Anomalies in the Ecclesiology of Contemporary Orthodox Churches
This brief report will not be an attack against any particular Orthodox Church nor against any particular Church leader, but is intended to invite our brethren in Holy Orthodoxy to consider our Church and its basic structure, especially when we notice that important principles of Orthodox ecclesiology are ignored or misinterpreted so as to endanger Church life.
The Orthodox Church is essentially a Church with synodal character and no honorary primacy bestowed on certain prelates should be instituted which harms that synodal character. All Orthodox prelates must be vigilant on this point because we can ascertain clearly what happens in the Latin Church when a mere honorary leadership is converted into an article of faith and assigned “divine” character.
We cannot meditate enough on our beginnings, when the First Council of the Apostles, constituting the first synod, was convoked in the year 50 A.D. in the name of all apostles and elders.
Subsequently, in our day, when the first hierarch of the Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Constantinople, convokes a synod of all bishops, he is not permitted to do it as a right of his ecclesiastical position, because he is and has always been an honorary head of the Church. Rather, he does it in the name of the bishops who are members of the Holy Synod and who enable him to speak and act in their names. The Pope of Rome displays a completely different situation, speaking in the ecclesiastical right of his office–an office in which is concentrated the entire power of his church. Therefore, the Roman Pope is not an honorary leader of that church, but the real head of it and exercises an authority above the whole church. According to this Roman (non-Orthodox) ecclesiology, communion with the Pope is the only necessary criteria that any bishop needs to belong to the Church of Rome.
As we have said, in the Orthodox Church the Patriarch of Constantinople is an honorary primate. In the past, as is shown and proven by Church history, some churches were for a time separated from him, as, for example, the Bulgarian Church, which was declared uncanonical and schismatic by Constantinople in 1870.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church remained separated from the honorary Primate of the Orthodox Church until 1945, but during this time the Bulgarian Orthodox Church did not loose grace nor the validity of its mysteries and remained always a true Orthodox Church despite the political actions of Constantinople. During all this time Constantinople considered the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria to be “uncanonical”. For this reason it is contrary to innate Orthodox ecclesiology and tradition when certain so-called “uncanonical” churches, such as the Russian Church in Exile, the Church of Macedonia or the Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece (often called Old Calendarists) are not considered canonical Orthodox Churches. This is especially significant when we consider, as in the case of the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, that the reasons of their separation from the Church of Constantinople are not of theological character but are caused by divergences of politics and discipline.
It is interesting to note that, except for the first historical patriarchates, all other Orthodox Churches which have proclaimed their autocephaly, have always been condemned and declared “uncanonical” for reasons of political power. This is a sad truth.
One reason for these strong reactions of Constantinople was simply an incorrect and exaggerated interpretation of its leadership, which reaction always appeared when one church tried to become independent (autocephalous) from it.
This reactive tendency from the Patriarchate of Constantinople remains very strong even in our modern times, and we can, from the human point of view, understand this reaction as a political consequence of the fact that the Patriarchate—as a local church in Turkey—is virtually dying since it only numbers 3000 faithful, more or less, and one parish in Athens or Moscow. Constantinople has had to look elsewhere, namely to United States citizens of ethnic Greek heritage, to maintain its credibility as a powerful church.
This situation is the very reason why, in the first years of the 20th Century, the Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios of Constantinople, put all Orthodox people of Greek ethnicity living outside of Greece, under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This was purely an act of survival and has deprived the Autocephalous Church of Greece of its natural diasporal congregations. The issue of exactly what criteria an Orthodox Church can be proclaimed autocephalous, and, therefore, independent of Constantinople, shows clearly that most of the Orthodox Churches do not agree with it when the Ecumenical See in Constantinople pretends that it should have the exclusive right to decide if one or another Church can be considered autocephalous. This is surely wrong and not in accordance with Orthodox doctrine because it grants to the Ecumenical Patriarchate a papal authority which is contrary to Orthodox tradition and canon law.
This issue became clear in 1971 when the Patriarchate of Moscow gave to its former metropolis of America the tomos of autocephaly, without compliance from Constantinople. Even this, we stress, was an illegitimate act. It should be a sort of papism if Constantinople pretends that it has the right to proclaim an autocephaly of an Orthodox local church. But it is neither correct and following Orthodox doctrine when Moscow declares, as happened in 1971, that it is the exclusive right of the mother Church to determine its daughter Church independent. Both are incorrect. The Church desiring to be autocephalous and asking to be recognized as such, must have the approval of all Orthodox Churches. Constantinople can grant the tomos of autocephaly in the name of all Churches, but never in the name of its honorary primacy only.
