Do They See the Difference in Our Lives?: Encyclical on Ecumenism, the Pope and the Patriarch

Mitropolitis-Mesogaias
Translator’s Note: His Eminence Nicholas (Hatzinikolaou) is metropolitan bishop of Mesogaia and Lavriotiki, suburban areas of Athens, Greece. He studied physics in Thessaloniki, Harvard, and MIT (receiving his PhD from the latter), and went on to work for NASA. His career took a decidedly different turn, however, when, after several years on Mt Athos, he became a monk in 1989 at the monastery of Stomion of Konitsa in Epirus, where Elder Paisios had served for a time. Soon after he became a priest and in 2004 was elected metropolitan of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki. He is known as an active metropolitan who addresses the wisdom of the patristic and ascetic tradition to the needs of contemporary believers, especially the youth. He also contributes regularly to discussions on scientific questions facing the Church, putting to good use the knowledge gained in his secular career as president of the Synodal Bioethics Committee of the Church of Greece. A fair number of his talks and publications are available in English, online or in print.

To the devout parish priests and the pious people of our sacred Metropolis:

Dear Fathers and Brethren,

The resurrectional period has ended for this year, and we now live in the expectation of Pentecost. Our soul oscillates between the joy of the Resurrection of the Lord and the hope of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

“Glory to God for all things.” I wish to all the rich blessing of the Comforter. The suspense of the elections for local governments and the European Parliament has also now passed, and as always the tension of the divisions between us is now succeeded by the invitation to unity and common effort, so that all together we can face the assault of daily life, which has grown hard to bear. Our problems are so difficult that perhaps those who lost in the elections ought to feel more relieved than those who won. For our part we wish strength and success for their mission. I am certain that the elected representatives of the local communities will, with their enthusiasm renewed, do whatever good they can together to relieve our people, torn apart as they are by the general crisis. We too as the Church, in the measure to which we are suited and to the degree that will be requested of us, will support every good effort will all of our powers. The cooperation of us all is, especially today, both necessary and of immense potential.

This past Sunday, however, was also marked by another important event of an ecclesiastical character: the meeting of our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with the Pope of Rome Francis in Jerusalem, in front of the Holy Sepulcher, fifty years after the lifting of the anathemas. The media featured the event and spoke of love, reconciliation, forgiveness, mutual understanding, and progress in the relations of the churches. Some other voices discoursed of betrayal of the faith, compromise, and submission to the directives of the new age and of global relativism. Since it is likely that all of these express, each one separately, part of the truth, but that on their own they conceal its secret and lead our thoughts and sense of the faith in mistaken directions, I thought that I ought to communicate with you, given my spiritual responsibility as the bishop of our area.

Who could claim that love, forgiveness, and reconciliation are ideas contrary to the truth of the Gospel? What, I wonder, would be the benefit of retaining anathemas that lasted approximately a thousand years, essentially preventing communion and cutting off millions of unsuspecting believers, mainly of the western world, from the sacred body of our holy Church for entire centuries to this day?

On the other hand, how can we deny that the awful schism of the eleventh century led to an uncontrollable transmission of heretical opinions and teachings that irrigated the whole life of western Christianity and ended up distorting the face of Christ, changing the ethos of the faith, and deconstructing the sense of mystery? How can we deny the result, namely that the faith was denatured into the acceptance of Christian viewpoints, communion with God was replaced by social works, the Church ended up as a religion, theology as conjecture, and the revelation of God as verbal argument without a substantial referent? We will not do injustice to the truth if we say that the West, after the breaking of communion with the Churches of the East—and in essence its tearing away from the ecclesiastical body—became estranged, was led inevitably into delusions, adulterated the faith both as theological confession and as lived practice, and enervated the working of grace, since it replaced it with an ethical endeavor. This is the reason why saints such as Gregory Palamas and Mark Evgenikos struggled so much to emphasize the difference of Orthodoxy from the false papist beliefs. A demonstration that the West unsuspectingly swims in a sea of altered ethos, of delusions and heretical opinions, is that it finds it difficult to comprehend the aforementioned sainted theologians, and Orthodoxy itself, with the result that communication between us requires interminable dialogues with dubious results.

For this reason, our first duty is not to contrast ourselves spitefully with the inheritors of the false belief and to condemn them, but with love, pain, and humility to confess and to put into practice the Orthodox faith within ourselves. That which essentially separates us, my dear brethren, is not the vindication of some primacy, nor is it the grievous results of historical perversions such as the Crusades, nor even the deep wounds caused by the organized delusion of the Unia, nor perhaps is it the different types of some liturgical and sacramental acts. These are all, of course, great misdemeanors that provoked extremely deep wounds, yet which could somehow be set right within our Church. That is why initiatives of forgiveness in this direction are definitely blessed, as long as they do not strike at the integrity of the Orthodox ethos and dogma.

