On October 8, Bishop Gregory of the Holy Orthodox Church in North America (HOCNA) issued a statement on behalf of the synod criticizing Bishop Demetrius for the manner in which he left the synod.
On October 10, the three bishops of HOCNA issued a statement contending that they are not name-worshippers but asserting that all Orthodox Christians must accept their beliefs concerning the name of God. They also issued a statement finding fault with the synod of Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens for accepting refugees from HOCNA.
These documents can only be understood in context. The New England clergy of HOCNA learned on August 22 and August 25, 2012, that Fr. Panteleimon, the founder and elder of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, the spiritual center of HOCNA, had abused monks in his care over a long period of time. They learned that the leaders of the monastery and the diocese, Fr. Isaac and Metropolitan Ephraim, knew this for many years, and decided to deny and conceal it.
These revelations were important not because they exposed Fr. Panteleimon's sins, but because the commitment by Fr. Isaac and Metropolitan Ephraim, spiritual leaders of HOCNA, to deny and hide his sins took priority over the spiritual wellbeing of the Church. Together with Fr. Panteleimon, they made decisions which shaped HOCNA and led to its current isolation and disintegration. These revelations also explain why they lost their spiritual vision, and led their flock into crisis after crisis in recent years.
The actions in the following list have a common thread -- putting the need to protect Fr. Panteleimon from investigation and potential punishment ahead of the spiritual needs of the synod. In essence, this is a new form of Sergianism. Where Metropolitan Sergius acquiesced to identify the joys and sorrows of the Russian Orthodox Church with the joys and sorrows of the Soviet state, the leaders of HOCNA identified the good of the monastery and parishes, and later the synod, with the good of Fr. Panteleimon.
The New Sergianism Takes Shape
- Holy Transfiguration Monastery and the parishes which later formed HOCNA left the Russian Church Abroad in 1986, saying that the ROCOR was turning a blind eye to ecumenist practices of some bishops and that the ROCOR was headed for union with the Moscow Patriarchate. The monastery and the parishes left ROCOR separately. The parishes which left ROCOR acted only on their concerns regarding matters of faith, which over time were proven correct.
However, it seems clear now that the ROCOR rightly accused the leaders of the monastery of leaving its jurisdiction when they did (some weeks before the parishes) to escape an investigation on charges of immorality and impending sanctions against Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Isaac.
The parish clergy and laity did not believe the accusations against Fr. Panteleimon; they considered the investigation to be an attack by ROCOR in retaliation for the monastery's criticisms of ROCOR bishops. They believed ROCOR bishops were trying to silence the monastery so they could continue their ecumenistic practices without interference.
The same could be said of most of the monks at Holy Transfiguration Monastery. They had pushed for the anathema against ecumenism which was proclaimed by the ROCOR in 1983, and they did not believe in the allegations against Fr. Panteleimon. They followed their leaders based on their stance on ecumenism. Only the monastery leaders had hidden motives.
- After the monastery and parishes had joined the synod of Archbishop Auxentius of Athens, Hieromonk Ephraim was chosen to be suffragan Bishop (later Metropolitan) of Boston. He has admitted that he chose not to investigate the allegations against Fr. Panteleimon. In retrospect, it seems clear his commitment to protect Fr. Panteleimon was essential to his being chosen as bishop.
- Hieromonk Makarios (Katre) was chosen to be suffragan Bishop (later Metropolitan) of Toronto, and consecrated in 1991. The perpetual contrast between his sharp, patristic words and his unwillingness to stand up for those words in the face of opposition from Metropolitan Ephraim and Fr. Panteleimon strongly suggests that he also was chosen for his unswerving allegiance to the leaders of Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
- Archbishop Auxentius reposed in 1994, and gradually his synod fell apart, until only the HOCNA members were left. While they continued to maintain the synod of Archbishop Auxentius with Metropolitan Makarios as a locum tenens, they voted in 2001 to establish the Holy Orthodox Church in North America as an eparchial synod of the Church of Greece. Until then, HOCNA had existed only as a corporation, a legal vehicle for the parishes and monasteries in America. The eparchial synod was supposed to serve as a forum for administering local affairs. However, the eparchial synod quickly eclipsed the Church of Greece. Its president, Metropolitan Ephraim, gained significant control over the work of the synod. He effectively blocked any move that might threaten his ability to protect Fr. Panteleimon.
- Metropolitan Moses was removed from the see of Seattle in 2007 without canonical due process, allegedly because his divisive leadership was on the verge of destroying the cathedral parish of St. Nectarios. In fact, the brouhaha erupted after his brother, formerly a monk at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, secretly filed a complaint against Fr. Panteleimon with the Holy Synod. As president of the HOCNA synod, Metropolitan Ephraim presided over the removal of Metropolitan Moses from his see and disposed of the complaint against Fr. Panteleimon.
