December 2011


Mr Kanavas' invitation to Confession

Mr Kanavas’ invitation to Confession

Dear Greek Orthodox Christians of Adelaide, it has come to our attention that certain pseudo-priests are offering to hear confessions. We thought that it would be appropriate to issue a warning at this time: please be careful who you confess your sins to. There are two important things to look for: a priest who is experienced and trustworthy.

A Confessor must be experienced

The role of a priest who is hearing confessions is also to offer advice. Being in a position of offering advice requires life experience to go on. This is why in the Orthodox Church not every priest is normally allowed to hear confessions (except in cases of emergency) – for everyday confessions only certain priests (known as “confessors”) are authorised to hear them. In the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, priests aren’t normally approved for hearing confessions until they have some life experience. Most confessors are not made confessors until they are well into their 40s – a younger priest simply doesn’t have the life experience to draw on to be giving advice for delicate situations that can arise during Confession.

Who made Mr Kanavas a Confessor? Who gave him permission to hear confessions? What makes him think he has the necessary experience?

A Confessor should be trustworthy

The Mystery of Confession & Repentance is a sacred rite of the Orthodox Church in which we confess our darkest secrets to the priest. Obviously we need to be careful who we are confessing to because an unscrupulous priest might use this information against you. Even a well-meaning priest might use this information with seemingly noble intentions if they naively believe that they can help. However, this is forbidden in the Orthodox Church so that you may always know that you can confess your sins freely. This is called the “Seal of Confession”.

In the Orthodox Church, there are penalties for priests who break this “seal” – with the most severe of them being defrockment (which is the most severe punishment a priest can face apart from excommunication). These penalties stand as a reminder of the seriousness with which a priest ought to treat the Seal of Confession. This acts as a deterrent against breaking the seal of Confession for any reason.

However, what about a someone (such as Christodoulos, or Mr Kanavas) who has already been defrocked? What about someone who has already been defrocked twice? Clearly the threat of defrockment doesn’t seem to act as a deterrent for such a “priest”. How can they be trusted not to break the seal of Confession? What is left to deter them from doing so? What would their punishment be (indeed, what could it be)? To be defrocked?? Again??? Wouldn’t such a priest just laugh at this punishment (after all, that’s what they seem to have done in the past)?

How can you trust someone to guide you in the rules of the Orthodox Faith (as a Confessor is supposed to do), when they show such blatant disregard for them?

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son

Choose your Confessor carefully

Brothers and sisters, your soul is precious and not to be dealt with carelessly. We encourage you all to access the Mystery of Confession, but please avoid entrusting your soul’s innermost secrets to someone with limited experience and a questionable background. The Archdiocese has four priests in Adelaide who are capable of speaking English (with varying degrees of fluency) who have been appointed to the role of Confessor:

  • Fr Diogenis Patsouris (St George, Thebarton)
  • Fr Stavros Psaromatis (Prophet Elias, Norwood)
  • Fr Nicholas Pavlou (St Anthony’s, Prospect)
  • Fr Panagiotis (Peter) Photakis (St Panteleimon, Glenelg North) (Note: Fr Peter has only recently been made a confessor and it seems that the Archdiocese’ website hasn’t been updated yet – it is incorrectly listing him as “no”.)

None of these priests has been defrocked (not even once!), and they have many years of experience as parish priests. They are all well qualified for the important role of Confessor. If you need a priest to hear your Confession then please feel free to approach one of them.

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Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia Inc.

Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia Inc.

We’re approaching the four-month mark for our blog now, and recent events have inspired us to dedicate another post to reflection on the past four months.  In particular, we’d like to focus on the practical concerns of re-unification from the perspective of “ordinary” people.

A few people on our FB page have stated that they want to see GOCSA reunite with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. This is very encouraging. However, they also recognise that questions like “what happens to the GOCSA clergy” are out of their hands. A fair question may be asked, then – for the average person who wants to re-unite, what can they do about it? In answer to this question, we think it is important to re-visit the last attempt at reunion to see what caused it to fail and see if there is anything that can be done about it.

