This third Sunday of Great Lent (March 23rd, 2014 / March 10th, 2014) will see a True Orthodox concelebration between the clergy of four True Orthodox Churches:
- GOC – Kallinikos which united on March 19th, 2014 with the Synod in Resistance
- The true orthodox church of Bulgaria
- The True Orthodox Church of Romania
These four orthodox jurisdictions are consequently in communion. However, this union raises a great number of interrogations. Some of them are exposed in this open letter directed to all members of the aforementioned jurisdictions, bishops, clergy, monks and laymen.
One of the bases of such union and communion is the document entitled: “The True Orthodox Church in Opposition to the Heresy of Ecumenism” which deals with ecclesiological matters, will be later referred as "the document", "the agreement". The document was finally made available on March 22nd, 2014 in the afternoon and was highly expected. Indeed, it was known to be finalized for at least three days and the reason of such delay is quite surprising. However, English-speaking readers could already have a good idea of this document thanks to a leaked version that appeared on the Internet on the information website News from the Underground on March 20th, 2014.
We personally regret the late diffusion of the document and the fact it was not shared before formal approval among the public, so that readers can come back with their questions, interrogations, comments. In this way, the commission might have understood how the wording was practically perceived by the common readers and improve his work. One knows that when you have been working a lot on a document, everything in it seems clear to you whereas the same wording might be very confusing for people reading it first. Moreover, a previous public communication would have been reassuring and fitting with the orthodox spirit in which “the protector of religion is the very body of the Church, even the people themselves, who desire their religious worship to be ever unchanged and of the same kind as that of their fathers” (Encyclicals of the Oriental patriarchs, 1848).
Animated with the desire of protection of religion, we read the agreed document with attention. We consider it as a very good document excepted in one small point that, although small, appears to us to be very critical and dangerous, which leads us to write this open letter. The first goal of this open letter is to ask an urgent formal and official clarification, having the same strength and value of the agreed ecclesiological document. Indeed, at the end of the day, only official documents will count. The second aim is to inform all true orthodox of the potential risks of the ecclesiological agreement, so that they can take all required actions.
The critical point is following passage regarding World Orthodoxy, called “Official orthodoxy” in the document (we highlighted the key elements):
VI. The Return to True Orthodoxy
1. In the acceptance of repentant heretics and schismatics, the Ecumenical and local Synods of the Church have, from time to time, in addition to the principle of exactitude, applied the so called principle of economy, to wit, a canonical and pastoral practice, according to which it is possible for there to be a temporary divergence from the letter of the Sacred Canons, without violating their spirit.
2. Nevertheless, economy assuredly can never and in no circumstance whatever permit the pardoning of any sin or any compromise concerning the “correct and saving confession of the Faith,” since economy aims clearly and solely, in a spirit of charitable accommodation, at facilitating the salvation of souls, for whom Christ died.
3. The application of economy in the reception of heretics and schismatics into communion with the Church in no way betokens that the Church acknowledges the validity and the reality of their mysteries, which are celebrated outside Her canonical and charismatic boundaries.
4. The Holy Orthodox Church has never recognized, either by exactitude or by economy, mysteries performed completely outside Her and in apostasy, since those who celebrate or who partake of these mysteries remain within the bosom of their heretical or schismatic community.
5. Through the application of economy exclusively and solely in the reception of individual persons or communities outside Her in repentance, the Orthodox Church accepts merely the form of the mystery of heretics or schismatics—provided, of course, that this has been preserved unadulterated, especially as regards Baptism—but endows this form with life through the Grace of the Holy Spirit that exists in Her by means of the bearers of Her fullness in the Truth of Christ, namely, Orthodox Bishops.
6. More specifically, with regard to the Mysteries celebrated in the so-called official Orthodox Churches, the True Orthodox Church, within the boundaries of Her pastoral solicitude, does not provide assurance concerning their validity or concerning their soteriological efficacy, in particular for those who commune “knowingly” [wittingly] with syncretistic ecumenism and Sergianism, even though She does not in any instance repeat their form for those entering into communion with Her in repentance, having in view the convocation of a Major Synod of True Orthodoxy, in order to place a seal on what has already occurred at a local level.
7. It is in any event certain that when the purity of the dogma of the Church is assailed and the irrefragable bond between confession, Catholicity, and communion is thereby weakened or even completely broken, the Mysteriological and soteriological consequences, clearly foreseen by the Apostolic, Patristic, and Synodal Tradition, are very serious and very grave.
