The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Orthodox Church in America


By primacy we mean here an ecclesiastical power, superior to that of a Bishop whose jurisdiction is limited to his diocese. In Church history and canonical tradition we find the following forms of primacy:

a) regional primacy — within an ecclesiastical province or metropolitan district, i. e. in a group of dioceses (as defined, for example, in Apostolic Canon 33).
b) primacy within the so-called autocephalous churches: the power of a Patriarch or Archbishop (e. g. the Patriarch of Moscow), and
c) universal primacy: that of Rome or Constantinople.1)

But if facts are known, their ecclesiological interpretation is virtually absent from Orthodox theology. We badly need a clarification of the nature and functions of all these primacies and, first of all, of the very concept of primacy. For both in theory and in practice there is a great deal of confusion concerning the definition of the "supreme power" in the church, of its scope and the modes of its expression. Of the three types of primacy mentioned above, only the second — the primacy within the autocephalous church, is defined more or less precisely in each particular "autocephaly." But even here the ecclesiological dimension is obviously lacking and the great variety of existing patterns — from the almost absolute "monarchy" of the Russian Patriarch to the more or less nominal primacy of the Archbishop of Athens — reveals the absence of a common understanding of primacy, or of a consistent canonical theory of it. For two hundred years Russian bishops and canonists denounced the synodal government instituted by Peter the Great as non-canonical, yet it was recognized as canonical by the other Eastern churches.2 Why is the actual patriarchal monarchy in Russia (the bishops even call the Patriarch their "father") more canonical than the collective government or the Holy Synod?

What are, in other terms, the criteria of canonicity? Obviously no existing administrative system can be simply equated with canonical tradition. In the empirical life of the Church one administrative system is replaced by another, and each of them is the result of a "canonical adjustment," i. e., the application of the canonical tradition to a particular situation. Yet, only a clear understanding of the canonical tradition itself with all of its theological and ecclesiological implications can supply us with solid criteria for a canonical evaluation of any of such "adjustments" and for measuring their canonicity.3

As to the regional and universal types of primacy, there does not exist even a de facto consensus of Orthodox opinion. Regional primacy, although it is clearly sanctioned by our canonical tradition,4 has practically disappeared from the structure and the life of the Orthodox Churches in the triumph of centralized autocephalies. And the idea of universal primacy is either rejected as alien to the very spirit of Orthodoxy or formulated in terms so vague and ambiguous that, instead of solving, they only obscure the whole problem of primacy.5

And yet the solution of this problem is certainly on the agenda for our time. It would not be difficult to prove that the canonical and jurisdictional troubles and divisions, of which we have had too many in the last decades, have their roots in some way or other in this question of primacy, or, to be more exact, in the absence of a clearly defined doctrine of the nature and functions of primacy. And the same unsolved problem constitutes a major handicap for the unity and, therefore, the progress of Orthodoxy in countries like America where, paradoxically enough, the loyalty to a certain concept of "canonicity" leads to the most uncanonical situation that can be imagined: the coexistence on the same territory of a number of parallel "jurisdictions, and dioceses…6 Finally, there can be little doubt that Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church, is today at the very center of our relations with the non-Orthodox. Among Roman Catholic theologians, there is a growing interest, and not only a "polemical" one, in Orthodox views on Primacy;7 as to the Protestants, it is of vital importance that they understand our concept of the Church’s universality. There are thus reasons for a genuinely theological reconsideration of the whole question. And even if no final answer can be given immediately, it will not be reached without a sustained theological effort.


We have defined primacy as a form of power. This definition, however, must be qualified at once. For there is a preliminary question: does the Orthodox Church possess a power superior to that of a bishop, i.e., a power over the Bishop, and hence, the Church of which he is the head? This question is essential for the whole problem of primacy.8 But the answers given it by ecclesiology on the one hand and the various ecclesiastical administrative systems on the other hand are contradictory. Theologically and ecclesiologically the answer should be "no": there can be no power over the bishop and his Church (i. e. dioceses) for, "if power belongs to the Church as one its constituent elements, it must correspond to the nature of the Church and not be heterogeneous to it."9 The ministry of power and government, as all other ministries within the Church, is a charism, a gift of grace. It is bestowed through the sacrament of order, for only sacramentally received power is possible in the Church whose very nature is grace and whose very institution is based on grace. And the Church has only three charismatic orders with no gift of power superior to that of a bishop. No sacramental order of primacy, no charism of primacy exists, therefore, in the Orthodox Church; if it existed, it would have a nature different from grace and, consequently, its source would not be the Church.

But in the present canonical structure of the Church such supreme power not only exists, but is commonly conceived as the foundation of the Church, and the basis of its canonical system.10 Theoretically, it is true, a personal power of one bishop over another bishop is rejected; the "supreme power" is exercised usually by the Primate together with a governing body: synod, council, etc… For us, however, the important fact is that such supreme ecclesiastical government is always characterized as power over bishops, who are therefore subordinated to it. "Supreme power" is thus introduced into the very structure of the Church as its essential element. The divorce between canonical tradition and the canonical facts is nowhere more obvious than in this universal triumph of the notion of supreme power. Having rejected and still rejecting it in its Roman form, i. e., as universal power, the Orthodox conscience has easily accepted it in the so-called "autocephalies."

In this situation the question we have formulated above cannot be answered simply by references to historical precedent or canonical texts, isolated from their context, as it is too often done in contemporary canonical controversies. We must go deeper into the very sources of Orthodox doctrine of the Church, to the essential laws of her organization and life.


Orthodox tradition is unanimous in its affirmation of the Church as organic unity. This organism is the Body of Christ and the definition is not merely symbolical but expresses the very nature of the Church.11 It means that the visible organizational structure of the Church is the manifestation and actualization of the Body of Christ, or, in other terms, that this structure is rooted in the Church as the Body of Christ. But one must stress immediately that if the doctrine of the Church-Body of Christ is both scriptural and traditional, it has never really been elaborated and interpreted theologically. For reasons which cannot be discussed here (we shall mention some of them later) this doctrine disappeared rather early from canonical (i. e. ecclesiological) thinking both in the West and East, and its neglect by canonists constitutes, no doubt, a tragedy the results of which mark all domains of ecclesiastical life and thought. In the early Church the canonical tradition was an integral part of ecclesiology — of the living experience of the Church. But little by little it became an autonomous sphere in which the visible ecclesiastical structures, the functions of power and authority, and the relations between Churches, ceased to be explained in terms of the Church-Body of Christ. Loosing its ties with ecclesiology, the canonical tradition became "canon law." But in Canon Law there was no room for the notion of the Body of Christ because this notion has nothing to do with "law." The life of the Church came to be expressed in juridical terms, and the canons which originally were (and essentially still are) an ecclesiological testimony were transformed into, and used as juridical norms.12 The "mystery of the Church" was neither denied nor forgotten. It simply ceased to be understood as the only law of the whole life of the Church.13

Today, however, an ecclesiological revival is taking place. And it is moved primarily by the desire to express the Church — her life, her structures, her visible unity — in adequate theological terms, and first of all in terms of the Body of Christ. It is within this revival and in connection with this "rediscovery" of the traditional concept of the Body that new attempts are made to clarify the basic ecclesiological notions of organism and organic unity. And these, in turn, shape and condition the whole understanding of primacy.

