Orthodox Ecumenism As A Divisive Force
by Dr. Constantine Cavarnos
The following article, reproduced with the kind permission of the author,
constitutes the second chapter in his superb, moderate, and eminently balanced
commentary on the ecumenical movement, Ecumenism Examined, published by
the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies in 1996. Professor Cavarnos,
a Harvard-educated philosopher, is an eminent authority on Orthodox thought and
his works have appeared throughout the world in a number of languages. In his
excellent book on ecumenism, he points out that the Orthodox Church, in its
claim to theological and ecclesiological primacy, has always considered
religious tolerance an integral part of its spiritual and philosophical life. At
the same time, philosophical and theological relativism being foreign to its
spirit, it has held that deviations from its self-evident truths lead to
division and a diminution of the precepts of the Faithto a kind of theological
and ecclesiological minimalismand a corresponding erosion in the quality of
the spiritual life of the Church. The following comments very aptly address the
divisive force that Orthodox ecumenism has proved to be in the Church for almost
eighty years now.
THE CALENDAR INNOVATION of Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis,
made for uniting in a way the Orthodox with the heterodox of the West, had an
exceedingly bad result for the Orthodox: it divided hem into the New
Calendarists and the Old Calendarists, two mutually hostile parties.
Initially, this division appeared among the Greeks. Then it spread to the
Orthodox peoples of Rumania and Bulgaria. They all remain to this day divided.
Thus, we have a clear instance of Orthodox Ecumenism as a divisive movement
among the Orthodox.
Elsewhere, fortunately, this very sad division has not taken place, because
the traditional, Old Calendar has been retained: in Russia, Serbia, Georgia,
the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and its flock, the Church of Mount Sinai, and the
Holy Mountain of Athos.
Orthodox Ecumenism manifested itself again as a very divisive movement in
1963 by another occupant of the Patriarchal throne of Constantinople:
Athenagoras. His initiatives involved the Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical
Movement in ways clearly forbidden by the Holy Canons of our Church.
He removed the Pedalion, the Rudder, from the ship of
Orthodoxy, and thus let this ship be blown hither and thither by the winds of
heterodox groups, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, we have been
witnessing joint prayerscalled Ecumenical Prayerswith the heterodox,
including the Pope himself, in which leading Orthodox churchmen, including the
Patriarch of Constantinople, participate.
Concerning the Holy Canons disregarded by Athenagoras and other Orthodox
, let me quote the 45th and the 65th Apostolic Canons. The 45th says:
Let a bishop, presbyter, or deacon who only joins in prayer with heretics be
suspended; if he permits them to function as clergy, be deposed. This Canon is
contained in the Rudder,
which is, so to speak, the Constitution of the
Orthodox Church. The 65th Canon, also contained in the Rudder,
any clergyman, or layman, enter a synagogue of Jews, or of heretics, to pray,
let him be both deposed and excommunicated. What these canons say is quite
clear and emphatic. Yet Athenagoras and his fellow Orthodox ecumenists have
paid no attention to them.
The intent of these Canons is to protect the Orthodox Faith from any
kind of relativistic misunderstanding. When we pray together with others, it is
essentially presupposed that the others with whom we pray have precisely the
same Faith that we havethe same beliefs regarding the nature of God, man's
nature and destiny, the paths and means of attaining salvation. When we pray
with persons whose Faith is different from ours, it means that we slight our
Faith, that we do not consider it of any real consequence, that we have a
relativistic view of truth, a view which is alien to the Orthodox Church. The
Canons were formulated and instituted not out of hatred for non-Orthodox
Christians or for the Jews. The true Orthodox, as true followers of Christ, love
all men, they hate none. They are free both from the vice of
religious intolerance, and from that of indifference to their Faith,
The Holy Canons are the laws of the Church, and as such must be
respected and obeyed. When they are not, many evils arise in the Church, causing
its disintegration. In his brilliant book Science and the Modern World,
the illustrious Anglo-American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead makes some
very pertinent remarks about law in the State and in the Church. He points out
the great importance which legality played in the marvelous Orthodox Christian
Empire, the Byzantine, under the Emperor Justinian the Great. It enabled both
the State and the Church to flourish and to exert a very beneficent influence on
Whitehead notes that the codification of Roman Law by Justinian established
the ideal of legality, which dominated the sociological thought of Europe
in the succeeding centuries. Law, remarks Whitehead, is both an engine for
government and a condition restraining government.2
Civil Law, which prevailed in the Byzantine State, and
Canon Law, which regulated the life of its Church, formed in the Byzantine
mind the ideal that an authority should be at once lawful and law-enforcing.
This splendid and tremendously important ideal Patriarch Athenagoras came,
through his Ecumenistic pronouncements and acts, to remove from the minds of the
Orthodox, instilling a mentality of disrespect for law, for Canon Law in
His Ecumenical initiatives began in the same anti-canonical manner as the
calendar innovation by Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis. The latter introduced the
New Calendar without any consultation with the other Orthodox Churches,
such as the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Russia, Serbia, and
so on. Such a consultation was imperative. It was necessary in order to
find out what they thought regarding such a major innovation. Patriarch
Athenagoras proceeded in the same fashion. Unexpectedly, without any
preparation at the Patriarchate of Constantinople, without any related understanding with
the various other Orthodox Churches, he arranged by means of personal
messages to the Pope, to meet him at the Holy Land in September of 1963.
Such a momentous meeting was arranged in such an offhand manner.
