Against Ecumenism, Against False Union, Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens and All-Greece, Barlaamism, Bishop Auxentios of Etna and Portland, Ecumenism, GOC, Great Council of 2016, Metropolitan Demetrios of America, Metropolitan Demetrius of America, patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Paul L. Gavrilyuk, pope Francis, Sergianism, St. Gregory Palamas
To Contemplate in Reading this Short Commentary
Tradition: “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and
maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (I Corinthians 11:2).
The authority of the Fathers: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors
in Christ, yet [have ye] not many fathers” (I Corinthians 4:15).
The goal of Christianity: “For we are made partakers of Christ” (Hebrews 3:14).
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that
by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature” (II St. Peter 1:4).
28 January 2016 (Old Style)
Sts. Isaac and Ephraim the Syrians
Dear Clergy, Faithful, and Friends:
Εὐλογία Κυρίου. May the Lord bless you.
The present commentary is my response to a request from two of our clergy in Europe, the Reverend Dr. Father Jiří (George) Ján (a married Czech Priest living in Greece) and The Reverend Father Anders Åkerström (a married Priest in Sweden), who sent me a rather outré article, asking that I write a few words about it. I thank them for their trust in my meagre abilities to do so, asking not only for their forgiveness for any deficits in my reflections, but for the patience of those to whom I am distributing them.
Please see, below my commentary on it, the article in question, entitled (somewhat curiously), “The Future Pan-Orthodox Council on Relations with the Non-Orthodox Other: A Measured Defense of Christian Unity against those Who Consider Ecumenism a Heresy.” Its author is Paul L. Gavrilyuk. Professor Gavrilyuk holds the Aquinas Chair in Theology and Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, a Roman Catholic University in St. Paul, Minnesota, associated with the Angelicum in Rome. After studying physics in Moscow, he came to the U.S., where he received a doctorate in Patristics from the Religious Studies program at Southern Methodist University.
Dr. Gavrilyuk’s writings, which are expansive, include an interesting volume on Father Georges Florovsky (Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Revolution), published by the Oxford University Press. In addition to his teaching post in Minnesota, he has taught in visiting posts at Calvin College, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum), and the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. Orthodox by faith, he is an avid ecumenist and supporter of the Orthodox Church’s participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC).
I should note that, though one would never conclude such from his appearance, Father Gavrilyuk is an Orthodox Deacon under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). In referring to him as though he were a layman, rather than an Orthodox clergyman, I mean no disrespect. I am simply following what is apparently his preferred style of self-presentation, one that he shares with an increasing number of modernist Orthodox clergy.]
In this article, which concerns the upcoming “Great and Holy Synod” [or “Council,” to use the western term which is used ubiquitously now, even among Orthodox] that is to be held in Crete from June 16-27, 2016 (New Style), he makes the following tendentious comment about a statement issued during the final preparatory meeting for the synod; i.e., the pre-synodal condemnation of the anti-ecumenical Old Calendarist Orthodox in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, and, in smaller populations, among Orthodox living in the West. I would like to center my reflections on this comment in particular:
Addressing an internal problem, “the Orthodox Church believes that any efforts to divide the unity of the Church, which are undertaken by persons or groups under the pretext of the protection or defense of true Orthodoxy, must be condemned.” …This statement is a condemnation of certain influential fringe elements within the Church, who often style themselves “traditionalists” rejecting any engagement in ecumenical dialogue as a heresy that damages the “purity of Orthodoxy.” While some Orthodox leaders have criticized such a stance, this is the first global pan-Orthodox condemnation of fanaticism, obscurantism, and traditionalism.
One cannot but express surprise at such indiscriminate words, and especially from a competent and respected scholar, an Orthodox Christian, and, paradoxically, given its far from irenic or reconciliatory tone, an ecumenist.
Professor Gavrilyuk’s comments seem incongruent with a responsible or traditional call for unity from Orthodox Hierarchs, since Orthodox unity is ultimately rooted in a common Baptism and a common Confessional (Credal) and Mysteriological life (or “Sacramental life,” to use western nomenclature again). I do not recall seeing a baptismal, confessional, credal, or Mysteriological reference to ecumenism or membership in the WCC as requirements for unity among Orthodox believers. Similarly, arguing that faithful who purport to protect the faith, whether with justification or as a “pretext” for dividing the Church, should be condemned prima facie, without examining their motivations, their arguments, and their positions, is quite a novelty in Church history. I do not recall such an overt and aggressively biased action by any legitimate synod of Orthodox Bishops faithful to the religion that they are sworn at Consecration to uphold.
