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Letter of Patriarch Diodoros I to the Patriarch of Antioch


Letter from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Diodoros I,
to the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatios IV

May 17, 1997

Note: the following is taken from the unofficial English translation from the Greek, a translation that has been circulating among a number of Orthodox in America. In many places the text has been edited in order to reflect more proper English grammar and wording. Attempts to secure the original Greek text have been unfruitful. Thus, the exact wording cannot be verified at this time.

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No. 361

His Beatitude
Mgr. Ignatios IV
Patriarch d' Antioche et de tout l'Orient
B.P. No. 9
Damascus, Syria

Your Beatitude, Your Divinity and Holiness, Patriarch of the God-City of Antioch, and All the East,

Dear Brother and Concelebrant of Our Mediocrity, in Christ, the God, Mgr. Ignatios, Your desirably respected to Us Beatitude,

Embracing You with the Sacred Kiss, gladly We address You.

We have earnestly tried in fasting and prayer to purify Our Souls in order to welcome the Divine Passion of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who willingly ascended the Cross to reconcile the Creature with the Creator, and through this Unity to accomplish Salvation for the whole of Mankind. We have also been worthy to celebrate His Glorious and Light-Giving Resurrection and live once more with the Joy of Forgiveness which sprung up from the Tomb, and upon which is founded the Communion of the Saints of Christ's Church. While We have, during these days, undergone such spiritual exercise, being surrounded by many inconveniences and tribulations which are pried up by the political circumstances prevailing in the Holy Land; and facing the well-known antagonism from other denominations here in the Holy Land, as well as in other Orthodox countries, We were surprised to read the copy of the letter which Your Beatitude addressed, in the French language, to His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and Our Brother in Christ, Msgr. Bartholomeos, in which are exposed, according to Your opinion, serious matters which preoccupy Our Orthodox Church.

So, in the Session of the Holy and Sacred Synod of Our Holy Church of Jerusalem, We have considered, lengthily and thoroughly, the issues contained in that letter. We found them to be very serious, controversial, and in many parts alien to the Tradition that We have always held, of the Eastern Orthodox One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; and We unanimously resolved to address to Your Beatitude and to the Members of the Holy Synod of the Church of Antioch, the following:

The content of Your letter shocked Us and has been cause for serious worry. It is full of daring proposals and displays a spirit of innovation; the ease with which Your Beatitude and the Holy Synod of the Holy Church of Antioch proceed to judgments and introductions that may harm Orthodox Unity, and alter—God forbid!—Our immaculate Faith and Tradition, surprises us. It is amazing that it has come forth from a Church which in the past, and until very recently, has been decorated with pedestals of Our Orthodox Faith.

For this reason Our God-Established Church of Jerusalem, having deep consciousness of the high spiritual mission of the whole Orthodox Church, follows with great concern the evolutions that take place in the Universal Society at large and in the Christian Family in particular. She is aware of the many radical changes made, especially in this present Century, in almost all sections of the life of the people, thereby dictating the establishment of the "new order" often preached even from the ecclesiastical pulpit. Our Church is troubled about this inclination towards a spirit of modernism which is constantly increasing, and at times even tends to dominate, in the Orthodox Church. That is why, in all Her official statements, She expresses the fears and justifiable concerns which preoccupy Her for the present status and the future of Orthodoxy. These sentiments, Our Church reiterates—especially after receiving this letter—are unacceptable in many of its parts [Ed.—meaning unclear].

We are without knowledge, of course, of what has been discussed between Your Beatitude and His Holiness Bartholomeos, the Patriarch of Constantinople, during Your meeting in Constantinople on August, 1996. We also have no cognizance of the dynamic ideas, 'idees-force', which, as You mention in Your letter, You have made known by Your previous letter of June, 1992, to Patriarch Bartholomeos. And if through both actions Your Beatitude bravely defends the Orthodox Faith, it is worthy and just to praise You and declare our association with this; but if something strange is suggested or introduced to the centuries-long life of Orthodoxy, We do not approve. From all that we have read in Your letter—which you divide in four Chapters—we have to comment on the following:

I. AGREEMENT WITH THE NON-CHALCEDONIANS

First, it becomes clear that no acceptance of the results of the dialogue with the non-Chalcedonians has been declared by all of the Orthodox Churches; therefore, We cannot speak approvingly of a "preparation for the next point and a beginning of the implementation of the Pastoral, Sacramental, and Canonical stage."

