At the beginning of 2021, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Toronto, Canada issued a public letter* against what he identified as extremism in the Orthodox Church. The letter was quite specific in its definition of extremism: it did not speak about violent terrorism or declarations of war, nor did it denounce the teaching that one culture or language is superior to another within the Orthodox Church.
Instead - in the midst of worldwide fears over disease and political divisions - the letter identified one specific kind of "extremism" within the Orthodox Church: individuals - particularly the clergy - who do not recognize the universal supremacy of the Patriarch of Istanbul (the city formerly known as Constantinople).
The author of the letter asks, Can someone else be considered first (or equal) to him (the Patriarch of Istanbul)?
In fact, every Orthodox bishop - from the youngest bishop from the tiniest diocese, to the oldest patriarch from the most venerable, ancient one - has an equal voice at an Ecumenical Council. The saints themselves show this at a number of the Seven Great Councils. Their voices are equal. Their votes are equal. To argue otherwise is Roman Catholic papalism - unless that is what this letter is arguing.
The author of the letter writes, Is it not equally true that neither the members can decide on their own? Would the members of a Synod be able to come together in session without the presence of him who is first? Certainly not. Such a meeting would be an unlawful assembly or an uncanonical plot.
Really? What if the Patriarch of the Great City (which used to be Christian, but is now Islamic) is imprisoned? What if he is ill? What if he is a teacher of heresy, such as his predecessor Nestorius was? Could the Church never assemble together under such circumstances? One wonders, how did the Orthodox Church manage to do so when that former Patriarch of the Great City - Nestorius - was himself condemned by an Ecumenical Council? This is because the Church acts together with the unified voice of the right-believing bishops (and priests) in harmony - not through some Divine power proceeding through the hierarch of a single city - whether he is a saint, a heretic, or a regular mortal in the office.
The author of the letter speaks of an "Orthodox Taliban". Does such a terrorist group exist? Have they committed actual acts of violence, or threatened to do so? Has someone contacted the police? Words mean things, and such words should only be used responsibly.
The author of the letter writes that "if one reads blogs authored by self-proclaimed adherents of the Church - patriarchs, hierarchs, priests, elders, monks - (one) would be completely stupefied. One wonders whether these authors are really Orthodox Christians."
No, most Orthodox Christians in the world do not wonder at all on this question. Most already known what the Church teaches, and what the saints proclaim - unless they have a selective memory, or are looking to establish a Papacy within the Orthodox Church.
Finally, the author of the letter writes that those who truly conform to the Orthodox mind and cultivate an ecclesial consciousness wait to hear the true voice of the Church.
And where does the author of the letter believe one can hear the true voice of the Orthodox Church? Can you guess?
The author of the letter explains: "The true voice of the Church is presented only by him who presides over a Synod or by the Synod's official representative. Everything else is the noise and racket of non-Orthodox voices brought on as a result of luciferian egotism."
In short: the writer declares in print that the true voice of the Orthodox Church is presented solely by the Patriarch of Istanbul - the supreme voice of truth within the Orthodox Church. Everything else is not only noise and racket in his view, it is luciferian.
The letter writer has revealed nothing new: this has long been the position of those who uphold the new notion of an Orthodox Papacy, centered on the Patriarch (or Pope) of Istanbul.
But this is not an Orthodox notion, nor an idea that has in any way the support of the common spirit of the Church Fathers of the last twenty centuries of the Orthodox Church. It is an idea that stands at odds with the Ecumenical Councils of the Orthodox Church - councils which the letter writer and all bishops must affirm and defend.
No man stands as "first without equal" over the historic Orthodox Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The suggestion is at best ill-informed, or perhaps chauvinistic.
At worst, it is an idea whose roots are indeed Luciferian.
* Archbishop Sotirios Speaks about Extremism in the Orthodox Church, The National Herald, 1/20/2021.