Japan on New Year’s Eve

It’s New Years Eve. I’m sitting here alone at my computer doing a little research into the canons of the ecumenical councils. Yes, of course, canon research is what everybody does on New Year’s Eve (!) Anyhow, I am starting to sense the sobriety of the ancient bishops who met in council and the rigor which they applied to church discipline. That has set me in a somber mood.

It’s a sobering mood that takes me back to my young adulthood when I used to live in Japan. Japan certainly is not an Orthodox country, as we know. It’s nominally Buddhist, but very few observe Buddhist praxis. The Japanese tend to be suspicious of all religions. Many are not aware that their family belongs to a certain temple until a relative dies and the monk from the local temple is called to perform the requisite prayers. But, Buddhism has a long history in Japan and there are countless Buddhist temples. Even for those who do not adhere to Buddhist teachings, the temples are perfectly-constructed, commanding edifices and the temple grounds are spacious and well kept. They offer a welcome respite from the endless industry which is the bustling Japanese city.

Buddhist monk strikes temple bell.

My mind drifts back to New Year’s Eves past. Many years ago, my family and I lived in a small city in the Japan Alps, where we would sit on the matted floor in a small room warming ourselves near the kerosene stove, mindful of the chilly outer darkness. We could hear the deep resonance of the tolling of the temple bell off in the distance. Temple bells are massive things made of bronze and when they are struck head on with a wooden beam they make a thundering sound that can be heard from afar. You seldom hear the sound of the bell except on New Year’s Eve, when the monks strike it slowly and resolutely. 108 times.

One hundred and eight strikes enumerate the number of passions, in Orthodox parlance, by which flesh is encumbered. Each dong of the bell is meant to drive out one passion from the soul, purifying the listener. The last strike is struck just past midnight.

A.D. 2021 has been an awful year when compared to some former years. Not 2020, of course. We need to pause and consider why our sovereign Lord has allowed evil to happen in our nation. Since the Orthodox Fathers teach us that we are all one and interrelated, we should ponder how much we ourselves have been partly to blame for what has befallen us. “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” That line in John Donne’s poem, “No Man is an Island” takes on a deeper meaning when we consider the ramifications of our connection to each other. I look forward to a 2022, not with a blithe hope, but with a sense of penitence and anticipation of spiritual blessings to come. If we draw nigh to God, he will draw nigh to us. (James 4:8)

It’s Not Funny Anymore

I’m going to pass along to you this blog posting written by Abbot Tryphon, and then I am going to comment on it. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t find the good abbot’s words so disturbing. But, what is more disturbing than his words is the fact that Facebook removed them after the abbot posted them on his page. Here it is:

“I have chosen not to bless my monks, nor my spiritual children, to take the vaccine. I do not think any vaccine will prevent anyone from getting Covid, and I have read with increased horror as the evidence has become increasingly clear within the scientific community that this vaccine is in reality causing the spread of this virus within the human community, while preventing natural immunity.

The evidence is clear that those doctors and scientists who see the vaccines as unproven, and even dangerous long term, are being silenced by their colleagues within the scientific community. For those who understand science, we know that science is not like history, for it is ever changing as more is discovered. Yet we have certain individuals within the scientific community suppressing dissidence, crushing anyone who would disagree with their take on the pandemic.

We Orthodox know that God sometimes visits upon us wars and plagues as a way of calling us out of our darkness and sin. We know that God arranges such things as a way of waking us up to that which is of eternal value.

It seems clear to me that this world-wide pandemic comes from the Evil One. Nothing in my lifetime has caused such fear among the masses of people, world wide. This season that normally leads to gatherings of family and friends around the table in celebration of the Nativity of Our Salvation, has instead seen the closure of churches, and families banning their unvaccinated members from joining them in celebration. It has seen clergy closing their churches out of fear, not remembering that it is the gathering within our churches that has alway brought about the healing that is so needed during times of trial.

Saint Luke the Surgeon, Archbishop of Simferopol, a bishop that the Soviets chose not to execute because he was considered one of the finest surgeons in Russia, and was therefore needed by the Soviet State, recommended Holy Water as the cure for what ails us.

