A Revolution within the Form

Trojan Horse Outside the City Walls (source)

On 11 June 2021, Archbishop Elpidophoros, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOARCH), presided over the Divine Liturgy at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan.  The venue and the timing of the liturgy, the feast day of Saint Bartholomew, were intended to honor Elpidophoros’ superior in Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew.  He was joined by several other GOARCH hierarchs and by Archbishop Michael of New York and New Jersey of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).  This liturgical celebration was controversial in light of the fact that this particular parish church and the Episcopal Church as a whole have been on the forefront of promoting the LGBTQ agenda.  This event caused consternation among the Orthodox both within GOARCH and within OCA, leading many to wonder what had just taken place.  The Orthodox website Monomakhos.com reported that one member of OCA wrote to Abp. Michael and received this response:

Let me be clear and state unambiguously the following:  The fidelity of the Orthodox Church in America to the faith and moral teaching of the Church is unchanged.  The concelebration of His Eminence Archbishop Michael with His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros and other bishops of the Greek Orthodox Church was exactly that, a concelebration of Orthodox hierarchs and clergy.  No texts, statements, or gestures were undertaken, made, or even proposed with respect to any moral issues.  In no way should this event be taken by anyone as a modification in any way of the Church’s moral teaching, or as laying the groundwork to modify it in any way. (Emphasis added.)


The OCA hierarch made a point of stressing that nothing had changed, and that OCA remained committed to the historic teaching and worship of Orthodoxy.  But, is that indeed the case?

Transforming Historical Institutions

OrthodoxReflections also published an article on the same event.  The article contained an insightful paragraph about what the author labeled “revolution within the form.”

Given the peculiarities of Orthodoxy, our Orthodox revolutionaries have to be smarter than those in other “Christian” traditions. They must introduce changes slowly and incrementally. All the while, Orthodox revolutionaries must convince the “unenlightened” that nothing of any great importance is actually happening. In many ways, this stealth method of revolution is more dangerous than overtly challenging the existing norms as the potential opposition can’t decide if there is even a threat. Called a “revolution within the form,” this method of transforming historical institutions has been stunningly successful at winning the battle before most of the victims even notice they are under attack. …. (Emphasis added.)

The strategy of revolution within the form has been used in other Christian denominations with quite a bit of success.  Incremental changes were made that ostensibly were inconsequential but in the long run were irreversible.  If one looks over the American religious landscape in the twentieth century, especially in the mainline Protestant denominations and in post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, one cannot but be struck by the massive changes that took place in just a few decades.  As liberal Christianity took over many mainline denominations many of the conservative members fled to the Orthodox Church.  They believed they had found safe harbor in historic Orthodoxy.  Many former Episcopalians and Anglicans are dismayed that what they have fled is now showing up in Orthodoxy, especially with the apparent acceptance shown by these two archbishops towards the Episcopal Church.

5 Centimeters Week by Week

Lawrence Wheeler, the administrator for this weblog, Handwritings on the Wall, told me a somewhat amusing anecdote about an Anglican seminarian in Japan who attempted change by stealth. Each seminary student was assigned to weekend duty at a nearby parish. This particular student’s job was to clean the church every Saturday in anticipation of Sunday services. In his enthusiasm for liturgical innovation, he took the opportunity to move the church altar five centimeters closer to the people every week. The goal was to create space behind the altar so that the priest could celebrate the Eucharist facing the people rather than maintaining the traditional position of keeping his back towards the congregation. The change was done gradually to avoid detection by the parish priest and avoid giving offense to the conservative congregation. The intent was to present the congregation with a fait accompli–a thing that has already happened. By the time the change might be noticed by observant lay people, it would be too late for them to demand a return to the more traditional posture. Moreover, by speaking out, they would be viewed as trouble makers who were unnecessarily opposed to the new status quo. The anecdote would be amusing if it were not for the fact that it involved unauthorized tampering with the holy things of God.

Changing Orthodoxy?

