Share   Print
Related Content

The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Commemoration of the Pope

Letter to a ROCA Deacon from Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna

Thank you for the copy of the response from Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh, by way of Father George Livanos, to my comments about the commemoration of the Pope in Constantinople. I do not know the Priest in question, but I certainly know Bishop Maximos. One reason that I do not subscribe to an Orthodox computer forum on a regular basis is that I abhor the tone of many of the exchanges between clergy. We all agree or disagree on certain matters; surely, however, when we disagree, we can do so without name-calling and vulgarity. I would not have expected, then, to hear a gentleman like Bishop Maximos accuse me of spreading "outright lies" or of being "unreliable," even on a computer forum.

In the early ‘80s, prior to the purchase of our monastery in Ohio by his Diocese, I met twice with Bishop Maximos, once in the presence of Metropolitan Cyprian, who was visiting the U.S. On both occasions, His Grace struck me as a conservative, traditional Orthodox clergyman. When directly confronted by Metropolitan Cyprian about accusations in America against the validity of the Old Calendarists’ ordinations, Bishop Maximos was quick to acknowledge that the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) has Apostolic Succession; that his Church once maintained communion with the ROCA (up to the time of Metropolitan Philaret’s open epistles against the ecumenical activities of the Patriarchate of Constantinople); that, whatever the differences between the Greek Old and New Calendarists, the Greek Old Calendarists in communion with the ROCA have a valid clergy; and that dialogue between the two Greek factions is an absolute necessity. He asked for cooperation between our monastic community and his Church—at a time before I was forbidden to publish with the presses of the Greek Archdiocese—, and for some time after that, I wrote books, articles, and reviews for the Hellenic College Press, the Holy Cross Orthodox Press, and "The Greek Orthodox Theological Review."

Though I have seen Bishop Maximos waffle in his conservatism in the last decade, supporting both the "Branch Theory" of the Church and the exclusivity of Orthodoxy and arguing both for union with Rome and caution with regards to ecumenism, I find it difficult to believe that he has fallen to accusing others of open lies and to questioning their integrity or reliability. If this is the case, then the same sickness that we see in the Orthodox computer forums is far more insidious and expansive than we imagine.

I would for the moment, despite the vile language attributed to Bishop Maximos by Father Livanos, prefer to think that Bishop Maximos’ reactions to my claim about Constantinople and the commemoration of the Pope have been taken out of context or misquoted. Needless to say, in responding to the excessive ecumenism of the Œcumenical Patriarchate and other national Orthodox Churches, we have no reason or desire to lie. I personally believe that the Orthodox Church is still one—though in good conscience, I cannot maintain communion with those ailing modernists who compromise the self-definition of Orthodoxy as the singular Church of Christ—, and I wish that the things that we see were not true. Moreover, it is not we, who see these things, who bear the burden of proof—since we have not violated the Canons of the Church by praying with heretics—, but those who participate in ecumenical infractions of good Church order. It is they who must stop arguing witlessly about whether or not the Orthodox Church is in fact separated from Rome, whether She considers Rome to be heretical, or whether we can pray with those with whom we have no communion, and begin addressing our questions in a straight-forward way, without calling us liars or charlatans.

To repeat my earlier comments, which engendered this unseemly exchange, with the uncanonical lifting of the Anathemas against Rome by Patriarch Athenagoras in 1965 (a Patriarch, the mere "first among equals," cannot act unilaterally in this way, especially after the Great Schism entered into the very "conscience of the Church," wherein lies ultimate authority in Orthodoxy), the Pope was commemorated in the Diptychs in Constantinople. So it was that, in an "Open Letter to His Eminence Iakovos, Greek Archbishop of North and South America" in 1969, Metropolitan Philaret, Chief Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, protested against "the inclusion in the Diptychs by His All Holiness Athenagoras of the name of the Pope of Rome..., which was announced in His [All] Holiness’ Christmas Message [in 1968]" ("The Word," Vol. V, No. 2, March-April, 1969, p. 73). The restoration of the Pope of Rome to the Diptychs of the Great Church is a practice which, in published accounts to that effect, reportedly persists to this day ("Phone Orthodoxon," Vol. VI, No. 2 [1995], p. 18).