- Shortly after the October 2010 decision of the HOCNA synod to pursue closer relations with the synod of the new Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens (GOC), Metropolitan Ephraim began a solo campaign to reverse that decision, describing HOCNA as orphaned by the repose of Archbishop Auxentios, "newborn," yet in no need of relations with any other bishops, particularly none from outside America. In fact, pursuing closer relations and possible unity with the GOC opened the possibility that Greek bishops might gain authority in HOCNA and might use that authority to investigate and take measures against Fr. Panteleimon.
- Metropolitan Moses and Bishop Sergios, who opposed Metropolitan Ephraim's attempts to reverse the synod's decision, were persecuted by him and his allies and finally driven out of HOCNA in April of 2011. Fr. George Kochergin, dean of the east coast clergy, was also driven out for his refusal to accept Metropolitan Ephraim's position.
Effects of the New SergianismIn 2010, this effects of this long-festering corruption began to be seen: a questionable teaching suddenly came to dominate public discussion and to wreak havoc in the Church. Metropolitan Ephraim began promoting in talks, in print and in e-mails his "Awake Sleeper" theory, the idea that Christ will give each person a chance to choose the Orthodox Christian faith, if not in this life, then after death. He made it clear this was his personal interpretation of passages from the lives of the saints, but he also would not tolerate any criticism. His campaign was aggressive and persistent. As a result of his refusal to drop it, the clergy and vast majority of the faithful of the diocese of Toronto departed from HOCNA in May of 2011.
Barely a few months later, Metropolitan Ephraim was already planting the seeds for the name-worshipping controversy that has gripped HOCNA since November of 2011. He insisted that Bishop Demetrius visit "Bishop" Gregory Lourie, a schismatic bishop of questionable consecration and the main proponent of name-worshipping, on a trip to Russia in September of 2011. Metropolitan Makarios, the ruling bishop of the HOCNA parishes in Russia, objected to anyone having even a casual meeting with Lourie, yet Bishop Demetrius felt compelled to carry out the orders of his ruling bishop, Ephraim. He met with Lourie. After the meeting, he concluded that HOCNA could not have any relations with Lourie unless Lourie were regularized by another jurisdiction. Unknown to him, Lourie had already planned a trip to HOCNA parishes in Georgia. He left on this trip within a day of meeting Bishop Demetrius. On instructions from their ruling bishop, Metropolitan Ephraim, the Georgian parishes received him as a bishop and communed with him.
Several weeks later, Lourie was received at Holy Transfiguration Monastery as a true Orthodox bishop and was allowed to commune during the Divine Liturgy, igniting the controversy over name-worshipping that is devastating HOCNA now. To date, Bishop Demetrius, some fifteen monks and laymen from the monastery, seven parishes with their clergy, two additional clergy, and a growing number of laity have left HOCNA for the synod of Archbishop Kallinikos (GOC).
This is the context in which the three documents issued by the HOCNA hierarchs last week must be analyzed.
Letter Regarding Bishop Demetrius
In a letter from Bishop Gregory dated October 8 (n.s.), the synod complains that Bishop Demetrius didn't seem to think name-worshipping was a heresy when he asked for a friendly farewell letter or even a canonical release from the other HOCNA bishops:
In his statement of September 16, 2012, Bishop Demetrius, formerly of Carlisle, tries to convince the clergy and the faithful of HOCNA, that he departed from the Communion with his fellow bishops for matters of faith. In his own words:
"Since my responsibility is to protect and defend the purity of our Confession of Faith, I can no longer remain a hierarch on the Synod of Bishops of the Holy Ortbodox Church in North America."
In other words, the synod finds it hard to believe that Bishop Demetrius would believe that name-worshipping is a heresy, yet soft-pedal his position to the bishops he was leaving. Yet in the context of the underlying motive of the leaders of HOCNA, to protect Fr. Panteleimon from investigation, it becomes clear that in choosing Bishop Demetrius to become a bishop, the deciding element was precisely that the HOCNA leaders felt they could count on him not to stand up to them. Hypocritically, they criticize him for exactly the approach they had always counted on him to take -- to not make waves, to not boldly state his position in opposition to theirs, to not become an adversary.We find it extremely difficult to take Bishop Demetrius' statement seriously, because in his correspondence with our Synod (September 11, 2012), he claimed that the reason for his departure were certain "differences", and not only did he not mention any lack of "purity of Confession of Faith" of HOCNA bishops, but in his second letter to us (September 12, 2012), he was even willing to receive a letter of release from the self-same Synod of HOCNA.
