by Vladimir Moss
AN OPEN LETTER TO ARCHBISHOP CHRYSOSTOMOS OF ETNA AND BISHOP AUXENTIOS
(OF THE SYNOD OF METROPOLITAN CYPRIAN OF FILI)
June 24 / July 7, 1997.
Nativity of St. John the Baptist.
Already some years ago, I tried to enter into dialogue with you on the question of Grace, but you refused. More recently, you have made it clear in communications to others that you still do not want a dialogue. So be it. Nevertheless, you have continued very fiercely to attack my writings and my person in correspondence with other people. I am therefore taking the opportunity presented by the internet to answer your attack in an open letter; for while your opinion of me as a person is unimportant, the question of Grace continues to be, in my opinion, very important, and I believe that your arguments in defence of your point of view are faulty and misleading.But first let me deal with some of the less important points you raise. You criticise me, first, for calling you “Cyprianites”. If, as it appears, you have felt insulted by this term, then I am sorry. But let me assure you that no insult was meant. It is just a matter of convenience, a way of avoiding needless confusion in the midst of our jurisdictional chaos. How, for example, are you going to distinguish all the various men who call themselves “Archbishop of Athens” without using some such epithets?Secondly, you say that I call Archbishop Mark a heretic. That is not true. He has called me a heretic – without indicating what my heresy might be. I have said that he is in communion with heresy, and that his recent relations with “Patriarch” Alexis of Moscow constitute a betrayal of the Church. (Incidentally, our parish priest, too, has publicly declared that Archbishop Mark is a traitor, and Metropolitan Vitaly has recently declared that Mark has lost the gift of the discernment of spirits.) If you counter that that is more or less equivalent to heresy, then I would not argue with you. But since you seem to be somewhat of a stickler for detail with regard to my representation of you, I would ask you to be more careful in representing my point of view.Thirdly, you say that I have said that the Romanian Old Calendarists receive new calendarists by baptism. That is quite untrue. I have said, repeating the words of the secretary of the Romanian Synod, Archimandrite Cyprian, to me in August, 1994, that the Romanian Old Calendarists receive new calendarists by chrismation. You assert that they do this for complex pastoral reasons – because some of the priests may have been agents, baptisms may have been incorrectly done, chrismation was a “safeguard”, etc. I do not deny any of that. I simply state the fact – and a very significant fact it is – that the Romanian Old Calendarists receive new calendarists by chrismation.Now let us turn to the basic issue. And here I want to make clear what I mean by “Grace”. I mean the Grace of sacraments. I do not deny, and never have denied, that God may give Grace to people outside the Church. Cornelius received the Grace of the Holy Spirit before he was baptised. Everyone who is converted to the truth of Orthodoxy and becomes a catechumen has already been enlightened by Grace to some degree. But those outside the Church do not have the Grace of sacraments. I am also prepared to admit the possibility that even when a community has been anathematised by a true and valid anathema, God may still protect certain individuals within that community from the full force of the anathema for a longer or shorter period. I would only argue that if God, Who is the Sovereign and Maker of the law, makes exceptions to His law, that is no reason for us, who are not privy to His secret judgements, not to keep the law. And the law was stated by the Lord Himself as follows: “If he shall neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 18.17-18). In other words, we should treat those anathematised by the Church as outside the Church and not deserving the honour of Christians (which is not to say, of course, that we should not pray for their eventual return). And Holy Tradition makes it crystal clear that those cast out in this way have no sacraments (Apostolic canons 46 and 47).Let me now state my basic argument briefly (since you have heard this already) before turning to a consideration of your arguments. Those local Orthodox Churches that have joined the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches (I will call them “World Orthodoxy” for short) are outside the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and do not have the Grace of sacraments because they “openly and with bared head” confess the pan-heresy of ecumenism and have been anathematised for this by the Synod of the Russian Church Abroad in 1983 in the following words: “To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ’s Church is divided into so-called branches which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future, when all branches or sects or denominations, and even religions, will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate or defend their new heresy, commonly called ecumenism, under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema, anathema, anathema!”I