I've seen this sad little notice a couple of times in the English language press, regarding the encounter in the Holy Land between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew:
"The chief foreign spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed some misgivings that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will be meeting Pope Francis during the Pontiff’s visit to the Holy Land.
Metropolitan Hilarion said that because Patriarch Bartholomew had not consulted with other Orthodox leaders before scheduling his meeting with the Pope, he would be acting on his own behalf, not as a representative of the world’s Orthodox faithful. Although the Patriarch of Constantinople is traditionally recognized as the “first among equals” in the Orthodox hierarchy, the Russian Orthodox argues that he exercises that primacy only when other Orthodox patriarchs explicitly authorize him to do so. In the absence of such a mandate, Metropolitan Hilarion said, Patriarch Bartholomew will be representing only his own particular church, the Patriarchate of Constantinople."
They are harsh words, which would wield the honorific title first among equals against the unity of the Church.
I hope His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople won't be offended if I make the presumptuous statement that I bet he sees those words in an entirely different light than does Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church. I am betting that both Patriarch Bartholomew and I attribute a certain contingency to his title first among equals. I am betting that he sees that title as a mandate from the Lord Jesus Himself to seek unity. It is a charismatic title, which would lead to Christ, which would lead to the robust kind of unity and communion which Jesus willed for His Church and which we are all owing to Him.
The proverbial oxen yoke is not the best image for synodality in the Church. The asceticism involved in always pulling the "plow" together is indeed meritorious, but primacy does indeed lead the way by encouragement and the occasional prophetic challenge. Peter strengthens the brethren urged on and encouraged by his brother Andrew, the first called.
UT UNUM SINT!
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