In the last paragraph of the letter, Bishop Gregory enumerates all the factors that should have bound Bishop Demetrius to HOCNA, "the Church in which he was brought up, tonsured as a monastic, ordained as a deacon, as a priest and finally as a bishop." Then he suggests that opposition to name-worshipping was just a cover to justify leaving HOCNA. He undermines his own assertions. A bishop with such strong ties to HOCNA and with such a meek character would have to have a serious and substantive reason to leave.
Finally, in a footnote, Bishop Gregory refers to an incident during Bishop Demetrius's trip to Russia and the Ukraine in the fall of 2011. A deacon whom he ordained to the priesthood allegedly asked Bishop Demetrius whether he believed name-worshipping is a heresy. The deacon allegedly only accepted ordination because Bishop Demetrius replied, "No." While the then-deacon, Fr. Martinian, may sincerely believe such a conversation took place, it is unlikely that his question was ever understood, because the two men were not fluent in any common language, and their interpreter, Fr. Yakov Tseitlin, never translated any such question. Further, had the question been posed, Bishop Demetrius knew little about name-worshipping at the time, since it had not yet been raised as a significant issue in HOCNA.
The real motive behind this document seems to be to remove any doubts that might have been cast on name-worshipping by Bishop Demetrius's departure: Bishop Demetrius (allegedly) lied, therefore name-worshipping is not a heresy. The equation doesn't add up.
HOCNA Bishops on Synod of Archbishop Kallinikos
In their statement of October 10 (n.s.), the HOCNA bishops laud themselves for nearly a page for reaching out to the Synod of Archbishop Kallinikos (GOC) in October of 2010, before they finally get to their complaint against the GOC:
By accepting, on four occasions, the breakaway bishops and the clergy from HOCNA, by calling us schismatics (schismatics from whom? we never belonged to the Kiousis group) and now by adding the false accusation of heresy against us, we have come to the sad conclusion that nothing has changed in that group since its uncanonical inception in 1985. The cunning tactics and arrogance that they used against the blessed Archbishop Auxentius, not only have not been abandoned, but are fully implemented even now.The GOC accepted Metropolitan Moses, Bishop Sergios and the clergy and laity with them in April of 2011. It accepted Fr. George Kochergin in May of 2011, and it accepted the clergy and laity of Toronto in June of 2011. In September of 2012, the GOC received Bishop Demetrius and the parishes, clergy and laity with him. The GOC continues to receive those who are fleeing HOCNA. According to the statement of the HOCNA hierarchs, the GOC used cunning tactics and arrogance to bring this about. However, the minutes of the synod meeting in October of 2010 clearly recognize:
...this Synod is the closest Synod to us, since our Church in North America was established by the Church of Greece under the Presidency of His Beatitude, Archbishop Auxentios. The two Synods found themselves separated in 1984, but this separation had nothing to do with matters of Faith and both Synods officially have an identical ecclesiology.The HOCNA hierarchs set their seal of approval on this synod, before backtracking to protect Fr. Panteleimon. This is why those who have separated themselves from HOCNA have asked to be accepted into the GOC. The GOC itself played a passive role: it did not encourage the refugees to leave HOCNA, it simply accepted them.
In the remaining three paragraphs of their statement, the HOCNA hierarchs cast mud at the GOC, annul their decisions of October of 2010, and profess a desire for God to bring about unity in the Church where sinful humans are unable. They should beware what they wish! It seems God is indeed bringing about the union of the GOC and what formerly was HOCNA, against their will.
HOCNA Bishops on Name-Worshipping
The fact that name-worshipping was never discussed in HOCNA until Lourie communed at Holy Transfiguration Monastery last fall is a clue to how sadly and deeply the HOCNA hierarchs have fallen from the truth, that they would stake their Orthodoxy and everyone else's on this issue. Virtually no one in HOCNA had heard of or cared about name-worshipping until a year ago. Suddenly it is the yardstick by which Orthodoxy is to be measured.
In "Divergent Teachings," the HOCNA hierarchs first define four criteria for detecting a name-worshipper:
I. Name-worshippers believe:These four points are borrowed from St. Patriarch Tikhon's Nativity Epistle of 1921. Patriarch Tikhon did not use them to define name-worshipping, but only called on his clergy to be sure that anyone who wished to repent of the name-worshipping heresy and be received back into the Orthodox Church did not hold any of these heretical beliefs. These four points do not encompass all name-worshipping beliefs, some of which the HOCNA hierarchs have snuck into their following definition:
1) That God’s Name is his Essence.