Following this meeting, the Patriarchate of Constantinople convoked a
Pan-Orthodox Synod in Rhodes, to work out a unified line with regard to
questions that would arise concerning inter-Christian affairs. The Patriarchate
wanted this Synod to vote to send official observers to the Vatican Council at
Rome. However, this Synod at Rhodes, under the Presidency of the Blessed
Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece, Chrysostomos, unanimously concluded that
the Orthodox Church not participate in the Council of Rome, even through
observers only. This decision greatly displeased Athenagoras. So he had the
Patriarchate convoke again a Synod in Rhodes, headed not by Archbishop
Chrysostomos of Greece, but by a bishop of the Patriarchate itself. This Synod, which the Church of Greece refused to attend,
decided that the Orthodox Church proceed to have dialogues of a
theological nature with heterodox Churches, both Western and Eastern (Anti-Chalcedonian).
The decision which prevailed was that the Orthodox Church proceed united to
dialogues with the heterodox, through representatives of all the Orthodox
Churches, having a single well-defined line.
The Ecumenical initiatives of Patriarch Athenagoras that I have mentioned, at
once evoked strong reactions against them, and soon divided the Orthodox
into two opposed camps: the Ecumenists and the Anti-ecumenists. The two groups
continue to strive one against the other. Regarding this split, a great
Confessor of the Orthodox Faith, Photios Kontoglou, wrote in a letter to
Metropolitan Iakovos of Derkona ranking member of the Synod of
Constantinoplethat the attempt of Athenagoras to approach the Vatican has
served as a signal for the separation of the sheep from the goats,3
the believers from the unbelieverspersons
of little faith or individuals who only pretend to be believers.
Kontoglou characterized the first as constituting the camp (stratpedon)
of the faithful defenders of the Orthodox Faith, and cites the following as
belonging to this camp: Archimandrite (now Metropolitan) Augoustinos Kantiotis;
Panagiotis Trembelas, University Professor of Theology; Philotheos Zervakis,
Abbot of the famous Monastery of Longovarda on the island of Paros;
Archimandrite Gabriel, Abbot of the Monastery of Dionysiou on the Holy Mountain
of Athos; Archimandrite Christophoros Kalyvas, popular itinerant preacher;
Constantine Cavarnos, University Professor; Theocletos Dionysiatis, learned monk
and writer of the Monastery of Dionysiou; Chrysostomos, Metropolitan of Argolis;
Alexander Kalomoiros, noted medical doctor and lay theologian; Pantelis Paschos,
prominent theological writer and now Professor of Theology at the University of
Athens; Archimandrite Haralambos Vasilopoulos, founder of the Pan-Hellenic Orthodox Union and its organ Orthodoxos Typos; and Ourania
Lampakou, religious writer.4
In a letter to me dated February 1, 1965a few months before he reposed in
the LordKontoglou added to his list of faithful defenders of the Orthodox Faith
the Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece Chrysostomos, and Professor Ioannis
Karmiris, one of the foremost twentieth century Orthodox theologians and Member
of the Academy of Athens.
Among the members of the opposed camp, the Pro-Ecumenists, Kontoglou
cited in other letters to me Athenagoras Kokkinakis, who was at that time
Archbishop of Thyateira in England; bishops of Patriarch Athenagoras
entourage; and Professor Nikos Nissiotis. To my knowledge, Athenagoras
Kokkinakis and Nissiotis were the masterminds of the Orthodox Churchs new type
of involvement in the Ecumenical Movement that was inaugurated in 1963 by
Patriarch Athenagoras. They directed his Ecumenical initiatives, pronouncements
and acts. Both died untimely deaths, Nissiotis in an automobile accident. Since
then, Greek Orthodox Ecumenists, most notably the Patriarchs of Constantinople
Demetrios and Bartholomew, have been following the directives conceived by Kokkinakis and Nissiotis, and executed
by Patriarch Athenagoras.
In citing the Anti-ecumenists, Kontoglou mentions a representative
anti-Ecumenical work written by each of the figures he mentions. The totality of
these works and their quality is quite impressive. Nothing comparable has been
produced by the opposed camp, the Ecumenistic.
To bring the list of Anti-ecumenists up to dateKontoglou, as we noted died
in 1965we must add such names as the late Archimandrite Justin Popovich of
Serbia; the present Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece Seraphim; Diodoros,
Patriarch of Jerusalem;5 Professor
Konstantinos Mouratidis, Archimandrite George Kapsanis, Abbot of the Monastery
of Hosou Gregorou at the Holy Mountain; Archimandrite Spyridon Bilalis; the
theologian and preacher Nikolaos Soteropoulos; Metropolitan Kyprianos, founder
and Abbot of the Monastery of Kypriano and Ioustni at Phyli, Attica; and
Father Niketas Palassis of Seattle, editor of the periodical Orthodox
Part of Father Popovichs critique of Ecumenism has appeared in English
translation in the book Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, which was
compiled by Father Asterios Gerostergios and others, and published in Belmont in
1994 by the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. Father George
Kapsanis most recent book on the subject is Orthodoxa kai Oumanisms,
Orthodoxa kai Papisms (Orthodoxy and Humanism, Orthodoxy and Papism),
published by the Monastery of Hosou Gregorou in 1995. This Elder is today the leading, most articulate critic of Ecumenism dwelling at the Holy Mountain.
We must note also that all the Old Calendarist Greeks have been
steadfastly opposed to the Orthodox Churchs participation in the Ecumenical
1. Science and the Modern World, Chapter 1.
3. Matthew 23: 33.
4. See Antipapika by Photios Kontoglou, Athens, 1993, pp. 91-95.
5. See my book The Question of Union, Etna, California [Center for
Traditionalist Orthodox Studies], 1992, pp. 39-40.
From Orthodox Tradition, Volume XVIII
(2001), Number 2, pp. 22-26. For more works by Dr. Cavarnos, see the
Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies.