Written by Vladimir Moss


In recent decades, the development of ecumenism and other heresies has been accompanied by several sustained attacks on the Church’s power of anathema in general, and in particular, on the Pan-Orthodox anathemas against the new calendar in 1583, 1587 and 1593, the anathemas of the Russian Church against all who cooperate with the communists in 1918 and 1928, and the anathema of ROCOR against ecumenism in 1983. This is not surprising: if, as the True Orthodox Church believes, the ecumenists and other heretics have been cast out of the Church by the power to bind and loose possessed by the priesthood of the Church, then it is logical for them to seek to undermine this power. Let us examine some of the heretics’ arguments.

I. On Anathemas in General

St. Theophan the Recluse writes: “An anathema is precisely separation from the Church, or the exclusion from her midst of those who do not fulfill the conditions of unity with her and begin to think differently from the way she does, differently from the way that they themselves promised to think upon joining her.”[1]

Again, St. John Maximovich writes: “In the acts of the Councils and the further course of the New Testament Church, the word ‘anathema’ came to mean complete separation from the Church. ‘The Catholic and ApostolicChurch anathematizes’, ‘let him be anathema’, ‘let it be anathema’, means a complete tearing away from the Church. While in cases of ‘separation from the communion of the Church’ and other epitimias or penances laid on a person, the person remained a member of the Church, even though his participation in her grace-filled life was limited, those given over to anathema were thus completely torn away from her until their repentance. Realizing that she is unable to do anything for their salvation, in view of their stubbornness and hardness of heart, the earthly Church lifts them up to the judgement of God. That judgement is merciful unto repentant sinners, but fearsome for the stubborn enemies of God. ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God… for our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 10.31; 12.29).”[2]

In reply to this, the heretic may say: “Alright, anathemas expel people from the Church. But this is only a provisional judgement, insofar as the judgement of the Church is not yet the judgement of God. God may reverse the Church’s judgement. And we know that the Church is often wrong in her judgements. After all, the Church is composed of men, all of whom are fallible.”

Of course, it is true that hierarchs can make mistakes, and God is not compelled to follow the mistakes of hierarchs. However, before we can be in a position to know how or where a mistake has been made, it is necessary first to define what a true anathema is. So let us establish first that a true anathema expels a man from the Church, and this judgement is not provisional. Why? Because the Lord Himself said, when giving the keys of the Kingdom to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in the heavens” (Matthew 16.19). So the Lord allows no distance between the judgements of the TrueChurch on earth and His judgements in heaven. So long as the Church acts in accordance with God’s law, her judgements are the same as God’s judgements. And this is so because “the keys of the Kingdom” given to Peter and the other apostles and their successors do not constitute a separate, independent judicial power, but rather the power of discerning the judgements of the only true and competent Judge, God Almighty. They are “the key of knowledge” possessed by the true hierarchs but lost by the Pharisees and heretics (Luke 11.52).

Thus St. John of Karpathos interprets the keys given to Peter to mean the keys of spiritual knowledge: “Peter was first given the keys, but then he was allowed to fall into sin by denying Christ, and so his pride was humbled by his fall. Do not be surprised, then, if after receiving the keys of spiritual knowledge you fall into various evil thoughts.”[3]

Similarly, St. Symeon the New Theologian speaks of the key of knowledge: “What shall I say to those who want to enjoy a reputation, and be made priests and prelates and abbots, who want to receive the confidence of others’ thoughts, and who say that they are worthy of the task of binding and loosing? When I see that they know nothing of the necessary and divine things, nor teach those things to others nor lead them to the light of knowledge, what else is it but what Christ says to the Pharisees and lawyers: ‘Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you do not enter yourselves, and you have hindered those who are entering’ (Luke 11.52).”[4]

Again, according to the English Orthodox Father, the Venerable Bede (+735), the power to bind and to loose consists in the power of discerning who is worthy to enter the Kingdom: “The keys of the Kingdom designate the actual knowledge and power of discerning who are worthy to be received into the Kingdom, and who should be excluded from it as unworthy.”[5]

So holy hierarchs bind heretics and expel them from the Church through the grace of spiritual knowledge, which inspires them to know who is worthy to be in the Church and who is not. It is not a power of judging independent of God’s power, but the power to see how God has already judged. They then confirm God’s judgement by their own judgement and anathematization.

