Awkward questions for hierarchs, or Where pastors lead the Church of Christ
The Greek hegumen Maxim (Karavas) asked the clergy of the GOC to give answers to questions that worry the Orthodox. What are these questions and why are they important?
In December 2020, one of the very famous and authoritative monks of Greece, the hegumen of the St. Paraskeva Monastery in Milochori (Ptolemaida), Archimandrite Maxim (Karavas), addressed the clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church with an open letter. In his address, Father Maxim asked the GOC clerics a number of questions. He is sure that the answers to these questions determine how good priests and bishops are for believers, as well as where exactly they lead the Church.
Archimandrite Maxim emphasizes that his letter was dictated by "a strong anxiety over the events taking place in the Greek Orthodox Church", as well as the indifference of its bishops, who "see the wolves coming, but instead of taking the shepherd’s rod and dashing them in pieces like a potter's vessel", they abandon the sheep and thus prove once again that they "behave like mercenaries".
In total, Father Maxim voiced 15 questions, and after carefully reading them, we can make sure that it is worth asking these questions not only Greek but also every Orthodox bishop, priest and layman. And the problems which the respected Greek archimandrite raises have long worried the majority of Orthodox Christians if not all.
Archimandrite Maxim's questions can be roughly divided into two parts:
- about the attitude of the Church towards non-Orthodoxy and ecumenism in general, and the relationship between the Church and the secular authorities, in particular;
- about the cross-line, beyond which obedience ends and man-pleasing begins, which grows into heresy.
Who are Catholics and Protestants for the Church – heretics or brothers in Christ?
The first group of questions of Father Maxim concerns the attitude of the modern church hierarchy towards Catholics, Protestants and Gentiles. And here he expresses what many think about but do not say out loud.
Many believers are confused by the ambiguity of their position in relation to these people. On the one hand, we know that there is a true Church and those who have fallen away from Рer. On the other hand, the hierarchy often contacts the non-Orthodox and calls them "Churches". How can this be combined?
Fr Maxim asks the question: is the Pope a heretic? If so, "is it permissible to exchange kisses and hugs with him, and call him ‘holy brother’, as Bartholomew and others who follow him do?"
For the Greek elder, Protestants are "a mosaic of satanic heresies", and the World Council of Churches is "a worldwide gathering of heresies, an antichrist organization". He speaks no less harshly about other religions, which for him are "human delusions and the products of the devil".
All these words sound harsh and "intolerant." But are they fair?
If we recall the Fathers of the Church (both ancient and new), then all of them practically unanimously claimed that Papism and Protestantism are heresy, and other religions are a product of Satan.
Almost all Church Fathers claimed that Papism and Protestantism are heresy, while other religions are a product of Satan.
For example, here is what St. Mark of Ephesus writes about Catholicism: "We rejected the Latins from ourselves for no other reason than the fact that they are heretics." And here are the words of St. Theophan the Recluse about Protestants: “What God revealed and what He commanded, nothing should be added or reduced from that. This applies to Catholics and Protestants. Those add everything, and these reduce ... Catholics muddled the apostolic tradition. Protestants undertook to fix the matter – and they did it even worse. Catholics have one pope; as for Protestants, every Protestant is a pope” (Letters, VI.946, 974).
Moreover, the Apostolic canons directly prohibit any prayer with schismatics and heretics, even if it is performed privately - “in a private house”: “If anyone shall pray, even in a private house, with an excommunicated person, let him also be excommunicated” (Apostolic Canon 10). The Church also clearly speaks about prayer with the Gentiles: “If any clergyman or layman shall enter into a synagogue of Jews or heretics to pray, let the former be deposed and let the latter be excommunicated” (Apostolic Canon 65).
We can cite many other quotes from the Holy Fathers about how the Church relates to other confessions and religions, but from those given above, it is completely understandable – there can be no spiritual, prayerful or religious unity with the non-Orthodox. Recently, however, we have seen numerous examples of the opposite.
Thus, Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis are doing everything to achieve the unity of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, without any sign of Catholics’ giving up their heretical delusions. We see joint meetings between the head of the Phanar and the head of the Vatican with mutual kissing and gift exchange, as well as "worship" in Catholic (that is, heretical) monasteries, which is prohibited by the rules of the Church. We hear statements that there are no dogmatic obstacles to the unity of the Orthodox and Catholics and that the main goal of the Phanar and the RCC is a joint Eucharist.