The Orthodox Church is known for its conservatism.  There is a popular light bulb joke: “Q: How many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a light bulb?  A: Change? What is this thing called change?  We’re Orthodox! We don’t change!”  Those who wish to promote false ecumenism—union with the heterodox without the renunciation of heresies and innovations contrary to Holy Tradition—are aware that they need to bring about change within American Orthodoxy very slowly.  The basic strategy is to retain the outward forms of Orthodoxy, but to slightly alter the context or content of these outward forms

In the case of 11 June 2021, many of the outward forms of Orthodoxy were kept: the well-respected hierarchs of GOARCH and OCA met on the Feast Day of Saint Bartholomew to concelebrate the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.  What changed was the venue.  The Orthodox hierarchs met at an Episcopal parish church which is well-known for its liberal theology.  The hierarchs entered the Episcopal cathedral through an entrance which was draped with the rainbow flag symbolic of the LGBTQ movement.  Nothing appeared to change that day and yet everything changed, given the context.  What changed was the apparent toleration by Orthodox hierarchs of the Episcopal Church’s heterodox teachings and morality.  Rather than shun a church building associated with non-Orthodox views, our hierarchs acted as if the external settings did not matter.  Apparently, for the hierarchs the outward, visible settings did not count for much.  But this would be similar to a man taking off his wedding ring before entering a bar.  Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed.

Taking the ring off. (source)

By sending the mixed message “nothing has changed, but everything has changed,” the Orthodox hierarchs set the stage for further desensitization of the Orthodox laity and clergy to heterodoxy.  Silence on the part of the clergy and laity signals compliance and acceptance, and they create an opportunity for other mistakes that push the envelope of Orthodoxy.  The way out of this mess is for the hierarchs to admit openly that a mistake has been made and that they are committed to avoiding this mistake in the future.

Laity speaking out. (source)

What the Orthodox Laity Can Do

The first thing Orthodox laity must do is to be grounded in Holy Tradition.  In these perilous times when so many assumptions and beliefs are being questioned and challenged, it is imperative that Orthodox laity become knowledgeable about what comprises the Tradition. They must stand, not on their own personal opinion, but on the historic Apostolic Faith.  If it appears that our clergy and hierarchs are in danger of compromising that Tradition, it will fall upon the Orthodox laity to step up to the plate and defend Orthodoxy.  We encourage Orthodox laity to commit themselves to keeping the daily rule of prayer and to daily reading of the Bible.  We also encourage the laity to commit themselves to attending the Sunday Liturgy every week.  Beyond that, it would be good for Orthodox laity to become acquainted with the Church Fathers, church history, and the lives of the saints.  In this time of crisis, the laity need to be informed by Holy Tradition and not act out of reactionary conservatism. 

There are three ways that the laity can defend Orthodox Tradition: (1) with their voice, (2) with their pocketbook, and (3) with their feet. 

Speaking out – In light of the excerpt from Archbishop Michael’s communication to the OCA layperson above, it seems that His Eminence made light of the event, saying that nothing really happened, that everything remains the same.  But if the revolution within the form hypothesis holds true, then something of immense consequence happened that day and that the OCA laity need to speak out to their clergy and hierarchs.  Rather than inquire timidly as to why something happened, they should take a firm stance, saying that what happened was inappropriate and a mistake, and they should request that the OCA go on record saying that the mistake will not be repeated.  But first, what is needed is an admission from the OCA and the GOARCH hierarchs that what took place on 11 June 2021 was a mistake for which they are remorseful.  OCA laity should also ask their respective clergy to speak out, saying that what took place on 11 June 2021 at St. Bart’s was a mistake and contrary to Orthodoxy.  The same thing applies to laity within GOARCH.  If a mistake is made and if those responsible own up to it, then the response of the Orthodox laity should be that of joyful forgiveness. 

Orthodox laity in other jurisdictions should ask their respective clergy and hierarchs to speak out about Elpidophoros’ actions at St. Bart’s.  What happened at St. Bart’s on 11 June affects all of American Orthodoxy. 

