Monday, 22 February 2016

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos on the Holy and Great Council

Letter of Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
to the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece
on the texts proposed for approval by the upcoming
Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church


Nafpaktos, 18th of January 2016
To the Holy and Sacred Synod
of the Church of Greece
Ioannou Gennadiou 14
115 21 Athens

Your Beatitude, President of the Synod,

Following the Session of the Sacred Synod in the month of January, we were given the texts which were prepared and prepare for the future convening of the Holy and Great Synod on the day of Pentecost this year, barring any unforeseen developments.

Among these are also the texts prepared by the 5th Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Meeting, which took place in Geneva from the 10th to the 17th of October of the previous year (2015), during the time period of our own Synod.

The texts-decisions were: 1. “Autonomy and the manner in which it is granted,” 2. “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world,” 3. “The mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world,” 4. “The importance of fasting and its application today.”

In the accompanying letter addressed to Your Beatitude, signed by Metropolitan Jeremiah of Switzerland, Secretary of Preparations for the Holy and Great Council, and dated 5-11-2015, it states: “For certification of the decisions of your representatives, which have been hand delivered, the proposed texts have been attached in order that Your Church be informed, give due consideration and make pertinent decisions.”

Thus, besides the ratification of the decisions by the representatives of our Church and to inform the Church, these texts were also sent in order to obtain relevant views and decisions from our Church, namely from the Eminent Metropolitans of the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece. It is understood, then, that these texts-decisions are to be given to the Members of our Hierarchy for discussion, because the Church will make decisions to accept and to vote on them, with the one vote it has, at the Session of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church.

Two of these subjects, namely “autonomy and the manner in which it is granted” and “the importance of fasting and its application today” do involve any serious problems. However, I have serious reservations about theological, ecclesiological and anthropological subjects in the other prepared texts.

Here it will suffice simply to outline a few subjects, which I shall analyse in greater detail at the appropriate time. Specifically:

1. The text-decision “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world” speaks of the self-understanding and union of the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” (article 1) and, as it says, “according to the ontological nature of the Church this unity cannot be broken” (article 6). Yet at the same time it speaks of the “theological dialogues between the different Christian Churches and Confessions” and the participation of the Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical movement “in the belief that through dialogue she thus bears her active witness to the plenitude of Christ’s truth and her spiritual treasures before those who are external to her, and pursuing an objective goal – to tread the path to unity” (article 6).

This raises the questions: Does the above phrase: “to tread the path of unity” mean that those outside of Her (the Orthodox Church) will return to unity? If so, how can it state elsewhere that the bilateral theological dialogues of the Orthodox Church, with its participation in the Ecumenical Movement, take place “with the aim of seeking, on the basis of the ancient Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the lost unity of Christians” (article 5)? In other towards, is the unity of the Orthodox Church taken for granted or is it sought because it was lost?

This is also connected with the subject of the relationship of the Orthodox Church with the other Christian Confessions. While “The Orthodox Church, being the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, in her profound ecclesiastical consciousness firmly believes that she occupies a central place in matters relating to the promotion of Christian unity within the contemporary world” (article 1), it is simultaneously stated that “The Orthodox Church acknowledges the existence in history of other Christian Churches and confessions which are not in communion with her…” and believes in a speedy, more accurate elucidation “of all ecclesiological topics, especially the teaching on Sacraments, grace, priesthood, and apostolic succession” (article 6).

This means that the Orthodox Church acknowledges the other Christian Churches and Confessions, and within this perspective the relations of the Orthodox Church with the other Churches is determined, in agreement with the 7th canon of the 2nd Ecumenical Council and the 95th of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council (article 20).

