(Excerpts from St. Nectarios Educational
Series No. 5, March 1969)
Discussion concerning Fr. Neketas Palassis and his move to become a priest under the jurisdiction of the Synod of Russian Bishops Outside Russia is still in the air, to such an extent that articles and letters are printed in periodicals evaluating his action. These evaluations usually take one of three positions.
The most common viewpoint is this, that Fr. Neketas, a dedicated priest who voiced his objections to the policies of Archbishop Iakovos, was put into such difficulty by the Archbishop's illegal and unconstitutional reprisals that he was forced to leave the Greek Archdiocese. Those who express this view castigate Iakovos for not allowing a variety of voices and “free expression.” They proclaim that the Orthodox Church has a “traditional background of Liberalism” and that everyone has the right to voice his opinion with reference to issues affecting the Church, that “the Holy Spirit speaks through many tongues”. In all things these sincere people approve of Fr. Neketas except in his “defection” to the Russians. They feel he should have remained in the Greek Archdiocese, adding his support to the growing lay movement which they foresee as eventually gathering enough numbers to outvote Iakovos.
Exponents of this position, who are usually zealous people who realize that serious faults exist, tend to overlook Fr. Neketas’ principal motivation in leaving: That of doctrinal purity and Orthodoxy. One can observe in these people who have “Zeal not according to Knowledge” as St. Paul says, an ecclesiology which is not Orthodox, but which might be called the “Democratic-pluralistic heresy”. They concentrate upon the mechanics and administration of the Church, making it a legalistic system. The Church for them is liberal and allows differences of opinion. Their principal concern is that this freedom of expression remain, so that its views can be expressed and thus the doctrine and life of the Church can be put to a vote. Whoever manages to organize the biggest party decides the policy of the Church, making it agree with the majority, yet respecting the rights of the minority opinions.
These people fail to judge the issue by its real criteria, to evaluate it by the Church’s standard. The Fifteenth Canon of the First - and - Second Council of Constantinople clearly states that if a bishop or clergyman should publicly preach heresy, not only is the person who separates from communion with him not guilty of defecting or creating a schism, but he is worth of highest honor by the Orthodox, and all should emulate that person for he seeks to preserve the unity of the Church - i.e., not an administrative or political unity, but the unity of Faith, unity with the other Orthodox of past ages, with the Saints, so that with them he may confess “with one mouth and one heart and one mind the one Christ."
There is no need for an official deposition or excommunication of Iakovos by a synod; he is already deposed automatically by the provisions of canon law concerning the preaching of heresy; he is already outside the assembly of the faithful since he has different ideas from them. In such instances the XV Canon of the First-and Second Council of Constantinople explicitly states that one is to sever all ties with pseudo-bishops without awaiting synodical clarification. He or someone else may turn around and excommunicate those same who remain faithful. Such excommunications, however, can have no effect for if their faith is right and Orthodox, they are part of the Church, since that is the identifying mark of the Church and not buildings and organizations.
...That the “Democratic-pluralists” should remain in communion with heretics while hoping for a lay movement is a work of their hidden idolatry. God holds us responsible for our own faith and actions. To compromise these, against the clear and explicit commands of God, to remain in heresy with many on the strength of a vain hope is idolatry, an idolatry which makes numbers and buildings, and not the true Faith, to be the Church of God.
A second group of observers tends to regard Fr. Neketas as creating schism, accusing him of insubordination. These people also blind their eyes to the real reason fro Fr. Neketas’ move and quote administrative canons against him. The prime concern of this party is to keep the status quo. They blame Fr. Neketas for “rocking the boat" and decry “any precipitate action,” yet they lose their volubility when it comes time to decry Athenagoras’ or Iakovos’ actions which strike at the heart of the Faith. They cite Church history, the time of the Cappadocian Fathers and of St. Chrysostom, as examples of the Church’s being filled with rifts and schisms and opposing ideas, as if this justified their position of doing and saying nothing against the ruling bishops, as if St. Basil the Great or St. Gregory Nazianzos never condemned any heresy or never broke communion with heretical or schismatic bishops or never excommunicated anyone, as if they never clearly distinguished for their flock the true faith in the contemporary confusion. The Saints did not fear to take action if the purity of the Faith was in question, for they took seriously the Apostle Paul's command not even to speak to heretics, much less have communion with them or commemorate them as bishops.
This group insists on obedience to “canonical authority,” that is, the bishop of the dioceses. Truly, one owes obedience to one's bishop, as long as the bishop is obedient to the Sacred Canons, as long has he does not perjure his ordination oath to support and protect the Faith and canons of the Church. This second group disregards the leaders’ public violations and transgressions of laws and landmarks which carry automatic excommunication; or privately and in a low voice, they may admit that they do not agree with everything that the bishop is doing, but they conclude decisively, “he is the bishop”. However, if any subordinate should justifiably protest, with the full authority of Church History, the Fathers and the Bible behind him, he is shouted down with cries of “insubordination”. They attempt to establish obedience on disobedience, forcing people and clergy to be obedient to the disobedience of the bishop, in short, attempting to build on no foundation at all. They insist on obedience “to the canonical authority,” i.e. the bishop, as if there were no other canons which had to be adhered to by both clergy and people; and as if the whole canonical structure of the Church were established only for the purpose of protecting the bishop's authority and his revenues, as if the canons did not provide for such an eventuality.
A third, much smaller group of friendly people - usually priests of the Greek Archdiocese - congratulate Fr. Neketas and praise him for standing up for the Faith, and encourage him to remain staunch. The best comment that can be made concerning these people is a story that the blessed Photios Kontoglou would relate in similar circumstances during his life:
Once there was a commander of the Greek army who had his son - named Haralampos - as a soldier in his company. When the company would go to the front line to engage in battle, the commander would exhort the soldier with shouts: “Forward, men, against the eternal enemies of our Fatherland !!!” Then with a whisper, “ (Back, Haralampos) FORWARD, MEN! (Back, Haralampos)”. Thus this group congratulates Fr. Neketas and urges him forward, but as for themselves, they apply the “back, Haralampos.”
Among all these viewpoints concerning the structure of the Church, a few tendencies can be noted. The “democratic - pluralistic” group tends to resemble the Protestant denominations in which everything can be decided by majority vote. The second group never seriously questions the authority of administrative heads [chiefs?] who may say or do unspeakable things. The only shocking thing for them, really, is insubordination. It was such people who gave rise to the papal mentality in the Roman Church. Both these groups, in word and deed, are more concerned for this world, for institutions and edifices, than for the living Word of God. But for the third group, perhaps the most sorry, does not realize the strength of Christ's word: “Not everyone that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven.”