Decision of the ROC Synod on Hellas: akribeia or oikonomia? Part II

Primates of the Greek and Russian Churches. Photo: UOJ

Why the Russian Orthodox Church should have taken more drastic measures with the Greek Orthodox Church: the arguments of the advocates of akribeia.

Many representatives of the clergy and laity of our Church believe that the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church did the only thing right when it broke the Eucharistic communion only with those clergymen of the Church of Greece who would serve with the Ukrainian schismatics. The Synod acted for the reasons of oikonomia, which the UOJ spoke about in Part I.

However, there are enough people in the Church who are convinced that the “partial break”, as well as the application of the oikonomia principle to the “Ukrainian issue”, will not lead to anything good, and sooner or later the Church will face the need for a full and final break with schismatics and those who support them.

Akribeia as a way to solve the essential issues in the life of the Church

This position, which we can refer to as akribeia, received an additional argument when it became known that the Greek Orthodox Church sent congratulatory letters to the head of the OCU Epiphany Dumenko.

In terms of church protocol, this is the legal recognition of a schismatic organization as a canonical Church. That is why supporters of akribeia demand an immediate and complete breakup in Eucharistic communion with the whole Church, and not just with the part that will de facto concelebrate with or commemorate schismatics.

The very word "akribeia" (Greek ἀκρίβεια – strictness, exactness) indicates a way to solve church problems and disputes, which eliminates ambiguity and uncertainty. Most often it was used when dealing with the fundamentals of Her teachings, Her life, the very essence and the purpose of existence of the Church and Christianity rather than some insignificant issues of the Church’s life.

The OCU problem as a question of the existence of the Church

Akribeia supporters emphasize that the Ukrainian problem affects the existence of the entire Church. The OCU issue is not only a matter of jurisdictional boundaries between the ROC and the Church of Constantinople. The problem is not only the neglect of canons by Patriarch Bartholomew. And not even how much the Phanar is trying to prove its right to grant autocephaly. The main problem is that the Phanariots undermine the very doctrine of the Church, its nature and its purpose.

The recognition of the Ukrainian schismatics under the pressure of the political establishment turns the Church from a divine-human organism into a tool for addressing political problems.

On the other hand, the desire of the Phanar head to become the head of the Church destroys the Orthodox doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ. And the introduction of a whole group of Ukrainian self-sanctuaries, non-ordained laypeople, anathematized schismatics into the Church destroys apostolic succession, turning the Church into a kind of religious club, which anyone with sufficient support from the powerful can join.

Schismatics have no grace

Akribeia supporters argue that it is impossible to treat schisms in terms of oikonomia. Schism is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a rupture of the robe of Christ, a sin that cannot be washed away even by martyrdom, as St. John Chrysostom said.

The Church has almost always believed that in schisms, as in heresies, there is no grace. For example, St. Basil the Great dismissed all the ordinations performed by schismatics, believing that the latter had lost God's grace due to the very fact of falling away from unity with the Catholic Church and therefore, having become laymen, can no longer pass on to others what they themselves do not possess – the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The saint wrote: “For although the beginning of the apostasy took place through schism, those who fell away from the Church no longer had the grace of the Holy Spirit upon themselves. For the teaching of grace was impoverished, because legal succession was suppressed. For the first apostates received initiation from the fathers, and through the laying on of their hands, they had a spiritual gift. But the rejected, having become laypeople, had neither the power to baptize or ordain, and could not teach others the grace of the Holy Spirit, from which they themselves fell away.” (1st Rule of St. Basil the Great).

The OCU issue is not only a matter of jurisdictional boundaries between the ROC and the Church of Constantinople. The main problem is that the Phanariots undermine the very doctrine of the Church, its nature and purpose.

The practice of rebaptising both schismatics and heretics was advocated by Firmilian, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and St. Cyprian of Carthage. They argued that grace is only in the true Christian Church, and therefore baptism performed outside it is invalid. There were several Councils on this issue: one in Asia Minor (253 AD). and three in Carthage (255-256 AD), which decided to rebaptize heretics. In 405, at the Council in Carthage, St. Augustine spoke out for the toughest attitude towards the schism of the Donatists (Proceedings of the 5th Ecumenical Synod).

The principle of akribeia was also applied in the Russian Church towards the Ukrainian autocephalous schism. For example, in a statement by the Holy Synod (1989), the Council of Bishops (January 1990) and the Local Council (June 1990), it is clearly stated that consecrations made in unauthorized autocephaly are invalid.

Therefore, according to proponents of akribeia, there are no sacraments with schismatics, and they themselves are ordinary laymen. Some bishops of the Church of Greece agree with this. For example, Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus has already stated that the OCU as a Church does not exist, and Epiphany Dumenko is a layman. Eucharistic communion with schismatics will thus adversely affect the whole Church.