What is worse is that words such as mystery, grace, humility, faith, love, truth, theology have been stripped of their spiritual meaning, desiccated of their content and denatured into secularized expressions with a religious coating. The heresy of the West has distorted the face of Christ and the face of the human being has become ugly as a result.

How then can we mistake these things? We neither can nor should. Yet in addition to all this there is a tragic reality. Just as tragic as the delusion of the West is the deviance of the East. The West has lost its faith. The East, for its part, holds on to the Orthodox faith up till today, but I wonder how much we Orthodox live it. And if our life is foreign to our Orthodox faith, are we not perhaps in the end worse than those who, having lost it, are ignorant of it? Instead of shouting against the westerners in insulting tones, should the goal of our criticism perhaps not be ourselves? Truly, of what benefit is it when we endorse a faith that is not confirmed by our life? What good is there in a harsh criticism of others who were born and educated thus, when there is no corresponding criticism of our own inconsistency?

In the final analysis, maybe what is chiefly needed in inter-Christian relations is not inexorable criticism of the “Western delusion,” nor a multitude of expressions of premature friendship, so much as the courageous confession of our Orthodox faith and a humble invitation to the westerners, lest perhaps they end up living, with more consistency, that which we hold as faith but do not confirm by our life—of which for their part they are ignorant as ethos and teaching, but maybe seek as truth. What we need is the unity of the Orthodox in humility and our confession to the world of the heterodox in love. Not so much criticism of others for their delusions, as our own repentance for our lack of lived witness. If they do not see the difference in our lives, then how can they recognize it in our dogmas?

If, on the one hand, the West does not humbly confess its dogmatic deviation and does not feel the need for its return “unto all truth,” and on the other hand, the Orthodox East does not live the blessing of its theological wealth as a responsibility nor discern the need for repentance for its inconsistent witness, then the dialogues, the premature common prayers, and the common meetings will possess only a worldly and social significance, whereas in reality they will deepen confusion and will distance all of us from the one and saving truth.

Brethren, “watch, stand fast in the faith, take courage, be strong, let all that you do be done with love” (1 Cor. 16:13–14).

With prayers and much love in the Lord,
+ NICHOLAS of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki

June 1, 2014

Translated by Nicholas Marinides. Greek original here.

 

Nicholas Marinides hails from Buffalo NY. He holds a PhD from the Department of History at Princeton University, with his dissertation on the topic of lay piety in seventh-century Byzantium. He is also a research fellow in the Department of Theology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, where he currently lives. Some of his published work can be accessed online.

8 comments:

  1. I very much love this article; this to me indicates the correct approach to ecumenical dialogue and reconciliation, an approach based on love, patience, and long-suffering witness, as opposed to coerced conversion (as in the case of the Eastern Catholics; to an extreme extent, those in Bohemia, who were forcibly converted to the Latin Rite, leading to the later Utraquist and Hussite movements in an attempt to recover what was lost), or the mad dash to establish communion on the basis of a theological lowest common denominator, which I believe is what ROCOR intended to condemn when anathematizing the heresy of “ecumenism,” that is to say, not what is described here, but rather, the sort of premature merger that one sees the fruits of in watered down Protestant communions that were created in that manner (the Church of South India, the United Church of Canada, the Uniting Church in Australia, and in my own experience, the United Methodist Church; in the latter some theological concord did exist between the merging parties, but the cultures were different, and the premature rush to consolidate in all things resulted in these distinctions being bleached away).

  2. “It has become unfashionable in our time to speak as though a particular doctrine is true and another one is false. Yet not too long ago, many religious groups in our culture regarded their own doctrines as true and also came to the quite logical conclusion that any doctrines which contradicted their own must therefore be false. Today, however, to come to this conclusion, and especially to speak publicly about it, is regarded by many as not being “loving,” a word they usually use to mean “nice.” Indeed, in our own time, a public disagreement over religion is sometimes considered “offensive.””

    ~Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Exploring Belief Systems through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2011), pp 6–7.

    I agree completely with this article; it’s a helpful reminder to remind loving as we confront.

    I quote the above to show, to me, an apparent change in tone from this blog’s eponymous book to this article. It’s as if those who maintain a traditional stance on ecumenism, baptismal validity, etc are in need of a reminder to be loving.

    As well, in view of the “love” for the heterodox that ecumenism and a “better understanding of RC theological developments in the last 50 years” that seem to hold place here now, could this so inclined share their current ecumenical endeavors vis-a-vis the (schismatic) Old Calendarists, who undoubtedly are closer to us – essentially Orthodox? Do we have a better understanding of their theology in the last 50 years?

    Do we spend the time on these, our brothers? At least as much as we do on the RC’s that have been labeled heretics and schismatics for hundreds of years?

    Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood.

    1. It’s as if those who maintain a traditional stance on ecumenism, baptismal validity, etc are in need of a reminder to be loving.