The Church is an organism. The Church is organic unity. In a series of articles the contemporary Russian theologian and canonist Fr. N. Afanassieff shows that there existed (and still exist) two ecclesiological "elaborations" or interpretations of this organic unity: the universal and the eucharistic.14 This distinction, we shall see, is of capital importance for the understanding of the Orthodox idea of primacy.15

The universal ecclesiology finds its fullest expression in Roman Catholic theology, crowned by the Vatican dogma of 1870. Here the only adequate expression of the Church as organism is the universal structure of the Church, its universal unity. The Church is the sum of all local churches, which all together constitute the Body of Christ. The Church is thus conceived in terms of whole and parts. Each community, each local church is but a part, a member of this universal organism; and it participates in the Church only through its belonging to the "whole." In the words of one of its best exponents, Roman theology seeks a definition of the Church in which "parts would receive within the whole, conceived really as a whole, the status of genuine parts."16

We do not need to go here into all details of this ecclesiology. The important point here is for us to see that in the light of this doctrine the need for and the reality of a universal head, i. e. the Bishop of Rome, can no longer be termed an exaggeration. It becomes not only acceptable but necessary. If the Church is an universal organism, she must have at her head a universal bishop as the focus of her unity and the organ of supreme power. The idea, popular in Orthodox apologetics, that the Church can have no visible head, because Christ is her invisible head, is theological nonsense.17 If applied consistently, it should also eliminate the necessity for the visible head of each local church, i.e. the bishop. Yet it is the basic assumption of a "catholic" ecclesiology that the visible structure of the Church manifests and communicates its invisible nature. The invisible Christ is made present through and in the visible unity of the Bishop and the People: the Head and the Body.18 To oppose the visible structure to the invisible Christ leads inescapably to the Protestant divorce between a visible and human Church which is contingent, relative, and changing, and an invisible Church in heaven. We must simply admit that if the categories of organism and organic unity are to be applied primarily to the Church universal as the sum of all its component parts (i. e. local churches), then the one, supreme, and universal power as well as its bearer become a self-evident necessity because this unique visible organism must have a unique visible head. Thus the efforts of Roman Catholic theologians to justify Roman primacy not by mere historical contingencies but by divine institution appear as logical. Within universal ecclesiology primacy is of necessity power, and, by the same necessity, a Divinely instituted power; we have all this in a consistent form in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Church.


Is this ecclesiology acceptable from the Orthodox point of view? The question may seem naive. The Orthodox Church has rejected as heretical the Roman claims and thus has implicitly condemned the ecclesiology which supports them. This answer, however, while correct in theory, is not the one which we find in facts, in the reality of life. We must remember that the rejection of Roman claims at the time of the Western Schism was due to an Orthodox "instinct" more than to a positive ecclesiological doctrine. It was helped by violent anti-Roman feelings among the Easterners, and by the whole alienation and estrangement of the West from the East. It is well known today what atmosphere of hatred, mutual suspicion, and bitterness accompanied the doctrinal controversies, adding an emotional dimension,19 to the dogmatical rupture. The rejection of Roman errors did not result in a positive elaboration of the Orthodox doctrine as was the case after the condemnation of Arianism, Nestorianism, etc. Our ecclesiology is still lacking an "oros," similar to the Nicean Creed in Triadology or the Chalcedon definition in Christology. But at the time of the Schism, the Church conscience both in the West and in the East was deeply affected by ideas alien to Orthodox ecclesiology. We shall deal with some of them later. Here we must stress that all of them were a denial de facto of the living sources of the eucharistic ecclesiology which constitutes, in our opinion the basis of the true canonical tradition. I say de facto because the Orthodox Church, different in this respect from Rome, has never transformed this denial into a doctrine, into an ecclesiological system. Various types of "canon law" have neither poisoned the prime sources of Church life, nor abolished or replaced the canonical tradition. Thus there is the possibility of a return to them.

What then, from the point of view which interests us in this essay, is the essence of this Orthodox ecclesiology? It is, above all, that it applies the categories of organism and organic unity to "the Church of God abiding…" in every place: to the local church, to the community led by a bishop and having, in communion with him, the fullness of the Church. Fr. Afanassieff terms it "eucharistic ecclesiology." And, indeed, it is rooted in the Eucharist as the Sacrament of the Church, an Act, which ever actualizes the Church as the Body of Christ.20 A similar view is expressed by Fr. George Florovsky. "The Sacraments," he writes, "constitute the Church…Only in them the Christian community transcends its human dimensions and becomes the Church."21 Through the Eucharist we have the whole Christ and not a "part" of Him; and therefore the Church which is "actualized" in the Eucharist is not a "part" or "member" of a whole, but the Church of God in her wholeness. For it is precisely the function of the Eucharist to manifest the whole Church, her "catholicity." Where there is the Eucharist, there is the Church; and conversely, only where the whole Church is, (i.e., the people of God united in the Bishop, the Head, the Shepherd), there is the Eucharist. Such is the primitive ecclesiology, expressed in the tradition of the early Church and still recognizable in our canons and in the liturgical "rubrics," which to so many seem obscure and non-essential.22 There is no room here for the categories of the "parts" and of the "whole," because it is the very essence of the sacramental-hierarchical structure that in it a "part" not only "agrees" with but is identical to the whole, reveals it adequately in itself, and in one word is the whole. The local Church as a sacramental organism, as the Gift of God in Christ, is not part or member of a wider universal organism. She is the Church. Objectively, as the Body of Christ, the Church is always identical to herself in space and time. In time, because she is always the people of God gathered to proclaim the death of the Lord and to confess His resurrection.  In space, because in each local Church the fullness of gifts is given, the whole Truth is announced, the whole Christ is present, who is "yesterday and today and forever the same." In her sacramental and hierarchical order the Church reveals and conveys to men the fullness of Christ into which they must grow (cf. Eph. 4:13).

