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What Should we do when our Bishop is an Ecumenist?


Fr. Emmanuel,

Bless!

What is your opinion on the Orthodox ecclesiological statements that Patriarch Bartholomew makes when speaking to Orthodox audiences? Which Patriarch Bartholomew should we trust? The one who speaks like an Orthodox bishop on Mt. Athos or the one who concelebrates with the heterodox? What should traditional Orthodox do when our first hierarch is tending towards Uniatism?

Maximus
[from a comment to this post]


Dear Maximus,

What a glorious name you bear! As long as you remain anchored unto this luminary of Orthodoxy you too will shine with the truth (as you do).

Thank you for asking this vexing question. It has been in my mind for many years. I have come to a solution that works for me—uneasily, I should add.

Admittedly it is painfully true that the ecumenical (read ecumenist) Patriarch speaks from both sides of his mouth, depending upon who his audience is: Orthodox in his statements for internal consumption; ecumenist when addressing his non-Orthodox “brethren.”

So, dear Maximus, with justification you raise the question, what should we do when we witness the acknowledged first-in-honor bishop of the Orthodox Church flagrantly violating the canons of the Church with common prayers and with statements that compromise the uniqueness of the Church?

What better authority to turn to in order to obtain a reliable, Orthodox answer to your question than the luminary of the true faith and life, the one you chose to be named after—the Confessor himself!

St. Maximos the Confessor would not receive holy communion from the hands of those he considered to be heretics because this supreme act of inter-communion was tied to their erroneous confession of faith, and it would be viewed as a public admission that he shared in their heresy.

More importantly, let us not forget that the Lateran council convened in 649 under pope Martin, in which St. Maximos was present, condemned and deposed the Patriarchs and bishops of the East who had embraced Monothelitism. Therefore St. Maximos had every justification to break communion with them.

Our situation is different. While our Patriarch and most of our bishops, whether openly or tacitly, are ecumenists, they don’t make holy communion a test, neither have they been officially condemned by a Church synod.

For us who are unequivocally non-ecumenists, the faith of the Patriarch, as that of his two predecessors, is a personal matter. They are not the Church. Those who faithfully follow the Fathers and keep the true faith are the Church.1

As long as things remain the way they are, we’ll continue to keep our Orthodox faith, while openly condemning ecumenism as a heresy, exactly as St. Maximos did—and accept the consequences.

However, if our bishop happens to be an ecumenist who will equate reception of holy communion to acceptance of his erroneous faith, then we too will stop receiving it from his hands, and we’ll look for an Orthodox bishop to follow.2

Old Calendarists will retort that they feel fully justified breaking communion with the New Calendarists based on the 31st of the Holy Apostles and especially on the 15th Canon of the First-Second Synod and, according to which Christians wall themselves off heretical or schismatic bishops.3

We are not ready to follow them and their uncanonical bishops. We will suffer where we are and we will continue to give witness to the true faith from within, praying that soon the truth will shine.

It just happens that recently (Nov. 27, 2014) the Metropolis of Piraeus, Greece, organized a seminar, in which three Orthodox theologians, including the Metropolitan of Piraeus Seraphim himself, addressed the aforementioned Canon and the question “when is it allowed to wall ourselves off from communion with our bishop”?4

The seminar expanded and explained the Canon stating that a priest or bishop may break communion with his superior if he publicly preaches a heresy even though it has not yet been condemned by a synod, but is acknowledged by the Fathers to be a heresy.

A couple of observations: First, breakage is not mandatory. It is a right, not an obligation. Second, we follow the holy Fathers, not our impulses. Even though many Fathers have written against ecumenism, calling it a heresy, even a pan-heresy, they fought against it from within, suffering the consequences.

We are not going to behave as supreme keepers and judges of the faith. There are others more knowledgeable and more pious than we are. Let us bear patiently in longsuffering if our bishop happens to be an ecumenist. We have as examples the recently declared Saints Justin Popović, Paisios the Hagiorite, Philotheos Zervakos, Sophrony Zaharov, and many other contemporary elders.

