Sunday, December 04, 2011

On the Barlaamite Heresy of Bishop Photios of Marathon

On November 28, 2011, the article "The Heresy of Name-Worshipping" by Bishop Photios of Marathon appeared on the official site of the Holy Metropolis of the Genuine Orthodox Church of America (HOTCA); on December 1, 2011, the article "The Name-Worshipping Heresy" by Fr. Panagiotes Carras also appeared on the same site. As a result of these publications, it can be concluded that Bishop Photios of Marathon, by subscribing to the decision of the Russian Synod of 1913, has fallen into the Balaamite heresy and denied the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas that the energy of God is God Himself.

As is well known, the Epistle of the Synod of the Russian Church in 1913, which officially condemned name-glorifying (imiaslavie), not only falsely asserted that St. Gregory Palamas "never called the energy ‘God,’ but taught that it should be called ‘Divine’ (not theos, but theotis)" (an exact citation from the Epistle), but also declared that the energy of God can be called "only divine, but not God, let alone ‘God Himself.’" This is the Barlaamite heresy and a direct contradiction of the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, who wrote: "Every divine power and every energy is God (theos) Himself" (Hagiou Gregoriou tou Palama Syggrammata II [Epistle to John Gavras (Thessalonica, 1966) 340. 12-13].

Moreover, the Epistle of the Russian Synod denied the opinion of the name-glorifiers that icons are holy because on them is inscribed the name of God. This opinion, according to the affirmation of the Epistle, "exposes the untruth of the new dogma," that is, of name-glorifying. In this manner, the compilers of the Epistle, and along with them Bishop Photios, have fallen into the heresy of iconoclasm, going explicitly against the affirmation of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council that icons are sanctified not by any specific prayer, but by the imprinting of the name of God. The Council declared: "Many of those items that we accept as holy do not have a sacred prayer read over them; for they, by their very name, are full of holiness and grace… In the same way, the very image of the life-giving cross, in spite of not having a special prayer for its blessing, is accepted by us as worthy of veneration, and it serves as a sufficient means for us to receive sanctification… The same relates to the icon; by denoting it with a known name, we give honor to its prototype; by kissing it and venerating it with admiration, we receive sanctification." (Sixth Act. "Refutation of the So-Called Definition Insidiously Concocted by a Crowd of the Enemies of Christianity.")

Bishop Photios, as can be seen in his article, considers the name-glorifiers’ assertion that divine grace is present in the inscription of the name of God to be a heresy. Specifically, he cites as false the assertion of the name-glorifiers that "The Grace of God is present in the hearings and the writings of God’s name." In this case, one must ask him: in what way can a name, if God is not present therein ­– inasmuch as the grace of God is His energy, that is, God Himself – sanctify anything? And if, according to the opinion of Bishop Photios, grace is not present in the name of God, then how is it that Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers teach about the sanctity, power, and activity of the name of God in the Mysteries and in prayer?

One might doubt whether Bishop Photios has a genuine understanding of the teaching of name-glorifying, which he from the very beginning dismisses as being found "most among the Slavic Orthodox." Indeed, can any good thing come from the Slavs (cf. Jn 1:46)?

Hieroschemamonk Anthony (Bulatovich) always denied the accusation that the name-glorifiers worshipped the material letters and sounds of the Divine Names, comparing the material shell of the name to icons inasmuch as divine energy is present in the name of God. St. Theodore the Studite wrote the following about the icon: "one must believe that divine grace enlivens it, that it communicates sanctification to those who approach it with faith" (Epistle to His Spiritual Father, Platon, On the Veneration of Icons). From this it follows that grace is always present in icons, but that it is active only when approached with faith. In this way, Bishop Photios’ accusation that the presence of God in the sounds and letters of the names of God makes Him dependent upon man is shown to be false and groundless. If Bishop Photios were correct, then the presence of divine grace in icons would also make God dependent upon man. Or perhaps Bishop Photios venerates icons in order to receive magical power over God from them?

Bishop Photios’ article also contains slanderous accusations against the righteous Schema-monk Ilarion and his edifying book In the Mountains of the Caucasus. The third edition of this book, which the onomatoclasts (imiabortsy, literally "name-destroyers") attacked, was printed with money donated by the New Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth, acting upon the advice of her spiritual father, Elder Herman, founder and abbot of the Zosimova Hermitage. St. Elizabeth, to whom our cathedral is dedicated, did not cease to help the defenders of the name of God until the end of her life. Bishop Photios likewise falsely presents the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II as a supporter of the onomatoclasts. In actual fact, the Tsar-Martyr, having been advised by St. Elizabeth and other spiritual people, ordered the Russian Synod to overturn all the sanctions it had imposed upon the name-glorifiers, so that the name-glorifiers enjoyed unrestricted communion with the rest of the Russian Church until 1918. Documents from the supporters of the onomatoclasts have been preserved from the All-Russian Council of 1917-1918 in which they state their joy at the overthrow of the monarchy as a possibility to return the Russian Church to the Synodal Epistle of 1913. By God’s mercy, despite all the machinations of the onomatoclasts, the name-glorifiers were fully reconciled with the Holy Patriarch Tikhon in 1921. The then head of the name-glorifiers in Moscow, Igumen David, concelebrated with Patriarch Tikhon while continuing to teach name-glorifying in the churches of Moscow.

The All-Russian Council of 1917-1918 transferred to its own conciliar competence decisions concerning the essence of the conflict, but was unable to reach any decision, inasmuch as its work was forcibly ended. Therefore, as was decided in 1917, the controversy that arose at that time within the Russian Church should be resolved, if it be the will of God, by a Local Council.

One should not, for reasons of ecclesiastical intrigue, interfere in foreign theological controversies of which one has no understanding.

+Bishop Gregory of Petrograd and Gdov
November 21 / December 4, 2011
Entrance of the Most-Holy Theotokos into the Temple