Saint Philaret against the World Church

In the The First Sorrowful Epistle, Metropolitan St. Philaret responded to the 1965 lifting by the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of the anathema against the Roman Church. M. Philaret declares that the Ecumenical Patriarch does not have the right to such a unilateral move, explaining that Orthodoxy,

inherited a legacy from the Holy Fathers that everything in the Church should be done in a legal way, unanimously, and conforming to ancient Traditions. If any of the bishops and even primates of one of the autocephalous churches does something which is not in agreement with the teaching of the whole Church, every member of the Church may protest against it. …

None of the autocephalous churches, and specifically not the highly esteemed Church of Constantinople from which our Russian Church has received the treasure of Orthodoxy, may change anything in this matter without the foregoing consent of everybody. Moreover we, the bishops ruling at present, may not make decisions with reference to the West which would disagree with the teaching of the Holy Fathers who lived before us, specifically the Saints Photios of Constantinople and Mark of Ephesus.

In the light of these principles, although being the youngest of the primates, as the head of the free autonomous part of the Church of Russia, we regard it our duty to state our categorical protest against the action of Your Holiness with reference to your simultaneous solemn declaration with the Pope of Rome in regard to the removal of the sentence of excommunication made by Patriarch Michael Cerularius in 1054. …

Your Holiness in the face of the whole world performed something quite new and uncommon to your predecessors as well as inconsistent with the 10th Canon of the Holy Apostles at your meeting with the Pope of Rome, Paul VI, in Jerusalem. … But now Your Holiness is going even further when, only by your own decision with the bishops of your Synod, you cancel the decision of Patriarch Michael Cerularius accepted by the whole Orthodox East. In that way Your Holiness is acting contrary to the attitude accepted by the whole of our Church in regard to Roman Catholicism …

The essence of the problem (that led to excommunication of the Roman Church by the East) is in the deviation from Orthodoxy which took root in the Roman Church during the centuries, beginning with the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope which was definitively formulated at the First Vatican Council. … (And in the centuries since that excommunication) the Church of Rome has introduced a number of innovations in its dogmatic teaching. The more such innovations were introduced, the deeper was to become the separation between the East and the West. The doctrinal deviations of Rome in the eleventh century did not yet contain the errors that were added later. Therefore, the cancellation of the mutual excommunication of 1054 could have been of meaning at that time; but now it is only an evidence of indifference in regard to the most important errors, namely new doctrines foreign to the ancient Church, of which some, having been exposed by St. Mark of Ephesus, were the reason why the Church rejected the Union of Florence.

We declare firmly and categorically:

No union of the Roman Church with us is possible until it renounces its new doctrines, and no communion in prayer can be restored with it without a decision of all churches, which, however, can hardly be possible before the liberation of the Church of Russia which at present has to live in catacombs (see my Sergian Heresy page). The hierarchy which is now under Patriarch Alexis cannot express the true voice of the Russian Church because it is under full control of the godless (Soviet) government. Primates of some other churches in countries dominated by communists also are not free. …

Therefore we find it necessary to make a statement that our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia as well as, certainly, the Russian Church which is at present in the catacombs, will not consent to any “dialogues” with other confessions and beforehand rejects any compromise with them, finding union with them possible only if they accept the Orthodox Faith as it is maintained until now in the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. While this has not happened, the excommunication proclaimed by the Patriarch Michael Cerularius is still valid, and the canceling of it by Your Holiness is an act both illegal and void.

And from the Second Sorrowful Epistle

… The 34th Apostolic Canon orders that a Bishop may do “those things only which concern his own Diocese and the territories belonging to it.”

There are, however, occasions when events are of such a nature that their influence extends beyond the limits of one Diocese, or indeed those of one or more of the local Churches. Events of such a general, global nature can not be ignored by any Orthodox Bishop, who, as a successor of the Apostles, is charged with the protection of his flock from various temptations. …

Two years have passed since our Sorrowful Epistle was issued, and, alas! although in the Church of Greece we have seen the new statements regarding ecumenism as un-Orthodox, no Orthodox Church has announced its withdrawal from the World Council of Churches.

In the Sorrowful Epistle, we depicted in vivid colors to what extent the organic membership of the Orthodox Church in that Council, based as it is upon purely Protestant principles, is contrary to the very basis of Orthodoxy. In this Epistle, having been authorized by our Council of Bishops, we would further develop and extend our warning, showing that the participants in the ecumenical movement are involved in a profound heresy against the very foundation of the Church.

