CHURCH OF THE GENUINE ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS OF GREECE
HOLY SYNOD Offices: M. Botsari 8 and Tzavella
12131 Peristeri, Athens
№ 2566/January 23, 1992

 
PASTORAL ENCYCLICAL LETTER
OF THE HOLY SYNOD OF THE HIERARCHY
OF THE GENUINE ORTHODOX CHURCH OF GREECE TO:


Her entire Christ-named body: Clergy, Monastics, and Laymen

 
Beloved Children in the Lord:
 
Grace be unto you, and may peace and mercy from God our Father and the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Holy and Consubstantial and Life-Creating and Undivided Trinity, the Unique and Singular Divinity, be with you all. Amen.
 
I
n these end times, the devil seeks in every way possible to sow tares in the flock of Christ in order to scandalize souls and to sever them from the path of Truth and Salvation. Hence, some years ago, there first appeared from outside the body of the Genuine Orthodox Church certain arguments and even anti-orthodox ways of thinking regarding the representation of the Holy Trinity, the Resurrection of the Lord, the Descent into Hades, the Hospitality of Abraham, the Nativity of the Lord, Pentecost; to wit, through the ages, the Church tolerated deceptions and errors, and specifically that the representation of the Beginningless Father as the Ancient of days leads to idolatry. Indeed, some express themselves with contempt for the depiction of the Holy Spirit in the appearance of a dove, describing it as "the bird." These ways of thinking were adopted by certain clergy and laymen of our Orthodox Church who had been influenced by alien ecclesiastical jurisdictions; and they transmitted them, causing the scandalizing of the faithful.
 
Therefore, our Holy Synod of the Genuine Orthodox Church, clearly seeing the danger to souls from such doubts and consequent disputations over the Holy Icons, and wishing to preserve the peace and love and unity of its flock, at its last regular meeting on the 19th of September of this past year, 1991, diligently, and in the light of the tradition of the Orthodox Church, studied this matter, and decided to inform all of you pious Orthodox Christians, Clergy and Laymen, through a pastoral encyclical relative to the matter.
 
Beloved Children in the Lord:

Because we are mortal men and finite and incapable of truly understanding divine and spiritual things, in His extreme condescension and love, the All-Good God has permitted us to understand about invisible things through visible elements and thus to be led spiritually to the adoring worship of our Triune God "in spirit and in Truth."
 
"Not wishing us to be totally ignorant regarding the bodiless creatures," St. John of Damascus writes, "God has clothed them with forms and shapes, and used images comprehensible to our nature, bodily forms which could be seen by the spiritual vision of the mind; and these we make into shapes and images… But the Scripture also has forms and images of God." (On the Divine Images, Apology III, 25)   
 
And thus the Holy 7th Ecumenical Council decreed, "We define with all certitude and accuracy.. that… the venerable and holy icons be set forth… those who behold them are lifted up to the memory of their prototypes and to a longing after them… For the honor which is paid to the icon passes on to the prototype, and he-who reveres [the icon] reveres in it the hypostasis [person] of him who is represented…" (Sacred Rudder, p.316)
 
However, the same Holy 7th Ecumenical Council likewise declares categorically, "… we make icons… which we do not make into gods. We understand them as icons and as nothing else since they have only the name of the prototype but not the essence." (Session 7, Mansi XIII, 188B) [incorrect Session No. given in the encyclical. [Should be No. 5. See Translator's notes:] On the other hand, again, the same Holy 7th Ecumenical Council defines, "The making of icons is not the invention of painters, but is an approved institution and tradition" (Session 7, Mansi XIII, 252). And the Orthodox Church continues and preserves this institution and tradition. [Incorrect Session No. given in the encyclical. Should be № 6. ]
 
Therefore, we too as Genuine successors to the Holy Fathers who preceded us, and as continuers and keepers of their faith, wishing to preserve the tradition of the Church regarding the Sacred Icons unto "benefit and beneficence and salvation" for the faithful, declare to all faithful Orthodox Christians that every Sacred Icon passed down to us, regardless of technique or style, newer or older, Byzantine or "classical," is venerable and serves the purpose for which the Church consecrated the veneration of the Sacred Icons.
 