This point VI-6 looks particularly critical and dangerous to us. In order to analyze things, it is crucial to take into account a large scope without being limited to the last 100 years, and without being limited to the context of Greece. The document itself states that “world orthodoxy” is in
“the process of syncretistic apostasy of a Sergianist and ecumenist kind, an antiecclesiastical and uncanonical process synodally promoted or permitted by their Hierarchies, with which the True Orthodox Church, consistent with its ecclesiological principles regarding “false bishops” and “false teachers,” cannot have any prayerful, Mysteriological, or administrative communion whatsoever."
As highlighted by many people, such process is 90 year-old. After such observation, world orthodoxy is consequently defined as being outside the Church, with all the consequences entailed by this. In terms of mysterial grace (grace conveyed by the divine mysteries), this implies the total absence of mysterial grace as hinted by the common ecclesiological statement when it says: “the Mysteriological and soteriological consequences, clearly foreseen by the Apostolic, Patristic, and Synodal Tradition, are very serious and very grave”.
But the document only hints. It does so in a way the previous assertion is annulled by VI-6 sentence:
More specifically, with regard to the Mysteries celebrated in the so-called official Orthodox Churches, the True Orthodox Church, within the boundaries of Her pastoral solicitude, does not provide assurance concerning their validity or concerning their soteriological efficacy, in particular for those who commune “knowingly” [wittingly] with syncretistic ecumenism and Sergianism, even though She does not in any instance repeat their form for those entering into communion with Her in repentance, having in view the convocation of a Major Synod of True Orthodoxy, in order to place a seal on what has already occurred at a local level.
We are now in the situation in which the True Orthodox Church “cannot affirm that the Mysteries of World Orthodoxy are valid and salvific, which means that It cannot affirm that they are not” as posted by a inquirer on the Internet. In order to do this, we are to wait for a major synod. This is an astonishing fact since the principle of mysterial gracelessness outside the church is a well-established principle, as reminded by the same document. For instance, it is asserted in Canon 46 of the Holy Apostles that states:
46. We order any Bishop, or Presbyter, that has accepted any heretics’ Baptism, or sacrifice, to be deposed; for "what consonancy hath Christ with Belial or what part hath the believer with an infidel?"
It behooves Orthodox Christians to shun heretics and the ceremonies and rites of heretics. They, i.e., heretics, ought rather to be criticized and admonished by Bishops and Presbyters, in the hope of their apprehending and returning from their error. For this reason the present Canon prescribes if any Bishop or Presbyter shall accept a heretic's Baptism as correct and true, or any sacrifice offered by them, it is ordered that he be dropped. For what agreement hath Christ with the Devil? or what portion hath the believer with an unbeliever? Those who accept the doings of heretics either themselves entertain similar views to theirs or at any rate they lack an eagerness to free them from their misbelief. For how can those who acquiesce in their religious ceremonies and rites criticize them with the view of persuading them to give up their cacodoxical and erroneous heresy?
This canon has been validated by the Council in Trullo. Following the long established principles, the only assurance the True Orthodox Church can provide and must provide is the one of lack of grace in world orthodox mysteries, but it does not in this document. At the opposite, the statement “More specifically, with regard to the Mysteries celebrated in the so-called official Orthodox Churches, the True Orthodox Church, within the boundaries of Her pastoral solicitude, does not provide assurance concerning their validity or concerning their soteriological efficacy” opens a dangerous door, a breach in the fortress.
Indeed, if we cannot affirm that the Mysteries of World Orthodoxy are valid and salvific, this means that we cannot affirm that they are not. Then, practically speaking, it would allow True Orthodox people to think and state that there is mysterial grace in World Orthodoxy. At least, it is how this sentence seems to mean to us. So our first question is the following one. Does the document allow true orthodox people to believe there is mysterial grace within World orthodoxy? (Question 1) If so, then it opens the Pandora box with a series of terrible contradictions.