“Drink Holy Water, the more often, the better. It is the best and most effective medicine. I’m not saying this as a priest, I’m saying it as a doctor, from my medical experience.”

At seventy-six years of age, I am no spring chicken, as they say. Yet I have chosen to trust God to keep me safe during this pandemic. I therefore add holy water to every glass of water I drink during the day, and I anoint myself with the miraculous myrrh of the holy icon of the Theotokos of Hawaii, every day.

Additionally, I consume the Holy Body and Blood of my Saviour during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, with the full knowledge that in doing so I am receiving healing of body and soul. If I should die from a virus that was intentionally introduced by the godless leaders of China, with the intention of conquering the West, and creating a one world government, so be it.

In my weakness, I pray on a daily basis that the Lord will never let me deny Him, even unto my last breath. I put my trust in God, and not in the “scientific and medical” authorities who are hell bent on controlling everyone, including church leaders. I trust only in the mercy of my Lord.

We monks are grateful that we have an opportunity to serve the Divine Liturgy and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet we also realize that many others are not so fortunate. Many churches have closed their doors to the faithful, fearful that the Corona virus will infect their people if they should gather before the Throne of God, in worship. In truth, we should only fear God.

I would conclude by pointing out that the mandatory and dictatorial push for the vaccine by governments and companies around the world is clear evidence that this vaccine is of the devil. Let us stand strong in our resistance to the goddess authorities, and let us renew our commitment to Jesus Christ, and to the eternal truth that resides within the Life of the Church.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon”

Abbot Tryphon

I dare say that few people can read what the abbot has written and blithely go about their business. Those who have a robust faith in the miraculous potions of Orthodoxy will agree with the abbot. I worship in the very temple where the myrrh-streaming icon of the Holy Theotokos of Iveron is kept, and I have heard the testimonies of many people who have been healed by its effectuality.

Others who have faith in Christ, but pride themselves on their rationality may admit that God can heal the sick, or prevent sickness, but they wouldn’t consider the refusal of vaccines to be a normal course of action. They wouldn’t recommend the daily regimen that Abbot Tryphon speaks of when he talks about mixing holy water and anointing himself with myrrh.

Of course, the great masses who make up the rest of mankind will consider the abbot to be some sort of nut to refuse to take the vaccine and to substitute holy potions in its place. They will think him thoroughly irresponsible to refuse permission for his close followers to do the same. I have to scoff at that. I spent several days late this summer with Abbot Tryphon and his four monks. Trust me when I say that he and they are all very down-to-earth men. The abbot is elderly and a bit frail, but his mental faculties are still very sharp. He wouldn’t be withholding his blessing if he didn’t have a good reason to do so.

I’m a bit younger than the abbot, but it resonates with me when he says, “It seems clear to me that this world-wide pandemic comes from the Evil One. Nothing in my lifetime has caused such fear among the masses of people, world wide.” He can say that again. I’m sure that he and I are not alone when we say that nothing has caused so many people to cower in such fear as this pandemic has. What is the cause of that fear? I dare say that a disease from which almost everyone recovers, unless he is old or chronically ill, could not possibly cause the panic that we have seen in the last two years if it weren’t for the propaganda to which we have been subjected.

Those who have positions of public trust, like our sorry excuse for a president, like his medical bureaucrats, like the pharmaceutical executives who have profited so handsomely, and others who have made a fortune and use that influence to manipulate the flow of information – they are the ones who have caused the panic, the like of which neither Abbot Tryphon nor I have ever witnessed before in our long lives.

Yes, a lot of people have died from contracting the virus, but a lot of other people have died for need of medical treatment refused them for unrelated conditions because of the hospitals’ reaction to the pandemic. What about those who have cancer or diabetes but were not able to get an appointment? Have we considered the curse of mental disease caused by the irrational fear of this sickness and the inability to fraternize? How many children have suffered from depression and even committed suicide partly because the teachers’ unions refused to allow them into class? How many thousands of mom-and-pop business owners have suffered the devastating loss of their livelihoods because the government would not allow customers to enter their shops? How many Orthodox Christians have learned to stay home from church on Sundays and disregard the need of their souls for the healing powers of the holy mysteries?

