Return to Home Page


The doctrinal authority of the Church rests in the Holy Spirit and is expressed through Church Councils. This is why the Orthodox Church has no visible, spiritual centre. This is clear.

However, the present dispute between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow about dissident parts of the Sourozh Diocese in England highlights something else. This dispute, like those before them, highlights not a problem of doctrinal authority, but a problem of leadership within the Orthodox Churches. In other words, it focuses attention on spiritual, moral and intellectual authority within the Church. Unlike doctrinal authority, this authority emanates from the administrative leaders of the Local Churches, in visible centres.

At the beginning of the first millennium, leadership, or authority, was naturally fixed in Jerusalem, but it soon began to be transferred elsewhere, notably to the Imperial capital of Rome. However, at the same time, this authority was disputed between other centres, Antioch and Alexandria, before being contested between Rome and Constantinople, ‘New Rome’.

With the defection of Old Rome from the Church at the beginning of the second millennium, Constantinople ‘New Rome’ took over. However, with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Orthodox Churches turned to Russia, which was then emerging from the Tartar night, for support. However, Russia, ‘the Third Rome’, was often unable to use its growing might, which was still far from dominance, to support their Orthodox brothers and sisters. Indeed, Russia was often opposed by Western countries, for example, in the Crimean War, in the struggle to free oppressed Orthodox. Nevertheless, during this period most, if not all Orthodox, Slavs, Romanians, Greeks, Arabs and others, looked to Russia as their protector and intercessor.

This all changed with the masonic and then atheist coups d’etat of 1917 in Russia. After them, the Orthodox world drifted in terms of administrative authority and leadership. Immediately after the Revolution, with Western political conniving, the modernist and ecumenist freemason Metropolitan Meliton Metaksakis was installed as Patriarch in Constantinople. He could now seize the opportunity and become the leader of world Orthodoxy, becoming the head of the Orthodox world. However, his authority was much disputed and his condemnation of the holy Patriarch Tikhon in Moscow and his support for the sectarian ‘Living Church’ there made him particularly notorious.

Since then, various voices of authority, none definitive, have been raised to defend Orthodoxy. These have been heard in Constantinople under the ecumenist Patriarch Athengoras, but also from the Serbian Church through the holy confessor Justin Popovich, also from Jerusalem, and of course from Mt Athos. No one voice dominated during this period. Hence the inability of Orthodox to reach a consensus on the calendar issue and ecumenism. Hence the inability to come to effective inter-Orthodox agreements about, for instance, the administration of the Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe, the Americas and Australasia.
All this changed in 1991 with the fall of Communism in Russia and the return to the Orthodox world of an invigorated and powerful Russian Church, fresh from martyrdom. At the present time, the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow are vying with one another for leadership, that is, for spiritual, moral and intellectual authority, in the Orthodox world. The Sourozh crisis is merely one example of this competition and follows some fifteen years of examples of Constantinople’s attempts to assert itself against a renewed Russia. These stretch from a disputed Greek parish under the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Australia, through Estonia and the Ukraine, to Mt Athos and the Church of Greece. Who will obtain that leadership, who will acquire authority in the Orthodox world? We do not know, but surely the following can clearly be stated:

Spiritual authority can only be held by a Church with a strong spiritual life, a love of the Holy Fathers and the Tradition, a love of all the saints (not just those of a certain nationality), with a flourishing monastic life, a healthy episcopate and therefore a vigorous parish life. Here we are not talking about quantity (the Russian Church would easily win in this respect), but quality. Only a Church which safeguards the purity of Holy Orthodoxy, without making compromises with States or other organizations, which keeps its integrity and principles, and therefore its humility, can obtain spiritual authority.

Moral authority comes from spiritual authority. It means the elimination of the practice of allowing States to appoint bishops, who are therefore linked to State or other organizations, secret or otherwise. It means the elimination of simony. It means standing up to transnational ‘human rights’ organizations, which insist on Orthodox countries legalizing practices such as abortion and sodomy.

Intellectual authority comes from moral authority. It means standing up to the forces of this world, with their globalist and humanistic philosophy. It means being a multinational, multilingual and missionary Church, which is not afraid of organizations which might protest against these developments. It means encouraging the necessary diversity of liturgical languages and decentralization, without the imposition of a monolithic, mononational model.

Whoever wins this battle for authority, for the spiritual, moral and intellectual leadership of the Orthodox world, will show vision. This will be the vision of an Orthodoxy which is no longer anti-Tradition, no longer arrogantly ‘westernized’, no longer anti-monastic, no longer anti-missionary, no longer centralized and ‘papalized’, no longer politically slavish, no longer compromised and secular, but spiritually, morally and intellectually renewed and vigorous.

In this Year of our Lord 2006, on the Eve of Pentecost and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, we ask: Who will stand up for real Orthodoxy and lead the way?

Priest Andrew Phillips

28 May/10 June 2006

  to top of page