Concerning the Intercommunion that Took Place in Ravenna, 2002
An Article and Exchange of Letters
By Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis, Professor of the Theological School of the University
During these days, the subject of conversation for many faithful members of the
Church is the Byzantine divine liturgy performed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
in the Byzantine church of St. Apollinaris in Ravenna, Italy. At the Liturgy, not
only were heterodox and the members of other religions that is, Papists and Moslems
present, praying together, but also many Papists took communion. Thus, in full view
of many eyewitnesses and television viewers, the intercommunion for which many have
yearned for a long time was accomplished. Intercommunion, of course, means the participation
in the common Cup on the part of divided Christians [sic]. Up until now
at least in various statements intercommunion was considered the final goal of the
road to unity, after various theological differences had been superseded and unity
in the Faith had been accomplished.
It appears that the theological differences have been solved, the theological dialogue
has been completed, the Papacy has forsaken its numerous heresies and renounced
them, unity in the Faith has been restored, the Lord’s seamless tunic is no longer
torn, and none of us learned about it, so that we might rejoice and celebrate together
over this joyous event.
Unfortunately, nothing of the sort has happened. The theological differences remain
intact and abysmal, and Christ’s tunic is still torn. Simply, what was up until
now the Tradition of the Holy Fathers simply has been ignored and forsaken, together
with the contemporary statements regarding inter-Christian relations, according
to which the basic ecclesiological premise was that “the certitude of the Eucharist
derives from the Orthodoxy of the Faith, even as the certitude of the Eucharist
testifies to the Orthodoxy of the Faith. In this sense there existed an immutable
canonical principle in the undivided Church; according to this principle, the restoration
of ecclesiastical communion is not possible from an ecclesiological point of view
without a previous restoration of unity in the correct faith, that is, in that faith
which upheld the dictum ‘the faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by
all,’ according to Vincent of Lérins’ axiomatic declaration” (Orthodoxy and the
World, by Metropolitan Damaskinos Papandreou of Switzerland, Katerína,
1993, pp. 359-360). In his concluding remarks regarding Orthodoxy’s current issues,
he adds the following: “Thus, the restoration of ecclesiastical communion will be
the fruit of a confirmed or achieved unity of faith, and not a simple presupposition
[to that unity]” (ibid. p. 364).
So, has unity in the faith been achieved so that the faithful can now partake of
the common Cup? Up until now, we had some similar isolated incidents [of inter-communion],
which were ascribed to personal whims and positions, and to the inability of Orthodox
priests to discern and confirm the identity of those who approached [for communion]
during the Divine Liturgy. It should be noted at this point that every violation
of the canons creates a precedent for other subsequent canonical violations. If
we allow the sacred canons to be set at nought in a certain matter, we make it easier
for greater violations to occur later. If we unravel and tear a garment and do not
endeavor to repair it, “the rending of the garment will become greater.” If we observed
the Church’s canons that forbid joint prayers with heretics, and the phrases “The
doors, the doors! In wisdom let us attend,” and “The Holies for the Holy” in the
Divine Liturgy, which require that only the faithful be present in the church nave
during the Liturgy, as well as, “Let none of the catechumens remain” and “As many
as are of the faithful”, which demand strictly that only the Orthodox faithful be
present, if only these Orthodox practices were observed, I say, we would not have
reached this unacceptable point where we have a problem of discerning whether those
approaching [the Cup] are Orthodox, Papist, or Protestant. And now we unjustly and
hypocritically throw the blame on the deacon, who did not take care and observe
that many of those who approached for communion in Ravenna were Papists, and he
failed to warn Bartholomew and Anastasios, the Archbishop of Albania, about this,
and they didn’t know what was happening, and hence they have no responsibility.
Would that the deacons and presbyters had some say and some responsibility in ecumenical
activities, which are planned solely by the patriarchs, archbishops and bishops.
The situation would then be very different.
In any case, with the official and festive celebrations of the Divine Liturgy, especially
in a church under the jurisdiction of heretics, the intercommunion that took place
assumes another character, because what happened was permitted by the Ecumenical
Patriarch, the first in rank among the Orthodox patriarchs and archbishops, who,
of course, according to a pan-Orthodox consensus and understanding has the primary
responsibility and initiative in inter-Orthodox and pan-Christian relations.
