Moscow, March 16, 2017
On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Greek cleric Archpriest Theodore Zisis announced that he was ceasing commemoration of his ruling bishop, Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki, believing that his support of last year’s Pan-Orthodox Council on Crete, which acknowledged the term “church” for other Christian confessions, constitutes a fall into the heresy of ecumenism, which denies that the Orthodox Church is the one, true Church. The next day the metropolitan suspended Fr. Theodore from his priestly duties, reports AgionOros.ru.
Fr. Theodore explained his decision by appealing to Canon 15 of the First-Second Council held in Constantinople in 861, presided over by St. Photios the Great. This canon states that if a bishop clearly preaches a heresy previously condemned by either a council or the holy fathers, then priests are allowed to cease commemorating him in the Liturgy, and are to face no canonical penalties.
The crux of the issue at hand is whether the Crete Council fell into the heresy of ecumenism in its documents, which Fr. Theodore and other prominent clergymen, including Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) believe it did, and whether such a heresy has been previously condemned. The same Canon 15 considers it schism if a priest ceases to commemorate a bishop if the heresy in question has not been previously condemned.
Some argue, therefore, that Canon 15 in fact condemns Fr. Theodore, while others note that the holy fathers’ continual fights against heresy have always been precisely for the sake of preserving the one, true Orthodox Church, and point to such documents as the Sixth Ecumenical Council’s Definition of Faith:
These things, therefore, with all diligence and care having been formulated by us, we define that it be permitted to no one to bring forward, or to write, or to compose, or to think, or to teach a different faith. Whosoever shall presume to compose a different faith, or to propose, or teach, or hand to those wishing to be converted to the knowledge of the truth, from the Gentiles or Jews, or from any heresy, any different Creed; or to introduce a new voice or invention of speech to subvert these things which now have been determined by us, all these, if they be Bishops or clerics let them be deposed, the Bishops from the Episcopate, the clerics from the clergy; but if they be monks or laymen: let them be anathematized.
Metropolitan Anthimos had previously instructed Fr. Theodore to cease speaking out against the Crete Council, considering his words as fomenting schism. Following his announcement of ceasing commemoration, the bishop suspended Fr. Theodore from serving or speaking publicly in any of the churches of his metropolis. He has also summoned Fr. Theodore to spiritual court, excommunicated him from the holy chalice, and stripped him of his honorary title as “Archpriest.”
For his part, Fr. Theodore has described these penalties as “unjust, hasty, and anti-canonical,” noting that such sanctions have been placed on him before the proceedings of the ecclesiastical court, and arguing that Canon 15 of the First-Second Council states that priests taking action such as him “shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honor which befits them among Orthodox Christians.”
Fr. Theodore urged Metropolitan Anthimos to reverse his decision and to allow him the opportunity to serve in his parish of St. Anthony the Great, without commemoration, according to his conscience.