Metropolitan Gerasimos on Christian Unity

The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco recently posted the keynote speech that Metropolitan Gerasimos delivered in April for the National Workshop on Christian Unity in Phoenix. It is a lengthy speech so we will post only a few excerpts here.

Metropolitan Gerasimos:

Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco (GOA)

Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco (GOA)

Our task as Christians is to keep the Body of Christ united and where we find division, we must become agents of healing and reconciliation. Dialogue in all its manifestations – bilateral, multilateral and other exchanges – is still the most critical pathway to reconciliation. Christians have been explaining their doctrine and theology to one another since the beginning of the Church, in order to maintain the integrity of the Body of Christ and to restore unity when divisions occurred. We can find examples of this from the earliest days of Christianity. The language of orthodoxy and heresy, lapsed and restored all emerged from the continual efforts of Church leaders – in those days usually the bishops – to maintain and pursue the unity of the Church.

Today’s ecumenical dialogues are heirs of this concern. Of course the context has changed and the actors are different, but the concerns are the same. Like in the past, we are all concerned about who we understand Jesus Christ to be and what we understand His Church to be. The Orthodox Churches have been involved since the beginnings of the modern ecumenical movement of the last century. It has not always been an easy journey for us, but who among us can honestly say that a pilgrimage through the desert was easy?

Nevertheless, as we look back, all of us have benefited tremendously from our ecumenical journey thus far. We have offered and received the treasures of our respective heritages from one another. We Orthodox have shared our gift of conciliar decision making; the gift of liturgy, the gift of over a millennium of theological reflection in our patristic literature. While we believe we have offered much and our theological claim is that we lack nothing, we must also humbly acknowledge the gifts that we have received from others: the gift of biblical foundations; the gift of coming to clarity and precision in theological matters; the gift of social justice and action, to name a few. And as we have been recipients of these gifts, it has challenged us to recognize their existence within ourselves, just as the gifts we have offered we hope have challenged you to retrieve them from within yourself. Let me be clearer: the Orthodox church has always been a biblical church, but through our ecumenical work, we have become increasingly cognizant of our biblical roots. Other churches have begun quoting their liturgical hymns as often as their biblical passages. As the poet R. D. Laing said, “because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how we have failed to notice.”

[ … ]

For us, we have two ecumenical challenges. The first is our dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox, which our Ecumenical Patriarchate has continually ranked as the most important. This dialogue, not even fifty years old, has rebuilt bridges that had been damaged for nearly 1400 years. As their joint commission has repeatedly concluded: “there is complete agreement between us on the Christological dogma (at the roots of the division) as well as the faith of the early church transmitted by the Apostles.” There is still work to do before Eucharistic communion is restored, but there is optimism that the divides can be overcome and soon. Second, within Orthodoxy itself we face another ecumenical challenge – the very strong voices of those within our Church who are against ecumenical activity. They are prolific creators of blogs and websites; some are within the canonical boundaries of Orthodox Churches; others are Orthodox in form but outside the boundaries. In both cases they reject this work.

For me, these two challenges are instructive for the greater ecumenical task. The first challenge should remind us that our ecumenical focus should perhaps first be with those in our religious “backyards,” church bodies that we share the greatest similarity, common history and tradition, similar theological presuppositions and teachings. Reaching across the very large divides between some of our communions is needed, but will take a great deal of time. Reaching across the smaller divides to our neighbor may be more fruitful in the short run and in the long run open additional pathways for the more distant neighbors.

The second challenge should remind us that there are those within our ecclesial families who do not agree with us. We cannot ignore a voice because we don’t like its message. We should not turn ecumenical dialogue into a self-referencing body of the like minded. Part of our ecumenical task is to share our common experience of life and work together with those who have thus far refused to walk with us or with those who have misunderstood our journey we share.

In our increasingly fragmented world, there are no monopolies of ideas. Anyone with a laser printer and an account at a copy center can publish a book. Anyone with the right hardware and software can publish that book with, create a website or blog, post a video on you tube, or start a new interest group on Facebook. What was once the “Ecumenical Movement,” directed from Geneva, Riverside Drive, or church bureaucracies, has become a network of movements, dialogues, and official and unofficial engagements. They include Christians on the left and right on most issues, Christians who focus on their creeds and those who focus on their deeds, Churches with hierarchies and Churches of democracies. While God Himself will ultimately decide, I suspect the fullness of the Body of Christ will somehow include them all.


