Interview with Bishop Akakije
31May /13 June 2012
On Pentecost this year a question arose about the confession of faith of the anti-ecumenist church community which separated from the ecumenist SOC, calling itself the Eparchy of Rashka-Prizren in Exile. Their “Creed” on the site of the RPE in Exile was stated by the founder and leader of this community, Bishop Artemije. Quickly afterwards, His Grace Bishop Akakije, in his article which we have published on Serbian TO examined the ecclesiological position represented by Bishop Artemije. Not long thereafter, on the site of the RPE in Exile there appeared a series of various commentaries, explanations, and clarifications of Bishop Artemije’s stance. Although Bishop Akakije has already presented his opinion on the matter of such a confession of faith in broad strokes, calling it “Laodicean,” we asked him to clarify his stance with more details for the readers of the Serbian TO blog, especially now after the additional explanations on the ERP in Exile site, in which the Serbian TOC is openly criticized in a very negative context. In connection with all of this, our editors asked Bishop Akakije several questions.
Serbian TO: In a series of Internet articles on the site of the RPE in Exile begun by the Pentecost interview with Bishop Artemije, many clarifications followed – his personal clarifications, those of the info-service, and those of Fr. Simeon Vilovski – sprinkled with some poorly expressed claims that the True Orthodox fall among “schismatic groups” and are no better than the ecumenist heretics themselves. On the other hand, Bp. Artemije’s followers claim of themselves that they are not a schism, but the Royal middle path of salvation. What is this about?
Bp. Akakije: This is demagoguery that not only has no argumentative backing in the canons and Church history, but even goes against a healthy mindset. The Belgrade Patriarchate itself, during its recent conciliar session in May, called Bp. Artemije to return to the Church from the way of schism, because he is creating a “parasynagogue” inside the SOC, with the anti-canonical, invalid acts of opening monasteries and places of prayer throughout the eparchies of the SOC. The ecumenist SOC defined Bp. Artemije and his “RPE in Exile” a schism, and as one result of such a grave judgment defrocked him and his clergy, while his monastics were deprived of their rank, and some of their lay people were excommunicated from the Church. Despite this, Bp. Artemije and his followers are trying to present themselves as the middle way of non-schism.
The claim that Bp. Artemije does not have the intention to create his own “separate Church,” but that he is an organic part of the SOC and he will not go the way of schism insults the intelligence of all people to whom this message is directed.
Let us employ some simple logic. If the ecumenist Belgrade Patriarchate is the Orthodox, canonical Church which possesses the grace of the Holy Mysteries, as Bp. Artemije and his followers explicitly claim, how is it possible that separating from one entire Local Church (in this case the SOC), which is again in union with the entire family of other local Churches, not a schism? As a justification of such a stance, the “exiles” bring forward the Fifteenth Canon of the First-Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople. The canon mentioned provides for immediately ceasing communion with governing hierarchs who preach heresy bare-headed, pending their condemnation. Accurately understood, this canon applies in those cases in which one bishop begins to preach heresy while being a member of a Local Church in which the other bishops are Orthodox and therefore can be expected to try him and condemn him. The state of the SOC - like that of all the other churches of the World Ecumenist Orthodox - does not fit the canon mentioned, in that all the hierarchical synods of all the local “World” churches are heretics; even if, in this or that isolated instance, some individual bishop is not a convinced ecumenist, he is in organic union, that is, communion with the other, ecumenist bishops, and therefore he is indirectly ecumenist as well. Besides, for decades now there has been no hint that the ecumenists will try and condemn themselves because of heresy.
Besides, how is it possible that someone would separate from his grace-bearing canonical Church, and at the same time not fall under judgment for schism? According to his own theory about the grace of the SOC, Bp. Artemije with his separation from it as a grace-bearing church gives a textbook example of schism. For us True Orthodox this is not the case. We preserve that which the Fathers left us. We are not going to be a part of the ecumenist apostasy. We consider ecumenism the pan-heresy and treat ecumenist heresiarchs accordingly: we will not be in communion with them for any price, we consider the mysteries of obstinate heretics without grace, and their church communities heretical and uncanonical. Precisely on this basis, we cannot be proclaimed as schismatics, in that we did not separate from a canonical, grace-bearing Church, but from a heretical assembly. In this we differ from the “RPE in Exile.” For if we consider the SOC an Orthodox and canonical Church, it would not occur to us to separate from her, to create a schism with our Church through some kind of opposition or rebellion, a shape of protest which is totally unknown in church history.