Voting with the Checkbook – The next incremental step to take if the hierarchs do not admit their error, is for Orthodox laity to inform the local priest that they are withholding their giving in protest.  Financial giving is for the kingdom of God.  It is not a tax obligation that the laity are under obligation to provide the local parish. An offering in the plate is an act of a free conscience.  Withholding financial support is a serious step and must be undertaken after prayer and careful consideration.

Voting with the Feet – Here the anomalous American situation of multiple jurisdictions may offer an unexpected blessing.  The OrthodoxReflections article was written by a former member of GOARCH who migrated to the Antiochian archdiocese.  Leaving a parish should be considered only as the last resort.  And if done, should be done out of love and compassion, not anger and bitterness, or in a spirit of triumphalism.  Leaving a parish over an issue like this should be done out of love for Jesus Christ and his Bride whom he redeemed with his Blood.

Frog in the Kettle (source)

Heating Up the Kettle

There seems to be certain individuals and/or groups within American Orthodoxy who favor assimilating Orthodoxy into the American religious establishment.  They support closer ties with Roman Catholics and Protestants while avoiding the awkward points of divergences from Holy Tradition. They are very aware that Orthodoxy is about Tradition and that anything too openly radical will cause the laity to flee, taking their checkbooks with them.  This would explain why they are taking tiny baby steps in ecumenical relations with Roman Catholicism and with the Episcopal Church.  They are counting on the Orthodox laity to be complacent or too unwilling to rock the boat.  The advantage of the clergy has over the laity is that of time.  Religion is their livelihood, meaning they can devote more time and attention to the ecumenical agenda than busy lay people.  This brings to mind the analogy of the kettle full of frogs that was heated gradually so that all the frogs ended up cooked to their unwitting demise.

However, the advantage of the laity is their sheer numbers and their checkbooks. The advantage of the Orthodox converts, laity and clergy, is that we have experienced firsthand the revolution-within-the-form strategy in our former mainline Protestant churches and in Roman Catholicism.  Many cradle-Orthodox Christians, who have little firsthand experience with mainline Protestantism or Roman Catholicism, often have little knowledge of how far non-Orthodox denominations have strayed from historic Christianity. At present the American Orthodox laity are in an undeveloped state of national solidarity. We need to reach out to one another and build strong networks based on personal friendships and collaboration.  Here, the Internet can be a useful means of organizing the laity. An awakened Orthodox laity united in defense of Holy Tradition can stem the liberal tide.

It is time for American Orthodox laity to stand up for Orthodoxy and to hold fast to the Pearl of Great Price in the face of false ecumenism.  (More will be said about this Pearl of Great Price in a future article.)  We need to guard against complacency or the fear of rocking the boat.  Silence signals tolerance or acceptance of the recent scandal.  Our silence opens the door for other transgressive actions against Holy Tradition.  Vocal opposition to heresy in these troubling times is an act of love for Christ and his Church. 

A grave mistake was made by the Orthodox hierarchs on 11 June 2021 at the St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. However, there is still time for a course correction.  This error needs to be corrected before it leads to other more serious scandals.  At present (summer 2021), we are in the early stages of the crisis.  The Orthodox laity need to speak out, saying that what happened on 11 June 2021 was contrary to Holy Tradition.  That for Orthodox hierarchs to use a well-known place of worship associated with heterodox beliefs and practices is an error to be shunned in the future.  We, the Orthodox laity, are waiting for the Orthodox clergy to address the matter.  If they do not speak out, then it falls on the Orthodox laity to speak out loudly and clearly on the matter. 

Lord, have mercy!

by Robert Arakaki

M.A., Church History; Ph.D. Political Science

Asian-American convert to Orthodoxy

References

“Is Syosset Feeling the Heat?”  Monomakhos.com 19 June 2021.          

