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An Excerpt from the Dormition Skete Publication
“The Teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church”
Part 2, Chapter 3

6. The Bishop and the Church

Viewing the Church from the historical perspective means to understand the relationship between the bishop and his flock, his body. Together the bishop and those in obedience to him are an icon of the invisible High Priest—for the bishop is, in imitation of Christ, “high priest” of his congregation—and the universal Church. As they form one Man, so the bishop and his people form one man. Thus, Saint Ignatios of Antioch greeted the Church at Ephesus “through…your bishop in the flesh.”1 In this sense, too, we understand his celebrated phrase, “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic Church.”2 Likewise, Saint Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) asserts the same thing when he says, “Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if anyone be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church.”3

So much, then, for the ecclesiological nonsense that the Orthodox Church has no visible head—and no head at all except Jesus Christ—as if such an outrageous statement refutes Papism. In truth, it is impossible to have a church—the visible body of Christ—without a visible head, i.e., the bishop. As we have learned, one cannot belong to the historical Church—and, therefore, the heavenly Church—without visible ties to the bishop. Thus, each person baptized into Christ is baptized into the visible, earthly Church, which necessarily means incorporation into the “body” of the bishop, who symbolizes Christ. Therefore, the not uncommon idea that the faith and conduct of the bishop does not affect those subject to him is also ecclesiological rubbish. The faith of the bishop must be the faith of his people. As Saint Photios the Great (ca. 810-ca. 893) proclaims, “Is the shepherd a heretic? Then he is a wolf! You must run away from him; be not deceived to draw near to him even if he seems docile and tame. Flee from communion and intercourse with him just as you would flee from a poisonous serpent.”4

The Apostolic Constitutions declare: “[God] will judge between one bishop and another, and between one lay person and another, and between one ruler and another (for these sheep and these rams are not irrational, but rational creatures); lest at any time a lay person should say, ‘I am a sheep and not a shepherd, and I am not concerned for myself; let the shepherd look to that, for he alone will be required to give an account for me.’ For as that sheep that will not follow its good shepherd is exposed to the wolves, to its destruction; so that which follows a bad shepherd is also exposed to unavoidable death, since his shepherd will devour him. Wherefore care must be had to avoid destructive shepherds.”5

We also recall an incident from the life of Saint Hypatios of Bithynia (ca. 366-446) shortly before the Third Ecumenical Council: “Perceiving that Nestorios maintained and preached opinions contrary to true Orthodoxy, [Father Hypatios] removed his name from the monastery diptychs of the Church of the Holy Apostles lest it should be mentioned in the Liturgy. Another bishop, Evlalios, asked the abba, ‘Why hast thou deleted his name? Dost thou not know the consequences of such an action?’ Hypatios remarked, ‘From the time that I was apprised of his unrighteous statements about our Lord, I broke communion with him. I have not commemorated his name since that time; for he is not an Orthodox bishop.’ Evlalios said, ‘Begone and correct thyself, lest I take measures against thee!’ Hypatios answered, ‘Do that which pleases thee. But as for me, I am resolved to suffer all; for it was with this conviction I commenced this action.’”6

We digress at this point in order to further address this important issue. There are many who call themselves Orthodox today who have adopted a Protestant mentality, namely, that only one’s personal beliefs matter, and the faith of the bishop does not affect him. This erroneous opinion is utterly foreign to the tradition of the Church and the mind of the holy fathers. The bishop is the head of the Church. A body cannot survive with a dead (or severed) head. If a bishop falls into heresy, all those who remain with him will also perish. For this reason, Saint John Chrysostom says,

“If from a ship thou take away the helmsman, thou wilt sink the vessel; so too if from a flock thou remove the shepherd, thou hast overthrown and destroyed all.... When the ruler is bad,...no small evil it is, but even a far worse evil than anarchy. For it is better to be led by no one than to be led by one who is evil. For the former indeed are oftentimes saved, and oftentimes are in peril, but the latter will be altogether in peril, being led into the pit of destruction. How then does Paul say, ‘Be obedient to those who lead you, and keep on submitting [Heb. 13:17]’? Having said above, ‘whose faith keep on imitating, observing attentively the end of their conduct [Heb. 13:7],’ he then said, ‘Be obedient to those who lead you, and keep on submitting.’ ‘What then (you say), when he is wicked should we obey?’ Wicked? In what sense? If indeed in regard to the Faith, flee and avoid him; not only if he be a man, but even if he be an angel come down from heaven; but if in regard to life, be not overly-curious.... ‘Cease judging, that ye be not judged [Mt. 7:1]’ concerns life, not faith.”7