The essential corollary of this "eucharistic" ecclesiology is that it excludes the idea of a supreme power, understood as power over the local Church and her Bishop. The ministry of power, as all ministries and charisms, has its source in and is performed within the organic unity of the Church. It is rooted in the sacraments whose aim is to fulfill the Church as the Body of Christ. This ministry of power belongs to the Bishop and there is no ministry of any higher power. A supreme power would mean power over the Church, over the Body of Christ, over Christ Himself. The Bishop is vested with power, yet the root of this power is in the Church, in the eucharistic gathering, at which he presides as Priest, Pastor and Teacher. "Power" in the Church can be defined and understood only within the indivisible unity of the Church, the Eucharist, and the Bishop. It cannot have a source different from that of the Church herself: the presence of Christ in the sacrament of the "new eon," of the life in the Spirit. And for the early Church all this was a living reality such that it would not be difficult to show that this reality shaped the foundations of the canonical tradition.23 When, for example, our present and highly "juridical" canon law affirms that all Bishops are equal in grace, does this not mean what has been affirmed above? For what is the grace of episcopate if not the "charism" of power? And since the Church knows of no other charism of power, there can exist no power higher than that of the Bishop.24


Does all this mean that Orthodox ecclesiology simply rejects the very notion of primacy? No. But it rejects the fatal error of universal ecclesiology which identifies primacy with power, transforming the latter from a ministry in the Church into power over the Church. To explain the Orthodox conception of primacy we must now consider the approach of eucharistic ecclesiology towards the Church universal. It must be stated emphatically that this type of ecclesiology does not transform the local Church into a self sufficient monad, without any "organic" link with other similar monads. There is no "Congregationalism" here.25 The organic unity of the Church universal is not less real than the organic unity of the local Church. But if universal ecclesiology interprets it in terms of "parts" and "whole," for eucharistic ecclesiology the adequate term is that of identity: "the Church of God abiding in…" The Church of God is the one and indivisible Body of Christ, wholly and indivisibly present in each Church, i. e. in the visible unity of the people of God, the Bishop and the Eucharist. And if universal unity is indeed unity of the Church and not merely unity of Churches, its essence is not that all churches together constitute one vast, unique organism, but that each Church — in the identity of order, faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit — is the same Church, the same Body of Christ, indivisibly present wherever is the "ecclesia." It is thus the same organic unity of the church herself, the "Churches" being not complementary to each other, as parts or members, but each one and all of them together being nothing else, but the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

It is this ontological identity of all Churches with the Church of God that establish the connecting link between Churches, making them the Church universal. For the fullness (pleroma) of each local Church not only does not contradict her need for other Churches, and, indeed, her dependence on them, but implies them as her won conditio sine qua non. On the one hand the fullness of each local Church is the same that is given to every other Church; it is a fullness possessed in common as the gift of God. And on the other hand, she has it only in agreement with all other churches, and only in as much as she does not separate herself from this agreement, does not make the one and indivisible gift her own, "private" gift…

"A new bishop shall be installed by all bishops of the province…" In this Canon 4 of the Council of Nicea (which simply sanctions an already existing practice — (cf. Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition) we find the first and the most comprehensive form of the inter-dependence of several churches. The local Church receives the condition and the "note" of her fullness — the episcopate — through the Bishops of other Churches. What is the meaning of this dependence? The universal — "whole-and-parts·" — ecclesiology uses this canon as its main justification and proof: the plurality of the consecrators signifies the "whole" to which the local church — the "part" — is therefore subordinated.26 Such interpretation could appear only at a time when the real link between the Bishop and his Church was forgotten and the charism of episcopacy had come to be thought of as a personal gift which any "two or three" bishops could bestow on anyone, and when "valid consecration" became the only content of the notion of apostolic succession. The meaning of this canon appears quite different if we look into the early practice of the Church as described, for example, in the "Apostolic Tradition" of Hippolytus. The consecration of a bishop is followed by the Eucharist which is offered by the newly consecrated bishop and not by any of the consecrators.27

This seemingly minor "liturgical" detail expresses in fact an important norm of the primitive ecclesiology. From the moment he is elected and consecrated, the Bishop is the president of the eucharistic assembly, i. e. the head of the Church, and his consecration finds its fulfillment when for the first time he offers to God the Eucharist of the Church. Thus the consecration of a Bishop is first of all the testimony that this man, elected by his own Church, is elected and appointed by God, and that through his election and consecration his Church is identical with the Church of God which abides in all Churches…28 It is not the transfer of a gift by those who possess it, but the manifestation of the fact that the same gift, which they have received in the Church from God, has now been given to this Bishop in this Church. Episcopate is not a "collective gift" Which any "two or three" Bishops can convey to another man, but a ministry in the Church, a gift given to the Church; therefore the "cheirotonia" of a Bishop bears testimony that the Church has received it. The unbroken Episcopal succession, which was the decisive argument in the polemics against gnosticism, was understood primarily as the succession of bishops within every Church and not in terms of "consecrators."29

Today, however, the emphasis in the doctrine of Apostolic succession has shifted to the question of consecrators. But such was not the meaning given this doctrine by St. Irenaeus;30 for in spite of the fact that no bishop could be consecrated by his predecessor in the same chair, it is precisely this succession in the chair which is all important to St, Irenaeus and is to him the proof of the "identity" of the Church in time and space with the Church of God, with the fullness of Christ’s gift — for "the Church is in the Bishop and the Bishop is in the Church." The consecration of a bishop by other bishops is thus the acknowledgment of the will of God as being fulfilled in this particular Church. This fulfillment includes, to be sure, the bestowing of the charism of the Holy Spirit upon the candidate, and from this point of view the consecrators are the ministers of the sacrament of Order. But this they are because of their function and ministry in the Church and not in virtue of a power over grace, inherent to their "rank."

Sacramental theology has dealt almost exclusively with the right of the bishops to consecrate other bishops but has badly neglected the ecclesiological content and meaning of this right, which come precisely from the bishop’s function as witness of God’s will in the Church, his "charism" being to keep the Church in the will of God and guide her towards its fulfillment. The Church whose bishop has died has also lost the power to express this testimony. The testimony, therefore, must of necessity come from other Churches and through their ministers who have the charism of proclaiming the will of God. In other terms, this aspect of testimony (the absence of which may lead eventually to an almost magical understanding of the sacrament of order) is essential to the consecration; while the gift of the Spirit comes not from the bishops, yet their presence, unity, and testimony are the signs of its having been given to this particular Church by God Himself; they are indeed the "form" of the sacrament.31

The dependence of each Church on other Churches is thus a dependence not of submission but of testimony: each Church testifying about all others and all together testifying about each that they are one in faith and life and that separately and all together they are the Church of God — the indivisible gift of the new life in Christ. Each Church has fullness in herself, acknowledged and fulfilled in the unity of the Bishop and the people; and it is the identity of this fullness with the fullness of the Church of God (and, therefore, with the "pleroma" of every other Church) that is both expressed and maintained in the consecration of a new Bishop by other Bishops. Thus the organic unity of the Church as Body of Christ does not divide her into "parts" nor make the life of any local Church "partial"; it prevents the isolation of the local Church into a self-sufficient organism with no need for other Churches. And we should add that the conscience of the universal unity of the Church, of living koinonia and mutual responsibility and the joy of belonging to the one household of God, has never been stronger than during the short triumph of precisely this type of ecclesiology.32


The sacrament of episcopal consecration reveals the first and the essential form of primacy, or rather the basis of primacy: the synod of bishops. In Orthodoxy the synod is usually given an exceptional importance. The Church is often described as the Church of the Councils and her government as "conciliary" ("sobornyi" in Russian). But very little has been done to define the nature and function of synods in theological terms. Canonically the synod is interpreted as the "supreme authority" in the Church. Such, we have seen, is the inescapable logic of canon law once it has ceased to be governed internally by the doctrine of the Church as Body of Christ. In fact, to the Roman doctrine of a personal supreme power one opposed, on the Orthodox side, the theory of a collective supreme power; and in contemporary controversies the only question debated is that of the limits of such a "college" — whether it should consist of bishops only or include "representatives" from clergy and laity. This theory acquired a new vitality after it was combined — in a rather inconsistent way — with the Slavophile teaching about the "sobornost," and this combination made it possible to accuse Roman Catholicism with a clear conscience for being over juridical in its ecclesiology.