“The Orthodox Revolution Comes to St. Bart’s.”  OrthodoxReflections.com. 24 June 2021. 

Press release in Orthodox Observer News.  N.d.  “Archbishop Elpidophoros to Celebrate the Feast Day of the Ecumenical Patriarch at Historic Saint Bartholomew Church in New York City.”

St. Paul Antiochian Church, Emmaus Pennsylvania. “Introduction to Orthodox Christianity.”

Lawrence Wheeler. “Really, Your Eminence?Handwritings on the Wall (weborthodox.com), 26 June 2021. 


Mark of Ephesus and the Uprising of the Orthodox Laity

Fall of Constantinople 1453 (Source)

Saint Mark of Ephesus (c. 1392-1444) lived in times similar to ours.  The Orthodox hierarchs were under pressure to modify their Orthodox beliefs at the Council of Florence (1438-1439) in order to secure a short-term advantage.  The Orthodox laity, aghast at the betrayal of Sacred Tradition, rose up in protest and blocked the false ecumenism.  The recent activities of Archbishop Elpidophoros and Patriarch Bartholomew bear an unsettling resemblance to the false ecumenism of the Council of Florence and have provoked criticism and opposition among the Orthodox laity. 

Expedient Ecumenism

In the early 1400s, Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, had fallen on hard times.  It had been attacked by Western Christians in the Fourth Crusade in 1204, who pillaged and raped the venerable Christian city.  Then it suffered five decades (1204-1261) of Latin rule, during which the laity refused to attend churches served by Roman Catholic priests.  When the Byzantines retook Constantinople, it was greatly enfeebled–a shadow of its former self. In contrast, the fortunes of the Roman Catholic West were on the rise with the affluence of the Italian Renaissance and the intellectual vigor of Aristotelian Scholasticism. 

Even with the embittered relations between Catholics and Orthodox, there was a greater threat in the east.  The Muslim armies were slowly conquering their way across Asia Minor towards Constantinople.  The Byzantines were in desperate need of military assistance from the Catholic West. However, there was a catch—they needed to patch up their differences with the Catholic Church. 

An Orthodox delegation comprised of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor, and other Orthodox hierarchs sailed to the reunion council at Florence (1438-1439).  When the two sides met, it became apparent that they had drifted apart in matters of doctrine, worship practice, and theological method.  The delegates clashed on the legitimacy of the Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed, the Catholics’ use of azymes (unleavened bread) and their practice of serving Communion in one kind to the laity (bread, but not the wine), the teaching on Purgatory, and the mandatory celibacy for Catholic priests.  The differences were aggravated by differences in theological method.  Where the Orthodox continued to rely on patristic sources, the Catholics relied heavily on the syllogistic style of argumentation favored in Thomist Scholasticism.  Overarching all these issues was Rome’s claim to papal supremacy. 

Being under considerable pressure, the majority of the Orthodox delegation made outright and implicit concessions to the Catholics and affixed their signature to the decree of union (Geanakoplos p. 334).  The one holdout was Mark of Ephesus.

Saint Mark of Ephesus as a Model for our Lives | ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY THEN  AND NOW

Mark of Ephesus and the Uprising of the Laity

When the delegation returned to Constantinople, they were met by a populace that was outraged that their hierarchs had yielded to the Roman Catholics.  The people of Constantinople from the beginning sided with Mark of Ephesus.  The pro-unionists found themselves in the minority.  The laity shunned the churches where pro-union priests celebrated the Liturgy.  Those who went to pro-union churches even out of curiosity found themselves ostracized.  Mark of Ephesus led the anti-unionist forces until his death in 1444.  In the face of ferocious lay opposition, the majority of hierarchs quickly repudiated their signing of the reunion documents.  The remaining pro-union bishops fled to Rome. 