The document produced from the theological dialogue on the Christological Doctrine, which has been forwarded to the Orthodox Churches with the relevant introduction of the bilateral commission, was sharply criticized in many of the Churches by Their Holy Synods. It has even been subjected to criticism by Monastic Communities, such as the one on the Holy Mt. Athos. The memorandum issued by this Community was circulated to all of Us. Although this document of the dialogue was not accepted by the totality of the Orthodox Church, We did not observe willingness from the side of the Commission to modify it in order to reflect the Orthodox position and Holy Tradition. According to Holy Tradition, the Non-Chalcedonians ought to accept absolutely and completely all the Terms and Canons of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, in its entirety, as well as the following Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils, also in their entirety. Therefore, no matter what decision could be adopted by the Orthodox Churches in favor of accepting the introductions made, it should be considered as a challenge of the Orthodox conscience of the Faithful and as an insult to the Tradition of the Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

We were justly surprised by the indirect threat implied by your statement that You do "not want to precipitate unilaterally in a procedure which binds the entirety of the Orthodox Churches." In this expression, We discern a lack of respect for the Pan-Orthodox adopted principle [i.e., Holy Tradition] which states that the Orthodox Church in Her Entirety must unanimously co-advance in actions that are related to the acceptance and implementation of results emanating from theological dialogues. You unjustly express indignation "that some of the Orthodox hold a double language and continue to blame the Non-Chalcedonians for monophysitism." What modifications were made in the relevant text of Chambessy or in the documents that followed, and what change has the Orthodox Church observed in the thoughts and position of the Non-Chalcedonians, that justify the abolishment of the characteristics of the Monophysites given to the Non-Chalcedonians by the Fathers?

The text of Your Beatitude speaks of "one particular responsibility of the Antiochians and Alexandrians"—a responsibility which, as We understand it, emanates from the geographical location of these Churches. But in the same geographical area there is located also Our Patriarchate of Jerusalem. You state that "the practical implications of the Unity within the re-found Faith with Our Non-Chalcedonian Brothers are not the same for all the Churches." But even in this point, We have observed a declination of the Orthodox position by You as there are not only "practical implications of the Unity," but radical disagreements if indeed Unity of Faith was 're-found' with the Non-Chalcedonians. In the compromising Unity which You propose "through a decision of the Synods of the Orthodox Churches" and through resolution "of the practical problems which intervene obstacles," We do express once again the opposition of Our Holy Church.

Where do We further proceed, in the restoration of Communion between two "Family Churches" as You propose, and in union with the Non-Chalcedonians who refuse to denounce the error and their un-Orthodox founders? How can this compromise stand? For one, We firmly believe in the Presence of the Holy Spirit within, and the Illumination of, the Holy Fathers and Defenders of the Orthodox Dogmas who gathered in the Ecumenical Synods. Furthermore, We maintain that these God-inspired Fathers, because of their holiness and struggle for the Soul and Body of the Orthodox Faith, were worthy to be honored in the Conscience of the Church. Thus are we to believe that they did not correctly understand those present in the Synods with whom they communicated in a common language and education?

How else does Your Beatitude explain the fact that the Fathers of Our Orthodox Church condemned those who thought and accepted principles different from theirs as falling into the heresies of Monophysitism, naming them and their followers 'heretics'. What comfort will Our Soul find when on Our path toward this Unity, We end up abandoning the Faithful People of God—who have been devoted to Our teachings until today—in the waste of confusion, pushing them into a new soul-destroying schism and apostasy, all under the pretext of guarding Orthodox Truth?

The points contained in this Chapter incited Our serious worry over the daring encyclical letter which the Holy Church of Antioch issued some time ago. Because of it (as We have been informed), in violation of the Holy Canons and with disregard for ecclesiastical order, there was allowed Common Prayer of Orthodox Hierarchs and Clergy with the Non-Chalcedonians. Moreover, there are reports that changes in the orders of the Church Services were made for such occasions as a result of this encyclical. These activities are dangerous in that they dull the consciences of the Faithful. They are not only contrary to the Holy Canons, but clearly are condemned by Them. Those who are decide in favor of or commit these activities are [Ed.—according to the Canons] to be severely punished and expelled from the Church Vineyard, as "every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." (Matthew 3:10).

II. RELATIONS WITH THE ROMAN CATHOLICS

Our Eastern Orthodox Church has undergone many and painful experiences in Her history with the Roman Catholics, especially in the first half of the 15th Century. During that period, the Orthodox Church was severely wounded through the formation of the soul-destroying "Unia," which is active until Our own days. Although the situation that occurred gave these experiences into oblivion and unanimously, but silently, there was given consent for the lifting of the imposed anathemas from both sides [Ed.—this statement is unclear]. Afterwards, Our Church again proceeded to search ,with the Roman Catholics, for a new basis for rapprochement and reconciliation in fulfillment of the Divine Commandment which says "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35).

