The Patriarchate: Keystone of Christianity
Webmaster’s Foreword: This text was written by a hierarch of the Antiochian (Arab) Church. It should be noted that the Ukrainian Catholic Church is not recognized as a Patriarchate by the Bishop of Rome despite many efforts by Ukrainian Church leaders. However, everything written in this unedited article is relevant to the state of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and illustrates the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s historical and canonical right to exist as a patriarchate, in Ukraine and abroad.
Written by +Archbishop Joseph Tawil
The patriarchate is the keystone of Christianity. To ignore this fact would be. in the ecumenical field, to build upon sand. This is why both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have paid visits to the ecumenical patriarch in order to promote Christian unity, knowing in advance that, without the patriarchates, nothing could be done in this domain. It is not just because of their apostolic foundation that the patriarchal sees are venerable, but also because they have been mother churches and important centers for the propagation of the faith.
The patriarchal institution is not peculiar only to the Eastern Churches. In fact. the Western Church has its own patriarchate as well. If in the East there are four patriarchates – Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, the See of Rome is the first and holds at the same time primacy over the universal Church. The bishop of Rome has three levels: As bishop of the Roman see, he has the rights and duties of every bishop in his own diocese. On a higher level, he is the patriarch of the Roman churches and, as such. is endowed with the same rights and duties of the other patriarchs. Everyone is acquainted with the four patriarchal basilicas in Rome – St. Peter. St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul outside the Walla. They are called “patriarchal” because of the bishop of Rome who is the patriarch of the Roman churches. We also note that the first canon of the Latin Code of Canon Law (1917) stated: “Although the code contains frequent references to the discipline of the Oriental Church, it directly concerns only the Latin Church and is not binding on Oriental Catholics, except in matters which of their very nature affect also the Oriental Church.”Likewise, in all things pertaining to liturgy, this applies exclusively to the Roman Patriarchate and not to the Eastern. To confuse these various levels would cause confusion in people’s minds and deeply hurt and intensify the ecumenical problem, particularly with the Orthodox, whose fear has always been absorption by the Western Church, instead of communion with it.
To remain faithful to history we must remember that the heads of the patriarchal sees have been closely tied to the universal solicitude of the entire Church entrusted to Peter and his successors. when they were in communion with each other, popes and Eastern patriarchs were the summits of the universal episcopate. Immediately after his election, the bishop of Rome used to send his profession of faith to the four patriarchs of the East. They in turn at the time of their installation, used to do the same among themselves and with Rome. Thus a patriarchal college was established in the Church, a “summit,” of universal solicitude, as we would say today. This preserved the inalienable and personal rights of the successor of St. Peter and still brought about the visible collegial communion of all the churches and of every episcopate. Testimony was given by the exchange of “irenic” letters, according to the nomenclature and usage in Orthodoxy, without mentioning the exchange of the pallium, which was sent by the patriarchs “to the pope rather than by the pope to the patriarchs. There is also the testimony of the commemoration by all the patriarchs of the bishop of Rome and the other patriarchs.
Finally the five apostolic patriarchal Sees are to be distinguished from those which are not of apostolic foundation. When Patriatch Christophoros of Alexandria of the Greek Orthodox Church visited Moscow after World War II, Russian Patriarch Alexis went to meet him at the airport, made a deep metany before him and kissed the hand of the hierarch of a see of apostolic foundation. Along these same lines, Vatican II stressed the importance of the patriarchate when it asserted. “By the most ancient tradition of the Church the patriarchs of the Eastern Churches are to be accorded special honor, seeing that each is set over his patriarchate as a father and head.” Civil authorities throughout history have recognized this fact since, when negotiating with them, they were conscious that they were dealing with the highest Christian authorities. Such was the conduct of the Arabs at the conquest of the Holy Land when Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem handed the keys to the Holy City to the Caliph Omar. Such was the feeling of the Ottoman Empire after the fall of Constantinople when Mohammed the Conqueror vested Patriarch Gennadios and recognized his authority over all the Christians of the Empire. Such is still the feeling of the Arab governments when they deal with the patriarchs as with the highest Christian authorities. It is significant enough that, when Peter the Great of Russia wished to weaken the Church, he suppressed the patriarchate, which the Communists reestablished after the start of World War II to have a facade of religious freedom.
The fact that a proper Eastern jurisdiction has been established in America does not mean that it has been cut off from the natural trunk which bears it. It is still a branch of the Eastern patriarchate and no juridicial text can change this reality. “From the earliest times.” said Vatican II, “the Churches of the East followed (heir own discipline, sanctioned by the holy Fathers, by Synods, and even by Ecumenical Councils.” An Eastern Church, whether in its original land or outside of it, remains Eastern with its proper discipline “sanctioned by the holy Fathers…and the councils.”and it is connected to its natural trunk. To submit an Eastern Church to the discipline of the Western is to contradict the councils and the declarations of the popes:
“To remove all shadow of doubt, then, this holy Synod solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, while keeping in mind the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to their own disciplines, since these are better suited to the character of their faithful and better adapted to foster the good of souls. The perfect observance of this traditional principle – which indeed has not always been observed – is a prerequisite for any restoration of unity.”
