Ref. No. 3/50/414
May 21/June 3, 1968
THE ALL HOLY ATHENAGORAS I ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE AND
On the joyous day of Easter, when our Holy Church celebrates the Holiday of Holidays and the Feast of Feasts, all the Primates of the Holy Churches of God announce to their flocks the joy of the Resurrection of Christ. In accordance with this tradition, Your Holiness has done this also.
The Joy of the Resurrection, however, as announced by Your Holiness, is dimmed for the zealots of Orthodoxy by the other news which you announced to the Orthodox World as “an additional joy”. You proclaimed your decision to proceed with the convening of a “Great Synod” for the purpose of “renewing the Church and establishing the unity of all Christian Churches”.
Under certain conditions, this Intention of the Ecumenical Throne to convene a Great Synod of the representatives of all the Orthodox Churches could actually be a happy event. But not every calling of a Council brings joy, and not every Great Synod, however well-represented all the autocephalic churches are at Its session, has been honored by the recognition of the Church as expressing her authentic voice, true to the Traditions of the Apostles and the Holy Fathers. To that end, every new Synod should be in full harmony with the former Ecumenical Councils. It would seem that the representation of Churches at the Ephesian Council, at which Dioscoros presided was full enough; however it is known in history as the “Robber Synod”.
The Grace of the Holy Spirit illuminates the Synod and makes Its voice the voice of the Orthodox Catholic Church only when it is assembled to condemn, in accordance with Holy Tradition, innovative arbitrary doctrines, subservience to the mighty of this world, and introducing into the Church of a widely spreading error.
In the announcement of Your Holiness, however, It is not the call for the strengthening and propagation of Orthodoxy in the face of arising new errors that is heard; but on the contrary, the introducing of novelties which you call “the renewal of the Church”. Your Holiness also very vaguely speaks of “the establishment of the unity of all Christian Churches”, as If you are not aware that they all differ very much from the Orthodox Church and indeed, from each other. Thus, you make the blending of truth with the error, that is called “ecumenism”, the aim of the future Synod. But the Holy Church teaches us that unity with heterodox is achieved only when they “have thought the true Church to be their own and there they believed In Christ and received the mystery of the Trinity. And that all these Mysteries are altogether true and holy and divine is most certain, and in them the whole hope of the soul is placed, although the presumptuous audacity of heretics, taking to itself the name of truth, dares to administer them” (57/68 Canon of Carthage).
In 1965, we were already obliged to raise our voice against some acts of Your Holiness which support the presently fashionable error of “ecumenism”, which has become so widely spread that to propagate It has become the mode, and thus a following of the “broad way of this world” against which we were warned by our Savior. (Matt. 7:13–14).
In the present Easter message of Your Holiness, as well as in other statements of yours, we hear with distress that same voice, that voice which calls us not to tread the narrow path of salvation by witnessing to the only truth, but which calls us to follow the “broad way” of unity with those who foster various errors and heresies, of whom the Apostle Peter said that by reason of them “the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (11 Pet. 2:1–2). This is not what has been taught to us by the Holy Church through the example of such saints as Maximos the Confessor and Mark of Ephesus, who defended Orthodoxy against any compromise in regard to doctrine.
We are all witnessing at present to what tribulations, to what Inner weakening, and growth of new errors the Roman Catholic Church has been brought by her recent Second Vatican Council, which had approximately the same goals as Your Holiness has for the future Great Synod. Instead of returning to Orthodoxy, the Roman Church sought “renovation” to accommodate itself to modern society, its temptations and ills, thus incorporated these diseases into its own life, which now verges more and more on spiritual anarchy. May the Lord preserve us from introducing such stumbling blocks into the life of the Orthodox people!
To us who are members of the Russian Orthodox Church, such confusion is all too well-remembered through the activities of the “Renovation Movement” or “Living Church”. This appeared in Russia after the Revolution and was sponsored by the atheistic Soviet government, which is hostile to all religions. Its purpose was to weaken the Church from within adjusting Her to Communism and making Her serve its political and economic goals with no respect to Orthodox doctrines and canons. Thank God, the consensus of Russian faithful has finally rejected this temptation of unholy modernism. We would like to believe that the representatives of the Orthodox Churches, being aware of that unfortunate historical experience of the Russian Church, and witnessing the present events within the Roman Church, will be on guard against following that same dangerous path. Therefore we will not further elaborate on the misgivings caused in that respect by the Easter message of Your Holiness before we learn of the decisions of the Prosynod Conference called by Your Holiness.