In 1971 Moscow and Constantinople displayed different opinions about the rights of autocephaly, and, considering their actions, we think both were wrong. The determination of autocephaly can be decided only in the light of a correct, Orthodox application of canon and tradition. Quixotically, Moscow seems to wish to be able to resolve juridical questions in Orthodoxy by virtue of its status as the most populous Orthodox Church on earth. Numerical census is unavailing in this matter, however. Constantinople bases its authority on the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), thinking thereby to have rights over the world disapora of Orthodox peoples. However, every serious student knows that the terms of its juridical power resides only in the three provinces of Asia Minor, Tracia and Pontus. Surely it is time that the other Orthodox Churches—which have never accepted this odd imperialistic interpretation of the 28th canon of Chalcedon by Constantinople—should display the integrity and courage to stress their opposition on this point, showing our dear brethren in Istanbul, that the Ecumenical See is completely isolated from the rest of Orthodoxy in its pretensions of such juridical power, a power never intended by the Fathers of Chalcedon. Regarding the countries of Western Europe, the incorrect interpretation of Constantinople is more than clear because these countries would belong to the canonical territory of the patriarchate of the Occident (Rome), if that patriarchate was in fact Orthodox. It is true that Rome has abandoned true Orthodox faith, tradition and discipline, and its right of canonical territory is no longer reason for us Orthodox believers in Europe to depend on Her; but this fact, that the Latin church became schismatic and even heretical when separated from the Orthodox Church, could not be foreseen by the holy fathers of the Council of Chalcedon. The theoretical “juridical rights” of Constantinople becomes even more ridiculous when we consider the situation of the Church in America and Australia. We only hope that our dear brethren of Constantinople will not go so far and pretend that the ancient fathers of Chalcedon were already informed of the existence of New World territories. In this case we would be obliged to compose a new world history because Columbus would no longer be the discoverer of the New World—but, rather, the Council of Chalcedon has that honor. … The same applies to Australia. Showing the ridiculous side of the pretensions of Constantinople, we must never forget that these pretensions of the so-called “important” Churches are not only absurd but offend against Orthodox tradition and spirituality. We think, then, that the difficult situation of Constantinople, no longer being a true local Church, is one more reason for their morbid attachment to power.
THE ONLY TRUE POWER IN THE CHURCH COMES FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT: it does not legitimately proceed from a human thirst for domination. We must always have before our eyes the bad example of the Roman Church and the so-called “infallibility” of its chief bishop. We understand more clearly that the Ecumenical Patriarchate becomes the first enemy of true, historical Orthodox development. In truth, but in very crude terms, the material existence of the Holy See of Constantinople (20 bishops in a local Church of not more than 3000 believers in Turkey), is assured by Greeks living in diaspora outside Greece. Necessity for survival, then, motivates the Ecumenical Patriarchate to an extreme and unhealthy position: namely, it hinders the natural development of Orthodox Churches and—in this case—Constantinople promotes a very harmful politic. It is harmful for world Orthodoxy because the See of Constantinople becomes the enemy of Orthodox interests worldwide; also, the Ecumenical Patriarchate imposes so-called “independent local Orthodox Churches” which are nothing more than Greek colonies and not real local Churches composed of local, ethnic populations. The desire of Orthodox in America to found an Orthodox local Church which must be Orthodox and at the same time American, could never accept a so-called “American Orthodox Church” which depends from Constantinople and is really only an ethnic Greek colony.
In this case we can ask ourselves: “Is it so important to maintain a dying local Orthodox Church against the interests of world Orthodoxy?” Rather, doesn’t this show us in the history of the Church that some local Orthodox Churches simply disappear and quit the scene of historicity–as, for example, the Assyrian or Nestorian Church or the Christian Churches in North Africa—while, slowly, other Churches, new Churches come into existence and develop themselves among new populations (for example, in Northern Europe)?
If Constantinople, pushed by its problems of survival, continues to hinder the development of new Orthodox local Churches, this questions we have asked becomes more and more urgent for Orthodoxy as a whole. Thanks be to God that in our Orthodox Church there is no room for primacy of divine right…. It is obvious to all right-thinking Christians that the Patriarchate of Constantinople must change its politics in a great spirit of love and humility!
Sometimes we hear even another argument which tries to justify the hegemony of Constantinople in the world disapora. Following this theory, Constantinople should be responsible for all barbarian countries where people do not speak Greek (and they are considered barbarians only for that reason). We can only hope that this kind of affirmation is a joke and nothing more—a joke of bad taste and offensive to all people if we consider (even with our great respect and admiration for the cultural past of Greece) the real situation of Greece in the last centuries on the historical stage vis-à-vis the historical, social and cultural context of Europe. Regarding the negative position of Constantinople, we wish only to remind our readers of what happened some years ago when bishops, clergy and faithful met (in 1994, at Ligoner) in order to discuss the necessary modalities to unite all ethnic Orthodox communities as one united orthodox American Church. All agreed that this must happen in a very short time because it was, indeed, urgent. The representatives at this meeting included Archbishop Iakavos, the official representative of Constantinople in America. Because he supported such an American unity as independent from Constantinople, we see him retired from office only a short time later, because he had the courage and good sense to participate in this historical meeting, another victim of imperialism in the Church of God. This shows us very clearly what can happen if a Church with political clout fights desperately for survival and harms the natural development of world Orthodoxy.
