Athonite Monks on the Pan-Orthodox Council

Athonite monasticism has always stood on guard for
the purity of Orthodoxy. Athonites have actively
participated in the work of Church councils and came out
against the unions of Lyons and Florence. Ecumenical
contacts have repeatedly come under criticism from
Athonites (letters to the Ecumenical Patriarchate,
proclamations, reports of the Holy Kinot), however most
Athonite monks throughout the whole history of the Holy
Mountain have avoided zealous demonstrations and
indiscriminate criticisms of the hierarchy. With filial
respect and love and veneration Athonites have expressed
their opinions, suggestions, and warnings, even ready,
when danger hung over Orthodoxy, to go to their martyrdoms
but not to change their convictions.

The Holy Mountain awaits the Pan-Orthodox Council with
careful attention. On Athos they pray and hope that its
participants will remain within the bounds of Orthodox
Tradition, previously outlined by the Ecumenical Councils
and Church Tradition.

A limited number of Athonites have unconditionally
supported the Council. Of these only the well-known
theologian and ecclesial author Archimandrite Vasileios
(Gontikakis) of Iveron has openly declared his position.
February 3, 2016 Fr. Vasileios published an extensive
theological article “On the Great Council of the
Orthodox Church.” In this publication he emphasized
the inseparable connection of the Church with the mystery
of Pentecost and critically replied to the
“superficial ecumenists and fanatical
zealots,” who are “prisoners of one and the
same prison. They are withdrawn into only their own view,
deprived of the boldness of faith and love of
truth.”

Archimandrite Vasileios has taken part in a number of
international conferences in support of the impending
Pan-Orthodox Council, in particular, in the Symposium
“On the Eve of the Holy and Great Council of the
Orthodox Council” on the island of Crete (May 15-16,
2016). In his reports Fr. Vasileios emphasized that the
decisions of the Councils of the Orthodox Church should be
accepted not by men, but “in the Holy Spirit.”
“Whether a council becomes ecumenical or not depends
not on the decisions of men, but is the fruit of the
living ecclesial consciousness in the Spirit, which
infallibly bears the judgments of every Council and
theologian.”

Not taking into account the position of the zealots of the
old brotherhood of Esphigmenou and a few Athonite kellis
that are outside of eucharistic communion with the
Orthodox Church, in the first phase regarding the
Pan-Orthodox Council only a few individual Athonite monks
spoke out.

Elder Gabriel
Elder Gabriel
The renowned Athonite elders
Gabriel of Karyes and John Papagiannis spoke out
against the Holy and Great Council on Crete. The
“Open letter of Athonite fathers to the
Ecumenical Patriarchate and other autocephalous
Orthodox Churches, to the Holy Kinot of the Holy
Mountain, and to the fullness of the Christian
Church” with criticisms of the Pan-Orthodox
Council was signed also by only a few monks of the
kellis and members of the council of elders of the
Great Lavra of St. Savvas. These last actively
defended their position in the Greek and foreign
media.

On April 24, 2016 an open letter of six Athonite
monasteries was disclosed to the Holy Kinot of the Holy
Mountain. The monasteries of Koutloumousiou, Xeropotamou,
Zografou,
Karakallou,
Philotheou,
and Grigoriou
criticized the documents adopted at the meeting of the
primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in Chambesy
January 21-28, 2016, especially the document
“Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of
the Christian World.”

The Athonite fathers in writing expressed their alarm and
anxiety regarding the Pan-Orthodox Council and their
urgent request to bring the documents into discussion at
the meeting of the representatives and abbots of the
Athonite monasteries on the feast of the Resurrection of
Christ.

In a letter of the Holy Monastery of Karakallou (March 3,
2016) is particularly said: “As emerges from the
study of the pre-approved texts, the statements made with
regard to ecclesiological issues are precarious and
ambiguous and allow for interpretations which divert from
Orthodox dogma. Likewise, in the text under discussion it
is stated that the decisions of the Synod will be binding
for the full body of the Church—something which
impinges upon the Orthodox conscience.”