am confining myself here to discussion of this conciliar decision alone, since it is the closest to us and comes from a Church body whose canonicity we both accept; but it needs to be borne in mind that there are other conciliar decisions – notably those of the True Orthodox Church of Greece in 1935, 1950, 1974 and 1991, and less well documented ones of the Catacomb Church of Russia – which also condemned different parts of the body of World Orthodoxy, declaring that they have no Grace of sacraments.This is a simple argument and quite adequate for the simple believer who simply wants to obey the Church, and accepts, as both you and I do, that the Russian Church Abroad is a true Church. But you keep saying that the situation is actually much more complex than I make it out to be. Well, then, let us turn to the complexities you point to – but without forgetting that at the end of the day, when we have discussed all these complexities, the question is quite simple: is the Russian Church Abroad’s anathema against ecumenism and the ecumenists valid or invalid?1. You state: “Some modernists and New Calendarists have fallen wholly to this spiritual disease [ecumenism]. Others have not. Identifying the disease does not immediately identify those afflicted with it.” It is, of course, true that in almost every community that the Church has declared heretical there have been individual differences in the acceptance of the heresy in question. There are some papists who accept the full papist position, and others who do not. There are extreme monophysites and moderate monophysites, liberal ecumenists and conservative ecumenists. The Church calls on the liberals to repent, and on the conservatives to “come out from among them” and “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (II Corinthians 6.14). And as long as the leadership of the Church is still Orthodox, judgement is delayed. But as far as the ecumenists and sergianists are concerned, their leadership has been heretical already for many years. It is as the Lord said: “I gave her time to repent of her fornication, but she repented not” (Revelation 2.21). Therefore the ultimate penalty – “I will remove thy candlestick out of its place” (Revelation 2.5), which signifies “the deprivation of Divine Grace”, according to St. Andrew of Caesarea – has been applied. We can have different opinions about just when it was applied. But for those loyal to the Councils of the Russian Church Abroad, the cut-off point came at the latest in 1983, when, in response to the unprecedented horrors of World Orthodoxy’s union with paganism at the Vancouver General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, the Church pronounced her anathema…Your own metropolitan, in his recent correspondence with Natalya Nedashkovskaya, very aptly quotes St. Theodore the Studite: “Chrysostom loudly calls ‘enemies of God’ not only heretics, but also those who remain in communion with heretics” (P.G. 99, 1049A). The latter are called enemies because, although they agree with the teaching of the Church and disagree with the teaching of their own hierarchs, they remain where they are. As St. Chrysostom points out in his homily on the rebellion of Core, their agreement with the Church gives them even less excuse for remaining outside her, where they mislead others. For people wondering which way to turn say: “Look, the Orthodox theologian X stays with [the heretical] Synod Y, which means that the latter is still accepted by God.”The approach of the early Synods to heresy and heretics was much simpler than yours. If hierarch X proclaimed heresy “publicly and with bared head”, a Council was immediately convened to condemn him. Consider how quickly Pope St. Celestine responded to the heresy of Nestorius, writing within one year of its first appearance to St. Cyril of Alexandria: “Either he [Nestorius] shall within ten days, counted from the day of your notice, condemn in writing this wicked preaching of his,… or if he will not do this… he will know that he is in every way removed from our body as not being willing to accept the care lavished on him by those wishing to heal him, and as hastening on a destructive course to his own perdition and to the perdition of all entrusted to him.” (Epistle 11)At the beginning of our present time of troubles the same urgency was felt. Thus renovationism and newcalendarism were quickly condemned by truly Orthodox Synods in the 1920s and 30s; and their verdicts were confirmed by great miracles of God (for example, the appearance of the sign of the Cross over Athens in 1925). The heretics responded by betraying the confessors to cruel deaths in prisons and camps and blasphemously trampling on their holy things. But as renovationism was metamorphosed into sergianism, and newcalendarism into ecumenism (although ecumenism was in fact officially proclaimed as early as 1920), the condemnations became fewer and less categorical – while the heretics, especially from the 1960s, became still more brazen and extreme. And now, in 1997, generations after the first appearance of the heresies, when hundreds of thousands of martyrs have died rather than in any way condone