When we recall that, during the visit of Pope Paul VI to Istanbul in July 1967, he was received by the Patriarch as the "first in honor among us" and given an episcopal stole at the proclamation of "Axios" (by which Orthodox clergy are vested and confirmed at their ordinations) (see "The Observer," Vol. XXXIII, No. 570, p. 243), I think it not outrageous that I called the practice of commemorating the Pope in Rome "well known," thereby avoiding the pejorative term "infamous." Indeed, did not a clergyman of the Greek Archdiocese, and a canonist at that, declare that "the removal of the mutual excommunication between the two churches, two years ago, restores canonical relations between Rome and New Rome. This restoration is a canonical necessity" (Father Theodore Thalassinos, "The Goyan," Winter 1968 [quoted in Macris, Priest G.P., The Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Movement During the Period 1920-1969 (Seattle, WA: St. Nectarios Press, 1986, p. 137]). We have neither seen nor heard anything, since the ‘60s, to discount the ecumenical excesses which I have cited.

Now, if what I have accepted as fact is wrong, I am quite willing to be corrected. But if I am wrong, this certainly does not suggest that what I have reported is an "outright" lie or that I lack integrity or reliability. Moreover, any response to my words must explain why, in a number of joint prayer services between the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope over the past three decades, deacons of the Pope have consistently commemorated the Patriarch and the Patriarch’s Deacons the Pope. If the commemoration of the Pope in Constantinople has ceased, then let the Patriarch of Constantinople state this openly, so that we can rejoice at the fact. Rather than call us liars in the face of our pain at the compromise of our Faith at the highest levels, let the modernists comfort us with open statements of Orthodox Faith and open rejections of the excesses of ecumenism. But again, let them do so honestly, not only without name-calling, but without skirting the real issue. For the commemoration of the Pope in Constantinople has not been limited to the Diptychs (see supra), to the "Anaphora" (see "Orthodoxos Enemerosis," Vol. XV-XVI. January-June [1995], pp. 42-43, esp. n. 17, p. 43), or to ecumenical prayer services, but to the official reception of the Pope by Orthodox Bishops as a virtual Prelate of our Church, as in the "Doxology" which was sung when the Pope visited the Phanar in 1979. Is this, too, not a liturgical commemoration of the Pope, since in the practice of the Great Church it is a ceremony for the reception of a Bishop?

More to the point, if Bishop Maximos believes, in contrast to what he told me and Metropolitan Cyprian several years ago in what was a very cordial exchange, that the Roman Catholic Church has Grace (see the newest issue of "Orthodox Tradition" [Vol. XIII, No. 1 (1996), pp. 2ff.]) and His Grace’s astonishing remarks about the validity of Roman Catholic orders and sacraments), let him say so unequivocally. He has every right to believe this and to justify it by any of a number of theological and ecclesiological arguments (and he is an accomplished theologian, in this sense), just as we have every right to hold firm to a far more traditional and conservative view of the Church, which maintains that the Roman Catholic church is separated from Orthodoxy and has withered, after many centuries of separation. At the same time, if he believes this, he should cease attacking us for exposing what is to us a scandal and to him a victory for religious universalism. If, on the other hand, His Grace actually holds to a traditional and an ecumenical view of the Church at the same time, as he often seems to do, then let him admit that this kind of position entails certain contradictions. If we point these contradictions out, it is simply to voice our objections to his ecumenical views, not to question the integrity of his traditionalist views. We would ask that he return the same kind of charitable consideration to us, as he reacts to our rather monolithic ecclesiological position.

I, for one, see no reason to continue trying to prove what others say is not true. Again, those who have embraced ecumenism at the same time that they claim to uphold the beliefs of Orthodoxy must prove to us that what we see and hear is not true. It is not we who bear the burden of proving to the ecumenists that we are seeing what we see. Moreover, if we are simply to be dismissed as liars and lacking integrity for challenging what causes discomfort to others, then we are engaged in a fruitless pursuit. It is well known that, before entering the monastic life, I was a university professor. I always told my students that they should disagree with others honestly, defend their own positions with a clear acceptance of both those things that supported and compromised them, and do so with courtesy and respect for others. I think that my advice to my former students would greatly benefit our contemporary Orthodox clergy and the exchanges in which the engage.

I ask for your prayers.

+ Archbishop Chrysostomos