This statement, given at the highest level of the Church, is of paramount importance. It asserts first the perfect validity of the Eastern tradition and discipline without any restriction of time or place. It condemns once more Latinization under all its forms. It acknowledges with entire honesty and frankness that this principle has not always been honored, and ipso facto warns against any attempts at Latinization. It recognizes purely and simply the right of these Churches to govern themselves according to their traditions, in other words, to enjoy autonomy.
Secondly, the decree stresses that any ecumenical approach must be based upon recognition of the right of the Churches to govern themselves; to respect this autonomy is to work for unity, to ignore it is to hamper and destroy progress toward unity.
The Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches, in section 7, states:
“The patriarchate, as an institution, has existed in Church from the earliest times and was recognized the first ecumenical councils.
By the name Eastern patriarch, is meant the bishop whom belongs jurisdiction over all bishops, not exempting metropolitans, clergy and people of his own territory or rite, in accordance with canon law and without prejudice to the primacy of the Roman pontiff.”
Section 9 says: “The patriarchs with their synods are the highest authority for all business of the patriarchate, including the right of establishing new eparchies and of nominating bishops of their rite within the territorial bounds of the patriarchate, without prejudice to the inalienable right of the Roman pontiff to intervene in individual cases.”
Although the wording in general acknowledges the authority of a patriarch, it does impose limitations. The part of the decree that Easterners have found most objectionable is the phrase “of nominating bishops within the territorial bounds.” The idea of territorial limits arose within the Roman Empire when the patriarchs, as bishops of the largest cities of the empire, had jurisdiction over the areas nearest them. Obviously, no patriarch. Eastern or Western was assigned territory in the Americas or Australia, since nobody in the empire knew such lands existed. The Eastern Churches have as much right as the West to establish hierarchies in these previously unknown areas. To conclude from the silence of the texts that everything outside the recognized boundaries of the Eastern patriarchates is not within their competence.and must be adjudicated by the Roman patriarchate is excessive. I say “Patriarchate” not “Roman primate,” since the papacy had universal rights, and thus is of no particular rite.
As matter of fact, the patriarch of Antioch exercised jurisdiction outside of that diocese. That was how Georgia was converted by that see. It seems that there were Melkite dioceses outside the Roman Empire, not only in Persia, but also in Central Asia, all of which were destroyed by the Mongol invasions.
Because of wars in the Middle East, persecution in Slavic countries, and other political upheavals, there has been heavy emigration of Eastern Christians from their established areas. For all of these Churches, substantial proportions of their faithful live in the Americas and Australia. In order to serve all their faithful, the Eastern patriarchs need to have full control of those in the newer countries.
Eastern Orthodoxy has hierarchies in the two Americas as a matter of course. It is not reasonable that the Eastern Catholic Churches, just because they are Catholic, should have fewer rights than the Orthodox.
When the Melkites entered into communion with Rome, they had no intention of giving up their rights. Archbishop Medawar has written,
“Upon taking this step (communion with Rome), our fathers intended to preserve all the rights, privileges, rites, and customs of the Eastern Church. This is what the Roman pontiffs have equally proclaimed in numerous official documents and unofficial ones. And it is beyond a doubt that. if our fathers had thought that it would be otherwise, there would be no Greek Catholic Church today.”
The Eastern Catholic Churches have hierarchies in the New World, but these Churches have only a limited ability to govern themselves. The Congregation for the Eastern Churches on March 25, 1970, issued a decree, still in effect, which reserved to the Holy See the right to name the Melkite ordinary in the United States from a list of three names submitted by the Melkite Holy Synod. Thus the Melkite patriarch and synod do not have the final say on the choice of the bishop. In addition, the Eastern Catholic Churches m the United States are curtailed in their right to have married priests, although Eastern Churches have had married priests from the earliest days of Christianity.
One thing is certain, and that is that the traditional boundaries of the patriarchates have been pulverized by the widespread and continuous emigration of peoples. This ethnographic phenomenon, which is irreversible and proper to our age, and which will continue, cannot be ignored. There is a unique and inexpressible relationship between the faithful and their father, the patriarch, against which no legislative text can prevail. The father cannot be separated from his children.
The Melkite Church in the United States is the daughter of the Patriarchate of Antioch, which bears it as a tree bears its branches. Without the repeated interventions of the patriarchate before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council, there would be no Melkite jurisdiction in this country. The patriarch is the guardian and protector of our Eastern tradition; he is the living symbol of its heritage, which nothing can replace. Our vocation is to be the guidepost on the road to unity and to work for the restoration of the integrity of the Patriarchate of Antioch to reconstitute its Pleroma (fulfillment) by forming into one single Church with the Greek (Antiochian) Orthodox Patriarchate. This problem is all the more urgent since the Middle East is now aflame.