Written by Vladimir Moss



     Recently Chris Gorman (a GOC-K layman from California) and Radu Blabea (an Australian layman of unknown ecclesiastical affiliation), following the lead, it would seem, of Bishop Auxentios of Portland (GOC-K), have been resurrecting arguments from the (supposedly defunct and (since 1986) defrocked) “Cyprianite” jurisdiction in favour of the thesis that World Orthodoxy still has the grace of sacraments. The “Cyprianites”, as I shall call them for convenience, are distinguished by the fact that they accept that World Orthodoxy confesses Ecumenism, “the heresy of heresies”, and consider that one should “wall oneself off” from it for that reason, but that the True Orthodox have no right to call these ecumenists graceless (in the sense of deprived of sacraments). This article is an attempt to refute this thesis.


     A preliminary question needs to be posed and answered. Why is this necessary? Has this question not created many divisions already?


     In answer to this question, we reply: THE QUESTION OF GRACE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION THAT CAN POSSIBLY BE POSED BECAUSE IF A PERSON IS NOT RECEIVING THE GRACE OF SACRAMENTS HE CANNOT BE SAVED. For “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (John 3.5). And again: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Unless you eat of the Bread of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you” (John 6.53).


     The question whether heretics have grace or not was actually settled quite early in the history of the Church, in the middle of the third century, when St. Cyprian of Carthage and the Synod of Carthage decreed authoritatively that heretics and schismatics do not have grace. This decision was then incorporated into the decisions of the Holy Ecumenical Councils, becoming the official teaching of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Moreover, Apostolic Canon 46 (whose date we do not know for sure, but whose apostolic authority is generally accepted) confirmed the same teaching.


     In the past, there were fewer arguments over grace precisely because St. Cyprian of Carthage had finally settled the question early on. Instead, the arguments were over whether such-and-such a teaching was truly heretical or not, and various subtle variants of the heresy were put forward in order to justify and mask its heretical nature. For everyone understood that if the teaching was indeed heretical, then its adherents were ipso facto graceless.


     However, in the twentieth century, taking advantage of the general wooliness of people’s ecclesiological conceptions and their lack of knowledge of Church history, apologists for the heretics have taken a double-barrelled approach. On the one hand, they have argued that the heretics are not really heretics because they contain some good men, even wonder-workers – which proves that they have grace. Of course, this was no argument for the ancients, who knew that before the demon of heresy all other demons bow down, and that there is no sure criterion of Orthodoxy except Orthodoxy itself and the refusal to have communion with heterodoxy. But people are weaker nowadays… On the other hand, they concede that so-and-so is a heretic, but they say: he is still uncondemned, together with his whole local Church; so for justice’s sake he must be given a fair trial, in public, before an Ecumenical Council, before he can be considered to be definitely outside the Church and graceless.


     Of course, this leads to a highly paradoxical situation unheard of in the history of Christianity: that there should be two Churches, one Orthodox and the other (by common consent) heretical, yet both inside the One True Church and both having grace. Is this not in effect another, subtler version of Ecumenism, a variant of the Anglican branch theory? It is indeed, which is why the True Orthodox of Greece led by Archbishop Chrysostom (Kiousis) of Athens was right to defrock Metropolitan Cyprian for schism and heresy in 1986. For he had to choose: was the Old Calendar or the new calendar church of Greece his “mother Church”? And he chose the latter, declaring for good measure that the teaching of the Old Calendar on this issue was, “according to us, unwitnessed, unacceptable, anti-patristic and as such anti-Orthodox” (letter to Metropolitan Kallinikos of Corinth, May 30, 1983). 




     But let us now turn to the attempts by the ex-Metropolitan Cyprian’s modern-day followers to justify their heretical leader on the grounds of natural justice – in other words, that he hasn’t had a fair trial. This is rather a legalistic argument, but we shall attempt to answer it nevertheless. And the main argument against it is that while a bishop (or priest) has to be tried with due process for moral or canonical faults, the matter is very different when it comes to heresy. 