As recently as earlier this year (2011) there were serious attempts to bring about a reunion. However, these attempts fell through. This failure is undoubtedly due in large part to the fear campaign that was distributed in the form of not for sale flyers around the time of the GOCSA AGM. This flyer claimed that the Archdiocese would seek to sell off GOCSA property if a reunion took place. No doubt it caused enough fear to scare people away from reunion.

As we have shown in various posts on this blog, this rumour is false. Here is a summary of the evidence offered:

  • His Grace Bishop Nikandros has explicitly denied it: “I repeated categorically that His Eminence Stylianos is not interested in the properties as only the people are the wealth of the Church” (see this Neos Kosmos article).
  • We gave reasons in our second-ever post why their claims are inconsistent with the Archdiocese’s track record on this issue (including the fact that it’s never sold a Church).
  • We showed that this didn’t happen in the recent reunion with GOCNSW.
  • “His Grace Bishop Nikandros added that if a future agreement eventuates within the South Australian Greek Orthodox community, it will be along the same lines with the agreement within the New South Wales community.” (from the same Neos Kosmos article).
  • We explained that it is not even legally possible for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia to sell GOCSA property under an agreement like the one with GOCNSW.

In short, there’s no rational reason to believe that the Archdiocese plans to sell GOCSA property (or even that it would be able to), given the evidence that we have available.

We’re not sure who started these false rumours or distributed these flyers (though we have our suspicions), but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they are an unnecessary barrier to reunion, and as long as they continue they are likely to impede any reunification attempt.

So, for the average person who wants reunion, here is a very simple and practical way that you can help:

  1. by denying these false rumours ourselves,
  2. by speaking out against these false rumours,
  3. by gently correcting people who may be spreading these false rumours (bearing in mind that most people do so without realising that the rumour is false).

In this small way we can do our part and make a difference. We encourage all those who desire unity to do the same.

In the announcement of the schismatic community of Clayton, Victoria, in the program for the “feast day” of St. Spyridon, mention is made that “the first and only church that is dedicated to St. Spyridon” is the schismatic one (see announcement above). The “parish priest” at the helm of all this is George Athanasiadis. Mr Athanasiadis for those who are not aware of it has been defrocked twice. As a former canonical priest he would officiate at weddings and baptisms without declaring and registering these sacraments with the civil authorities or the Archdiocese. All this naturally met the protests of the disturbed faithful including members of his family (see relevant article here).

We must remind you that Mr Athanasiadis is the one that advertises his services to conduct weddings at non Orthodox churches because he shamelessly boasts of being “independent” and therefore it follows cut off from the Orthodox Church. Ironically Mr Athanasiadis criticises Clayton’s canonical Greek Orthodox Church “The three Hierarchs” for having a “nonexistent chapel” dedicated to St. Spyridon, labelling its autonomy to worship on this great feast day as an “unholy parody”.

All Greek Orthodox Churches across the world will be celebrating the Divine Liturgy for the feast day of Saint Spyridon on the 12th of December. According to Mr Athanasiadis and his fellow schismatics these churches are nonexistent and have no ecclesiological status, they are an “unholy parody”. Indeed we ask who are the schismatics to speak? They are the ones who are unholy since they have cut themselves off from the body of Christ as they themselves know all too well.

Perhaps Clayton’s canonical Greek Orthodox of “The Three Hierarchs” which neighbours Clayton’s schismatic community needs to seek permission from Mr Athanasiadis and Mr Pizanias (who by the way has been defrocked twice and married twice) to serve the Divine Liturgy! “Stubbornness” and “opposition” is not new to Clayton’s schismatic community, for forty years they have been rejecting to be united to the body of Christ, which in Australia for the Greek Orthodox faithful is the “Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia”. Thankfully Sydney’s former schismatic community has now been regrafted into the body of Christ.

Only canonical clergy can celebrate in Orthodox Churches, only they have the validity to impart the grace of sanctification on the faithful through Christ’s gift of priesthood. For Mr Athanasiadis and Mr Pizanias all they can ever do with any degree of validity on the feast day of St. Spyridon, is to create a gathering where the consumption of food and loukoumathes will take place. To quote Saint Cyprian from the third centuary “Outside of the Church nobody is saved”.