In time, the Council of Florence would be rejected by wider Orthodoxy: by the Synod of Moscow in 1441, the Synod of Jerusalem in 1443, in the Apology of the Clergy of Constantinople in 1443, and the Synod of Constantinople in 1484 (Angelakopoulos, Cherniavsky).  In addition, Florence was condemned through the special acts of the Churches of Moldavia and Moldavlachia, and Serbia and Iberia (Angelakopoulos).  Thus, the repudiation of Florence by the Orthodox laity in Constantinople was later ratified by the Orthodox hierarchy in various church councils.  In this way, the whole of the Orthodox Church repudiated the false union of Florence.  The stature of Mark of Ephesus is such that his Encyclical is listed among the major doctrinal statements of the Orthodox Church (Ware p. 203). 

False Ecumenism Today

Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Manhattan (source)

Western Christianity today is in crisis.  The Episcopal Church, like many mainline Protestant denominations, has succumbed to theological liberalism and has abandoned traditional Christian morality and come to accept the LGBTQ sexual agenda.   A similar unraveling has been taking place in Roman Catholicism.  Confidence in the Roman Catholic clergy has been shaken by reports of rampant sex scandals among priests, bishops, and even cardinals.  The Novus Ordo Mass has supplanted the Latin Mass, opening the way for many liturgical innovations.  More recently, in 2019, the Vatican allowed the inclusion of an Andean female deity, the Pachamama, in its worship (Flynn).  In the face of the growing disarray in their churches and denominations, many Protestants, Evangelicals, and Roman Catholics have sought safe harbor in Orthodoxy.  They have been drawn by its ancient Liturgy, its unchanging Tradition, and the bravery of its martyrs who died willingly for the true Faith. 

In order to make sense of Archbishop Elpidophoros’ recent ecumenical activities, it is proposed that we examine American Orthodoxy, not just theologically, but also sociologically.  Despite the small but growing stream of converts, Orthodoxy in America is still predominantly ethnic in character.  Many of the ethnic parishes struggle with nominalism.  This is the problem of people being Orthodox in name only—rarely going to church, but insisting on having an Orthodox wedding or an Orthodox funeral.  Many of the descendants of the first-generation immigrants have assimilated into mainstream American society and along the way have abandoned Orthodoxy for the mainline Protestant denominations or Roman Catholicism.  This puts pressure on the hierarchs and priests to keep the numbers up.  Oftentimes, someone who grew up Orthodox wants to marry someone who is not Orthodox and who has no desire to become Orthodox.  Rather than have the person leave Orthodoxy, the priest will allow for mixed marriages, despite the fact that this is contrary to Orthodoxy (see Farley’s article below).  As mixed marriages become widespread, the perception grows that Orthodoxy is just one denomination among many.  This leads to awkwardness and tension when people learn of Orthodoxy’s claim to be the one true Church. A similar awkwardness arises when the priest is obligated to enforce the Orthodox Church’s position on closed Communion—that only those who are Orthodox may partake of the Eucharist.  This puts pressure on the priest and his bishop to downplay Orthodoxy’s rigorous, exclusivist stance.  Ecumenical engagement by the hierarchs in which historic doctrinal differences with the non-Orthodox are minimized or even eliminated can alleviate this awkwardness. Theological relativism makes it easier for the nominal Orthodox and their non-Orthodox spouses and children to participate in parish activities without having to commit to Orthodox doctrines and spiritual disciplines.  What is to be noted is that, while theological rigor falls by the wayside, the traditional markers of ethnicity are retained, e.g., ethnic festivals, the language of the ethnic homeland, the name ‘ethnic’ Orthodox Church.  These practical concerns can tempt Orthodox clergy to sell their spiritual birthright for the short-term benefits of ecumenism with the heterodox.