The essence of that movement has been given a clear definition by the statement of the Roman Catholic theologian Ives M. J. Congar. He writes that “this is a movement which … begins at just that point where it is recognized that, at the present state, none of the Christian confessions possesses the fullness of Christianity, but even if one of them is authentic, still, as a confession, it does not contain the whole truth. There are Christian values outside of it belonging not only to Christians who are separated from it in creed, but also to other Churches and other confessions as such” (Chretiens Desunis, Ed. Unam Sanctam, Paris, 1937, pp. XI-XII). This definition … continues … now, with the difference that during the intervening years this movement has continued to develop further with a newer and more dangerous scope.

In our first Sorrowful Epistle, we wrote in detail on how incompatible with our Ecclesiology was the participation of Orthodox in the World Council of Churches, and … protested against the acceptance of that resolution at the Geneva Pan-Orthodox Conference whereby the Orthodox Church was proclaimed an organic member of the World Council of Churches.

Alas! These last few years are richly laden with evidence that, in their dialogues with the heterodox, some Orthodox representatives have adopted a purely Protestant ecclesiology which brings in its wake a Protestant approach to questions of the life of the Church, and from which springs forth the now-popular modernism. Modernism consists in that bringing-down, that re-aligning of the life of the Church according to the principles of current life and human weaknesses. …

The strength of Orthodoxy has always lain in Her maintaining the principles of Church Tradition. Despite this, there are those who are attempting to include in the agenda of a future Great Council not a discussion of the best ways to safeguard those principles, but, on the contrary, ways to bring about a radical revision of the entire way of life in the Church, beginning with the abolition of fasts, second marriages of the clergy, etc., so that Her way of life would be closer to that of the heretical communities.

In our first Sorrowful Epistle we have shown in detail the extent to which the principles of the World Council of Churches are contrary to the doctrines of the Orthodox Church, and we protested against the decision taken in Geneva at the Pan-Orthodox Conference declaring the Orthodox Church to be an organic member of that council. Then we reminded all that, “the poison of heresy is not too dangerous when it is preached outside the Church. Many times more perilous is that poison which is gradually introduced into the organism in larger and larger doses by those who, in virtue of their position, should not be poisoners but spiritual physicians.” …

The problem of unity is not discussed now on the level at which it used to be considered by the Holy Fathers. For them unity with the heretics required them to accept the whole of Orthodox doctrine and their return to the fold of the Orthodox Church. … Patriarch Athenagoras clearly expressed (the ecumenical vision) in his speech greeting Cardinal Willebrands in Constantinople on November 30, 1969 … by saying that, “None of us is calling the other to himself, but, like Peter and Andrew, we both direct ourselves to Jesus, the only and mutual Lord, Who unites us into oneness” (Tomos Agapis, Rome-lstanbul, Document No. 274, pp. 588-589). The recent exchange of letters between Paul Vl, the Pope of Rome, and the Patriarch Athenagoras further elaborates and develops this unorthodox idea …

The Pope wrote … on February 8, 1971: ”We remind the believers assembled in the Basilica of St. Peter on the Week of Unity that between our Church and the venerable Orthodox Churches there is an already existing, nearly complete communion, though not fully complete, resulting from our common participation in the mystery of Christ and His Church” (Tomos Agapis, pp.614-615). …

While the Pope, who is not interested in dogmatical harmony, invites the Patriarch “to do all that is possible to speed that much desired day when, at the conclusion of a common concelebration, we will be made worthy to communicate together of the same Cup of the Lord” (ibid.); the Patriarch answered in the same spirit addressing the Pope as ”elder brother” and saying that,” . . . following the holy desire of the Lord Who would that His Church be One, visible to the entire world, so that the entire world would fit in Her, we constantly and unremittingly surrender ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit unto the firm continuation and completion of the now-begun and developing holy work begun with You in our common Holy desire, to make visible and manifest unto the world the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ” (ibid., pp. 618-619).

Further on the Patriarch writes: “Truly, even though the Church of both east and west have been estranged from each other for offenses known but to the Lord, they are not virtually separated from the communion in the mystery of the God-man Jesus and His Divine-human Church” (ibid., pp. 620).

The Patriarch bitterly mentions that “we were estranged from reciprocal love and the blessed gift of confession in oneness of mind of the faith of Christ was taken from us.” … The Patriarch notes that, “we are called positively to proceed to the final union in concelebration and communion of the honorable Blood of Christ from the same holy cup” (ibid., pp. 620-623).

In this letter many un-Orthodox ideas are expressed, which, if taken to their logical end, lead us to the most disastrous conclusions. It follows from the quoted words that the ecumenists led by Patriarch Athenagoras do not believe in the Church as She was founded by the Savior. Contrary to His word (Matt. 16:18), that Church no longer exists for them, and the Pope and Patriarch together would “make visible and manifest” a new church which would encompass the whole of mankind. Is it not dreadful to hear these words “make visible and manifest” from the mouth of an Orthodox Patriarch? Is it not a renunciation of the existing (visible and manifest) Church of Christ? …

They attempt to present the separation between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as if it never existed. In their common prayer in the Basilica of St. Peter, Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul Vl stated that they find themselves already united “in the proclamation of the same Gospel, in the same baptism, in the same sacraments and the charismas” (ibid., p.660).  But even if the Pope and Patriarch have declared to be null and void the Anathemas which have existed for nine centuries, does this mean that the reasons for pronouncing them, which are known to all, have ceased to exist? Does this mean that the errors of the Latins which one was required to renounce upon entering the Church no longer exist?

