The recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the occasion of the Saint Andrew's day (30 November 2006) and the later visit of His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens Christodoulos to the Vatican (14 December 2006) gave rise to many impressions, evaluations and reactions. Leaving behind what the secular media evaluated as positive or negative, we shall focus on those things that pertain to our salvation, for the sake of which we had abandoned the world in order to live in the barrenness of the Holy Mountain.
As monks of the Holy Mountain, we respect the Ecumenical Patriarchate, under whose jurisdiction we fall. We honour and revere His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and we rejoice about all his God-loving achievements and diligent works for the good of the Church. We particularly commemorate his strong and unceasing defense of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as well as the impoverished local Orthodox Churches, amid many unfavourable conditions, and his care for making the message of the Orthodox Church heard throughout the world. Furthermore, we as monks of the Holy Mountain, honour the Holy Church of Greece, from which most of us originate, and we respect His Beatitude the Primate.
However, the events that took place during the recent visits of the Pope to Phanarion and of His Beatitude the Archbishop to the Vatican brought immense sorrow to our hearts.
We desire and struggle during all our lives to safeguard the legacy of the Holy Fathers, which was left to us by holy founders of our sacred monasteries and reposed fathers before us. We strive our best to live the mystery of the Church and the unblemished Orthodox faith, which we learn every day from divine services, holy readings, and teachings of the Holy Fathers which are set out in their writings and in the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. We keep our dogmatic awareness "as the apple of our eyes", and we reinforce it by urging ourselves to God-pleasing works and the careful study of the achievements of the holy Confessor Fathers who overcame manifold heresies, and especially of our father among the saints, St. Gregory of Palamas, the Holy Martyrs of the Holy Mountain and the Holy Martyr Kosmas the First, whose holy relics we venerate with every honour and whose sacred memory we incessantly celebrate. We fear keeping silence whenever issues arise that pertain to the legacy that our Fathers left to us. It feels as our responsibility towards the most venerable fathers and brothers of the overall brotherhood of the Holy Mountain and towards the pious faithful of the Church, who regard Athonite Monasticism as the non-negotiable guardian of the Holy Tradition.
The visits of the Pope to Fanarion and the Archbishop's visit to the Vatican may have secured certain worldly benefits. However, during those visits there took place a number of other events, which disaccorded with the ways of Orthodox ecclesiology, and there were made a number of commitments, which would benefit neither the Orthodox Church, nor any heterodox Christians.
First of all, the Pope was received as though he were a canonical bishop of Rome. During the service, the Pope wore an omophorion; the Ecumenical Patriarch greeted him saying "blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" as though he were Christ the Lord; the Pope gave blessing to the congregation and was mentioned in prayers as "His Holiness and His Beatitude the Bishop of Rome". The Pope's reciting of the Lord's Prayer and liturgical greetings with the Patriarch demonstrated, too, something more than just common prayer. And all of this happened without having the papery recanting from its heretical teachings and policy; on the contrary, the Pope in fact openly promotes and tries to reinforce the Unia and with the papist dogmas of primacy and infallibility, and even inter-faith common prayers and the pan-religious hegemony of the Pope of Rome that discerns from that.
As for the reception of the Pope in Phanarion, we are especially grieved by the fact that all the Media has kept repeating the same incorrect information, that the troparia, which were (unduly) sung during the visit, were composed by monks of the Holy Mountain. We take this opportunity to responsibly inform all pious Christians that their composer was not, and could never be, a monk of the Holy Mountain.
Now we come to the attempt by His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens to commence relations with the Vatican on social, cultural and bio-ethical issues, as well as the objective to common defense of the Christian roots of Europe (positions which are also found in the Common Declaration of the Pope and the Patriarch in Phanarion), both of which may seem innocuous or even positive, given that the aim is to cultivate peaceful human relations. However it is important to avoid an impression that the West and the Orthodoxy continue to have the same bases, or not to make one forgetting the distance that separates the Orthodox Tradition from that which is usually mentioned as the "European spirit". The (Western) Europe is burdened with a series of anti-Christian institutions and acts, such as crusades, the "holy" inquisition, slave trade and colonialism. It is burdened with the tragic division, which took form of the Protestant schism, the devastating world wars, the man-centered humanism and its atheist worldviews. All of these are the consequence of Rome's theological deviations from the Orthodoxy. Step by step, Papal and Protestant heresies gradually replaced the humble Christ of the Orthodoxy and enthroned the proud Man instead. The holy bishop Nicholas of Ohrid and Zica wrote from Dahau: "What, then, is Europe? The Pope and Luther... This is what Europe is, at its core, ontologically and historically". The St. Justin Popovic says: "The Second Vatican Council comprises the rebirth of every kind of European humanism... because the Council persistently adhered to the dogma of papal infallibility"; "Undoubtedly, the authorities and the powers of (western) European culture and civilization are Christ-expellers," he concludes. That is why it is so important to set forth the humble morality of Orthodoxy and to support the truly Christian roots of the united Europe; the roots that Europe had during the first Christian centuries, during the time of the catacombs and the seven holy Ecumenical Councils. It is advisable for Orthodoxy not to burden itself with foreign sins neither give an impression to those, who became de-Christianized in reaction to the sidetracking of Western-style Christianity, that Orthodoxy is related to it, thus ceasing to testify that it is the only authentic faith in Christ, and the only hope for the peoples of Europe.
