Admonishment Is Not the Same as Excommunication
Earlier this month, news broke that the Ecumenical Patriarch had sent a letter to the Archbishop of Athens asking to “…depose and excommunicate leading hierarchs and clergy of the Church for their opposition to the ‘Council’ of Crete and its innovative organization and decisions.” The “council” they are referring to is the Holy and Great Synod. This letter has caused great uproar across the globe.
But have you actually read the letter?
Lost in Translation
The Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham recently commissioned a careful and thorough translation of Prot. No. 1153 to understand the true purpose and intent.
This is what they found:
1. Contrary to what many have falsely suggested, the Ecumenical Patriarch is not transgressing the independence of the Church of Greece; he is following proper protocol by asking Greece to address a problem of its clergy.
2. The Ecumenical Patriarch is not requesting excommunication; he is recommending admonishment.
3. The Ecumenical Patriarch is not criticizing opposition to the council; he acknowledges that reception and critical appraisal is vital in any conciliar decree and document.
4. Rather, the Patriarch is critical of scandal and division aroused by a small group of clerics who are deliberately trying to sow resistance to the Council among the faithful in other autocephalous churches.
5. There is a genuine irony at play by those who accuse the Holy and Great Synod of heresy on the basis of ecumenism. By declaring the synod heretical, these rogue clerics are cutting themselves off from the communion of their own Church of Greece, which participated in the Council.
The text reads:
Prot. No. 1153
Your Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, our dearly beloved and precious brother and concelebrant, President of the Sacred Synod of the Church of Greece, we embrace Your venerable Beatitude fraternally in the Lord and greet You with great joy.
It is universally accepted that our Holy Orthodox Church – the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – determines and decides about its doctrine and polity through Sacred Councils: local and broader, Greater or Holy and Great, as well as Ecumenical; moreover, Conciliar decisions taken through the invocation of and in the Holy Spirit comprise a single voice, as St. John Chrysostom also declares when he writes that “there must always be one voice in the Church.” (Commentary on 1 Corinthians 36 PG61.3315)
Inasmuch as this ecclesiological and canonical principle of deliberating and deciding in conciliar manner constitutes the cornerstone of the life as well as the saving mission and witness of our Orthodox Church in the world, we are communicating with Your dearly beloved and illustrious Beatitude and the Most Holy Church of Greece in our responsibility as Ecumenical Patriarch and President of the Holy and Great Council that convened in Crete, but also as guardian of doctrine and canonical order in the Eastern Church, in order to bring to Your attention the following matter of serious concern both to us personally and to the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Mother Church.
Information from diverse sources arrives on a daily basis at the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to us personally that Protopresbyter Theodoros Zissis together with like-minded clergy and laity – by means of the internet and other general media, as well as by roaming through various sister Orthodox Churches – summon brother Primates and shepherds, and especially the pious Orthodox people, to rebellion and misgiving with regard to the decisions of the Holy and Great Council of our Orthodox Church that successfully took place in Crete, where Your contribution and that of the Delegation of the Most Holy Church of Greece proved constructive and instrumental for its marked success.
As if the sacrilegious work of this significant number of clergy and laity within the jurisdiction of the Most Holy Church of Greece, corrupting consciences and creating scandals, was in itself insufficient, the information that we receive – which has not to date been disproved by anyone – indicates that a delegation led by the aforementioned clergyman has already visited the Most Holy Orthodox Churches of Bulgaria and Georgia, as well as the ecclesiastical Eparchy of Moldavia, creating turmoil among the faithful there and regrettably being received by brother Primates and Hierarchs of these Churches. Moreover, again according to the same sources, this group consistently presented itself, while in Georgia, as conveying the conscience of the plenitude of the Church of Greece.
Surely both Your Beatitude and the Sacred Synod of the Most Holy Church of Greece agree that the information deliberately and sacrilegiously speculated and circulated by these clergy and laity are, in the words of Basil the Great, “toxic drugs for the soul . . . while the rabid minds” of those disseminating them “are filled with utter fantasy as they shriek from their passion.” (Letter 210, To the notables of Neocaesarea PG32.777A) After all, “dividing the Church and being disposed to dissension, creating discord and constantly rejecting councils, is unforgivable and worthy of condemnation, calling for stern punishment.” (St. John Chrysostom, Against Jews 3 PG48.872)
Unfortunately, this familiar group, which has established a front against the canonical Church and the decisions of the Holy and Great Council convened in Crete, is also supported by positions of brother Hierarchs in the Most Holy Church of Greece with their writings and indiscriminate comments on every possible subject both before and after the Great Council. These include, for example, the Most Reverend Metropolitans Amvrosios of Kalavryta-Aigialieia and Seraphim of Piraeus. Those who act in this manner surely forget that “matters deliberated and decreed synodally are more important and valid than matters deduced individually.” (John of Citrus, Responses to Archbishop Constantine Cabasilas of Dyrrahion, in Rallis-Potlis, Syntagma of the Holy and Sacred Canons, volume 5, p. 403)
Wherefore, we entreat Your Beatitude and Your Sacred Synod of the Church of Greece – which participated in the Holy and Great Council of Crete, sharing in the decisions and signing all its Synodal documents – to apply the decision of this Council regarding the binding nature of its documents for all the Orthodox faithful, clergy and lay (cf. Organizational and Operational Procedures of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, Article 13, paragraph 2), assuming appropriate measures and proceeding to necessary recommendations to the said clergymen and their followers so that they might cease from their anti-ecclesiastical and uncanonical actions and not scandalize the souls “for whom Christ died” or create problems in the unified Orthodox Church.
Everyone is well aware that “nothing so provokes God as division in the Church” (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Ephesians 11 PG62.85), which is unfortunately what occurs through the conduct of such people. Thus, we have no doubt that Your Beatitude and the Sacred Synod of the Most Holy Church of Greece will do whatever is required, in accordance with canonical precision, in order to proceed with the necessary ecclesiastical recommendations and admonitions to these clergymen and laymen so that they might not give cause for “scandals,” while warning them in case of non-compliance of the imposition of consequences foreseen by the holy and sacred canons for remedying the wounds generated by their conduct in the body of the Church.
Furthermore, we also fervently entreat Your Beatitude to diligently draw the attention of our brother Hierarchs of the Most Holy Church of Greece – namely, the above-mentioned Metropolitans of Kalavryta-Aigialeia and Seraphim of Piraeus – who are causing turmoil among God’s people with their statements and encyclicals, expressly noting that, should they not awaken and come to their senses, the Ecumenical Patriarchate will address the problem that has emerged by severing ecclesiastical and sacramental communion with them, inasmuch as they are provoking the common responsibility and obligation of all Orthodox Shepherds to safeguard the unity, peace and unified witness of the Orthodox Church.
We responsibly denounce the above with painful soul and agonizing heart before this impious matter, which exceeds the right to free expression of constructive opinion, assumes larger and irreconcilable dimensions, entrusting it to the prudence of Your Beatitude and the venerable Hierarchy of the Church of Greece, as we remain with profound love in the Lord and distinct honor.
At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on November 18th, 2016
Your venerable Beatitude’s
beloved brother in Christ
+Bartholomew of Constantinople
We’d like to thank George Demacopoulos and the team at the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham for taking the initiative in acquiring a proper translation.
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