Forgive me when I say that I have had a knot in my stomach over this irrational groupthink. And, I’ve had it for nigh on two years. Grown men have been emasculated; women are nervous wrecks. Over what? The pandemic is mostly over. Omicron isn’t much worse than a cold. But don’t tell that to the replacement governor of New York. And, don’t tell Facebook; otherwise they may shut you down the way that they have done to Abbot Tryphon. The manipulation and censorship aren’t funny anymore.

This is what we have lost during this pandemic: our trust in a government that constricts our freedom to do and say whatever we used to be able to say or do; our trust in large institutions outside of government, like the media, that act as though they were the fourth branch of government; our trust even in some of our hierarchs who so gullibly complied with the agenda and restricted our access to the institution which was more essential than anything else during this godawful time.

“I would conclude by pointing out that the mandatory and dictatorial push for the vaccine by governments and companies around the world is clear evidence that this vaccine is of the devil.” So says the abbot.

The pandemic may, for all intents and purposes be over, even if these institutions disagree. But now that they know that it doesn’t take much to strike fear into the hearts of Americans, even Orthodox Christians, then they will continue to cajole us, and if possible, force us to take the inoculation. And the booster. The more they do that, the less inclined we should be to comply, regardless of the purported benefit of the vaccine. We should avoid them as much as we can simply because they have done everything that they can do to force it on us. From such an ugly despotism, all Christians of good conscience should flee. Once this is over, don’t think for a moment that they won’t grasp the next opportunity to steal our sanity and our faith again, if they are able.

But, let’s not give up hope. God is with us now more than ever and we can expect him to bestow extraordinary blessings on those who are faithful throughout this time. In the end, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And the despots shall have their comeuppance.

Staying and Standing

A certain commenter on another blogsite has recently said, “Stand up for what you believe in peacefully and with conviction INSIDE YOUR CHURCH!!!” It’s a familiar plea, and one not without merit.

Alright, let’s make sure we know what she is talking about here. The word “church” is one of the vaguest of all terms in the English language. It simply must be defined properly. Since the commenter uses all capital letters, it’s impossible to know whether she means “church” or “Church”. The word “church”, beginning with a small “c”, normally means the building belonging to the local congregation of a parish (The parish originally referred to a district or a county, as it does in Louisiana.). It may mean the community of believers that meet in that building. Is that what she means? On the other hand, “Church” with a capital “C” refers rather to the legal denomination or, more theologically, to the mystically body of Christ, the family of God, or the bride of Christ. In other words, the Church, both seen and unseen, militant, expectant and triumphant.

I’m going to venture a guess and suppose she means “church” with immediate reference to one’s own parish. It’s where one goes on Sundays. Since she mentions in her comment the monks of Mt. Athos and the Ephraimite monasteries, let’s take a leap and make the assumption that she is talking about a parish of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

GOARCH is led by two heresiarchs, schismatics, ecumenists, and globalists. I think you know their names. Now, many people know that these men are a big problem for GOARCH, a ‘yuge problem, as they say in the Big Apple. However, parishioners blithely think that they can compartmentalize. They say to themselves that those men are in New York and Istanbul, and I am here, so I can keep my distance from them.

That is only partially true. And there’s the rub. The parishioner who vehemently disagrees with, for example the patriarch’s ultra vires meddling in Ukraine, or the archbishop’s worldly reaction to the pandemic, and yet, while disagreeing, continues to receive the Holy Gifts in his/her Greek parish and make stewardship contributions and volunteer to help, is tacitly supporting the radical hierarchy and confirming GOARCH’s now-shaky canonicity.