We did not disregard this new opportunity for dialogue, which We considered as having its beginning from God. Thus, We walked together with the entire Orthodox Church [Ed.—not all Orthodox churches have been involved] in the Theological Dialogue with the Roman Catholics. We were then in hope that the time was "ripe for a plan of reunion" and that We had to "overcome passive reactions" to which Your Beatitude again refers [Ed.—unclear]. The dialogues were filled with hope that as time passed the insurmountable obstacles between Us and them, among which are the problems of the "Unia" and proselytism, would finally be laid aside and that the dialogue would continue undistracted. It was even expected that the dialogue—by placing all problems under the light of a sincere desire for union—would lead to the restoration of Unity on the basis of the principles held during the period prior to the Schism. Thus, for some people officially, the Theological Dialogue was going well and was presented as preparing the unity. During that period, however, in certain areas there was gradually observed a revival of proselytism against the Orthodox believers. This fact We denounced in the meeting which took place in Crete in 1984, in the context of Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue. Thereafter, these proselytistic activities continued, joined with deplorable atrocities in the Ukraine—activities which were denounced to the Orthodox Churches by His Beatitude, Alexei, Patriarch of Moscow in 1990; these activities continued in other parts (e.g., Croatia, Serbia, Czechia and Slovakia), and were also denounced by Their Beatitudes, Pavle, Patriarch of Serbia, and Metropolitan Dorothej, respectively.

During that period an exhortation for the "re-evangelization" of the Countries of the then dissolved Soviet Union was proclaimed from the Center of Roman Catholics [Ed.—unclear]. By this act, the exploitation of the spiritual needs of the Orthodox population after the collapse of the Communist Regime—which oppressed the activities of the Orthodox Churches and dynamically promoted Atheism—became clear.

To the above issues is added another one. The document composed at Balamand contains expressions which not only are alien to Orthodox ecclesiology, but are also very dangerous for the Orthodox Faithful because the text recognizes—through the signatures of the Orthodox Hierarchs—the Uniate Bishops as "Brothers." Thus the Uniates now have the right to harmfully act against the interests of the Orthodox Church. This is the reason that the Balamand Agreement was subjected by some of the Orthodox churches to justifiably harsh criticism; and from other Orthodox churches it was denounced as improper and incompatible with Orthodox Ecclesiology; some advocated the suspension of dialogue with the Roman Catholics. As a result of all the above, We were surprised, firstly, by the persistence of Your Beatitude to continue the "renewed Theological Dialogue" while the aforementioned impediments remained, and secondly, by Your comments that "the text of the Balamand Agreement is not worthy to be an object of criticism." Furthermore, activities undertaken by Your Beatitude to unilaterally unite the Holy Church of Antioch with the Greco-Catholics of the Middle East greatly scandalized the Orthodox flock, which considered these activities as an insult to the principles of the Orthodox Church. You acted as you did for matters of commercial exchange and did not considerate it as a problem of the highest degree—of inflammable thorniness—which requires the decision of the entire Orthodox Church and the design of a common line of activity for the benefit of the Souls of the Faithful, which in the contrary case are exposed to different kinds of proselytism [Ed.—unclear].

Even if there was a possibility of unity with the Greek Catholics on the basis of cooperation, mutual recognition of the Liturgical Tradition, and the common consideration of the Church Ecclesiastical Factors [Ed.—unclear] before the Schism, would they cease the Commemoration of the name of the Pope of Rome with whom they are in Eucharistic Communion? We certainly doubt it! Consequently, there results in the fact that they (the Greek Catholics) do not intend to be united with the Orthodox Church of Antioch and become subject to It—which would be desirable—but alas, the Orthodox Church of Antioch would become subordinated to the Pope of Rome through the Greco-Catholics of the Middle East! We are certain that Your Beatitude and the hierarchy around You do not desire the fate, God forbid, of the renegade Patriarch of Constantinople, Ioann Vekhos, Who remained accursed in the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church. We think that it is unholy to try to pull into the ditch also, other Brothers tending in advance for the sake of fright, to slander these Brothers in front of the other Sister Orthodox Churches, accusing them of having "passionate reactions fed by the fear and suspicions that are repeated without discretion and alas, sometimes without foundation" [Ed.—last sentence unclear].

