The Current Challenge of Caesaropapism to the Orthodox Faith: Interview with Fr. Savas Agioreitis
In this fourth part of our four-part discussion (4/4) with Archimandrite Savas Agioreitis, which took place on May 8th, we discuss a wide-range of matters pertaining to the current crisis, including the contemporary challenge of Caesaropapism to Orthodoxy and the innovations surrounding our understanding of the Holy Things in the Holy Temple of God.
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00:39 - Question 1: Should the Church be Obedient to the State even though it violates our internal life?
02:31 - The Synod supposed it could bless monastics to deny their vows
04:37 - Science doesn't say the truth; it seeks the truth.
06:56 - The Phenomenon of Caesaropapism
11:59 - Question 2: What about when it is not the State but the Hierarch which Innovates and Imposes upon the Clergy and People?
13:08 - Question 3: Is it so that "the faithful - not the faith - are in danger?
13:49 - Question 4: Is there absolutely no reason to close the Churches?
14:13 - Question 5: Since the government doesn't understand, what should we do?
15:04 - There are "red lines" for the "Crypto-Christians" as well.
15:37 - "Whosoever confesses IN Me...": Noetic Prayer a criterion for ecclesiality
17:13 - Question 6: Is this 'crisis' the result of not fulfilling the presuppositions for communion?
18:11- Question 7: Who discerns and excludes those unprepared from communing?
18:44 - The example of Fr. Athanasios Chamakiotis in Marousi (Athens)
19:19 - Question 8: What should Christians who are cut off from communion do as to live in a Christian way until they can commune again?
20:42 - Question 9: Should we not stand beside the priests and hierarchs to support them in doing the right thing?
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Archimandrite Fr. Savas Agioreitis began his monastic life in the Holy Kelli of the Entrance of the Theotokos in Kerasia on Mt. Athos. He is also a graduate of the School of Dentistry and the School of Theology, at the University of Thessaloníki, where he completed his Masters Degree with Professor Demetrios Tselengides. Today, Fr. Savas is the spiritual father of the Holy Monastery of the Holy Trinity in the Diocese of Edessa, in northern Greece. Fr. Savas works tirelessly teaching and guiding the faithful not only in his diocese or in Greece, but, indeed, through the online homilies and lectures, the world over, wherever the rational sheep of Christ are thirsting for the Word of God and the Gospel.
In addition to nearly daily homilies during Divine Liturgy, which are uploaded to the internet, now numbering in the many hundreds if not thousands, Fr. Savas is also a prolific author, penning more than 11 books.
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A Four-Part Interview:
1. In the first segment we will address the Temple and whether or not the faithful need to fear becoming sick therein.
2. In the second segment, we address the all-important matter of having a spiritual father during these times of trouble and persecution.
3. In the third segment, we discuss a wide-range of matters pertaining to how we must live in a spiritual manner in face of this great challenge to our Faith.
4. And, in this fourth segment, we look at the challenge to the Orthodox Faith from contemporary Ceasaropapism and innovative ideas about the Holy Things in the Holy Temple.
We are sure that these interviews, with the ever-vigilant Fr. Savas, offered with much love and sacrifice to you, the pious, zealous faithful, will undoubtedly be profitable and enlightening!
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The Current Challenge of Caesaropapism to the Orthodox Faith
Part Four of a Four-part Interview with Archimandrite Savas Agioreitis
Archpriest Fr. Peter Heers: Are we able to justify some deviation from the canons and Holy Tradition and mindset for the gratification of those outside of the Church or of the governments of the world? The Church does not have a relationship of obedience with the government regarding its internal life, correct? Because we see this today, that they cite the authority of the government and that we then have to comply with things that the government says, even though they violate our internal life.
Archimandrite Fr. Savas the Athonite: Then we have the phenomenon known as Caesaropapism, when the Church is under such obedience to the state, and, forgive me, but all that has taken place now with some hierarchs who said that we must be obedient toward the state and to science reminded me of the hierarchs and synod in the days of Otto and of the Bavarians, who imposed, with three laws, the closure of 400 out of the 600 monasteries of Greece.
Fr. P: When did this occur, exactly?
Fr. S.: This occurred after our supposed liberation from the Turks. When we supposedly had a state. The Bavarians came and governed us and imposed, with three laws, the closure of 400 monasteries, which of course they did with awareness. They understood very well what they were doing. They wanted to strike at the heart of the faith of the people, at the heart of Orthodoxy, because they knew that the people relied upon the monasteries. Thence did they draw life and courage for existence, and that which not even the Muslims, the Turks, did over the course of 400 years (500 years in some places), they accomplished with three laws. And, unbelievably, the synod itself had published an encyclical — it is appalling to hear this, but unfortunately there was this encyclical which said that “the hierarchs deliberated in this way and decided that whichever nun wants to marry can do so and has no sin in so doing. We so declare.” In other words they gave a blessing to the nuns and monks to deny their vows at their tonsure and marry in violation of all the holy canons!
