Archpriest Andrew Phillips in Colchester, England answers some comments on the recent meeting of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis in Havana, and offers thoughts on the coming Great Council in June.
Below we quote comments from a letter from a correspondent in Wales. We quote from it because it raises some very relevant questions, to which we give answers, which may be of interest to all our readers.
Comment: First, on occasions you have written apologies/explanations of your positions which, whilst providing new looks at the development of these thoughts/positions, are not really required: it is clear to any neutral or good-willed reader that you are a Truth seeker and that you are a servant of the Church. Those readers that don’t belong to these groups – we can only pray for.
Answer: You would be surprised how many people there are who are neither neutral, nor of good will, but, very sadly, are full of fantasy and spite.
Comment: On the “historical” meeting of Patriarch and Pope Francisco: I think I can see where your position comes from… There are two ways of looking at it, a diplomatic-humanitarian way and an Orthodox way.
Answer: That is why, as I said, a diplomatic or political agreement is binding only on the signatory and no one else. It is a personal opinion and no more. What you call a diplomatic-humanitarian way” says, “we love the sinner”, but there is also a need for what you call “an Orthodox way”, that is, a dogmatic statement, which says, “we hate the sin”.
This situation reminds me of the publication of the heretical “Thyateira Confession” forty years ago by Archbishop Athenagoras of Thyateira. I remember a young convert at the time who told a pious Greek granny that her Archbishop had said that all religions were the same and therefore he was a heretic. She simply replied: “If that is so, I will go to church and light a candle for him”. The convert, who came from a Protestant background, was not satisfied. Why? Because those of a Protestant and literalist background do not have the concept of hierarchy, of the episcopate. When they disagree with their “church”, they simply go off and start a new “church”.
This is why old calendarist sects have not had much “luck” in developing in Orthodox countries, but much more in Protestant countries or in ex-Protestant Africa. This Protestant mentality is alien to the Church. Just because we disagree, we do not leave the Church. Did St Gregory of Nyssa leave the Church? Did St Maximus the Confessor leave the Church? Did St Mark of Ephesus leave the Church? Of course not, they stayed and defended the Church and became saints of the Church, they did not go off and start new “churches”. The spirit of sectarianism, phariseeism, intolerance and the ghetto is not part of the Church. We stand and fight as soldiers of Christ inside the Church. All that is permitted is to change dioceses.
In other words, the personal opinions of individual members of the clergy as such do not concern us. We do not have a clericalist view of the Church like the heterodox. The Church is not the clergy, let alone the bishops. The Church is everyone. On the other hand, it is true that if a priest or a bishop or a Patriarch says that he believes AS A DOGMA that all religions are the same and that we do not need the Church for salvation, then of course he is a heretic.
This is why we need not worry about diplomatic and political PR documents signed by clergy, but we do have to worry about the draft document on heterodoxy that is being proposed for the Crete meeting next June, because that claims not to be a diplomatic or a political document, but a document expressing the Orthodox Faith. It is completely unacceptable as it stands because it claims in its first words that there is only One Church, the Orthodox Church and then goes on to contradict that statement in a haze of vagueness.
But even here we should be reassured. More and more simple parish clergy, people and monastics are speaking out against this draft document, let alone bishops like Metr. Vladimir of Kishinev or Metr. Athanasius of Limassol. One thing we have to understand is that the teachings of the Church are always set out very clearly, without any diplomatic fudging, which is the problem of the draft documents for the June meeting. They are written in Chancelleryspeak, they have no dogmatic clarity and are therefore not Church documents.
I think that the June meeting, if it happens, could be very useful, however. This is because all meetings can be useful, though not always in the way intended. Let us take the so-called “Council” of Florence as an example. What was the use of that? First of all, it revealed the traitors who publicly shamed themselves. All became clear who they were. But above all the “Council” of Florence was useful because it revealed St Mark of Ephesus and he revealed God’s Will. What do we remember about the “Council” of Florence? Only St Mark of Ephesus, who defined the Truth. God can always make good out of bad.
Let us look concretely at what good can come of this June meeting and how even it could become by the grace of God a real “Council” by “dogmatizing”, clarifying and defining the Truth.
First of all, it is clear that everything that needs to be said has already been said at the Seven Universal Councils. (We do not talk about “Ecumenical” Councils because that word has been corrupted in modern English. Therefore we speak of “Universal Councils”). Roman Catholics like to attack us, saying “the Orthodox Church is dead, they have not had a Council since the eighth century – the proof that they need the Pope to give them life”.