Thus, in a fatherly manner, we urge and exhort the pious Iconographers to paint, and the devout faithful to respect, honor, venerate, and kiss, all Sacred icons that the tradition of the Church has shown and consecrated. And in particular, for pastoral reasons, we reply synodically concerning those Sacred Icons about which doubts have been raised and opposing viewpoints have been set forth:
 
1. The icon of the Holy Trinity of "the three persons", that is, of the Beginningless Father, as the "Ancient of days," the Son as "He appeared in the flesh," and the Holy Spirit in the appearance of a dove, we venerate and honor. Of course, it is not as a circumscription of the uncircumscribable divinity that we depict Him, in as much as "it is impossible to depict and paint the nature of God" (Gregory III, Pope of Rome, Epistle to Leo III, In Session 7 of the 7th Ecum. Council, Mansi 963D) but as the Beginningless Father, as He was revealed in a vision to the prophet Daniel (Dan.7:13) and to the Protomartyr Stephen (Acts 7:55), and the Holy Spirit as He was revealed to John the Forerunner at the Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan and as He is depicted in the icon of the Annunciation of the Theotokos. It is appropriate to remind ourselves that the Holy 7th Ecumenical Council, in the 5th Session, decreed that the visions of the prophets are to be painted.
 
And, finally, it must be noted that this representation of the Holy Trinity does not constitute a violation of the relative prohibition by God (Ex. 20:4), as some contend, nor an exception to it, but an accurate consequence of the Orthodox Christian teaching regarding the mystery of the divine economy and extreme condescension of the love of God, as St. Dionysios the Areopagite says: "The forms of the formless and the figures of the figureless have been set forth [before us]… since our condition is unable to rise directly to the contemplation of intelligible things and is in need of aids corresponding to our nature so as to guide [us] upward." (Dionysios the Areopagite, On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, PG3, 441D) [incorrect column No. given in the original encyclical. Should be 373.]
 
In order to prevent conflicting opinions and divisions, we decree that the icon of the Holy Trinity of "the three persons," that is, of the Beginningless Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be placed upon stands for veneration in the Sacred Temples on Monday of the Holy Spirit. This icon of the Holy Trinity must also be imprinted upon the Sacred Antiminsia.
 
2.
The icon of "The Hospitality of Abraham", which represents an actual historic event in the Old Testament, we accept and venerate because it depicts the dispensational and symbolic appearance of the Trihypostatic God to the patriarch Abraham (St. John of Damascus, On the Divine Images, Apology III). This icon must no longer bear the title "The Holy Trinity" but simply the title "The Hospitality of Abraham."
 
3. The icon of the Resurrection of Christ, that is, the Arising of the Lord from the Grave, we venerate as depicting the Life-bearing Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the defeat of death and Hades was confirmed, as the hymnodist chants, "Like a comely bridegroom Thou came forth from the grave as if from a bridal chamber, having destroyed the tyranny of death, O Christ…" (Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, 9th Ode, No.2) This is because, according to St. John of Damascus, "The Lord's Resurrection was the union of the uncorrupted body and soul, for He said, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I shall raise it up. " (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk.4, Ch.27) It must be emphasized that the Resurrection of the Lord constitutes the cornerstone of our faith and the completion of our salvation, in that, "If Christ be not risen, our faith is in vain" (1 Cor.15:17), and, "while the tomb was yet sealed, Life dawned from the grave." In order for the iconographic depiction of the Resurrection of the Lord to be in agreement with the narrative of the Sacred Gospels, the grave must be sealed. To prevent and avoid dissensions and disagreements, we decree that, on the one hand, this icon of the Resurrection of the Lord be placed in the series of the twelve feasts on the iconostases, and, on the other hand, on Sundays and other Resurrectional days and the namesake feast of the light-bearing Resurrection, the day of Pascha, on stands in the Sacred Temples for veneration, and that it be imprinted on the Sacred Antiminsia.
 
4. The icon of the Lord's Descent into Hades we paint and venerate, which the Orthodox tradition of the Catholic Church of Christ accepted from the beginning, as the confirmation of the death of the Lord (as perfect man) and the existence in Him of a human soul, and as the authentic portrayal of the Lord's triumphant entry into Hades when He dissolved the power of death, despoiled Hades and freed the souls of the Just imprisoned from the ages, and granted incorruptibility and life to our race. This icon, in its totality, bears witness to the Glory of the Lord as the conqueror of death, as the Sacred hymnodist also confines, "My God Jesus has shone forth the light of the resurrection to those who dwelled in the shadow and darkness of death, and by His divinity has bound the mighty one and plundered his implements" (3rd Ode, Sunday of the 8th Tone). Therefore, we decree that this icon be placed on stands for veneration in the Holy Temples on the day of Great Saturday only and on no other days. We must also make it clear that because of the disagreements that have come about on this matter, henceforth the title "The Resurrection" is not to be placed on this icon but only the title "The Descent into Hades".
 