As St. Dionysius the Areopagite writes: “Insofar as the [hierarch] makes known the judgements of God, he has also the power of excommunication. Not indeed that the all-wise Divinity gives in to his every unthinking impulse, if I may so speak with all reverence. But the hierarch obeys the Spirit Who is the source of every rite and Who speaks by way of his words. He excommunicates those unworthy people whom God has already judged. It says: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ And to the one enlightened by the sacred revelation of the All-Holy Father it is said in Scripture: ‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Thus [Peter] himself and all the hierarchs like him have had the judgement of the Father revealed to them, and, being themselves men who provide revelation and explanation, they have the task of admitting the friends of God and of keeping away the ungodly. That sacred acknowledgement of God came to him, as Scripture shows, not on his own, not from a flesh-and-blood revelation, but as something from the understanding and under the influence of the God Who initiated him into what he knew. Similarly, God’s hierarchs must use their powers of excommunication, as well as all their other hieratic powers, to the extent that they are moved by the Divinity which is the source of every rite. And everyone else must obey the hierarchs when they act as such, for they are inspired by God Himself. ‘He who rejects you,’ it says, ‘rejects Me’.”[6]

We can see the truth of this in the story of Arius’ expulsion from the Church. First, Hieromartyr Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria, expelled him from communion in his diocese. Then, some years later, when St. Peter was in prison, Arius feigned repentance, and several priests, including the future bishops Achilles and Alexander, came to St. Peter to entreat him to accept him into communion. However, St. Peter refused, saying: “Arius I refuse to accept, for he has been cast out of the Holy Church by God Himself and excommunicated not so much in accordance with my judgement as with God’s…” And then to Achilles and Alexander alone he said: “I call him accursed, not by my own judgement but by that of Christ my God, Who appeared to me last night. As I was praying, according to my custom, a brilliant light suddenly shone in my prison cell, and I beheld the Lord Jesus Christ in the guise of a youth twelve years of age. His face was more radiant than the sun, so that I could not bear to look upon the ineffable glory of His countenance. He was clad in a white robe torn from top to bottom, which He held to His breast with both hands to cover His nakedness. Seeing this, terror fell upon me, and I asked Him, ‘Who is it, O Saviour, that hath rent Thy garment?’ The Lord answered, ‘The mindless Arius rent it by dividing the people Whom I redeemed by My blood. Take care not to receive him into communion with the Church.’”[7]

Now the Church of God, the tunic of Christ, is always one, and cannot be divided within itself. Nevertheless, Arius divided it by his heresy, which can only mean that he tore people away from the Church through his heresy. This in turn means that heresy divides heretics from the Church, not through any act of the Church’s hierarchy, but through the judgement of Christ Himself before the actions of any earthly hierarchs. The hierarchs of the earthly Church discern and obey and confirm the judgement of the Heavenly Church and of her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. For He alone “killeth and maketh alive, bringeth down into hades and raiseth up again” (I Kings (I Samuel) 2.6), and Who alone “has the keys of hades and death” (Revelation 1.18).

It is in this context that we can understand the Lord’s words to Nicodemus: “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3.18). Again, the Apostle Paul says: “A man that is a heretic… is self-condemned” (Titus 3.10, 11). So there can be no “not-as-yet condemned heretics”, as the Cyprianites affirm: all heretics are condemned immediately they preach heresy publicly, and are “false bishops” even “before conciliar condemnation”, as is explicitly affirmed by the 15th Canon of the First-and-Second Council of 861.

Again, it will be useful to note the distinction made by New Hieromartyr Mark (Novoselov), Bishop of Sergievo and the leader of the Catacomb Church in Moscow, between the mystical organism of the Church and her visible, external organization.[8] Until a heretic has been condemned by a canonical Council of Bishops, he remains a member of the visible, external organization of the Church even though he has been cut off from the mystical organism of the Church by Christ Himself. In accordance with this distinction, we can say that Arius was cut off from the mystical organism of the Church by Christ immediately he began to proclaim his heresy publicly, but was cut off from the external organization of the Church, first by Local Councils of the Church of Alexandria under Saints Peter and Alexander, and then by the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea.

“But if heretics are already condemned immediately they proclaim heresy,” it may be objected, “why is it necessary for hierarchs to come together in Councils and anathematize them?” Because an already-condemned heretic who is not recognized as such, but is allowed to continue to proclaim his heresy to all while participating in the sacraments of the Church, will lead many others to perdition. It is therefore necessary to expel already-self-condemned heretics from the external organization of the Church, so that the right-believing Christians may not be infected with their heresy, but may turn away from them in disgust, as the Lord commanded when he said: “If he refuses to listen to the Church, let him be unto you as a heathen and a publican” (Matthew 18.17).

II. On Some Anathemas in Particular

Let us now turn to particular cases of valid anathemas, and the arguments used to attempt to undermine their validity… The heretics of contemporary “World Orthodoxy” fall under several sets of anathemas from several historical epochs. Among these are:-

a. The Anathemas of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils against the Monophysite heresy. In 1990, in Chambesy, Switzerland, at a meeting between the representatives of World Orthodoxy and the Monophysite heretics, the Monophysites agreed to take “a positive attitude” to, although without officially accepting, the last Four Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers who took part in them, and to lift their anathemas against them; while the Orthodox agreed to lift their anathemas against all the Monophysite councils and fathers, including the notorious heresiarchs Dioscurus, Timothy and Severus. Thus both “families of Churches” (a new phrase unknown to Orthodox ecclesiology) agreed that “all the anathemas and condemnations of the past which divide us should be lifted by the Churches in order that the last obstacle to the full unity and communion of our two families can be removed by the grace and power of God.”

But this meant that all the six hundred and thirty holy Fathers who uttered these anathemas and condemnations were wrong!

Of course, the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches have already implicitly rejected the Councils and the Fathers by their communion in prayer and the sacraments with all sorts of heretics, and even pagans, the WCC General Assemblies in Vancouver in 1983 and in Canberra in 1991 being perhaps the most extreme examples. Nevertheless, it is a further and important stage to say explicitly that the Ecumenical Councils were wrong, that the Monophysites should not have been condemned, that they were Orthodox all these centuries although the Holy Fathers and all the saints of the Orthodox Church considered them to be heretics. This is not simply a failure to come up to the standards of the Ecumenical Councils: it is a renunciation of the standards themselves. In essence, the Local Orthodox Churches here placed themselves under the anathemas against Monophysitism from the Fourth Ecumenical Council onwards, and must be considered to be “semi-Monophysites”.

b. The Anathemas of the Constantinopolitan Councils against Roman Catholicism (1054, 1340s). In 1965, the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras “lifted” the 1054 anathema against the Roman Catholics. Then, in 1994, the Orthodox signed an agreement with the Catholicism in Balamand, in which the Orthodox and the Catholics were declared to be sister-Churches in the full sense, “two lungs” of the same organism (with the Monophysites as a “third lung”?). The Balamand Agreement, which was signed on the Orthodox side by Moscow, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Romania, Cyprus, Poland and Finland, declared: “Catholics and Orthodox… are once again discovering each other as sister churches” and “recognizing each other as sister churches”. “On each side it is acknowledged that what Christ has entrusted to His Church – the profession of the apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, the apostolic succession of bishops, and, above all, the one priesthood celebrating the one Sacrifice of Christ – cannot be considered to be the exclusive property of one of our Churches.” The baptism of penitent papists into the Orthodox Church was prohibited: “All rebaptism (sic) is prohibited.” The Orthodox Church “recognizes the Catholic Church in her entirety as a sister Church, and indirectly recognizes also the Oriental Catholic Churches” (the Uniates).

Most recently, at a service in Constantinople attended by both the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch, the name of the Pope was commemorated before that of the Patriarch.[9] No official reaction or criticism followed from any of the Local Churches. The Ecumenical Patriarch must now be considered to be officially a uniate, and to fall under the anathemas of the 11th – 14th centuries against Roman Catholicism.

c. The Anathemas against the New, Papal Calendar (1583, 1587, 1593).

The Cyprianite Bishop Ambrose of Methone denies that these anathemas fall on the contemporary new calendarists, saying: “The 16th Century Synods anathematised the introduction of the new Papal Paschalion based on the New, Gregorian Calendar. They did not however specifically anathematise the peculiar hybrid used by the ‘Orthodox’ New-Calendarists who use the Julian Calendar for celebrating Pascha (in order to avoid the clear condemnations of those who change the Paschal calendar), but the New Calendar for the fixed feasts.”[10]

This is sophistry. The seventh point of the 1583 Pan-Orthodox Council declares: “That whosoever does not follow the customs of the Church as the Seven Holy Ecumenical Councils decreed, and the Menologion which they well decreed that we should follow, but in opposition to all this wishes to follow the new Paschalion and Menologion of the atheist astronomers of the Pope, and wishes to overturn and destroy the dogmas and customs of the Church which have been handed down by the Fathers, let him be anathema and outside the Church of Christ and the assembly of the faithful…” It is obvious that not only the Papal Paschalion, but also the Papal Menologion – that is, “the new calendar for the fixed feasts” – is under anathema.

If Bishop Ambrose wishes to argue that only the combination of both the Papal Paschalion and the Papal Menologion is under anathema, and that of these two innovations only the Papal Paschalion is really serious, he has to answer the question: Why did they not say that? Why, on the contrary, do the Eastern Patriarchs give the clear impression that both innovations are equally anathematized? If only the Paschal Paschalion was a really serious innovation, why was it necessary for the Greek Old Calendarists to break away from the new calendarists, since the new calendarists still retained the Orthodox Paschalion? And why have so many Orthodox hierarchs understood the Patriarchs to have anathematized the new Menologion if in fact they meant something different?

