Letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople
From the Sacred Community of Mt. Athos on the Balamand Agreement:
8 Dec. 1993
To His Most Divine All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, our Father and Master, Lord Bartholomew,
Most Holy Father and Master:
The union of the Churches or, to be precise, the union of the heterodox with our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Orthodox Church is desirable to us also so that the Lord’s prayer may be fulfilled, “...that they may be one” (Jn.17:21). At any rate, we understand and await according to the Orthodox interpretation. As Professor Fr. John Romanides reminds us, “Christ prays here that His disciples and their disciples may, in this life, become one in the vision of His glory (which He has by nature from the Father) when they become members of His Body, the Church...”
For this reason, whenever heterodox Christians visit us, to whom we extend love and hospitality in Christ, we are painfully aware that we stand apart in faith and, because of this, we are not able to have ecclesiastical communion.
Schism, the division between the Orthodox and the Non-Chalcedonians first and between the Orthodox and the Westerners later, truly amounts to a tragedy about which we must not become silent or complacent.
In this context, therefore, we appreciate efforts made with fear of God and in accordance with Orthodox Tradition that look to a union that cannot take place through the silencing or minimizing of Orthodox doctrines, or through toleration of the false doctrines of the heterodox, because it would not be a union in the Truth. And then in the end, it would not be accepted by the Church or blessed by God, because, according to the patristic saying, “A good thing is not good if it is not achieved in a good way.” On the contrary, it would bring about new schisms and new divisions and miseries to the already [dis]united body of Orthodoxy. At this point, we would like to say that in the face of great changes taking place in lands that have an Orthodox presence, and before so many kinds of unstable conditions on a worldwide scale, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, in other words Orthodox, Church should have strengthened the cohesion of the local Churches and given herself over to the care of her terror-stricken members and to their spiritual stabilization, on the one hand, and in her consciousness [as the One Holy Church], on the other, she should have sounded the trumpet of her unique redemptive power and grace and manifested it before fallen humanity.
In this spirit, to the extent that our monastic office permits us, we closely follow developments in the so-called ecumenical movement and dialogues. We note that at times the word of Truth is rightly divided and, at times, compromises and concessions are made regarding fundamental matters of the Faith.
Thus, actions and declarations which representatives of Orthodox Churches have engaged in, that were unheard of until today and are altogether contrary to our holy Faith, have caused us deep sorrow.
We shall cite first the case of His Beatitude [Parthenios], the Patriarch of Alexandria, who, on at least two occasions, has stated that we Christians ought to recognize Mohammed as a prophet. To this day, however, no one has called for him to step down, and this dreadfully heedless Patriarch continues to preside in the Church of Alexandria as if there were nothing wrong.
Second, we cite the case of the Patriarchate of Antioch, which, without a Pan-Orthodox decision, has proceeded to ecclesiastical communion with the Non-Chalcedonians [Monophysites]. This was done despite the fact that a most serious issue has not yet been resolved. It is the latter’s non-acceptance of the Ecumenical Councils after the Third and, in particular, the Fourth, the Council of Chalcedon, which in fact constitutes an immovable basis of Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, in this case, too, we have not seen a single protest by other Orthodox Churches.
The gravest matter, however, is the unacceptable change in the position of the Orthodox that arises from the joint statement at the June, 1993 Balamand Conference of the mixed commission for the dialogue between Roman Catholics and Orthodox. It adopted anti-Orthodox positions, and it is mainly to this that we call the attention of Your All Holiness.
First, we must confess that the statements which Your All Holiness has made from time to time that the Uniate movement is an insurmountable obstacle to the continuation of the dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholics used to put us at ease.
But the above document [of Balamand] gives the impression that your statements are being sidestepped. Furthermore, Unia is receiving amnesty and is invited to the table of theological discussion, despite the contrary decision of the Third Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes requiring: “the complete withdrawal from Orthodox lands by the Uniate agents and propagandists of the Vatican; the incorporation of the so-called Uniate Churches and their subjection under the Church of Rome before the inauguration of the dialogue, because Unia and dialogue at the same time are irreconcilable.”
