An Open Letter to His Holiness, Ecumenical Bartholomew Regarding the persecution of the Monks of Esphigmenou Monastery
October 13, 2006
His All-Holiness, BARTHOLOMEOS Archbishop of Constantinople The Phanar Istanbul, Turkey
Most Beloved and Holy Father and Master,
Before beginning to address the subject of this letter, let me begin by conveying my filial and warm regards to Your All-Holiness on this, the eve of the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God. It is my hope that this letter finds Your All-Holiness in good health and vigor.
I write to Your All-Holiness today, with all due respect and humility and with great pain in my heart, to express my sorrow and concern about a matter which affects the entire orthodox Church and pious Orthodox Christians throughout the world. The matter of which I speak is that concerning Esphigmenou Monastery on holy Mt. Athos.
As Your All-Holiness may be aware, the events surrounding the monks of Esphigmenou have achieved worldwide attention, primarily due to the Internet. While the major world media have not picked up the story, it has nonetheless found its way into the homes of million of believers and non-believers world wide by way of the internet.
Surely Your All-Holiness must be aware that your treatment and persecution of the monks of Esphigmenou is a scandal to the Church and an embarrassment to all Orthodox Christians throughout the world. It sullies the good name of the Orthodox Church and lessens our credibility before the other religions of the world. There is no other way to describe Your All-Holiness's treatment of these zealots as being anything other than unhumane. How could Your All-Holiness in good conscious deny these holy fathers and brothers in Christ the basic human necessities of food and medical attention?
Stories abound about how the monks of Esphigmenou are being persecuted by Your All-Holiness. That Your All-Holiness has ordered the seizure of their bank accounts, mail, tractors, boats and other assets and resources, thereby isolating them and preventing them the opportunity to sustain themselves is deplorable and a sin against humanity. Your All-Holiness has ordered the local police to prohibit and prevent pilgrims, visitors and concerned individuals from going to the monastery. It has been learned as well that electricity has been turned off, and that food and other necessary supplies have been denied them. Such behavior and acts are barbaric and take us back to the Dark Ages and for this Your All-Holiness should be deeply ashamed.
While the Church is hierarchical, it is not a dictatorship. While it may not be democratic, it is nonetheless conciliar. Every baptized Christian has a right to actively participate in the life of the Church and that includes voicing their concerns when they believe that those who have been appointed to shepherd them are not doing their job or otherwise doing it improperly.
Your All-Holiness aggressively seeks to silence the monks of Esphigmenou in speaking their concern for the welfare of the Church. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Your All-Holiness has taken this path. Much the same has been done to the faithful in America who have voiced their concern over the welfare and future of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States and of the Orthodox Church in North America in general.
Any attempt by the faithful to engage Your All-Holiness in dialogue concerning the welfare and future of the Church has been met with deliberate and arbitrary hostility. You continue to impose dictates upon a Church in a country whose culture you neither understand nor want to understand. The Orthodox Church in North America is not the same as the tiny Orthodox minority Your All-Holiness shepherds in Turkey and it is not the same as the Orthodox Church in Greece or Russia or the Ukraine. Without listening to the Church you cannot effectively shepherd the Church or build up the Body of Christ. By behaving in this fashion, Your All-Holiness acts more like a dictator than a pastor and shepherd. In this regard, such behavior is shameful and inappropriate for a hierarch of the Church, especially one in such a high profile position as Your All-Holiness.
The issue at hand is not one of obedience, most Holy Father, but one of conscience, human rights and the dignity of the human. person. In each of these areas Your All-Holiness has failed miserably to protect those children of the Church whom you have been called to shepherd and have denied them the right to active participation in the life of the Church simply because they do not share Your All-Holiness's view with regard to ecumenism.
