+Bartholomew: Sunday of Orthodoxy Encyclical


Prot. No. 213

(February 21, 2010)


By God’s Grace
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Fullness of the Church, Grace and Peace
From our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Our most holy Orthodox Church today commemorates its own feast day, and – from this historical and martyric See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – the Mother Church of Constantinople directs its blessing, love and concern to all of its faithful and dedicated spiritual children throughout the world, inviting them to concelebrate in prayer.

Blessed be the name of the Lord! Those who endeavored over the ages to suppress the Church through various visible and invisible persecutions; those who sought to falsify the Church with their heretical teachings; those who wanted to silence the Church, depriving it of its voice and witness; they all proved unsuccessful. The clouds of Martyrs, the tears of the Ascetics, and the prayers of the Saints protect the Church spiritually, while the Comforter and Spirit of Truth leads it to the fullness of truth.

With a sense of duty and responsibility, despite its hurdles and problems, as the First-Throne Church of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate cares about protecting and establishing the unity of the Orthodox Church, in order that with one voice and in one heart we may confess the Orthodox faith of our Fathers in every age and even in our times. For, Orthodoxy is not a museum treasure that must be preserved; it is a breath of life that must be transmitted and invigorate all people. Orthodoxy is always contemporary, so long as we promote it with humility and interpret it in light of the existential quests and needs of humanity in each historical period and cultural circumstance.

To this purpose, Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue. On the contrary, if Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the “catholic” and “ecumenical” Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a “ghetto” on the margins of history. This is why the great Fathers of the Church never feared dialogue with the spiritual culture of their age – indeed even with the pagan idolaters and philosophers of their world – thereby influencing and transforming the civilization of their time and offering us a truly ecumenical Church.

Today, Orthodoxy is called to continue this dialogue with the outside world in order to provide a witness and the life-giving breath of its faith. However, this dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. Thus, we must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible. Our endeavors for the union of all Christians is the will and command of our Lord, who before His Passion prayed to His Father “that all [namely, His disciples] may be one, so that the world may believe that You sent me.” (John 17.21) It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of His divine commandment.

It is precisely for these reasons that, with the mutual agreement and participation of all local Orthodox Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has for many decades conducted official Panorthodox theological dialogues with the larger Christian Churches and Confessions. The aim of these dialogues is, in a spirit of love, to discuss whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.

These dialogues, together with every effort for peaceful and fraternal relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians, are unfortunately challenged today in an unacceptably fanatical way – at least by the standards of a genuinely Orthodox ethos – by certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy. As if all the Patriarchs and Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided on and continue to support these dialogues, were not Orthodox. Yet, these opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church.

In their polemical argumentation, these critics of the restoration of unity among Christians do not even hesitate to distort reality in order to deceive and arouse the faithful. Thus, they are silent about the fact that theological dialogues are conducted by unanimous decision of all Orthodox Churches, instead attacking the Ecumenical Patriarchate alone. They disseminate false rumors that union between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is imminent, while they know well that the differences discussed in these theological dialogues remain numerous and require lengthy debate; moreover, union is not decided by theological commissions but by Church Synods. They assert that the Pope will supposedly subjugate the Orthodox, because they latter submit to dialogue with the Roman Catholics! They condemn those who conduct these dialogues as allegedly “heretics” and “traitors” of Orthodoxy, purely and simply because they converse with non-Orthodox, with whom they share the treasure and truth of our Orthodox faith. They speak condescendingly of every effort for reconciliation among divided Christians and restoration of their unity as purportedly being “the pan-heresy of ecumenism” without providing the slightest evidence that, in its contacts with non-Orthodox, the Orthodox Church has abandoned or denied the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Church Fathers.

Beloved children in the Lord, Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue. By contrast, when in our day all people strive to resolve their differences through dialogue, Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism. You should have utmost confidence in your Mother Church. For the Mother Church has over the ages preserved and transmitted Orthodoxy even to other nations. And today, the Mother Church is struggling amid difficult circumstances to maintain Orthodoxy vibrant and venerable throughout the world.

From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, this sacred Center of Orthodoxy, we embrace all of you lovingly and bless you paternally, praying that you may journey in health through the holy period of contrition and asceticism known as Holy and Great Lent in order that you may become worthy of celebrating the pure Passion and glorious Resurrection of our Savior Lord with all faithful Orthodox Christians throughout the world.

Sunday of Orthodoxy 2010

† Bartholomew of Constantinople

Fervent supplicant to God for all

† Constantine of Derkon

† Evangelos of Perge

† Kallinikos of Lystra

† Michael of Austria

† Alexios of Atlanta

† Joseph of Proikonnisos

† Demetrios of Sevasteia

† Irenaios of Myriophyton and Peristasis

† Chrysostom of Myra

† Emmanuel of France

† Makarios of Gortyna and Arkadia


  1. The EP has just released a Sunday of Orthodoxy Encyclical which is posted on the GOA website at


    I have to say this one raises eyebrows once again. I wonder why the emphasis on dialogue at this particular moment. The harsh tones also seem to be a specific message. I wonder to whom. Really, just who are this fundamentalist fanatics the EP addresses?

  2. Scott Pennington :

    He lives in an echo chamber.

    There is a danger in dialogue. It is really very simple. Perpetual dialogue creates friendships with heterodox leaders and lust for the worldly accolades that accompany physical meetings. These cause one to fall into the very human trap of wanting to just sweep differences under the rug and sing Kumbaya.

    It happens gradually. This patriarch might decide to convene a pseudo-pan-orthodox synod to change the church calendar. That patriarch might state that it is fine for Orthodox to receive communion from Roman Catholic priests in extremis. This patriarch might purport to withdraw the anathemas of the Great Schism (without any authority to do so since these anathemas were later ratified by the Church as a whole). That patriarch might initiate Orthodox common prayer with schismatics and her*tics (which is clearly uncanonical). These things lead to changes/abandonment of the faith.

    It leads to Bp. Kallistos calling heterodox Christians part of “the Body of Christ”. This is not an isolated incident and Orthodox clergy engaged in the ecumenical movement often speak in similar terms to those used by the heterodox. It leads to the EP receiving the Pope with the honors due an Orthodox bishop. It leads to the Balamand declaration with its un-Orthodox ecclesiology. It leads to Ravenna with its distortion of the Orthodox concept of primacy. It has led to a long list of bad behavior not only by the patriarchs of Constantinople (since Meletios IV) but of other Orthodox sees – – a list too long to include on a blog.

    It leads to questioning, criticism and condemnation by “fundamentalists” like the monks of Mt. Athos and others zealous to maintain the faith.

    There is no mystery as to whom the encyclical is directed. It is directed against everyone who dares question the judgment of HIs All Holiness.

    • Michael Bauman :

      Scott, we compromise with the world and the heretics on matters we should not while putting unequal burdens on the faithful. Depending on which ‘jursidiction’ makes all the difference for things such as marriage, the mystery of penance, even reception into the Church herself, prayer for the departed, etc. Blessings and healing that should be extended to those outside the Church are withheld, while issues of doctrinal importance are compromised.

      If we are the Church as we say and the rest are heretics or schismatics it would seem to make sense not to recognize any of their scaraments as valid. But we really don’t beleive that any longer do we?

      We stand firm on petty legalisms while giving away the store in other ways.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Michael, I like this! “Unequal burdens on the faithful” is a good way of saying something I’ve been feeling. Another way is “self-serving.” I can’t tell you how many priests and bishops (usually in the Phanariote churches) are so quick to twist tradition and canon to their own means while calling those who raise principled questions, “zealots,” etc.