Many Orthodox churchmen see in this a grave danger, but as we can ascertain, courage is not a preferred virtue among very many bishops. In other words, there is at this time no St. Paul who, for the welfare of the Church, resists St. Peter. And this underlines a great sorrow in modern Orthodoxy: namely, that many synods are completely against this imperialistic, semi-papal concentration of power in Constantinople, but no one among the Patriarchs has the courage to say so openly!
Perhaps someone answers that Moscow is displaying some opposition. Perhaps, but the behavior of Moscow doesn’t convince the other Orthodox Churches because the Russian Orthodox Church, as a rather young Church, has no historical arguments of historical primacy, but resides its authority in the weight of its great populations. Moscow asserts this weight, for example, in the matter of the election of a new patriarch for Jerusalem. Greek newspapers speak openly of the interference of the Russians concerning the election of a new Patriarch for Jerusalem, and it seems that between the candidates there are two candidates: one supported by Constantinople, the other supported by Moscow. Other news papers report these political struggles as well.
The sorrowful and on-going jurisdictional war between Moscow and Constantinople is well known. It is an exceptionally unhappy war because, as we know, it is not being fought for the cause of Faith, but in defense of respective, individual “rights of jurisdiction”. In this sad situation, Moscow accused Constantinople of interfering in Estonia
which it considers to be the “canonical territory” of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a surprising argument to hear from Moscow because history illustrates for us how Moscow has occupied “its” Ukraine since 1686 and Estonia since 1710. The Russians seem conscienceless about the evil they have done to their neighbors during all the centuries of their occupation of them, and, for example, the Baltic countries also, which have nothing in common (neither origins, language and culture) with the Russians.
We ascertain with sadness that in political questions mot often the leaders of the Church are less tolerant than secular politicians. It is regrettable to see that men of the Church are more attached to a certain colonialism from the past and are not able (or else, are unwilling) to understand the lessons which history teaches us at dear cost. It is, however, interesting to see (because it proves our opinion) that the Russian government recognizes the complete independence of the Ukrainian nation, while at the same time the Russian Orthodox Church has no intention of giving the same complete independence in ecclesiastical matters to the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which, as we all know, is completely governed by the Russian Synod. The muscovite reasons they put forward to justify themselves, only serve to hide their true intention to not grant independence to the more ancient Ukrainian Church—the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has always been useful to Moscow for vocations and a source of ready money.
Our Center has studied this question for a long time now and we are embarrassed to see the bad faith many Russian historians or Church leaders use to judge the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We provide an example of this bad faith. After many years of occupation by the Russians from 1686 until the end of the First World War, the clergy and the Ukrainian people tried to become independent from Moscow and became, finally, a free independent Church in an independent country. Every student of this history knows that there was not even one bishop to consecrate a valid hierarchy. Never the less, ordinations and consecrations took place in Kiev and the story of the bones of holy bishops, who in all the centuries before glorified the Ukrainian Church, were put on the heads of the bishops who had to be consecrated. However, all of this happened, in spite of all good will and good intentions, in a very dubious circumstance, because there were no living bishops.
It is not surprising, then, that the other Orthodox Churches could not recognize the hierarchy of Kiev. This happened in the early years of the 20th Century. After three years the Russian Bolsheviks had occupied again the Ukrainian nation and no trace remained of this period and the attempt to create an Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Things changed completely under the German occupation during World War II. At this time, all was done in a very canonical way with the help and blessing of the Primate of the Polish Orthodox Church: His Beatitude Dionysios of Warsaw, who allowed more than ten consecrations of bishops for the Ukrainian territory. Subsequently, when the Germans retired from Ukrainian and Russian territories, many faithful—priests and bishops—went with them to Germany and, later, to America, where they founded great and flourishing parishes of the Ukrainians in the New World. Therefore, as every student of the history of the Orthodox Church knows, the question of the Ukrainian ordinations was resolved in 1940 and there is no doubt because the canonical Orthodox Church of Poland originated their consecrations.
But these facts have not been accepted in certain Russian contexts and, in spite of the reality of them, a certain propaganda of the Russian Orthodox Church even now spread doubts about the earlier Ukrainian consecrations, thus ignoring with bad intentions and bad faith, the consecrations of the Polish Orthodox Church and its Primate—distinguishing no difference between consecrations effected in the 1920’s and those bestowed in the 1940’s. What are we to think of these frivolous people in the Moscow Patriarchate who imitate their politicians and rewrite history according to their pleasure and convenience? We are very sad because situations like these happen even in our times. However, we ask ourselves whether or not certain Russian Orthodox Church leaders have studied their theology since they ignore the basic principles of ecclesiology in regarding occidental countries as their “canonical” territories? Estonia, for example, belongs to the occidental hemisphere, was a Latin territory of Rome, and, later, became protestant, but never Orthodox, in spite of the importation of Russian Orthodox people who then considered it to be “Russian” territory.