III. ABOUT JERUSALEM

In this Chapter Your Beatitude artistically refers to the issue of Jerusalem, criticizing in an unacceptable way the Pastoral work and general activities of Our Holy Church of Jerusalem, which according to the common belief of Orthodox and non-Orthodox assessments, plays an important role in the preservation of the Orthodox Faith and Tradition, as well as in the maintenance of Peace in the Middle East.

The unjustified malicious criticism of Your Beatitude about quarrels between hierarchy, clergy, and believers uncovers Your malevolent intentions against Our Holy Church. It justifies the reasons of the inexorable and unholy attack of Your Representative in the Americas, Metropolitan Philip, who is organizing a campaign for the defamation of Our Holy Church. He stimulates the Faithful against their Ecclesiastical Authority, and generally speaking, introduces discords and divisions among Our Orthodox Flock, fracturing It and scandalizing Its conscience. The Holy Canons of Our Orthodox Church address these actions and impose severe punishments upon Church agitators.

We obviously consider these actions alien to the Church Spirit, and for this reason We totally condemn them and denounce Your unbrotherly criticism against Our Patriarchate as untrue and baseless. Our Church in the present century, as in the past, despite multiple political changes and disputes, realized projects for the construction of Churches not by the financial contribution of the Faithful, but with the income of the immovable property which the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre created with great labor.

Everyone who is visiting Our Holy Church remains enthusiastic in the face of the vast educational work of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Which creates building complexes, modern school establishments, and from Its deficit provides salaries for teaching personnel. It should be taken into consideration that there have been established more than forty (40) Schools of Primary and Secondary levels of education; and in the majority of these schools attendance for many of the indigent students in Jordan, Israel, and the area administered by the Palestinian Authority is allowed "gratis." In these schools favorable circumstances are cultivated for the harmonious co-existence of Christians, Moslems, and followers of other Religions in the Areas of the Holy Places.

It seems that it has escaped from Your memory, the fact that when Your Beatitude visited Our Orthodox Church in Jordan a few years ago—at Our invitation—You and the Members of Your Entourage expressed surprise and admiration for the Pastoral Work of Our Church and for the excellent relations which govern the Spiritual Authority of the Patriarchate and the Royal Hashemite House. You observed then how much Our Holy Church is respected by the Jordanian Government and Its Officials, not to mention the honorable and good cooperation which Our Patriarchate maintains with the Israeli and Palestinian Authorities. It is also sad that Your Beatitude accuses Our Patriarchate of Jerusalem of "nationalism." But what greater example of nationalism can be mentioned than that of the Church leadership of Antioch itself, when Your Beatitude is on every occasion defending the Pastoral responsibility of Your Church for all the Arabic speaking flock—part of which is subject to the jurisdiction of Our Holy Church? In other words, through Your provocative claims, We notice an attempt to circumvent what the Holy Fathers enacted—that is, the boundaries of each Church [Ed.—referring to pastoral authority and jurisdiction].

From the above alone, it becomes clear that the practice of nationalism has unfortunately been adopted of late by the Patriarchate of Antioch. From this new stance there emanates the involvement of Your Beatitude in the Internal Affairs of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, as evidenced by the attempt to incite the national feeling of the Faithful, a few of which only, fortunately, directs against the History and the Mission of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre and the Holy Church of Jerusalem [Ed.—unclear]. The well-known Task Force which you formulated also attacks the national identity of the majority of the Fathers of the Brotherhood who are of Greek origin and slanders the Pastoral Work of the Hierarchy of the Patriarchate.

At the same time, Your Beatitude purposely keeps silent about the vivid concern of Our Holy Church for Her Arabic speaking Children, who are living in the Diaspora. You are indignant that Clerics of Our Patriarchate, who have not been officially appointed by Us, are serving the spiritual needs of the Orthodox believers living in the Americas, originating from Jordan and Palestine. It is indeed paradoxical that You call these acts as intervening in the Internal Affairs of Your Church and by protesting, You condemn Us as "dividing Orthodoxy." We should be the 'indignant', and We should ask You, "When and by whom was the Arabic speaking Orthodox Diaspora placed under the jurisdiction of the Church of Antioch?" Could Your Beatitude show Us which Ecumenical Synod gives the Church of Antioch the right to establish jurisdictions in the Diaspora and which Synod deprives Our Patriarchate of Jerusalem from acting in the same way? If the criticism of Your Beatitude was motivated by true and sincere concern for Orthodoxy, then You should congratulate Us for Our initiative which does not aim as You wrongly think "to obstruct [Ed.—fracture?] a few small groups of Orthodox from the Antiochian Diocese in North America," but aims to extend Our Spiritual care and affection toward Our Arabic speaking believers who are living in the Americas and who are tired of the new and unorthodox practices introduced by Metropolitan Philip. That is why they have asked the protection of their Mother Church, Who promptly and duly hastened to satisfy their just demands. The Orthodox Souls were scandalized and reacted to the new Liturgical Practice lately adopted by the Patriarchate of Antioch in the Americas, which was denounced by some Orthodox: a.) In the allowance for sprinkling in the performance of the Holy Mystery of Baptism; b.) In the distribution of Holy Communion through the use of plastic spoons designed for single use, and; c.) In the unholy act, committed by some Clergy, of pouring the remaining Holy Communion in the Crucible, instead of the traditional Abolition by the Priest.

We thought therefore, it appropriate to properly urge Your Beatitude to look into, and engage Yourself with, the arrangements needed in Your Church [Ed.—i.e., to get your own house in order] and to return to the Orthodox positions and traditions instead of wasting the valuable time which has been left to Us in the exercising of criticism against other Orthodox Churches. We ask You to refuse heretical and unorthodox introductions [to Holy Tradition], and also to deny the unholy, yea even atheistic "Liturgical practices" which with Your tolerance, if not with Your indication, were introduced into Your Diocese of the Americas.

We submit all of the above to Your Beatitude, without apologies, because We are prepared to give account only to Christ, the Just Bestower, on the Day of the Judgement. We ardently desire to maintain the true teaching of the Faith, intact and unchangeable, and warn You of the forthcoming soul-distracted tumbling [Ed.—unclear] originating from Your innovative introductions and proposals. Therefore, "Let us stand well; let us stand with fear...," because the time is at hand. The divine zeal which is holding Us to have unity of all, so that We may comply with the Lord's Command, "...that they all may be one..." (John 17:21), may become disoriented step by step, and thus lead the Orthodox Church into new and painful trials and ecclesiastical deadlock. Bitter experience of this is reflected in the historic past and in the recent painful schisms which were created from the acceptance of new reformations in the Bosom of Our Orthodox Church.

IV. PAN ORTHODOX COOPERATION

The desired and ardently wished-for Pan-Orthodox Unity and cooperation is of utmost necessity, and is also required [Ed.—by Holy Scripture], as We have stated. For its sake, We have been often subject to troubles and sacrifices. It is Our steadfast and immovable conviction that this Orthodox Unity should be established, first and foremost, in the unchangeable and inviolable preservation of Our Orthodox Faith and Holy Tradition, so that We may give to the non-Orthodox the pure image of Orthodoxy—not as a Church seeking the truth with them, but as a Church being the exact Treasury of Truth.

Since the preservation of the Orthodox Faith and Tradition comprises the central factor of the activities of Our Holy Church for the Salvation of the Souls of Her Believers; and since the unbreakable and indissoluble Unity of Her Members is preferable before every other concern of Her Life, We firmly reiterate that Our words should be in accord with the decisions and activities of the Church. Thus, We shall not recant Ourselves, and We shall not be blamed as fickle by those who are living differently from the Orthodox. We have stressed on many and different occasions that the above positions comprise the cornerstone of Our True Witness to the world, especially on the eve of the Anniversary of the Year 2000, from the Birth in the Flesh of Our Christ, the Saviour, which God Willing, We hope to celebrate in a Pan-Orthodox expression. But it is well understood that for the sake of this Unity We cannot sacrifice basic principles of Our Orthodox Faith; We cannot violate the Holy Canons which the Fathers formulated and Ecumenical Synods enacted in order to face and stigmatize every unorthodox teaching, and in order to condemn its supporters. We cannot accept soul-destroying compromises which are not in accordance with the Holy Canons. Moreover, We cannot participate in rapid and spasmodic actions which may result in a frivolous Unity with some of the non-Orthodox, no matter how large their number and or the nature of the political and social situation that is the context for that Unity. Churches who act thusly and with wrong motives are in danger of creating a new schism in the very Body of the Orthodox Church, for which We, as the Spiritual Leaders of the "Faithful entrusted to Us," shall carry full responsibility, proving Ourselves careless for their Spiritual Salvation.

For all the above, in pain of Soul, but with the hope of sobriety of all of us and compliance with the Sacred Tradition of Our Holy Orthodox Church, We beseech Our Risen and Redeeming Christ to bestow upon all of Us the Divine Illumination of the Holy Spirit in each further activity and resolution of Ours.

In Him, We embrace Your Beatitude and We remain, Your Venerable Beatitude’s beloved Brother in Christ.

[Signature]

Diodoros I

Patriarch of Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Saturday, May 17, 1997