What Should we do when our Bishop is an Ecumenist?
by Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis | March 4, 2015
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?
[from a comment to this post]
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).
- 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)
- Fr. Thomas Hopko gave a podcast on the subject (Resisting Like St. Maximus).
- Pedalion, pp. 46-48 and pp. 470-71.
- See Orthodoxos Typos, Dec. 12, 2015.
- Letter of Elder (now Saint) Paisios of Jan. 23, 1969 (Orthodoxos Typos, Feb. 20, 2015-my translation).
Article graphics and editing by Anthony Hatzidakis