In the conflict between the Churches of Constantinople and Moscow, each side defends interests of power and money—a sad occurrence these days in the Church of Christ, led in example by two patriarchates. Needless to say, there is a lack of good will on both sides and the scandal, which both pretend to ignore, is very great and harmful to world Orthodoxy. Neither has the right to consider Estonia as their canonical territory. Since both Churches do not find a peaceful solution in the spirit of Christian love and humility, both demonstrate that they are not guided by the Holy Spirit. In matters like this we too often see arrogant bishops—politicians in ecclesiastical vestments—in both Churches. Patriarch Bartholomaios, Patriarch Alexius II, or, even, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk, have not the spiritual figure of Patriarch Pavlos of Serbia, who went to Kosovo to offer himself in the sacrifice of his people persecuted by fanatical Albanian Moslems.
Although we try to be impartial and super partes, we have to recognize that the Patriarchate of Constantinople was more correct and serious when they faced the problem of the Ukrainian bishops, who, at the end of World War II, fled to America. Of course, it was a convenience to Constantinople, because it gave them a “canonical” foothold in the Ukraine. Therefore, Constantinople accepted the six Ukrainian bishops in America, recognizing the validity of their consecrations—something which, in other circumstances less according to their political well-being, they don’t always do. These Ukrainian bishops were invited to go to Istanbul on the 11th of March 1995, where, in a short ceremony of less than an hour’s duration, the “uncanonical” Ukrainian bishops became canonical. One of them, who was old and ill at the time and couldn’t go to Turkey, received the act of his canonicity only and simply by letter.
This proves several things. First, in the case of these Ukrainian bishops, Constantinople was correct in recognizing their consecrations despite their so-called non-canonicity, which is, in almost all cases, a question of divergence in questions of canon law and discipline and never in question of faith. Saying that the “uncanonical” Orthodox Churches, as we see later, should not have grace, is not only a great lie, but even a criminal attempt at moral lynching! If the non-canonicity of the Ukrainian bishops had had as consequence the lack of grace, then all bishops would have had to be consecrated and they would have had to busy themselves subsequently in re-ordaining many priests and deacons. This was not necessary, however, because they were already canonical bishops even without Constantinople’s “recognition.
” A few years later, Constantinople was not correct when it accepted two Greek bishops of the old calendar (who were, by chance, Americans), originally consecrated by Archbishop Auxentios, who had, in his day, received consecration from the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. These two American/Greek bishops were Paisios and Vinkentios and they had been known formerly for their staunch opposition to the Church of Constantinople. After their change of mind and principles, as everyone knows, they had to pay a very high price for Constantinople to make them “canonical”. Constantinople wanted to humiliate those who beforehand were very hostile to Constantinopolitan politics. The rumor persists that these two men willingly exchanged money and humiliation for status. We hope that it isn’t true.
In this matter, Constantinople acted in a very strange and illogical way: they “consecrated” the bishops (which act we consider as blasphemous as it is the repetition of an Orthodox sacrament) but did not reordain their clergy—their deacons and priests. If these sacerdotal ministers were not reordained then that means that their ordaining bishops were real bishops in the first place, thus they were real priests and deacons. Otherwise Constantinople has accepted and consecrated two bishops who have laymen vested and functioning as sacerdotal ministers.
Only a few years before this, the Greek Metropolitan Jeremias accepted two priests ordained by Metropolitan Gabriel, who was the first primate of the now Autonomous Metropolia of Western Europe and the Americas, now called the Autonomous Metropolia of Milan and Aquileia. These two priests in Paris were first accepted in the Romanian Church, which saw no reason to reordain them. Afterwards they passed to the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Jeremias who acted in the same way by recognizing their priesthood, which had been bestowed by the Old Calendarists.
It is very strange that the same Church accepts clergy from the same origins, from the same Church, but behaves differently concerning the ecclesiastical reality of their ordinations. This kind of anomaly has put the whole Orthodox Church in a peculiar and not very positive light. There is a lack of logic, honesty and continuity in these recent behaviors. In one instance the sacraments of the Church are considered valid and authentic, while in the other instance, they are not valid—yet the source of them is the same Church. We asked one bishop how such an unseemly event could be possible. The poor prelate was very embarrassed and couldn’t give a reasonable and correct answer, so he could only say: “Well, you see, the politics have changed.”
In response to this poor answer from a bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church we ask: “Do you judge the validity of the mysteries following the criteria of theology or following the convenience of your ecclesiastical politics?” Of course, the question is rhetorical: we know the answer. We have seen these same anomalies displayed by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church operating in Europe. The Romanian Church proclaimed at Balamand the validity of heterodox priesthood, for example, of the Latin Church, but their representative in Europe—a young bishop with no pastoral experience—had the courage to reordain an Orthodox priest of the Old Calendarian Synod of Milan because this synod is not considered “canonical”. If this should be true, why did his predecessor, as Archbishop of Paris, accept two French priests and recognize their orders received in the Old Calendarists Church? Who was right—the former Archbishop or the later one? This same confusion is displayed by the Russian Orthodox Church. They accept the priesthood of the Latin Church and, recently, in Italy, they reconsecrated an Orthodox priest because he was consecrated in an “uncanonical” church. At the same time they accept the clergy from the uncanonical Russian Church Abroad. We see a great deal of confusion here: there is often an absence of theological criteria and a dominating presence of motives of momentary political convenience.
