Boldly Approaching the Throne of Grace

You were bought at a price. Do not become slaves of men.

I Corinthians 7: 23

The high price that bought us was the blood of Christ, shed for us on the tree of the cross. That blood is shed for us again, as it were, mystically every time the clergy and people perform the Eucharist. It’s the “unbloody sacrifice”. When the priest emerges from the royal doors after the anaphora, and the deacon bids us draw nigh, they invite us to partake of that blood and body unto the nourishment of our souls.

But, too many of us blithely shun the invitation.

These days we hear tell on the news of the spread of the Delta Variant. So we nervously wait for the Covid-19 case numbers to fall to what we consider to be a tolerable level. Once we feel ready to return to church, we expect guarantees that all of the public health mandates will be observed in church while we are there. If we still feel hesitant, we tell ourselves that discretion is the better part of valor. We are not willing to act in a cavalier manner, so our cold common sense keeps us safe at home. We rationalize our absence from church by thinking that we can execute our Sunday obligation by watching the Liturgy livestreamed on the computer.


Those of us who use such uninspired logic forget that our Lord said that he who does not eat the flesh of the Son of Man, or drink his blood has no life in him. (John 6: 53) Let us be careful not to be like the people who would not receive this hard saying and drew back from following Christ. The sacraments are tactile. They are matter infused with the Grace of God for the healing of both soul and body. Except for the communion of the sick, they are offered only in the temple. You cannot partake of the Holy Gifts while sitting on your couch at home, drinking your morning coffee.

Not all of history’s believers had the courage to maintain an Orthodox life in times of distress. One thinks of the Church of the early fourth century. This was the time of the Diocletian persecution and the resulting Donatist controversy that split the Church between the traditors (traitors) on the one side and the rigorists on the other. Failure of spirit produced backsliding. But the noble saints of ages past who struggled under the yoke of persecution and yet, throwing all caution to the winds, gathered for the Eucharist knew one thing: The benefits to soul and body of communing in the Body and Blood of Christ far outweighed the risk they were taking to their safety.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4: 16

This moment in history is our society’s time of need. At the risk of overstating the matter, I would say that this pandemic is the greatest time of our mutual peril than any American younger than seventy-five has ever witnessed. Without going into detail, I would say that there are insidious forces of authority in our society that are taking this opportunity of our collective weakness in order to enslave us. There is an oft-used phrase in Japanese that goes ageashi wo toru. That means literally “to take the lifted leg” and flip one’s opponent on his back. A man on his back is in a weakened position, as though he were suddenly enslaved. Dark forces are conniving to take advantage of our current weakness. But we serve the Light of Light, who has overcome the darkness of this world. Let us take heart and encourage each other with that knowledge.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3: 20

Thanks be to God, we are no longer slaves of this world or of any worldly authority, for we have been bought with a price. Freed to live in the kingdom of God, we are now servants of God and citizens of heaven. The duties and privileges of that citizenship supersede the expectations of citizens of this temporal world.

Let’s act like it this Sunday morning.

Game of Thrones

Originally posted in Monomakhos

Last month, Archbishop Elpidophoros, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, celebrated the Divine Liturgy at St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City.  Neither the date nor the venue was coincidental.  More to the point, his “homily” (which was really a glowing encomium to his patron in Istanbul) was somewhat unsettling, being as it had nothing to do with the Gospel. 

One thing that stood out was the mention of the longevity of Patriarch  Bartholomew’s tenure as Ecumenical Patriarch.  We ere told in the homily that he has occupied the patriarchal throne longer than any of his predecessors  (thirty years to be exact).

The fact that St Bartholomew’s Church was festooned with LGBTQ paraphernalia was not lost on those of a more traditional bent within Orthodoxy.  Some speculated that the choice of the venue was a subtle message that the Greek-speaking churches (as opposed to the Slavic churches) were more sympathetic to the present zeitgeist

Given that the historic See of Constantinople has known little peace throughout its seventeen-hundred-year history, this is not insignificant.  Cyril VI Lukaris (d. 1638) for instance, had six different tenures on the throne.  Many other patriarchs were exiled and reassigned on a whim by their Turkish suzerains.  (Not that it was much different during the Byzantine period for that matter.)  One can therefore be forgiven for viewing mere longevity as an accomplishment, especially in such a turbulent area of the world.

Be that as it may, hope springs eternal.  Unfortunately, Bartholomew’s hand was a poor one, since “Constantinople” as a church, had been dying for generations.  Because of his erudition however. as well as his excellent command of the English language (something which his predecessor lacked), he was able to find a more useful niche to play on the world stage.  And that was environmentalism.  All things considered, he played that role very well.  Unfortunately, he did so while the forces of globalism (of which environmentalism is a part) would begin to unravel.  

