(Hieromonk Gregory /Lourie/)


Forty Martyrs of Sebastia, 2001.

Dear Vladimir,

I completely agree with you that all questions should be reviewed unhurriedly. Therein lies half the success.

First of all, let us formulate a general principle for the consideration of decisions by ecclesiastical authorities that relate to dogmatic questions. I believe we can agree on the following:

If a decision made by an ecclesiastical authority in any instance contains heretical opinions, there cannot be any possibility of its mandatory character in the disciplinary sense (this is especially evident in cases of known and previously condemned heresies, inasmuch as the fifteenth rule of the Double Council is applicable here).

In responding to your questions, I will review the decisions mentioned by you both in their essence (from the point of view of their theological content) and in their formal aspect of canonicity (without, as it were, taking into consideration the dogmatic content of the dispute).

In the preamble to your questions you mention “imiaslavie, i.e., the teaching that the Name of God is God Himself.” I would like, in advance, to call your attention to the fact that not everyone that considered themselves imiaslavtsy adhered to the same teaching.  As you well know, the statement “the Name of God is God” can be found in the writings of St. John of Kronstadt, whom no one dared to judge, as well as in P. A. Florenskii, who thought himself an imiaslavets, but was very far from Fr. Antonii Bulatovich (and, I may add, from the teachings of the Church). Let us therefore agree for the future to speak only about the teaching of Fr. Antonii Bulatovich, which was condemned in all the documents you mention.

Let us turn to each document individually.

1. Decision by the Athonite Kinot of Feb. 2, 1913.

This contains absolutely no dogmatic content (it only mentions that the explanations of the former abbot of St. Andrew’s Skete were accepted by the Kinot as Orthodox; however, nothing is said either specifically about Orthodox teaching or about the heresy ascribed to the imiaslavtsy).

From the canonical standpoint, however, the decision made by the Kinot is completely inadequate.  The Kinot declared the imiaslavtsy as “ill-praising” not after, but before the “investigation and definition” of the Great Church and, based on that declaration, subjected the imiaslavtsy to ecclesiastical suspension (prohibition from performing all rites). But the Kinot had no right to pronounce punishment, because it had no right of court (and punishments can be declared only by a court); a priest can be tried only by a council of seven bishops, one of whom should be his ruling hierarch (i.e., for Athos, the Patriarch).  See Carthage rules 12 and 29. Even if a contradiction can be seen between the rules of the Carthage Council and rule 4 of the Antioch Council, [1] still the position that a priest cannot be punished without a bishop remains true. Thus, the suspension by the Kinot could not have had any authority, since it was made up entirely without a bishop’s participation.

This is the formal side of the question.  Informally, however, it is well known that precisely in 1913 the idea of transferring Athos under Greek authority was discussed (until then Athos had maintained an international status, belonging to no state), and Russian monks were the only among all its inhabitants to resist this transfer.  It was specifically the history of imiaslavie, exaggerated by the pro-Greek rulers of Athos, that gave grounds for neutralizing the Russians, after which the transfer of Athos to Greece was a fait accompli (which predestined the tendency to transform Athos into a Greek, rather than an international, monastic republic). Under such circumstances it was difficult to expect objectivity from the Athonite Kinot.

2. Condemnation of the Imiaslavtsy by the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The dogmatic content of this document is defined by the response of the theological school on the Island of Halki quoted by the Patriarch.  I will mention this response below.

In accordance with the canons, specifically the Patriarch and his Synod should have tried the imiaslavtsy.  In this case, however, judicial procedure was severely disrupted.  The only one tried was Igumen David, who did not understand Greek and was required to renounce “pantheism” without ever having heard this word previously. The correct judicial procedure, which Fr. Antonii Bulatovich was preparing to face while in St. Petersburg by making the necessary arrangements with the government and Ministry of International Affairs, was spoiled through the efforts of Mr. Girs, the Russian Ambassador in Constantinople. Any of these violations (e.g., the absence of the primary defendants, the absence of interpreters) would have been sufficient to declare invalid such an in absentia heresy trial.  According to Carthage 29, the trial of a clergyman is based on the same general rules as the trial of a bishop and, according to Carthage 28 et al., a court in absentia is possible only if the defendant refuses to appear.

Another violation was that the Patriarch’s court did not begin with the repeal of the illegal decision of the Kinot, which was subservient to it.

2.1 The Response of the Theological School on the Island of Halki.

The response contains the authors’ admittance that they had not been able to study Fr. Antonii Bulatovich’s “Apology” sent to them (which was then the foundational doctrinal document of the imiaslavtsy) owing to a “lack of time.” Their response was compiled based on coincidental evidence that they themselves list as follows: “some other Russian and Greek manuscripts and printed media offered for review by, or send to, the Holy Synod, in the form of confessions and also in the form of instruction and teaching” (cited in: Sviatoe Pravoslavie i imenobozhnicheskaia eres’ [Holy Orthodoxy and the Name-Worshipping Heresy]. Harkov, 1916. p.33). As a contemporary Greek historian of this case, K. Papulidis, writes, only one among all the Halki theologians who signed the response could read Russian; thus there could have been no possibility of the Greek theologians truly studying the arguments provided by the imiaslavtsy.

The response reads as follows: “Their teaching about the divinity of the name of Jesus, however central, is not limited to this name only, but is related to the divine names in Revelation generally. (…) Basing themselves on the Church’s well-known definition attributing Divinity to the nature, and consequently to God’s attributes and energies, they conclude that the name Jesus, just as any revealed name in general, not only indicates the attribute and the energy of God, but is itself energy and is itself God.  It is superfluous to state that such a conclusion is indeed in agreement with the idea they had formed about divine names as energies of God, but this very opinion, that they are the energies of God – this is novel and vain” (Ibid., 33–35).

It is evident from this response that the teaching of the imiaslavtsy was accepted as logical and internally non-contradictory; however, they deny the opinion that the energy of God is, as it were, a name.  However, it is always important to understand the sense in which names and energies can be differentiated, and the sense in which names and energies may be identified.  It is clear that for the theologians of Halki, the latter is impossible in any sense.

The patristic teaching about names as energies is presented in a special treatise that in the times of Sts. Theodore the Studite and Gregory Palamas stood immediately after the New Testament in terms of authority.  This was The Divine Names by St. Dionysius the Areopagite (unfortunately, by the beginning of the century, there was no Russian translation of this treatise in existence, and even the imiaslavtsy in Russia did not know it well).  The entire tract is dedicated to different energies of God (e.g., “peace,” “goodness,” “unity,” “motion”) as names, which gives the name to the entire treatise. In the beginning of the treatise, a theoretical definition of names (“divine names,” in the terminology of the Areopagite) as energies (“good-doing” or “beneficent,” in his terminology) is given:

These common and united distinctions, or rather the blessed emanations of the whole divinity we try to praise, to the best of our ability, from the names of God in the Oracles [i.e., the Holy Scriptures] that reveal them — first having laid down, as was already said, that every beneficent Name of God, to whichever of the supremely divine hypostases it may be applied, must be understood as pertaining to the whole supremely divine wholeness without exception. (St. Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names 2.11.)

What is being discussed here (in this case, of no interest to us) is the possibility of naming the hypostases of the Holy Trinity (the “divisions” and “processions” mentioned here pertain specifically to the hypostases). However, something said here is also of direct importance to us: the names (“divine names”) that are ascribed to the hypostases of the Holy Trinity in the Divine Scriptures (the author means the Old and the New Testaments) are not simply “revelatory” names of God, but names which reveal Him in action: these names themselves are called “beneficent” (if you prefer, this can also be translated as “good-energizing”). The name is here literally said to be capable of action.  I shall underscore that the discussion here is about the name itself, and not about anything else that is contained within the name and capable of action. Thus, it is in some sense correct to equate name and energy, since it is the usual language of the Holy Fathers that we very often see used in practice, and in this case we see a theoretical definition as well.

The meaning of this definition is that God simultaneously supersedes any and all naming and is nameable.  This does not mean to say that in God one “part” (let us say, the essence) is not nameable, and another one (let us say, the energy) is nameable, because such a view would disrupt the divine simplicity, i.e., the absence of “complexity” in God (His being put together of different “parts”).  Specifically the essence of God itself is not nameable as such, but it is nameable through its energies, each of which becomes its name (compare I Peter 1:4, where it is said that we shall become “partakers of the divine nature,” but the nature cannot be participated in other than through the energies).  It is obvious that in this sense the understanding of the name of God in general does not include in itself anything created – so, for example, the divine uncreated light which (according to all the Fathers), being one of the names of God, is at the same time also not something created.  Such a definition of the name of God does not contradict another definition, which by “name” implies an idea that exists in a created mind.  Of course, names in this sense cannot be equated with energies, but it would be correct to say that energies are present in names.  (I am not speaking about the fact that sounds and letters can be understood as “names,” for that is already a third meaning.)

One more quotation (from Sts. Kallistos and Ignatios Xanthopoulos, who in turn quote other Fathers), in which the name of God is understood as the “action (energy) of the Holy Spirit” is shown below, in part

It is obvious that the wording of the Halki theologians does not leave room for similar patristic citations. At the very least, it could be viewed as unfortunate, and their reply as a whole as insufficiently representative of patristic doctrine and, at the same time, insufficiently considerate of the teaching of the imiaslavtsy criticized in it.  (It is quite possible that the Halki theologians were ascribing some crass theological error to the imiaslavtsy.)

Nor can the reply of the Halki school be considered an authoritative reply by an Orthodox theological school. Very few years would pass before precisely this school – with the same faculty and led by the same Metropolitan Germanos of Selevkia who, as the school’s supervising authority, signed the reply of 1913 – would produce the famous heretical encyclical of Metropolitan Dorotheos of Brussia (1920).  


Thus, regarding the condemnation of the imiaslavtsy by the Patriarch of Constantinople, we finally arrive at our conclusion:

This condemnation is valid neither for formal reasons (such as the severe disruptions of judicial procedure), nor for theological reasons as well (it is based on an inexact and perhaps even completely un-Orthodox reply by a theological institution that was moreover famous for its heretical views in regard to another theological issue).

3. The Documents of the Pre-Revolutionary Synod.

While addressing these documents one should remember that the very attempt to decide the fate of the Athonite monks by the authorities of a local Church to which they did not belong (i.e., the Russian Church) was not canonical.  

It goes without saying that any local Church has the right to form a judgment in regard to any theological opinion. However, it was the fate of specific persons – many of whom belonged to the clergy – that was decided in 1913, which the authorities of just any local Church cannot do.

The holy canons generally do not foresee a judicial procedure for a clergyman in which his ruling hierarch would not be present among the judges. An exception would be the case where the accused clergyman uses his power to veto precisely against his ruling hierarch (Carthage 29).

Thus the Patriarch of Constantinople had no right to hand over the trial of Athonite monks to the Russian Synod; and the Russian Synod, basing itself on the Patriarch’s illegal decision, had no right to begin the trial of clergymen from another local Church.

The holy canons make no mention of the forced transfer of clergymen and monks from the jurisdiction of one local Church to another as a punishment.

The violation of these norms of canon law represents the specifically “canonical” side of that blatant lawlessness that turned into the entire “Athonite route” of 1913 (when the authoritative, albeit canonically insignificant, rules of the Holy Mountain, Vatopedi monastery, and St. Andrew’s Skete were trespassed against, along with many norms of civil law). The arguments that the imiabortsy brought in defense of their position (that the Patriarch supposedly had the right to transfer the power of deciding the fate of the imiaslavtsy to the hands of the Russian Synod) were completely devoid of reference to the holy canons, and thus openly ignored canon law.            

These considerations should suffice to repudiate all suspensions of the Athonite imiaslavtsy that later would be imposed on them by the Russian ecclesiastical authority.  Even if in 1910 both sides were giving little consideration to that aspect of the problem, this does not in the least diminish its importance when we are viewing this case from the canonical, and not purely historical, point of view.  This could be ignored only by being led into the temptation of a phyletistic [ethnocentric] understanding of the borders of local Churches (in which case, naturally, Russian monks and clergymen belong under the jurisdiction of the Russian, and not the Greek, Synod).

Having made this preliminary note, we will, as it were, ignore it in the following; we shall evaluate the decisions of the Russian ecclesiastical authority as if it were a question that fell within its jurisdiction.

3.1 The Subscription of the Russian Synod to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s Decision (1913).

What is meant here is the Epistle of the Russian Synod that contained not only agreement with the decree of the Patriarch of Constantinople, but also an attempt at an independent ecclesiastical investigation.

Ecclesiastical juridical procedure was severely disrupted in this case as well.  The trial was reduced to only one defendant being spoken to by one layman alone, namely S. Troitskii.  None of the defendants was present at the trial, and Fr. Ilarion (the author of the book Na gorakh Kavkaza [In the Mountains of the Caucasus] found out about himself and his book having been tried only post factum.  There was no mention at all of allowing the defendants to exercise their right to recall the judges (on April 20, 1913, the imiaslavtsy filed a petition with the Synod to recall Archbishop Antonii Khrapovitskii from their trial “as a person participating in the matter”; in accordance with Rule 29 of Carthage, the Synod was required to approve this petition, but they left it without notice), and thus it happened that the imiaslavtsy were judged by the very same hierarchs whom they were accusing of heresy.

Such trial procedure cannot, under any circumstances, be accepted as valid.  However, in our case the situation is even worse because the Synod maintained a teaching in its decree (the text of which was developed by Archbishop Sergii Stragorodskii) that was quite obviously in disaccord with Orthodoxy.

3.1.1 The Doctrinal Content of the Synod’s Epistle of 1913. [2]

A whole series of dogmatic statements in this epistle corresponds to teachings that were at various times condemned by the Orthodox Church.

It should be noted that the publication of the Synod’s epistle was accompanied by the publication of the three reports that had provided the initial basis for the epistle. The theological views of the authors of these lectures are quite different from one other, as well as from the Synod’s epistle, despite their similarity in fundamental dogmatic errors. We shall, however, review below only the text of the Synod’s epistle, since only it has value as an official document rather than a private opinion, and since you have asked me about this one only.

The epistle repeats the thesis of the Halki theologians that the names of God are in no way the energy of God.  However, in contrast to its Greek predecessors, it does not stop at this incorrect definition, but develops its own teaching about the energies of God. The Heresy of Barlaam.

The Synodal Definition states:

St. Gregory taught that the name Divinity can be applied not only to the essence of God, but to His energy, or energies, i.e., Divine attributes (...) with which God reveals Himself outwardly and, in such manner, taught that one should employ the word Divinity in a somewhat broader sense than is common (...) the saint never names the energies God, but teaches that one should call them Divine (not but ). (…) The word God indicates Personhood [Lichnost’], while Divinity indicates attribute, quality, or nature. In such a way, even if one recognizes the Name of God as His energy, even then one may call It [the Name] only Divine, but not God, and especially not God Himself, as do these new teachers” (Tserkovnye Vedomosti [Church News] # 20, 1913. p. 280–281).

According to this statement:

1. The term “divinity” usually refers only to the “being” (essence) of God.

2. By applying the term “divinity” to the energies as well, St. Gregory Palamas has used this word “in a somewhat broader sense than is common,” including in it something that is not God (i.e., God’s energies).

3. God’s energies are not God, and are not called God by the Holy Fathers.

Such a teaching about God’s energy – as if it were not God – stands under the anathema of the Orthodox Council of Constantinople, 1351, and under the anathema against the Barlaamites from the Synodikon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

By 1913, it was known to the imiaslavtsy that the imiabortsy were accusing them of Barlaamism, quoting specifically the anathemas mentioned.  This decision of the Council anathemizes those who refuse to accept God’s energies as “divinity” (or “divine”), [3] and thus energies are accepted as “divinity” by the Synodal epistle of 1913.  However, an unexpected move is made: it is declared that “divinity” is not God, except if by this word the essence of God is meant.

Thus, for resolving the question about whether the Synod’s definition falls under the anathema of Barlaamites, it must be clarified whether “divinity” is God Himself in the same sense as God’s energies are called by this term (“divinity”).

I shall immediately mention that in the fourteenth century even the Barlaamites themselves would not have doubted this.  However, here is a quotation:

“Every [divine)] power or energy is God Himself.”


(St. Gregory Palamas, Hagiou Gregoriou tou Palama Syggrammata II [Epistle to John of Gavra] (Thessalonica, 1966) 340. 12–13).

There is absolutely no sense in multiplying such quotations (e.g., see one more in the next paragraph; I also recommend specifically one work of St. Gregory Palamas, On the Deifying Communion).  It is sufficiently clear that those Fathers who formulated the anathemas against Barlaam understood them to mean that “divineness” and “energy” were considered as precisely “God Himself.”  They proclaimed specifically that which the Synod’s epistle rejects.  Thus, a conclusion is inevitable about the heresy of Barlaamism – such a heresy that accepts as God only the divine essence (while either equating it with the energy or, as it was done in the Synod’s epistle, denying the divine energies as being God) – as being present in this epistle. The Heresy of Eunomius.

Further, I shall include a quotation from St. Gregory Palamas that shall allow one to see yet another heresy, not less than Barlaamism, in the text of the Synod’s epistle:

“In addition, the Holy Fathers affirm unanimously that it is impossible to find a name to manifest the nature of the uncreated Trinity, but that the names belong to the energies. ‘The divinity’ also designates an energy, that of moving or contemplating or burning, or else it indicates the ‘deification-in-itself’ But He Who is beyond every name is not identical with what He is named; for the essence and energy of God are not identical. But if the divinity of God designates the divine energy par excellence, and if the energies are, as you say, created, the divinity of God must also be created! However, it is not only uncreated, but unoriginate.” (St. Gregory Palamas, Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts 3.2.10.)

Here, a claim is made about energies and “divinity” as uncreated; but, as we know, nothing can be uncreated apart from the Creator, i.e., apart from God.  In addition, St. Gregory writes here that the “nature” (and this is the same as “being” or “essence”) of God has no name at all (except, obviously, other than through energy).

The Synod’s epistle, in contrast, assigns the name of “divinity” (in a “usual” sense) only to the essence of God, contrasting it to the energy, which is not God.  Thus, the epistle assumes the possibility of naming God’s essence (at the very least, by the name of “divinity”) apart from God’s energy. 

However, apart from the energy, the essence of God is not at all nameable, as we just have heard from St. Gregory Palamas and, most importantly, as was written many times by the Holy Fathers (Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom), while attacking Eunomius.

Eunomius was of the opinion that the essence of God can both be known and named.  To which St. Basil the Great wrote: “There is not one name which, as it were, while encompassing the entire essence of God, would be sufficient to express it completely. (…) What superiority of those bragging that they know the essence of God! (…) Even to His saints, God has not revealed His name, and even less has He revealed His essence, what it is.  For He says, ‘I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name LORD I was not known to them’ (Ex. 6:3) – and did not reveal it, obviously, because it is higher than any human hearing can contain.  However, it seems to Eunomius that God has shown not only His name, but even His very essence. (…) [H]e does not allow for the very essence of God to be higher than all reason and higher than all human knowledge.” (Against Eunomius. Book 1.)

If the statement about “divinity” being the name of God’s essence in the Synod’s epistle would be at least accompanied by a statement (or at least an implication) about the essence of God being inseparable from the uncreated energy of God which is also God Himself, then this thought of the epistle would be Orthodox (it would have had the meaning that the essence of God, un-nameable in itself, can be named “divinity” through God’s energies, which by themselves are called “divinity” as well). But the Synod claimed the opposite, separating God’s energies from God’s essence so sharply that it completely declined to accept the energies as God.  And this is already heresy.

Thus, this statement of the Synod’s epistle – about the “essence” of God having a name (regardless of what name it might be, including that of “divinity”) in another way than through its energies – is the Eunomian heresy.

Such Eunomianism is an anticipated result of Barlaamism, for Barlaam was known to fall prey to this himself. The Heresy of Iconoclasm.

The Synod’s definition states: “The untruth of the new dogma [i.e., imiaslavie] is evidenced, finally, by those conclusions which are made from it by its adherents, in particular, Fr. Bulatovich in his ‘Apology.’  According to him, it seems that an icon, as well as the sign of the cross, as well as the very ecclesiastical sacraments, are all valid only because the Name of God is either depicted or invoked on them during their performance.” (Tserkovnye Vedomosti [Church News], p. 283).

These words are in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Seventh Ecumenical Council as well as to that of the Holy Fathers who defended the veneration of icons.

The iconoclasts objected:

“The impious establishment of the falsely-named icons has no basis in the tradition of Christ, the Apostles, or the Fathers; there is also no sacred prayer which sanctifies them to change them from everyday objects to holy ones; but they forever remain everyday items.”

The Council replied:

“Let them, too, hear the truth.  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.” Vol. 4.) [4]


“The name ‘Christ’ designates divinity and humanity, the two perfect natures of the Savior.  Thus in that nature in which He made Himself visible, it is according to that same nature that Christians learned to depict His icon, and not according to the one in which He is invisible; the latter is not depictable, for even in the Gospel we learn that no one has ever seen God (I John 4:12). Thus, when Christ is artistically depicted in human nature it is obvious that Christians confess, as the truth itself demonstrates, that a visible icon has communion with the prototype only according to name, but not according to essence.” (Ibid., Vol. 3.) [5]


“‘Christ’ is a name that designates two natures, one visible, the other invisible.  Through this curtain, i.e., through the flesh, people have seen Christ Himself.  Although His divine nature was concealed, He revealed it through His signs.  – Therefore, the holy Church of God (…) presents to people the very same visible image, without dividing Christ, as they idly slander it.  An icon, of course, has communion with the prototype only in name, and not according to very essence. (…) The Church (…) does not separate His flesh from the divinity united with it; on the contrary, it believes that the flesh is deified and confesses it as one with the Divinity, in accordance with the teaching of the great Gregory the Theologian and with truth. (…) We, making an icon of the Lord, confess the Lord’s flesh as being deified, and recognize the icon as nothing other than an icon representing an image of the prototype.  That is why the icon receives the very name of the Lord; only through this is it in communion with Him as well; and for the same reason, it is venerable and holy.” (Ibid., Vol. 6). [6]

Here is what St. John of Damascus writes: [7]

“Either do away with reverence and veneration for all these or submit to the tradition of the Church and allow the veneration of images of God and friends of God, sanctified by name and therefore overshadowed by the grace of the divine Spirit.” (Treatise 1.26; p. 12 [English edition, tr. by Louth, Treatise 1.16.]) [8]

“Divine grace is given to material things through the name borne by what is depicted.” (Treatise 1, Comment on St. Basil’s On the Holy Spirit; p. 26 = p. 66 [English edition, Treatise 1.36].

The imiabortsy accused the imiaslavtsy of allegedly making God “dependent on man” (Tserkovnye Vedomosti [Church News]) p.279) because if God is always present in His Name, then even if a person without faith calls upon God’s Name in vain, then “God allegedly is required to be present in His grace with this person” (ibid.). Therefore the Definition is opposed to the statement of the imiaslavtsy that the “Name Jesus omnipotently performs miracles as the result of Divinity present in it,” stating as if in contradiction: “The Name of God can only work miracles upon the condition of faith” (Tserkovnye Vedomosti [Church News], p.283).  But these two statements in no way contradict one other.

St. Theodore the Studite writes this about the veneration of an icon:

“One must with fear and reverence approach and venerate it, for the veneration transfers to Christ; and 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.)

It is obvious that one who approaches without faith does not receive sanctification and will not see miracles (although even this is not always so, for there are known cases when God, by His miracles instructs non-believers and those mocking the icons and His Name); but this does not at all mean that the grace (i.e., God’s energy or divinity) is not always present in the icon.  The same is true in regards to the Name of God.

Thus, the Synod’s Definition does not only deny the real presence of God in the names of God, but also, by denying the fact that icons are sanctified by the name of God, does not leave open the possibility of understanding how the real presence of God can be realized in an icon. This constitutes the heresy of iconoclasm.

The next dogmatic error reflected in the Synod’s epistle stands very close to the heresy of iconoclasm.                   Incorrect Teaching About the Performance of Sacraments.

In the Synod’s definition it is stated that the Name of God “can also perform miracles, but not by itself, not as the result of some Divine power seemingly forever enclosed in it,” and that the “holy sacraments are performed neither by the faith of the celebrant, nor by the faith of their recipient, and also not by the invocation or depiction of the Name of God; but by the prayer and faith of the holy Church, in whose person they are performed, and on the authority of the Lord’s promise” (Tserkovnye Vedomosti [Church News]), p. 285).

This is also unheard of in Orthodox doctrine.  Here is what St. John of Damascus says on this subject:

“[T]he very bread itself and the wine are changed into God’s Body and Blood.  But if you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit. (…) And we know nothing further save that the Word of God is true and energizes and is omnipotent, but the manner of this cannot be searched out. (…) [T]he bread of the table and the water and wine are supernaturally changed by the invocation and presence of the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ.” (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4.13.)

Here, the invocation of God is specifically mentioned (compare to the Synod’s epistle: “not by the invocation or depiction of the Name of God”), but nothing is said in the entire chapter about the “faith of the Church.”

We shall note that the iconoclasts’ teaching about the performance of ecclesiastical sacraments was also distorted, so that the appearance of such an error in the Synod’s epistle is in order. Teaching About Prayer Which Leads to Delusion.

The Synod’s teaching about the Name of God is clearly in contradiction to all patristic writing regarding prayer.  Here is only one example:

“The Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, descending into the depths of heart, will subdue the serpent holding sway over the pastures of the heart, and will save our soul and bring it to life.  Thus abide constantly with the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that the heart swallows the Lord and the Lord the heart, and the two become one.  (…) ‘No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:3). By ‘by the Holy Spirit’ he means when the heart is made active by the Holy Spirit and prays through Him. (…) ‘Those who mentally keep this holy and most glorious Name unceasingly in the depth of their heart, can see too the light of their mind (clarity of thought or a definite consciousness of all inner movements).’ And again: ‘When this wonderful Name is kept in thought with intense care it very effectively scorches every filth which appears in the soul ‘For our God is a consuming fire’” (Heb. 12:29).” [9]

The teaching of these monastic Fathers is in complete agreement with the teaching about the Name of God as His energy and He Himself.

V. Ern reviews the Definition’s teaching about prayer in detail in his work, Razbor Poslaniia Sviateishego Sinoda ob Imeni Bozhiem [Review of the Holy Synod’s Epistle About the Name of God] (Moscow, 1917). The definition reads: “In prayer (especially the Jesus Prayer) the Name of God and God Himself are recognized by us as inseparable, as if identified (…) but this is only in prayer and only for our heart; in theologizing, however, as in reality, the Name of God is only the Name, and not God Himself (…) and neither it is the energy of God” (Tserkovnye Vedomosti [Church News]), p. 285).

Vladimir Ern has noted quite correctly that by this the Synod:

“[A]ffirms that, even in moments of the most intense and most elevated, instantaneous, and heartfelt enthusiasm, man does not escape the closed sphere of his own consciousness.  He only ‘imagines’ God and tries, in his imagination, to join and equate the Name of God spoken by the heart with God Himself (…) A prayer does not break the solitude of man’s soul and does not place it in a real relationship to God.  This, however, is the purest Protestantism! (…) [I]n this case invoking God in prayer is an occupation completely idle and futile: our invocation of the Name of God as not objectively connected with God, does not create any real relationship between the praying soul and God, and our prayers, being wholly ‘the creation of our consciousness,’ have absolutely no relation to the Existing God.  The Synod manages to avoid this conclusion and (…) says: ‘We are not separating Him Himself (i.e., God) from the invoked Name.  The Name and God Himself are equated for us in prayer. Fr. John [of Kronstadt] advises not to separate them, and not to attempt during prayer to imagine God in separation from the Name or apart from it’ [Tserkovnye Vedomosti [Church News], p. 282].  In other words, we, by our own will magically create an illusion of equality that does not exist in reality” (p. 18, 21).

Thus, the accusation of magic, hurled by the imiabortsy at the imiaslavtsy, returns to the head of the Synod itself.                                                                                                         

3.2 Conclusions Regarding the Synod’s Decree of 1913.

The decrees of 1913 proclaimed by the Russian Synod against the imiaslavtsy were canonically invalid.

In addition, they contained a heretical confession of faith, based on which it would be impossible to accept them as valid even if they had been irreproachable from the formal point of view.

4. Definition of the Russian Synod No. 7644 (August 27, 1913).

This definition was a partial conclusion from the abovementioned epistle of the Synod.  It cannot have authority for the same reasons that all the declarations of the Synod’s epistle directed against the imiaslavtsy are invalid.  Please see above concerning the judicial procedure of which this definition was the fruit.

5. The Subscription of Patriarch Germanos
to the Measures Taken by the Russian Synod (1913).

From the canonical point of view, my position on this act is obvious.  The Patriarch and the Synod acted the entire time as accomplices, trespassing against every imaginable canonical norm of judicial procedure.

This Patriarch’s approval of the doctrinal content of the Synod’s epistle once again testifies to the dogmatic indifference that even then was already a norm for the Ecumenical Patriarchate (even by the predecessor of this Germanos).  It is well known that the forces that would later prepare the final fall of Constantinople into heresy would ripen specifically during the patriarchate of Germanos, and especially in the theological school on the island of Halki.

In my view, the primary intention of the Patriarch in this epistle to the Russian Synod is that “no one of these persons” (imiaslavtsy), even those who were repentant, be re-admitted to the Holy Mountain. Orthodoxy is thus sacrificed to Greek nationalism.

6. The Synodal Decree of May (not March) 24, 1914, No. 4136.

You cite this decree, but I reply that a decree containing the words you cite did not exist until 1918.  This historical episode is worthy of review, for it allows one to form an opinion about the methods used by the Synod in its polemics against imiaslavie.

“To publish” any decree means that the ecclesiastical authority prints it officially for common knowledge (the Synod usually published such decrees in the official part of Tserkovnye Vedomosti (Church News) or, if the decree were classified, they brought it to the attention of all concerned parties.

In 1914 the Synod did neither with the degree you cite. 

There was no official publication of it either then or later (even in 1918), despite it not having been classified in either content or in form, and not having a classified seal.

A copy of the decree was delivered to the interested parties (the imiaslavtsy) that, however, did not contain the words quoted by you, nor a note that the text of the decree is not complete in this copy.  That part of the text that was promulgated by being delivered the imiaslavtsy contained only a reference to a statement of justification by the Moscow Synodal Office (led by the highly esteemed ascetic hierarch, Metropolitan Makarii Nevskii): “The Synodal Office found that the ‘confessions of faith in God and in the Name of God’ given by said monks in these words: ‘I repeat that, by naming the Name of God and Name of Jesus as God and God Himself, I am far from venerating the Name of God as His essence, as well as from venerating the Name of God separately from God Himself as some sort of separate Divinity, as well as from deifying the very letters and sounds and incidental thoughts about God’ – amounts to evidence for concluding that there is no basis for excommunication from the Orthodox Church due to the teaching about the Names of God.”

From this text, which was thus published for common knowledge by the Synod itself  (since the imiaslavtsy had to present it often to various ecclesiastical offices), it follows that all prohibitions of 1913 were rescinded (since the teaching of the imiaslavtsy was accepted as Orthodox within the boundaries of this text).  That many understood it in this sense is evidenced by instances of imiaslavtsy clergy serving in the military as well as in churches of the dioceses of Moscow and Kiev.

The Synod never officially protested against it, which would have been the natural thing if the imiaslavtsy themselves had forged the Synod’s document.  It is hard to believe that the Synod would have overlooked such an opportunity to catch the imiaslavtsy in a lie.  Even more important is this: how could the Synod allow convicted heretics to care for the Christ-loving troops who, in so doing, would be blessed to march to the other world not with the Holy Mysteries, but with the fodder of demons?

However, the issue here was that the Synod itself had lied.  For it was the Synod itself that quite officially presented a tampered copy of the document to the imiaslavtsy. [10] It is obvious that from the very beginning the document was compiled in such a way that its final part, where the Synod confirmed its previous charge of heresy against the imiaslavtsy, could be separated from the main body of the document so that its meaning would be then replaced by its opposite. 

This gives rise to a canonical question: How should the decisions of an ecclesiastical authority be treated when this authority is lying?

I think the canons do not foresee such cases.  (And not in vain: for an authority that is lying would most likely originate from the father of lies, and not from God.)  It is my understanding that in 1914—1917 all decisions should have been based on the text of the decree that had been promulgated by the Synod itself.  In other words, a revision of the case based on the essence of the matter should have been prepared, and meanwhile all prohibitions against the imiaslavtsy should have been considered as null.  

The majority of Russian hierarchs held this opinion by 1917 (not the members of the Synod in the pre-revolutionary or February period, but specifically all Russian hierarchs), as is evidenced by placing the question about imiaslavie on the agenda of the Local Council of the Russian Church.  If the question had been considered as essentially resolved, the Council would not have discussed it.

7. The Synod’s Decree of 1916.

This decree was also never published and, moreover, it was never officially promulgated in any form.  It was impossible to learn of its existence before 1918. 

This decree is a periodic document that records the mood of the Synod members, but it did not become an official decree of the ecclesiastical authority (in contrast to the previous decree, which became an official decision precisely in the form in which it was published in 1914).

8. The Decree of Patriarch Tikhon, 1918.

This decree does not touch on any dogmatic questions, since at that time it was assumed that questions of that kind were to be resolved by the Local Council.

The decree concerns only specific persons subjected to suspension by the synodal decrees from 1913—1916. All means of suspension are confirmed without additional review (based only on the texts of decrees preserved in the archive of the Synod).

It was specifically with this decree that the Russian ecclesiastical authority officially returned to its positions of 1913.

It goes without saying that I view this decree as a serious mistake made by His Holiness, Patriarch Tikhon.   Unjust suspensions do not transform themselves into correct ones, even they are repeated by holy men. (You, Vladimir, remember this well.)

By this the patriarchal ecclesiastical authority put itself into a very bad position.

Fortunately this situation did not last for long.  No later than at the very beginning of 1920, the decree of 1918 has already lost its authority. The leader of the imiaslavtsy at that time, Igumen David, it is said, concelebrated with Patriarch Tikhon in various Moscow churches and, what is more important for us, continued openly to serve in communion with the patriarchal church until his death at the end of the 1920s, while simultaneously continuing to preach imiaslavie.

Unfortunately we do not know which documents accompanied the restoration of contact between Patriarch Tikhon and the Moscow imiaslavtsy.


I hope I have answered the first series of questions. Now I expect your opinion regarding each of the positions addressed. I hope that each of us shall support his opinion with references to patristic works and the holy canons.

In Christ yours,

Hieromonk Gregory.

To be continued.

[1] This mentions the possibility of expelling a presbyter by one bishop, i.e., the possibility of a trial by one bishop of a presbyter; however, Balsamon resolves this contradiction by stating that the rules of the Carthage Council, as being later, have authority over the rules from Antioch.

[2] Compiled based on an unpublished work by a member of our Church.

[3] Here is the text of the Synodal anathema, according to the translation by the imiaborets S. Troitskii: “Also to the sophists who say that the name ‘divinity’ speaks only about the divine essence, and do not confess, in accordance with the divinely-inspired theologizing of the saints and with the blessed wisdom of the Church, that it is also applied no less to the divine action (energy)… anathema.”

[4] Deianiia Vselenskikh Soborov [Acts of the Ecumenical Councils]. Vol. 4 (Kazan, 1908 [reprint: St. Petersburg: Voskresenie, 1996]) 540–541.

[5] Ibid., 532–533.

[6] Ibid., 574–575.

[7] I cite the following edition: Prepodobnyi IOANN DAMASKIN, Tri zashchititel’nykh slova protiv poritsaiushchikh sviatye ikony ili izobrasheniia (St. Pet., 1893 [reprint: Sviato-Troitskaia Sergieva lavra, 1993]). [English edition: St. John of Damascus, Three Treatises on the Divine Images. Tr. by Andrew Louth. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003).

[8] A similar statement is contained in Discourse 2.14, p.55.

[9] Sts.Kallistus and Ignatius, “Directions To Hesychasts, In a Hundred Chapters,” 49 (“How the holy fathers teach us to say the prayer”). Philokalia, Vol. 5. These fathers are quoting not their own words, but the teaching of Fathers living before them who, by the end of the fourteenth century, had received universal acceptance in the Orthodox Church.

[10] I do not believe in a pact between Fr. Antonii Bulatovich and the Attorney General Sabler, as related by V. Zelentsov, for a very simple reason: Learning of the true text of the 1914 decree in 1918, Fr. Antonii stated that if had he known about it earlier, he would not have reinstated communion with the Synod.  However, we are viewing the happenings only from a canonical, and not from the historical, point of view.  In this case it is completely irrelevant by which “pacts” the Synod released a tampered copy of the document.  What is important is that it was done specifically by the Synod itself, and that it was done specifically in its usual official manner.  If, however, Sabler had been guilty of forgery, the hierarchs would have had to expose him.

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