A person may be able to nibble around the edges of canonical law in order to say that this or that arcane point should be “applied by the Spirit” and not taken literally by a “legalistic” mind. However, there must be many major elements in the law that are so required to preserve the christian life in the church as to be immune to such abstraction.
If there is a visible Church, as the Orthodox believe, then it must be led by a hierarchy of men that lawfully rule the Church according to its canons. In that case the canonical principles of how to deal with heresy among the clergy would stand as central in the defense of the Faith. Excerpted below are a few of the canons that bear on the hierarchy, given here with the purpose of demonstrating the principles of its governance.
One can readily see that in addition to the instruction found in the scripture, rules such as these would be necessary in order to regulate the activities in the Church.
Firstly there are the Canons of the Holy Apostles. These are 85 ecclesiastical rules selected by the Eastern Orthodox Church as being the most important part of Orthodox Canon Law. They were, “adopted as obligatory norms by the stipulation of Can. II of the Qunisextum (692) and also other canons of the Particular Councils of the Eastern Orthodox Church.”
Let not a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, put away his wife under pretence of religion; … undertake worldly business … celebrate the holy day of Easter before the vernal equinox, with the Jews, … or any one on the sacerdotal list (who) when the offering is made, does not partake of it (without just cause,) … if any one shall pray, even in a private house, with an excommunicated person, … if any clergyman shall join in prayer with a deposed clergyman, as if he were a clergyman … , let (these) be excommunicated (or, if clergy,) deposed. (Canons V, VI, VII, VIII, X, XI)
(By extension – in case it is not explicitly said elsewhere in the canons -it is clear from this that if anyone refuses to investigate and depose clergy that are obviously worthy of it, and they continue to pray with them, then let these be deposed.)
Canon (XII, XIII).
If any one of the clergy or laity who is excommunicated, or not to be received, shall go away, and be received in another city without commendatory letters, let both the receiver and the received be excommunicated. But if he be excommunicated already, let the time of his excommunication be lengthened.
Canon (XIV, XV, XVI).
A bishop is not to be allowed to leave his own parish, and pass over into another, (except) by the judgment of many bishops, (and) without the permission of his own bishop (and if he persist in this) let him communicate there as a layman. …
If, however, the bishop, with whom any such persons are staying, shall disregard the command that they are to cease … let him be excommunicated … .
Canon XVII.If a clergyman becomes surety for any one, let him be deposed.
Canon (XXI, XXII, XXIII, XXIV).
An eunuch, if he has been made so by the violence of men in times of persecution, or if he has been born so, if in other respects he is worthy, may be made a bishop. (But) he who has mutilated himself, cannot become a clergyman … If any man being a clergyman shall mutilate himself, let him be deposed … If a layman mutilate himself, let him be excommunicated for three years …
If a bishop, presbyter, or deacon be found guilty of fornication, perjury, or theft, let him be deposed, but let him not be excommunicated … shall strike any of the faithful who have sinned, or of the unbelievers who have done wrong, with the intention of frightening them, we command that he be deposed. …
Canon (XXVIII, XXIX).
If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon, having been justly deposed upon open accusations, shall dare to meddle with any of the divine offices which had been intrusted to him, (or) if any bishop, presbyter, or deacon, shall obtain possession of that dignity by money, let both him and the person who ordained him be deposed, and also altogether cut off from all communion … let him be altogether cut off from the Church.
If any bishop obtain possession of a church by the aid of the temporal powers, let him be deposed and excommunicated, and all who communicate with him.
If any presbyter, despising his own bishop, shall collect a separate congregation, and erect another altar, not having any grounds for condemning the bishop with regard to religion or justice, let him be deposed for his ambition; for he is a tyrant; in like manner also the rest of the clergy, and as many as join him; and let laymen be excommunicated. Let this, however, be done after a first, second, and third admonition from the bishop.
If any presbyter or deacon has been excommunicated by a bishop, he may not be received into communion again by any other than by him who excommunicated him, unless it happen that the bishop who excommunicated him be dead.
No foreign bishop, presbyter, or deacon, may be received without commendatory letters; and (examination). (If these fail), although you supply them with what they need, you must not receive them into communion, for many things are done surreptitiously.
The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent … . But neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; …
Let not a bishop dare to ordain beyond his own limits, in cities and places not subject to him (or) let him be deposed, and those also whom he has ordained.
If any person, having been ordained bishop (presbyter or deacon), does not undertake the ministry, and the care of the people committed to him, let him be excommunicated until he does … (or, if this has been by) the perverseness of the people (then) let him continue bishop; and let the clergy of the city be excommunicated, because they have not corrected the disobedient people. …
Canon (XLII, XLIV).
If a bishop or presbyter, or deacon, is addicted to dice or drinking, let him either give it over, or … takes usury from those who borrow of him, give up doing so, or be deposed.