Moscow, as we mentioned before, has always condemned the Russian Church Abroad but accepted every priest or bishop from this Church who applies for acceptance in the muscovite Patriarchate. The Russian Church Abroad has consecrated—in 1960 and 1962—Greek bishops in order to guarantee the apostolic succession in the Old Calendarist Church. There is no problem for the Russian bishops of The Church in Exile to be recognized by Moscow. However, if the bishops are Greek, consecrated by these same Russians, they are refused recognition as though sacramental validity is a question of nationality. We think this a true expression of filetism!
However, it is sure that in many Orthodox Churches the recognition of the validity of the sacraments is practiced with illogical nonchalance, and, sometimes, it seems that the reconsecrations are a sort of revenge—especially when the persons to be accepted were former members of the Church which issued their orders in the first place.
Thanks be to God, this was not the case in respect to a certain Bishop Jakob of Holland. He was at first an archimandrite in the Russian Orthodox Church, then he abandoned them and passed over to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad where, after some years, they consecrated him to the dignity of the episcopate. Subsequently, Bishop Jakob decided to return to the jurisdiction of Moscow, where (thanks to the fact that he had parishes, clergy and other interesting attributes) he was appealing to the muscovites who accepted him (and all his own) in a certain economy by Metropolitan Nikodim, assisted by Metropolitan Kyrill. Bishop Jakob was not only accepted but also promoted to the rank of archbishop. When we expressed our astonishment at these doings, Metropolitan Kyrill only answered very poorly when he replied that Archbishop Jakob had been accepted with prayers of penitence. Perhaps the reader shares our astonishment and can reach conclusions similar to our own. Excepting the Orthodox Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Cyprus, the history of other Orthodox Churches reveals one thing: namely, every Church has proclaimed its own autocephaly and almost in every case the response from Constantinople has always been (first) excommunication and (second) a proclamation of invalidity against the spontaneous autocephaly. So, the poor Church which tried to become independent was declared uncanonical and schismatic. The Greek Orthodox Church was “uncanonical” from 1833 until 1851 and was even once excommunicated!
The Russian Orthodox Church obtained independence with blackmail. The Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople travelled in 1589 to the Ukraine and Russia collecting money for his bankrupt Patriarchate. Czar Boris Gudonov received him with all honours, but let him know that if he (Jeremias) wanted to go back and see Constantinople again, it was necessary at once to grant autocephaly to the Church of Moscow, at that time presided over by Metropolitan Job (d. 1605). In order to emphasize his “suggestions”, Czar Boris put the Patriarch under a sort of house arrest. Believe it or not, this is the true and historical background of the “canonicity” of the present Patriarchate of Moscow! Even the proclamation of muscovite autocephaly happened in an uncanonical way, as the poor Patriarch of Constantinople granted it without consulting the other apostolic sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Cyprus. Because of these historical circumstances we feel that Moscow is a very poor teacher to other Churches on the subject of “canonicity”.
The Serbian Orthodox Church also was declared schismatic and uncanonical by Constantinople and had 60 years to wait until she was recognized again as a canonical Church; the Romainians 20 years, the Bulgarians 83 years, and the Georgians were uncanonical for 70 years before their churches were regularized. It is important to know that not one among all these churches declared uncanonical had been judged deprived of grace. None of their bishops or priests were reordained.
When Patriarch Bartholomaos of Constantinople reordained the two American/Greek bishops some years ago, a very important church leader in Greece said: “(Patriarch Bartholomaios) can do in America what he wants. In Greece this kind of buffoonery is not allowed.” This remark emphasizes the correct and allays serious behaviour of the Greek Orthodox Church, past and present, in avoiding every kind of fanaticism.
The CHURCH OF THE TRUE ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS OF GREECE had very difficult times and even periods of persecution in that country. Some of its bishops, were not consecrated in the state church but in the Old Calendarist Orthodox Church and they could not tolerate these vexations and, so, returned to the state church. Even so, there is not one case in which these bishops were not accepted in their Episcopal dignity! For this reason we reject certain forms of fanaticism wherein so-called “uncanonical” ordinations in so-called “uncanonical” churches are not recognized. Given the examples cited above, we suspect that this hateful behaviour is a form of vengeance. At the beginning of this paper, we asserted many kinds of anomalies as extant in present-day Orthodoxy. This remains our conviction and we continue to expose every kind of fanaticism because they are perversions in the Church of God.
Should a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church or from the Patriarchate of Constantinople be admitted in any of the Greek Old Calendar Churches by reordination because of his former origin, we denounce this anomaly also, but, at the same time, we defend priests of the so-called uncanonical churches of Russia (Russian Orthodox Church Abroad), or of the Ukraine, Macedonia, or of the Greek Old Calendar Church when the “official” Churches oblige them to reordination. An aberration for one is as much an aberration for the other. We do not believe that the presence of the Holy Spirit prevails in dubious actions—repetition of an Orthodox sacrament is against the Apostolic Rules. We remember with sympathy a holy old Calendarist bishop who, speaking of modern Orthodox practices, said: “Neither was our Lord Jesus Christ canonical in the eyes of religious authorities of their times religious authorities.” We denounce all kinds of anomalies in our modern Orthodox Church, especially the vices and megalomanias of certain powerful Churches who are proud of their past privileges and concerned exclusively with them, because very often those Churches have no right to exist in our times, as they are witnesses and relics of that same past. In making this statement we must remember with exactitude what we said at the first: the Orthodox Church is by its nature a synodal Church. This being the case, we are required to ask: “How can Orthodoxy progress in modern times?”
