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(July 2016)

On the Conclusion of the Cretan Council

By George Karras, “Orthodox Heritage” Editor, Greek Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Poimen, June 26th 2016.

The long awaited “Pan-Orthodox” Council of Crete, planned for well over 90 years, highly anticipated and promoted by the ecumenists (and of great concern to Orthodoxy’s traditionalists) has come to its close. Discussing it with various Orthodox brethren and reading whatever has been published among the various Orthodox electronic news media and discussion forums, one thought prevails among most: “So what… What was this all about? What purpose did this multi-decade effort produce?”

We shall make an effort to answer these questions, providing our Brotherhood’s views and opinions.

Has the Council Accomplished Anything?

This is a question that, sadly, is not as simple to address as the faithful might have hoped or expected. The Council’s conclusive statement has the appearance of a United Nations proclamation and very little that resembles the writings of our Holy Fathers (or past Ecumenical Synods or Local Councils). The topics addressed by the Council and the spirit of the attendants (not all of them Orthodox…) most certainly provide the reader of the final documents with content that does not appear to be aligned with our Holy Patristic Tradition. We implore our readers to access the documents of this Council and place them side-to-side with the documents from Councils or Synods of earlier eras.

The persistence of the Ecumenical Patriarch to hold this Council (in spite of having lost its Pan-Orthodox identity when four Churches refused to participate) had become the source of primary concern. Why was it necessary to hold it now? Why the refusal to postpone it when four different Patriarchs and dozens of hierarchs from all over the Orthodox world requested?

Great Councils have been utilized by the Church to address immediate or impending heretical views or clear heresies and emphatically and succinctly declare Orthodox positions and values, always patristically-based, never with any regard to political correctness or governmentally-motivated views of the past, present, or future age. That is clearly not the case for the Cretan Council of 2016.

First and foremost, there existed no “declared” heresy that was the topic of the Council nor any complex Church dogma that the hierarchy clarified for the faithful. The Council not only did not confront ecumenism, the heresy of all heresies plaguing the faithful and the Church in our days, but it did not even dare imply its existence. As a matter of fact, we dare suggest that its highly publicized agreed upon and signed position papers offered nothing of value whatsoever. Concurrently, it is our most definitive view that its statements water down the Faith, and its organizers have attempted to take Orthodox a few steps closer to the unholy goals of the ecumenists. Time, as well as the views of the knowledgeable flock and clergy, shall determine whether their efforts carried any success beyond the customary circles of watered-down, lukewarm parishes and the clergy who have already been compromised by the message of the “unity with other faiths at ‘most’ costs.”

In support of the aforementioned position, we turn to the saintly hierarch of our days, bishop Avgoustinos of Florina, who late in his life, often spoke about this topic, despite his advanced age. He openly and clearly expressed the reason for his objection to the convocation of this synod. If Ecumenical Synods were convened, he said, it was to address heresy. Indeed, he saw an urgent reason to convene a new Ecumenical Synod if only in order to condemn contemporary heresies, particularly the heresy of Ecumenism, called “the heresy of heresies”. But he realized that it would not be possible to condemn this arch-heresy, when the overwhelming majority of our hierarchs either openly promote it or tacitly accept it.

The Council did issue several position papers, none of them providing any breakthrough on any issues except one. Its greatly discussed paper on “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World” wherein recognition is given to the heterodox (to “other non-Orthodox Christian Churches and Confessions”). The statement’s authors promote relations with these “churches and confessions” that should be based “…on the speediest and objective clarification possible of the whole ecclesiological question, and most especially of their more general teachings on sacraments, grace, priesthood, and apostolic succession.” The paper includes several paragraphs justifying the continuation of dialogues and the ecumenical movement, and the need for continued participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC) for the “advancement of theological dialogues.” Of course, none of them have ever dared to address the fruits of all these dialogues during the past several decades of WCC participation—they have caused more damage to our Faith and not a single “Christian denomination” has inched towards Orthodox ethos and dogma, not one…

What the Council Did NOT Achieve

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was anxious to proclaim the Council’s happy results to the world and all Orthodox that were paying attention. We hold great reservations to anything that the Council and its architect, Patriarch Bartholomew, proclaim relative to the results and instead turn to history awaiting the characterization that she will grant to the Cretan gathering. We do objectively note, however, that the Council failed in its pre-stated primary goal of Orthodox unity and its desire to be Pan-Orthodox.

