Presentation of the Theotokos to the Temple. Source: Orthodox Church in America

This Thursday just past (21st of November) was the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the temple. In honour of this day we offer the following reflection.

As we journey through the Nativity Fast towards Christmas, New Year’s, Epiphany, and beyond towards the Presentation of Christ, we will again commemorate and venerate, the Feasts of many great Saints who were bishops. People such as St Andrew the First-Called Apostle who was crucified in Patras, St Nicholas of Myra the archtype of all bishops, whose Christ-like love brought many to Christ, St Spyridon of Trimithountos whose meekness and humility was so great that along with St Nicholas defended Holy Orthodoxy at the First Ecumenical Council by destroying the great lie of the Arian heresy. Others like St Basil the Great, St Athanasius of Alexandria, St Theophan the Recluse, St Isaac the Syrian, and St Ignatius of Antioch the God-Bearer thundered to us the “violent” Love of Almighty God, which is as gentle, humble and meek as He is Almighty. The God who identified with and sat and ate with the discarded and the despised of the world, who raised the dead, healed the sick, demanded that we uphold peace, justice, righteousness, the protection of the weak, the poor, the downtrodden and the unborn!  A love, which was described, thus, by the late Blessed Archimandrite Fr Lev Gillet most eloquently wrote:

God is fire. God is love. God is a self-propagating emotional power, a fire that shares itself. Centuries after Moses beheld the flames of the Burning Bush, this same fire merged with the tongues of flame at Pentecost, and with the fire that burned within the hearts of the disciples at Emmaus. In saying that God is a fire of love we are certainly stating a truth that plays havoc with many of our ideas, in fact almost all our ideas.

These bishops dedicated their lives to Christ and His Church and its Holy Tradition, which is of the Holy Spirit. St Cyprian of Carthage who died in 258 wrote of the great importance of the bishop and what he represents: ‘The episcopate is a single whole, in which each bishop enjoys full possession. So is the Church a single whole, though it spreads far and wide into a multitude of churches as its fertility increases’. There are many churches but only one Church; many episcopi but only one episcopate.” Totally united and equal as vicars in Christ. And St lgnatius the Godbearer the Martyr who was ordained a bishop by St John the Theologian, wrote in 107, as he was been taken to Rome to be martyred. ‘The bishop in each Church, presides in place of God…‘Let no one do any of the things which concern the Church without the bishop … Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”. The centrality of the Bishop in the Church, just as the centrality of the Church as our Mother in our lives, the Church, which is the Ark of the Holy Spirit to which we are grafted and in which we are saved is extremely important.

Christ is the Head of the Church and the Church is the Body of Christ. And we the sinners, the fallen, the ill, the imprisoned, and we who have betrayed Christ through our sins, compromises, lack of integrity and lovelessness, and self-absorbance, whether we be Patriarchs, Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons, Monks/Nuns, Abbots/Abbesses or Laity, we need the mercy of God which is freely given to us through His violent love for us within the Church. All is healed within the Church. The Holy Spirit will heal, as God wills! Vladimir Lossky wrote: “Eastern [Orthodox] theology never thinks of the Church apart from Christ and from the Holy Spirit.”

God will lovingly embrace and defend His humble beloved children just as He did St Nectarios of Aegina, or St Luke the Surgeon and Archbishop, just as He embraces the repentant sinners, just as He embraced the Prodigal Son. Through His Love, those at fault will be embraced and healed within the Church. And no malignancy or evil we can bring or engender, whether we be Patriarchs, Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons, Monks/Nuns, Abbots/Abbesses or Laity can overcome the Love of God and His Holy Orthodox Church. NOTHING so long as we are in the Church!!! As the LORD said “I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…” Matt 16:18. As Orthodox Christians we know that “In Orthodoxy today, as in the years gone by, the basics of Christian doctrine, worship, and government are never up for alteration. One cannot be an Orthodox priest, for example, and reject the divinity of Christ, His virgin birth, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and second coming. The Church simply has not left its course in nearly 2000 years. It is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. It is the New Testament Church. The gates of hell have not prevailed against it.” (Introducing the Orthodox Church in the Orthodox Study Bible.)

During the Nativity Fast we also commemorate the Holy Confessors of the Orthodox Catholic Faith such as St Seraphim of Sarov and St Anthony the Great and the Great Martyrs such as St Tatiana of Rome, St Barbara of Palestine and St James the Persian inspire us to stand up to all in the world that would take us from Christ’s Love. Others like St Herman of Alaska who in his meekness, humility and Christ-likeness protected the oppressed, the orphans, the widows becoming the Patron Saint of the Indigenous Alaskans.

These where people whose depth of meekness, humility and Christ-likeness we cannot begin to fathom. These were people who rose from sin again and again and again to meet Jesus because He loved them. People whose love for Christ was so great that nothing, absolutely nothing could separate them from Him, absolutely nothing on earth, including torture and death. These are Our Fathers and Mothers in Christ, who as the cloud of witnesses stand with us in Our One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church during the Liturgy, when we say during the Nicene Creed  “And I believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”.

These like all our Holy Saints, were men and women who watered the Church with the blood of their martyrdoms, because their deaths begot greater love and their lives glorified God. They stood as witnesses that Christ has destroyed the power of death because they saw and knew Christ personally, and knew God is Love. This statement is the only cataphatic definition of God in the entire Bible (ie, a definition that says what God is, rather than what God is not) and was written by St John the Theologian in his First Epistle: “Beloved let us love one another, for love is of God: and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” 1 John 4:7-8. St Isaac once wrote “Fear God because of His love and not because of the reputation of austerity that has been attributed to Him”. If we claim to love God then we love His Holy Church, recognizing full well it is perfect, just as Christ is perfect.

