Dear readers,

As we learned in the earlier post, John Vasiliaris (aka Christodoulos) is a former priest of the Orthodox Church in Greece who left the Church to join a schismatic Old Calendarist pseudo-Orthodox faction. Of course, for anyone (and especially a clergyman) to leave the Church and join a schismatic group (or worse, to start a new one) is considered a terrible sin by the Orthodox Church. How then does Christodoulos (and other schismatics like him, such as Mr Kanavas) justify such a terrible sin?

In his letter to Bishop Nikandros, Christodoulos writes:

The Sacred Canons not only allow, but in fact require that the clergy in particular, and the faithful in general, cut themselves off from Bishops who violate, ignore and continually infringe the formulations of the Fathers on faith and doctrine.

Note that Christodoulos does not actually cite any of these canons (as this would invite scrutiny, which he is anxious to avoid), but we can have a pretty good guess at which canons he might be referring to. We will return to those canons shortly.

Christodoulos cutting himself off from the Church. He would have us believe that he has cut the tree off from his tiny branch, whereas it is obvious to all that his branch has been cut off from the tree. Source: Free Christian Illustrations

God is a God of order

The Church is not a place of anarchy & confusion – rather, as St Paul writes:

Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Cor 14:40)

So when the question is raised about whether a bishop has violated the canons, then there is an orderly process by which he ought to be judged by the Church. In particular, the following principles apply:

  • He is innocent until proven guilty.
  • He cannot be officially judged by those under his authority, but must be judged by a higher authority.
  • Once an official judgement is reached on a case, it is binding on all members. People are not free to act according to their own judgement once an official judgement has been reached.
  • An official judgement can only be appealed to a higher-ranking authority.

Of course, none of this is rocket science – they are common-sense principles that apply in all free and just societies that have the rule of law (which of course includes the Church).

This is how the Church preserves good order when resolving issues relating to the Canons/laws of the Church. We are not permitted to cut ourselves off on a whim from bishops with whom we happen to disagree – this is the way of Protestantism (where every individual judges the matter for him/herself). Rather, we must follow the orderly process set out for us by the canons of the Church, and only after a bishop has officially been found guilty and cut off by the Synod are we (the clergy in particular and the faithful in general) then permitted (and indeed, obliged) to cut ourselves off from him.

Canons on judgements against bishops

Some of the canons that describe the above process can be found in the so-called 1st & 2nd Council, which was convened under the presidency of the Ecumenical Patriarch St Photios the Great in the 8th century. Of particular relevance to Christodoulos’ case is canons 13, 14 & 15, which are all very similar. The start of Canon 13 is as follows:

 13. The All-evil One having planted the seed of heretical tares in the Church of Christ, and seeing these being cut down to the roots with the sword of the Spirit, took a different course of trickery by attempting to divide the body of Christ by means of the madness of the schismatics. But, checking even this plot of his, the holy Council has decreed that henceforth if any Presbyter or Deacon, on the alleged ground that his own bishop has been condemned for certain crimes, before a conciliar or synodal hearing and investigation has been made, should dare to secede from his communion, and fail to mention his name in the sacred prayers of the liturgical services in accordance with the custom handed down in the Church, he shall be subject to prompt deposition from office and shall be stripped of every prelatic honor…

Canons 14 & 15 are similar, but instead of dealing with the case of a presbyter (ie, priest) and his bishop, they respectively deal with the cases of a bishop and his metropolitan, or a clergyman separating from his Patriarch respectively.

The bold portion is the important point here, affirming what we discussed above – basically, that the bishop must be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that his guilt must be established by a proper hearing. This is of course where Christodoulos’ excuse for leaving his bishop (and the Orthodox Church) falls short – he has seceded from his bishop without any trial having taken place. Instead, he has taken matters into his own hands and appointed himself as judge over his own bishop.

The exception of canon 15

Canon 15 does make an exception that allows the faithful to separate from their bishop before going to trial, but only under a specific set of circumstances:

  1. They may only split before trial if the the bishop is guilty of the highest offence – that is, openly professing a heresy that has been explicitly condemned by one of the Holy Synods. They cannot split for any other less serious violation of the canons until the bishop has been tried.
  2. The exception only seems to apply to those directly under a Patriarch. This exception does not apply to a priest against his local bishop, or a bishop against his metropolitan, and does not give a person carte blanche to separate from all bishops.
  3. The understanding is that any split under these circumstances is provisional until the bishop’s case has been addressed by his Synod. Once the Synod has made a decision, their decision is binding on all clergy and laity (though the decision may also be appealed to a higher Synod). If the Synod decides that the Patriarch is not professing heresy, then those under him are no longer permitted to separate from him.

Of course, while Christodoulos (and other schismatic Old Calendarists like him) try to justify their schism on the basis that the Ecumenical Patriarch or the Archbishop of Greece are supposedly guilty of the heresy of “ecumenism”, they don’t actually meet the 2nd and 3rd criteria. In particular, this exception clause doesn’t give them the right to separate from all bishops, as if they were all guilty of heresy (as Christodoulos has done). This is rather like arguing that he has cut the tree (representing all of the Orthodox bishops in the world) off from the branch (ie, him and his faction) when it is obvious that the reality is the other way around.

Conclusion

The most deceptive kinds of arguments are those that are partly true, and Christodoulos’ argument is of such a kind. It is true that we (the clergy in particular and the faithful in general) are obliged to cut ourselves off from bishops who violate, ignore and continually infringe the formulations of the Fathers on faith and doctrine. The key point that Christodoulos glosses over is that it is not up to each individual to pass judgement against our bishops – this is the job of our Synods. When the Synod decides that a bishop ought to be cut off, only then are we (the clergy in particular and the faithful in general) obliged to cut ourselves off. But until such a synodal decision has been made, we are obliged to remain faithful to our bishop.

Christodoulos has violated these canons and the good order of the Church by bypassing the Synod and acting on his own judgement, and therefore he stands condemned by these canons. And most importantly, this is not a private judgement by the authors of this blog – it is a decision of a properly-constituted Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Thus, in obedience to the Synod’s judgement, we (the clergy in particular and the faithful in general) are obliged to cut ourselves off from Christodoulos and all those who associate with him. We pray that he may come to repentance and rejoin the Orthodox Church that he has forsaken.

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