Saint Maximos the Confessor (ca. 580-662) declared, “I cannot enter into communion with the throne of Constantinople, because the leaders of that patriarchate have rejected the resolutions of the four œcumenical synods. Instead, as their rule, they have accepted the Alexandrian Nine Chapters. Thereafter, they accepted the Ekthesis of Patriarch Sergios (heretical statements of faith),...thereby excommunicating themselves many times over. Together with having excommunicated themselves, they have been deposed and deprived of the priesthood.... What Mysteries can such persons perform? What spirit comes upon what they celebrate or those ordained by them?... Were the universe to enter into communion with the [Monothelite] patriarch, I should never commune with him. Take heed of the words of the Holy Spirit through the apostle: ‘Even if we, or an angel from out of heaven, should preach a gospel to you besides what Gospel we preached to you, let such a one be anathema [Gal. 1:8].’”8

For a bishop (or anyone) to sign a heretical confession of faith is an act of apostasy.

Later, in the 15th century, as the Byzantine Empire was drawing closer to ruin and collapse due to the incursions of the Muslim Turks, the desperate Emperor John VIII Palaiologos sought union with the Roman Church, hoping to receive military assistance. The Greeks and the Latins assembled at the false Council of Ferrara-Florence (1439), at which the papists coerced the Orthodox to sign a “union” that accepted all of the Latin heresies and innovations. The only Orthodox bishop who refused to sign was Saint Mark, Metropolitan of Ephesus. When the Byzantines returned home, the disgusted populace refused to concelebrate with any of those who betrayed the Faith. Saint Mark would not have any communion with the Latinizing Patriarch of Constantinople or his clergy, and said, “I am absolutely convinced that the farther I stand from him and those like him, the nearer I am to God and all the saints; and to the degree that I separate myself from them am I in union with the truth and with the holy fathers, the theologians of the Church.”9

Thus, a false or “pseudo-bishop” is no longer an icon of Christ, and his flock is “scattered [Mt. 26:31],” inasmuch as the bishop is the principle of unity. Put another way, on account of his heresy, the “bishop” does not reflect his Prototype, neither representing Him to Christians nor Christians to Christ. His people are, therefore, no longer a “colony of heaven.” The false bishop has lost his station as high priest and his Mysteries and the Mysteries of his priests (presbyters) are meaningless. He ceases to be “father and pastor of Christians” (Saint Dionysios of Alexandria) and is, in fact, excommunicated (e.g., the 45th and 68th Apostolic Canons). “Insofar as they have deprived themselves of that teaching of the Faith in which they had been consecrated,” explains Saint Nikephoros of Constantinople (d. 828), “they have of necessity been deprived of their ordination and deposed as teaching other things.”10 As soon as a clergyman falls away from the Church, he and his Mysteries are deprived of the grace of God.

“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” (Saint Nikephoros).11

In the words of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, “‘Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ [cf. Jn. 1:17].’ But as they have deserted the truth, in which the writer of the Proverbs glories, saying, ‘My throat shall meditate truth [Prov. 8:7],’ and having embraced falsehood, it is evident that they have fallen from grace also.”12

We must also know that a bishop (and his flock) can fall away from the Faith by going into communion with heretics, even without personally proclaiming falsehood. As Saint Theodore the Confessor (ca. 759-826) tells us, “Even if someone should relinquish all his worldly possessions, if he is yet in communion with heresy, he cannot be a friend of God, but is rather an enemy.”13 But how can this be? It is because being in communion with a bishop or another church means that both share the same faith. Whoever is knowingly united with heresy is himself a heretic. To quote Saint Theodore once more: “Regarding the Faith, the heretics were utterly shipwrecked; but concerning the others, even if in their thinking they did not founder, nevertheless, on account of their communion with heresy, they too were destroyed alongside the others.”14 Likewise, Saint Basil the Great states, “As for all those who pretend to confess the Orthodox Faith, but are in communion with the heterodox, if they are admonished and still remain stubborn, not only must you not be in communion with them, but you must not even call them brothers.”15 Therefore, according to the saint, the Orthodox are forbidden to be in communion even with another Orthodox synod if such a synod is in communion with heretics.