  1. George Michalopulos :

    This is so touching. What loving words, truly Christ-like. Oh, wait, I must have missed something…where’s the rest of it? You know, the stuff about ecumenical dialogue with other Orthodox in North America? Help me, anybody out there? What’s that sound I hear? why it sounds like crickets chirping. Hello? Anybody out there? Hellooooo…

  2. I’ve read some of the ‘dialogs’ from the joint commission with the ‘Oriental’ Orthodox. It is simply not true to state that there is complete agreement on the Christology. The only thing I see is the Orthodox participants unwilling to stand firm on the principals of Chalcedon.

    Further +Gerasimos states: the gift of biblical foundations; the gift of coming to clarity and precision in theological matters; the gift of social justice and action, to name a few

    All of these are inherent in the Church and are a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church long before the Protesants were ever heard of, unless once again +Gerasimos is selling out the Orthodox understanding of the Holy Sciptures, charity and doctrinal percision paid for with blood and the work of centuries.

    What I get from Protestants and the Pope at least is that they actually believe and are willing to act on their belief unlike most of us.

  3. It’s good talk, but nothing backs this up.

    Truthfully, if the GOA were interested in a real Ecumenical witness, they would take seriously the mess in their own house and clean it up a bit.

    Then, make overtures of serious unity (not “we’re all really Greek, ya know”) to all the Orthodox in North America.

    After all, if they aren’t even interested in the easiest of all possible ecumenical works (self-unity), who will really take them seriously in anything they say?

    But of course, this assumes that talks like this are serious, and not simply hyperbole. I’m afraid it’s just talk.

  4. our comment is awaiting moderation.

    Perhaps you’ve all missed the news about inter-Orthodox dialogue and services in the States. It’s called SCOBA. Perhaps you’ve slept through the pan-Orthodox and inter-Orthodox witness at the WCC (including the agreements between the Oriental and Eastern Churches on Chalcedon), not to mention the history of Chambesy. The rage you all carry for the EP, GOA, and anyone not in collusion with your bitterness of heart is astounding. And whether you like it or not, Anglicans, Protestants, and Romans are Christians – our siblings. The Holy Spirit goes where He wills, act as He wills, and – let’s not forget – the Spirit is EVERYWHERE and fills ALL things. You guys may rant and throw pious tantrums all you’d like – God is in control; you are all as impotent as I before the power of God. Perhaps you never got that memo. You’ll excuse yourselves by saying it’s all Greek to you. Regardless, as Metrop. Gerasimos says: “While God Himself will ultimately decide, I suspect the fullness of the Body of Christ will somehow include them all.” Amen. Include them all. Even those people you guys would rush to evict from the Body of Christ, as if you could …

  5. For anyone who may have forgotten the Metropolitan has his own history of contributing to the proud tradition of buffoonery in the GOA.

    Lets roll the clock back to when the Metropolitan -at his installation- professed to be a fan of the show Desperate Housewives and had some interesting views on same sex marriage “not a threat” and end of life issues “Church does not have set rules”. They do not call Bishop Gerry the Despota of Desperate Housewives for nothing….

    Published by the Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2005

    Hoping a New Leader Will Soothe Internal Conflicts

    A new Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop for seven states takes office today. One issue is how independent the U.S. church should be.

    By Larry B. Stammer, Times Staff Writer

    OAKLAND (Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2005) — When the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America today enthrones His Eminence Gerasimos Michaleas as its new metropolitan bishop for California and six other Western states, it will install a leader many hope will work for common ground in a church that has been beset by internal divisions.

    Austere-looking as a desert monk, introspective and, in the view of some, a little too informal for a prelate, Gerasimos becomes chief shepherd of the church’s Western region, whose membership has doubled in the last 25 years to as many as 200,000 believers. It has 65 parishes, three monasteries and 80 priests. It reaches to Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Nevada.

