The well-known and respected Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Theological School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Demetrios Tselengidis, has issued an important and timely three part analysis of the Cretan Council and the ecclesiological problems and issues surrounding it. The letter was sent to all of the hierarchs of the Church of Greece at the end of August and has been included in the recent publication dedicated to the "Council" of Crete, which we mentioned in an earlier post.
To: The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece
I. Gennadios 14, 115 21 Athens
CC: To all of the Hierarchs of the Church of Greece
Your Beatitude and Holy President of the Synod,
Your Eminences, Holy Hierarchs,
In view of the upcoming convocation of the Holy Synod of the Hierarchy, I would like to lay before you my small "Trilogy", for I believe that it may in some way aid in the support of the unity of our Church.
This "Trilogy" touches upon the surpassing value of the Spiritual unity of the Church, the brutal abuse of the unity of the Church, and the identification of the Church with its Administration.
I. The Surpassing Value of the Spiritual Unity of the Church
The so-called Holy and Great Council of the Crete was called, according to its originators and organizers, in order to express the unity of the Church. However, the convening of a Pan-Orthodox Council for the purpose of showcasing the unity of the Church is unknown and foreign to the history of the Councils of the Orthodox Church. The truth of the matter, as became apparent after the convening of the Council, is that not only was this ambitious aim not realized, but, rather, events revealed the veiled cunning of its organizers. However, let us examine just what the unity of the Church consists, and in what way this particular "Council" "proclaimed" it.
The unity of the Church, as its foundational attribute, is a given in the very nature of the Church and expresses the Church's self-understanding, which was historically formulated in the Oros-Decision laid down by the Second Ecumenical Council (381), which then became the Church's Symbol of Faith (or Creed).
In the Symbol of Faith we confess that we believe "in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." If, however, the Church is "One" - according to our Creed - then, strictly speaking, there cannot be heterodox-heretical Churches.
The unity of the Church, as an attribute of the one body of the Church, is absolutely and irrevocably assured by Her Head, Christ, through the continual presence of the Holy Spirit in Her, already from Pentecost.
To begin with, we must state that the unity of men with the Triune God and between themselves - which constitutes the highest level of unity among men - is the main and essential aim of the entire Divine Economy, which was expressed through the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, but more particularly by the establishment of His Church.
The Church, as the mysteriological body of Christ, is the charismatic space where the unity of the faithful is established, lived and made visible as the image of the unity of the Triune God. Accordingly, then, the theological and ontological presuppositions for the relation of the faithful to the Triune unity are found in the establishment and composition of the Church as the theanthropic body of Christ, in which the faithful are befitted as His organic members. The unfailing unity of the Church is guaranteed by Christ Himself as Her theanthropic Head.
The unity of the Church, per se, is ontologically unbreakable and is institutionally revealed in the faith, worship and administration of the Church. This triple unity is grounded in the three-fold office of Christ and draws from it; namely, the offices of prophet, priest and king. Consequently, these three manifestations of the unity of the Church must be understood as organically inter-dependent, inter-penetrating and inseparably co-ordinated with the one and complete unity of the Church.
The unity of the Church, as a whole, while given mysteriologically, is preserved and cultivated through the observance of the divine commandments and is revealed, par excellence, eucharistically. Consequently, this unity does not exist as a quality of our nature, nor is it, much more, a result of an autonomous activity of men, but rather consists of the fruit and gift of the Holy Spirit, within the context of the mysteriological body of Christ alone, that is, within His one and only Church. This is the case because this unity presupposes the heavenly, uncreated and charismatic birth and therapy of human nature from the ontological illness of sin, through the mystery of Holy Baptism and the gift of uncreated divine grace and energy of the Holy Spirit in the mystery of Holy Chrismation.
