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The Historical Condemnation of "Concerning Frequent Communion"


 

The following is the synodal condemnation of the original text ("Concerning Sacred Communion") which was provided to St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite by St. Makarios Notaras, after which St. Nikodemos then revised, enlarged, and enriched the initial work. The book was published anonymously and the synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople condemned the text for the anonymity of the authorship and for daring to write authoritatively on a topic that some would argue was solely between the laity and their bishop or spiritual father. Notably, the saint was condemned as “arrogant” for daring to write and disseminate this text. At that time on the Holy Mountain there was a fierce debate regarding the frequency of partaking in Holy Communion, with a common custom being to commune only a few times a year, risking as the prayer of St. John Chrysostom cautions, "becoming prey to the noetic wolf." The witness of the Holy Kollyvades Fathers continues to guide us today in the cultivation of an Orthodox phronema. We are instructed not only by the wealth of their teachings and spiritual wisdom, but also by their response to the official condemnation of their writings. Although Concerning Frequent Communion was entirely Orthodox in content, it threatened the status quo of the time and the deeply-ingrained assumptions and practices that were prevalent, which provoked responses such as this patriarchal text. Yet it is the pleroma of the Church that, in the end, either accepts or rejects such teaching. We will see, later in the week, in the subsequent epistle of Patriarch Neophytos the vindication and endorsement of the work. By the prayers of the Holy Kollyvades Fathers, may we too acquire much-needed discernment and assistance on the path to salvation.

 

Gabriel, by the mercy of God Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.1.

Most-reverend Superintendents of the Community, former and current Abbots of our sacred and venerable Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monasteries of the Most-holy Mountain of Athos, and the rest of the Fathers dwelling in the monasteries, cells and sketes, our beloved children in the Lord: grace be with you and peace from God. To slip and fall into sins is terrible and damaging to the soul. But even more terrible, if not the most damaging, is when the fallen one does not want to get up and when the sinner does not repent or listen to advice unto his correction. The passions of sin are healed by the medicines of penitence and abstinence, but where these medicines are unable to have their effect, no hope of life remains. Therefore, those who are unrepentant are more wicked than those who are sinful and thus worthy of greater punishment and condemnation, in the same degree as incurable diseases are worse than curable ones. You, however, will not behave in such a manner, but you will rather amend your ways and obey the Great and Holy Church of Christ, and desist henceforth from your unreasonable disputes and quarrels. For there appeared before our Synod an anonymous book, Concerning Sacred Communion, already published and in print, and a letter stamped with the seal of your Community stating that on account of this book many quarrels and disputes have arisen and developed there.


"...For there appeared before our Synod an anonymous book, Concerning Sacred Communion, already published and in print..."

Some people accept it and say that it is necessary to partake of the immaculate Mysteries of Christ every day, in accordance with the thesis of the book; but other people oppose it and assert that one must first prepare many days beforehand through confession, self-control, and appropriate repentance, and then approach sacred Communion. These things, then, are contained in the letter of your Community. The book, being read and inspected, appeared at the first to be flawed and full of misunderstandings and absurdities, and then later as also contrary to the ecclesiastical good order and practice which has always been in effect. From time immemorial our Holy and blameless Church has never given the task of examining and adjudicating regarding the dogmas and sacred Mysteries to just anyone, or to any single person; but, rather, She knows that this is the work of a complete and supremely perfect council. And those things that have been approved and declared by the Church to be correct are given to the faithful for their use, as being beneficial to the soul. But the others are rightly disapproved and rejected as being erroneous and damaging to the soul, horrible and hateful to Christians, even if there is something correct in them. Many times there have been men who have insidiously attempted to penetrate and corrupt correct and healthy things of our blameless Church, at the suggestion of the devil and under the pretense of piety and virtue. The writer of this little book, shamelessly and very boldly, with utter arrogance, went too far and took matters into his own hands, setting himself against ancient ecclesiastical good order and custom. And though he displayed the work to all, the author himself hid away in an unknown place and did not even place his own name on it.

