Orthodox Unity Today
By the Right Reverend Photios, Bishop of Triaditza
BISHOP PHOTIOS received his theological
education at the Academy of Theology in Sofia and his training in classical philology at
the University of Sofia, where he was an assistant professor of ancient Greek. A spiritual
son of the renowned Archimandrite Seraphim (Alexiev) and an erudite scholar, His Grace
serves as the sole shepherd of the Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, a Sister
Church of our Church in Greece.
One year has passed since the date (15 March
1992) that representatives of the local Orthodox Churches, meeting in Constantinople,
signed a joint communiqué which purports to constitute an expression of "the unity
of all Orthodox."  This communiqué was signed on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. By
bitter irony, the same day that the Church celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the
Primates of the "official" Orthodox Churches signed a document, the basic
prescriptions of which it would be difficult to call Orthodox. In the present article, we
propose to examine the fundamental notion, indeed the most debatable point, of this
communiqué: its concept of Orthodox unity and of the unity of Orthodox Christians today.
It is well known that the unity of the Orthodox
Church is, above all, unity in the Orthodox faith, or, in other words, unity in the
fullness of revealed Truth, unity in the Word Incarnate (cf. St. John 14:6), that is,
unity in our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is He Who is the founder and the supreme Head of the
Church, which is His Body (cf. Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:15; Colossians 1:18). The members of
this Body are all of those faithful having the same Orthodox faith in the Holy Trinity and
in our Savior, the God-Man Jesus Christ, and who are baptized with an Orthodox Baptism in
the name of the Trinitarian God.
The classical expression of this concept of the
unity of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church was formulated by St. Maximos the
Confessor ( 662). The enemies of this intrepid combatant against the Monothelite
heresy posed the following question to him: "To what Church do you belong? To the
Church of Constantinople, of Rome, of Antioch, of Alexandria, or of Jerusalem? Now, take
note that all of these Churches, together with their dioceses, are in union. Thus, if you
belong to the catholic (that is, universal) Church, as you say, you should join yourself
to these unified Churches, for fear that if you follow a new or strange path, you will
bring upon yourself some unforeseen danger." The Saint responded: "God, the
Master of all creation, has declared that the universal church lies in the correct and
saving confession of faith in Him, calling Peter blessed for having confessed His
Divinity (St. Matthew 16:18). Besides, I would like to know the criterion on which the
union of all of these Churches is based, and if it is suitable, I will not remain
separated from them." 
The Orthodox Church, as the Body of Christ, is
indivisible, invincible, and unerring in its "correct and saving confession of the
faith." It is, however, possible for individual Orthodox and even entire local
Churches to betray the truth of Orthodoxy, such that they lapse, being cut off from the
universal Church, just as the Western Church long ago fell to the heresies of Papism and
Protestantism. It is also possible for Orthodox to separate and for there to exist
"contentions" in the bosom of the Church, as St. Paul wrote to the Christians of
Corinth (I Corinthians 1:10-14). The criteria of truth in such instances are the dogmas
and canons of the universal Orthodox Church or, to cite the words of St. Vincent of
Lérins ( ca. 450), "that which is believed always, that which is believed by
everyone, and that which is believed throughout the whole world." 
Thus, the proof of Orthodox unity is, above all,
"the correct and saving confession of the faith." Now, it is precisely this
confession which is missing from the text of the communiqué in question. This document
reckons the panheresy of ecumenism, in principle, a positive phenomenon, despite the fact
that ecumenism denies the doctrines of Orthodoxy regarding the Church and, in practice,
seeks to destroy the Orthodox Church of Christ, which was established as "the pillar
and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15). It is precisely ecumenism which, in our
days, has abolished the unity in faith of Orthodox Christians. The participation of the
Primates and Synods of nearly all of the local Orthodox Churches in the ecumenical
movement has divided the members of these Churches into those who follow the heresy of
ecumenism and the calendar reform which it produced, and those who have defended the pure
and whole Orthodox faith and the unity of the Orthodox Church in that faith. This division
has become ever deeper with the progress of the ecumenical movement, which at two of its
recent assemblies, in Vancouver (1983) and Canberra (1991), openly revealed its
intentions: the accomplishment not only of an amorphous "pan-Christian" union,
but the formation of a syncretistic community which will represent all religions. The way
that ecumenists think, their theological language and the terms that they employ, and
their declarations and actual activities adequately demonstrate these intentions.