the heretics, we still cannot decide whether they are in the Church or not! We hesitate, and then we start condemning “extremists” who are loyal to the Councils of the Church more than the extremist heretics themselves!Why is this? Is ecumenism any less serious than the earlier heresies? No – Metropolitan Cyprian calls it “pan-heresy”, and Metropolitan Vitaly – “the heresy of heresies”. Are communications more difficult now so that it is more difficult to obtain information and convene Synods? Of course not – such an excuse might have some weight in Catacomb Russia, but not in the West where communications are incomparably easier and faster than in the Early Church.I believe that the real reason for our hesitations and doublemindedness lies in a general loss of zeal and weakening of faith in the dogma of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Those who continue to believe that there is only One Church, and only One Baptism and Eucharist, and that those who confess heresy are outside the One Church, are described as “unscholarly”, “immature”, “extremist” and “silly” (to use some of your less violent epithets). They are called “naive” when they take the official declarations of the Church at their face value, and “ignorant” because they fail to see how the public, official declarations of a whole Synod of bishops can have less weight than the privately expressed doubts of one of those bishops.2. “It seems unnecessary to note, since it is so obvious, that to condemn a heresy is not to condemn individuals and Churches.”I have in front of me the special office of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, including all the anathemas. Every single one of the anathemas is hurled against individuals, usually beginning with the phrase: “To those who…” True, no specific name is mentioned. But you are surely not going to claim that because no specific name is mentioned, therefore no individual falls under the anathemas?! Hierarchs who condemn heresies while refusing to condemn the heretics that preach them are like the watchmen condemned by the Prophet Isaiah, “dumb dogs that cannot bark” (Isaiah 56.10). They are like judges who convict a man of murder and then let him go scot-free.The Holy Fathers were not like that. The sword of their anathema struck down both heresies and heretics. Thus Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov in his famous essay “Christians! You must know Christ!” quotes the Fourth Ecumenical Council’s very powerful, very specific anathema of the heretic Eutyches. And our service books (for example, the service to the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils) are likewise not coy in declaring that Arius, Eutyches, Nestorius, etc. have been anathematised “and inherited the substance of eternal fire”. Closer to our time, the Russian Church condemned both Tolstoyism and Tolstoy. And in 1923 Patriarch Tikhon condemned both renovationism and the renovationists, declaring all their sacraments to be invalid… 3. “It is to a general synod, and a ‘unifying’ one, that we turn for final adjudication, not wishing to condemn anyone prematurely.”All of us look forward to the convening of a general synod which would, God willing, unify those heretics who repent with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. But we must be clear about what such “unification” does and does not entail – and I suspect that your concept of a “unifying” Council would not be recognised by the Fathers of the Councils. For those heretics who were united to the Church during the Councils were united only after formal renunciation of their heresy and only on the clear understanding that they were outside the Church as long as they confessed their heresy.In any case, the importance of general synods should not lead us to cast doubt on local councils’ authority to expel heretics from the Church. Otherwise, we would be forced to conclude that the Roman Catholics are still inside the Church (since they were expelled by a merely local Council in 1054)! Many of the heretics of the early centuries were first cast out of the Church by local Councils. For example, Arius was cast out by a local Council presided over by St. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, and the Monothelites and Iconoclasts were first cast out by local Councils convened in Rome. When the heretical bishop Theodosius in conversation with St. Maximus the Confessor disputed the validity of the local Council under the Orthodox Pope St. Martin that condemned the Monothelites on the grounds that it was not convened by an emperor, St. Maximus replied that the validity of a Council depended on its recognising “the true and immutable dogmas”, not on who convened it or how general it was. The Ecumenical Councils confirmed the decisions of many earlier local councils, treating those condemned by the latter as already outside the Church. In this connection I should like to cite from an unpublished work by Hieromonk Nectarius (Yashunsky) from St. Petersburg entitled “Ecclesiological Antitheses”, in which he subjects Metropolitan Cyprian’s well-known work Ecclesiological Theses to criticism. First he quotes from one of Metropolitan Cyprian’s theses:“Towards a union council. Insofar as the Church of Greece today is divided, a Sacred Council of the united Greek Church… cannot be convened…. The convening of such a Council would become possible only when the divided unite in Orthodoxy.