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The Monastery of Esphigmenou on Mt Athos has for decades opposed the Patriarchs of Constantinople, refusing to commemorate them in divine services. In justification for their decision they use the slogan 'Orthodoxia i Thanatos' - 'Orthodoxy or Death'. The Greek monks there accuse the Patriarchate of Constantinople of heresy, modernism, ecumenism and freemasonry. No doubt, there is much truth in these accusations. To our own certain knowledge, a small number of senior figures of that Patriarchate are involved in one or several of these activities. But however much truth there are in these accusations, we should not forget that our Faith is higher than factual truth or personal sin, it is about love.

Certainly, the tiny and impoverished Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, for over 500 years a Turkish captive, has many difficulties. Its flock in Istanbul, where two Turkish citizens are at this moment standing trial for the 'crime' of becoming Christians, numbers at most a few hundred. Its senior bishops often have little pastoral contact with the faithful, the guardians of the Faith: but then some of them have no flocks to have contact with, except for those living on a few Greek islands or else uprooted Greek and Cypriot flocks who live in the emigration in North America, Australia and Western Europe. Instead, some of the Greek Metropolitans are employed only for diplomatic purposes. Although it is true that other Local Orthodox Churches use some of their senior clergy to do much the same (just as the Vatican uses some of its Cardinals for similar secular and political purposes), this is a pity. Surely laypeople could carry out secular tasks - if it is necessary to carry them out at all.

Thus, one of the public relations tasks of the Patriarchate of Constantinople now appears to include a summer cruise of the eastern Mediterranean discussing ecological problems. This will solve as many ecological problems as the thousands of 'experts' who recently jetted off to Nairobi, stayed in luxury hotels and did the same. It has always seemed to us that it would be much more positive if this Patriarchate left its Muslim prison in Istanbul and moved to Athens, the real centre of today's ethnic Greek world, instead of tarrying in what was its centre a thousand years ago. The title 'Constantinople' could be kept - after all the Patriarch of 'Antioch' has for many long years lived in Damascus, the Patriarch of Alexandria once lived in Cairo. Then the Patriarch and Metropolitans of Constantinople, politically less dependent, would have a real flock of their own, who would be guardians of the Faith (and also guardians of errant bishops).

We are not therefore defenders of the political practices of the enslaved Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople in its present and fictitious form. The Patriarchate's apparent intentions to meddle yet again and send police into Esphigmenou to evict the dissident monks, will certainly lead to violence and perhaps deaths. Such an operation will do nothing to enhance the already low spiritual standing and meddlesome reputation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

On the other hand, we cannot support the Greek monks of Esphigmenou. First of all, we cannot fail to note the secular nature of the slogan: 'Orthodoxy or Death'. Death does not exist for Orthodox Christians, only for the secular world. And in any case 'death', meaning martyrdom for us, is not an alternative to Orthodoxy, but part of it. Arguably, 'Orthodoxy and Death' (= Martyrdom) could be justified as a slogan. But better still would be exactly the opposite: 'Orthodoxy and Immortality'. In various other languages, especially Greek, 'Orthodoxia kai Athanasia', it sounds even better. As regards not praying for your Patriarch, on whose canonical territory you are, this sounds like disobedience. Surely obedience is a prime monastic virtues? Of course, if your bishop is openly preaching heresy, denying the existence of saints, or you are being invited by him to become a freemason in exchange for the priesthood, then you are free to leave. Not free to stay in Esphigmenou, but free to leave and open a monastery on the Orthodox calendar elsewhere under a bishop of your preference.

We are enjoined to pray for our bishops and our rulers. We may not agree with them, or sometimes even like them, because they are unkind to us. But surely the Christian Gospel tells us to pray for our enemies? This is not because we necessarily agree with them or like them, but because they need our prayers and because it is good for us to pray for them. We pray for thousands of people we have never met and perhaps also some we have met and do not like. It is good for them, but also good for our souls. We are often told that we have the rulers that we deserve; why therefore should we expect to have saintly bishops, when we ourselves are so full of sin?

One of the most frightening experiences I have had in my own life is to see that when you conscientiously stand up for the Orthodox truth with personal integrity, your persecutors and slanderers are always, sooner or later, punished, indeed in ways which are terrifying. They die, they fall ill with debilitating diseases, they are victims of great sorrows, their properties are damaged or destroyed. People punish themselves for their own sins. Just as the pornographic actress is beheaded in a car accident or dies of breast cancer, so the slanderer is himself slandered, loses the faculty of speech or suffers from Parkinson's, the manipulator falls victim to his own manipulations and dies in cruel isolation, the great but cold-hearted intellectual, whose name was once applauded, has Alzheimer's and, humiliated in solitude, cannot remember his own name, and the man who stole dies stolen from in poverty. It has all been seen before. There is nothing new in this world; sin remains, stubbornly the same, as, frighteningly, do the dread consequences of sin. And people are always punished with the instrument of their sin. We suffer from what we have sinned with; our short-term pleasure becomes the source of our long-term pain.

There is no need for human vengeance. Pray for your enemies, because they do not know what horrible torments they unleash on themselves through their foolish hatred of the truth. We fear not our enemies, rather we fear God, that we too may not be counted as His enemy. God is not mocked. Truth always triumphs. And that is only in this life. As for the next life, we tremble when we think of the Last Judgement. Let us not be afraid of the consequences of standing up for the truth. We must leave the consequences of the sins of others to divine retribution and save our own souls. And let this be our slogan:

Sin and Death. Orthodoxy and Immortality.

Fr Andrew

13/26 November 2006
St John Chrysostom

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