On June 1 (Sunday of the Holy Fathers), 2014, His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki issued the following beneficial, challenging and balanced encyclical to mark the meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis in Jerusalem on the 50th anniversary of the mutual lifting of the anathemas.
“Last Sunday, however, another important event with an ecclesial character was sealed: the meeting between our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with Pope Francis of Rome in Jerusalem, before the Holy Sepulchre, fifty years after the lifting of the anathemas.
The media covered the event and spoke about love, reconciliation, forgiveness, mutual understanding and progress in relations between the Churches.
Some other voices spoke of a betrayal of the faith, compromise and allegiance to the precepts of the new age and world syncretism.
Because all these things might individually express part of the truth but by themselves shroud its secrets, or drive our thoughts and our sense of faith in the wrong direction, I felt that I needed to communicate with you as it is my spiritual responsibility as the bishop of our region.
Who could argue that love, forgiveness and reconciliation are concepts contrary to the truth of the Gospel?
How does it help to maintain anathemas for about a millenium, which essentially deprived society and severed from the sacred body of our holy Church millions of primarily unsuspecting Westerners for centuries until today?
On the other hand, how can we deny the terrible schism of the eleventh century that led to an unauthorized proliferation of heretical doctrines and teachings that became implanted into the entire life of western Christianity and eventually disfigured the face of Christ, corrupting the ethos of the faith and collapsing the sense of mystery?
How can we deny the result, which consisted of the faith degenerating to accept various Christian opinions, the society of God has been replaced by social workers, the Church has become a religion, theology has become conjecture, the revelation of God is a verbal argument without substantial opposition?
We would not be unfair to the truth if we said that the West, after the break in communion with the Churches of the East, and in essence its secession from the ecclesiastical body, became alienated, was inevitably driven to errors, and distorted the faith both in its confession and experience and weakened the activity of grace, since it replaced it with a moral struggle. This is what saints said like Gregory Palamas and Mark Evgenikos, who struggled so much to highlight the differences between Orthodoxy and papal cacodoxies.
Proof that the West has until today been swimming unsuspectedly in a sea of corrupted morals, delusions and heretical beliefs is that it finds it difficult to understand the above-mentioned theologian saints, as well as Orthodoxy, with the result that our communication requires endless inconclusive dialogues.
That’s why our primary responsibility is not to passionately confront and condemn their cacodox heritage, but with love, pain and humility to confess and make active within us the Orthodox faith.
In essence what separates us, my beloved brethren, is not the assertion of a primacy, nor its sad historical consequences like the Crusades, nor even the deep wounds caused by the organized deception of the Unia, nor even the various types of liturgical and sacramental practices.
All of these things of course are great improprieties and have caused deep wounds, but which somehow can become settled through our Church.
This is why initiatives of forgiveness in this direction are certainly blessed, in as much as they do not challenge the integrity of the Orthodox ethos and dogma.
The worst is that words like mystery, grace, humility, faith, love, truth and theology are stripped of their spiritual meaning, dried up of their content and degenerated into secular expressions with a religious coating. As a consequence the heresy of the West has disfigured the face of Christ and made the face of man ugly.
How then can we ignore these things? We neither can nor should. However, next to all these things there is a tragic truth. The same tragic error of the West is being diverted to the East.
The West has lost its faith. The East until today holds on to the Orthodox faith, but I ask how much we Orthodox live it? And if our lives are foreign to our faith, perhaps we are worse than them because they lost it out of ignorance?
Instead of yelling with offensive tones against the West, perhaps the object of our rebuke should be ourselves? Truly, to what benefit is it to advocate a faith that is not confirmed in our life?
What good is it to harshly rebuke another who was born and educated that way, when there is no corresponding rebuke for our inconsistency?
Ultimately, perhaps what is needed mainly in inter-Christian relations, is not the relentless rebukes of the “delusions of the West”, nor exuberant manifestations of immature friendships, but rather the outspoken confession of the Orthodox faith and our humble invitation towards Westerners. Eventually perhaps they will live the faith more consistently than we who have kept it yet did not live it with our lives, the ethos and teaching they are ignorant of, but possibly are looking for the truth.
What we need is unity in humility for us Orthodox and the confession of our love for the world and the heterodox.
Not so much the rebuke of others for their errors, as much as our repentance for the deficit in our lived testimony. If they do not see a difference in our lives, how will they come to recognize our doctrines?
If the West does not humbly confess its doctrinal aberrations and its need to return to the “fullness of truth”, and on the other hand if the Orthodox East does not live the blessing of its theological wealth for which it is responsible, and does not discern the need for repentance for its inconsistent testimony, then dialogues, premature prayers and joint meetings will have just a secular character of communication, while essentially deepening confusion and distancing all of us from the one saving truth.”
(translated by John Sanidopoulos)