The person of the tumultuous year 2018 that is drawing to a close is Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, for two important reasons: First, he was not able to solve the ecclesiastical problems of the Archdiocese of America, which is numerically the biggest and the most prominent ecclesiastical eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne. Second, he successful presided over the granting of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Let us begin with the first, because it concerns the Greek-American Community directly given the significance of its ecclesiastical life. At the center of the ecclesiastical problem, which has reached the extreme point of a dual bankruptcy in the spiritual and financial realms, is Archbishop Demetrios, because of his office and role as the First – Primate as we used to say in ecclesiastical terminology – with all the magnitude of responsibly that derives from his position.
It would be unfair to say that the Archbishop is the only one responsible for the dire phthisis of the Archdiocese because a great part of the responsibility proportionally belongs to the hierarchs, the members of the Eparchial Synod, as well as to the lay members of the Archdiocesan Council.
The pose hierarchs and laymen take when they are confronted – the majority of them are appointed – the excuse they give that they didn’t know that the vessel of the Church was sinking and that the captain, meaning Archbishop Demetrios, didn’t inform them, does not reduce to magnitude of their responsibility. In fact, it sounds childish. Unquestionably the weight of responsibility falls first and foremost on the First, the Archbishop, but Patriarch Bartholomew is also responsible because of his official role and ecclesiastical capacity. He has as his responsibility the care of the Archdiocese of America. If we are to talk ecclesiologically, he is the par excellence Archbishop of America as he is commemorated at the Holy Eucharist: “First of all Lord remember our Archbishop Bartholomew”.
Even though the Patriarch is fully informed about the situation, and since painful events continue to occur, as he mentioned in a very clear way in his message to the Clergy Laity-Congress last July in Boston, he was not able to resolve the problem.
Of course, the truth of the matter is he tried not only once or twice but three times, urging the Archbishop officially twice during meetings of the Synod in Constantinople and once privately recently in Geneva to voluntarily submit his resignation, but Demetrios refused, and he convinced the Patriarch to give him extensions. It costs the Patriarch significant prestige when an archbishop disobeys him. After all, Bartholomew is Demetrios’ Ecclesiastical superior.
Demetrios’ third and most recent challenge to patriarchal authority occurred on Monday November 19, 2018 in Geneva after he learned that the Patriarch had decided to announce the Archbishop’s resignation and to proceed with an election to preplace him. Again, one more time at the very last minute Demetrios convinced Bartholomew to grant him a new extension, this time until Easter.
It is clear that Archbishop Demetrios either has exceptional survival abilities or he has powers of persuasion over the Patriarch for reasons that only the two of them know.
On the other hand, the affair demonstrates that the Patriarch has a great degree of humanity, and the so called the brotherly-love (φιλάδελφον), which affects him the last minute, feeling compassion as he sees standing before him a decrepit hierarch begging the Patriarch to give him more time.
This is understandable up to a certain point, but at the same time it looks like the Ecumenical Patriarch is timid and indecisive since there are serious reasons for intervention in a paralyzed Archdiocese with struggling institutions, especially the Holy Cross School of Theology.
On the other hand, regarding the issue of granting Autocephaly to Ukraine, Patriarch Bartholomew proven that he is bold and fearless since the issue has not only ecclesiastical dimensions but also a geopolitical one given the importance of Ukraine to Russia and the tensions caused by the schism that existed in the country among three different Church groups. The Patriarch from the very beginning spoke about the restoration of canonical order and the healing of the schism and he went ahead despite the sometimes overt, sometimes covert disagreements of patriarchs and prelates of autocephalous churches who were calling for consensus.
Patriarch Bartholomew, being an expert in such ecclesiastical and canonical matters, and also given his awareness of the mentality and perceptive of the ecclesiological imperialistic aims, threats, and intrigues of the Patriarchate of Moscow, took up his cross and he proceeded to take bold action on the issues.
He has been attacked from many directions. The most recent attack came from Putin himself who in statements during a press conference spoke and more or less alleged that the Patriarch received money to grant the autocephaly. Putin did not produce any evidence to back up his accusations, but being experienced in KGB disinformation techniques he is expert in all methods of unethical attacks and character assassination. It is surprising, however, that only Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium and the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America reacted to Putin’s statements.
Thus, Patriarch Bartholomew is the Person of the year because on the one hand he showed diffidence and indecisiveness regarding the gave problem of the tenure of Archbishop Demetrios, and on the other hand for his boldness regarding autocephaly in Ukraine, where he demonstrated frankness and leadership.
The fact remains that in America there is a different culture and mentality, and history is written in faster rhythms than in Anatolia, and this is what the Patriarch, the otherwise highly intelligent First Bishop of the Orthodox Church, does not seem to understand, that the Church and Community in America run on American time, not Orthodox time, and people are losing their patience.