In terms of what is “unholy” and provocative, this is personified with the presence at Clayton’s schismatic community of the fake “His Eminence Bishop Christodoulos of Trimythous”. Not only has Mr Christodoulos been defrocked twice  but as we read in the newspaper “O Parikos”  his “tourist” visa has lapsed forcing him to take occasional trips to New Zealand or the islands of Fiji. His visa status is further compounded by the alleged belief that he is a carrier of the Hepatitis B virus.

On account of the above Christodoulos is no eminent bishop of any Orthodox Church. Of course the faithful will tell you this, in particular those who understand, listen, read and discern.

We commented recently on why certain clauses may have been added to the GOCNSW constitution by the MOU signed with the Archdiocese. Interestingly enough a recent example of scandalous misuse of liturgical items was brought to our attention and photos of this public misuse were published on Facebook. Due to the photos being taken off Facebook in response to false copyright claims we will republish them here with some commentary.

It is clear from the photos that an artophorio has been set up on top of a fridge in the public dinning hall of a nursing home. This is not accidental either as candles have been carefully placed on either side and appear to be used for some sort of activity as they are being burned and replaced.

A person who claims to work at the nursing home excused this behavior by saying:

it wasnt set up there purposely so once again get your facts before passing judgement would u prefer them to put it under the bench? because thats the only other place there for it to go i know because i work in there

This was followed by claims that it is needed there as elderly people may not be able to attend the church services. Presumably this is intended to imply that the Eucharist can be kept and distributed from there.

Although the practice of private keeping and receiving of the Eucharist did exist at one time very early on in the Church this has been forbidden by the Church due to the potential for sacrilege and abuse.

For instance the thirty-sixth of the canons attributed to Saint Athansius says,

“No priest shall carry forth the Mysteries and go with them about the streets, except for a sick man, when the end and death’s hour of need draw nigh. And when they carry the mysteries [without], they shall suffer none but the sick to partake. And they shall not do according to favour and give unto one beside the sick, but unto the sick alone. . . “

Of course this sort of abuse can occur even in the canonical Church but there the oversight of a bishop helps to prevent it. In the case of an organisation like GOCSA where is the oversight of a bishop? Lay people are not always familiar with proper ecclesiastical behaviour or care for holy objects, which is why they should not be burdened with this responsibility. It is no suprise that the Archdiocese would request that GOCNSW change their constitution so that the Bishop is able to intervene in these sort of situations.

See this post for more commentary on the changes to the GOCNSW constitution.

Spot the fake: can you spot the fake $50 note?

One of the most common arguments we’ve heard since starting this blog is “Orthodox is Orthodox”. What the person usually means when they say this is that “if it looks like an Orthodox service, then it must be Orthodox”. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, because there are counterfeits out there – services that are are designed to look Orthodox but in fact are not.

In order to address this issue, we aim first to look at a case of counterfeiting in another field where people might be more aware of the issues of counterfeiting: money. We will look at how our money has special security features in it in order to detect counterfeiting. And finally, we will look at how the Orthodox Church applies special security features to its own services in order to make it possible to detect counterfeits.

Counterfeit currency

Counterfeit notes can be hard to detect. While Australia has possibly the most difficult-to-forge notes in the world, this does not stop some people from trying. For example, in 2007 there was a case of fake $50 notes appearing in Brisbane. More recently a counterfeiting ring was busted in Sydney, with a large stash of fake $50 notes.

As the above picture shows, fake notes can look identical to a legitimate note at first glance. However, merely looking identical is of course not enough to make a note legitimate, so we should never rely on superficial appearances alone to judge whether or not a note is legitimate. So how do we judge if a note is legitimate or counterfeit if they look almost identical?

The Reserve Bank of Australia is the organisation responsible for producing bank notes. Because they knew that people would try and forge their bank notes, they have included a number of security features in the notes’ design. A person who is aware of these security features & knows what to look for will easily be able to tell if a note is fake, even if it looks genuine.

It is good for people to know their rights & how to detect a counterfeit note. When you are presented with a bank note as payment for something, you are entitled to review its security features and to reject it if you think that the note is not genuine.