  3. George Michalopulos :

    Fr, I see your point. Though there is much wisdom in this encyclical, it ultimately raises more questions than it answers. Who exactly is he talking about? Why can’t the Phanar just come out and name names? After all, if it is speaking from a plane of authority it has the right and duty to say so. Otherwise it causes innocent people to question their own beliefs. They do need better editors.

  4. Hard to say who he’s speaking about, though my first guess is he’s received flack for his dialogue with the Pope and protestant groups.

    But where will his ecumenism take us? Check out this video on the Ecumenical Patriarch’s Youtube official channel here (timestamp 32:14 – 32:40):

    He brandishes the Koran aloft as he would the Holy Gospels. Then he says this:
    “I have a small souvenir — small and great. Souvenir to Defne and Muktar. This is the Holy Koran, the sacred book of our Muslim brothers and sisters.” (emphasis mine)

    He then presents the book to Defne and Muktar as a gift. Mr. Muhtar Kent, is CEO of Coca-Cola, Defne Kent is his wife.

    In my opinion — although the CEO receiving the Koran is Muslim — this act, plus the wishy-washy de facto universalism of his speech, reduces Orthodoxy to a cotton-candy fluff in the public arena.

    Here is the text of his address:

    Take for example this quote:
    “Indeed, when it comes to spiritual perspectives, our human family is quite diverse – many religions, many interpretations within religions – even a single verse of sacred text can become a source of endless, and more often than not, fruitless argument.”

    Followed by no clarification of the truth of Orthodoxy.

    Somehow I can’t imagine St. Paul or St. John Chrysostom handing out copies of the Koran, even under pain of death.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    Stan, I vividly remember this incident (Atlanta). In the spirit of Great Lent I have tried to modify my strident tone but no matter how hard I try, I cannot help but believe that there is an ulterior motive to a lot of that comes out of Istanbul.

    Upon further reflection, this encyclical appears rather papalistic in that it states that it speaks for all of Orthodoxy. Again, there is much sagacity and wisdom within it but also some unfortunate finger-pointing at unfortunately unnamed individuals. As in so much else that comes from the Phanar, I have a funny feeling that the added paragraphs –plus the supremacist spirit that goes along with it–may result in a blow-back. I’m thinking along the lines of the archimandrite’s scabrous speech last year.

    P.S. As far as Atlanta is concerned, I have a hunch that multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola are helping to underwrite the upcoming episcopal assemblies. Although we should welcome goodwill offerings for the missions of the Church, I’m old enough to realize that these entities give in order to ensnare philanthropies and NGOs into their mindset. Think of the WCC/NCC for that matter –there’s very little Christian about them anymore.

  6. Peter Bouteneff :

    I’m pretty sure that the Patriarch is responding here to the “Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism,” that made some waves in the Greek Orthodox Church last year. (http://www.impantokratoros.gr/FA9AF77F.en.aspx)

    • Thank you for this link. This is a ‘language’ I perfectly understand.

      The Church’s strict stance toward the heterodox springs from true love and sincere concern for their salvation, and out of Her pastoral care that the faithful be not carried away by heresy. Whosoever loves, reveals the truth and does not leave the other in falsehood; otherwise, any love and agreement with him would only be counterfeit and false. There is such a thing as a good war and a bad peace: “…for a praiseworthy war is superior to a peace that separates one from God” says Saint Gregory the Theologian.[21] And Saint John the Chrysostom recommends: “If you should see devoutness infringed upon, do not prefer a oneness of mind to the truth, but stand fast until death… in no way betraying the truth”. And elsewhere, he recommends with emphasis: “Do not accept any false dogma on the pretext of love.”

      If we betray the Truth we’ll end up one big relativistic melting pot, we’ll have ‘solemn’ church services that include ballet and musical instrument performances. If we stand on the sure ground of the Orthodox faith, in a couple of years we’ll have more and more Roman Catholics/Protestants looking for authenticity.

  7. Scott Pennington :

    I e-signed the “Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism” when it came out. I don’t agree with every word and believe its tone is a bit too combative, but in essence I think it needed to be said.

    The correct way to conduct ecumenical dialogue is through the same method as Patriarch Jeremias’ correspondence with the Lutherans. Several exchanges lay out doctrine. Then, if the outcome appears fruitful, concrete moves can begin to start the process of reconciling the heterodox group to Orthodoxy. If not, as in the case of the Lutherans, the conversation regarding doctrine should end.

    It sounds very courageous to say that we have nothing to fear from dialogue, but it misses the mark. It’s not a question of fear. It’s a question of effect.

    The way not to do ecumenism is the way it is done now. Endless papers and conferences with the occasional release of statements that highlight points of agreement and state that other matters need to be “more fully explored”. It is absolutely useless to proceed this way and the only outcome tends to be a sugarcoating or corruption of our faith. The whole process is geared toward perpetual convergence through “deeper understanding”. There is nothing deeper to understand about Papal Infallibility. There is nothing deeper to understand about the Immaculate Conception. The whole mindset of modern ecumenical dialogue is that there is no objective truth and that the purpose of the exercise is “getting to yes”. It is a negotiation. The Truth is not negotiable

    Take the Immaculate Conception for instance. I have heard Uniates argue that the Orthodox doctrine regarding the Theotokos’ conception and the RC doctrine are just different “expressions” of the same underlying reality. This is nonsense. Either the stain of original sin/guilt was removed from the Theotokos miraculously at the moment of her conception, or it was not. Orthodox teaching is that there was no stain of guilt to remove. People who argue that this is simply a different expression of Orthodoxy either must not believe that miracles happen or believe that each church has just come to rationalize the situation in different ways. Or, to put it differently, they don’t actually literally believe any of this stuff so smoothing over the differences doesn’t seem like a big deal.

    I would prefer them to be honest and just admit to faithlessness.

    It has come to the point that I have heard a number of Greek clergy and laity state that RC’ism is not necessarily her*tical. Now, it may be that we should be prudent and not be needlessly offensive. We don’t need to state the whole truth at every opportunity. However, mistating the situation is wrong. St. Gregory Palamas held it was her*esy. St. Mark of Ephesus thought so. And in 1848, 22 years before the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was proclaimed, the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria, with their synods, stated that Roman teaching is her*tical. How much more so now!

    You have to look at motivations. Ecumenists look forward to the day when the OC and the RCC will “reconcile”. They know that RC’s would never accept reconciliation to the Church as her*tics. Thus, the fudging. They use creative reasoning to get to where they want to go.

    Ecumenism not only corrupts the Orthodox and wastes time and money, it also takes our focus off evangelism (which some dismiss derisively as “proselytism”). It bears stating and restating: Don’t try to convert Roman Catholicism/Protestantism, convert Roman Catholics/Protestants.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      You have the look at the doctrine of Papal Infallibility in cultural terms. (Yes, I realize the Roman Catholics see it differently.) It was a response to the liberalizing of European culture. The Protestant apologetic of the infallibility of scripture arose right at the same time. Both were, in other words, a defensive reaction; an assertion of authority in a time when the influence Christianity held over culture began to wane.

      The real problem however, lies in the notion of “infallibility.” There is no such thing as infallibility, not really, and the post-modernists are quite right in pointing this out. Post-modernism leaves a lot to be desired, but some of their critiques are correct, nonetheless. Further, Rome implicitly acknowledged that the doctrine needs some tuning when they opened the door to examining it.

      An implicit sense of infallibility can operate in Orthodox circles too. We just shift the locus away from Rome and the Protestants and elevate something else in its place, much like elevating tradition to the level of scripture that we talked about earlier. No real difference in presuppositions here, just application.

      I know some readers are reading the phrase “there is no such thing as infallibility…” to mean “all things are relative.” That’s not what I mean at all, but given current cultural apologetics, I can understand why people might read it that way.

      My point is that ground of authority does not rest in structures that ostensibly “prove” Christ true (tnotions of scriptural or papal infallibility, the infallibility of tradition, whatever). Rather, the authority rests in Him who is Truth. “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” Nothing can stand higher than Him who is Truth. Building structures that ostensibly prove the truth of Christ’s words in fact elevates the structures above Christ (the veracity of Christ’s words are dependent on them). They will inevitably come tumbling down however, since the Gospel will obliterate anything that seeks to contain it.

      This does not mean that any kind of structure is superfluous. Clearly this is not true. But the structures are not the ground or final locus of truth, that is, their authority is derivative, not primary.

  8. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Scott, your logic is tight, but what about cooperation against the “cultured despisers”? Would you rule that out too?

    • Scott Pennington :

      Father Johannes,

      If by “cultured despisers” you mean those who despise Christian religion and culture in North America and Europe, then I don’t see any reason not to cooperate (short of common prayer, etc.) in battling them. It could be a fine line and guidelines ought to be set up by the synods. I saw that the ROC actually has made some moves to do this – – specifying for example that Orthodox can pray at neutral locations set up for the purpose of allowing any group to use the facility or area. That, of course, is different than common prayer.

      The difficulty, if it arises, would stem from the fact that when you get religious people together in the same place in common causes such as pro-life or pro-family demonstrations, etc., they will tend to want to pray as part of the event. It would be better if the Orthodox were led by an Orthodox priest or bishop and the Catholics/Protestants were led by their own clergy. I don’t think Orthodox should be led in prayer, even at a neutral site, by non-Orthodox.

      If the EP or the Patriarch of Moscow want to cooperate and sign joint statements with the RCC or with conservative Protestants regarding common ground on abortion, birth control, family life, etc., I can’t see the harm in that. We’re talking about a common inheritance of moral teaching. I think the Orthodox should avoid endorsing newly minted neo-Catholic teachings like opposition to the death penalty. We should also be cautious in regard to echoing Catholic sentiments on social justice.

      That’s just my two cents.

    • IMO we don’t need to dilute the Orthodox Faith with cultural excuses and excesses.

      One can be charismatic in the secular sense but won’t ever have the impact that St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco had on Fr. Seraphim Rose.
      His power consisted in the many miracles that he worked and the love and simplicity with which he received Eugen Rose. St. John turned the dying spark in his soul into fire.

      Others, like Fr Alexander Schmemann dealt with philosophical problems and psychological issues and turned the Orthodoxy into an intellectual Orthodoxy.

      I sincerely believe that mostly the prayers of true monks, imploring God’s mercy for all of us can make a lasting, beneficial change.

  9. Christopher Mahon :

    Scott Pennington sets up a false canard about the Catholic Church’s Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception when he writes:

    “Take the Immaculate Conception for instance. I have heard Uniates argue that the Orthodox doctrine regarding the Theotokos’ conception and the RC doctrine are just different “expressions” of the same underlying reality. This is nonsense. Either the stain of original sin/guilt was removed from the Theotokos miraculously at the moment of her conception, or it was not. Orthodox teaching is that there was no stain of guilt to remove.”

    Lest anyone start accusing the Catholic Church of teaching anything contrary to what Mr Pennington holds to be the Orthodox Faith, I’d like to quote the actual pertinent doctrinal definition:

    “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

    In summation, the Blessed Theotokos was preserved from all stain of sin, not relieved of an existing stain after the fact, as Mr Pennington implies as the Catholic belief.

    The Holy Virgin was always Panagia and Archrantos. The Catholic Church’s doctrine is not contradictory to the Orthodox doctrine.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Christopher, the problem with the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is its dependence on Augustinian anthropology. You still see vestiges of it in terms like “merits of Jesus Christ” that in Augustinian soteriology understands the term as a transaction. Granted, the Augustinian framework has shed some of its former prominence thus leading to a softening of the apologetic defense of the doctrine. Clearly though, it only makes sense within that framework.

      Scott is quite right when he says in the Orthodox view there is no stain of sin to remove. Orthodoxy does not see the successors of Adam bearing the guilt of Adam’s sin (a guilt that is “paid” by Christ, hence “transaction.”). Rather we share in the results of Adam’s sin, which is death. Each of us is responsible for our sins alone.

      “Original sin” then, means two different things in the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. In the RC, it means that we share in the guilt of Adam’s sin, a penalty that Christ came to pay. In the Orthodox Church, it means that we share in the results of Adam’s sin, namely death; a condition that Christ came to heal by destroying death.

      The Catholic and Orthodox can both agree that the Theotokos is sinless, but the Orthodox don’t employ the Augustinian soteriology to get there. It simply is not necessary, and it also shades how the Orthodox comprehend how the salvific work of Christ is accomplished in each one of us.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Mr. Mahon,

      If I misstated Catholic doctrine on the subject, I apologize. Nonetheless, the point holds as Fr. Johannes explains above. Whether the Theotokos was cleansed or preserved from the stain of original sin/guilt, either way the whole definition is foreign to Orthodoxy. It is a solution in search of a non-existent problem. A gentleman named Anselm popularized the Augustinian definition of original sin in the West around the time of the Great Schism. The Orthodox do not believe in the “original guilt” part of “original sin” as Fr. Johannes explains. Therefore, to decree that it is a catholic dogma of the Church, to be believed by all the faithful, that there was a miraculous preservation (“. . . by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God . . .”) from what would otherwise have been the stain of original sin/guilt, is still something foreign to Orthodoxy. Either it happened or it did not.

      A common definition of her*sy being the mandate of a doctrine as catholic which in fact does not enjoy catholicity (or contradicts the faith in some way), my point holds.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Be careful of the “heresy” charge Scott. Remember, you are looking at history through eyes of a highly rationalized twenty-first century man. We all do this because we are highly influenced by the culture in which we live.

        For example, Orthodox or not, we read Anslem through Calvinized eyes, which is to say as a systematic theology. But Anselm was not a modern, but a medievalist which meant his imagination was more poetic than scientific. Words didn’t exist to describe postulates, but to penetrate more deeply into truths understood to be woven in the fabric of creation. You can read Anselm’s “Why God Became Man” as an exercise in mystic contemplation and be quite correct in doing so.

        IOW, I don’t think you can indict him on the charges you brought forward.

        • Scott Pennington :

          I was going to post this under your explanation of the context of the doctrine of Papal infallibility, but you posted what is immediately above and my comment is pertinent to both of yours. As far as Anselm, I do not blame him for the modern doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I should have been clearer above. I only mentioned Anselm as one link in the chain of events that led to Rome’s proclamation of the Immaculate Conception as dogma. I do believe that the Immaculate Conception is her*sy, as is Papal Infalliblility. However, my indictment, if there was one, was not of Anselm but of Rome.

          Fr. Johannes,

          If you’re stating, as some Orthodox scholars hold, that a truly ecumenical council is the highest earthly authority on disputed questions of faith, but not necessarily infallible in the literal sense of the word, then I would not argue with you on that point.

          There is a deeper problem with Roman doctrines than the cultural context in which they arose, or in how seriously Rome takes them at any given time. What Rome presumes to do is to decree a doctrine as catholic; i.e., as having always been part of the teaching of the Church, explicitly or by necessary implication. In declaring this or that doctrine to be catholic dogma, they declare it must be believed by all the Church as essential teaching of the Church. That is to say, it is not just a theologoumenon (which, in any case, could not contradict anything in Holy Tradition).

          To declare as catholic doctrine, and demand its acceptance by the whole Church, something which in fact is not part of Holy Tradition but may even contradict it, is her*sy. Again, I do not use the term in a pejorative sense, but a technical sense (if it’s possible to separate the two; what I really mean is I don’t intend it as an insult).