Thus Archbishop Theophan of Poltava, Rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, Tutor of the Royal Family and Deputy First-Hierarch of ROCOR wrote: “Through the labours of this [1583] Council there appeared: a Conciliar tome, which denounced the wrongness and unacceptability for the Orthodox Church of the Roman calendar, and a canonical conciliar Decree – the Sigillion of November 20, 1583. In this Sigillion all three of the above-mentioned Patriarchs with their Synods called on the Orthodox firmly and unbendingly, even to the shedding of their blood, to hold the Orthodox Menaion and Julian Paschalion, threatening the transgressors of this with anathema, cutting them off from the Church of Christ and the gathering of the faithful…

“In the course of the following three centuries: the 17th, 18th and 19th, a whole series of Ecumenical Patriarchs decisively expressed themselves against the Gregorian calendar and, evaluating it in the spirit of the conciliar decree of Patriarch Jeremiah II, counselled the Orthodox to avoid it…

Question. Is the introduction of the new calendar important or of little importance?

Answer. Very important, especially in connection with the Paschalion, and it is an extreme disorder and ecclesiastical schism, which draws people away from communion and unity with the whole Church of Christ, deprives them of the grace of the Holy Spirit, shakes the dogma of the unity of the Church, and, like Arius, tears the seamless robe of Christ, that is, everywhere divides the Orthodox, depriving them of oneness of mind; breaks the bond with Ecclesiastical Holy Tradition and makes them fall under conciliar condemnation for despising Tradition…

Question. How must the Orthodox relate to the new calendarist schismatics, according to the canons?

Answer. They must have no communion in prayer with them, even before their conciliar condemnation…

Question. What punishment is fitting, according to the Church canons, for those who pray with the new calendarist schismatics?

Answer. The same condemnation with them…” [11]

Again, in a letter to Metropolitan Epiphanios of Cyprus dated September 20, 1975, Metropolitan Philaret of New York wrote: “It is obvious to all that the calendar innovation caused a schism in the Greek Church in 1924, and the responsibility for the schism weighs exclusively on the innovators. This is the conclusion that will be reached by anyone studying the Patriarchal Tomoi (as that of 1583)…”[12] Since the calendar schism of 1924 affected only the Menologion, and not the Paschalion, it is evident that Metropolitan Philaret, following the supposedly “extremist” Greek Old Calendarists and not the Cyprianites, regarded the 1583 Council as expelling the new calendarists from the Church…

Bishop Ambrose continues his attack on the Pan-Orthodox anathemas as follows:There is one last aspect to this matter that should be mentioned: all three Synods appear to be saying exactly the same thing. If one Synod had made a definitive and binding pronouncement, then why, after just a few years did another synod need to be called to make the same pronouncement? And why, a few years after that, yet a third? Also, the texts that have been preserved are in demotic Greek – very demotic Greek – and it is a very peculiar thing for an Ecumenical Patriarch to put out such an important encyclical in demotic Greek. Conceivably there was a text in church Greek which has been lost.”

Why are anathemas repeated? For the same reason that we repeat the same Gospel cycle every year, and the Beatitudes every Sunday: Because they are important! As for the fact that the encyclical is written in demotic Greek, what possible bearing can this have on the validity of the thought contained in it? If, as Bishop Ambrose hints, the text of the anathemas is a forgery by someone who wrote only demotic Greek, why was this not pointed out by anyone for over three hundred years? Why, even as late as 1919 (that is, five years before he changed the calendar), did Chrysostomos Papadopoulos himself declare that if he adopted the new calendar he would become a schismatic? The vital fact is that the Orthodox Church has accepted the thought expressed in the anathemas as corresponding to her own thought – and the Church has the mind of Christ. If new calendarist schismatics, or their old calendar fellow-travellers, choose to cast doubt on an event or fact that the Church has accepted for hundreds of years, this should not affect those who trust the Church more than their own or others’ fallen reasoning.

Bishop Ambrose continues, answering the question whether only the 1848 Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs should be taken seriously with regard to the new calendar: “Yes certainly, but the others can also be taken seriously but with some reservations. They are not a decision of an ecumenical council where we have the original text and we know when it was done and why.” So according to Bishop Ambrose only anathemas issued by Ecumenical Councils, and of which we have the original text, can be accepted wholeheartedly. That rules out all Church Councils without exception since 787, the date of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, including: the 1054 Local Council that anathematized the Roman Catholics, the fourteenth-century Councils that anathematized the Barlaamites, the sixteenth-century Pan-Orthodox Councils, the Russian Local Councils of 1918 and 1923 that anathematized the Bolsheviks and the renovationists, the Catacomb Church Councils that anathematized sergianism, the decisions of the True Orthodox Church of Greece in 1935, 1950, 1974 and 1991 that declared the new calendarists to be graceless, the 1983 Local Council that anathematized ecumenism, and its reiteration in 1998... It looks as if the all the most important decisions of the higher levels of the Orthodox Church for the last 1200 years must be placed under doubt if we are to accept the Cyprianite thesis!

d. The Anathema of the RussianChurch Abroad against Ecumenism (1983)

This anathema, the most important of recent times, has been criticized on several grounds. First, it was argued that the anathema was only a warning to the leaders of World Orthodoxy; it did not cut them off from the Church. However, as we have seen, anathemas in general are precisely acts of separation from the Church: they are not warnings about future separation, but proclaim that the separation has already taken place.