As all are aware by now, not one, but four of the Local Orthodox Churches refused to participate for well-documented and fully justifiable reasons. Among them are the Churches of Antioch and Russia representing both a significant number of faithful as well as Orthodox tradition and history. We admire the firm and Orthodox positions taken by the Churches of Georgia and Bulgaria, so clear and succinct in their exemplification of true Orthodox values and principles. We have also been informed that the decisions to not participate in the Council were unanimous by the hierarchy of those two Churches! We pray for many years of life for the bishops of these Churches and plead that they maintain their Orthodox posture, irrespective of the many political pressures to which they have and continue to be subjected by their pro-western governments.

To the best of our knowledge (and we have read nothing to the contrary) the traditional requirement to recognize the Church’s seven Ecumenical Synods and read their decisions, did not take place. Is it perhaps because some of these decisions stood in contrast with the objective of this Council?

The council missed the greatest opportunity in the last several decades to unite Orthodox who are painstakingly separated from the 14 Local Churches; it failed to open its arms and appeal for a return to the Orthodox children separated from the plurality of Orthodoxy—the Old Calendarists. The Ecumenical Patriarch, in his efforts to draw closer to the west and the Latins, drew further away from Orthodoxy’s separated children. He had repeatedly implied and stressed his goals to serve as the uniting force in Orthodoxy; however, rather than bring closer, as a good and loving father, to the bosom of unity those who separated due the calendar issues (and the ecumenist movements of his predecessors), he created a larger rift among the Orthodox. It is very likely that he has placed such true Orthodox unity beyond any reach whatsoever.

The Council did not seek the continuation of operating within the confines and in protection of the one holy Orthodox faith, but instead marched closer to the west and was preoccupied in its efforts to harmonize with the heterodox and their worldly spirit. This is best demonstrated by the Council’s refusal to confess two previous councils with an Ecumenical identity (879-880 with Saint Photios the Great and the council of 1351 with the Saint Gregory Palamas), which upheld the stature of Ecumenical Councils in the conscience of true Orthodox faithful everywhere.

As the Council was taking place, the Turkish government proceeded to convert Aghia Sophia, the greatest temple of Orthodoxy, into a mosque, for the 30 days of Ramadan, and the Koran was read daily until July 5. Not a word of protest by any of the Council officials, including the Ecumenical Patriarch and his Synod, all of whom are Turkish citizens.

The Council invited and insisted upon observers; heterodox observers in the Orthodox Council! Prominently featured members of the Latins, the Protestants and the Monophysites were there not to comprehend Orthodox dogma and theology but instead “monitor” progress and report details of the proceedings to the heads of their “churches.” For what purpose and since when do we allow wolves in sheep’s clothing among the shepherds of His flock? To call this outrageous would be minimalist—instead it is further evidence of the aforementioned desire of harmonizing with the worldly spirit in which all heterodox operate, far away from true Orthodox dogma and certainly the patristic phronema.

Peace was preached and written about in the final documents, in a vague manner and certainly with no direct reference to the on-going turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Council did not confront the violence preached and practiced (yes, preached and practiced) by Islam, and not just by ISIS. (It is preached, and practiced, for example, by the current Turkish government as exemplified by the genocide they are inflicting upon the Kurds and their continuing support to the ISIS terrorists.) It was an intentional miss of convenience, once again in the name of political correctness. Islam is not a religion of peace. One may easily find articles within the electronic media containing the various teachings on the Koran—those which today’s politicians choose to ignore as they call Islam a religion of peace… Nothing is further from the truth.

We appreciate some sections of the statement on Marriage and the fact that feared compromises to Church dogma did not take place, other than the continued oikonomia for marriage of Orthodox with heterodox. However, there was a huge opportunity missed; there was not any clear and succinct statement of condemnation for the legalization of gay “marriage” by the governments of most western nations. The Council failed to issue the warranted strong language that needs be used for this (and other) unacceptable forms of “family” lifestyle that make an absolute mockery of the Church’s Holy Sacrament.

Lastly, the Council also failed to emphasize that Orthodoxy shall never compromise any of Her dogmas or any part of Holy Tradition and water it down to what the heretics have now established within their “churches,” whether that is questionable priesthood practices, improper fasting or marriage between men and women who are not Orthodox. An opportunity missed to remind the faithful that the Holy Orthodox Church is the only church of yesterday, today and tomorrow and there has never existed any “completeness of faith” outside this church established by and belonging to Him.

