A Letter by the Blessed Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos on the Matter of Ecumenism and Schismatic Old Calendarist Zealotism
Athens, the 22nd July 1971
Dearest Fr. Nicodemos,
Rejoice in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
More than a month has passed since I received your letter. I delayed responding to it, due to an overload of obligations. I beg for your understanding.
I shall reply somewhat briefly, with my promise to revert, in the event that your holiness should require new clarifications.
First of all, dearest Fr. Nicodemos, I am obliged to tell you a bitter truth, which will seem more than absurd to you and will amaze you. Until this day, I have been avoiding, for the sake of oikonomia, to formulate this position, or have expressed it in shadowy terms; however, as things have already reached a point that can go no further and certain select persons, who unfortunately have a terror-stricken conscience, have gone over to the Old Calendarists and have become victims of a relentless propaganda against the Church, it is time that the truth be told, straightforwardly and unreservedly.
Well, Fr. Nicodemos, all those who, out of fear of Ecumenism, accede to the Old Calendarists gain nothing whatsoever, except that by fleeing from one heresy, they accede to another. Of course they themselves are not conscious that they have acceded to a heresy, but that does not change things in the least.
Do not think that I am unfair or immoderate. I will prove that my argument is absolutely true. Please take note.
What is a heresy, dear Fr. Nicodemos? It is an adulteration of the Faith! But what is an adulteration of the Faith? Is it the breaching of Dogmas? That too is an adulteration of the Faith, but it is not only that. An adulteration of the Faith is also the elevating to the status of a Dogma of the Faith those things that are not. That is to say, if someone were to render a secondary thing, even if a good one, as a Dogma of the Faith, as a condition for salvation, then that someone automatically becomes a he-re-tic!
Do you want an example? Well, you have the famous Eustathians! What did they do? Did they breach any Dogmas of the Faith? Which one? Perhaps the one pertaining to the Holy Trinity? Perhaps the one pertaining to the two natures of the Lord? Perhaps the one pertaining to Angels? Perhaps the one on the Devil, etc., etc.? No! They did not violate any Dogma.
But then what did they do? They "elevated" certain secondary things to the level of Dogmas of the Faith, to conditions for salvation: celibacy, and abstaining from meat. The Church had said that although these two things were good and holy and commendable, they were NOT conditions for salvation. They were NOT dogmas of the Faith. "NO!" said the outraged Eustathians! "Whoever does NOT abstain from marriage and meat, CANNOT be saved!"
What happened after this? During the Council of Gangra, the Church declared them as heretics and pronounced a string of anathemas against them.
Dear Fr. Nicodemos, the uniformity in dates of feasts may be a good and holy thing (even though it was never fully upheld in the Church), but it is NOT a Dogma of the Faith - it is NOT a condition for salvation.
"No!" the Old Calendarist remonstrators cry out! "The disruption of feastday uniformity (Question: When did the Church EVER have absolute uniformity in the dates of feast days?) has deprived the Church of God's Grace, and has rendered Her Sacraments VOID (listen, and shudder!) and that subsequently, the New Calendarists are also exempt of Grace - in other words, exempt of salvation. (!!!)
This hideous declaration, brother Nicodemos, constitutes a monstrous heresy and a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Those poor wretches have elevated into Dogmas of the Faith and conditions for salvation certain elements relating to....calendrical and feast days!
Of course, no one regards the existence of two calendars in the space of the worldwide Orthodox Catholic Church as a good thing. The change in the Calendar was unfortunate; very unfortunate. But from that point, up to the point of recognizing calendars as Dogmas of the Faith and hinging the authority of the Sacraments and the attainment of salvation from them, the distance became abysmal. The Old Calendarists could have continued to observe the old calendar, but at least continued to preserve their communion with the Church [like the majority of Mount Athos]. That would not have entailed any danger. Instead, they went as far as severing themselves from the Church, for fear of losing Grace and salvation!!!
