Thursday, June 19, 2014

Further Thoughts on the Ancient Faith Today Discussion: The Pope and the Patriarch

Pope Francis, preparing to execute a Judo throw on Patriarch Bartholomew

On Pentecost, I was on Ancient Faith Today, which is hosted by Kevin Allen, and was on the show along with Fr. Matthew Baker, to discuss the recent meetings of the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew. You can listen to that show by clicking here. I would have posted on this sooner, but the following day my wife and I headed to the Holy Land ourselves, for a year late 25th anniversary vacation, and we just got back early Tuesday.

Was it Fair?

I have heard some people who thought that Keven Allen was unfair, and that he gave more time to Fr. Matthew than he did to me. This is the fourth time I have been on Kevin Allen's show, and I have gotten to know him a bit by e-mail and phone conversations, and I have no doubt that Kevin was trying to be fair -- in fact he wouldn't have had me on the show at all, if he was not trying to present a balanced perspective on the question. I think Fr. Matthew did more talking than I did because this is an area of his expertise, he is a sharp and well educated man, and he had a lot of information that he was trying to convey to make his nuanced case for a balanced approach to ecumenical activities. I was more focused on bottom line practical reasons why we should be concerned about Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement, and so my points were generally made in less time. Three out of four of the times Kevin has had me on his show, I have been on with another guest, and it is, I am sure, a tough job to balance two guests, phone calls, and to also keep the discussion moving. We could have spent the entire two hours going back and forth on just one issue, but Kevin kept the discussion moving, we covered a lot of ground, and I think it was a good show.

Is Fr. Matthew a Modernist or a Heretic?

I would also say that Fr. Matthew did not at all strike me as a modernist. And I only wish Patriarch Batholomew was as clear on his ecclesiology as Fr. Matthew was in this discussion. We did have a number of points of disagreement, but I think we agreed a lot more than we disagreed.

Nevertheless, there were certainly some points I would have liked to have made, some expansions on some points, and then of course there are always things that you think of after the fact that you wish you had said, and so here are some additional comments on that discussion.

Is Patriarch Bartholomew Responsible for False Impressions His Words and Actions May Leave?

Early in the show, Fr. Matthew suggested that the Ecumenical Patriarch should not be held responsible for the false impressions his actions and statements have left with both non-Orthodox and Orthodox alike. I think he is responsible... particularly when the current Ecumenical Patriarch continues to add to those false impressions, and does very little to dispel them. In fact, he seems to engage in studied ambiguity on a somewhat regular basis. Christ said in the Gospels, "light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3:19-21). If the agenda that the Patriarch is pushing is good and Orthodox, I think it is reasonable to ask why he is hiding that agenda in the shadows of ambiguity. For example, what is he trying to accomplish by saying that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are the two lungs of the Body of Christ? Clearly, such statements are confusing at best.

The Prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

On the question of the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch, you can read some more detail here:

You can also read St. John (Maximovitch)'s report to the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR in 1938, "The Decline of the Ecumenical Patriarch," in which he says among other things of note:

"In sum, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in theory embracing almost the whole universe and in fact extending its authority only over several dioceses, and in other places having only a higher superficial supervision and receiving certain revenues for this, persecuted by the government at home and not supported by any governmental authority abroad: having lost its significance as a pillar of truth and having itself become a source of division, and at the same time being possessed by an exorbitant love of power -- represents a pitiful spectacle which recalls the worst periods in the history of the See of Constantinople."

Unfortunately, St. John's assessment of the decline of the EP has become all the more accurate as time has gone on. This is a real shame, because the EP could be a real source of unity, if he would simply stand clearly for the Faith, and unite the Orthodox world behind a clear and unambiguous expression of our Tradition.