Such a willing parishioner is unwittingly acting as a part of the problem, not as a part of the solution to the problem. If one has the most elemental understanding of Catholic/Orthodox ecclesiology, one will know that the bishop is the sine qua non of the Church (capital “C”). Without the bishop, there is no Church, for it is he who is the successor to the apostles sent out by Christ himself to build his Church. (N.B. patriarchs, archbishops, metropolitans, diocesans, auxiliaries and suffragans are all just bishops, in essence.) The parishioner who is so conjoined to a Greek parish, who listens to the teachings there and who receives its sacraments, is in bed with these bishops. That is because the priest who serves in that parish serves as the bishop’s vicar. The mysteries that he serves he serves in the bishop’s stead, since the bishop cannot be at every parish in his diocese on any given Sunday morning. This is an unavoidable truth, whether or not the parishioner agrees with the priest or others in the parish on the current issues. By his/her mere presence and participation in parish worship he is telegraphing his support.

Do we think we can maintain our independence by simply staying and praying. Or, do we think that we can change things by speaking and acting in a disruptive manner? Can we get the bishop to repent? Or to resign? Or to be deposed? Can we get the priest or the parish council on board with us in opposition? Well, maybe, but probably not. It will do little more than ruffle clerical and “archonical” feathers. We may run afoul of the parish council.

I’ve tried all of those things recently and have little to show for it, except for the hope that the statements about where I stand got some of them to think and search their hearts. God alone can change the hearts of those who have been deceived. He alone can rearrange their erroneous thinking. Best to make your argument known publicly and dispassionately, and then to depart and work out your own salvation in a more orthodox branch of the Church, in peace and repentance if you can. Unless you are in possession of a particular type of personality, the cognitive dissonance or staying in and yet wishing things were different will lead to a disruption of the hesychastic spirit for which all Orthodox strive.

The commenter says, “We may go to another Orthodox jurisdiction but we must stay within the Church!” With that, of course, I fully agree. Not everyone will be able to make the necessary switch in parishes, but those who can make it should make it. Almost any other canonical Orthodox denomination is to be preferred over GOARCH at this point in time. But, God help us if the other jurisdictions succumb to the heretical sirens of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, so proud is it of its supposèd supremacy and numerical plurality.

Gratifying

I’ve just returned from the mainland and I am able to say that I was gratified. The trip itself was nothing to write home about, but the interactions that I observed between people of differing races and ethnicities were gratifying. My wife and I traveled to Detroit, Atlanta and Charleston for the first three of many stops which later included Phoenix and Tucson. Those first three cities have large populations of what is now necessary to call “African Americans”. With no intention to prove a point one way or the other, I witnessed a reassuring phenomenon: black and white people getting along as though there were no difference in the colors of their skin or the features of their physiognomy. The same was true for the personal interactions of native-born Americans with immigrants whose English is sometimes hard to understand. And, there are a lot of them in our ever-boiling melting pot. A lot of people have come to our shores to seek opportunity.

Black and white hands joined together

From Detroit, we moved on to Atlanta and stayed in a hotel run by a black staff. The guest services were very helpful. Then we hopped on down to the coast and checked into a hotel in Charleston. A foursome was having breakfast at the table next to ours. Three whites and one black were having a good old time together. I talked to the very dark young lady behind the front desk there about the tenor of race relations in the nation. I asked her, “Our president says that America a systemically racist country. Do you agree with him?” She paused and considered the question. Then she said with soft confidence, “No.”

We flew back to Detroit, where my wife had to get a Covid test done in short order before her flight to East Asia. We had no wheels, no knowledge of the city, and it was colder than cold for us tropic dwellers. Our ride share was driven by a guy called Jamel, an “army brat” turned entrepreneur. He and his wife own a transportation company. Without his dedication to good customer service, and his willingness to go the extra mile, we might never have found the right sort of clinic for the Covid test. While in the car, I told Jamel about how pleasantly surprised I was that people of differing races seemed to be getting along so well. He chuckled and said, “Yeah. We get along just fine.”

At the airport in Detroit waiting for the flight to the warm desert, I saw a black woman was busily manning the podium. “Are you all alone today?” I asked as I boarded the plane. She was demonstrably gratified that someone noticed she was by herself and needed help.

Mind you, these are nothing but anecdotal observations of race relations at ground level, where the rubber meets the road. I make no claim to scientific polling that would satisfy whatever objective standards they have in that field. But, I was gratified, and to me that is what counts. So what does this mean on a broader scale? If what I saw is representative of race relations across the board in our great nation, I would contend that the races really do get along. Am I naïve?

