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BOOK REVIEW

The Struggle Against Ecumenism

The Struggle Against Ecumenism: The History of the True Orthodox Church of Greece from 1924 to 1994, compiled by the Holy Orthodox Church of North America and published by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, features an enigmatic blend of reliable history and somewhat artless misrepresentation. This book very well and capably covers certain aspects of the history of the Greek Old Calendarists from their inception to the recent past. Though it purports to present historical documents that have not appeared elsewhere, in fact this is not only untrue—we have published the same documents both in our publications here at the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies and at our Mother Monastery of Sts. Cyprian and Justina in Fili, Greece—, but documentation is rather selectively presented, so as to aim the reader in the direction of the extremist ecclesiology of the Holy Orthodox Church of North America (HOCNA)—that is, a denial of the presence of Grace in so-called "world Orthodoxy" and those who follow the New Calendar. The general effect of this manipulative methodology is that more recent events in the Old Calendar movement, many of them compromising to the HOCNA, are covered with such imprecision and in such a distorted form as to reach beyond mere historical interpretation to something more like transparent propaganda. Hence, the sharp contrast between the two historical periods that I have specified.

The concluding comments in the historical section of the book, which touch on the current situation among the Greek Old Calendarists, are uncharacteristically irenic, given the sometimes unflattering caricatures of those whom the HOCNA apparently perceives as its enemies and as Old Calendarists of questionable character and intent (our own jurisdiction chief among them). References to an eventual unified witness of Orthodox traditionalists and resisters are something rather unexpected from individuals not known for their charity towards those with whom they disagree. They are not only surprising, but tend to accentuate the aforementioned historical contrast in what is a very strangely organized work and one of uneven quality and inconsistent focus. One would hope that this surprising trend towards civility takes hold in future publications from this group and develops into a desire for dialogue and blunt discussion in an honest and open forum.

There are, unfortunately, remnants of what we would expect from the individuals and body that produced this book. Our own jurisdiction’s ecclesiology is misrepresented and analyzed with a sometimes astonishing simple-mindedness; whether this is by way of manipulation or a simple lack of theological insight and scholarly care, I cannot say. We are accused of ignoring, for example, such things as the famous 1935 Encyclical of the Church of True Orthodox Christians of Greece, which placed in question the status of the State Church of Greece, when in fact we have discussed this document in detail and have contrasted it to the other letters and pronouncements that seem to favor our own ecclesiology. Metropolitan Cyprian, moreover, is characterized as inconsistent in his positions, when in fact this impression is created by unfair and misleading questions that the authors deceptively pose about his position, while ignoring his frequent answers to the very same questions which they claim go unanswered. This is an unsophisticated and crude tactic that should be avoided in works that lay claim to objectivity and scholarly stature.

We also see the obligatory references to Metropolitan Cyprian—with his last name (a violation of monastic protocol and a typical refuge of those who wish to impugn ideas by a subtle denigration of those who hold them)—as one who is accused even by New Calendarists of communing the Faithful of the State Church. It is no surprise to anyone, of course, that the Hierarchy State Church deeply resents the fact that Metropolitan Cyprian, whose witness attracts not only Faithful but clergy from its ranks, comes from that Church, having left it, in an act of conscience, with the blessing of his Elder, Archimandrite Philotheos (Zervakos). If slander from the "official" Orthodox has any significance, then the HOCNA itself should account for the less-than-flattering comments that these circles have to say about its witness.

In a shameful exercise in poor manners and poor taste, the eighty-year-old Metropolitan Giovanni of Sardinia is described in this book as "a certain John of Sardinia," a rather curious statement from writers who claim to know so much much about our Church’s motivations and ecclesiology, but who seem to have only sketchy notions about "certain" of our Bishops. Unfortunately, this snide remark about His Eminence is supplemented by cheap gossip about him, filled with inaccurate, incomplete, and fabricated charges, taken from an article by a long-time critic of our Church—the same critic, indeed, who has called Metropolitan Giovanni, who because of a serious skin ailment cannot grow a beard, a "bride." Hardly the stuff of serious history, to put it mildly.

