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Question 2.

Αγαπητέ πάτερ Χριστοφόρε,

Σύμφωνα με τους ιερούς κανόνες της Εκκλησίας μας οι κληρικοί δεν επιτρέπεται να καταλαμβάνουν κοσμικά και πολιτικά αξιώματα. Στην σύγχρονη ιστορία όμως έχουμε παραδείγματα κληρικών (Κύπρου Μακάριος, Αθηνών Δαμασκηνός κτλ.) οι οποίοι φαίνεται ότι παρέβησαν αυτούς τους κανόνες. Ήταν τούτο επιτρεπτό;

Translation of Question.

According to the sacred canons of our Church, Clerics are not allowed to take secular or political positions. But in contemporary history we have examples of clerics (Archbishop Macarius of Cyprus, Damascenos of Athens ect.) who it is clear have violated these canons. Was this permissible?


Answer to Question 2.

Dear Constantine,
Greetings in Christ. I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer your second question [can clerics also have secular and civil positions]: it is something that maybe the Holy Synods of Cyprus and Greece should answer, but I will give you a humble Priest’s unbiased and objective reply.
Firstly, you mention that “according to the holy canons of the Church”...
Have you searched the canons or do you mention them from hearsay? You should have mentioned which canons as that would have emphasised the seriousness of your question. But yes, there are canons that forbid clerics from taking civil positions. The clearest of these canons are:
The 6th of the Apostolic canons “A Bishop, or Priest, or Deacon must not undertake worldly cares. If he does, let him be deposed from office”
The 83rd of the same “If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon is engaged in military matters, and wishes to hold both a Roman (i.e., civil) and a sacerdotal office, let him be deposed. For (render) “unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21).
The 7th of the 4th Ecumenical Council “We have decreed that those who have once been enrolled in the Clergy, or who have been made Monks, shall accept neither a military charge nor any secular dignity; and if they shall presume to do so and not repent in such wise as to turn again to that which they had first chosen for the love of God, they shall be anathematized”.

The Pedalion, the book of Canons compiled by two Monks [Agapius and Nicodemus] from the Pantocrator monastery of Mount Athos towards the end of the 18th Century, contains the Apostolic Canons, the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, Canons from Regional Synods and Canons from individual holy fathers like St. Basil and St. John the Faster. Strictly speaking, the Orthodox Church is the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, so all the other canons should only be used as a reference, but not as authoritative. The Ecumenical Councils were gathered from the fourth century to the eighth century to solve the problems that troubled the Church during each period. It was the work of these councils to define the doctrines of the Christian faith, the Creed [a statement of faith], the canons [rules] for Christian guidance and to prevent men from falling into error and heresy, and other important issues in the Life of the Church. We see that many canons for Christian guidance were revised or updated from one council to the next and that is because something that was valid in the fourth century could not be applied in the same way in the eighth century. We are now in the 21st century and if we had [as we should] an Ecumenical council today, the majority of the canons [for Christian guidance] would definitely be updated or thrown out of the window.

Let us take as an example the sin of voluntary abortion. An early canon condemns the sinner to exclusion from the Holy Mysteries until the time of her death.
Another canon excludes a murderer for 25 years but must spend those years repenting and fasting from the morning until evening and then eat only Xerophagia.
The 20th canon of Ancyra [314], excludes the sinner for seven years.
The 91st canon of the 6th Ecumenical [692] condemns the sinner as a murderer, so the exclusion from the Mysteries is again the life sentence.
The 2nd of Basil excludes the sinner for ten years.
The 21st canon of John the Faster for 5 or even 3 years.
The canons of John the Faster are in general very lenient compared to other canons.
Why do we have such vast differences from one canon to the next?
Precisely because the canons are not the Christian Faith, they are not punishments that condemn sinners to a lifetime outside of the Church, but are to be used to guide the people to lead a righteous life pleasing to God, thus helping them find their way to their salvation. We can liken the road from earth to heaven as a very long motorway. On our journey, we might be tired or need to refuel our vehicle, so for a while we come off the motorway to find a suitable inn or fuelling station. Having come off the motorway we become sidetracked from various things and cannot find our way back to the motorway. We need assistance and this is where we need the canons, for the canons are like road signs that direct us in which way to follow, thus helping us return to the motorway.
When Jesus was asked “which is the great commandment in the law?” He replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 23: 37-40)
Love therefore is above all the canons and can replace them whenever it is deemed a canon would do more harm than good.
Today if a woman comes to confess than she had a voluntary abortion, we would not exclude her from Communion for 3 years because instead of helping her return to the Church if would in fact drive her away. The Priest would judge if she truly repented for her actions and possibly tell her not to Commune for 3 months or maybe not even mention a penance. Christ is love, the Church is love, and we also must be love. The Church and her Priests must always show love and compassion for the people. We are not Judges of the people. We leave that to God and God alone. In the days when the Canons were written, everyone that went to church, and remained in the main part of the church until the end, had to receive Holy Communion. So someone who didn’t commune stood apart from the rest which must have been a humiliating experience. Today people rarely attend church let alone have regular communion. To tell someone that they cannot receive communion for one, two or three years would not really help them repent, but would rather keep them away from church for that period of time, so more harm is done than good.

So now, let us return to your question.
I can only take the example of Macarius as I don’t know of the others. From the times of the Ottoman Occupation, the Church was responsible for much of the people’s education and holding on to our Hellenic heritage. As leaders of the people, it was only to be expected that they would also take a leading role in the fight for independence from British rule. As far as I know, the British insisted that Macarius become the First President of Cyprus, because the people had already held him as their Leader. I sure Macarius knew of the Canons that forbade Clerics from taking on secular positions of dignity, but I would think that love for his country and for his people’s independence by far outweighed any canon. In the case of love, I would say that his actions were acceptable. Wouldn’t you?