That said, when he assumed the Constantinopolitan throne, globalism was still on the ascendant.  If he was going to assume a papal-like presence on the international stage, then he had to rein in the many foreign eparchies that made up his patriarchate.  North America was especially problematic, being that it was then led by the charismatic Archbishop Iakovos Coucouzis.  Because of Iakovos’ commitment to pan-Orthodox unity in America, Bartholomew sensed that America was restive for autocephaly, and thus, he forced Iakovos to retire in 1996.   

The intervening twenty-five years have not been particularly peaceful.  If anything, the demand for greater inter-Orthodox American unity has only grown, as have demands for autocephaly.  Unfortunately for Bartholomew, Iakovos’ successor, Metropolitan Spyridon Pappas of Italy, had a disastrous tenure, alienating in particular several in the leadership class, including the bishops.  And so, in order to placate the bishops of the GOA, Bartholomew elevated them to metropolitan status, thereby making them “equal” to the new primate. 

This only bought Spyridon some time and things continued to degenerate in the archdiocese.  Bowing to the newly-minted metropolitans’ increasingly insistent demands, Bartholomew sacked him in 1999, replacing him with Metropolitan Demetrios Trakatellis.  An irenic man, Demetrios’ tenure was less turbulent and more long-lived but he (like Iakovos decades earlier), had excellent relations with the Orthodox Church in America, and even forced their inclusion into the newly-formed Episcopal Assembly of the United States.  This did not sit well with Bartholomew who had long viewed that American church’s grant of autocephaly by Moscow as a thorn in the flesh.  Predictably, Demetrios was forced out in 2019, to be replaced by the Metropolitan of Bursa, Elpidophoros Lambrianides.  

For many, the question is why has the Ecumenical Patriarch behaved in such a high-handed manner?  His curious interpretations of obscure canons as well as the crafting of novel doctrines which aggrandized his authority struck many as pretentious and self-serving.  Some worried that he was creating an Eastern papacy.  They continue to do so.  Needless to say, his actions weren’t particularly well-received by the rest of the Orthodox world who found his brazen attempts to craft new autocephalies in already-existing local churches shocking.

In Ukraine, this has caused a deep fissure bringing Orthodoxy to the precipice of schism.  

Unless historical events change to justify his ecclesiology, the most charitable assessment of his archpastorate at present is that it is one that has been mired in controversy.  The question before us today is where will he go from here?  

According to his calendar, Patriarch Bartholomew is supposed to go to  Ukraine next month, where he will implement diocesan changes in that country.  Presumably, he will do this by sacking some bishops, relocating others, and demanding obedience from the rest.  Regardless, it is hard to see how he will succeed, given that (1) there was no groundswell for support for an autocephalous church in the first place, and (2) Metropolitan Onuphriy of Kiev has only gained more sympathy from the rest of the Orthodox world.  The reality on the ground is that the average Ukrainian is firmly in Onuphriy’s camp. Prudence would indicate that given the precarious political nature of Ukraine, he would be wise to take all of these things into account.  (

How chaotic are things in the Ukraine?  Presently, there are three Metropolitans of Kiev:  Onuphriy Berezovsky, who is universally recognized as the legitimate primate; Epiphany Dumenko (Bartholomew’s uncanonical candidate); and the extremely colorful Philaret Denisenko, the man who singlehandedly precipitated the entire Ukrainian crisis in the first place.   In order to placate Denisenko, Bartholomew made him “Patriarch Emeritus” of Ukraine, a move which satisfied no one and in fact, only served to anger Denisenko.

In November, Bartholomew is slated to come to America.  Rumors abound that he will “bless” the new charter for the GOA and force the retirement of the existing metropolitans, replacing each with a bishop.  The seats will be filled with several unknown monks who were recently brought to the United States by Elpidophoros and placed strategically near the archdiocesan headquarters. 

In addition, he is to consecrate the St Nicholas Shrine in New York City, roughly approximating the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of its destruction.  His agenda is not set in stone and neither is St Nicholas.  It remains an incomplete eyesore, horrendously over budget.  Even worse, it has no set date for opening.  As for the prospects for jurisdictional unity in America, they appear to be remote.

Finally, Bartholomew was supposed to pay a visit to Cuba after his American sojourn.  One can only speculate as to why.  As a revolutionary society, it is an abject failure and no longer holds much allure even for the Third World.  We have since learned that this leg of the journey was “postponed”.  

