HISTORICAL APPROACH TO THE CONTEXT OF THE DIALOGUE WITH THE NON-ORTHODOX

THE TORONTO STATEMENT

 (This lecture was presented at the Inter-Orthodox Conference organized by the Initiative Committee of the Conference «St. John’s Readings» of the Ancient Church of Saint George (The Rotunda) of Sofia, under the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan of Sofia and Patriarch of Bulgaria, Neophytos, in Sofia, June 9-10, 2017) http://bg-patriarshia.bg/news.php?id=237167 

Your Beatitude Patriarch of Bulgaria Neophytos,

Your Eminences,

Reverend Fathers,

Dear brothers,

In 1950, two years after the first General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam, the Central Committee of the WCC composed a declaration which entered in history with the title Toronto Statement. Along with the Constitution of WCC, the Toronto Statement is considered to be one of the pillars of the ecumenist movement, sometimes even called the „Magna Carta” of the WCC.

The so called “Holy and Great Council “ June 2016 hold in Crete, in the official text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World” on the paragraph 19 states: “The Orthodox Churches that are members of the WCC regard as an indispensable condition of their participation in the WCC the foundational article of its Constitution, in accordance with which its members may only be those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior in accordance with the Scriptures, and who confess the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in accordance with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. It is their deep conviction that the ecclesiological presuppositions of the 1950 Toronto Statement, On the Church, the Churches and the World Council of Churches, are of paramount importance for Orthodox participation in the Council.”

Toronto Statement has been elaborated by the secretary of the WCC Willem Visser’t Hooft along with his colleague Oliver Tomkins[1] and is the result of prior consultations with roman-catholic theologians and some orthodox theologians, among which a contribution was also made by the protopresbyter George Florovski. The purpose of this statement was the development of a conception in order to determine what the WCC represents and what it does not. The idea behind this concept was to create a place of dialogue that takes into account the diversity existing in Christian space, including the ecclesiological and dogmatic ones.  As stated by Russian theologian Vitali Borovoy, it was the Statement that created a space of ecclesiological diversity. [1]

The manner in which it was approved, the Toronto Statement seeks to outline some general principles on how the WCC should work and report to its member “churches”, but – as it will be proved in this research – contains also some fundamental principles on what the Church is from an ecumenist point of view. An interesting fact is that although the Roman Catholic theologians worked on this text, it was never assumed by the papacy and the Roman Catholic confession neither before nor after the ecclesiological theses of the 2nd Vatican Council. Furthermore, they refused to be part of the WCC, reserving just and observatory status in it, because the Roman Catholic self-consciousness does not accept that which we will reproach to the WCC ecclesiology in this research as well.

Orthodox theologians have long considered that the Toronto Statement provide the framework for a safe cooperation between the Orthodox Churches and the Protestant-based heresies within the WCC. Their assessment was based on some of the premises (assumptions) in the Statement, which were quoted or paraphrased in the document regarding the relation of the Orthodox Churches and the rest of the Christian World in the “Holy and Great Synode”  of Crete 2016, under paragraph 19:

Premise III.1: WCC is not and must not become a super-Church

Premise III.2: The purpose of the World Council of Churches is not to negotiate unions between churches, which can only be done by the churches themselves acting on their own initiative, but to bring the churches into living contact with each other and to promote the study and discussion of the issues of Church unity.

Premise III.3: The World Council cannot and should not be based on any one particular conception of the Church. It does not prejudge the ecclesiological problem.

Premise III.4: Membership in the World Council of Churches does not imply that a church treats its own conception of the Church as merely relative.

Premise III.5: Membership in the World Council does not imply the acceptance of a specific doctrine concerning the nature of Church unity.

Premise IV.4: The member churches of the World Council consider the relationship of other churches to the Holy Catholic Church which the Creeds profess as a subject for mutual consideration. Nevertheless, membership does not imply that each church must regard the other member churches as churches in the true and full sense of the word.

Further, we will make a short analysis of these premises of Toronto Statement:

“The World Council of Churches is not and must never become a superchurch.” (Premise III.1)

The most attractive promise for Orthodox theologians was that WCC would never become a “super-church” and that in principle it would never adopt ecclesial characteristics.  No later than 1961, on the occasion of the approval of the Toronto Statement by the New Delhi WCC General Assembly, in a document called “the Unity Report”, Article 49[2] states that “At least we are able to say that the World Council is not wholly other than the member churches.  It is the churches in continuing council.”[3]  In other words, WCC does not constitute a “super-church”, but the supreme deliberative organ of the ecumenist “church”, its permanent synod.  This idea is reinforced at the end of the invoked paragraph, which states: „Many christians are now aware that the Council is in some new and unprecedented sense an instrument of the Holy Spirit for the effecting of God’s will for the whole Church, and through the Church for the world”.  

The theory of the „lost unity of the Church” (premise III.2)

The second premise expresses the purpose assumed by WCC to bring the „churches” into living contact and to promote the study and discussion of the issues of Church unity. It is obvious that the “Church” that WCC is talking about is not the Orthodox Church, but what the document calls “the true Church of Christ”, “the Holy Catholic Church that the Creeds confess.”  Therefore the Orthodox Church assumed, through the heretical decision of a self-claimed pan-orthodox synod (Crete 2016), to take part in the realization of the unity of a „Church” other than the orthodox, an idea which contradicts the purpose and the mission of the [Orthodox] Church.

When asked, the Orthodox participants in this dialogue respond incompletely that the purpose of the presence of our Church on this platform of religious dialogue is “to confess”.  The October 26, 2016 decision of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church states that “the great and holy council [of Crete] confessed that the Orthodox Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”

But the premise III.2 of the Statement declares that the purpose of the WCC is „to bring the churches into living contact with each other and to promote the study and discussion of the issues of Church unity”. It talks about a living contact between the „churches”, meaning a real ecclesiastical relationship between orthodox and heterodox with the purpose to realize the unity of the Church.

But nowhere in the history of the Orthodox Church we cannot find ideas about bringing the Church of Christ into a living contact with heresies. A living contact implies two living entities, which respectively implies the recognition by the Orthodox Church of some kind of ecclesiality of the dialogue partners.

We cannot understand the ecumenist concept of the „study and discussion of the issues of Church unity” if we don’t link it with other premises of the Statement, which point out the WCC’s concept about the „Church of Christ”- on one hand -and the „member churches”- on the other.

Therefore, subscribing to the purpose of the WCC to study and discuss the issues of Church unity, the so called council of Crete accepts implicitly that „The member churches of the Council believe that conversation, cooperation and common witness of the churches must be based on the common recognition that Christ is the Divine Head of the Body” (premise IV.1). This premise postulates that Christ is the Head of all the denominations which claim to be Christian, which, in turn, would be parts of the Body whose Head is Christ. Moreover the Statement endorses this heretical idea on a formula expressed by an orthodox delegation at the ecumenist meeting in Edinburgh in 1937, which states: „in spite of all our differences, our common Master and Lord is one –Jesus Christ who will lead us to a more and more close collaboration for the edifying of the Body of Christ”. The idea that Christ is the Head of all the heresies is a blasphemy which the orthodox participants at the ecumenist dialogue overlook, or, worse, some of them even believe it.

„Ecclesiological neutrality” (premise III.3)

Premise III.3 which states: „The World Council cannot and should not be based on any one particular conception of the Church” is contradicted by the Statement’s text itself. The Toronto document’s structure is based on 2 subjects: what is and what is not the WCC and what is the „Church of Christ” which WCC is trying to build. It is true that at a declarative level WCC proclaims its ecclesiological neutrality, but it is self-understood that a dialogue platform which aims at the unity of the Church must have an idea about this Church. Otherwise how could it realize this unity?

The Toronto Statement abounds in ecclesiological assertions, most of which presumably are common for the protestant majority of the members of the Council. What else if not ecclesiological principles are these assertions: „the common recognition that Christ is the Divine Head of the Body” (premise IV.1); „The member churches believe that the Church of Christ is one” (premise IV.2); „The member churches recognize that the membership of the Church of Christ is more inclusive than the membership of their own church body” (premise IV.3); „The member churches of the World Council recognize in other churches elements of the true Church” (premise IV.5) ?

Despite the fact that it proposes ecclesiological neutrality, WCC bases its premises on the most prominent Protestant ecclesiological concepts: branch theory, baptismal theology, theory of signs, theory of traditions, theory of „incomplete churches”.

„Unity in the diversity of the evangelical experience” (premises III.4, III.5)

Premises III.4 and III.5 postulate that none of WCC member “church” should relativize its own ecclesiological doctrine and that membership in the World Council does not imply the acceptance of a certain ecclesiology. If they were real, these two premises would, apparently, invalidate the ultimate goal WCC proposed, the unification of everyone in the “Church of Christ” to give a common witness of Christ to the world.  In addition, if none of the WCC members are obliged to relativize their own ecclesiology, then the Orthodox confession that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church has no chance at any time to become the official doctrine of all Christendom, a condition sine qua non for the realization of that much-desired Christian unity.

The theory of „incomplete churches” (premise IV.4)

The last of the premises that the Orthodox Churches which took part in the Council of Crete consider to be „an indispensable condition of their participation in the WCC” is the one expressed in premise IV.4: „The member churches of the World Council consider the relationship of other churches to the Holy Catholic Church which the Creeds profess as a subject for mutual consideration. Nevertheless, membership does not imply that each church must regard the other member churches as churches in the true and full sense of the word”.

First, it is said that, despite “doctrinal and canonical differences”, the member „churches” of WCC recognize one another as serving the one Lord. This heretical idea is repelled by the patristic theology, which states that there can be no doubt that „The Catholic (universal) Church is the assembly of the rightful believers who profess the Orthodox faith” (St. Symeon of Thessaloniki, Erminia dumnezeiescului simbol al credinţei ortodoxe, EIBMBOR, Bucharest, 2010, p. 93).

The Council Vatican II adopted the principle which in roman-catholic theology is called subsistit in and which states: „The Church of Christ subsists in the Roman-Catholic Church”[4]. This concept replaces the statement „The Church of Christ is the Roman-Catholic Church”, leaving the assertion that outside the [Roman-Catholic] Church there are not only abandoned Christians, but „elements of the Church” and even „Churches and communities which, despite not being in full communion, rightfully belong to the One Church and represent for their members means of salvation”. By this terminological statement, Vatican II establishes “a concrete place” of the Church of Christ, and that place is in the Church of Rome.  The Church of Christ is concretely in the Church of Rome.  However, the Council takes note of the “working presence” of the One Church of Christ and of the other ecclesial Churches and Communities (according to the encyclical Ut una sint), even if they are not yet in communion with it.

This concept, which was adopted by the Council Vatican II as a line of ecclesiological thought, is called in theological terms as the „Theory of incomplete churches”. It was taken over from the protestant theological thought of Jean Calvin which talked about the „remnants of the true Church” (vestigia ecclesiae).