Thus, the uncreated Reign of God within the faithful is established irrevocably, which, however, remains active only under the presupposition of the loving observance of the divine commandments, but also the blameless partaking of the divine-acting mysteries of the Church. It is precisely this Reign of God active within the faithful which constitutes their essential ontological unity, firstly with the Triune God and consequently between themselves, for then it is that the charismatic-mysteriological appropriation of the Grace of the Holy Spirit is manifest and the faithful are, in practice, made one Spirit with the Triune God and between themselves. Then, that which unites them - namely, the unifying power - is the uncreated divine love, given and active charismatically within them, the divine glory and Reign, as was lived historically by the elect disciples of Christ during His transfiguration, and later by all of His disciples from the day of Pentecost onward.
The way in which this ecclesiastical unity is brought about is not created but uncreated. This is confirmed for us by the incarnate Hypostatic Truth in His High-Priestly Prayer. The core of the High-Priestly Prayer is concerned with unity, both with regard to its ontological character and the way in which it is acquired and appropriated: "And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them," says Christ to God the Father, "that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" (John 17: 22-23).
In other words, the uncreated Glory and Reign of the Triune God is not only the way in which this Theanthropic unity is realized, but it is also the unique spiritual "key" to the "unspeakable" experience and "incomprehensible" knowledge of this unity, as the manifestation of the uncreated love of God the Father which is imparted through Christ and made one's own experientially in the Holy Spirit. The degree of the charismatic unity of the faithful, as created beings, is comparable - always analogously - to the degree of the natural uncreated unity which God the Father has with His Son in the Holy Spirit.
From the Scriptural passage above, it follows that the aim of the Triune God for the faithful - clergy, monks, laymen, unmarried and married - is the exactly the same, without exception, for all and to the same degree. The aim is for all to become one Spirit with the Triune God and between themselves, in order for them to reach "unreachably" uncreated perfection and to taste it in this present life, for only in this way can they experientially witness to His perfect and uncreated love and to offer, in obedience to God, their missionary service to a world alienated from God.
Consequently, only in the Holy Spirit, that is, only uncreatedly, can we become one in the Church, for the Holy Spirit, which we receive charismatically through Her, is an uncreated reality. Through this uncreated unity the present life, but also the future eternal life of the faithful, obtains value to the highest degree as the aim of the Triune God in His one and only Church. Within the context of this charismatic unity of the Church, neither the refined idolizations of the married (both spouses and children), nor of the unmarried (clergy or monastic), of any person or institution, have any existential place whatsoever. Thus, if some form of ecclesiastical unity happens to be idolized and clergy of all ranks and laity appear as worshippers, this means that this form of unity is created and autonomous from the Church itself, and, therefore, clearly to be rejected, as foreign to its character.
The perfect and charismatic unity of the Church is, according to St. John Chrysostom, understood and revealed in practice as harmony as to the phronema (mindset) - faith -, but also as harmony as to the internal disposition - love. First of all, however, unity presupposes the same-uniform phronema. Indeed, it is the oneness of mind that, in practice, guarantees unity, whereas love - according to the same Father- derives from the right faith (PG 62, 509). That is precisely the reason that the "ἐν ἑνί στόματι καί μιᾷ καρδίᾳ" [with one mouth and one heart] doxology of the Triune God in the divine worship presupposes not only the faith, but necessarily also a life in the Holy Spirit, which is, most essentially, a life of genuine and uncreated love. With these experiential presuppositions, both the unity of the Church, as a whole, and the unity of the faithful, as members of the Church, have their visual manifestation in the Eucharistic Assembly, within the context of Divine Worship.
From all that has been stated above, we believe that it is clear and absolutely understandable, that, both ontologically and practically, unity with heretics condemned by Ecumenical Councils is totally impossible without their repentance and entry - in accordance with the Holy Canons - into the One and only, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church.