          Fr. Thomas Hopko several years ago delivered a paper on what reforms Rome would need to undertake in order to transform it into an Orthodox church. It’s an interesting list. Not all Orthodox would be satisfied with the reforms he suggests; however, it’s not a bad place to start. It should become clear though after reading it that there is wide gulf that separates Rome from us. I have also heard Met. Hilarion (Alfayev) of the ROC imply that reconciliation of Rome to the Orthodox faith might take hundreds of years, if it comes. It is good to be sober about these matters.

      • Christopher Mahon :

        Father Johannes and Mr Pennington, thank you for the responses. I was responding, perhaps too narrowly, to one particular point about the stain being ‘removed’ from the Blessed Mother rather than her being ‘preserved’ from it, but I think my general point still stands: that the Catholic doctrine is not to be understood as contradicting the Orthodox doctrine. Even were it just posited as a theologoumenon, if a doctrine does not contradict orthodoxy, how can one condemn it as a heresy until the Church further defines orthodoxy as excluding it?

        Father, you spoke of the results of Adam’s sin as a “condition that Christ came to destroy.” I’m not an expert, but I would suggest that the Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to contextualize the language of the doctrine along those lines:

        “…we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice… original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act. Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice…”

        “…Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses…”

        Thus, while some would argue otherwise, it would seem there is a way of seeing the Eastern and Western beliefs as compatible and not contradictory. Mr Pennington, one problem is the language of ‘Original Guilt’. That language is not used in the definitions of the Catholic Church and should not be confused with Catholic dogma. The Greek translation of the Catechism apparently doesn’t even use the phrase ‘original sin’ but ‘προπατορική αμαρτία’ (ancestral sin). The doctrine does, however, preclude the idea that the Theotokos was cleansed of ancestral sin only at her birth or the time of the Annunication.

        • Scott Pennington :


          “Even were it just posited as a theologoumenon, if a doctrine does not contradict orthodoxy, how can one condemn it as a her*sy until the Church further defines orthodoxy as excluding it?”

          A legitimate theologoumenon cannot contradict Holy Tradition. A theologoumenon is a pious opinion, held by some, with some basis in the Fathers, which was not so widespread a belief as to be considered catholic and thus binding on all.

          Rome did not proclaim this doctrine as a theologoumenon but as dogma. It’s not pick and choose how you want to see it.

          Also, the doctrine does contradict Orthodoxy. Rome has presumed to insist that this doctrine, the Immaculate Conception, be accepted by all faithful Christians as essential to the catholic faith. It is not essential and it is not the catholic faith. It presumes a definition of original sin (or ancestral sin, which is a more accurate translation of the Greek, as you point out) foreign to Orthodoxy. If it were not a stain of guilt which passes to Adam’s decendants then why invent the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to begin with? Also, as you stated in quoting the definition of this dogma, it states that a miraculous event took place. Did this event take place or not?

          “Thus, while some would argue otherwise, it would seem there is a way of seeing the Eastern and Western beliefs as compatible and not contradictory.”

          I do not dispute for a moment that there is “a way of seeing the Eastern and Western beliefs as compatible and not contradictory.” It is simply not an Orthodox viewpoint. It is called Uniatism.

          I do not wish to seem impolite, but I have had these discussions with Roman Catholics before and prefer not to pursue them since they go on endlessly with neither side really listening to the other. You would attempt to convince me that Roman Catholicism is not mutually exclusive with Orthodoxy. I’m sure it is for any number of reasons. Papal Infallibility is contradictory and mutually exclusive of the Orthodox doctrine of concilliarity. Whatever else might be true, the Orthodox Church could never accept what has been declared as Catholic dogma by Vatican I and II. Rome cannot backpedal and claim, “Oh, you know that stuff about Papal Infallibility, we were just kidding. Don’t take that seriously.” It seems sometimes like certain Catholics assert a position something like that. It does not speak too well of them that they make light of what their church holds as infallible doctrine.

          What has happened, essentially, is that for over a thousand years, Rome has progressively painted itself in a corner, assembling an indefensible array of specious doctrines which now some Catholics wish to distance themselves from in the name of ecumenism. But most Orthodox are really not interested in playing the game. I do not suggest that this is your preoccupation, Christopher, but Rome’s preoccupation, since the time of Charlemagne, has been with power, not truth.

          Become as you once were (that is, what Rome was before the Great Schism and before the whole period of Charlemagne and St. Photios), and you will become Orthodox.

          • Scott Pennington :


            I do not wish to discourage you from coming to AOI and posting. If anything I wrote last evening came across as harsh then I assure you that was not my intention. I also do suggest that you visit an Orthodox church near you and, if you find a well educated priest there, discuss these issues with him. There are similarities between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, but in my experience, when you look closely at some of the apparent similarities it becomes clear that even they diverge. This is to be expected when two churches developed independent of one another in different locations and contexts for the last thousand years or so.

          • Christopher Mahon :

            Scott, thanks for your comment of 10:13am this morning. You’re right that “This is to be expected when two churches developed independent of one another in different locations and contexts for the last thousand years or so.” That’s why I’m so thankful for men like Pope Benedict XVI, Patriarch Kyrill and Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), who understand the urgent need for the Churches of East and West to work together in proclaiming the Gospel and defying the enemy.

          • Scott Pennington :

            post withdrawn

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

          Christoper, do you have access to an older copy of the Catholic Catechism, one closer to the ruling? You will see that the definition of the Immaculate Conception has been softened only recently. The older definition as I recall is uniformly Augustinian in the explanation.

          • Christopher Mahon :

            Father, I’m not sure what older definition you’re referring to. The Catechism is an authoritative work of the Holy See in terms of gauging what the Church teaches. I’d be curious to know what that older definition is.

            Scott, my point about the theologoumenon was not that Rome posits this doctrine as such but that, should one not accepts Rome’s authority to define a dogma, even were you to consider it only as a theologoumenon of Rome you could not yourself define it as heresy unless you had an equal or greater authority defining orthodoxy as excluding the doctrine in question.

            Part and parcel of that point is that you cannot yourself interpret Rome’s doctrinal definitions against the sense in which Rome itself says they are to be held. If Rome defines the Immaculate Conception as having occurred using the phrase ‘original sin’ you cannot then go around telling people Rome has defined ‘original sin’ as ‘original guilt’, for that is clearly misrepresenting what is meant by the doctrine and what it is exactly that Rome considers authoritatively proclaimed. This is especially the case when Rome herself uses the phrase ‘ancestral sin’ in certain translations.

            Giving Rome the charitable benefit of the doubt, you have to take them at their word. If Rome says “what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses” is that “…Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception” then that is the meaning of Rome’s teaching, not what you suppose it to be.

            The sanctifying grace we receive in Baptism, and which the unbaptized go without, Mary was never without. That is the main point of the Immaculate Conception. Is there an ecumenical council which denies that?

          • Scott Pennington :


            See Fr. Johannes’ point at 16 below. Also, and I don’t mean this as any affront to you personally, but I do not take Rome at its word of what a doctrine means when the meaning has “drifted” over time in light of Rome’s changing objectives. That is part of what I was referring to above when I wrote above, “. . .Rome has progressively painted itself in a corner, assembling an indefensible array of specious doctrines which now some Catholics wish to distance themselves from in the name of ecumenism.”

            You seem to believe that unless an ecumenical council condemns something, it is part of the Orthodox faith. This is not so. Mormonism, Protestantism, etc. would be considered correct if that were the case. All that is necessary for them to do is to state something as official teaching/dogma that contradicts Orthodoxy. Councils do not address every dispute with those outside the Church.

