The Ecumenical Patriarch's Letter in Response to the Letter of the Archbishop of Albania (01/14/2019)

Patriarch’s Letter in Response to the Letter of the Archbishop of Albania
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Your Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and all Albania, most beloved and precious brother, concelebrant in Christ our God of our Modesty: We address Your venerable Beatitude with exceeding delight, even as we greet you with a fraternal embrace.

We received and thoroughly examined your fraternal letter of last January 14, 2019, following our letter of December 24, 2018, related to the canonical ecclesiastical acts that we initiated in Ukraine, and we would like to respond herewith so that, in a spirit of sincere instruction – which, as by God’s mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, we bear responsibility before all holy brothers throughout the world – we may present the following:

The God-bearing Fathers, who through the holy and sacred canons have entrusted the Throne of Constantine with its universally recognized hallowed and dread responsibilities that transcend borders – not in the form of privileges but of self-sacrifice – foresaw with the guidance of the Holy Spirit the necessity for a definitive resolution to the problems emerging across the Local Churches, which are unable to settle them by themselves.

This legacy of our Great Church of Christ has been served without blemish throughout all previous centuries in a spirit of prudence and with fear of God, by our blessed and ever-memorable Predecessors, always within the sanctified and canonically immutable system of the Pentarchy of Ancient Thrones, through appropriate fraternal and reciprocal mutuality “united in spiritual concord and harmony, through love in the Holy Spirit, supporting one another.” (1)

In this constant reciprocal relationship, the preeminent position of Constantinople is universally declared without ever eliciting any reservation or consternation on the part of the other Patriarchates, since after all everyone knows very well that there has never been any danger whatsoever that “the cloudy delusion of the world would conceivably penetrate the Church of Christ, which offers the light of simplicity and dawn of humility to those who desire to see God. (2). Indeed as our late predecessor, Neophytos VII, explains, “supporting and inherently assisting the needs likewise of the other most holy Patriarchal and Apostolic Thrones is something that our own most holy Patriarchal, Apostolic and Ecumenical Throne has historically deemed very appropriate, without either seizing or coveting their rights out of a sense of greed – something we would neither act upon nor even dare to entertain. For the former is proper and right of itself, whereas on the contrary the latter is unjust and improper.” (3)

In the midst of such solemn declarations of respect for the canonical rights of internal administrative autonomy of the local sister Churches, we also record the decision of Anthimos VI to the Church of Antioch, according to whom “ . . . the Great Church, heaven forbid, never sought to abolish the canonical rules and rights possessed by the most holy Throne [of Antioch] by any interference or imposition, whether during a vacancy of its throne or any other time. On the contrary, it always supported the prerogatives [of Antioch] and provided ardent protection on numerous occasions of dire circumstance pertaining to the safeguarding of the Orthodox in the face of adversarial assault. There are countless examples that testify to such patronage and stressful protection of the Church [of Constantinople] for the Throne [of Antioch], including the recent restoration of the church in Amida, for which a considerable amount was and continues to be expended, but also previously the events in the Metropolis of Aleppo as well as countless other circumstances, when the Great Church has acted favorably – always without the slightest self-centered intention but with genuine self-sacrifice – from a position of authority, striving in manifold ways for the spiritual interests of the Throne [of Antioch] and the Orthodox who comprise it, while personally assuming many of its burdens.”(4)

All these points perfectly corresponded with the divinely and inviolably sanctified practice of the Church, which from the earliest times professed that “according to the custom prevailing from above, the most reverend Bishops residing in the illustrious City [Constantinople], whenever circumstances so demand, should convene and determine specific ecclesiastical affairs that emerge in order to honor the petitioners with appropriate resolutions.”

Accordingly, not only in cases of Doctrine, holy Tradition, and Canonical Church Regulations, or even of general matters concerning the entire body of the Church, but also in all matters pertaining to important issues of specific interest to one or another Local Church, the supervisory provision and protection of the Great Church of Christ intervenes – sometimes ex officio and out of obligation, at other times at the request of interested parties – in order to offer an effective contribution for the sake of arbitration and resolution of differences arising among the holy Churches of God, to settle differences between shepherds and their flocks, to avoid inflaming difficulties and facilitate the return of Ecclesiastical affairs to a Canonical path, to bolster the occasional inadequate ministry of spiritual leaders in certain Churches, to support the weak, wavering, or misled in the Orthodox faith, and overall never to delay or eschew suppressing all kinds of moral and material danger that threatens the stability of the most holy Churches.

