“These questions, however, have to be answered, from the point of view of systematic theology at least, by placing them within a much more radical framework, namely that of the fundamental question: Is the structure of the Christian Church in light of the gospel, monarchial or collegial? This question is undoubtably radical because it is asked, on the one hand, with the whole Christian people in mind and, on the other, from the point of view of what the Lord himself taught, that is, in the light of the gospel of Christ as a whole.
We may go further and say that, if the structure of the Church is conditioned by and subject to the norm of the gospel of Christ, we must base our argument less on the isolated descriptions or ideas of the Church which occur almost accidentally in the New Testament…and more on the general spirit of the words of the Lord as the origin of those images of the Church. That essentially new elemnt in the teaching of the Lord which distinguishes it from teaching contained in all the religions and ideaologies that have so far arisen in the history of man is the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the differentia specifica of Christianity.
In light of this faith in the Trinity, the Christian teaching about God’s being, the creation of the world and the cosmic mestaphysical order of the universe has always been different from that of other religions or ideaologies. It has, in a word, been trinitarian. The idea of the Trinity is central, not only in the doctrine of the Christian Church, but also-and in the first place-in the teaching of the Lord himself. If this is so, then surely it is bound to inspire the whole task of the Christian Church to give a new structure to the created world. This brings us to the question of the relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology.
At the most holy moment of his life on earth and just before he left this world, Christ prayed to his Father and at the same time expressed his most fervent desire: ‘I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.’ (John 17.20f.)
It is perhaps symptomatic that, in an attempt to stress the holiness of the ecumenical intention, these words are quoted nowaday at almost every meeting between Christians of different denominations. yet we usually think very little about these important words afterwards. The phrase ‘that they may be one’ expresses the practical and immediate aims of ecumenism better than the idea which follows, namely ‘as thou Father, art in me…’. But these words become even more meaningful perhaps if we remember that this exemplary mode of unity within the Trinity is the basic presupposition for the unity of the Church which we hope will be achieved. the importance of the whole passage is even further emphasized by the fact that Christ did not have a definite gorup of people, such as the apostles in mind when he spoke these words, but rather all those who believed in him and would believe in him throughout history. It is this universal validity of the moral principle that is expressed here which gives it its distinctive and normative character. This is why it must constitute the basic and first ecclesiolgy premise for all theological thinking at all times.
It is clear therefore that there must be a direct relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and ecclesiology, a relationship expressed in fact in the striking parallel that exists between the fundamental theological questions of the Church’s Trinitarian and ecclesiological teaching. If the inner interrelationships that exist in the historical development of dogma in the Church have existed since the earliest times are borne in mind, it is not difficult to recognize that the main problem confronting all theological thinking throughout the history of the Church has always been the same-the fundamental question of the relationship between unity and multiplicity.
The question as to how God could be thought of as three persons while at the same time still remaining one God was superseded by the question as to how the Church, which was founded by Christ as one Church, could at the same time exist as many different individual churches or, alternatively, how the many different individual members of the Church could at the same time constitute only one body, the body of the Lord.
It is true that this is only an analogy. It is, however, a very profound analogy and it is all the more important and indeed legitimate to make it because it is required by the Lord himself. What should above all not be forgotten in this context, however, is the authentic Christian teaching that man’s ultimate goal is nothing less than the well known theosis of the Greek Fathers of the Church.
Just as the idea of homoousia in the trinitarian dilemma does not violate the independence of the individual persons of the Trinity, so too does the idea of the unity of the Church in the ecclesiological problem not violate the independence of the individual churches or of the individual persons belonging to those churches. What is more, just as the idea of a subordinatio was not accepted in the life of the Trinity, so too has this idea to be excluded from the life of the Church.
The question as to whether the primacy of Rome, as defined by the First and unfortunately also by the Second Vatican Council, really has any place at all in this idea of the Church has therefore to be answered with an emphatic ‘no’. This does not however, imply a complete denial of any primacy within the Orthodox Church. By this, I mean that acceptance of the principle of synodal collegiality leads to the acknowledgement of one biship as the first among the bishops, in other words, it leads to according primacy to him, not, it has to be admitted, in the sense of a pontifix maximus, but rather in the sense of a primus inter pares.
This idea of a primacy has been formulated in a very remarkable way in the 34th of the so-called Apostolic Canons, which takes the whole context of ‘power structures’ in the Church into consideration: ‘The bishops of every people are to acknowledge the first among them and regard him as their head.’ This canon goes on to say that the first among the bishops cannot do anything without the opinion of all the others, and the others cannot do anything without the opinion of the first. The theological justification for this is that ‘it is only in this way that harmony can be achieved, so that God is glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ Two fundamental ecclesiological principles, then, are stressed in this canon, the first being autocephaly and the second collegiality. Each is correlative with the other.
So long as he regarded his primacy as the primacy of a “first among equals’, it was possible for him to express an opinion of decisive importance in matters of concern to the whole Church and to be respected by everyone. In this way, he was really able to perform an essential service in the Church as a whole. As soon as he began, however to regard his episcopal power as basically different from the power of all the other bishops, it was no longer possible for him to remain in communion with the Orthodox Church.
All the bishops participate in the apostolic succession and all the local churches are for this reason in communon with each other. By regarding the Petrine succession and not the apostolic succession of all the bishops as the origin and basis of this power, the pope isolated himself not only from the community of bishop, but also from the whole Church. Seen in this light, it was quite logically consistent for the First Vatican Council to define the decisions made by the pope ex cathedra as irreversable ex sese, non autem ex consensu Ecclesiae.
The Church is, however, a community and if any person, no matter who he is, isolates himself from the other members of that community if only for a moment, then he is automatically placed in the situation of original sin and can only be compared with a ‘monad without windows.’
It is not primarily for canonical reasons, but rather for deepnly soteriological reasons that the synodal structure of the Church is so highly valued in Orthodox circles. None the less, both reasons are inwardly very closely connected in Orthodox thought and both lead to a radical rejeciton of the primacy of Rome in matters of jurisdiction and in the quesiton of infallibility.”
AchBp. Stylianos Harkianakis of Australia, “Can a Petrine Office Be Meaningful in the Church?: A Greek Orthodox Reply” in Papal Ministry in the Church, ed. Hans Kung, Herder and Herder, 1971, pp. 115-121.