It is, therefore, also obvious that the unconditional and arbitrary "ecclesiasticalization" of heretics by the so-called "Holy and Great Council of Crete" is ecclesiastically unacceptable, void and ineffectual, and constitutes spiritual adultery, which, according to the Old Testament, is an abomination to God, Who is a "zealous" God. This anti-canonical "ecclesiasticalization" in no way binds, ecclesiastically, any Orthodox believer who wants to remain - being truly faithful - true to the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, "a follower" - in this particular way - "of the holy fathers."
II. The Brutal Abuse of the Unity of the Church
Over the past few decades, those among the ecumenists - whether they be Patriarchs, Bishops, Priests or lay theologians - have often referred to the unity of the Church in an entirely misleading way, extensively misusing the High Priestly Prayer of Christ and especially its central phrase: «ἵνα ὦσιν ἕν», or "that they all may be one".
The systematic effort to carry out the brutal abuse of the unity of the Church began as early as 1961, fifty-five years ago, with the Pre-Synodical Conferences. Hence, the conclusions of the "Council" of Crete, which are of a dogmatic character, do not simply represent a sudden and serious theological misstep, but rather a pre-planned, systematically promoted and decades-old objective of the advocates of Ecumenism within the Orthodox Church. This "Council" chose whatever was most exalted, most sacred in the Church - Her unbreakable unity, grounded in the Holy Spirit - and profaned it all the while claiming to defend and promote it. At the same time, with the pre-synodical and synodical proceedings - based upon the Organization and Working Procedure of the "Council" of Crete - and all of the accompanying activity, the Spirit-inspired, conciliar way of our Most Holy Church was terribly misrepresented.
In particular, during both the Synaxis of the Primates and representatives of the Autocephalous Churches in Chambésy, Switzerland and the "Council" of Crete, there dominated a deceptive promotion, in a misleading manner, as a frontispiece, of the supreme value of the unity of the Church without, however, the meaning of "the unity of the Church" having been previously determined with all theological exactitude, just as Orthodox ecumenists had previously done with reference to the term "love".
An unspecified theological unity was systematically projected, and, simultaneously, unity having been made absolute, autonomous and an idol, the bugaboo of division was cultivated psychologically, with the slogan: "we must not be divided." The result was that the papal view of the "protos" ruled the day and pre-planned, unacceptable concessions and dogmatic discounts were advanced, so that the "phil-adelphi" (love of one's brother) ecumenist theory of unity was blindly adopted by its admirers as a panacea, and "phil-theia" (love of God) set aside. They promoted the supreme and surpassing value of the High Priestly Prayer, aiming, in an autonomous and unconditional manner, at the condensing of the content of ecclesiastical unity, which the Biblical phrase "that they all may be one" expresses, and they abused it, just as was done by the heterodox Roman Catholics and Protestants. They promoted, in other words, a unity, essentially unspecified, theologically baseless and primarily without presuppositions. Thus, the Hierarchs which gathered in Crete, as ones not walking "in the Holy Spirit and Truth," did not "rightly divide the word of Truth," for, in the name of a unity wrongly conceived they made compromises in terms of dogma.
To be even more precise, at the "Council" of Crete, after the theoretically always accepted ontological unity of the Church, as the unity of Her fullness in Christ and in the Holy Spirit with God the Father, was essentially set aside, an attempt was made to synodically ratify a new, strange, two-fold ecclesiology.
The result of the vote of the "unequally yoked" Primates in favor of the council's 6th text was a heterogeneous "fabrication," a "grotesque distortion," a "monstrosity." This came to pass because of the commingling of Orthodox and heterodox ecclesiology, since the heterodox, those condemned by Ecumenical Councils as heretics, were reckoned to be Churches.
Without considerable theological or spiritual scrutiny, those Hierarchs voting in favor of the text accepted heretics as Churches. They appeared to accepted - theoretically - the ontological unity of the Church while simultaneously recognizing "ecclesiality" among the heretics. Thus, they introduced a new teaching - a cacodox ecclesiology. In practice, they have adopted post-Patristic theology and theological double-mindedness. Instead of the scriptural, "yea, yea," and "nay, nay" (Mat. 5:37), they accepted the "yea" and "nay" of syncretistic Ecumenism, the theologically and spiritually unacceptable and abominable communion of "light" with "darkness" (see: 2 Cor. 6:14).