"Many times there have been men who have insidiously attempted to penetrate and corrupt correct and healthy things of our blameless Church, at the suggestion of the devil and under the pretense of piety and virtue. The writer of this little book, shamelessly and very boldly, with utter arrogance, went too far and took matters into his own hands, setting himself against ancient ecclesiastical good order and custom. And though he displayed the work to all, the author himself hid away in an unknown place and did not even place his own name on it."

For, being conscious of the greatness of his sin and fearing chastisement and punishment, he concealed himself, in this way safely lying in wait, and then out of nowhere treacherously ambushing and springing upon the naive and the simple. For these reasons, then, this anonymous little book was deemed altogether outrageous and worthy of rejection, as incorrect and causing scandals, and also as being contrary to ancient ecclesiastical good order.

"For these reasons, then, this anonymous little book was deemed altogether outrageous and worthy of rejection, as incorrect and causing scandals, and also as being contrary to ancient ecclesiastical good order."

Concerning the proper time for partaking of the divine and immaculate Mysteries, it is confessed [by us] that it is beneficial to receive Communion more frequently, if only it is done worthily. For our blameless faith knows that the worthy reception of Communion is necessary and among those things without which we cannot live. The proper time to receive Communion, as the great Father of the Church the sacred Chrysostom says, is not at the occasion of a Feast and celebration [as such], but when we have a pure conscience and a life free of evil deeds. And again, continuing, the same Father says: “Whenever you intend to partake of this Holy Offering, purify yourself many days beforehand through repentance and prayer and almsgiving, through occupying yourself with spiritual things, and by not returning to your own vomit as does the dog.”7

Holy Monastery of St. Nikodemos, Goumenissa, Greece

Therefore, according to the sacred Chrysostom and the divine Apostle, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). So, that the dissension, quarreling, the arrogant and unseasonable dispute caused by the aforementioned book shall cease, through the present letter, and with the agreement of the All-holy former Patriarchs of Constantinople, Ioannikios and Theodosios, and of His Beatitude and Holiness Patriarch Abramios, our dear and beloved brothers and concelebrants in the Holy Spirit, we, with the rest of our brethren and highly-honored and holy hierarchs, make a synodical declaration. We order all of you, as many as possess the aforementioned anonymous book concerning Communion, to immediately reject it and throw it away as being flawed and unlawful, without any of you daring to take it into his hands and read it—and so the exchange of words and disputes shall come to an end.


"We order all of you, as many as possess the aforementioned anonymous book concerning Communion, to immediately reject it and throw it away as being flawed and unlawful, without any of you daring to take it into his hands and read it—and so the exchange of words and disputes shall come to an end."



Furthermore: Let nobody dare to write or say anything concerning matters that are not his concern; but, rather, all of you are to live and conduct yourselves in peace and concord in stillness, according to your profession, trusting in our synodical order and command.


And may all those acting in this fashion as directed be forgiven and blessed by God the Lord Almighty and absolved and freed from the previously published penalties. However, whoever among you dares to write or speak from now on concerning these issues and disturbs the stillness of the Fathers in these places, as self-willed and disobedient to our patriarchal and synodical commands and as a rebel and lover of disturbance and causer of scandals, let him be anathematized, etc. (the usual curses). Let it be so by decree.

1785. In the month of April. Third Indiction.

Former Patriarch of Constantinople Ioannikios co-decrees.

Abramios of Jerusalem co-decrees. Samuel of Ephesus. Methodios of Herakleia. Agapios of Kylikos. Gerasimos of Nikomedeia. Parthenios of Chalcedon. Ananias of Derkos. Matthew of Serres. Gregory of Drama. Meletios of Nauploion.



1. Manuel J. Gedeon, Kanonikai Diataxeis: Epistolai, Lyseis, Thespismata, ton hagiotaton Patriarchon Konstantinoupoleos. Apo Gregoriou tou Theologou mechri Dionysiou tou apo Adrianoupoleos [Canonical Constitutions: Epistles, Solutions, Ordinances, of the Most-holy

Patriarchs of Constantinople. From Gregory the Theologian to Dionysios of Adrianoupolis], supplement to “Ekklesiastikes Aletheias,” vol. 1 (Constantinople: 1888), 269–272.






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