Some Conclusive Thoughts

The Cretan Council, in our opinion, rather than being a gathering that spread joy and unity, succeeded in further dividing and confusing the flock and spreading the fear of schisms among various Local Churches. We heard and observed, in several of the “Council press briefings” the deteriorated (and we dare call them treacherous and treasonous) words and behaviors of some of Orthodoxy’s hierarchy; we have read statements that exemplify the repeated compromises to the heterodox, and we saw the efforts to water down our Faith. Most importantly, rather than confronting the arch-heresy of ecumenism, the attending hierarchy glorified it (directly and indirectly), both in their statements as well as their discussions.

St. Paisios the Athonite had expressed his sorrow over the ecumenism movement with great pain in his heart: “With sadness I must write that among all the ‘unionists’ I’ve met, never have I seen them to have either a drop or shred of spirituality. Nevertheless, they know how to speak about love and union while they themselves are not united with God, for they have not loved Him.” Some years later, Fr. Charalambos Vasilopoulos in his “Ecumenism Unmasked”, tells us that “… the ecumenists will attempt to validate the modernism they are trying to promote within the Church … They want it to be a synod that will eventually tear down the decisions of the previous Ecumenical Synods.

It is indeed the latter that worries the Orthodox circles whom the ecumenists nowadays have termed as “fundamentalists and fanatics.” Yet the hierarchy that has (as its majority) aligned itself with the ecumenist movement, is slowly losing their Orthodox flock as they pursue followers among the heterodox; as correctly pointed out by an Athonite in a recent conversation, “they want to unite with the heterodox but they will end up losing the Orthodox.”

The bishops in Orthodoxy are first and foremost, before any other pastoral interest, the guardians of the holy and Orthodox faith. Their council can only be holy if it knows how to preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith. It was a brave and a blessed avowal expressed by some Local Churches’ Orthodox Synods in discussing their decision on whether or not to participate in this council, for instance, the declaration of the Bulgarian Church: “Outside the Holy Orthodox Church there are no other churches, there are only heresies and schism. Calling these churches is an absolute mistake, theologically, dogmatically and canonically.”

As we await the true outcome of this Council, we remain firm in our opinion that this was the first of more Councils to be called by the Ecumenical Patriarch (or his successor), until the Faith is adequately “watered down” for a true Sacramental union with the heterodox. That is the unholy goal of the ecumenists.

One question, though, troubles the traditional hierarchy and the traditional Orthodox theologians of our Church: Will there be immediate schisms forthcoming? Great fears for such a horrific outcome are being expressed among various circles, especially since a rumor is prevailing that the four Local Churches absent from the Cretan Council intend to call their own Council and follow a more traditional inclusion formula, more along the lines and rules applied during the Church’s Seven Ecumenical Synods. Would such an event lead us into a schism? How would the Ecumenical Patriarch respond?

While we believe that Sacramental union of the ecumenists with the heterodox is indeed their pursuit, we are all too aware that this Sacramental union is already happening in some parishes–it just has not been officially declared and it certainly is not being addressed by bishops who know that it is taking place. Some priests are communing the Monophysites openly, the sacrament of marriage is being mocked by Church officials who (in the name of “love”) compromise Church beliefs and dogma towards homosexuality; new Orthodox from Protestant “branches” that carry zero resemblance to any type of Christianity, are being refused the sacrament of baptism, and (even though the recent Council re-affirmed that “marriage between Orthodox and non-Christians is categorically forbidden in accordance with canonical akriveia”) some clergy is allowing the Sacrament of marriage to take place between Orthodox and Jews or followers of other religions.

Yet, among this confusion and uncertainty, we are encouraged to hear that there are still several hierarchs and clergy that remain faithful to the faith; several of the hierarchs attending the Council refused to sign the documents on “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World,” and it was not just the beloved bishops Athanasios of Limmasol and Hierotheos of Nafpaktos—there were quite a few more. It is exactly these men and their spiritual leadership, along with the resistant non-attending Local Churches and the many elders and monastics across the Orthodox world that give strength to the faithful. And we are among them, remaining in absolute belief in His words: And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Mt 28:20).

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.