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Epistle of Metropolitan of Nafpaktos to the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece for the Holy and Great Council, March 5th, 2016

Nafpaktos, 5 March 2016

To the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece

Translated into English, original text (in Greek):

Ἐπιστολή πρός τήν Ἱερά Σύνοδο τῆς Ἐκκλησίας τῆς Ἑλλάδος γιά τήν Πανορθόδοξο Σύνοδο

Your Beatitude, Chairman,

With reference to Synodical document Ref. no. 755/351 / 16.02.2016, which calls upon us  to give our views on the documents that will be discussed at the Holy and Great Council, I have the following to submit.

In the texts which were approved unanimously at the Summit of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches (Chambesy-Geneva 21-28 January 2016) there are a few points that need further elaboration and correction.

Of course, according to the Organization and Working Procedure of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Article 11), amendments, corrections and additions to the texts can be made during the discussions of each topic in plenary session, following the submission of proposals for amendments, corrections or additions. The approval of the amendments, after completion of the discussion, will be in accordance with the principle of unanimous approval by the delegations of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches during the proceedings of the Holy Synod. It is taken for granted that amendments which are not approved unanimously will not be accepted.

This means that every Church, including our Church, has the right to have an opinion and a vote on each issue raised in the texts and discussed. So freedom of expression is given for every point of view and we are, as Hierarchs, obliged to act accordingly.
I think that necessary corrections should be made mainly in two texts.

1. "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world"

In this text we observe a confusion of terminology, which is probably due to the consolidation of two texts, namely the document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world" and the document "Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement ".

However, if the necessary modifications are not made, then theological and ecclesiological “double language” will prevail in this text, something inappropriate in synodical texts and much more so in texts of the Holy and Great Council.

a) Terminology

The heading of the document, "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world", is correct, because its terminology is exact, that is, "the Orthodox Church" on the one hand and “the rest of the Christian world” on the other. Also, many expressions in the content of the document are consistent with the heading,  such as, "The Orthodox Church, being the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, in its deep ecclesiastical self-awareness" (Art. 1), "with  those divided from it, close by and far away" (Art. 4),  “to those outside it" (Art. 6).

However, other expressions in the text, such as "the Orthodox Church recognizes the historical existence of other Christian Churches or Confessions that are not in communion with it" (Art. 6) should be brought into line with the title to avoid “double language”.

Therefore, the phrase "the Orthodox Church recognizes the historical existence of other Christian Churches or Confessions" needs to be replaced with the phrase:

"the Orthodox Church knows that its charismatic boundaries are identical with its canonical boundaries, and also knows that there are other Christian Confessions, who cut themselves off from it and are not in communion with it. "
The same has to be done with other phrases.

b) The unity of the Church

The phrase in the document referring to the unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, that "the unity of the Church" (to be added: Orthodox Church) "is unshakable" (Art. 6) is correct, because, as is correctly pointed out again, "the responsibility of the Orthodox Church for unity, as well as its ecumenical mission, were expressed by the Ecumenical Councils” which “particularly highlighted the inextricable link that exists between correct faith and sacramental communion " (Art. 3).

However, other phrases in the document, which imply that the unity of the Church has been lost and efforts are being made to restore it, should be corrected.

The phrase that the Orthodox Church participates in theological dialogues "with the aim of seeking, on the basis of the faith and tradition of the ancient Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the lost unity of Christians" (Art. 5) indicates that what is argued elsewhere, that the unity of the church "is unshakable" (Art. 6), is not valid.

Therefore, this sentence has to be corrected in order to avoid giving the impression  that there is “double language” in the decisions of the Holy and Great Council, that there is no clear teaching, and that “windows have been left open" for other interpretations.

It should read: "The Orthodox Church participates in dialogues with the Christians who belong to various Christian Confessions, for restoring them to its faith, tradition and life."

c) Theological dialogues, in relation to Baptism

In the document there is a paragraph which is reminiscent of "baptismal theology", which is a key position of the Second Vatican Council. This is the paragraph:
"The prospects of the theological dialogues of the Orthodox Church with the other Christian Churches and Confessions are always determined on the basis of the canonical criteria of the already formed ecclesiastical tradition (Canon 7 of the Second and Canon 95 of Quinisext Ecumenical Councils)" (Art. 20).

Canons 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council and 95 of the Quinisext Council pronounce on the way in which heretical groups of that time are to be received into the Orthodox Church, by strict application of the rules and by economy.

