Monday, April 13, 2020

Abp. Elpidophoros advocates open communion of heterodox

If you have read this blog for any period of time, you know my thoughts on this topic in general. If the purpose of marriage is to help your spouse work out their way to salvation, it makes no sense to marry someone who does not believe the same first things about propaedeutical material related to the topic. What is necessary for salvation and am I on a path to that glorious end?

To remove the very glaring differentiator of communion (sharing in it or not) does not help clarify this problem. It does the opposite. The question is not now "Why can I not receive communion?" which any priest should be able to answer. It is instead "If I can receive communion, how can any of my heterodox opinions or actions be that wrong?" to which any priest should be given pause to defend himself. When the wife becomes ill and wants anointing or other services that today require you be inside the Church, how could any priest now decide to say no?

When one parent communes and another doesn't the child sees that there is a problem. When a child sees his parents commune together, he sees no problem at all. So, what message does the child receive when he is old enough to know that one of his parents is not even Orthodox? Is he more likely to seek out an Orthodox partner or give such an important distinction even less weight if they can commune together and more?

That 65% of the Greek Archdiocese marriages are not between Orthodox people is sad. Permitting mixed marriages has painted them into a corner where it seems the only solution is to do harm to not one but two sacraments. And, as I said above, why stop at two? A communicant is the word we use for someone who has all the sacraments open to him. It is the word we use separate the lambs from the goats.

The answer is not to use more and more cosmetics to cover up a problem. The solution is to fix the rupture before it grows so large that the house cannot stand. Learn from the mainline protestants who watered themselves into a puddle. Read their history and recoil from the uncanny similarities laid out before you.

( - In a virtual town hall meeting held yesterday, Saturday, April 11, Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Patriarchate of Constantinople publicly reiterated his belief that non-Orthodox spouses who were married in the Orthodox Church should be allowed to receive Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church.

“Personally, I would offer … the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist,” to non-Orthodox spouses, he said.

During the meeting, the Archbishop confirmed OrthoChristian’s earlier report that he had expressed this same view at the Leadership 100 conference in Florida in February.

Yesterday’s town hall began with a word from Abp. Elpidophoros largely focused on the current coronavirus pandemic. The question of communing non-Orthodox spouses arose during the Question and Answer session, as it had during the Leadership 100 meeting.

The moderator, Demetria Kalodimos, relayed to the Archbishop the question: “I’d like to know when priests will receive directives to permit Communion to non-Orthodox spouse married in the Orthodox Church. Can you explain this?”

The Archbishop responded by recounting what occurred at the Leadership 100 Conference, which OrthoChristian had reported on:

These kinds of decisions in general are made by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, by the head of our Church.

The question begins at 34:04:

I understand that you are referring to a question that I answered during a webinar, a meeting we had last February, with the Leadership 100 meeting in Florida, where somebody asked me what my opinion was about this issue. And there I said, I asked myself, “How can I offer the Sacrament of Marriage to a Christian who is a not a member of my Church?” You know we do this with mixed marriages. We accept to the Sacrament of Marriage non-Orthodox faithful from other churches. They get married in the Orthodox Church and then they get separated when they have to attend the service and the Eucharist.

So, can you imagine, two people married and blessed in the Orthodox Church, and you remember the prayers that we say in the Church, that these two now become one, and they become one with the blessing of the Orthodox Church. And after becoming one, we force them to separate when the Eucharist comes. And I asked myself in public before all the members of Leadership 100, saying, “How can we do that?” And I said that personally I do not agree; personally, I would offer the other Sacrament—the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist—to those couples who are married and who received the Sacrament of Marriage in the Orthodox Church and in this way I save the whole family, because otherwise I lose the children and I lose the whole family.

And I remind you that mixed marriages in the United States in our Archdiocese are over 65%. Over 65%. So, if we are not inclusive of these families in our Archdiocese, every year, every year we will lose 65% of our members, of our families. Who can afford that? Can a pastor take that responsibility and lose our people because of that only?


