Holy Metropolis of Pisidia
Exarchate of Side and Attaleia
To the Holy Clergy and Christ-following Faithful of our Holy Metropolis
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:
The Apostle Paul exhorts bishops to, “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has put you as bishops to shepherd the Church of God, which he obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28). Similarly, our Lord said, “The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sake of his flock” (John 10:11). In my effort to respond faithfully to my duties as your bishop and spiritual father, one of my responsibilities is to watch carefully and to preserve the unity and peaceful spiritual progress of my flock, which the Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, entrusted to me.
Some of you, being unfamiliar with the Church’s ecclesiastical structure, have expressed concerns and questions about the recent decisions of the Patriarchate of Moscow and how these decisions may affect you, the residents of Attaleia who belong ecclesiastically to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. For this reason, I offer the following encyclical letter.
All Orthodox Christians believe in “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed). This One Church includes members of all nations, without any discrimination or distinction. St. Paul writes that, in the Church of Christ, there are no racial or ethnic differences, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
This One Church (that is, the Orthodox Church, which preserves unchanged to this day the dogmatic and ethical teachings of Christ and the Apostles) has extended unto all the earth’s continents in accordance with the Lord’s commandment, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). From the time of the Apostles, baptized Christians in every location would assemble and constitute the local Church. In order to minister to the needs of the faithful, celebrate the holy sacraments (Holy Communion, etc,), and secure the unity of the local Church in every city, the Apostles ordained and put in place one local Bishop. This bishop would take the name of that city; for example, Linus Bishop of Rome, Iakovos Bishop of Jerusalem, Ignatios Bishop of Antioch, Mark Bishop of Alexandria, etc. In addition, each local church took the name of the local city, not of the ethnicity of the people. For this reason, St. Paul sends his Epistles to the local churches that he had established, calling them by the name of the city in which they are located. For example, he writes, “To the Church of God that is in Corinth…” (1 Cor 1:2) or “To the members of the Church of Thessalonika…” (1 Thess. 1:1), and so on.
From that time on, the local Bishop had the absolute responsibility for the spiritual guidance of the faithful of his diocese and no one else. No matter who he is, a bishop never has the right to interfere in the internal affairs of another diocese without the knowledge of the local bishop; for example, it is not allowed for any bishop, Metropolitan, or Patriarch to enter another diocese and celebrate a Divine Liturgy or do anything else without the local bishop’s awareness and permission, neither does he have the authority to give sermons to the faithful or give some other form of spiritual guidance to them unless the local bishop knows about and allows it. The same guidelines apply for priests, deacons, readers, and chanters. Consequently, neither the clergy nor the laity of a local community are obligated to follow the directions of outside bishops, Metropolitans, or Patriarchs but only to follow the guidance of their own local hierarch. This is the ecclesiastical order that has been preserved and guarded by the One Holy Orthodox Church, grounded in the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, and this is how the Church remains united throughout history.
Therefore, my beloved spiritual children, for those of you who belong to the Holy Metropolis of Pisidia and the Exarchate of Attaleia and Side no outside Bishop, Metropolitan, or Patriarch has any right to go around or behind the back of your local Metropolitan and to give you orders—or issue threats—regarding which church you should attend and where you should receive Holy Communion. None of these hierarchs has any authority over you before Christ and His One Holy Church. If you were to disregard such prohibitions and directions, you are not culpable and should not feel any guilt. Those who have high ecclesiastical rank are the ones who are responsible, and guilty before God, for trying—through uncanonical acts and threats—to pull you away from the Church and from your priest and Bishop, telling you neither to go to confession nor to receive Holy Communion. Acts such as these give joy only to the Anti-Christ, who fights Christ and His Church. All reasonable people are harmed deeply by such satanic efforts.
If such foreign bishops wish to defend their actions with the excuse that they direct their opposition not to all the Orthodox people of Attaleia, or other local churches, but only to the people of their own ethnic heritage, then they are, in truth, violating the decisions of the Great and Holy Councils, which have repeatedly condemned ethnophyletism as a heresy. Every hierarch has authority only within his own diocese. No bishop has the right to extend his authority beyond the borders of his local church and to demand that Christians who belong to other local dioceses, metropolises, and patriarchates must obey whatever they say because they share the same ethnic background.
More specifically, on the matter of ethnophyletism, the Great Orthodox Council of 1872, grounded in the canon law and the tradition of the Church, condemned ethnophyletism unequivocally, seeing that it is a heresy that undercuts the ecclesiological foundation of Christian faith. The Great Council of 1872 proclaimed that the criterion of “ethnicity” (note #1) goes against Church structure because, both by dogma and by governance, it harms the unity of the local Church. Given that the local Church is determined by geographical criteria—not racial or ethnic criteria—using ethnicity becomes a source of schism, the very opposite of the ecclesiastical fact manifested in the members’ sharing the sacrament of Holy Communion united under the person of the one Bishop of each diocese (note #2). [See the records of the Great Synod (#1) Mansi, Vol. 45 Columns 423 and (#2) 430].
These synodal decisions were accepted by the Orthodox faithful throughout the world and all who serve the Church should know, and recognize, and practice them, so as not to fall into the heresy of ethnophyletism, which destroys the unity of the Holy Church of Christ.
My beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, as your local Metropolitan, I love you all and accept all Orthodox faithful of all ethnic backgrounds into our Metropolis and our parishes which, as you know, we have established through many sacrifices. As in the past, our priests continue to celebrate the Divine Liturgies and to offer all the other ministries of our Church in the local parishes. No one should feel any guilt for continuing, as in the past, to attend church in Attaleia and Alania. On the contrary, continuing to attend church services and activities will bring joy to Christ, to the Holy Theotokos, to the Apostle Paul, St. Alypios, and all the other local saints, who welcome you into their holy places of worship. The only ones who will feel sorry will be the demons and those who cooperate with them in knowledge or in ignorance.
Whoever feels ambivalent about what to do should pray and then decide: Do you desire to please Christ or people? St. Paul said, “If I were still serving people, I would not be a servant of God” (Galatians 1:10).
I conclude my letter with love and the exhortation of St. Paul, “My brothers and sisters, rejoice, progress, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of peace will be with you.” (2 Cor.. 13:11).
With Warm Paternal Prayers and Blessings
+ Metropolitan Sotirios of Pisidia
Exarch of Attaleia and Side