidate support for his strong understanding of primacy, including nationalist sentiments. Thus Kaverin writes: "At the beginning of September, 2011 Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople convened a Council (Synod) of the heads of the ancient Pentarchy - the five leaders of the ancient Patriarchates, to which only the eastern Patriarchs (Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem) and the Archbishop of Cyprus. Naturally this undertaking was seen by the Russian Orthodox Church - the largest of the local Orthodox Churches - as insulting and humiliating.


     "In his speech before the beginning of the Council Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said that, as Ecumenical Patriarch, according to the canonical order, he was the coordinator of all the Churches of World Orthodoxy and therefore was making special efforts to speed up the convening of the Great Pan-Orthodox Council. He confirmed his intention to review at the Council the questions pertaining to all the Orthodox Churches, and also declared his understanding of that special position which the ancient patriarchates and the Church of Cyprus occupy in the general structure of World Orthodoxy. After this Patriarch Bartholomew accurately noted that the convening of the Pan-Orthodox Council was encountering various obstacles, and that individual autocephalous Churches had to sacrifice their narrow national interests for the general good of the whole of Orthodoxy - reports


     "The information agency ?Romfeia? noted that the primates taking part in the meeting of the heads of the ancient Patriarchates represented not even one tenth of the Orthodox believers of the world. Nevertheless, Patriarch Bartholomew for some reason thinks that the creation of an organ such as the ?pentarchy?, consisting of the heads of the five most ancient Orthodox Churches, will not encroach on the rights of the other Local Churches, but will, on the contrary, supposedly ease the taking of decisions on inter-Orthodox questions.?[2]


     The question of primacy is directly related to the first four issues on the agenda, so we would expect that agreement between Constantinople and Moscow would be hard to attain on these issues. This supposition is confirmed by a remark of Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), head of the Department of External Relations of the MP, in September, 2011, in which he said that ?we have already agreed on eight Church subjects. We could conduct a Council on these subjects. These, for example, are the questions of the calendar, the unification of church regulations on fasting, the hindrances to marriage, and the relationship of Orthodoxy to the rest of the Christian world?. These topics correspond to the last six issues on the patriarch?s agenda; so by implication there is no agreement on the first four issues.


     In view of this disagreement, Metropolitan Hilarion?s suggestion makes some sense: to have a Council only on issues 5 to 10, on which the World Orthodox already have broad agreement. The problem is: points 8 and 9 concern ecumenism, which is not only a doctrine but also a movement and a process of ever-deepening integration, whose most critical next stage is union with the Pope. But while Constantinople and Moscow agree that the Pope in the reunited Christian world must have the primacy, they are not agreed on who should be his number two, nor on whether the Orthodox Church, before entering into communion with the vertical, strictly hierarchical structure of the papacy should itself have such a structure.




     On the face of it, the Russians have a strong argument, which we shall now examine. At the session of the Moscow Synod that took place on December 26, 2013, a document was accepted entitled ?The position of the Moscow Patriarchate on the question of primacy in the Universal Church?, in which it says that the Russian Orthodox Church cannot agree to the existence of a primacy of power ? as opposed to the primacy of honour ? in the Universal Church.


     ?At the level of the Universal Church as a community of autocephalous Local Churches, united into one family by a common confession of faith and remaining in sacramental communion with each other, primacy is defined in accordance with the tradition of sacred diptychs and is a primacy of honour? There is no definition filling in the content of primacy of honour at the universal level by the canons of the Ecumenical or Local Councils. The canonical rules on which the sacred diptychs rely do not bestow on the primate (who during the period of the Ecumenical Councils was the Bishop of Rome) any privileges of power over the whole Church?


     ?The extension of this primacy, which belongs to the president of an autocephalous Local Church (according to the 34th Apostolic canon) to the universal level would bestow upon the primate in the Universal Church special privileges that would not depend on the agreement of the Local Orthodox Churches. Such a transfer of the concept of the nature of primacy from the local to the universal level would require a corresponding transfer of the procedure for electing the primatial bishop at the universal level, which would already lead to a violation of the right of the primatial autocephalous Church to elect her president independently?


     ?In the whole of the second millennium until our days the same administrative structure that belonged to the Eastern Church in the first millennium has been preserved in the Orthodox Church. Within the bounds of this structure each autocephalous Local Church, being in dogmatic, canonical and Eucharistic unity with the other Local Churches, is independent in its administration. In the Orthodox Church there is not and never was a single administrative centre at the universal level. On the contrary, in the West the development of the teaching of the special power of the Roman bishop, in accordance with which supreme power in the Universal Church belongs to the Bishop of Rome as the successor of the Apostle Peter and the deputy of Christ on earth, led to the formation of another administrative model of Church construction with a single universal centre in Rome.?


