Orthodox Theology

Icon of the Last Judgement. Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Dear readers,

Next week is Meatfare Week and Sunday 23rd of February is Meatfare Sunday – the last day before Great Lent that meat is permitted. On this day we commemorate the Final Judgement – which is why this day is more properly known as the Sunday of Judgement. It is a timely reminder for us all that now is the time to repent and turn to God and His Church.

In honour of this event, we feel that the time has also come for us to offer our own final thoughts (a “final judgement” of sorts –  but infinitely less awesome than our Lord’s!) on the schism, as we wind up our posting on this blog.

When we started this blog, we were vehemently criticised for criticising GOCSA (the irony of which was not lost on us, though it was on our critics!) and for exposing the scandals that were going on under the watch of the current GOCSA executive and the “clergy” that they appointed (in particular the one that has since become their “bishop”). However, as scandal after scandal has continued to come out (and we have only reported the tip of the iceberg), we have been joined by a growing voice of dissent & criticism coming from within GOCSA itself. In the last few months this has culminated in their two most senior & respected clergy (Fr Nicholas Despinoudis and Fr John Pokkias) leaving the organisation in disgust to be canonically ordained in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (leaving GOCSA in the extremely strange position of being an 80-year-old organisation with clergy that have only served a few years each). As such, we feel that our critical attitude is vindicated.

These scandals have highlighted the fruits of schism better than any theoretical or theological discussion of the issue could have. When a branch is cut off from the vine, it does not bear fruit but instead it withers and dies (John 15:6). Sadly, this is what we have been witnessing, and are still witnessing. But we feel it is by now so obvious (to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear) that there is nothing to be gained by reporting on any further scandals (as there surely will be). Hence our decision to wind up this blog.

Traffic on our blog over the last six months has been steadily increasing. Recently we have been getting thousands of visits per month, and three of our best four months ever have been the last three (Nov/Dec/Jan). So we feel we are going out on a “high note”, so to speak. We still plan to respond to emails & comments occasionally, as well as leave our site up for posterity (perhaps rearranging our pages to make them easier for a newcomer to navigate), but after this post there will be no more new posts. The one possible exception will be to announce if/when GOCSA decide to rejoin the Archdiocese – which will be a day truly worth celebrating, when we can put all of these scandals behind us. We pray that this day comes soon.

But before we sign off for the last time, we thought it would be appropriate to end with our own “last judgement”, where (without judging anyone in particular) we identify what we believe to be the fundamental problem that separates us, and what needs to be done about it.

What is the fundamental problem?

We have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about what the problem is not. Regular readers will know that we have exposed the weakness often-heard excuses that the schism is “all about money“, “all about politics” or “all about property” and shown that these don’t hold water. The Archdiocese has shown over and over again (both in its relationship with its existing parish-communities, and with those entering the fold such as GOCNSW) that for them it is not about any of these things. So what is it about? From the Archdiocese’ perspective, it is very simply about proper Orthodox Church order, due process and accountability.

There are two fundamental problems in the structure of GOCSA (among other possible problems) that have led to the current situation.

The board of GOCSA has no theological qualifications

Imagine a hospital that was run by a committee consisting entirely of people with no qualifications in health or medicine. Or imagine a bank run by a committee consisting entirely of people with no qualifications in economics or accounting. Such committees, in spite of their best efforts, would not be able to run the organisation properly simply because they don’t have the necessary qualifications or experience for these highly specialised professions.

This is exactly the case with the GOCSA executive committee, which consists entirely of people with no qualifications in Orthodox theology. If training & experience is important for those running secular organisations like banks and hospitals, how much more important is it for the sacred organisation that is the Orthodox Church. Even if the GOCSA executive consisted entirely of people acting in good faith, they simply cannot run an Orthodox Church properly without the necessary qualifications or experience.

At various times in history there have been attempts by laypeople to try and control & dictate the operations of the Church – from various Emperors to the Communists in countries such as Russia, Romania and Serbia. In every case it has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster, even when done with the best of intentions (which it wasn’t always). It is a hard enough task to shepherd the Church for people who do have the necessary qualifications!