It is this belief in the Church that allows the Church to thunder during the Sunday of Orthodoxy concerning the icons a statement as profound as the following:

As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church has received, as the Teachers express in dogma, as the inhabited world understands together with them, as grace illumines, as the truth makes clear, as error has been banished, as wisdom makes bold to declare, as Christ has assured, so we think, so we speak, so we preach, honouring Christ our true God, and his Saints, in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in icons, worshipping and revering the One as God and Lord, and honouring them because of their common Lord as those who are close to him and serve him, and making to them relative veneration. This is the faith of the Apostles; this is the faith of the Fathers; this is the faith of the Orthodox; this faith makes fast the inhabited world.

St Ignatius the Godbearer of Antioch

St Ignatius the Godbearer of Antioch. Source: Orthodox Church in America.

As we hope you have gathered, the Doctrine of the Church is extremely important. All bishops of the Church are equals sharing in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and by the Grace of God despite their sins and failings, and come as we all do to Christ, Our Lord God and Saviour for His merciful forgiveness and love, as we all do!! The importance of the “spiritual process” or “healing” so to speak, of how, when or where the LORD ministers to His Bishops within the church is not for us to know. Just as in the example of St Nectarios who, while treated abysmally as he was by the Patriarchate of Alexandria, waited upon Christ in His Holy Church to answer his prayers within the same Holy Church. And as you know the Patriarchate of Alexandria did seek forgiveness for what had happened, This is why St Nectarios is loved worldwide and why the Church glorified him. This process cannot occur by choosing to go into schism. That is a rejection of Christ and His Church.

Therefore, Mr Panagiotis Kanavas and his own “synod”, incorporating a cohort of fake bishops, within the so-called “Former Exarchate” are not part of the Orthodox Church. If any of them had acted upon their consciences with regards to their previous apparent grievances, they would have sought forgiveness within the Church, and had asked for their grievances to be heard within the appropriate canonical processes which are governed by the rule of canon law as per the Ecumenical Councils and Holy Tradition. The same applies to GOCSA.

We write all of this to emphasize one point, that GOCSA has separated itself from the Church of Christ. No matter what it may apparently accuse the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of doing, in its statements and its historical accounts of what they perceive grieved them…it remains however…that GOCSA has separated itself from the Church, and therefore from the Holy Tradition of the Church which is the Life of the Holy Spirit within the Church and the Life of the Church within the Holy Spirit.

It is now quite apparent that Mr Panagiotis Kanavas has many, many questions to answer, in particular, to GOCSA as he has already been suspended and forbidden to “liturgise”, by his own fake “Archbishop” Mr Petros Haros, who in turn, has been suspended by Mr Kanavas and his own “synod” of “Bishops”. Mr Kanavas has already disobeyed his “Archbishop”. All within a few months of Mr Haros “ordaining” Mr Kanavas, and following the very public Supreme Court ruling. Recognition by a government of one’s right to exist as a religious organisation, by whatever name you chose, does not make you Orthodox. Only the Autocephalous Churches of the world-wide Orthodox Church can do that.

On that matter, the Orthodox Patriarchate (Church) of Alexandria has accused the so-called “Former Exarchate” of fraud with regards to their false claims of autonomy. This accusation pertains to the letters that are presented on their websites, where they also include photographs of both Canonical Bishops and uncanonical bishops, as way of confusing people and masking their falsifications. The legal arguments concerning their canonicity presented on associated websites by legal advisors incorporate valid arguments, albeit with one grand mistake, that is an important a priori assumption; the Patriarchate of Alexandria has clearly stated that this “Former Exarchate” fraudulently obtained their so-called letter(s) of autonomy. The “Former Exarchate”‘s website does not have a rebuttal to this accusation.

We are truly sorry for this situation in GOCSA and are praying for their faithful to return to the Canonical Church. It has been a difficult road for GOCSA. The hurt of the events of the late 1950s and the GOCSA resolution to continue opposition against the Canonical Church were based on assumptions about the Archdiocese that have clearly been shown to be false (as the return of GOCNSW demonstrates), and this must cause even greater frustration. Christ conquers all. Those who love the LORD will come quickly. Have courage. The Holy Orthodox Church awaits all, including Mr Kanavas and Mr Haros. Both of these men and their cohort of fake bishops along with the “clergy” within GOCSA need to return in sincere repentance to the Church. May the LORD bless them, may both come in humility and repentance to the Church for healing, which we all seek. May the LORD bless our people through the prayers and Aghia Skepi of the Holy Theotokos Whom we commemorate with the Feast of Her Entrance into the Temple, and Saints Nicholas, Spyridon, Basil, Seraphim, Athanasius and Anthony our Fathers in Christ amongst the Saints.   

 Apolytikion (Fourth Tone): Today is the prelude of God’s pleasure and the proclamation of man’s salvation. The Virgin is clearly made manifest in the temple of God and foretells Christ to all. Let us also cry out to her with mighty voice, “Hail, fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.”

Kontakion (Fourth Tone): Today, the most pure temple of the Savior, the precious bridal chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of God, enters the house of the Lord, bringing the grace of the Divine Spirit. The Angels of God praise her. She is the heavenly tabernacle.