It is a striking fact that the Orthodox Churches accepted this theory of „incomplete churches” and legalized it in the document „Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World” through the acceptance of „the historical name of other non-Orthodox Christian Churches” given to the heresies in article 6 (which in the pre-synodal version of the document was expressed as „recognizes the historical existence of the churches”, being replaced in the final version with a sweetened formula, which nevertheless has its roots in the same concept about different degrees of ecclesiality), as well as through the reasoning of this recognition with the premise IV.4 of the Toronto Statement, which was added to the pre-synodal version of the document, where it has not been cited. The distinction between „churches” and „confessions” used in the article 6 (which does not exist in the ecumenist documents, because there is used the branch theory) denotes that the document considers some heresies to be more worthy to be called „churches” and the other not (various heresies are called invariably „churches”, so this distinction reflects the perspective of the ecumenist participants in Crete on the confessional spectre). Or, if we use the terminology of the article 4 from the document about the relationships with the rest of the Christian world, the Church „has always cultivated dialogue with those estranged from her”, some of them being „nearer”, others being „farther”, exactly as the theory of the „incomplete churches” states, an idea that is foreign to the patristic thought, for which all the heresies are outside the Church, not nearer or farther.

Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythiron wrote an epistle to the Patriarch of Georgia and to all heads of the orthodox local churches[5], where he made an analysis that suggests that Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas of Pergam tries to impose the theory of „incomplete churches” in the orthodox space, relating [these incomplete churches] to the Orthodox Church. From this perspective, one could understand the ease with which the heresies were given a “sociological” status of “churches”. Even the statement that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church receives a new content, since, according to the logic used by Roman-Catholicism, it does not impede the coexistence of the Orthodox Church with the other “churches.”

The text of Crete, in paragraph 19 makes a praiseful reference to the participation of the Orthodox Churches in the «World Council of Churches». Here, those who drew up and signed the text, mention positively the 1950 Toronto Statement. They wrote: «It is their deep conviction that the ecclesiological presuppositions of the 1950 Toronto Statement, On the Church, the Churches and the World Council of Churches, are of paramount importance for Orthodox participation in the Council». The title of the Toronto Statement expresses fully the protestant ecclesiology and should have not been accepted by the Orthodox representatives at that time, because it introduces an invisible «One Church» and the «other» visible churches, which equally comprise the οne «Church» and, therefore, it recognizes the same ecclesiastical status to the visible «churches»-members of the invisible «Church». The text of Crete, on one hand, points rightly to paragraph 2 of the Statement, which states that the purpose of the «World Council of Churches», is not to negotiate unions between Churches, but to bring the Churches into living contact with each other, and on the other, it conceals other paragraphs, which recognize the ecclesiastical status of the heterodox, and equate the Orthodox Church to the heterodoxies. Therefore, according to the Statement, which was embraced by Orthodox signatories (such as the late Metropolitan of Thyatira Germanos and the late father George Florovsky, representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), but also by the signatories of the text of the “synod of Crete”, there is the invisible «Church of Christ» and the various «churches» on earth, and that it is fuller and more inclusive to belong to the one invisible «Church of Christ», which is constituted by both the heterodox and the Orthodox, than belonging to their own Church.

 Therefore, the Orthodox Church is not the «Church of Christ», but a part of this «Church». That is why the Orthodox are asked to have communion with the other, and to participate, through them, in the «Church of Christ». The Toronto Statement literally says: «The member Churches recognize that the membership of the Church of Christ is more inclusive than the membership of their own Church body. They seek, therefore, to enter into living contact with those outside their own ranks who confess the Lordship of Christ».

In the same paragraph, it is recognized that there is «church outside the Church» and that «the baptism of the heretics is valid». It is written literally: «All the Christian Churches, including the Church of Rome, hold that there is no complete identity between the membership of the Church Universal and the membership of their own Church. They recognize that there are Church members extra muros, that these belong aliquo modo to the Church, or even that there is an ecclesia extra ecclesiam. This recognition finds expression in the fact that with very few exceptions the Christian Churches accept the baptism administered by other Churches as valid».

At another point, the Toronto Statement recognizes ecclesiality in the heresies, which allegedly, as it says, is only incomplete. It is written: «The member Churches of the World Council consider the relationship of other Churches to the Holy Catholic Church which the Creeds profess as a subject for mutual consideration. Nevertheless, membership does not imply that each Church must regard the other member Churches as Churches in the true and full sense of the word. There is a place in the World Council both for those Churches which recognize other Churches as Churches in the full and true sense, and for those who do not. But these divided Churches, even if they cannot yet accept each other as true and pure Churches, believe that they should not remain in isolation from each other, and consequently they have associated themselves in the World Council of Churches. They know that differences of faith and order exist, but they recognize one another as serving the One Lord, and they wish to explore their differences in mutual respect, trusting that they may thus be led by the Holy Spirit to manifest their unity in Christ».

It is also written in the Toronto Statement that the heresies have «elements of the true Church» and «traces of Church», which are « powerful means by which God works». This, of course, is a complete reversal of the Orthodox Ecclesiology. The Statement says: «The member Churches of the World Council recognize in other Churches elements of the true Church. They consider that this mutual recognition obliges them to enter into a serious conversation with each other in the hope that these elements of truth will lead to the recognition of the full truth and to unity based on the full truth. It is generally taught in the different Churches that other Churches have certain elements of the true Church, in some traditions called vestigia ecclesiae. Such elements are the preaching of the Word, the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, and the administration of the sacraments. These elements are more than pale shadows of the life of the true Church. They are a fact of real promise and provide an opportunity to strive by frank and brotherly intercourse for the realization of a fuller unity. Moreover, Christians of all ecclesiological views throughout the world, by the preaching of the Gospel, brought men and women to salvation by Christ, to newness of life in Him, and into Christian fellowship with one another. The ecumenical movement is based upon the conviction that these “traces” are to be followed. The Churches should not despise them as mere elements of truth but rejoice in them as hopeful signs pointing toward real unity. For what are these elements? Not dead remnants of the past but powerful means by which God works. Questions may and must be raised about the validity and purity of teaching and sacramental life, but there can be no question that such dynamic elements of Church life justify the hope that the Churches which maintain them will be led into fuller truth. It is through the ecumenical conversation that this recognition of truth is facilitated».