            Regarding original sin, original guilt and ancestral sin: The Greek New Testament uses words which have been translated as “original sin” or “ancestral sin”. I believe the latter is more accurate. When I used the term original guilt, I was referring to the fact that in Western Christianity it has been taught for nearly 1000 years that Adams sin passed on to his descendants as a stain of guilt. This is not the Orthodox understanding of what original sin or ancestral sin means. The Immaculate Conception was formulated in order to explain how the Theotokos could conceive and give birth to Christ without passing this stain on to Him. That was the problem Rome saw, given its understanding of original/ancestral sin. This problem only arises if you have an un-Orthodox understanding of original/ancestral sin. Either the miraculous event referred to by the original statement of the doctrine occured or it did not. If it did, then Roman Catholicism’s understanding of original sin is correct and Orthodoxy is lacking in a fundamental of the faith; if not, then Orthodoxy is correct and Rome just made up a false doctrine to fill a hole created by another false doctrine. But you can’t have it both ways.

          • Christopher Mahon :

            “Either the miraculous event referred to by the original statement of the doctrine occured or it did not. If it did, then Roman Catholicism’s understanding of original sin is correct and Orthodoxy is lacking in a fundamental of the faith; if not, then Orthodoxy is correct and Rome just made up a false doctrine to fill a hole created by another false doctrine. But you can’t have it both ways.”

            Scott, obviously we have differing perspectives on the doctrinal definition in question, but that’s exactly my point: the Immaculate Conception did occur, but the Catholic Church’s position on it has never been defined as precisely what you seem to think it once was. The definition cannot be said to have ‘drifted’, although perhaps the understanding of it has, which is a different thing.

            In addition, my point about the Councils was that they never defined the orthodox doctrine in a way that precludes the Catholic doctrine as explained by the Catechism. Thus, by what standard can you say the Catholic doctrine as taught in the Catechism “contradicts Orthodoxy”?

            The Catholic Encyclopedia was not a work of the Holy See but a privately developed work. It’s an incredibly rich resource, but it’s not authoritative in the way that the Catechism is. Neither are individual Catholic explications of doctrine authoritative in the way a papal or conciliar definition is.

            I’ve read a number of things written in generations past that sincerely attempt to teach the ‘Catholic’ Faith but which include doctrines that are poorly explained or sometimes even downright false. That fact does not mean the Church is changing her doctrine when she later more clearly teaches doctrines in an authoritative text.

          • George Michalopulos :

            Christopher, I totally agree with your assessment. Just because we may never unite theologically/ecclesiologically doesn’t mean that we can’t unite to stave off the coming barbarism. I very much don’t believe that +Benedict wants a union for the sake of union. He doesn’t even care if the RC church becomes smaller. He’d rather have more sincere people in it than nominalists.

          • Scott Pennington :

            “…by which gift every stain and fault, all depraved emotions, passions, and debilities, essentially pertaining to original sin, were excluded. But she was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam — from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death.” – From Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, article on Immaculate Conception [emphasis mine]

            “‘It is unjust to make us responsible for an act committed before our birth.’ Strictly responsible, yes; responsible in a wide sense of the word, no; the crime of a father brands his yet unborn children with shame, and entails upon them a share of his own responsibility.” – From Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, article on Original Sin (addressing objections thereto) [emphasis mine]

            The quotes above are from The Catholic Encyclopedia published in the early 1900’s which received official approval from the RCC at that time: “Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.”

            “The Greek patristic understanding of man never denies the unity of mankind or replaces it with a radical individualism. The Pauline doctrine of the two Adams [cf. 1 Cor 15:22], as well as the Platonic concept of the ideal man, leads Gregory of Nyssa to understand Genesis 1:27 — “God created man in His own image” — to refer to the creation of mankind as a whole [De opif hom 16; PG 44:185B]. It is obvious, therefore, that the sin of Adam must also be related to all men, just as salvation brought by Christ is salvation for all mankind; but neither original sin nor salvation can be realized in an individual’s life without involving his personal and free responsibility…. A number of Byzantine authors, including [Patriarch] Photius, understood the -eph ho- to mean ‘because’ [from Romans 5:12 “because all men sinned”] and saw nothing in the Pauline text beyond a moral similarity between Adam and other sinners, death being the normal retribution for sin. But there is also the consensus of the majority of Eastern Fathers, who interpret Romans 5:12 in close connection with 1 Corinthians 15:22 — between Adam and his descendants there is a solidarity IN DEATH just as there is a solidarity IN LIFE between the risen Lord and the baptized….The sentence [of Romans 5:12] then may have a meaning which seems improbable to a reader trained in Augustine, but which is indeed the meaning which most Greek Fathers accepted:

            ‘As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men; and BECAUSE OF DEATH, all men have sinned….’

            “There is indeed a consensus in Greek patristic and Byzantine traditions in identifying the inheritance of the Fall as an inheritance essentially of mortality rather than of sinfulness, sinfulness being merely a consequence of mortality.” (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology : Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes [NY : Fordham Univ Press, 1974], page 143-145)

            “What does this mean, ‘Because all have sinned’ [Rom 5:12] ? In that fall even those who did not eat of the tree — all did from the transgression [of Adam] become mortal….” (Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans 10:1-2)

            Now whatever Rome wants to reinterpret it’s dogma of 1854 as meaning, it should be clear from the above that: a) original sin in the RCC means, at least in part, guilt, (if not, then a dogma is a mere construct of words which can be gutted and filled with any meaning you like, much like the Warren Court’s view of the Constitution) b) it does not mean guilt in the Orthodox understanding, c) the Immaculate Conception was invented to solve the problem of the transmission of guilt, not death, to the Theotokos and, therefore d) it is incompatible with Orthodox teaching.

            It just doesn’t seem to be getting through to you that the very fact that Rome proclaimed as dogma the Immaculate Conception is, in itself, contrary to Orthodox teaching. They had no authority to do so and, regardless, the doctrine was invented to solve a problem created by an erroneous understanding of original sin. There’s no way to reconcile that with Orthodoxy. It is meaningless to us, except as a symptom of an erroneous understanding of the Christian faith.

          • Christopher Mahon :

            I still don’t think we’re getting at the root of the problem, but that’s why there are Joint International Commissions for Theological Dialogue! Wouldn’t it be cool to be a fly on the wall for those conversations!

            George, thanks for your comments. I think you’re right on about the coming barbarism. I think Generals Benedict and Kyrill and Hilarion and their ilk want to marshall Christians in defence. That said, I don’t think we shouldn’t have union for union’s sake, just that it has to be properly prepared and happen in God’s time. After all, Jesus prayed specifically for unity, so that alone is a good enough reason to work for eventual union. In other words, we shouldn’t unite by papering over our differences but by growing together in charity and mutual understanding. Uniting in arms to ‘stave off the barbarism’ is a step in that direction.

            Similarly the split a thousand years ago didn’t happen overnight, but as Scott said previously, because we developed independently in different locations and contexts, and did so without enough charity for each other. Crusader atrocities, political polemics and cultural differences certainly didn’t help either.

          • Scott Pennington :

            5. If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema. – Fifth Session, Decree on Original Sin, Council of Trent

          • Christopher Mahon :

            Boy, Scott, you sure are making me do my research!

            I’m not an expert theologian by any means, but there is indeed an essential distinction surrounding this debate about ‘guilt’ that needs to be made.

            You quoted an English version of one of the decrees of the Council of Trent including the phrase ‘guilt of original sin’, which unfortunately is not a theologically precise translation of the Latin original, ‘reatum originalis peccati’. Of course the Latin original is what is authoritative and I would posit it does not mean what you’ve implied it means in contradiction to the Orthodox position, although I could see how that conclusion could easily be drawn.

