The occasion of this post arose from an email I received from a reader, in which he expresses his concerns about our ecumenist patriarch, and in which he also addresses a puzzling question that I would like to share with you, and ask for your input, since my answer is not totally satisfactory.
Dear Fr. Emmanuel,
... The motivation for my email is to thank you for your fight to defend our Orthodox Faith against the great heresy of Ecumenism. We live in difficult days, when most laymen and clergy (including some Patriarchs) consider a union with other Christian organizations (not churches) as natural and inevitable. Indeed, these days, most of us laymen are so ignorant in matters of our Church and Faith, that an important danger such as Ecumenism is hardly understood.
Although Patriarch Bartholomew’s ecumenistic statements and actions are scandalous and unacceptable, I was troubled (and confused) the other day when I heard a story about how a holy elder had recommended him as a good choice for the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In a recent conference in Thessaloniki about the Blessed Iakovos Tsalikis (very soon to be declared a Saint), Metropolitan Pavlos of Sisaniou & Siatistis talked about how before Patriarch Bartholomew’s enthronement, Elder Iakovos had asked Saint David of Evia to help assure the Patriarch’s election.
Fr Emmanuel, I’m at a loss. How is it that Elder Iakovos had such high praises for Patriarch Bartholomew? Was he not informed by the Holy Spirit of Patriarch Bartholomew’s eventual ecumenistic activities? Did he perhaps see something in Patriarch Bartholomew that we cannot see with our worldly eyes? Is there perhaps a glimmer of hope, that Patriarch Bartholomew will come to his senses and defend and spread our Faith as he is supposed to?
As the threat of Ecumenism grows, I have the impression that no layman or clergy (at least where I am at) really cares about this danger. I sometimes feel alone here, and my lack of faith (and education) prevents me from speaking up and sensitizing people about this threat, at the very least in the parish I attend....
With love in Christ,
Before I address your concerns I would like to express my thanks to the Lord for having such faithful people like you. You are too humble to even consider that you are one that belongs to Him, and the Lord will give you all the strength you need “to fight the good fight of the faith.”
As for us, we try with all our means to do our part. Ecumenism is a cancerous growth that spreads very quickly on the healthy Body of the Church and destroys its organs. Our spiritual Fathers instead of providing the cure—a confession of the saving faith—are the ones responsible for the spreading of this deadly disease.
What I have to tell you, and to others like you, is what we Greeks say: Ἔχει ὁ Θεός. At times, I myself get discouraged and say, Ναί, ὁ Θεὸς ἔχει, ἀλλὰ ἐμεῖς δὲν ἔχομε. While this is true, what do we have that is not received from God? Still, to say “we don’t have” shows a lack of recognition of the gifts God has bestowed upon us, especially His very Life—at a great price.
When at times I feel like you do (“I sometimes feel alone here”) the story of prophet Elijah comes to mind, how, even he, the great prophet, was discouraged, and turned to God in despair: “I alone am left.” He did not know everything. What was God’s reply to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” All was not lost. God has a chosen “remnant” left, faithful to Him. We want to be with that remnant.
I think something similar happens in our πονηροὶ καιροί (cunning times). It seems we are very few, but God knows who are truly His. The typical Orthodox may constitute the overwhelming majority, however I believe that among the informed Orthodox Christians the opposite is true; they constitute the overwhelming majority. The time, the καιρός, will come when they will arouse, and we will be among them.
Since by your own admission you also follow “other clergymen from Greece who are fighting the same fight” then you must know that there are several hierarchs of the Churches of Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia, among others, as well as abbots and monks, professors and theologians, and many pious faithful, who courageously raise their voices against ecumenism and the decisions of the Cretan pseudo-synod.
Most of the people of God are ἐν ἀναμονῇ, they are waiting for those bishops who objected both to the method in which the “Holy and Great Synod” was convened and conducted, as well as the decisions reached, in order to make their move. What move? To condemn this synod as a pseudo-synod and reject its decisions as un-Orthodox. What is the likelihood of this happening any time soon? Nil! If only the Patriarchate of Moscow had kept its traditionally Orthodox stand there would be some hope. But since it too has embraced the heresy of ecumenism no one else will dare to convoke a synod that would condemn ecumenism as a heresy.
So, where does this leave us? Ἐν ἀναμονῇ! But while we are waiting, we don’t remain idle and silent. We express our faith in the Orthodox Church as we came to know it, as we have received it from our holy Fathers. And we pray. Pray that our ecumenist hierarchs come to their senses, that a ray of the Holy Spirit may penetrate their minds and hearts, and in repentance admit to their error and return to the faith of our Fathers, from which they have departed. In the meantime we keep the hope.
It is true that “we live in difficult days,” but it is important to know that we’ve been there before: Arianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and Iconoclasm, to mention four big ones. We need to know this and to know that the Church has emerged victorious out of them.
Coming now to your question on Elder Iakovos, it is a hard one to answer, because we don’t know what he had in mind. Taking his words on their face value we should conclude that he erred in his evaluation, unless he forethought that the Patriarch would have a “conversion experience.” Short of a miracle, this won’t happen. What then can we say? Since an erroneous judgment on the Elder’s part is unacceptable all we can say is that he had his reasons for his praise of the current Patriarch Bartholomew.
For your information, in the book about his life, The Garden of the Holy Spirit: Elder Iakovos of Evia by Prof. Stylianos G. Papadopoulos of blessed memory (translated and published in English by Orthodox Witness, 2007) there is a longer account (pp. 154-55) than that contained in Metropolitan Pavlos’s talk. Here it is:
It is truly inexplicable and mind boggling, how this charismatic Elder would be so joyous over Bartholomew’s election, and, in a way, be even responsible for it! You ask, “Was he not informed by the Holy Spirit of Patriarch Bartholomew’s eventual ecumenistic activities?” It’s even more mysterious because before Bartholomew spoke to the Elder, he had the same ideas many years earlier while still a student, which were acquired from his mentor, Patriarch Demetrios, and his environment.
I’ll also pass on to you the following explanation I came across the other day, offered by the Greek magazine Aktines (Jan. 20, 2017) (my translation):
I think the author is on to something. My explanation, though not fully satisfactory, is that the Elder saw Patriarch Bartholomew as the precursor of Antichrist, and as a sign of the end of times and of the Second Coming of the Lord. A Saint would rejoice at that. We know that the Patriarch is a betrayer of the faith, notwithstanding the witness of blessed Elder Iakovos and holy Elder Paisios.
Speaking of Saint Paisios, the Patriarch had a long relationship with him. Shortly after his election he visited the Elder on the Holy Mountain, at which time the Elder said publicly, “God gave us in these difficult times the best Patriarch.” But as someone said when we came across this passage as we were translating it, “Perhaps the Elder saw what would happen with the alternatives, and rejoiced because this was the best possible outcome.” I’ll leave it at that for now.
So, keep the faith, my friend. Give the good confession with your life, if not with words. Pray for the Patriarch that he may come to his senses, pray also for those who confess the faith among many adversities, and pray for us all, that we may find ourselves with the “remnant.”
In the eternally risen Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ,
More about Elder Iakovos