Fr. P: A denial of their tonsure…
Fr. S.: A denial of their tonsure, a denial of their dedication to God, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. A denial of vows, because a monastic makes a vow of total dedication of his life to God and of lifelong obedience to God.
There was an instance, they told us … in a monastery in Andros where the local hierarch went to a convent and took this encyclical to the nuns there, and, of course, the nuns were dumbfounded to hear that they could leave and go marry and they told him, “Alright, your Eminence; we will give you our answer.” Anyway, I believe some days passed and the hierarch went there again and they said, “Yes, we will marry and we have found the bridegroom.” “Who is the bridegroom?” he says. “You are,” the abbess told him. “You are to be the bridegroom.”
Did you understand? This was to show the shamefulness of the proposition. Unfortunately, we have experienced something similar now, namely, that the hierarchs have barred the faithful from Holy Communion. It is appalling and in transgression of all the holy canons we mentioned. This is appalling. And this, with the pretext of obedience, first to science and then to the state, which is following science. This is precisely what we should not do, as was said during another episode. Science doesn’t say the truth: it seeks the truth. And so far it tells us some things which it is very likely to retract tomorrow.
Let me tell you a personal experience I have from the university, from medical school. We had certain books. “Bricks” we called them: each had some 2,000 pages. We would read them; they were supposedly the last word of science. After 2 or 3 years or perhaps less, they come along and tell us, “You know, everything in here has changed now. Go and buy a new ‘brick’ with another 2,000 pages to learn new things.” In other words, this is science. How can we base ourselves on what science says? We also have the Holy Fathers, who precisely assure us that these so-called “natural laws” do not exist, because God did not create the world and then abandon it and is now lost somewhere in space, in infinity, while He has abandoned us here in some corner of the universe to struggle by ourselves. This is heresy; it is the theory of deism or theism, which has become prevalent in the universities — or “ruinversities”, as a Graceful elder used to call them, meaning that they produce much ruin.
Neither, of course, does the theory of atheism have any credence, which says that God does not exist, but there is this “lighter” theory which says, “Yes, God exists, but he doesn’t bother with us. There are simply the impersonal, undirected laws of nature which are always enforced—” Who said so? Here we even have the scientific theory of relativity which says that all things are relative—all the phenomena—that on no occasion is something always the case. In medicine there is the dogma that “Never do we say ‘never’ and never do we say ‘always’ in medicine”. In the other sciences known as Positive Sciences and in physics we know this, that there is the uncertainty principle and the like, which demonstrate the relativity of all these things we call “scientific” and “certain” etc., such that we must follow them blindly. Neither should we follow science this way, nor even more so the state.
We have the phenomenon of Caesaropapism, which is condemned by the Holy Fathers. In no case can a priest, hierarch, or any faithful obey a lawless law. Governments today have made a plethora of lawless laws for us, because they are obeying the well-known circles, which are orchestrating globalization… St. John Chrysostom says how much we should not obey [secular leaders], but rather the secular leaders should be subject to the laws of the Church. And we have the wondrous leader, Justinian, who made the decisions of the Councils, the Holy Canons, into laws of the state! He made them laws of the state. Today, we have the opposite. The state attempts to make secular laws of the antichrists to be forced upon the Church. And, unfortunately, with the actions of certain churchmen, they have been somewhat successful.
So, St. John Chrysostom says, “Even if one be a general, even if he be the prefect, even if he be the emperor himself with his diadem,” that is, with his crown, “if he approaches unworthily”, meaning, if he is coming with audacity— such as what Theodosius the Great was doing after the crime he committed in Thessaloniki, when he killed several thousands in the hippodrome there; he went to commune. And St. Ambrose stood in the doorway of the church in Milan and told him, “Stop! You cannot enter the temple.” This is what St. John Chrysostom is saying here, and this is what the holy hierarchs must do: they should say, “Stop! This is the Church!”
Indeed, if we think about it legally, the Church is an independent authority [in Greece]! It could very well go to the Council of State and say, “What is this which the government is saying? The government cannot close down the churches. The Church is self-governing. It is an independent authority and has its own laws and its own governance. It is impermissible for the Church to be governed by the State.”
So, he says, “If he is a king and approaches unworthily, bar him. You have greater authority than him.” Who? The hierarch? Even a simple priest! He will tell him, “You don’t have the right.” Now we see secular leaders—prime ministers and the like—signing laws regarding cohabitation agreements, homosexuality, change of sex— we see them, in other words, following all of these anti-Christian plans, and afterward approaching and the hierarchs commune them without a problem, as if nothing had happened! This is unacceptable! And on the Holy Mountain, we unfortunately have such instances where they accept them. We had a mayor formerly in Thessaloniki who led the way in instituting gay pride parades and afterward went to Mount Athos and they accepted him without a problem! How is this possible? Whereas St. Paisios, in an earlier situation, implored the fathers there not to accept the prominent visitors who at that time had signed some anti-Christian ordinances.
