“The actions of Constantinople in Ukraine are not in accordance with the tradition of the Church. We are on the side of order and canon,” . . . He also added that “Many are going to say that we [the Serbian Orthodox Church] are on the Russian side. But we are on the side of orders and canons.”
Such all-too-common statements ignore the fact “that concerning. . .the manner of establishing the autocephaly of any part of the Church, none of the sacred canons provides direction or inkling.” Statements such as those of the Patriarch beg the questions “Which canons? Whose order?”
Today, the Orthodox Church maintains cordial relations with other Christian churches and communities and participates in joint efforts with them to recover the visible unity of all God’s people. While most of the Orthodox faithful perceive the Church’s involvement in this joint quest for unity to be guided by the Holy Spirit, others express fear that the faith of the Church is somehow compromised for the sake of a unity not always grounded in truth. Why has the Orthodox Church decided to be involved in the ecumenical movement? How does this involvement relate to her claim to be the embodiment of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church?
In an encyclical addressed to all Orthodox churches in 1902, the Ecumenical Patriarchate invited the Orthodox churches to move towards more dynamic inner communion, conciliarity, and cooperation to work with other Christian churches and communities towards visible unity. In 1920, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a second encyclical addressed to all Christian churches suggesting the formation of a “league of churches” for common witness and action. It stated that the Orthodox Church “holds that rapprochement (προσέγγισις) between the various Christian churches and fellowship (κοινωνία) between them is not excluded by the doctrinal differences which exist between them.” The Ecumenical Patriarchate had hoped that the churches could move towards greater unity if they could overcome their mutual mistrust and bitterness by rekindling and strengthening the evangelical love. This could lead them to see one another not as strangers and foreigners, but as being part of the household of Christ, “fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of God in Christ” (Eph. 3:6). In 1986 the Third Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox conference unequivocally stated that the “Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement does not run counter to the Orthodox Church’s nature and history. It constitutes the consistent expression of the Apostolic faith within new historical conditions.”
As a Greek Orthodox living in the Western world and experiencing this new “Corona era,” one feels that Orthodoxy needs to decide today, globally and locally, on the following: to what extent do we, as Orthodox Christians, truly believe that Christ is the Son of God, the Son of Man?
For what we have been seeing and experiencing the past several weeks, alongside the turbulence caused by a frightening virus the spread of which was quite early identified as pandemic, is a totally novel thing. And those among us who were lucky enough to serve as the “necessary personnel” in empty, locked churches experienced an ultimate ambiguity, at least.
On the one hand, we read and chanted Services consisting of hymnological and liturgical artifacts of a unique, terrific treasure, a treasure containing the quintessence of the Orthodox life, experience, tradition, doctrine, theology, mysticism, and art, visual and audio-visual, and all that simultaneously assumed by the unparalleled, incomparable, and irreplaceable daily Services of the Holy Week and the Easter.
We wish to hear your views on the current situation,
since your theology plays a great role in the present circumstances.
Metropolitan John: My theology, unfortunately, cannot be applied. In
Greece they have already closed the churches, and the Divine Liturgy is not
being served. Is it served in Serbia?
Taking into consideration the decision of the government
that the number of people in one place be limited, as well as the issue of
getting around and social distancing, the Patriarch Irinej’s newest decision is
that services be held in churches but without more than five people.
John: That’s acceptable.
In America it was decided that the priest, chanter and
altar server be present, in order for the Liturgy to be served, so that they
might have the holy mysteries in order to commune the people. What do you think
Metropolitan John: For me, the Church without the holy Eucharist is no longer the Church. On the other hand, the danger of transmitting this virus to others imposes on us the need of doing whatever is necessary, even if that means closing the Church. The Greek government has taken drastic measures due to the very serious matter at play.