It results from the Toronto Statement, that, apart from recognizing elements of truth in the other «churches», it is therein mutually accepted, that in the Orthodox Church does not abode the whole truth, but the fullness of truth will result from the contact and the dialogue with each other, namely the Theological Dialogues. It is written literally: «The member Churches of the Council are willing to consult together in seeking to learn of the Lord Jesus Christ what witness He would have them to bear to the world in His Name. A further practical implication of common membership in the World Council is that the member Churches should recognize their solidarity with each other, render assistance to each other in case of need, and refrain from such actions as are incompatible with brotherly relationships».

What is far worse is that in another paragraph of the Toronto Statement it was accepted that, without the other «churches», that is to say without the motley of heresies, the Body of Christ is neither built up nor renewed, but this is achieved, when we have in connectedness with the others. The Statement says: «The member Churches enter into spiritual relationships through which they seek to learn from each other and to give help to each other in order that the Body of Christ may be built up and that the life of the Churches may be renewed».

In the same line as Toronto Statement, the text of Porto Alegre (from 2006), which was agreed-upon in common by the Orthodox, also establishes the mutual recognition of baptism between the heterodox-members of the so-called World Council of Churches, with the following wording : «We affirm that there is one baptism, just as there is one body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one God and Father of us all (cf. Eph. 4:4-6). In God’s grace, baptism manifests the reality that we belong to one another, even though some churches are not yet able to recognize others as Church in the full sense of the word. We recall the words of the Toronto Statement, in which the member churches of the WCC affirm that “the membership of the church of Christ is more inclusive than the membership of their own church body. They seek, therefore, to enter into living contact with those outside their own ranks who confess the Lordship of Christ»[6]. The same end, that of the mutual recognition of Baptism by the members of the so called «World Council of Churches», it is noted in the Toronto Statement: «All the Christian Churches, including the Church of Rome, hold that there is no complete identity between the membership of the Universal Church and the membership of their own Church. They recognize that there are Church members extra muros, that these belong aliquo modo to the Church, or even that there is an ecclesia extra ecclesiam. This recognition finds expression in the fact that, with very few exceptions, the Christian Churches accept the baptism administered by other Churches as valid»[7].

It is clear, therefore, that the Toronto Statement, with its very serious ecclesiological problems, has acquired, through the “synod of Crete”, a «synodical» validity, such of a constitutional text-of-reference for the Orthodox Church.

As it results from the above reference to paragraph 19 of the final and official text of the “synod of Crete”, and to the Statement of the Central Committee of the so called World Council of Churches, in Toronto, Canada in 1950, there really prevails in the texts of the World Council of Churches an unmixable mixture and, finally, a total confusion. Therein one can find and get what one wants. It results in the assessment that the so-called World Council of Churches, is a «melting pot» with ambiguous, contradictory and mutually exclusive positions, so that all parts are satisfied. Therefore, Ecumenists of an Orthodox background mentioned in this final official text of the “synod of Crete”, only fragments from the Toronto Statement which would sound good to the ears of the Orthodox, but they concealed the rest of the elements, which we have mentioned, and which overturn the Orthodox Ecclesiology and affirm the comprehensive Ecclesiology of the Protestants, acknowledging elements of truth in the other «churches», that is to say in heterodoxy.

The positive and laudatory reference to the texts of the so-called «World Council of Churches», such as the Toronto Statement, the Lima[8], Porto Alegre and Busan[9] texts, documents which it does not reject, means that the final official text, of the “synod of Crete” accepts an ecclesiastic status of the non-Orthodox, contests the uniqueness of the Orthodox Church, even though, it refers, contradictorily and misleadingly, to Her in the first paragraph, saying that : «The Orthodox Church, being the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church … » et cetera; in this regard it imitates the contradictory, unclear and «inclusive» texts of the «World Council of Churches».

So, despite the diachronic and the synchronic disapproval of our mixture with the miscellaneous heretical motley, in the protestant «World Council of Churches> and the texts of Toronto, Lima, Porto Alegre and Pusan, the final official text of the “synod of Crete”, instead of raising the issue of an Orthodox withdrawal from the «World Council of Churches», that circumvented the decision with aforethought, considering  that it is self-evident and important to participate in it, since this, as well as other inter-Christian organizations, «fulfill an important mission by promoting the unity of the Christian world» (§16). It simply characterized as «their own particular opinion» the withdrawal of the Patriarchates of Georgia and Bulgaria from the so-called «World Council of Churches», while this opinion expresses the self-consciousness of the Orthodox people and is in accord with the diachronic attitude of the Saints. The worst of all is that «it views favorably the Commission’s theological documents, which were developed with the significant participation of Orthodox theologians» (§21) by the «Faith and Order» Commission of the «World Council of Churches», while it remains in deafening silence regarding the unacceptable texts of Porto Alegre and Pusan. Lastly, it is considered that the participation of the local Orthodox Churches in the «World Council of Churches», is based on the 1950 Toronto Statement, a text which, as we have shown, is very problematic from the ecclesiological point of view and that means dogmatic point of view. Although, it is well known that at least one of the Autocephalous Churches participating at the Synod of Crete (which we won’t name here) has affirmed that at the “Holy and Great Council of Crete 2016” there were not taken decisions with dogmatic implications, which, as we have shown, is false. Even if many claimed that the Crete “Synod” has to gather in order to give and to show the common testimony of the Orthodox Church in front of the contemporary world, finally it was proven to be an omen and  the measure of disunity.

