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MESSAGE OF THE MONTH
“The Faithful Flock IS the True Guardian of Orthodoxy”
[Declaration of the Orthodox Patriarchs, May 6, 1848]
By Konstantinos D. Mouratithis, from his book “The Great Treason,” pg. 315-321 and 342-345, translated from Greek by the staff of the Greek Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Poimen.
THE GRANDEUR AND DOWNFALL OF THE EPISCOPAL MINISTRY
Throughout the 2,000 years of Orthodoxy, the body of the Church’s bishops has rendered several leading, fatherly figures. These bishops have adorned the foundation of His Bride and continue throughout the ages to strengthen and inspire all of those bishops who are deemed worthy of the mission as well as position. All such God and Christ-bearing, spiritually-gifted bishops, clergy or monastics represent and embody whatever is holy, spiritual, and divine within our Church’s treasure chest. Each one of them faithfully followed the footprints of our Crucified Lord, thus becoming worthy to repeat St. Paul’s words: Be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ (1 Cor 11:1).
The main characteristic of a true shepherd, as defined by our Lord, is his self-sacrificing love towards his flock: The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11). This type of absolute and self-sacrificial love of the bishop is not only the unquestionable criterion of his genuineness as a true shepherd, but also the supreme and highest principle that defines his relationship with his flock.
It is also though this same love as a foundational force that the episcopal authority is defined and fully interconnected with the bishop’s ministry, thus fully differentiating it from the political and worldly authority of civil leaders. As our Lord categorically declared (through His words as well as His life and crucifixion), this type of spiritual authority is in its deepest essence a life-long service and sacrifice that must be exercised and arise at all times for and from true love towards the flock. Without such Love, the bishop’s ministry simply falls among the dead and meaningless letters of ecclesiastic customs and law.
This latter statement infers that true episcopal ministry is unattainable if the bishop in question does not maintain continually and endlessly, in his thoughts as well as in all of his actions, our Lord’s words: But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. (Mt 20:25-27).
Without any exception whatsoever, all of the Church’s bishops that were deemed worthy through the centuries to adorn the spiritual structure of episcopal saints had placed this self-sacrificing love as the absolute cornerstone of their ministry’s foundation. They surrounded their flock with immense affection and dedication, and ministered imitating our Lord’s extreme humility, Who, after washing the feet of His disciples, told them: Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (Jn 13:13-17).
We must parenthetically mention and emphasize here that every action or effort by any bishop or any member of the Church’s clergy to adulterate their ministry through efforts of self-promotion, projection or imposition, intended or otherwise, constitutes a clear source of anomaly and division for the Body of the Church… A bishop’s ministry is defined through and secured by our Lord’s teachings, as these teachings have been expressed within the holy canons of our Orthodox Church. Such ministry must thus be in a state of continually harmonious enrollment with service towards the Body of Christ and in full communion with all of Its members. The creation, existence, or establishment of any chasm or tendency towards any type of differentiation, independence, or autonomy through increased rights or lesser obligations is neither feasible nor allowable or even attainable; not for the true bishop!
Thus we may conclude that, if this true bishop is the center and head of the local church and the synod of such bishops constitute the organizational expression of the one holy, catholic and apostolic Orthodox Church of Christ, then it is equally valid that the Church operates synodically not only among the bishops but also in the general populous that constitute the true Body of Christ: “For the power of the Synod” as St. John Chrysostom notes “is very great in leading the Church” (P.G. 61, 258). The Church’s Conscience, i.e., the unanimous views and opinions of the clergy and the people, constitute the supreme and highest criterion that accordingly determines and defines the purity and authenticity of all Synods that have converged as Ecumenical.
This synodicity of the Church, in other words the full participation of the entire flock of the faithful people in the formation of ecclesiastical life, was first revealed through the Holy Apostles in 49 A.D. It was then that all of the faithful, men and women alike, participated in the Apostolic Synod of that time in a triumphant manner. It is thus important to observe and note the high priority that is placed upon the formation of the Church’s Body through the participation of bishops, clergy, and especially the faithful flock.
Bishops who are indifferent or neglectful of this supreme obligation, especially during such a critical time period, are guilty of high treason towards the saintly mission of their position. In accordance with the 58th canon of the Holy Apostles, such treason entails and carries along with it their subsequent defrocking: “If any bishop or presbyter neglects the clergy or the people, and does not instruct them in the way of godliness, let him be excommunicated, and if he persists in his negligence and idleness, let him be deposed.” These bishops are identified by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite as comparable to the notable leaders of people about whom God says the following through the Holy Prophet Ezekiel: So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. (Ezek 33:7-8).
Conclusively, it is not an exaggeration to state that the grandeur or downfall of an episcopal ministry is reflected in the person of the bearer of such ministry and to a great extent has as a primary consequence either the re-birth or the de-composition of the associated ecclesiastic environment and life. It is for this reason that God, through the Evangelist John’s writings in The Apocalypse, exhorts the bishop of Smyrna (whose virtues He stresses and exalts as necessary for any bishop). God stresses the need for this bishop to remain faithful, confronting any and all attacks of the evil one: Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (Rev 2:10). This exhortation takes special meaning and significance for our days, when we find ourselves in such great need for saintly and heroic bishops so that the flock may confront and defeat the “archon of this world” and all of his assistants.