     This is irreproachable from a theological and canonical point of view, and Bartholomew?s criticism of the Russian position as ?sophistical? is untenable. The problem is: the Russian position is also hypocritical, corresponding neither to the Russians? own administrative practice within the bounds of the Russian Church, nor to their intentions with regard to the future of Orthodoxy. Let us take each point in turn.


     In the 1970s Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh, administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate?s parishes in Western Europe, told a member of his flock in England: "The Orthodox Church is a totalitarian organization." If by the Orthodox Church he meant the Local Russian Church to which he belonged, we can say that he was absolutely right. Founded in 1943 through a concordat between Stalin and Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) was from the very beginning of its existence a strictly hierarchical structure, totally subordinated in all its major decisions, including the election of its patriarch, to the will of Stalin and the KGB. Stalin was to the Moscow Patriarchate what the Pope was to the Church of Rome. The situation became worse over time as the episcopate became staffed completely by KGB agents in cassocks and the last vestiges of sobornost? disappeared?This situation has not changed in essence since the fall of communism in 1991. After a period of hesitation in the 1990s when the MP did not know what master (communist mammon or democratic mammon) to follow, it gratefully returned to the arms of the KGB under Putin in the 2000s.


     Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) is the leading ecumenist in the Russian Church and a close associate of Patriarch Cyril (Gundyaev). His career illustrates clearly the way in which that Church is administered along the lines of ?eastern papism?. At the beginning of the 2000s, having been a made a bishop at a startlingly young age, he was sent to London by Cyril, then in the rank of metropolitan and head of the all-powerful Department for External Relations, to help the ailing Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom). In a very short time he by his dictatorial methods divided the clergy and laity of the Sourozh diocese and succeeded in driving Bishop Basil (Osborne) and most of the English-speaking flock into the arms of Constantinople. He then confided to Bloom, his spiritual father, that Cyril had promised to make him metropolitan of Sourozh after Bloom?s death. Bloom wrote to Cyril about this, who denied it. But in his open letter on the subject, Bloom made little attempt to hide his disgust at the behaviour of his patriarchate, which thirty years before he had rightly called ?totalitarian?.[3] Since then, in spite of his complete failure in London, Hilarion has continued to rise up the hierarchical ladder at a rapid rate, and is now a metropolitan and head of the Department of External Relations in succession to his patron, Cyril. In that period his subservience not only to the patriarch but also to the neo-Soviet state has never been in doubt. Thus in 2010 Wikileaks revealed that he had said to the American ambassador in Russia: ?A (or the) main role of the Russian Orthodox Church is in providing propaganda for the official politics of the government?.[4]


     Nevertheless, many people are prepared to forgive the MP?s hypocrisy with regard to ?eastern papism? in view of its supposed conservatism in relation to Orthodox dogmatics. However, this ?conservatism? is a myth. Let us cite Metropolitan Hilarion again: ?In our times In our times some Orthodox say that Roman Catholics, being ?heretics?, are outside the Church, and should be rebaptised when received into Orthodoxy. Yet neither Catholics nor Protestants would deny the divinity of the Son of God, as did the Arians, nor would they deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit, as did most fourth-century theologians and bishops. And surely the question of the procession of the Holy Spirit is less significant than the question of his divinity.?[5]


     Metropolitan Hilarion, who has lived in the West, must surely know that the vast majority of churchmen here do not believe in the divinity of Christ. This is particularly obvious in the case of the Anglicans, the main movers and shakers of the ecumenical movement. As for the question of the procession of the Holy Spirit being ?less significant than that of his divinity?, Saints Photius the Great, Gregory Palamas and Mark of Ephesus would certainly not have agreed! Hilarion, an intelligent and learned man, must know that the question of the procession of the Holy Spirit, far from being minor or insignificant, was the major cause of the schism between Rome and the Eastern Patriarchates. But he chooses to ignore this, thereby showing that Moscow is as eager to enter into communion with Rome as is Constantinople, and is prepared to surrender the Orthodox position on major dogmatic issues.