We do, however, feel that it is our duty to warn Your Holiness and those who will be assembled under your presidency even now, that however broad will be the constituency of the Great Synod you are calling, it cannot have world-wide Orthodox authority, because the authentically representative voice of the largest Church in number of faithful, the Russian Orthodox Church of martyrs, will not be heard there. There will be, of course, at the sessions of the Prosynod Committee and at the Great Synod itself, bishops bearing the titles of Russian dioceses, but they should not be recognized as having right or authority to do this.
The history of the Christian Church knows no other example of such inner enslavement of the Church by Her enemies as the one presented to the world by the Moscow Patriarchate. Not only does it resignedly endure the persecution of religion which is comprehensible, but it has also put itself into the service of the lies of the atheists, praising the persecutors of the Faith as if they granted it freedom, the tormentors of the nation as its benefactors, and the instigators of world conflicts and unrest as peacemakers. Though the communists themselves have disclosed the innumerable crimes of Stalin as a murderer unsurpassed in the history of the world, the Moscow Patriarchate has praised him as an exemplary and virtuous leader elected by God.
While the whole world knows that the Moscow Patriarchate claimed to have 20,000 churches when it was seeking admission to the World Council of Churches, it is no secret to anyone that hardly a third of this number is still open. It is further known that while they were being closed by Soviet authorities, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate made numerous statements claiming that news about the closing of churches was being invented by enemies of the Soviets.
The truth about the situation of the Church in the USSR is now widely known as a result of various petitions received in the west, from the open letter of the two Moscow priests and from other documents. Their authenticity is confirmed by the reaction of bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate. From all these sources it is clear that the atheistic government, through obedient bishops, has made an artificial hierarchy which now is not only silent in the face of the crimes of civil authorities, but even actively cooperates with them in their assignment.
Recently, the letters of Archbishop Hermogen, formerly of Kaluga, became known. He openly states to Patriarch Alexis that the real reason for his dismissal from his see was no crime, no weakness in his administration and no canonical offense, but the request of Kuroyedof, Chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs at the Council of Ministers of the USSR.
The Archbishop explains the reason for such a request: “The first cause for complications was my refusal to the Delegate to help him in closing the church in the village of Lunacharsk near Tashkent”. He states that after his transfer to another diocese, complications arose with the Delegate of the government because the latter wished to appoint some priests himself and to suspend others, requesting the Archbishop to sign these orders as if they came from him.
The enslavement of the Moscow hierarchy is especially evident in the following case, mentioned in the letter of Archbishop Hermogen to Patriarch Alexis of February 20th, 1968. He quotes the suggestion he received from a permanent member of the Synod, now deceased, Metropolitan Pitirim of Krutitzy: “In order to avoid any complications, act in the following way: When a priest or a member of a parish council visits you on some church matter, listen to him and then send him to the Delegate with the understanding that he will return to you from him. When he comes back and this is reported to you, telephone the Delegate and ask him what he told your visitor. And what the Delegate told him, you tell him also”.
In that way the first-ranking bishop after the Patriarch was instructing a diocesan bishop how he must act in the administration of the Church as a mouthpiece to his clergy and faithful, transmitting as his own the orders of an atheist enemy of the Church, a representative of the Communist power which has as one of its aims the full destruction of religion.
If Archbishop Hermogen has refused to put himself in the position of a blind executor of orders of an enemy of the Church and was consequently deprived of his see, the Patriarch of Moscow and his collaborators have, on the contrary, long ago fully surrendered themselves to the orders of the communists, fulfilling their every wish and instruction. Perhaps initially they wished to serve God only. But subsequent persecution forced them to serve Belial as well, acting in that way contrary to the warning of the Holy Apostle Paul (II Cor. 6:14). It should, however, soon become evident to them that, according to the words of Our Savior, “. . .no man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other” (Matth. 6:24). But the sons of the devil do not tolerate those who give preference to God and therefore the leading bishops of Moscow, for reasons of self-preservation, whether they wish it or not, became obedient to them and not primarily to God.
Because of this reason, their voice in a Great Synod would not express the free opinion of the Church, but in many cases would express the thoughts of Her enemies who are dominating them. Although for those who do not know its real situation, or do not wish to know it, the title of the Church of Russia would seem to stand behind that voice, we, being aware of the actual state of affairs, could not recognize as valid or binding in either a canonical or moral sense any decision arrived at with the participation of bishops enslaved by atheists.
We have the duty to inform Your Holiness of all the aforestated even now, and we remain, Your Holiness’ humble servant,