     For heresy is a sin against dogmatic truth, not morality or canonical order. As such, it is the Truth Itself, God, Who condemns the heretic. This is made clear in the classic case of the expulsion of heresy from the Church, that of Arius. For long before being expelled from the Church of Alexandria in the Local Councils of 321 and 323, and again by the First Ecumenical Council of 325, Arius was expelled by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who appeared to Hieromartyr Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria (+311), in the form of a twelve-year-old child in torn clothing, and on being asked by St. Peter: “O Creator, who has torn Your tunic?”, replied: “The mindless Arius; he has separated from Me people whom I had obtained with My Blood.” So here we see an exemplification of the Lord’s words to Nicodemus: “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3.18), and of the Apostle Paul’s words: “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject, knowing that he… is self-condemned” (Titus 3.10, 11). It is on the grounds of this principle, this mystical vision of the Truth, that believers in Christ are allowed to flee from, and anathematize, heretics even before they have been condemned by a Council of the Church. For as the holy Apostle Paul says: “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you that what you have received, let him be anathema” (Galatians 1.9). The principle is enshrined in canon law, in the famous 15th Canon of the First-and-Second Council of Constantinople (861) which declares those who proclaim heresy openly and “with bared head” to be “false teachers” and “false bishops”, from whom the faithful are exhorted to flee even before they have been condemned by any Council.


     Such drastic action is necessary because heresy is such a serious matter, separating from the Truth in a way that moral and canonical violations do not. That is why, when Abba Agathon of Egypt was accused of various moral sins, he did not defend himself. But when he was accused of heresy, he objected vigorously – for heresy, unlike a moral fall, immediately separates a man from Christ and the Church.


     So where do bishops and councils of bishops come in? First of all, in order to clear up any possible misunderstandings, and give the heretic, assuming he is justly accused, the chance to repent of his views. “But if he refuses the Church, let him be to you like a heathen and a publican. Verily, verily, I say unto you: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two or three agree on earth concerning anything they ask, it will be done for them by the Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.18-20).


     As this point, it will be useful to introduce a distinction between the mystical organism of the Church and her visible, external organization. This distinction was worked out in detail by New Hieromartyr Mark (Novoselov), the leader of the Catacomb Church in Moscow, who was shot in 1938.[1] So we could say that Arius was cut off from the mystical organism of the Church by Christ, but was cut off from the external organization of the Church, first by the Bishops of the Alexandrian Church, and then by the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. 


     How many bishops are necessary in order to expel a bishop from the Church? The passage from Matthew18 quoted above would seem to suggest two or three. And this is in accord with the First Apostolic Canon, which decrees that no less than two or three bishops are needed in order to consecrate a new bishop. If two or three bishops are required to make a new bishop, then it seems reasonable to assume that two or three bishops are required to unmake a bishop, to defrock him. “Two or three” witnesses are required to justify a witness, and “two or three” bishops express the conciliar opinion of the Church.


     The Cyprianite bishops furiously reject this. For them, not only two or three bishops are insufficient to defrock a bishop: even a whole Local Church’s Synod of Bishops is insufficient. Only a Pan-Orthodox or Ecumenical Council is sufficient to remove a heretic from the Church. 


     The problem is: there are many Councils much smaller than the Ecumenical that Church tradition has hallowed as expressing the truth. For example, the local Council in Rome under St. Celestine in August, 430, and then the local Council in Alexandria under St. Cyril, condemned Nestorius and his Nestorian heresy. Finally, in 431 the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus confirmed the decisions of these local Councils. St. Celestine confirmed the authority of his Local Council in his letter to the clergy of Constantinople who were opposing Nestorius: “The authority of our Apostolic See has determined that the bishop, cleric or simple Christian who has been deposed or excommunicated by Nestorius or his followers, after the latter began to preach heresy, shall not be considered deposed or excommunicated. For he who had defected from the faith with such preachings cannot depose or remove anyone whatsoever.” In other word, from the time thatNestorius “began to preach heresy”, his actions were to be considered invalid, insofar as he was no longer a true bishop.


     Again, the heresy of Monothelitism was first condemned by a local Council under St. Martin the Confessor in Rome in 649. It was confirmed by another local Council under St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury (a Greek from Tarsus), in Hatfield, England on September 17, 679. The decision of the English Church was then brought by St. Wilfrid, Bishop of York, to Rome, where another local Council under St. Agatho condemned the heresy for the third time, on March 27, 680. Finally, in 681 the Sixth Ecumenical Council anathematized it again, confirming the decisions of the three Western Councils. It should be noted that when the heretical bishop Theodosius in conversation with St. Maximus the Confessor disputed the validity of the first of these Councils, of 649, on the grounds that it was not convened by an emperor like the Ecumenical Councils, St. Maximus replied that the validity of a Council depended on its recognising “the true and immutable dogmas”, not on who convened it or how general it was. Again, when the same saint was asked in the Emperor’s palace why he was not in communion with the Throne of Constantinople, he replied: “… They have been deposed and deprived of the priesthood at the local council which took place recently in Rome. What Mysteries, then, can they perform? Or what spirit will descend upon those who are ordained by them?”