One would expect any defense of the Faith to resonate with those who—if they are doing what an Orthodox synod and Orthodox Bishops are supposed to do—wish to protect the Faith from wrong doctrine and teaching. After all, every synod that the Orthodox consider oecumenical, whether the seven cited by convention or the eight or nine that many feel qualify for the appellation “oecumenical,” has convened to examine what seems to be heresy and to reaffirm, after such an examination, what is “pleasing to the Holy Spirit” and consistent with what the Church has always taught everywhere and at all times. In so doing, those in attendance, whatever their stance, were obviously attempting to unite the Church, whether through the triumph of error (in false synods) or truth (in genuine Orthodox synods). Yet this proposed synod has declared that we, with whom it has had no dialogue and whom it has called to no tribunal, are enemies of unity and worthy of condemnation in advance on account of our opposition to ecumenism.
How, indeed, does one assess the wrongness of those whose teachings are considered questionable without hearing their defense? How is any synod oecumenical when it condemns a group of faithful without allowing them to be present at its deliberations? And why should a synod convene to condemn heresy and reaffirm the faith if it declares per terram per mare, before the fact, that those in question—influential fringe elements, as they call us—are already miscreants and, by virtue of being a minority outside the circles of the Bishops who are meeting, have no voice? Furthermore, one wonders precisely who, without a single dialogue with us, determined that we are motivated by a desire to divide the Church (an astounding assumption) and are, before judgment, guilty of fanaticism, obscurantism, and traditionalism?
Granted that fanaticism and obscurantism may be contrary to the Patristic ethos, how in the world can one condemn Orthodox who believe in Holy Tradition, one of the cornerstones of our Faith, for traditionalism, summarily dismissing them, as well, for their conviction that the syncretism and ecclesiological relativism of the contemporary ecumenical movement damages the “purity” of Orthodoxy? Can this be done without allowing us to define our terms, without even addressing the issue of what we mean by our pronouncements against ecumenism? Is it not, once more, specifically out of a concern for the “purity” of Orthodoxy that the synods which the Orthodox traditionally recognize as oecumenical were convened?
Quite obviously, the good professor has not adequately thought about what he is endorsing. Equally pellucid is the fact that, whether or not we “traditonalist anti-ecumenists” are correct in our criticism of the Orthodox ecumenists, the convocation of a synod that rests its deliberations on the dismissal of dissenters and minorities is in deep trouble with regard to its status as a valid gathering.
At any rate, it behooves me, beyond these general observations, to note first that with regard to the accusation of fanaticism, our opposition to ecumenism is not based on extremism, religious intolerance, a disregard for cooperation with those who may have religious differences with us, or a lack of sensitivity for unity among all Christians. We are not advocating bigotry. We are putting forth our sincere belief that unity lies in a return to the criterion of Christianity that we believe we have preserved from the earliest Christian centuries and that we have protected and guarded as the source of unity for all Christians. Calling us bigots for holding this view is tantamount to making exactly the same charge against Roman Catholics for claiming to be the Una Sancta, a sensitivity that has survived in all church bodies that turn to the early Church as their source and adhere to a theory of valid continuity from the Early Church.
Our insistence is that unity in the Church—and let me emphasize, as I constantly do, that the greatest spiritual tragedy for us Orthodox is not centered on our separation from one another, but is Theocentric and focused on our separation from God—lies in Holy Tradition. Tradition has always been for the Orthodox the litmus test for pure Faith. St. John Chrysostomos praises tradition without restraint: “It is tradition, ask nothing else.” Moreover, the Apostle Paul admonishes us, as a rule of faith, to hold fast to the traditions handed down to us. If the ecumenists say that our traditional doctrines and dogmas are walls that do not reach up to Heaven, I would respond, in Orthodox fashion, that they are the water of life, pouring down over us from Heaven like rain, consoling our thirsty, parched souls.
These traditional doctrines and dogmas and our adherence to them are, for Orthodox Christians, the source of our unity, the footprints in which we tread in imitating the Apostles, and living evidence of our confession of Christ as the Son of God and the living Body of the Church, the Rock on which St. Peter built the Church, which we find within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The κριτήριον τῆς ἀληθείας, or the very measure of Truth, is what has been “handed down to us,” the meaning of the Greek word for tradition (παράδοσις), and it is to it that we turn in justifying our claims to primacy in Christianity, and not to some arrogant, sectarian desire to denigrate those of other religions. Thus, to call us traditionalists, along with such notable contemporary critics of ecumenism as St. Justin of Serbia, St. Seraphim of Sofia, and Father Georges Florosvky (a founder of the WCC and a brilliant man who tried to reconcile traditionalism with ecumenism—and questioned the possibility quite openly as he grew older), is not an insult. What is incomprehensible, however, is to imagine that we should be condemned by an Orthodox Synod, in advance of its convocation, for such traditionalism! Such a travesty borders on lunacy.