I must tell Your All-Holiness that many pious and educated Orthodox Christians throughout the world do not share your view regarding the ecumenical policies you undertake. Even those faithful who are not theologically trained understand and disagree with Your All-Holiness's false ecumenistic pursuits. Many of us stand in firm and vocal opposition to the false ecumenism you practice and adhere to. Rather than walking the path of true ecumenism, which is a form of evangelization, you have chosen to walk the path of false ecumenism, an ecumenism which purports that all Christian denominations are equal in status to the Orthodox Church and that their so-called "Churches" are mere parts of the same One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Adherance to such a belief is not Orthodox and if this is what Your All-Holiness truly believes, you make of the Orthodox Church and faith a lie.
Your All-Holiness must remember that your words and deeds carry with them very great weight throughout the world. Indeed, the actions and words of Your All-Holiness are understood by many to express the phronema (mind-set) of our holy Church. In the matter of your ecumenical practices, Your All-Holiness is sending out the wrong message, a message that is not Orthodox but heterodox.
Rather than being the center of unity for all Orthodox Christians throughout the world, Your All-Holiness has become a source of scandal, division and disunity. Your actions and words are driving good, sincere and faithful Orthodox Christians from the Church. You aggressively silence and punish all those who disagree with you or who dare to speak their mind. It appears that Your All-Holiness has no desire to act in a conciliar way in the administration and governance of the Church. In fact, you seem more comfortable in the role of a domineering and dictatorial autocrat.
Conciliarity is not a fashionable buzzword Your All-Holiness. It is an integral part of the very nature of the Church and its extends far beyond the episcopate. It includes ALL members of the Church: hierarchy, clergy and laity, both male and female. However, Your All-Holiness has proven time and again, that you have no interest in hearing what the faithful have to say nor do you care about what they think or that they are concerned that our Church is being harmed in many different ways, especially by those who have been appointed to serve God's people and shepherd His Church. This is unfortunate, Your All-Holiness, since you have it within your power to lead us to great heights and to make us a strong and formidable moral, ethical and spiritual presence in the world. However, rather than leading us to great heights, Your All-Holiness is leading us into the pit of darkness, despair and confusion.
Your All-Holiness, without compassion or care for the well-being of the monks of Esphigmenou, you have ruthlessly persecuted them for doing nothing more than speaking their conscience and defending our holy Orthodox Faith. Because of your harsh and callous inhumane treatment of them, several elderly and ill fathers of the Monastery have died and others are in danger of dying. That Your All-Holiness has ordered such despicable treatment is sad and lamentable. Truly, Your All-Holiness is the direct cause of the deaths of these men and you should be held accountable for them. These are your spiritual children and you have persecuted and abandoned them.
I call upon Your All-Holiness to immediately cease the inhumane and un-Christian treatment of the monks of Esphigmenou and to publicly repent of your actions, which are a scandal and embarrassment to all Orthodox Christians worldwide. Further, I strongly encourage Your All-Holiness to allow the International Red Cross or some other international humanitarian agency immediate access to the Holy Monastery of Esphigmenou to ascertain the health and well-being of the monks and provide them with necessary medical attention and care. Finally, I call upon the governments of all countries in which the Ecumenical Patriarchate has faithful to deny Your All-Holiness visitation to those countries until such time as food, electricity, and medical attention are restored to the monks of Esphigmenou.
Please understand, Your All-Holiness, that you stand accountable to the whole world for your deplorable behavior in the treatment of the monks of Esphigmenou. By the very fact that Your All-Holiness claims to be the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, a claim which, by the way, is not supported by the ecclesiological tradition of the Orthodox Church, you are bound to look out and care for ALL the people of God's holy Church. To do anything less is unacceptable and an abomination before the eyes of God.
In closing, I call upon all Orthodox Christians to protest Your All-Holiness's behavior and to demand an immediate end to the mistreatment and persecution of the monks of Esphigmenou Monastery.
I earnestly pray that Your All-Holiness will have a change of heart and repent of your behavior, which is a source of immense pain and sorrow to the Church and the cause of division and disunity among the faithful.
Commending Your All-Holiness to God's mercy and love and asking your prayers upon my unworthiness, I remain
Your Brother and Concelebrant before the Lord,
+STEPHEN Bishop of Utica Metropolitan of Siracusa and of the Americas and Canada Primate of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church