It is often the case that little importance is
given to the participation of local Orthodox Churches in the World Council of Churches.
This participation is presented as an official act without real consequences for the bulk
of the clergy and laymen, who constitute the Church of Christ. But is this true?
Effectively, a few official representatives of the local Orthodox Churches decide on
questions of crucial importance without the knowledge of the millions of Orthodox
clergymen and laymen. So it is that on November 28, 1990, at the ecumenical center of the
Patriarchate of Constantinople in Chamblésy (Switzerland), theologians from the local
Orthodox Churches and the "non-Chalcedonian" Churches signed a common
Declarationa document bringing to a conclusion the ecumenical dialogues carried out
between them. In practical terms, this declaration has opened the road to union with the
non-Chalcedonian heretics, who have in no way renounced their heresy or accepted the
decrees of the Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh cumenical Synods.
This action has not been slow in manifesting its
disastrous consequences. In a letter to his Synod, dated July 22, 1991, and in an
Encyclical addressed to the clergy and laity, Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch proposed
the common celebration of services, including the Divine Liturgy, by Orthodox Priests and
the (non-Chalcedonian) Syrian Jacobites. From his side, Patriarch Bartholomew of
Constantinople, in a message dated August 12, 1992, informed the local Orthodox Churches
that an inter-Orthodox commission has been convened for the purpose of discussing the
practical realization of the decisions made at Chamblésy. The consequences of this false
union are all too obvious. All of those who accept the Declaration, or who enter into
communion with clergymen who have accepted it, can no longer be considered members of the
Orthodox Church. The objections that can be made with regard to this statement ("Of
what importance to me is it if a Priest or Bishop is an ecumenist?" "Why should
I care if he accepts decisions at odds with the Orthodox Faith?" "I go to Church
simply as an Orthodox Christianecumenism is of no concern to me") seem to us
misplaced, in this instance. For ecclesiastical communion, sacramental communion, and,
above all, the Mystery of Holy Communion presuppose that all who participate therein have
the same ideas, the same faith. To quote the words of St. Paul, "we are members one
of another" (Ephesians 4:25), just as we are members of the Church of Christ, which
is His Body (Ephesians 5:30). The Mystery of Holy Communion is the most profound
expression of the unity of Orthodox Christians in this Mystical Body, of which the Head is
our Savior, Jesus Christ, the very source of Truth (cf. St. John 14:6; Ephesians 1:22;
Colossians 1:18). Anyone can understand why, according to the tenth Apostolic Canon,
one who comes into communion with a Priest rightly deposed by the Church is himself
deprived of communion, since he has "trodden upon the Church of God." Thus, it
is important that we not shirk our responsibility with regard to God and with regard to
the holy Orthodox Truth, in searching out excuses that are wrongly based on the
individualism of contemporary man.
The union with the non-Chalcedonians which we
have just cited as an example is but one course among many by which ecumenismas a
way of grappling with these problems in theology, and as an actual institution, the World
Council of Churchesseeks to destroy the unity of Orthodox Christians in the fullness
of Divine Truth.
The result of this distressing division is the
creation of two distinct groups in opposition to one another: on the one hand, the supreme
administrative agents of the local Orthodox Churchesmembers, along with the clergy
and laity who support them, of the World Council of Churches; and on the other hand,
the strugglers for the integrity of the Orthodox faith and the preservation of unity
within that faith.
Orthodox Christians have the right, based on the
canons of the Church, to break ecclesiastical communion with any Bishop who teaches heresy
publicly and openly in the Church and to cease his commemoration in liturgical services.
 If a Bishop or a clergyman of lower rank is faulty in the domain of the faith,
"flee from him and separate yourself from him, whether he be a man or even an Angel
from Heaven," St. John Chrysostomos tells us. 
Orthodox Christians who have separated from the
"official" Churches for these reasons are not subject to canonical punishment.
They are, rather, deserving of the "honor befitting Orthodox,"  since they
have not threatened the unity of the Church by schism, but, on the contrary, have
demonstrated themselves diligent in seeking to avoid division and schism.  It is indeed
the person who teaches heresy or introduces innovation into the Church who provokes schism
and division. By contrast, it is one who opposes heresy and separates himself from it who
truly demonstrates that he has endeavoured to preserve the unity of the Church. For
canonical separation in such an instance has as its object the defense of the Orthodox
faith and the preservation of the unity of Orthodoxy itself.