     In this connection, Metropolitan Hilarion?s admittance that the Local Churches have agreed on the calendar issue represents another cause for alarm. What precisely has been agreed? It is highly unlikely that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will have agreed to return to the old calendar used by the Russians and the Serbs. More likely is that a common use of the new calendar has been agreed on. Now there have always been supporters of the new calendar in the Russian episcopate. The most high-ranking that we know of is Metropolitan Vladimir of St. Petersburg. But until now, there has been no move to introduce the new calendar because of the danger of creating a schism. There is evidence that the leadership of the MP, goaded by the KGB, thought seriously about making such a move in the 1960s, when the famous philo-Catholic (and secret Catholic bishop) Metropolitan Nikodem of Leningrad was alive.[6] Could it be that the leadership of the MP has decided that the time is ripe to try again ? for the sake of being able to concelebrate major feasts with the Catholics? After all, Patriarch Cyril was a disciple of Metropolitan Nikodem?


     This brings us to the question: what is the main aim of the MP in relation to forthcoming ?Great and Pan-Orthodox Council?? If we assume that the MP is, as always, doing the will of its KGB masters (who include, of course, the patriarch and leading bishops), then this aim must be secular and geopolitical: to preserve the prestige and power of Moscow in relation to its main opponent, Constantinople, which is presumed to be controlled by America and the CIA. To that end, while the MP would be happy to enter into communion with the Vatican (for the purpose of spying and infiltration, the main motivation of Moscow?s ecumenical activity since the 1960s), it wants to do so above Constantinople and not as a lowly number 3 in the world ecclesiastical rankings. From this point of view, the struggle over the agenda for the Great Council is part of the same struggle for supremacy that Moscow and Constantinople have waged in recent years in London, in Estonia and, most recently, in the Ukraine. Therefore theological considerations are means rather than ends for both sides in this conflict, which is ultimately the struggle between Putin and the West for the control of Europe.




     But if theological considerations are not foremost in the minds of the major protagonists here, this does not mean that there will not be important ecclesiastical consequences of the essentially geopolitical conflict. There is great unrest in the MP at the moment, partly caused by revelations concerning the homosexuality of so many of its bishops (about 50 out of 300, according to MP Deacon Andrei Kurayev, more like 250 out of 300, according to Fr. Gleb Yakunin), and partly by the ever more obvious corruption and politicization of the Church. Further shocks ? such as the introduction of the new calendar into the Church, or a union with Roman Catholicism ? might well cause a major schism. Patriarch Bartholomew?s position seems, by comparison, more secure ? but only superficially so. If the Vatican is happy to see him as the leader of Orthodoxy in a relatively strong sense, they expect him to bring all the Orthodox Churches with him. But if he by his overbearing politics ?loses? Moscow, then the Vatican will feel deprived of their greatest prize. For it is no secret that since the Fatima appearance of the supposed Mother of God in 1917, the major goal of Vatican geopolitics has been the conquest of mighty Russia: Bartholomew?s tiny ?pentarchy? of Greek-speaking Churches is a paltry catch by comparison.


     In spite of these stresses and strains, it looks likely that the ?Great and Pan-Orthodox Council? will be convened, and that its decisions will pave the way for the convening of a false Eighth Ecumenical Council at which the original pentarchy of Eastern Patriarchates plus Rome will be restored. But that will be a robber council, which will finally reveal to all doubters that World Orthodoxy has apostasized from the True Faith. And that will be the moment for the True Orthodox Church to step back onto the stage of world history, holding up the banner of True Orthodoxy.


January 18/31, 2014.

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[1] Kaverin, "O Podgotovke k sozyvu Vsepravoslavnogo Sobora", S Nami Bog - Moskva III Rim,, 18 January, 2014.



[2] Kaverin, op. cit. When Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople accepted the Patriarchate of Moscow into the ranks of the patriarchs in the 1590s, Moscow occupied the place of the fifth patriarchate. So to speak of a ?pentarchy? without Moscow, but with the ancient but tiny Church of Cyprus in her place, is indeed insulting.

[3] АРХИВ: Открытое письмо митрополита Антония Сурожского епископу Подольскому Илариону (Алфееву), июнь 2002 г.,

[4] "Otkrovenie Tovarishcha Alfeyeva" (A Revelation of Comrade Alfeyev), Nasha Strana (Buenos Aires), N 2907, January, 2010, p. 4.

[5] Alfeyev, The Mystery of the Faith, London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2002, p. 126.

[6] In 1981, in Bulgaria, Archimandrite Porphyrius of the Bulgarian Patriarchate told the present writer that the Bulgarian Church had adopted the new calendar in 1968 under pressure from the KGB, whose aim was to introduce it also into the Russian Church, but wanted to "try it out" on the Bulgarians first. When they noticed that the only Orthodox in Bulgaria who opposed the change was the Russian convent of Pokrov in Knyazhevo, Sophia, they abandoned plans to introduce it into Russia - for the time being?

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