Secondly, it was argued that the anathema of 1983 did not fall on anyone in particular because no individual name is mentioned. However, if that were so, then we would have to accuse the Apostle Paul of empty words when he issued the following general anathema: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema” (I Corinthians 16.22). However, though nobody in particular is named here, these words are anything but vain, but express a fearful judgement on the world that does not love God. Again, the Apostle says: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Galatians 1.8). There can be no question that this anathema falls on all those who depart from the apostolic teaching, even though nobody in particular is named.

Again, several of the anathemas of the Ecumenical and Local Councils are directed against false teachings without naming the particular false teachers – or only the most important of them. But this in no way undermines their validity or power in relation to all those who preach the heresy in question in accordance with the formula: “To all those who teach…. Anathema. God knows to whom the anathema applies, even if men do not, and the word of anathema is no less than “the word of God, quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit…” (Hebrews 6.12).

Thirdly, it is asserted that anathemas only fall on those heretics who were contemporaries of the hierarchs who anathematized them: for later generations of heretics, the anathemas have to be re-applied by “living synods of bishops”. Taken to its logical and absurd conclusion, this argument implies that every new Pope of Rome has to be anathematized personally immediately he occupies his see, otherwise he reverts to Orthodoxy, and that if the 1983 anathema against ecumenism had not been repeated by the ROCOR Synod in 1998, it would already have lost its power, like food that has passed its sell-by date! But away with such sophistry! Those who argue like this forget that Jesus Christ is “the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13.8), and that the truths expressed in the Church’s anathemas are eternal, unageing truths. They also forget that “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22.32), and that His true bishops, together with the words of truth and power that they pronounce, live for ever.

In any case, are not the anathemas of the Ecumenical Councils “re-applied” by “living Synods of bishops” every year on the Sunday of Orthodoxy? And not because these anathemas have somehow “withered away” in the course of the previous year (what a blasphemous thought!), but precisely so that the people should not forget their eternal significance and should, by pronouncing them themselves, take care that they should not “fall under their own anathema” by participating in heresy and the communion of heretics. Thus the Synodicon of Orthodoxy makes God’s eternal judgements once again manifest in time to those who might forget that “unto generation and generation is Thy truth” (Psalm 118.90).

A fourth argument against the 1983 anathema seeks to limit the validity of the anathema, not so much in time as in space. This was first voiced, alas, by the ROCOR first-hierarch Metropolitan Vitaly in 1986 (although he corrected himself later), and repeated by Protopriest Alexander Lebedev in 2000. The argument was that the anathema against ecumenism was only of “local significance”; it could fall only on members of ROCOR, and not on the members of other local Churches; in fact, the idea that the anathema could have universal application was “the heresy of universal jurisdiction”.

Now insofar as an anathema is hurled by hierarchs of one district against a heretic or heresy operating in that district only, it can be said to be “of local significance” only. However, insofar as it expresses eternal and universal truths that potentially will have application in other districts, its significance is by no means local. As an example, let us look again at the Arian heresy.

Arius was originally anathematized by the Bishop of Alexandria, which meant that he was excluded from receiving the sacraments throughout the Church of Alexandria. According to the holy canons, he should then have been excluded from communion in all the churches of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. However, some bishops in neighbouring Churches agreed with Arius’ teaching, so he was able to receive communion in their Churches. But this contradicted not only the holy canons, but also the Church’s understanding of herself as the one repository of the One Truth. So the First Ecumenical Council was convened to expel Arius and anathematize his heresy “throughout the inhabited world”.

This explains why, when the Local Churches anathematized a heresy, they never qualified the anathema by saying: “but of course, this applies only to the heretics in our local Church”. On the contrary: history shows that Local Churches freely anathematized heretics, not only in their own Churches, but also in others – and expected the other Churches to agree with them. Thus Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, was first condemned by a local Synod of the Church of Rome under St. Celestine; the Monothelite heretics were first condemned by a local Synod, again, of the Church of Rome; and the Papist heretics were first condemned by a local Synod in Constantinople.

Consider what St. Maximus said of the Monothelites: “In addition to having excommunicated themselves from the Church, 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?” Clearly St. Maximus believed that the anathema of the local Church of Rome was not “of local significance only”, but had validity throughout the Ecumenical Church.

Administrative matters and moral falls are the business of local Churches and councils. However, heresies of their very nature are of universal significance, having the potential to infect the whole Church. That is why the appearance of a heresy in one local Church is not the business only of that local Church, but of all the local Churches - and every local Church can and must anathematize it.