However, the idea of Synod as "the visible supreme constitutive and governing organ of Church power"33 does not correspond either to the Slavophile doctrine of "Sobornost"34 or to the original function of the synod in the Church. The Synod is not "power" in the juridical sense of this word, for there can exist no power over the Church Body of Christ. The Synod is, rather, a witness to the identity of all Churches as the Church of God in faith, life and "agape." If in his own Church the Bishop is priest, teacher and pastor, the divinely appointed witness and keeper of the catholic faith, it is through the agreement of all Bishops, as revealed in the Synod, that all Churches both manifest and maintain the ontological unity of Tradition, "for languages differ in the world, but the force of Tradition is the same" (St. Irenaeus). The Synod of Bishops is not an organ of power over the Church, nor is it "greater" or "fuller" than the fullness of any local Church, but in and through it all Churches acknowledge and realize their ontological unity as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Ecclesiologically and dogmatically the Synod is necessary for the consecration of a bishop. The sacrament of order is its ecclesiological foundation35 because, as we have seen, the synod is the essential condition of the fullness of each local Church, of her "pleroma" as Body of Christ. But it also has another equally important function. The Church which by her very nature belongs to the new eon, to the Kingdom of the age to come, yet abides in history, in time, in "this world." She is in statu patriae, but also in statu viae. She is Fullness, but she is also Mission: the Divine love, the Divine will of salvation addressed to the world. And it is by being Mission, by loving those for whom Christ died, that the Church realizes herself as the Fullness. A Church that would isolate herself from the world and live by her eschatological fullness, that would cease to "evangelize," to bear witness to Christ in the world, would simply cease to be the Church — because the fullness by which she lives is precisely the agape of God as revealed and communicated in Christ. "Mission" cannot, therefore, be a static relationship with the world. It means fight with, and for, the world; it means a constant effort to understand and to challenge, to question and to answer. And this means finally that within the Church herself there must constantly arise doubts and problems and the need for a fresh renewal of the living testimony. The "world" both outside and inside the Church, tempts and challenges her with all its powers of destruction and doubt, idolatry and sin. This challenge calls for a common effort of all churches, for a faithful and living "koinonia" and agreement. It is this mission of the Church in the world, her "working" in time and history, that give the Synod its second function: to be the common voice, the common testimony of several (or all) Churches in their ontological unity. Thus the Apostolic synod meets not as a regular and necessary "organ" of the Church, but in connection with a problem arising out of the missionary situation in the Church. There is no evidence for any synod of this type till the end of the second century when Montanism provoked a common resistance of the ecclesiastical body.36 In the third century the African synod appears as a regular institution, but again its regularity is not that of an organ of power, but that of orderly consultations on common problems. Finally the council of Nicea and all subsequent Ecumenical Councils always convened to confront a problem which was vital to all Churches and which required their common testimony. It is the truth of its decision and not any "constitutional right or guarantee" that makes it the highest authority in the Church.


It is in the Synod that primacy finds its first and most general expression. The Synod, since its basic purpose is the consecration of a bishop, is primarily a regional Synod, i. e. the council of a definite geographical area. The boundaries of such an area can be fixed in various ways: they can be geographical or coincide with a political administrative unit or be the limits of Christian expansion from an ecclesiastical center: in Church history there is ample evidence for all of these systems. But ecclesiastically the essential feature of a district is the participation of all its bishops in the consecration of a new bishop (cf. Canon 4 of Nicea). And its second constitutive element is the existence among these bishops of a clearly defined primacy of the first bishop. This primacy is defined in the famous Apostolic Canon 34: "The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as- their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; …but neither let him (Who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity…"

Here the essence of the regional primacy is stated quite clearly: it is not "power" or "jurisdiction" (for the primate can do nothing without the assent of all), but the expression of the unity and unanimity of all bishops and, consequently, of all Churches of the area.

There is no need to go into all the details of the rather complicated history of the metropolitan district in the ancient Church,37 There can be little doubt that it was the most common, the most natural and basic from of relationship between local Churches, the basic link of their unity, rooted in the sacrament of order. There can also be little doubt that for a long time the local primacy was universally understood and accepted as the basic expression of the very function of primacy. To use modern terminology each "metropolitan district" was "autocephalous" (this is confirmed by Balsamon), since the main principle of "autocephaly" is precisely the right to elect and consecrate new bishops.

But local primacy is not the only form of primacy to be found in our canonical tradition. Almost from the very beginning there existed also wider groupings of Churches with a corresponding "center of agreement" or primacy within them. One can argue which form of primacy appeared first. For, as it is well known, Christianity was settled first in the major cities of the Roman Empire and from there spread into the suburban areas. And since a metropolitan district implies the existence of a number of Churches in a given area, it is only natural to think that at first the function of primacy belonged exclusively to the Churches of the great metropolitan centers. Even after the growth in number of local churches and the consequent shaping of metropolitan districts, the original "centers" or "mother-churches" did not lose their special status, their particular primacy. One could call this later stage "second degree primacy." In the second and third centuries such was the position of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Lyons, Carthage etc. What then were the nature and the functions of this form of primacy? The well known canon 6 of Nicaea applies to it the term power (exousia). But Bishop N. Milash in his commentary of this canon shows quite clearly that "power" here must be understood as "priority" or "privilege."38 The canon defines the relationship between the Bishop of Alexandria and the four metropolitans of the Diocese of Egypt. In Egypt the metropolitan system appeared later than elsewhere and the Bishop of Alexandria, who was from the beginning the "head* of the whole Egyptian Church (i. e. the Primate of all bishop), had, therefore, the privilege of primacy everywhere (i. e. the right to convene the Synods for the consecration of new bishops). The Council of Nicaea, which sanctioned the metropolitan system, had to establish for Egypt a kind of synthesis between the universal norm and the local particularities. On the one hand, it emphasized that no bishop could be consecrated without the assent of the metropolitan (thereby affirming the "local primacy") but, on the other hand, it left with the Bishop of Alexandria the ultimate approval of all elections. But, as a general rule, this latter form of primacy was defined in Nicaea as priority, and history shows clearly enough the nature of that priority: one can describe it as primacy of authority. Let us stress that we have here not so much the primacy of a bishop (as in the case of the metropolitan district) but the primacy of a particular church, her special spiritual and doctrinal authority among other Churches. The great majority of local Christian communities was born from the missionary activity of some important urban Church. From the latter they received the rule of faith, the rule of prayer and the "apostolic succession." Many of these great Churches had, in addition, Apostles or their first disciples for founders. Furthermore they were usually better equipped theologically and intellectually. It is natural, then, that in difficult or controversial cases, these Churches took upon themselves the initiative of appeasement or, in other terms, of reaching and expressing the "agreement" of all churches. The local Churches looked to them for guidance and counsel and recognized in their voice a special authority. We have early examples of such authority in the activity of St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Irinaeus of Lyons, and later, in the councils of Antioch and Carthage… Yet primacy of authority here cannot be defined in juridical norms, because it has nothing to do with "jus" as such; yet it was quite real in the life of the early Church and the seeds of the future patriarchates are to be found in it. Once again we must stress that its essence and purpose is not "power," but the manifestation of the existent unity of the Churches in faith and life.