Joint Prayer

On the question of joint prayer with the non-Orthodox, I wrote about this in an article entitled "What should Orthodox Christians do, when there is no parish nearby?" I mentioned on the show that when I picketed abortion clinics, I have often found myself praying next to Roman Catholics who were also praying, but that we were not joining in prayer, and then Fr. Matthew interjected that I was doing the same thing as the Ecumenical Patriarch. That interjection threw me off a bit, and when I said, "Yes, in this case..." I was referring specifically to the prayers for peace that took place in the Vatican earlier that same day. When I said that, what I had in mind was that so far as I had noticed during the service, the Patriarch did not get up to pray in that particular gathering. He only read from the prophecy of Isaiah. What I would say is that this was actually not at all like what I was referring to, because this was a scheduled prayer meeting, the Patriarch was invited to it, attended it, and participated in it. He did not get up and vocally pray, which would have made it worse, but he should not have lent his authority to an event that involved Muslim Imams, Jewish Rabbis, and Catholic clergy, joining in a prayer service together. Also, when the Patriarch met the Pope in Jerusalem, they did pray together. On other occasions, the Patriarch has prayed at pan-religious services, that involved every stripe of paganism. He has had the Pope commemorated as if he were an Orthodox bishop when the Pope has visited the Phanar. He has often blessed the faithful side by side with Roman Catholic bishops who joined him in blessing the people. There is no precedence in the history of the Orthodox Church for behavior of this sort, it raises serious questions about what the Patriarch believes about the nature of the Church, and there is really no defense for it.

Fr. Matthew mentioned St. John (Maximovitch) being present at the consecration of an Anglican bishop in Shanghai. He also alluded to St. Tikhon of Moscow who attended the consecration of an Anglican bishop in the 1920's wearing a Mantia. Wearing a Mantia is not what I would call being vested, because in a hierarchical liturgy, this is simply what a Bishop wears on his way into the Church, and on his way out. All of us who live in societies in which we are surrounded by non-Orthodox people have to deal with situations where you are invited to non-Orthodox services on special occasions. For example, I attended the funerals of both of my parents, and two of my brothers, and in each case, I declined the opportunity to participate in the actual service, but helped carry the coffin, and was present as a matter of respect. The same goes for weddings of family members. And if you had a good relationship with the local Anglicans in Shanghai, and one of them was being consecrated a bishop, you would probably feel the need to attend to show respect too. I think it was a mistake for St. Tikhon to wear his Mantia at the consecration of an Anglican bishop, but I think this came from a naivete about what Anglicanism was among many Orthodox, at that time (see for example, this article about St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn). He was not glorified as a saint because he once wore a Mantia at an Anglican service. St. Mark of Ephesus, on the other hand, was glorified in large part for his refusal to compromise with the false union of Florence.

The reason why our canons forbid us to pray with heretics, schismatics, and non-Christians, is that praying together implies a unity of faith that does not actually exist. We do not pass judgment on them. We are not saying that we are better than they are. We are simply not giving a false impression that we are in agreement, when we are not. Now there are many sticky situations that arise at times. In the Bible, we have an example of this, in 2 Kings (or 4th Kings in the LXX) chapter 5, where the Syrian commander Naaman is healed by the Prophet Elisha, and comes to believe in the God of Israel, but he presents Elisha with a pastoral problem: "In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing." Naaman was not going to the temple of Rimmon to pray for peace with his master -- he had an obligation to be there, because he was the commander of the Syrian army. And Elisha simply said "Go in peace." There are other examples that could be discussed where one might wonder what is the best way to handle it, and reasonable Orthodox Christians might reach different conclusions on how best to deal with it -- that is another question. Those situations are quite different, however, then when you intentionally put yourself into a joint prayer service, and participate fully with the non-Orthodox in a service you helped make up, such as for example occurred at the Holy Seplechre in Jerusalem, on May 25th, 2014 with the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew:

I watched this video for the first time yesterday, just a week after I was at the Holy Sepulchre myself, for the first time. Being able to venerate the place where Christ died for us, and the place where He rose from the dead was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Watching this holy place used as a backdrop for this Ecumenical theater turns my stomach.

It should also be noted that prior to the 1960's the Roman Catholics also observed this tradition, and according to their interpretation, they would allow for private joint prayer with the heterodox, so long as the prayers were Catholic, but they would not allow public joint prayer because of the confusion such things create.