(No. In fact,) The Roman Catholic Church … is even further away from Orthodoxy now, having introduced even more new doctrines and having accepted more and more the principles of reformation, ecumenism and modernism. …

Therefore, the statement that during those centuries “we did not cease to recognize each in the other …” is absolutely inconsistent with historical fact. … The separation appears illusory to those who give no weight to the words of the Savior spoken to His Holy Apostles and through them, to their successors: “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).

The Savior says, “Verily I say unto you,” and the Patriarch contradicts Him and declares His words to be untrue. It must be concluded from the Patriarch’s words that, although the Latins were regarded as heretics by the whole Orthodox Church, although they could not receive Holy Communion, even though they were accepted into the Church over many centuries by Baptism—and we know of no decision in the East reversing this stand—still, they continued to be members of the Corpus Christi and were not separated from the Sacraments of the Church. In such a statement there is no logic. … It presents us with an example of application in practice of the Protestant doctrine according to which excommunication from the Church because of dogmatical error does not bar the one excommunicated from membership in Her. In other words, it means that “communion in the mystery of the God-man Jesus” does not necessarily depend upon membership in the Orthodox Church. …

Patriarch Athenagoras goes yet beyond equating Papism with Orthodoxy. We speak here of his statement to Roge Schutz, a pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Switzerland. “I wish to make you an avowal,” he said. “You are a priest. I could receive from your hands the Body and Blood of Christ.” On the next day he added, “I could make my confession to you” (Le Monde, May 21, 1970).

Ecumenists of Orthodox background are willing to undermine even the authority of the Ecumenical Councils in order to achieve communion with heretics. This happened during the dialogue with the Monophysites. At the meeting with them in Geneva, a clear Orthodox position was held actually only by one or two of the participants, while the rest manifested the typical ecumenistic tendency to accomplish intercommunion at any cost, even without the attainment of a full dogmatic agreement between the Orthodox and Monophysites. Rev. Dr. John Romanides, the representative of the Church of Greece, was fully justified in stating the following of the Orthodox members at the conference: “We have all along been the object of an ecumenical technique which aims at the accomplishment of intercommunion or communion or union without an agreement on Chalcedon and the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils (Minutes of the Conference in Geneva, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. XVI, p. 30). As a result of such tactics, one of the resolutions of this conference is actually an agreement to investigate the possibility of drawing up a formula of Concord which would not be a dogmatical statement on the level of a confession of faith, but would rather serve as a basis upon which the Orthodox and the Monophysites could proceed toward union in a common Eucharist (ibid., p. 6). …

At yet another conference in Addis Abbaba, the un-Orthodox statements of representatives of the Orthodox Churches were buttressed by Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Rev. V. Borovoy, resulting in a resolution that the mutual Anathemas simply be dropped. “Should there be a formal declaration or ceremony in which the Anathemas are lifted? Many of us felt that it is much simpler to drop these Anathemas in a quiet way as some Churches have begun to do” (ibid., p. 211).

Here again we see in practice the Protestant concept of ecclesiology whereby the excommunication of one for dogmatical error does not prevent heretics from belonging to the Church. …

Both the World Council of Churches and the dialogues between various Christian confessions, and even with other religions (such as, for instance, Islam and Judaism) are links in a chain which in the manner of thinking of ecumenists must grow to include all of mankind. This tendency is already evident at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches at Uppsala in 1967.

According to ecumenists, all this could be accomplished by a special Council, which in their eye would be truly “ecumenical” since they do not recognize the historical Ecumenical Councils as being truly so. …

The Assembly on Faith and Constitution has chosen as its main theme “The Unity of the Church and the Unity of Mankind.” (An example of this thinking was give) at the conference of the Central Committee in Addis Abbaba, (when) Metropolitan George Khodre made a report which actually tends to connect the Church in some way with all religions. He would see the inspiration of the Holy Spirit even in non-Christian religions so that, according to him, when we communicate of the Body of Christ we are united to all whom our Lord embraces in His love toward mankind (Irenikon, 1971, No. 2, pp. 191-202).

