Open letter from the Athonite Monks to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
An attempt to stem the egregious and heretical actions and statements of Patriarch Bartholomew from the Monks of Mount Athos
HOLY COMMUNITY OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN OF ATHOS, Karyes,
11th/24th May 1999
His Most Divine All-Holiness The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew The Phanar
Most Holy Father and Master,
To begin, we most respectfully and reverentially convey our filial regards on this, the Holy and Joyous Resurrection of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ, and likewise extend the honor which is due and proper to Your Venerable All-Holiness.
We rejoice in the Lord with resurrectional joy along with the all of the Most Holy Orthodox Church, despite this joy being mixed with much sorrow over the unjust tribulations brought upon Orthodox Serbia by the Western powers as well as by the suffering borne by the Kosovo refugees. We pray that our Resurrected Lord Jesus, the God of peace and father of all supplications, grant peace to these suffering peoples.
We proceed therefore, with all due respect to express also our disquiet over certain matters which concern the holy and immaculate Orthodox Faith, and which consequently impact our salvation and the salvation of all the fathers of the Holy Mountain. Being deeply conscious of our responsibility as regards the rational sheep of our Lord who look up to the Athonite Republic, we are deeply saddened by the following
The first concerns your address to the Roman Catholic Delegation on the occasion of the cathedra feast day of Saint Andrew on November 30, 1998.
This is certainly not the first occasion during such cathedra feasts of Constantinople and Rome on which such words have been uttered; we would like you to know that on such occasions we have always been greatly saddened, as for example, in June of 1998 when in Rome, the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Pergamon spoke of the so-called "two lungs" with which the Universal Church of Christ breathes.
However, in your address to the papal delegation last November, certain viewpoints were expressed which were quite unanticipated by the body of Orthodox faithful. We were greatly grieved and our conscience shaken.
Our disquiet grows ever more intense on account of the questions posed to us daily by our spiritual children and in general by the pious Christians who visit us and ask if indeed the text of your address expresses the mind-set (phronema) of our Holy Church. The matter takes on tragic proportions however, when we see the most pious of Orthodox faithful deserting for schismatic groups and in this way cause the holy body of the Church to bleed. You are well aware, Your All-Holiness, that there is nothing more painful for a shepherd than the scattering of these, the sheep of Christ.
How should we answer then? How do we justify something which is not justifiable? How do we convince ourselves and our spiritual children that the words of your address are consistent with the Orthodox Faith and Tradition, when obviously they cause the Tradition of the Church to be overturned and offend the Orthodox conscience?
How can we consider the following statements consistent with Orthodox Tradition? "We are obliged from this... to reconsider our policy, to clean away the old yeast, to become new dough..." and elsewhere, "Our repentance for the past is indispensable."
Are we obliged then, Your All-Holiness, to reconsider the Tradition of our Saints, from Photios, Gregory Palamas and Mark of Ephesus, up until Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain and Athanasios of Paros, whose struggles against the heterodox teachings of Rome and whose unrelenting persistence in the holy dogmas and ethos of Orthodoxy constitute our legacy from them? Can we ignore the words of Gregory Palamas that: "Our confession (of faith) is secure in all things and is for us a crown of pride and our hope which cannot be put to shame"?1
Is then our holy Tradition "old leaven" and must we now reconsider this mind-set (phronema) and adopt the "new dough" of a false union with Rome, in as much as she continues to be heterodox? And is not the same Saint Gregory's characterization of Western heretical dogmas still timely in our day: "These are the deep secrets of Satan, the mysteries of the Evil One"?2, and his words to those in the West "We will never accept you in communion as long as you confess the Spirit to be also from the Son."?3
Furthermore, how can we rectify with our conscience the following statement from your address: "Those of our forefathers from whom we inherited this separation were the unfortunate victims of the serpent who is the chief of all evils; they are already in the hands of God, the righteous judge"?
According to the Holy Fathers, the Popes of Rome and their representatives are the true cause of the West's schism from the Universal (Catholic) Orthodox Church. Your All-Holiness, you are aware that Saint Mark says literally: "For they have given cause for the schism, having obviously carried out the addition... We had previously broken from them, or rather had cut them off and separated them from the common body of the Church, as being of an improper and impious mind-set (phronema) and for irrationally having made the addition. Therefore, we turned away from them since they were heretics and for this reason separated from them."4 And in our century, Saint Nectarios wrote: "Thenceforth the separation of the Churches began, which came into completion quite rightly under Photios, since the Church was in danger of going away from the One, Catholic, and Apostolic Church to become a Roman Church, or rather a papist Church, professing no longer the dogmas of the holy Apostles, but those of the popes"5.
And these men, being the causes for the schism, are now in the hands of God, the righteous judge. But is it possible that the holy Fathers, who rightfully cut heretical Rome off from the body of the Church as one would amputate an incurable body part, and stitched back together the seamless tunic of Christ - is it possible that they are "unfortunate victims of the serpent, chief of all evils?" What Orthodox Christian cannot help but grieve just by hearing those words alone?