Bosom buddies

That raises the suspicion that the destructive forces from the dark side are constantly trying to disturb the relative tranquility between the races and stoke isolated incidents of racial tension into a raging fire of race hatred. And they do their best to magnify reportage of conflicts by getting coverage on the air, in the papers, and in the halls of government. If the focus comes in close on an incident of racial strife, then it can be blown out of proportion. They will even take a story like the Rittenhouse saga and twist it into a story about race if it will serve the purposes of their agenda. That is precisely what the charlatans need for expanded viewership, higher ratings and more advertising dollars.

What if their coverage is mostly illusion? Not all, perhaps, but mostly? What if it is true that, for the most part, people just approach each other as other people like themselves and treat them with the modicum of thoughtfulness that is called for in the moment? And, like Jamel, they go the extra mile to help a total stranger in a pickle. Then, the dark cynicism that ignores the decency and constantly tries to stir the pot is truly disturbing. Best to ignore it, and to oppose it when necessary.

John Calvin was an old curmudgeon whose first mistaken doctrine was the total depravity of man. Well, Calvin is long dead and the notion remains true that, while people are dogged by ancestral sin, they are mostly decent most of the time. And, for the sake of interpersonal relations on a day-to-day basis, that should be quite enough.

It’s Time to Go

For what it’s worth, I believe that it is time for all of us in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOARCH) to leave our parishes. I myself will be gone by the end of the year. Most others will decide to stay, but it would behoove them to seek a change in leadership. The reasons that compel me and many people like me to leave are not trivial matters. In this article, I will list my primary reasons for leaving. These are not just subjective reasons, as though this problem were mine alone. Rather, they are objective reasons that should be persuasive enough to convince anyone that staying in the GOARCH is a fool’s errand at best or a matter of guilt by association at worst.

“To all things innovated and enacted contrary to the Church tradition, teaching, and institution of the holy and ever-memorable fathers, or to anything henceforth so enacted, ANATHEMA.”

Synodicon of the Holy Spirit

This may sound outrageous, but I submit that Patriarch Bartholomew has become a schismatic and a heretic. He didn’t always used to be one. In 1995, when Patriarch Bartholomew was still fresh on the throne, he made a statement that supported normative Orthodox church polity.

“This system of administration of the Church’s affairs, based on the joint responsibility and decentralization that our Orthodox Church applies, fundamentally explains the fact that as much as is humanly possible, she preserves the ancient tradition intact. Because, in the absence of centralized administration and responsibility, in order to introduce an innovation in teaching or praxis, this must be agreed upon by all the bishops…”

Patriarch Bartholomew

That was then, but times have changed.

Patriarch Bartholomew can now be called a heretic for one incontrovertible reason. His contention that the throne of the patriarchate of Constantinople is primus sine paribus violates Holy Tradition. When Rome seceded from the Orthodox Church a millennium ago, the see of Constantinople took first place on the diptychs. Since then, the whole Church has been content to honor the patriarch of that city as primus inter pares, i.e., “first amongst equals”.

Bartholomew’s recent contention, however, is an innovation that cannot pass muster with the wider Church. Orthodox Church polity is one of conciliarity. The episcopal hierarchs together rule the local churches in a spirit of collegiality, and the clergy and laity have a stake in their governance. The novel notion of primus sine paribus, i.e., that the patriarch of Constantinople is somehow “first without equal” is an offense to the canons that establish equality amongst Orthodox hierarchs and an insult to other patriarchs and prelates. 

Patriarch Bartholomew has been chastised by the monks on Mt. Athos.