The division caused by ecumenism has made it
necessary to employ a distinctive term: "official" Orthodox
Churches. This term
has been appropriated by the local Orthodox Churches, members of the World Council of
Churches, whose directors, synods, and administrative agencies defend ecumenism. On their
side, "Orthodox" ecumenists and their followers characterize as
"schismatic" those who are separated from them in an effort to preserve the
purity of their faith. In the communiqué from the Primates of the Orthodox Church that we
cited at the beginning of this article, it is indeed these separated Orthodox who are
accused of endangering the canonical and spiritual unity of the Orthodox Church:
"Unfortunately," we read in the text of this communiqué, "...[Church]
unity is often threatened by schismatic groups which are on the fringes of the canonical
structure of the Church. Having exchanged views on this subject, we have agreed on the
need for all of the holy Orthodox Churches, acting in full solidarity, to condemn these
schismatic groups and to abstain from communion with them."  We behold here a
tragic confusion in thinking. The representatives of the "official" Orthodox
Churches, fervent followers of ecumenism, caught in the snare of the World Council of
Churches, are striving to transform the unity of Orthodox in the faith, which they have
themselves abolished, into a purely external unitythe unity of administrative
structures, institutional unity, which they accept as canonical.
The following example demonstrates just how this
kind of thinking is erroneous. It is well known that the Orthodox Church of Finland
celebrates the Feast of Pascha (Easter) according to the new
calendar, separately from all
of the other Orthodox Churches, but at the same time as the Catholics and Protestants.
Nonetheless, this disgraceful fact is completely ignored by the "official"
Churches. It is of no importance to them that the unity of Orthodoxy, expressed in the
common celebration of Pascha, is ruptured by this Church, which is self-condemned by
inviting the severe sanctions appointed by the canons (the seventh Apostolic Canon [which
deposes any clergyman for deviating from the universal formula for the celebration of
PaschaTr.]; the minutes of the First cumenical Synod [which reiterate
Canon VII of the ApostlesTr.]; and Canon I of the Council of Antioch
[which, in addition to reiterating Canon VII of the Apostles, calls those who resist the
rules for the common celebration of Pascha "alien" to the ChurchTr.]).
The Church of Finland is simply considered a wholly "official" Church, the
canonicity of which is unquestioned. At the same time, the defenders of Orthodoxy,
separated canonically from the "official" Churches, are considered
"schismatics" and the communiqué in question suggests that "all of the
holy Orthodox Churches...condemn these schismatic groups and...abstain from communion with
them." A strange logic which speaks adequately for itself!
The result of this confusion in thinking is truly
tragic. In reducing the unity of the Orthodox Church to a visible unity, a matter of the
administrative structure of the "official" Churches, the "Orthodox"
ecumenists strain to hide their flagrant violations of the very canons which they
themselves evoke and to disfigure the Orthodox faith. In other words, under the guise of
the exterior unity of institutions, they have prostituted the "correct and saving
confession of the faith," which is the measure of true Orthodox unity. It is perhaps
useful to recall, in this regard, the warning of the American Hieromonk Seraphim Rose:
"In the final analysis, all of the official institutions will submit to the
It is also worthy of note that the
"Orthodox" ecumenists often shamelessly and in a brutal manner betray their
Orthodox brothers, who have the courage to defend the purity of their faith. Let us
recall, for example, the expulsion of the monks of the Skete of the Prophet Elias on Mt.
Athos, who had refused to commemorate the ecumenist Patriarch of Constantinople in their
services. By contrast, the "Orthodox" ecumenists are, if anything, overly
friendly towards heretics and their communities, following the prescriptions of ecumenical
diplomacy. If perchance they direct any critical remarks to the heterodox [e.g., various
complaints from the national Orthodox Churches with regard to Uniate and Protestant
missions in their territoriesTr.], these are carefully meted out in the
context of this same diplomacy. In fact, these critical remarks are nothing more than
words which are immediately forgotten.
Finally, let us draw some general conclusions.