Perhaps his declining health precludes it.  If the cancellation of the Cuban leg of his North American journey is any indication, then we can say that his plans remain fluid, especially if any prospective successes in the United States remain elusive. 

This hesitancy is viewed positively in some circles.  One reason would be the fact that should he proceed to execute his plans for Ukraine, he runs the very real risk of provoking a worldwide schism within the Orthodox Church.  As is known, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church is scheduled to meet in November of this year.  Metropolitan Onuphriy of Kiev sits on that body and no doubt any further intrusions in his archdiocese will be viewed most unfavorably.  

As a Christian bishop resident in a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim in population, it cannot be overlooked that despite Bartholomew’s tight grip on the reins of power within his patriarchate, he is ultimately a hostage to events and not a driver of them.  Try as he might, he cannot escape his circumstances; neither the size of his patriarchate (which is minuscule) nor the usually hostile Turkish government allows him any such luxury.  As such, he has no real power; a fact which is obvious even to those who surround him.  Flowery titles for metropolitans of extinct dioceses to the contrary, some of the bishops have the remarkable latitude to engage in their own whims and caprices while others engage in internecine squabbles. 

His putative heir, Metropolitan Emanuel Adamakis of Chalcedon for example, has not taken Turkish citizenship (which is a requirement for elevation to the patriarchal throne); instead he has purchased a home in one of the northern suburbs of Athens, a move that was met with anger by the Turkish government.  Already there is jockeying for position among certain metropolitans, which the Turkish government is using to its advantage (

Ultimately, we don’t know what the future holds.   Of course, we hope for his health, yet despite his longevity on the throne, the time will come when a more sober analysis of his legacy will take place.  Presently, all we can say is that he is viewed in some circles as a man of progressive vision, one who took the necessary steps to bring some semblance of order as far as inter-Orthodox relations are concerned.  His championship of the local Episcopal Assemblies, for example, has merit, at least as far as the diaspora is concerned.  Likewise his granting of autocephaly to the local church in Albania was rightly lauded and overdue.  

Not that he was a lone actor; it was Elpidophoros’ mission to bring the other American jurisdictions into the Constantinopolitan fold.  This would have been one of the crowning achievements of Bartholomew had Elpidophoros been able to do so, as it would have invalidated the autocephaly of the OCA.  (That said, the OCA has divested itself of its properties in Syosset and is moving its headquarters to Washington, DC,  move which, if anything, would be congruent Orthodox ecclesiology regarding the placement of a headquarters for a national church.)

That being said, the record is mixed, at best.  His still-born “Great and Holy Council” has not resolved anything despite all protestations to the contrary and even its votaries have quietly forgotten it.

As for his heavy-handed intrusion into Ukraine, it is hard to imagine how it could be viewed in a benign light.  The fact that several “mini-Ukraines,” (e.g. Macedonia and Montenegro), wait in the wings has likewise galvanized opposition to him in Balkan circles.  This newfound arrogance seems to be in lock-step with American hegemonic ambitions and does not sit well with many in the Orthodox world.  Especially so given the fact that American geopolitical hegemony is no longer cloaked in the mantle of freedom as it was during the days of the Cold War, but in unsettling, ultra-liberal ideas.

And then there is the elephant in the room, which is the deliberate steps that Bartholomew has taken with regard to union with Rome.  It’s ironic but instead of healing the Great Schism, should he take this step, then schisms within schisms will erupt in ways that would be difficult to contain.

As for this last venture, time is probably not on Bartholomew’s side.  This might explain his headlong rush into Ukraine, his desire to unite all of the American jurisdictions under him, and the ill-advised granting of autocephalies in the Balkans (to say nothing about Ukraine).

However, it is unity with Rome that remains the long-awaited jewel for his earthly crown.  He will accept nothing less before he goes.  None of the other men who are his possible successors possess the stature to execute such ambitious plans and there is little time to teach them.        

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.  There is no middle ground.”

Fiery Words from a Metropolitan

Metropolitan Ambrose (ret.) of northern Greece has strong words to say to the current hierarchy. Here is an excerpt of a recent statement where the bishop denounces the draconian measures that the Greek synod took to shut down the parishes during the pandemic.

“We have seen metropolises locking churches and threatening priests.

We have seen masks in front of the Holy Altar, before the holy icons and the holy relics streaming with grace, gloved hands of clergymen handing out antidoron, many times in inappropriate containers and elders protecting their stole from being kissed.

We have seen a single-use disposable spoon for distributing of the immaculate Body and Blood of our Christ.

We saw the Lord “resurrected” on the second day.1 (parishes conducting the Liturgy well before midnight on Holy Saturday.)

We have seen bishops prohibit the sacrament of Confession.