The Roman Catholics demonstrate no willingness to disentangle themselves from the decisions of their pursuant (and according to them, Ecumenical) Councils, which enacted the Filioque, the Primacy, the Infallibility, the secular authority of the Roman Pontiff, the 'created Grace', the immaculate conception of the Mother of God, the Unia. Despite all these, we as Orthodox continue the so-called traditional exchanges of visits, bestowing honors befitting an Orthodox Bishop on the Pope and totally disregarding a series of Sacred Canons which forbid common prayers, while the theological dialogue repeatedly flounders, and, after being dredged from the depths, it again sinks down.
So we have to conclude that the Vatican is not orienting itself to discard its heretical teachings, but only to "re-interpret" them, or in other words, to veil them.
The Roman Catholic ecclesiology varies from one circular to the other; from so-called "open" ecclesiology of the Encyclical "Ut Unum Sint", to the ecclesiological exclusivity of the Encyclical "Dominus Jesus". It should be noted that both of the aforementioned views are contrary to the Orthodox Ecclesiology. The self-awareness of the holy Orthodox Church as the only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church does not allow recognition of other, heterodox churches and confessions as "sister churches". "Sister Churches" are only the local Orthodox Churches sharing the same faith. No other homonymous reference to "sister churches" other than the Orthodox ones is theologically permissible.
The Filioque is presented by the Roman Catholic side as an alternative though acceptable expression of the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit theologically equivalent to the Orthodox teaching of procession "only from the Father" - a view that is unfortunately supported by some of our own theologians.
Besides, the Pontiff is maintaining his primacy as an inalienable privilege, as one can see from the recent revocation of the title "Patriarch of the West" by Pope Benedict XVI; also, from his reference to the worldwide mission of the Apostle Peter and his successors during his homily in the Patriarchal Chapel, as well as from his recent speech, which included the following: "...within the society, with the Successors of the Apostles, whose visible unity is guaranteed by the Successor of the Apostle Peter, the Ukrainian Catholic Community managed to preserve the Sacred Tradition alive, in its integrity" (Catholic Newspaper, No.3046/18-4-2006).
The Unia is reinforced and reassured in many and various ways, despite the papal proclamations of the contrary. This dishonest stance is witnessed, apart from other instances, by the provocative intervention of the previous pope, John Paul II, which made the Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue in Baltimore a disaster, as well as by the letter sent by the current Pope to Cardinal Ljubomir Husar, the Uniate Archbishop of Ukraine. In this letter dated 22/02/2006, the following is emphatically stressed: "It is imperative to secure the presence of the two great carriers of the only Tradition (the Latin and the Eastern)... The mission that the Greek Catholic Church has undertaken, being in full communion with the Successor of the Apostle Peter, is two-fold: on one side, it must visibly preserve the eastern Tradition inside the Catholic Church; on the other, it must favour the merging of the two traditions, testifying that they not only can coordinate between themselves, but that they also constitute a profound union amid their variety".
Seen in this light, the polite exchanges such as the Pope's visit to Phanarion and the Archbishop of Athens' to the Vatican, without the prerequisite of a unity in the faith, may on the one hand create false impressions of unity and thus turn away the heterodox who could have seen in the Orthodoxy the true Church, and on the other hand, blunt the dogmatic sensor of many Orthodox. Even more, they may push some of the faithful and pious Orthodox, who are deeply concerned by the recent violations of holy canons, to detach themselves from the body of the Church and create new schisms.
Thus, with love for our Orthodoxy, with pain regarding church unity, and being determined to preserve the Orthodox faith free of all innovations, we now repeat what was proclaimed by the extraordinary double assembly of the Sacred Koinotos of the Holy Mountain of the 9/22 April 1980:
"We believe that our Holy Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, having the fullness of Grace and the Truth, and for this reason, an uninterrupted Apostolic Succession. On the contrary, the "churches" and the "confessions" of the West, having distorted the faith of the Gospel, the Apostles and the Fathers on many points, are deprived of the hallowing Grace, the true Sacraments and the Apostolic Succession...
Dialogues with the heterodox - if they are intended to inform them about the Orthodox Faith so that when they become receptive of divine enlightenment and their eyes are opened they might return to the Orthodox Faith - are not condemned.
In no way should a theological dialogue be accompanied by common prayers, participation in liturgical assemblies and worship by either side and any other activities that might give the impression that our Orthodox Church acknowledges the Roman Catholics as a complete Church and the Pope as a canonical (proper) Bishop of Rome. Such acts mislead the Orthodox as well as the Roman Catholic faithful, who are given a false impression of what Orthodoxy thinks of them...
With the Grace of God, the Holy Mountain remains faithful - as do the Orthodox people of the Lord - to the Faith of the Holy Apostles and the Holy Fathers, and also out of love for the heterodox, who are essentially helped, when the Orthodox with their steadfast Orthodox stance point out the extent of their spiritual ailment and the way they can be cured.
The failed attempts for union during the past teach us that for a permanent union, according to the will of God, within the Truth of the Church, the prerequisite is a different kind of preparation and course, than those which were followed in the past and appear to be followed to this day".
Representatives and Superiors of the Holy Koinotos of the twenty sacred monasteries of the Holy Mountain Athos
Karyae, 30 December 2006
Translated by the Interfax-Religion