Bartholomew has been thirty years on his gilded throne. Over that long period of time, he has changed his tune. By fiat he has arrogated unto himself near-papal powers. He seems to think that he is an Eastern pope in a confederation of Churches that repudiates papism. As such a potentate, he mistakenly thinks that he represents the plenum of the Orthodox world when he naturally sidles up to the man who is everywhere called Pope: Francis of Rome. God hasten the day, of course, when the Roman Catholics will be once again reunited with the Orthodox Church. However, there are glaring disagreements between the two communions that simply cannot be overlooked in the process toward reunion. The first is the existence of the papacy itself. It’s a false claim that any one man can somehow consider himself to be the vicar of Christ, one who has hegemony over all the Christians in the world. That is Rome’s claim for itself, but such a claim is preposterous! We Orthodox don’t have a pope, and we don’t need anyone other than Jesus Christ himself as head of the worldwide Church.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople greet a small crowd.

Then there is the laundry list of the other mistaken dogmas and doctrines that prevent the reunion of the Roman Catholics with the true Catholic and Orthodox Church. Number one is the filioque clause in the Nicene creed, the erroneous statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. By unilaterally inserting the filioque into the Creed, the pope claimed an authority equivalent to that of an ecumenical council. There are other theological problems that simply must be solved before a true and honest unity can be declared between the two communions. Until then, any unity with Rome will be nothing more than a Potemkin village – all show and no substance. Constantinople may even be subordinated to a uniate position like the Eastern Catholics. It seems that Bartholomew is an old man in a hurry to enter into a union with Francis without counting the costs for his patriarchal see and, indeed, the entire Orthodox Church.

Ukraine’s Philaret & Constantinople’s Bartholomew

Patriarch Bartholomew is also a schismatic. He opened Pandora’s box in January of 2019 by illegally granting a tomos of autocephaly to a band of Ukrainian schismatics, and for appointing prelates who are nothing of the sort. He reaped the whirlwind by this act of defiance against Metropolitan Onuphry’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Countless people have suffered the loss of their precious parishes, and some have even suffered physical violence. What shepherd would do that to another shepherd’s sheep? Ukraine has long since ceased to be Constantinople’s bailiwick, but Bartholomew has gone meddling in its internal affairs anyway. As an American, I am ashamed that our own department of state has made use of the patriarch’s influence in Eastern Europe to prop up Ukraine as a bulwark against Russian geopolitical advances. Shame on us for breaching the wall that should have separated state from Church. Shame on Bartholomew for violating the canonical prohibition against extramural exertions of influence in a metropolis that was long ago – three and a third centuries ago – ceded to the oversight of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Now the ROC, which boasts 75% of the world’s Orthodox population, may soon cease recognition of Constantinople. The Church hasn’t experienced such a schism since the great one in 1054.

Archbishop Elpidophoros, being a loyal son of Patriarch Bartholomew, is also a heretic and a schismatic in my view.

Abp. Elpidophoros pontificating

Here is the primary reason that Elpidophoros is a heretic. It was he who made the spurious argument for Constantinople’s supremacy in the Orthodox world. In a misguided essay in 2014, he stated his hypothesis that Istanbul’s throne is primus sine paribus. To back that up, he assumed God the Father’s antiquity and supremacy over the other two persons of the Holy Trinity in an attempt to apply that metaphor to the prime authority of the Constantinopolitan throne over other patriarchates and metropolises. It does not work. The Athanasian Creed makes it crystal clear that the three persons of the Holy Trinity are coeternal and coequal, so using that argument to justify Bartholomew’s ambitions falls flat on its face. To deny that is heresy of the first order. Furthermore, his shoddy arguments betray Elpidophoros’ incompetence as a theologian. When the archbishop made his debut at our parish two years ago, I queried him on his hypothesis that Constantinople is first without equal, on Bartholomew’s Eastern papacy, and on his intrusions into Ukraine against the integrity of Metropolitan Onuphry’s Church. Elpidophoros had a rebuttal for every challenge, of course.

“One must not join in prayer with heretics or schismatics.”

Canon XXXIII of Laodicia

Elpidophoros is a schismatic. The most glaring example of that was his scandalous decision to celebrate the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist during Pride Month of this year in a blatantly unOrthodox house of worship, i.e. St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. That was beyond the pale. What an abomination it was for him to place the holy antimins on the altar of a radical Protestant parish that not only tolerates the sexual licentiousness of the LGBTQ movement, but actually promotes it! As a cradle Episcopalian, a former Anglican priest, and a convert to Orthodoxy, I was utterly disgusted to read of such an abomination and to see him attempt to make nice with those who trample upon Biblical morality. Elpidophoros ill-advised stunt was an outrage.