However, with the theologically and spiritually repugnant double-mindedness and two-fold ecclesiology introduced by those Hierarchs voting in favor of the 6th text, the character of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is undermined and distorted, the "door" to every Christian heresy is flung open, the pan-heresy of Ecumenism is legitimized synodically and, practically speaking, Orthodox Ecclesiology - defined with great theological precision in the Oros and Symbol of Faith of the Second Ecumenical Council - is distorted.
The Hierarchs which gathered in Crete approved - light-heartedly and without much scrutiny, motivated by a perverted and diabolical "brotherly love" and desire to please men - a counterfeit ecclesiastical unity, which is understood to be a synthesis of the diachronic Spiritual, charismatic experience of the Orthodox Church with a unity of an heretical character, introduced by the deceptive spirits of delusion.
Thus, at the "Council" of Crete the already existing, serious absence of criteria for deceit-free, orthodox theologizing was made apparent. The Spiritual gift of discerning the spirits, foundational for the spiritual leader, was experientially shown to be absent in those who voted in favor of the disputed text. This is so for they confused the Holy Spirit with the unclean spirits, not discerning - in practice - the Holy Spirit, which vivifies the Theanthropic body of the Church, from the unclean spirits, which dominate within the heresies.
Carefully considering the "conciliar" process and the results of the voting, we come to see clearly, but with pain of heart, that those Hierarchs which voted in favor were not looking to Christ but to the "Protos." Consequently, they were unable to labor as συν-οδικοί [members of the synod, lit. together on the way], literally speaking, since they were not - practically - "following the Holy Fathers," both in terms of the process of the Way and with respect to the content of the Hypostatic Way. This is apparent, beyond all doubt and most especially, by the results of the vote.
The ecclesiastical responsibility of those Hierarchs who were Synodical Representatives of the Church of Greece in Crete and accepted - passively and in writing - the proposal of their Primate, is immense. And, yet, likewise those Hierarchs who, although not in attendance, have nonetheless passively accepted the mistaken decisions and, moreover, the breech of the synodical decision of the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece, also carry a great weight of responsibility.
In practice, those Hierarchs who voted "yea" seemed to seek to please their supposed heads (the Primates) and not Him (the Comforter) Who ordained them as Hierarchs with equal honor. In this way, then, the underlying papism of these Hierarchs was revealed. If we were to speak with academic precision, we could say that here we have a "mutation" of Papal Primacy under the guise of conciliarity, given that this conciliarity was not functioning according to Orthodox presuppositions. During the "Council" there appeared a collective Primacy of the Primates of the Autocephalous Churches. Each group of 24 Hierarchs from each Local Church was effectively immobilized, not having the right to vote. Of course, this papal-type of mutation of the functioning of the "Protos" had already made its practical appearance at the pre-synodical Conferences for the sake of the falsely considered unity of the Church.
That which is scandalously provocative and simultaneously tragic is that even today certain of those Hierarchs who did not participate in the "Council" of Crete, while having a burning interest to avoid divisions between themselves and their Primate, in the name of brotherly love, but maintaining a mistaken understanding of the unity of the Church, are not in the least interested, for the sake of the love of God, in the grave wound caused to the Spiritual unity of the Church - a wound caused by the adoption of their two-fold Ecclesiology, including the inadmissable "ecclesialization" of condemned and unrepentant heretics.
The "Council" of Crete, not only did not work toward the expression of the unity of the Church, as it was supposed to have done, it demolished the existing unity between the Autocephalous Churches and the bishops who represented them. This was made clear by the absence of the four Patriarchates (Antioch, Russia, Bulgaria and Georgia), numbering an overwhelming majority of faithful compared to the ten Autocephalous Churches which were represented at the "Council." The demolishing of the sought-for ecclesiastical unity also happened in practice and was expressed by those Hierarchs who refused to sign the 6th text.
