Within the world of Byzantium, there is reality, and there is perceived reality. This is not limited to the vicinity of the Phanar and the Ecumenical Throne but is pervasive across Orthodoxy.
The reality from within ACROD, at least from its founding in 1938 through the recent death of +Metropolitan Nicholas, is that we are a 'self-ruling' entity with no interference from the Phanar in our daily affairs. The only time I can remember the EP and his Exarch stepping in was when the late Bishop John presumed to make chrism during Holy Week. That only happened once and would not happen again.
I suspect that the perceived reality from the point of view of some within the OCA is that ACROD is not really self-ruling. (Certainly that is the argument that the UOC-KP factions advance against the UOC-USA.) On the other hand, the perceived reality from the point of view of the Phanar is to tread carefully lest the 'natives' get restless and attempt to move, probably towards the OCA or be unduly influenced by Moscow. (Certainly the recent enthronements of Bishops Michael and Matthias by the OCA would add 'fuel' to that perception, yet within our reality (that of ACROD) these acts are not viewed that way.)
Yes, Metropolitan Nicholas had a special bond of friendship with His All Holiness and he did act as his emissary on a number of occasions over the years. He had a particular role to play in relations with the Orthodox Church of the Czech and Slovak lands and with the Greek Catholics in Slovakia, Transcarpathia and the United States. So be it and so what - Bishops have various roles to fulfill in their mission to the Church.
I was at the Divine Liturgy in Perth Amboy, New Jersey at the late Metropolitan's home parish where His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios celebrated the Liturgy in his capacity as locum tenens to commemorate the 40th day. It should be noted that the pastor, Fr. Michael Rosco noted that this marked the first and only time that any of the Greek Archbishops of New York had ever celebrated liturgy in one of our Churches during its entire seventy three years of existence. (Of course, the various Archbishops have participated in liturgical events such as enthronements, consecrations and funerals over the years, but not as celebrant.)