I am not ignorant of the fact that there are Old Calendarists who do not accept such blasphemies, but what is the use, if there are others, and in fact leaders, who support those heretical views?
Now listen to a dialogue that I had with a choice young man, who had acceded to the Old Calendarists:
-Why did you depart from the Church of Greece?
-So that I wouldn't be in communion with heretic ecumenists.
-Are all the Bishops of Greece ecumenists?
-No! No! But they are in communion with the ecumenist Patriarch, so I don't want to be in communion with persons who are in communion with heretic ecumenists.
-Do you believe that the calendar is a Dogma of the Faith, and that the New Calendarists are exempt from Grace and are in need of re-Chrismation, like those who have returned from heretics?
-God forbid! I in no way believe that nonsense by the Old Calendarists. I acceded to them, for the sole purpose of avoiding even an indirect communion with heretic ecumenists!
-But in no way did you avoid communion with another heresy, because the assertion by the Old Calendarists (that the change in the calendar deprived the Church of Grace) is not a simple piece of nonsense, as you mentioned previously. It is a grave blasphemy and heresy.
-But I don't believe in those things!
-And yet, you are in communion with people who do believe those things!
-What else can I do? I am forced to tolerate them, for the sake of providence.
-Then why didn't you tolerate, likewise for the sake of oikonomia, those Bishops of Greece who were in communion with the Patriarch?
-Can you see what kind of quandary you were drawn into? You acknowledge that most of the Bishops of Greece are Orthodox, but you refuse every communion with them because they are in communion with the Patriarch. In this way, you are not accepting communion with ecumenists, even indirectly, but you are accepting a direct - a clearly direct - communion with people who preach another kind of heresy: one that claims salvation is dependent on...calendars!!! So, how exactly have you benefited??? But even so, you should not imagine that you have actually avoided indirect communion with ecumenists.
-And how is that?
-Listen, you poor victim of cunning propagandists: the Old Calendarists will yell until their lungs explode, that even common prayers with the Patriarch (and others who are similarly minded to him) will render us alike to them, even if we don't believe what they preach. Well, if they at least remained consistent to this position of theirs....but consistency is not one of their fine points!
Go dear friend to an Old Calendarist Hermitage, especially the one in Lykovrisi outside Athens [St. Irene Chrysovalantou], and you will see whole busloads of New Calendarists disembarking, all arriving there to attend the Liturgy! I have heard that the New Calendarist church-goers on Sundays by far outnumber the Old Calendarists! In fact, the periodical issued by the said Hermitage has occasionally expressed its request to the "pilgrims" who wish to attend services there to come dressed modestly - men, women and children. However, it makes no mention whatsoever that New Calendarists should not attend there at all; No! The only thing it stresses and is satisfied with is the avoidance of improper attire. This achieved, nothing else is examined. This achieved, the New Calendarists are most welcome to common attendance and common prayer!
I also know of many instances of Old Calendarist Priests who have unconditionally accepted New Calendarists into the Sacraments of Confession, and even of Holy Communion. In other words, we have here an offering of the Sacraments to persons who at other moments are characterized by the Old Calendarist leaders as being "far from the truth and salvation", simply because they belong to the Church of Greece, which is in communion with the Patriarch! What a mess, and what an anomaly!
So, if those who are like-minded to you are in common prayer and communion with us, who are in common prayer and communion with the Patriarch, then you are still in indirect communion with the Patriarch! So, what did you gain? You have not avoided indirect communion with ecumenists, and you have also been led into a direct communion with persons who preach another kind of heresy!
These are the things that were said with that young man at the time. I am repeating them, so that you can extrapolate certain conclusions, dear Fr. Nicodemos.
And here are some brief answers to your questions:
1. It was a huge "blunder" on the part of Philaretos, when he recognized the Old Calendarists in Greece. He most probably fell victim to bad counsel. Some information has reached my ears that he has regretted doing what he did, after having met the Old Calendarists in Greece. But time will tell. I believe that there will be developments.