5. The icon of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ we urge pious iconographers henceforth to paint without the depiction of the bath and midwives so as to give no cause for doubt regarding the painless childbearing by the Theotokos, as in the analogous circumstance, the fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council decreed, "Confessing the divine childbirth to have resulted from the Virgin… without its being induced by seed; and preaching to all the flock, we require those who have done anything that was improper to submit to correction." (79th Canon, Sacred Rudder, p.289) [Orig. encyclical. incorrectly ascribes this canon to the 7th E. C. and not the 6th E. C.]
 
6. The icon of Pentecost we accept and venerate under both representations which the tradition of the Church has preserved, i. e. with the Most Holy Theotokos seated in the midst of the Apostles as "Mt. Zion," which is concluded from the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, "These all with one mind… along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus…" (Acts 1:14), according to the interpretation of Sacred Chrysostom, or without the representation of the Most Holy Theotokos. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul is not be depicted in the icon of Pentecost, at the bottom of which, the prophet Joel is to be shown in place of the world, according to the interpretation by St. Nicodemos. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul is not to be included in the icon of the Ascension. [See Translator's Notes:]
 
Beloved Children in the Lord:

In a fatherly manner we urge, and synodically we command that all of you faithful and genuine children of the church of Christ keep the traditions of the Fathers which we have received and Sacred icons of the Holy Trinity, the Hospitality of Abraham, the Nativity of Christ, the Resurrection of Christ, the Descent of the Lord into Hades, Pentecost, and all icons that bear the identifying characteristics of Orthodox Sacred Icons (according to the interpretation of St. Nicodemos in the Sacred Rudder), and those which the tradition of the Church, honoring and venerating them, has respected and preserved. Let us strive through faith and hope in God, through prayer and the work of philanthropy, through humility and obedience to the Church to cleanse our mind and heart and to be lifted up from earthly things to heavenly things, to the invisible and bodiless, from earthbound and daily affairs to the heavenly and spiritual. The Church of Christ has a wealth of men who were church theologians and extremely excellent in all learning, such as Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas, Mark the Noble, Symeon of Thessalonika, Dositheos of Jerusalem, Nicodemos of Athos, Joseph Bryennios, Niciphoros Theotokis, who never had doubts about any of the received icons. And we follow these men.
 
Beloved Children in the Lord:

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time… Be of sober spirit. Be alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. But resist him firm in your faith." (1 Pet. 5:6) "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." (Eph.4:31-5:2) Make peace among yourselves and others. Let every dissension and strife be lifted from you; give no ground to the devil and his warfare and scandalization.
 
As genuine Shepherds of the Church of Christ, watching over her vigilantly and attending to every scandal which springs up, plucking out every tare from the field of Orthodoxy, and, with the sword of the Holy Spirit, the utterance of God, purging everything that rises up against the Sacred Institutions of the Church, we are aligned with the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church of Christ and follow the teachings and formulations of our Godbearing Fathers; therefore, we stand firmly with fear of God, faith and love in keeping everything which has been given to us. Henceforth, every doubt and opposing view in the matter of the Sacred Icons must be referred through the presiding Ecclesiastical Head to the Church; and the Church, through the grace of God and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit Which dwells in Her shall guide on the path of Truth unto the salvation of us all.
 
With regard to all of these things, we add blessing upon all of you and pray that the Grace of our Triune God, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.
 
Ardent suppliants before the Lord, The Holy Synod of the Hierarchy of the Genuine Orthodox Church.
 
PRESIDENT:
Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, ANDREAS
 
FOR THE GENUINE ORTHODOX CHURCH OF CYPRUS:
Metropolitan of Citium, EPIPHANIOS
 
THE MEMBERS:
Gregory of Messinia,
Matthew of Attica and Megaris,
Nicholas of Peiraeus,
Pachomios of Argolis,
Theodosios of Phthiotis,
Titos of Servia,
Chrysostom of Thessalonika,
Archsecretary of the Holy Synod:  
Archimandrite Kirykos (Kontoyiannis) Chancellor