Question: Why does the opening phrase “with the rest of the Christian world” close with the phrase “existence of other Christian Churches and Confessions”? Are there Christian Churches besides the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? Furthermore, does the calling to mind of particular Canons of the Ecumenical Councils [7th of the Second Oecumenical Council and 95th of the Quinisext Council] suggest “baptismal theology” as the basis of the unity of the Orthodox Churches with the other “Churches and Confessions”? After the Quinisext Ecumenical Council, did not other doctrines also slip in among Roman Catholics, as well as other canonical traditions of worship? Is it possible that the decision of the Patriarchs in 1756, by which we receive the heterodox into the Orthodox Church by baptism, is being indirectly revoked? And will those who continue to believe according to the teaching of the Holy Fathers shatter the unity of the Church and be “condemned”? (article 22).

It is necessary, therefore, that the content of this text be further clarified in relation to the title, lest it create confusion and ambiguity. Although the title is clear: “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world”, there are some ambiguities in the content, such as the “recognition” of other Churches besides the One Orthodox Church, and the establishment of unity from [within] the existing division. It is possible that this confusion came from the merging of two subjects for discussion at the Holy and Great Council into one text. Nevertheless, the content of the two texts need to be brought into harmony.

2. The text “The mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world” generally presents the orthodox teaching on the prevalence of peace, righteousness, freedom, brotherhood and love between peoples, and on the rejection of racial and other forms of discrimination. Surely, the Holy and Great Synod has to take such a decision, since we live in a divided, fragmented, and intolerant world and in an environment that is steadily polluted to the detriment of man and the creation of God.
I notice, however, that all of this is based on a flawed anthropology. Instead of the text making reference to the value of man, it refers to the “value of the human person” (Title and chapter 1, article 4), the “sacredness of the human person” (chapter 1, article 3), the “lofty value of the human person” (chapter 1, article 5), and elsewhere.

Of course, in the beginning it is noted that “in the term ‘person’ is condensed the content of the creation of man according to the image and likeness of God” (chapter 1, article 1). However, it continues by stating that “the sacredness of the human person”, which derives from the creation of man as the image of God, and from his mission in God’s plan for man and the world “was the source of inspiration for the Church Fathers” (chapter 1, article 3).

The Fathers, however, constantly insist on emphasising the meaning of “man”, while “person” is attributed to God. I am not aware of patristic texts that speak of the “sacredness” and the “value of the human person”, something which is the product of Roman theology, as Lossky clearly attests, and which in reality is a view pertaining to post-patristic theology.

The wording “value and sacredness of the human person” in the text is associated with the cacodox correlation between the human person and the communion of the Divine Persons. It says, “One of the loftiest gifts of God to the human person both as a concrete bearer of the image of a personal God and as a member of a community of persons in the unity of the human race by grace reflecting the life and communion of the Divine Persons in the Holy Τrinity, is the gift of freedom” (2, article 1).

This article makes reference to the “communion of the Divine Persons,” while the correct terminology would be the unity and distinction of the Divine Persons. In the Triune God, there is a communion of nature and not a communion of persons, since the persons also have their incommunicable hypostatic properties. Also problematic is the statement that “the human person” is “concrete bearer of the image of a personal God” and “a member of a community of persons in the unity of the human race by grace reflecting the life and communion of the Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity” (Chapter 2, article 1). Furthermore, the statement that “the person is associated with freedom and uniqueness, which express relationship and communion” (Chapter 1, 1) and that freedom is “an ontological component of the person” (Chapter 2, 3). If this were the case, then in God each person would have their own freedom, and hence the unity of the Holy Trinity would be broken. If “the human person” is associated with the “divine Persons” in the text, then the freedom of the person results in a cacodox viewpoint. Moreover, τό αὐτεξούσιον, the will is an appetite of nature and not of the person.

I gave an explanation on this subject to the Hierarchy last October, and showed the problems relating to the term person in regards to man, and the Hierarchs did not object further on the subject.

I maintain that these passages should be removed from this important text, and that the word “man” be substituted for the word “person.” There is no better expression, which is both biblical and patristic and which is perceived also by western theologians and Christians of other Confessions, who are not used to the meaning of person with regards to man.

