Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics - Psychotherapy


Canonoclasts and Canonophiles:
An Ecclesiastic problem, or an Ecclesiological heresy?

by Panagiotis Boumis

Taken from the magazine "Ecclesia" (an official Bulletin of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece) -  Edition No. 11, 2007.



1. Sacred Icons and sacred Canons

One might wonder: Why are we making this parallel, or this comparison?  We are making this parallel - this parallel connection - because the divine and Sacred Canons are "images" of the Church.  They express and they reflect the conscience of the Church.  These Canons indicate to us what the Church wants, and they determine how the local Churches should be established, organized, and how they should function and act - inasmuch as they represent the universal Church - as other images of Her.  However, these Canons also determine everything pertaining to the order and the unity within the universal Church, which in turn gives the world a positive image of Her presence within it.

However, apart from the above and in order to examine matters in essence, it should be noted that sacred Canons are an outcome - an emanation - of the dogmatic teaching and truth of the Church; they are an implementation of the dogmas of Her faith.  As correctly stressed by Vl. Lossky, "the Canons that regulate the life of the Church 'in Her terrestrial aspect' are inseparably linked to the Christian dogmas.  They are not legalistic regulations - so to speak - but rather, are the implementation of the dogmas of the Church» (1).  Professor John Karmiris also notes in his "Ecclesiology":  «The sacred Canons that support the ecclesiastic polity, having acquired a universal and eternal character (which is the destination of the Church), constitute Her positive Law, which regulates the relations between Her members, so that "everything might be done in a seemly and orderly manner (1 Cor. 14:40)» (2).  The Metropolitan of Servia and Kozani Dionysios very aptly comments: «The matters of the Church are matters of life, where theory is not separated from practice.  The separation of Church matters, supposedly into the theoretical and the practical, leads to the splitting of the ecclesiastic organism and a conflict of laws within one's life» (3).

In this way, the dogmatic truth of the Church, Her ecclesiology and Her sacred Canons comprise an unbroken unity.  That is why the sacred Canons of the Church provide an authentic image of the Church and Her Ecclesiology and also present Her identity within Her daily and terrestrial aspect, life and activity.

The question of course that arises immediately, is:  Which Canons give us that authentic image of the Church and Her Ecclesiology?  We certainly need to clarify and to stress that the Canons which provide that authentic image are the authentic Canons of the Church; the Canons which have been decreed or validated by the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. They are the ones which were expressed in the Holy Spirit - with the supervision of the Holy Spirit - and express the Church perpetually and permanently, through Time and in every place, eternally and ecumenically - universally.

The aforementioned are also supported in the 1st Canon of the 7th Ecumenical Council, where the participant Fathers proclaimed: «... we welcome and embrace the divine Canons, and we corroborate the entire and rigid fiat of them that have been set forth by the renowned Apostles, who were and are trumpets of the Spirit, and those both of the six holy Ecumenical Councils and of the ones assembled regionally for the purpose of setting forth such edicts, and of those of our holy Fathers. For, all those men, having been guided by the light dawning out of the same Spirit, prescribed rules that are to our best interest» (4).

Likewise, in the 2nd Canon of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council - which constitutes a kind of official, concise codification of the sacred Canons of the Church - it is proclaimed that: «This too has appeared best to the this holy Council, as well as most important, that the 85 Canons handed down to us in the name of the holy and glorious Apostles, and as a matter of fact accepted and validated by the holy and blissful Fathers preceding us [...] and we ratify all the rest of the sacred Canons promulgated by our holy and blissful Fathers (5) [...] and no one shall be permitted to countermand or set aside the Canons previously laid down, or to recognize and accept any Canons, other than the ones herein specified, that have been composed under a false inscription by certain persons who have taken in hand to barter the truth. If, nevertheless, anyone be caught innovating with regard to any of the said Canons, or attempting to subvert it, he shall be responsible in respect of that Canon and shall receive the penance which it prescribes and be chastised by that Canon which he has offended» (6).


2. Canonoclasts

So, with regard to the aforementioned, authentic Canons:

a) Those who do not acknowledge and embrace the divine Canons do not not follow after the Fathers and as such are somehow amiss.

b) Those who do not accept that the Canons were instituted by the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils through the illumination of the Holy Spirit - that is, through a divine supervision - are disbelievers in regard to the witness-teaching of the Fathers and the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils.

c) Those who do not accept that they are rendered certain and reassured of the therapy of souls and the healing of passions by those validations (by the Councils), become a stumbling-block to the salvation of the faithful.

d) Those who falsify or violate the Canons, or accept other Canons that are contrary to the truth and the correctness of those Canons are adulterating the truth and are leaning towards delusion and heresy because they are opposed to the Canons.

e) Those who innovate or attempt to revise any single one of those Canons, clearly are Canonoclasts.