Finally we come to the highest and ultimate form of primacy: the universal primacy. An age-long anti-Roman prejudice has led some Orthodox canonists simply to deny the existence of such primacy in the past or the need for it in the present. But an objective study of the canonical tradition cannot fail to establish beyond any doubt that, along with local "centers of agreement" or primacies, the Church had also known an universal primacy. The ecclesiological error of Rome lies not in the affirmation of her universal primacy. Rather, the eror lies in the identification of this primacy with "supreme power" which transforms Rome into the "principium radix et origo"39 of the unity of the Church and of the Church herself. This ecclesiological distortion, however, must not force us into a simple rejection of universal primacy. On the contrary it ought to encourage its genuinely Orthodox interpretation.

It is impossible to deny that even before the appearance of local primacies the Church from the first days of the existence possessed an ecumenical center of her unity and agreement. In the Apostolic and the Judeo-Christian period it was the Church of Jerusalem, and later the Church of Rome — "presiding in agape" according to St. Ignatius of Antioch. This formula and the definition of the universal primacy contained in it have been aptly analyzed by Fr. Afanassieff and we need not repeat here his argument.40 Neither can we quote here all the testimonies of the Fathers and Councils unanimously acknowledging Rome as the senior Church and the center of ecumenical agreement.41 It is only for the sake of biased polemics that one can ignore these testimonies, their consensus and significance. It has happened, however, that if Roman historians and theologians have always interpreted this evidence in juridical terms, thus falsifying its real meaning, their Orthodox opponents have systematically belittled the evidence itself. Orthodox theology is still awaiting a truly Orthodox evaluation of universal primacy in the first millennium of Church history — an evaluation free from polemical or apologetic exaggerations. Such study will certainly reveal that the essence and purpose of this primacy is to express and preserve the unity of the Church in faith and life; to express and preserve the unanimity of all Churches; to keep them from isolating themselves into ecclesiastical provincialism, loosing the Catholic ties, separating themselves from the unity of life. It means ultimately to assume the care, the sollicitudo42 of the Churches so that each one of them can abide in that fullness which is always the whole catholic tradition and not any "part" of it.

From this brief analysis of the concept of primacy we can draw the following general conclusion: primacy in the Church is not "supreme power," this notion being incompatible with the nature of the Church as Body of Christ. But neither is primacy a mere "chairmanship" if one understands this term in its modern, parliamentary and democratic connotations. It has its roots, as all other functions, in the Church — Body of Christ. In each Church there fully abides and is always "actualized" the Church of God; yet all together the Churches are still the same one and indivisible Church of God, the Body of Christ. The Church of God is manifested in the plurality of the Churches; but because ontologically they are the same Church, this ontological identity is expressed in a visible, living, and constantly renewed link: the unity of faith, the unity of action and mission, the common care for everything that constitutes the task of Church in "statu viae." A local Church cannot isolate herself, become a center in herself, live "by herself" and by her own local and private interests, because the fullness which constitutes her very being is precisely the fullness of the catholic faith and catholic mission, the fullness of Christ who fills all things in all. The Church cannot actualize this fullness, make it her own, and, therefore, be the Church, without ipso facto living in all and by all; and this means living in the universal conscience of the Church "scattered in the whole world and yet abiding as if it were in one home." A local Church cut from this universal "koinonia" is indeed a contradictio in adjecto, for this koinonia is the very essence of the Church. And it, has, therefore, its form and expression: primacy. Primacy is the necessary expression of the unity in faith and life of all local Churches, of their living and efficient koinonia.

Now we can return to our first definition of primacy. Primacy is power, but as power it is not different from the power of a Bishop in each church. It is not a higher power but indeed the same power only expressed, manifested, actualized by one. The primate can speak for all because the Church is one and because the power he exercises is the power of each bishop and of all bishops. And he must speak for all because this very unity and agreement require, in order to be efficient, a special organ of expression, a mouth, a voice… Primacy is thus a necessity because therein is the expression and manifestation of the unity of Churches as being the unity of the Church. And it is important to remember that the Primate, as we know him from our canonical tradition, is always the Bishop of a local Church and not a "bishop at large," and that primacy belongs to him precisely because of his status in his own Church.43 It is not a personal charism, but rather a function of the whole Church, carried and fulfilled by its Bishop. The early tradition clearly indicates the primacy of the Church of Rome, yet we know next to nothing about the first Bishops of Rome who, evidently, served as ministers of this primacy. The idea of primacy thus excludes the idea of jurisdictional power but implies that of an "order" of Churches which does not subordinate one Church to another, but which makes is possible for all Churches to live together this life of all in each and of each in all thus by fulfilling the mystery of the Body of Christ, the fullness "filling all in all."


This concept of primacy, as has been said already, is rooted in the "eucharistic ecclesiology" which we believe to be the source of Orthodox canonical and liturgical tradition. As result of its distortion or, at least, "metamorphosis" there appeared another type of ecclesiology which we have termed "universal." It leads necessarily to the understanding and practice of primacy as "supreme power" and therefore, to an universal bishop as source and foundation of jurisdiction in the whole ecclesiastical structure. The Orthodox Church has condemned this distortion in its pure and explicit Roman Catholic form. This does not mean, however, that our church life is free from its poison. The universal ecclesiology is a permanent temptation because in the last analysis it is a natural one, being the product of "naturalization" of Christianity, its adaptation to the life "after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ". Only the historical sources of this temptation in the East are different from those in the West. And inasmuch as all the controversies within Orthodoxy are obviously centered on this basic question of the nature of the Church, we must conclude this article with a short analysis of our own deficiencies.

