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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 of Thessalonica

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intercommunion was considered the final goal of the road to unity, after various theological differences had been superseded and unity in the Faith had been accomplished.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

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The Immaculate Mysteries Were imparted to Papists?: A Great Scandal with Unforeseen Consequences

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 Orthodox.

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 Faith.

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 justified.

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.

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Archbishop Anastasios’s Reply to Archimandrite George

+Anastasios, Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania

Tirana, August 9, 2002

(Translated from the original Greek)

The Most Reverend Archimandrite George,
Abbot of the Holy Coenobitic Monastery of Saint Gregory of the Holy Mountain

Most Reverend and dear brother in Christ, Father George

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 heterodox.

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.

We therefore remain,

Always with love and respect in the Lord,


Anastasios of Tirana

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An Open Letter to His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania

August 19, 2002

Your Beatitude,

Your Blessing!

We are in receipt of a copy of your letter to The Most Reverend Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Coenobitic Monastery of Saint Gregory on the Holy Mountain, which was posted by your co-workers on the internet in response to the Archimandrite’s article, also posted earlier on the internet. It having become clear that there is sharp disagreement regarding the particular question of whether or not papists received communion from your hand or only from the hands of His All-holiness, Patriarch Bartholomeos, as you have indicated, we feel it incumbent to address the matter for the sake of the truth and edification of the faithful.

Having observed the video ourselves, we notice that, indeed, it appears that those communing who made their cross in the papist way approached the chalice while the Patriarch was administering communion and not while Your Beatitude was administering communion. Hence, it would also appear that the Archimandrite’s generalization and inclusion of you with His All-holiness in the fearful error of imparting the immaculate mysteries to the heterodox was mistaken.

And, yet, we also feel that the circumstances of the Divine Liturgy in Ravenna and the letter of Archimandrite George beg deeper, more fundamental questions, which your response left unanswered. If we may, we would like to bring these to your attention and to the attention of the faithful concerned with this critical matter, namely, the presuppositions of our witness to the heterodox.

We believe you have missed the point and the deeper implications of the “scandal” of Ravenna and of the Archimandrite’s letter to you. To put it in another way: far more important than whether or not your person was “defamed” is the question of the legitimacy and genuineness of the witness that you, His All-holiness Patriarch Bartholomeos, His Eminence Metropolitan John (Zizoulas) and the other bishops with them gave to the heterodox in Ravenna.

The questions it raises are such as the following:

More simply and directly put, Your Beatitude, how are we to sympathize with you when you help create the preconditions for a scandal to happen, you participate in placing the immaculate pearls of the Church before “swine” and you undiscerningly invite and open the door of the holy of holies to the uninitiated and ignorant (even hostile)? And how are we to dismiss as “groundless accusations” the sensitive concern of some of the faithful who are scandalized by what appears to them to be a defamation of the Holy Liturgy , in the face of which your main demand is a correction of the defamation of your character? Had you given any thought to your defamation of the Holy Liturgy before “setting up stage” in Ravenna? It is, rather, in our humble view, incumbent upon you and the Hierarchs in question to take far, far more care in where you place the Holy Liturgy and where you have, in your estimation of matters at hand, neglected to place the sensitive consciences of the pious faithful.

In the final analysis you are asking us to trust you and the Patriarch and give you the benefit of the doubt, forgive any possible over-sight, and lend our “brotherly support” for your front-line struggle. We would gladly do this if it were possible, if, that is, event after event did not prove this impossible to put into practice. Let me be very specific. How can we place our trust in you when we see you “on stage” in Assisi taking part in what can only be described as a pan-religious ritual filled with antichristian symbolism? In this ritual you, together with His All-holiness Patriarch Bartholomeos, Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch and other representatives of the Orthodox Churches, joined the representatives of the world’s religions—Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Zoroastrians, African tribal religions, etc.—in songs and petitions and in placing identical lampades one by one on the center table of the auditorium. The symbolism is clear and clearly antichristian: each religion has the light, the light is the same (and thus all the religions are essentially the same), and peace for mankind will come not as a result of conversion to Christ and His Church, but through the cooperation and solidarity of the world’s religions. Alas, this is a far cry from the “peace of Christ which surpasses understanding,” which has come down “from above”, which is “not of this world.” This is naked humanism not a witness to the Theanthropos. Babes in the faith, those unsophisticated and unlearned in academic theology, can easily spot the incongruence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the syncretistic events in Assisi and the worldly, unevangelical events in Ravenna. Why can’t you?

One would naturally expect from our own Hierarchs some degree of discernment, sobriety and humility before the two thousands year witness of the Saints and Fathers of the Church, not to mention the humble supplications of the pious faithful, and not simply an emotional plea directed to arouse sentimental sympathy for the defamation of their characters, all the while ignoring the gross defamation of the Orthodox witness which their own actions have brought to pass.

With hope in our Long-suffering and Greatly Merciful Lord, we assure you of our continued prayers that the Lord will enlighten you as to what is blessed to do.

Amphilochios Basiliadis
Stavros Papaioannou

Posted 2/7/2007.