In this video you can hear Pope Benedict being commemorated as if he were an Orthodox bishop at the Phanar in Constantinople, ahead of the Patriarch of Constantinople:

And unfortunately, these ecumenical dog and pony shows get much worse:

And then there's this:

And unfortunately, there is a lot more where that one came from.

Why have the Orthodox Not Established their own Pope of Rome?

I think there are two simple answers: 1) for most of the history that has elapsed since the Great Schism, this would not have been tolerated by the powers that be in Italy; and 2) if we established an Orthodox Pope of Rome, then we would presumably have to recognize him as first in the diptychs... and this would have created an unnecessary set of problems.

Intellectual Ascesis

Fr. Matthew made the point that there are certain things that one cannot learn simply by praying with their prayer rope, and spoke of an "intellectual ascesis". There are a couple of problems I have with this statement. For one, it suggests that people like St. John (Maximovitch) or the Elder Paisios were uneducated... which they were not. St. John was a seminary professor at Bitol, Serbia, before he became a bishop. The Elder Paisios did not have the same level of formal education, but the kind of education he did get as a monastic was not simply a matter of saying the Jesus Prayer. And while one would not likely learn Latin simply through the grace of the Holy Spirit, one of the Elder's level of spirituality does learn a level of spiritual discernment that is far beyond that of most of us, and so if he advises caution when it comes to "ecumenical dialogue" one would be foolish to ignore it.

This reminds me of something from the sayings of the desert fathers, regarding St. Arsenius the Great, who was one of the most educated men of his time:

"One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, "Abba Arsenius, how is that you with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?" He replied, "I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant" (Benedicta Ward, translator, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975, 1984 revised edition), p. 10.

Also, we should remember that on the feast of Pentecost we sing:

"Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise, by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of mankind, glory be to Thee."

If the grace of the Holy Spirit could make the fishermen supremely wise, even though they were unlearned men, then we have to believe that the Holy Spirit can still make unlearned men supremely wise. That of course does not mean that we do not value formal education. In fact, it is a blessing to the Church to have scholars of the caliber of Fr. Matthew in the Church, but having a Ph.D. does not make one a reliable guide on spiritual matters, but attaining theosis does.

Also, just as the Holy Spirit revealed to St. Peter that the time to receive the gentiles into the Church had come (Acts 10:1-48), if the "dialogue" with Rome was going in a God-pleasing direction, the Holy Spirit could and would reveal this to even "unlearned" saints.

Also, I don't think the phrase "intellectual ascesis" has any basis in the Tradition of the Church... though if I am wrong, I hope someone will show me where to find a precedence for it. I think it is generally advisable to not coin new theological phrases without very good reasons for doing so.

Liturgical Chaos in Rome

We also spoke about the liturgical decline of the Roman Catholic Church, post-Vatican II. For some of the videos I was referring to see Unfortunate Trends in the Roman Catholic Church. One further observation I would make is that the tendency to want to have rock and roll praise and worship in services that are oriented towards the youth is an example of the Roman Catholic Church emulating some of the most destructive novelties the Protestants have come up with in recent years. I remember growing up in an Evangelical Protestant Church around the time that the idea of "children's church" began to become popular. In the regular services, we sang the old hymns that Protestants had long sung... which at least have some substance to them, even if flawed. In children's church, we sang happy clappy songs that dumbed everything down (fortunately, my time spent in those kinds of services was only on rare occasion). The problem is, when children who grew up in children's church became adults, the adult services started becoming like children's church.... and that is what you now see in most protestant churches today. Give it another generation, and the kind of services you see at "World Youth Day" will become the norm in most Roman Catholic parishes.