      What’s at issue is actually that the “traditional stance” you refer to—if that “traditional stance” is just shouting condemnations and demanding repentance while not ever bothering to know the other—is in fact not traditional. I haven’t yet had anyone who insists that outside of Orthodoxy’s canonical boundaries is utter darkness actually take the time to deal with the facts of the canonical tradition in this regard. Nor is there any sense that our saints who engaged in serious theological work with the heterodox were actually doing anything useful with their time.

      And yes, those people with that “stance” are quite often in need of a reminder to be loving. Indeed, I have rarely found a more hateful bunch, ready to turn on their fellow Orthodox with far more venom than the buckets of it they spit at the heterodox. The “love” they often proclaim is very much a sham, a kind of self-satisfied condescension which isn’t actually concerned with the other person, his life, his beliefs, etc. I am not saying you are one of those people (I don’t know you), but that is generally what I have seen from those with that mindset. I find nothing of Christ or His saints in that approach.

      As well, in view of the “love” for the heterodox that ecumenism and a “better understanding of RC theological developments in the last 50 years” that seem to hold place here now, could this so inclined share their current ecumenical endeavors vis-a-vis the (schismatic) Old Calendarists, who undoubtedly are closer to us – essentially Orthodox? Do we have a better understanding of their theology in the last 50 years?

      Do we spend the time on these, our brothers? At least as much as we do on the RC’s that have been labeled heretics and schismatics for hundreds of years?

      Actually, the Church has indeed spent a lot of time trying to reconcile the schismatics. But it’s also the case that, ironically, the heterodox are often more interested in speaking with the Church than the schismatics are.

      I haven’t changed any of my positions on the heresies of Rome, Protestantism, etc. But we have to be clear on what exactly those heresies are and what they are not. (I made mention of this in the book, by the way. See especially my notes on pp. 57-58 and pp. 182-187.) We have to understand what it is the heterodox actually teach, how they are changing, how they are getting better, how they are getting worse. It is exceptionally easy to hide triumphalistically away in tribes of the elect and not bother to engage with anyone who does not think and talk exactly like ourselves (including within our own Church). But that has never been the way of the saints. Those who would co-opt heroes like Ss. Photius, Mark of Ephesus and Gregory Palamas as sectarian-minded like themselves ignore those saints’ deep engagement with those with whom they disagreed. Mark of Ephesus even made a prostration before the Pope of Rome at Florence. I rather wonder how that same gesture would be received by those sectarian-minded folks today.

      There is absolutely no contradiction between being faithful, traditional Orthodox Christians and engaging in serious theological dialogue with the heterodox, which includes really getting to know them and what they teach. Our Fathers did it. Our greatest theologians did it. The Pillars of Orthodoxy did it. If we don’t do it, then we’re basically saying that we’re fine with people being outside the Church.

      So, yes, you’ve misunderstood, and no, this piece from Metr. Nicholas is not about “confronting.” The idea that dialogue with the heterodox must be a confrontation pretty much presumes that one isn’t interested in actually learning who they are and what they really believe.

  3. Spoken with the wisdom of a true man of God.

    So grateful also for your work as well, Fr. Andrew. Thank you for sharing the Metropolitan’s message with us.

  4. (A) From Article: “…how can we deny that the awful schism of the eleventh century led to an uncontrollable transmission of heretical opinions and teachings that irrigated the whole life of western Christianity and ended up distorting the face of Christ, changing the ethos of the faith, and deconstructing the sense of mystery? How can we deny the result, namely that the faith was denatured into the acceptance of Christian viewpoints, communion with God was replaced by social works, the Church ended up as a religion, theology as conjecture, and the revelation of God as verbal argument without a substantial referent? We will not do injustice to the truth if we say that the West, after the breaking of communion with the Churches of the East—and in essence its tearing away from the ecclesiastical body—became estranged, was led inevitably into delusions, adulterated the faith both as theological confession and as lived practice, and enervated the working of grace, since it replaced it with an ethical endeavor.”

    (B) From Fr. Andrew: ” I haven’t yet had anyone who insists that outside of Orthodoxy’s canonical boundaries is utter darkness actually take the time to deal with the facts of the canonical tradition in this regard.”

    I would like to hear some further comments, whether from Fr. Andrew or anybody else here with an opinion, on how (A) is not (B), but is instead a theologian “dealing with the facts of the canonical tradition.” I would like to hear this especially in light of new research by Kappes, Plested, Demacopoulos, Papanikolaou, Demetracopoulos, et al.

  5. Thanks for posting this. I found much Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s criticism of “the anonymous Greek priest” to be rather unconvincing – he seemed almost to enjoy pushing his overly logical conclusions to absurdity and yet almost all of Fr. Andrew’s counters could also be subjected to the same indignity. In the end, he refused to come to any conclusions about what “in time” and “two lungs” might mean, except to say he would not use such language and that it is “problematic” – safely keeping his thought’s out of harms way. God bless “the anonymous Greek priest” for sticking his neck out.

    I found this post to be refreshing after that barbecue…

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