I praise and glorify God who gave me the answer to your question through the lips of the newest Saint of the Church, St. Paisios the New, who writes:

In our times we see that many faithful children of our Church, monastics and laymen, have unfortunately seceded from her, on account of the philo-uniates. I am of the opinion that it is no good at all to separate from the Church every time the Patriarch is at fault. Instead, from within, near our Mother Church, everyone has the duty and obligation to struggle in his own way. To discontinue the Patriarch’s commemoration, to secede and form one’s own Church, and to continue to speak insulting the Patriarch—this, I think, is illogical. If we separate ourselves at the first and second detour of our Patriarchs from our own churches – God forbid! – we’ll surpass even the Protestants.5

We should add, however, that later on, and for three years (1970-1973), the Saint together with other Hagiorite Fathers and a few Metropolitans interrupted the commemoration of Patriarch Athenagoras. At the same time we should note that they did not impose the cessation of the commemoration to other hierarchs, neither did they condemn as heretics those who continued to commemorate him, but maintained the ecclesiastical communion with the patriarchate and the Church of Greece.

Metropolitan of Gortynos Jeremiah included the above quotation from St. Paisios in his homily for the feast of St. Gregory the Theologian (Jan. 25, 2015), as an example to follow. Let us do that, while praying that soon a synod will specifically and directly condemn ecumenism and those bishops who follow it, praying and hoping that they will repent and will once more “teach the word of truth correctly” (2 Tim. 2:15).

  1. This is what Saint Paisios the New says: “Our Orthodox Church lacks nothing. She only lacks serious hierarchs and pastors with patristic principles. The chosen are few. Yet it is not disheartening. The Church is the Church of Christ. He is the One who governs her.” (Orthodoxos Typos, Feb. 20, 2015)
  2. Fr. Thomas Hopko gave a podcast on the subject (Resisting Like St. Maximus).
  3.  Pedalion, pp. 46-48 and pp. 470-71.
  4. See Orthodoxos Typos, Dec. 12, 2015.
  5. Letter of Elder (now Saint) Paisios of Jan. 23, 1969 (Orthodoxos Typos, Feb. 20, 2015-my translation).

Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis

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Discussion — 10 Responses

  • Maximus Scott March 4, 2015 on 11:09 pm

    Fr. Emmanuel,

    Bless!

    Thank you for this Lenten gift! And thank you for standing for truth.

    in ICXC,
    Maximus

    Reply
  • Isaac March 5, 2015 on 11:18 am

    Axios! Thank you for such soul-nourishing truth which walks the patristic royal path of love for truth and obedience to the Church.

    This also is the path blazed by the holy Russian elders of latter times with their own ecumenist hierarchs. Truly the Holy Spirit is the same everywhere.

    I really like the nuance to your analysis as well, Father. Specifically you mention that there are two distinctives in St Maximus’ resistance– one that such hierarchs were synodically condemned (at which were present both Eastern and Western bishops) AND the reception of holy communion was made by these heresiarchs to be a confession of their errors. That is, unlike our ecumenist bishops who hold to these as private opinions, the monothelite bishops had dogmatized their error and made communion from them a test for loyalty to their erroneous position.

    Reply
  • Lazaros March 12, 2015 on 9:48 am

    Thank you for this welcome piece of writing and your response to Maximus. Thank you also to Maximus and Issac for their insights and thought provoking comments!

    Reply
  • Michal Kráľ April 20, 2015 on 5:30 pm

    According to Fr Emmanuel’s answer, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the fellow bishops, are uncanonical, as they trample upon the canons of the Church, heretics, as they preach the summary of heresies called ecumenism, and liars who speak according to what their audiences want to hear, just like politicians do, but there are some bishops, priests and faithful who preserve the orthodox faith and traditions, and thus, save the Church.

    Please allow me to share a short bit of history from Slovakia: In Slovakia there is a very ancient orthodox community of Rusyns, known as Carpatho-Russians, in the east. Its a very strong community, who against all odds remained in the Orthodox Church for centuries, but sadly, During World War II, a group of ambitious Orthodox leaders sold themselves out to the Pope, and joined the Roman Catholics, who promised them protection against the soviets, who wanted to turn everyone into secular socialist Czekoslovakians. For any of us who did not know anything about it, everything was exactly the same, people go to the same Churches they’ve been going since childhood, and unlike other communities who joined the catholics in the high middle ages, the services were exactly the same, the orthodox creed is recited.

    Following the personal opinion of Fr Emmanuel, would mislead us into thinking this group of Carpatho-Russians are Orthodox people, struggling under uncanonical, heretical and false bishops, to preserve the ORthodox Church.

    But if we live according to the Gospel, following the Dogmas and Canons of the Church, and not our personal opinion, being under the authority and in communion with uncanonical heretical lying bishops, make us part of their false churches, and worst, it makes us our enablers by providing them with an orthodox facade.

    As it happens with Roman Catholics, Ecumenists speak on behalf of all their fellowers, and that means, whatever the Ecumenical PAtriarch says, it is also in the name of Fr Emmanuel and all his flock, and this is why its not a right, but a duty, to flee from them as from fire, and remain with True Orthodox Bishops, who preserve the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and guide themselves according to the canons of the Church.

