"It is not possible to teach the word of truth completely
if one thinks that he has the right Faith, but is not
guided by the divine Canons." (St. Theodore the Studite,
Dear Fr. John (Whiteford) et al,
On many past occasions, Father, you and others have
forcefully asserted that the *only* legitimate and
Canonical reason for leaving one's Bishop is *heresy*
However, it appears that you have overlooked the example
of St. Theodore the Studite and St. Platon of Sakkoudion
in this connection. St. Theodore and St. Platon (as you
may recall), broke Communion with their Bishop (St. Tarasios
of Constantinople, who presided over the Seventh Ecumenical
Council), solely on the basis of St. Tarasios' Canonical
*inaction,* and for no heresy whatsoever.
This event was known as the "Moechian Controversy."
In 795, Emperor Constantine VI, who wished to marry his
mother Irene's lady-in-waiting, Theodota, divorced his
wife Maria and forced her to enter a convent. St.
Tarasios was opposed to this adulterous union, and refused
to give it his blessing. However, he failed to take
disciplinary action against Joseph, the Oikonomos (Steward)
of Hagia Sophia and Abbot of the Kathara Monastery, who
performed the wedding, which many churchmen, among them St.
Theodore, considered uncanonical. St. Tarasios tried to
have the marriage annulled, but was unable, for the Emperor
threatened to restore the Iconoclast heresy if he forbade the
marriage. St. Theodore and St. Platon of Sakkoudion, his
spiritual Father and one of the Fathers of the Seventh
Ecumenical Council, resisted the unlawful union and BROKE
COMMUNION WITH PATRIARCH TARASIOS OVER HIS INACTION in the
face of such disregard for Canonical order. They suffered
exile and imprisonment for two years, until Empress Irene
seized the throne in 797 and recalled them from banishment.
The controversy stirred again in 806 when, at the request
of Emperor Nicephoros I, the new Patriarch St. Nicephoros I
rehabilitated the erring Abbot Joseph as a reward for his
efforts in mediating a revolt some three years earlier.
St. Theodore and his monks, together with his brother,
Archbishop Joseph of Thessalonica, BROKE COMMUNION WITH
THE PATRIARCH. For this act of resistance, they were
condemned by a Synod in 809 and sent into exile again.
Peace was restored when in 811, Emperor Michael I Rangabe
brought St. Theodore and his disciples back from exile and
had Joseph of Kathara deposed.
Neither of these cases involved a matter of heresy. Rather,
St. Theodore, St. Platon, and Archbishop Joseph, broke
Communion with their lawful Bishop when their Bishop acted
in a manner contrary to the holy Canons--period.
Were they wrong to do so? It seems to me that either you are
mistaken, Father, and one may indeed lawfully break Communion
with one's Bishop on the basis of his uncanonical actions or
inactions (in which case St. Theodore and St. Platon serve
as an example of God-pleasing Orthodox resistance to
uncanonical disorder), or you must hold that St. Theodore
and St. Platon erred and were schismatics.
It is worthy of consideration, I think, to ask: What would
these Saints have done in our own day? What would they have
done if their Bishop and Synod entered into Union with a
Church whose Hierarchs are in full Communion with open
confessors of heresy, and with those who unilaterally
introduce uncanonical and divisive innovations into the
Church? What would St. Theodore have done if his Bishop not
only failed to oppose *one* uncanonical marriage, or allowed
*one* deposed Clergyman to be reinstated, but even failed
to act when Bishops of other Local Churches Synodally
recognized divine Grace in heretical Baptism (such as
the Hierarchs of Antioch and Alexandria have done)? What
would these Saints have done if their Bishop failed to act
when a Local Church, in direct violation of the Ecumenical
Canons, abandoned the Orthodox Paschalion (as the Church
of Finland has done), and instead adopted the Paschalion
of heretics, thus rendering themselves liable to deposition?
What would these Saints have done if their Bishop failed
to act when a Patriarch unilaterally "lifted" Anathemas
rightly decreed and received by the whole Church against
unrepentant and ever-increasingly heretical schismatics
(as the Patriarch of Constantinople has done)? I myself
have no doubt that men like St. Theodore and St. Platon
would have broken Communion with their Bishop if faced
with such grave uncanonical disorder--such culpable
inaction whose grievousness far exceeds that of one
unlawful marriage, or one reinstatement of a deposed
Apostolic Canon XXXI does *not* say that a Priest can only
leave his Bishop for reasons of heresy alone. It says those
who leave their Bishop are guilty if they leave "without
finding anything wrong with the Bishop IN POINT OF PIETY
AND RIGHTEOUSNESS." Apparently, St. Theodore and St. Platon
believed Canonical *inaction* to be a matter "of piety and
righteousness" fully worthy of breaking Communion with one's