            I found an explanation online that says it better than I could:

            “In Catholic theology the guilt (culpa) for original sin rests with Adam and Eve alone. They were the ones who committed the sin, and they alone are held responsible for it. We, as their descendents, suffer the consequence (reatum) of their sin. As such, we are born without the benefits our first parents received as gifts from God, which include sanctifying grace and the preternatural gifts.

            “This is how the Online Catholic Encyclopedia describes it:

            “According to Catholic theology man has not lost his natural faculties: by the sin of Adam he has been deprived only of the Divine gifts to which his nature had no strict right, the complete mastery of his passions, exemption from death, sanctifying grace, the vision of God in the next life…. Original sin is the privation of sanctifying grace in consequence of the sin of Adam. This solution, which is that of St. Thomas, goes back to St. Anselm and even to the traditions of the early Church, as we see by the declaration of the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529): one man has transmitted to the whole human race not only the death of the body, which is the punishment of sin, but even sin itself, which is the death of the soul [Denz., n. 175 (145)]. As death is the privation of the principle of life, the death of the soul is the privation of sanctifying grace which according to all theologians is the principle of supernatural life. Therefore, if original sin is ‘the death of the soul,’ it is the privation of sanctifying grace” (www.newad­vent.org; italics added).

            “Confusion arises because the term “sin” is used here in a technical theological sense and not in a strictly moral sense. We are not held responsible for Adam’s sin, but we do suffer the effect of it.

            “The allegation that we share in the guilt of the sin of our first parents is based on an incorrect reading of Canon 5 [sic – it’s from Art. 5 of the Decree on Original Sin from Session 5] from Trent, which states, “If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema” (italics added).

            “The phrase “guilt of original sin” (reatum originalis peccati) is once again a euphemism for the privation of sanctifying grace. The following article gives the details:

            “It is essential here to focus on the dogmatic term being translated as ‘guilt’: the Latin reatum. Its meaning in what is now a long-dead language is primarily legal, and is weaker than that of the English term ‘guilt.’ As the classicist and philosopher Scott Carson has pointed out: ‘In Roman law to be reatus means to be liable to or actually under an indictment or a sentence; culpa refers to actual guilt for wrongdoing. (In some contexts, culpa refers to the actual act of wrongdoing, while reatus refers to the state of the wrongdoer that accrues as a consequence of the culpa.)… The two words are sometimes used together in theological contexts in such a way as to suggest that reatus is used to mean guilt in the sense of having incurred a guilt-debt as a consequence of wrongdoing. Two significant usages are: reatus poena and reatus culpa. The former refers to our guilt-debt of punishment for sin, the latter our guilt-debt of moral culpability or fault for sin. It is our reatus culpa that is removed by absolution; our reatus poena remains, hence we perform some penance…. Now when the dogmatic texts speak of the reatum of original sin, they are speaking of a kind of reatus poena, which means “liability to punishment” without presupposing personal fault (i.e., culpa) on the part of the one thus liable. So, the descendants of our first parents are made liable to punishment, i.e. reatus, for what was really only the culpa of our first parents, i.e. the Fall'” (mlic­cione.blogspot.com).”

            Sorry for the lengthy quote. The point of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not that a certain Augustinian view of transmitted culpability is definitively true, and in fact it seems that’s not what the doctrine was talking about at all.

            Instead it seems the doctrine’s point is to definitively and authoritatively teach that the Blessed Virgin was never without Our Lord’s sanctifying graces, in contrast to the rest of us. If that is how the doctrine is understood than I think my original point is still valid, i.e. that it does not contradict but reinforces what most Orthodox Churches believe about Our Lady.

          • Scott Pennington :


            Whatever else may be true, the RCC invented a doctrine which states that the Theotokos was miraculously prevented from acquiring some elements of (the RCC’s concept of) original sin (excluding physical consequences like death, etc.). This divine intervention never happened. There was nothing to prevent. The Immaculate Conception is not a catholic teaching because it was not taught in the East before the Schism so it could not possibly be something that was believed “always, by everyone, everywhere” even by implication. It is a false doctrine solving another problem created by a false doctrine.

            If the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not mean that the Theotokos was preserved from inheriting Adam’s guilt, but not prevented from inheriting the physical consequences of the first sin, then it is meaningless. If you are arguing that it is meaningless, then I agree. But why do you need a false miracle to accomplish – – nothing?

            Or to put it a different way, that taint which the RCC claims is prevented by the Immaculate Conception, and which somehow would have defiled the Theotokos, and thus also Christ, is a taint which the OC denies exists. The fact that we agree that the Theotokos did not have it is not the point. Man does not have it.

            Also, for someone who has previously suggested that Catholic encyclopedias aren’t necessarily accurate in their representations of doctrine, you seem to be relying on them quite heavily to prove your point.

            Regardless, as I quoted above, from the same source:

            “…by which gift every stain and fault, all depraved emotions, passions, and debilities, essentially pertaining to original sin, were excluded. But she was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam — from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death.” – From Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, article on Immaculate Conception [emphasis mine]

            If the RCC wants to redefine their doctrines so as to be inoffensive to the Orthodox faith, they should just repudiate the Immaculate Conception and the Augustinian version of original sin along with Papal Infallibility, purgatory, indulgences; the absolute, immediate and universal jurisdiction of the Pope, created grace, etc. Trying to convince us that these doctrines do not mean what they originally purported to mean is useless. We already have a complete faith which we take seriously enough not to redefine for political purposes.

            One other thing though, Christopher. I think you misunderstand the whole Orthodox attitude toward ecumenism. It is not a question of making the doctrines of the RCC “compatible” or “not incompatible” with those of the Orthodox Church. In our view, Rome left the Church long ago. Those innovations which she fostered before and after the Schism are no part of catholic doctrine. You speak as if it would be sufficient for Rome to explain its doctrines in a way inoffensive to the Orthodox Church. This misses the point. In order for reconciliation to take place, Rome would have to accept the Orthodox faith, on the Church’s own terms, including doctrine and ecclesiology, without addition, as the only dogma Rome holds.

            That may take centuries, if ever.

          • Paragraph 62, from the 1941 Baltimore Catechism [my only copy on hand. Question: “Was any human person ever preserved from original sin?”
            Answer: “The Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from original sin in view of the merits of her Divine Son, and this privilege is called her Immaculate Conception.”

            This late medieval answer first appeared in the theological metaphysics of Duns Scotus [1266-1308], a Scottish Franciscan theologian and philosopher, not more than two centuries after the Great Schism.

            Elaboration of the means of preserving the Theotokos from “original” or so-called genetic sin is laid out by Duns Scotus in several places. While Mary’s “haecceitic” preservation from the stain is unique to Scotus, the doctrine that sin is universal and required payment of debt by Christ’s sacrifice [cf. ‘Cur Deus homo’] had been received from Augustine and Augustine’s descendants such as Anselm.

            Similar wording appears in the on-line “Catholic Catechism” on the Vatican website.

          • Scott Pennington :


            I never disputed that the Immaculate Conception is Roman Catholic doctrine. It just has nothing to do with Orthodoxy. The RCC and the OC do not hold the same faith.

            Or perhaps you were just introducing an example of previous RCC catechisms as Fr. Johannes suggested above?

  10. Michael Bauman :

    Interesting exchange. It seems to point up our dilemma as a Church.

    1. What is authentic Orthodox practice?

    2. How are we to witness to the faith?

    Given the fact the the Church is struggling to recover from the persecution and Segianism of life under the Soviets and is still under the ‘Turkish Yoke’ and its dhimmitude in many ways, it is difficult to find real answers to these questions.