A double standard was accepted at the "Council" of Crete, as a way of serving the wrongly perceived ecclesiastical unity, as it was applied in the cases of the Autocephalous Churches of Serbia and Greece. In particular, the Primate of the Serbian Church voted in favor of the 6th text, supposedly expressing the decision of the Synod of his Hierarchy, but, in fact, coming into direct opposition with the majority of his synodal bishops (17 out of 24), while the Primate of the Church of Greece ignored the unanimous decision of the Hierarchy of his Church and voted against it for the sake of the falsely understood unity of the Church. In other words, he voted in favor of a unity, independent from the synodical decision of his Church. In this move of his he was supported by the inconsistency shown toward the unanimous synodical decision of the Hierarchy by those 23 other Hierarchs in Crete who signed the text, with the bright exception of the 24th bishop of the retinue.
Likewise, in the case of the Church of Cyprus things were not much better. After the "Council" of Crete had finished, the Primate of the Church spoke ill of the stance taken by four Hierarchs of his Church which did not sign the 6th text and, entirely arbitrarily and in violation of every administrative and spiritual code of conduct, signed on their behalf, for the sake of the falsely considered unity, an action which not only constitutes a papal mentality and a lack of integrity for a man of the Church, but is likewise punishable as a crime.
Thus, the triumphal refutation of the aim of expressing ecclesiastical unity, which was presented as the purpose for which the "Holy and Great Council" of Crete was called, was accomplished - in practice - with the abstention of four Patriarchates, the glaring break in communion of two Patriarchates (Jerusalem and Antioch), the synodically negligent vote in favor of the 6th text by a Primate of an Autocephalous Church (Greece), the refusal of a large number of participating Hierarchs to sign the controversial dogmatic text, and finally, the lack of participation of all of the bishops of the Church.
For all of the above-mentioned theological reasons, the ecclesiastical responsibility of the Hierarchy of our Church, but also of the entire body of the Church, is exceptionally grave and extensive. Fortunately, the devout ecclesiastical body of believers remains faithful to the ecclesiology of the Second Ecumenical Council - ἑπόμενο τοῖς ἁγίοις Πατράσι [following the Holy Fathers] - and rejects outright the two-fold ecclesiology which was introduced and passed by the "Council" of Crete, thus legitimizing "institutionally" the cancer of Ecumenism in the "spotless" body of the Church.
In particular, the Hierarchs of the Church of Greece are obliged to make a responsible decision, first of all personally, but afterwards as a collective body during the next meeting of the Hierarchy, mainly with respect to the 6th text, by which heretics were recognized as Churches at the "Council" of Crete. The devout body of the faithful, as guardians of the faith of the Church (Council of 1848), likewise await an explanation as to why the Primate of their Church did not stand up for the unanimous decision of the Hierarchy. Even more importantly, the faithful await from the Hierarchy a condemnation of the two-fold, heretical, syncretistic and ecumenistic ecclesiology of the "Council" of Crete.
As faithful, we also await, in due time, for initiatives to be undertaken, in cooperation with the four Patriarchates which did not take part in the "Council" of Crete, to convene in the near future a Pan-Orthodox Council which will, with its broader authority, restore - officially and synodically - the shaken ecclesiastical unity, condemn the two-fold ecclesiology of the "Council" of Crete and publish the minutes of the questionable "Council".
