"The Thyateira Confession", or Third Sorrowful Epistle
by Metropolitan Philaret, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
An Appeal to the Primates of the Holy Churches of God, and their Eminences the
Instructing us to preserve firmly in everything the Orthodox
Faith which has been commanded us, the Holy Apostle Paul wrote to
the Galatians: But though we, or an angel from heaven, should
preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto
you, let him be anathema (Gal. 1:8). His disciple Timothy he
taught to remain in that in which he had been instructed by him
and in that which had been entrusted to him, knowing by whom he
had been instructed (II Tim. 3:14). This is a pointer which every
Hierarch of the Orthodox Church must follow and to which he is
obligated by the oath given by him at his consecration. The
Apostle writes that a Hierarch should be one holding fast the
faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by
sound doctrine both to exhort and to convict the gainsayers (Titus
At the present time of universal wavering, disturbance of
minds and corruption, it is especially demanded of us that we
should confess the true teaching of the Church no matter what
might be the person of those who listen and despite the unbelief
which surrounds us. If for the sake of adaptation to the errors
of this age we shall be silent about the truth or give a corrupt
teaching in the name of pleasing this world, then we would
actually be giving to those who seek the truth a stone in place
of bread. The higher is the standing of one who acts in this way,
the greater the scandal that is produced by him, and the more
serious can be the consequences.
For this reason a great sorrow has been evoked in us by the
reading of the so-called "Thyateira Confession," which
was recently published in Europe with the special blessing and
approval of the Holy Synod and the Patriarch of the Church of
We know that the author of this book, His Eminence
Metropolitan Athenagoras of Thyateira, previously has shown
himself to be a defender of Orthodox truth, and therefore all the
less could we have expected from him such a confession, which is
far removed from Orthodoxy. However, if this had been only a
personal expression of his, we would not have written about it.
We are moved to do this, rather, because on his work there rests
the seal of approval of the whole Church of Constantinople in the
person of Patriarch Demetrius and his Synod. In a special
Patriarchal Protocol addressed to Metropolitan Athenagoras it is
stated that his work was examined by a special Synodical
Committee. After approval of it by this Committee, the Patriarch,
in accordance with the decree of the Synod, gave his blessing for
the publication of "this excellent work," as he writes.
Therefore, the responsibility for this work is transferred from
Metropolitan Athenagoras now to the whole hierarchy of
Our previous "Sorrowful Epistles" have already
expressed the grief which takes possession of us when, from the
throne of Sts. Proclus, John Chrysostom, Tarasius, Photius, and
many other Holy Fathers we hear a teaching which without doubt
they would have condemned and given over to anathema.
It is painful to write this. How we would have wished to hear
from the throne of the Church of Constantinople, which gave birth
to our Russian Church, a message of the Churchs
righteousness and of confession of the truth in the spirit of her
great hierarchs! With what joy we would have accepted such a
message and transmitted it for the instruction of our pious
flock! But on the contrary, a great grief is evoked in us by the
necessity to warn our flock that from this one-time fount of
Orthodox confession there now comes forth a message of corruption
that causes scandal.
If one turns to the "Thyateira Confession" itself,
alas, there are so many internal contradictions and un-Orthodox
thoughts there that in order to enumerate them we would have to
write a whole book. We presume that there is no need to do this.
It is sufficient for us to point out the chief thing, that upon
which is built and from whence proceeds the whole of the
un-Orthodox thought which is contained in this confession.
Metropolitan Athenagoras in one place (p. 60) writes, with
full justification, that Orthodox Christians believe that their
Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and
transmits the fullness of Catholic truth. He likewise
acknowledges that the other confessions have not preserved this
fullness. But later he as it were forgets that if any teaching
departs in any respect from the truth, by this very fact it is
false. Belonging to a religious communion which confesses such a
teaching, people by this are already separated from the one true
Church. Metropolitan Athenagoras is ready to acknowledge this
with regard to such ancient heretics as the Arians, but when
speaking about his contemporaries he does not wish to take their
heresy into consideration. And with regard to them he calls us to
be guided not by ancient tradition and canons, but by the
"new understanding which prevails today among
Christians" (p. 12) and by "the signs of our time"
Is this in accordance with the teaching of the Holy Fathers?
Let us recall that the first Canon of the Seventh Ecumenical
Council gives us a completely different criterion for the
direction of our church thought and church life. "For those
who have received the priestly dignity," it is stated there,
"the canons and decrees which have been set down serve for
witness and guidance." And further: "The Divine canons
we accept with pleasure and hold entirely and unwaveringly the
decrees of these canons which have been set forth by the
all-praised Apostles, the holy trumpets of the Spirit, and by the
Six Holy Ecumenical Councils, and by those who have gathered in
various places for the publication of such commandments, and by
our Holy Fathers. For all of these, being enlightened by one and
the same Spirit, have decreed what is profitable."
In defiance of this principle, in the "Thyateira
Confession" emphasis is made the whole time on the "new
understanding." "Christian people," it says there,
"now visit churches and pray with other Christians of
various traditions with whom they were forbidden in the past to
associate, for they were called heretics" (p. 12 ) .
But who was it that previously forbade these prayers? Was it
not the Sacred Scripture, not the Holy Fathers, not the
Ecumenical Councils? And is the matter really one of those who
were only called heretics and were not such in actual
fact? The first Canon of Basil the Great gives a clear definition
of the naming of heretics: "They (that is, the Holy Fathers)
have called heretics those who have completely broken away and
have become aliens in faith itself." Does this really not
refer to those Western confessions that have fallen away
from the Orthodox Church?
