Glasnik, the official periodical of the Serbian Orthodox Church (which, like the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, reaches America several months late) reports in its July, 1984, issue, that, at the invitation of Patriarch German of Serbia, Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury arrived in Belgrade.
The head of the Anglican Communion was accorded an exceptionally warm and honored reception. At the airport, Archbishop Runcie was met by the Patriarch himself, his Synod and the staff of the Patriarchate. Also present to greet him were the President of Parliament, the Secretary of the Commission for Religious Affairs, and others. The Patriarch and Archbishop Runcie exchanged speeches of greeting right at the airport. The day following the guest's arrival official talks were begun between the Orthodox and the Anglicans. The talks were conducted in an amicable tone, despite the fact that the Patriarch noted that the Anglicans were ordaining women to the priesthood and had far from unanimously removed the "Filioque" clause from the Creed. The Patriarch expressed the opinion that the ordination of women was probably a question of a temporary nature and, thus, in the future would not constitute an obstacle to the establishment of closer ties with the Anglicans. Archbishop Runcie assured the Patriarch that there were no women being ordained in England, and that there would never be. (N.B.: Archbishop Runcie apparently unscrupulously misled the Patriarch. It is highly doubtful that he could be unaware of the mood of his Anglicans, who four months earlier, at one of their general Conferences, had raised the question of priesthood for women; at that time it turned out that, of 41 bishops, only six were opposed; of 131 priests, 98 were opposed; and of 135 laymen, only 79 opposed the ordination of priestesses. For more information, see our article on priestesses among the Anglicans). Women priests, they said, were only permitted in Hong Kong, because there are not enough male priests there.
Afterwards, the Patriarch held a large reception in honor of the guest of the Church of Serbia in the Patriarchate headquarters. High-ranking government bureaucrats and the civic administration of Belgrade were present.
The hospitality of the Patriarch with respect to the Anglicans extended so far that he even placed at their disposal the chapel of the Holy Cross in the Patriarchate so they could celebrate their eucharistic service. Archbishop Runcie served, in the presence of the Patriarch and his colleagues, after which the Anglicans partook of their eucharist, as did Presbyterians and others; five people received confirmation according to the Anglican rite. Later, a recital of religious music was given by three choirs in honor of Runcie.
Runcie and his entourage, accompanied by the Patriarch, were also received by the president of the government and parliament.
Archbishop Runcie also visited the Theological School, again accompanied by the Patriarch. The guests were greeted by a choir of students who chanted "Is polla eti, Despota" and the Lord's Prayer in English.
Fr. Amphilokhy, the dean of the Theological Faculty (a former disciple of the famous theologian Fr. Justin Popovich) greeted the Anglican delegation with a warm speech, in which, among other things, he said: "Greeting you, Your Grace, we lovingly venerate, in your person, the martyr's blood of St. Alban, the apostolic zeal of Sts. Patrick and Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, being mindful at the same time, and deriving inspiration from the poetic gift of the wondrous Shakespeare.
Archbishop Runcie responded to the speeches of greeting with a lengthy speech of his own, in which he pointed out that "The Anglicans and the Orthodox have much in common in their understanding of the role of the Church and the people. People form the Church, but the Church makes the nation. But we know from our history that abuses may come about. Sometimes the Church may fall into the self-enclosed circle of its own history, starting to serve nationalism more than the people. Here the ecumenical movement can set us aright and set before us a broader horizon of the plans of God, while the heritage of Christian divisions exists to incite contemporary antagonism ."
Bidding his guest farewell at a formal banquet, the Patriarch greeted the English Ambassador Scott, saying: "The divine service which His Grace served in our Church of the Holy Cross, the presence at it of the distinguished people of your religious community, the communion of them all, has produced a remarkable impression upon me I watched with enthusiasm the conduct of Mr. Scott before communion. Knowing what the bishop signifies in the Church, he received holy communion on his knees. This was very reassuring.
The Patriarch gave a number of parting gifts to Archbishop Runcie and his entourage, and Runcie himself gave the Patriarch a donation towards the construction of the new wing of the Theological Faculty in Belgrade.
This is by far not the first such ecumenical encounter organized by the Church of Serbia, alas. From the official periodical of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, The Orthodox Observer (21 Nov., '84), the World Council of Churches organized an encounter of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism at the Diocesan Center of the Serbian Church near Hildesheim, West Germany. In the course of several days, the Serbian Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God was used for daily ecumenical services with the close cooperation and support of the host of the meeting, the Serbian Bishop Lavrentije of Western Europe.
In many ways, the preceding article speaks for itself, but perhaps a few observations can be made for the sake of clarifying some issues for the readers of the Orthodox Christian Witness.
First, we are certainly indebted to our Synod's Department of Public and Foreign Relations for providing all of the above details in connection with Runcie's visit to the Orthodox Church of Serbia. Although the event was reported in the ecumenical press, most of the particulars mentioned in our Synod's' Newsletter were not published elsewhere in English.
As for the visit itself, it must be said that it is inconceivable how an Orthodox patriarch -- contrary to every holy canon and all Orthodox Tradition --could offer an Orthodox chapel for the religious rites of a leader of a heretical body, especially one so ardently heretical as the Anglican denomination.