  1. Father-

    I agree with your position that only adherents should be admitted to communion. However, I would like to share my perspective on your sentence "When one parent communes and another doesn't the child sees that there is a problem." I think my situation demonstrates there can be exceptions to your practical observation, especially when both parents attend churches with valid Apostolic Succession and the differences are addressed directly with the children.

    I am a Latin Rite Catholic who attends Mass weekly, and my wife is Greek Orthodox. Since the Catholic Church accepts Orthodox sacraments, we were married in a Greek Orthodox Church, and our children were Baptized and Chrismated in the same church in which we were married. We have explained to our children, in a non-polemical fashion, the issues that divide our Churches. Especially, with respect to the reception of Holy Communion, our children know that my wife and I share the same belief, i.e., that we both receive Christ, although at different Churches. Our children are not confused when I attend Divine Liturgy with them but do not receive communion. (Instead, I go up and receive a blessing from the priest). Based on my experience (YMMV), I will encourage our children to marry someone who comes from a Church with valid Apostolic Succession.

    1. Lawoski,

      I appreciate your position - in your shoes I would be doing the same thing in all probability. BUT...there is a kind of super "meta" Church lurking in the background, a Church that is grounded in "Apostolic Succession" to the exclusion of Sacramental unity. I know that in RC doctrine there is a defense of this, but there is not in Orthodox doctrine that I am aware - on the contrary...

    2. I agree with Jake. Orthodoxy understand that the Church exist were there is a bishop with both valid apostolic succession and valid apostolic faith.

      Simply put, it is a both/and scenario.

      While truth & light are present in varying degrees outside the Church the notion of a "meta" church is nothing but a temptation.

  2. Question: Do not ALL the "canonical" jurisdictions of NA (and even, I think, the world) accommodate mixed marriages with the Sacrament of Marriage itself?

    I agree almost entirely, I think, with our host. Yet, beyond questions (both soft and hard), and beyond messaging, and perhaps even beyond the very useful, correct, and true either/or's of sheep and goats, Orthodox and heterodox - is not the larger problem, or at least the context - the question of how to "be" a small minority Faith (putting it that way does not in any way negate the truth of Faith) in a secular culture?

    Are any of the Orthodox Church's really prepared to simply disallow (by not recognizing a mixed marriage of any sort - let alone not Sacrementalizing them as they do now) mixed marriages? THAT would be a fundamental shift in ontology - the "being" of Church as it is now. Like it or not, the Church currently (and I believe it holds true throughout almost all of its history) has a much more "grey" relationship to the surrounding prevalent culture with its heterogeneous religious situation and foundational secularism.

    There seems to be no inner desire to "learn" the (espically recent) lessons of Protestantism and RCism in Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy appears to think it is a different animal entirely, and not susceptible to the history of the west, at least not in the same way. I think there is some truth to this, but also there is no small amount of arrogance as well.

    My read is that in the main, NA Orthodoxy does not believe it needs the Benedict Option because it already is the Benedict Option. Yet, the 65% stands as a giant question: Is our current ontology and way of relating/living with secularism and all that entails (including the fact that most of our children will want to marry outside our relatively small faith communities) really "working"?

  3. Obviously it never occurs to the bishop to answer the very dumb question by suggesting the non orthodox spouse begin catechism and convert to the true Church. That is the only legitimate route to communion. Greeks would never ever think of that and Greek clergy don't seem to know what to do with a convert anyway. The bishop is in an organization that invented the problem and doesn't have the capacity to think of the solution. The couple should be told we don't practice open communion for the same reason we don't practice open marriage. Let them think for a few minutes, likely a first for them.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. "...we don't practice open communion for the same reason we don't practice open marriage." Exactly!

      If the spouse is attending liturgy & has a desire to commune then she/he simply needs to embrace Orthodoxy & be received into the Church so she/he can participate in the fullness of the holy mysteries. This is not complicated at all.