Our own Archbishop Chrysostomos, who has for many years been the object of racial slurs and personal insults from some of the leaders of the HOCNA, is called by only one of his three family names. We all know, of course, the intentions of those who refuse to use his full name. While I am personally gratified, as one of his former students, that His Eminence’s academic credentials are not also, like his Greek heritage, called into question (another favorite and stupid accusation privately made in these circles), these kinds of things, so typical of what one has come to expect from some of those associated with the HOCNA, are not the stuff of scholarship. They are appropriate to the street and to that kind of gossip that so enthralls the concierge, but which polite individuals do not submit to print or, if they have common manners and an appreciation for the privacy of others, even entertain. Misinterpretation is one thing; gossip, racism (founded or unfounded), and personal insults are quite another.

We see a similar fall in the creation of history by gossip in the accusation that our Synod of Bishops was founded by eight Archimandrites who were Consecrated—by Metropolitans Kallistos and Antonios in 1979—in "secret ordinations," a fact which the authors "authenticated" by way of the recent "revelations" of one of these Archimandrites, a renegade Bishop now alienated from, and extremely hostile towards, every faction of the Old Calendar movement in Greece. If this is documentation, then lies have become facts. It is also argued by the authors that Metropolitan Cyprian is not the successor to the first two Presidents of this Synod, Metropolitan Kallistos and Metropolitan Antonios, as we claim him to be, but is a hypocrite who accepted Consecration within a Synod of Bishops that, in fact, did not hold to his ecclesiology and which he later left, in order to establish his own jurisdiction. And the documentation for this? Once more, a single quote from Metropolitan Cyprian—as though he would argue against himself—, taken out of context and misused. This is not an attempt to recount history, but to re-write it without evidence.
We have never hidden the fact that there was a diversity of personal opinions among the Bishops Consecrated in 1979, with regard to the status of the New Calendarists. Indeed, this led to eventual division. But anyone with an ability to read objectively will see that, in spite of this personal diversity and the departure of most of the Bishops from our jurisdiction in 1984, the official proclamations of our Church in or since 1979 have never stated that the New Calendarists—specifically, the State Church of Greece—is without Grace. Moreover, if the toleration of ecclesiological diversity in the Synod founded in 1979 convicts Metropolitan Cyprian of hypocrisy, how is it that the leaders of the HOCNA are not equally guilty of hypocrisy for their toleration of ecclesiological diversity in the ROCA for the more than two decades that they were in that Church? And if it were true that Metropolitan Cyprian actually formed his own jurisdiction in 1984—and he did not—, perhaps we should ask about the present status of the HOCNA, an independent body that has been accused of the same thing. This is all manipulation of a kind too often found in the literature and letters published by the HOCNA, and is not scholarship.

Let us look at several more examples of the manipulation by which the authors of this book try to twist the reader’s perceptions of events. Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Florina, while he may have expressed conflicting ecclesiologies, the authors admit, did not do so as we purport. Rather, he did so, they maintain, as a man of integrity. We can thus accept his inconsistency, but not the alleged inconsistency of Metropolitan Cyprian, since he is not.... Cunning and not-so-clever writing, pure manipulation, and ugly innuendo, but nothing even similar to scholarship. In a similar little piece of unscholarly chicanery, the authors reprint an attack against Metropolitan Cyprian by Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) on the occasion of the union between our Church and the ROCA. His Grace was retired at the time that the deliberations were underway and was rather disgruntled at his loss of position and clout within the Church. Exploiting the opinions of retired Bishops with an axe to grind is also a deviation from objective history. The late Bishop Gregory did not, as I have said, take part in these deliberations and his weak arguments against our ecclesiology have been quite carefully addressed in print, as they were originally to the Bishops of the ROCA who served on the committee that advised the opening of full liturgical communion with our Church. The authors of this book make no mention of our responses or of the status of Bishop Gregory at the time that he wrote his attack, which at any rate obviously did not convince his fellow Bishops. A reference to rumors about Metropolitan Cyprian being a chiliast—an outright and vicious lie—is sad indeed. This is sheer, unsophisticated rubbish and unbecoming anyone wishing to be at all honest about the historical record.