It has always seemed a strange coincidence that the “Ecclesiological Antitheses” of Metropolitan Cyprian of Orope and Fili should have appeared in 1984, only one year after ROCOR anathematized ecumenism and the ecumenists. Although they never admitted it publicly, this first formulation of the Cyprianites’ distinctively new ecclesiology appeared to be an attempted “antithesis” to the “thesis” of ROCOR’s anathema of the year before. These oblique, non-explicit attempts to discredit the anathema have continued unremittingly to the present day. The most recent example comes from the pen of Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, who writes: “One can see, quite easily, why our austere stand against the religious syncretism of ecumenism does not render us religious bigots, or sympathetic with those who, usurping the place of God, believe that they have the right to condemn ecumenists and ailing Orthodox (and us, in our witness of love) as heretics outside the Church. We are acting in perfect balance within the dual truths of confessional exactitude and pastoral love, as we should.”[13]

So there must be no sympathy for “those who, usurping the place of God, believe that they have the right to condemn ecumenists and ailing Orthodox”. It follows that Archbishop Chrysostomos has no sympathy for Metropolitan Philaret and the ROCOR Synod that condemned the ecumenists – they were undoubtedly “usurping the place of God”! Of course, Chrysostomos would deny that his words apply to Metropolitan Philaret, whom the Cyprianites continue to praise fulsomely while undermining and denigrating the main achievement of his life. But there can be no doubt about it: even before the anathema of 1983, Metropolitan Philaret condemned the Moscow Patriarchate as graceless, and after it he was perfectly consistent in his application of the anathema to all the ecumenists, so he “usurped the place of God” according Cyprianite teaching...

Let us now turn to the criticisms that Bishop Ambrose of Methone makes of the detailed text of the 1983 anathema. “Firstly, if you read the text of the anathema, its definition of the teaching of ecumenism is so extreme that almost no orthodox ecumenist, apart from Patriarch Athenagoras, could ever be put into the category of those who were preaching this new doctrine”.

Now the anathema is divided into several parts. The first is directed against “those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ’s Church is divided into so-called ‘branches’ which differ in doctrine and way of life”. In other words, the branch theory of the Church is anathematized. What is wrong or extreme about that? All the ecumenists confess the branch theory. So they are all under anathema.

The anathema continues: “or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all ‘branches’ or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united in one body.” Here a more extreme form of ecumenism is anathematised. Not all “Orthodox” ecumenists would fall under this part of the anathema, although many would – and not only Patriarch Athenagoras. So in the first part of the anathema a “moderate” form of ecumenism, the inter-Christian branch theory, is condemned, and in the second part a more extreme, inter-religious form is condemned.

The anathema continues: “and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation”. This is simply a re-statement of Apostolic Canon 46, so it is not “extremism”, but straightforward church doctrine. Of course, there is a question whether the Cyprianites themselves fall under this part of the anathema, because they do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics; for, while saying that the ecumenists are heretics, they still recognize that they have true sacraments…

The anathema continues: “therefore to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema.” Here not only the ecumenists themselves, but also those who remain in conscious communion with them, are condemned. This applies perhaps most closely to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which, while often expressing reservations about ecumenism, nevertheless remains in communion with the ecumenists. So we see that the range of application of the anathema against ecumenism is very broad, and applies to far more than the most extreme ecumenists.

When ROCOR entered into communion with the Cyprianites in 1994 and officially accepted their ecclesiology, Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) pointed out that the Cyprianites “confess their own and by no means Orthodox teaching on the possibility of the grace-filled action of the Holy Spirit in churches that have clearly become heretical”. Moreover he declared: “In passing this Resolution on communion with the group of Metropolitan Cyprian, our Council has unfortunately also forgotten about the text of the Resolution accepted earlier under the presidency of Metropolitan Philaret, which anathematized the ecumenical heresy… In fact, by not looking into the matter seriously and forgetting about the anathematizing of the new calendarist ecumenists that was confirmed earlier (and perhaps not having decided to rescind this resolution), our Council, however terrible it may be to admit it, has fallen under its own anathema… Do we have to think that our Hierarchical Council has entered on the path of betraying the patristic traditions, or only that out of a misunderstanding it has allowed a mistake which it is not yet too late to correct at the November session in France?”[14]

That mistake was thankfully corrected some years later, and now, of those parts of the old ROCOR that have not entered into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, only the followers of Metropolitan Agathangelus remain in the clutches of the Cyprianite ecclesiology. But Bishop Gregory’s main point remains: the Cyprianite ecclesiology is incompatible with Metropolitan Philaret’s anathema against ecumenism. So all Orthodox have to choose the one or the other, and cannot claim to be loyal to both.

Bishop Ambrose continues his criticisms of the anathema against ecumenism as follows: “Secondly, the way that this anathema was approved, or rather not approved by the Russian Synod is altogether very peculiar. Having spoken to many bishops of the ROCOR, most of them claimed to have been unaware of the existence of this anathema until it was published, including the late Metropolitan Lavr, and this makes, at least, a curious impression.”