Your Beatitude,
With respect I submit these few, but fundamental remarks of mine, which I consider to be important. If these passages which express a modern theological direction of certain newer theologians, and which differ from Orthodox patristic teaching, remain, then the texts issued by the Holy and Great Synod will create various theological problems, because together with everything else, they will support a theology which is foreign to the tradition of the Church, they will support the so-called post-patristic theology and it will be shown that this was the aim of those who arranged these texts.

In closing, I opine that the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world” must be altered to clearly express that it is the Orthodox Church which is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that theological dialogue with the Christian world is done in order for the Christian Communities outside of her to return to this unity.

Furthermore, with regards to the text “The mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world,” the expression “value and sacredness of the human person” should be replaced by the expression “the value of man,” and what is written about the communion of persons, “the unity of the human race by grace reflecting the life and communion of the Divine Persons in the Holy Τrinity,” should be removed.

Writing the above, I remain,
Least among the brethren in Christ,

+ Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlasios

Translation by Fr Kristian Akselberg

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Met. Athanasios of Limassol on the Holy and Great Synod

Letter of H.E. Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol
to the Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus
regarding the document of the 5th Pre-conciliar Meeting
in preparation for the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church
entitled "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world"

To the Holy and Sacred Synod of the most holy Church of Cyprus.

Your Beatitude, holy brethren,

I received the texts adopted as decisions of the various Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Meetings, which over time were held in preparation for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, and which constitute the officially approved texts on issues to be submitted to the Holy and Great Synod for adoption, and I sincerely thank you for sending them.

In agreement with regulations sent to us regarding the Organisation and Working Proceedure of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church, and in particular article 12, paragraphs 2 and 3 which indicate that we are entitled first to express our views at our local Synod, I, having examined my conscience, humbly submit to the Holy and Sacred Synod of our holy Church my views and opinions regarding the following matters.

On the text of the 5th Pre-conciliar Pan-orthodox Meeting, which was held in Chambésy, Geneva, from the 10th – 17th of October 2015, and which bears the title, “Decisions: Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world”, I have the following to say:

I am in total agreement with the first three articles of the text. However, at article 4 onwards, I have made the following observations: “The Orthodox Church has always prayed ‘for the union of all’ – I believe this to mean the return to and union with Her of all those who broke away and distanced themselves from Her, of heretics and schismatics, once they have renounced their heresy and schism and flee from those things with repentance and are integrated and joined – united – with the Orthodox Church in accordance with the teachings of the sacred canons.

The Orthodox Church of Christ never lost the ‘unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit” and does not accept the theory of the restoration of the unity of those ‘who believe in Christ,’ because it believes that the unity of those who believe in Christ already exists in the unity of all of Her baptised children, between themselves and with Christ, in Her correct faith, where no heretics or schismatics are present, for which reason She prays for their return to Orthodoxy in repentance.

I believe that what is stated in article 5 regarding 'the lost unity of Christians' is incorrect, because the Church as God’s people, united among themselves and with the Head of the Church which is Christ, never lost this unity and therefore is not in need of rediscovering or seeking it, because it always was, is, and will be just as the Church of Christ has never ceased nor ever will cease to exist. I what happened is that groups, peoples or individuals left the body of the Church and the Church prays, and is required to try through mission, that they all return in repentance to the Orthodox Church via the canonical route. In other words, there do not exist other Churches, only heresies and schisms, should we wish to be more precise in our definitions. The expression ‘towards the restoration of Christian unity’ is incorrect because the unity of Christians – the members of the Church of Christ – has never been broken, as long as they remain united to the Church. Separation from the Church and flight from the Church have unfortunately happened numerous times due to heresies and schisms, but there was never a loss of the internal unity of the Church.

I question why the text contains multiple references to ‘Churches’ and ‘Confessions’? What difference and which element allows us to call some Churches and others Confessions? Which is a Church and which a heresy and which a schismatic group or confession? We confess one Church and that all the others are schisms and heresies.
I maintain that giving the title 'Church' to heretical or schismatic communities is entirely incorrect from a theological, dogmatic and canonical perspective because the Church of Christ is one, as also stated in Article 1, and we cannot refer to a heretical or schismatic community or group outside the Orthodox Church as ‘Church’.