In the “Synod of Crete” the words «heresy» and «heterodox» do not appear even for a single time in its texts, and thus they are essentially amnestied; also because – contrary to all the preceding and true Synods of the Church, which had condemned and anathematized heresies and heretics – this one imposed the recognition of the “historical name” of other “non-Orthodox Christian Churches”(Monophysitism, Papism and Protestantism) that enjoy honor, validity and value, as is evident in a phrase of its final official text «Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian World»[10]. Therein it says that «the Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other non-Orthodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her»[11].

The phrase «of other non-Orthodox Christian Churches and Confessions» – itself incomprehensive and difficult to explain – is contradictory and unacceptable, because, when we speak about the Church, She cannot be named non-Orthodox, that is to say heretic-heterodox, and when we speak about heterodoxy (non-Orthodoxy), that is to say about heresy, this cannot be Church, in the theological sense of the term. The definition of the Church is given to us by its very Founder, through His very truthful mouth, namely the heaven-dweller and divine Paul the Apostle, who in his letter to the Ephesians reveals that «[the Father] gave Him [Christ, to be] the head over all [things] to the Church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all»[12].  The existence of a non-Orthodox Church is, therefore, impossible, as is impossible the existence of a non-Orthodox Christ. The above definition of the Church as the Body of Christ smashes the allegation of the Toronto Statement that within the framework of the so-called World Council of Churches, «the Churches themselves have refrained from giving detailed and precise definitions of the nature of the Church»[13], because the Church is defined by the Apostle Paul as the Body of Christ. It is observed that it started from an ecumenist text that wanted to recognize the ontological status as a Church for the heretical communities but which has undergone certain modifications at the “Synod” of Crete (and even before the “Synod” of Crete), these modifications having no sense and being not only unnecessary but also harmful – in the context where even though some Synods have used the term “churches” for heretics, they used it in order to anathematize them (that is why some Local Churches, including the Romanian and the Greek Churches, opposed to the use of the term “church” for the heretics). It is noticed the fact that it is not used a formulation like “the Synod is aware that they (the non-Orthodox communities) call themselves Churches” but it is recognized their historical existence (this thing being unnecessary, since their historical existence is an obvious fact, these communities existing in history). It was expected though from the Synod of Crete an updating of the Synodicon of Orthodoxy in the context of the pandemic of modern heresies (as ecclesiological heresies like those from the Toronto Statement), the relativism, the pseudo-spiritualism and the neo-paganism, not a ratification of the ecclesiological heresies.

Thus, not only as pertains to the procedure of convening the Synod and its operation, but also in terms of its decisions and, particularly, of the attempted conciliar justification of Ecumenism and the heresies, now regarded as churches, the gathering of a  minority of bishops in Crete can be considered neither a Synod, nor  Holy, nor Great.

The uneasiness and worry expressed through the scientific and theological criticism of the “Synod of  Crete” by Local Orthodox Churches, Hierarchs, Clerics, Monks and reputable theologians, scientists and laymen derive from the observance of the theological guideline of Saints and God-bearing Fathers and they aim, solely and exclusively, at ensuring man’s salvation.

The final text of the “Synod of Crete” entitled «Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian World», as became clear through the criticism which has been -and still is- exerted against it, is completely problematic and unacceptable. This is due, inter alia, to the fact that not only does it ignore and not take into account the negative experience gained from the theological dialogues with the heterodox, and from the participation of the Orthodox Church in the so-called «World Council of Churches», but also because, on the contrary, it praises the involvement of the Orthodox Church in these dialogues and the afore mentioned Council, as described in paragraphs 16, 17, 18, 19 and 21. The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church becomes a small part in the jumble of those hundreds of protestants, condemned by Orthodox Synods, due to their unbelievable doctrinal teachings, and also of the non-Chalcedonians, condemned likewise by Ecumenical Councils.

Saint Justine Popovich in many of his writings, criticizes the participation of the Orthodox in this Council (WCC). In one of these[14], addressing the Holy Synod of the Church of Serbia in 1974, writes with much pain : «How long will we humiliate slavishly our Holy Orthodox Church of the Holy Fathers and Saint Sava, with our anti-traditional and anti-saintly, of deplorable and horrible proportions, stance towards Ecumenism and the so-called World Council of the Churches? … Alack, unheard-of treason»!

In 2007, the Holy Community of the Holy Mountain with an extensive memorandum «On the participation of the Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches»[15] made an overwhelming and documented criticism targeting the participation of the Orthodox in the so-called «World Council of Churches>.

The fallacies of the «World Council of Churches», which are reflected in its texts, such as of Lima (1982), Porto Alegre (2006) and, especially, of Busan ​​(2013), provoked the Orthodox self-awareness, resulting in that six Hierarchs of the Church of Greece, their Eminences Metropolitans of Dryinoupolis Andreas, of Glyfada Pavlos, of Kythira  Seraphim, of Aetolia Kosmas, of Gortyna Ieremias and of Piraeus Seraphim,  submitted to the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, on 30 April 2014, their «Memorandum against the decisions of the World Council of Churches in Pusan», expressing their appall for the fact that the text [of Busan] had been signed by the Greek Orthodox representatives, and calling for the withdrawal of the Church of Greece from the «World Council of Churches»[16].

In the synodical decision issued by the Georgian Orthodox Church the hierarchy of the Church of Georgia stated that[2]:

1. The Cretan Council is not a Pan Orthodox Council, as four Churches did not participate in it;

2. The decisions of the Council of Crete are not obligatory for the Georgian Church, since the Council of Crete abolished the principle of consensus.

3. The documents issued by the Council of Crete do not reflect important critiques made by the Local Churches, and thus it is necessary for them to be corrected.

4. The documents of Crete need to reflect the teaching of the Orthodox Church; this is not the case with the present set of texts.

