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Concerning the Head of the Church

I believe that the only Head of the Orthodox Church is our Lord Jesus Christ. The Orthodox Church has never had, nor shall ever have a "universal" bishop. A "primate" or an "Ecumenical Patriarch" is not a prelate with universal jurisidiction over the Church, nor was the Pope of Rome, nor the Pope of Alexandria, for that matter, ever so considered in the early centuries before the rise of Papal pretensions, expecially from the ninth century on. The titles "patriarch," "archbishop," "metropolitan," and so forth, do not denote a difference of episcopal grace. The unity of the Orthodox Church is expressed by the harmony of Her bishops, by Her common Faith, common Law, and common spiritual life. Every bishop (the visible head) and his flock (the visible body) constitute the fulness of the Body of Christ. There can be no Church without a bishop, even as a body cannot exist without a head. Since He is God, our Lord Jesus Christ, despite His Ascension into the Heavens, remains with us until the end of time in accordance with His promise (Matt. 28:20); therefore, since He is not absent, He does not require a "vicar," in the Papal sense, to rule over His Body. The Holy Spirit directs the Church and accomplishes that incomprehensible identification in which our incarnate Lord Jesus, and the Holy Eucharist, and the assembly of the Church are one and the same and are called the Body of Christ.

The Ecumenical and Local Councils do not invent symbols of faith, but, guided by the Holy Spirit, bear witness to what has been delivered by the Church at every time, in every place, and by every one; and they promulgate the canons necessary to put the Faith into practice as it has been lived and professed from the beginning. Infallibility is an attribute of the Catholicity of the Church of Christ, and not an attribute of a single person or, de facto, of an hierarchical assembly. A council is not "ecumenical" because of the exterior legality of its composition (since this factor does not oblige the Holy Spirit to speak through a council), but because of the purity of the Faith of the Gospels which it professes. "Truth (i.e. conformity to the Apostolic Tradition) judges the Councils," says St. Maximus the Confessor. There is no "pope," superior to the Councils who must ratify them, but rather it is the conscience of the Church, which, being infallible, does or does not recognize the authenticity of a Council, and which does or does not acknowledge that the voice of the Holy Spirit has spoken. Hence, there have been councils which, though fulfilling the exterior conditions of ecumenicity, were nonethless rejected by the Church. The Church's criterion, according to St. Vincent of Lerins, is the Church.

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