Another possibility to consider is that closer ties with the two major American denominations can give Constantinople a geopolitical advantage in its rivalry against the Patriarchate of Moscow. While Archbishop Elpidophoros heads the largest Orthodox jurisdiction in the U.S., the fact remains that Orthodoxy is a tiny fish in a huge lake.  Closer ties with the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church would enhance the Orthodox Church’s political influence.  Elpidophoros’ superior, Patriarch Bartholomew, like Byzantine Emperor John VIII who initiated the failed Council of Florence, finds himself surrounded and beleaguered by hostile forces.  The Patriarchate of Constantinople, after years of decline, finds itself confined to a few blocks in the predominantly Muslim city of Istanbul, Turkey.  It was only last year (2020) that the Turkish state converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque over Patriarch Bartholomew’s feeble protests.  In 2019, in an impetuous exercise of quasi-papal power, Bartholomew unilaterally issued a tomos granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine leading to ruptured relations with Moscow. Currying the favor and good will of the United States can give Constantinople an added advantage against Moscow. Conversely, Constantinople’s rivalry with the Patriarchate of Moscow over Ukraine provides an opportunity to be exploited by the United States as part of its Great Game against Russia.

Lessons for Today

The Council of Florence fiasco yields lessons that apply to today’s situation.  Geanakoplos notes that the failure of the Council of Florence can be attributed to the fact that union between Catholicism and Orthodoxy was viewed as a means to political ends while religious sincerity was overlooked (p. 325).  Also overlooked was the formative impact of the Latin occupation of Constantinople following the Fourth Crusade.  The Orthodox laity remembered vividly life under papal rule and so their fear and hostility to Roman Catholicism was very real and existential (Geanakoplos, pp. 332-333).  It seems that Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Elpidophoros have forgotten the lessons of Florence.  They are fixated on the short-term benefits from rapprochement with the West.  They fail to take into account the experience of the recent converts to Orthodoxy, who converted out of religious sincerity, not with the expectation of material gain.  The converts know from first-hand experience the problems of Western Christianity and its deviant teachings.  It is no surprise then that they are deeply distressed by the false ecumenism being espoused by the hierarchs.  It is hoped that today’s Orthodox laity will take a stand for Holy Orthodoxy as did Saint Mark of Ephesus and the laity of Constantinople. 

The Danger of Complicit Silence

In the 1400s, the threat to Orthodoxy came from the outside.  Today the threat is coming from within, from our hierarchs who are promoting false ecumenism by means of stealth and creeping change.  This stealth strategy has proven to be effective in mainline Protestantism and also in Roman Catholicism.  It worked because most people are reluctant to stand up vocally to their church leadership.  In addition, there is the fear of losing friends or employment. 

Another danger is complacency.  This is the attitude of smug satisfaction with the present situation or a reluctance to face up to the fact that there is a crisis.  In present circumstances, quiet passivity will be taken as endorsement.  It will then be interpreted by the hierarchs as license to take more flagrant steps away from Holy Tradition.  We are in a situation similar to an apartment complex where there is a burning odor in the air.  People ought to be pulling on the fire alarm or at least knocking on their neighbors’ doors, asking if they smell something funny.  The time has come for the laity to raise the alarm—to call out “Fire!”  Express to your priest your concerns about this false ecumenism and ask if he plans to voice this concern with others.  Contact your Orthodox friends and let them know your concerns.  Let us work together and mobilize to block this false ecumenism, just as the Orthodox laity did in the time of Mark of Ephesus.  If enough Orthodox laity take a stand for Holy Tradition, we can help restore stability to our Holy Mother Church. 

by Robert Arakaki

M.A., Church History; Ph.D. Political Science

Asian-American convert to Orthodoxy

Resources

Angelos Angelakopoulos.  “How Orthodoxy Overcame the False-Synod of Ferrara-Florence.”  In SotiriosNaus. Lecture delivered in Sofia, Bulgaria, 9-10 June 2017. 

Michael Cherniavsky.  “The Reception of the Council of Florence in Moscow.” Church History, vol. 24 no. 4 (1955), pp. 347-359.

J.D. Flynn.  “Analysis: Why ‘Pachamama’ took a dip.”  (CNA) Catholic News Agency, 26 October 2019.

Lawrence Farley.  “Mixed Marriages.”  In No Other Foundation blog, 4 May 2020.

