ENGLISH VERSION: “The rejection of heresy is not done by ignoring it, but by condemning it". Interview with the First Hierarch of the Holy Orthodox Church in North America (HOCNA), Metropolitan Gregory of Boston
"Portal-Credo.Ru": Please briefly tell us about the Holy Orthodox Church in North America. How many parishes are under it now, how many bishops and priests does it have, and what is it like in its external aspect?
Metropolitan Gregory: Our Church is the local Church in North America, which has its own independent Synod, comprised of six bishops (three of them are ruling, two are vicar, and one in retirement), and three dioceses—Boston, Toronto, and Seattle.
The spiritual center of our Church is the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston. Likewise we have four convents: one is to be found in Boston, and the other three in Toronto, Seattle, and Virginia.
Our Holy Synod has 25 parishes and missions in the United States, Canada, as well as in Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia. The Orthodox Church in Georgia with its three parishes (in Tbilisi and Kutaisi) remains under the pastoral guidance of our Synod until there is a local bishop. We are likewise in communion with the Holy Orthodox Church in East Africa. It unites parishes in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, that we had accepted from the Patriarchate of Alexandria 15 years ago, and for which last year our Synod consecrated a ruling hierarch, Metropolitan Paul of Nairobi. The Metropolis of Nairobi will remain under the spiritual guidance of our Holy Synod until it will be able to form its own independent synod. Finally, our Church in North America stands in complete communion with the Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece under the presidency of Archbishop Makarios of Athens.
- Tell us about the Synod of Archbishop Makarios with whom you are in communion. Of all the existing true Orthodox synods in Greece, why did you choose it?
- In 1998 the Synod of the Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece, under the presidency of Metropolitan Kallinikos (Haniotis) of Phtiotis and Thaumakos (the “Lamian” Synod, later under the presidency of the newly elected Archbishop Makarios (Kavakidis) of Athens), officially acknowledged the ever-memorable Archbishop Auxentios (Pastras) of Athens to be fully exonerated with respect to the sorrowful events of 1984—that is, with respect to the schism against him orchestrated by the members of the so-called “Kiousis” (now “Kallinikite”) Synod. By its official decree this “Lamian” Synod rejected all the accusations against the First Hierarch, who had been slandered by the conspirators, and proclaimed Archbishop Auxentios as having been the sole rightful and canonical Archbishop of Athens at the time of the schism.
It was this step which occasioned the rapprochement of our Churches, since our Synod in North America is the successor and child of the canonical “Auxentian” Synod of the True Orthodox Church of Greece. After the death of Saint Philaret the New Confessor in 1985 and our forced break with the ROCA because of that Church’s sudden change of direction in 1986, our Monastery and the parishes under its guidance were received under the omophorion of Archbishop Auxentios. It was from him that we received our apostolic succession through the bishops he consecrated for the American flock, and we were faithful to him until his righteous repose in 1994.
Therefore after the document came out regarding the full exoneration of Archbishop Auxentios with respect to the false accusations brought against him, which document was synodically approved and proclaimed by the bishops of the Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece, it was entirely logical for our two Synods, which have not only our apostolic succession from the “Auxentian” Synod, but most importantly our confession of the Faith in common, to discover our common ground and to enter into communion. Although of course this required some time, with God’s help in 2013 our Synods entered into full Eucharistic and canonical communion as two equal local sister Churches. We are firmly united today not only by our common views on theological, canonical, and pastoral questions, but also by true Christian brotherhood, and simple human friendship as well.
- Is the issue of “Cyprianism” relevant today for the contemporary Orthodox world? In 2014 the “Synod in Resistance” created by the Greek Metropolitan Cyprian (Koutsoumbas), was absorbed by the “Kallinikite” Synod of the True Orthodox Church of Greece, which many regard as the most respectable and largest in the Old Calendar world (it is presently headed by Archbishop Kallinikos.) Why do you feel that with the disappearance of the “Cyprianite” Synod the heresy of “Cyprianism” has not also disappeared?
- Absolutely this is a relevant issue. With the union of 2014 Cyprianism began a new phase of its existence as a false teaching in finalized form. Through this very event it spread its metastases like a cancerous growth throughout the entire “respectable and large” Synod of Kallinikos (Sarantopoulos). However, even this very “Kallinikite” Synod is not so different in its origin from the “Cyprianite” Synod. Both of these false hierarchs—Kallinikos (Sarantopoulos) and Cyprian (Koutsoumbas) always remained in schism from the canonical Synod of Archbishop Auxentios, and both were uncanonically and secretly consecrated in 1979. A detailed account of this well-known matter, in which the deceased hierarch Cyprian (Koutsoumbas) was the chief intriguer and conspirator, may be read here.
