Archbishop Job (Getcha), a hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, gave an interview with the BBC recently in which he spoke about the crisis in Ukraine and the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Ecumenical Councils gave Constantinople certain privileges, and if we do not recognize them, we fall away from Orthodoxy, Abp. Job said in a fairly benign statement that all Orthodox Churches agree with.
However, he also stated that if the Ecumenical Patriarchate deems it necessary, it can abolish the autocephaly of another Church after it’s already been given.
Commenting on statements from the Russian Orthodox Church that Constantinople has actually lost its status as the leader of world Orthodoxy (because the massive flock of the Russian Church no longer recognizes it), the archbishop noted that “the centers of world Orthodoxy can never be called into question.”
Recall that Constantinople received its status as “First Among Equals” because the Orthodoxy of the previous center, Rome, was called into question and it eventually left the Church.
“The Ecumenical Councils gave the Roman throne and the throne of Constantinople as the second after it the same privileges,” the Phanar hierarch explained. “If we do not recognize this, that means we do not recognize the teachings of the Ecumenical Council and we fall away from Orthodoxy.”
Note that every Church in the Orthodox world recognizes the canonical privileges of Constantinople, though there is debate about their scope and protest against their abuse.
“And, in principle, as some canonists believe, since these new autocephalous or new patriarchates were never confirmed by an Ecumenical Council, since they were created by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, then, at some point, if the Ecumenical Patriarchate deems it necessary, it can cancel this status,” Abp. Job explained.
The Constantinople hierarch’s words would seem to contradict his own Church’s attitude towards the Council of Crete that took place in 2016. 14 Local Orthodox Churches were invited to attend the Council (with 10 attending) as separate, autocephalous Churches, thus the very structure of the Council confirmed their autocephalous statuses. The Ecumenical Patriarchate considers Crete ecumenical and binding on all.
Abp. John then intimated that if the current situation continues with the Russian Church, then Constantinople may declare that it is revoking its autocephalous status.
He expressed hope that the Russian Church “will come to reason and return to unity with the Ecumenical throne, because the Ecumenical throne does not want to break relations with the Orthodox Church in Russia.” “But,” he continued, “if this situation persists for a long time, then, of course, the Ecumenical throne, as the first throne of ecumenical Orthodoxy, will be forced to take certain measures—to resort to certain decisions to ensure the unity of the Church.”
Abp. Job also made an interesting assertion: “When the majority of votes in the Verkhovna Rada appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, it means that the majority of Ukrainian people appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate with a request to grant autocephaly.”
He also shared his opinion that most of the Local Churches are ready to recognize the autocephalous Ukrainian Church when it is finally created by Constantinople.