Your All Holiness, the greatest scandal, however, is caused by the ecclesiological positions in the document. We shall refer here to fundamental deviations only.
In Paragraph 10 we read: “The Catholic Church...(which conducted missionary work against the Orthodox and) presented herself as the only one to whom salvation was entrusted. As a reaction, the Orthodox Church, in turn, came to accept the same vision according to which only in her could salvation be found. To assure the salvation of “the separated brethren” it even happened that Christians were rebaptized and that certain requirements of the religious freedom of persons and of their act of faith were forgotten. This perspective was one to which that period showed little sensitivity.”
As Orthodox, we cannot accept this view. It was not as a reaction against Unia that our Holy Orthodox Church began to believe that she exclusively possessed salvation, but believed it before Unia existed, from the time of the Schism, which took place for reasons of dogma. The Orthodox Church did not await the coming of Unia in order to acquire the consciousness that she is the unadulterated continuation of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ, because she has always had this self-awareness just as she had the awareness that the Papacy was in heresy. If she did not use the term heresy frequently, it was because, according to St. Mark of Ephesus, “The Latins are not only schismatics but heretics as well. However, the Church was silent on this because their race is large and more powerful than ours...and we wished not to fall into triumphalism over the Latins as heretics but to be accepting of their return and to cultivate brotherliness.”
But when the Uniates and the agents of Rome were let loose on us in the East in order to proselytize the suffering Orthodox by mainly unlawful means, as they do even today, Orthodoxy was obliged to declare that truth, not for purposes of proselytism but in order to protect the flock.
St. Photius repeatedly characterizes the Filioque as a heresy, and its believers as cacodox.
St. Gregory Palamas says of the westerner Barlaam, that when he came to Orthodoxy, “He did not accept sanctifying water from our Church...to wipe away [his] stains from the West.” St. Gregory obviously considers him a heretic in need of sanctifying grace in order to come into the Orthodox Church.
The statement in the paragraph in question unjustly heaps responsibility on the Orthodox Church in order to lessen the responsibilities of the Papists. When did the Orthodox trample upon the religious freedom of the Uniates and Roman Catholics by baptizing them against their will? And if there were some exceptions, the Orthodox who signed the Balamand document forget that those who were rebaptized against their wishes were descendants of the Orthodox who were forcibly made Uniates, as occurred in Poland, Ukraine, and Moldavia. (See Paragraph 11)
In Paragraph 13 we read: “In fact, especially since the Pan-Orthodox Conferences began and since the Second Vatican Council, the rediscovery and the giving of proper value to the Church as communion, both on the part of Orthodox and of Catholics, has radically altered perspectives and thus attitudes. On each side it is recognized that what Christ has entrusted to his Church--profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, above all the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the apostolic succession of bishops--cannot be the exclusive property of one of our Churches. In this context, it is clear that every form of rebaptism must be avoided.”
The new discovery of the Church as communion by Roman Catholics has, of course, some significance for them who had no way out of the dilemma of their totalitarian ecclesiology and, therefore, had to turn their system of thought to the communal character of the Church. Thus, alongside the one extreme of totalitarianism, they place the other of collegiality, always motivated on the same man-centered level. The Orthodox Church, however, has always had the consciousness that she is not a simple communion but a theanthropic communion or a “communion of theosis [deification],” as St. Gregory Palamas says in his homily on the procession of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the communion of theosis is not only unknown in but also irreconcilable with Roman Catholic theology, which rejects [the doctrine of] the uncreated energies of God that form and sustain this communion.
Given these truths, it was with deepest sadness that we confirmed that this paragraph  makes the Orthodox Church equal to the Roman Catholic Church which abides in cacodoxy.
Serious theological differences, such as the Filioque, Papal primacy and infallibility, created grace, etc., are receiving amnesty, and a union is being forged without agreement in dogma.
