In every instance when the Church has been assailed by one or another heresy, we find that many people are fooled by the heresy without actually understanding what is happening. Heresy is always presented as the truth and in this way many are misled.

-- Metropolitan Ephraim, Holy Orthodox Church in North America, 2001

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Chronology: Document 1

October 30/November 12, 2011

SS. Cleopas and Artemas, the Apostles

Most Rev. Ephraim, Metropolitan of Boston; Most Rev. Makarios, Metropolitan of Toronto; and Rt. Rev. Demetrius, Bishop of Carlisle

Beloved Holy Masters:

I kiss your right hands and ask your blessings.

In both written and verbal communications with you over the years, I have said to you that, if a son really loves his father, then, when a son sees his father in error, the son—precisely because he loves his father—corrects him. So I communicate again now with you in this same spirit because I love our Savior and His Church and you, my fathers in the Faith.
Over the last week or so, it has been established that Bishop Gregory Lourje of one of the non-State Church Orthodox jurisdictions in Russia, with the consent of the three of you, received Holy Communion with His Eminence Ephraim during the Divine Liturgy at Holy Transfiguration Monastery sometime near the close of Bishop Gregory’s very recent visit there. I am astounded by how muddled and inconsistent this decision has rendered our ecclesiology and by the entire manner by which you came to this decision.
When I arrived at the Monastery for the Saturday Divine Liturgy approximately two weeks ago, it happened to be right at the time of Bishop Gregory’s departure. Fr. Panteleimon asked me to greet Bishop Gregory, whom I did not even know was in town (which, of course, does not matter) and briefly introduced me to the bishop. I asked Father if the bishop is one of ours, and he said yes. Shortly after greeting the bishop, I approached His Eminence Ephraim, who was seated in his usual spot in the office, and inquired about this bishop.
His Eminence took the time to provide me with a brief background, told me we were reaching out to this man in the spirit of trying to establish an ongoing relationship that might eventually lead to a Sister Churches type of intercommunion, said that we advised this bishop to attempt to join the Tikhon Synod, noted that there were conflicts between this man and that Synod, and remarked that he (His Eminence Ephraim) did not fully comprehend all of the issues, part of which centered on the "Name of Jesus" controversy in the Russian Church. His Eminence gave me the very distinct impression that we would cautiously proceed to evaluate Bishop Gregory and the situation in Russia, which seemed fine to me. And then, this past week, I learned about the bishop’s receiving the Mysteries, which would have had to happen before His Eminence and I had the aforementioned conversation.

How, I ask, is it proper to commune with a bishop whom we are still evaluating and the controversies around whom we do not understand? Such a weighty decision—bishops com-muning with one another—is made on the basis of an impromptu phone call while the jury is still out on Bishop Gregory’s trustworthiness? How do we jump so fast to communion with this man, whom we truly barely know, while exercising all due caution, for example, with a bishop from another jurisdiction who has been in direct communication with us for over a year and with whom you have met and held discussions in person on more than one occasion? You write, laudably, in your recent "A Historical Clarification" that it is our desire to be in communion with those who, in effect, have canonical and confessional integrity. Where have you estab-lished that this Bishop Gregory meets this criterion?
And here is one glaringly obvious way in which you have seriously confused our ecclesiology. If you can commune with a hierarch whose canonical and confessional integrity we have not thoroughly studied and the controversies around whom we do not adequately comprehend, then, by your own unanimous decision of a little over a year ago when you officially recognized the Kiousis/Kallinikos Synod as the legitimate True Orthodox Church of Greece and turned over your responsibility for Athens to that Synod, you must forthwith commune with each and every one of the hierarchs on that Synod, whose canonical and confessional integrity you have determined and publicly proclaimed.

Beloved Masters, do you grasp the scandal and ecclesiological inconsistency and undermining of our own canonical and confessional integrity?

As for Bishop Gregory, by your own standards, either you have to produce—for the whole Church to see—the evidence of your study of him and his situation and his canonical and confessional integrity or you publicly have to repeal communing him until an unhurried and thor-ough evaluation and a proper and correct decision can be made. After all, you have an entire Church to answer to. Sad to say (for us), but even the Kallinikos Synod, its shortcomings not-withstanding, took longer in its deliberations and response time before accepting into commun-ion our departed hierarchs, clergy, and parishes.