Serbian TO: Please, Your Grace, can You comment on the interesting but - above all - surprising stance of Bp. Artemije on the matter of the calendar? This is a very important question for Serbs, because for decades a quiet, but well-planned preparation for the Catholicizing of Serbs has been conducted by means of various tactics, among which is the changing of the calendar. It is obvious that in answering this question, the trivial argument based on the inner divisions among the Greek Old Calendarists is considerably exploited.
Bishop Akakije: The question of the calendar is very serious. Here a devious reversal is made. Bishop Artemije says, “The calendar is not a heresy, but it is an error,” and then says that the Old Calendarists make the question of the calendar into a dogmatic one. I do not know of one Old Calendarist who defines the calendar reform as a heresy, if there is a tinge of heresy. Rather, the true reason for their opposition to the calendar change is well-known: behind the imposed calendar reform, as Bp. Artemije himself says, is the ecumenist heresy. This ecumenist calendar reform tore at the catholicity of the Orthodox Churches. And the catholicity of the Church, even in this extremely simple, visible shape manifested in the full cycle of church services, is a part of her dogmatic teaching.
The calendar reform, in view of the introduction of the Papist calendar to the harm of the traditional and patristic calendar, presents a typical example of schism that also contains an element of heresy. The New Calendar schism has, besides from dividing the Orthodox, created a series of deformations, among which are the frequent cases of the disappearance of the Peter and Paul Fast.
The betrayal of the traditional Orthodox Calendar has been condemned many times in the past by previous councils. For example, the church Sobor in 1583, composed of three Eastern Patriarchs (the Ecumenical, Alexandrian, and Jerusalem) condemned the new Roman calendar as inconsistent with the rules of the Orthodox Church and the designation of the manner of calculating the dates of Holy Pascha by the First Ecumenical Council. The aforementioned Patriarchs and their synods called upon the Orthodox to hold to the Julian calendar and the Orthodox Paschalion firmly and unwaveringly , even to the shedding of their blood, and they put under anathema and excommunication from the Church of Christ and gathering of believers those who violate this.
The same Fathers also said that it is just to give the old precedence over the new, because it was once decided in the Orthodox Church not to accept any innovation and not give up anything traditional.
Many Eastern Patriarchs over the centuries have steadfastly opposed the Papist calendar, to the extent of laying terrible curses on those who dared touch the Patristic calendar: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, then let him be anathema!” Such a one, that is, who introduces the innovations in the calendar, whether it is a question of “priest, or layman, should be cut off from God, damned, and upon death not to decompose but to bide in eternal torments… May such inherit the leprosy of Gehazi or Judas’ rope, may they abide on the Earth like Cain, groaning and trembling, may the wrath of God be on their heads, and their portion be with the traitor Judas and the God-hating Jews… May an Angel of God persecute them with a sword all the days of their life, and may all the curses of the Patriarch and Councils strike them with the eternal excommunication in the torments of the eternal fire. Amen! May it be so!”
If only a simple error is in question, as it is classified by the RPE “in Exile,” would the Fathers have expressed themselves in such a way about the calendar reform?
Likewise, in 1935 and 1974, the calendar innovation was synodically condemned as a graceless schism by the Greek bishops who did not accept the change of the calendar.
The New Calendar schism in the beginning was tolerated by some contemporary fathers (St. Patriarch Tikhon, Metropolitans Anthony Khrapovitsky and Chrysostomos of Florina). It was not, however, tolerated as an over-and-done-with mistake, but as an error which had to be corrected! When it became clear that the New Calendar schismatics had no intention of returning to the holy Patristic calendar sanctified by centuries-long church use, and that they added to the New Calendar schism the heresy of ecumenism, it was totally clear that they could not be called Orthodox any longer. Today this should be clear to any right-understanding Orthodox Christian.
As far as the numerous divisions among the Old Calendar Greeks, we must admit that unfortunately it is true. This in no way means, however, that the tragic divisions among the Old Calendarists can be put forward as a justification for the New Calendarist schismatics! If one goes beyond merely talking about the tragic divisions between the Old Calendarists, and truly, deeply probes them, one will see that their state is nowhere near such a black one as the “RPE in Exile” would like to present. The Holy Fathers said that not every peace is praiseworthy, nor every war condemnable. The difference between the World Ecumenist Orthodox and the True Orthodox, between the compactness of the first and the “division” of the second, rests on the following important fact: the official churches tolerate brazen heretics, as well as blasphemers and reprobates who have no place in the church hierarchy. This is the peace that is not praiseworthy, on which World Orthodoxy ostensibly preserves its unity. Meanwhile, the True Orthodox do not make such dreadful compromises. Simply, every bishop who gravely violates the canons, begins to preach a heresy, or is immoral, is put on ecclesiastical trial, and if his guilt is proven he is defrocked. Unfortunately in the majority of cases the concerned does not accept the church judgment and he with his like-minded followers found their own lawless assembly which he declares a church or synod. From this stems the ecumenist Orthodox “unity” and True Orthodox “division.” Of course, I will not deny that among many Greek Old Calendarists, giving credit to some exceptions, there exists a spirit of fanaticism which is truly unhealthy and dangerous; but one should not give the entire Old Calendar’s holy struggle over to criticism and judgment because of it.