Historical privileges and liturgical precedence’s are very often linked to historical places and historical periods which are not always important today. The Church is a living body, guided by the Holy Spirit—not a collection of obsolete, imperial privileges. The importance of Rome and Constantinople have a political background as the canons of the Ecumenical Councils have always declared. Constantinople as the 2nd See in Christendom has been imposed by the imperial power, and their is nothing spiritual in this decree. The emperors who always pre-empted and interfered in the life of the Church do not exist any more. Why must their work continue? Why must a church, very powerful in the past, but now a mere relic of 2000 or 3000 persons, have rule and impose its politics upon Churches who have many millions of believers?
Orthodoxy is a fidelity to the origins of the structure of the Church and not intrinsically a creature of imperial politics. Our model must remain the 1st Council of Jerusalem, called in A.D. 50, and not the 1st Council of Nicea. It would be historically germane to create a standing council of Orthodox Churches in Jerusalem where Christ founded His Church. We know that very many dear Arabic Christians are obliged to emigrate and Jerusalem becomes more and more a domain of Muslims and Jews. The presence of Christian Churches are very important and could stop the sad tendency that the Holy land will loose its Christian character. Leave to the oldest Orthodox Churches their liturgical preferences as their patriarchates seem to be very attached to them, but the Church as Church must listen to what the Holy Spirit teaches for us in these present times.
Orthodox should have in this case a unique opportunity to teach and show to all other churches the true character of Christ’s Church. May our Lord guide all Orthodox Churches to return to Jerusalem as their historical place of foundation, and, above all, as the manifestation of the true Orthodox doctrine of the church’s structure.
About the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
We think that everyone knows the history of this Church and for this reason we will not repeat it. We only stress some very important points to display a clear judgment of their Synod and why it continues to exist today. The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was founded by the express will of the late holy Patriarch Tychon. In 1920 Patriarch Tychon stressed in his message that since he was not able to exercise pastoral care for his clergy due to political turmoil in Russia, he was also unable to exercise prudent pastoral care for Russian Orthodox people outside Russia. Therefore, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad came into existence.
The relations between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Patriarchate of Moscow became more difficult when Patriarch Tychon changed his politics for the Bolshevik government, becoming more favourable about the communist regime; so the Russian Church Abroad cut off all relations with their native Church. At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad developed a great campaign against the godless atheistic government in Russia and as a persecuted church, obliged to live in exile, they had great credibility in Western countries. The communist government in Moscow was very irritated with the behaviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in the free world and began to make heavy pressures upon the Patriarchate of Moscow to dissolve them. Patriarch Tychon capitulated to political pressure and excommunicated the exiled synod and his successor, Sergius, did the same in 1934. Here we have the exact repetition of what happened 100 years previously in analogous circumstances when the Greek Church proclaimed its autocephaly—finally freed from Turkish occupation in 1833—and the Patriarch of Constantinople responded with his excommunication of them. The Greek people didn’t care about this phony “excommunication” because it was compelled by a secular, non-christian government exercising its influence over a captive, easily influenced Patriarchate.
In the case of the Russian Orthodox Church, we see the same interference of government in matters of the internal circumstances of a church. In both examples, no one can deny that the two churches were not free and surely threatened to the extent that both peoples of both churches realized—correctly—that the patriarchal utterances were without canonical and moral validity. In all the years since, the relations between both Russian Churches were always difficult and often really hateful, petty and spiteful. The 2nd World War and even the cold war after it didn’t give any possibility for both Churches to enter into constructive, Christian dialogue. In the meantime, both churches developed the conviction that they were in the beginning one church: which proves that in different cases the Patriarchate of Moscow has always accepted bishops and priests of the other Russian Church in their dignities. Once again we see a proof that the judgment of uncanonicity (and even of excommunication) didn’t invalidate the sacraments of the condemned Church.
But, now, as the persecution of the native Russian Church is ended, is there still a reason that both Churches remain separated? In principle there is no reason for it, but it seems for the moment rather difficult to cancel the past with all its bitter memories and the evolved phobic mentalities of both Churches. We have asked a young archimandrite, a functionary of Metropolitan Kyrill of the Foreign Office of the Patriarchate of Moscow, what he thought about his brethren of the Russian orthodox Church Abroad. His answer: “I am not interested concerning he future of a dying church!” We see that his immature answer reflects a certain reality of his native episcopate, because many bishops and priests of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad hesitate to contact bishops in Russia. They say that they ascertain a sort of insensibility concerning the moral and spiritual attitude from many Russian bishops of Moscow who judge their past by reflections from the communist era. These bishops know that many of their fellow bishops and priests had very difficult lives defending the basic rights of the Church in a terrible environment of persecutions when all kinds of obscene humiliations and fatal depredations occurred. Nevertheless, during these dire times, there were authentic quislings in all ranks of clergy with a dreadful sense of opportunism who abandoned their duties as real pastors of souls. These people area still in their positions as bishops and not even one of them, after the fall of communism, has had the necessary development of conscience to proclaim his guilt of collaborating with the murderous atheists and then seek forgiveness for his sins. Not one of them left his office by the disposition of the Church to spend the rest of his life in a monastery.
