The recent decision of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy Synod around him to remove Metropolitan Athanasios from the Gerontic throne of the Metropolis of Chalcedon and place him in the ranks of the retired, together with the simultaneous election of Metropolitan Emmanuel of France to the Metropolis of Chalcedon, could be characterized as Earth-shaking ecclesiastical decisions, given the institutional positions involved, the scope of the actions but also the vistas they open.
I would say that it surprised many, even those closest to the Patriarchal Court, though not everybody inside and outside the Phanar, who knew that the situation which had developed in recent years in the historic and most prominent Metropolis of Chalcedon sometimes exceeded the bounds of tragicomedy.
After all, the description of the reproaches recorded in the official announcement of the Holy Synod was unequivocally indicative of the prevailing climate. Let us recall it: “The holy body, having listened to and considered a volume of evidence after a series of illegal acts, as well as the disobedience and disrespect of the Metropolitan Athanasios, Geron of Chalcedon to the person of His All-Holiness the Primate and to the institution of the Holy and Sacred Synod, proclaimed him deposed from the throne of this province and ranked him among the retired Hierarchs of the Throne as the former Metropolitan of Chalcedon.”
This paragraph reflects the full extent of the pathology that had been created for years in the First Eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne, whose hierarch is the First after the One, that is, after the Ecumenical Patriarch. It is not proper to include in this article the unholy references to the sacred person of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Synod that were included in that evidence, nor is the association of the former Metropolitan with troubled and defrocked clergy or nuns something that we would detail here. No one would be able to make any sense of it anyway.
Knowing Patriarch Bartholomew well enough, ever since he was Metropolitan of Philadelphia and Director of the Private Patriarchal Office of Patriarch Demetrios blessed memory, I would say he has great reserves of patience, brotherly love, philanthropy, and magnanimity – and he knows how to think carefully and prayerfully about his decisions. However, as the matters have shown in this case, both patience and magnanimity have their limits, and when Bartholomew is convinced that the prestige of the Church is being tarnished, he dares to take action regarding scissions among institutions and persons, putting the interest of the Church above them. This is Bartholomew as I have known him all these many years that I have had the honor and responsibility of handling the ecclesiastical writing of our historic newspaper, the National Herald, and this is exactly what he proved once again, after he exhausted all tolerance and suggestions for offering incentives to the fallen Athanasios for rehabilitation and a change of direction.
But let us now see what the election of Metropolitan Emmanuel of France to this historic and crucial First Metropolis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate may mean: First of all, let us say that this is perhaps the first time that a hierarch has been elected to it from the ‘outside’, i.e., one who is not a native born in Turkey, as has been the custom and tradition until now. This means two things: First, that Patriarch Bartholomew is opening up to the outside world by entrusting Chalcedon to an internationally known and prominent hierarch like Emmanuel, with great theological training and rich experience in Orthodox, inter-Christian, and inter-religious matters throughout the Oikoumene – the Ecumene – who carried out successfully all the ecclesiastical missions assigned to him by the Patriarch, even the most difficult ones, such as the granting of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Secondly, Emmanuel proved to be one of the most trusted and devoted hierarchs and associates of the Patriarch.
I am sure that the sub-faction that had been created and which aims at the occupation of the Ecumenical Throne, at all costs and by any means, is not hidden from the knowledge of the Patriarch, and here the phrases are literal. The election, therefore, of Emmanuel to the Metropolis of Chalcedon already accomplished the first reversal and cancellation of the plans of this faction, which is made up of hierarchs who owe everything to Bartholomew. It is as simple as that.
Emmanuel, in the event of a possible vacancy of the Patriarchal Throne – my prayer and wish is that Patriarch Bartholomew live for many more years, because he is indeed a great and irreplaceable Patriarch – will play a leading role in the succession, as he will become the President of the Synod which will launch the election of a Patriarch. Of course, he can also be a candidate, since he has acquired the required Turkish citizenship, and in fact it is a tradition for the Metropolitan of Chalcedon to become Ecumenical Patriarch, as happened with Bartholomew.
Of course, in the election of a Patriarch there are many uncertain factors, such as historical and political circumstances and the coalitions, alliances, and conflicts among the hierarchs, but surely in all this Emmanuel will be the central player in the game.
I certainly am not in the mind of the Patriarch, but I think that the possibility of his resignation and retirement to his beloved birthplace, Imbros, which he adores, should not be ruled out. In other words, the election of Emmanuel to the Throne of Chalcedon has much more serious implications and prospects than initially appeared, because we are now talking about the true ‘opening’ of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Ecumene, so that it can be renewed and reorganized to be able to survive and thrive.
There is another aspect, the following: Patriarch Bartholomew with this move sent a message in all directions, at sea and on land, that he will not hesitate to proceed to other catalytic decisions when he sees that the good interests of the Ecumenical Throne are affected or challenged as “times are changing.” What is certain is that Bartholomew is not playing around. He is being bold precisely because he is a leader.