Consequently, the priest has authority surpassing the king: we must understand this. “You, the priest, if you were charged with guarding a well, and at a certain moment, you saw a sheep coming which carried a disease in its mouth, surely, you wouldn’t be able to permit it to bend down and thus infect the water. Here, however, you have responsibility not for water but for the Blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit.” And certainly, he who communes unworthily does not corrupt the Communion. Holy Communion is always incorruptible, since our Christ is incorruptible. But the person himself suffers great harm when he communes unworthily. And it is love on the part of the priest or hierarch to say “Stop!” to this ruler, who with boldness, mainly for political reasons, goes and communes and does his cross and prays and supposedly shows piety toward the Church, while on the other hand he signs all of the anti-Christian bills.
Consequently, it is not conceivable for the Church to obey the government, but on the contrary the state (that is, the people of the government and the political leaders) should obey the laws of the Church if they want to be called Christians and to be so in actuality. If they want to be and to be called citizens of this country, which wishes call itself, and in accordance with our Constitution we are called, a Christian country, an Orthodox Christian country.
Fr. P: That’s here in Greece. Abroad, where there isn’t an Orthodox state and the application is on the part of the hierarchs, what do we do? Priests have written to me saying, “Father, you have put me in the very difficult situation of disobeying my hierarchs, my metropolitan. What are you telling us now? What should we do?” Is it black and white? What is the royal path for the priest in this case?
Fr. S: We have the historical precedent of the saints of our Church. What did the Holy Apostles do when they went to an anti-Christian land, when they went to preach? Did they say, “Well, since the leader of this land, the king, is, say, an idolater, what can we do? By oikonomia we too should go sacrifice to idols now or not do liturgies”?
Fr. P: That is for the government… but they are confused because it is a hierarch, it is their Metropolitan.
Fr. S.: As long as the hierarch also is identifying with the government and with the laws thereof, it is a given that then you must not obey.
Fr. P: They say, “Here it is not a question of faith.” As the Patriarch said, “Our faith is not in danger. The faithful are in danger.” Is that so?
Fr. S.: Is it not our belief, our faith, that Christ is the Life and the Light? When we say that we will be infected by the Light, isn’t it a matter of faith? When we slander Christ and say that Holy Communion is a vector of transmission? Or that the holy things, Holy Chrism, the icons, the Cross which we venerate, that they can make us sick, isn’t this not a matter of faith? Are we not slandering the Grace of the Holy Spirit which is in the Holy Mysteries?
Fr. P: The closure of the churches… Is there absolutely no reason to close them?
Fr. S.: No reason! On the contrary, as we said in other episodes, that there is reason for the churches to be open continually. The churches are the hospitals of our souls and bodies and that is where the sick man will take refuge to find healing.
Fr. P: Since the government doesn’t understand, what should we do?
Fr. S.: Since the government doesn’t understand, we shall do whatever we can so that the flock be preserved, so that the Orthodox faith and life be preserved. Whatever we can! Even with the sacrifice of our lives. It is impermissible, as we have said, for a priest not to liturgize. Well, what did the first Christians do? We should look to see: what did the first Christians do in times of persecution?
Certainly, there is that law of the Church which says that you will not be self-nominated for martyrdom, even though we have such cases, too, where they went and declared, “I am a Christian,” and they slaughtered them on the spot. But, as long as we are able to do in secret that which Christ has told us to do, we will do it. If, however, we cannot hide, we will do it visibly. We have, for example, the practice of the crypto-Christians in countries which are not Christian.
Fr. P: In the Soviet Union, too. There were so many in the catacombs, etc.
Fr. S.: That too. But the crypto-Christians are not accepted. That is, there are some “red lines” here. In other words, you cannot go to the mosque in the morning and in the evening do a liturgy. You must confess your faith. What did the Lord say? “Whosoever therefore shall confess in me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). He didn’t say we should confess him in secret.
Fr. P: It makes a great impression on me that He says, “Whoever confesses in Me”. Therefore the precondition is that Christ lives in you. Otherwise you aren’t going to confess.
