The orthodox faith
For the youth
Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarchate

"There is", wrote Olivier Clément in his book of dialogues with Patriarch Athenagoras (p. 527) (Dialogues avec le Patriarche Athénagoras, Ed Athème Fayard, 1969), "a mystery of Constantinople. Emperor Constantin wanted to found not “an” other Rome but “the” other Rome... He wanted a new Rome, which would be the receptacle of Christianity and put at her service the graeco-latin humanism... So that, nearer to the Greek sources, it was, better than the latin Rome, the synthesis of the Occident". And for this reason, Constantinople was a fertile mother of Churches. And her authority was founded and was confirmed by the holy canons of the Ecumenical Councils (3rd of the 2nd ecumenical council, 28th of the 4th ecumenical council, 36th of the In Trullo Council).

‘And generally, it is she that expresses unity of the local Churches, and in the communion with her, the unity appears in the body of the Orthodox Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, whose head is no other than Jesus Christ, her single head in whom the faith is consummated... (Encyclical of the Patriarch Athenagoras, Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1950)”.

And this New Rome was in the forefront of the engagements against the great heresies. And she maintained and preserved at all times the true Faith and she is, until our days, within the world of Orthodoxy, the guardian of the Truth and of the ecclesiastical order (taxis).

A New Rome and not a second Rome! The time of the Church of Christ is not like the image of the time of this world, where each century is affected by relativity and temporality because disfigured by the hard reality of the fall and the sin of men.

Remarks such as, for example, those of the possible advent of a third Rome - as if, there was initially a first and then a second - are remarks only intended to satisfy ambitions which do not have anything to do with the Church of Christ; they are completely unknown to the Christian revelation, which essentially is the revelation of the End of this world and the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

When the Old Rome, in spite of the abundantly spilt blood of her martyrs and her remarkable contribution to the consolidation and maintenance of Christianity, left one day the space of the Confession of Faith of the Orthodox, the Lord allowed, in His Infinite wisdom, that there is the New Rome for them - so that the ecclesiologic unity within the orthodox world is preserved and not so that any right of worldly domination is conferred to her.

That says well what it wanted to say.

Neither the argument of modernity, neither that of the greatest number, neither that of the cultural heritage, neither that of the ethno-phyletism, nor any other argument generated by the temptations of this world, cannot side with the life of the Church and the ecclesiastical affairs.

Because Church is the Body of Christ, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever (Hebrews 13, 8), because inside this Body it is the same God who operates all things in all and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually (1 Corinthians 12, 6,11), nothing does separate nor distinguish the Church from the first centuries from the Church of our present time: Christ, who is the head, is always the same, as has just been pointed out to us, unambiguously, the Apostle Paul.

Also the sacred canons, which fix and define the role and the place of Constantinople within Orthodoxy, are precisely there, not to be modified by the liking of the times or the appropriateness of the moment, but to reflect the continuity of the Tradition connected with the uninterrupted Church, according to the model of the trinitarian mystery and so that achieves, in single Truth, the plenitude of our life in Christ.

For this reason, unless the Church of Constantinople bestows faithfully this word of Truth any more, no argument allows another local orthodox Church to claim its primatial place and deny duties, rights and honours which are reserved for her. Each time that it is not so, the Patriarch of Constantinople must preserve its place and its role within Orthodoxy, that he presides in the communion in his rank as Ecumenical Patriarch.

I moreover add that the canonical tradition does not offer any other alternative to the rigour as regards to ecclesiology, even if nowadays it is unceasingly ridiculed, and it falls to the Patriarch of Constantinople, in his rank of guard of this rigour, to protect it and take care of its right application.

‘The Ecumenical Patriarch is the first among the equals only of all the Episcopate which belongs to the Orthodox Church; he does not possess an administrative capacity as it is the case of the Head of the Church of West. His action is first of all, to coordinate and express the unity of the local orthodox Churches; to him belong also some spiritual privileges and right of substitution each time the other orthodox local Churches do not have the capacity to choose or to set up their own ecclesiastical organisation due to persecutions, lack of adequate people or for other reasons’ (Patriarch Bartholomew in review PLEROPHORIA, Athens - May/August 1999).

Two recent and concrete examples illustrate this last comment: Albania and, with all due respect to some, Estonia.

Now that the prestigious relics of our Holy Fathers John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian rest again in the place which was their patriarchal see, it is good us to remember that only Christ is perfect and that the only Truth for the Church is Christ. All the tensions and all the confrontations which are born within the Church do not concern its nature; they express neither more nor less that the weaknesses of men. Even our greatest saints have made errors. Not because they are holy but because they are human beings. The act to sanctify does not belong to them; it is given to them by the grace carrying Life and action of God in spite of the faults and disorders of all kinds. It is the same thing for the life of the Church on this earth.

There is, wrote Olivier Clément, a mystery of Constantinople. For what relates to me, I welcome it with respect and confidence, in appropriating to me these words of the angel of the Apocalypse: I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance (Revelation.2, 19).

+STEPHANOS, Metropolitan of Tallinn and all Estonia

(*): "This topic (of “third Rome") appeared in the 16th century, after the fall of Constantinople, in the context of an eschatological sensitivity, has been expressly condemned by the councils of Moscow of 1666-1667 "(Olivier Clément: “Rome autrement”, Ed Desclée de Brouwer, Paris 1997, p.80/note 10).

(* *): The Patriarch of Constantinople received the first time the ecclesiastical title of "Ecumenical Patriarch" in the 6th century "the reason is that Constantinople exerts a spiritual and administrative direct jurisdiction on all the ecclesiastical territories" within her geo-ecclesiastics limits which are founded on historico-canonical basis. The Orthodox know well that this does not confer to Constantinople any worldwide, universal jurisdiction as it is usually understood in the West when one refers to the canonical adjective "Ecumenical". (Basile Stavridis and Gregorios Papathomas in Review ISTINA: The Patriarchate of Constantinople, Paris, 1995/4, p.357 and pp.370-375).

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