Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Fr Johannes L. Jacobs

3/3/2010 (5 years ago)

Catholic Online (

The encyclical was well received in Christian circles outside of the Orthodox Church. The tone and message was meant to assure readers outside of Orthodoxy that Constantinople's claim to speak universally is valid and that its critics could be ignored. Inside the Orthodox Church however, many remain unpersuaded.

Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI.

Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI.


By Fr Johannes L. Jacobs

Catholic Online (

3/3/2010 (5 years ago)

Published in Europe

NAPLES, FL (Catholic Online) - Last week Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew released an encyclical (Patriarch of Constantinople´s New Encyclical Defends Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue)  castigating what he called Orthodox "fanatics" who object to Orthodox ecumenical involvement. The encyclical was well received in Christian circles outside of the Orthodox Church, but raised eyebrows among those in the fold, not least for the strength of the language.

Here´s the background. The Orthodox Church is emerging out of a period of active persecution that lasted centuries for the Greeks and a generation for the Russians and other Eastern Europeans. Orthodoxy still flourishes in the Middle East although under considerable Muslim pressure. It is growing in Africa, Indonesia (where an indigenous Ortho-dox Church was started by several Moslem converts), America, Western Europe, and elsewhere in the world.

Two patriarchies dominate Orthodox affairs worldwide: Constantinople (Istanbul) and Moscow. Of the two patriarchies, Moscow is emerging as the leader. Constantinople on the other hand, still labors under the Islamic yoke. Muslim extremists have attacked the Patriarchate and the Turkish government has confiscated property and other resources.

With that history in mind, what is the reason for last Sunday´s encyclical?

All traditional Christian Churches understand that the Gospel is universal. "Go forth and preach the Gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit," Christ commanded His disciples. The Gospel transcends national, ethnic, and tribal boundaries. It is meant for all mankind.

The term "universal" comes from the Greek word katholikos (Catholic) which means "according to the whole." It is used in the Nicene Creed as "One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church."

Roman Catholics understand "according to the whole" to mean to mean the geographical dispersion of the Church united under the Pope of Rome. Orthodox understand the term to mean the unity of faith expressed through shared worship, doctrine, and manner of living that is the same in all places. Protestants understand it as the assembly of believers that transcend denominational boundaries.

In recent years, Constantinople has adopted the Roman definition but with a twist. It rightfully claims a primacy over all Orthodox patriarchies but now argues that the primacy includes a jurisdictional authority over areas of the world not directly under an established Patriarchate (America, for example).

The shifting definition creates a problem for Constantinople. Since Orthodox doctrine limits the Ecumenical Patriarch's jurisdictional authority to the geographical confines of the city of Constantinople, how can his claim of greater geographical authority be realized? It resolves the dilemma by elevating ethnic self-identity through an appeal to history.

It works like this: The Greeks gave the world both Hellenism and Christianity (from classical antiquity, to the hearing of St. Paul's gospel in pre-Christian Greece, to Byzantium). Secondly, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the only living institution that embodies that rich historical legacy in the person of the Patriarch. Constantinople's primacy, in other words, also includes an ethnic component.

In Constantinople's view, the Greek in Greek Orthodoxy is as important as the Ortho-doxy. And since Greek Orthodox believers are geographically dispersed worldwide, Con-stantinople's authority extends worldwide as well, especially over lands with a poorly organized Orthodox presence. Moscow and most of the Orthodox dispute the claim.

Elevating ethnic self-identity first arose after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 when Christian world of Byzantium became subject to the Moslems and the Ecumenical Patri-arch became the unifying symbol of beleaguered Greeks. It may have been a necessary accommodation that saved them from Islamic assimilation.

All religious communions have believers who do not believe that the grace of God can exist outside the confines of their communion. Orthodoxy is no different. They make up some of the Ecumenical Patriarch's harshest critics and are probably the "fanatics" he had in mind in his encyclical. Others are more temperate but nevertheless alarmed by the re-cent hobnobbing with secular and marginally Christian organizations.

Either way, Constantinople invites the criticism. If the universality of the Church is defined first by ethnic identity and only secondarily by the Gospel command to preach to all nations, then participation in the Church is first a matter of pedigree and only second a matter of obedience to the Gospel.

Moreover, ethnic primacy also changes the manner by which Constantinople engages the culture. For example, in America we often see Constantinople lauding Greek Orthodox politicians who are fiercely pro-abortion with no corrective word about their violation of the moral tradition. St. Paul defines this as the salt losing its saltiness.

Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy have plenty of experience with getting too entangled in the affairs of this world. It mutes the Gospel and harms the Church. Rome tries to avoid these entanglements as does Moscow.

The Ecumenical Patriarch knows that his rebuke won't silence his critics. But then the encyclical was not really intended for an Orthodox audience. Rather, the tone and message was meant to assure readers outside of Orthodoxy that Constantinople's claim to speak universally is valid and that its critics could be ignored. Inside the Orthodox Church however, many remain unpersuaded.