In the message of Xeropotamou Monastery it is emphasized
that “The calling of the Pan-Orthodox Council
… in light of the now already-existing barefaced
mystery of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7), may truly have
historical value, if it can show in today’s
confusion and impenetrable darkness the one Truth, the
one, true Light of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Meanwhile Archimandrite Joseph, the abbot of the Holy
Monastery of Xeropotamou, and the brothers did not conceal
their “uneasiness,” recalling that “the
great history of the Church itself undoubtedly witnesses
that not every council of bishops safeguards the truth, or
is foreign to all fallacies.” Having studied the
document on the relations of the Orthodox Church with the
rest of the Christian world, the inhabitants of
Xeropotamou expressed their belief that “by all that
is written and implied in the above-mentioned documents
… the ideologues and composers have undertaken
legal justification for Christian syncretism-ecumenism as
one of the decisions of the Pan-Orthodox Council.”

In the message of Grigoriou Monastery is underlined that
the main problem of the document “Relations of the
Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian
World” is the “vague use of the term
‘Church.’” In the opinion of the
Grigoriou brothers, the Orthodox Church contains the
entire fullness of truth, while the heterodox have usurped
the title and properties of the One, Holy, Catholic and
Apostolic Church. Thus it is necessary to introduce
changes into the text so that those dwelling outside the
barriers of the Orthodox Church will not get the
impression “that there is no need to look for a path
of return to the bosom of the ‘One, Holy, Catholic,
and Apostolic Church—the Orthodox
Church.’”

The text of the pre-conciliar document “The Mystery
of Marriage and its Impediments,” according to the
brethren of Grigoriou, contains a position of regularizing
the “theologically incorrect ‘baptismal
theology.’” In the question of “mixed
marriages with the heterodox” the brotherhood of
Grigoriou urged not to accept innovations, but to follow
the sacred canons of the Orthodox Church.

Grigoriou Monastery
Grigoriou Monastery
The document “The
Mission of the Orthodox Church in the Modern
World” is also subject to criticism in the
letter of Grigoriou. The brothers of the monastery
expressed their conviction that in this question
it’s necessary to maintain a boundary between
the position of the Orthodox Church and the heterodox
“churches” and also criticized some
mistaken modern theological theories about human
personhood which are reflected in this
document.

Besides the message to the Holy Kinot, the brotherhood of
Grigoriou composed an extensive text, “Comments and
Proposals for the Documents of the Holy and Great
Council” with detailed amendments and additions,
“in order to avoid an erroneous witness to the
Orthodox Church.” The text was translated into
several languages by the initiative of the brothers and
was circulated online.

The brothers of Philotheou Monastery expressed their
“confusion as to the purpose of calling the Council
in such trying times” in their own letter. Omitting
the remaining topics for discussion at the Council, they
concentrated on critiques of the document “Relations
of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian
World.” The inhabitants of Philotheou expressed hope
that the Council will manage to avoid any form of
recognition of the heterodox as Churches.

In the letter of Koutloumousiou Monastery (March 26, 2016)
is emphasized “the extraordinary importance of the
impending council for the future of the Orthodox
world.” On this the brothers made a number of
comments concerning the texts proposed for discussion at
the Pan-Orthodox Council (in them “besides many
positive points … there arises also questions
concerning the theological content of Patristic
tradition.”)

The monks of the Athonite monastery expressed their belief
that the upcoming council reminds of rather “a
meeting of the Primates, and not a Pan-Orthodox
Council.” Giving the right to vote only to the
Church Primates and the participation of a limited number
of bishops from every Local Orthodox Church
“unwillingly promotes the permeation of the theology
of primacy which is a continuation of the theology of
personhood which appeared in the twentieth century.”

Commenting on the prospects of interfaith dialogue, the
brothers of Koutloumousiou called it
“incoherent” for the “One, Holy,
Catholic and Apostolic Church to confess the existence of
other Christian churches.”

In their letter Koutloumousiou highlighted that “the
fullness of the Church expects that the upcoming Council
will not ignore the decisions of the councils held with
the participation of St. Photios and St. Gregory Palamas
… If this isn’t done it will be demonstrated
that the Orthodox Church doesn’t accept theology
since the Seventh Ecumenical Council.”

Also, the brothers of Koutloumousiou spoke about the
“misapprehension about the appropriateness of the
presence at the Pan-Orthodox Council of heterodox
observers.”

In the final section of the letter it is written:
“The fullness of the Church expects that the Holy
and Great Council will become a genuine expression of
Tradition. At the same time, authoritative voices continue
to come from all sides which reinforce the trepidation
that some decisions will cause bigger or smaller problems
and possibly lead to a schism.”

26 Martyrs of Zografou, burned alive by Catholic Crusaders
26 Martyrs of Zografou, burned alive by Catholic Crusaders
In the beginning of their letter to
the Holy Kinot the brotherhood of Zografou Monastery
reported that they “carefully studied”
the documents prepared for adoption at the
Pan-Orthodox Council, and expressed their
“considerations and concerns.”

In particular, the Athonite monks expressed their
disagreement with the fact that at the Council there will
not be the possibility of “introducing changes into
the documents adopted at the pre-conciliar
meetings.”

“The consistent one-sidedness of the text” of
the document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with
the rest of the Christian World,” according to the
beliefs of the Zografou brotherhood “creates the
impression of premeditation: the composers of the text
tried to ‘appease’ the so-called
‘churches and confessions,’ that is, those
existing outside the One and only Church.”

“Of course, this gives rise to unclear formulations
and terminological confusion and radical divergence from
the direction in which the Orthodox Church has marched for
two thousand years, at their official meetings laying down
the border between truth and error which preserves their
flocks from the danger of various heretical
teachings.” Conversely, in the document
“Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of
the Christian World” the “term
‘Church’ is confused with various Christian
communities, also called in this text
‘churches.’”

The Zografou brothers believe that such one-sidedness
occurs in the text and in the evaluation of the bilateral
dialogues of the Orthodox Church and other Christian
confessions, while most confess their ‘complete
failure.’”

The Athonite monks emphasize that “the excessive
steps towards a meeting with the heterodox increases the
number of Orthodox believers who depart to various zealot
groups and formations. Paradoxically, efforts to enter
into dialogue with those who are so close to the Church
are not undertaken, but all strength is directed towards
rapprochement with those far away.”

According to some commentators, their proposals for
revising the documents of the Pan-Orthodox Council at the
meeting of the Holy Kinot were sent to other Athonite
monasteries (but for various reasons were not public). In
any case, discussion of the documents took place, and the
fruit of the discussion was the final document, signed by
representatives of every Athonite monastery.

The letter was addressed to Patriarch Bartholomew of
Constantinople; also, in accordance with the decision of
the Holy Kinot, copies of the letter were delivered to
every Local Church. The Athonites emphasized that
“they are diligently praying,” that the Lord
would “bless and direct on the right path this most
important work of the Holy and Great Council for the
benefit of His Church.” They also noted that
“some provisions of the texts presented for the
Council require clarification” and humbly presented
“their proposals to the judgement and evaluation of
the Church.”

In the letter it is emphasized that the term
“Church” is acceptably used only in reference
to the Orthodox Church; the heterodox should be defined as
“Christian teachings and confessions.”
According to the Holy Kinot “the meaning of the
unity of the Church is in need of elucidation … In
the unity of the Church is found only the members of the
Orthodox Church, the Body of Christ … Only to them
can be attributed the words that they may be one, as
We are One.

In this regard they proposed to change the expression in
paragraph five of the document “Relations of the
Orthodox Church with the rest of the Orthodox
World:” “the search for the lost unity of
Christians” to: “the return to the truth of
those Christians who have removed themselves from the
Church.”

The Athonites also expressed their disagreement with the
way dialogue is carried out between the Orthodox Church
and the heterodox: “The Holy Kinot more than once
and in various circumstances has officially spoken out
against the theological agreements with the heterodox, and
protested against common prayers and liturgical
celebrations (kissing, and so on).”

The Holy Mountain underlined that the criterion of the
truth of the faith is “the conscience of the
fullness of the Church,” which can be expressed by
individual people, not only by Councils.

The Athonite monks expressed certainty over the necessity
of mentioning in the documents of the Pan-Orthodox Council
the Councils of St. Photios the Great (879) and St. Gregory
Palamas (1341 and 1351), as they clearly demonstrated
the “dogmatic and ecclesiological discrepancies with
the heterodox (Filioque, created grace, papal
primacy).”

Additionally, the Holy Mountain proposed to include in the
document “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in the
Modern World” a detailed reference to Orthodox
anthropology and cosmology (based on the teaching of St.
Gregory Palamas).

In the final section of the letter the Athonite monks
point to the necessity of “correcting the texts of
the pre-conciliar documents,” so that they would
express the beliefs of the entire fullness of the Church
and not become an occasion for schism and division,
“and that all the fullness of the Church ‘with
one mouth and one heart’ would praise the All-Holy
Triune God as the hope and salvation of the whole
world.”

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