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Pan-Orthodox Cooperation will Flourish when the Deeper Cause of our Divisions are Overcome

Interview with Protopresbyter Peter Heers by Sergei Chapnin for Lodka Magazine (Moscow)

http://lodka.sreda.org/

1) How do you assess the results of the Pan-Orthodox Council in general? Do they coincide with your expectations?

Unfortunately, the failure of the Council was pre-determined by the anti-synodical, unorthodox methodology followed prior to and implemented at the Council itself. The Way and Truth of our Lord and the Oecumenical Councils (especially with respect to ecclesiology) was not followed or expressed.

We witnessed, for example, the last minute overhaul of the problematic "Relations" text and the withholding of the proposed texts from not only the faithful but even the Local Synods until after the date of the Council was announced, thus setting the stage for the eventual exit of several Local Churches. Furthermore, there was disregard both of the need for approval for the Council by the Local Synods and to the objections of the Churches of Georgia and Antioch.

But, should the Cretan gathering even be termed a "Council" when only 10 of the bishops (the Primates) had the right to vote on the documents, only about 1/4th of all bishops were invited, and 4 of the 14 Local Churches, representing more than half of all Orthodox, were not present? An Orthodox Council presupposes the participation (including the right to vote) of all Orthodox bishops. The Cretan gathering should rather be referred to as another gathering of Primates, only this time with their retinue. As such, it's decisions hold no binding authority for the universal church. Nevertheless, insomuch as some Orthodox bishops have endorsed its decisions, they demand a response from the entire Body of the Church as to their orthodoxy or lack thereof.

2) How do you feel about the documents of the Council? Do you agree that they provide an adequate response to the challenges of the modern world? Please provide specific examples.

Given the fact that the greatest challenge to Church unity today is ecclesiological relativism, the "Cretan Council" was a dismal failure. The documents do not remind one of Patristic texts, but rather texts produced in the worldly "World Council of Churches." Unsurprisingly, then, the Hierarchs in Crete ignored the proverbial "elephant" in the room: the promotion of the new "ecumenical ecclesiology" and accompanying anti-canonical prayer with representatives of synodically condemned heretical confessions.

The "Relations" text on the heterodox represents a departure from Holy Tradition and the promotion of syncretistic ecumenism. This is most apparent in its recognition of the historical appellation, and thus the existence, of "heterodox churches" (a self-contradiction), and also the endorsement of unorthodox texts issued in the dialogue with the Papacy (ex. Balamand) and in the so-called "World Council of Churches" (ex. Pussan and Porte Alegre).

The tragic departure from Holy Tradition is also apparent in the text approved by the gathering on marriage, which directly overturns the 72nd canon of the Penthekte Oecumenical Council. In allowing for inter-marriages with the heterodox (totally theologically untenable) this document subtly but clearly presupposes "baptismal theology" and the Second Vatican Council's ecclesiology of "partial churches" outside of the One Church.

3) How do you assess the role of your local Church in the preparation process and during the Council: was it constructive? What specific contributions were made? If there are examples, please provide.

The hierarchy of the Church of Greece is to be commended that, even if at the ninth hour, the conciliar process was functional and corrections to the pre-synodical texts were approved unanimously. Unfortunately, these conciliar decisions were negated in Crete by the Archbishop and an oligarchy of Hierarchs when they - ignoring the clear mandate of the hierarchy - accepted the inclusion of the term "churches" for the heterodox confessions. In the end, the representatives of the Church of Greece did not represent the Church but only themselves. It remains to be seen what conciliar response will be made to the Archbishop's "coup" come this October at the meeting of the hierarchy.

4) In the last days before the Council the refusal four churches questioned the very possibility of the Council, however it was held. Do you personally think it was anyway Pan-Orthodox and why?

Unless words have lost their meaning, and pan-Orthodox now means less than 25% of all bishops and less than half of all Orthodox represented, the Cretan Council was not Pan-Orthodox. Given the innovative and divisive decisions made in Crete, the question that we now have to ask ourselves is not was it "pan-Orthodox," but was it Orthodox?

5) How do you assess the status of Pan-Orthodox cooperation after the Council? Some speak of a crisis of conciliarity. Do you agree with this assessment? If so, what can be the way out of the crisis?

There is most definitely a crisis of conciliarity in the Church, but it neither began in Crete nor is it limited to the pan-Orthodox level. The crisis exists on the episcopal and local level where bishops rule over the clergy and Archbishops and Patriarchs rule over the Local Church as kings over their kingdom. The irony is that, while Orthodox representatives stress the need for the Vatican to base relations between the Primate and the Local Church on the 34th Apostolic Canon, the Primates themselves regularly violate it and Holy Synods accept this. Why are there no repercussions when a Primate unilaterally acts without informing the hierarchy, let alone receiving their approval? At the Cretan Council we saw the unprecedented, anti-synodical practice of restricting voting to the 14 Primates of the Local Churches. What is this but a new form of Papalism, wherein the Primates operated not as "first among equals" but as "first without equals." This was most evident in the case of the Serbian Church's position on the "Relations" text, when, even though the majority of its bishops did not vote for the final text, the Patriarch ignored them and voted in favor of it.

Such papal tendencies exist in all of the Local Churches and until such excesses are corrected we should not expect any progress in concilarity on the pan-Orthodox level.

6) How can we shape the Pan-Orthodox cooperation today? What kind of questions can and should be dealt with together?

Pan-Orthodox cooperation will flourish when the deeper cause of our divisions are overcome. The gravest of crises presently afflicts the Church: a crisis of dogmatic consciousness, a sharp division over the doctrine of the Church. Such divisions arise when the "royal path" of the Fathers is neglected. When, for example, a hierarch recognizes per se the "mysteries" of heterodox confessions, he has abandoned the "royal path" of the Fathers, for which unity in Christ presupposes the unity of the mysteries in the One Mystery of the Church. Recognition of mysteries among the heterodox is a recognition of the Church there and thus its division. But, "Is Christ divided?"

Therefore, the root cause of division and the lack of conciliarity (catholicity, fullness) is a departure from the patristic consensus and the adoption of a fundamentalist-ecumenist, worldly ideology. The Orthodox must face this distortion by living and presenting the Patristic fullness, for only then will not only the symptoms (jurisdictional squabbles, unwise zealotry, etc.) be treated but the root of division (a heretical vision of the Church) will be healed.

It should be clear, then, that the unorthodox phronema and methodology which created "the Cretan fiasco" cannot be confronted with half-measures. If the unclean spirit which brought division in Crete is "confronted" with "coddling" for the sake of a superficial unity and external peace and not driven out with a clear confession of faith, we can only expect another Cretan-style fiasco in a few years and even more hemorrhaging in Christ's Body, the loss of "the little ones" for which He was crucified.

Posted on October 11th, 2016

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