    One way I’m sure will not work is each and everyone deciding for themselves what the answers are. We must submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In Orthodox tradition that usually means adhering to the decisions of Holy Synods. That brings up another two fold problem:

    1. We frequently have little or no trust in our bishops (mostly becasue they are too few and disconnected from us);
    2. No synods that are functional.

    A word on ‘dialog’. IMO the very precept is a problem. The word itself tends to connote an eqalitarian belief that all theological and religious expression is equivalent and equally worth of discussion. Approached with that mind set, such ‘dialog’ will always lead to a dilution of the faith and ultimately heresy

    • Orthodoxy is in the humility of the saints of the Living God. They all belong to the line of the fishermen of Galilee, but it does not mean that they all were illiterate. The Tradition of the Church was expressed in the local language by St John Maximovitch and by his disciple Fr Seraphim.

      Intellectuals and philosophers can’t built a Church, they can initiate a mere sociological phenomenon with traces of spirituality. Problems can be solved by living the Orthodox Faith – not thinking about it. Placing our trust in the cleverness of the minds of fallen men is not the way. This “cleverness” is most often political opportunism.

      • Michael Bauman :

        Eliot, just a caution: Fr. Seraphim is attractive to many, draws many to the Church because of the work of his mind–his intellect. Clearly he worked hard to submit his intellect to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the building up of the Church. He worked just as hard to witness with the rest of his life as well: thus his assertion that it was not important to be able to quote the Fathers, but it was important to seek the mind of the Fathers,i.e., the integrated human being expressing the love and mercy of Jesus Christ by word, thought and deed.

        As you probably know, Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Alexander met late in their lives and reconciled their differences. Although it may be just a pious legend, I believe Fr. Alexander made the comment that he and Fr. Seraphim might well end up on the same icon some day (referring to the pairing St. Peter and St. Paul). Can we not be as charitable?

        • I would say that this is a legend which lacks piety.
          Such a comment is actually unorthodox. The miracle-working saints were trying to hide and treasure in their hearts their God-given gift. An elder said that the one who thinks is a saint is in a very bad state. We should have always in mind the The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

          • My understanding of the purported comment by Fr. Alexander was not that he was actually saying either were saints, but that despite their differences in this life, Christ reconciles all for those who love Him. The two were reconciled in this life and certainly remain so. If they are both revealed to the Church as saints, it would not surprise me but that is not for me to decide.

            Personally I value the witness of both Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Alexander.

            That is not to say that intellectualism is not a problem but we need to be vigilent about it in ourselves and in the here and now. We are all infected with rationlistic humanism. We must also guard against the equally evil twin of pietism. Both are part of the legalistic understanding of justification prevalent in the West that breeds many false dichotomies.

            Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, except without sin. It is all too easy to slip to one side or the other Christologically, it is equally easy to ignore the anthropological implications of the incarnational reality.

            What does it meant to be fully human?

            You are correct that the lives of the saints reveal it to us, but it is not the life of one particular saint.

  11. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Eliot, intellectuals and philosophers can help build the Church, however. In fact, I think they are necessary to it. What were many of the Fathers if not intellectuals? I think it is more accurate to say that nothing can build the Church except a life lived in the Gospel, which is to say “in the Spirit” — to quote St. Paul, since they work synonymously. Humility, as you say, is the key here. From there, each person can employ the gifts and talents God gave him in responsible ways.

    • Yes, they can help strengthen the Church if, as Michael said, they succeed to submit the intellect to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

      Unfortunately, in recent past and in recent times the intellectuals were the corrupters. They were too quick dismiss the customs of the Church as “old fashioned” and “not accepted amongst educated people” and a large crowd followed them. They are eager to “modernize” the Church and abandon its Tradition. They trust the cleverness of the minds of fallen men and question the minds and hearts purified by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

  12. Lets rewind here. What I see when I read this letter is a tragic failure to offer Orthodox Christian Leadership to the world. We have an EP who touts the merits of dialogue and yet goes off the deep end and calls those who oppose his viewpoint fanatics and bigots.

    One thing is certain. This letter is not so much about dialogue as it is about creating a division between the “enlightened” and the “unenlightened”

    The EP has certainly lectured us all on the immaturity of the American Church and the “maturity” of Constantinople. Yet to me this letter is a complete failure when it comes to Spiritual Fatherhood and Orthodox Leadership. Does any serious Father treat their Children this way? Does a Father who loves his children call them bigots and fanatics?

    Sorry but this letter is an example of immaturity and shows the Phanar’s inability resolve differences in a mature and fatherly fashion. Readers of this letter who have a desire to see the Church heal and grow are left to feel like spiritual orphans once again. If this scorched earth attitude is what the EP will bring to the upcoming episcopal assemblies then things are going to get ugly.

    On a final note, I think it is ironic that the EP wants to call people fanatics. For the past 10 years or more the EP has been completed seduced by the politics of man made global warming. He was 100% on board for the paranoia of climate change and the politics of Copenhagen. Yet all of this is now clearly exposed as one the great political frauds and lies in history. The EP lent his authority to support this lie.

    The Green Patriarch was seduced by environmental fanaticism and paranoia. Did he hold a “dialogue” with climate change skeptics? No, he kept beating the drum of fear and I would ultimately say “fanaticism”.

  13. George Michalopulos :

    Andrew, excellent points all. Truth be told, I haven’t quite put my finger on what precisely was the spirit behind the EP’s. All I know is that it disturbed me: was I one of the fanatics? My friends? The monastery I like to go too? The local Orthodox parish? The ecumenical pro-life crowd that I’m part of? The fact that Orthodox Christians throughout the world have to parse his letters, that is not be able to take their words as they are, is just as disturbing to me as its implied anathemas.

    P.S. I do think that the Church needs devoted intellectuals as well as pious ascetics.

  14. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    The theological reasoning behind the Immaculate Conception has changed in the last century. Here’s an entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907-1912 that shows how the Catholic Church explained it in times past: http://oce.catholic.com/index.php?title=Immaculate_Conception#II._THE_HOLY_SCRIPTURE. The Augustinian framework is crystal clear. It’s the only context in which the doctrine makes any sense. Apart from it, there is no need for terms like “merits.”

  15. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Christopher Mahon wrote:

    The sanctifying grace we receive in Baptism, and which the unbaptized go without, Mary was never without. That is the main point of the Immaculate Conception. Is there an ecumenical council which denies that?

    Putting aside any Orthodox polemical tone here…

    The real point for the Doctrine of the IC (I think Scott mentioned this upstream) was to answer this question: How could Mary, as a child of Adam, give birth to a sinless Jesus if she too was under the penalty of original sin? (Remember that original sin at the time meant that all of Adam’s heirs shared in the guilt of Adam’s sin.) The answer was that she couldn’t unless she was given a special dispensation. That dispensation was defined as receiving the “merits” of Christ’s salvific work preemptively, at the very moment of coming into being, thus “immaculate conception.”

    It made perfect sense as long as Augustinian anthropology prevailed. The guilt of Adam’s sin is passed “through the loins,” that is, from generation to generation from parent to child. Now that Augustinian anthropology has lost the force it once held in Catholicism, the purpose of the doctrine is less clear and so it has to be explained in different ways but it is still bound to that preemptive circle that is built into the structure of the reasoning.

    For example, shifting the locus from original sin/guilt to baptism still requires a preemptive grace (in place of “merit”) to close the loop, which in turn recalls the Augustinian definition of original sin even though it remains unvoiced.

    So no, you can’t really say that the Orthodox and Catholic agree, or more specifically that because both Churches end in the same place (the sinlessness of the Theotokos) the doctrine doesn’t matter. It does matter because it grew organically out of Catholic soil and reveals a problem unique to Catholic ecclesiology.

