Orthodox aren’t impressed

Orthodox aren’t impressed

If indeed Pope Benedict’s dropping of the title of “Patriarch of the West” was an opening gesture to the Eastern Orthodox (which no one has verified yet), it looks like some of the Orthodox at least are not impressed.The Moscow Patriarchate, perhaps the most contentious of the lot, says it opens up new problems.

“It remains a mystery how the omission of the Patriarch of the West title can improve relations between the Holy See and the Orthodox Church. On the contrary, this omission could be viewed as further claims to the church’s worldwide jurisdiction, which is reflected in the pontiff’s other titles,” Bishop of Vienna and Austria Hilarion, the Russian Church’s envoy to European institutions, said in a statement on Friday. The Patriarch of the West was one of the most problematic titles from an Orthodox standpoint, he said, adding that the origin of the pontiff’s other titles is also disputable.

So which is it? If the title of Patriarch is the most problematic, then shouldn’t they be happy he’s dropping it? Yet when he does drop they say it’s a claim to worldwide jurisdiction. This appears typical of the Russian Orthodox who are constantly complaining that the tiny Catholic presence in Russia is an attempt to proselytize in “historically Russian Orthodox” territory, but yet they don’t seem to think that their presence in places like Cuba, Europe, or North America constitutes a similar problem.

Patriarch(s) of the West

Meanwhile, some people are speculating that the dropping of the title has less to do with reconciliation with the East than with reorganizing the Church in the West.

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  • I suspect the line about the patriarchal title being “most problematic” is either a mistranslation or a slip of the tongue by the Russian Orthodox prelate. In my reading, most Orthodox consider that the proper role of the Pope should be as a western patriarch, in charge of the Latin church only.
    I think what the Orthodox fear from this decision is that it will foster the view that the Pope stands above other patriarchs rather than beside them (even if they come to considered him as having a type of primacy). I suspect the Orthodox may thus see this as an a-historical departure from the traditional structure of the church. The more extreme ones may see this as an effort to aggrandize the pope’s power as some sort of “super-patriarch.” The most extreme ones may applaud this move, saying that of course the pope is not a patriarch, as he is a heretic!
    I hope I am wrong about all this – Benedict garnered a lot of credit from the Orthodox upon his assumption of the papacy for being positive on things eastern.

  • It seems to me that no matter what the pope does most Orthodox are going to shrug. They seem happy with things the way they are.

  • This whole topic has been fascinating.  The link to vaticanwatcher is very helpful. He posts an excerpt from one of the Holy Father’s earlier writings on papal primacy and the episcopacy.  Here he sketches the problem:

    “The image of a centralized state which the Catholic church presented right up to the council does not flow only from the Petrine office, but from its strict amalgamation with the patriarchal function…”

    Here he envisions the goal:

    “To embrace unity with the pope would then no longer mean being incorporated into a uniform administration, but only being inserted into a unity of faith and communio…”

    This week’s development obviously won’t bring immediate cheers from the Orthodox as it clarifies and reiterates the universality of papal authority.  But precisely this clarificiation and reiteration brings to the fore that the Roman Church isn’t the Universal Church, an acknowledgement the Orthodox may appreciate once the dust settles.