August 2011


Well, the Greek Orthodox Church Adelaide blog site and Facebook page has been going for three weeks now, and things have really

Icon of the First Ecumenical Council

The First Ecumenical Council

picked up in the last week or so. Thanks to all who have come and participated in our discussion. While we have more blog posts in the pipeline that we would like to post in the coming days, we thought we’d take a breather to reflect on how we think things are going. Some of the more interesting observations:

  • Originally, most of the comments on our Facebook page complained that the Archdiocese was only after property and/or money from sacraments, or that it was simply “all political”. It is interesting that since our previous blog posts only (particularly, False history and  Template for unity) that highlighted that these complaints were unfounded, these types of comments are less
  • Although many supporters of GOCSA have complained that our site was too negative, thus far no GOCSA supporters have taken the positive step of offering a path towards unity. The only people who have taken this positive step are members of the canonical Greek Orthodox Church (ie, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia).
  • Most importantly: we have had many different opinions expressed in support of GOCSA – some self-expressed, others quotes from a myriad of philosphers, Roman Catholics, scientists, authors, and even atheists. Noteably absent from any of their posts are quotes from Orthodox Fathers of the Church, or from any Orthodox theologians. Again, the only people who have quoted Orthodox theologians are members of the canonical Greek Orthodox Church.

What does this last point in particular say about GOCSA and their position? How can GOCSA’s schism be justified if they cannot quote a single Orthodox theologian in support of their views? Isn’t the fact that GOCSA can only muster non-Orthodox writers in support of their schism further proof that they are not Orthodox? Food for thought…

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Dear all,

When we started our blog, we said that it was our stated goal was to bear witness to the truth about the schism here in Adelaide. While we stand by everything that we have said so far, some have criticised this for being completely negative and not offering a positive solution to the problem. While we have made some references to the fact that positive solutions exist on our Facebook page, until now we have not blogged about it nor have we explained the positive solution in detail. This post aims to change that – to emphasise the fact that we do not only want to be negative, but that we also are genuine when we say that we want unity. So here goes.

As we have mentioned on our Facebook page, the Archdiocese has plenty of experience in healing schism for any schismatic community that is willing. There have been several examples of schism being healed in Hobart, Melbourne in Sydney. The examples provide us with a template that can be used as the basis for unity here in Adelaide too.

Specifically, we’re going to look at the Memorandum of understanding between the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW, which was signed by both parties in the offices of the Archdiocese in May 25th of this year (2011). The text was published in the Archdiocese’s bilingual newpaper the Vema in the June edition; unfortunately it does not appear to be available online yet which is why we have included the scanned copy of it linked to it above.

Important highlights from this memorandum:

1. Community’s assets to remain undisturbed

Save as provided for in this Memorandum of Understanding, it has been expressly agreed by the Archdiocese that the administrative and financial independence of the Community will be preserved at all times and that the real estate owned by the Community referred to in this Memorandum of Understanding, and all the Community’s other assets, both moveable and immoveable, shall remain within its [ie the Community’s] sole ownership, custody and control.

In plain English: GOCNSW will retain ownership of everything that it currently owns.

6. Regularisation of sacraments (weddings & baptisms) by Archdiocese

It is agreed that, subject to the amendments referred to in clause 1 coming into effect, the Archdiocese shall, as soon as practicable thereafter, make a formal announcement through its traditional channels to the effect that it offers to recognise any invalid sacraments (weddings and baptisms) conducted by uncanonical priests under the auspices of the Community prior to this Memorandum of Understanding coming into effect. To this end, the Archdiocese’s announcement shall, among other things, invite those seeking to regularise any uncanonical sacraments to contact the Archdiocese for that regularisation to occur by way of formal chrismation and the issue in each case of an Archdiocesan certificate without fee.

In plain English: any sacraments that need to be performed will have their certificates issued for free! (Incidentally, this is already the case in South Australia for any GOCSA-baptised person who wishes to join the Archdiocese.)

So there you have it. When GOCNSW rejoined the Archdiocese, they did not have to pay for their sacraments to be regularised, and they get to keep ownership of the property & bank accounts. So financially, the Archdiocese does not stand to gain much from this union at all.