      While the new archbishop is clearly intelligent, educated, dynamic & personable (I met him years ago) he is, nevertheless, prone to heresy. Let's remember that this is the same man who penned the highly controversial (heretical in the view of many, myself included) "First Without Equals" essay a number of years back.

      It's the Pandora's box of heresy that we should be wary about opening because once we choose (pun intended) to open it up here will be an endless array of subtle but poisonous aberrations that necessarily follow. It's just a matter of time.

      Here's the reason why all the prayer books contain prayers for the Church including the healing of schisms & the quick uprooting of heresies by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  4. While I disagree with the practice, it is the norm in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch that non-Orthodox spouses receive Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church. It is also a common practice in North America, especially in Arab "ethnic parishes" where the people have come from Lebanon and Syria. I have been told by people and priests from the Levant that this practice started around the time of the Lebanese Civil war when Christians had to unite to protect themselves and reflects the generally open communion practices of the Melkites. It seems to be most common where one of the spouses is Melkite, Latin Rite or Syriac Orthodox. The practice IS NOT officially sanctioned by the Patriarchate and Priest monks, if visiting and concelebrating in a parish church, will not normally participate in giving Holy Communion so they are not part of this practice.

  5. I still recall a priest of the GOA giving a talk on mixed marriages, he wasn’t against them but he also admitted that the statistics he had access to showed that the majority of mixed marriages in the GOA ended with the Orthodox spouse either leaving the church or becoming a nominal member.

    I don’t think I need to repeat the theological problems with the idea of open communion, but if you already believe that other churches have valid sacraments, I.e baptism, this isn’t a strange idea. It’s just another natural consequence of ecumenism.

    1. You were re-baptized, or baptized for the very first time, on your entry into Orthodoxy Sojourner?

    2. Thankfully yes. Though to be clear, while I confess one baptism for the remission of sins, being received by economia i.e chrysmation is totally valid. On the other hand I have a problem with the idea that as long as someone uses the right magic formula they can perform valid sacraments without being a member of the church. The typical argument is that in an emergency anyone can perform a baptism, but first off we’re not talking about an emergency, secondly a member of the Orthodox Church may perform an emergency baptism you wouldn’t ask a catholic priest to perform an emergency baptism for you to bring your dying relative into the Orthodox Church, and third if said person survives the emergency a priest must be brought in to do things properly.

      In any case not interested in having the baptism argument if thats your point, heard it all before. I was just noting that if you already accept that anyone can perform a valid baptism equal to an Orthodox baptism, with the same grace, why would communing heterodox be a big deal? It clearly isn’t for the GOA or at least its current hierarch.

      It would seem natural to me that if he is genuinely concerned about mixed marriage couples he would focus efforts on catechizing heterodox spouses so that they can convert and be received into the Church and then receive communion. But converting people is offensive in many circles, it might jeopardize our ecumenical dialogue if we claim to be the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    3. Sojourner, I would note that Archbishop already has the calculus of "validity" covered. The marriage between an orthodox and a heterodox individual has already occurred *sacramentally*, within the "valid" Church. Now what? The heterodox is already, *sacramentally*, "in" so to speak - in some way or another given our sacramentalism and anthropological theology.

      That's the problem with reducing his argument to terms of slippery slope, or other ecclesial agenda's such as "ecumenism" - it does not do justice to what he is pointing to and is not something he made up or is his opinion: the Church in its current situation, including ALL "jurisdictions" (not just GOA), already have this particular sacramental relationship and ontology with "the heterodox".

    4. I’d say that’s a difference of interpretation of what a mixed marriage actually constitutes. Marriage is not a back door to get around baptism into the Church. It’s also not a new problem/situation. From the time of the Apostles there were mixed marriages. Yet in 2000 + years of Church history there is no precedent for open communion with heterodox.

      Simple litmus test, find me a saint, a council, a canon, a historical record saying this is acceptable.

      It’s always impressive to me how anyone can read the history of the Church, the lives and the teaching of the saints, and then think it’s a good idea to come up with a brand new theological idea or practice on their own; especially when it is in direct conflict with all previous practices. What could go wrong?

      It’s usually a lack of familiarity with Church history or the arrogance of thinking we know better than our predecessors.

      Anyways, bad habits die hard, I’ll take my leave :)

    5. Your right, it's not a new problem and recall it being speculated that {mixed marriage} is exactly the reason the Eucharist was separated from the marriage rite very early on. Of course, humility demands just the approach you describe. Thing is, the Archbishop is, at least in part, basing his theology/thinking on this very basis - the "big tent" enculturation of the Church's practice and way of life. How much faith is required to approach the Eucharist? What of doubts? The Church is an "economic" institution and while this offends our discursive either/or minds, it is a fact of Her life, worship, and practice.

      In other words, the Archbishops point still stands: it is a FACT that the Church extends it's sacramental grace to the heterodox, and this precedent is as old as any other./

      The problem with focusing on the borders - the boundaries between "orthodox" and "heterodox", the sheep and the goats, the us vs. them, is that it is a myopic view of all that is happening in creation and heaven. I don't agree with the Archbishops reasoning either, but at least he is looking at the big picture and asking questions, instead of just pointing to the rule book...

  6. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if our hosts title of this thread:

    "Abp. Elpidophoros advocates open communion of heterodox"

    is entirely accurate. Abp. Elpidophoros maintains (though its a Q&A - not a rigorously theological answer) that the current praxis of sacramentally performing a marriage between an Orthodox and an heterodox spouse, the Church is already allowing/accepting that heterodox into the Church sacramentally. He theologically supports this with the doctrine of "one flesh". So while I don't concur with his conclusion, the question is a good one: On what basis do we do this, and what are the implications.

    I suppose I am saying that it is not a simple modern protestant "open communion" that the Archbishop is working from...

  7. Some thoughts on this: I personally know 2 catholic spouses that regularly attend my Orthodox parish. They are there more than their orthodox spouse. Neither will convert one because he is not Greek. He says Everything is about being Greek. Maybe they should think about the Greek stuff as a stumbling block. Remove some of those impediments and more spouses would convert.

    The other friend his wife is Catholic she is far more faithful than him in attending services. She feels converting would betray her parents. Don’t know how you fix that.

    Last thought calling them mixed marriages is offensive. It sets them up as second class. Less than a true marriage.

    As a convert I am well aware of my second class status and I know even though my kids were born into the faith they are as well. Country of Origin comes first Orthodox second and Christian third. The Church names say it all. It needs to be the other way around.

    1. 25 years ago my wife and where chrismated into the Church in a Greek parish. We lasted just shy of 2 years, and when the Greeky Greeks would still come up to us at coffee hour and say "Why are you here, your not Greek!" we decided to move over to the more convert friendly (or is it just "aware") Antiochian parish across town.

      It's like anti-gnostic is always saying, "ecclesia is downstream from culture". 'It needs to be the other way around' you say, but how realistic is that? Are we as fallen human beings really in "control" of our cultural history and circumstances? That's putting the cart before the horse is it not?

      Beyond the cultural however, what about the Archbishops point - that ALL jurisdictions have already sacramentally extended His Grace to the "heterodox"? These heterodox already have one foot in the door, so to speak. What does this mean? What now?

      I have an 11 year old daughter. God willing, within then next 10 or 15 years she will be marrying a man of good character. Will he be an Orthodox man? Probably not - there are simply not many young men/boys in our small mission parish. What will it mean for her to *be* Orthodox in a non-Orthodox culture?

    2. There are other factors at play but yes, I think that is the main one: the Greek Orthodox Church is about being Greek. So the solution becomes not Orthodoxy but ecumenism. The mentality of the American hierarchs is that they are diaspora and not missionaries. It's a strangely Judaic view.

      I think it's more of a rearguard action to mask the real problem: Greeks are out-marrying, and most people are not going to bring themselves and their kids to worship God in Koine Greek. There is a specific neuro-linguistic reason for this: you do not internalize a secondary language in the same way you do your primary, that is, the language of your child peer-group. It takes many years to (possibly) internalize "al-Masīḥ qām! Ḥaqqan qām!" versus "Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!" Language is very deeply ingrained. Obviously, this is the same problem faced by the immigrant just off the boat.

      My impression from my small corner of Orthodoxy (Antiochian) is the hierarchs are fully on board with vernacular worship and conversions. I think this happened even earlier in Central and South America. An old Syrian acquaintance was crestfallen when he dropped in on some distant relations in Argentina to find they only spoke Spanish, and he only spoke Arabic and English.

      Middle Easterners who want the praxis of the homeland either stop attending or drift off to unabashedly ethnic Melkite or Maronite parishes. But I think those redoubts are encountering the same issues. You're in an Anglo-American pond, and that's just how the fish are going to turn out with out-marriage, the lingua franca, the downward spiral of the homelands, etc. No different for Mexico, Argentina or anywhere else.

      The ethnic emphasis shows up in odd ways. Now the Greeks are starting "Mayan Orthodoxy" in Central America (where Antioch has been present for a century), creating subordinate ethnic exarchies and the Greeks can continue to be Greek, because Lord knows they are not going to intermarry with the Mayans.

  8. I do not know exactly what to say other than a normative Orthodox approach to marriage should have been established decades ago.

    When I met a woman 3 years after my wife had died and wanted to re-marry I was denied by my Bishop because the new woman I wanted to marry had already been married 3 times (two cheated on her and one attempted to kill her, the third died). She wasn't Orthodox but knew and loved our Lord since she was five.

    Well, we got married anyway. I was excluded from the Cup until she completed her catechesis and we received Holy Communion together on the day of her Chrismation.

    My Bishop has since told me three times our marriage is blessed by God. I could have gone Bishop shopping but I hate that. It worked out by God's grace that allowed us to be obedient.

    I still have the same questions: how can the standard of marriage within the Church apply to those outside the Church and why would many bishops have allowed us to be married in the Church once my wife was Chrismated without forcing us to either separate, live in sin or marry outside the Church.

    Crazy. Especially when anybody can see how devoted to Jesus Christ my wife is within 5 minutes of meeting her.

    Fortunately she has repented of her bad choice in men and loves the Church.

    1. "...Fortunately she has repented of her bad choice in men..."

      Are you sure!?!? Just kidding! Thanks for posting this Michael!

    2. That is what she tells me. Who am I to argue with such a lover of God.

  9. As a priest I find the way we handle mixed marriages very taxing. Unfortunately there seems to be no clear solution due to the lack of respect our society has for this holy estate. Most weddings tend to be like an old tv show Queen for a day.

  10. My marriage was blessed by God(according to my Bishop) because despite the existential anomalies, we were obedient to our Bishop and he was compassionate. We said yes to his discipline despite thinking his decision to be wrong. Perhaps the only time I'm my life where I was genuinely and fully obedient. Many blessings have flowed forth as a result.

    The issue is to do the right deed for the right reason. As T.S. Eliot had Becket say in Murder in the Cathedral: "To do the right deed for the wrong reason is surely the greatest treason."

  11. Holy Thursday Matins:
    “O ye faithful, let none who is uninstructed in the Mystery/
    draw near to the table of the Lord’s Supper;”

    Orthodox Catechism is a beautiful process of instruction which opens the soul to a new knowing. Why would anyone wish for another beloved person not to benefit from that joyous process which enables one to be fit to appreciate and approach the ineffable transcendent Mystery of Holy Communion and respects the autonomy of the person to proceed in his or her own time as God does? Isn’t the Orthodox Tradition so different from secular feelings and concerns about numbers the only truly loving and respectful approach to another icon of Christ on the journey to Him? I struggle to understand this temporal view by any priest much less a hierarch. May the Most Holy Theotokos illumine my darkness.