Patriarch Bartholomew does not hesitate to take part in "prayer" events organized by the Vatican, which are attended by the representatives of the LGBT community and pagans.
Of course, believers cannot be indifferent to such behaviour of their pastors. Thus, the Athonite monk Nicholas from the St. Demetrius Trigonas cell, commenting on the participation of Patriarch Bartholomew in the “ecumenical prayer” in Rome, asks: “To what 'god' did our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew put a candle on a candlestick, being in the middle of this gathering, this patchwork of religions? In any case – not to our Lord Jesus Christ, because Christ calls on His shepherds to set off on the road and teach the right faith to all nations: " Go ye therefore, and teach all nations" (Matthew 28, 19), and not to participate in the sabbats of the ‘New Era’."
Unfortunately, not only Phanariots but also bishops of other Local Orthodox Churches take part in these "ecumenical sabbats", thereby violating the Apostolic Canons. It is impossible to justify this participation by necessity. No political preferences, no imaginary "benefit of the Church" can justify the temptation for believers that pastors bring by their participation in common "prayer" events with heretics.
No political preferences, no imaginary "benefit of the Church" can justify the temptation for believers that pastors bring by their participation in common "prayer" events with heretics.
Yes, it is worth sacrificing something but not the salvation of the soul for the sake of so-called "church diplomacy".
In the 60s-70s of the last century, the participation of the Russian Church in the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches could be explained by the desire to help the Church to exist relatively normally in conditions of political repression. There were cases when the Soviet government made a decision to close a temple or a monastery. But later, when representatives of the World Council of Churches paid a visit there and enthusiastic articles about the Russian “architectural monument” appeared in the Western press, the decision to close it was cancelled. However, in this case too, prayer union (even “formal”) with the non-Orthodox is unacceptable. And even more so today. What and who is forcing Orthodox hierarchs to enter into prayer communion with heretics?
Church and coronavirus
The second category of questions that Father Maxim asks the Greek clergy concerns the reaction of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church to the quarantine measures imposed by the country's authorities due to the coronavirus. Here you need to make one reservation – Greece (like Cyprus, for example) is an Orthodox country. That is why many Greek believers hoped that if there was any quarantine in relation to the Church, it would not be as strong as in other secular countries. In other words, the temples would be open, albeit with restrictions. However, everything turned out to be wrong.
2020 and half of 2021 were a shock for Orthodox Christians in Greece. And not only because for the first time in the thousand-year history of this country, believers could not take part in the Liturgy, but also because the authorities in an Orthodox country tried bishops who violated quarantine, tried priests who received communion with believers, fined lay people for being in churches without masks. All these bans and courts looked even more cynical against the background of crowded street concerts that were held at the height of the pandemic, or even against the backdrop of “easing quarantine” when shops rather than temples were opened.
As a result, Metropolitan Ambrose of Kalavryta excommunicated Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias and Education Minister Nika Kerameusi for speaking about the danger of communion during a pandemic.
However, the Synod of the Church of Greece sided with the excommunicated officials and stated that "any decision to recognize the ex-communication of a member of the Orthodox Church of Greece, which was not accepted by the hierarchy of the Holy Synod, is null and void."
This position of the Synod is not only strange but also wrong since, according to Father Maxim, having cancelled the decision to excommunicate Greek officials for closing churches, the Synod showed "complete indifference to the protection of Metropolitan Kerkyra, who was summoned to trial for refusing to close churches." The very closure of churches, we recall, in Greece and other places was associated with the fact that believers could get infected with coronavirus during the Communion.
That is why, the archimandrite asks - do the priests agree "with the blasphemous statement that the Holy Body of the Lord, God and our Saviour Jesus Christ and His Holy Blood are carriers of germs, and not eternal life, which we partake ‘for the remission of sins’? ". For Father Maxim and for the majority of believers, the answer is obvious – no. And for the hierarchy?