At any rate, in my opinion the Church of Greece is anything but heretical; the decision reached by Philaretos' Synod is not only lacking in authority, but also, inasmuch as it is an entirely anti-canonical intervention in the internal affairs of another co-believing Church, it has triggered canonical responsibilities for the said Synod.
2. If Philaretos had believed that the Church of Greece had fallen into heresy, then he could have intervened. However, it was his duty not to recognize the Old Calendarists (who, although not ecumenists, nevertheless preach another kind of heresy as I mentioned earlier, ie., that salvation is dependent on calendars), but instead, to ordain Priests (or even Bishops) anew, to man the Church of Greece. Those Priests could follow the old calendar, but not preach the aforementioned heretical view, and they would also accept communion with those faithful who followed the new calendar, exactly as Philaretos does.
3. The present situation (common prayers, innovations, etc.) does not justify the "crossing of boundaries". Only a Church that falls into heresy can give the right to "extra-territorial" Bishops to intervene.
4. If an Orthodox Synod condemns someone, it is not permitted for the Synod of any other Local Church to acquit him. If this should happen, the second decision is void. In other words, if a Clergyman of the Church of Greece is condemned by it and he appeals to another Church - for example, the Church of Serbia - and asks to be judged by it, the Church of Serbia will reject his demand, stating that it is entirely unauthorized to respond and that only the Church of Greece has such jurisdiction. However, if the Church of Serbia were to respond to that demand and judge the Clergyman in question, then its decision - for having been issued in spite of Canons - is void in every way and also incurs canonical responsibilities.
If the misdemeanours of that Clergyman do not constitute an impediment to Priesthood and he later repents for them, then the only one who is authorized to reinstate him is again the Church of Greece. It has never been permitted to an Orthodox Church to intervene in the internal affairs of another.
Of course it is an entirely different matter, if one Local Orthodox Church requests assistance from another Local Church or Churches in order to solve an internal problem that it may have. In that case, it is not considered an arbitrary intervention, but rather solidarity support.
Only an Ecumenical Synod - as the supreme Authority - is entitled to intervene in the internal affairs of a Local Orthodox Church and regulate them according to its discernment. For instance, if a Clergyman of a Local Church (in fact its Primate) believes he has been unjustly condemned, it is possible for him to resort to petitions towards other Local Orthodox Churches, and after narrating his undeserved adventure, ask for justice to be rendered. In the event that the other Churches find his complaints valid, they can go as far as convening a Great Synod, whose decision will be binding for everyone. Unilateral intervention by one Local Church into the internal affairs of another one is inadmissible.
But it is understood that all of the above apply to Local Orthodox Churches, and not to heretics.
5. The word "void" - when in reference to Sacraments - at times characterizes the entirely unsubstantial (that is, nonexistent) Sacraments, and elsewhere, the existent ones which however have been performed anti-canonically. This depends on what inference we give to the word "void".
6. A returning "zealot" can, through lenience, become re-accepted, even with a simple Confession before a Spiritual Father. If that zealot is a Clergyman, he must ask his proper Bishop for his reinstatement, through the canonical procedure. Changing posts (going from one Old Calendar group to another) "from time to time" indicates an obvious inconstancy; unfortunately, this is a customary tendency with Old Calendarists.
7. Undoubtedly, one cannot be dedicated to "both the one side and the other" simultaneously. It is an entirely different matter if, by resorting to oikonomia, the one side shows tolerance to the other, in the hope of finally drawing them towards the straight path.
8. If someone is very simpleminded and cannot perceive certain things, but does not persist in his fallacious positions by being opinionated, stubborn etc., and is merely simpleminded, it is quite possible for him to acquire bounteous Grace from God. God's judgments are unfathomable.