Those whom the communiqué signed in Constantinople calls "schismatic" are in
fact Orthodox Christians who stand firm in their correct and saving faith, "which was
once delivered unto the Saints" (St. Jude 1:3) and which was bequeathed to them by
the Fathers of the Church. To cite once again Father Seraphim Rose, these servants
"follow Bishops who oversee a small number of Orthodox dioceses and who stand in
resistance to the apostasy of our age. One can mention, here, one part of the Russian
Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and the True Orthodox Christians
(i.e., the Old Calendarists) of Greece."  We can add to these the Old Calendar
Orthodox Church in Romania and the Old Calendarist Orthodox in our country [BulgariaTr.].
It is precisely this "small remnant" of the children of Israelthe Israel
of the New Testamentwho are characterized by a "correct and saving confession
of the faith," the sole criterion of true Orthodox unity. Scorned, slandered, and
often even persecuted by those who supposedly hold to the same faithindividuals who
pretend to be Orthodox, this "small remnant" is nothing less than a
"stumbling-stone" (Romans 9:32) for ecumenism and a solid buttress of Orthodoxy.
Small in number, perhaps, but true to the faith of the Fathers, the Old Calendar Bulgarian
Orthodox Church rallies unreservedly around this "small remnant," which
responds, to be sure, to the inspired words of the Russian Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev)
of Blessed Memory: "Ecumenism will not celebrate its victory, so long as it has not
encompassed within its worldly fold all of the Orthodox Churches. We must not permit it
this victory. Knowing its true nature and aims, we must wholly reject the ecumenical
movement, since in it there are made manifest apostasy and the betrayal of Christ."
1. Tcherkoven Vestnik, XCIII, No. 12
(March 23, 1992), p.1.
2. "In Vitam ac Certamen Sancti Patris
Nostri ac Confessoris Maximi," Patrologia Graeca, XC, col. 93C,D.
3. "Commonitorium Peregrini pro Catholicae
Fidei Antiquitate et Universitate Adversus Profanas Omnium Haereticorum
Patrologia Latina, L, col. 640.
4. Canon XV of the Protodeuteron (First-and-Second)
Council in Constantinople.
5. "Homiliae in Epistolam ad Hebraeos
," Patrologia Graeca, LXIII, col. 231.
6. Protodeuteron Council, op. cit.
8. Tcherkoven Vestnik, op cit.
9. Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, Sviatoe
Pravoslavie (Donskoi Monastyr: 1992), XX, p. 26.
11. Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev), "Nado li
Rousskoi Pravoslavnoi Tzerkvi Outchastvovat v ekoumenitcheskom dvijenii?," Deyania
Sovechtania Glav i Predstavitelei Avtokefalnyh Tzerkvei v Sviazi s Prazdnovaniem 500-Letia
Avtokefalii Rousskoi Pravoslavnoi Tzerkvi, July 8-18, 1948 (Moscow: 1949), II, p.
+ + +
You are constantly decrying the
ecumenical activities of the Orthodox Patriarchates, all the national Churches, and
American Orthodoxy. This spirit will lead to division. You know so much about the Faith.
Why not just instruct? (J.M., OR)
There is only one
thing which divides Christians: deviation from Holy Tradition, or that which has been
believed at all times and in all places by the Faithful. Today, almost all of the Orthodox
Churches have fallen to the pan-heresy of ecumenism, which denies the primacy of
Orthodoxy. This deviation from the fundamental principle of our Faith, that it alone
preserves the fullness of the Apostolic Church, accounts for the divisions among us. And
just as it has divided us by compromising the Churchs traditionsbeginning with
the calendar innovation, so a rejection of the pan-heresy of ecumenism and a return
to the Churchs traditions will once again unite us.
If we have any
instruction to offer, it must always rest on an understanding that no lesson, no bit of
knowledge about the Church, can be significant unless it first counsels the believer
consciously to embrace the Orthodox Church as the True Church and her Holy Tradition as
inspired and divinely established, whether that Holy Tradition be expressed in the basic
dogma of Orthodox ecclesiastical primacy or something so seemingly insignificant as how we
Cross ourselves. If by stating the truth we seem to divide, this is only because those who
have deviated from or revile the truth are already separated from the spirit of Orthodoxy.
From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. IX, No. 4, p. 11. Translated from the French by Bishop Chrysostomos of Etna.