Serbian TO: Your Grace, allow me to ask You something else on the theme of Bishop Artemije and the calendar. To the question, “Are the Old Calendarist churches in Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria in heresy, because to them the calendar question is one of the most important?” Bishop Artemije replies, “Exactly in this lies the heresy, for the calendar is not a question of faith, as they consider it.” Does he consider those who did not want to accept the Papist calendar heretics, while the New Calendarists are a canonical church who allowed themselves a mistake, about which one should not be too concerned?
Bishop Akakije: Bishop Artemije’s relativist stance on the question of the calendar is clearly like the stance of the entire ecumenist SOC. I think there is no need for additional explanation, but at your insistence I will add that church justice is obviously on the side of the Old Calendarists, as they are preservers of the traditions, and the ecumenists are the ones who introduced the calendar innovation and with this committed the grave sin of schism. As God’s confirmation of this, in Athens in 1925, a large shining cross appeared in the sky which was clearly seen by thousands of people, exactly on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross according to the Patristic Calendar. That is one of the great modern miracles about which little is known or spoken of in the SOC. If the calendar is not a question of faith, as Bishop Artemije declares, then neither are the fixed form of the services, nor beards of priests, nor mantias, nor iconostasis… This logic is horrifying! Does this mean that tomorrow any episcopal sobor can introduce anti-Orthodox reforms with the excuse that they are not questions of faith and declare that those who rise against them are not just schismatics, but even heretics?! I think that this has all gone too far. Unfortunately, the umbilical cord of the World Ecumenist Orthodox is difficult to cut, especially if you were initiated into the episcopacy with them.
Serbian TO: Your Grace, it is known that You had the intention to invite representatives of Bp. Artemije to the STOC Sobor in October at which the hierarchs of the Russian TOC will be participating. At the Sobor essential questions will be examined for the successful continuance of the battle for the progress of St. Sava’s Serbian True Orthodox Church, above all on the mission of the salvation of all who can be saved from the spiritual desolation of the Great Apostasy. With that act, it is doubtless that a brotherly hand has been offered to the anti-ecumenist Bishop Artemije for the sake of cooperating on that field fully or in part. Can You tell us, did You expect that any kind of cooperation between you would take place?
Bp. Akakije: As it is everywhere in True Orthodoxy, so with us as well there exists a personal distrust towards the bishops of the World Ecumenist Orthodox. They are an especially chosen cadre, which for years has been supervised under strict control and prepared to take high church functions. As far as I know, there is not one case in which a bishop from World Ecumenist Orthodoxy passed over to one of the Local True Orthodox hierarchies – be it of the Russian Church Abroad, Russian, Greek or Romanian… Though one should believe in some human Orthodox conscience, for even if it is educated in Sergianist and Ecumenist circles, it cannot be completely extinguished. It was clear to me that Bishop Artemije’s separation from the ecumenist SOC was not connected with a confession of faith, even if to everyone it was clear that he was characterized as an anti-ecumenist among the ranks of the SOC episcopacy (however much possible it is to be such in the frames of World Orthodoxy). I believed that a reversal could take place, and that the Lord was offering Bp. Artemije the opportunity to start out truly on the confessional way of Orthodoxy by a patristic confession of faith, and then we could meld into one front. In this context, it was suggested to examine the idea of inviting Bp. Artemije’s representatives to our Sobor in October. After we heard that he is negotiating with the SOC about his return beneath her mantle, under the condition that his eparchy would be returned, we completely gave up on the idea of inviting Bp. Artemije’s representatives as observers at our Sobor. The May SOC Sobor has not offered anything new on the case of “monk” Artemije, although during that time the incident with the Ascension nuns took place. Now we have before ourselves his confession of faith, which, besides schism, does not separate him from the other SOC bishops, of whom perhaps some oppose ecumenism (which I doubt), but they defend ecumenism if in no other way than remaining in communion with ecumenists, and that for who knows what reasons. From all of this it turns out that the essence of the conflict between Bishop Artemije and the Belgrade Patriarch lies in the confiscation of his eparchy, and if that problem, compromising for both sides, could be solved, then ecumenism would become a secondary question in Bishop Artemije’s repetitive, hopeless and fruitless “war from within.”
