May 9, 2016

The Pan-Orthodox Synod and Saint Porphyrios

By Kostas Nousis

The voices against the future Pan-Orthodox Synod do not seem to cease. Freedom of expression is a given. Besides, the disclosure of the pre-synodal texts gives and indirectly solicits the use of this right.

On the other hand, however, we should consider soberly and seriously whether the objecting voices are essential and not affected by fundamentalism, and not necessarily produced by malicious pens. As I write the above I have in mind the recent document of the Bulgarian Church and letters from certain monasteries of Mount Athos. I will begin with the Bulgarian text, which of course in its substance is relevant to the texts of the protests and disagreements produced in the letters from Mount Athos.[1] One thing that seems to strongly annoy is the term "Church", when it is attributed to the heterodox. According to dogmatic precision, this is a proper objection. The Church is one and single, the Body of Christ. It is undivided and unpartitioned. It is identified without fail with the Orthodox Canonical Dioceses. Beyond this however there should be a flexibility in dialogue and in the terminological uses with those we are in dialogue with. Moreover, the ecclesiastical and patristic tradition testifies to the freedom of the Church against words and names and in the persistence of seeking the substance, the truth of things: "Truth and piety is not in words, but in reality," says Gregory the Theologian. "We make our struggle on behalf of doctrine and reality. In matters of reality we are unanimous, though we differ in words" (Synodal Tome of 1351).

What I personally do not understand, perhaps by my own fault, is the association between the notorious "theology of the person" with the strange theory of primacy, which seems to be revived by the fact that each Primate of the Pan-Orthodox Synod has one vote each. Indeed, in recent years we have seen the uncovering of heresies and we refer to them invisibly and undefined, as if according to Cavafy we cannot do without barbarians.

I would agree, as in a recent text of mine,[2] that the Pan-Orthodox Synod has several structural and organizational problems, but we should be pleased with its convening after so many centuries. The case can be made also that it looks more like a Conference than a Synod, but this should not, in my humble opinion, lead to the cancellation or impairment of the Pan-Orthodox Synod. We cannot always deal with the dill and cumin and mint and set aside the substance of the problem. Namely that we cannot because of nationalist and other criteria gather together and give a rudimentary ad extra Orthodox witness of peace, unity and love.

I will quote a text that I read recently and was surprised by. Of course I did not read it with ecumenist glasses nor do I recommend readers to read it this way, simply because it would not do justice to Saint Porphyrios and the Church, and because it simply does not correspond to the truth of things. It seems, therefore, that everything annoys us, as in the case of the presence of heterodox observers at the Pan-Orthodox Synod. But how can you place in a modern globalized landscape all of Orthodoxy in a fishbowl? Even if it could be done, should it be permissible?

"Nevertheless the saints, even if they had such an attitude to heresy, it was not to the heretic, for they approached the heretics with much love, with much goodness. with much affection, with so much tolerance. And with such love throughout the ages the Orthodox Church saved countless heretics."[3]

There is however this striking quotation to which I already referred to. It is in regard to Saint Porphyrios and certain Catholic tourists to our country. I will let the text speak for itself with the characteristic directness and freshness governing the words of the priest Ananias:

"At that time the Elder was still young, and there was a certain old lady in the village who was a tourist guide, or as one old lady of the village put it, a guide of foreigners. The same thing. Well, she would take the Elder, having a tourist agency that carried out tours for Latin Americans. Latin America is similar with us, together with the Spanish and French, with warm souls. Let's admit it.

She would take the old man Porphyrios, and the old man spoke with them. How did he speak with them? For he had the Holy Spirit! He spoke in a friendly manner. He said the prayer, 'Come let us say the prayer,' and would have them all say together 'Lord Jesus Christ'. 'But,' she said to him, 'they are Catholic!' 'Leave the people alone, my child, leave the people alone' he said. 'I didn't make them Catholic, and neither did you. Leave the people alone. Don't overshadow them. Don't scare them. Let them come near. Let them come near.'...

One day, there at the bus, they saw Elder Porphyrios in the air! He was still alive then. 'Porphyrios! Porphyrios!' He came in, saw them, looked at them, and left. Well, the people, they then left. 'Even in America we don't have such people,' they would say. The lady didn't say anything to them....

And one time the lady asked the Elder, 'When I go to them, the Catholics are doing mass, and they give me communion bread to take. What should I do?' Basically they were telling her to receive. And how did the Elder respond? Hold on, lest you fall over. 'Take it, my child. It's also bread. It is nothing. Don't upset them.' Well, if some religious person heard this, they would throw us in the nut house! 'Take it my child. It's bread. Don't upset them.' One time they began a discussion on the filioque, namely that the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Son. And she opened the Gospel of John to show them: 'The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father.' And she added: 'This is what the Gospel says, so what do you say?' What could they say to her? Nothing. She sewed their mouths shut and never did a discussion like that take place again. The Elder would say that the worst lessons at Theological Schools are those dealing with doctrinal differences. It is called 'Symbolic Theology'. What did the Elder say: 'Those are the worst lessons. Is it necessary to emphasize what separates us? For so many centuries we made efforts towards unity after the Schism of the eleventh century, and until today what have they done? Nothing. Not that I agree with what they profess, but how we approach them and approach things is not Orthodox. It is not Orthodox!'

Like Saint Nektarios, our Saint, who made three submissions to the Ecumenical Patriarchate when the Saint was alive. The Saint of the 20th century is Saint Nektarios, and the Saint of the 21st century is Saint Porphyrios. That is where things are going. What did he write to the Patriarchate? 'We have learned to see heretics from the loftiness of doctrines. Let us try to see them from the loftiness of love. Good will come of this!'

'You do not agree with heresy, but do love the sick, the heretic. What is heresy? It is demonic, brethren. The first heretic was the devil. Whoever does what they want is a heretic. I elect, I prefer, I choose. The first heretic was the devil, who did his own will and fell. And then he had the first-formed do the same. Heresy is the devil. It is the devil. It is evil. The greatest sin is heresy. Write this on your forehead. Because it separates people from Christ, from their brethren, and most of all they lose their soul. The soul of man is lost with heresy!.'"[4]

An entire theology is hidden in this extensive quote. The Saint of course did not prompt under any condition an unconditional union with the Roman Catholics, as one could find in his other words. Nor can just anyone receive a wafer with a clear conscience. His spirit, his freedom, was the freedom of Christ and His Church, which is enviable. We are not accustomed to it. We are more or less crypto-fundamentalists. This is due to the organizational effects and other reasons. The religionization of the Church essentially denounces these words of Saint Porphyrios and Father Ananias Koustenis. And for someone to speak like this they must be like Porphyrios.

What is missing, therefore, from the phobic voices and objections? Mostly love. This much desired thing. The same is missing from syncretistic ecumenism. This also is demonic, because it leads to delusion and hallucinations.

Orthodoxy is kindness with love and discernment. Discernment in the Spirit and not of ones self. Orthodoxy is a tightrope. The danger is love. Love for God and our brethren, each of our brethren. Now if we do not gather together, even if there are in the midst brothers who have been deceived by the devil, who are sick from sin and victims of Satan, then of what love and danger are we entitled to speak of?




3. Archimandrite Ananias Koustenis, Discourses on Saint Porphyrios, Akti, Leukosia, 2015, p. 20 (Greek).

4. Ibid. pp. 17-20.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.