Deno J. Geanakoplos.  “The Council of Florence (1438-1439) and the Problem of Union between the Greek and Latin Churches.”  Church History, vol. 24 no. 4 (1955), pp. 324-346.

Mark of Ephesus.  “The Encyclical Letter of Saint Mark of Ephesus.”

OrthodoxChristian.  “Patriarch Bartholomew Tells Athonites Reunion With Catholics is Inevitable, Reports UOJ.”  In OrthodoxChristian.com 27 November 2019.

Steven Runciman.  The Fall of Constantinople 1453, pp. 16-18.

Timothy Ware.  The Orthodox Church, pp. 70-71.

Lawrence B. Wheeler.  “Really, Your Eminence?Handwritings on the Wall (weborthodox.com), 26 June 2021.


Will the Orthodox Clergy Speak Out?

It has been more than six weeks since Archbishop Elpidophoros’ controversial celebration of the Divine Liturgy at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City on 11 June 2021. Many among the Orthodox laity are deeply disturbed that one of America’s leading hierarchs chose to use a non-Orthodox venue for the Liturgy, especially one belonging to a denomination associated with heterodox and even heretical views. It is one thing when a mission plant borrows a church building to hold their services. This is done with the eventual goal of their becoming a full-fledged Orthodox parish with their own church facility. It is a very different thing when the appearance is given of ecumenical rapprochement with a denomination that gives no indication of relinquishing their heretical teachings and practices.

On 3 July 2021, Archbishop Elpidophoros returned to St. Bart’s to express his gratitude to Bp. Dean E. Wolfe, the rector. In ecumenical dialogue as in foreign relations, a picture of two prominent leaders being photographed next to each other sends a powerful message worth more than a thousand words.

In the weeks following, it seems that very few of the Orthodox clergy and hierarchs have spoken out against Elpidophoros’ scandalous actions. Many of the Orthodox laity are waiting for our clergy and hierarchs to publicly state that the celebration of the Liturgy at a heterodox venue was inappropriate – an error not to be repeated. It is their duty to make their objections known on this matter. The ordained clergy: bishops, priests, and deacons, are the guardians of Holy Tradition. If they do not speak out, it gives the appearance of their tacit approval. Then it falls upon the shoulders of the Orthodox laity to protest against Archbishop Elpidophoros’ scandalous actions.

Is it Time for the Orthodox Laity to Speak Out?

It is hoped that the Orthodox clergy and hierarchs will step up to the plate for Holy Tradition. Do you know of any hierarch, priest, or deacon, who has publicly objected to what happened on 11 June 2021 at St. Bart’s ? Please let us know in the comment section below. Specific details, such as the clergyman’s name, office, location, jurisdiction, and source documentation will be greatly appreciated. Hearsay or second hand accounts do not count. Information on the context of the statement, such as a church newsletter, Sunday homily, blog post, YouTube podcast or other social media post feed would be helpful.  We would like to commend those clergymen who have taken the bold stand of going on record objecting to the Archbishop Elpidophoros’ recent actions.  A public scandal has taken place and so a public response is needed in order to reassure the laity that our hierarchs and clergy are standing up for Holy Tradition. 

Orthodox piety encourages humility and longsuffering. It seeks to avoid bellicosity and the stirring up of the passions. However, the Orthodox laity in the past have spoken out when the hierarchs failed to defend Apostolic Tradition against heresy. The life of Saint Mark of Ephesus and his struggle against the false union of Florence-Ferrara (1438-1445) provides the Orthodox laity with a useful example to follow in these troubled times.

by Robert Arakaki, Ph.D.

For Whom Does Elpidophoros Speak?

His address at the International Religious Freedom Summit

Archbishop Elpidophoros has caused consternation among the Orthodox faithful by the speech that he gave at the International Religious Freedom Summit held in Washington D.C., 15 July 2021.  In the speech he stated:

When you elevate one religion above all others, it is as if you decide there is only one path leading to the top of the mountain. But the truth is you simply cannot see the myriads of paths that lead to the same destination, because you are surrounded by boulders of prejudice that obscure your view.