Finally, Professor Gavrilyuk notes that we anti-ecumenical Orthodox are obscurantists. I will not pretend to understand with surety what he means by that epithet, but I can guess. As Orthodox traditionalists, we believe that the traditions of our Faith (including the festal calendar that was established by a deliberate attempt at uniformity in the early Church and which held firm in the whole of Orthodoxy until the 1920s) are sacred, inspired by the Holy Spirit, basic to our self-identity, and constitute a path to union with Christ (θέωσις) by way of a life of mystical “other-worldliness.” By prayer, fasting, inner transformation, and purity of life, we acquire the Holy Spirit, a cleansing of the heart, the enlightenment of the mind, and salvation (restoration to what God created us to be before the Fall). This method is fully expressed in the Hesychastic tradition of the Church, which St. Gregory Palamas championed in the fourteenth century and which we hold to be the pure teaching of Christian life that traces to Christ and His Disciples, the Fathers, and the Saints. It is the sum of Holy Tradition and the teaching that unifies Christianity.
Hesychasm and the mystical teachings of the Church have often been dismissed in the West, and in westernized Orthodox circles (and flagrantly so in Russia and Ukraine during their periods of westernization), as obscurantist, as a deviation from the Scholastic and Reformed teachings that have dominated western Christian academic theology (standards not fairly applied to Orthodoxy), and as quasi-Christian in origin. Some unwise and self-loathing Orthodox theological voices have even tried to link the strict “other-worldly” elements in Hesychasm (shockingly enough) with medieval Gnosticism and Bogomilism. Notwithstanding the fact that to be Orthodox is to embrace Hesychasm, which is basic to Ὀρθοπραξία, or the practice and living of the Orthodox Faith and Holy Tradition, without which, according to Scripture and by Patristic consensus, Orthodoxy (correctness of belief) itself remains infecund, there are Orthodox today who wish the Church to be involved in the world, to be relevant to the world, and to complement, rather than challenge, the heterodox confessions. These individuals comprise the vast majority of the ecumenists in contemporary Orthodoxy and in their circles Hesychasm and its precepts are frequently labelled as “obscurantist.” I am dismayed that these elements would condemn a priori, in the name of an ill-advised and would-be “pan-Orthodox” or “oecumenical” synod, the foundations of Orthodox spirituality.
There are heterodox Christians who look to Orthodoxy as a bastion of traditionalism, mystical theology, and spiritual loftiness. To them, whether or not they adhere to our declaration of the primacy of Orthodoxy as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, as the very inheritor of what Jesus Christ taught, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers preserved, Orthodoxy has often served as a bright star and distant aim. Many serious spiritual seekers, and especially those who maintain some understanding of Christianity in the light of its continuous witness to an ancient way to human transformation, look positively to Orthodoxy as a lux ex Oriente: an abiding spiritual legacy of the spiritual revelation of Christ, which so transformed the world and which is so reviled by our contemporary foolish societies. Ecumenism has unquestionably undermined this vision of the “pure” Faith that we “traditionalists” and “obscurantists” have sedulously attempted to preserve and perpetuate, and it has thus contributed, wittingly or otherwise, to the anti-Christian spirit of our day, where relativism and syncretism stand in opposition to spiritual absolutes and universal (indeed, truly ecumenical) Truth. This fact alone justifies our witness and our efforts to revive Orthodoxy from the sleep of spiritual and ecclesiological relativism and syncretism. In observing this, I must wonder what justifies the ecumenical Orthodox who:
1) have made ecumenism a criterion of Orthodoxy;
2) have condemned us Genuine Orthodox apologists as “traditionalists,” “obscurantists,” and as “fringe elements”;
3) have, despite maintaining that minority voices would be heard at their forthcoming “pan-Orthodox” synod, condemned us without dialogue, without summoning us to be heard, and before their synod has even been convened;
4) have admitted that we are worthy of their unjust condemnations and their ugly epithets because of the “influence” that we exercise, in our struggles for True Orthodoxy and Holy Tradition as unifying principles, as threatening the unity of the Church!