It is because of this flaw that the executive is unable to see the other fundamental flaw…

Complete independence = complete separation = complete lack of accountability

GOCSA’s Constitution emphatically asserts its complete independence. In the very clause that they hold most dear:

Rule 2A Independence:
“(1) The Community shall always remain self‐governing independent and autonomous and shall be governed according to this paramount clause, and the other clauses of the Constitution. At no time and under no circumstances shall the Community relinquish any of its rights or be bound by terms or clauses foreign to this Constitution. Neither in its government nor in its administration shall the Community be subject to any ecclesiastical, political, or other, body or authority.”

See here for the newsletter that cites this clause.

Unfortunately this clause is quite fanciful. For one thing, it claims that “the Community shall not be subject to any political body”. This would be news to Consumer and Business Services – the State government (ie, political) authority that regulates all associations that are incorporated in this State (including GOCSA)! It would also be news to the Supreme Court and to other State & Federal courts, governments & authorities in this country – whether GOCSA like it or not, they are subject to these political authorities in spite of this clause’s claim to the contrary.

Icon of Christ the Judge, as found on the iconostasis of every Orthodox church. Source: Blessed is the Kingdom blog.

But more importantly, the above also states that GOCSA will not be bound by clauses foreign to this Constitution. Because the Canons of the Orthodox Church are foreign to the Constitution, this implies that they cannot even be bound by the Canons of the Orthodox Church! How can they claim to be Orthodox and part of the Church when their Constitution forbids them from being bound by its rules – rules that we Orthodox hold as divinely-inspired?

And herein lies the fundamental problem: No person or organisation can simultaneously be a part of the Orthodox Church and yet completely independent from it. It comes down to accountability: the very nature of the Orthodox Church means that all its members and institutions (from the lowly layperson right up to the Ecumenical Patriarchate) are accountable to the rest of the Church, and must submit to Her will – because She is the body of Christ, and Her will is the will of Christ. Complete independence from all ecclesiastical authority can only be achieved by complete separation (ie, schism), which in turn leads to complete lack of accountability. This is completely contrary to the spirit of Orthodoxy.

That is why GOCSA is separated from the Orthodox Church – it’s not because of money, or politics, or property, or unreasonable demands by the Archdiocese (as we have shown on this blog) – it’s because GOCSA’s own Constitution demands that it be so. Just as Lucifer demanded independence from God and found himself separated from Him, so too does GOCSA’s constitutionally-mandated independence lead to its complete separation from the Church and results in complete lack of  any accountability to the Church. The consequences of this lack of accountability are plain for all to see (and clearly testified by posts in this blog). In the meantime, it is the people who suffer.

Independence is illusory

It is also interesting to note that, while GOCSA as a whole may be independent, within GOCSA it is a different story. Their parishes & clergy lack autonomy and are kept on a very tight leash by the central GOCSA administration and don’t have much independence. In the Archdiocese, in contrast, although the parishes are ultimately answerable to the Archdiocese’s central administration, in practice they have a great deal of autonomy and independence in their day-to-day runnings – with their own bank accounts, their own ABNs, their own Greek Schools, etc. The irony of this is that GOCSA’s independence actually translates into less freedom for their individual parishes!

A complicating factor

Further compounding this is clause 28 (1), which reads:

Clauses 2, 2A [that is, the independence clause], 2B,  4A, 27 and this clause 28 shall not be capable of amendment, alteration, addition or substitution unless all the financial members of the Community decide otherwise.

This extraordinary clause means that the independence clause (along with others) cannot be changed unless all the financial members of GOCSA vote for the change. This means that even if almost the entire organisation wanted rejoin the Orthodox Church, they can be held to ransom by a single recalcitrant person.

That one person’s will can override everyone else’s in what is supposed to be a “democratic” organisation is truly amazing. As there is always bound to be at least one person with a grudge or vested interest in maintaining the status quo, this clause (if enforced) would essentially prevent any hope of reunification with the Archdiocese. Clearly, this clause was put in place by people who did their utmost to ensure that this would never happen.

