07 July 2021, The Tablet

Russian prelate says Ecumenical Patriarch wants to be a 'pope'

Russian prelate says Ecumenical Patriarch wants to be a 'pope'

Patriarch Bartholomew I has been accused of wanting to acquire powers like those of a pope.

A top Russian Orthodox leader has launched a new attack on the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, accusing him of provoking division by seeking powers like those of the Pope.

“This misshapen attempt of Constantinople to introduce papal power in the Orthodox Church has already led to a schism in world Orthodoxy, as ever more insistent statements are made about a radical rapprochement between the Orthodox and Catholic churches,” Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the Russian Church’s foreign relations director, said in a TV interview.

“The policy pursued by Constantinople in this dialogue wasn't aimed at achieving unification of Orthodox and Catholics, but at borrowing the Catholic model for the Orthodox Church – to make us agree to an infallible pope who would make unilateral decisions we must obey.” 

The church leader made his comments as an Ecumenical Patriarchate delegation, headed by Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon, paid a traditional visit to Rome for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and as feuding continued over plans by Patriarch Bartholomew to visit Ukraine in August after recognising its independent Orthodox church. 

He said Russian Orthodox leaders were ready to discuss inter-church differences as part of an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, but “not in a dialogue which is actually turned into manipulation”, aimed at giving the Ecumenical Patriarch “exclusive powers”. 

“We cannot accept a model of church order where one man is considered infallible,” said the 54-year-old metropolitan. “What the Constantinople hierarchs are talking about, what’s happening on the sidelines, what plans are being hatched – we don’t always know.  The Constantinople patriarch imagines himself arbiter of the destinies of Orthodoxy and believes he can make decisions on his own.”

Russian Orthodox leaders cut ties with Bartholomew for establishing the Ukrainian church in January 2019, and have since also ended relations with Orthodox churches in Alexandria, Greece and Cyprus for recognising the new denomination, while regularly criticising contacts between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Rome.  

Speaking after a May visit to the Vatican, the Patriarchate’s new Orthodox Metropolitan of Italy, Polycarpos Stavropoulos, said he believed “the journey of Catholics and Orthodox” was “on the right road, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and moving towards its goal”.

Writing last week in the US Catholic monthly, Commonweal, a leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Archdeacon John Chryssavgis, said Hilarion’s “bombastic and belligerent statements” reflected an “unabashed dishonesty”. 

“His reactionary and parochial worldview centres on a denunciation of modern culture and return to an imagined golden age of Russian Orthodoxy”, Chryssavgis added. “But has the Russian Patriarchate effectively become a department of Sergey Lavrov's Foreign Ministry? Are the Department for External Church Relations and the Russian Foreign Ministry acting on behalf of global Orthodoxy or of Russian state interests?”

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