Serbian TO: Fr. Simeon Vilovski presents an interesting theory that is obviously directed against Your confessional war within True Orthodoxy. He claims that Bp. Artemije will not create or define some kind of “personal ecclesiology” as the Akakijites and others have. Here the very marrow of the problem and parting of the ways is set up between two church communities in Serbia, both anti-ecumenist and both separated from the ecumenist SOC. I think it would be very useful for our readers for You to say a few words on the theme of eccesiology, i.e., what is the ecclesiological difference between Yourself and Bp. Artemije?
Bishop Akakije: Our ecclesiological theories are obviously different, especially on the matter of the heresy of ecumenism and in what way in general the heresy permeates the church. We have not thought up any kind of “personal ecclesiology,” rather, we have firmly held to the Orthodox teaching about the Church. The Church by dogmatic definition is an organic community of people who are joined by one faith, hierarchy and Holy Mysteries. Thus all of her members are connected in an organic way and form one indivisible organism. If heresy takes over one Local Church and is not healed in time by the removal of the hierarchs and anathematizing of the heresy, then spiritual death spreads through the entire organism through organic mystical communion. If the patriarch and the better part of the bishops are heretics, as Bp. Artemije describes the state of the SOC, then they and all who are in organic communion with them are heretics as well. Besides this level of the local organic connection within the borders of one local church, there exists another, higher level which relates to the organic community of the family of Local Churches. Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that not one of the SOC bishops is an ecumenist, but that the SOC remains in communion with the other local ecumenist churches of Constantinople, Moscow and Athens. At every Liturgy the Serbian Patriarch commemorates the heads of the other local churches and with that, in a mystical way, he expresses full unity with them. Furthermore, every bishop at the Liturgy commemorates the Patriarch, and every priest commemorates his bishop, hence an organic circle. This explanation is very important, as the heresy of ecumenism is not only a local SOC problem, but even more so in other local churches the heresy of ecumenism is being confessed in an even more extreme form, especially in the Constantinople Patriarchate. In this ecumenist family are the New Calendarist churches and the Moscow Sergianist Patriarchate, which is not much behind that of Constantinople; then there are the New-Paschaists – the Finnish Church, along with the Antiochian and Alexandrian Patriarchate which are in union with the Monophysites, etc., etc. That ecumenist community of the World Official Orthodox is the pan-heresy of ecumenism, for what do we care if the Protestants or Papists are ecumenists? When we’re talking about the pan-heresy of ecumenism, we’re talking about the World Orthodox, for heresy does not exist if there are no heresiarchs. When the Russian Church Abroad anathematized ecumenism, She was not anathematizing the Papists and Protestants who for so long have been outside the church, but rather the “Orthodox” ecumenists of World Orthodoxy, whether they are heretics directly (the open ecumenists) or indirectly (the anti-ecumenists who are in communion with ecumenists): “… and to those who are in communion with the above mentioned heretics, or help or defend their new heresy of ecumenism – ANATHEMA!” (from the ROCA anathema of ecumenism, 1983).
This is our so-called personal ecclesiology which the Fathers many centuries ago confessed: Saint Basil the Great says, “They who pretend to confess the Orthodox faith, and remain in communion with the wicked, if after admonition do not cease, we consider them excommunicated and even no longer call them brothers.”
Also St. John Chrysostom: “I declare enemies of God not only heretics, but also those who remain in communion with them.”
Serbian TO: Thank You, Your Grace, for your considerate replies. We hope that this will be of great help to all those Orthodox-thinking and truth-loving souls which the official SOC and Eparchy of RP in Exile are confusing with various forms of earth-bound thinking and demagoguery. Allow me to conclude in the end that the Middle or “Laodicean” way, as You have called it, the lukewarm, bland way which Bp. Artemije and those with him confess, is not the patristic confessional way of the true fight against the heresy of ecumenism, i.e., the path of salvation. And that True Orthodoxy today is the only option of canonical, patristic Orthodoxy, even if in Serbia today it is in the minority and illegal. Do You have a last message to our readers?
Bishop Akakije: Thank God! Thank you for the well-thought-out and clear questions. I completely agree with your conclusion, and counsel the readers of the blog “Serbian True Orthodox” to never, under any conditions, accept becoming Laodiceans (Rev. 3:14-19), but to be zealous in all things, both for faith and virtue, and to stand firm in the positions of the True Orthodox Philadelphians (Rev. 3:7-12), who, though they had little strength, still fulfilled the word of Christ’s truth and did not renounce His name!