Therefore, whoever thinks that this essential and completely necessary ministry of the Mother Church on behalf of the Universal Body of the Orthodox Church constitutes a product of later years is undoubtedly deceived because it undeniably derives its origin from much earlier times. In this regard, we submit, simply by way of illustration, the decision of Kallistos I in the matter of Germanos II of Tarnovo, who attempted to claim real patriarchal privileges beyond the mere title of “Patriarch” that he received from the Great Church. In response, Kallistos declared that “notwithstanding this, should the throne of Constantinople review and resolve, or advocate and validate the decisions of the other Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, as the sacred Canons have determined and the Acta have witnessed, how much more is the Throne [of Constantinople] also sovereign over the Church of the Bulgarians, by which it was honored with the name of Patriarch”?(5) Moreover, as Luke I Chrysoberges has stated, whoever appears before us as exercising the right “of overseeing, rectifying, and resolving judgments over disputes among other Thrones,” (6) is on the same basis qualified to invalidate the penalty of deposition against Bishop John of Amathous issued by Archbishop John of Cyprus and his Synod.

This ancient practice of the Church, which concurs with the Ecclesiastical Canons, is also explicitly confirmed by the four Patriarchs of the East, namely our own Predecessor Dionysios III, Paisios of Alexandria, Makarios of Antioch, and Nektarios of Jerusalem, in a Tomos of the year 1663, by which they settled twenty-five chapters of inquiries posed to them by clergy of the Russian Church. In the eighth question: “Whether every decision of other Churches may be appealed to the Throne of Constantinople for final determination in all Ecclesiastical matters?”, they replied that “This prerogative belonged to the Pope before he broke with the Catholic Church. . . . Since the Schism, however, matters of all Churches are referred to the Throne of Constantinople, from which they receive determination.” The same is repeated in responses to the twenty-first and twenty-second questions.

Therefore, Your Beatitude, we can all appreciate what responsibility the Throne of Constantinople bears and how history has endowed him with exceptional prerogatives. From all these verified and established arguments, it may be unequivocally concluded that specific inter-Orthodox efforts and initiatives of the Holy Great Church of Christ during the previous and present centuries were perhaps erroneously interpreted by some as an abrogation of its unwavering responsibilities and at the same time ministerial privileges in the face of a parliamentary federation – as has unfortunately even been stated – of individual Local Churches, which supposedly decides on all matters with the Ancient Thrones.

The practice of the Mother Church has, in a spirit of kenosis, always aspired and continues to aspire to communion in love of Christ and clarity of heart among the local holy Churches of Christ for abundance of wisdom and grace, for guidance and comfort in pastoral matters, and finally for edification of the body of faithful. The newer so-called “autocephalies” were and are granted by the Church of Constantinople as the common source of nourishment of the Orthodox for a better and more orderly internal organization of Church affairs, but not for any modification of the holy commonweal of the Church, which emerged from the long and sacred canonical development of the Ecumenical Councils, or the creation of a false concept of self-sufficient local churches and division of the one and undivided Body of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

When autocephaly is isolated and exaggerated, it is rendered problematic inasmuch as it does not serve the purpose for which it was considered beneficial to the Church. We should add here that the status of autocephaly, which was ceded on certain conditions and in various ways by the Mother Church for the occasional and circumstantial vital needs of Her children throughout the Oikoumene, does not comprise an immutable or static system but is adapted to current pastoral needs of the time, with holiness and much circumspection.

These few thoughts have been highlighted by way of providing a correction about the preeminent and sacrificial character of the Holy Mother and Great Church of Christ and an expression of a wholesome ecclesiology overall, even as we stand in the presence of blessed personalities, who served before us as Patriarchs, so that we may not be judged by the Lord of History or by them as diminishing what they established and preserved in the midst of pains and labors and difficult times, bearing the cross of responsibility for the Church.