Counterfeit Orthodox Church Services

Unfortunately, as with currency, there are services out there which at first glance look identical to Orthodox services. Take the above clip from a service in the US: It looks for all the world like it is Orthodox, doesn’t it? And yet, this is a so-called “Ukrainian Catholic” Church, and is actually part of the Roman Catholic Church. This service is the product of a program known to Orthodox as “uniatism” and to Roman Catholics as “Eastern-Rite Catholicism” – in this program, Roman Catholics tried to entice Orthodox to join their church by allowing them to keep the externals of their worship the same. In doing so they also relied on the ignorance of the simple faithful who couldn’t see the change that had taken place. Their confusion is humorously summed up in the following quote from His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos Ware: “Many of them, at any rate, explained the matter by saying that the Pope had now joined the Orthodox Church” (in actual fact, it was them who had left the Orthodox Church and joined with the Pope).

So what are the faithful to do? Are they forever doomed to be uncertain as to whether or not a service is legitimately Orthodox? Fortunately, just as the RBA has included security features in Australian bank notes, so too has the Orthodox Church over the years developed “security features” in its services in order to make it possible to distinguish a real Orthodox liturgy from a counterfeit. So what are these security features?

The “Security Features” of the Orthodox Church

The Church has a number of security features that must be present in order for a service to be a legitimate Orthodox service. Some of the most important features are described below – if any of these features are missing than a service is not a legitimate Orthodox service.

Security feature #1. Commemorating an Orthodox Bishop

Here is a video of another uniate service. Like the previous service, it looks Orthodox but is actually Roman Catholic (the parish is called St Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church). However, this video is at a different part in the service, which is actually perhaps the most important “security feature” of the Divine Liturgy. Here the priest is commemorating the names of those bishops & hierarchs with whom he is in communion. Listen carefully to the name of the first person that he commemorates:

…our holy father Benedict, Pope of Rome…

In other words, he is commemorating the current pope (Benedict XVI)! By commemorating him, he is indicating the fact that he is in communion with the Pope – in other words, that he is a Roman Catholic priest and that this is a Roman Catholic service.

In an Orthodox liturgy, we commemorate an Orthodox bishop at this point – for example, in the Greek Archdiocese of Australia (eg, when Bishop Nikandros is officiating or one of the canonical priests), we commemorate Archbishops Stylianos. Or if Archbishop Stylianos is himself conducting the liturgy, he will commemorate Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. If an Antiochian priest is celebrating a liturgy here in Australia, he will commemorate Metropolitan Paul. And so on.

Security feature #2: Being commemorated by an Orthodox Bishop

Of course, anyone can commemorate any bishop they want in a service, so this alone is insufficient to guarantee that a service is legitimate. It is important that the bishop being commemorated actually gives his approval for doing so. The bishop will express this by in turn commemorating the one who commemorated him.

For example, as noted above when Bishop Nikandros officiates, he commemorates Archbishop Stylianos. Conversely, when Archbishop Stylianos officiates he commemorates Bishop Nikandros (along with all his other assistant bishops). Likewise, the Ecumenical Patriarch in turn commemorates Archbishop Stylianos.

Security feature #3: Priests having permission from an Orthodox Bishop

Antimension

Antimension

In the Orthodox Church, only the bishop has authority to conduct mysteries (aka sacraments). But because the bishop cannot be everywhere at once, he usually delegates this authority to his priests. As a sign of his authority, he will give them a special cloth called an antimension, as well as the Holy Chrism used for Chrismation. We discussed these features is some detail in an earlier post, so we will not repeat them here, but instead refer you to the earlier post.

Is your service counterfeit?

Please be on the lookout for fake services. Don’t fall for the spin “Orthodox is Orthodox”. You wouldn’t accept money that is missing security features from someone just because they said to you: “money is money” – you should reject it regardless of what they say. How much more important are our worship services than money! If someone offers you an Orthodox service that is missing one of the above “security features”, then it is a counterfeit, no matter how similar it may otherwise look. If you are not sure, don’t be afraid to ask the person leading your worship as he has an obligation to tell you: as a worshipper you have a right to know that you are getting an Orthodox service.