Thus are verified the premonitions that the union designed by the Vatican, in which, as St. Mark of Ephesus said, “the willing are unwittingly being manipulated,” (i.e. the Orthodox, who also live under hostile circumstances ethnically and politically today and are captive to nations of other religions), is pushed to take place without agreement regarding doctrinal differences. The plan is for union to take place, despite the differences, through the mutual recognition of the mysteries and apostolic succession of each Church, and the application of intercommunion, limited at first and broader later. After this, doctrinal differences can only be discussed as theological opinions.
But once union takes place, what sense is there in discussing theological differences? Rome knows that the Orthodox will never accept her alien teachings. Experience has proven this in the various attempts at union up to the present. Therefore, despite the differences, Rome is crafting a union and hoping, from a humanistic point of view (as her perspective always is), that, as the more powerful factor, in time she will absorb the weaker one, that is, Orthodoxy. Fr. John Romanides presaged this in his article “The Uniate Movement and Popular Ecumenism,” in The Orthodox Witness, Feb. 1966.
We would like to put these questions to the Orthodox who signed this document:
Do the Filioque, [Papal] primacy and infallibility, purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, and created grace constitute an apostolic confession? Despite all of this, is it possible for us as Orthodox to recognize as apostolic, the faith and confession of the Roman Catholics?
Do these serious theological deviations of Rome amount to heresies or not?
If they are, as they have been described by Orthodox Councils and Fathers, do they not result in the invalidity of the mysteries and the apostolic succession of heterodox and cacodox of this kind?
Is it possible for the fullness of grace to exist where there is not the fullness of truth?
Is it possible to distinguish Christ of the truth from Christ of the mysteries and apostolic succession?
Apostolic succession was first set forth by the Church as a historic confirmation of the continuous preservation of her truth. But when the truth itself is distorted, what meaning can a formalistic preservation of apostolic succession have? Did not the great heresiarchs often have this kind of external succession? How can it be possible for them to also be regarded as bearers of grace?
And how is it possible for two Churches to be considered “Sister Churches” not because of their pre-Schism common descent but because of their so-called common confession, sanctifying grace, and priesthood despite their great differences in dogmas?
Who among the Orthodox can accept as the true successor to the Apostles the infallible one, the one with the primacy of authority to rule over the entire Church and to be the religious and secular leader of the Vatican State?
Would this not be a denial of Apostolic Faith and Tradition?
Or are the signers of this document unaware that many Roman Catholics today groan under the foot of the Pope (and his scholastic, man-centered ecclesiological system) and desire to come into Orthodoxy?
How can these people who are tormented spiritually and desire holy Baptism not be received into Orthodoxy because the same grace is supposedly both here and there? Ought we not, at that point, respect their religious freedom, as the Balamand declaration demands in another circumstance, and grant them Orthodox Baptism? What defense shall we present to the Lord if we withhold the fullness of grace from them who, after years of agony and personal searching, desire the holy Baptism of our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church?
Paragraph 14 of the document quotes Pope John Paul II: “The ecumenical endeavor of the Sister Churches of East and West, grounded in dialogue and prayer, is the search for perfect and total communion which is neither absorption nor fusion but a meeting in truth and love.”
But how is a union in the truth possible when differences in dogmas are sidestepped and both Churches are described as sisters despite the differences?
The Truth of the Church is indivisible because it is Christ Himself. But when there are differences in dogmas there cannot be unity in Christ.
From what we know about Church History, Churches were called Sister Churches when they held the same faith. Never was the Orthodox Church called a sister of any heterodox churches, regardless of the degree of heterodoxy or cacodoxy they held.
We ask ourselves a basic question: have religious syncretism and doctrinal minimalism--the byproducts of secularization and humanism--perhaps influenced the Orthodox signers of the document?
It is apparent that the document adopts, perhaps for the first time by the Orthodox side, the position that two Churches, the Orthodox and Roman Catholic, together constitute the One Holy Church or are two legitimate expressions of her.
Unfortunately, it is the first time that Orthodox have officially accepted a form of the branch theory.
Permit us to express our deep sorrow over this in as much as this theory comes into screaming conflict with Orthodox Tradition and Consciousness up to now.
We have many witnesses to the Orthodox Consciousness that our Church alone constitutes the One Holy Church, and they are recognized as pan-Orthodox in authority.
They are the:
1. Council of Constantinople, 1722;
2. Council of Constantinople, 1727;
3. Council of Constantinople, 1838;
4. 1848 Encyclical of the Four Patriarchs of the East and their synods;
5. Council of Constantinople, 1895.
These Councils decreed that only our Holy Orthodox Church constitutes the One Holy Church.
The 1895 Council of Constantinople summarizes all of the preceding Councils: “Orthodoxy, that is, the Eastern Church, justly boasts in Christ that she is the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the first nine centuries of Christianity and is therefore the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ, the ‘pillar and bulwark of truth.’ And the present Roman Church is the church of innovationism and adulteration of the writings of the Church Fathers and the distortion of the Holy Scriptures and the decrees of the Holy Councils. Justly and for good reason it was denounced and is denounced as long as it persists in its delusion. ‘Better a praiseworthy war,’ says St. Gregory of Nazianzus, ‘than a peace separated from God.’”
Representatives of the Orthodox Churches declared the same things at World Council of Churches conferences. Among them were distinguished Orthodox theologians, such as Fr. George Florovsky. Thus, at the Conference of Lund in 1952, was declared:
“We came here not to judge other Churches but to help them see the truth, to enlighten their thought in a brotherly manner, informing them of the teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, that is to say, the Greek Orthodox Church, which is unaltered from the apostolic period.”
At Evanston in 1954:
“In conclusion, we are obliged to declare our deep conviction that the holy Orthodox Church alone has preserved ‘the faith once delivered unto the saints’ in all of its fullness and purity. And this is not because of any human merit of ours but because God is pleased to preserve His treasure in earthen vessels...”
And at New Delhi in 1961:
“Unity has been broken and it is necessary that it be won anew. For the Orthodox Church is not a Confession, not one of the many or one among the many. For the Orthodox, the Orthodox Church is the Church. The Orthodox Church has the perception and consciousness that her inner structure and teaching coincide with the apostolic kerygma and the tradition of the ancient, undivided Church. The Orthodox Church exists in the unbroken and continuous succession of the sacramental ministry, of the sacramental life, and of the faith. The apostolic succession of the episcopal office and the sacramental ministry, for the Orthodox, is truly a component of the essence and, for this reason, a necessary element in the existence of the whole Church. In accordance with her inner conviction and an awareness of the circumstances, the Orthodox Church occupies a special and extraordinary position in divided Christendom as the bearer and witness of the tradition of the ancient, undivided Church, from which the present Christian denominations originate by way of reduction and separation.”
We could also set forth here the testimonies of the most distinguished and widely acknowledged Orthodox theologians. We shall limit ourselves to one, the late Fr. Demetrius Staniloae, a theologian distinguished not only for his wisdom, but also for the breadth and Orthodox mindset of his ecumenical perspective.
In many places of his noteworthy book, Towards an Orthodox Ecumenism, he refers to themes that are relevant to the joint statement [being discussed here] and bears Orthodox witness. Through it, therefore, the disagreement between the positions taken in the document and the Orthodox faith shall be shown:
“Without unity of faith and without communion in the same Body and Blood of the Incarnate Word, such a Church could not exist, nor could a Church in the full meaning of the word.”
“In the case of one who is entering into full communion of faith with the members of the Orthodox Church and is becoming a member, economia [dispensation] is understood to give validity to a mystery previously performed outside of the Church.”
“In the Roman Catholic view, the Church is not so much a spiritual organism that is headed by Christ as it is a nomocanonical organization which, even in the best of circumstances, lives not in the divine but in the supernatural level of created grace.”
“In the preservation of this unity, an indispensable role is played by the unity of faith because the latter wholly bonds the members with Christ and with one another.”
“Those who confess not a whole and integral Christ but only certain parts of Him cannot achieve a complete communion either with the Church or with one another.”
“How is it possible for the Catholics to unite with the Orthodox in a common eucharist when they believe that unity is derived more from the Pope than from the Holy Eucharist? Can love for the world spring forth from the Pope, that is, the love which springs from the Christ of the Holy Eucharist?”
“There is a growing recognition of the fact that Orthodoxy, as the complete body of Christ, reaches out in a concrete way to take in the parts that were separated.”
It is self-evident that two complete bodies of Christ cannot exist.
Your All Holiness, one has to wonder why the Orthodox proceed to make these concessions while the Roman Catholics not only persist in, but reinforce their pope-centered ecclesiology.
It is a fact that the Second Vatican Council  not only neglected to minimize the primacy and infallibility [of the Pope], indeed, it magnified these. According to the late Professor John Karmiris, “Despite the fact that the Second Vatican Council covered over the familiar Latin claims about the Papacy’s monarchical absolute rule with the mantle of the collegiality of the bishops, not only were those claims not diminished; on the contrary, they were reinforced by this Council. The present Pope [John XXIII] does not hesitate to promote them, even at inopportune times, with much emphasis.”
And the Pope’s Encyclical, “To the Bishops of the Catholic Church” (May 28, 1992), recognizes only Rome as the “catholic” church and the Pope as the only “catholic” bishop. The church of Rome and her bishop compose the “essence” of all other churches. Moreover, every local church and her bishop simply constitute expressions of the direct “presence” and “authority” of the bishop of Rome and his church, which determines from within every local church’s ecclesial identity.”
According to this papal document, since the Orthodox Churches refuse to submit to the Pope, they do not bear the character of the Church at all and are simply viewed as “partial churches.” “Verdienen der titel teilkirchen.”
The same ecclesiology is expressed in The Ecumenical Guide (“a guide for the application of principles and agenda regarding ecumenism”) of the Roman Catholic Church, presented by Cardinal Cassidy to the meeting of Roman Catholic bishops (May 10-15, 1993, one month before Balamand), with non-Catholics and indeed Orthodox in attendance.
The Ecumenical Guide stresses that Roman Catholics “maintain the firm conviction that the singular Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, which is ruled by the successor to Peter and by bishops who are in communion with him,” in as much as the “College of Bishops has as its head the Bishop of Rome, the successor to Peter.”
In the same document, many nice-sounding things are said about the need to develop an ecumenical dialogue and ecumenical education--obviously to muddy the waters and draw away naive Orthodox by that effective, Vatican-designed method of unity, i.e. of submission to Rome.
The method, according to The Ecumenical Guide, is the following:
“The criteria that were established for ecumenical collaboration, on the one hand, are mutual recognition of baptism and the placement of the common symbols of faith in empirical liturgical life; and on the other, are collaboration in ecumenical education, joint prayer, and pastoral cooperation in order that we may be moved from conflict to coexistence, from coexistence to collaboration, from collaboration to sharing, from sharing to communion.”
Such documents, however, that are full of hypocrisy are generally received as positive by the Orthodox.
We are saddened to ascertain that the joint declaration is founded upon the Roman Catholic reasoning above. Because of these recent developments under such terms, however, we begin to ask ourselves if those who claim that the various dialogues are detrimental to Orthodoxy might be justified after all.
Most Holy Father and Despota, in human terms, by means of that joint declaration, Roman Catholics have succeeded in gaining from certain Orthodox recognition as the legitimate continuation of the One Holy Church with the fullness of Truth, Grace, Priesthood, Mysteries, and Apostolic Succession.