The good news

The good news is that there is hope. The law governing associations in South Australia foresaw situations exactly like this one – where an association (for historical reasons) may end up encumbered by a Constitution that is unworkable. So in spite of clause 28 (which of itself makes reunification near impossible), there is provision in the State law for the Supreme Court to change the rules on GOCSA’s behalf, if GOCSA requests it. All that is required is for a simple majority of the members at their AGM to agree to ask the Court to remove the overly-restrictive clause 28 (1) from their Constitution, and then they will be in a position to fix the rest of their Consitution to pave the way for reunification with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. And if they need help to do so, the Archdiocese has lawyers with experience in these matters (having handled similar reunifications with GOCNSW and the communities in Melbourne and Tasmania) who would be only too willing to help. All they need to do is ask!

Icon of St Basil the Great – author of the beautiful prayer that asks for unity in the Church and healing of schism. Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Thanks & conclusion

We would like to thank all of those who have contributed posts to this blog. Their efforts are much appreciated.

We would also like to thank our readers for their support and their prayers. Please remember to say this prayer by St Basil, which has been something of a “theme prayer” for this blog:

And first of all, remember Your Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which You have purchased with Your precious blood. Confirm and strengthen it, enlarge and multiply it, keep it in peace and preserve it unconquerable by the gates of hell forever. Heal the schisms of the Churches, quench the ragings of the heathen, speedily undo and root out the growths of heresies and bring them to naught by Your Holy Spirit.

We wish to leave our readers with this thought: In the Orthodox Church, there are two sides to every schism – inside and outside. Which side are you on?

Icon of the Holy Church

Icon of the Holy Church

While this question is not directly related to the focus of our blog, it comes up often enough in our discussions that we thought a brief explanation would be appropriate.

Ecumenism is a complex topic that could easily have an entire blog dedicated (and in fact there are probably several such blogs on the internet). This post will necessarily be brief, but hopefully will give a good enough description of the fundamental points that are relevant to our blog. The interested reader is referred to this article by Fr Timothy Evangelidis (Hobart) for a more detailed description as a starting point.

Fundamentally, ecumenism is the goal of bringing all Christians (and indeed all people) together in one Church. To understand why this might be controversial, we first need to cover a couple of points.

The Orthodox Church is the One True Church

To understand Ecumenism, one must first understand Orthodox teaching about the Church. This teaching is simple that the Orthodox Church is not just another Christian church among many (who are all equal), but it is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by Christ himself. This is a simple but profound & bold claim that we humbly hold as fundamental to our Faith. To contradict this claim is, from an Orthodox perspective, a heresy. It is because of this belief that we view schism as such a serious sin – schism takes people outside of the One True Church.

Ecumenism: The Orthodox way and the heretical way

The most confusing part about Ecumenism (which gives rise to controversy) is that there are two different possible approaches that can be taken to achieve the goal of uniting the world into one Church:

  1. Creating one mega-church comprised of all existing churches (including the Orthodox Church) & other religions, accepting them all as equals as they are, without change, and ignoring all differences as unimportant.
  2. Uniting all Christians into the Orthodox Church by convincing them to change to the Orthodox Faith.

The difference is that the first approach doesn’t consider any existing church to be the true church, which is why a new mega-church has to be created to include everyone, so that all can worship together. In light of the Orthodox teaching that the Orthodox Church is the One True Church, this approach must be considered a heresy. This is why we have canons that (for example) strictly prohibit our clergy from concelebrating with non-Orthodox, and our faithful from participating in their prayer services – because by participating in their services we give the impression that their services (and their churches) are equal to ours.

The second approach, on the other hand, is fundamentally based on the belief that the Orthodox Church is the One True Church -and as such it is not heretical. In fact, this is actually the mission of the Church, because our Lord commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19) – it would be heresy for us to teach or do otherwise!

So does the canonical Church teach the heresy of Ecumenism?

While we are obviously not intimately familiar with the teachings of each and every one of our hierarchs throughout the Orthodox world in the modern era, we are confident though that neither of them openly preach or have preached the heresy of Ecumenism (ie, that they would claim that the Orthodox Church is merely one Church among many).

That’s not to say that there aren’t times when one or two of our hierarchs might have crossed the line on some occasions – there are even those within the canonical Church who have concerns about the Orthodox Church’s involvement in its relations with other churches & religions, and some of these concerns (like praying, or seeing to participate, in non-Orthodox services) are legitimate. Our hierarchs are not perfect, but there is a big difference between making a mistake here-and-there, however, and openly professing a heresy.


