Head of Russian Church Explains Why 'Papism Is Dangerous'

"Papism is dangerous because it is much easier to influence one individual than a group of people"

Editor's Note:  While both Orthodox and Catholic churches claim to have remained most faithful to the original Christian Church, there are many fundamental differences. One of the most obvious is that the Orthodox Church does not have a pope, but is rather led by a council of bishops. In Orthodoxy, all bishops are fundamentally equal in theological authority, even if some have higher administrative roles. For example, the head of the Russian Church, the patriarch, sets general policy, but he is not theologically superior to other bishops. Even the patriarch, who is sometimes referred to as 'the first among equals' does not have the power to interfere with a local bishop’s canonical running of his own diocese without calling a council of bishops.


On November 4, 2019, after the Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Dormition in the Moscow Kremlin, a fraternal repast took place at which His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia addressed the gathering.

Speaking about the crucial developments in the world Orthodoxy, His Holiness said in particular:

‘Today we are going through certain difficulties, in the first place in the relations with Constantinople. However, unlike Constantinople – which violates canonical rules by invading into others’ jurisdiction by granting ‘autocephaly’ to those who did not ask for it and insists on other privileges that have never been appropriate to it – our Church does not strive for power at the pan-Orthodox level. We only wish to preserve the canonical order and we cannot allow that a likeness of papism, a ‘quasi-papism’, should emerge in Orthodoxy.

I will say perhaps a somewhat unexpected thing. Why is papism dangerous? – Certainly because papism does not follow from either the Word of God or the Tradition of the Church. I will still offer another, completely different argument: papism is dangerous because it is much easier to influence one individual than a group of people. A pope and a patriarch who wants to become the pope become a very attractive target to the powers that be, and an outside influence made on one individual may ruin the Church.

When the system of synodal governance of the Church was developed, the holy apostles were well aware what they were doing. It was impossible in the context of the Roman Empire that only one individual should have borne responsibility for the whole Church – indeed, he could be arrested, he could be persuaded to cooperate, he could be scared. However, all these dangers come to naught when the Church is governed collegially, synodally.

Therefore, in our time too, it is necessary to uphold the synodal governance of the Universal Church. We do not challenge the Patriarch of Constantinople’s primacy in honour, but we disagree with any encroachments on the universal power. The Patriarch of Constantinople, who resides in the territory of Turkey, is very vulnerable personally, and for this reason it remains for us only to pray that the Lord may save him from influences that could have a pernicious effect on the life of the whole Church’.

Patriarchal Press Service

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