But that success is to their own detriment because it removes from them the possibility of acknowledging and repenting of their grave ecclesiology and doctrinal illness. For this reason, the concessions by Orthodox are not philanthropic. They are not for the good of either the Roman Catholics or the Orthodox. They jump from “the hope of the Gospel” (Col.1:23) of Christ, the only God-Man, to the Pope, the man-god and idol of western humanism.
For the sake of the Roman Catholics and the whole world, whose only hope is unadulterated Orthodoxy, we are obliged never to accept union or the description of the Roman Catholic Church as a “Sister Church,” or the Pope as the canonical bishop of Rome, or the “Church” of Rome as having canonical Apostolic Succession, Priesthood, and Mysteries without their [the Papists’] expressly stated renunciation of the Filioque, the infallibility and primacy of the Pope, created grace, and the rest of their cacodoxies. For we shall never regard these as unimportant differences or mere theological opinions but as differences that irrevocably debase the theanthropic character of the Church and introduce blasphemies.
The following decisions of Vatican II are typical:
“The Roman Pontiff, the successor to Peter, is the permanent and visible source and foundation of the unity of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful.
“This religious submission of the will and mind must be manifested in a special way before the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.
“The Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, by virtue of his office, possesses infallibility when, strengthening his brethren (Lk.23:32) as the shepherd and highest teacher of all the faithful, he declares a teaching through an act of definition regarding faith or morals. For this reason it is justly said that the decrees of the Pope are irreversible in nature and not subject to dispensation by the Church in as much as they were pronounced with the collaboration of the Holy Spirit...Consequently, the decrees of the Pope are subject to no other approval, to no other appeal, to no other judgment. For the Roman Pontiff does not express his opinion as a private person but as the highest teacher of the universal Church, upon whom personally rests the gift of the infallibility of the very Church herself and who sets forth and protects the teaching of the Catholic Faith.
“In the course of his responsibility as the vicar of Christ and shepherd of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has the fullest, highest, and universal authority in the Church, which he is always empowered to exercise freely...There cannot exist an Ecumenical Council if it is not validated or at least accepted by the successor to Peter. The convocation, presidency, and approval of the decisions of the Councils are the prerogative of the Roman Pontiff.”
Do all of these teachings, Your All Holiness, not fall upon Orthodox ears as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and against the Divine Builder of the Church, Jesus Christ, the only eternal and infallible Head of the Church from Whom alone springs forth the unity of the Church? Do these not utterly contradict the Gospel-centered and God-Man centered Orthodox Ecclesiology inspired by the Holy Spirit? Do they not subordinate the God-Man to man?
How can we make concessions or co-exist with such a spirit without losing our faith and salvation?
Remaining faithful to all that we have received from our Holy Fathers, we shall never accept the present Roman “Church” as co-representative with ours of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ.
We consider it necessary that among the theological differences the distinction between the essence and the energy of God, and the uncreatedness of the divine energies be noted, because if grace is created, as the Roman Catholics claim, salvation and the theosis of man is nullified, and the Church ceases to be a communion of theosis and degenerates into a nomocanonical institution.
Deeply pained in our soul because of all of the above, we have recourse to you our Spiritual Father. And with deepest respect, we call upon you and implore you, in your characteristic pastoral understanding and sensitivity, to take this most grave matter in hand and not accept the [Balamand] document, and generally to take every possible action to stave off the undesirable consequences it will have for pan-Orthodox unity if by chance some Churches adopt it.
Moreover, we ask for your holy and God-obedient prayers so that we too who are lowly inhabitants and monastics of the Holy Mountain, in this time of spiritual confusion, compromise, secularization, and the dulling of our doctrinal acuity, may remain faithful unto death to that which was passed on to us by our Holy Fathers as a “form of doctrine” (Rom.6:17), whatever that may cost us.
With deepest respect, we venerate your holy right hand.
Representatives and Presidents of the
Twenty Sacred Monasteries of the Holy Mountain of Athos