At the same time, Father Maxim considers "the greatest blasphemy" the introduction of disposable spoons, which has been practised in some temples of the Church of Greece, the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the USA and Canada, the Russian Church and even in some churches of the UOC.
The Synod of the GOC did not stop there. In a desire to please the authorities in 2021, he moved the time of the Easter service from midnight of Resurrection to 21.00 on Holy Saturday. This decision was strongly opposed by certain members of the clergy. Thus, the priest John C. Diotis, noting the canonical problems associated with this decision, pointed out that the shift of the beginning of the Easter service violates several canonical rules of the Church and contradicts the Gospel narrative. In many places in Greece, parish priests refused to comply with this decision of the Synod, and are now under investigation by the secular authorities. The Synod itself intends to judge two metropolitans who served Easter Matins at the time established by church tradition and practice – on Sunday midnight.
So it turns out that church hierarchs, fearing to lose any state preferences or favour from the authorities, commit canonical crimes. According to Father Maxim, each of these bishops, "who care about pleasing people more than God, that is, obeying atheistic and blasphemous human laws, and not the eternal laws of God", should be called "Satan".
The Church and the "religion of Antichrist"
Archimandrite Maxim's letter to the Greek clergy should be viewed not locally but in the context of everything that is happening today on the religious map of the world. The questions he asks in the letter and the problems he voices concern all Orthodox Christians, regardless of their country of residence. We would very much like the clergy not to dismiss these questions as insignificant, attributing everything to a "conspiracy theory", or seeing in those who ask them "sectarians", "codophobes" and so on. Because, firstly, this is still the flock of Christ, and secondly, according to Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou (the Church of Cyprus), “when we talked about this earlier, we were called ‘supporters of the conspiracy theory’ but now the plans and goals of the supporters of the New world order are gradually becoming apparent".
Compare the facts.
- Over the past few months, we have seen several completely incomprehensible actions of Patriarch Bartholomew, who not only strives for unity with Catholics but also congratulates Muslims on the end of Ramadan and takes part in breaking the fast (iftar) together with Muslims. And all this literally a few months after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned the great shrine for the entire Orthodox world – the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – into a mosque.
- Catholics themselves strive to communicate with Muslims. The Vatican calls on Catholics to participate in Ramadan, Catholic bishops help Muslims build mosques and pray with them.
- Catholic bishops declare that they see no obstacle to commune Protestants. This position is followed by some Orthodox hierarchs. Thus, Metropolitan Nathanael of Chicago of the Phanariot archdiocese in the United States, first forbids his clergy to refuse communion to anyone and then quite calmly prays together with Catholics and Protestants.
What does that suggest? The fact that a kind of syncretic all-religion is being created before our eyes. Reading these lines, one might think that the author is a very marginal supporter of the "conspiracy theory", but, unfortunately, this is not so. Suffice it to recall that the construction of an “interfaith church”, which will be jointly used by non-Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews, has already begun in Germany.
Therefore, the letter from Father Maxim is the cry of a believing soul. It is not dictated by a desire to stand out, a desire to make some kind of anti-hierarchical revolution in the Church or to say that there are right Orthodox Christians and wrong ones. This is not criticism aimed at confusing believers. No, these are the words of a man who loves the Church and has devoted most of his life to serving Her. This is the questioning of a loving heart, which hurts not only because the world is moving away from Christ, but also because Orthodox pastors do not try to prevent it.
The Athonite monk Nicholas from the St. Demetrius Trigonas cell, whom we have already quoted above, said: “In our era of universal apostasy, all lawless and anti-Christian phenomena are adopted at the legislative level, without encountering serious resistance not only from politicians but, unfortunately, also from the side of the ecclesiastical authorities.” This is the main pain of both Father Nicholas and Father Maxim, who writes: “If you still think that I am ‘disrespectful’ to the bishops who did not offer strong resistance to any of the antichrist laws of our rulers (for example, the law on "automatic divorce", the legalization of homosexuality, the introduction of sex education at school, etc.) and many other anti-Christ laws, which I will not enumerate so as not to drag out my speech, then I have nothing more to say to you ... I wish that one day you realized that Orthodox Christians, bishops, priests and monks should listen more not to the laws of Antichrist, but to the Holy Scripture, which says: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).