Who, now, is going to impede Papists from communicating in Orthodox churches, especially
since they have the Vatican’s permission, and are urged to this [by the Vatican].
And who is going to censure Latin-minded and pro-Papacy Orthodox clergymen and laypeople
who give Communion to heterodox and who partake of the Eucharist of the Latins?
The power and influence of the image is enormous. The example of the Patriarch and
the Archbishop of Albania communicating the heretical Papists, despite the differences
in faith, opens an innovative and perilous path in inter-Christian relations. Not
even the most audacious ecumenists Patriarchs Meletios Metaxakis and Athenagoras
ever conceived or dared to take this path. And this path means that all things are
being steamrolled syncretistically, and there is no longer any concept of heresy
and error, and consequently, no distinction between the Orthodox and heretics, and
that the Holy Fathers, who convoked councils and condemned the heretics, were in
error, and God must forgive them, and that despite the resistance of some “fanatics”
and “extremists” who continue to appeal to Tradition, the union of the churches
will be imposed by a fiat, without a solution of theological differences.
Most people don’t understand the theological differences and applaud what is transpiring.
The conservatives and traditionalists will be marginalized. Already during the summer
of 2001, on the [Greek] island of Syros, at an assembly of Papists who visited the
Ecumenical Patriarch, it was announced, as the [newspaper] Katholiki of the Greek
Uniates wrote joyously, that the union has already been accomplished in
deed. In any case, this is the model for unity that the Uniates have used: we keep
our differences of faith and worship, but we proceed to union with the pope.
The Great Church of Christ, the Church of Constantinople, has, throughout the ages,
acquired great authority and influence. It has become a universal, ecumenical center
which led the Christian commonwealth in exemplary unity, based on an exact and unwavering
observance of the Apostolic traditions, the Patristic doctrines and the sacred canons:
“The preaching of the Apostles and the doctrines of the Fathers established the
one faith in the Church.” The attitude of the Holy Fathers of the First Oecumenical
Council (whom we honored last Sunday) toward Arius confirmed the Church’s subsequent
attitude towards all the other heretics, especially against the Papacy with its
dozens of heresies and errors. According to the Synaxarion of the Sunday of the
Holy Fathers, Peter, the Patriarch of Alexandria, saw Christ as an infant on the
altar, and He was wearing a torn garment. When the Saint asked Him, “Who has torn
Thy garment, Saviour?”, Christ’s bitter reply was that the perpetrator was Arius.
Alexander, the Patriarch of Alexandria, hesitated to serve and partake of communion
with Arius, despite the latter’s hypocritical repentance, and the Saint besought
God to dispel his anguish of soul. The Papacy divided the Christian world beginning
with the Schism of 1054 and then again in the 16th century in the West, when it
provoked the Protestant Reformation. No other Christian confession has so torn the
garment of Christ as the Papacy has.
Has the Church of Constantinople changed the policy of the Fathers? Is it no longer
identical with the Great Church of the Ecumenical Councils of the Gregory’s, of
Chrysostom, of Maximus, of Photius, of Palamas, of Mark Eugenicus, of Scholarius,
of the Kollyvades?
From Orthodoxos Typos, June 23, 2002. Translated by Fr. Peter Heers
+ + +
The Immaculate Mysteries Were imparted to Papists?: A Great Scandal with Unforeseen
Archimandrite George’s Open Letter to Archbishop Anastasios
Recently, while in Athens, I was asked a host of questions by scandalized Christians,
who, as they told me, saw the Oecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of Albania
give the Immaculate Mysteries to Roman Catholics during the Divine Liturgy, which
took place in Ravenna. Others also informed me that a well-known journalist with
new-age leanings praised the event.
I want to believe that both the Oecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as well as the
Archbishop of Athens Anastasios did not realize that those approaching for communion
were heterodox. The deacon, who was standing beside His All-holiness and Beatitude,
should have informed them that those approaching were heterodox, if, of course,
he understood the fact from the un-orthodox way in which they made the sign of the
cross. Or, to be most certain, he should have asked those approaching if they were
Because the shock and scandal is great, with unforeseeable consequences for the
unity of our Holy Orthodox Church, we think it an urgent need for there to be responsible
and official statements that the above happened inadvertently and by mistake and
that there will be no such further incidents.
