[T]he final text is…distinguished by its “creative ambiguity”…imbued with baptismal theology and the branch theory…and moved slightly, but consciously, away from the principle of exclusivity and towards the principle of inclusiveness.
[I]t is strange for a Hierarch to invoke former professors and not the Prophets, the Apostles and the Church Fathers, which is what he confessed at his ordination as Bishop. — Met. Hierotheos
Source: Orthodox Ethos
Original Text in Greek: Ναυπάκτου κ. Ἱεροθέου: Οἱ ἀποφάσεις τῆς Ἱεραρχίας τῆς Ἐκκλησίας τῆς Ἑλλάδος γιὰ τὴν «Ἁγία καὶ Μεγάλη Σύνοδο» καὶ ἡ κατάληξή τους. Translated, for the Holy Metropolis of Nafpaktos and St. Vlassios, by Anastasios Filippides.
The Decisions of the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece on the “Holy and Great Council” and the Final Outcome
By His Eminence Met. Hierotheos Vlachos
Wednesday, 28 September 2016
AT ITS MEETINGS on 24 and 25 May 2016, the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece, as was its right and responsibility, studied the texts adopted by the Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conferences and Summits of the Primates, further to the decision and proposal of the Standing Holy Synod. Having taken into account Article 11 of the Organisation and Working Procedure of the “Holy and Great Council” it decided to submit proposals, amendments, corrections and additions, which were submitted within the prescribed time to the competent Pan-Orthodox Secretariat of the “Holy and Great Council”.
As stated in Article 11 of the Organisation and Working Procedure of the Holy and Great Council “At the conclusion of deliberations, the approval of any change is expressed, according to pan-Orthodox procedures, by the consensus of the delegations of each autocephalous Orthodox Church. This means that an amendment that is not approved unanimously shall not be passed.”
The important thing is that most of these proposals were adopted unanimously by the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece, while some were approved with a minority of one or two Bishops voting against out of a total of 76 present, and one proposal was approved by an open vote. These facts imply that this decision by the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece was solidly supported and expresses the consciousness of the Orthodox Church in Greece, which has a high theological, pastoral and monastic ecclesiastical level.
I. The Key Points of the Decisions of the Hierarchy
There are four key points in the decisions taken by the Hierarchy, namely, the issue of the person, the granting of autonomy to an ecclesiastical province, the Orthodox Church and the rest of the Christian world, and the unity of the Church as a given fact.
- According to the Fathers of the Church, the term person was attributed to the Triune God, while throughout patristic literature the biblical term human being (anthropos) is used for humans in the theological meaning of human beings created in the image and likeness of God. When sometimes the Fathers use the term hypostasisfor human beings, they use it based on the Bible and not on philosophy.
- However, in modern philosophy existential personalism has developed, which deviates from patristic tradition by identifying nature with need and sin, and desire-volition with the person. For this reason the expression “human person” (anthropino prosopo) must be replaced with the biblical term human being (anthropos), which is understood in all languages.
- The way of granting autonomy to a Church Province. Because the granting of autonomy by its Mother Church to a province may cause schisms, divisions and separatist deviations, it was proposed to maintain unchanged the ecclesiastical position which was decided by Synodical-Patriarchal Tomes or Patriarchal-Synodical Acts. This was proposed with a view to Church unity and to avoid schisms.
- In the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world” it is written that the Church is “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic”, therefore the term Church cannot be attributed to other Christian Confessions, in order not to undermine the supreme truth that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Therefore other Christian groups should be called “Christian Confessions and Communities.”
- The unity of the Church is a given fact, because the Church is the Body of Christ and is not separated from the Head, that is, from Christ. Consequently, those who at various times move away from the faith and worship of the Church are outside the Church and need to return to it. This is the aim of theological dialogue, because we confess: “as the Prophets have seen, as the Apostles have taught, as the Church has received, as the teachers have set forth in dogmas … thus do we believe, thus we speak, thus we preach Christ our true God,” and we proceed “according to the God-inspired theologies of the saints and the devout mind of the Church.” The principle of exclusivity cannot fall victim to the principle of inclusiveness, which undermines the given fact of the unshakable unity of the One Church.
