Encyclical of the Holy Hierarchal Council of the Serbian True Orthodox Church
Honorable Clergymen, Venerable Monastics, Pious Brothers and Sisters, Faithful Children of St. Sava’s Serbian Church,
In regards to the resolution made at the Church-Laity Council of the Serbian True Orthodox Church in October, 2013 AD, we the hierarchs of the Serbian True Orthodox Church publish the following:
In the Homologia (Confession of Faith) which was adopted and published by the Church-Laity Council of the STOC (15/28 October 2013), the following decision was made concerning the matter of reception of Orthodox faithful into the True Church from the fallen ecumenist churches:
In the instance of receiving those from the heretical and schismatic communities, the Serbian True Orthodox Church follows the practice of the Serbian Orthodox Church for reception until the Second World War, along with that of the Russian Church Abroad and their historically continuous local church practice and conciliar resolutions which were based on the ecclesiological principle of oikonomia, so that, according to the words of the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad St. Philaret (Vosnesensky), “many not be repelled from the Church.” We determine that those from the Belgrade patriarchate who enter the True Church should be received by oikonomia through repentance, and clergy with the performance of a supplementary laying-on-of-hands (cheirothesia) by hierarchs of the True Orthodox Church for the purpose of fulfilling the ordination which the clergyman received from the heretical hierarchy of the Belgrade Patriarchate.
As it is well known that, in the past, under the influence of the Greek Old Calendarists, we received those from the fallen Belgrade Patriarchate by chrismation or baptism, some may be surprised by the change in practice and think that this represents a weakening of our stance against ecumenism. The remainder of our Homologia, however, clearly conveys the knowledge that we have not changed our position.
The Church is the fount of all the Holy Mysteries, and She has sovereign authority to apply these sacred remedies, these Holy Mysteries, as She decides is necessary, for the salvation of souls.
The Serbian Church’s practice mentioned above, whose foundation was based on the principle of oikonomia, is related to the centuries-old condescending position concerning the reception of Roman Catholics with repentance, and Protestants with chrismation. Neither one nor the other of the heretics above were received by rebaptism in the centuries-long practice of the Serbian Church.
This manner of reception of Roman Catholics and Protestants we are making stricter and have resolved that for them akrivia will be applied. That is, we will receive Roman Catholics and Protestants into the Orthodox Church by the Holy Mystery of baptism.
By the recent example of the principle of condescension which was held by our fathers, in the case of the newly-emerged heresy of ecumenism we will apply the principle of oikonomia.
According to Orthodox teaching, by whatever manner a man is received from heresy into the True Church - whether by baptism, chrismation, or simple repentance – upon reception, he receives all the grace of the Holy Mysteries, even if those which he already received were not legally perfect. He who unites to the true Church by one of the three ways mentioned above, after he communes the Holy Mysteries once, through Communion receives everything: both his baptism and chrismation - and priesthood, if the practice is applied of receiving clergymen in their already-existing rank - become valid; that is, the grace of the Holy Gifts completes the form which was received outside the boundaries of the Church, and any other sort of “fulfillment” later is unnecessary. In the very moment of their uniting to the True Church, the grace which was lost as a result of communion with the heretical hierarchy is given to them, that fullness of grace which is proper to the Orthodox Church. “Content compensates for form” as Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky said.
What is necessary above all for the much-suffering Serbian nation is encouragement for this decisive step, to extend a hand of brotherly help in order to cease the fatal communion with the heretical hierarchy of the Belgrade patriarchate and with this act to return into the saving bosom of the Church! As the ministers of God’s mysteries and those with apostolic authority over the small but faithful remnant of the Serbian Church, who have been appointed, by the mysterious Providence of God, despite our human weakness, to bе the bearers of Svetosavlje in these darkest of times for our Holy Church, we consider that we have not only the canonical right but the duty to apply this oikonomia in the extraordinary circumstances of our time - the time of universal apostasy on the part of the historically Orthodox hierarchs. Due, however, to the ostensible maintenance of the Orthodox confession at the level of the official Local Church, there exists a deception due to which the better part of the faithful do not understand and do not recognize that their bishops are heretics and are leading them down the wrong path.