At no point does this text state that the only way that leads to union with the Church is solely the repentant return of heretics and schismatics to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, which according to Article 1 is our Orthodox Church.

The reference to the 'understanding of the tradition of the ancient Church' gives the impression that there is an ontological difference between the ancient Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the genuine continuation of the same until the present day, namely our Orthodox Church. We believe that there is absolutely no difference between the Church of the 21st century and the Church of the 1st century, because one of the attributes of the Church is the fact we also confess in the Symbol of Faith, namely that it is Apostolic.

Article 12 states that the common purpose of the theological dialogues is ‘the final restoration of unity in correct faith and love’. This gives the impression that we Orthodox are seeking our restoration to correct faith and the unity of love, as if we had lost the right faith and are seeking to discover it through the theological dialogues with the heterodox. I maintain that this theory is theologically unacceptable for us all.

The reference of the text to ‘the World Council of Churches’ gives me the opportunity to make a complaint against occasional syncretistic events which took place therein, but also against its title, since it regards the Orthodox Church as ‘one of the Churches’ or a branch of the one Church which seeks and strives for Her realisation at the World Council of Churches. For us, however, the Church of Christ is one and unique, as we confess in the Symbol of Faith, and not many.

The view that the preservation of the genuine Orthodox faith is guaranteed only through the synodical system as the only ‘competent and final authority on matters of faith’ is exaggerated and ignores the truth that many synods throughout Church history taught and espoused incorrect and heretical doctrines, and it was the faithful people which rejected them and preserved the Orthodox faith and championed the Orthodox Confession. Neither a synod without the faithful people, the fullness of the Church, nor the people without the synod of Bishops, is able to regard themselves as the Body of Christ and Church of Christ and to correctly express the experience and doctrine of the Church.

I understand, Your Beatitude and holy brethren of the Synod, that use of hard or insulting language cannot be made in ecclesiastical encyclicals of this kind, nor do I think anyone desires the use of that form of expression. However, the truth must be expressed with precision and clarity, though naturally with pastoral discernment and genuine love towards all. We owe it also to our brothers who find themselves in heresy or schism to be entirely honest with them, and with love and pain to pray and do everything possible to bring about their return to the Church of Christ.

I humbly maintain that texts of such importance and prestige as those of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church must be very carefully formulated with theological and canonical precision in order that these ambiguities or untested theological terms do not also give rise to incorrect expressions which could lead to misconceptions and distortions of the correct attitude of the Orthodox Church. Moreover, in order for a Synod to be valid and canonical, it must not depart in any way from the spirit and teaching of the Holy Synods which preceded it, the teaching of the Holy Fathers and Holy Scriptures, and it must be free from any ambiguity in the precise expression of the correct faith.

Never in the holy Fathers, nor ever in the holy canons or rulings of the sacred Ecumenical or Local Synods, are heretical or schismatic groups referred to as churches. If the heretics are indeed churches, where is the single One Church of Christ and the Apostles?

I humbly express my disagreement with the fact that the practice of all Sacred Synods until the present of allowing each bishop a vote is abolished. There was never before a system of ‘one Church, one vote,’ which renders the members of the Holy and Great Synod, with the exception of the primates, mere decorative items by refusing them the right to vote.

I also have some other disagreements and objections to other parts of the texts, but I do not wish to tire you further with this and will limit myself to the issues I consider to be of greater importance, and on which I humbly express my disagreement, viewpoint and belief.

I do not want to upset anyone with what I wrote, nor do I want to be seen to be teaching judgement of my brothers and fathers in Christ. I simply feel the need to express what my conscience requires me to.

I request that my views be recorded in the minutes of the Holy Synod.

Asking for your holy prayers, I remain,

Least among the brethren in Christ,

Athanasios of Limassol

11 February 2016

Translation: Fr. Kristian Akselberg