Fr Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest serving in Naples, FL. He is the editor of Orthodoxy Today  and President of the American Orthodox Institute.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Europe

The unexpected thing one Syrian refugee did for Germany that will melt your heart Watch

Image of Syrian refugee Alex Assali fed the homeless outside Berlin's Alexanderplatz station in an effort to give back to the city that has helped him, and other refugees, so much (Imgur).


Amid fears of ISIS infiltration and Muslim takeovers, one Syrian refugee took a stand against prejudiced tensions and thanked the city of Berlin on behalf of all refugees. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Each Saturday, Alex Assali cooks and distributes food to ... continue reading

Concentration camps and Nazi language: Berlin guards caught on tape speaking unbelievably cruel about refugees Watch

Image of Berlin guards at the office for refugees have reportedly been recorded using Nazi language and suggesting refugees be sent to concentration camps (Markus Heine/ NurPhoto).


Videos have been released showing Berlin guards around the office for refugees using "Nazi language" and suggesting the refugees be sent to concentration camps. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Security guards working for private contractor Gegenbauer Security ... continue reading

SHOCK SHOW: Sacrilegious art exhibit in Spain uses 240 stolen consecrated hosts Watch

Image of Photos of the theft of the Hosts and their placement on the ground are shown in a public art gallery in Pamplona.

By Catholic News Agency

Critics of Pamplona's city council say it deliberately attacked Catholics and broke Spanish law by using city property to display a sacrilegious art exhibit with more than 240 stolen consecrated Hosts. Madrid, Spain (CNA) - The Spanish artist Abel Azcona stole ... continue reading

French Hostage Situation: Two armed suspects engage in shootout with French police Watch

Image of French police engaged in a shootout with two suspects armed with Kalashnikovs (Not pictured).


Two suspects armed with Kalashnikov rifles engaged in a shootout with French police in Toubaix, France. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The suspects are believed to have taken a bank director and his family hostage, but very little is currently known.[media ... continue reading

Vatican corruption: Journalists stand trial Watch

Image of Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi must stand trial at the Vatican for publishing confidential documents (Reuters).


Following the publication of books claiming the Holy See was mismanaged and spoiled through corruption, five people went on trial at the Vatican on Tuesday. Two of the five on trial were Italian Journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, neither of whom ... continue reading

Undercover reporter reveals secret FEMALE ISIS organization in Britain Watch

Image of One veiled ISIS sympathizer was filmed during the undercover investigation (Channel 4).


In a new British documentary titled The British Women Supporters Unveiled, one young female reporter goes undercover to infiltrate a secret Muslim organization designed to garner sympathy for the Islamic State. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The reporter, who uses ... continue reading

OUTRAGEOUS: Find out why The Lord's Prayer was BANNED from Just Pray movie theater ad Watch

Image of


An advertisement featuring the Lord's Prayer has been banned from movie theaters in England. According to the Church of England, the policy that prevents the prayer advertisement did not exist when they began production on the commercial. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic ... continue reading

Swiss farmer finds 4,000 extremely rare Roman coins in his orchard Watch

Image of The cache of coins is estimated to be more than 1,700 years old.


A Swiss farmer was tilling his orchard in Ueken, in the northern canton of Aargau, Switzerland, when he spotted something shiny on the ground. He had inadvertently stumbled across a treasure trove of Roman-era coins - 4,166 in all, some dating as back as 274 ... continue reading

Five people indicted by Vatican in 'Vati-leaks' scandal Watch

Image of Journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi (pictured), had both recently published books, citing specific Vatican documents detailing waste, mismanagement, and greed.


A judge, rendering a decision in a scandal involving Vatican finances has indicted five people, which include two journalists and a Vatican monsignor. Information linking the Vatican to financial malfeasance, as well as related graft and corruption called ... continue reading

Massacre in France is a Piecemeal Third World War, and Jesus is the Path to Peace Watch

Image of With tenderness, Jesus looked out from the Mount of Olives and saw the Holy City of Jerusalem. How he loved - and still loves - that special City. Then, Jesus wept. The Word Incarnate, made a man like us in all things but sin, cried. He knew that the City of Jerusalem would soon be overtaken and destroyed by the armies of Titus. He wept the tears of Love - and revealed the compassion of His Sacred Heart

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Do we recognize the time of our own visitation? God is present in our world today. He wants to  speak, to lead, to serve, to heal and to save. He is not to blame for the mess we are in. We are!  Those who purport to be representing their "God"  as ... continue reading

All Europe News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Prayer For Faith HD Video
  • Opium, heroin or cocaine: What drug is YOUR country known for?
  • 'Body lifted from the ground': Young Central American woman dies ...
  • St. Eligius: Saint of the Day for Tuesday, December 01, 2015
  • Daily Readings for Tuesday, December 01, 2015
  • Christmas Presence vs. Presents
  • Parents' Prayer For Their Children HD Video

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 11:1-10
1 A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, a new shoot will grow from ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 72:1, 7-8, 12-13, 17
1 [Of Solomon] God, endow the king with your own fair judgement, the son ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 10:21-24
21 Just at this time, filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said, 'I ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 1st, 2015 Image

St. Eligius
December 1: Eligius (also known as Eloi) was born around 590 ... Read More