As I said above, I am afraid that Professor Gavrilyuk has not carefully thought about his comments regarding the upcoming synod, its deviations from Orthodox sobriety, and the rather unfair, perhaps crude, and inarguably inappropriate epithets that have been used, by dictatorial fiat, to exclude us—these ecumenists who champion inclusiveness—from their deliberations and to declare us—these ecumenists who nonetheless decry such words and declare all churches sisters—miscreants, schismatics, heretics, and outside the Church. That they seem to glory in seeing us depersonalized, a supposed taboo for the ecumenical movement, in a “global pan-Orthodox” condemnation of supposed fanaticism, traditionalism, and obscurantism—this I find abhorrent, fanatic traditionalist and obscurantist though I may be.
Whatever we may be, and whatever our faults, are the ecumenists and those who support them not somehow, in some small way, ashamed of their behaviors and self-assumed spiritual authority?
The Future Pan-Orthodox Council on Relations with the Non-Orthodox Other:
A Measured Defense of Christian Unity against
those Who Consider Ecumenism a Heresy
Paul L. Gavrilyuk
At the recently concluded Synaxis, the heads of the self-governing Orthodox Churches resolved to assemble the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete on 16–27 June 2016. As the drafts of the documents to be promulgated by the Council become publicly available, Orthodox faithful and other Christians around the world will participate in the process of their reception. Below I will discuss the main message, select issues, and potential impact of the draft document titled “The Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World,” adopted at the Fifth Pan-Orthodox Preliminary Meeting in Chambésy, 10–17 October 2015. All references are to the paragraphs numbered in the document.
The main message of the document is to affirm a robust pan-Orthodox commitment to the pursuit of Christian unity through multi-level ecumenical dialogues. The document adumbrates the theological foundations of Christian unity and provides the guidelines for engaging in such dialogues. The unity of the Orthodox Church “cannot be violated” (6) and “is expressed in the apostolic succession and the patristic tradition” (2), especially “in the teaching of the seven Ecumenical Councils” (18, cf. 3). The Orthodox Church rejects the idea of the “equality of confessions” (18) and holds that there is a “hierarchy of difficulties” on the way to Christian unity.
Addressing an internal problem, “the Orthodox Church believes that any efforts to divide the unity of the Church, which are undertaken by persons or groups under the pretext of the protection or defense of true Orthodoxy, must be condemned” (22). This statement is a condemnation of certain influential fringe elements within the Church, who often style themselves “traditionalists” rejecting any engagement in ecumenical dialogue as a heresy that damages the “purity of Orthodoxy.” While some Orthodox leaders have criticized such a stance, this is the first global pan-Orthodox condemnation of fanaticism, obscurantism, and traditionalism.
The guidelines for engaging in ecumenical dialogue include “the efforts to coordinate the work of different pan-Orthodox theological commissions” (13). The document specifies that if the representatives of a particular self-governing Orthodox Church decide to absent themselves from a bilateral meeting, the dialogue continues without interruption (9). If this particular Church has strong grounds for discontinuing its participation in a particular dialogue, this Church should inform the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other local Churches in writing (10). This provision was introduced to prevent the practice of abandoning the floor of the meeting in protest, as did the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church during a meeting of a joint Orthodox-Catholic International Commission in Ravenna in 2007, reacting against Constantinople’s policy vis-à-vis the Orthodox Church of Estonia.
The document notes the participation of the Orthodox Church in the work of the World Council of Churches (WCC) from its foundation and endorses the Toronto Statement (1950) “The Church, the Churches, and the World Council of Churches” as a basis of the Orthodox participation in WCC (20), especially highlighting the work of the Faith and Order Commission (21). The document also points out that the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church resigned from the WCC, indicating that these local churches have a “special opinion” regarding the work of the WCC (16). By calling attention to the “special opinion” of a dissenting minority (Georgia and Bulgaria) and indicating a strong consensus of a broad majority of the Orthodox Churches, the document sets a pattern for applying the “consensus rule” to the conciliar process.
In this document, the Council Fathers send a strong message that the quest for Christian unity is at the core of the Orthodox Church’s mission. The guidelines for engaging in the dialogue are adumbrated and the obscurantists who reject ecumenism as “heresy” are condemned.
Roman Catholics will find many parts of this document congenial. For example, the concept of the “hierarchy of difficulties” (12) echoes the language of the “hierarchy of truths” that was adopted by Vatican II’s decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. It should be noted that Unitatis Redintegratio spells out the common features of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, whereas the document under discussion is silent on the matter.
There is presently some talk about the meeting between pope Francis and patriarch Kirill of Moscow “under the tropical skies” of Central America in mid-February this year. Will the patriarch invite the pope to the Great and Holy Council? Unlikely, but a limited number of Catholic observers will be invited. Let’s hope that their participation bears as much fruit as the Orthodox participation at the Vatican II did.
28 January 2016