Canon (XLV, XLVI).
Let a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, who has … prayed with heretics, be excommunicated: but if he has (also) permitted them to perform any clerical office, … (or) has admitted the baptism or sacrifice of heretics, … let him be deposed.
Let a bishop or presbyter who shall baptize again one who has rightly received baptism, or who shall not baptize one who has been polluted by the ungodly, be deposed …
If any bishop or presbyter, contrary to the ordinance of the Lord, does not baptize into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but into three Unoriginated Beings, or three Sons, or three Comforters, let him be deposed.
If any bishop or presbyter does not perform the one initiation with three immersions, but with giving one immersion only, into the death of the Lord, let him be deposed. For the Lord said not, Baptize into my death, but, “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon, or any one of the sacerdotal list, abstains from marriage, or flesh, or wine, not by way of religious restraint, but as abhorring them, forgetting that God made all things very good, … let him be corrected, or else be deposed, and cast out of the Church. …
If any bishop or presbyter [some mss add: or deacon] does not receive him who turns away from his sin, but rejects him, let him be deposed; …
If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon, does not on festival days partake of flesh and wine, from an abhorrence of them, and not out of religious restraint, let him be deposed …
The Council of Laodicea (364 A.D.),
Canon 6. Concerning the necessity of not permitting heretics to come into the house of God, so long as they persist in their heresy.
Canon 7. Concerning the need of refusing to accept persons from heresies, … when they are converted, … until they have anathematized every heresy, and (those especially) in which they have been captivated. …
The Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.),
When we had assembled, according to the religious decree [of the Emperors], in the Metropolis of Ephesus, certain persons, a little more than thirty in number, withdrew from amongst us (members of the clergy that had given up their priestly authority); since some of them had already been deposed; and since from their refusing to join in our decree against Nestorius … ; the Holy Synod, by one common decree, deposed them from all ecclesiastical communion, and deprived them of all their priestly power by which they might injure or profit any persons.
… If any Metropolitan of a Province, forsaking the holy and Ecumenical Synod, has joined the assembly of the apostates, or shall join the same hereafter; or, if he has adopted, or shall hereafter adopt, the doctrines of (a specific apostate), he has no power in any way to do anything in opposition to the bishops of the province, since he is already cast forth from all ecclesiastical communion and made incapable of exercising his ministry; but he shall himself be subject in all things to those very bishops of the province and to the neighbouring orthodox metropolitans, and shall be degraded from his episcopal rank. …
IF any provincial bishops were not present at the holy Synod and have joined or attempted to join the apostacy; or if, after (repenting of it) went back into the assembly of apostates; these men, according to the decree of the holy Synod, are to be deposed from the priesthood and degraded from their rank. …
IF any of the city or country clergy have been inhibited by (apostates) from the exercise of the priesthood, on account of their orthodoxy, we have declared it just that these should be restored to their proper rank. And in general we forbid all the clergy who adhere to the Orthodox and Ecumenical Synod in any way to submit to the bishops who have already apostatized or shall hereafter apostatize. …
IF any of the clergy should fall away, and publicly or privately presume to maintain the doctrines of (the apostates), … these also should be deposed. …
IF any have been condemned for evil practices by the holy Synod, or by their own bishops; and if (the apostates) attempted, or shall hereafter attempt, uncanonically to restore such persons to communion and to their former rank, we have declared that they shall not be profited thereby, but shall remain deposed nevertheless.
LIKEWISE, if any should in any way attempt to set aside the orders in each case made by the holy Synod at Ephesus, the holy Synod decrees that, if they be bishops or clergymen, they shall absolutely forfeit their office; and, if laymen, that they shall be excommunicated.
WHEN these things had been read, the holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (eteran) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicaea.
But those who shall dare to compose a different faith, or to introduce or offer it to persons desiring to turn to the acknowledgment of the truth, whether from Heathenism or from Judaism, or from any heresy whatsoever, shall be deposed, if they be bishops or clergymen; bishops from the episcopate and clergymen from the clergy; and if they be laymen, they shall be anathematized. … if it be a bishop, he shall be removed from his bishopric and degraded; if it be a clergyman, he shall likewise be stricken from the clergy; and if it be a layman, he shall be anathematized, as has been afore said. …
“On the hereby presented web-site “The Canons of the Eastern Orthodox Church” you could find the texts of the Orthodox-Christian Ecclesiastical Rules according to the Apostles and according to the Councils of the Church fathers – both the Ecumenical and the Local (particular) ones. …
Visit The Canons of the Eastern Orthodox Church website. An excellent resource!
“Most of the texts you are going to read here are compared to several sources, nevertheless they are to be used very carefully because they represent a working research tool for understanding of ideas and ecclesiastical decisions from a past time …