Canon 95 of the Quinisext Council, which repeats Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council, decrees that the Eunomians "who were baptized with one immersion" should be rebaptized, and that the Montanists and Sabellians who "consider the Son to be the same as the Father, and do other unacceptable things and all the other heresies" should be rebaptized.  It clearly speaks of rebaptism when there is only one immersion, identification of the Father with the Son, and other heresies.

It is important that in 1756 the three Patriarchs of the East (Cyril V of Constantinople, Matthew of Alexandria, Parthenius of Jerusalem) published a decision (horos) that interprets these Canons with respect to the Westerners who come into the Orthodox Church. By this decision they receive the heretics from the West into Orthodoxy as “unholy and unbaptized”, apparently because there is a difference in the Trinitarian doctrine, due to the teaching about the filioque and created divine energy (actus purus), and there is also a difference in the form of the ritual, because there is no immersion, only "affusion" and "sprinkling" after the Council of Trent.

Therefore, in this decision of the Three Patriarchs there is a very clear interpretation of these Canons in connection with contemporary reality. The excerpt is cited:

"The Second and Quinisext holy Ecumenical Councils command that those that have not been baptized by three emersions and three immersions, calling aloud upon one divine person at every immersion, but were baptized in a different manner, be accepted as unbaptized in Orthodoxy. We follow those divine and holy decrees, and we consider heretical baptisms as inappropriate and foreign to the Apostolic divine commandment and the waters useless, as holy Ambrose and Athanasios the Great say, providing no sanctification to those that accept them, and useless for the cleansing of sins, and we consider them worthy of rejection and abominable. When those of them who were baptized without being properly baptized come to the Orthodox faith, we receive them as unbaptized, and without any danger we baptize them according to the Apostolic and Synodical Canons, upon which the Holy and Apostolic and Catholic Church of Christ, the common mother of us all, is invisibly based.  And with this shared judgment and declaration of ours we seal this decision, which is in accord with the apostolic and synodical decrees, certifying this by our signatures."

It is obvious that, with what is written in Article 20 of the document drawn up for adoption by the Holy and Great Council, there is an implicit attempt to revoke this decision of the three Patriarchs, which is founded on the whole ecclesiastical tradition.  As noted above, from the 8th century onwards the heresies of the filioque and the actus purus, and the improper baptism of the "Roman Catholics" by affusion and sprinkling, after the Council of Trent, and various other heretical views were introduced into various Christian Confessions.

Therefore, in order to have unity of thought throughout the document. in which it is written that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, that unity "is unshakable," and that there are also people "outside it", this paragraph should be amended to read:

"The prospects of the theological dialogues of the Orthodox Church with the other Christian Confessions are based on the faith and practice of the Orthodox Church, as determined by the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. The admission of non-Orthodox Christians into the Orthodox Church takes place according to the principles of strict application and economy. The principle of economy applies when a Christian Confession baptizes with three submersions and emersions according to the Apostolic and patristic form, and with the confession of the Holy, co-essential and indivisible Trinity. "

2. "The mission of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary World"

A few sentences which, though used extensively by the Orthodox, are nevertheless derived from modern existential philosophy and German idealism have found their way into this document.

These are the phrases: "value of the human person" and "communion of persons", which should be replaced with the words "value of the human" and "unity between people."

In the final version signed in Chambesy-Geneva (21-28 January 2016) some improvements was made to the previous text, which had been prepared by the 5th Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference (10-17 October 2015), but a few sentences remained referring to the "value of the human person" and further improvement is needed.

a) Human and not human person

Passages by St. Gregory the Theologian, Eusebius and St. Cyril of Alexandria are rightly referred to in the text, which speak of the value of the human and not the human person. There is also reference to the "protection of the value of the human" (A, Art. 2), and "the plan of God for humans" (A, Art. 1).

However, in the final text there remained a few sentences from the older version, such as "the value of the human person" (A, Art. 1), "common acceptance of the highest value of the human person" (A, Art. 3) “consideration of the human person"(B, Art. 3).

Therefore, the text should be consolidated and references to "human person" should be replaced with the word "human", which is well understood by everyone.

b) Communion of persons

In the document there is a problematic paragraph from the Orthodox point of view. It reads:
"One of the highest gifts of God to man, both as a specific bearer of the image of the personal God, and also as a communion of persons, reflecting by grace through the unity of the human race the life and the communion of the divine persons within the Holy Trinity, is the divine gift of freedom "(B, Art. 1).