I know from eyewitnesses that His All-holiness never imparts Holy Communion to heterodox
and further that it is a principle of the Great Church for there not be sacramental
intercommunion with the heterodox before dogmatic agreement and unity in the Orthodox
However, since the heterodox exploit pseudo-unions under-handedly and de facto,
I believe that the concern and unrest of the faithful members of the Church is totally
Apart from this, the heterodox seek after such displays both for the sake of scandalizing
the Orthodox as well as toward the advancement of inner-Church schisms and the disintegration
of Orthodoxy. The more we are divided amongst ourselves, so much the easier is it
for them to devour us.
Let us take care, both Shepherds and flock, not to fall into the traps of those
who conspire against our Holy Orthodox Faith.
For what reason is there, then, I wonder, to transgress the sacred Canons, those
underpinnings of our Orthodox Church—those, indeed, which not only forbid sacramental
communion but also common prayer with the heterodox?
In examining not only the “what” of the holy Canons in question (i.e. what they
say concerning the matter at hand) but also the “why” (i.e. their theological and
pastoral presuppositions and extensions), we discover that these holy Canons were
instituted in the application and safeguarding of Orthodox Ecclesiology, according
to which only the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Symbol of Faith,
namely our Orthodox Church, has the fullness of Truth and of Grace and thus constitutes
the only sure path of salvation, possesses genuine and valid Mysteries and true
apostolic succession. And furthermore, that is it not possible for truth and delusion,
Orthodoxy and heresy, to exist together.
If, during the dialogues of the past and present the Pope and other heterodox leaders
of “Churches” were addressed as “his all-holiness” or “his beatitude” this happened
and happens according to oikonomia in the hope that perhaps it would facilitate
their return to Orthodoxy. It is never proper, however, for such ecclesiastical
compliments to happen according to akribeia, as if they have not lost the integrity
of Orthodox Faith and as if they constitute a different but nonetheless legitimate
expression of the Apostolic Faith.
The spirit of this age, a spirit of syncretism, is attempting to lure even our Orthodox
Church into dogmatic and religious pluralism—that which through heresy devastated
the communities of the heterodox Christians of Europe.
The contemporary world and contemporary man has need of our man-befriending and
ageless evangelical and apostolic Orthodoxy. It is a great temptation for our Church
to adopt the spirit and the criteria of contemporary secularized man, so that we
may become agreeable and acceptable to him. Yet such friendship with the world is
enmity with God, according to the words of the apostle (James 4: 4).
Let us not bury the treasure; if we do, we will be judged as the evil servant of
the Gospel passage.
It surprised me to see the enclosed yesterday (your open letter), and today the
original Greek on the internet, which a co-worker from America brought to me. I
had heard that your letter circulated among the various Greek monasteries and other
places with references to my detriment. Never, however, did I imagine the manner
and extent of this slanderous defamation.
It is therefore incumbent upon me to unequivocally declare that the stated information
is not true, that I supposedly offered the immaculate mysteries to Roman Catholics
during the Divine Liturgy which took place in Ravenna. Prior to Holy Communion it
was clearly announced that all present who were not Orthodox would not be permitted
to commune. When I received the Holy Chalice near the end of Holy Communion from
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos to continue, I also requested
from my assisting deacons to ask each one approaching if he/she is Orthodox, since
it is not possible, while one is concentrating on the Holy Chalice, to observe all
the movements of those coming forward. In Roman Catholic countries, Orthodox Christians
influenced by the environment, sometimes make their cross unwittingly in an unorthodox
manner. We have certainly never supported nor permitted intercommunion with the
I don’t know how many Christian television viewers in Greece your encyclical intervention
benefited. I am certain in any case that many Orthodox worldwide are scandalized
and will be scandalized with the unverified information which you spread since it
was placed on the worldwide web through e-mail and the internet. We hope that you
will arrange for the correction of this defamation, even though the recall of the
disseminated radioactive dust is not possible.
It would have been easier if a communication had been sought, perhaps by phone,
for a basic investigation of the truth, prior to launching a letter to every quarter
against His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, whom you commemorate at every
divine Liturgy “among the first” as your Archbishop, against the Primate of another
autocephalous Church, who is an older brother, and with whom exists even a spiritual
bond since our youth.
One would naturally expect from those trained in the bastions of Orthodoxy brotherly
support for those struggling to strengthen and spread Orthodoxy on very difficult
and critical fronts, and not direct and indirect firing of groundless accusations
accompanied with familiar theological teachings.