Lastly, we would like to end on a realistically optimistic note. We hold that, with all that we have written above, we remain - as followers of the Holy Fathers - with Christ and His Church, and, consequently, we remain with the present and eschatological Victor. To be sure, having in mind the indisputable Biblical and Patristic Truth that the instigator of all heresy is the devil, it is certain that the deceiver thought that, for the time being, he had won an exceptionally great victory against the Church of Christ with the "Council" of Crete - since all of the Christian heresies were "recognized" as Churches in the 6th text of the Council. It is apparent that he does have every reason to celebrate to the detriment of the Church, for there has never been, in the history of the Church, such a "Council" as this, which legitimized synodically all of the heresies in one text. This reality brings deep anguish and pain to those faithful who are able to become informed and properly understand what is now happening in their Church.
Nevertheless, it is absolutely certain that his joy is already being turned to profound sorrow. This is so because, the devout faithful of the Church, motived by mindful obedience to the Church, diachronically and not undiscerningly to its administration, on account of the experientially lived repentance, ascetic stillness and prayer, will never accept this "Council." This is how, in practice, the theologically and spiritually shameful decision in favor of the "ecclesiasticalization" of the heresies is overturned.
The "Council" of Crete, for the conscience of the devout body of the faithful of the Church, is as never having occurred.
III. THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE CHURCH WITH HER ADMINISTRATION
The "Council" of Crete, as is well known, neither made reference - diachronically - to previous Ecumenical or Pan-Orthodox Councils, nor condemned any of the heresies already condemned by earlier Councils, nor, of course, any of the contemporary heresies - a state of affairs which constitutes an “innovative” dissonance within the history of Orthodox Church Councils.
Astonishingly, however, this "Council" threatens those Orthodox who will take issue with its decisions.
Furthermore, the above "Council" unwittingly confuses the Church, per se, - as the Theanthropic, mysteriological body of Christ - with her administration.
With regard to this most crucial issue we will point out - as succinctly as is possible - the following important points, from the perspective of Orthodox ecclesiology.
Τhe recent ecclesiological aberration of the "Council" of Crete demonstrated, once again, that which is already recorded in the history of our Church. Namely, the Council demonstrated that the synodical system of itself does not mechanically assure the authenticity of the Orthodox Faith. This happens only when the conciliar bishops have active within them the Holy Spirit and the Hypostatic Way, that is, Christ, and so as "syn-odikoi" [Συν-Οδικοί] (which in Greek means, those who go on the Way which is Christ, together with Christ) they are also in practice "followers of the Holy Fathers" [ἑπόμενοι τοῖς ἁγίοις Πατράσι].
Αs was made clear, unfortunately this is not at all obvious in our days. Hence, the argument which is often put forward by both believers and priests and bishops is erroneous, namely, that we will do “whatever the Church says” or “we wait for the Church’s decision”, by which is usually meant, unwisely so, any decision of the Church administration, thus ignoring that there is a clear distinction between the Church, per se, as the Theanthropic, mysteriological Body of Christ and the Church administration, which indeed expresses the Church, but only under certain and clear presuppositions.
The Bishops in their diocese and the Councils of the Bishops on a Local or Pan-Orthodox level constitute the Church administration. These bishops, along with their priests of the Local Churches and the faithful people of God form the Church of Christ. Consequently, the Bishop cannot ignore the priests and the fullness of the Church. This is also shown historically. At the First Apostolic Council – where the "Protos" and President was not the Apostle Peter but James the Brother of the Lord – the Synodical Truth was expressed along "with the whole Church" (Acts 15:22): "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." The “us” referred not only to the Apostles, but also to “those along with them” («οἱ σύν αὐτοῖς»), namely the presbyters, “along with the whole Church” («σύν ὅλῃ τῇ Ἐκκλησίᾳ»). The whole Church is also the faithful people. Likewise, in the case of First Ecumenical Council, the whole Church expressed Herself in the theological position of a young deacon, Athanasius the Great.
Accordingly, the correctness and universality of a Pan-Orthodox Council is judged infallibly by the fullness of the members of the Church and specifically by the vigilant dogmatic consciousness of the devout body of the Church. This [dogmatic] consciousness [of the pious faithful] constitutes the only interpretative “key” for the ascertainment of the authenticity of Her phronema.
