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Concerning the Orthodox Prayers for the Union of All and the Prayer in St. John 17

Excerpts from Ecumenism: A Movement for Union or a Syncretistic Heresy?

by Bishop Angelos of Avlona

1. "For the Good Estate of the Holy Churches of God and for the Union of All"

Now, when the Faithful are urged by the Deacon to pray "for the good estate of the Holy Churches of God," are they being urged, in fact, to pray for the Orthodox Church and the different heretical communities, understood together as Holy Churches of God?

Certainly not! Such an interpretation would constitute the most abject impiety.

"Holy Churches" are considered and called by Sacred Tradition the Most Holy local Orthodox Churches everywhere in the world, which, being in a communion of Faith and perfect love, jointly comprise the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, referring to the geographical meaning of the term, says that the Church "is called Catholic because She extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other."

Metrophanes Kritopoulos, the Patriarch of Alexandria, writes that the Fathers called the Church "catholic"

...on account of the unity of the individual and local Churches scattered everywhere, which all, by the bond of the All-Holy Spirit, constitute the One Catholic Church.

But the local Orthodox Churches are subject to the danger of being shaken by heresies and schisms, and of losing "sound doctrine" and their immovable stability on the foundations of correct Faith, so that the unity between them in faith and love is torn asunder and they fall away from Catholic unity.

Intense and fervent petitions, therefore, should be offered by the pious pleroma of the Faithful for the preservation of unity among the Most Holy local Orthodox Churches—in correct teaching, to be sure, of the word of Truth and of the Apostolic Faith, but also "in the bond of peace" and of love, "which is the bond of perfectness."

In this regard it has been very correctly observed that this petition recapitulates, in the form of a prayer, the injunction of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians: "Stand fast [in the right Faith], and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle [viz., of the Apostles]."

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Moreover, that the truly compunctionate petition by the Deacon "for the good estate of the Holy Churches of God and for the union of all" cannot include the assemblies of the various heretics and schismatics, which—according to the Holy Fathers—are pseudo-churches and are, strictly speaking, called "churches of evildoers" and "abominable gatherings," is proved very plainly, also, from the petitions used in the most ancient liturgical practice, as it is preserved for us in the Apostolic Constitutions.

Here are two typical diaconal exhortations:

Let us pray for the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, which is spread from one end of the earth to the other; that the Lord will preserve and keep Her unshaken and free from the waves of this life, until the end of the world, as founded upon a rock....

Let us pray for every Episcopacy under Heaven, of those that teach aright the word of Thy truth.

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However—so as to complete the picture—, the second part of this petition, "for the union of all," is best interpreted by means of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great.

The union of all is always understood in the context and on the presuppositions of Orthodox ecclesiology; for this reason, this Holy Father beseeches in the marvellous Prayer of the Anaphora, after the sanctification of the Precious Gifts: "...bring back those who have gone astray, and unite them to Thy Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church"; "make the schisms of the Churches to cease"; "speedily destroy the uprisings of heresies by the power of Thy Holy Spirit."

That is, only through the cessation of schisms, the destruction of heresies, and the return and reunion of the erring to Orthodoxy is the union of all achieved, by the Grace of God.

2. "That They All May Be One"

Let us come now to our Lord's prayer, "that they all may be one."

Shortly before His saving Passion, at the conclusion of the Mystical Supper, our Savior Christ prayed to His Heavenly Father for some time concerning His Church.

His Church was already present (the eleven Holy Disciples), and She would increase in the future with new believers.

The Lord prays especially for the unity of His Church, and He reveals the mystery of Her unity.

The unity of the Church not only has the unity of the Son with the Father as its model, but is a result of Her unity with the Holy Trinity.

The nature of Her unity is Triadocentric: the Church is united with the Father through the Holy Spirit in Christ the Savior.

Our Lord preserves and safeguards His Body in unity with the Father; there is, however, the danger that someone may fall away from this unity, as Judas did.

Jesus Christ, therefore, through His prayer does not enjoin that the faithful members of His Body be one with those who have fallen away from Her, nor does He regard the Faithful and those who have fallen away as one. But He beseeches the Father to preserve His Church in the God-given unity which She already experiences in His truth, love, and glory.

In such a way, the world, seeing this wonderful unity of the Church, will come to know and believe in the Divine and redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.

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Although ecumenists appeal to this passage, it can be completely turned against them, because in essence it exposes the nature of their ecclesiological heresy. They always use this text with the presupposition that the heterodox communities are in a schismatic situation vis-a-vis the Orthodox, but are certainly within the boundaries of the One Church; that is, there exists an "invisible" or "mystical" ecclesiastical unity, which must become "visible."

a. We have a clear expression of this heresy, when Orthodox ecumenists proclaim, as did the former Archbishop Iakovos of America, that the unity of the Church has clearly been split, and that in the context of the WCC the ecumenists "should bring the ageold division of the Church to a propitious end."

b. Indeed, in this regard, it was recently stated at an official level, in a Memorandum of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to the WCC, that

...the Council, and the ecumenical movement more generally, contribute and render service to the ecclesiological conception of unity, to the extent that they have as their primary objective and raison dtre precisely the restoration of unity in the Church.

c. Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland, in a discussion about ecumenical dialogue, the prospects for unity, and the "stable framework for the journey towards church unity," concludes with the observation that "only within this framework will the Holy Spirit heal the wounds of the tragic split in the body of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church."

d. A wholly academic expression and a very clear perversion of the meaning of our Lord's Prayer can be found in the views of the late University of Athens Professor, John Karmiris, who maintained that

'...the divided Christian Churches, confessions, and communities' have 'a bounden duty' to work for 'the restoration of ecclesiastical peace, concord, love, and immaculate unity in the Church, thereby responding to the Divine demand for unity in the high-priestly prayer of the Lord (St. John 17:1213); for the mutual separation and alienation of the members of the single and undivided body of the Church, stemming from earthly things and the aforementioned causes, certainly cannot destroy the internal unity of the Theanthropic Body of Christ, which is the Church, enjoined from above by its one Divine Head; in her essence, therefore, in her origin, and in the will of her Divine Founder, she is one and unique!

e. This misinterpretation of our Lord's words was unfortunately given collective and synodal expression by ecumenists at the "Third Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox Consultation" (Chambesy, October 28-November 6, 1986), in the final text that they approved, "Relations Between the Orthodox Church and the Rest of the Christian World"; in this text they state that '

...the Orthodox Church' 'recognizes the actual existence of all Christian Churches and Confessions,' and Her 'dialogue' with them 'is not based only on the human capacities of those who conduct dialogues, but receives supervision from the Holy Spirit by the Grace of the Lord, Who prayed that they all may be one (St. John 17:21)!

In conclusion, if we have to invoke the passage "that they all may be one," we should do this in order to highlight for the heterodox the essence and the glory of the unity of the One and only Church, that is, Orthodoxy, and to call them into this unity, for only then will they be united with the Father through the Holy Spirit in Christ

Pp. 19-21, 24-28. Footnotes within the text have been omitted for Internet posting.