An Open Letter to his Eminence, Archbishop of Canada, Sotirios
Your Eminence, on Sunday, July 5th, your flock was unexpectedly shocked and deeply grieved during Divine Liturgy, to learn that the Holy Eucharist would not be offered at all; and one week later, on July 12th, we were again shocked to learn minutes before its distribution, that the Eucharist would be offered with multiple spoons. It was also reported by various clergy during the announcement of this new directive, that in the weeks prior, you had numerous meetings with them. However, at no time did you invite any faithful laity to participate or to garner their opinion, nor did you reach out to us to forewarn us with pastoral comfort. The circulating reasons as to why you would want to keep us in the dark until the last possible moment are as numerous as they are grievous.
From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, you, your Eminence, made only two public statements: that you would follow the directives of (i) our local Government and (ii) our Patriarchate. Meanwhile, up until June 2nd, 2020, our Patriarchate made only one public statement regarding the pandemic, that each jurisdiction should follow the directives of their local government. Other than this, there was absolutely no leadership and no pastoral support of the parishes in Greece or Canada from our hierarchs. Instead, our churches were closed and with only two unwavering statements for guidance, we were abandoned to suffer completely alone, fearing for the fate of our Church, worrying about the various circulating conspiracy theories regarding our Church, fending off on our own the insults and abuses of Orthodox worship in the media, and enduring Greek government officials who took advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to silence the voice of the gospel even on the internet. These are just a few examples of the trials and tribulations we were left to endure alone. During this darkest of times, only a handful of grass roots priests and monks from across the miles, tirelessly and courageously offered pastoral and spiritual support to us by every electronic means possible. Neither you nor our Ecumenical Patriarchate gave any indication of negotiating on our behalf with government officials regarding the re-opening of churches or made any attempt to have governments classify church worship as an ‘essential’ service. A huge list of Heterodox churches petitioned the Ontario Provincial government on this matter, but sadly, the Greek Orthodox Church of Canada was not on this list.
Even worse, here in Canada, our clergy were chastised and forbidden from discussing any matters pertaining to the opening of churches and the distribution of Holy Communion with any of their parishioners during the Covid-19 crisis. This directive for silence to our clergy is in your letter to them dated June 5th 2020. Here, you make reference to the June 2, 2020 letter of our Patriarch Bartholomew. Whereas his All-Holiness Bartholomew eventually gave the Orthodox faithful his formal reassurance that the mode of distribution of the Holy Eucharist should and would not be compromised even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic (which we received like precious drops of water in the desert), you misquoted his words in your June 5th letter in order to silence our clergy.
In your letter of June 5th, you falsely state, “his All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with his respected letter dated 02/06/2020, to all the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, asks from them: ‘Avoid making statements, comments and interviews through the use of mass media and avoid engaging in other initiatives regarding the current situation.’” In fact, there is no such statement in the June 2, 2020 letter from the Patriarch.
You go on to say, your Eminence, that you “will continue not to make statements, without first obtaining instructions from our Ecumenical Patriarchate, because [you] believe that the Church is the Body of Christ. It is One and Holy. It is one family. No one should speak on their own authority (hierarchs, priests, deacons, professors or any other Orthodox Christian) regarding these very serious matters.” When our Lord and the Holy Fathers of our Church spoke of ONE church and ONE body of Christ and ONE spiritual family, and being ONE with each other and God, it was always in the context of our union with the ONE God and never in the context of taking away our spiritual freedoms or our freedom of speech.
On June 26, 2020, our Ecumenical Patriarch circulated the following statement in which he explicitly writes that two criteria are necessary to exercise any type of ‘economia’ as relates to the distribution of Holy Communion: (i) there must be a specific or national state law that prohibits Holy Communion and following this, (ii) the consent and permission of the Ecumencial Patriarchate is still required to exercise any type of ‘economia’.
Your Eminence, on Sunday July 12th, our parish priests in Ontario suddenly announced for the first time, your new directive that because of legal requirements, Holy Communion will now be distributed using multiple spoons in the Greek Orthodox churches of Canada. The phrase because of legal requirements was never provided by you in writing your Eminence. Rather, it was verbally uttered from the pulpits of the Greek Orthodox churches of Ontario by the clergy to whom you had given the verbal order.