“During the dominance of the iconoclast heresy, for example, it was impossible to convene an Orthodox Council of the whole Church. Only when the iconoclast heresy was no longer in power, in 787, was the Seventh Ecumenical Council of union convened…. It took place in order that the scattered parts of the Church – divided at that time into iconoclasts who disagreed with the Orthodox faith, and Orthodox who resisted the iconoclast heresy – were united within Orthodoxy” (p. 8).Then Fr. Nectarius presents his antithesis: “Here it is proclaimed that a Council could not be convened for the condemnation of any heresy without the participation of the heretics themselves (in accordance with the terminology of the given text: ‘members of the Church who were weak in faith’). Moreover, the Council could be convened only for the union of the divided parts of the Church, being at the same time a fruit of this union. Below, on page 9 each Ecumenical Council from the First to the Seventh is called ‘unifying’, from which it logically follows that the heretics condemned at them – the Arians, Nestorians, Monophysites and others – were also ‘members of the Church weak in faith’! Pursuing this logic further, we shall have to recognize the Roman Catholics and Protestants as ‘as yet uncondemned members of the Church’, because since the time of their separation there has not been (and until ‘their union in Orthodoxy’ there cannot be) a Council of the united (undivided Universal Church) in common with them! That is precisely what the ecumenists say in their attempt to prove that the Latins belong to the Church.“The existence of heresies condemned by the Ecumenical Councils many years after them, and some even to the present day (for example, Monophysitism and Nestorianism) historically proves the groundlessness of the understanding of the Councils as exclusively ‘unifying’. Moreover, we know from history that the Second, Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils took place without the participation of heretics. As far as the Seventh Council is concerned, not only did it not consider the iconoclasts to be a part of the Church, but they themselves did not pretend to be such.”In support of this last statement, Fr. Nectarius quotes from the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. “These are the words of the uniting iconoclasts. Thus Basil, bishop of Ancyra, said: ‘As far as I was able, I investigated the question of the icons and converted to the Holy Catholic Church with complete conviction.’ Theodore, bishop of Myra, said: ‘… I beseech God and your holiness to unite me, the sinful one, to the Holy Catholic Church.’ (pp. 41, 43) And here are the witnesses of the holy Fathers of the Council: “His Holiness Patriarch Tarasius said: ‘What is now to be our relationship to this heresy that has again arisen in our time?’ John, the most beloved of God, locum tenens of the apostolic throne in the east, said: ‘Heresy divides every man from the Church.’ The Holy Council said: ‘That is evident.’ The Holy Council said: ‘Let the bishops who are standing before us read their renunciations, insofar as they are now converting to the Catholic Church.’“ (p. 48).If your reasoning on Councils were correct, we should have to draw the following conclusions: (1) The decisions of all the local Councils convened to condemn heretics and schismatics since the early 1920s to the present day have no more than a provisional character, since they have not been validated by a general Council. (2) Both Orthodox and heretics are within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church until the convening of a general Council, in spite of the fact that, as St. Maximus the Confessor says, “the Lord Christ called the Catholic Church that which contains the true and salvific confession of the faith”. (3) A general Council can be convened only with the participation of the heretics, who constitute one part of the divided Church. Therefore (4) since it has been impossible to convene a general Council with the heretics, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church for most of the 20th century has been deprived of her God-given authority to bind and to loose, to decree who is within her sacred enclosure and who is outside. And (5) the conclusion of the general Council and the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” consists, not in the converting of the heretics to the Catholic Church through the renunciation of their heresy, but in the overcoming of the external, purely organisational divisions in the Church so as to reveal the internal sacramental unity between the Orthodox and the heretics, a unity that has always existed but is only now clearly manifested.I know that some have called this teaching “ecclesiological heresy”, akin to the “branch theory” which the ecumenists espouse and for which they have been anathematised. I take their point, but I wouldn’t go so