Metropolitan Lavr is, of course, not the most reliable witness that Bishop Ambrose could have cited! It has been reported that he died on the eve of the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, just after ordering that this anathema should not be read in the service the next day. Surely a more reliable witness is Metropolitan Philaret himself, who sent a copy of the anathema to Fr. Anthony Gavalas of New York City, confirming that this was now official ROCOR doctrine.

If the anathema against ecumenism was a forgery, why did the ROCOR Synod never say so? Why, instead of condemning it as a forgery, did fourteen bishops confirm it in its original wording in 1998? The conclusion can only be: it was not a forgery, but some of the bishops did not like its clear implications…

“Thirdly,” continues Bishop Ambrose, “this anathema was actually written in Greek, and translated into English, then into Russian: this is evident from the syntax. Was it the work of the Russian bishops? No, we know where it originated… The monastery of Boston - namely Holy Transfiguration Monastery. This led to all the qualifications that were made by Metropolitan Vitaly and other ROCOR bishops when they said that the anathema refers only to the members of their own flock – ‘we are not anathematising anybody outside… It would thus be absurd to claim that the anathema was proclaimed with the aim of cutting all ecumenists off from the Church even if they did profess the extreme doctrines described in the text of the anathema.’”

But why does it matter if the anathema was written by Holy Transfiguration Monastery? The important fact is that the Synod accepted the text and it became part of ROCOR’s official confession of faith. And why does it matter if the anathema were originally written in Greek? This would be relevant only if the official Russian or English versions are inaccurate in some way – which Bishop Ambrose does not claim.

Bishop Ambrose’s claim that “it would be absurd to claim that the anathema was proclaimed with the aim of cutting all ecumenists off from the Church” cannot in any way be justified from the text, which is a perfectly general anathematization – i.e. exclusion from the Church – of all those who confess the branch theory. As we have seen, the attempt to interpret the anathema as applying only to members of ROCOR not only has no basis in the text but leads to absurd consequences. Thus if this interpretation were correct, an ecumenically-minded old woman in ROCOR would find herself under anathema, while the Pope of Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Patriarch Alexis of Moscow and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople would all remain within the Church!

Immediately after this Bishop Ambrose moves to absolve Metropolitan Philaret of all criticism, saying that we should not confuse the “unclarities” in the anathema (which, as we have seen, do not exist) “with Metropolitan Philaret's uncompromising, confessional, and absolutely clear condemnation of the ecumenist heresy which he saw advancing around him, and which he expressed in his ‘open letters’”. In other words, the early Philaret – the Philaret of the Open Letters – was good, while the late Philaret – the Philaret of the Anathema against ecumenism – was, well, not exactly bad, but “unclear” – and we can blame this lack of clarity on bad advisors…

However, if we look at Metropolitan Philaret’s confessional stand from the Open Letters of the 1960s to the Anathema of 1983, we see a very clear and consistent path. The Open Letters warned the heads of the Local Churches that ecumenism was a heresy, that they were betraying the truth of Orthodoxy. However, nobody was anathematized, nor were all relations with these Churches broken at this time. However, when it became obvious that the Local Churches were not going to respond to his warning, the metropolitan moved his Synod to strengthen sanctions against them and in other ways to adopt a stricter position. The liberals in ROCOR, under the leadership of Archbishop Anthony of Geneva, fought back against this pressure. However, the apostasy of World Orthodoxy could not be denied, and after the 1983 General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver reached new heights of anti-Christianity, the ROCOR Council, also meeting in Canada, anathematized ecumenism. This was the culmination and completely consistent climax of Metropolitan Philaret’s struggle to draw a firm line between Truth and falsehood, between the True Church and the false – a line which the Cyprianites have tried to muddy ever since…

III. Who has the Power to Anathematize?

In the recent dialogue between the True Orthodox Church of Greece and the “Synod in Resistance”, the Cyprianites refused to accept the demand of the True Orthodox that they accept “the validity of the condemnation of Ecumenism by the Russian Church Abroad and by the Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece”[15]; they feared to anathematize the heretics because they continue to believe that they are still inside the True Church.

Moreover, in this document they produce a further justification of this elitist, “sitting on the fence” strategy, a justification first produced in their “Informatory Epistle” of 1998: they reject the authority of any contemporary Synod to anathematize heretics. Thus they write that “so great a right and ‘dignity’ is ‘granted’ only to the choir of the Apostles ‘and those who have truly become their successors in the strictest sense, full of Grace and power’ (St. John Chrysostomos)”. And they go on: “We are unable to understand this hasty tendency in our day to anathematize and condemn, since until such successors come into existence, ‘everyone who is Orthodox in every respect anathematizes every heretic potentially, even if not verbally’ (St. Theodore the Studite)” (6.10).

