There was a time when the Orthodox Church consisted of five, and then four Patriarchates, as well as autocephalous Churches in Cyprus and Georgia. Yet today there are as many as fourteen (and some claim fifteen) Independent (Autocephalous) Churches. And most of them are small and some of them are very small indeed. This profusion of autocephalies over the last 200 years is seen as a movement towards Protestant-style nationalism, as with ‘the Church of England’, ‘the Church of Sweden’, ‘the Church of Norway’ etc. On the other hand, today there is a desire by many in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, one of the smallest Churches, to gather all of the Local Churches together, following their model of Roman Catholicism. What is the Orthodox view, between these competing centrifugal and centripetal theories?
It is clear that there can be no such thing as a Church with universal jurisdiction, which is the Papal aberration and its false theology. Any such organization will inevitably fall to the thirst for power and imperialist corruption, precisely as we can see down the centuries in Roman Catholicism since 1054, when it was first invented. This is where the contemporary Phanariot imperialism of Constantinople is wrong and will never succeed. On the other hand, some sort of European tribalism, according to which there should be a national Church for each small tribe living on the Western tip of Eurasia also seems absurd. All of ex-Catholic/ex-Protestant Western Europe forms a very similar cultural area and suffers very similar conditions. Why should each small ethnic sub-group have its own national Church there?
This is the sense of the present Exarchate of Western Europe of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose destiny is to become the single Local Church of Western Europe, replacing the old Roman Orthodox Patriarchate. It should one day include all of ex-Catholic and ex-Protestant Europe, including Germany and all the Nordic countries, together, naturally, with Finland, and possibly with Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Lands and Slovakia. Each country could then well develop into a Metropolia with a Synod of bishops, but not into an individual Church, similar to the situation in the Baltic States. This would mean that the present Churches of Poland and Czechoslovakia would give up their politically-motivated autocephalies, which is a possibility.
At the very least, there has to be one Patriarchal Church per Continent. Certainly, there should be one Church for North America, one for Latin America, one for Oceania and one for Africa – as there already is with the Patriarchate of Alexandria. Those who live on each of these Continents surely have so much in common that there would seem to be no need for national or Autocephalous Churches for each country on them. This would mean four Autocephalous-Continental Churches. The problem comes with Eurasia, which is essentially one huge Continent, with over 54 million square kilometres (just over three million forming Western Europe), larger than North America, South America and Oceania put together and nearly twice the size of Africa. Here there are so many cultures that there has to be more than one Local Church.
We have already spoken of one Church for ex-Catholic/ex-Protestant Europe. However, there would also need to be a Church for Balkan Europe, perhaps called the Church of Constantinople (but centred perhaps in Thessaloniki, the city of the Apostles of the Slavs, so without Greek racism or phyletism). This would unite the present six Autocephalous Churches of Romania, Pech (Serbia and all the South Slav Lands), Greece, Constantinople, Bulgaria and Albania into one. Clearly, the Eurasian Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, covering one seventh of the Earth’s surface, would remain Autocephalous. The Arab-speaking Patriarchate of Antioch, still little for the moment, would have to take on itself the evangelization of the Arab Middle East, overcoming the narrow ethnic barriers of controlling families.
There should be Autocephalous Churches for China and India, once they have grown, as these are huge civilizations, whose populations together number one third of the world’s people. And there should also be a Church for ex-Buddhist/ex-Muslim South-East Asia (hoped for and anticipated by the establishment in 2018 by the Russian Orthodox Church of an Exarchate there). As for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, though tiny, it must remain as the Mother-Church of all. It could also take into itself the Churches of Georgia and Cyprus, which would help internationalize it, as must happen if the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is to be taken seriously once more. This would make Twelve Autocephalous, Patriarchal Churches in all. Would this not be enough for the long-awaited evangelization of the world?