And this brings us—yet again—to the beyond lamentable manner in which we govern the affairs of our Church. You have objected to the description of our Synod as dysfunctional. Fine; I’m not wedded to that specific word. But please tell me what word you would use to describe a group of people who do not adhere to their own policies, who act impulsively (in contradiction to their oft-declared "cautiously"), and who, in the face of ongoing, self-inflicted damage to our Church, steadfastly make momentous decisions without full, well-rounded consultation and deliberation.

As for inconsistency with our Synod’s policies and impulsivity, so as not to belabor these points, the several paragraphs prior to the one before this constitute ample evidence. Surely, given all of our past communications, I do not have to repeat prior instances. If you simply had adhered to your own policies and to your purported caution, Bishop Gregory receiving Holy Communion would not now be an issue. And this brings us to the third point, advice and guidance, beyond whatever you may or may not be obtaining now.

Our Synod appears to make decisions as if our hierarchs are in a vacuum, as if there is no rest of the Church which has a say in the Church’s governance and to whom our hierarchs must give account. The three citations immediately below, I hope, will help illustrate what I mean:

In a paper you distributed at this year’s Clergy Synaxis, Fr. Haralampos noted how even the Holy Apostles gathered in council with all of the people present, including laymen, and everyone expressed his view. (Father even remarked on the "Mediterranean" character of the proceedings.)

When we were searching for an Orthodox hierarch in 1987, follow-ing ROCOR’s departure from the Confession of Faith of St. Philaret, the whole church was involved—yes, even laymen. Further, we took several months to make our decision, and, when Archbishop Auxentios came increasingly into view, we actually met with him more than once, asked him anything and everything we wanted, answered any and all of his questions, and then decided the matter together, as the whole Body of Christ.

On and off over the last six years or so, the clergy have urged that you seek full counsel before deciding issues with serious ramifications. One suggestion has been the establishment of a standing board of advisors composed of parish clergy and perhaps laity. Another suggestion has been the convening, from time to time, of a Church-wide council. In both cases, their function would be to study carefully and to give you direction on how to handle serious pastoral and administrative issues and controversial matters of con-sequence. Both approaches have been applied in the Church throughout the centuries.

These three examples stand in sharp contrast to the way our Holy Synod, especially these last several years, determines how to handle situations with significant repercussions or arrives at decisions with far-reaching consequences. Unfortunately, our history gives the impression either we are not aware of either of these potential outcomes or we just do not care. Indeed, I posit that because, to date, you have effectively ignored the suggestions above regarding advisors and councils, some of your more significant decisions and courses of action have increased the tension, turmoil, and division in our Church. Our Synod’s handling of weighty matters and decisions appears to be less thoughtful and open and conciliar within the context of an entire Church and more, I’m sorry to say, impetuous and private and personal, with the too-frequent aura of backroom deals. I know we are capable of conducting the business of the Church much better than that.

You have seen as recently as the end of this September in a meeting with clergy with His Eminence Ephraim and, again, at the last Synaxis that a number of clergy share this concern. In fact, some said they were relieved to learn that other clergy have the same understanding of our conduct and the same concerns addressed in this letter and in previous communications with you and that these concerns have been raised with you, but they are thus far disappointed in our Synod’s overall response. They said they would receive, on occasion, material from our hierarchs showing support for how our Synod was handling a controversial matter, but the same clergy never were made aware by our hierarchs that there were serious opposing views to how our Synod was handling things. I, too, was reassured to learn that others of my brother clergy are of a similar mind.

Are you not tempting God by willfully (after all, you are not in ignorance here) continuing to preside over this self-inflicted destruction? And if you are, for how long will our Lord forbear? You know He allowed His people to be defeated in war in order to teach them to have faith in Him and to be obedient to His will. Clergy, laity, and parishes have departed, a sizable number of our remaining clergy and laity are in dismay and are having temptations, and all of our mon-asteries (what’s left of them) are, at best, on shaky ground and/or divided. (This includes Holy Transfiguration; just pay honest attention to what is going on around you.) And all of this is re-lated to our Synod’s conduct. Are we to lose, perhaps irretrievably, everything built up by di-vine grace and our decades-long labor before we mend our ways?

Kissing, again, your right hands, I remain your unworthy servant in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Father Christos Constantinou

P.S. Some of those same clergy asked that they be "kept in the loop" concerning matters such as these. Thus, whereas in the past I have not sent my communications with you broadly to others, I am sending this letter and similar others in the future to those who asked to be kept up on such things.