Our fatherland is Orthodox Serbia, and our fathers, since their conversion to Christianity, never, not even for one moment, fell into heresy, in contrast to the Orthodox Greeks, for example, to whom this happened on several occasions during the first Christian millennium and afterwards. Today among the Serbian faithful there are still many who were baptized in the pre-war, war, or post-war period when the Serbian Church was canonically without reproach, along with priests who have a genuine ordination from that period. We had to take these circumstances into consideration when we were making judgments on the level of apostasy of those returning to the grace-bearing bosom of the Church. For our brothers who are in communion with the Belgrade Patriarch, it is difficult, in fact, impossible, to imagine that they, Orthodox Serbs, are not Orthodox after all.
Let us be honest: pious people within today’s ecumenist Belgrade Patriarchate believe in Orthodoxy, not in ecumenism. What is more, many of them are fiery opponents of the heresy of ecumenism. In order for them to return into the embrace of the True Serbian Church, all that is necessary is for them to cease communion with the heretical hierarchy and unite, through the Holy Mysteries of Confession and Communion, with the existing, correctly believing hierarchy of the Serbian True Orthodox Church.
Would anyone dare to say that our brothers who are now in communion with the ecumenist hierarchy are more estranged from the True Church than the then centuries-long hardened heretics like the Roman Catholics and the Protestants of the beginning of the last century? How then is it possible to use the same, or rather, even stricter practice of reception for our deceived brothers than the practice of reception of the above-mentioned centuries-long heretics applied by the Serbian or Russian Orthodox Churches at the beginning of the last century?
People associate re-baptizing and chrismation with the complete alienation from the Orthodox Church and Orthodoxy. This is an important point in the formulation of the problem and the clarification of the situation in which the Serbian Orthodox people finds itself, for the believing nation has not accepted the heresy of ecumenism. In the end, we cannot use the same measure for the New Calendar Ecumenists and the Old Calendar Ecumenists. The Belgrade Patriarchate has not introduced the use of the new calendar in the services in Serbia, which would be an open, clearly visible form of apostasy, even for the conscience of the most simple believer (although the believing people is guilefully deceived in this manner, for through the recognition of the other Local Churches which have introduced the new calendar and communion with them, the Belgrade Patriarchate in fact accepts the apostate New Calendar reform). It should be clear that with the cessation of communion with the heretical hierarchy and uniting with the True Serbian Church - the Church of their fathers, the Church to which they belong according to their faith – our brothers will neither renounce their Serbian Orthodox identity nor will they unite with some new church structure which is historically and organically disconnected from the Serbian Orthodox Church. Let us clarify this a bit more: in the moment that an Orthodox clergyman, monastic or simple layman recognizes the apostate nature of the hierarchs of the Belgrade Patriarchate and ceases communion with them, with this act they do not leave the Serbian Church. On the contrary, with the union with the Serbian bishops who keep firmly to the Orthodox Confession of Faith they return to Her, for the Church can be recognized not by the external institutions acknowledged by this world, nor by the number of bishops and believers, but by Her true confession of faith.
The Serbian Church did not disappear immediately upon the appearance of ecumenism (as in church history, a heresy which has lasted only a few decades is “only a moment”). In general, the Serbian Church, of all the Local Churches, held out against the introduction of innovations the longest. Usually it is considered that She remained unwavering until the death of Patriarch Gabriel Dožić in 1950, and only then began Her gradual involvement in the Sergianist, Ecumenist, and modernist church movements. In Serbia, there was no such event which so clearly indicated departure from the traditions of the Church like the introduction of the New Calendar in Greece (1924) or the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in Russia (1927). After 1950 there were still great spiritual figures like the holy Bishop Nikolai Velimirović (+1956) or Fr. Justin Povović (+1979), who raised their voices in defense of Orthodoxy. Likewise, they also long kept in closest bonds with the Russian Church Abroad which was the greatest and most important of all the churches separated from “World Orthodoxy,” so that the Serbian Church was also, through the Russian Church Abroad, in indirect Communion with the True Orthodox Churches, Russian or Greek. All the way until the 1960s and 1970s, it was possible for a believer of the Serbian Orthodox Church to commune with Greek Old Calendarists or Russian Catacombists in the very churches of the ROCOR. Most likely it is just for this reason that our movement of True Orthodox Christians, as a reaction to Sergianism, Ecumenism, and innovative tendencies in the Serbian Orthodox Church, appeared relatively late, that is, not until the ‘90s of the last century.