WHAT OUR GOD-BEARING FATHERS HAVE TO SAY REGARDING UNWORTHY BISHOPS
In Her 2,000 years of existence, our Church has come to know an abundance of God-bearing Fathers and bishops who served Her faithfully and glorified our Most Holy Trinitarian God, thus guiding an immeasurable number of faithful towards the calm and peaceful harbor of the Kingdom of Heaven. In contrast to this group of great saints, one easily notes the presence of a great number of unworthy bishops who have, through the ages as well as especially today, profaned, polluted, infected and defiled Christ’s most Holy Body, the Church militant that we come into contact with in our world. These bishops’ actions continue to scandalize the flock and thus they become solely responsible for leading so many souls into oblivion, souls for whom Christ was crucified!
For these bishops, the words of St. Paul take special significance and validity: For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. (Rom 2:24). Such bishops remain “faithful” to the long-standing tradition of Judas the Iscariot; for Judas had the unique and immense privilege to co-habitate with the God-man, our Lord and Savior, and in return for this highest benevolent act offered Him the kiss of betrayal.
Significant amounts of time and space would be required for someone to accurately describe all of the abominable, hideous, and blasphemous deeds that these bishops have either allowed or performed against the theanthropic body of the Church and Her Divine Benefactor, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is thus of greater value that the subject topic be limited to the comparative presentation of a comprehensive and a superbly apocalyptic passage in one of St. Basils’s writings. Within this passage, St. Basil accurately portrays the utmost moral downfall and collapse of a great majority of bishops from his time. His words are equally applicable to all unworthy bishops of all times.
The student of this passage may be easily impressed to consider its descriptive analysis as extremely accurate and applicable to the contemporary ecclesiastical reality, especially the moral and spiritual decline of a great number of today’s bishops. Such decline has been especially noted among the Greek Orthodox hierarchy since the middle of the 19th century. One can truly distinguish this overthrow of fundamental values today; this modern institutional confusion is quite apparent and easily recognizable. Most notable is the unrestrained vainglory of several episcopacy candidates who, without any fear of God or any shade of fundamental human shame, climb onto the highest hierarchal seats with the assistance and active intervention of corrupt worldly “archons.” It is for this exact reason that such “archons” show clear preference to “elect” onto vacated episcopal seats all those who distinguish themselves in the evil art of blasphemy…
The hierarchal character has all but lost all traits of modesty and decency; the shepherds who truly lead their flocks with scientific exactness are extremely rare. Financial excesses and abuse or squandering of ecclesiastic funds, meant for the poor or needy, are frequent. Bishops are accessing these funds for their exclusive enjoyment and voluptuous life of luxury. Bishops who have fully delivered themselves unto sin have disregarded the exact observance of the Church’s holy canons. Justice is long gone. Everyone lives in accordance with the desires of the old person within himself, who has now taken a leading position in such a bishop’s existence. Thus, within all societies the unlimited sovereignty of cunning and evil is truly prevalent; people suffer from the lack of true shepherds as people spend their lives without any sense of true direction.
All those bishops and pseudo-shepherds that have acquired their office through human means or the intervention of worldly and corrupt leaders lack any type of courage, discernment, outspokenness, and frankness. They thus become completely dependent and literally the servants or even slaves of those who elevated them and granted them their limited authority and hierarchal power.
Here then is St. Basil’s remarkable passage, which is based on the translation from the original ancient Greek by professor Vasilios Thenkakis:
Dogmatic values of devout and pious nature have been overthrown and overturned; the Church’s institutional decrees are confused. Furthermore, the love of power and ambition of those who have no fear of God are being leveled through various protective means and schemes.
It is rather apparent and evident to all that prelacy and all of its occupants (i.e., bishops) finds itself in the forefront of the associated movement, quite ready and willing to deliver itself as a prize towards the evil of impiety; we thus are in a time period whereby the bishop who blasphemes with greater difficulty has become the one favored by the people.
Episcopal piety has practically ceased to exist. The shepherds who lead the flock with any type of scientific guidance have literally disappeared. The funds and resources raised and available exclusively for the poor are continuously and endlessly being enjoyed or granted as gifts by those who possess the seats of authority within the Church.
The exactness of canons is being foreshadowed and blackened. A great amount of authority has been granted to sinful ways and behaviors. All these events are the result of the means by which the Church’s bishops have reached their positions of power; they attained them via human interventions and it is in this exact manner that they repay the corresponding efforts and support they have received. In other words, they yield everything towards the pleasure and delight of themselves and their sinful supporters.
Justice has disappeared and all are conducting themselves in accordance to the human will, the wishes of their heart and the forces of their passions. Slyness, knavery, and cunning ways are immeasurable. Our Lord’s flock remains without spiritual leadership or advice. The shepherds lack any type of courage, boldness, or outspokenness.
This situation is the direct result of the fact that the shepherds are exclusively attaining their positions via human means; they are bound to and have all become the servants of those who granted them their Episcopal authority. (M.P.G. 32, 480).
This extreme moral downfall of so many bishops, especially during the fourth century A. D., found its most repulsive and abominable expression in various synods, all of which were comprised in their absolute majority or even unanimous positions by and of unworthy bishops, most of them heretics and followers of the Arian views. Within these synods, the bishops would enable and give full success to the unification and grandeur of the methods of the evil one in a manner that would surprise every objective observer of the proceedings of such synods, and lead him to question whether such synods were even comprised by Christian hierarchs or instead by despicable members of the underworld!
One need only refer to the extreme persecution of St. Athanasios the Great by such synods and the incomprehensible and literally unbelievable methods that they utilized to exterminate the saint’s opposition though ethical, spiritual or even biological means!...
Let us hope that the extreme behaviors and pathetic spiritual state of that period is not being replicated again in our days.