St. Bart’s Episcopal Church, Manhattan

In a previous blog post, I reported on my recent pilgrimage to Orthodox sites along the West Coast. Over the course of a month, I was fortunate to be welcomed into parishes and monasteries of various Orthodox jurisdictions. I sought the opinions of the clergy and faithful along my way. One priest commented that the misguided conduct of the patriarch and the archbishop did not take away from the benefit of the Eucharist. That sort of sloppy thinking doesn’t hold water. We are not a Congregational communion, where each parish stands on its own, independent of a hierarchy. We are the Catholic Church, in the original sense. It is essential that we understand the import of this doctrine of ours. I draw your attention to Archimandrite Cyprian’s statement themed: “What is the Church?”

1. The Church is the Assembly of the People of God for the celebration of the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, wherein the local Church actually becomes and is revealed as the Body of Christ, as a Theandric organism, in which the Holy Trinity dwells. (Cf. Ephesians 4:5-6 and I Corinthians 10:15-16)

2. The visible center and head of the Eucharistic Assembly is the Bishop: It is he who leads the Assembly and preaches the word of God; it is he who offers the Eucharist, as an Icon of Christ, the Great High Priest, and as the one who presides in the place of God, according to St. Ignatios of Antioch. (Epistle to the Magnesians, VI.1)

3. In the early Church, only the Bishop offered the Divine Eucharist in each local Church; that is, there was only one Eucharist, and this was centered on the Bishop. (Epistle to the Magnesians, VII.2)

4. The Bishop, when he offers the Divine Eucharist, offers Christ in His wholeness, imparting the Holy Mysteries to the Faithful with his own hands; in ancient times, the People of God partook of Christ only from the living Icon of Christ, the Bishop. (St. Hippolytos of Rome, The Apostolic Tradition, 22)

5. Therefore, the Bishop not only embodies the local Church, but also expresses in time and space the Catholic Church, that is, the whole Church; for that which embodies Christ in His wholeness, and wherein one receives Christ in His wholeness, is that which embodies the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Wherever Jesus Christ is, says St. Ignatios, there is the Catholic Church. (St. Ignatios, Epistle to the Smyrnans, VIII.2)

6. For precisely this reason, when one is united with the Bishop in the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, then he is also united with the Catholic Church. St. Cyprian of Carthage emphasizes this ecclesiological truth in the following striking terms: The Bishop is in the Church and the Church in the Bishop; and if one is not in communion with the Bishop, he is not in the Church. 

Archimandrite Cyprian

We are one interconnected Body of Christ. The ordinations and the other sacraments of the Catholic Church flow from Christ through the bishop to the priest and the deacon. The principle of ex opere operato still applies. In other words, the efficacy of sacramental actions does not depend upon the moral uprightness of the celebrant of those sacraments. Nevertheless, there is a point at which the locus of sacramental validity, i.e., the bishop, once upon a time duly elevated to his office, has subsequently strayed so far from Tradition that the sacraments celebrated under his omophorion no longer have validity. Where and when that happens is impossible to tell unless the Church makes a declaration as to such. It is a thorny theological question indeed whether the sacraments of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese are still valid, led as the Church is by Bartholomew and Elpidophoros. That gives one reason for pause.

Metropolitan Onuphry of Ukraine

The bishop is the sine qua non of the Church. Without him, there can be no Church. Extrapolating from Archimandrite Cyprian’s definition of the Church and his high view of the episcopacy, I cannot help but find my spirit outside of the Church – or its Greek Orthodox expression in my country – for I cannot wholeheartedly embrace my bishops’ leadership of it. So, I find myself in a vexing conundrum. After all the water that has gone over the dam in the last three years, I am a sheep who no longer recognizes its shepherds’ voice, for I do not perceive in their words and actions the voice of our great and good shepherd, Christ himself. God forgive me if I am wrong, but since I cannot bring myself to honor our bishops, I cannot go on as a member of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. I have written to Abp. Elpidophoros to ask him why he did what he did at St. Bart’s. He has not answered me. I have dithered for months, hoping that he would repent, but since he has not it’s time for me to leave. And, since Pat. Bartholomew has recently finished his victory lap in our country without a hint of penitence, I have even more reason to leave. His arrogance astounds me.

