You imply that there is significant scholarship debunking this understanding. Would you mind expanding on this?
I am very much obliged.
For a start, take canons of 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Ecumenical Council (incl. 28th canon of 4th council) and read them. There are canons laying down borders and competences of each of the sees.
Now, if 6th canon of 1st Council settled the same system we call autocephalia today, why there is the need for additional canons during the next centuries?
I'll provide the list of further sources once you provide your list.
First, I must apologize. I have gone back to re-read the post to which you refer, and then to review my sources, and I did indeed speak in error. My error has been compounded by a failure to communicate clearly.
Let's touch briefly on Autocephaly, shall we? Canonically speaking, autocephaly is a very different beast than it has been made out to be in recent centuries. The First Council of Nicaea stipulated that every province of the Roman Empire was to be autocephalous (with certain exceptions allowing for the ancient primacy of the Churches of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch over nearby provinces). We should be clear that there were around 120 provinces in the Roman Empire at this time.
Over the next two centuries, the above-mentioned development of the theory of the Christian Roman Empire resulted, among other things, in a process of centralization, so that by the mid-fifth century, the provinces were no longer autocephalous, but some dioceses (a diocese was a civil and administrative entity denoting a group of provinces) still retained their ecclesiastical self-governance. Whatever else Canon 28 of Chalcedon did, it granted officially what had unofficially been claimed for the past 50 years to Constantinople: direct jurisdiction of some of the last remaining "autocephalous" dioceses in the Roman Empire: Pontus, Asia, and Thrace. From this point in time, roughly speaking, we have in place the fabled Pentarchy of Patriarchates...an innovation on and, to be frank, a violation of the Canons of the First Ecumenical Council, pushed through by the Imperial legates and objected to by most of the Church.
I said "canonically speaking, autocephaly is a very different beast than it has been made out to be in recent centuries," there implying, and later explicitly stating, that the development of the Patriarchal system violates the Canon Law of the Church. This, as you rightly point out, is not necessarily so. The eventual establishment of the Patriarchal System was certainly accomplished with the imprimatur of at least one Ecumenical Council, as I indicated when I mentioned Canon 28 of Chalcedon, and with the tacit approval/assumption based on long reality, as witnessed by Canon 36 of Penthekti. However, to move through the councils chronologically...
Canon 4 of Nicaea certainly established autocephaly for every province of the Roman Empire, with certain exceptions explicitly defined in the case of Alexandria and mentioned for reference purposes in passing in the case of Rome and Antioch.
The degree to which the rights of the provincial metropolitans were abrogated in favor of greater centralization, specifically benefiting the five centers of the newly defined dioceses of the Eastern Empire in Canons 2, 3 & 9 of Constantinople seems somewhat unclear, and is certainly an object of debate. I tend to agree with His Eminence Archbishop Peter L'Huillier in his analysis of Canon 2 (in The Church of the Ancient Councils
, St. Vladimir's Press, 1979, 1996, 2000) when he points out that
"We cannot say that this canon brought about changes in the government of the Church, since it did not introduce or sanction a uniform hierarchical structure for the dioceses; on the contrary, it respected the status quo" (L'Huillier 116).
Later on in his analysis he observes: "If the fathers of the Council of Constantinople in 381 did not try to establish a pyramidal, hierarchical structure of the dioceses, neither did they conceive of them as simple geographical groupings; they saw in them coherent entities in which the bishops ought to assume common responsibilities" (L'Huillier 117).
And finally he concludes: "After having set out the ruling which forbade the bishops of one diocese to intervene in the church life of another, the fathers of Constantinople took very special care to recall the validity of the decisions of Nicaea on the competence of the provincial council. On this matter, Balsamon notes most properly that at this time each metropolitan district enjoyed autocephaly" (L'Huillier 118).
His notes on Canon 9 are in the same vein: "If we relate canons 2, 3, and 6 of the double council of 381-2, we see the tendency to consider the dioceses as wider church districts; the bishops of these areas were supposed to regulate their own affairs together and without any exterior intervention. These groupings--ornamented by the authority of certain sees, which first tacitly and then explicitly received a supra-metropolitan jurisdiction--were rather rapidly to develop into the constitutions of the patriarchates" (L'Huillier 130).