II. The Encyclical of the Standing Holy Synod
Because these basic decisions had been taken by the Hierarchy, the Encyclical sent by the Standing Holy Synod to the Dioceses and read in all the churches gave the assurance that the decisions taken were based on the teaching of the Church and that in the “Holy and Great Council” the Bishops would express the experience and faith of the mystery of Pentecost and the confession of our Saints. Specifically, among other things, it writes:
The Hierarchy of the Church of Greece, with absolute faith in the teachings of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, and with respect for the Conciliar polity of the Orthodox Church, has studied thoroughly the proposals of the Standing Synod one by one, in a spirit of unity, responsibility and seriousness, and with unanimity on most points and an absolute majority in others, has made corrections to the texts presented, and additions where needed, so that these are the final decisions of our Church with regard to these texts.
The corrections and additions, which are substantial and in accord with the timeless experience and tradition of the Church, will be submitted to the Pan-Orthodox Secretariat of the Holy and Great Council in Crete and will supported by Archbishop Hieronymus of Athens and All Greece, in order to improve the texts already elaborated by the Primates of the Orthodox Churches and thus to give a good ecclesiastical testimony of faith and unity to the modern world, in tune with the whole tradition of the Church.
It is, of course, understood that the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece discussed these serious issues with responsibility, sobriety and knowledge. The important thing is that it has preserved its unity. The views of many Hierarchs were heard and the decisions were almost unanimous.
Because recently there has been concern, largely justified, among many members of the Clergy, monks and laypeople, about the texts to be discussed by the Holy and Great Council, we recommend that everyone should remain calm, because we Hierarchs were the first to make our confession of faith at our ordination, promising to keep safe the Apostolic and Patristic heritage which we received, and we remain vigilant for our flock, to the glory of God and the praise of the Church.
It is known that the Holy and Great Council will be held from the day of Pentecost until the Sunday of All Saints. This means that the Bishops and other Clergy and laity who will represent the Church of Greece at this Council, will try, together with the other Churches, to express the experience and faith of the mystery of Pentecost and the confession of our Saints, which is a continuation of Pentecost in history.
I thought that this assurance which we gave to the entire body of the Church had to be observed strictly. This was the feeling prevailing in me during the sessions of the Council in Crete.
In what follows the decisions of the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece on the three texts will be presented, with some theological EXPLANATORY COMMENT to illustrate their value, together with an indication of which ones were approved or rejected during the meetings of this Council in Crete.
III. Documents That Were Changed
Changes, corrections, additions and removals were proposed to three of the six texts distributed to the Hierarchs. We shall look at these in detail.
A. “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”
The text entitled “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in today’s world” signed by the Primates of the Orthodox Church in Geneva in January 2016 differs in many respects from the corresponding text prior to 2014. Many changes and modifications had been made, so the Hierarchy proposed the following changes:
1. Orthodox Church and Religions
The third paragraph of the text of the Primates read:
3. As a presupposition for a wider co-operation in this regard the common acceptance of the highest value of the human person may be useful. The Orthodox Churches are called to contribute to inter-religious understanding and co-operation to eradicate fanaticism of every kind, establish reconciliation among peoples, as well as help freedom and peace prevail throughout the world in order to serve humankind, irrespective of race and religion. Of course, such cooperation excludes both syncretism and the attempts of any one religion to impose itself on others.
Instead of this, the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece decided to correct the text in the places emphasized in bold letters:
3. As a presupposition for a wider co-operation in this regard the common acceptance of the highest value of the human being may be useful. Local Orthodox Churches cancontribute to inter-religious understanding and co-operation for the peaceful co-existence and social cohabitation of peoples, without this involving any kind of religious syncretism. (Emphasis added.)
This addition and correction by the Church of Greece was accepted and included in the final text, except for the words “human being”. The words “human person” remained because the debate on this issue took place on the following paragraph.
2. Person and Human Being
The decision of the Hierarchy was to replace the expression “human person” in this and other paragraphs with the term “human being”, so as to establish uniform terminology and textual consistency. So:
It is proposed to replace the phrase ‘The value of human person …’ with the phrase ‘the value of human being’ in paragraph A1, the phrase ‘the concept of the human person’ with the phrase ‘the concept of the human being’ in paragraph B3, and the phrase ‘of the human person …’ with the phrase ‘of the human being’ in paragraph C1 of the same text. (Emphasis added.)
After the first discussions His Eminence Aristarchos of Constantine, on behalf of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, said:
I think the discussion has indicated that there is a problem with the term ‘human person’, and as it only occurs seven times in the text it would seem preferable to delete it, as the Synod of the Church of Greece has maintained, and the Primate of the Church of Jerusalem and the Church of Jerusalem agree.
In the course of discussion on the “human person”, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro, on behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and Patriarch Daniel of Romania agreed with the proposal of our Church using various arguments. Thus, along with our Church, this issue was supported by four of the ten Churches present.
However, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew insisted on the retention of the word “person”. After praising the level of theology of the Metropolitans of Pergamon and of Nafpaktos, he proposed:
…that the theological, productive discussion be continued between fine and prolific theologians, such as the Metropolitans of Pergamon and Nafpaktos. We appreciate them, we admire how they produce those books one after the other, which are translated into foreign languages. We, therefore, as the Church of Constantinople, are in favour of leaving the text as it stands.
Therefore, the word “person” remained in the text, along with “human being”, for further discussion, but the discussion returned to the issue of the ontology of the person and community of persons in the next paragraph, as will now be seen.
3. Ontology of the Person – Community of Persons
The first sentence of paragraph B1 of the text reads:
Freedom and Responsibility. 1. Freedom is one of God’s greatest gifts to the human being as a specific bearer of the image of the personal God and as a member of a community of persons who, through the unity of the human race, reflect by grace the life and communion of the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Instead of this, the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece decided to propose the following wording:
Freedom and Responsibility. 1. Freedom is one of God’s greatest gifts to the human being.
In other words, it suggested the deletion of the parenthetical phrases – “both as a specific bearer of the image of the personal God and as a member of a community of persons who, through the unity of the human race, reflect by grace the life and communion of the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity” – which refer to the ontology of the person and the community of persons, and are theologically problematic.
After a discussion on these issues, the proposal of the Church of Greece was accepted and in this specific paragraph everything relating to the ontology of the person and the community of persons was deleted.
This means that the overall proposal of the Church with regard to the ontology of the person and the community of persons was accepted by the “Holy and Great Council”, and the entire phrase referring to the community of persons who reflect by grace, through the unity of human race, the life in the Holy Trinity and the communion of the Divine Persons was deleted. However in some places the term “human person” remained for further discussion.
I think this was a success for the Church of Greece. Nevertheless, because the term “person” was retained, I expressed my reservations.
B. “Autonomy and the Means by Which it is Proclaimed”
The Hierarchy of the Church of Greece proposed that a new paragraph be added to this text, and also that a word be added to an existing paragraph.
The new addition to the text is as follows:
Ecclesiastical Provinces for which a Patriarchal Tomos or Act has been issued cannot apply for autonomy, and their existing ecclesiastical status is maintained unshakeable.
And in paragraph 2B, where it says that the Autocephalous Church which receives the request from a province to be granted autonomy “decides whether or not to grant autonomy”, the Hierarchy of the Church adds the word “unanimously” at the end of the paragraph after the word “autonomy”.
As soon as the Archbishop read out the proposal of the Hierarchy, the Ecumenical Patriarch immediately gave the necessary explanations. Among other things, he specifically said:
For each Autocephalous Church a Tomos has been issued, which means that by this reasoning no part of any Autocephalous Church could claim autonomy, since for all a Tomos or an Act has been issued. However, with this thinking, autonomy is prohibited to all.
Referring to the so-called New Lands, he gave assurances that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no thought of granting autonomy to these regions. He clarified, however, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate considers that “they are its own Provinces, they belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate spiritually and canonically, and after the Asia Minor catastrophe the Patriarchate ceded the administration of the Metropolises of the New Lands to the sister Church of Greece. Administratively these Metropolises belong to the Church of Greece and there is no objection.”
He finished by giving assurances in front of all the Fathers of the “Holy and Great Council” that “There is no reason to worry, we have no such intention,” but “the current status quo will continue.” Furthermore he clarified that this applies “to all Autocephalous Churches for which a Tomos or Act has been issued”, that is, “autonomy cannot be granted.”
After this the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece said that we would be delighted to receive the Patriarch in the Church of Greece, whether in the southern or in the northern Provinces. So the Church of Greece did not insist on the inclusion of the paragraph in the text, because it considered that, after the explanation by the Ecumenical Patriarch, the question was redundant.
C. Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”
The text put before the “Holy and Great Council” for discussion and decision entitled “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world” is derived from the combination of two texts which had been elaborated in Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conferences. One of them had the same title as the text under discussion, and the other was entitled “The Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Movement”.
The merging of the above texts, which was carried out in the period 2014-2015 by the special Inter-Orthodox Commission for the review of the texts, gave rise to a number of problems and contradictions crept in, as we will now see.
1. The Orthodox Church and Those Outside It
The pre-2014 text used the term “the rest of the Christian world” for Christians outside the Orthodox Church, not only in the West but also in the East, and spoke of dialogues between the Orthodox Church and these Christians. The whole text was divided into chapters, namely: “The Dialogue with the Anglicans”, “The Dialogue with the Old Catholics”, “The Dialogue with the ancient Eastern Churches”, “The Dialogue with the Roman Catholics”, “The Dialogue with the Lutherans”, “The Dialogue with the Protestants.”
It is obvious that the title “the rest of the Christian world” includes a wide circle of Christians who differ in doctrinal matters from ancient Church tradition that is preserved in the Orthodox Church, which is thus the historical Church. They are ancient and modern heretics.
It is understandable that sometimes in speech the word “Church” is used to characterise all Christian groups and Communities, but it is even more understandable that when precise expositions of the Orthodox faith are compiled, which will constitute the Decisions of a Holy and Great Council, there must be precision with regard to terms and their meanings.
According to Professor George Mantzaridis, the word “church” is also used in everyday language for various Christian Confessions with a sociological meaning. But he subsequently notes that “the use of the term ‘church’ on a theological level with a sociological meaning is misleading and compromises any substantive theological dialogue. According to Orthodox Ecclesiology the term ‘church’ cannot include non-Orthodox Christian institutions.”
It should be noted that the old text, “The Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Movement”, which was combined with the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world”, included the words:
The Orthodox Church ascertains that over time, for various reasons and in various ways, many important departures from the tradition of the undivided Church have taken place. So in the Christian world diverging perceptions of the unity and the very essence of the Church have emerged. (Emphasis added.)
This significant comment disappeared in the consolidated text signed by the Primates of the Churches in Geneva in January 2016!
In other words, from that text it was clearly inferred that the One Church is the Orthodox Church, whereas other Christian groups have broken away from it. And yet this paragraph was deleted before the text was signed by the Primates.
These reasons prompted the Standing Holy Synod and the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece to bring the whole text into line with the meaning of the title, “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world”. Among other things, they decided to use the phrase “Christian Confessions and Communities”.
Specifically Paragraph 6 read:
The Orthodox Church acknowledges the historical existence of other Christian Churches and Confessions not in communion with her.
Instead of this, the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece decided to propose the following wording:
The Orthodox Church is aware of the historical existence of other Christian Confessions and Communities not in communion with her. (Emphasis added.)
The same phrase is repeated in the same paragraph and in paragraphs 16, 19, 20 and 21 of this document and is corrected likewise.”
At the Council of Crete there was wide-ranging discussion on this issue, because two other Churches had related proposals. The Patriarchate of Romania proposed to replace the phrase “Christian Churches” with the phrase “heterodox Communities”, and the Church of Cyprus proposed that they be called “heterodox Churches”.
It was possible to keep the phrase that was in the title of the text, namely, “The Orthodox Church and the rest of the Christian world”, or the phrase “The Orthodox Church and those outside it” or “the non-Orthodox”.
During the discussion the Patriarchate of Romania withdrew its proposal and there remained the proposals from the Churches of Cyprus and Greece.
This proposal by the Church of Greece was not accepted and the Ecumenical Patriarch urged Archbishop Hieronymus of Athens to submit a new proposal.
Consequently the Archbishop suggested to the Delegation of the Church of Greece a new proposal, which was accepted by a majority of the Bishops of the Delegation.
There was no authorisation for the new proposal, as its meaning does not meet the recommendations of the Hierarchy. Unfortunately, added to all this is the fact that it was decided in a matter of minutes. Its content is as follows:
The Church of Greece proposes “in paragraph 6, instead of: ‘The Orthodox Church recognises [Note: In the original version the verb was ‘is aware of’, not ‘recognises’] the historical existence of other Christian Churches and Confessions’, the wording: ‘The Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other heterodox Christian Churches and Confessions’.”
In its final form, the text was recast as follows:
The Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other heterodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her. (Emphasis added.)
That is, “is aware of” became “accept”, the term “historical existence” became “historical name” and the word “heterodox” was added to Churches.
The questions are many: Why not keep the verb “is aware of”? Can there be a name for something without existence? What does “heterodox Christian churches” mean, since heterodox means heretical?
Indeed, His Beatitude Archbishop Hieronymus of Athens understood the rationale of the decision, according to a press release issued by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece:
With this amendment we achieve a conciliar decision which for the first time in history limits the historical context of the relations with the heterodox not to the existence, but ONLY to their historical name as heterodox Christian Churches or Confessions. The ecclesiological implications of this change are obvious. Not only do they not adversely affect in any way the age-old Orthodox tradition, but rather they protect Orthodox ecclesiology in a very clear way.
