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A letter of Archimandrite Lazar (Abashidze) on the Pan-Orthodox Council to Patriarch Ilia

To His Holiness and Beatitude Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Archbishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi, Metropolitan of Bichvinta and Tskhum-Abkhazia, Ilia II, right reverend Bishops—members of the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

To Your Holiness, holy Vladykas, today equally together with You we are disquieted by the developments towards the affirmation of apparently un-Orthodox ideas at the upcoming “Pan Orthodox Council,” which may come to pass. We are inspired that in this trying time for all Orthodoxy, especially the Georgian Church is showing the greatest solidarity, when His Holiness the Patriarch and the Holy Synod, and our bishops, clergy and people for the most part with one mind and one heart oppose heretical innovations trying to ulcerate the saving teachings of our Mother the Holy Orthodox Church.

We share the loudly proclaimed protest of our bishops concerning a variety of topics irrelevant to Orthodox teaching, which are proposed for endorsement by this dubious Council, prematurely styled “Holy.”

We are wholly of one soul with our archpastors and fully reject the document submitted for the approval of the “Pan-Orthodox Council,” purporting to elucidate “The Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.”

Regarding the last topic, it seems to us there are no corrections or clarifications to be introduced into this document that could make it acceptable to an Orthodox Christian conscience. The unorthodox orientation of this document cannot be called simply “imprecise theological terminology” or “lamentable understatements.” We hold that the mere posing of this question of “The Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World,” and the attempt to explain it at the “Pan-Orthodox Council,” is unacceptable.

The entire text of this document (all twenty-four points—whether explicitly or implicitly) proposes to review and alter into a new (ecumenical) tenor one of the foundational dogmas of our faith, about the Unity and Catholicity of the Holy Orthodox Church. But every Christian confesses this dogma thrice when he receives Holy Baptism, and then every day we confess it many times, reading the Symbol of Faith. This dogma is elucidated in the most precise manner in every Orthodox catechism. And now suddenly at the “Holy Pan-Orthodox Council” it will be declared that the previous explanation of the Fathers on this point about the One, Holy and Catholic Church needs to be revised and given a completely contradictory interpretation?

In the catechism we read about the Unity of the Church: “On earth the Church is the gathering of Christians, united in Orthodox faith, liturgical communion, obedience to the hierarchs and adherence to the law of God. All heretics and schismatics are found outside of it and do not have salvation, as long as they have not repented … We therefore believe in one Church and that only one of all the ‘churches’ has the legitimate right to truly be called that—the others are called churches only by accepted custom. In truth the Church can only be one, because with the Church is inextricably bound up the dignity of being bearers of the perfect Truth, which can only be one. If some different views are expressed in important and precise matters, the true view can only be one, and the others are incorrect.“

But as we see, now they want to prove to us that the Unity of the Church is divided between “Christian churches and confessions,” and we should labor in tears to “restore” this “lost unity?” That is, to unite with heretics without their repentance, to give them an example of compromise with our Christian conscience and invite them to do the same?

The very designation of the proposed “Pan-Orthodox” as opposed to “Ecumenical” Council (actually for us they have equivalent meanings) harbors within itself an anti-ecclesial meaning. So, at the meeting of the episcopate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople on August 29, 2015, the Ecumenical Patriarch declared in his speech that the aforementioned Council “cannot be convened as Ecumenical and cannot be characterized as Ecumenical because the ‘Christian West’ will not be taking part.”

As Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis (Professor Emeritus of the theological faculty of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki) commented on these words, “from this statement of the Ecumenical Patriarch it follows that the Orthodox Church is not the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, is not the Church possessing fullness, but is defective. It itself is in no position to convene an Ecumenical Council, as it presents itself as only one part of the Church, with the other part missing …”

About those Christians having broken away from the Orthodox Church, they can return again to its Unity, as the Eastern Patriarchs exhaustively answered in their epistle of 1723 to the Protestant Anglicans desiring reunification with Orthodoxy. The Eastern Patriarchs, having welcomed their aspirations, answered their questions: “We have understood the meaning of your letter and we have nothing more to say about it, except that which we already said before, expounding our view and the teaching of our Eastern Church; and now we will answer the same to all of your delivered proposals, that is, that our dogmas and the teachings of our Eastern Church were tested of old, rightly and piously defined and affirmed by the Holy and Ecumenical Councils; to augment them or to take anything away from them is not allowed. Therefore, those desiring to have concord with us in the Divine dogmas of the Orthodox faith, must simply and obediently, without any investigation and curiosity follow and submit themselves to everything defined and decreed by the ancient tradition of the Fathers and affirmed by the Holy and Ecumenical Councils from the time of the Apostles and their successors, the God-bearing Fathers of our Church …”

We think, in this answer of the Eastern Patriarchs lies a rather exhaustive answer to the question of the relationship of our One, Holy, Catholic Church to the rest of the “Christian world” and about how heterodox Christians can adjoin themselves to us!

We have all been taught by the Holy Church precisely to understand the dogma of her Unity and Catholicity, as every Orthodox Christian throughout the past two thousand years before us has understood it! Namely thus: that our Church is Unified, inasmuch as it is one and the only True Church under Heaven; and Catholic, inasmuch as true Christians in the whole world, wherever they are to be found and to whichever nation they may belong, believe alike, confessing the same Truth, equally participating in the fullness of ecclesial life as members of the one Body of Christ and equal with all in responsibility for guarding the teachings and content of their Mother the Church.

Must we really relearn how to believe just because some modern-minded contemporary pseudo-theologians and some eminent ecumenist hierarchs command us to alter our faith, and are we obliged to hearken to them more than unto God (Acts 4:19), because they occupy the pre-eminent thrones in the Church? In our view, in this audacity, in this effort to reinterpret the dogma of the Unity and Catholicity of the Church (as if it even needs to be rethought), they are eliciting a rebellion against its Catholicity and Unity. No council of bishops has the right to dare such a thing!

In the words of St. Maximus the Confessor, “Church piety confesses as holy and true those councils on which are grounded true dogmas.” The holy Apostle Paul warned the faithful: But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:8).

And again we vividly recall the words of the blessed Russian elder John Krestiankin: “The Church rests upon seven pillars—seven Ecumenical Councils. The coming eight Council frightens many, but don’t be disturbed by it, but only peacefully believe in God. If something in it will be incongruent with the previous seven Ecumenical Councils, we rightly will not accept its resolutions …”

We wish to believe that, bravely championing True Orthodoxy today, the Georgian Church will be found worthy of praise and the promises of the Lord which were given to the angel of the Church of Philadelphia: I know thy works: Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name … Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth (Rev. 3:8, 10).

The judgment of the head of the International Department of the Georgian Church, Metropolitan Gerasim, in his letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch comforts and encourages us in the face of this looming danger: “For even the decisions of an Ecumenical Council to have an obligatory character, they must align with the teachings of the Holy Fathers, and be received by the fullness of the Church.” By the grace of God we, sinful and feeble pastors and monks, together with the like-minded laity, count ourselves within this “ecclesial fullness,” which today stands “shoulder to shoulder” with our Vladykas—Bishops, defending the truth of the Holy Orthodox Faith!

With brotherly love,

Archimandrite Lazar, with the brothers and flock of the Resurrection-Tabaruskii Monastery

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