Of course, this is nonsense. We have not needed to have a Universal Council because the truths of the Faith have been expressed for all time by the Seven Councils. There will never be an “Eighth Universal Council”. On the contrary, Roman Catholics constantly need new councils because they are always changing, “updating”, their beliefs, reinventing themselves—because they lost their apostolicity when they invented themselves in the eleventh century and consciously rejected the integrity of the Church heritage of the first millennium.
The Seven Councils dealt with the truths of the Faith for all time. They began by defining the first articles of the Creed, that is, by defining the Holy Trinity and then went on to the Person of Christ and His two natures and then to the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is true that there was the anti-filioque Council of Constantinople in 879, agreed on by all the Patriarchs, including the Pope of Rome, and the so-called “Palamite” Council of 1351, which some pious Greeks unofficially call the “Eighth and Ninth Universal Councils”. However, in fact, these simply elaborated on earlier Councils, defining in detail the relations between the Persons of the Trinity, especially the Son and the Holy Spirit, and then in 1351 the nature of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, in the Orthodox Church we have local councils, at which only some bishops are present, that can elaborate on, explain and affirm aspects of the Faith expressed by the Seven Councils. In other words, these councils elaborate on the words of the Creed. And this is what needs to be done today, only not as regards the beginning and middle of the Creed (that has already been elaborated on), but as regards the end of the Creed. There will never be any “Eighth Universal Council”, but there could be a “Council of Crete”. But what will it be about?
We do not need meetings of hundreds of bishops to tell us that fasting is important or to administrate the granting of autonomy etc. What we need today is a Council to elaborate on one of the last articles in the Creed, concerning the Church. “I believe…in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. This article is what is misunderstood today. In technical terms, what we need is a statement on Ecclesiology. For we believe in ONE Church; there are no Churches, not two or three Churches, only ONE. To say otherwise and talk as the heretics do of “the two lungs of the Church” or “the Invisible Church” or “the division of the Churches” is to reject the Creed. It is as simple as that.
If the present anti-dogmatic diplomatic language and vagueness continues at Chambesy or elsewhere, I can foresee a time when a petition is going to circulate around the 80,000 or so Orthodox parishes of the world, saying: “There is only One Church, the Orthodox Church and we do not recognize any statements to the contrary”, and it will be signed by all and then presented at Crete. This is what the present vagueness and haziness could easily lead to. There is only one “Undivided Church” – the Orthodox Church, which lives today because it is the Church of Christ, there is no other, there are merely fragments that have broken away from Her. I hope our bishops are listening.
I have no time to draw up such a petition. I am too busy doing Orthodoxy, looking after grandchildren, doing the washing up, baptizing, visiting the sick, blessing homes, celebrating services and visiting and confessing those in prisons throughout the 5,000 square miles of my three counties of parish. I have covered 300 miles in the last three days alone. But there are those who have more free time than I.
Comment: Metr. Nikodim’s end, at the feet of the Pope, is symbolic…”
Answer: I totally agree. But Metr Nikodim is dead and actually largely forgotten. Personally, I do not even know anyone who prays for him – perhaps they do that in the Vatican. But the real meaning of the Cuba meeting was not about old-fashioned ecumenism. It was firstly to ward off a World War in Syria, secondly to defeat Uniatism in the Ukraine, thirdly to prepare the world to see the leader of the Orthodox Church as the Russian Orthodox Church before the meeting in Crete, and finally it was part of a very successful pastoral visit by Patriarch Kirill to the Russian Orthodox flock in Latin America, including meeting three local Presidents (completely unreported by the secular media).
And I think that was successful. Syria is all the talk and the Saudis and Turks have been warned off invading Syria to the fury of the neocons, the Uniats are also furious, as are the American diplomats who stand behind the scenes at the Phanar, whereas the Orthodox flock in Latin America is delighted. I think we may now at last see great Orthodox missionary developments in this very, very neglected part of the Orthodox world.
Comment: Do we really believe that the Vatican and the (Jesuit) Pope, those examples of strict hierarchical organisation based on careful cultivation of all levers of power and manipulation, have no influence on the Ukro-Nazi Uniats who are burning and stealing Orthodox Churches? Or on the Ustashoid Catholic church in Croatia?.…Some complaints or discontent of the faithful papist flock after the Cuban meeting should be interpreted cautiously; most likely they are simply down to the effectiveness of Jesuit tactics…
Answer: I think the Uniats really are very disillusioned. Of course, apart from them, we can ignore the sincerity or insincerity of expressions of discontent elsewhere. They are not our problem.