A common critique by Protestants or Eastern Orthodox is that the Churches in the East never recognized the primacy of Rome or the Pope over all the other churches. This almost seems to make sense because the Eastern Orthodox today do not accept the Pope's authority.
The intention is to say that the claims of the Catholic Church about the Papacy were never universally held and were always a divisive doctrine of the western Church, invented at some later time in Church history to bolster the power of the Roman see, and not part of the apostolic teaching that went out to all the churches across the Christian world.
An interesting claim. Let's check out the evidence.
For sure, the last thing a Protestant or Eastern Orthodox believer would expect would be quotes from saints in the East affirming the primacy of the Pope...right? Because how could they be a saint in the Eastern Orthodox tradition if they accept the primacy of the Pope?
But here is one...
Sts. Cyril & Methodius (c. 865):
"It is not true, as this Canon states, that the holy Fathers gave the primacy to old Rome because it was the capital of the Empire; it is from on high, from divine grace, that this primacy drew its origin. Because of the intensity of his faith Peter, the first of the Apostles, was addressed in these words by our Lord Jesus Christ himself 'Peter, lovest thou me? Feed my sheep'. That is why in hierarchical order Rome holds the pre-eminent place and is the first See. That is why the leges of old Rome are eternally immovable, and that is the view of all the Churches"
St. Theodore the Studite of Constantinople (759-826)
Writing to Pope Leo III:
Since to great Peter Christ our Lord gave the office of Chief Shepherd after entrusting him with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, to Peter or his successor must of necessity every novelty in the Catholic Church be referred. [Therefore], save us, oh most divine Head of Heads, Chief Shepherd of the Church of Heaven.
John VI, Patriarch of Constantinople (715):
"The Pope of Rome, the head of the Christian priesthood, whom in Peter, the Lord commanded to confirm his brethren."
But now, look how late in Church history those quotes are! They don't prove anything about the EARLY Church!
Ok, so let's look earlier, and stay in the East...
Sergius, Metropolitain of Cyprus (649 A.D.)
"O Holy Head, Christ our God hath destined thy Apostolic See to be an immovable foundation and a pillar of the Faith. For thou art, as the Divine Word truly saith, Peter, and on thee as a foundation-stone have the pillars of the Church been fixed."
Emporer Justinian (520s)
"Yielding honor to the Apostolic See and to Your Holiness, and honoring your Holiness, as one ought to honor a father, we have hastened to subject all the priests of the whole Eastern district, and to unite them to the See of your Holiness, for we do not allow of any point, however manifest and indisputable it be, which relates to the state of the Churches, not being brought to the cognizance of your Holiness, since you are the Head of all the holy Churches." (Justinian Epist. ad. Pap. Joan. ii. Cod. Justin. lib. I. tit. 1).
"Let your Apostleship show that you have worthily succeeded to the Apostle Peter, since the Lord will work through you, as Surpreme Pastor, the salvation of all."
But now, going even earlier, what about the famous canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD? Did that prove there was no Roman primacy because it elevated Constantinople?
Well, let's remember that the council proclaimed "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo." That sounds like they identified Pope Leo with Peter.
And what happened after the council, when word got back to the Pope about those who schemed to elevate Constantinople?
The Patriarch of Constantinople, St. Anatolius, a SAINT in the EAST and WEST, said this!
“As for those things which the universal Council of Chalcedon recently ordained in favor of the church of Constantinople, let Your Holiness be sure that there was no fault in me, who from my youth have always loved peace and quiet, keeping myself in humility. It was the most revered clergy of the church of Constantinople who were eager about it, and they were equally supported by the most revered priests of those parts, who agreed about it. Even so, the whole force of confirmation of the acts was reserved for the authority of Your Blessedness. Therefore let Your Holiness know for certain that I did nothing to further the matter, knowing always that I held myself bound to avoid the lusts if pride and covetousness.
That's an APOLOGY from the Patriarch of Constantinople! Does that make sense if there was never a Primacy of Rome?
But wait, there's more. Ever heard of St. John Chrysostom?
St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (c. 387):
"For this is the one great privilege of our city, Antioch, that it received the leader of the Apostles (Peter) as its teacher in the beginning. For it was right that she who was first adorned with the name of Christians, before the whole world, should receive the first of the apostles as her pastor. But though we received him as teacher, we did not retain him to the end, but gave him up to royal Rome."
"And why, then, passing by the others, does He converse with Peter on these things? (John 21:15). He was the chosen one of the Apostles, and the mouth of the disciples, and the leader of the choir. On this account, Paul also went up on a time to see him rather than the others (Galatians 1:18). And withal, to show him that he must thenceforward have confidence, as the denial was done away with, He puts into his hands the presidency over the brethren. And He brings not forward the denial, nor reproches him with what had past, but says, 'If you love me, preside over the brethren, ...and the third time He gives him the same injunction, showing what a price He sets the presidency over His own sheep. And if one should say, 'How then did James receive the throne of Jerusalem?,' this I would answer that He appointed this man (Peter) teacher, not of that throne, but of the whole world."
It should be clear enough that the Eastern Orthodox abandoned a long tradition of centuries by abandoning the see of Peter. They were not "maintaining" an equality of all bishops.
The history shows that the united churches of East and West recognized the primacy of the Pope over all the churches. In fact, the Church was called the Catholic Church. So which one is more like the "early" Church?
There's plenty more if you need it-