5. It is necessary for the Holy and Great Council to be held and we are confident it will be and that this future Council will make decisions by consensus, based on the teaching of Orthodox Church.

6. It is, thus, for this purpose that the Holy Synod has formed a theological commission to examine the documents accepted in Crete and to prepare for the future Council which will be Pan Orthodox.

The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church[3] has issued its final decision on the Council in Crete and the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with rest of the Christian world.” In a unanimous decision, with the full hierarchy present at the meeting, which took place on the 15th of November, 2016, the Holy Synod:

  1. Recalled that on June 1st it had called for a postponement of the Council and that subsequently three other Autocephelous Local Orthodox Churches (the Patriarchates of Antioch, Georgia and Russia) likewise followed suit.
  2. It likewise noted that while representatives of the media and various heterodox religious groups were invited to attend and observe the Council, representatives of the Orthodox Church of America, which is recognized as an Autocephelous Church by the Bulgarian Patriarchate, were not invited to attend, even as observers.
  3. It then noted that, with respect to the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world,” a large group of hierarchs in attendance refused to sign the document, among them prominent Orthodox theologians.
  4. The Holy Synod’s decision then addressed in more detail several problematic sections of the conciliar document:

    • Addressing paragraph #4 of the text, the Holy Synod explains that the meaning of the Church’s prayer for “union of all” is not a recovery of unity with other Christians, as if unity is something that has been lost to Church, but rather the return to Her bosom through baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist of those who have fallen away. Furthermore, the Holy Synods states, the Orthodox Church cannot accept the various concepts of this unity prevalent among the heterodox, such as the “invisible church” theory, the “branch theory,” the “equality of denominations,” or the newly formulated “baptismal theology” which claims a primordial unity in “a common baptism.” The Holy Synod stated that these theories can all be connected to the teaching on “created grace” of the Holy Spirit, an idea which the Church has clearly condemned. And, in closing, the teaching found in the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council is summarized and rejected as being an expression of the same erroneous ecclesiological outlook presented in the above-mentioned theories.
    • Addressing paragraph #5 of the text, and in particular the statement that the Orthodox Church is involved in ecumenical initiatives “with the aim of seeking” a lost “unity of all Christians,” the Holy Synod considers this unacceptable and inadmissible, given that the Orthodox Church has never lost its unity. Rather, the schisms and heresies which have arisen have fallen away from the Church, without this meaning that the Body of Christ can ever lose its primordial ontological integrity – an indissoluble unity which implies the ontological inseparability of Christ’s hypostasis.
    • Addressing the much-debated paragraph #6, the Holy Synod sees the phrase, ” the Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other Heterodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her,” as being in conflict with paragraph #1 of the same text, which states that the Orthodox Church is the One Church. The dogmas and canons of the Church make it impossible to entertain the idea of there existing many churches. Likewise, this phrase is seen as being in conflict with paragraph #2 of the text, “The Orthodox Church founds the unity of the Church on the fact of her establishment by our Lord Jesus Christ, and on the communion in the Holy Trinity and in the sacraments. This unity is expressed through the apostolic succession and the patristic tradition and is lived out in the Church up to the present day.” The Holy Synod does not see the addition of accepting the “historical name” and the explanation that heterodox confessions are not in communion with the Orthodox Church has saving the text from error. Rather, the acceptance of the name necessarily implies the acceptance of the reality that name expresses. If the signers of the text understood that the reference to accepting the “historical name” was not intended to correspond to a historical reality, i.e. was not meant to say that they are referring to churches, it should have stated as much. Otherwise, it implies recognition of the existence of other churches than the One, Orthodox Church, which is in clear contradiction to paragraph #1 and the opening words of paragraph #6 (that the Church is One and Orthodox).
    • Addressing paragraph #12, the Holy Synod sees the statement that “in the theological dialogues the common goal of all is the ultimate restoration of unity in true faith and love” as too simplistic and not representative of the many dimensions of the process. Unity implies unity in faith, unity in thought and action with regard to dogmatic definitions and church canons which have been approved by Ecumenical Councils, as well as in relation to the liturgical tradition and sacramental life in the Holy Spirit. The way to achieve unity is through repentance, confession of Orthodox faith and baptism.
    • Addressing paragraph #12, the Holy Synod suggests that in the sentence, “The prospects for conducting theological dialogues…are always determined on the basis of…the canonical criteria of the already established Church Tradition,” the phrase “established Church Tradition” should be replaced with “the tradition of the Orthodox Church.”
    • Addressing the overall impression that the “Relations” text imparts, the Holy Synod states that there are many ambiguous expressions and terms and inconsistencies with regard to ecclesiology. Moreover, the Holy Synod suggests that the text does not clearly formulate the main objective and founding principles of the various dialogues and involvement in ecumenism, namely, the return of the heterodox to the bosom of the Orthodox Church. Rather, the text, and paragraph #16 in particular, legitimizes the “World Council of Churches,” in which, the Holy Synod states, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church thankfully decided long ago to cease participation.
    • Likewise, the Holy Synod takes issue with what it sees throughout the text (paragraphs 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15) as an overarching and overly minute regulation of how various dialogues must be conducted.
    • Finally, with regard to paragraph #22, which states that the “preservation of the true Orthodox faith is ensured only through the conciliar system,” the Holy Synod states, rather, that the final criterion for the acceptance of Church Councils is the vigilant dogmatic conscience of entire Orthodox pleoroma (the fullness of the Body). It states that the Ecumenical Council does not provide automatic or mechanical correctness of the faith professed by Orthodox Christians.