A new religion has been established and the Mysteries of Christ have been defiled, the consequence of long-standing violations of the Holy Rudder, the Canons of the Fathers, and the Gospel itself.

Holy bishops: You have become more royal than the king. [“Holier than the Pope” -tr.]

You have done more to tear down our faith and deny us Christ, with greater zeal and wrath than the anti-Christian government rules.

You lead the Church into schism.

And when a few pious clergymen resist this demonic atheistic current, reverently offering the Gifts of the Holy Mysteries as before, as immaculate as they received them from Holy Orthodoxy Tradition, with faith and trusting in the Lord, they are given a beating with the bishop’s staff – beaten with suspension, beaten with transfer, beaten by removing their offikia [clergy ranks], beaten with citations from prosecutors.

You punish pious priests. You punish the people of God by depriving them of the salvific Gifts of the Mysteries, or you make them available under certain conditions – conditions that defile and are irreverent toward the Holy Trinity. With masks, with distances and with a limited number of people, you sin against the Holy Spirit.

And the pulpits fell silent. They stopped echoing the word of Truth. They are no longer bases of Orthodox struggle. Instead, they echo government decisions and medical ultimatums. Vaccine advertising campaigns and unholy measures are broadcast by preachers and bishops.


And you demand obedience to the Church?

What is the Church? The hierarchy and the clergy? Not the people?

What does Tradition teach us?”

This holy metropolitan expresses my own sentiments about the knee-jerk reaction of our clergy and hierarchs at the beginning of the pandemic here in these United States. Nervous about the possible consequences to the physical health of their flocks, and submissive to the bureaucrats who demanded compliance with strict public directives, our Church leaders seemed to roll over and play dead. It was as if they were mindless of the consequences that long adherence to such drastic measures might have to the spiritual health of their people. Orthodox Christians have been deprived of the salvific properties of the holy mysteries for too long and have suffered from the deprivation. A year and half on, there are still some obstacles to church attendance and the reception of communion. How long will these last? When will the government use some future emergency to demand that parishes shut their doors again, now that they know that they can control us? The tail seems to be wagging the dog. Not good. Not good at all.

Meanwhile, it is certainly no substitute for the real thing for parishioners to sit on the couch, sip their Sunday morning coffee, and casually watch their parish’s Sunday Liturgy streamed on the Internet. It is as if they are now distant spectators of the sport that they used to play on the field. Thus the clergy of the ancient Faith, with the full cooperation of the parish councils, have inadvertently trained the people to do something novel, and while watching the service on the tube may be of some consolation to a few shut-ins, it is no improvement for those who are now capable of getting back to church to struggle like good Orthodox again and humbly receive the sacraments for the benefit of their eternal health.

Petition by the Laity for ONE American Orthodox Church

With all due respect to our bishops, we laity find the present divisions within our beloved Orthodox Church to be intolerable. Saint Paul admonished the early Church, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Contrary to our Lord’s will (e.g., Mark 9:50; John 17:22-23), it seems that some of our hierarchs fail to make progress toward the oneness of the Church a sufficiently high priority. Therefore, it falls upon us laity, as well as the clergy who wish to join their voices with ours, to make our heartfelt concerns heard. It is our hope that if the sheep bleat loudly enough, then they they will get our shepherds’ attention and care (John 21:16). For the sake of our Christian witness to the world, we humbly but urgently request that the following actions be taken with all due expediency in order to restore unity to the Orthodox Church in our nation and around the world:

World Orthodox Unity

1. The patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople must overcome their differences and be reconciled to each other. This requires a swift resolution to the non-canonical and contentious situation in Ukraine, where there are two national Orthodox Churches: the traditional Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). If this devastating state of affairs and the consequent rift in the Orthodox Church cannot be resolved in a timely manner through diplomatic channels between the two patriarchates, then it should be resolved by the decision of a pan-orthodox council.

2. A pan-orthodox council should be convened as soon as possible with participation by all Orthodox jurisdictions without exception. The purpose of this council would be to resolve all of the following longstanding issues that contribute to disharmony within the Orthodox Church:

(a) It must be clarified as to what extent the Patriarchate of Constantinople has authority to make decisions that affect the worldwide Orthodox Church.

(b) The confusing division within the Orthodox Church caused by disparate observance of the two ecclesiastical calendars must be resolved.

(c) In consideration of the fact that the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Orthodox Churches have come to a mutually agreeable resolution of their past theological differences, the Oriental Orthodox should be welcomed into full eucharistic communion with the Orthodox Church.