The Holy Apostle Paul instructs us: A man that is a
heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject (Tit.
3:10), while the "Thyateira Confession" calls us to a
religious coming together and communion in prayer with them.
The 45th Canon of the Holy Apostles commands:
"Let a bishop, presbyter, or deacon who has only prayed with
heretics be suspended." The 64th Canon of the
Apostles and the 33rd Canon of the Council of Laodicea
speak of the same thing. The 32nd Canon of the latter
prohibits receiving a blessing from heretics. The "Thyateira
Confession," on the contrary, calls to prayer together with
them and goes so far that it even allows Orthodox Christians both
to receive communion from them and to give it to them.
Metropolitan Athenagoras himself gives the information that in
the Anglican Confession a large part of the bishops and believers
do not acknowledge either the grace of the hierarchy, nor the
sanctity of the Ecumenical Councils, nor the transformation of
the Gifts at the Liturgy, nor other Mysteries, nor the veneration
of holy relics. The author of the "Confession" himself
points to those articles of the "Anglican Confession"
in which this is expressed. And yet, disdaining all this, he
allows Orthodox Christians to receive communion from Anglicans
and Catholics and finds it possible to give them communion in the
Upon what is such a practice based? On the teaching of the
Holy Fathers? On the canons? No. The only basis for this is the
fact that such a lawless thing has already been done and that
there exists a "friendship" which has been manifested
by the Anglicans for the Orthodox.
However, no matter what position might be occupied by one who
allows an act forbidden by the canons, and no matter what kind of
friendship might be the cause which has inspired thisthis
cannot be a justification for a practice condemned by the canons.
What answer will be given to the Heavenly Judge by the hierarchs
who advise their spiritual children to receive, in place of true
communion, that which often the very ones who give it do not
acknowledge as the Body and Blood of Christ?
Such a lawless thing proceeds from the completely heretical,
Protestant, orto express oneself in contemporary
languageecumenical teaching of the "Thyateira
Confession" regarding the Holy Church. It sees no boundaries
in the Church. "The Holy Spirit," we read there,
"is active both within the Church and outside the Church.
For this reason its limits are ever extended and its bounds are
nowhere. The Church has a door but no walls" (p. 77). But if
the Spirit of God acts alike both within the Church and outside
it, why then was it necessary for the Savior to come to earth and
The care for the preservation and confession of the authentic
truth, a care which has been handed down to us by our Lord Jesus
Christ, the Holy Apostles and Holy Fathers, turns out to be
superfluous in this conception. Although the
"Confession" does say on page 60 that the Orthodox
Church can "rightly claim at this moment of history to be
the One Church that Christ the Son of God founded upon
earth," it does not see any necessity for the inviolate
preservation of her faith, allowing thereby the co-existence of
truth and error.
Despite the words of the Apostle, that Christ has presented
her to Himself as a glorious Church, not having spot, or
wrinkle, or any such thing (Eph 5:27), the "Thyateira
Confession" presents the Church as uniting in herself both
truth and that which it itself acknowledges as apostasy from it,
that is, heresy, although the latter expression is not used here.
The refutation of such a teaching was clearly expressed in the
renowned Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith:
"We undoubtingly confess, as firm truth. that the Catholic
Church cannot error go astray, and utter falsehood in place of
truth: for the Holy Spirit, always active through the Fathers and
teachers of the Church who faithfully serve her, preserves her
from every error" (Sect. 12).
Submitting to the new dogma of pleasing the times, the author
of the "Thyateira Confession" clearly forgets the
instruction of the Savior that if your brother neglect to hear
the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen and a publican (Matt.
18:17), and the same instruction of the Apostle: A heretic,
after the first and second admonition, reject (Tit.
Therefore, with great sorrow we must acknowledge that in the
so-called "Thyateira Confession" there has resounded
from Constantinople not the voice of Orthodox truth, but rather
the voice of the ever more widespread error of ecumenism.
But what will be done now by those whom the Holy Spirit
hath made overseers, to shepherd the Church of God, which He hath
purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28)? Will this false
teaching, officially proclaimed in the name of the whole Church
of Constantinople, remain without protests by the Hierarchs of
God? Will there be further, in the expression of St. Gregory the
Theologian, the betrayal of truth by silence?
Being the youngest of those who preside over the Churches, we
had wished to hear the voices of our elders before speaking out
ourselves. But up to now this voice has not been heard. If they
have not yet become acquainted with the content of the
"Thyateira Confession," we entreat them to read it
attentively and not to leave it without condemnation.
It is frightful that there might be referred to us the words
of the Lord to the Church of Laodicea: I know thy work, that
thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So
then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will
spew thee out of My mouth (Apoc. 3:15-16).
We now warn our flock and call out to our fellow brethren, to
their faith in the Church, to their awareness of our common
responsibility for our flock before the Heavenly Chief Shepherd.
We entreat them not to disdain our announcement, lest a manifest
mutilation of Orthodox teaching remain without accusation and
condemnation. Its broad distribution has moved us to inform the
whole Church of our grief. We would wish to hope that our cry
will be heard.
President of the Synod of Bishops
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
December 6/19, 1975
Day of St. Nicholas, Wonderworker of Myra in Lycia
* "The Thyateira Confession, or The Faith and Prayer of
Orthodox Christians," by His Eminence Athenagoras
Kokkinakis, Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain. Published
with the Blessing and Authorization of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate of Constantinople, The Faith Press, 1975.
Translated from the Russian text in Orthodox Russia,
1976, no. 2, pages 1-3.