Thus, to sum up, Constantinople in no way canonically countenances the supercession of the rights of the Metropolitan Synod of the individual province, rather establishing that, for inter-provincial issues, the bishops of the diocese are fully competent to resolve these issues, and should not be interfered with from outside the diocese. It does not (and explicitly says that it does not) create an overarching hierarchical administration, concluding as it does, "The above-mentioned rule about the dioceses being observed, it is obvious that the council of the province will direct the affairs of each province according to what was decided at Nicaea" (L'Huillier's translation, page 115).
On the one hand, as His Eminence notes, the "ornamentation" of certain sees within the diocese quickly tends towards the exercise by those sees of a supra-metropolitan jurisdiction. But Canon 8 of Ephesus, the only canon of this council to deal with this issue, again explicitly refers to Nicaea in protection, not only of Cyprus's ancient rights against the claims of Antioch, but of the rights of ALL Metropolitan of the provinces, stating that "none of the bishops beloved of God shall take over another province that, in former times and from the beginning, has not been under his authority or that of his predecessors" allowing even that "each Metropolitan has the leisure to take a copy of the acts as a guarantee for himself" (L'Huillier's translation, pg. 164). So also here we do not see canonical permission given for the abrogation of Metropolitan/Provincial autocephaly. On the contrary--those rights here are strenuously protected.
It is only in Chalcedon's canons that we see this done--and only in the case of Constantinople with particular precision. Canon 9 establishes the Diocesan Exarch/See of Constantinople as the court of appeal for disputes at the provincial level--the Diocesan Exarch being the Bishops of Alexandria and Antioch in the case of Egypt and the East, with the Dioceses of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace, lacking a Diocesan Exarch, being directed to Constantinople for purposes of appeal. Canon 28, of course, directly subordinated the Metropolitans of those three dioceses to Constantinople.
As I said above, Canon 36 of Penthekti (what I assume you referred to when you mentioned the Fifth Council, since said council issued no canons), establishes the order of the sees, mentioning Jerusalem for the first time in an Ecumenical Council, but gives no details of their specific jurisdiction. This was known at the time and now, of course, but my point was that, to the best of my knowledge, the principles of Canon 4 of Nicaea were never "officially" superseded. After about a century of spirited defense, the imperial reality caught up with said canon, and it was replaced by the Patriarchal System.
So--my first error in my post quoted above was an error of memory, mistakenly recalling that the Dioceses of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace had, in the persons of their presiding bishops, gained supra-metropolitan control over the provinces contained in them by the time of the Council of Chalcedon. Some do argue this on the basis of Canons 2, 3, and 6 of Constantinople and Canon 9 of Chalcedon, but my review of the sources leads me to reject the argument. My other error was the statement that Chalcedon's decisions violated the Canons of Nicaea. They did, of course, but the Council of Chalcedon had the authority to do so. What I question, and evidently failed to articulate clearly enough, is the reason for that change, and its ongoing applicability to the modern situation.
My opinion is that this process of centralization was a direct result of the ongoing development of the theory and reality of the Christian Roman Empire. It seems clear from the history and trends of the time that the forces pushing the centralization of the Church were anything but universal, rather being specific to the times, the ongoing theological controversies, and the political reality. The ongoing desire of the Emperors for Orthodox Christianity to serve as the unitive Faith of the Empire, and specifically for Constantinople to surpass or at least equal Old Rome in honour as the Western Empire fell, made the acquisition by Constantinople in particular of supra-metropolitan, proto-Patriarchal jurisdiction over its immediate environs an issue of extreme importance. Hence the imperial legates at Chalcedon pushed at every turn, together with the Archbishop of the city, for the explicit grant of such jurisdiction over Pontus, Asia, and Thrace, eventually achieving it. At the Council, many of the bishops present objected to this, crying out, "Let the canons be observed: Let us hold to the canons!" (L'Huillier 201), referring specifically to Canon 4 of Nicaea. While the decisions of the Council with respect to Constantinople were, in the end, accepted and upheld, it is still a matter of significance that the decision was such a controversial one.
As for the expansion of the jurisdiction of the other Patriarchates--it seems to me that, in an age when the number of bishops you could muster in support of your cause had a direct effect on the likelihood of your success in opposing serious heresies, it was only natural that Antioch and Alexandria should have made such strenuous efforts to expand their jurisdiction. Similarly, Jerusalem's rise to supra-metropolitan authority over the provinces of Palestine certainly was, at the least, accelerated by the fact that for so many years in the middle of the 4th century, Caesarea Palestina was an Arian see, while Jerusalem was usually Orthodox, and thus Jerusalem was less than likely to cede the initiative to the Metropolitan See.