There have been cases in which wise persons of the Church had fallen into fallacies; and yet, the God Who examines the heart and not the appearance, did not judge them as undeserving of His favour. The great Gregory, the Bishop of Nyssa, was not without certain dogmatic fallacies. And yet, he is a saint and a Father of the Church. Likewise, the divine Dionysios of Alexandria, when theologizing on the Son, had not expressed himself with dogmatic accuracy, which is why he had, inadvertently, given many footholds to the Arians who thereafter invoked him. Because of this, Athanasius the Great was compelled to write an entire treatise on Saint Dionysios, in order to elucidate his dogmatically pointless expressions.
9. We can of course have congenial relations with "zealots"; but we are not permitted to receive Sacraments from them. However, if they are, as you write, in communion with our Church, then the situation is different. But, honestly, are there "zealots" who are in communion with our Church?
10. Unfortunately, the return to the old calendar is not an easy thing in the Church of Greece. It may even be impossible. But even if it were possible, do not ever imagine that all the Old Calendarists would then submit themselves to the Church. Most of the Old Calendarist Clergymen prefer to be unrestrained and would never acquiesce to be under a yoke and under control. They would find a thousand and one "arguments" to justify their persevering in mutiny. They would say for example that the Bishops are Masons, and the suchlike. I am well acquainted with many Clergymen of the Old Calendarists. One of the leaders of an Old Calendarist group had said to me several years ago: "I dare not impose even ten days of restricted duty to any of my clerics. They will 'go to the others', they tell me..." (he meant to another Old Calendarist group). From this, you can get an idea of what kind of willingness for canonical discipline exists among the Old Calendarist Clergy - with the exclusion of a few exceptions.
11. The positions outlined in the "Epistolary Diatribe" apply only if our Church is Orthodox, and not heretic. To "wish it health" is a very broad statement. We cannot ask for absolute health (canonical, administrative, moral, etc.) of the Church, since it is comprised of imperfect and sinful people. It would be ideal if it could enjoy health in all its aspects, but is that possible? So, as long as it is Orthodox and not heretic, we can consider this as being sufficient. Far be it for me to characterize the Church of Greece as...heretic!!! If others are so comfortable in undertaking such a scary responsibility (that is, to characterize an Orthodox, Local Church as "heretic"), let them do so.
12-13. The Orthodox should undoubtedly NOT pray together or have any other religious ties with heretics (Papists, Protestants, etc. - The same applies in the case of schismatics). But if one were to pray together, or be otherwise in communion with, heretics, they would of course be violators of the Holy Canons and deserving of ecclesiastical penalties; however, they would not be considered as heretics automatically. It is quite possible that in such cases, one can believe in an Orthodox manner, disapprove of all other teachings, and yet, not consider religious contacts with heterodox as something bad. This kind of person is, I repeat, a formidable violator of sacred Canons, but he is NOT a heretic. However, if this is not enough for him, and he also preaches heretic beliefs, then the whole issue is entirely different. This behaviour would render him a heretic. He is a heretic, because he is preaching heretical beliefs - even if he has no communion whatsoever with other heretics.
However, there are two kinds of heretics: Those whom the Church has put on trial and has convicted and excised from Her Body, and those who have neither been convicted as yet by the Church, nor have left the Church of their own volition, but instead have remained in the Body of the Church. One such case is the case of the Patriarch. Patriarch Athenagoras has preached heretical beliefs. But he has not been convicted yet by the Church, nor has he renounced the Church and removed himself from Her. He has remained inside the Church and continues to minister inside the Church and consequently, he is still a channel of Grace; He performs Sacraments.
What can we do?
a) Pray for him to recover and repent.
b) Protest against him and keep struggling. If someone's conscience cannot tolerate the commemoration of his name, he has the right, by proceeding even further, to cease commemorating him, in compliance with Canon 15 of the 1st-2nd Synod. However, this is the furthermost step that he can take, if he does not want to reach the point of schism or mutiny. In other words, when ceasing to commemorate him, he will not commemorate another Bishop; instead, he will wait, as mentioned earlier in my "Epistolary Diatribe", with a calm conscience, for the judgment of a Synod.