This new proposal was accepted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and many of the Hierarchs present applauded.
Therefore, the proposal of the Hierarchy of our Church was not accepted. What was accepted was a new proposal voted by a majority of the Delegation of the Church of Greece.
In the Press Release of the Church of Greece on that day (25-6-2016) it was suggested that the Delegation of our Church suggested the new proposal “in line with the spirit of the Hierarchy”.
However, despite the good intentions of the Archbishop and some Hierarchs eager to close the matter without much discussion, any serious reader of the two texts will find that the new proposal submitted by the Delegation of our Church after a majority vote was not in the spirit of the decision of the Hierarchy. I will develop this issue in another text, which will analyse the fact that this proposal is essentially anti-Orthodox for many theological reasons.
During the brief discussion we had on this issue among the members of the Delegation, I stressed that for reasons of conscience and for theological reasons, mostly because we did not have the authorisation of the Hierarchy to change its decision, I did not agree and would not sign the specific text. This was the reason why I abstained from the article-by-article discussion of this text, and of course I did not sign this particular text.
In my opinion, two sad events occurred: a) the circumvention of the decision of the Hierarchy unconsciously or consciously, and b) the recognition of the ecclesiastical status of heterodox confessions, i.e. heretical communities. This is very dangerous when one considers that in the USA alone there are over 50,000 Christian Protestant groups, with many distinctive characteristics, who call themselves “Churches”!
2. Participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC)
Paragraph 17 refers to the World Council of Churches and the participation of the Orthodox Churches in it. The Orthodox Churches “contribute to the witness of truth and promotion of unity among Christians by all the means at their disposal.”
In the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece in May 2016 there was a long debate on the WCC. Some Bishops asked that the paragraphs of the text referring to the WCC should be deleted and the Church of Greece should withdraw from it. A vote was taken by show of hands and the view that prevailed was that these paragraphs should remain in the text and the Church of Greece should participate in the WCC. Personally I argued that we should be observers, as the “Roman Catholics” are.
Subsequently the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece decided to propose the following wording in that particular paragraph:
The local Orthodox churches that are members of the WCC, … contribute by all the means at their disposal to the promotion of peaceful coexistence and cooperation on major socio-political challenges and problems. (Emphasis added.)
This proposal by the Church of Greece was accepted in the text, with the deletion of the word “problems”, leaving the phrase “socio-political challenges”.
3. Dialogues With The Heterodox and the Way They Are Admitted to the Orthodox Church
Paragraph 20 of the original text read:
The prospects for conducting theological dialogues between the Orthodox Church and other Christian Churches and Confessions are always determined on the basis of the canonical criteria of the already established Church Tradition (Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council and Canon 95 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council).
Instead of this, the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece decided to propose the following redrafting and formulation, as shown below in the phrases in bold:
The prospects for conducting theological dialogues between the Orthodox Church and other Christian Confessions and Communities are always determined on the basis of the principles of Orthodox Ecclesiology and the canonical criteria of established Church Tradition, according to the sacred canons of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Local Councils recognised by them, such as Canons 46, 47 and 50 of the Holy Apostles, 8 and 19 of the First Ecumenical Council, 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council, 95 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council, and 7 and 8 of Laodicea.
It is clarified that, when applying economy by admitting the heterodox by Libel and Holy Chrism, this is not to imply that the Orthodox Church recognises the validity of their Baptism or their other Sacraments.
Eventually, from the proposal of the Church of Greece only one phrase was accepted, that “Dialogues are always determined on the basis of the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology”. The other three proposals, which clarify what is meant by the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology, were not accepted. Specifically:
- The phrase “with the other Christian Confessions and Communities” was not accepted, because the Church of Greece herself had already produced a new proposal on this issue.
It should be noted that, although the proposal of the Church of Greece that this phrase should be replaced with the words “with the other Christian confessions and communities” was not accepted, the phrase “with the other Christian Churches” was replaced with the phrase “with the rest of the Christian world.” The paradox is that here the change was accepted, while in the sixth paragraph the change was not accepted, even with the same phrase “with the rest of the Christian world.”
- The addition of Canons 46, 47 and 50 of the Holy Apostles, 8 and 19 of the First Ecumenical Council and 7 and 8 of Laodicea, the contents of which were mentioned above, was not accepted.
- The proposal of the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece that “when applying economy by admitting the heterodox by Libel and Holy Chrism, this is not to imply that the Orthodox Church recognises the validity of their Baptism or their other Sacraments” was not accepted.