    Though a long-running controversy over how independent the U.S. church should be from the international mother church has subsided, tensions remain. The American church is a province of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey, which is led by the patriarch His All Holiness Bartholomew.

    Part of Gerasimos’ task will be to balance his allegiance to Bartholomew and to the Phanar — the Orthodox Vatican in Istanbul — while leading an increasingly Americanized church. In 1999, internal struggles forced the resignation of the church’s then-U.S. Archbishop Spyridon, whose autocratic style grated on a church that had grown beyond its immigrant roots.

    Gerasimos apparently is off to a good start in his new position, formally known as the Metropolitan of San Francisco.

    Priests and laymen say they view him as accessible and a good listener. Some in the church, Gerasimos said, even think his comparative informality in little things — such as avoiding references to his high office in imparting a blessing, or calling himself “Bishop Jerry” — are unbecoming.

    In an interview this week at Ascension Cathedral in Oakland, where he will be enthroned in an ancient ceremony, Gerasimos said his leadership style would vary from that of Metropolitan Anthony, who died in December after leading the region for 25 years.

    “I’m different, I think, than Metropolitan Anthony, of blessed memory, who was very spontaneous, a very in-your-face person,” Gerasimos said. “That was his great gift of captivating people, and at the same time, his great downfall of making people alienated altogether. I don’t have that kind of zest.

    “I’m much more a person who gets to know people from where they’re at and build relationships from there. I’m passionate about what I believe and what I want to do. And I intend to do whatever I intend to do.”

    Others, such as layman Peter Haikalis, said he would reserve judgment until he saw whether Gerasimos followed through. Haikalis is a member of the national board and is immediate past president of Orthodox Christian Laity, which campaigned for a more autonomous church in America.

    “I hope he becomes a really good listener and tries to interact with as many people as possible before he sets a course,” Haikalis said.

    Gerasimos, 59, was born in Kalamata, Greece, to Nicholas and Anastasia Michaleas. In 1970, he enrolled at Hellenic College in Brookline, Mass., where he received a bachelor’s degree with honors in 1973.

    He was ordained to the diaconate in 1979 and served as archdeacon to His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, the then-prelate of America. During the same period he was dean of students at his former alma mater in Brookline. He earned a master’s degree in counseling and school psychology at Boston College in 1984, and his doctorate in counseling and school psychology in 1993. He was elected a bishop in 2001.

    Now, as he faces the daunting task of running his sprawling territory, he says he has wondered whether he would have to be even more disciplined in maintaining a spiritual life.

    “You ask me about my spiritual life. It’s on a good road, but I think I’m going to have a hell of a fight from now on,” he said, smiling. He said he took hope in the lives of the church’s desert fathers: late 3rd and early 4th century monastics in the Egyptian desert beloved for their spiritual guidance.

    “Many times there is a huge desert in our lives, and I try to water my desert with their wisdom as much as possible,” Gerasimos said. “If I don’t do that, I would literally become withered spiritually and I am not able to be happy.”

    In a wide-ranging interview, Gerasimos spoke of such things as the TV show “Desperate Housewives,” gay marriage, the war in Iraq and the politicization of the Terri Schiavo case.

    He admitted he is an unabashed fan of “Desperate Housewives.” Said Gerasimos: “That little bit sultry TV program has so many truths in it. I’m watching it every time it’s on.” He said the show is popular because it depicts what goes on in many families and connects with viewers.

    “What I’m saying to the church is, can we do that?”

    One of his first plans, to be unveiled at his enthronement today, is to launch an institute to serve families and educate priests on family issues.

    At the moment, Gerasimos said, many priests merely bless a troubled couple and they go about their business. “But what is your business? If Christ is not involved in your business, I’m missing something. I’m not doing my job,” Gerasimos said.

    He also spoke of moral issues that have straddled religious and political thinking.

    On the war in Iraq, he criticized President Bush’s policy: “Was it a preemptive war? We did start it, but it was very much premeditated…. ‘Preemptive’ means you’re going to try to prevent something. What war did we prevent? The politics have their own place. They have their own culture. They have their principles. But when they try to get them sanctified by God and by faith, that’s when I get very angry.”

