Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Australia and Oceania (HOMOAO)


In his letter, one of the main areas where Christodoulos argues that our bishops have “infringed the formulation of the Fathers” is in the area of relations with non-Orthodox. This is of course a common argument used by Old Calendarists – accusing the canonical Church of being guilty of “Ecumenism” (which we discussed in our last post). They cite our use of the “New Calendar” as one such example.

The goal of this post is to simply hold up a mirror to Christodoulos’ accusation.

Christodoulos’ Ecumenist clergyman

Specifically, we remind our readers that in 2010, Mr George Athanasiadis distributed a letter to non-Orthodox offering to co-officiate at marriages in their churches. In other words, Mr Athanasiadis was offering (for a fee, presumably) to engage in precisely the kind of “ecumenist” behaviour (concelebrating with non-Orthodox) that Christodoulos is criticising. Why is this relevant? Because Mr Athanasiadis is Christodoulos’ current chancellor (see here)!!

Conclusion

Christodoulos justified his separation from the canonical Church on the grounds of its alleged Ecumenism. But if he really is serious about separating from clergy who engage in “ecumenism” (such as common prayer with the non-Orthodox), then he should start by separating himself from his own chancellor. The fact that he has not done so exposes his criticism of the canonical Church for the hypocrisy that it is, and again suggests that he is more interested in ambition than principle. We again pray that he soon sees the error of his ways and returns from schism to rejoin the Church in repentance.

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Christodoulos claims that one of the main reasons he left the canonical Church was because we use the “heretical” New Calendar. This criticism is laughable, given that ever since leaving the canonical (New Calendar) Church in Greece and arriving in Australia, Christodoulos has operated under the New Calendar.

In his letter, Christodoulos attempts to justify this obvious hypocrisy by claiming that:

  • due to the “special ecclesiastical situation in Australia”,
  • he is using “much leniency and economy”, and that
  • “there will soon be a local church that will be using the Traditional calendar”.

The strength of this justification quickly evaporates when these points are examined. We address each one in turn.

Elder Paisios of Mount Athos – a contemporary elder (widely expected to be proclaimed a saint) who spoke out against Old Calendarist schismatics. Source: OrthodoxWiki

What is so special about the ecclesiastical situation here in Australia?

Christodoulos asserts that the ecclesiastical situation here in Australia is “special”, which is why the use of the New Calendar is justified. But we ask: what exactly is so special about the ecclesiastical situation in Australia, with respect to the calendar issue?

  • In Greece, the Orthodox Church of Greece uses the New Calendar while Mt Athos  (who are canonical, non-schismatic) and a handful of schismatic groups use the Old Calendar.
  • Here in Adelaide & Australia, most Orthodox (Greek, Antiochian, Romanian) use the New Calendar while the Russians & Serbs (who are canonical, non-schismatic) and a couple of minor schismatic groups use the Old Calendar.

So both here and in Greece, there is a mixture of calendar use, with the majority of Orthodox under the New Calendar, while a handful of smaller jurisdictions (some of them canonical Orthodox, some of them not) are using the Old Calendar. Thus as far as the issue of different calendars is concerned, the situation here in Adelaide or in Australia doesn’t really seem to be all that special after all.

Why the use of economy justified here, but not in Greece?

Christodoulos justifies the use of the New Calendar here in Australia as an exercise of “much leniency and economy”. For those who don’t know, “economy” in Orthodox theology is a “bending of the rules” – usually to be more lenient (but occasionally to be stricter when required) – for the benefit of the Church. Of course, in Orthodox Tradition we don’t exercise economy unless there is a good reason & the Church will benefit.

Christodoulos argues that the alleged “special ecclesiastical situation” here in Australia is a good enough reason for using economy. Of course, we already pointed out that the situation here isn’t that special, but ignoring that for a moment: why couldn’t such economy also be used in Greece? As we have noted elsewhere, schism is a terrible tragedy in the Church and must be avoided. In Greece, this single-minded insistence on using the Old Calendar by people such as Christodoulos has resulted in several schisms, and if they’d permitted the use of the New Calendar (through “much leniency and economy”) these schisms would have been prevented. Surely the prevention of such schisms should also be a good enough reason to be lenient?

Where is this new church using the Old Calendar?

Here we are, nearly three years after that letter was written, and Christodoulos is finally starting the new church in Adelaide that he wrote about. This church is still using the New Calendar, and not the Old Calendar like he claimed it would. On what basis does he justify this? It might make sense to continue using the New Calendar “by much leniency & economy” in an existing parish that is already accustomed to using the New Calendar, but it makes no sense at all for a parish that is starting from scratch! As noted above, Adelaide already has several Old Calendar parishes (both canonical Orthodox and schismatic), so it is obviously possible to run an Old Calendar parish here – there is no reason why Christodoulos couldn’t if he wanted to.

Conclusion

It would be beyond the scope of this post to go into a detailed defense of the use of the New Calendar and explain why its use is not heretical – for that, we defer to the words of our Father among the Saints, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, who commented on the “calendar issue”. But when it comes to Christodoulos and his criticisms, all we can see is hypocrisy and expedience over principle.

“Real” die-hard Old Calendarists won’t permit or tolerate the New Calendar under any circumstances (not even the alleged “special circumstances” here in Australia) as a matter of principle, because to their way of thinking the mere use of the New Calendar is a heresy. While we (along with Elder Paisios) believe that this is misguided, at least we can afford them some amount of respect for adhering to their principle.

Christodoulos, however, is a different story. On the one hand he (like other Old Calendarists) acts as if the mere use of the New Calendar makes one guilty of heresy, and yet now he seems to think he can use the New Calendar in his own church without falling into the heresy. He can’t have it both ways – either it is possible to use the New Calendar without being a heretic, or it is not. If the former, he was not justified in leaving his canonical jurisdiction in Greece in the first place; if the latter then he is not justified in using the New Calendar in his new jurisdiction. This double-standard exposes his hypocrisy and suggests that his actions are driven more by ambition than principle. We pray that he and his followers may be enlightened to end their schism and return to the true Church.

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.