This is where the Orthodox Church is being drawn. Outwardly this movement is manifested by unending “dialogues” …

Just recently, the Exarch of Patriarch Athenagoras in North and South America, Archbishop Iakovos, took part in a dialogue with Jews. He noted that as far as he knew, at no other time in history has such “a theological dialogue with Jews taken place under the sponsorship of the Greek Church.” Besides matters of a national character, “the group also agreed to examine liturgy, with Greek Orthodox scholars undertaking to review their liturgical texts in terms of improving references to Jews and Judaism where they are found to be negative or hostile” (Religious News Service, January 27, 1972, pp. 24-25). So it is that Patriarch Athenagoras and other ecumenists do not limit their plans for unia to Roman Catholics and Protestants; their plans are more ambitious.

We have already quoted the words of Patriarch Athenagoras that the Lord desires that “His Church be one, visible to the entire world so that the entire world would fit within Her.” A Greek theologian and former Dean of the Theological Faculty in Athens … arrives at the same far-reaching conclusions. … According to him, God embraces all men in our planet as members of His one Church yesterday, today and tomorrow as the fullness of that Church (Bulletin Typos Bonne Presse, Athens, March-April 1971).

Although it is obvious to anyone with an elementary grasp of Orthodox Church doctrine that such a conception of the Church differs greatly from that of the Holy Fathers, we find it necessary to underscore the depth of the contradiction.

When and where did the Lord promise that the whole world could be united in the Church? (This has) no foundation in the Holy Gospels. All men are called unto salvation; but by no means do all of them respond. Christ spoke of Christians as those given Him from the world (John 17:6). He did not pray for the whole world but for those men given Him from the World. And the apostle St. John teaches that the Church and the world are in opposition to each other, and he exhorts the Christians, saying, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 1:16). Concerning the sons of the Church, the Savior said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). In the persons of the Apostles the Savior warned the Church that in the world She would have tribulation (John 16:33), explaining to His Disciples: “If you were from the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). In Holy Scriptures, therefore, we see that a clear distinction is made between the sons of the Church and the rest of mankind. Addressing himself to the faithful in Christ and distinguishing them from unbelievers, St. Peter writes, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people” (I Peter 2:9). …

There is no promise that the world will be transfigured into a church uniting all of mankind as fervent ecumenists believe, but rather there is the warning that religion will be lacking in the last days and Christians will suffer great sorrow and hatred on the part of all nations for the sake of our Savior’s Name (Matt. 24:9-12). While all of mankind sinned in the first Adam, in the second Adam—Christ—only that part of humanity is united in Him which is “born again” (John 3:3 and 7). And although in the material world God “maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 4:45), He does not accept the unjust into His Kingdom. Rather, He addresses them with these menacing words: “Not everyone who saith unto me Lord, Lord shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Doubtlessly our Savior is addressing the heretics when He says: “Many who say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils, and in they name done many wonderful works? And them I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:22-23).

So it is that our Lord tells the heretics, “I never knew you”; yet Patriarch Athenagoras tries to convince us that “they were not separated from the communion in the mystery of the God-man Jesus and His Divine-human Church.” It is the belief in the renewal of the whole of mankind within the new and universal church that lends to ecumenism the nature a of chiliastic heresy, which becomes more and more evident in the ecumenistic attempts to unite everyone, disregarding truth and error, and in their tendency to create not only a new church, but a new world. The propagators of this heresy do not wish to believe that the earth and all that is on it shall burn, the heavens shall pass away, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat (II Peter 3:1-12). They forget that it is after this that a new Heaven and a new Earth on which truth will abide will come to be through the creative word of God—not the efforts of human organizations. Therefore the efforts of Orthodox Christians should not be directed to the building of organizations, but toward becoming inhabitants of the new Creation after the Final Judgment through living a pious life in the one true Church. In the meantime, activities aimed at building the Kingdom of God on earth through a fraudulent union of various confessions without regard for the Truth, which is kept only within the Tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church, will only lead us away from the Kingdom of God and into the kingdom of the Antichrist. …

The history of the Church witnesses that Christianity was not spread by compromises and dialogues between Christians and unbelievers, but through witnessing the truth and rejecting every lie and every error. It might be noted that generally no religion has ever been spread by those who doubted its full truth. The new, all-encompassing “church” which is being erected by the ecumenists is of the nature of that Church of Laodicea exposed in the Book of Revelation: she is lukewarm, neither hot nor cold toward the Truth, and it is to this new “church” that the words addressed by the Angel to the Laodicean Church of old might now be applied: “So that because thou are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16). Therefore because they have not received “the love that they might be saved,” instead of a religious revival this “church” exhibits that of which the Apostle warned: “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thes. 2:10-12).

It is, therefore, upon the grounds stated above that the Most Reverend Members of our Council of Bishops unanimously agreed to recognize ecumenism as a dangerous heresy. Having observed its spread, they asked us to share our observation with our Brother Bishops throughout the world. …

+ Metropolitan PHILARET

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