    Asked if same-sex unions were a threat to the traditional family, he said, “Absolutely not. I don’t see that at all…. I would say God bless you, but I will not sanctify a marriage. But at the same time I will not tell them that you’re condemned to die, that you’re going to hell.”

    The Greek Orthodox church does not have any set rules on the kind of end-of-life issues raised by the Schiavo case, according to Father Paul Schroeder, chancellor of the metropolis.

    Metropolitan Gerasimos questioned the intervention by Congress and the White House in efforts to reinsert Schiavo’s feeding tube.

    “This family has an inherent responsibility to choose and decide for their own,” he said a day before Schiavo died. “So here comes the government and says, ‘No! I’m going to become something over you. I’m going to tell you this is wrong, this is a sin.’

    “This is the way we’re politicizing issues, like abortion, like same-sex marriages. We politicize them to the point that you divide the nation, you divide neighbors, you divide everybody — face to face, black and white. It’s not a black-and-white issue here.”

  6. Makes you wonder if the “Church” has any set rules about anything…unless you’re a priest trying to stand for something other than Greek Hellenism – THEN there sure are rules!

  7. George Michalopulos :

    you know, I wonder, a while back certain people took me to task for the supposed laxity of the OCA. Some wise elder supposedly reinforced this bias. Yet not one word was said about the extreme liberality of the bishops in the GOA of which there are so many examples.

    All I ask for is a little consistency.

  8. George Michalopulos :

    John K, in case you haven’t heard, or realized by now, SCOBA is basically a joke. Fr Arey had his hat handed to him back in June not once, but three times when he tried to uphold the “success” and wonderfulness of SCOBA, twice by Archbishop Nathanael and once by Charles Ajalat. And Ajalat has forgotten more about SCOBA than anybody here (myself included) ever knew.

    As for the “bitterness” directed towards the EP/GOA, please go to The Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological Review and read “How Much Unity, How Much Diversity,” by Fr Nicholas K Apostola. It was written back in 2005 and it pulls no punches against the Phanar and the GOA bishops who –like pusallimous children–withdrew their signatures under duress from the Ligonier document back in 1994. This quarterly btw is put out by the GOA. You can access it at

    Long story short, this bitterness and suspicion is well-earned.

  9. John K:

    Perhaps you’ve slept through the pan-Orthodox and inter-Orthodox witness at the WCC (including the agreements between the Oriental and Eastern Churches on Chalcedon)

    You seem to imply these are good things. I and many others disagree vehemently. It seems the EP is more interested in gaining influence and power with the hetrodox than caring for Orthodox people and Holy Tradition.

  10. John K,

    Thank you for your comments. I am not a bitter and angry person and I share my Orthodox faith with my friends no matter if they are Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Athiest, Hindu, or Islamic. Why, because I want them to be “included” in the radical healing of soul and body I have encountered in only one place. The Orthodox Church is the fullness of the faith, and any denial of that puts souls in jeopardy.

    It is true that one can sail the ocean in a raft made from sticks, but if the sure ship of the True Church passes such a raft, wouldn’t that make us responsible to invite them on board? We should make every effort to make sure that our Christian cousins are “included” in the fullness of the faith? I say, let us “include” the Anglicans, and the Roman Catholics, and the Minaphysites because we love them and want them to be Orthodox. God loves them too, and he can save them despite their heresy/opinions. BUT MY LOVE FOR SOULS DOES NOT ALLOW ME TO GLIBLY DISMISS OUR DIFFERENCES AND TELL THEM WHAT THEY BELIEVE IS ORTHODOX WHEN IT IS NOT.

    There is a difference between being inviting and inclusive and putting an equal sign between truth and falsehood.

    Secondly, I know that many people who post here are not critical of the EP & GOC exactly, but the worldly and sadly arrogant attitudes that many in that jurisdiction present, embarrassing us, making the work of evangelization harder. I have heard that the hierarchs and the parishes are mostly very secular but that there is a revival of Athonite spirituality in GOC monasteries and many faithful are fleeing to these monastic communities to find the genuine Faith. None of us here deplore the faithful Greek Orthodox Christians just as none of us would ever support a Russian or American bishop when he is mistaken just because he was Russian or American.