Since this is the truth about our ecclesiastical affairs, the canonically established appellate provision of our Modesty appears clear and indisputable, just it was also exercised in the case of the Most Reverend Metropolitans Filaret, formerly of Kyiv, and Makariy of Lviv. There is, Your Beatitude, an extremely important treatise by someone who performed miraculous signs while still living – a man cultivated in virtue and profound in matters of the sacred canons, namely, the late Metropolitan Basil of Anchialos and subsequently of Smyrna. This treatise, composed and synodally ratified in 1877, pertained to the validity of ordination of clerics by a deposed, schismatic, or even heretical Bishop. We are attaching it herewith for you because it describes in many and convincing arguments the timeless position of the Orthodox Church on this issue.

While we do not wish to convey all of the cases delineated in the treatise, suffice it for us to note how the Holy and God-bearing Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea resolved the Melitian schism with the articulation of Canon 8 that reflects the Novatians. The said Melitios, Bishop of Lycopolis in Egypt, was accused of committing a whole series of unlawful acts, including denying the faith and sacrificing to idols. He was defrocked around the year 302 AD. Rejecting the defrocking, he formed an opposition and created the so-called Melitian schism. When reconciliation was achieved, according to the account of Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, the saint’s predecessor, Alexander of Alexandria, submitted a register or list of those ordained during the period of this schism – which included bishops, priests, and deacons – all of whom were restored to their proper rank without re-ordination. This schism troubled the Church up until the seventh century, while those reconciled were admitted into communion with the Church without re-baptism or even through Holy Chrism, as Theodore the Studite informs us all in his Great Epistle to Nafkratios.

Furthermore, in more recent years as well, when in 1945 our Holy and Great Church of Christ forgave the Bulgarians and their Church condemned by the Holy and Great Synod of 1872 – which not only defrocked but even excommunicated them – how did their restoration come about? Was it through re-ordination? Or were those forgiven perhaps the same as those condemned? Not only this, but those elected and chosen by them were also the same as those who succeeded them. And when the Church of Russia recently – under brazen political pressure – forgave the theretofore schismatic members of ROCOR, how did it receive them into communion? Was it through re-baptism or re-ordination?

Your Beatitude,

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit for manifesting to us according to the likeness of the Triadic glory those things accomplished and established in the Church not only through Holy Scripture, like the Protestants, but also through the most honorable, kenotic, and sanctified holy practice of the Church over its two thousand-year journey on earth. This is why, in presenting the above, we understand that the tolerance and long-suffering stance of the Great Church of Christ has been construed by those who greatly benefited from Her as an abdication from the ongoing journey of the Church.

We are at a loss as to how this impertinence and slander against the Mother Church and our Modesty personally is tolerated by some and – wittingly or unwittingly – sometimes espoused in the form of affirmation or repetition of arguments by those who avenge their benefactor. Do these disciples love the Church and its unity more than their teachers? Surely not!

At the Phanar, we preach the genuine inheritance of ecclesiology because we draw from the wellspring of our Fathers and not from self-interest or other trivial motivations and political expediencies. Consequently, it is the responsibility of all others to assimilate these disclosed truths – not, of course, in order to validate them, inasmuch as they are already authentically validated by ecclesiastical practice, but rather to restore the precious and authentic experience of the Fathers, who hoped in God alone, to the proper and sanctified way. To Him be glory and dominion unto the ages. Amen.

February 20, 2019
Your reverent Beatitude’s
beloved brother in Christ


1.Official Patriarchal Letter of Gabriel III on the election of Chrysanthos of Jerusalem, Kallinikos Delikanis, Official Documents Preserved in the Archives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, vol. 2, Constantinople, 1905, p. 468.

2. Letter of the Fathers of the Council of Carthage to Pope Celestine, at the conclusion of the Canons of this Council.

3. Kallinikos Delikanis, Official Documents, vol. 2, p. 217.

5. Kallinikos Delikanis, Official Documents, vol. 2, p. 314.

5. F. Miklosisch and I. Müller (eds), Acta Patriarchatus Constantinopolitani, vol. 1, Vienna, 1862, p. 438.

6. Matthew Blastaris, Constitution according to Elements, Element 2, in G. Ralli and M. Potli Constitution of the Holy and Sacred Canons, vol. 6, Athens, 1859.

7. Manuel Gedeon, Canonical Regulations, Athens, 1979, vol. I, pp. 341–346.

20.02.2018

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About the Author

Emma Cazabonne

Emma Cazabonne

Beside an anthology on Cistercian texts, Emma Cazabonne has translated and published articles on Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She converted to Orthodoxy in 2008. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here https://wordsandpeace.com/contact-me/

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