AS a former Roman catholic, and currently a catechumen in the Greek Orthodox Church, allow me to share what I discovered in the Orthodox View of the Papacy:
Often, in Orthodox apologetics, we encounter a rather curious, and frankly anti-patristic stance: The notion that The Bishop of Rome, as successor to St. Peter is just the same as any other bishop without any difference whatsoever. This rather "Low Petrine" view of Peter and his successors often causes faithful Orthodox who read the fathers conscientiously a great deal of confusion, because so many speak so highly of the Bishop of Rome and certainly accord him a particular kind of headship. I myself would have converted earlier from Roman Catholicism if I did not witness this unjustified "leveling of the playing field" when discussing Orthodox Rome.
That said, I solemnly reject any Papal notions of Supremacy in the sense of the Pope being more than a bishop, and I also reject the idea that the Pope has a legally defined universal Jurisdiction that is immediately of divine origin and empowers him to potentially cause confusion by unrestrained communication amongst the churches. These are "Absolutist" and Ultramontane views foreign to the fathers and the Orthodox Popes.
I posit what the fathers posited, and especially Pope St. Leo: A high View of Peter and the Bishop of Rome that is nevertheless subject to the overall patristic consensus, the canons and is of SYNODICAL origin. Moreover, as we shall see, St. Leo himself states that the Bishops of the greater cities were given greater authority on account of the city.
First, we must synthesize:
It is the patristic teaching of St. Irenaeus, St. Leo and the council of Chalcedon that on account of Romes Secular Status of imperial center, she has received the Primacy.
St. Irenaeus says:
"as it would be very tedious to enumerate in such a work the succession of all the Churches, we will trace that of the very great and very ancient Church and known of all, which was founded and established at Rome by the two very glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul; which possesses a tradition that comes from the Apostles as much as the Faith declared to men, and which has transmitted it to us through the succession of her Bishops; by that, we confound all those who in any manner whatsoever, either through blindness or bad intention, do not gather where they should; for every Church, that is to say, the faithful who are from all places, are obliged to go toward [convenire] that Church, because of the most powerful principality. In this Church, the tradition of the Apostles has been preserved by those who are of all countries."
The faithful would convene at Rome because it was the imperial center, and as such men from all nations, and therefore every apostolic tradition, would arrive and go to the Church of Rome which retained these traditions of the apostles from every country.
So we see the Church of Rome was great in the eyes of Irenaeus because of its Apostolic founders, and it carried influence because its faith was truly catholic, having inherited from abroad the various traditions of the apostles. I.E. The Church of Rome has greatness and priority on account of its being founded by the chief apostles, AND being at the center of the empire, in the imperial city.
Again, the Council of Chalcedon expressed, as we know, in its 28th canon:
"Following in every detail the decrees of the holy fathers, and taking cognizance of the canon just read of the 150 bishops dearly beloved of God who gathered under Theodosius the Great, emperor of pious memory, in the imperial city of Constantinople, New Rome, we ourselves have also decreed and voted the same things concerning the prerogatives of the most holy Church of the same Constantinople, New Rome. For the fathers rightly acknowledged the prerogatives of the throne of the Elder Rome because it was the Imperial City, and moved by the same consideration the 150 bishops beloved of God awarded the same prerogatives to the most holy throne of the New Rome, rightly judging that the city which is honored by the imperial authority and the senate and enjoys the same [civil] prerogatives as the imperial city of the Elder Rome, should also be magnified in ecclesiastical matters as she is, being second after her."
Now, St. Leo says in his 14th Letter to Anastasius, bishop of Thessalonika:
"The connection of the whole body makes all alike healthy, all alike beautiful: and this connection requires the unanimity indeed of the whole body, but it especially demands harmony among the priests. And though they have a common dignity, yet they have not uniform rank; inasmuch as even among the blessed Apostles, notwithstanding the similarity of their honourable estate, there was a certain distinction of power, and while the election of them all was equal, yet it was given to one to take the lead of the rest. From which model has arisen a distinction between bishops also, and by an important ordinance it has been provided that every one should not claim everything for himself: but that there should be in each province one whose opinion should have the priority among the brethren: and again that certain whose appointment is in the greater cities should undertake a fuller responsibility, through whom the care of the universal Church should converge towards Peter's one seat, and nothing anywhere should be separated from its Head."
This passage of St. Leo is absolutely essential for understanding the growing Orthodox Papal emphasis on Primacy. It establishes two things:
1. St. Leo obviously did not oppose the 28th canon of Chalcedon on the basis of its principle for determining rank, because he himself establishes the same principle; he opposed it because he felt it was a canonical violation. This is of epic importance, because of the wily claims of Roman apologists. St. Leo did not ever object to the councils reasoning regarding HIS OWN primacy, but in lowering Alexandria and Antioch to the 3rd and 4th positions within the Pentarchy, contravening the 6th canon of Nicea.
2. It establishes a truly ordered hierarchy that is neither fully pyramidal, nor is it a leveled playing field: I will call it, vanguardal, based on St. Leos terminology, using the word "converge", and not "submit." The vanguard. the wedge shaped formation taken by soldiers on the battle field is certainly a model of both strong and centralized unity, and conciliarity. We could say the church throughout the ages is like a bunch of bishops marching in vanguard formation: Certainly, one takes the lead at various levels, and the others follow, certainly there is a sense in which one is head and all follow that head as equals in episcopal dignity, but not episcopal rank. When some bishops are taken out by the arrows of heresy, the bishops simply reorder their formation, and the church suffers no change. If even the Leader, the Primate and head be struck, then those who were immediately behind him simply step forward, as we trudge onward toward the heavenly Jerusalem.
We should also acknowledge that earlier in this letter, St. Leo calls these various levels of episcopal ministry within the church Petrine when he specifically says the Role of Peter amongst the apostles is the model for the Role of Metropolitan amongst bishops. This should be even more revelatory about his understanding of himself amongst metropolitans and archbishops. So every Metropolitan and Every Patriarch and the Primatial Patriarch (Whether old Rome or New) is exercising a ministry based upon St. Peter's example, and is truly Petrine in that sense.
Now, the question may become: "Ok, great Rome was the first, and as the first played a unique role, analogous to the Role Peter played amongst the apostles, and the Metropolitan plays in his synod. But what does that mean?"
What it means is that Apostolic Canon 34 is very significant:
"The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things only which concern his own parish, and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit."
In other words, when a Pope is Orthodox, he has a true priority and primacy within the Orthodox church. This means that, on account of his primacy and his position as first, that those affairs that are of universal scope (like heresy that gets out of control, or generally rampant disorder spreading in the church) are truly his legitimate concern.
Simultaneously, he does not have the right to micromanage Patriarchs, metropolitans and bishops. His immediate authority and jurisdiction is limited to his own diocese. As is any Archbishop, Metropolitan or Patriarch.
But nevertheless, a Metropolitan, while not having the right to micromanage his bishops, is still RESPONSIBLE for his entire metropolis. It is his duty to see it rightly ordered, and his bishops duty to do nothing without his consent. On the Patriarchal level, it is the Patriarchs business to administer his own diocese, and not be a burden to the metropolitans of his synod, who nevertheless, are not to initiate any activity that could have ramifications outside of his own diocese without Patriarchal consent. The patriarch has a real RESPONSIBILITY for his entire patriarchate, and it is his DUTY to see it well ordered. The same is true of the Primatial Bishop, the Protos of the church. The Primatial bishop has NO BUSINESS interfering in the lives of bishops and patriarchs when there is nothing of universal concern. Nevertheless, it is his DUTY as the FIRST, as the IMAGE of the whole, as the Spiritual head and icon of the church's unity to preoccupy himself with the things that are of universal concern to the church. By doing this properly, he will truly be the servant of the servants of God.
It is in THIS context that we can understand why it is absolutely ESSENTIAL for ORTHODOX Popes to sign off on things like ecumenical councils; because nothing ought to be done without their consent given that they occupy the first place, and being Orthodox, have the most important say, following apostolic canon 34. This explains the objections of the Papal legates at Chalcedon regarding the Robber council of Ephesus, where they accuse Dioscorus of holding a council without the consent of the apostolic see, something unheard of. This is not Papal supremacy, this is the practical effects of a real and working primacy. The fathers CLEARLY testify to the effects of this real and working primacy, and as an Orthodox Christian, I personally am a little embarrassed by other Orthodox who certainly ignore the historical record by seeking to downplay the role of the Orthodox popes. We can AFFIRM the principle of Papal primacy as orthodox and speak in perfectly glowing terms about the primacy and headship of the Pope , of the necessity of having his consent in matters pertaining to the whole church (when he is Orthodox) without being embarrassed to be Orthodox. This is one of those cases where we have to make fine distinctions, and honestly, not many people want to.
Let's allow ALL the fathers to shape our phronema, and ALL the things they unanimously held, let us also hold without prejudice, all without falling into the Heresy of Papal Supremacy and Infallibility.
Well, to wrap up, allow me to quote the 14th century saint, St. Symeon of Thessaloniki :
St. Symeon of the Thessaloniki ca. 1381-1429
"We should not contradict the Latins when they say that the Bishop of Rome is the first. This primacy is not harmful to the Church. But only let them show that he is true to the faith of Peter and his successors; then let him have all the privileges of Peter, let him be first, the head of all and the supreme hierarch. Only let him be faithful to the Orthodoxy of Sylvester and Agathon, Leo, Liberius, Martin and Gregory, then we too shall call him apostolic father and the first among hierarchs; then we will be under his authority not only as under Peter, but the very Saviour Himself." (PG 145, 120 AC)