This just goes to reinforce what we’ve been trying to highlight all along: the Archdiocese does not want your property, and it does not want your money. It wants one thing and one thing only: your souls. It wants to bring them back into the safety of the Orthodox Church, to be ministered by real priests and served real Mysteries (Sacraments) and nourished with the real Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. If this is what you want too, then spread the word! Link to this blog, send people to the Facebook page. Let’s squash these damaging and false rumours once and for all, and hopefully there’ll be nothing left to get in the way of unity!

Dear readers many have asked the question of what makes a building Greek Orthodox. This question arises because of the presence within our city of four schismatic (non Orthodox) churches that look like they are Greek Orthodox but in reality they are not.  (See photos here)

One of the obvious fallacies that misleads our people is this precise point, that is just because a building looks Greek Orthodox it does not mean that it actually is. One only has to visit traditional Orthodox countries like Russia, Ukraine and Greece to see that some of the nicest looking “Orthodox” Churches are actually Roman Catholic (Eastern Rite Catholic).

In the early centuries of Christianity the Christians were forced to worship in underground catacombs (graves) or out in the open air. Today many of the Orthodox Churches on the African continent are makeshift tents, converted stables or simply an extension of the natural shade created by a tree. Even in our home state when our priests are asked to serve the Orthodox faithful living in places like Wallaroo or Mt. Gambier they use whatever space is available to them, (often an Anglican church).

From the above it is clear that it is not the building that makes a church Orthodox. So what is it that makes a church Orthodox and suitable for worship? Or more to the point what is it that is missing from the GOCSA schismatic “churches” that look and sound Orthodox but are not? The answer is simple: an antimension, chrism (holy myrrh) and canonical priesthood.

Antimension

Antimension

The antimension is a rectangular piece of cloth with depictions of the burial of Christ and the four Evangelists (Gospel writers) on each corner. On it are written scriptural passages that are related to Holy Communion. The antimension is among the most important liturgical items of an Orthodox Church. It is placed on the Holy Table of every Orthodox Church, without it the Eucharist (Holy Communion) cannot be celebrated. The antimension must be signed and consecrated by a bishop.

Chrism

Chrism

Chrism or Holy Myrrh is consecrated oil that is administered typically during the baptism service as a separate sacrament called Chrismation. Chrismation is a visible sign of the baptised person receiving the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Baptism service). The Greek Orthodox Church in Australia (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia) receives its Chrism from the spiritual centre for the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul). This Chrism is prepared once every 10 years by bishops from all over the Orthodox world and then distributed to their respective Churches.

For the Orthodox Church the antimension  and the chrism is equivalent to a license that grants permission to the priest to serve in the bishop’s name (canonical priesthood). The bishop withdraws his permission from the priest to conduct divine services when he takes back the antimension and the chrism from him. When the church of the Archangels (Franklin street) became schismatic in the late 1950’s it did so by the bishop of the time removing the priest together with the antimension and the chrism.

Where does this leave the GOCSA “churches?”

With no antimension, chrism and canonical priesthood the GOCSA “churches” are spiritually invalid and thus devoid of divine grace. Just like counterfeit money has no value so also do their counterfeit actions of performing (as in acting out) “divine services”. The antimension, chrism and canonical priesthood, are an inseparable Trinity, if one of these sacred realities are missing so are the other two.

Orthodox Study Bible

Orthodox Study Bible

It is the position of the Orthodox Church that we stay away from schismatic churches.

People are often troubled by this, as they do not feel that it is something that our Lord Jesus Christ would have approved of. However, the warning to stay away from schismatic churches is repeated often in the Holy Scriptures. Remember that the Greek word schism simply means division.

Schisms began in the Church from earliest times, and the Church had to warn against them back then too. The Apostle Paul was very clear on what to do with schismatic communities:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions [ie, schisms] and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. (Romans 16:17, NIV)

Likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself said:

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17, NIV)

How did our Lord treat pagans? He ate with them, He showed them kindness – but He did not go to worship together with them in their temples!

So too it must be with schisms. We must follow the command of the Apostle, and the example of our Lord. Love all people, show them kindess – including those who are members of the schismatic community. However, we must keep away from their temples – for their sake as much as for ours.

This is the consistent opinion of all Orthodox bishops and was repeated just recently by the gathering of all Orthodox bishops from Australia and New Zealand.  View this previous blog post.