Now, some three years after the union concluded between the “Cyprianites” and Kallinikos (Sarantopoulos), we see clearly that what happened in fact, was not at all that the Synod of the Resisters was received into communion by the True Orthodox through a public and full renunciation of their false teaching, but just the opposite. The “Cyprianites” have not only intellectually suppressed the theologically inert bishops of the “large Synod,” but also imposed on them a rather dubious Confession, and their own views. What happened was not that the “Cyprianites” were received into communion with the Synod of Kallinikos through repentance and the renunciation of their heresy, but that they themselves made the “Kallinikites” exonerate Cyprian who had previously been anathematized and excommunicated by them. Of note here is the utter lack of principle of Kallinikos (Sarantopoulos), whose signature is found on the synodal decision as regards the excommunication of Cyprian and the anathematizing of his impious teaching, but who nevertheless since 2014 serves Memorial Services for him and commemorates him in the Liturgy.
Note how in today’s unified Synod, the so-called “Cyprianite circle” of bishops has become the most powerful and weighty intellectual nucleus. All of this Synod’s theological institutions are now under the guidance of former bishops of the Synod of Resisters, and they fully control all its theological and missionary work. And Cyprianism itself is alive and well not only as a fully developed ecclesiological doctrine, but also as the norm of daily church life. An excellent example of this is the current situation in the so-called “Diocese of Alania” in the Tskhinvali region [also known as South Ossetia, a breakaway region from Georgia], where — officially! — the “Cyprianites” and the Sergianist and Ecumenist Moscow Patriarchate, have a common flock. There are plenty of facts proving this state of affairs (we will speak of them in more detail below.)
Cyprianism as a teaching has not been condemned by the bishops of the Synod in Resistance, and this was not a condition of their reception into the Synod of Kallinikos (Sarantopoulos). It is not I who say this, but they themselves. Metropolitan Chrysostom (Gonzalez) of Etna and Bishop Auxentios (Chapman) of Portland, bishops of the Synod in Resistance in America, have confirmed in writing that no one “accepted” them, and specifically that they were not accepted on condition of their repentance, since they have nothing to repent of.
According to them, their union with the Synod of Kallinikos (Sarantopoulos) was a unification of two groups of bishops with equal prerogatives, in consequence of which not a single principle of the “ever-memorable Metropolitan Cyprian” was forgotten or altered. Thus those who affirm that Cyprianism died with the deceased Metropolitan Cyprian, that we should just forget about it, are much mistaken. Those people are also mistaken who suppose that Cyprianism has been refuted through the signing of the new Confession of Faith in 2014, where the Cyprianite theses in the sphere of ecclesiology were not directly mentioned. In the first place, this document in itself contains points of dubious Orthodoxy. In the second, the refutation of a heresy is not done by ignoring it, but by condemning it.
Besides, as we see from the letters of the aforementioned “Cyprianite” bishops in America, they have no problem signing this Confession of Faith, which does not directly mention “Cyprianite” theses, and simultaneously to continue confessing their error. Until they specifically condemn the teaching by which they departed from Orthodoxy, they can sign new Confessions every year if they so desire, but this will in no way prove the correctness of their faith or rectify it.
Finally, mistaken are those people also who affirm that these theological theses were the personal opinion of Metropolitan Cyprian. Excuse me, but since when can theological theses which have been officially proclaimed on more than one occasion by the first hierarch of this Synod as their Confession of faith (and which to this day are to be found in full view on their official Synod website), be considered a personal opinion? And if we take into consideration that it was precisely these ecclesiological theses which were the reason and the basis for the formation of the Synod of Resistance and its schism from the Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece (as Metropolitan Cyprian himself testified in a letter of 1994 addressed to the Synod of Bishops of the ROCA)—well, to consider them just a personal opinion is simply dishonest. Such talk is just not serious.
Furthermore, if today’s “Cyprianite” bishops do not agree with this false teaching of the founder of their former Synod, it should be easy for them to acknowledge this openly. But we have never heard any such thing from them.