And to speak with one or two examples:

Those who convert the primacy of seniority or the distinction of honour (as recognized by the Canons) into a primacy of authority and power (the Papal authority "of this world"), or, those who convert and revise the penances foreseen by the Canons (for the therapy and the salvation of the souls of the faithful) into penalties and sanctions (despotic authority "of this world") in order to physically or socially punish clergy or laity, need to judge whether they themselves perhaps fall into the category of Canonoclasts...

We could further say, by expanding on the matter:  

Those who also teach others to not observe the Canons are more Canonoclasts than those who themselves do not observe them.  Those who do not observe and do not apply the Canons - whether out of ignorance or out of weakness or negligence and indifference - are merely sinners; however, those who teach the non-observance of the Canons are not just sinners - they are also heretics.

Canonoclasts are also those who assert that Canons are variable, transient and temporary, and that we can change them like we change the laws of the State, which, however, neither possess nor claim infallibility and that is the reason we can abolish them and institute others.

Likewise, Canonoclasts are also those who assert that the Canons conflict with each other without any reason to do this, or without having extensively and scientifically examined the matter, on the basis of the principles of interpretation and harmonization of the Canons(7).  These are the ones who think that they know "something";  this is the case where the principle of sciolism(*) and its consequences apply...

Among the Canonoclasts are also those who demote the divine Canons to the level of various human laws, or, in the opposite case, those who elevate their own Canonistic decrees to the level of the sacred Canons, even before an Ecumenical Council has granted them the necessary authenticity and the seal - if of course they are worthy of it.

Canonoclasts are not only those who indulge in the aforementioned acts or attempts or in obstinate opinions, but also those who prompt or motivate those who work on Canons - the Canonologists - to indulge in the aforementioned acts and theories, as well as those who attack them.  Of course Canonoclasts are (at least indirectly) also those Canonologists who are indifferent towards any form of falsification or alteration or amendment or violation of sacred Canons, for fear of displeasing or "spoiling" their relations with the powers that be or the secular perceptions or demands in circulation at the time.

Of course Canonoclasts are also - perhaps unintentionally - those who want to be "more royal than the king" - in this case, those who want to be "more ecclesiastic than the sacred Canons". In other words, they want to become "more devout" than the Canons of the Church have decreed.  An example of this are those who fast on all other Saturdays - and not just the Holy Saturday of Easter Week per the explicit instruction of the Canons.

Canonoclasts, therefore, are not those who do not observe the sacred Canons out of possible ignorance or weakness, but those who do not observe them - who do not safeguard them as a legacy, as well as those who do not embrace them, but instead revise them and disregard them or put them aside altogether.


3. Canonophiles

Finally, Canonoclasts can be the result of those who absolutize the strength of the Canons - and in fact the Canons that they themselves select - and they seek to always impose them, no matter what, especially upon others and in total disregard of human nature and human weakness and infirmity.  These cases appear as unrelenting champions of the sacred Canons, and attached to the verbatim wording. We could refer to them as "Canonophiles", much like idolaters of other times. However, in a final analysis, they end up as Canonoclasts because they give people the wrong impression about what their objective and their character is.

These Canonophiles cause those who are weak in their Orthodox faith and the genuine ecclesiastic life to erroneously believe that the sacred Canons do not express the spirit of justice and love of the Gospel; rather, that they are cruel, legalistic formulations.  One could in fact assert that these Canonophiles are no less dangerous than the Canonoclasts.  Their inadequate knowledge of Canonical (Ecclesiastic) Law and the Church institutions, such as ecclesiastic Oikonomia (providence) has precisely these consequences.  "Sciolism( * ) is worse than total ignorance", as the familiar saying goes.

They are not fully cognizant, that the prestige and authority of the divine Canons is absolute and as such, they can be unerring guides (in general and perennially), while - quite the opposite - their validity and their implementation is relative (i.e., it can be determined, depending on the circumstances, on the instances - personal or several - and on human weaknesses.)  Naturally, the situations, the prerequisites and the conditions will be judged by a pertinent authority (ecclesiastic, bishop, synod, or a synodically appointed instrument) which will appropriately provide that oikonomia - that is, the pre-approved permission to deviate from those Canons, or the belated forgiveness for having transgressed them.

People of this category (Canonophiles) are not familiar with the institution of ecclesiastic oikonomia, which allows the pertinent instruments of the Church the right to "administer" permission or forgiveness for a certain provisional and logical deviation from the faithful observance of the sacred Canons (not a deviation from the dogmas) and of course always in the light of Christian love and for the salvation of mankind. (8). They don't know that there exists the measure of ecclesiastic oikonomia, which is the in-Christ liberty that the Church has, for administering divine Grace in order to manage the matters of Her house - always of course for the spiritual benefit of man, who may be inside Her as well as outside Her (9), and not for the personal material or secular benefit of Her instruments.

Perhaps they are also unable to perceive or to comprehend that this oikonomia functions in such a way that no abolition or revision or amendment of the sacred Canons can be justified.

They  do not remember - or they pretend not to remember - the words of the Lord, Who taught that "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27), without of course abolishing the Sabbath.

Finally, don't these people essentially become not only hostile towards the Canons, but also hostile towards people, or perhaps even homicidal towards them?


Source: pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com



In the end, one could surmise that in general, Canonoclasts who "lash out" and destroy the divine and sacred Canons (which are reflections of the Church) indirectly render themselves - and end up being - actual opponents of the Church.  In confirmation of the aforementioned, we would like to remind the reader of the words of Saint John the Chrysostom:  "And I say that 'Church' ... not the walls of a church, but the laws of the Church... for the Church is not about walls and floors, but about faith and way of life." (10).

For all the above reasons, it is our humble opinion and proposal that the Church should, in a forthcoming (next) Ecumenical or General Council, preoccupy itself firstly and chiefly with the matter of Ecclesiology, with regard also to the matter of the sacred Canons and the place of the Canonoclasts - Church opponents or the Canonophiles that are within Her.  If the Church had expressed Her stance towards sacred Icons and the Iconoclasts - Iconophiles, then She should likewise be expressing Her stance in the matter of the divine and sacred Canons to begin with and in principle, and subsequently on the matter of the Canonoclasts and the Canonophiles.

At the same time, the entire pleroma of the Church should ask itself:  If the proper or due honour is appropriate for Holy Icons, shouldn't there be an analogous (or greater) honour bestowed on the divine and sacred Canons?  Furthermore, if the proper honoring of Icons transcends to the holy personages depicted therein, then shouldn't the proper honoring of the Canons of the Church transcend to the Holy Church and Her divine Head?

And in the opposite case, if the dishonoring and disregard of the Icons transcends to the holy persons depicted therein, wouldn't it perhaps be along the same logic, to say that the disregard and dishonoring of the sacred Canons transcends to the Persons of the Most Holy God and the the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church who  legislated and instituted them?

On the basis of these facts and the related analogies and "terms" and questions, the Church should deliberate and decide whether in the case of the Canonoclasts and the Canonophiles we are in fact dealing with an ecclesiological heresy, as in the case of the Iconophiles and the Iconoclasts.  In which case, the ministering Church will duly enlighten Her fold - both the clergy and the laity - and perhaps even warn them, and finally implement the appropriate measures and/or penances. 


* Sciolism:   the practice of opinionating on subjects of which one has only superficial knowledge.


1. V. Lossky - Transl. by St.PlevrakisThe Mystic Theology of the Eastern ChurchThessaloniki 1964, p.206. Cmp. Const.Mouratides'  The constitutional consolidation of the sacred Canons,  from the series «Koinonia», Vol.17 (1974), p.150-151.

2. J.KarmirisĎrthodox Ecclesiology, (Section V Dogmatics), Áthens 1973, p. 520.

3. Dionysios Psarianos, Metropolitan of Servia and Kozani,  Ode of Gracein Athens, 1969, p. 168.

4. G. Rallis - M..PotlisConstitution of the divine and sacred CanonsVol.II, p. 556.
    (English translation of Canons available here : http://jbburnett.com/resources/canons/7can/7can01.html)

5. The relative Canons are thereafter presented by name.

6. G. Rallis - M..PotlisVol.II, p. 308-310.

7. See Pan. BoumisCanonical Law3rd Edition by "Gregoris" publications, Athens 2002, p. 69: «The interpreter and the prerequisited for interpreting the sacred Canons», and « Principles of interpretation (and harmonization) of the s. Canons».

8. See Pan. BoumisCanonical Lawp. 51.

9. See Pan. BoumisCanonical Lawp. 60.

10. John the Chrysostom , Homily: When Eutropios found himself outside the Church, he was excommunicated, ŃG 52, 395.


Translation:  K.N.

Article published in English on: 8-7-2011.

Last update: 8-7-2011.