However, if there is no Synod in the world today which has the Grace and power to anathematize heretics, then the One, Holy, Catholic Church – God forbid! - has lost her power to bind and to loose! Then even if the Antichrist were to appear and pronounce himself to be God today, the Church on earth would have no power to anathematize him! Away with such blasphemy, such manifest lack of faith in the power and dignity of the Church!

If, as St. Theodore says, “everyone who is Orthodox anathematizes every heretic potentially, even if not verbally”, then a fortiori the hierarchs of the Church, even if they are only “two or three gathered together in the name” of Christ (Matthew 18.20), have the power to anathematize every heretic, not only potentially, but actually, and not only under their breath, but verbally and from the housetops! For, as St. John Chrysostom said, “in worldly matters we are meek as lambs, but in matters of the faith we roar like lions!” We thank God that, as his Grace Bishop Photius indicated in his recent interview with Ekklesiastikos[16], there still exist such hierarchs who are prepared to use the power that God has given them, and who do not, like Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, consider that they are thereby “usurping the place of God”!

For there can be no doubt about it: in the age of the Antichrist no Church will survive that does not use all the grace-filled weapons that God has given her. Nor will it survive if, out of false humility, it expresses doubts that true successors of the Apostles exist any more, which is in effect the belief that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has fallen from grace… When the Antichrist appears as a wolf in sheep’s clothing in the midst of a “canonical” Orthodox Church, only those hierarchs who have the courage to call the wolf a wolf, and cast him out of the Church through the power of anathema, will both save themselves and protect their flocks from his snares…


The power of anathema, or the power to bind and loose, is the power, first, to discern that a man has been cast out of the mystical organism of the Church by her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, and secondly, the power, in accordance with, and in obedience to, this heavenly, Divine verdict, to expel the already-condemned heretic from the earthly, visible organization of the Church. It is possessed by canonical, rightly believing hierarchs assembling in Ecumenical, Pan-Orthodox or Local Councils. Insofar as the Church of Christ, according to the promise of her Founder, will prevail against the gates of hell to the very end of time, the power of anathema exists also today, in the Synods of the True Orthodox Churches.

Vladimir Moss.

September 16/29, 2010.







[1] St. Theophan, Sermon on the Synodicon of Orthodoxy.

[2] St. John Maximovich, “The Word ‘Anathema’ and its Meaning”, Orthodox Life, vol. 27, March-April, 1977, pp. 18-19.

[3] St. John, Texts for the Monks of India, 62; The Philokalia, volume 1, p. 312.

[4] St. Symeon the New Theologian, Discourse 33, 3.

[5] St. Bede, Sermon on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, P.L. 94, col. 219, sermon 16.

[6] St. Dionysius, On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, chapter 7, 564B-564D.

[7] St. Demetrius of Rostov, The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, November 25, pp. 592, 593.

[8] Novoselov, Pis’ma k Druziam (Letters to Friends), Moscow, 1994.


[11] Archbishop Theophan, “Kratkie kanonicheskie suzhdenia o letoschislenii” (Short canonical judgements on the calendar), in V.K., Russkaia Zarubezhnaia Tserkov’ na Steziakh Otstupnichestva (The Russian Church Abroad on the way to Apostasy), St. Petersburg, 1999, pp. 29-30 ®.

[12] Letter from the Archives of the True Orthodox Church of Greece, supplied by Bishop Photius of Marathon.

[13] Archbishop Chrysostomos, “The Absolute Primacy of Orthodoxy and the Exclusivity of Christ”, June 21, 2008.

[14] Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), “The Doubtful Orthodoxy of the Group of Metropolitan Cyprian”, in “Arkhierejskij Sobor RPTsZ 1994 goda: Istoria Prinyatia Russkoj Zarubezhnoj Tserkoviu Yereticheskoj Ekkleziologii Mitropolita Kipriana”, Sviataia Rus’, 2003; Vernost, 98, December, 2007.

[16] His Grace wrote: “I would like to believe that it is a matter of an unsuccessful wording of the idea they wanted to express and I wait for their answers to the questions you have posed to them for clarification. But, if this remains unclear, I think that we need to interpret it as a dispute over the genuineness of the apostolic succession of the GOC. We had already confirmed the same thing over the annotation of the final responses of the SiR in the May- June 2009 issue of The Voice of Orthodoxy pg.13. If someone were to take it to its logical conclusion, they could be led to the conclusion that in the wording of their answer to the 10th point, they denounce the essence of apostolic succession itself. Because if we pose somewhere in the future the possibility of the condemnation of heretics, when there would be “such successors of the Holy Apostles”, i.e. “those who have absolutely truthfully become their successors, full of Grace and power”, that means that now there are no such successors of the Holy Apostles. So, according to them, the continuity of the apostolic succession has been interrupted and we should wait in the future in some unknown and inconceivable manner for its restoration in the future. But since I consider that it is impossible that they mean such a thing, I believe that they erred in their wording.”

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