In conclusion, the Holy Synod summarizes its decision, stating that it does not consider the Council in Crete to be either great, holy or pan-Orthodox, giving the following reasons and explanations:

  1. On account of the lack of participation of a number of Autocephelous Churches and due to organizational diversions and theological errors. Having said this, the Holy Synod still appreciates the efforts made towards implementation by all the organizers and participants.
  2. After careful consideration of the texts adopted by the Council in Crete, the Holy Synod is led to the conclusion that they contain divergences from Orthodox tradition, the dogmatic and canonical tradition of the Church and the spirit and letter of Ecumenical and Local Councils.
  3. The Holy Synod considers that it is necessary for the texts adopted by the Council in Crete to be subject to further theological examination and discussion, with a view toward amendment, editing, correction and/or replacement with other, new documents in the spirit and tradition of the Church.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is an integral and living member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. As a part of the Body of Christ, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church will continue to be in fraternal, Eucharistic, spiritual, dogmatic and canonical communion with all other Local Orthodox Churches, both those which participated in the Council in Crete and those which did not. The Church is not a secular organization but a divine-human organism. The Church is not affected and should not be influenced in Her Way and Life by political and social interests and their respective divisions. Her Head is the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, Who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

Finally, the principles of autocephaly and catholicity in Church life not only do not contradict, but rather complement each other, stemming one from the other, being in complete unity.

         The Holy Synod of Antioch[4] noted that the meeting in Crete does not even have the required conditions to convene the pre-conciliar conference for the Great Council, this according to the Rules of Procedure of Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conferences, adopted in 1986, and which is still valid to date. These Rules of Procedure state that the convocation of this conference requires the approval of the Primates of all the local Orthodox Churches (Article Two), and that decision taking during it is done by the unanimity of all the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches (Article Sixteen), and these conditions were not available in the meeting in Crete.
The Fathers of the Holy Synod unanimously decided the following:
1. Consider the meeting in Crete as a preliminary meeting towards the Pan-Orthodox Council, thus to consider its documents not final, but still open to discussion and amendment upon the convocation of the Great Panorthodox Council in the presence and participation of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.

2. Refuse assigning a conciliar character to any Orthodox meeting that does not involve all the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, and to underline that the principle of unanimity remains the essential foundation for the common Orthodox relationships. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses that the meeting in Crete be called a “Great Orthodox Council” or a “Great Holy Council.”

3. Affirm that whatever was issued in the meeting in Crete, of decisions and other things, is non-binding, by any means, to the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East.

4. Commission the “Committee for the Follow-Up on the Council’s Issues” to study the results and consequences of the meeting in Crete and offer a detailed report to the Holy Synod of Antioch in its next meeting.

5. Send a letter about the decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch to all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, as well as to the civil and religious authorities abroad.

6. Call upon the faithful to accompany the fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch by praying for the preservation and the total manifestation of the unity of the Orthodox Christian witness in today’s world.

The 1998 Synodical Decision of the Orthodox Church of Georgia on the Chambessy and Balamand Agreements, Branch Theory and more[5]:

The Holy Synod of Georgian Orthodox Church has decreed:

1. The documents of the Theological Commission of the Joint Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and Non-Chalcedonian (oriental) churches (the so-called Chambessy agreements) held in 1990 and 1993 in Chambesy (Switzerland), are unacceptable.

2. The project for the preliminary agreement between Orthodox Church of Antioch and Non-Chalcedonian (oriental) churches, worked out in 1991, is unacceptable.

3. The Document: “Uniatism, as a method of union of the past, and the present search for full communion” (the so-called “Balamand Agreement”), accepted by the Joint Commission of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in Balamand (Lebanon), in June 23, 1993, is unacceptable.

4. The celebration of Pascha by the Finnish Autonomous Church according to Gregorian paschalion does not comply with the resolution of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea with regard to the date for celebrating Pascha. However, it must be stated that, on the assumption of the general Orthodox position, this fact was considered as a Canonical violation, not as heresy.

Thus, in this regard, it is important that the Patriarchate of Constantinople (the jurisdiction of which includes the Finnish Autonomous Church) is negatively disposed to the above-mentioned Canonical violation and considers that Pascha must be celebrated according to the resolution of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. (See the letter # 1214/1997 of Patriarch of Constantinople).

5. The heretical ecclesiological teaching, which was created in the depths of non-Orthodox, modernistic theology, concerning the existence of saving bliss [mysterioloogical grace] beyond the canonical limits of Church, and its extreme manifestation – the so-called “Branch Theory”, according to which the various Christian branches, in existence today, are considered as different and equal branches of the True Church of Christ – is unacceptable.

6. Finally, both praying together with, and receiving the Mysteries with, non-Orthodox people is unacceptable, as was confirmed once again in the final text accepted by the Assembly of all the Canonical Orthodox Churches (Thessaloniki, Greece, April 29 – May 2, 1998). According to article #13, paragraph B of this document: “Orthodox delegates will not participate in Ecumenical services, common prayer and the worship of God, and in other religious ceremonies of the assembly.”

An extensive analysis of mentioned issues is given in information bulletins (#1, #2, #3) of Theological Commission of the Patriarchate of Georgia.

The ROCOR’s Anathema Against Ecumenism (1983)

Those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ’s Church is divided into so-called “branches” which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all “branches” or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!

Moscow Patriarchate will accept the Anathema against ecumenism given by ROCOR when they  signed the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate on 17 May 2007, restoring the canonical link between the Churches.

So, is it possible that a text so unacceptable as this one, issued by the “synod of Crete” and promoted with such machinations, would be accepted by the vigilant consciousness of the people of the Church?