- Contradiction with the church practice of denying mysterial grace to heretics and submit those having such erroneous opinion to canonical penance. What will happen if someone now asserts that he thinks grace is present in World Orthodoxy basing himself on this ecclesiological document and the aforementioned ambiguous sentence? Will it still be possible to depose him if he is bishop or requiring his excommunication if he is a layman, using Canon 46 of the Holy Apostles? (Question 2)
- contradiction with ROCOR anathema against ecumenism, expelling from the church those who thought that there were efficient mysteries outside the church. Will and are people thinking mysterial grace is present in world orthodoxy tolerated in the True Orthodox Church? (Question 3)
- contradiction with the 1935, 1950 and 1974 encyclicals of the Greek Old Calendar church asserting the lack of mysterial grace in the Church of Greece. Indeed, the ecclesiological document decides to make no clear statement about gracelessness in world orthodoxy, opening the possibility (as it seems) of believing mysterial grace is present in world orthodoxy. Since the State Church of Greece is a part of World Orthodoxy, are we now allowed to think the State Church of Greece keeps some mysterial grace, which would be in utter contradiction with the 1935, 50 and 74 encyclicals? (Question 4)
- If now, these 1935, 1950 and 1975 encyclicals still stand, the gracelessness of the Church of Greece is then confirmed. But outside the specific case of the Church of Greece, would it still be possible to think mysterial grace is present? (Question 5). If so, is new calendarism in Greece so different from new calendarism in Constantinople, Romania, Antioch, Alexandria, Finland and Czech Republic, so that these particular world orthodox churches might have mysterial grace? (Question 6)
- Contradiction with the 1987 anathema against the late Cyprian of Fili due to the fact he was acknowledging the presence of grace within the Church of Greece. Please correct us if we have a bad understanding of the anathema; the complete text is only available in Greek. Is there a contradiction between the document and this anathema? (Question 7). Would you mind also explain us with all theological details in which conditions a pannychide seems to have been performed for the late Cyprian of Fili whereas this person died outside the church? (Question 8)
The last contradiction entailed with the tolerance of the thinking that mysterial grace can exist in world orthodoxy would be within the True Orthodox Church itself. It might be the most critical one. Instead of all having the same mind and soul, there would be division behind an apparent unity, some thinking world orthodoxy has mysterial grace, other thinking the opposite. How long can such a divided house hold? In a True Orthodox synod, you would be now able to find a bishop thinking there is grace in World Orthodoxy, sitting and concelebrating with another one thinking the opposite. How long can such a divided house hold?
At long term, but it can be short and medium term, this series of contradictions, introduced by a single paragraph in a good document, poses a serious threat for True Orthodoxy. Following the teaching of the Fathers, mysterial grace is a monopoly of the church. Consequently, if you do not explicitely rule out the presence of mysterial grace in a place (or open the door to the acknowledgement of mysterial grace among world orthodoxy), you recognize this place as the church (or open the door to such acknowledgment). Consequently, due to this ambiguity, the document might lead us to what we would call a sort of cryptocyprianism or semi-cyprianism, sneekier and thus maybe more dangerous and subtle.
In the history of orthodoxy, the people were many times the true defenders of the faith whereas bishops erred. Thus, Ferrare-Florence council was opposed by Saint Mark of Ephesus, the delegate of the Church of Georgia (a fact which is less known) and the people of Constantinople. During the Polish domination in Ukraine, faithful resisted uniatism whereas bishops had adhered to heresy. Following the new calendarist schism in Greece, the faith was preserved by the people in spite of the apostasy of all bishops that lasted until 1935.
That is why, considering that with this document, a very dangerous door might have been opened due to such an imprecise formulation, it seems to us convenient to invite all bishops that signed the document, from whichever church they might belong, to the following:
- Answer the questions raised in this letter
- Declare in a written statement which is their personal position regarding the presence or absence of mysterial grace within world orthodoxy
As for us, adhering to the present letter, we:
- reject the document “The True Orthodox Church in Opposition to the Heresy of Ecumenism” in its current form and ask for an official and quick reformulation that will make clear and undoubtable the absence of mysterial grace within world orthodoxy, this entity being out of the church
- require a strict and public enforcement of the canons (in particular canon 46 of the Holy Apostles ) sanctioning those asserting the presence of mysterial grace among heretics and imparting mysteries to heretics without their previous repentance
- require a strict enforcement of anathemas pronounced by true orthodox churches against those asserting the presence of Grace among heretics
- Declare ourselves ready to initiate canonical procedures (trials) against anyone holding views and actions contrary to the church teachings regarding mysterial grace outside the church
- Declare ready to break communion with any bishop who would preach or act heretically, in particular regarding the question of grace among world orthodoxy, always in the spirit of canon 15 of First Second council
All people adhering to this statement are invited it to share it (translators are welcome), and take any actions conform to this letter and its spirit.
Rhineland, March 23, 2014; March 10th, 2014
Third Sunday of Great Lent
Martyr Quadratus and his companionsThis third Sunday of Great Lent