At the same time the reference to the 7th Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council and the 95th Canon of the Quinisext Council was deleted from the original text.
This means that in this paragraph, by not accepting the proposal of the Church of Greece, the Council of Crete accepted at least baptismal theology. Anyhow, the opinion was heard during the discussions that heterodox Baptism is valid!
So, after granting ecclesiastical status to the heterodox, the greatest problem that resulted from the Council was the implicit recognition of the validity of the baptism of the heterodox!
During the discussions, some Hierarchs from other Orthodox Churches claimed that it is impossible not to accept the validity of the Baptism of the heterodox, especially since we accept mixed marriages, that is, marriages between Orthodox and heterodox. What was said publicly led me to express my clear reservations about the ecclesiastical consequences of mixed marriages in the text on the Sacrament of Marriage.
4. The Conciliar System
In paragraph 22 the text of the Primates said:
The Orthodox Church considers all efforts to break the unity of the Church, undertaken by individuals or groups under the pretext of maintaining or allegedly defending true Orthodoxy, as being worthy of condemnation. As evidenced throughout the life of the Orthodox Church, the preservation of the true Orthodox faith is ensured only through the conciliar system, which has always represented the competent final judge in the Church on matters of faith.
Instead, the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece decided to propose the following wording:
The Orthodox Church considers all efforts to break the unity of the Church, undertaken by individuals or groups under the pretext of maintaining or allegedly defending true Orthodoxy, as being worthy of condemnation. As evidenced throughout the life of the Orthodox Church, the preservation of the true Orthodox faith is ensured [the word only was deleted] through the conciliar system (Canons 6 of the Second Ecumenical Council and 14 and 15 of the First-Second Council).” At the same time it proposed deleting the phrase “which has always represented the competent final judge in the Church on matters of faith.
This means that at this point the Church of Greece deleted the word ONLY, that is to say, that the preservation of the true Orthodox faith is ensured ONLY by the conciliar system. It added specific Canons and deleted the phrase that the conciliar system always represented “the competent final judge in the Church on matters of faith.”
Eventually the proposal of the Church of Greece for the deletion of the word “only” was not accepted, and from the proposal to add specific Canons only the 6th Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council remained, and not the 14th and 15th of the First-Second Council.
Also the last sentence was not deleted, as proposed by the Church of Greece, but was modified with the phrase that the conciliar system has always been in the Church “the highest authority on matters of faith issues and canonical decrees”, that is to say, “canonical decrees” were added to matters of faith.
5. The Unia and Inter-Confessional Competition
In paragraph 23 the text of the Primates referred to inter-Christian theological dialogue “eschewing every provocative act of inter-confessional competition”
The Hierarchy added the word “Unia” in brackets to this text.
The text continues as follows:
In this spirit, the Orthodox Church deems it important for all Christians, inspired by the common fundamental principles of our faith, to attempt to offer with eagerness and solidarity a response to the thorny problems with which the contemporary world challenges us, based on the ideal prototype of the new man in Christ.
In this paragraph the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece made three corrections. Instead of “the principles of faith” it put “the principles of the Gospel”. It corrected the phrase “attempt to offer with eagerness and solidarity a response to the thorny problems with which the contemporary world challenges us” with the phrase “attempt to offer with eagerness and solidarity a response to the thorny problems of the contemporary world.” And it deleted the word “ideal” before the word “prototype”.
The proposal to change the expression “by the common fundamental principles of our faith” to “by the common principles of the Gospel” was accepted.
The correction of the phrase “with which the contemporary world challenges us” to read “problems of the contemporary world”, was accepted, but it is only a correction of wording.
The deletion of the word “ideal” was accepted.
The addition to the text of the word “Unia” in brackets in the phrase of the original text “eschewing every provocative act of inter-confessional competition” was accepted as follows: “eschewing every act of proselytism, Unia, or other provocative act of inter-confessional competition.”
This means that on this point some corrections of wording were accepted, as well as the issue of the Unia, without condemning it explicitly. It is simply emphasised that inter-Christian theological dialogue must “always be accompanied by witness to the world through acts expressing mutual understanding and love, which express the ‘ineffable joy’ of the Gospel (1 Pet. 1:8), eschewing every act of proselytism, Unia, or other provocative act of inter-confessional competition.”
Therefore the Unia is not explicitly condemned as a particular Christian construct, but it was decided to eschew, to condemn, acts of proselytism and competition, both by the Unia and by all other Confessions.