Schisms turns into heresy sooner or later

The Holy Fathers very often identified schism with heresy.

•    According to St. Augustine, all heresies grew out of schisms.
•    St. Optatus of Silevita (4th century) considered schism one of the greatest evils, greater than homicide and idolatry.
•    Comparing the schism with heresy, St. John Chrysostom said that breaking the unity and fullness of the Church is no less evil than creating heresy. And since a schism in this regard deserves to be condemned as it deserves even more condemnation in its consequences, for in the end, every schism becomes heresy.
•    According to the Holy Fathers, a long-standing “stagnating” schism is already an ecclesiological heresy (Canons 1, 2, etc.). St. John Chrysostom claimed that "the self-assertive schism already has within it heresy".
•    St. Nicodemus (Milos) wrote in his great interpretations of the church canons: “In the writings of the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church, schismatics are often called heretics. In fact, we find a lot of schisms, which, when they arise, still adhere to Orthodoxy, but then gradually step back from it and assimilate this or that heresy from which they will never again separate.”

Therefore, communication with the Ukrainian schismatics will definitely end up with heresy, say the supporters of akribeia. And we already notice progress towards heresy – the doctrine of the primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Church, the desire for unity with the Catholics without repentance of the latter, the destruction of the conciliar principle in the Church. Is it possible to communicate with heretics? The answer to this question is obvious.

He who communicates with a schismatic himself becomes a schismatic

The most powerful argument of the supporters of akribeia is in the canons of the Orthodox Church itself.

•    According to Canon 10 of the Holy Apostles, "If anyone prays in company with one who has been excommunicated, he shall be excommunicated himself".
•    Canon 45 says: "Let any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon that merely joins in prayer with heretics be suspended, but if he has permitted them to perform any service as Clergymen, let him be deposed."
•    Even more categorical is Canon 65 of the Holy Apostles: “If any Clergyman, or Layman, enter a synagogue of Jews, or of heretics, to pray, let him be both deposed and excommunicated.”
•    The Holy Canons forbid even the joint celebration of holidays and the exchange of gifts with Gentiles and heretics: "Neither accept holiday gifts sent from Jews or heretics nor celebrate with them."
•    Timothy of Alexandria adhered to exactly the same point of view (Rule 9): “It is not appropriate to pray with a heretic or a renegade”.
•    St. Gennadius Scholarius, Patriarch of Constantinople (XV century) said the words as if written for today: “Test your bishops in only one respect: try and find out whether they are Orthodox, whether they teach dogmas contrary to the true Faith, and whether they concelebrate with heretics, or schismatics... After all, joint prayer and concelebration presupposes agreement, unity and communication, and any sensible person will consider unity and agreement with heretics as evil. Doing this becomes a heretic intentionally because of (his) silence or approval. ‘For he who is in secretness a Jew is not a Jew,’ says Christ. So the one who is secretly Orthodox would not be Orthodox, but those whom he follows and with whom he prays in the face of God and people. Therefore, one mustn’t concelebrate with them and pray at all ... Since the priest is a teacher and a guard, and the light of other people, he must be a true teacher in words and deeds, not just say one thing and do another, because people are more likely to follow deeds than words ... One should in no way communicate with a person who is excommunicated (heretic) so as not to become one himself, in accordance with the rules of the Holy Apostles."

He who commemorates a schismatic himself becomes a schismatic

No less important is the question of the liturgical commemoration of schismatics. According to the teachings of the Church, the commemoration of the diptychs (lists of names of the Orthodox primates of the Local Churches) testifies to the unity of the whole Church.

For example, commemorating his ruling bishop, who commemorates the Primate, each priest is in unity with all the Local Orthodox Churches. We are celebrating the same Liturgy in different parts of the globe, partaking in the same Body of Christ.

Therefore, Patriarch Bartholomew’s commemorating Dumenko affects not only the Patriarchate of Constantinople but the entire Church. In the same way as the commemoration of Patriarch Bartholomew speaks of the Eucharistic unity with him and through him with Dumenko. This means that it is necessary to break off relations with everyone who prays with the Phanar.

Of course, this point of view is too tough, and the proponents of akribeia also understand this. But this is the only position that can save the Church from the further spread of the infection of schism.

St. Basil wrote about it this way: “For if someone sees you, the faithful children of Christ, communicating with such people or even concelebrating with them, of course, they will consider their heresy to be something not very important and they will get bogged down in this quagmire. So, my beloved, so that this does not happen, avoid those who, pretending to disagree with Arius, actually serve with his followers. It is very important to avoid the society of those people whose positions are vile. But if anyone comes to you and, as St. John the Theologian says, will bring good faith with him, greet him and accept him as a brother. If someone pretends to profess our faith, but in fact he himself communicates with those who are in misbelief, get away from communicating with him. If he promises to give it up, honor him as your brother. And if he resists the correction, avoid him ... Living this way, you will keep the faith pure and sincere, and those people who see that you are not participating in prayer with the infidels will benefit from this, fearing to fall into sin and striving to do the same as those they are looking at."

