A Red Herring from the Green Patriarch?

By Bishop Sergios of Loch Lomond


Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and his Synod have issued a special Encyclical for the Sunday of Orthodoxy [Protocol #213] in which he takes vehement issue with those whose opposition to the contemporary phenomenon of syncretist ecumenism is based, he claims, on their opposition to dialogue and to the reunion of Christians. 

He writes that their opposition is rooted in fear ("truth does not fear dialogue").  

The full text of his Encyclical can be found on that Patriarchate's website, www.patriarchate.org/documents/sunday-orthodoxy-2010.

In fact the Encyclical could have been entitled, "In Defence of Dialogue", the term dialogue occurring some twenty times through the text of Patriarch Bartholomew's Encyclical.  Clearly, Patriarch Bartholomew wants us to believe that ecumenism consists of nothing more than having conversations with other people.  As anyone familiar with the field knows, this is misleading to say the least.

This writer's preliminary reaction to this strongly-worded Encyclical was one of surprise.  Who are these people who refuse to countenance dialogue with heterodox Christians and non-Christians?

Patriarch Bartholomew minces no words in his characterisation of these anti-dialogists:  they have "challenged [these dialogues] in an unacceptably fanatical way".  

They are members of "certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy"; they constitute a group of "opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians" and in their opposition, raise themselves "above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church".  

Their work consists of "polemical argumentation" undertaken by "critics of the restoration of unity among Christians" and they "do not hesitate to distort reality in order to deceive and arouse the faithful".  They disseminate "false rumours that union between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches [sic] is imminent".  

They are an example of irresponsible "fanaticism" and "bigotry".  

The targets of Patriarch Bartholomew's vehement denunciation are likely all those who have written (or have signed) documents currently circulating in Greece and throughout the Orthodox world, most notably theConfession of Faith Against Ecumenism (full text can be found at http://oodegr.com/english/oikoumenismos/omologia_pistews.htm among other places) which is evidently recruiting more signatories daily.  One must stress that the authors and signers of these Confessions arenot Old-Calendarists.  They are members - often prominent members - of Patriarch Bartholomew's own Church.  They may be dissidents; but they are insiders in dissension.

These Confessions of Faith take sharp issue with syncretist ecumenism as currently practiced by Patriarch Bartholomew and the incumbents of all the historic Patriarchates who are embodied members of syncretist ecumenism's chief institutional expressionthe World and regional Councils of Churches.  

As of this writing, literally hundreds of monastic leaders, including Athonites (who fall directly under Patriarch Bartholomew's jurisdiction - he is their Patriarch!) as well as clergy and lay leaders, academics and theologians, throughout Greece and the wider Orthodox world, have actually signed their names to these anti-ecumenist statements.

And if they are indeed the intended targets of Patriarch Bartholomew's denunciatory language, two things come to mind.  

First, these anti-ecumenist statements clearly are not directed against dialogue with anybody. 

Second, it is surely curious that in an Encyclical devoted to the cause of dialogue above all else, Patriarch Bartholomew opts to not dialogue with members of his own constituency who are alienated by his approach to syncretist ecumenism but instead, subjects them to sustained invective (calling them bigots, fanatics, unacceptable, creators of schisms within the Church, polemicists, critics of unity, distorters of reality, deceivers bent on arousing the faithful, sources of false rumours and so on - quite a list, actually).

And since Patriarch Bartholomew's targets appear to be his own sons and daughters, canonically-speaking, and since they do not appear in fact to be attacking his ecumenist program because it involves dialogue, there would seem to be grounds to suspect that in focusing his (and his hearers') attention ondialogue Patriarch Bartholomew is sending out a red herring.  And the question always is, when this is the case, Why?  From what is the red herring meant to distract our attention?

That this group of traditionally-minded people - who clearly reject ecumenism - find themselves targeted by Patriarch Bartholomew's surprisingly abusive language enables us to see just how disturbing the ecumenist Patriarchates find this internal opposition, and how forcefully Patriarch Bartholomew has thrown down the gauntlet with respect to the conscientious objection to syncretist ecumenism on the part of a growing body of traditionalists who are willing to see their names publicly associated with a point of view sharply dismissed by the Patriarch of Constantinople as an instance of bigotry, fanaticism, schism-making and a failure to manifest Christian love.  It is quite an exercise.

But the fact is that I cannot remember any instance in which conservative members of the historic Patriarchates decry dialogue with non-orthodox people.  I can remember any number of instances in which conservative members of the historic, and now ecumenist Patriarchates have initiated dialogue with non-orthodox persons, above all on a personal or local level.  

I also recall that the great bone of contention for conservative Orthodox who find themselves under the canonical oversight of ecumenist Hierarchs is largely confined to those practices (by now routine) which place Orthodox delegates to ecumenist assemblies in the position of contradicting clearly-written and pragmatically-based canons which cover situations in which Orthodox and non-Orthodox people are in contact with one another - all those questions of joint, common prayer and worship, for example, or, in more dire cases, joint, common sharing of the Church's Mysteries, or of the sacraments of non-Orthodox communions.  

These matters were supposedly resolved at a conference which took place in Thessaloniki, in May, 1998, as I recall.  

There, representatives of the historic (and ecumenist) Patriarchates met, discussed, and agreed to forfeit such anti-canonical practices in the future.  As I recall, the next World Council of Churches assembly was in Harare, in Africa, and a large number - a majority, as I recall - of the representatives of those Patriarchates at Harare opted to break the promises they had made at Thessaloniki, and participated in the World Council's usual round of joint, common prayer and worship.  Business as usual, the considered decrees of oecumenical and regional councils of Hierarchs sacrificed to the ecumenist imperative.  

So blatant was the breaking of their own promises that a Greek Bishop, questioned about the matter at the time, opined that the various Patriarchates and their delegations obviously did not feel bound by the promises given at the Thessaloniki summit!  Well, what does one say to something like this?

At least one thing is clear - Patriarch Bartholomew, confronted by the continuing vitality of traditional and therefore anti-ecumenist points of view within the ranks of his own constituency, is now so frustrated that he abandons dialogue, and resorts to the extraordinary invective which we find him visiting on the heads of his own traditionalist constituents in this Encyclical!

Having apparently been forced to forfeit dialogue among his own people so spectacularly, one has to ask if an ecumenist dialogue that has blatantly failed to convince a significant group of those within has much chance of success among those without?

Patriarch Bartholomew, finally, suggests that those who oppose his approach to ecumenism lack love.  

I think that his opponents would likely point out that they demonstrate a love of Truth, and in that demonstration, offer a substantive, compassionate and durable love to their neighbours.  

This speaking the truth with love [Ephesians 4:14] is of course non-negotiable for true Orthodox Christians.  Truth without love is something other than truth, as love without truth is something other than love.  Each occurs when the other is present; each without the other is something less than itself.  

Although the question of truth rarely comes up in Patriarch Bartholomew's Sunday of Orthodoxy Encyclical, of course that question is at the heart of the matter for traditionalists under the canonical oversight of the historic (and currently entirely ecumenist) Patriarchates, as among us confessing Orthodox Christians living under the canonical oversight of non-ecumenist Hierarchs.  

To the extent that Patriarch Bartholomew's Sunday of Orthodoxy Encyclical this year clarifies these issues more sharply than he has done in the past, to that extent we welcome it and thank him for the clarification.

+Bishop Sergios of Loch Lomond
Sunday of Orthodoxy, 2010