     Again, the heresy of iconoclasm was first condemned by a local Council in Rome under Pope Gregory III in 731. This decision was then confirmed by the Seventh Ecumenical Council under St. Tarasius in 787. Bishop Theophan the Recluse points out that before the start of the Seventh Council, its president-to-be, St. Tarasius, bewailed the fact that “we (the iconoclastic Church of Constantinople) are being anathematised by them (the other Local Churches in Local Councils) every day”. There is no suggestion that St. Tarasius considered these local decisions to be invalid. Rather, he hastened to bring his Church out from under the anathemas by confessing the true faith. Moreover, those heretics who were united to the Church during the Council confessed that they had been outside the Church before this. (This directly contradicts the assertion of Metropolitan Cyprian in his Ecclesiological Theses (1984) that they were still inside the Church because “uncondemned”.) Thus we read in the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. “These are the words of the uniting iconoclasts. Thus Basil, bishop of Ancyra, said: ‘As far as I was able, I investigated the question of the icons and converted to the Holy Catholic Church with complete conviction.’ Theodore, bishop of Myra, said: ‘... I beseech God and your holiness to unite me, the sinful one, to the Holy Catholic Church.’” (pp. 41, 43 in the edition of the Kazan Theological Academy). And here are the witnesses of the holy Fathers of the Council: “His Holiness Patriarch Tarasius said: 'What is now to be our relationship to this heresy that has again arisen in our time?' John, the most beloved of God, locum tenens of the apostolic throne in the east, said: 'Heresy divides every man from the Church.' The Holy Council said: 'That is evident.' The Holy Council said: 'Let the bishops who are standing before us read their renunciations, insofar as they are now converting to the Catholic Church.’“(Kazan edition, 1900, p. 48).


     It is clear, therefore, writes Christopher Gorman (presumably before he became a Cyprianite), “from the cited canonical, conciliar and Patristic witness, that when a bishop publicly and pertinaciously embraces a heresy over an extended (albeit canonically undefined) period of time, a process of deprivation begins to occur, which gradually strips him of his administrative, teaching and sanctifying authority, which can lead, in certain cases, to de facto deposition and expulsion from the Church, even without an official pronouncement by a competent council.” 


     This basically correct statement needs to be corrected in only one point: that the deprivation of a heretic bishop’s authority is not a “process”, but takes place immediately he proclaims his heresy “publicly, with a bared head”.


     If local Councils did not have the authority to expel heretics from the Church, we should have to condemn many local Councils for exceeding their competency and assuming an authority that did not belong to them. These would include many local Councils of the Early, pre-Constantinian Church, which was never able to convene an Ecumenical Council but expelled such heretics as Marcion and Sabellius; the local Councils of the Great Church of Constantinople between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries that expelled the Roman Catholics; the local Councils of the Russian Church presided over by Patriarch Tikhon that anathematized the communists and their co-workers in 1918 and the renovationist heretics in 1923. However, the Church, which has the mind of Christ, has accepted all of these acts as lawful and valid. To think otherwise – that is, to think that the Church cannot expel heretics through local Councils, but only through Ecumenical ones - is to suppose that for the last 1231 years, since the convening of the last Ecumenical Council, the Church has – God forbid! - lost her God-given power to bind and to loose!




     Let us now turn to the contemporary heresy of ecumenism. 


     Strictly speaking, even the Local Council of the Russian Church that anathematized ecumenism in 1983 was not necessary; for, according to Archimandrite Justin Popovich (+1979), ecumenism is a combination of over 200 old heresies, that were already anathematized centuries ago. 


     Similarly, Bishop Theophan the Recluse (+1894) said that there was no need for further conciliar anathemas to condemn the heretics of his day since they had all already been condemned by earlier decisions. Commenting on St. Paul’s words, “If anyone preaches any other gospel that that which we have preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Galatians 1.8), he writes: “The apostle laid only the beginning to anathematization. Since then all the opinions worthy of this punishment have already been marked out by the Church. At the present time there is no point waiting for a special ecclesiastical act to strike the evildoers with this judgement. They themselves are placing their own heads under this sword immediately they acquire opinions contrary to the truth and stubbornly begin to insist on them.”