The holy canons are quite specific in this matter:
"Let a bishop, presbyter, or deacon who has only prayed with heretics be excommunicated; but if he has permitted them to perf orm any clerical office, let him be deposed." (45th Apostolic Canon)
This incident is both regrettable and disheartening, because it demonstrates very clearly that the Patriarch of Serbia has espoused the "Branch Theory" ecclesiology of Ecumenism. This is a classic example of what happens when "conservative" Orthodox remain within the "World Council of Churches" as organic members of that body, and it certainly proves the truth of Visser't Hooft's predictions made at Evanston, Illinois, in 1954. (See the preceding article, Visser't Hooft's Prophecy.)
Unfortunately, some years ago, the notorious Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad provided a precedent for similar ecumenical activities; for on one notable occasion, Nikodim -- dressed in his episcopal mandia -- permitted Cardinal Willebrands to perform a Roman mass in the Orthodox cathedral of Leningrad in the presence of an Orthodox congregation.
As for the other incidents that took place during the reception afforded to Runcie in Serbia, they serve only to confirm what we have written above: i.e., that the "Branch Theory" mentality is, indeed, displacing Orthodox ecclesiology among the churchmen of that very land where St. Savas labored so strenuously to establish the True Faith.
To begin with, it would be hard to imagine a more inappropriate manner of greeting an Anglican clergyman than that used by Father (now Bishop) Amphilokhy As far as Anglicans are concerned, the veneration of the "blood of the martyrs" or of their relics is blatant "popery" -- hardly a compliment to one with Anglican sensitivities.
But more importantly, can an Orthodox Christian sincerely say that in the person of today's heretical Archbishop of Canterbury we "lovingly venerate the martyr's blood of St. Alban, and the apostolic zeal of SS. Patrick and Augustine"? (Why "the wondrous Shakespeare" was included by Fr. Amphilokhy in this enumeration of British saints is not so clear. Was Shakespeare canonized recently in the United Kingdom?) In any case, if the Archbishop of Canterbury can be addressed in this manner, shouldn't we also -- in all fairness -- venerate the zeal of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the fervor of St. Ignatius the Godbearer, and the wisdom of St. Gregory the Dialogist in the person of today's Pope John Paul II of Rome? The Pope, at least, still gives lip service to the veneration of saints and of holy relics.
The crux of the whole matter is that today's Anglicans have nothing in common with the British Saints Alban, Patrick and Augustine. These Saints believed in the Resurrection; the Anglican hierarchy does not. And what does St. Paul say concerning this? "If Christ is not risen, then your faith is in vain" (cf. I Corinth. 15:16). Furthermore, the above-mentioned Christian Saints did not ordain women to the priesthood, nor did they sponsor "Abortion Funds," or celebrate homosexual marriages as today's Anglicans do.
And this gives rise to another question: Would Bishop Amphilokhy's spiritual father -- Fr. Justin Popovich -- ever have used such a manner of addressing the leader of such a heretical body? Or, to put it another way, would Fr. Justin Popovich ever have demonstrated such an intentional disregard for the errors and innovations that Anglicanism exemplifies and stubbornly propagates? In many ways, the fact that Fr.. Amphilokhy is the rector of the seminary and has recently been appointed bishop answers this question and reveals the vivid contrast which exists between himself and his former spiritual father, Fr. Justin Popovich.
In contrast to Fr. Amphilokhy, Fr. Justin Popovich was not allowed to teach in the seminary, nor was he ever made bishop. Instead, he was placed under house arrest, and then officially forgotten by the current authorities of the Serbian Church. Do not Fr. Amphilokhy's ecumenistic words of greeting to Runcie demonstrate how far he has strayed from the path of his spiritual elder? It is one thing to be cordial and hospitable to guests, and it is quite another thing to calumniate the Saints by identifying them with a heresiarch bishop, and then chanting "Is polla eti, Despota" to him! It seems quite apparent from the above that Fr. Amphilokhy has certainly compromised himself so that he might receive the honors and promotions which were denied his former spiritual father, Fr. Justin Popovich. who was one of the outstanding Orthodox theologians of this century.
Certainly, Runcie and the WCC have contributed large sums to the construction of a new seminary building in Serbia. But this does not justify the obsequious oratory used by Fr. Amphilokhy, and the "Is polla eti, Despota's," and the like. For Fr. Justin Popovich, at least, Orthodoxy's birthright and heritage were worth far more than a bowl of lentils.
Some years ago, our Synod's Newsletter (Nov.-Dec., 1979) published a report entitled "The Church of Serbia at the Crossroads?" The article noted that Bishop Christopher of the Serbian Patriarchal Church in America had participated in joint prayers with Archbishop Iakovos, and an assortment of heterodox clergymen, clergywomen and rabbis.
All these recent ecclesiastical events have caused us to ponder how it has become fashionable today in some Orthodox circles to talk about restoring the "mind of the Fathers" in our lives and in our theology. Certainly, if "the mind of the Fathers" is absent in some Orthodox quarters, then this restoration is all to the good. But we ask: Where is the "mind of the Fathers" in all these mindless ecumenistic gestures and incidents?
In view of these sad developments, both past and present, it is no wonder
that more and more Orthodox Christians find it difficult to continue having
relationships with the Serbian Patriarchate.
*From the Department of Public and Foreign Relations of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, "Newsletter No. 49," January-March, 1985.