Neither is it possible for an Orthodox Christian to commemorate (mention by name) a heretic during the Divine Liturgy, because such an act implies full communion and unity in the Faith. As Saint Mark wrote, “Flee, brethren! Flee communion with the incommunicable and the commemoration of the uncommemorative.”16 To take another example from history, we turn to the 13th century, when, again, a faithless Byzantine emperor, for fear of the Turks, sought union with Rome.17 After Emperor Michael VIII persuaded some of the Orthodox clergy to accept the Union of Lyons (1274) and submit to the papacy, those who would not consent to this union were harshly persecuted. The monks of the Holy Mountain Athos in Greece wrote to the emperor, explaining why it was unthinkable to commemorate the Pope of Rome:

“How is it possible for us to introduce heretics into the church while the bloodless sacrifice of the Son of God is offered upon the dread and mystical Table?... For if simply saying ‘fare-thee-well [2 Jn. 10]’ makes us communicants of another’s evil works, how much more is this the case with the official commemoration of one during the celebration of the divine and fearful Mysteries? For if He Who is present upon the holy Table is the Truth Himself, how can it be reasonable to think that He will accept this great lie, that is, that the pope should be esteemed as Orthodox among the other Orthodox patriarchs?... And how can the soul of an Orthodox Christian tolerate these things and not straightway sever communion with the commemorators, and look upon them as ones who trade divine things for earthly gain? The Orthodox Church of God from the very beginning has acknowledged that mentioning a hierarch’s name inside the sanctuary means complete communion with him; for it is recorded in the interpretation of the Divine Liturgy that when the celebrant commemorates the bishop’s name, he thus demonstrates his submission to a superior, and that he is in communion with him, and a follower of him in the Faith and in the holy Mysteries....

“And God indicated exactly this, saying, ‘Her priests also have set at nought My law, and profaned My holy things [Ezek. 22:26].’ How? Because ‘they have not distinguished between the holy and profane,’ but have regarded all things as common. Yet, shall we allow this by using ‘economia’? But how could such an ‘economia,’ which defiles divine things and drives away the Holy Spirit, be permitted in accordance with what God has said? It would result in the loss of the adoption [as children of God] of the faithful and sever them from forgiveness of sins. Could there truly be any ‘economia’ more pernicious than this?”18

On orders from the emperor, Latin soldiers terrorized any of the monks who would not recognize the sovereignty of the pope. Among the Athonite confessors, 26 martyrs of Zographou Monastery were burned alive rather than commemorate the pope or the unionist Patriarch Vekkos.

Consequently, we see that the Orthodox cannot be in communion in any way with those who are outside the Church, which also includes schismatics. “Even if the schismatics have erred about things which are not dogmas,” remarks Saint Basil, “since the head of the Church is Christ—according to the divine apostle—from Whom all the members live and obtain spiritual increase, they have torn themselves away from the harmony of the members of the body and no longer are members [of it] or have the grace of the Holy Spirit.”19

Saint Cyprian, in his Treatise on the Unity of the Church, states, “What sacrifices do those who are rivals of the priests think that they celebrate? Do they deem that they have Christ with them when they are collected together, who are gathered together outside the Church of Christ?... Whosoever he may be that is separated from the Church, such a one is perverted and sins, and is condemned of his own self [Tit. 3:11].... Thus Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who endeavored to claim to themselves the power of sacrificing in opposition to Moses and Aaron the priest, underwent immediate punishment for their attempts [Num. 16:1-35]. The earth, breaking its fastenings, gaped open into a deep gulf, and the cleft of the receding ground swallowed up the men standing and living. Nor did the anger of the indignant God strike only those who had been the movers of the sedition, but two hundred and fifty sharers and associates of that madness besides.... And the sons of Aaron, who placed strange fire upon the altar, which the Lord had not commanded, were at once extinguished in the presence of an avenging Lord [Lev. 10:1, 2].... If wholesome counsel cannot recall to the way of salvation certain leaders of schisms and originators of dissensions, who abide in blind and obstinate madness,...we must withdraw, nay rather must flee, from those who fall away, lest, while anyone is associated with those who walk wickedly, and goes on in ways of error and of sin, he himself also, wandering away from the path of the true road, should be found in like guilt.”20

In the same manner, Saint John Chrysostom discusses how serious a sin is schism. “Nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church. Yea, though we have achieved ten thousand glorious acts, yet shall we, if we cut to pieces the fullness of the Church, suffer punishment no less sore than they who mangled His body.... Now, a certain holy man (Saint Cyprian) said what might seem to be a bold thing; yet nevertheless, he spoke it out. What then is this? He said that not even the blood of martyrdom can wash out this sin.... I mean these remarks for those who give themselves up indiscriminately to the men who are dividing the Church. For if, on the one hand, those men have doctrines also contrary to ours, then on that account further it is not right to mix with them; if, on the other hand, they hold the same opinions, the reason for not mixing with them is greater still. And why so? Because then the disease is from lust of authority.... What wilt thou say? Shall it be said, ‘Their faith is the same; they are Orthodox as well as we’? If so, why then are they not with us? There is ‘one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism [Eph. 4:5].’ If their cause is right, then is ours wrong; if ours is right, then is theirs wrong. ‘Infants,’ saith he, ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind [Eph. 4:14].’ Tell me, dost thou think this is enough, to say that they are Orthodox?... Therefore I assert and protest, that to make a schism in the Church is no less an evil than to fall into heresy.... Of what hell shall not he be worthy who slays Christ, and plucks Him limb from limb?”21

Thus we see the clear testimony of all the fathers.

  1. St. Ignatios, Epistle to the Ephesians, Ch. I, ANF I:49.

  2. St. Ignatios, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ch. VIII, ANF I:89, 90.

  3. St. Cyprian of Carthage, “Epistle LXVIII, To Florentius Pupianus,” § 8, ANF V:374, 375.

  4. St. Photios the Great, Oration 36, ¶ 10, Eighty-Three Orations and Homilies of Our Father Among
the Saints Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople, Vol. 1 (in Greek), ed. by Staurakes Aristarches (Constantinople: The Annuaire Oriental & Printing Company, Ld., 1900), p. 268.

  5. Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Bk. II, Sec. III:XIX, ANF VII:404.

  6. June 17th, The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church (Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 2017), p. 475.

  7. St. John Chrysostom, Hebrews, “Homily XXXIV,” NPNF 1st Ser., XIV:518, 519.

  8. January 21st, The Great Synaxaristes, pp. 857, 858.

  9. A. Pogodin, “Address of St. Mark on the Day of His Death,” Orthodox Word, Vol. 3, No. 3(14), June-July (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1967), p. 104.

  10. St. Nikephoros of Constantinople, Minor Apologetics, § 270, PG 100:841BC.

  11. St. Nikephoros, Apologetics of the Christian Faith, § 154, PG 100:548BC.

  12. Sixth Session, The Seventh General Council, tr. by J. Mendham (London: W. E. Painter, 1850), p. 309.

  13. St. Theodore the Studite, Epistles, Bk. 2, “Epistle 32, To son Thalaleos,” PG 99:1205A.

  14. Ibid., “Epistle 15, To the Patriarch of Jerusalem,” PG 99:1164AB.

  15. St. Basil, quoted by St. Mark of Ephesus, Confession of Faith, Patrologia Orientalis, Vol. 17, col. 303.

  16. January 19th, The Great Synaxaristes, p. 765.

  17. One may reasonably wonder at this point how a bishop (the pope) can have so much political power as well as his own army.

  18. “Letter of the Athonites to the Emperor Michael Paleologos,” in Dossier Grec de l’Union de Lyon (1273-1277), ed. by V. Laurent and J. Darrouzes, Archives de l’Orient Chrétien, Vol. 16 (Paris: Institut Français d’études byzantines, 1976), pp. 397-401.

  19. St. Basil, quoted by Met. Kalliopios (Giannakoulopoulos), Ta Patria, Vol. 7 (Piraeus, Greece: 1987), pp. 277, 278.

  20. St. Cyprian of Carthage, “Treatise I: On the Unity of the Church,” §§ 13, 17, 18, 23, ANF V:425, 427-429.

  21. St. John Chrysostom, Ephesians, “Homily XI,” NPNF 1st Ser., XIII:106, 107.

Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
Contact: Archbishop Gregory
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