Reflections on Bishop Basil: The Vision of Chalcedon’s Canon 28

June 20, 2009

The lights dimmed in the library meeting room, the projector screen lit up, and Bishop Basil commenced his speech in a barely audible, soft-spoken voice. Going through many images of ancient maps that showed the geographical delineations of the world according to people at the time, it was made clear time and time again that the church was quartered off according to the four patriarchates around Jerusalem and Constantinople. The north west quarter was under the Roman Patriarchate, which obviously is the jurisdiction now of the Roman Catholic church. Extending the northwest quarter, it could be interpreted, as said by Bishop Basil, that it would have rights over North America. 

Someone later made the comment from an internet question that wouldn’t the Patriarchate in Constantinople have rights over North America continuing its borders north east across Russian and the Pacific Ocean. Bishop Basil replied that the new world was unknown during that time so the “lines blur” past the Old World.

The bishop goes on to say the orthodox church continues to respect the Roman patriarchate to this day, and that it is ‘unreal’ for the Orthodox to pretend like it doesn’t exist. It sounds to me that he is trying to prove his views as part of the Constantinople Patriarchate in having warm relations with the Roman Catholic church.

Many were confused as to the point of his speech, and I think the main point was that we as Orthodox have to respect the Roman Patriarchate and their jurisdiction of the north west and that we cannot establish an Orthodox Patriarchate in their jurisdiction; we have to respect their territorial integrity.



3 Responses to “Reflections on Bishop Basil: The Vision of Chalcedon’s Canon 28”

  1. Stephen Schumacher Says:

    Regarding Bp. Basil’s provocative statement that America is an “Island in the Atlantic”, so therefore part of the missionary outreach of Rome: Couldn’t it just as well be said that America is an “Island in the Pacific”, so thereby part of the outreach of Antioch or Constantinopole or Russia? In fact, historically that is how much of the Orthodox missionary activity came to America, through Alaskan saints such as St. Herman, St. Innocent, etc. (For that matter, South America may be reached via Antarctica, so I suppose Alexandria could stake a claim as well.)

    Another interesting question is whether missionary activity remains forever the exclusive province of the original patriarchates (including Constantinople which was later added to the original roster of just three outward-facing patriarchates by Canon 28). If so, then I suppose these four old-world patriarchates get to carve up the world in perpetuity (until that might be changed by future council), but that seems a stingy vision of evangelism for the rest of the world. Moreover, it doesn’t square with the historical reality of evangelism by later local churches such as Russia.

    Lydia, good point that Bp. Basil was suggesting that no Orthodox local churches should be established in the Roman Patriarchate’s turf. I might buy that if we were talking about a prospective Orthodox establishment in Italy! But it’s quite a stretch to assert that turf maps drawn thousands of years ago preclude the establishment of Orthodox local churches anywhere in the Roman (hence Phanar?) Western turf – especially since East meets West half a globe away!

  2. Al Says:

    Having studied under +Basil, I am familiar with his ability to trace something back to its very roots to understand the “why” versus just the “what”. With the “why” understood, the “what” has clearer context.

    Like it or not, the Eastern Patriarchiates have, for nearly 1000 years since the Schism, respected and/or recognized the geographic integrity of the Roman Patriarchate. No council has met to reorder the Patriarchates. By inaction, Rome remains “First Among Equals”, even while in schism. Even though Rome has ignored the territorial integrity of the Orthodox Patriarchiates, we have never established truly local and universally recognized Churches on what might be termed Roman soil. +Basil simply explained some of the “why” of this. For all intents and purposes, the Western hemisphere was left to the Roman Patriarchiate to evangelize for at least 3 centuries before Russia’s Alaskan activities.

    We may not have been comfortable hearing what +Basil said, but it is accurate in it’s historical context, and equally accurate in depicting how we have related to the Roman Patriarchate. Our recognition of Roman territory is clear by our actions since 1054.

    I think +Basil has raised a very significant issue. It is not a question of which ocean we Americans currently wish to claim we are in to meet our current desires. From 1492 until perhaps 40 years ago, we treated our continent as if it were a part of the Patriarchate of Rome. If we are now to reverse that stand, how do we justify the Moscow Patriarchate’s taking issue with Roman bishops on Russian soil? Poaching is poaching! In short, no matter what we wish to do in North America, we, the full Orthodox Church, need to address the schism in the context of the enlarged, post 1054 world. Until we do, we live in the distant past.

  3. Ryan Close Says:

    How does this change if, as has already happened, the Pope of the Frankish Roman Tridentine Catholic Church relinquished the title “Patriarch of the West”?


    ‘In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI relinquished the title “Patriarch of the West” as obsolete in order better to reflect historical and theological reality’ – The Early Papacy, by Adrian Fortescue and co.

    ‘Upon relinquishing the title of Patriarch of the West in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI renamed these basilicas from “Patriarchal Basilicas” to “Papal Basilicas”.’ – Wikipedia, Basilica

    Furthermore, the Papacy represents the barbarian subjugation of the Roman Patriarchate to the rule of a new Frankish religion. This would be akin to the Muslim barbarians subjugating the Patriarchate of Alexandria with their Arian Hagarite religion, appointing a new Muslim Pope there. We would simply deny that the Muslim Pope was an Orthodox Bishop.

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