far as that. I would simply call it a violation of Apostolic Canon 46: “We order that any Bishop or Presbyter that has accepted any heretics’ Baptism or Sacrifice, to be deposed; for ‘what agreement hath Christ with Beliar? Or what part hath the believer with an infidel?’”4. “A desire to cut off others from salvation, a sectarian notion that only a few million people on earth (if not a few hundred thousand) are in possession of the salvific Grace of Orthodoxy – even if correct in form, it is wrong in spirit. What mature Christian wishes for such a scenario? Indeed, our fight against religious relativism should NOT constitute an endorsement of sectarianism, personal hatred, and intolerance.”Forgive me, Fathers, but where did you glean that I desire to cut off others from salvation?! God forbid that I should ever desire such a thing! My father died an Anglican, but I did not wish him to die in that state, I did my utmost to help him out of it. He cut himself off from salvation; I did not desire that, but greatly lament it. I have exactly the same attitude to the heretics of World Orthodoxy.And what makes you think that it is sectarian to believe that “only a few million people on earth (if not a few hundred thousand) are in possession of the salvific Grace of Orthodoxy”? Are we not constantly reminded by the Church that ours is the “little flock”, and that in the last times (as indeed in earlier times) there will be few that follow the narrow path of the Orthodox confession? Is it “sectarianism” to obey the conciliar decisions of the Church into which I was baptised? Is it “personal hatred” to believe that a man who declares that Mohammed is an apostle of God is no longer a Christian (“Patriarch” Parthenius of Alexandria)? Is it “intolerance” to believe that a man who has worked zealously for over 40 years for the KGB, whose ecumenism is so extreme as to embrace non-Christian religions, and who recently broke down the doors of a monastery of the Russian Church Abroad in Hebron with the aid of Muslims who then rang the bells exultantly – is an enemy of God (“Patriarch” Alexis of Moscow)? Perhaps it is. But then I would say that the Lord Himself praised such intolerance when He said: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 1.6).I consider it love, not hatred, to tell people the truth about their situation – provided it is “in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6.1). If your argument with me was that I lack meekness, then I would accept what you say, considering your rebuke to be to my profit. But what you are really saying is something different; you are saying that I am objectively wrong in considering the heretics of World Orthodoxy to be outside the Church. And such a charge I will resist with all my strength. For it is counter to the teaching, not only of the bishop who baptised me and accepted my confession of faith when I came over from the Moscow Patriarchate, but also of the whole Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad in 1983, whose anathema against ecumenism has never been repealed by any competent authority – and could never in fact be repealed, since it is based firmly on the eternal truth of Holy Tradition.I would like to make one more point. Suppose I – or rather, the official teaching of the Church to which I belong – were wrong, and the heretics of World Orthodoxy, such as “Patriarchs” Alexis of Moscow and Bartholomew of Constantinople, were in fact still members of the One, Holy, Catholic Church. Then we have a truly awful scenario: that many hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of people who confess or condone the ecumenist heresy are receiving the sacraments of Christ to their condemnation! This is not just my personal opinion. In the letter written by Hieromartyr Cyril, Metropolitan of Kazan, in 1934, which your colleagues often cite in support of your position because he (very tentatively) expressed the opinion that the sergianist clergy (more precisely: those who had been ordained by non-sergianists) still had valid sacraments, the hieromartyr says that those clergy and laymen who receive the sacraments in sergianist churches while knowing the unrighteousness of the sergianist position, receive those sacraments to their condemnation. The situation now, in 1997, is very substantially worse than in 1934. (And Metropolitan Cyril had already considerably hardened his position by the year 1937.) In particular, there are no clergy who have been ordained by non-sergianists in the Moscow Patriarchate (except for a handful of renegades from the Russian Church Abroad), and the evil of sergianism has been compounded by the horrors of ecumenism – the sin of Judas by the sin of Pilate. Now let me put this question to you: would not deprivation of the Grace of sacraments be a mercyfor the World Orthodox? Would it not be an act of the loving kindness of the Saviour, Who does not wish people to be burdened with the extra condemnation of receiving His sacraments while preaching or condoning heresy? And is this not in fact the basic reason why the Lord deprives people of His Grace – so that they should not be scorched by It because of their unworthiness?