Critics of the canonical Orthodox Church claim that the Church has fallen into the heresy of Ecumenism. While there may be some legitimate concerns at the heart of such claims (as noted above), they are exaggerated to hysterical proportions (as is the case in Christodoulos’ letter, for example). Our hierarchs have a difficult job to do in trying to reach out to our non-Orthodox brothers and sisters, and they deserve to be held innocent until proven guilty.

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.


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.


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.

Dear readers,

A discussion happened in the comments of our earlier post last week about the Greek Government’s recognition of the so-called “Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Australia and Oceania (HOMOAO)”. We have also discussed similar issues with respect to GOCSA. But to what extent does this really matter? If an organisation manages to obtain recognition by the Greek or Australian governments, does that make them canonical? We thought to address this point in more detail in a fresh post.

Civil vs Mystical Marriage

Wedding crowns – used in the Mystery of Marriage but not required for a civil marriage

In this day and age when the institution of marriage is under attack, it is important for us to make a distinction between two different types of marriage: civil vs ecclesiastical.

  • A civil marriage is one that is registered with the civil authorities (eg, by the Greek or Australian governments) for the purposes of the law of the land.
  • An mystical marriage (also called ecclesiastical) is a marriage that is conducted as a Mystery (aka, Sacrament) within a recognised Orthodox Church & recognised as such for the purposes of the laws (ie, the canons) of the Orthodox Church.

A civil marriage may be conducted & registered by any authorised marriage celebrant. A mystical marriage, on the other hand, is always conducted by a canonical Orthodox priest in accordance with the canons of the Orthodox church.

From the Church’s point of view, it is obviously the mystical marriage that “counts”.

What is a recognised religion/denomination?

In both Greece and Australia, there are “recognised religions” whose ministers are also authorised marriage celebrants. This simply means that their religious marriages are automatically accepted as civil marriages and that their ministers are authorised to fill out the necessary paperwork to register the civil marriage with the government (we spoke more of this in the earlier post about GOCSA) .

In both Greece and Australia, there are many such recognised religions – non-Orthodox & non-Christian. These included schismatic groups who have also been recognised.

Special recognition of the Orthodox Church of Greece by the Greek Government

Australia has no “state religion” and all religions are treated equally by the law. However, in Greece the Orthodox Church has special recognition in the Constitution as the official state religion, which sets it apart from all other religions in Greece. This special recognition makes the clergy of the Church of Greece public servants (on the public payroll), and also means that Greek government recognises (and, where necessary, enforces) the Canon Law & canonical decisions of the Orthodox Church.

It is also important to understand this distinction between the special recognition of the Church of Greece by the Greek government, and the more general recognition that the Greek government gives to many religions. This is because many schismatic Old Calendarist groups have obtained general recognition by the Greek government (alongside other non-Orthodox & non-Christian religious groups) and use this recognition to make it seem that they are equally legitimate Orthodox churches alongside the Church of Greece. However, such recognition merely puts them on an equal footing with other minority religions in Greece (such as Muslims, Roman Catholics, Buddhists, etc). It does not make them a legitimate Orthodox church nor give them special recognition. Only the Church of Greece (with Archbishop Ieronymos II as its primate) has such special recognition.


Sample civil marriage certificate for the Government of Australia (source: Federal Attorney-General’s web site). The certificate for the religious marriage (if any) will depend on which denomination one is married in and will be issued separately to this one.

What are the benefits of having a Church be a “recognised denomination”?

The only real benefits are ones of convenience:

  • It is more convenient for the Government, because they don’t have to find & employ as many of their own marriage celebrants to perform duplicate wedding ceremonies – the denominations do it for them.
  • It is more convenient for the faithful who are getting married, because they don’t have to attend & pay for duplicate wedding ceremonies or two celebrants (one for the Government, one for the Church). Instead, the priest/minister acts as celebrant for both his denomination & for the Government, issuing two separate wedding certificates (one for each).