This paragraph refers to "communion of the divine persons", to the unity of the human race as a "communion of persons" reflecting “by grace ... the life and the communion of the divine persons within the Holy Trinity", and that this "is the divine gift of freedom ". These phrases are unacceptable theologically because they confuse what is created with what is uncreated, and the unity between people with the unity of the Triune God.

This paragraph needs to be replaced with the following paragraph:
"God created humans in His image and according to His likeness and gave them the noetic faculty and freedom to choose: "He Who created man from the beginning, left him free and self-determining, only bound by the law of the commandment" (Gregory the Theologian 14., On Charity, 25. PG 35, 892A). Freedom makes humans capable of progress towards spiritual perfection, but at the same time entails the risk of disobedience, autonomy from God and, for that reason, of the fall, hence the tragic consequences of evil in the creation ".

Justification for the replacement of terms

To justify why it is proposed to replace the term "value of the human person" with the term "value of the human" and the deletion of the phrase "communion of persons reflecting the communion of the divine persons" the theological views will be pointed out briefly.

1. The Fathers of the 4th century determined that the Triune God is Three Persons, having the same essence-nature-energy and particular hypostatic properties (unbegotten, begotten, proceeding). The person is defined as essence together with the hypostatic properties.

2. In the Triune God there is interpenetration of the divine Persons, not communion of persons. That is, the Father communicates His essence to the Son by begetting and to the Holy Spirit by procession. Thus, the Father communicates His essence to the other Persons, but not His Person and His hypostatic property.

Thus there is communion of nature-essence, mutual indwelling and interpenetration of the Persons, and not communion of Persons.

3. "The Holy Fathers identified hypostasis with person and individual" (St. John Damascene). Christ is one person who has two natures united in His person unchangeably, unconfusedly, indivisibly, inseparably. Thus, the person and the individual are one and the same. The word individual (atomo in Greek) consists of negative “a” and the word “cut” or “divide” (tomi in Greek) and means " not divided or separated into parts" (St. John Damascene).[The English word ‘individual’ has an exactly parallel derivation and meaning.]This means that, while Christ has two natures, they are not divided in the one person of Christ the Logos. The distinction between person and individual comes from Western philosophy.

4. For humans the Fathers mainly used the term anthropos (human being, man). There is a vast difference between what is created and what is uncreated.

Whatever happens in the Triune God does not happen in humans. The theological concept of the human is expressed in the phrase "in His image" and "according to His likeness", which means humans are  directed toward deification.
In some patristic texts there is reference to man as a hypostasis, but always in the theological meaning of “in the image” and “according to the likeness” of God, with the principle of hypostasis (Heb. 3:14). Elder Sophrony writes in this sense and not in terms of modern philosophy.

5. Vladimir Lossky, who introduced the notion that man is a person into Orthodox vocabulary, nevertheless observes: "For my part, I must admit that until now I have not found what one might call an elaborated doctrine of the human person  in patristic theology, alongside its very precise teaching on divine persons or hypostases."

6. The problem however is not only the term “person” for humans but that modern theories about the "human person" and even more about the "sanctity" and "dignity of the human person" associate nature with necessity and sin, and the person with freedom, will and volition, and love. Such views are reminiscent of Arianism and Monotheletism which have been condemned by Ecumenical Councils.

7. Volition and free will belong to the nature, not to the person. The person is the one who wills, the will is the appetite of nature, and the thing that is willed is the result of the will of the one who wills. When will or volition is considered as hypostatic, namely, as belonging to the person, then each divine Person has His own will, volition and freedom, which results in tritheism. The Sixth Ecumenical Council imposes deposition on bishops and clergy, and excommunicates monks and laypeople, when they accept a hypostatic will.

8. Thus, while scholastic theology identifies energy with essence, modern personalistic theories link energy and volition with the person and introduce a voluntaristic personalism.

Because of the existence of all these problems, the phrase “value of the human person” in the document should be replaced by the phrase "value of the human" and all related expressions should be corrected. If this does not happen, then the rest of the document will be contradicted and, most importantly, any decision of the Holy and Great Council will be different from and contradict the decisions of all the Ecumenical Councils from the Fourth onwards.
Bringing these points to your attention, Your Beatitude, and to the attention of their Eminences the Hierarchs, I remain.

The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church

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