     Bishop Theophan is here in complete accord with the teaching of St. Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople (+815), who considered that no further Council was necessary in his time in order to pronounce the neo-iconoclasts outside the Church. Thus St. Nicephorus wrote about unrepentant iconoclasts: “Insofar as they have deprived themselves of that teaching of the faith in which they had been consecrated, they have of necessity been deprived of their ordination and deposed as teaching other things…“ 


     Again, St. Nicephorus wrote: “They must have been deprived of the anointing of the Spirit as soon as they renounced the confession, for it is impossible for them to transgress the faith with which they were anointed, and [at the same time] to carry out that which [is given] by the anointing.” As soon as they renounced the confession – the defrocking was immediate! (A further Council was in fact convened, but in order to restore penitent heretics to the Church, not in order to pronounce the heretics outside the Church.) 


     Again, Bishop Theophan is supported by the 15th Canon of the First-and-Second Canon of Constantinople, convened in 861. This canon, as we have noted above, decreed that a bishop ceases to be a bishop immediately he proclaims his heresy. 


     Therefore the “new” heretics of the nineteenth century, as of the ninth century, did not need synodal condemnation because their teachings were not in fact new, but had been condemned long ago by the Church. Theoretically, a new heresy not already condemned by the Councils or the Fathers would have needed a conciliar condemnation. But Bishop Theophan doubted that any such new heresy existed in his time.


     So what about the “pan-heresy” of Ecumenism, which was first proclaimed officially by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1920, when the Catholics and Protestants were declared to be branches of the True Church? 


     There was no immediate response to this “Charter for Ecumenism” from the Local Orthodox Churches. The first reaction came from the Russian Church, by far the largest and most important of the Local Churches, which in 1922-23 went to war with the Russian renovationists, a pro-Soviet schism that adopted the new calendar, rejected the authority of Patriarch Tikhon and the Russian Holy Synod, and was officially proclaimed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as the True Russian Church. In July, 1923 Patriarch Tikhon officially declared the renovationists deprived of the grace of sacraments. According to the Cyprianites, this decision must be considered invalid, insofar as it was the decision of a purely Local Council. But the Orthodox Church has accepted it as binding… Patriarch Tikhon did not extend the same sentence that he had placed on the renovationists onto the Ecumenical Patriarch, no doubt hoping that he would repent of his communion with the renovationist heretics. They did not – immediately. Instead, after the death of Patriarch Tikhon and the establishment of the neo-renovationist “Soviet church” of the Moscow Patriarchate, they transferred their allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate, with whom they remain officially in communion, despite various arguments, to the present day. 


     The Greek Church decreed that the new calendarist schismatics were graceless in 1935, 1950 1974 and 1998. These decisions based themselves on several Pan-Orthodox and Local Councils that condemned the new calendar from 1583 onwards… A more general condemnation and anathematization of all ecumenists, and not only new calendarists, was issued by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1983. 


     So there is no way in which the heresy of ecumenism can be considered to be “uncondemned”. It is condemned from all eternity by Christ God, and in time by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in the persons of her holy bishops and confessors who have given their blood for the truth. The consensus of the Holy Fathers of Russia, of Greece, of Mount Athos and Romania, as well in the diaspora, is clear: the ecumenists are outside the Church. As for Metropolitan Cypria, he joined the True Orthodox Church of Greece in 1974, the very year in which the new calendarists were condemned as graceless schismatics and heretics for the umpteenth time. He knew what he was doing; he was not acting in ignorance, but was acting hypocritically, deceiving his fellow Christians into believing that he accepted their faith when he did not. Moreover, he accepted the episcopate from two bishops, Kallistos of Corinth and Anthony of Megara, who always unambiguously confessed, with all the other bishops, that the new calendarists had no grace. Then, in 1984, having got what he wanted (the episcopate), he broke from these bishops precisely for that reason, because he considered their confession of faith to be “anti-Orthodox”. Having cut himself off from the True Church because he considered the True Church to have the wrong faith, he was justly defrocked in 1986, as the verdict of the Synod said, “because he fell into the heresy of Ecumenism and cut himself off from our Church”. 




     For over one hundred years, the enemies of Christ’s Church have warred against her with various heresies, but especially with the heresy of Ecumenism. Many thousands have been tortured and killed in Russia, in Greece, in Romania and elsewhere. The consensus of the Holy Fathers has remained the same throughout that period: the ecumenists are outside the Church and graceless. It is irrational and highly impious for anyone who calls himself Orthodox to war against this consensus. It is time for anyone who refuses to hear the Church to submit to her – or be considered a heathen and a publican.


May 21 / June 3, 2021.

Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God.

Holy Equals-to-the-Apostles Constantine and Helena.


[1] Novoselov, Pis’ma, Moscow, 1994.

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