While these are obviously very practical conveniences for the couple getting married (and are encouraged by the Orthodox Church), they hardly constitute the essence of a mystical marriage according to Orthodox theology and they certainly aren’t what makes the Church canonical!

In fact, in many parts of the world and at various times in history, the Orthodox faithful are forced to live without these conveniences because the canonical Church and/or its marriages aren’t recognised by the government. For example, the Orthodox Church was not recognised by the Roman Empire (and in fact was outlawed!) in the early centuries, and so Christians who were married mystically in the Church would have to register their civil marriage separately. And in fact, not every mystical marriage would  be recognised by the civil authorities – eg, marriages between slaves, which the Church permitted (because there is “neither slave nor free” – Galatians 3:28) but the Roman Empire did not.

So why is it important for a Church to be a “recognised denomination” by the Government?

Ultimately, as Orthodox Christians, it isn’t important if our Church is recognised by the Government (or at least, it is of secondary importance) – as noted above, this is merely a convenience and it doesn’t define the essence or nature of the Orthodox Church or the Orthodox Mystery of Marriage. As if the Orthodox Church (which we believe was founded by God Himself in the flesh) requires the approval of secular authorities for its legitimacy! As we noted, Orthodox Christians have been marrying & given marriage in many parts of the world and at many times in history the Church was not/is not recognised – or worse still, is/was outlawed.

Rather, for the Orthodox faithful, of primary importance is whether our marriages are recognised by the Orthodox Church

This is why all of GOCSA’s and HOMOAO’s claims about recognition by the Greek and/or Australian governments are really red herrings – a smokescreen distracting from the real issue that should concern every faithful Orthodox Christian: are these institutions’ marriages (and other mysteries/sacraments) recognised by the Orthodox Church?

So are GOCSA/HOMOAO & their mysteries recognised by the Orthodox Church? Are they canonical?

It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that the answer to this question is a resounding NO!

  • They are not recognised by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
  • They are not recognised by any of the other Orthodox jurisdictions in Australia (Serbian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, etc).
  • They are not recognised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
  • They are not recognised by the Church of Greece.
  • They are not recognised by the Patriarchate of Alexandria.
  • They are not recognised by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
  • They are not recognised by the Patriarchate of Antioch, the Patriarchate Russia, the Patriarchate of Romania, the Patriarchate of Serbia, or any of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world.

Regardless of whether or not they manage to secure Greek some form of government recognition (as it appears HOMOAO has at least), it will not change the answer to any of these questions. The only way for them to secure recognition of their marriages & other mysteries/sacraments by the Orthodox Church is for them to become part of the Orthodox Church. And the only way for them to do this is to unite with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

GOCNSW eventually saw the light & rejoined in 2010, and have not looked back since (they’ve even managed to keep their churches!). Let’s pray that GOCSA and HOMOAO see the light soon too so that this confusion can be eliminated once and for all.

St Basil the Great of Caesaria, the Heaven-revealer

Icon for 1st of January. Top: St Basil the Great of Caesaria, the Heaven-revealer. Bottom: The circumcision of Christ. Source: OCA

Dear readers,

Of course, yesterday was the civil New Year. It also happens to be a major feast day of the Orthodox Church, in which we commemorate the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ, along with the great hierarch and ecumenical teacher St Basil the Great. We pray that everyone had a blessed time with family as we remember the occasion that the God of all submitted to the shame & pain of circumcision in the flesh, and shed blood for humanity for the very first time.

On the feast day of St Basil, we thought it would be appropriate to remind our readers of an earlier post back in 2011 where we briefly discussed St Basil’s teachings on schism. His comments are as relevant today as they were 1,600 years ago.

More posts to follow in the coming days – there is obviously a lot happening at the moment.

The Nativity of Christ. Source: Orthodox Church in America

Your birth, Christ our God,
dawned upon the world as the light of the knowledge.
for then those who worshiped the stars were taught by a star
to reverence you, the Sun of righteousness,
and to know you are the dawn from on high.
Lord, glory to you!

Christ is born! Glorify Him! As we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity (According to the Flesh) of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, let us remember that when He took on flesh, He only assumed one Body. So must the Church also be one. Let us pray that that day will come soon to our city.

We pray that all of our readers have had a blessed and safe time this Christmas.

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