At a relatively recent date there arose among the Orthodox the opinion that the Church is based in her life on the principle of autocephaly, the term "autocephalous" here being applied exclusively to the Eastern Patriarchates or the great national churches. According to this opinion, the principle of autocephaly is not only one of the historical "expressions" by the Church of her universal structure, but precisely the ecclesiological foundation of the Church and her life. In other words, the unique universal organism of Roman ecclesiology is opposed here to "autocephalous" organisms, each one constituted by several "dioceses" under one center or "supreme power." All these "autocephalies" are absolutely equal among themselves and this equality excludes any universal center or primacy.44

The appearance of this theory and its almost unanimous acceptance by contemporary Orthodox canonists is very significant. In the first place, the principle of autocephaly has indeed been for the last few centuries the unique principle of organization in Orthodoxy and, therefore, its "acting" canonical rule. The reason is clear: the "autocephaly" with this particular meaning is fully adequate to the specifically Eastern form of Christian "naturalization" or reduction of the Church to the "natural world." This explains in turn why of all possible forms it was precisely "autocephaly" which became for centuries the "acting canon law" in the Eastern Church and today is accepted by so many as an eternal and unchangeable principle of her canonical tradition.

All the deficiencies in the ecclesiology conscience in the East can be ascribed to two major sources: the close "identification" of the Church with the state (Byzantine "symphony" and its varieties) and religious nationalism. Both explain the unchallenged triumph of the theory of "Autocephaly."

The identification of the Church with the state (cf. the confused and often tragic history of Byzantine theocracy) deeply changed the very notion of power in the Church. It was shaped more and more after the "juridical" pattern of the State, and its understanding as a charismatic ministry within the Body of Christ was consequently weakened. More precisely there occurred a rupture between the sacramental and the jurisdictional power. A bishop, to receive hist power was, of course, still to be consecrated. Yet in fact the source of his "jurisdictional power" rested now with a "supreme power" before which he was to become "responsible." The bishop’s "report" to the Synod offers the best example of this change as it indicates first the quick transformation of the function of Synod in Byzantium, and second the equally rapid growth of a real "mystique" of the Supreme Power in the person of the Patriarch.

We know that in the early Church the synod was by its very nature a gathering of bishops (i.e. a more or less regular convention and not a permanent institution). There were regular or extraordinary synods, but in all of them the essential condition of their very "function" was the living identity of each bishop and his Church — for it was only as "head" of his Church, its "proistamenos" in the deepest sense of this word, that he took part in the synod which thus became the expression of the unity and unanimity of the Churches as the Churches of God. Beginning with the fourth century, although not everywhere at the same time, this idea of the synod was progressively replaced by another one: as the supreme and central power over the Churches. The best example here is the famous "synodos endemousa" in Constantinople which became the pattern for the future "synod." Brought into existence at first as a synod "ad hoc" — an occasional meeting of bishops who happened to be in Constantinople — this synod became little by little a permanent organ of power assisting the Patriarch45 with the result that the condition for participation in it was reversed a bishop left his church in order to become a member of this governing body. The bishops became, so to speak, "power in themselves" and their Synod became the supreme or central power. One step more, and the bishops from the jurisdictional point of view have become representatives or delegates of this high power even in their own Churches. This is, of course, only a scheme, but it would not be difficult to substantiate it with facts.46 The road from the "synodos endemousa" to the "Governing Synod" of the Russian Church is a straight one, complicated, it is true, by influences of the Western and Protestant "synodal" law. Yet the source of both is in the State, in its notion of "supreme power" as source of any "local power."

Not less characteristic is the development of what may be termed "patriarchal mystique" which finds its first expression in the development of the power of the Patriarch of Constantinople. In its essence this mystique is radically different from that of Papism. The latter has its roots in the experience of the Church as an universal organism, called to dominate the world; the former in the parallelism of the Church and Empire which required an ecclesiastical "counterpart" of the Basileus. Although one must stress again and again, that the origin of the Byzantine Patriarch’s unique power is not "lust of power" but the "Byzantine analogy" between the two supreme powers,47 yet here also it is the State and not the Church that shapes this new idea of power.

The metamorphosis of the very concept of "power," its disconnection, even if a partial one, from the ecclesiology of the Body of Christ and, as the natural result, the emergence of a "supreme power" — all this constitutes the first and yet most tragic crisis in the history of Orthodox ecclesiology. The time has come ie seems to us to admit openly that the Byzantine period of our history, which in many respects is still for us the golden age of Orthodoxy, saw, nevertheless, the beginning of an ecclesiological disease. The mystique of the "symphonia" (with its only alternative being the monastic "desert" and the individual work for "salvation") obscured the reality of the Church as People of God, as the Church of God and the Body of Christ manifested and edified in every place. It was the triumph of universal ecclesiology in the Byzantine form.

The state and its idea of power are, however, but the first of the two major causes of that disease. The second, not less important in its consequences, was the growth of religious nationalism. No one, I think, will deny that one of the fruits of Byzantine Theocracy, which for a long time obscured the life of the Orthodox East, was the growth of those religious nationalisms which little by little identified the Church, her structure, and organization with the nation, making her the religious expression of national existence. This national existence, however natural and therefore legitimate it may be, is by its very essence a "partial" existence — the existence as a "part" of humanity which though not necessarily inimical to its other "parts" is nonetheless opposed to them as "one’s own" to the "alien." The Early Church knew herself to be the tertium genus in which there is neither Greek nor Jew. This means that it proclaimed and conveyed a Life which without rejecting the "partial" and natural life could transform it into "wholeness" or catholicity. Hence it must be clear that religious nationalism is essentially a heresy about the Church, for it reduces grace and the new life to "nature" and makes the latter a formal principle of the Church’s structure. This does not mean that there can be no Christian people or a Christian vocation of a nation; it means only that a Christian nation (i.e. a nation which has acknowledged its Christian vocation) does not become the Church. Because the nature of the Church is the Body of Christ, she belongs to the Kingdom of the age to come and cannot identify herself with anything in "this world…".

Yet it is precisely this religious nationalism in combination with the new "state-like" concept of power which supplied the basis for the new theory of autocephaly and made it for centuries the "acting canon law" in the Orthodox East. Elsewhere I have tried to show the weak points in contemporary attempts to justify this theory and to erect it into an ecclesiological absolute. From the point of view which interests us here, however, the negative significance of this theory (defended, on the one hand, as a justification of the national divisions of Orthodoxy and, on the other, as sanction for the prevalent administrative centralism) introduces into the Orthodox doctrine of the Church the very elements of "universal ecclesiology" which she rejects and condemns as it is. It obscures the sacramental structure of the Church rooted in its life as Body of Christ, by a "national" structure, thus making a natural organism.

On the essential falsehood of this theory and on its fateful consequences in the life of the Church much has been written. One can affirm that the ecclesiastical consciousness has never "received" it as Tradition — as witness about the nature of the Church. Neither the doctrine of the "five senses" which was the first reaction of Byzantine canonists to Roman claims, nor the absolute "autocephalism" of national theocraties born as it was out of the fight against the theocracy of Byzantium, nor the synodal regime of the Russian Church — none of these succeeded in being accepted as an organic expression of Church consciousness or in obscuring to the end the genuine and living sources of ecclesiastical life. This source is still in the true canonical tradition and in the sacraments by which the Church lives and actualizes herself.

Is it necessary to mention all the harm done to the Church by this acting "canon law," disconnected as it is from the living sources of Orthodox ecclesiology? Such as, on the one hand, the bureaucratic spirit pervading the Church, making her the "religious department"; the absence of a living "sobornost"; the transformation of dioceses into mere administrative units living under the control of abstract "centers;" the abyss between the "power" and the body of the Church and, as the result of this, the "revolt of the masses;" the introduction into the Church of the ideas of "representation of the interests" of this or that category be it of the "lay control" or of the division between clergy and laity, etc. Or on the other hand, the deep and tragic division of Orthodoxy into national Churches each indifferent to the other, living in and by themselves, the crisis of the universal consciousness, and the weakening of the catholic links.

We must hope, however, that this crisis is not a mortal one. The strength of Christ is fulfilled in weakness and the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church. In sufferings and sorrows there appears today a new thirst for the truth about the Church, a new interest in discovering the genuine sources of her life. The question which we raised and attempted to answer, however partially and schematically, in this article, that of "primacy," cannot be separated from a deep and consistent return to Orthodox ecclesiology.