    The problem that Catholicism has is this: By having to defend a doctrine on grounds different than the one originally used to promulgate it, the authority by which the doctrine was promulgated also comes into question. The doctrine of the IC is particularly sticky because it was promulgated using the recently dogmatized (at the time) teaching of papal infallibility.

    IOW, within Catholic ecclesiology, a challenge to the doctrine of the IC is also a challenge to the doctrine of papal infallibility. The Orthodox would have no problem saying the doctrine was wrong and discarding it. Catholic ecclesiology doesn’t have that flexibility however because its internal ordering invests more heavily in the putative infallibility of its leaders.

    Put more plainly, if the doctrine were discarded, the next question would be how to explain that it was promulgated using the doctrine of papal infallibility. The only way to avoid the second question is to change the ground of the first. In Catholic teaching this is called unfolding revelation. In Orthodox practice, a dogma that is later shown to be inaccurate gets rejected. Since we don’t dogmatize teachings as much as the Roman Catholic Church does, it really is not much of a problem.

    So the Orthodox answer is this: Any notion of preemptive activity on the Theotokos’ behalf is completely unnecessary and posits an activity by God that in fact never happened. The mechanism that gives the doctrine its conceptual coherence does not in fact exist. There simply is no way the Orthodox would endorse the doctrine in whatever form it was explained.

    (Vatican II, properly understood, was an attempt to engage a culture that had largely abandoned Catholic claims of cultural authority; an abandonment that the doctrine of papal infallibility sought to forestall. The insufficiency of the doctrine of papal supremacy, which incorporates infallibility, is recognized today by Pope Benedict (and John Paul before him) although they have to tread gingerly because it touches the deep places of Catholic ecclesiological self-understanding. They are, in a sense, imprisoned by notions of papal supremacy, at least in terms of their dealings with non-Catholic Christians. That’s why Pope Benedict is inviting discussion on it from non-Catholics. One day you may see the doctrines of the IC and papal infallibility functionally abandoned, and infallibility may have to go before the doctrine of IC can be forgotten.)

  16. Christopher Mahon :

    Father, an alternative way of looking at it is that if the authority is indeed infallible it forces you to consider how the doctrine really ought to be received. The Ecumenical Councils are infallible, i.e. truly and fully authoritative, and thus are a great blessing for the Church, preventing certain debates from continuing on ad nauseum.

    If teachings can later be shown to be incorrect, then don’t those teachings lack authority in the first place? Doesn’t that introduce a great uncertainty in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel? This strikes me as neutering the Church. Why should anyone listen to what the Church teaches if those teachings could easily be later on disproved?

    I’ve had Orthodox priests personally tell me things like that there may be nothing wrong with women priests and that one day they may be allowed by a Council. If that’s the case, then perhaps the feminists are right to constantly criticize the Church until she realizes that the teaching about the male priesthood is ‘inaccurate’.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to create an endless discussion about it, but I really appreciate being able to have serious conversation. AOI maintains an excellent blog.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Father Johannes wrote: “In Orthodox practice, a dogma that is later shown to be inaccurate gets rejected. Since we don’t dogmatize teachings as much as the Roman Catholic Church does, it really is not much of a problem.”

      This has apparently caused you some confusion, Christopher. I think what Fr. Johannes was trying to say is not that the Orthodox invent and later repute dogmas; i.e., teachings that the Church has endorsed in an ecumenical council received by the laity. He used “dogma” in the simple sense of teaching. It seems that he used “dogmatize” in the sense of adopting as official Orthodox dogma. In that sense all of the above is accurate: When teachings arise within the Church that are latter shown to be inaccurate, they are rejected. Backpedaling is not so much a problem for us because we are much more reluctant to declare a teaching as official dogma.

  17. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Truth can’t be “disproved.” That violates the definition of truth. Truth can be disbelieved, but that says nothing about the veracity of Truth, only about the person hearing it. It can be claimed that truth does not exist, but this claim is self-contradicting because it is asserted as true. (You can do nothing against the truth, Christ says.) Truth can only be covered by a lie, and Satan is the father of lies.

    And no, challenging the notion of infallibility does not introduce uncertainty in the proclamation of the Gospel because the Gospel is true not because it is infallible, but because it reveals Him who is Truth. The Gospel, which is to say the spoken words from God (through the words of the Apostle), precedes even the Church.* “Peter preached and then the Lord added to the Church those who would be saved…” The Church, properly understood, is constituted by the Gospel, the ekklesia — or “called out ones” (which distinguishes it from synagogue). The Church does not constitute the Gospel. In fact, some Churches, in refusing to live in the Gospel left Christ and then became, as St. John says, the “synagogue of Satan” (while maintaining their liturgies no doubt).

    *God’s spoken world precedes everything — even creation. He spoke the world into existence out of nothing.

    If there are Orthodox priests who say that a council may one day sanction women priests, most likely they are ignorant of what this portends and think of the question only in terms of popular culture (a “rights” issue and all that). Once you begin to explain why a male priesthood is necessary to the integrity of the Church however, they may change their opinion relatively quickly. If not, they will have to chose whether or not to remain Orthodox. If there is no voice left to raise an objection, then we are dead and there is nothing left to save anyway.

    Even councils are subject to the final determination of the Gospel. A synod of Bishops led by the Patriarch of Antioch was responsible for one of St. John Chrysostom’s exiles. If conciliar infallibility was the criteria that “proves” the truth is indeed true, then you would have to argue that the Council was right. Clearly they were wrong. Only those living in the Gospel however, would have the eyes to see it. And, if they repudiated this conciliar decree, they would be counted as faithful because they did the truth.

    Glad you like the blog.

  18. George Michalopulos :

    Christopher, glad to have you aboard! Great insights, keeps our minds sharp.

  19. Scott Pennington :

    I couldn’t find the AOI story on this, it must have been over a year old. You all may recall that a certain Bishop Basil left the MP in England to be received (at first without a release) by Constantinople. Then his followers filed suit to have title to the church transferred (which they lost).

    Moscow, February 24, Interfax – The Holy Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate deprived former Bishop Basil (Osborne) of Amphipolis of his holy and monastic orders as the latter decided to marry.

    Three and half years ago, this person attempted to split the Russian Orthodox Diocese in the British Isles.

    Early this year, Bishop Basil petitioned the Patriarch of Constantinople to grant him lay status “to enable him to have a family home with the possibility of marrying again.”

    Bishop Basil (Osborne) was born in 1938 and married in 1962. Metropolitan Antony of Sourozh ordained him a deacon in 1969 and a priest in 1973. Following his wife’s death in 1991 he was consecrated a bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate Sourozh Diocese (Great Britain) in 1993. On July 30, 2003, shortly before Metropolitan Antony passed away, he was appointed an administrator of the Sourozh Diocese.

    In 2006, Bishop Basil decided to leave Moscow Patriarchate for Constantinople. Some clerics of the Sourozh Diocese followed him and thus complicated situation in the Diocese and in Moscow-Constantinople relations as the latter accepted Russian without a letter of release.

    In response to Bishop Basil’s actions, Patriarch Alexy II retired him “without the right to go to another jurisdiction” Some months later in June 2006, the Russian Church Synod forbade him from celebrating divine services.

    In 2007, to avoid further temptations among Orthodox believers of British Isles and to preserve church peace, the Moscow Patriarchate granted him a letter of release so that he could join the Constantinople Patriarchate.

    The same year, some clerics of the Sourozh Cathedral who supported Bishop Basil claimed their right over cathedral ownership. In course of legal proceedings, the British Prosecutor Office and the Supreme Court confirmed the Sourozh Diocese ownership as it acquired the Dormition Cathedral from Anglicans in the 1970s.

    In fall 2009, the Constantinople Synod satisfied Bishop Basil’s request for retirement.


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