Patriarch Bartholomew’s commemorating Dumenko affects not only the Patriarchate of Constantinople but the entire Church. This means that it is necessary to break off relations with everyone who prays with the Phanar.

That is why supporters of akribeia believe that the Church should not look at the proceedings of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and those who sympathize with them in terms of oikonomia. Indeed, in fact, having performed a joint service with Dumenko, Patriarch Bartholomew already became a schismatic. This should have been announced back in January 2018 when this concelebration took place. And the question of recognizing Patriarch Bartholomew as a schismatic on the part of all the Local Orthodox Churches should have been raised at the same time. And all attempts to solve this problem "diplomatically" only exacerbated it.

St. Maximus the Confessor wrote: “Heretics cannot be helped to assert their crazy beliefs, here one must be harsh and irreconcilable. For I do not call it love but man-hate and falling away from Divine love when someone asserts heretics in their error for the inevitable destruction of these people."

Need to separate from the schismatics

Yes, oikonomia proponents say, all this is true and seems to be completely justified. But if you act with all severity, then the Church will face two problems:

1.    isolation problem;
2.    the problem of those who do not recognize the schismatics but do not want to break off relations with their primate.

The supporters of akribeia answer the first question simply: it is better to be “isolated” with Christ than to “have fellowship” with the devil. St. Maximus the Confessor was not afraid to be alone. Because he believed that there is the majority where Christ is and said that "even if the whole universe holds communion with heretics, I still will not communicate with them."

On the other hand, what will the so-called “isolation” take away from us? It will not take away Christ, grace, and the truth. But it will take away communion with the schismatics and, maybe, some part of the worldly goods granted by the powers that be.

However, let us recall the case described by the same St. Maximus the Confessor: “Abba Gelasius drove with dishonor the heretic monophysite Theodosius out of his cell. And when the latter by cunning became the Jerusalem patriarch, Abba Gelasius was not afraid of this and continued not to recognize him and not to obey. He preferred to suffer for the truth and not to abandon it for the sake of worldly goods."

The second question – about those who do not agree with the schism but do not want to break off their relationship with the primate – is somewhat more complicated. In the same Greek Church there are metropolitans, priests and laymen who categorically do not accept the OCU. To break with the GOC means to break with them, oikonomia adherents say.

However, the akribeia supporters look at the question differently: if the head of the Greek Church has fallen from unity with the Body of Christ, then no one, including metropolitans who consider themselves part of the EOC, should commemorate or concelebrate with him. They must stop communicating with him, otherwise they themselves will fall away from the Church.

St. Nicodemus (Milos) wrote: “But if any of the bishops, metropolitans or patriarchs begins preaching any heretical doctrine that is contrary to Orthodoxy, then the other clergy are right and even obliged to immediately separate from that bishop, metropolitan and patriarch; and for this, they not only will not be subjected to any canonical punishment, on the contrary, they will be awarded with praise; for thus they did not condemn and rebel against true, legitimate bishops, but against false bishops, false teachers; and doing so, they did not make a schism in the Church, on the contrary, to the extent possible, they freed the Church from schism, warned the division."


In this situation, we should understand which principle – akribeia or oikonomia – should be applied in our specific case.

Oikonomia can in no way be seen as the only way out of the situation. There have been cases in the history of the Church when oikonomia harmed Orthodoxy.

Similarly, oikonomia adherents should not consider proponents of akribeia to be rigorists or fundamentalist marginals. No, these are people who care about the purity of the Church.

Basil the Great once said: “We are very saddened by the fact that the rules of the Fathers are forgotten and all the severity of the Churches began to be considered nonsense, and we fear that even a little such indifference will give rise to a path that leads to complete confusion in things related to the Church” .

This is what the proponents of akribeia fear of – total confusion in things related to the Church.

On the other hand, they must remember that akribeia did not always benefit the Church and is not always the only way out of the situation. Akribeia cannot be opposed to oikonomia. These are not mutually exclusive concepts but principles that complement each other.

That is why it is important for us to clearly understand which principle the Church should be guided by in addressing the “Ukrainian problem”. The main thing is the benefit to the Body of Christ, and oikonomia and akribeia only help to achieve this benefit.

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What will happen if the Church of Greece recognizes the OCU?
it will put itself out of Orthodoxy
it will give rise to global recognition of the OCU by Local Churches
nothing will happen, the Greeks will be the first and the last to recognize the OCU
Total votes: 562


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