Your Beatitude Patriarch of Bulgaria Neophytos,

Your Eminences,

Reverend Fathers,

Dear brothers,

Theologians (clerics and laics)  of Orthodox background not only coexist and cooperate with the so-called «World Council of Churches», solely and exclusively for socio-political reasons and issues, but they also pray together, un-canonically, and jointly sign or adopt unorthodox dogmatic texts, with the Protestants who are also combating the Saints and are hostile to Virgin Mary, and with the non-Chalcedon, in the «World Council of Churches», and thus humiliate the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, trying to change it from a «pillar and foundation of the truth»[17], from Bride of Christ[18] and Body of Christ[19], to a counterpart of equal value and honor with even the smallest and most wretched among protestant and monophysite jurisdiction. We ask for the withdrawal of all the local Orthodox Churches from the so-called «World Council of Churches», following the example of the venerable Patriarchates of Georgia and Bulgaria[20] and the condemnation of the Toronto Statement and of the “synod of Crete”.

Thank you!

Rev. Fr.  Matei Vulcanescu, Protopresbyter of the Holy Metropolis of Piraeus, Greece

Many thanks to Rev. Fr. Anghelos Anghelakopulos, theologian Mihai-Silviu Chirila and theologian Marian Maricaru for the big contribution on this work.

[1] http://ortodoxinfo.ro/2017/05/19/implicatii-eclesiologice-ale-aprobarii-documentului-eretic-declaratia-de-la-toronto-de-catre-pseudosinodul-din-creta/

[2] https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/assembly/1961-new-delhi/new-delhi-statement-on-unity

[3] Translator’s note: The word council means synod.

[4] http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/card-kasper-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20041111_kasper-ecumenism_it.html

[5] http://www.aparatorul.md/recomandam-mitropolitul-serafim-de-kithireon-catre-patriarhul-ilias-al-georgiei

[6]https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/assembly/2006-porto-alegre/1-statements-documents-adopted/christian-unity-and-message-to-the-churches/called-to-be-the-one-church-as-adopted

[7] Ibid, paragraph 3

[8] Faith and Order, «W.C.C.», Baptism, Eucharist, Priesthood, Editions of the Orhtodox Centre of Chambesy 1983. PROTOPRESV. ANASTASIOS GOTSOPOULOS, «The Synod of Crete and the World Council of Churches, in magazine Theodromia 183-4 (July-December 2016) 557-565.

[9] Τhe official text of the «Statement of Unity» of the 10th Assembly of the so called «World Council of Churches» (WCC), that is to say of heresies, in Busan of South Korea (8 Νοvember 2013) Statement of Unity – Revised  SOURCE (of the English text) : Document No. PRC 01.1 (EN Original) For information (webside of WCC.) http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/assembly/2013-busan/adopted-documents-statements/unitystatement/@@download/file/PRC_01_1_ADOPTED_Unity_Statement.pdf

[10]https://www.holycouncil.org/-/rest-of-christian-world?_101_INSTANCE_VA0WE2pZ4Y0I_languageId=en_US

[11] Ibid., paragraph 6

[12] Eph.  1, 17-23

[13] https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/central-committee/1950/toronto-statement

[14] ΑRCHIM. J. POPOVICH, «Orthodoxy and Ecumenism. An Orthodox Opinion and Witness», magazine Theodromia 143 (July – September 2012) 425-432.

[15] HOLY COMMUNITY OF MOUNT ATHOS, «Memorandum on the participation of the Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches», magazine Theodromia 102 (April -June 2008) 207-272.

[16] Memorandum of five Metropolitans against the Busan decisions of the World Council of Churches, www.impantokratoros.gr/D416764F.el.aspx, Memorandum of His Eminence Metropolitan of Piraeus Seraphim against the Busan decisions of the World Council of Churches, www.impantokratoros.gr/Α8092Ε5.el.aspx

[17] Α´ Τim. 3, 15.

[18] Α´ Κor. 12, 27, Eph. 1, 23 and Eph. chap. 4 and 5.

[19] See Patriarch Joseph’s apology to the emperor Mihail the eighth Palaiologos, in V. Laurent – J. Darrouzes, Dossier Grec de l’ Union de Lyon 1273-1277), Paris 1976, p. 289 : «That’s why and we, the Church of Christ, which is the immaculate and amianthus bride, who Christ gοt married, guard from the miasma, please, of the Italians; do not contaminate ourselves with this miasma, because our souls’ bridegroom will turn away from us, and we will be ashamed eternally. «Do not give the devil a place». Patriarch Joseph is a saint of the Church and is commemorated on the 30th of October.

[20] ARCHPRIEST. THEODOROS ZISIS, Saint and Great Synod. Should we hope or worry? Ed. The Palimpsest, Thessaloniki 2016, pp. 154-173.


[1] https://books.google.gr/books?id=jLr-qEPssucC&pg=PA111&lpg=PA111&dq=Vitali+Borovoy,+it+was+the+Statement+that+created+a+space+of+ecclesiological+diversity&source=bl&ots=iCrk_nYiqj&sig=ACfU3U3UGPSdNFHNiK_D8_-2JrLS-YJU0A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiU5beglqzoAhWgSBUIHX5BBe0Q6AEwAHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Vitali%20Borovoy%2C%20it%20was%20the%20Statement%20that%20created%20a%20space%20of%20ecclesiological%20diversity&f=false

[2] https://orthodoxethos.com/post/final-decision-of-the-church-of-georgia-on-the-council-of-crete-summary

[3] https://orthodoxethos.com/post/the-final-decision-of-the-holy-synod-of-the-bulgarian-orthodox-church-on-the-council-in-crete

[4] https://orthodoxethos.com/post/the-patriarchate-of-antioch-the-council-of-crete-is-a-pre-synodical-conference

[5] https://orthodoxethos.com/post/exclusive-the-1998-synodical-decision-of-the-orthodox-church-of-georgia-on-the-chambessy-and-balamand-agreements-branch-theory-and-more