So, the reader must understand that it is difficult for us—since these unworthy prelates and their priests represent a false church—to cultivate a dialogue together as one church, especially since we detect no climate of honesty. How can we stay together with these men who are so insensible and resistant to the great treasury of our Orthodox spirituality?
Thanks to God, in the last few years, in spite of all difficulties, a common commission with members of both Churches has been founded, and it will be their duty to discover the necessary ways and means of a final union between their two jurisdictions. As we said before: the unknown virtues in clerical environments of love and humility could resolve all of these internecine problems. About the Greek Orthodox Church and the haughty pretensions of Constantinople: Bartholomeos keeps a certain number of eparchies under his administrative control in the desperate wish to avoid the danger of becoming a moribund church. In 1833 the Greek Church in the Greek provinces, freed at that time of the Turkish oppression, proclaimed its independence from Constantinople. In response, Constantinople proclaimed the Synod of Athens excommunicated and declared them schismatic and un-canonical—until 1850, when Constantinople accepted their independence and all eparchies in Thessalonike. Eparchies in the other Greek districts remained still under Constantinople, for political reasons. In 1912 the whole of Greece was freed from Turkish occupation. In 1927 there was signed an agreement between the Synod of Athens, backed by the Greek government and Constantinople. All eparchies from this time depend from the Synod of Athens, but spiritually the eparchies of the northwest countries (which in 1850 during the 1st proclamation of the ecclesiastical independence were still under the Turkish occupation) had to commemorate during Divine Liturgy the Patriarch of Constantinople. Special situations were created for Crete and Rhodes.
What is now happening and making the relations between Athens and Constantinople very complicated is the tendency of Constantinople to convert (change) slowly the spiritual authority in an administrative manner injurious to the Greek national Church. The Greek Orthodox Church, headed now by a strong personality—Archbishop Christodolos—is not willing to accept the dictates of the Phanar, remembering that it (the Greek Orthodox Church) had already lost its diasporal congregations in the early years of the 1920’s by the machinations of Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis (of ill memory). Let us hope that, at last, in the Church of Christ will prevail the necessary love and humility to look for solutions for the well-being of the Church and not for the particular interests of power and money sought by some Churches who still live in the past. The Church of God is neither a museum nor a bank, but the living Body of Christ. To say that the Holy Spirit should be more present in this or that place is a heresy. When the imperial towns of the 1st Century were even the medial centres of political, cultural and social life, their important places in the Church were logical. Now, however, a Patriarchate in North America is surely more important in the life of the Church than a dying and out-dated series of imperial thrones from the past.
“That the canons of Holy Orthodoxy are not to be observed for reasons of convenience.”
Apostolic Canon 47 interdicts repetition of (Orthodox) baptism. Those who act against this canon are treated severely: “Let him be deposed, on the ground that he is mocking the Cross and death of the Lord and failing to distinguish priests from pseudo-priests.”
As we have said before, what kind of ecclesiology do those practice who dare to repeat our Orthodox mysteries, yet who then turn against Orthodoxy itself and accept those same sacraments administered by heterodox churches? We consider such perverse practices, especially reordination of clergy, simply as acts of blasphemy. Our opinion in this matter is upheld strictly by the 46th Apostolic Canon, which is not very tender concerning this confused kind of ecumenism: “We order any (Orthodox) bishop or presbyter that has accepted any heretic’s baptism or sacrifice to be deposed… .”
Thanks be to God the cases of such reordination inflicted upon some clergy of our Metropolia are very rare, but the contradiction in certain ecclesiastical behaviour is very great and has caused astonishment in many Orthodox congregations, and, even indignation because, specifically in 1990, other members and clergy of our Metropolia were accepted in their ecclesiastical dignity without any kind of strange imposition of false reordination. We consider this kind of behavior an act of great ignorance and vengeance, following, in a certain way, the motto: “these “uncanonical” churches are disturbing us, let us kill them morally.” This is simply a kind of thuggery. We are not living on the same level as our “orthodox” brethren because we would never repeat ordinations should some of our former clergy return to their mother Church. There is one sure thing however, that such reinstatement to ecclesiastical position in our Metropolia could be effected only after a long period of genuine repentance and contrition. The mysteries of the Church of Christ are not toys to be petulantly bartered from child to child.