And how then can we accept the following statement from your address "Since in as much as one Church recognizes another Church to be a repository of divine grace, capable of granting salvation, ... the attempt to break believers off from the one and attach them to the other is impossible"?
Have we then ceased to believe that only the Orthodox Church constitutes the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?
Are we returning to the unorthodox ecclesiology of the Balamand document, which You yourself admitted to Austrian journalists, was not accepted by any Orthodox Church save the Church of Romania, and which, as you are aware, was condemned conciliarly by the Church of Greece and rejected by our Holy Community and by many bishops and theologians as being unorthodox?
But even if one interprets the above statement as being against Rome's proselytism via the Unia, its formulation denies to the Orthodox Church the right to consider herself the only true Church.
Are we then condemning the Unia solely because by its actions it undermines the theory of the "sister churches" and the recognition of Rome as the complete Church of Christ which arises from this theory? Are we not condemning the Unia because it has been the devious enemy of the Orthodox for centuries and because it is impossible, based on Orthodox ecclesiology, for even the existence of Uniate groups to be acceptable?
How can we accept as being consistent with Orthodox ecclesiology the statement that "each local Church is not a competitor with other local Churches, but of one body with them..." when it is totally impossible to consider heterodox Rome as being one of the most holy Orthodox Local Churches and of one body with them?
Finally, how can we not but be deeply pained by the epilogue of the address: "May the Lord make us worthy to see the resurrection of unity of His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" when by this statement the impression given is that since the time of the schism with Rome, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church ceased to exist, so that we must pray for her "resurrection?" In other words, were we not born into, baptized, and reared in the embrace of the One Holy Catholic Church, but are anticipating her resurrection? Is then our faith in vain? Are we dashing off into the void?
We would like to believe that you did not write this address yourself, and that it does not express your actual sentiments. We console ourselves with the idea that the pen of some champion of ecumenical thinking put your speech together and that on account of your justifiably many and various duties, you were unable to appreciate its significance to the Orthodox Faith and the conscience of the pious people of the Church.
Nonetheless, it is before such people that your tour of Greece will take place. The more pious of the clergy and the people are already aware of the contents of Your address, it having been published in a front page article in the newspaper Ekklestiastike Aletheia (12/15/98); it is by no means easy for them to reconcile their Orthodox conscience with the words of Your address.
We consider it imperative, Your All-Holiness, that You make certain clarifications which are necessary: to dispel the impression that these words, most likely spoken without being given the proper attention, express Your mind (phronema); to give comfort to those whose conscience has been scandalized; to give joy to the pious people, who consider their procession of the Orthodox Faith a certain assurance of salvation and the greatest of our Holy God's gifts. It is a Faith which the Church has preserved with many sacrifices by the Holy Fathers against every heretical affront, so that it might be the path to true knowledge of God6. It is a Faith which they feel they are in danger of losing on account of unwise theological trends, such as that expressed in the above speech addressed to the papal delegation.
We well hope, Your All-Holiness, in the arrival of a breath of consolation as soon as possible from the hills of the Mother Great Church of Christ to the valleys of lamentation which our hearts have become, as we have said and written above, and the danger which they present to the unity of our most holy Church.
We are also grieved and in anguish by the occurrence of pan- religious common prayers whose syncretistic nature is obvious.
From the first such common prayer which took place in Assisi (1986), these pan-religious spectacles have never ceased to be celebrated annually, reaching distressing proportions for the Orthodox during the12th pan-religious common prayer on the 30th of August 1998 in Romania. Why must we Orthodox be dragged into such common prayers by the Roman Catholic agents who mastermind them, when their goals are to serve papal pretensions for, at the least, spiritual leadership in Europe?
In addition, common prayers, such as are practiced, stand clearly against the Holy Canons of the Church. To be sure, you have not personally participated in such common prayer, but Orthodox Hierarchs and indeed, Heads of Churches have participated. In Romania, the papal cardinal and the Patriarch together blessed a mixed congregation of Roman Catholics, Uniates, and Orthodox.
The common prayer in Romania opens the Kerkoporta 7, through which the Orthodox Church will be in danger of spiritual capture. The Most Blessed Presiding Hierarch of the Church of Romania is too weak, it would seem, to stand up to the politics of his nation's leaders who are making provisions to open towards the West; in this context an official visit of the Pope to an Orthodox nation recently took place for the first time in history. Are they suffering amnesia when it comes to the crimes committed by the Uniates against the Orthodox for centuries? Are we now to accept de facto the existence and activities of Uniate groups?
Besides, since there seems to be no chance that heterodox Christians will abandon their heretical dogmas and unbiblical teachings, what purpose do common prayers serve, except to blunt Orthodox sensitivity and to create a syncretistic convergence?
Finally, how can we justify common prayer with heterodox? Do the Orthodox representatives who partake in these common prayers recognize that the rest of the heterodox and those of other religions properly give praise to and worship God? Is not such a position antithetical to the holy Gospel and thus, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
We would reverently recommend to Your attention the prohibition of common prayer with heterodox and to be sure, with non-Christian religions by means of a pan-orthodox decision, in as much as this common prayer stands against the commands of the Old and New Testament as well as the Holy Canons, as they prepare the way for the pan-religion of the so-called "New Age" in denial of the uniqueness of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The publication of the periodical "God &Religion," whose contents serve pan-religious syncretism, has caused us great sorrow. Despite assurances from the periodical's editors that its goals are not syncretism, viewpoints are nevertheless promoted which overlook the uniqueness of man's salvation in Christ and in the Orthodox Church under the guise of a religious approach to current topics. If that were not enough, the periodical promotes depictions which are insulting and abusive to the All-holy person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When considered from this perspective, support for such a periodical as expressed in commendatory letters written by certain ecclesiastical figures, creates the very great danger for Orthodox people to be misled into believing that this is a periodical which is of an Orthodox mind-set (phronema).
We were especially grieved by your granting a blessing for its publication, as well as by the publication of a special interview, which was used as a strong indication that you agree with the editorial policies of the periodical.
We want You to know, Your All-holiness, that we foster the piety towards Your most reverent person and the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which is set down by the tradition of the Orthodox Church and the history of our martyred Nation. For this reason our grief becomes even more excessive when we see, next to your photograph, advertisements in this periodical with pictures of semi-naked women and other scenes which are incongruous with the holiness of your ministry and office.
It is our opinion that the editors of this periodical while feigning objectivity, aim to belittle the Orthodox Faith by placing it alongside other, false religions, as it appears in associated articles. Messages such as, for example: "Religion: sacrifice at the altar of the gods" with the juxtaposition of various religious symbols beside the Christian Cross; "God is everywhere" meaning, in all religions; "I don't think, I BELIEVE" obviously in the advertised books on Islam, Judaism, Buddhism confirm the truth of our assertion.
In addition, the "objective" presentation of serious moral and social problems lessens the authoritative position of genuine Orthodox Christian ethical teaching. For example, the phrase which they propose: "the setting of standards would be a rational act of philanthropy" meaning 'euthanasia' is tantamount, at the very least, to a subconscious message in favor of euthanasia.
In our opinion, even some of those who claim to profess an Orthodox perspective fail to express fully true Orthodox positions.
For this undermining of the holy Orthodox Faith, we not only grieve, but are also filled with righteous anger.
It is with pain that we have composed these lines. We see that a pervasive spirit of neglectfulness predominates in the world, whose fruits are the above mentioned disturbing phenomena. The sensitivity of the Orthodox with regards to the true Faith becomes blunted day by day, following the same path as the decline of the ethics of the Gospel and the increase in human self-love and arrogance. What will be the outcome?
We, the Orthodox people, are in need of a spiritual awakening in view of the present adverse conditions which confront us, so that we might understand "what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."8
The terrible incursion of modern day barbarians against our brothers in the faith, the Serbian people, is perhaps not unrelated to these things. A Fifth Crusade is unfolding before our very eyes, the goal of which is a new conquest of the Orthodox peoples. Perhaps it is a sign for us to awaken and understand that the Lord asks us to keep ourselves pure from the outrage which is syncretism? Do we have anything more certain than the word of the Apostle: "for what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?... Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord"9, so that the most holy Orthodox Faith can stand without innovations as a witness to them and to the nations and as a salvific call to everyone?
We filially put forward these our anxieties, believing that You will not ignore the sound of our pleas, but will bend a sympathetic ear to them and will grant consolation to our hearts and to the whole Church, which in the imagery of the Holy Book of Revelation is aptly depicted as a woman flying into the wilderness, pursued by the Dragon who seeks to drown her and make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.10
With these things in mind, we kiss Your Most Divine All-Holiness' holy Right Hand and ask for Your Patriarchal and Fatherly blessings, remaining Yours with deepest respect and all due reverence.
All the Representatives to the common Synaxis and Superiors of the twenty Holy Monasteries of the Holy Mountain of Athos.
(1) St. Gregory Palamas, Peri tes ekporeuseos tou Agiou Pneumatos [On the Procession of the Holy Spirit], E.P.E. [Greek Fathers of the Church], Volume I, p. 180
(2) ibid., p. 74
(4) St Mark of Ephesus, Encyclical to Orthodox Christians in all the Earth and on Islands
(5) St Nectarios of Pentapolis, Historical Study on the Causes of the Schism
(6) ref. John 17:3
(7) translator's note: the gate left open on May 29,1453 through which the Turks gained access to sack Constantinople
(8) Romans 12:2
(9) II Corinthians 6:14-17
(10) Revelation 12:13-17