Another problem: How will those who cease a commemoration behave towards the Patriarch? Because those who are in communion with the Patriarch are two categories: (a) those that have the same views as him (as do Iakovos of America, Meliton of Chalcedon etc.) and (b) those that disagree with his views (as do almost all the Hierarchs of the Church of Greece). They will behave towards the former (category a) the way they behave towards the Patriarch, but to the others (category b), even if this category is in communion with the Patriarch, they cannot behave similarly; in other words, they cannot go as far as ceasing to commemorate them (category b). According to the sacred Canons, it is not permitted to avoid communion with them. The Holy Canons give the right to cease commemoration, only of a Bishop or Patriarch who preaches heretic teachings. They do not give the right to also cease the commemoration of those who - albeit Orthodox - tolerate him.
This point is to be observed very carefully! We have a duty to discern between the two situations: There is a difference between one who preaches heretical beliefs, and one who believes and teaches in an Orthodox manner but for the sake of dispensation (oikonomia) tolerates and maintains communion with him.
Also, there is a difference between one who preaches heretical beliefs but does not remove himself from the Church (nor is excised by the Church), and one who leaves the Church on his own initiative (and founds his own "church" or accedes to another, heretical or schismatic one), or who has been excised by the Church, pursuant to a trial and conviction. It is with the second kind that every Orthodox must have no communion whatsoever. However, communion with the first kind (until he has been convicted) is left, by the sacred Canons, to the discretion of each Orthodox faithful.
In other words, we have the right, that has been provided by the sacred Canons, to cease a commemoration, but we are not bound to do so. As a consequence, if one were to utilize this right and cease a commemoration, he has the right to do so, and should not be censured by the others. If, upon weighing various factors, another were to deem preferable to not utilize this right, but instead await a "Synodic diagnosis", he will not be reprehensible, let alone be regarded as deserving excommunication! One could apply here, adjusted accordingly, the words by the Apostle Paul: "Let not the one who commemorates debilitate the one who does not commemorate, nor the one who does not commemorate judge the one who commemorates" (Rom.14:3).
Then, you might ask, what do we gain by avoiding commemoration of the Patriarch, if we are going to be in communion with, say, the Bishop of Druinoupolis, who does commemorate the Patriarch? Will we not be thus "polluted", by being in indirect communion with the one who preaches heretic beliefs?
However, the cessation of commemoration "prior to a Synodic diagnosis" and conviction was not intended for averting "pollution" (by the heresy that is being preached)! No, my brother! If that were its meaning, then the Canons would not have merely provided the right to cease a commemoration (for reasons of heresy) "prior to a Synodic diagnosis"; they would have instituted an explicit and clear prohibition, at the risk of very severe penalties if it is not observed.
The cessation of commemoration for reasons of heresy "prior to a Synodic diagnosis" has a different meaning. It is a strong, but also a last resort protest of the Orthodox conscience; it provides an outlet for those who become scandalized, and at the same time aspires to creating a disturbance, so that the Church might hasten to settle the matter.
There is no danger of becoming polluted, either by commemorating the Patriarch (if he has not yet been convicted), or, even more so, if we accept to be in communion with those who commemorate him. Statements to the contrary are nothing more than foolish "zealotisms".
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem was not polluted, even though he had been ordained a Bishop by the Metropolitan Akakios of Caesaria, who, albeit a self-declared Arian (and in fact the leader of a portion of Arians), continued to remain and to minister in the Church. Saint Anatolius had also been ordained a Bishop (and as a matter of fact, Patriarch of Constantinople), by the Patriarch Dioscorus of Alexandria, who was a Monophysite and a mighty protector of the heresy leader Eutyches, but who had not yet been convicted by the Fourth Ecumenical Synod. So, if an ordination by Bishops preaching heretical beliefs (but not convicted Synodically and still remaining in the Church) does not pollute, then neither does the commemoration of them pollute, and even less so does communion with persons who tolerate them for the sake of oikonomia and who continue to uphold the commemoration thereof.