Apostolic Canon XXX directs: “If any bishop comes into possession of a church (ecclesiastical office) by employing secular rulers, let him be deposed from office, and let him be excommunicated and all those who communicate with him too.”Let us avoid misunderstanding on this point: it is not our intention to pronounce judgments against those clerics who in former communist countries were appointed by the authorities of atheistic governments. We only make reference to Apostolic Canon XXX in order to point out that all ecclesiastical appointments made by the communist states, which (don’t forget) were not only state rulers but atheistic governments, sought to destroy every kind of religious sentiment in the souls of their peoples. Those godless governments were surely not intending to uphold the holy canons of the Church of Christ. In this context it is our duty to defend ourselves, and it is for this reason we make reference to an important Apostolic Canon in order to show that these bishops, appointed with the blessing of the KGB or other impious, godless institutions, have no moral right to accuse their Orthodox brethren of being “uncannonical”!
To show our good faith and detach ourselves from any stain of fanaticism, we will give an example: two or three years ago the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad declared urbi et orbi that there was no grace in the church of Moscow, and that muscovite priests were without grace, functioning simply as officials of state power and vested as clergymen. Our Metropolia has openly protested this in a strong letter posted on the internet, and for this letter we have been criticized very much.
We agree with all other Orthodox Churches that the next Orthodox council must resolve the problem and existence of those Orthodox Churches which are not yet accepted in official relations with those who ignore history and deem themselves “canonical”. We know and believe firmly that we, by virtue of our deep Orthodox Faith, by the observation of all genuine Orthodox traditions, through the realities of our mysteries which guarantee our apostolic succession, we do belong to the pleroma of the Church of Christ and no patriarch should have the right and power to put our valid status in doubt.
We read in Apostolic Canon XXIX: “If any bishop become recipient of his office by means of money, or any presbyter, or any deacon, let him be deposed as well as the one who ordained him, and let him be cut off entirely even from communion, as was Simon the Sorcerer.” In writing to Regas Carolus, Pope St. Gregory the Great says: “The simoniacs are the greatest of all heretics.”
Continuing our report of certain anomalies in actual Orthodox church life, we have to stress that very often in many Greek speaking ecclesiastical environments, when there is question of an Episcopal consecration—already done or in preparation—there are often rumours about money asked for or given. If this should happen only very rarely, as we say in Italian “at any death of a pope”, we should not even mention it; unluckily this is not the case.
It is very hard to believe that the continuous rumors about the exchange of money and gifts are always misunderstandings or groundless interpretations. We do realize that, throughout history, our Greek brethren have always been very sensible for gifts (et dona ferentes!). Everyone knows this.
Because our Metropolia has been for the last few years the victim of a campaign organized by Constantinople in Italy, we want only to remember our dear brethren of this Church, that every church has its own problems and sometimes even its typical vices and that it is surely not Christian to organize a sad proselytism just to “convert” some of the weaker members of our clergy to become “true” Orthodox priests in their Church. Charity forbids us to say more: intelligentibus pauca!
As the politics of uniatism had no success and became even a great obstacle in our common efforts to realize unity between all Christians, in the same way the violent proselytism among clergy of the so-called uncanonical churches is certainly not the way to resolve our internal orthodox problems. First of all we must act with great charity and humility, with these virtues absent we will neither progress in our personal spiritual lives nor in the undertakings of the Church.
If this stated position has helped to clear up some misunderstandings and allowed us to make a new step in the direction of common understanding, and above all, common love for the Church of Christ, we have not wasted our time and we should start a new dialogue in charity and humility following the true Spirit of Christ.
The so-called non-canonicity of some Orthodox Churches has nothing to do with lack of grace—otherwise many Orthodox Churches such as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which the Patriarchate of Moscow continually accepts without reordination of clergy, would be in complete contradiction to their own ecclesiology. Consider an Orthodox Church, for some political reason called non-canonical, as a church without real sacraments is a genuine act of moral lynching and opposed to Christian charity, ethic and true theology. The political act of classifying dissenting Orthodox Churches as uncanonical is, itself, without grace.
All this can happen in our Churches when the reasons of accepting or refusing some “no canonical” Orthodox Churches are not dictated by theological arguments but by mere political interests meted out in the name of jurisdictional and even economic power. It is a scandal that this happens in the name of so-called canonicity. When, finally, our ecclesiastical authorities consider the problem of the “noncanonical” Orthodox Churches with arguments of faith, and come in this way to the correct conclusion that ONLY IN CASE OF RAL APOSTASY AND HERESY we may doubt the presence of sacramental grace in other churches who can no longer be considered as Orthodox Churches. Unluckily many Orthodox bishops act more as politicians than as real theologians and men of faith!
Milan, in the month of June, 2001 A.D.
+Metropolitan Evloghios of Milan, Primate of the Autonomous Orthodox Metropolia of Western Europe and the Americas (Holy Synod of Milan);
+Archbishop Basilio of Ostia and all Latium;
+Archbishop Hilarion of Austin, Vice-President of the Provincial Synod of the Americas, Holy Synod of Milan;
+Archbishop JOHN of New York and New Jersey;
+Bishop Volodymir of Saint Julius Island;
+Bishop Victorice of Lausanne and all Switzerland;
+Bishop Marco of Genoa;
+Bishop Pavlos of Maspeth;
+Bishop Antonij of Ausburg;