  11. I also need to speak up about union with the Miaphysites. I pray that they will become Orthodox and sooner than latter. I feel it would be a great boon to the Orthodox Church to have these brothers back. But I do not believe that they could have seriously concluded they share the same faith. I make this conclusion based on documents recording their diologes you can find at the article: Concerning the Approaching Orthodox-Monophysite Union

    + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

    To show their unanimous enmity toward Chalcedon we shall quote their own words:

    “Prof. Karmiris wants that a new formula should be developed; but let us be quite clear that that should not be an attempt to get the non-Chalcedonians to accept Chalcedon.” (Bishop Theophiles of South India, p. 29)

    “In the thirteenth century an Armenian Catholic agreed to accept Chalcedon but he was killed by the people”. (Dr. Krikorian, Armenia, p. 29)

    “Within the last five years a bishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was suspended from his bishopric because something he wrote lent itself to be interpreted as an acceptance of Chalcedon.” (Rev. Joseph, South India, p, 29)

    “Here I have the feeling that one side (i.e. the Eastern Orthodox) is assuming that they have a monopoly of the truth and think the other side should admit error.” (Abba Degou, Ethiopia, p. 29)

    “Our fathers found Nestorianism in the horos (i.e. doctrinal definition) of Chalcedon. We cannot accept any expression that lends itself to be interpreted as a duality in the person of Jesus Christ…Even if we accept the teaching of Chalcedon we are not obliged to accept Chalcedon.” (Bishop Gregories (Copt), p. 30)

    “We have always held that Chalcedon was not ecumenical. By all means, you continue to believe in Chalcedon; but do not expect us to accept Chalcedon.” (Mariam of Ethiopia, p. 30)

    “Let us be quite clear; Chalcedon is not acceptable to us.” (Bishop Zakka, Syrian Monophysite, pp. 30-31)

    “There should be no misunderstanding of the position of the non-Chalcedonian Churches; there will be no formal acceptance of Chalcedon.” (Fr. Verghese, South India, p. 31)

  12. And to be even clearer, for those who would say they do not accept the “words” of the 4th Council but they do affirm the faith of that council, I urge you to read this:

    Students of Church History know that the Holy Sixth Ecumenical Council, convoked to refute the very lethal heresy of Monothelitism, dealt with a false teaching which, as it were, revealed the inner logics of Monophysitism. It is not surprising that the Sixth Council is considered even more odious than Chalcedon by the Monophysites. In his paper presented at Geneva, the Monophysite theologian, Fr. Verghese, shows this perfectly clearly. He writes,

    “If acceptance of the Sixth Council thus means our agreeing to condemn Dioscorus and Severus, who are true teachers of the Authentic Tradition, then we must choose the two fathers mentioned in preference to the Sixth Council, which appears to us badly muddled, not to say in grievous error”…(p. 137)

    He continues,

    “The argument in the horos of the Sixth Council is basically unacceptable for us…acceptance of the Sixth Council is much more difficult for us than the acceptance of Chalcedon…This council explicitly and unjustifiedly condemns our fathers Dioscorus and Severus, and calls the former ‘hated of God’ and the doctrine of the latter ‘mad and wicked’…We are unable to accept the dithelite formula attributing will and energy to the natures rather than to the hypostasis…We regard Leo (of Rome) as a heretic for his teaching that the will and operation of Christ is to be attributed to the two natures of Christ rather than to the one hypostasis… If the restoration of communion between our two families of Churches were to be dependent on our acceptance of the four councils now rejected by the non-Chalcedonian family, then we have little reason at present to hope that this condition can be fulfilled.” (pp. 137-l41)

    After reading such an extremely firm rejection of Orthodox teaching and a passionate reaffirmation of the Monothelite heresy, the Orthodox reader is astounded that even the most true-believing of ecumenists could believe that Orthodox and Monophysites have reached doctrinal agreement.

  13. Excellent words, Ryan, especially your first post!

    However, something that must be mentioned about the Miaphysites is that the theology the appear to be living, ironically, is both Chalcedonian and Dithelite! The problem is that their “theologians” continue to reject both Chalcedonianism and, more importantly, Dithelitism. Most Oriental Orthodox, if you discuss this with them, actually are willing to acknowledge such statements as “we must submit our human wills to God’s will as this is fundamental in our participation in Christ” – and this is the life they strive to live – but then if you apply this statement to Christology they call it Dithelitist “heresy”.

    I would love to see the non-Chalcedonians, as well as the so-called “Nestorian” Church of the East (which only arguably was Nestorian at the time of the schism and today outright rejects Nestorianism), rejoin the Church but this would require that they reject both Miaphysitism and especially Monothelitism. It seems, however, that more and more Orientals are at least willing to flirt with this idea and this certainly brings me joy.

    Many claim that the split over the council of Chalcedon came about because the Greek understanding of the Greek word “phusis” was different than the understanding held by the Copts and Syriacs – that it was a schism caused by semantics. I would be more inclined to accept this belief if not for the Oriental belief in Monothelitism (which, if we recall, originally came about as an attempt to reunify with the non-Chalcedonian communities), which clearly shows a different Christology. However, I can only pray that they see that the Dilethite theology they are living is the Truth; not the Monothelite heresy maintained by their current theologians and bishops.

  14. Let us all pray for the day when we are reunited to our Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Assyrian, Indian, and Armenian brothers in truth. I have not found a prayer for this kind of unity but I have found another for the much more important unity we need in America today.

    O All Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we your faithful children beseech you to forgive us the sin of divisiveness, which is rooted in our hearts, our dioceses and land. Implant in our lives the holy vine of unity which only you can bestow on those who have come together in your name. Enlighten us with your grace so that we may come to the knowledge of your truth and move our hearts to respond with trust and total obedience to your divine will. Through the intercessions of the God-inspired Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea, who in harmony decreed that there should be one hierarch in each city serving your faithful as a loving father over his children, one shepherd over a united flock, we also praise your all holy name. O Father who is without beginning, O Son who is eternal and O Holy Spirit, the life-creator, illuminate the way and guide us all to once again unite your Holy Church.

  15. I also sent a facebook message to Elpidophoros Lambriniadis. We were facebook friends for a year before his infamous speech. Believe me it was bizarre when I realized that he was the same person. I have a good repour with him and asked him some questions.

    First, I asked him to urge the Ecumenical Patriarch to con-celebrate a Divine Liturgy with all the SCOBA bishop in English during his visit. I asked him to ask the Patriarch about how our bishops don’t, as a rule, learn about the faith from dead saints and angels anymore. Lastly, I asked him why the up-and-coming “ecumenical council” so-called is being billed as the 8th when it would clearly be the 10th if at all.

  16. Well,what is interesting is both Justinian and Theodora were on opposite sides of this issue. Theodora had little religious interest before going to Alexanderia Egypt after her lover the governor of Libya Hecubolius kick her out. She according to some ancient orential orthodox sources met Bishop Timothy and might have been introduce to the famous orential ex-Patriarch and writer John Serevus. In fact, Theodora according to John Of Ephesius help to reduce an exile of one of them during the reign of Justin I. She also help protect them from her husbands laws that exile them and provided a place for them to stay in the palace of Hormsidas. She even had Justinian come with her to talk to them about religion and be bless by them. And some of them were stylites- living on a pillar. Both Justinian and Theodora live there before he and she became emperor and empress. Theodora influence Justinian in having talks with the orential. However, because of the war in Italy and Pope Agapetus these talks were brought to a in. In fact, Roman Catholics have seen her as orential and as Deliah and Justinian as Samson. This is exaggerated since Justinian was a strong ruler and was infleunce by her not as much as is believed. One of the orential churches, the Jacobite church Theodora is an important Saint since she help the founder Jacob Baradaeus that founded the Jacobite Church. If you read, Orthodox Wiki it mentions her early monophysite connections but the anicent sources don’t really mentioning about her changing her religous views. If both Eastern and Orential got back together, Theodora being a Saint in both Churches would now make sense. Justinian would never be a Saint to the orential since there was some persuection by him of them. I can a doubt that both sides will get back together right now.

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