6. The Orthodox Church and the Division of the Christian world
Paragraph 24 said that “The continued witness of the Orthodox Church to the divided Christian world on the basis of the apostolic tradition and faith is imperative.”
The Hierarchy of the Church of Greece added the words “rest of the”, between “divided” and “Christian world”: “the divided rest of the Christian world.”
This was repeated in paragraphs 4 and 5.
This proposal by the Church was not accepted and the words “rest of the” were not added to the text. The text remained as it was: “in the divided Christian world.”
7. One Flock and Gathering the Heterodox into It
In the last, unnumbered paragraph of the text was written:
We pray that all Christians may work together so that the day may soon come when the Lord will fulfil the hope of the Orthodox Churches and there will be ‘one flock and one shepherd’ (John 10:16).
Instead of this, the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece decided to propose the following wording:
We pray that all Christians may work together so that the day may soon come when the Lord will fulfill the hope of the Orthodox Church that she may gather within her all those who are scattered and there will be ‘one flock and one shepherd’ (John 10:16).
This proposal was made to rule out the branch theory, according to which the unity among Christians has been lost and therefore Christians, including the Orthodox, are the individual branches of the tree struggling for their unity. The proposal of the Church of Greece was rejected and was not included in the text.
All this clearly shows that the basic proposal of the Church of Greece was that Christian groups who are active in the East and West can be called Christian Communities and Confessions, but not Churches. There was a great debate on this issue, so the Delegation of the Church of Greece, urged by the Ecumenical Patriarch, proposed, by majority vote, a new wording, which was accepted and included in the text.
After this, the subsequent proposed corrections were not supported adequately, and the core interventions decided by the Hierarchy somehow collapsed, except for a few drafting corrections.
Therefore, in the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world” the following decisions of the Hierarchy were not accepted:
- para. 6
- “The Orthodox Church is aware of the historical existence of other Christian Confessions and Communities not in communion with her.”
- (And the new proposal submitted is problematic from an ecclesiological point of view.)
- para. 20
- “with the other Christian Confessions and Communities”
- “according to the sacred canons of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Local Councils recognised by them,”
- “such as Canons 46, 47 and 50 of the Holy Apostles, 8 and 19 of the First Ecumenical Council, 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council, 95 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council, and 7 and 8 of Laodicea.”
- “It is clarified that, when applying economy by admitting the heterodox by Libel and Holy Chrism, this is not to imply that the Orthodox Church recognises the validity of their Baptism or their other Sacraments.”
- para. 22
- “the preservation of the true Orthodox faith is ensured (only) through the conciliar system”
- “(Canons … and 14 and 15 of the First-Second Council)”
- “which has always represented the competent final judge in the Church on matters of faith.” (Amended accordingly)
- para. 24 (and para. 4 and 5)
- “divided rest of the Christian world”
- “the hope of the Orthodox Church that she may gather within her all those who are scattered”
IV. The Encyclical of the “Holy and Great Council”
The Standing Holy Synod at its meeting in June 2016, after the relevant debate that took place in the Hierarchy in May, decided to adopt my proposal to include in the Encyclical of the “Holy and Great Council,” that the whole life of the Church is a continuous Council and when in the first and second millennium Local and Ecumenical Councils took place, they expressed the experience and the confession of Pentecost.
In this context mention should be made of the Great Councils in the time of St Photios the Great and in the time St Gregory Palamas, which have been widely characterised as Ecumenical Councils.
It should be noted that the Council in the time of St Photios the Great was described as the 8th Ecumenical Council in the Decision of the Patriarchs of the East in 1848, and the decisions of the Council of 1351 in the time of St Gregory Palamas have been included in the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy”, which is read on the first Sunday of Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras of Ilion, Petroupolis and Acharnai, who represented the Church of Greece on the Commission drawing up the Encyclical of the “Holy and Great Council”, and with whom I was continuously in contact by telephone, put this proposal to the Commission, and thus the following paragraph was drafted in that Encyclical:
3. The Orthodox Church, in her unity and catholicity, is the Church of Councils, from the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:5-29) to the present day. The Church in herself is a Council, established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, in accord with the apostolic words: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). Through the Ecumenical and Local councils, the Church has proclaimed and continues to proclaim the mystery of the Holy Trinity, revealed through the incarnation of the Son and Word of God. The Conciliar work continues uninterrupted in history through the later councils of universal authority, such as, for example, the Great Council (879-880) convened at the time of St Photios the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople, and also the Great Councils convened at the time of St Gregory Palamas (1341, 1351, 1368), through which the same truth of faith was confirmed, most especially as concerns the procession of the Holy Spirit and as concerns the participation of human beings in the uncreated divine energies, and furthermore through the Holy and Great Councils convened in Constantinople, in 1484 to refute the unionist Council of Florence (1438-1439), in 1638, 1642, 1672 and 1691 to refute Protestant beliefs, and in 1872 to condemn ethno-phyletism as an ecclesiological heresy.