To clarify further, in the Province of Ontario, only the City of Toronto under the jurisdiction of Mayor John Tory, has indicated in writing that all communion services should be suspended. This is not state law, as Toronto is a city and not a state. It can also be argued according to our legal sources, that this is not even law, but a recommendation or advice which requires the free cooperation of the individual since such a recommendation or advice is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Indeed, many jurisdictional public health updates which recommend the suspension of communion services, are titled, “Covid-19 Advice” or “Covid-19 Guidance”. To date, and as confirmed by MPP Christina Mitas at today’s Q&A Tour which began at the Canadian Archdiocese, there is no national Canadian or provincial Ontario (state) law that interferes with communion services, even under the Emergency Act.
Furthermore, the Toronto recommendation was to “suspend” communion and made no reference to its mode of distribution, meaning, NO communion whatsoever, not even with multiple spoons. It was further clarified at today’s Q&A Tour, a peaceful gathering of Orthodox faith confessors at the Archdiocese, that you never received any written directives from the Province of Ontario regarding the mode of distribution of Holy Communion and that such discussions were carried out verbally and over the phone.
This means, your Eminence, that in your July 15th Encyclical: Coronavirus and Holy Communion: A Chronicle of Events, your statement “I contacted the government authorities and it was decided that Holy Communion should take place as described below:” the directive to commune with multiple spoons was decided by you and you alone.
To fulfil the criteria of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the implementation of multiple communion spoons in the Greek Orthodox Churches anywhere in Canada, not only must you provide a document of National or Provincial law, which we now know does not exist, you must also demonstrate documentation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, giving you consent and permission to use multiple communion spoons, which you clearly do not have. Since, in Ontario, only Toronto churches were affected by the recommendation (not law) to suspend communion services, this patriarchial consent and permission only pertains to Toronto churches and not to all the Greek Orthodox churches of Canada. Your over-reaching and unlawful directive, however, addresses all Greek Orthodox churches in the entire country.
Your inability to provide any such documentation explains why you went to the trouble of holding multiple meetings with our clergy subsequent to May 29th, why you surprised us with last minute liturgical changes and why you deliberately misquoted our Patriarch’s letter of June 2nd to justify your chastisement of our clergy into silence. Because you have no meritorious legal or ecclesiastical basis for imposing multiple spoons on the Greek Orthodox parishes of Canada, you must use force and fear on our suffering clergy and subversive manipulation of the faithful to fulfil your agenda, which also explains why you have felt it necessary to retain a lawyer regarding this matter.
Speaking of your agenda, can you please tell us what that is? The same question was asked of Archbishop Elpidophoros in a letter posted June 15th 2020, when he introduced multiple communion spoons in the United States, and we are still waiting for his reply.
To date, besides you, Archbishop Elpidophoros is the only other hierarch who introduced multiple communion spoons in North America, and also by means of secrecy. According to the Greek News article, Archbishop Elpidophoros directed the parish priests of New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. to offer Holy Communion by using multiple metal spoons for single use during the distribution. He gave this directive in a memo dated May 18th, which was marked “for priests only” and which “should not under any circumstances be posted, shared or copied to email or social media.” His message eerily echoes your message to your clergy in your June 5th letter to them. After his introduction of multiple communion spoons with little resistance in the United States (or perhaps he ignored it), you followed suit, using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse and the complaint of a single misguided parishioner to municipal health authorities, which was blown out of proportion.
Archbishop Elpidophoros’ memo of May 18th 2020 was circulated exactly one day after both of you received our Patriarch’s May 17th letter to the Orthodox Primates which prohibited any changes to the mode of distribution of Holy Communion. However, the Patriarch’s letter was not made public until June 2nd 2020. The reasons for this delay are unclear but the delay gave Archbishop Elpidophoros enough time to implement the multiple communion spoons thereby eluding the perception of disobedience to our Ecumenical Patriarchate.
It is disappointing that our Patriarch has not removed him for his blatant disobedience but there is a plausible explanation for this apparent idiosyncrasy which we will suggest below. Is it a coincidence that the only two Archbishops of the North American continent have both of them, and with no undue pressure from their civil authorities, their clergy or the faithful, arbitrarily implemented the use of multiple communion spoons with the full knowledge that they were doing so in direct opposition to their Patriarch and with no repercussions from him?
Perhaps his All-Holiness Bartholomew is a very kind and forgiving man; or does he have a secret agenda of his own? For years now, the Orthodox world has watched Orthodox Primates make step by step progress towards ecumenism, a controversial movement which they and the Popes of Rome support. It is their ardent desire to unite with Rome and other Heterodox churches. This achievement would be most acceptable, admirable and holy, but only if Heterodox churches and other schismatics returned to the embrace of Orthodoxy, the Mother Church.
Praise be to God that we have witnessed such returns, but not so much because of the efforts of Orthodox Primates. In most cases, it is the Heterodox individual who embarks on a personal search for the Truth which leads them to the Orthodox Faith. What we have seen from many Orthodox Primates is a systematic deterioration of Orthodox practice and dogma, as with the acceptance of Heterodox baptism for example, to encourage a non-canonical union with Heterodox churches. The ultimate step, of course, would be the non-canonical sharing with them, of our Holy Chalice, in a way that did not require their conversion. After all, would it not be much easier to change our communion canons than to change the hearts and minds of all the Heterodox?
This last step would make Ecumenism complete and the Holy Orthodox Chalice could be offered, unimpeded by any dogmatic restrictions, to all persons, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. Then, everyone would be free to belong to the church of their choice, believe in the dogmas of their choice, but also participate in each other’s church services and sacraments without any impediment. What better way, then, to bring about a change to the canons regarding Holy Communion than using a virus as a pretext for altering the mode of its distribution for the ‘safety’ of the laity who in reality need no protection from the immaculate Body and Blood of Christ.
If the practice of the multiple communion spoon successfully takes root in the West – in New York and Ontario – It will only be a matter of time before the weeds spread to the remainder of the continent and across the Atlantic. The more accustomed the laity become to the multiple communion spoons, the easier it will be to gain more skeptical converts and the harder it will be for the Orthodox to go back to the Holy Tradition of the “common” element. Some hierarchs may be hoping that the reason for continuing adherence to the multiple communion spoons will gradually evolve into a more modern belief that the Eucharist may, in fact, be capable of transmitting disease. The recurring experience and knowledge that communicable diseases have never been transmitted through the common cup or spoon will eventually be forgotten. Instead, more modern scientific principles will prevail and an eventual change in dogma would be the outcome. Perhaps the Covid-19 opportunity has made it too hard to resist such a diabolical experiment on the North American Continent.
Nevertheless, this is exactly how the Popes corrupted the church in the West: by deliberately misinterpreting Holy Scripture, by fabricating documents to alter dogma, by bullying conscientious clergy into silence, and by using secrecy, coercion and even inquisitions. The tragic end result of this corruption is well known as it led to the Protestant Reformation and culminated in the ecclesiological modifications of the second Vatican council of 1962.
But what is the position of our Patriarchate? After two letters stressing that the mode of distributing Holy Communion should not change, the third made an exception for extenuating circumstances for the sake of ‘economia’. The problem, however, is that our Patriarch has not enforced what he has written, not with Archbishop Elpidophoros and not with you, your Eminence since both of you are still occupying your posts. Instead, our Patriarch barely objected to the disobedience you both showed. One may wonder if this could have something to do with his close relationship with the Pope of Rome.
One may also wonder if our Patriarch, himself, wishes to introduce the multple communion spoons but rightly considers that doing so may be too risky in Greece where there is a much larger and more concentrated Orthodox population which would probably be up in arms if he dared introduce this concept there. The attempt would run a very high risk of a very quick failure. In North America, however, the climate is, literally and figuratively, very different. Our Orthodox people are greatly outnumbered by other faiths and creeds and most of the Orthodox here are immigrants or descended from immigrants. In other words, they are generally either sufficiently poorly educated or sufficiently immersed in the North American culture so as to pose a much smaller threat to the success of such a hypothetical, but diabolical scheme – the scheme to use North America as the experimental ground for the introduction of the common communion spoon and eventually, the shared chalice. If accepted, this type of ecumenism will destroy Holy Orthodoxy, but will render much greater power to the new hierarchs of a non-canonically united global church with all its secular perks.
At this point, you may once again characterize us as ”self-destructive…extremists…so willingly ready to inflict harm.” The truth is, that if there are such people, they are not us. Just like the Covid-19 virus has uncovered the hearts and minds of a great many people, time will also reveal who the destructive extremists really are. We hope and pray that this will not be you, your Eminence.
We also hope that we are very wrong about our Holy Patriarch Bartholomew. If we are wrong, please realize that you and Archbishop Elpidophoros have, by your covert methods and unlawful actions, given rise to the grievous fears and postulations we have outlined here in this letter. The two of you have cast a shadow of mistrust and defamation upon our Holy Patriarch by impaling the hearts and souls of Orthodox believers with your arbitrary heresy of multiple communion spoons.
Your speedy removals as Archbishops will be the only satisfactory proof that his All-Holiness Bartholomew is innocent of such allegations and is a right and true Orthodox leader.
Irene Polidoulis MD, CCFP, FCFP
cc His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew
cc His Eminence Archbishop Elpidoforos