And so until we see a written and official condemnation of Cyprianism as a heresy—just as categorical, detailed, public, and unambiguous as was the preaching of this heresy by the Synod of Resistance—on the part of the “Cyprianite” bishops and those who have received them into communion without repentance, we have no basis for considering these Synods to be True Orthodox.
Our Synod plans to compose a pastoral encyclical on this question shortly. During the past three years we have carefully observed the course of events, not wishing to come to hasty and thus mistaken conclusions as regards the union which has taken place. Now, however, we no longer have any doubts and can confidently say that with this union of 2014, it is not Cyprianism which has been eradicated and overcome, but on the contrary, the Cyprianite spirit has fully taken over yet another Old Calendar Synod.
In order to illustrate this I will cite just one clear example, the same one I mentioned previously, which one may find on your very own Portal website.
In the Tskhinvali region (in Russia it is known as South Ossetia), the “Kallinikite” Synod and the Moscow Patriarchate have a common flock. How? At the present time this region is not under the pastoral care of either the Georgian Patriarchate or the Moscow Patriarchate. The Georgian Patriarchate and its priests are categorically rejected by the local inhabitants; and the Moscow Patriarchate acknowledges this region to be on the canonical territory of the Georgian Church. Solely because of this, the Cyprianite Synod was able, seventeen years ago, to fill the vacuum and automatically received almost all the clergy and flock there into its jurisdiction, thus forming the so-called “Diocese of Alania”—but not at all because these people acknowledged the Moscow and Georgian Patriarchates to be heretical due to Ecumenism and Sergianism. No! but simply because the “Cyprianites” were there at the right moment and offered their priestly services to the Ossetians during the absence there of the Moscow Patriarchate, without in any way correcting the confession of faith of these people or of them breaking of communion with the Moscow Patriarchate (MP). And so for almost 20 years now, the entire “Cyprianite” flock has been receiving communion in the parishes of the MP in Russia without any problem, and their candidates for the priesthood have been studying and continue to study in the seminaries of the MP, with the knowledge and blessing of the “Cyprianite” Synod. And this took place not only while the “Cyprianites” were an independent church with their own Synod, but continues in every respect to this day. Bishop Ambrose of Methone continues to take care of the flock in Tskhinvali and visited there a couple of months ago, but this time as a representative of the “Kallinikite” Synod. That is why I said in the very beginning that Cyprianism has now entered upon a new phase of its existence, like a cancerous growth which through its metastases has absorbed the “most respectable and largest” (as you called it) Synod which lays claim to the name True Orthodox.
I will not even mention Metropolitan Agathangel (Pashkovsky) and his Synod of the ROCA(A), which has always consciously confessed Cyprianism, or his Eucharistic communion with the ecumenist former Patriarch Irenaeus (Skopelitis) of Jerusalem, or of his theological opinions—unacceptable for an Orthodox Christian—concerning the existence of the Mysteries among heretics, etc. This is a subject for a long separate discussion, which we plan to initiate with our synodal pastoral encyclical.
In the main we say now openly and confidently: we cannot consider any of this to be Orthodoxy!
- What led you to seek a rapprochement with the ROAC, the Suzdal Synod; why did you “choose” this jurisdiction specifically out of all the numerous “fragments” which now comprise the Russian tradition of Orthodoxy?
- In the first place, I will mention that not a single one of the other Russian Synods has such a clearly formulated ecclesiology as the ROAC. It alone has condemned and anathematized Cyprianism as an ecclesiological heresy, incompatible with an Orthodox understanding of the Church. Such a clear and unambiguous position of the ROAC with respect to Cyprianism is a historically important precedent which will remain as a clear witness for future generations of True Orthodox Christians of the position of the Holy Fathers with respect to the prevailing heresy of ecumenism, as opposed to the pseudo-Orthodox counterfeit which is Cyprianism—especially in view of the fact that the very largest conglomerate of Synods, claiming to be True Orthodox, in fact preaches this false teaching by both word and deed.