    Fr Emmanuel, in his hatred and bigotry against the True Orthodox Church, dared to call the True Orthodox Bishops uncanonical, when they respect the canons and dogmas of the Church.

    I wish I could understand, but I do not, you say the Ecumenical Patriarch and other Bishops who violate the canons of the Church are canonical, while you say our bishops of the True Orthodox Church who preserve the canons are uncanonical. Also you accept the fact that St John of Shanghai and San Francisco is a saint, when he is precisely one of the Bishops you disdain as “uncanonical, holier than thou, arrogant, etc..” Why the lies Fr Emmanuel? Why the double standards?

    I hope you, Fr Emmanuel, can shake off your pride, arrogance and erred personal opinion, and sincerely seek Christ our God who is the pillar and ground of truth, instead of seeking for your own personal benefit, and selling yourself out to who, according with your own words, are heretics and liars.

    I’m sorry if I sound harsh and unpolite, but this is exactly how you refer to us, True Orthodox Christians, who are only struggling to live according to the Gospel in Truth and Love.

    It is very sad and frightful to see how you treat us, True Orthodox Christians, who have not done anything bad to you, while you are gracious and kind towards members of groups who wage war against the Church such as catholics, ecumenists, sergianists, moslems, jews, and other anti- JEsus religious groups.

    Love in Christ

    Michal

    Reply
    • Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis Michal Kráľ April 21, 2015 on 7:53 pm

      Dear Michal,

      Christ is Risen!

      Those who are uncanonical bishops are the Old Calendarists, because they ordained themselves by placing the hand of a dead bishop on their heads.

      They are schismatic, because they split themselves from the Church on account of the calendar and, as a result, they are not recognized by the Orthodox Church.

      You should be sympathetic to the views expressed, which, far from being personal, as you aver, they present the position of the Fathers of the Church.

      St. Athanasios the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Maximos the Confessor, St. Mark Evgenikos did not form a “True Church” when just about everyone had turned heretic. They chose to become martyrs and confessors by staying united with the Body of Christ.

      In the eternally Risen Lord,

      Fr. Emmanuel

      Reply
      • Justina Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis June 9, 2015 on 2:29 am

        Father bless, I never heard of this ordination by placing a dead bishop’s hand on one’s head before. Several schismatic churches have consecration and ordination lineages going to legitimate sources through living persons who themselves broke with the Orthodox Church over some matter. That may not make them legitimate, but it isn’t dead hand ordination either.

        Seems to me that one solution is to take communion from your priest who is not ecumenist, but not attend a hierarchical liturgy if the bishop is ecumenist. I recall reading of an Arian bishop who, when he would visit the
        church, everyone would stay outside. At first he thought this was some odd show of respect but then found out it was because they wouldn’t be under the same roof with the heretic bishop, but kept the Orthodox faith and operated as a church when he was absent.

        Reply
  • Maximus May 11, 2015 on 6:09 pm

    Michal,

    Speaking specifically of the Unia, St. John Maximovitch offers the SAME advice that Fr. Emmanuel does:

    …When under Metropolitan Anastassy they began to speak about ‘the incorrect actions of the Church’, he used to stop them, pointing out that one must not ascribe the actions of the hierarchy to the Church, since the hierarchy is not the whole Church, even if it speaks in her name. On the see of Constantinople there were Paul the Confessor, Macedonius, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Nestorius, Proclus, Flavian and Germanus. Some of them shone in sanctity and Orthodoxy, but others were the leaders of heresies. But the Church remained Orthodox. During iconoclasm after the expulsion of Severnin, Nicephorus and other, not only their sees, but also the majority of Episcopal sees were occupied by Iconoclasts. The other Churches did not even have communion with it [the see of Constantinople], according to the witness of St. Paul, who abandoned the heresy and his see, since they did not wish to have communion via the iconoclasts. Nevertheless, the Church of Constantinople remained Orthodox, although part of the people, and especially the guards and the bureaucrats, were drawn into iconoclasm. So now it is understandable when people who are not familiar with the language of the Church use the expression ‘Soviet church’, but it is not fitting for responsible and theological discussions. When the whole hierarchy of South-Western Rus’ passed into uniatism, the Church continued to exist in the person of the believing Orthodox people, which after many sufferings restored its hierarchy. (New Zion in Babylon IV pg. 144 by Vladimir Moss)

    Also see here:

    http://classicalchristianity.com/2014/08/29/on-false-ecumenism-prior-to-the-20th-century/

    Lastly, no one accuses the Old Calendarists of schism, heresy and being uncanonical more than other True Orthodox. The dis-integration inherent within the movement from its inception is great scandal and a sign that the grace of Orthodox unity has departed!

    Reply
  • Ezekiel Zeberant February 2, 2016 on 3:14 pm

    The grace of Orthodox unity has departed when…closet Ecumenists attempt to pass themselves off as martyrs for the cause of maintaining Orthodoxy “from within” when – in fact – they are merely supporting the demise of the True Church. St. Mark of Ephesos illustrated this by standing up and being a singular and unpopular voice at the false council of Ferrara-Florence; he did not equivocate nor did he mince words or manipulate them to justify himself. Lukewarm, pacifying rhetoric – found on websites like this – serve no good or honorable purpose. ” I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

    Reply
    • Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis Ezekiel Zeberant February 25, 2016 on 10:13 pm

      Patriarch Athenagoras should not have changed the calendar unilaterally. He should have waited for the consent of all the autocephalous churches. Yet those churches that did not agree with his decision and did not join him in the change of the calendar, did not break communion with him and with the other churches that followed him. Why? Because the calendar change isn’t enough to break sacramental communion. It’s not a heresy, although the decision to change was and continues to be a grave error that wounded the Orthodox Church. The old calendarists can address this issue together with the new calendarists, and find a solution, so that this anomaly is reconciled.

      Old calendarists cannot claim St. Mark of Ephesos as one of theirs. He did not form a separate church, as they have done. He would not receive holy communion from the Latinizers because they had joined heresy and schism. The new calendarists have not done that—not yet, that is. If they do it—and only when they do it—be rest assured that we, anti-ecumenists, will do exactly what our Father among the Saints, St. Mark of Ephesos did: flee from them, and seek an authentic Orthodox bishop to place ourselves under his omophorion.

      For now, we follow closely the ecumenists’ moves. We see the direction they are headed. Their actions are deplorable. Our ecumenist bishops terrorize their priests. They persecute them. They marginalize them. But we remain steady in our course, while we point out their error. But you have the temerity to criticize us! You may not use the name of the Confessor of our faith, St. Mark of Ephesos. You are not allowed to claim him, and he is not with you, and you are not with him. Upon his return to Constantinople he did not form a genuine, super Orthodox Church, as you’ve done. He suffered for his convictions, as do all those who openly oppose ecumenism.

      It is said that St. Athanasios the Great, fleeing from his see, was Orthodoxy on the run (everybody seemed to have turned Arian). Yet he did not wall himself off. He did not form a para-church. St. Maximos the Confessor did not encourage anyone to break communion with the Church, neither did he announce the formation of the true, genuine church, although everyone seemed to have embraced Monophysitism. We follow them and their actions. Who do you follow? We follow our Fathers among the Saints St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, St. Justin of Ćelije, St. John of San Francisco and St. Paisios. Who do you follow? Ours too is St. Justin of Ćelije, or is he not Orthodox enough for you? Our Church keeps producing Saints. What do you have to show? Who are your renegade saints?

      We stand up, pointing out the wrong course our ecumenical (read ecumenistic) patriarch follows, and all those with him. Their actions can be best described by a term found in the Interpretation of the 70th Canon of St. Basil by St. Nikodemos, to describe clerics who enter into erotic embraces, short of copulation: συγκυλισμός (from συν, together, and κυλισμός, from κυλίομαι, passive of κυλίω, to roll, whirl along, especially related to crawling pleasurably on the ground). That’s what they are doing. Wallowing in the mud. So we, who point them out at our risk, and who suffer the consequences are lukewarm, whereas you, who formed a para-synagogue, are the heroes of the faith?

      The Orthodox churches in America are sick from the epidemic of ecumenism. I’m waiting to hear the voice of an Orthodox bishop to rise in opposition, but all are scared and go along. It is sad, very sad. In Greece there are a few anti-ecumenist bishops. There is hope that a remnant will survive. Here in the States, I don’t know. I only pray. Pray for them, and for you.

      Reply
  • Miled March 20, 2017 on 2:00 pm

    I am a Maronite Catholic seeking Orthodox conversion. If I want to convert to Orthodoxy in Antioch Autocephaly (I live in Lebanon), I will be chirsmated only and without Baptism, and that’s not enough to make me Christian according to Orthodox canons. While the GOC will fully baptize me. Now in your words, I will be either a schismatic and won’t be considered Orthodox….or still not Orthodox…

    Reply