Fr. S.: Precisely. That’s the problem, that Christ doesn’t live within us. And for Him to live in us we need what we said in another episode, namely that we have unceasing prayer, communion with Christ. For you to be able to become a martyr— All the martyrs lived this noetic prayer. They had this communion with Christ. This is can be seen a little. If someone searches their lives a bit, it will be apparent that they communed— they had this unceasing prayer, which, as the Holy Fathers tell us, up until the 4th Century, when the persecutions ceased, was the practice of all the Christians. It was then largely forgotten, and St. John Chrysostom came out and said, “Don’t quit it! From the morning to the evening and from the evening to the morning, cry out, ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’!” So, this practice was a given for the early Christians. As for us it is a given that we will drink water, and there is no need for a separate teaching on the matter (you just do it, because you consider it obvious), that how it was for the first Christians, a given, to learn and engage in noetic prayer. And in fact, because back then they were baptized as adults, many hesitated to be baptized if they had not acquired this noetic prayer with certainty; since the acquisition of noetic prayer is considered a criterion of ecclesiality, of belonging to the Church.
Fr. P: This is a key in understanding why we commune and [yet] experience no change. The presuppositions are not fulfilled. Dr. Tselingides was saying that one reason we have found ourselves in this situation and are tasting this bitterness is exactly that we have been communed unworthily for so many years. Without meeting the preconditions.
Fr. S.: Unworthily. Here we have the Holy Fathers who tell us how many are precluded from communing: “Let no one be deceitful, let no one be wicked, no one rapacious, no one abusive, let no one hate his brethren, let no one be avaricious, no one a drunkard, no one greedy, no one homosexual, no one envious, no one a slave to sexual immorality, no one a thief, no one insidious” [and come to communion].
Fr. P: Who enforces this and prevents them from communing? Who discerns and excludes these people from communing? The hierarchs and priests.
Fr. S.: Certainly. The spiritual father, a correct spiritual father or those who are responsible. The priest has the responsibility [of discerning] to whom he will give Holy Communion. He has an immense responsibility. But since the priests…
Fr. P: In all these years, Geronda, I haven’t seen such a thing take place. I haven’t seen them say, “Stop!” There is no guardianship…
Fr. S.: There was a sanctified priest in Marousi [Athens], Fr. Athanasios Chamakiotis he was called. His room now exudes the fragrance of myrrh, over there in Drosia. Not a single liturgy was served without him coming out before giving Holy Communion and telling the congregation, “Beware that you do not approach if you have impediments because you are at risk of falling sick and dying, in accordance with what they Holy Scriptures say.” And we heard what the impediments are a minute ago.
Fr. P: So, in this case where we have people, faithful people, who have gone a month or a month and a half without communing, what should we tell them? Let’s close our podcasts with this. What should they do so as to live in a Christian way until, God willing, they have the opportunity to commune again. Firstly, they have the blessing to find a place to commune, wherever they are able.
Fr. S.: That’s it. That, at least. There are certainly Divine Liturgies being done. Glory to God, I hear that there are some being done in secret. And going forward, each believer should personally seek out, not over phones—it’s not good for that to happen, nor is it very easy over phones or electronic means— but with personal contact he should seek out the upright priests who are secretly liturgizing, as happened during the time of the catacombs—they still exist—so that he may receive the Medicine of Immortality. We will liturgize in a catacomb-like fashion. It can’t happen any other way, provided that there is a persecution. And afterward, if God calls us to give our lives, we will give our lives, too, over this issue. Because our life is Christ.
Fr. P: At the same time, I am afraid of the temptation from the right. I mean, we shouldn’t be hasty to say that this or that bishop or priest is outside of the Church, while in fact they may be struggling with thoughts, struggling with the circumstances. And we should stand beside the priests and hierarchs to support them in doing the right thing. Right?
Fr. S.: Certainly.
Fr. P: Because many people will say, “Since you’re doing this, you’re being disobedient and are an enemy.” This isn’t right, either.
Fr. S.: No, we will be obedient to the upright priests. If we look back at the times of our Fathers, at St. Basil, at St. John Chrysostom, the Christians were not many at that time, either. When St. Gregory the Theologian went to Constantinople, all the churches had been overrun by the Arians. Things were difficult then, too.
Fr. P: We’re speaking about a “golden age”, but the hierarchs who [kept the Faith] were few; most were Arians.
Fr. S.: Arians, yes, and many were also criminals. There was a case of a hierarch who was lying in wait for St. John Chrysostom, wanting to kill him on the road as the saint was marching toward his exile. A hierarch! So we’re talking about criminals! There were unworthy clergymen back then as well, unfortunately, like today, both priests and hierarchs. So, we’ll seek out the ones who are upright. And, if necessary, we’ll even travel miles for the sake of finding the Life which is Christ.
Fr. P: We thank you very much, Geronda, for coming today and and giving us this opportunity to talk. I hope your words reach the hearts of many faithful, so that they may have courage and faith in Christ, so that they may not be afraid but have courage in the struggle.
Fr. S.: Glory to God.
Fr. P.: Thank you.
Fr. S.: Thank you. Christ is risen.
Fr. P.: Indeed He is risen.