Patriarchal Letter to the Orthodox Churches about the Dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Nothern Greece and the islands of the Egean Sea (May 9, 2004)
The many centuries old canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, declared by means of the resolutions of Ecumenical or Local Councils, and attested by ever consistent Ecclesiastical practice, constitutes the unshakeable criterion of the healthiness of the gracious and dignified relations of the local Orthodox Churches with one another within the communion of faith and the bonds of love. Thus, any deviance from hallowed canonical tradition has always introduced a major or minor anomaly not only into the harmonious operation of those relations, but also into the very unity of the Church itself, because both the major and the minor criteria of its internal good order, bear direct or indirect reference to the very nature or the realization of the spiritual mission of the Church within the world. This is inferred resoundingly from the historical experience of the Church spanning two millennia, and is attested both in the formulation and in the practical implementation of the Sacred Canons.
Under this spirit, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in its concern to perform its duty in upholding Orthodox canonical order, has ever, at home and abroad, urged the fundamental principles thereof, with the purpose of putting a check to any occasional deviations or confusions that might prove perilous for the unity of the Church. Thus, the perilous confusion between the canonical criterion of a strict territorial demarcation of Ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and secularized ideologies propounding ethnocentric Churches that, in recent years, have been introduced into the Orthodox Church from outside, having struck a grievous blow against the harmonious Ecclesiastical operation of inter-orthodox relations that accords with the canons, was deplored and decried as a grievous Ecclesiological aberration by the Great Council convoked in Constantinople (1872). This resolution constitutes the authentic interpretation of the principles of Orthodox canonical tradition both in respect of the organizational structures of, and of the mutual relations between the local Orthodox Churches, and therefore the dialectic between the legitimacy determined by state authority and the obedience to the canons upheld by the Church has become a salient issue, often with painful implications for the life of the local Orthodox Churches.
Such confusion underlies the recently emergent – yet uncalled for – tension in the relations between the Most Holy Autocephalous Church of Greece with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, mainly by reason of the arbitrary and flagrant contestation by her of the latter’s rights in the Provinces of Northern Greece, which, by common consent, were upheld and safeguarded in the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928. This Ecclesiastical Arrangement, effected by common consent under specific conditions, such that were dictated both by the inviolable canonical rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in those provinces and by the agreement between Greece and Turkey for the exchange of the populations of Eastern Thrace, Asia Minor and Pontos, expressly concerned the assignment of trusteeship to the so called “Church of Greece”, namely to an Ecclesiastical unity differing from the “Autocephalous Church of Greece”, only of the administration, and solely for the subordinate affairs of the Holy Metropolitan Dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the territorial region of which had been incorporated into the Greek state, on account of the turbulent circumstances of the times, the “supreme canonical rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate” thereto being irreducibly preserved.
Therefore, the persistence of H.B. the Archbishop of Athens, from the moment of his accession to the Archdiocese of Athens, in pursuing his arbitrary and defiant, direct or indirect contestation of this paramount canonical prerogative of the Mother Church, as determined by means of the ten terms of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928, did reasonably cause repeated interventions on the part of the Ecumenical Throne in order to avert the perpetration by word and deed of such un-canonical acts. Regrettably, the exhortations and suggestions of the Mother Church, that were offered in much love, to the effect that the terms of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act merited dutiful respect, were not only defiantly ignored, but also intentionally exploited by His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens to cause confusion, and to establish the preconditions for the arbitrary incorporation of those Provinces of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the absolute canonical jurisdiction of the Most Holy Church of Greece, a fact which in itself constitutes a violation of Orthodox canonical order, and an un-canonical encroachment on another Ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
Thus the Mother Church, having exhausted her efforts in urging peace and due respect for canonical order, could no longer countenance the refusal on the part of H.B. the Archbishop of Athens to implement the consensus agreement that had finally been achieved, and therefore resolved to convoke the Major Holy and Sacred Resident Synod in its extended composition, in order to deal with the crisis that was growing ever more intense by means of the assumption of the measures stipulated in the Sacred Canons. The resolutions reached constitute an ultimate appeal for the compliance of His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens with the terms and conditions of the peaceable resolution of the matter proposed by him and accepted by the Mother Church in a spirit of dispensation, in accordance also with the spirit of the relevant appeal launched by their Beatitudes the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem, that what has fared ill should not grow worse, and run as follows:
a) we deem the recent elections and translations to be invalid, having been held and effected in violation of the specific Terms of the Act of 4 September 1928, through acts passing beyond proper bounds and impinging within an another’s jurisdiction, and consequently un-canonically, and the holy sees of Thessaloniki, Eleftheroupolis, and Servia and Kozani still vacant;
b) with unutterable sadness and pain we resolve the interruption of communion with His Beatitude Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens, his name being stricken from the Diptychs of our Holy Great Church of Christ, and himself being rendered unable to commune with us, or with the clergy and monks who are subject to our Church, either in worship or in administration;
c) we enjoin those thus “elected” not to assume their provinces: otherwise communion will be interrupted with them as well;
d) we earnestly beg the Honourable Hellenic State not to assist in the dissolution of canonical order by the promulgation of the pertinent Presidential Decrees recognizing those elected as legitimate Metropolitans of the Holy Metropolitan Dioceses to which they were elected un-canonically;
e) we express the most intense displeasure and sorrow of the Mother Church to those Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, fortunately few in number, who assisted in the “ordinations” of those thus elected; and
f) we make it known that in the event that this canonical anomaly should continue, the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be forced to proceed with the abrogation of the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of 1928.
Under this spirit, and in keeping with the canonical order that has always prevailed in the Orthodox Church, we dispatch to You, as is our duty, for Your direct notification in respect of Your course of action the entire text of the resolution reached, and remain hopeful that You will also hold the same view regarding the validity and stature of the Sacred Canons in respect of the overall operation of the mutual relations of the local Orthodox Churches, so that through the assistance of all, the irrefragable unity of the Orthodox Church and its reliable witness within the contemporary world may become more fully manifest.
Brother in Christ,
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
The same Patriarchale Letter was sent to all local Orthodox Churches.