  1. For the description and canonical analyses of various forms of primacy cf. .. Zaozersky, The Ecclesiastical Power (Sergiev Posad, 1894, in Russian) pp. 218 ff.
  2. Much pertaining material has been gathered in the Opinions of Russian bishops, presented for the Pre-Sobor Convocation of 1906-1912.
  3. cf. .. Afanassieff, "The Permanent and the Changing Elements in Ecdlesjastical Canons*," in The Living Tradition, Paris 1934, pp. 82-96 (in Russian) and also his article "The Canons and The Canonical Consciousness" in Put 1933, (in Russian).
  4. F. Zaozersky, op. cit., p. 228 ff. — P. V. Gidoulianoff, The Metropolitan in the First Three Centuries (Moscow, 1905, in Russian) — N. Milasfo, The Canons of the Orthodox Church with Commentaries (St. Petersburg, 1911, in Russian) Vol. 1, pp. 70 ff. — F. Balsamon, "Coram in Canon 2, Second Ecum. Council" in Athen. Syntagma, 2, 171 — V. Bolotov, Lectures in the History of Ancient Church (St. Petersburg, 1913, in Russian) vol. 3, p. 210 ff. — V. Myshtzin, The Organization of the Church in the First Two Centuries (St. Petersburg, 1909).
  5. Cf. for example, the controversy aroused by the Encyclical Letter of the Ecumenical Patriarch for the Sunday of Orthodoxy án 1950; details and bibliography in my article "The Ecumenical Patriarch and the Orthodox Church" in The Church Messenger of the Exarchate in W. Europe, 1951.
  6. Thus it is obvious, for example, that the fateful "jurisdictional" divisions in the Russian Church outside Russia are ultimately rooted in the question of ecclesiastical submission to the various "supreme authorities" i. e. to the problem of primacy. Cf. my essays The Church and the Ecclesiastical Structure (Paris, 1949, in Russian) — "A Controversy on the Church" in Church Messenger, 1950, 2 — "On the Neo-Papism" ibid, 1951 (all in Russian). The development of Church life in America, on the other hand, is deeply handicapped by the absence of any connections between the ten Orthodox national jurisdictions, which for the lack of a center of communion are practically isolated from each other. Here also the problem of primacy, and consequently, of an initiative of a "rapprochement" is quite central.
  7. F. Stanislas Jaki, OSB, Les tendances nouvelles de l’ecclésiologie (Rome 1957).
  8. …Afanassieff, The Lord’s Table (Paris, 1955 in Russian) — The Office of Laity in the Church — (Paris, 1955, in Russian).
  9. N. Afanassieff "The Power of Love" in Church Messenger, 1950, 1 (22) p. 4 (in Russian).
  10. cf. for example, the Statutes of the Russian Church as adopted by the Council of 1917-18 — "in the Orthodox Church of Russia the Supreme Power belongs to the Local Council…," "The Diocese is a part of the Russian Church…".
  11. Among Russian theologians F. E. Aquilonoff, The Church: The Doctrinal definitions of the Church and the Apostolic Doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ (St. Petersburg, 1894, in Russian) — V. Troitsky, Essays in the History of the Doctrine of the Church (Sergiev Posad, 1912, in Russian) — G. Florovsky, "L’Eglise, isa nature et sa tache" in L’Eglise Universelle dans lo dessein de Dieu (Paris 1948). On the biblical and patristic ecclesiology Cf. P. Mersch, Le Corps Mystique du Christ, Etudes de Theologie Historique (2 vol. Paris 1933-36) — G. Bardy, La Theologie de l’Eglise suivant St. Paul (Pari«; 1943) — La Theologie de TEglise de St. Clement do Rome a St. Irenee flParis 1945) ·— La Theologie de l’Eglise de St. Irenee au Concile de Nicee (Paris 1947) — L. Bouyer, L’Incarnation et l’Eglise Corps du Christ dans la théologie de St. Athianase (Paris 1943) — H. du Manoir, "L’Eglise, Corps du Christ, chez Cyrille d’Alexandrie" in Dogme et Spritualite chez St. Cyrille d’A. (Paris 1944), pp. 287-366 cf. also S. Jaki, op. cit. pp. 154-203.
  12. We find in Suvorov, The Canon Law (Jaroslavl, 1889; in Russian) vol. 1. . 5, a classical expression of this juridical understanding of the Church — "The Church being a visible society cannot be outside law… As a society, it consists of several members, linked to each other by certain relations that grow out of their life in the Church, and it also has an organization with a particular sphere of activity for each organ… The regulation of relations, spheres of activities, and all the means and ways leading to the fulfillment of Church’s purpose require the order of law. And since "the means and ways’* imply practically all aspects of Church life, this means that the whole life of the Church requires the order of law. Outside this order there remains only the Church as "object of faith." (ibid p. 6).
  13. This lack of ecclesiology in theological development has been recently stressed by G. Florovsky, op. cit. and M. J. Congar in his Vraie et Fausse Re-forme dans l’Eglise.
  14. .. Afanassieff, "Two Ideas of the Church Universal" in Put. 1933, p. 16.
  15. N. Afanassieff, "The Catholic Church" in Orthodox Thought, 11.
  16. M. J. Congar, Chretiens Desunis (Partis 1937) p. 241. Cf. also my essay "Unity, Division, Reunion in the Light of Orthodox Ecclesiology" in Theology (Athens 1951).
  17. Here is an example from an article, directed against the very idea of an universal center in the Church: "Not only the Orthodox Church has never had such a center, but this idea completely destroys the mystery of Orthodox ecclesiology, where the Risen Christ, invisibly present, is the center of the Church." (E. Kovalevsky," "Ecclesiological Problem — On the articles of Fr. Sophrony and Fr. A. Schmemann," in The Church Messenger of the Moscow Exarchate in W. Europe (Paris 1950) 2-3, p. 14. This argument is far from being a new one…
  18. F. Ignatiuts of Antioch, Smyrn. 8, 2
  19. Many details in my unpublished essay The Unionistic Problem in the Byzantine Church.
  20. N. Afanassieff, "The Catholic Church" p. 21 ff.
  21. G. Florovsky, op. cit. p. 65. F. Zaozersky, op. cit. p. 21 ff.
  22. Limitations of space prevent me from dealing adequately with the connection between ecclesiology and liturgical theology. Cf. my article "Liturgical Theology: It’s Task and Method" in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, (October 1957) pp. 16-27. There can be little doubt that all rubrics and rules concerning the unity of the eucharistic gathering (one Eucharist a day on the same altar by the same celebrant etc.) have an ecclesiological significance, i. e. preserve the meaning of Eucharist as expression of the unity and fullness of the Church. Outside this ecclesiological significance they become meaningless, and, as a matter of fact, are more and more frequently ignored or "by-passed" (second altar, "special liturgies" etc.).
  23. The basic fact for any theological interpretation of the power of the bishop (or priest) is the absolute connection between ordination and Eucharist. This connection is usually viewed as self-evident, yet it constitutes the starting point for a "theology of power" as power of grace.
  24. I cannot deal here with the difficult problem of the parish in its relation to the diocese. Evidently, the Early Church knew only the community headed by the Bishop who was the normal celebrant of the Eucharist, the teacher and the pastor of his church. The presbyters constituted his council — the presbyterium — F. J. Oolson, L’Eveque dans les communautés primitives (Paris 1951) — H. Chirat, L’Assemblee Chrétienne a Tage apostolique (Paris 1®49) and symposion Etudes sur le Sacrement de l’Ordre (Paris 1957). The division of the diocese into parishes and the corresponding transformation of the presbyter into the parish rector came later, and this change has never been seriously studied and interpreted theologically. In any case it cannot contradict the basic principles of eucharistic ecclesiology, for it would then contradict the nature of the Church.
  25. Cf. the already mentioned articles of E. Kovalevsky and also Hierom. Sophrony, "The Unity of the Church in the Image of Trinity" in The Church Mess. of Moscow Exarchate in W. Europe (Paris 1950) 2-3, pp. 8-33.
  26. N. Milash, op. cit. pp. 46-47 cf. Dom .. Botte, "Lordre d’après les prières d’ordination" in Le Sacrement de l’ordre, P. 31.
  27. Hippolytus of Rome, Apost. Tradition (éd. Sources Chrétiennes) pp. 26-33
  28. On the notion of witness in sacrements cf. N Afanassieff, "Sacramenta et Sacramentalia" in Orthodox Thought, 10.
  29. J. Meyendorff, in Maison Dieu, 26, 1954.
  30. Cf. Iren, of Lyons, Adv. Haer. IV, III, 3, and G. Bardy, La Theologie de l’Eglise de St. Clement de Borne a St. Irenee, p. 183 ff. On diadoche in Irinaeus cf. E. Caspar, Die älteste Römische Bishof liste (Berlin 1926) p. 444.
  31. For this reason both election and ordination are essential and necessary elements in the Orthodox rite of the appointment of Bishops.
  32. Iren, of Lyons, Adv. Haer — .., XXIV, 1.
  33. N. Zaozersky, op. cit. p. 223.
  34. Cf. A. Khomiakoff, "Letter to the Editor of L’Union Chrétienne" in Complete Works, 1860, t. 2, p. 30 ff.
  35. G. Florovsky, "The Sacrement of Pentecost" (A Russian View on Apostolic Succession) in The Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, March 1934. . 23, pp. 29-34.
  36. A. Pokrovsky, The Synods of the Early Church (Sergiev Posad 1914 in Russian).
  37. Y. Bolotov, op. cit., t. 3.
  38. .. Milash, op. cit. v. I, pp. 194-204 — To E. R. Hardy this canon indicates that the Bishop of Alexandria was de facto Metropolitan of the whole Egypt eft Christian Egypt Church and People (New York, 1952) pp. S4-59.
  39. "Encyel. S. Offie. Ad Episcopos Angliae, 16 Sept. 1864" in Denzinger Banwart, ed 10, .. 16186.
  40. "The Catholic Church" in Orthodox Thought, 11.
  41. Much evidence, although analysed from a Roman Catholic point of view has been gathered by P. Batiffol, L’Eglise Naissante et le Catholicisme (Paris 1927) — La Paix Constantinienne (Paris 1929) — Le Siege Apostolique (Paris 1924) — Cathedra Petri (Paris 1938).
  42. It is noteworthy that after having analyzed all early Christian evidence on the primacy of Rome, Batiffol reaches an almost identical conclusion — "The papacy of the first centuries is the authority exercised ‘by the Church of Rome among other Churches, authority which consists in caring after their conformity with the authentic tradition of faith… and which is claimed by no other church but the Church of Rome" — Cathedra Petri, p. 28.
  43. cf. G. Florovsky, "The Sacrament of Pentecost" p. 31.
  44. The most "theological" expression of this theory is to be found in the articles, mentioned above, of the Hieromonk Sophrony and E. Kovalevsky. In a more juridical way it is defended by S. V. Troitsky; cf. J. Meyendorff, "Constantinople and Moscow" in Church Messenger, 16, pp. 5-9. Finally its justification in terms of ecclesiastical nationalism is given by M. Polsiky, The Canonical Status of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Government (Jordanville 1948) cf. my essay "The Church and Ecclesiastical Structure" (Paris 1949).
  45. M. SkaJballanovich, The Byzantine State and the Church in XI Century. Petersburg 1884 in Russian) ; E. Gerland, "Die Vorgeschichte des Patriarchats des ..G in Byz. Neues Jahrb, IX, 218.
  46. I. Sokolov, "The Election of Bishops in Byzantium" in Vizantisky Vremennik, 22, 1915-16 (in Russian).
  47. cf. my essays "The Destiny of Byzantine Theocracy" in Orthodox Thought 6, (in Russian) and "Byzantine Theocracy and the Orthodox Church" in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1953.


This article article was originally published in "St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly" in 1960 and was reprinted in a collection of essays titled, "The Primacy of Peter" (The Faith Press Ltd., 1963).

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