All this was driven, however, by the extreme political significance of Orthodox belief within the Empire at the time. I think it very likely that the development of the Church's hierarchical structure would have taken a very different route had the Emperors not made Orthodoxy an essential element of full citizenship in the Empire.
Surely no one would disagree with me that the Church suffered greatly as a result of this. Iconoclasm alone witnesses to the evil that could be wrought by the Emperor. I think it a very relevant and necessary thing, then, to carefully examine why the Church accepted it at all. I have suggested one theory, that is supported by the sources still extant from both the political and the ecclesiastical sides of the Byzantine Empire, namely that the Emperor's role was unitive, witnessing to the universality of the Christian Faith for as long as the aspirations of Rome to universal rule drew even the sickliest breath. My signature witnesses to the ongoing reality of that ideal, even in the twilight of the Empire. I'm sure other theories exist--I've not seen them. But we must account for why the Church accepted the role the Roman Emperors asked her to play.
In particular we must think carefully about the development of Church polity since the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The autocephaly gained by the various national churches was certainly necessary, and has certainly maintained the Church in the face of many challenges and betrayals. The many posts of ialmisry witness to the fact that often those challenges and betrayals came at the hands of the Greeks, or of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. However, each of the national churches has, I suspect, similar stains on its history (unless we are to believe that in all cases, the Phanariot Greeks were the aggressors and villains against wholly innocent, purely Orthodox victims). But none of this changes the fact that each of these national Churches was set up in imitation of the relationship of the Patriarch of Constantinople with the Emperor. And I still submit that, with the one characteristic removed that made the Byzantine system remotely acceptable to the Church, we have a recipe for disunity and disaster.
I do not, however, advocate removing the autocephaly gained by Romania, Serbia, Greece, or Bulgaria, not to mention most of the other Churches. To do so would be incredibly destructive, with no viable principle of unity to replace the ethnic one. Please remember, I do serve a Greek parish. I do know how the people think, what they are like, and how they would respond if placed under a non-Greek bishop. I can well imagine the reaction of the people of Romania, Serbia, or Bulgaria if their ecclesiastical independence were revoked and they were placed under foreign bishops.
That reaction, however, is part of the problem. It speaks to the reality that, for most of the people in the Orthodox Churches around the world, ethnicity is all too often more important than Faith. It speaks to the reality that the battle I and my fellow priests in the Greek Churches fight is the same battle fought by clergy in every Orthodox country. I would not abolish the autocephalies already well-established, but it is essential that the mindset begin to change in those Churches. In Christ there is neither Jew, nor Greek, nor barbarian, and far too few of our people are willing to accept that.
The so-called Diaspora is different. Whatever the facts were before the Russian Revolution, whatever the evils committed by His All-Holiness Meletios, the situation we face in the Americas, in Europe, in Australia and non-Russian Asia is incredibly pastorally complicated. In this situation, I think it more likely that a reference to the old, idealized, Roman-Christian "ethnicity," an ethnicity sealed not by blood, but by baptism, an ethnicity no longer threatened by the political aims of an Emperor, might be productive, rather than destructive. At the same time, the reaction to that reference on this board and elsewhere indicates that, perhaps, this is not the case.
But in some fashion, particularly in the chaotic world of Orthodoxy in the Western world, it is essential that we find a way, as FrHLL said, to restore the Catholicity of the Orthodox Faith to the forefront of our identity. I personally believe that the Patriarch of Constantinople can and should play a central role in that process. I believe this see, by virtue of its present and its past, is uniquely suited to it. I am personally intrigued by the possibility of union under Constantinople as a stepping stone to a truly local autocephaly, on the lines of Canon 4 of Nicaea, defined, perhaps, along state lines in the United States, as an example, replacing national Churches with local Churches, centered on unity in Christ, not in blood or even, necessarily, in language. But this is mere speculation. Suffice to say that, if the decision of the Church in the coming years excludes the Patriarch of Constantinople from a role in the West, so long as Christ is preeminent, I will rejoice.
Please forgive my errors in my original post, and any contained in this one. I do not seek in any way to give offense. I pray that God may bless you all.
Χριστός Ἀνέστη! Christ is Risen!