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.  (https://www.helleniscope.com/2021/07/28/massive-crowds-celebrate-the-baptism-of-the-rus-in-kyiv/)

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 (https://orthodoxtimes.com/turkish-games-aimed-at-the-phanar/)

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.”

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.


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.

Shame!

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.

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