Needless to say, individuals who have spread vicious slander and rumor about others, who present private conversations as "history" (conversations not subject to independent verification, incidentally), and who ridicule those who disagree with them for an apparent inconsistency that is in reality created by a sometimes artless misrepresentation of facts and motivations—such individuals have along way to go, if they are to convince anyone that they are writing with objectivity and clarity about the complex history of the Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Greece. Documentation for what one wishes to prove, but anecdotal history in addressing those with whom one disagrees, does not constitute a scholarly endeavor.

This book is, again, one big step away from pure sectarianism and simple slander. Some parts of it—few unfortunately—are written with an exemplary Christian spirit. Other parts are poorly written, contain serious historical errors, and were obviously composed by individuals who did not fully understand the material that they were reading (as in the case of the pitiable comments on St. Tarasios’ treatment of Ordination, which is cited by Metropolitan Cyprian in his ecclesiological paper, an older version of which was used by the authors of the book). Other points in the volume, written in the typical polemical style which we would expect from the more virulently hostile clergy and faithful of the HOCNA, should simply be deleted out of a concern for common politeness.

If we see some steps in the right direction in this book, we likewise see many of the tactics that have always made the group which sponsored it open to criticism. And if the book is such a definitive work, let us ask the following questions, overlooking the fact that we have quite a different interpretation of the recent historical events concerning the True Orthodox Church of Greece:
1.) Why is not a word devoted in answer to the accusation, by the Bishops of the ROCA, that the leaders of the HOCNA left the jurisdiction of the Church Abroad, not out of concern for a long-standing diversity in ecclesiological views in that Church, but only after several leaders in the group that now constitutes the HOCNA were investigated and formally charged with moral infractions of a shocking and incredible kind? Since the book is so quick to question the integrity and motivations of the leaders of other Old Calendarist factions, why are they so negligent in addressing these charges against their own leadership?

Certainly we all hope that these allegations are untrue and without merit. Were they a matter of gossip or of personal impropriety, furthermore, they would have no significance. No one should dignify such things with a response, nor should they be a matter of public discussion. But they were official allegations which became public when the present leaders of the HOCNA, on the heels of these still-outstanding charges, left the ROCA and charged it with a fall to ecumenism and deviations in the Faith. They were clearly identified matters of the most shocking moral turpitude ("sexual perversion") in an official statement by the Deputy Secretary of the ROCA and have appeared widely in the Church press.

2) When I was first Ordained, then serving under Archbishop Auxentios (that is, prior to the division in the Holy Synod in 1979, my having followed the Bishops under Metropolitan Kallistos subsequently), my brother, an Episcopalian clergyman, was told by leaders in the HOCNA, then in the ROCA, that I was uncanonical. What happened? When did Archbishop Auxentios regain his canonicity?

3) Since the "true" True Orthodox Church of Greece, in the present claims of the HOCNA leaders, continued in authentic and canonical form only under Archbishop Auxentios, why is the HOCNA now an independent Church (see my comments above on the unfounded accusation that Metropolitan Cyprian formed his own jurisdiction) and separated from those in Greece who claim to continue the line of succession of Archbishop Auxentios? Indeed, it speaks for itself that the HOCNA now has not a single Bishop in Greece. We see no mention of this.

4) If the present hierarchy of the HOCNA hopes that union will take place among the Orthodox resisters—presumably even with uncanonical schismatics such as ourselves, who allegedly commune New Calendarists and join with them in prayer—, how is it that this ecumenism within the resistance movement does not extend to world Orthodoxy and to those innocent New Calendarists who are perhaps unknowing victims of this heresy? Or does one have to hate someone only in part, in order to seek reconciliation?

5) And finally, if we schismatics are so far from the truth, why is it that we, and not the leaders of the HOCNA, are in communion with the Church from which Archbishop Auxentios of Athens derived his Episcopal orders, while the HOCNA is not? Is it merely a matter of the ecumenism of us "Cyprianites" and the ROCA, or are there are other issues, beyond the name-calling, racial slurs, history by anecdote, and ecclesiastical posturing, that need to be addressed and resolved?

Only when we have reasonable answers to these questions can we respond with enduring hope to individuals who have a great deal for which to apologize and a long and arduous road of reconciliation and repentance to walk. This book is a walking stick, of sorts, for those in the HOCNA wishing to take this journey; unfortunately however, it is a stick too often used to beat others, rather than to support the wounded strivers to whom it belongs.

+ Bishop Auxentios of Photiki
Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies