For Whom Does AB Elpidophoros Speak?

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Source: Handwritings On the Wall — Musings of Orthodox Thinkers

By Robert Arakaki, Ph.D.

Archbishop Elpidophoros addressing the International Religious Freedom Summit.

His address at the International Religious Freedom Summit

Archbishop Elpidophoros has caused consternation among the Orthodox faithful by the speech that he gave at the International Religious Freedom Summit held in Washington D.C., 15 July 2021.  In the speech he stated:

When you elevate one religion above all others, it is as if you decide there is only one path leading to the top of the mountain. But the truth is you simply cannot see the myriads of paths that lead to the same destination, because you are surrounded by boulders of prejudice that obscure your view.

This particular passage was excerpted and made into a widely circulated meme on the Internet.  Some saw this excerpt and took it to mean that Elpidophoros was suggesting that there are many ways to salvation.  It generated a flurry of criticism on various blog sites.  I was unaware of the offending paragraph when I was asked for my thoughts on Elpidophoros’ speech.  I read through the text of his speech twice.  I was a bit baffled by the wordiness of the text and the highfalutin language he used.  I finally found the stinking sardine in the pile of waffle (Elpidophoros’ speech) thanks to the Monomakhos article and a comment from a clerical friend.

At first, I didn’t catch the remark about “myriads of paths” mostly because Elpidophoros gave the speech in what appears to have been a secular, political context—the International Religious Freedom Summit.  As an American, I am very sympathetic to a secular state and to religious pluralism.  As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father.  As an Orthodox Christian, I believe that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church.  So how does one speak as an Orthodox Christian to a diverse non-Orthodox setting like the Summit?  Answer: With care and nuance.

I gained a better understanding from a YouTube video in which former U.S. Senator, now U.S. Ambassador, Sam Brownback was interviewed on EWTN about the Summit. Brownback explained that the Summit is bringing together major leaders of the different faiths from all over the world.  He went on to explain: “We’re not talking theology.”  That gave me a different perspective on the Summit—a more positive one.  Too many of the conflicts in the world today have been exacerbated by religious ideology.  We need religious leaders to encourage their followers to peacefully coexist with their neighbors of different faith backgrounds.  In my opinion, Archbishop Elpidophoros could have done a better job of bracketing his comment about having only one path leading to the top of the mountain, i.e., that he was talking about state-religion relations, not about theology in the usual sense.  Loosely read, Elpidophoros’ mountain metaphor can be construed as an allusion to a universalist soteriology—an affront to Orthodoxy.  Read from a secular, political angle, it can be understood as advocating the protection of religious freedom, something American Orthodox Christians can affirm.  It seems to me that, unlike Ambassador Brownback, who spoke with nuance and sensitivity, Archbishop Elpidophoros stumbled in his speech and gave unnecessary offense to some Orthodox Christians.

As I see it, Elpidophoros’ challenge is how to speak to a non-Orthodox audience while being faithful to Orthodox Tradition.  I believe that it is very desirable that Hagia Sophia be restored as an Orthodox house of worship.  However, for Elpidophoros to drag in the Ukrainian mess and to make a veiled swipe against the Moscow Patriarchate’s alliance with the Kremlin is to open a huge can of worms.  How does Elpidophoros reconcile his veiled swipe at the Moscow Patriarchate with the historic Orthodox teaching of symphonia?  From the political or governmental perspective, there is a certain confusing ambiguity in Archbishop Elpidophoros’ speech: Is he speaking as a leader of Orthodox Christians who reside in the U.S. or on behalf of Patriarch Bartholomew, who resides in Istanbul, Turkey?  And, who has a vested interest in the Ukrainian-Russian controversy?  Put another way, does Elpidophoros speak for us American Orthodox Christians?  It has been two years since he migrated to the United States in 2019.

Archbishop Elpidophoros’ importance at the Summit lies in the fact that he represents and leads the largest Orthodox jurisdiction in the U.S. — the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. There is a certain irony in Elpidophoros’ presence at an international summit on religious freedom when he, in his capacity as Patriarch Bartholomew’s personal agent, perpetuates Greek colonialism in the U.S.  It is time for there to be an American Orthodox Church.  It is time that externally imposed hierarchs be returned to Istanbul where they were born and for an American-born hierarch to be elevated as primate for the autocephalous American Orthodox Church.


Robert Arakaki, Ph.D. is a political scientist and Asian-American convert to Orthodoxy.

 

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7 Comments

  1. Just on the basis of his quote, consider this. We will all be in God’s Kingdom by His GRACE. We know that Orthodoxy hold the fullness of the Truth, but what about RC’s, Protestants or even non-Christians? God will save who he wills! It may be that a Jew who did more to helping his brothers & sisters will be in the Kingdom of Heaven before the rich Orthodox Christian who treats his brothers & sisters with disdain! Remember St. John Chrysostom’s quote: “Hell will be paved with the skulls of priests and the the door posts will be the skulls of bishops.”

    • Iyad Gabbour on

      Sorry Nikolai but your view on Heaven and Hell is a Western one. Your works do Not bring you into Heaven. What brings you into Heaven is your Love to God which manifest in your works. Works doesn’t win you Heaven. If you love Christ in this life, Christ will become heaven to you. If you didn’t love Christ in this life, Christ will be Hell to you.

      • Rom.2
        [6] For he will render to every man according to his works:

        James 2
        [14]What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?
        [15] If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,
        [16] and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?
        [17] So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

        Iyad: Sorry, you don’t know what is Western nor Orthodox. Look at the Scriptures. If you have faith in Christ, you will show it in your “works” and through God’s favor, His “GRACE” we will be saved.

  2. In the light of the prophecy that the anti-Christ will force one religion upon the world, and in the light of 20th-21st century wars and politics, and internet bullying with govt. and business snooping upon all the human race, it’s quite clear MANY will deny Christ’s sacrifice and preach “many paths” or they will be “canceled” as the screaming, demonic harpy-hive mind of the internet terms it.

    The ENTIRE intent of the lies and animosity is wholly aimed at Christianity. There’s not one Hollywood movie mocking God aimed at any eastern mythology, nor any history re-write the Bolshevik’s produce aimed at pagan practices, no! I read an article just yesterday, produced in June 2021, picturing human sacrifice and other demonic witchcraft practiced by Druids in ancient Britain (around the time of Christ), as being “learned men in science and physics”.

    Christians will be persecuted in the coming times; quisling liars will get paid (and probably well) to conform the Truth into a lie.

    It behooves believers to preach a gospel worthy of Christ and leave off the traditions of men to history.

    “These signs shall follow those who believe…heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons”.

    There’s not a single scripture about hierarchies of men.

  3. Iyad Jabbour on

    Last time I looked it up, Christians in history never compromised on their religion for pseudo-peace! They never participated in State-Leading-Heretical-Councils to live in Harmony and peace! Isn’t that what the World promises us with if we leave Christ!!??
    Anxious!

  4. It would be a “SAD” day if my only Friends & associates were of the Greek Orthodox Faith. I believe that everyone has a right to his own interpretation and belief of Religion & God and many are more Dedicated to their Faith than us, including some of our clergy, who remove their sacred collars when leaving the Altar and the Church Premises. GOD is all around us in many different forms and shapes, much like the Multitude of various types, kinds, and shapes of Churches and Places of Worship that we encounter as we go about our daily chores. We should Respect people’s right to Worship GOD in their own way and belief, and not look down on those whose belief is not similar to ours. THINK of How Many WARS have been fought, even today, over Differences in Religion.

  5. I think that, as Orthodox believers, we hold that “all men can be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” That’s everyone, get it? How can anyone think that God really cares about how his Divine Existence is represented by the billions of mere mortals who are looking for transcendence in their lives?
    Jeff Zdrale, St. Matt Church, Green Bay, WI

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