Apologies to all those who participated in our vigorous yet fruitful discussion on our Facebook page Greek Church Adelaide – it appears that the account has been disabled for being a “fake” account, in spite of the fact that it clearly identified who we were and what we stood for. Unfortunately the fact that it is banned means that the discussion we had cannot be recovered – we apologise to all those who invested their time there.

Anyway, the Greek Orthodox Church Adelaide association page is up and running, so feel free to drop in and comment there instead, and invite your friends to join. This site should not be subject to the same sorts of complaints that the previous site was and should not hit the same issues.

We also know that what may have precipitated all this was that an unknown third party reported us for alleged breaches of copyright regarding the photos we put up of the uncanonical Churches. This is in spite of the fact that the most recent photos of these Churches that we put up were actually taken by ourselves!

It seems that some members of the schismatic community are not happy that we are exposing the truth about their churches and are taking desperate measures to try and silence us. However, the Truth cannot be silenced and we will push on in spite of these petty tactics.

The schism of the Greek Orthodox church in Adelaide is often characterised by supporters of GOCSA’s position as petty political squabbling within the Greek community.  This is not the view of any of the bishops of the Orthodox church in Australia as the communique below demonstrates.

First Episcopal Assembly of all Canonical Orthodox Bishops of Oceania

Communique

Bishops at First Episcopal Assembly of Oceania

Bishops at First Episcopal Assembly of Oceania

The members of the First Episcopal Assembly of all canonical Orthodox Bishops of Oceania welcomed the opportunity to meet in Sydney from 16-18 October, 2010 under the chairmanship ex officio of His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos of Australia.

The Assembly commenced with a Divine Liturgy manifesting our essential eucharistic unity at the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Theotokos, Redfern, Sydney.

In accordance with the decisions of the pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference convened in Chambesy, Switzerland from 6-13 June, 2009, the canonical Orthodox Bishops met in a brotherly spirit, and after lengthy and edifying discussion centered on issues of mutual concern, such as pastoral care, catechesis, liturgical life, reaffirmed the unity of all canonical Orthodox Churches.

Consequently, we strongly condemn all of those who attempt to destroy the precious unity of our Church through adherence to new or existing schismatic groups and sect in our region.

In order to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church of Oceania, the members of the Assembly unanimously agreed upon the formation of the following three Committees relating to:

Bishops Serving at First Episcopal Assembly of Oceania

Bishops Serving at First Episcopal Assembly of Oceania

1)    Campus Ministry: cultivating the Orthodox faith amongst our University students and shielding them from the effects of proselytism, co-chaired by Their Graces Bishop Irinej of the Serbian Church and Bishop Ezekiel of the Greek Archdiocese.

2)    Inter-Orthodox Liturgical Services: embracing common Pan-Orthodox services and adopting a unified approach to pastoral and liturgical issues, co-chaired by Their Graces Bishop Mihail of the Romanian Church and Bishop Seraphim of the Greek Archdiocese.

3)    Canonical Issues: compiling a list of all canonical bishops and other clergy of Oceania and a secondary list of schismatic groups and sects which attempt to promote themselves as being canonical Orthodox.  This Committee is chaired by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos and consists of representatives from each Orthodox Church.

The Assembly looks forward to meeting in years to come to continue working for the good of Orthodoxy in our region.

Sydney, 18th October 2010

Signed by:

  • His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos (Ecumenical Patriarchate – Australia)
  • His Eminence Metropolitan Paul (Antiochian Patriarchate)
  • His Grace Bishop Agapit (Russian Church)
  • His Grace Bishop Irinej (Serbian Church)
  • His Grace Bishop Mihail (Romanian Church)
  • His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilochios (Ecumenical Patriarchate – New Zealand)
  • His Grace Bishop Ezekiel (Assistant Bishop)
  • His Grace Bishop Seraphim (Assistant Bishop)
  • His Grace Bishop Nikandros (Assistant Bishop)

(Published in October 2010 Vema)

In this blog we have made mention on several occasions to the “canonical” Orthodox Church and “canonical” priests/bishops, in contrast to uncanonical “orthodox” churches that are found in Adelaide. But what does this word “canonical” mean, and why is the distinction between “canonical” and “uncanonical” important?

What does “canonical” mean?

Archangels Michael and Gabriel - Adelaide

Archangels Michael and Gabriel - Adelaide

The English word “canonical” comes from the Greek word κανων (kanon or canon) which literally means rule. As with the English word, this word originally meant a straight edge or stick that was used by carpenters and builders, but it also gained a metaphorical meaning – straight conduct or way of life.

A local church is canonical if it has been established according to (and remains in compliance with) the canons (rules) of the Orthodox Church. Similarly, a mystery (sacrament) such as a baptism, marriage or ordination is called canonical if it is performed in accordance with the laws of the Orthodox Church.

Dormition of the Theotokos - Croydon

Dormition of the Theotokos - Croydon

A deacon, priest or bishop is called canonical if they have been canonically ordained and have not been canonically removed from office (ie, defrocked).

Why does it matter?

All organisations have rules in order to ensure their smooth running. In some cases these rules actually serve an important role in protecting their members and the public at large. Consider the Medical Board of Australia, for example, which is a government department responsible for accrediting doctors, nurses and hospitals – informing the public of which of them are qualified to provide medical services safely and which are not.

Sts Constantine and Helen - Goodwood

Sts Constantine and Helen - Goodwood

Like all organisations, the Orthodox Church has rules to ensure its smooth running. Unlike all other organisations, however, we as Orthodox believe that the Church is also (like its Founder) divine. As such, every faithful Orthodox must take its rules and regulations that much more seriously. No responsible Australian would encourage or support a doctor or hospital which the Medical Board had not accredited (or whose accreditation has been stripped), much less go to them for medical advice. Likewise no responsible informed Orthodox should support an unaccredited (that is, uncanonical) church or priest.

It is worth emphasising that, according to the canons (rules) of the Orthodox Church, an uncanonical church is not an Orthodox Church, no matter what they may call themselves. This means that no rite performed by an uncanonical church or by uncanonical clergy is considered to be a Mystery (ie, sacrament) of the Church. This means that according to the Orthodox Church:

St Nicholas - Thebarton

St Nicholas - Thebarton

  • Those who are “baptised” in an uncanonical church are considered unbaptised.
  • Those who are “married” in an uncanonical church are considered to have had a civil marriage only (not the Mystery/Sacrament of Marriage).
  • Those who are “ordained” in an uncanonical church are considered to be unordained.
  • Those who “confess” their sins to an uncanonical “priest” receive no forgiveness.
  • Those receiving “Holy Communion” in these “churches” receive not the body and blood of Christ but just bread and wine.

These are critical issues that go to the heart of our Orthodox faith, which is why the question of what is “canonical” is an important one.

Who determines what is canonical and what is not?

Imagine the mayhem if doctors were allowed to declare themselves “accredited medical practitioners”, or hospitals where allowed to call themselves “accredited hospitals”. Any doctor or hospital would be allowed to call themselves “accredited”, regardless of their actual qualifications, skills or competency. Thus the word “accredited”, instead of designating a certain satisfactory level of competence, would actually lose all meaning as it would no longer give a true indication of a doctor/hospital’s competence.

Likewise in matters of the Orthodox Church, an individual parish or church cannot unilaterally declare itself to be a canonical Orthodox parish, and neither can a person declare himself to be a priest. These rights belong to the Church herself, and are exercised through the leaders (ie, the bishops) of her world-wide communion.  As with doctor/hospital accreditation, it must be this way also in the Church otherwise any individual could put their hand up and claim to be an Orthodox priest, or any group could claim to be an Orthodox Church, and the very title “Orthodox Church” would lose all meaning.

Which are the uncanonical Greek Orthodox “churches” in Adelaide and who are the uncanonical “clergy” serving these?

In Adelaide there are four uncanonical churches that call themselves Greek Orthodox.  These are:

Misguided faithful at Panagias "church" Croydon 15 August, 2011.

Misguided faithful at Panagias "church" Croydon 15 August, 2011.

  • Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel – Adelaide
  • The Dormition of Theotokos Church – Croydon
  • Saints Constantine and Helen Church – Goodwood
  • Saint Nicholas Church – Thebarton

The uncanonical “clergy” serving these “churches” are:

  • Mr Nikolaos Despinoudis
  • Mr John Pokias
  • Mr Petros Tsekas
  • Mr Andreas Kollas
  • Mr Panagiotis (Prokopios) Kanavas
  • Mr Efstratios Vasilaris

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