The first millennium saw the development of seven Local Orthodox Churches, arranged in five Patriarchates and two Autocephalous Churches: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and the Churches of Georgia and Cyprus. In theory, these covered the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. Their number decreased to six after the defection of Rome to its new creed of Papalism and the Western tip of Europe fell away from the Church.
However, in the second millennium the number increased. This happened when the Patriarchate of Constantinople was infected by Greek nationalism (Hellenism) and monolingualism. This nationalism had already played a role in the nationalistic foundations of Monophysite and Nestorian denominations in Egypt, Ethiopia, Armenia and groups in Syria, but it fragmented further in Balkanization. Thus, the autocephalous Serbian Church was founded, followed by the Russian, Romanian and Bulgarian, creating another four Local Churches.
In the 19th century Imperialist Britain also forced the Greek Church to separate from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, making eleven Local Churches. Then in the 20th century, the Polish and Czechoslovak Churches were carved out of the Russian and Serbian Churches for political reasons and the Albanian Church came into being, because the border between Greece and Albania was unjustly delineated, adding another three Local Churches. Thus, at the present time there are fourteen Local Orthodox Churches, so many of which exist only because of the vagaries of politics and nationalism.
What if the twelve apostles were to meet today in a new Council of Jerusalem, as they did before in 33 AD, with the above information, a map of the world as it is in front of them and information about history, geography, culture and present-day populations (Asia, 4.45 billion; Africa, 1.2 billion; the Americas 1 billion; Europe 740 million; Oceania 40 million), how might they divide the world amongst themselves? Perhaps into Twelve Local Orthodox Churches, something like this?
- The Patriarchate of Jerusalem and All the Holy Lands. (A Church based in the City of the Resurrection and covering today’s Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and the Balkans (Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and ex-Yugoslavia), thus uniting two of the present ancient Patriarchates and seven of the present autocephalous Churches.
- The Patriarchate of Baghdad and All the Middle East. (A Church to cover all the Christian and Muslim Middle East, from the Lebanon, Syria and the Jordan to the Arabian Peninsula, to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan).
- The Patriarchate of Nairobi and All Africa. (A Church based in Nairobi to cover the 1.2 billion people of the African Continent. Main languages: English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish and native African languages).
- The Patriarchate of Moscow and All the Russias. (A Church covering most of Northern Eurasia, one sixth of the planet, including Mongolia and the Korean Peninsula).
- The Patriarchate of Vienna and All Western Europe. (A Church based in the cultural heart of Central Europe, and not in off-centre Rome, to cover all of what was Roman Catholic and Protestant Europe, from Iceland to Hungary and Portugal to Finland, including the territories of the Local Churches in Poland and the Czech Lands and Slovakia).
- The Patriarchate of New Delhi and All India. (A Church to cover the ancient territory of Hindu Civilization with nearly 1.4 billion people, together with Nepal and Bhutan).
- The Patriarchate of Beijing and All China. (A Church to cover the nearly 1.5 billion Chinese population, Taiwan and Tibet).
- The Patriarchate of Tokyo and All Japan. (A Church to cover the ancient and unique Japanese Civilization).
- The Patriarchate of Bangkok and All South-East Asia. (A Church to cover the largely Muslim and Buddhist populations of Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia).
- The Patriarchate of Manila and All Oceania. (A Church to cover the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua, New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand and all the Pacific Islands).
- The Patriarchate of Washington and All Northern America. (A Church to cover the USA, Canada and the Carribean. Main languages: English and French).
- The Patriarchate of Rio de Janeiro and All Latin America. (A Church to cover South and Central America and Mexico. Main languages: Spanish and Portuguese).
The Gap Between Reality and What If?
As we can see from the above, only Churches No 1, 2, 3 and 4 already exist, although: Church No 1 is at present tiny and seems to be run largely as a Greek clerical colony; Church No 2, though claiming to be the Church ‘of All the East’ is at present small, based in Damascus/Beirut, though claiming to be in Antioch in Turkey, and is largely run by four merchant families; Church No 3 is also small, and though claiming to be ‘of All Africa’ is governed almost entirely by Non-African bishops, is based very far from its flock, in Alexandria, and has converted only 1% of those in its canonical territory. Although Church No 4 would remain much as now, Churches Nos 5-12, to cover some 5.5 billion human-beings, do not even exist.
We should be ashamed of ourselves.