(d) It must be resolved what are, and what are not, appropriate ecumenical relationships with non-Orthodox Christian institutions and with organizations of other creeds. Ecumenical overtures should be made first to the ecclesial bodies which have the closest theological and practical affinity with the Orthodox.

American Orthodox Unity

3. The Assembly of Orthodox Canonical Bishops should formulate a concrete plan with an approximate timeline that specifies steps that will be taken toward establishing a unified American Orthodox Church. This plan should contain the following resolutions regarding longstanding issues that have caused disharmony between the Orthodox jurisdictions in America:

(a) There must be an end to the current non-canonical situation in which more than one ruling bishop presides over a specific municipal area and its environs. There should no longer be any overlapping jurisdictions.

(b) All parish and monastery worship services (including sermons, Bible readings, and hymns) must be served in English alone, or in the vernacular tongue of the local community. Services may be provided in a foreign language only as a rare exception.

(c) There should be uniform and official service books published in English for every Orthodox parish and monastery in America, according to the rite used.

(d) The Western Rite should be a fully-accepted alternative to the Byzantine Rite.

(e) Ethnic designations (e.g., “Greek,” “Russian,” “Antiochian,” etc.) must be removed from the names of Orthodox parishes and monasteries operating in America. Ethnic designations may be retained on legal documents if deemed unavoidable.

(f) Parochial and diocesan budgets should no longer have line-item expenses for ethnic cultural activities and language instruction. Parishioners may contribute separately to those activities, if they so desire.

(g) Western European saints from before the time of the 1054 schism, and American saints should and be given the same consideration for commemoration as are the saints from traditionally Orthodox lands.

The Editors

(All readers who would like to sign the petition are urged to “like” and comment below.)

St. Bart’s Redux


GOARCH’s Abp. Elpidophoros with St. Bart’s rector, Bp. Dean E. Wolfe

As if to add insult to injury, Abp. Elpidophoros returned on July 3 to St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue. This is the same “St. Bart’s” where the archbishop and his entourage had served the Divine Liturgy to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Patriarch Bartholomew’s reign from Istanbul…err…Constantinople. At that occasion on June 11, the archbishop in his non-homily lavished obsequious praise upon his boss saying, “He is a living Apostle of love, peace and reconciliation”. Yeah, tell that to Metropolitan Onuphry and the faithful in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who have endured ecclesiastical schism, theft of church properties and sometimes even physical violence. That mayhem has been caused indirectly by Pat. Bartholomew’s meddling in Ukrainian politics. Auwe!, as the Hawaiians say. “No!”

This time, Abp. Elpidophoros was at St. Bart’s in a more personal capacity to visit with their rector, Bp. Dean E. Wolfe. The purple shirt you see is the indication of episcopal ordination. Wolfe used to be the bishop ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas for the thirteen years from 2004 to 2017. Like many TEC dioceses around the country, it is a little liberal oasis in a conservative state. Bp. Wolfe cut a notch in his belt when “he officiated (at) the first authorized Episcopal same-sex marriage in the diocese.” (St. Bart’s website) Of course, there is no such thing. St. Bart’s is a large congregation fully a quarter the size of the whole rural Diocese of Kansas. Wolfe must feel quite at home at that megachurch, where they are actively queering midtown Manhattan.

Regarding the tete a tete, the archbishop said “Ecumenical dialogue and collaborations are vital witnesses to Christ’s teaching and ministry.” We all want unity amongst Christians, but true ecumenism will never compromise the Truth of the Faith in order to make nice with heretics. The stricter kind will seek the return of schismatics to the Orthodox Church. It almost sounds unAmerican to say that, but it’s the inconvenient truth. By revisiting St. Bart’s, the archbishop emphasized his desire to grow closer to the Episcopal Church despite the repugnance of TEC’s promotion of the LGBTQ+ whatever-in-hell-turns-you-on agenda. That is the impression that one is left with.

Certainly a seasoned politician like Abp. Elpidophoros knows well that repeat association with heretics like Bp. Wolfe telegraphs a tacit agreement with their teachings. That, in turn, implies an abandonment of the Orthodox teaching that stands in stark contrast to the heresy. God forbid. We cannot but conclude that the archbishop is sending the wrong message to his faithful followers. Please, we don’t need this, Your Eminence – not after the unprecedented destabilization caused by the events of the last year and a half. Not now.

This author is – used to be – a cradle Episcopalian and Anglican priest who felt the need to leave his beloved denomination because it had abandoned Christian morality. It was not without having first made sacrifices that I renounced my ordination and submitted to (re)baptism as a layman in the Orthodox Church. Imagine my disappointment to see our venerable archbishop flirting in his official capacity with the very Episcopalian heretics with whom I felt the need to part company. Auwe!