In the second place, an important link connects us with the ROAC in the person of the ever-memorable Bishop Gregory (Grabbe). Saint Philaret of New York and his faithful circle, I am firmly convinced, were bearers of the True Orthodox inheritance of the Holy Fathers which in their time made the ROCA a confessing Church. Of these people Vladyka Andrei (Rymarenko) and Vladyka Gregory (Grabbe) were undoubtedly the most outstanding. Vladyka Andrei died in 1979; and after the repose of Vladyka Philaret in 1985 there began the radical change of course in the ROCA which eventually led to her shameful union with and absorption by the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007. But a successful change of course required that anyone who could immediately recognize and expose this treachery, and organize opposition to it, should first be gotten rid of. The victims of this policy of eviction were Vladyka Gregory with his circle of like-minded people, and also our Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston, which had been under the omophorion of the Church Abroad since 1965. The way in which the new helmsmen of the ROCA ship dealt with Vladyka Gregory, who had dedicated his entire life and the lives of members of his family to the service of the Church Abroad, is not only incompatible with the norms of Christian morality, but is a crying example of plain inhumanity and shamelessness.
In order to be convinced of the fact that our Monastery became the victim of the very same forces, one need only read the words of Vladyka Gregory himself on this subject, in his well-known letter regarding the lawlessness then taking place in the Synod: “They (that is, Holy Transfiguration Monastery) left us because our bishops forced them out. This was the fruit of the work of enemy agents, and of chauvinism on our part (on the part of several bishops), and of a departure from governance which is guided by love.” This letter is worth reading in its entirety. In it Vladyka Gregory remarks that for him “it was always easy to work with them (i.e. with our Monastery.)” This feeling was mutual. Not only did we always enjoy being with and working with Vladyka Gregory during his lifetime, but to this day we honor his memory. Personally, I always commemorate him at the Great Entrance, and I always visit his grave and the grave of Vladyka Andrei at the Novo Diveevo cemetery in New York state. And so the fact that Vladyka Gregory ended his earthly days in full Eucharistic communion with the Synod of the Russian Church in Suzdal, and upheld the canonical validity of the existence in Russia of an independent True Orthodox Synod, is for us the indisputable testimony of a respected, experienced, and authoritative figure concerning the ROAC. Our common ecclesiology with the ROAC and the memory of Vladyka Gregory and his labors in behalf of True Orthodoxy, is the bond which already exists between our Churches.
- How did you succeed in arranging an exchange of visits between a delegation of the ROAC headed by her First Hierarch Metropolitan Theodore, which visited Georgia last year, and a delegation of the Georgian Church under your omophorion, which visited Suzdal recently? What are the main results of this exchange of visits? Do there turn out to be any incompatibilities between your Churches?
- I had wanted for a long time to personally make the acquaintance of Vladyka Theodore, but since we live on different continents it was impossible to arrange this right away. However, thanks to efforts on both sides (both of our Church and of the ROAC), including to a substantial degree your own personal efforts, in the summer of 2016 we succeeded in arranging the first visit, of a delegation of the ROAC headed by Vladyka Theodore and the bishops accompanying him, Vladyka Andrei and Vladyka Trofim, to Georgia. There we met in person for the first time. It was a wonderful week! a time of true Christian brotherhood. Our acquaintance with Vladyka Theodore produced an unforgettable impression both on our clergy and flock in Georgia, and on me personally. After this visit we stayed in touch both with Vladyka Theodore in Suzdal, and with Vladyka Andrei here in America, and last October a delegation of our Church represented by the priests Gelasi Aroshvili and David Giorgadze from Georgia, paid a return visit to Suzdal, during which they were received with an open, loving heart and cordial Russian hospitality. Vladyka Theodore showed them the holy places of Suzdal, including churches confiscated from the ROAC, and conducted an excursion to Vladimir. The Metropolitan officially introduced our fathers to the clergy and flock assembled in Suzdal, and said not a few kind words regarding the friendship between our two Churches. On their part, our priests presented the Metropolitan with an icon and with particles of the relics of Saint Shio of Mghvime and of Hieromartyr Neophytus of Urbnisi, as a gift from our Synod.
The main result of our contact is the already existing friendship among our hierarchs, clergy, and flocks. In our days it is a great consolation to find such a friendship, and we must cherish it. But of course the final goal of the mutual contacts and visits undertaken by both sides, is to establish Eucharistic communion. We are not rushing, but moving toward this goal gradually and patiently. No, we have no divergences between our Churches either in doctrine, or in our views regarding the vital theological and canonical problems of today. I would say that there simply remain several matters requiring fuller clarification, and that is all. Since there already exist between us friendship, the good will to seek unity, and the ability to listen to each other, these questions, too, will be clarified and resolved, with God’s help.
- People suspect you of “extremes of Name-worshiping.” Please tell us, do you condemn the teaching that the letters or sounds of the Name of God, are God? Are you ready to call this a heresy?