Thus every awakened Serb who breaks off communion with the ecumenist hierarchy and accepts True Orthodoxy realizes within himself with this very act the potential to be a child of the Serbian Orthodox Church which historically and organically has not ceased to exist.
We are deeply convinced that the battle for the faith of the Serbian people should not be hampered by such a barrier as the demand for re-baptism which was emphasized by our Greek brothers. That is why it is very important that in Serbia church oikonomia be applied, and that the Orthodox who cease communion with the Ecumenists be received into the Church by repentance. The Church, therefore, like a caring and co-suffering Mother who does not wish that anyone perish, opens the doors of salvation wide, through oikonomia removing every possible stumbling-block which would make return into Her saving embrace more difficult.
Some might blame us, saying, “But you receive people who were not baptized by three immersions, but by pouring or sprinkling. In such a case oikonomia is impossible.” Our reply is that oikonomia is not impossible: that is a misunderstanding based on a legalistic and ritualistic conception of the Holy Mysteries. All the Local Churches, including the Greek, in some historical periods received Roman Catholic heretics, who do not have the correct form of baptism, by oikonomia. Why was this so? Did the Local Orthodox Churches centuries ago make mistakes? Of course not. They relied on the ancient practice of the Churches which had and has the power to apply church oikonomia. In the late first and early second century the Didache testifies to the fact that in certain conditions, such as in the lack of enough water, baptism by pouring was accepted by the apostolic generation. To this very day, clinical baptism on the sick bed or in other extraordinary circumstances, by pouring or sprinkling, is accepted by the Church. Legalists could again say “But this is not a matter of the lack of water or the sick bed, but a sheer rejection by lazy or innovationist clergy to baptize by immersion.” We would reply: oikonomia is the practice which is used in extraordinary circumstances which demand a departure from the norm. Only the blind could not see that the situation of the entire much-suffering Orthodox Serbian people over the last century has created precisely such circumstances.
“But perhaps critics will contest, bringing up new faults, that oikonomia can only be applied to individuals, not for entire nations or groups.” This is also a misunderstanding. The ordination of iconoclasts – and that was the better part of the hierarchs and clergy of the East – were received by oikonomia by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. A large number of Uniates with their clergy were received into the Orthodox Church by oikonomia not long ago. Are our contemporary Serbian brothers deserving of less condescension? Are we on such a high spiritual level that we can demand such a level of humility from our contemporary Serbs who have been unwillingly bound to the dark deception of ecumenism - and only for a few decades at that - a level of humility which hierarchs much greater than us in spiritual stature, ecclesiological education, and pastoral judgment, did not demand? Indeed, they did not demand this of those who had been estranged from the Church and openly united with condemned heresies and errors for centuries.
While defending our right and obligation to apply oikonomia for our own flock, in accordance with our specific historical circumstances and the ethos of our nation, we completely support our brother True Orthodox hierarchs in their right and obligation to apply oikonomia or akriveia as they deem best for their own Local Church. If they believe that the application of akriveia is more appropriate for their own flock, who are we to object? They know their own people, as we know ours. Let every archpastor and pastor act according to conscience.
“Let us love one another, so that with one mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity One in Essence and Indivisible!”
St. Spyridon of Trimethus
The Paraclete, 12/25 December 2013
The Holy Hierarchal Council of the
Serbian True Orthodox Church
The President of the Holy Hierarchal Council
Bishop Akakije of Uteshiteljevo
Bishop Nektarije of Shumadia