And by dogmatic consciousness we mean the spiritual knowledge which is born – charismatically – in the heart of the faithful by the uncreated Spiritual Grace of their activated Holy Chrismation. It is the condensed spiritual experience within the Church, i.e. the Holy Spirit, which we received, acting within us. This is the only equality between men within the Body of Christ. For this reason also the dogmatic consciousness of the faithful is entirely independent of their worldly learning and their possible intellectual or non-intellectual occupation. So, when this dogmatic consciousness of the members of the Church is activated, it is shown to be the supreme criterion of truth.
It is a fact, arising from the very nature of the Church and witnessed to irrefutably in our ecclesiastical history, that there have been not only patriarchs, metropolitans, and bishops that were heretics but even Pan-Orthodox Councils, which – although they constitute the supreme Administrative organs of the Church – were rejected by the conscience of the body of the Church and were characterized as False or Robber Councils.
And this was because in dogmatic matters the truth does not lie with the majority of the Synodical Hierarchs. The truth, per se, is preponderant. Even when one man expresses it, the truth is the majority over the millions and billions of opposing votes. For the Truth in the Church is not an idea, it is not an opinion. It is Hypostatic. It is Christ himself. For this reason, too, whoever stands opposed to the Truth is cut off from the Church, after having been defrocked and excommunicated, depending on the circumstances.
The truth is the very Spirit of Truth, Which acts and is expressed even by isolated individuals. History has shown this characteristically in the person of Saint Maximus the Confessor, as well as St Mark (Evgenikos), Metropolitan of Ephesus, at the false Council of Florence, who stood as one against the reign of the majority.
Here it is clearly shown that one man gave voice to the mind of the Church and he was justified by Church History, and, moreover, he was sanctified in relation to all the others - the Emperor, the Patriarch and all other participants - who did not expound the truth. Therefore, it is not a matter of numbers, but a matter of Truth or non-Truth. We must not forget this, for it is the qualitative difference between Orthodoxy and heterodoxy in practice. The Orthodox Church does not function in a papal manner. In the Church the Pope does not stand above the Ecumenical Councils, as he does among the papists, nor, of course, is there any individual Pope in our Church who is placed above the Hierarchy of our Church.
Therefore, the criterion in the Church is not that the whole Orthodox Church came together and decided something by majority. It is possible, theoretically, that all the bishops could be present with one, two, three, or just a few of them holding something to the contrary. It does not hold that what the vast majority of the bishops say constitutes a guarantee of Truth and that the body [of the Church] must necessarily accept this. No, this is not how things are in the Church. The criterion of Truth is whether what is said at the Ecclesiastical Councils is “following the Holy Fathers”.
The decisions of this Hierarchal “Conference” of Crete are a matter which the entire Church must evaluate, in Council, in the future, both theologically and definitively. Until this happens, however, every faithful member of the Church can and ought to take a position on the unconfirmed decisions of this “Conference” based upon the criteria of the dogmatic, diachronic consciousness of the Church. The unassailable criteria of this dogmatic consciousness are summed up in the patristic saying: “following the holy Fathers”. This saying is crucial as it pertains as much to the organization and way of the Councils as to their dogmatic teaching.
In other words, if the devout body of the faithful of the Church – as the bearer of Her dogmatic consciousness – either confirms the correctness of the decisions of Church Councils or nullifies decisions of Pan-Orthodox Councils, considering them to be false councils, then it is obvious that it also has the right and the duty to express itself, with fear of God and divine zeal, with respect to the decisions of the “Council” of Crete (cf. Fr. George Florovsky, The Body of Living God; An Orthodox Interpretation of the Church, Armos, Athens, 1999, pp. 80-83).
With the deepest respect,
I kiss your right hand,
Professor of the Theological School
of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Translated by Fr. Peter Heers