- Not only letters and sounds, but also human ideas and thoughts, that is, everything which created words consist of, are not God. To deify them is to fall into pantheism. We have always condemned this false teaching and will continue to condemn it, both in writing and verbally. This is what “Name-worshiping” is. Of course this is a heresy, and we have never had anything to do with this teaching.
However, one must also condemn another, opposite error, which may be termed “Name-fighting,” or, as we are accustomed to calling it, theological nominalism. What does this consist of, and why should it be rejected just as categorically as so-called “Name-worshiping” or pantheism? This is the teaching which proclaims that the Name of God consists solely and exclusively of created words. This is like affirming that the icons consist solely of created, artistic images, and nothing more. Is this so? Of course not. According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, in the created image, that is, in the icon of Christ, the uncreated Prototype Himself, that is, Christ Himself, is present—not in His essence, of course, but in His uncreated grace or energy. That is why we venerate the icons, because when we kiss the created icon of Christ, Christ Himself, present in the icon by His grace, receives our worship. We believe in the same way concerning the Holy Gospel, the verbal icon of Christ, since from it shines the uncreated and eternal Truth of the Son of God. That is why the Holy Gospel lies upon the Holy Table, because Christ Himself is present in the words of the Gospel by His truth and grace, as Saint Gregory Palamas says in his Confession of Faith: “We revere God-given words because of God Who abides in them.” All the more is God present by His truth and grace in His Names, since from these created words which we use to name Him, there shines the uncreated and eternal Truth about God, which He Himself has revealed to us—we did not think it up ourselves about Him. It is because of this uncreated Truth that the Holy Church constantly glorifies the Name of God in the Holy Scriptures, the church services, and the writings of the Holy Fathers. Can anyone really think that the Church praises, glorifies, and magnifies created, earthly words? Of course not. She glorifies the uncreated Truth about God, which shines in the Names of God. It is this Truth which is the “all-holy, all-honorable, and majestical Name” which is confessed, blessed, and glorified by the Church unto the ages.
It is exclusively in this sense that the famous words of Saint John of Kronstadt, “The Name of God is God Himself,” must be understood. The uncreated Truth of God, which abides in created words used by the Church to name God, is His uncreated grace or energy. And since the grace of God, according to the Church’s teaching, is God Himself, it is precisely in this sense that one can say, “The Name of God is God Himself,” not that Saint John of Kronstadt deified created earthly words, God forbid!
It is in the denial of the presence of this truth and grace in the Names of God, that the error of “Name-fighting” or nominalism consists. According to the opinion of those who hold this teaching, the Name of God is just created words without any connection or relation to the uncreated Truth of God. According to this logic, the Holy Gospel, too, is just created human words, in which God’s Truth and grace are not in any way present. Such a teaching is completely foreign to the Holy Church, just as the deification of created words is foreign to her. We condemn both of these errors.
As regards the historical Athonite controversy concerning the Name of God, we as the local Church in North America (and not at all the local Russian Church), have no intention of meddling in this or resolving it, adhering in this to the position of the Most Holy Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, which at this time canonically represents the last word expressed by the Russian Church on this question, until its careful and unbiased future examination by a legitimate Council. All our current theological views proceed from theses set forth in this document.
It is not our business to analyze this specific historical event or to associate with it alone the teaching on the Name of God which from the beginning has been found in the Orthodox theology of the Holy Fathers. The prerogative of finally resolving the “Athonite affair,” in our opinion, belongs to a future legitimate Council of the Russian Church, the successor of the All-Russian Council of 1917-18, which was to have taken up this matter, but was not able to because of the civil war and troubles which began in Russia.
But to confess and adhere to the teaching of the Holy Fathers on this or on any other theological question--that is not only our business, but simply our duty!
I will personally add, that if anyone intentionally or even due to ignorance and lack of education, during the events of the beginning of the last century on Athos, fell into the error of “Name-worshiping,” that is, pantheism, then of course we condemn this. At the same time we cannot in any way accept and must reject the opposite error of “Name-fighting,” that is, nominalism, with respect to the issue of honoring God’s Name.
Instead of these theological errors and extremes, we follow the teaching of the Holy Fathers on the Name of God, so clearly confessed by the Church in the Holy Scriptures, the texts of the divine services, and the legacy of the Holy Fathers. This teaching we have attempted to summarize in our Synodal Encyclical Concerning the Name of God.