The Old Calendarists, albeit "not comprehending, either those things that are said, or what they are reassuring", assert completely opposite things. (see also the book by Theodoretus Mavros). This being the case, those poor wretches must also be "polluted". Why? Because, as mentioned previously, they too (despite their theoretical proclamations - or, more correctly, in a vociferous and tragic contradiction to them), have in practice accepted communion (through common prayers and the administering of Sacraments) with persons who belong to the Church of Greece, which is in communion with the Patriarch! Hence?????
If they wanted to be consistent, they should not be accepting church attendance by even one single member of the Greek Church (let alone accept them for Confession or Holy Communion), if they haven't previously declared that they have departed from the Church of Greece and have acceded with repentance to their "church". Instead, these groups fearlessly and unhesitatingly attend church together, pray together, and participate together in Sacraments, with entire crowds of "New Calendarists" in their Old Calendarist Temples, and even in their monastic Retreats.
Do all these things sound like moral consistency? Are they morally permissible? Are they canonically acceptable things? Are they, finally, actions of honesty? They may quite possibly say that they are doing this "for the sake of dispensation" (oikonomia). But then why create schisms and divisions and partitions and wounds in the Body of the Church? If, by going to the Old Calendarists, they will be again praying together with those who are in communion with the Patriarch, why not remain in the Church of Greece and tolerate "for the sake of dispensation" the Patriarch and those who are aligned with his beliefs? In this way, they would be "dispensationally" tolerating only one heresy: Ecumenism; but, by going over to the Old Calendarists, they would be tolerating two: Ecumenism (given that Old Calendarists pray together with New Calendarists who are in communion with the Patriarch), and Greek Old Calendarism, which preaches the heresy that calendars and feast-dates are conditions for one's Salvation!
I am specifically saying "Greek Old Calendarism", because I have no intention of condemning the per se old calendar which so many Orthodox Churches observe, but the heretical exaggerations that the Greek Old Calendarists have mindlessly embraced. Apart from the other reasons, this is why I am so afraid and terrified of mutinies and schisms - their lot is unavoidably this: they finally end up supporting positions that are entirely heretical!
These, most beloved Fr.Nicodemos, are the things that I wanted to write to you and your sacred and God-loving Escorts. And I have written to you "out of much grief and a restrained heart" (2 Cor.2:4). The entire state of the Orthodox Church is currently a very grievous one. Perhaps, in the end, certain serious adventures will not be avoided.
Let us be attentive! With humility, with prayer, with fasting, with solemnity, let us ask for enlightenment by the Lord, on how we must tread during the oncoming developments. The Church is faced with double trouble: on the one hand, there is satanically-driven Ecumenism, and on the other hand, there is soul-devastating Fanaticism, which eventually leads to horrific blasphemies and heresies and obscures the truth. Let us be fearful of both and flee from both. We must not deviate to the right or to the left. Let us walk along the middle and "royal" path, which is the path of unadulterated Orthodoxy that knows how to safeguard precision (akrivia) and is also aware of the displays of dispensation (oikonomia).
Rejoice, brother! And I shall again say "rejoice!" Rejoice, in the midst of every grief and every affliction. For Jesus "surrendered Himself for our sins, and was risen for our vindication" (Rom.4:25).
I beg you all to beseech the Lord to have mercy on my wretchedness also, for I am in a diverse struggle. I grieve about everything. "On the outside, battles; on the inside, fears." (2 Cor. 7:5 - interpretation by P.Trembelas).
Always willing for every kind of assistance, and invoking prayers by you all, I remain, with profound love and honour, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Source: Taken from the book: The Two Extremes - Ecumenism and Zealotism.