I think that on this issue our Church had a considerable success, which should be recognised. However, I do not you know why the Council of 1347, which, among other things, elected St Gregory Palamas as Archbishop of Thessaloniki, was not included in the Councils in the time of St Gregory Palamas.
The proposals of the Hierarchy to the “Holy and Great Council” were made with the prospect that they would be discussed and accepted by the other Churches as well. One cannot take an absolute view in these matters and ask that one’s proposals be definitely accepted during the discussions. In any case, other Churches also submitted proposals, some of which were accepted and others rejected.
However, the problem with regard to the Church of Greece is that in the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world”, it submitted a new proposal, different from the proposal of the Hierarchy, which, in my opinion, is also problematic. This had implications for other proposals that the Church of Greece had submitted.
From what has been recorded earlier, the following conclusions can be drawn.
- The Delegation of the Church of Greece succeeded in including the views of the Hierarchy in the first text on the ontology of the human person. Although the word “person” remained in the text along with “human being” for further discussion, everything was deleted that related to the ontology of person in connection with the Triune God, namely, that the human being is a bearer of the image of the personal God, and that the communion of persons reflects by grace, through the unity of humankind, the life and communion of the divine persons in the Holy Trinity.
This means that all the modern theology about the communion of the divine Persons, about the human being as a bearer the image of the personal God and not as created in the image and likeness of God, and about the community of persons who reflect the grace of the Triune God, which constitutes modern personalism, was not accepted by the “Holy and Great Council”.
- In the text relating to the issue of autonomy, the Church of Greece received the assurance of the Ecumenical Patriarch that the existing arrangements for the New Lands will continue to apply, that is to say, that these Metropolises belong canonically to the Ecumenical Patriarchate but were put under the guardianship of the Autocephalous Church of Greece for their administration, that the status quo will remain and that autonomy will not be granted to these regions and other areas for which a Tomos or Act has been issued.
- In the most fundamental text referring to the relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world, after the change of the decision of the Hierarchy on the main point, and the submission of a new proposal by majority vote by the Delegation of the Church of Greece, without authorisation from the Hierarchy, the other basic proposals concerning the validity or otherwise of the Baptism of other Christians and prayer for their return to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church were not adequately supported.
Thus, the final text is diplomatic. It is distinguished by its “creative ambiguity”, as has been written. It contains arguments that can be received by all sides. I think that it displeases both the Orthodox and the heterodox. It is imbued with baptismal theology and, indirectly but clearly, with the branch theory, as was also demonstrated during the discussions, and it also moved slightly, but consciously, away from the principle of exclusivity and towards the principle of inclusiveness.
As it is well known, the principle of exclusivity states that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, whereas the principle of inclusiveness states that there are many Churches, in which valid Baptism is recognised as a key point, and there are dialogues to achieve complete unity. In other words, according to the principle of inclusiveness the canonical and sacramental boundaries of the Church are not identical, as is clearly the case according to the principle of exclusivity.
It made an impression, however, that elderly Hierarchs holding important positions in the Church supported anti-Orthodox positions on the grounds that this was what they had been taught by their professors in the first half of the 20th century, even though in the meantime important research has been done on patristic sources, such as St Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons, St Maximus the Confessor, St Gregory Palamas etc., and this research has overturned those views.
In any case, until the 19th century there was the same terminology with regard to the Orthodox Church and the heterodox, with a few exceptions. This was reversed in the early 20th century with the Message of the Ecumenical Patriarchate “To the Churches of Christ Everywhere” in 1920, after various events that had preceded that Message.
The paradox is that these Hierarchs invoked their professors, who, as clearly demonstrated by academic research, were influenced by scholastic and Protestant theology, and did not themselves proceed to further patristic research, although they were the successors of the professors referred to. And in any case, it is strange for a Hierarch to invoke former professors and not the Prophets, the Apostles and the Church Fathers, which is what he confessed at his ordination as Bishop.
His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios (also Ierotheos) serves the Metropolis of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios in the Church of Greece. He has been Metropolitan of Nafpaktos since 1995.