2) That God’s Name is separate from Him.
3) That God’s Name is another deity.
4) That created letters, sounds and random or accidental thoughts about God may be deified, or be used for occult or magical purposes
II. Orthodox Christians believe:The astute reader will note that these are nearly the same four points that the HOCNA hierarchs claim to have distilled from St. Patriarch Tikhon's Navitiy Epistle of 1921. Yet in adding the word "not" to each of Patriarch Tikhon's points to express Orthodox belief, they also have added considerably more to the first point. While they reject that God's Name is His Essence, they declare that it is uncreated, His Energy and His Grace. This is heretical, as the fathers of Holy Transfiguration Monastery showed in their examination of name-worshipping. So the HOCNA hierarchs are insisting that to be Orthodox, a person must hold this heretical belief.
1) That God’s Name is not His Essence, but rather is the revealed truth about Himself, that is, His Uncreated Energy, His Uncreated Grace, His Providence, His Glory. In fact, His Essence is unknowable and has no name.
2) That God’s Name is not separate from Him.
3) That God’s Name is not another deity.
4) That created letters, sounds and random or accidental thoughts about God must not be deified. Further, they believe that these letters or sounds must not be used for occult or magical purposes.
They then cite a number of quotations from the Holy Fathers which in no way support them, and use linguistic sleight-of-hand to deduce the desired conclusion:
This makes matters perfectly clear, because, as Orthodox Christians, we know and believe that the only Entity that is eternal, holy, supremely-holy, and the source of sanctification by nature is God Himself! This can only mean that His Name is indeed God Himself — again, not in His Essence, but in His Grace.The logic is absurd. The Holy Fathers did use the phrase "the Name of God" to refer to God, in a poetic attempt to express the inexpressible, just as the Psalms refer to "the face of God," "the voice of the Lord," the "right hand" of the Lord and other physical attributes. That does not mean that an actual name or word, however holy, is the uncreated energy and grace of God. Language is created, for it did not exist eternally. As Orthodox Christians we are taught that blessed water and oil are holy, that icons are holy, that the altar, antimension, and consecrated vessels are holy, that the relics of saints are holy, and so on. God's grace may abide in them, but they are not God. In the same way, the names that we use to refer to God are holy, but they are not God. The HOCNA hierarchs quote St. John of Kronstadt as saying,
... when you pronounce to yourself in your heart the Name of God, of the Lord, or that of the most Holy Trinity, or of the Lord of Sabaoth, or of the Lord Jesus Christ, then in that Name you have the Lord’s whole being; in it is His infinite mercy, His boundless wisdom, His inaccessible light, omnipotence, and immutability....In other words, pronouncing in your heart the name of God, you bring Him to mind in the same way as you might upon seeing an icon. The word expresses God to you insofar as you can conceive of Him, but His energies and grace are not inherent in the word, they are a gift God freely bestows in responding to your prayer.
In the last two sections of "Divergent Teachings," the HOCNA hierarchs condemn the resolutions against name-worshipping by Patriarchs Joachim III and Germanus of Constantinople and by the Holy Synod of Russia. They also try to invalidate any decisions of the Russian Synod with a quote from Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, the leading opponent of name-worshipping. Metropolitan Anthony deplores the fact that the synodal system was forced upon the Russian Orthodox Church to eliminate the competition a strong Patriarch might pose to the tsar. But Metropolitan Anthony himself participated in the Holy Synod for five years, and in the absence of a ruling patriarch, the decisions of the synod were accepted in Russia from the time of Peter the Great until the election of Patriarch Tikhon. In order to cast doubt on the validity of the Russian Synod's condemnation of name-worshipping in 1913, the HOCNA hierarchs are willing to invalidate more than 200 years of decisions by the synod, although those decisions were accepted and obeyed by the saints, hierarchs, monastics, clergy, tsars and laity of the Russian Church.
The obsession of the HOCNA hierarchs with defending name-worshipping, yet insisting that they are not name-worshippers, is the latest manifestation of their loss of spiritual vision, the consequences of their new Sergianism. They continue to put the protection of one man ahead of the spiritual wellbeing of their last remaining, shrinking diocese, without seeming to consider that their course does not even benefit him spiritually. Recognizing this, HOCNA clergy and laity continue to flee to the GOC. Holy Transfiguration Monastery has been divided. Parishes are being divided, and so are families. There is only one way for HOCNA's leaders to end this tragedy: to publicly repent of their wrongdoing and heretical teachings, and to step down. Only then can their flock be united again under truly Orthodox bishops.