This particular passage was excerpted and made into a widely circulated meme on the Internet.  Some saw this excerpt and took it to mean that Elpidophoros was suggesting that there are many ways to salvation.  It generated a flurry of criticism on various blog sites.  I was unaware of the offending paragraph when I was asked for my thoughts on Elpidophoros’ speech.  I read through the text of his speech twice.  I was a bit baffled by the wordiness of the text and the highfalutin language he used.  I finally found the stinking sardine in the pile of waffle (Elpidophoros’ speech) thanks to the Monomakhos article and a comment from a clerical friend.

At first I didn’t catch the remark about “myriads of paths” mostly because Elpidophoros gave the speech in what appears to have been a secular, political context—the International Religious Freedom Summit.  As an American I am very sympathetic to a secular state and to religious pluralism.  As a Christian I believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father.  As an Orthodox Christian I believe that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church.  So how does one speak as an Orthodox Christian to a diverse non-Orthodox setting like the Summit?  Answer: With care and nuance.

I gained a better understanding from a YouTube video in which former U.S. Senator, now U.S. Ambassador, Sam Brownback was interviewed on EWTN about the Summit. Brownback explained that the Summit is bringing together major leaders of the different faiths from all over the world.  He went on to explain: “We’re not talking theology.”  That gave me a different perspective on the Summit—a more positive one.  Too many of the conflicts in the world today have been exacerbated by religious ideology.  We need religious leaders to encourage their followers to peacefully coexist with their neighbors of different faith backgrounds.  In my opinion, Archbishop Elpidophoros could have done a better job of bracketing his comment about having only one path leading to the top of the mountain, i.e., that he was talking about state-religion relations, not about theology in the usual sense.  Loosely read, Elpidophoros’ mountain metaphor can be construed as an allusion to a universalist soteriology—an affront to Orthodoxy.  Read from a secular, political angle, it can be understood as advocating the protection of religious freedom, something American Orthodox Christians can affirm.  It seems to me that, unlike Ambassador Brownback, who spoke with nuance and sensitivity, Archbishop Elpidophoros stumbled in his speech and gave unnecessary offense to some Orthodox Christians.  

As I see it, Elpidophoros’ challenge is how to speak to a non-Orthodox audience while being faithful to Orthodox Tradition.  I believe that it is very desirable that Hagia Sophia be restored as an Orthodox house of worship.  However, for Elpidophoros to drag in the Ukrainian mess and to make a veiled swipe against the Moscow Patriarchate’s alliance with the Kremlin is to open a huge can of worms.  How does Elpidophoros reconcile his veiled swipe at the Moscow Patriarchate with the historic Orthodox teaching of symphonia?  From the political or governmental perspective, there is a certain confusing ambiguity in Archbishop Elpidophoros’ speech: Is he speaking as a leader of Orthodox Christians who reside in the U.S. or on behalf of Patriarch Bartholomew, who resides in Istanbul, Turkey?  And, who has a vested interest in the Ukrainian-Russian controversy?  Put another way, does Elpidophoros speak for us American Orthodox Christians?  It has been two years since he migrated to the United States in 2019.  

Archbishop Elpidophoros’ importance at the Summit lies in the fact that he represents and leads the largest Orthodox jurisdiction in the U.S. — the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. There is a certain irony in Elpidophoros’ presence at an international summit on religious freedom when he, in his capacity as Patriarch Bartholomew’s personal agent, perpetuates Greek colonialism in the U.S..  It is time for there to be an American Orthodox Church.  It is time that externally imposed hierarchs be returned to Istanbul where they were born and for an American-born hierarch to be elevated as primate for the autocephalous American Orthodox Church.  

Robert Arakaki, Ph.D.

Political scientist and Asian-American convert to Orthodoxy