March 15, 2017

Does Canon 15 of the First-Second Synod of 861 Allow for "Walling-Off" Against Ecumenists?

By John Sanidopoulos

According to recent reports, on March 5, 2017, which was the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the well-known anti-ecumenist theologian Fr. Theodore Zisis announced from the ambo of his church that he was ceasing commemoration of Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki. The reason for this is, according to the reports, that in November, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew called upon Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece to defend the documents produced at the Holy and Great Synod of Crete and to quell criticism of them, warning that he would break communion with those individuals who vocally criticized the Synod, after which Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki instructed Fr. Theodore to cease expressing any open criticisms of the Synod. Fr. Theodore's main criticism had to do with the document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World,” which he claims leaves open the possibility for the Orthodox accepting a heretical ecclesiology based on the "pan-heresy" of ecumenism. For this reason he calls the Great and Holy Synod of Crete a "Pseudo-Synod" or "Robber Synod", and he wants to be vocal about this. This act of Fr. Theodore was preceded by Fr. Nicholas Manolis, who some weeks ago also ceased commemorating Metropolitan Anthimos for the same reasoning.

According to Fr. Theodore and Fr. Nicholas, their act is not an act of schism, but rather an act of "walling-off". They claim synodal and patristic precedence for their act, specifically and especially from Canon 15 of the First-Second Synod of 861, which was presided over by St. Photios the Great in order to bring order to the Church after the havoc of iconoclasm. And it is true that there is a precedence for walling-off, which basically means that a clergyman or believer can cease commemorating their ecclesiastical overseers if they are openly preaching a condemned heresy. There is no argument against the precedence for the act of walling-off, which would thereby avoid an outright schism. But is the act of Fr. Theodore and Fr. Nicholas a canonical walling-off? For this, we would have to look at the specific Canon mentioned above. It reads:

"The rules laid down with reference to Presbyters and Bishops and Metro­politans are still more applicable to Patriarchs. So that in case any Presbyter or Bishop or Metropolitan dares to secede or apostatize from the communion of his own Patriarch, and fails to mention the latter’s name in accordance with custom duly fixed and ordained, in the divine Mystagogy, but, before a synodal verdict has been pronounced and has passed judgment against him, creates a schism, the holy Synod has decreed that this person shall be held an alien to every priestly function if only he be convicted of having committed this trans­gression of the law. Accordingly, these rules have been sealed and ordained as respecting those persons who under the pretext of charges against their own presidents stand aloof, and create a schism, and disrupt the union of the Church. But as for those persons, on the other hand, who, on account of some heresy condemned by holy Synods, or Fathers, withdrawing themselves from communion with their president, who, that is to say, is preaching the heresy publicly, and teaching it bareheaded in church, such persons not only are not subject to any canonical penalty on account of their having walled themselves off from any and all communion with the one called a Bishop before any synodal verdict has been rendered, but, on the contrary, they shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honor which befits them among Orthodox Christ­ians. For they have defied, not Bishops, but pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers; and they have not sundered the union of the Church with any schism, but, on the contrary, have been sedulous to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions."

Thus, according to Canon 15 of the First-Second Synod of 861, walling-off is only justified when a bishop openly proclaims a heresy that has already been condemned by a Synod. This Canon says that they could then wall themselves off from that bishop, even if that specific bishop has not been condemned by a Synod for openly proclaiming heresy, though the heresy itself must have first been condemned, since no individual can make that determination. Those who wall themselves off for this reason are to be praised for their stance. However, in the case of Fr. Theodore and Fr. Nicholas, they base their act of walling-off not on a heresy condemned by a Synod of Fathers, but based on their own interpretation of the 2016 Synod in Crete, which they say supports the "pan-heresy" of ecumenism, calling it a "pan-heresy" not because any Synod of Fathers called it so, but because they called it so. It's interesting that when those who support Fr. Theodore and Fr. Nicholas quote this Canon, they only quote the second half of it. But based on the entire Canon, we see the facts in context, and the fact is that their act is an act of schism, and those who follow their example and praise their stance, are doing so for an act of schism (for further clarification of this, read also Canons 13 and 14 of the same Synod).

Soon their case will face an ecclesiastical trial, and I am confident that this is how the verdict will go if they remain adamant in their stance. This means another potential schism for the Church. May God enlighten them in His truth.

MARCH 16TH UPDATE: The day after Fr. Theodore Zisis made his announcement, Metropolitan Anthimos banned him from serving in any of the churches of the Metropolis of Thessaloniki, summoned him to ecclesiastical court, forbade him to serve the Mystery of the Eucharist, and deprived him of the honorary title of "Protopresbyter". With this, Fr. Theodore has asked the Metropolitan to stop the persecution against him and allow him to serve the Divine Liturgy without commemorating his name.