"Ecumenist" Saints:

Fr. Matthew spoke of St. Mark of Ephesus as an "ecumenist." Now if you define being an ecumenist as anyone who is willing to sit down and talk with a heretic or a schismatic, in hopes of bringing them back into the Church, then that would be true, but that is not how most people use the term. St. Mark's words on his death bed about the Unionist Patriarch of Constantinople, with whom he broke communion because of his false union with Rome, clearly shows that he was not an ecumenist, in the more usual sense the term is used:

"Concerning the Patriarch I shall say this, lest it should perhaps occur to him to show me a certain respect at the burial of this my humble body, or to send to my grave any of his hierarchs or clergy or in general any of those in communion with him in order to take part in prayer or to join the priests invited to it from amongst us, thinking that at some time, or perhaps secretly, I had allowed communion with him. And lest my silence give occasion to those who do not know my views well and fully to suspect some kind of conciliation, I hereby state and testify before the many worthy men here present that I do not desire, in any manner and absolutely, and do not accept communion with him or with those who are with him, not in this life nor after my death, just as (I accept) neither the Union nor Latin dogmas, which he and his adherents have accepted, and for the enforcement of which he has occupied this presiding place, with the aim of overturning the true dogmas of the Church. I am absolutely convinced that the farther I stand from him and those like him, the nearer I am to God and all the saints, and to the degree that I separate myself from them am in union with the Truth and with the Holy Fathers, the Theologians of the Church; and I am likewise convinced that those who count themselves with them stand far away from the Truth and from the blessed Teachers of the Church. And for this reason I say: just as in the course of my whole life I was separated from them, so at the time of my departure, yea and after my death, I turn away from intercourse and communion with them and vow and command that none (of them) shall approach either my burial or my grave, and likewise anyone else from our side, with the aim of attempting to join and concelebrate in our Divine services; for this would be to mix what cannot be mixed. But it befits them to be absolutely separated from us until such time as God shall grant correction and peace to His Church" [as quoted in The Orthodox Word, June-July, 1967, pp. 103ff, emphasis added].

It is true that St. Mark went to the Council of Florence, and given that the Orthodox bishops had agreed to go, it makes sense that he would have as well, however, the results of the Council of Florence do not indicate that it was a good idea for the Orthodox generally to have agreed to go. It ended with a false union, and further division, which weakened the East Roman Empire at a crucial moment prior to its final destruction.

St. Philaret of Moscow and Grace in Other Churches

Fr. Matthew suggested that St. Philaret of Moscow "recognized grace" in other Churches. I think he had in mind his statements about valid sacraments, which we discussed on the show, and which I mention in an article on the question of "corrective" baptism. Again, if I am mistaken, I would like to see the quotes, but I don't believe he ever spoke of the grace of the Church being present in heterodox sacraments. This of course does not suggest that those who are innocently outside the Church have no relationship with God, and that all that they do for God is without meaning to Him... it just means that this is a matter we leave in God's hands, because it is outside of the Church.

The Pan-Heresy of Ecumenism

Fr. Matthew mentioned the question of the "Pan-Heresy of Ecumenism". The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has anathematized the heresy of Ecumenism as follows:

"Those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!"

I suspect that Fr. Matthew would agree that anyone who would affirm what this anathema describes would be affirming a heresy. I think it is important that we speak clearly on this question, because there are, in fact, many in the ecumenical movement who do affirm precisely what is anathematized here.

See The ROCOR's Anathema Against Ecumenism, by Metropolitan Vitaly

See also The Word "Anthema" and Its Meaning," by St. John (Maximovitch)

Uniatism and the Soviets

One final point that I wanted to address was the reference made the the confiscation of Uniate churches in the Ukraine under the Soviets. No religious group in Russia suffered more under the Soviets than the Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox Church was hardly calling the shots for the Soviet government. It certainly was regrettable, but hardly worthy of being compared the the official and long standing policy of forced unia on the part of the Catholic Church.


We always focus on what we disagree on, but we should remember what we agree on as well. I enjoyed the discussion, and was glad to hear Fr. Matthew Baker's clear affirmation that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I am also grateful that Ancient Faith Radio provided a platform for us to have this discussion.

For Further information, I would recommend the following pages:

Ecumenism Awareness

False Union with Rome

You can also listen to a sermon I gave on this same topic: True and False Unity.

And you can listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko's comments on this topic by clicking here.

Update: Here is a Roman Catholic assessment of the state of contemporary Roman Catholicism: