Was Fr. John Romanides an Ecumenist? Yes!

August 14, 2014

Perhaps one of the most controversial professors of theology in the last 50 years has been the New Calendarist Greek priest, Fr. John Romanides. A sampling of Fr. John Romanides’ works can be found here at the Romanity.org website. For a True Orthodox author who takes many of Fr. John Romanides’ teachings to task, I suggest Rdr. Vladimir Moss’ “Against Romanides” (which is, so far, the closest very short overview of his works).  However, here, I do not propose to address the Atonement, Original Sin, and various historical issues that Romanides talks about in relation  to the Western Schism from Orthodoxy (although these are all very important).  What I do propose to examine is the question, “Was Fr. John Romanides an Ecumenist?”

Certainly no one can claim that Fr. John Romanides was in any way sympathetic to Papism. Nor, for that matter to Protestantism (though there is an exception to this).  However, despite what seemed like pointed objections he delivered at two ecumenical meetings he was at in 1971, we are still confronted with what seems like his ‘last word’ on the subject.  In , 1994, Fr. John Romanides’wrote  “Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Consultation: Leo of Rome’s Support of Theodoret, Disocorus of Alexandria’s Support of Eutyches, and the the Lifting of the Anathemas” (printed in Theologia, Athens, 1994, vol. LXV, issue 3, pp. 479-493.). In it we find a number of amazing statements.

First, we have the obvious point of Romanides referring to the Monophysite Anti-Chalcedonian churches as “Oriental Orthodox”.  This seems to be too much of a concession; granting their Orthodoxy, and historically, the Church and its teachers have never granted this. Yet, it is possible this is done in the sense that today we often say, “Roman Catholic”, which is technically incorrect, since the Papists are not part of the Catholic Church.  In official Church Encyclicals, such as the 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, the Papists are called “Papists”. However, it seems somewhat reasonable to allow Romanides some leniency on  the term “Oriental Orthodox” as merely a moniker of another party; but, as we shall see, Romanides’ theology betrays more to this then merely an agreed upon name for a debating partner.

Secondly,  Romanides point blank states that St. Leo the Great of Rome (whom he calls “Leo” while he calls St. Cyril of Alexandria “Saint”, and thus a clear slight on one of the great Holy Fathers in deference to Monophysite ecumenical feelings [or perhaps he betrays something of his own though!]) and Dioscorus of Alexandria as both Orthodox! In fact, Romanides states that he has been saying this since 1959-1960. He says:

“What we are here concerned with is the evidence already presented by this writer as far back as 1959-60 and especially 1964 that both Leo and Dioscoros are Orthodox because they agree with St. Cyril Of Alexandria, especially with his Twelve Chapters, even though both had been considered heretical by the other side here represented.”

An amazing statement.  Dioscoros, the great saint of the Monophysite Church, the enemy of the Holy and Great Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, was, in fact, Orthodox and the Church never knew it all along, until Romanides came to reveal this!  But, Fr. Romanides does not stop there:

“But we intend to present the issues at stake in such a way as to throw light on the problem before us with the expectation that specialists in cannon law may find the way to lift anathemas pronounced by Ecumenical or/and local Councils without provoking a controversy.”

So, we are getting something else. Romanides intends to present the issue in such a way that ‘specialists in canon law’ can find a way to “lift the anathemas” without controversy!  I suppose the Holy Fathers who were inspired by the Holy Ghost to write Canon 95 of Trullo were not as enlightened as the moderns such as Romanides when they said:

“As for Manicheans, and Valentinians, and Marcionists, and those from similar heresies, they have to give us certificates [called libelli] and anathematize their heresy, the Nestorians, and Nestorius, and Eutyches and Dioscorus, and Severus, and the other exarchs of such heresies, and those who entertain their beliefs, and all the aforementioned heresies, and thus they are allowed to partake of Holy Communion.”

But, perhaps we are reading too much into this. Perhaps this is some major misapprehension on our part. After all, Romanides doesn’t really believe the Monophysites (i.e., Anti-Chalcedonians) are really Orthodox, does he? Well, it seems he does. He continues:

“It would also seem that agreement that both Leo and Dioscoros were doctrinally Orthodox would then put the problem of their restoration on a non-Christological doctrinal plane, but on a canonical plane. In such a case the reversal of condemnations by Ecumenical and local Councils can be dealt with as canonical, rather than doctrinal problems.”

Thus, since Romanides believes both sides are Orthodox (even though Chalcedon and the whole Orthodox Church have have historically said the Monophysite churches are NOT Orthodox), the issue is only one to be dealt with by “specialists of canon law” as he says.  Indeed, while Dioscoros gets off scot-free for just making a ‘mistake’ in supporting Eutyches, St. Leo gets the full on disrespect throughout Romanides’ paper. As noted, he get’s called “Leo” (or maybe “Pope Leo”), but, never is given his proper appellation of “saint” (a common theme in many modernists; they apply “saint” to those they agree with, and withhold it to those Fathers they don’t).  Romanides says:

“Here we are faced with a Pope Leo who knowingly or willfully or unknowingly supported a heretical and yet unrepentant Theodoret of Cyrus.”

Apparently, St. Leo just didn’t care about the Truth if he could do such a thing! In fact, St. Leo was so bad that we find it revealed to us by Fr. Romanides that he was more concerned about his own power than doctrine! Romanides says:

“Failing to distinguish between the two Orthodox bishops and the Nestorian Theodoret Leo seems to have used the occasion to assert the authority of his see. But by doing this he reduced doctrine to a lesser level than the papal authority of Rome. Dioscoros in like manner also asserted the papal authority of Alexandria.”

Well, at least Diocoros the Anathematized gets something said against him by Romanides. No wonder Romanides consistently refuses to call St. Leo by his proper appellation; he didn’t care about doctrine as much as the non-existent Papism Romanides accuses him of.  In fact, Romanides believes that the condemned heretic Dioscoros had perfectly legitimate grounds for excommunicating the hero of Chalcedon, St. Leo. Romanides says:

“The question is now raised whether there were substantial grounds for Dioscoros’ excommunication of Leo of Rome. It would further seem possible to argue that this excommunication was somewhat like that of Cyril’s excommunication of Nestorius when the latter refused to subscribe to the Twelve Chapters. Cyril did this with the full support of the Pope Celestine of Rome. But in the case before us in 451 we have Pope Leo of Rome himself who is being excommunicated by Pope Dioscoros of Alexandria. The reason behind this is the simple fact that Pope Leo was in reality repudiating His predecessor’s support of Cyril’s Twelve Chapters by supporting a fanatic enemy of Cyril and his Twelve Chapters.”

So, Dioscoros was justified in his excommunication of St. Leo in the same sense that St. Cyril was in his excommunication of Nestorius, according to Romanides. In fact, much of Romanides’ paper basically attacks St. Leo in the harshest terms and exonerates the heretic Dioscoros completely.  And while it is absolutely true that the 5th Ecumenical Council condemned certain writings of the Blessed Theodoret, they never condemned his person; unlike Origen, who was not only controversial in his lifetime, but, was condemned finally and fully in both his writings and his person at the aforesaid Council. Blessed Theodoret, on the other hand, continued to maintain union with the Church and did repent at Chalcedon and repudiate Nestorious (though Romanides chalks this all up to ‘politics’ and the undoubtedly wicked St. Leo’s coniving).

Finally, at the end of the article, we are treated to the final section entitled “Today’s descendants of the Fathers”.  Here we learn that the Ecumenical Councils are not really what’s important; that the Monophysites really do accept the Councils (while Romanides attacks the Russian Orthodox; everyone’s favorite whipping boy since Florovsky). In fact, the Monophysites, we are told, are really Orthodox and accept the Seven Councils (while the Russians since Peter the Great are really heretics). And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Romanides Renovationist Revival without him bringing in St. Augustine to kick around and accuse of every evil under the sun (while exonerating heretics condemned for 1500 years).

But, it gets better!  We are told that Luther, who said that all the works of piety of the holy Fathers were not worth one dirty diaper, was really right to reject “Franco-Latin monasticism” (never mind that Luther hated St. Jerome’s monasticism and other authentic Orthodox works).   In fact, Romanides connects his exoneration of the “Oriental Orthodox”, his defense of Dioscorus, his attacks on St. Leo, and his swipes at Russian Orthodoxy, and ties it all together with St. Augustine and how Luther was actually right!

And, of course, at the end, we have Romanides plead that if John 17, that much abused passage by ecumenists, is to be realized, then we have to lift the anathemas; after all, then we can be one, he says and it will “have some meaning.”

So, was Fr. John Romanides an ecumenist? Certainly; as long as it was with people that were sufficiently “Eastern” and they were simply antagonistic to the Papist heresy (thus, his affinity for Luther).  Why True Orthodox should look to him as a standard bearer, when he couldn’t even uphold the anathemas and decisions of the Councils and refrain from attacks on the Holy Fathers, is to be found in a deep spiritual problem that besets modern man. It is the idea that we know so much better than the ancients; while we may know more about physics and biology, our understanding of the spiritual life is not superior to that of the long line of Saints extending from antiquity to  today.