I myself will sound arrogant to some. They may think that I should stay and pray. May they please note that I have not reached this conclusion hastily, but rather have tried to give the hierarchs every benefit of the doubt. In the 1980s and ’90s, I was an Anglican who was devastated by the heresy and rapid downfall of the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the ill effect that it had on the whole Anglican Communion. I was pushed out of TEC because I would not sign on to their immoral agenda. It broke my heart, but I had to leave. Others may have the stomach for what they now see the hierarchy doing to the Greek Orthodox Church in this country. It may sound like an exaggeration, but like a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, I find myself flinching at the outrageous claims and misguided actions of these two high-profile hierarchs, Bartholomew and Elpidophoros. Having seen what is plain for all to see, I for one am suspicious of every action that they take. For me to go on in submission to such heretical and schismatic bishops would be an act of continued support when, in truth, I no longer support them. I don’t want to gamble with my eternal salvation. What about you, dear reader?

Holy Tradition

When I became Orthodox, I committed myself to Holy Tradition. I am endeavoring to remain committed to that Tradition. I cannot in good conscience remain under the omophorion of Bartholomew and Elpidophoros for that reason. What is needed now is for the hierarchs outside of GOARCH to condemn Bartholomew and Elpidophoros for deviating from Tradition and to call upon them to renounce their heresies and schisms.

Finally, to the affairs of my own parish. I sit on the parish council, of which I am the secretary. For the last two years, I have been in the uncomfortable position of cooperating in the shutting down and subsequent reopening of the parish during the current pandemic. I witnessed the utter capitulation of Metropolitan Gerasimos, and our priest and council to the strictest of all health mandates set forth by the ecclesiastical, state or local authorities. For several weeks in the spring and summer of last year our people were denied access to the life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ simply because attending the Divine Liturgy was a perceived threat to their health. That’s double-speak. How can the prime agent of Life make one sick, unless it is not received in the proper disposition? Even now, with the spread of the viral variants, there are still cumbersome protocols in place that have the net effect of obstacles in the way of worship. These things ought not to be. How long will this go on?

Church closed

In so doing, our parish leadership has strained a gnat to swallow a camel. In their ostensibly responsible effort to protect the physical health of the people – or simply to avoid the liability of lawsuits – they have denied spiritual health to the people by restricting reception of the medicine of immortality. Auwe! My own objections have been ignored by the worldly mindset of the other people who sit on the parish council and the docile nature of our parish priest. In GOARCH, it doesn’t take much provocation for the priest to mysteriously disappear overnight, so he has been cautious. The sheep have been scattered and their shepherd is tasked with gathering them back into the sheep pen. Our attendance has been decimated. Who knows if it will ever recover?

Orthodoxy is the Faith of the martyrs. The martyrs were those who stared down death so that they could testify to their faith in the one true God and his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They received a crown for their loyalty unto death. What about us? It’s embarrassing to think that, although Orthodox Christians should know better, there are few who are willing to stand up in the face of this lunacy and call it what it is. They need to oppose the error and take the appropriate action to save themselves and their families. Those who should know better but decide to relax and stay where they are will be in danger of being as spiritually compromised as the hierarchs that they follow.

I am one of the fortunate believers who don’t have to retreat to the wilderness to maintain their Orthodox integrity. There is another parish not far away that has taken a bolder stance to maintain the normative Orthodox life in the midst of the pandemic. I can leave my parish and go there. Not all laymen have that option, since their Greek Orthodox parish may be the only one for dozens of miles around. To the laymen who feel trapped I say, Don’t give up hope! Reach out to others. Reach out to hierarchs outside of GOARCH and implore them for help and spiritual care. Surely God will hear your cries.

Hawaiian myrrh-streaming Iveron icon

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Mt. 7: 13 & 14