Patriarch Bartholomew is Not Infallible

Patriarch Bartholomew is Not Infallible

November 17, 2013

Bishops make mistakes. They are human, of course they make mistakes. Because they have so much influence, and even control over people’s spiritual lives, when they make mistakes, the results can be quite damaging. Permanent infallibility of the teachings of bishops is a concept which thankfully, has not invaded Orthodox theology. Infallibility, or the impossibility to be wrong on a theological issue, is a teaching that has been adopted by some Christian churches.  The Orthodox Church believes that the Church and her teachings are infallible. The combination of teachings derived from Sacred Scripture, Holy Tradition, and select writings of the Holy Fathers are deemed to be infallible. But what exactly within this collection, when opened to interpretation, is deemed to be infallible and unshakeable is an open question. For example, while the words and celebration of the Divine Liturgy are an integral part of the Orthodox Church, and infallible in general, amending and translating the words or modifying the serving of the divine services does not retract their inherent infallibility. The Divine Liturgy is replete with words from Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers, but the Liturgy continues to live and be lived in spite of going through numerous changes throughout the millennia.  One can find teachings in the writings of the Holy Fathers that contradict other teachings of other venerable Holy Fathers, and therefore all of the teachings found within the canon of patristic literature are not infallible.

In the Orthodox Church infallibility does not extend to the pastoral letters, sermons, speeches, and actions of living bishops. When a bishop or indeed an entire synod of bishops issue a document or letter or deliver a sermon or speech, the views expressed are not to be taken as infallible Church dogma. They are to be seen as informative and as guidelines, but not part of the canon of the infallible teachings of the Orthodox Church. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of an Orthodox theologian “getting it wrong” is Origen, from the third century, whose teachings were only officially condemned three hundred years after his death. The bishops are called to teach and be an example to the faithful – and at times they get it wrong. A modern case in point is a sermon delivered in September 2013 by His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, while he was in Estonia visiting the Orthodox faithful under his care.

Patriarch Bartholomew’s homily, delivered at the Cathedral of St, Symeon in Tallinn, Estonia, centered on the topic of the relationship between the Church and the family. During his words he condemned gay marriage as a foreign “ecclesiastical mindset and way of life”.[1] In his introduction, the Patriarch reminded the faithful that marriage is a mystery that is sanctified to bring heath, life, salvation and sanctification. It is a mystery, he states, of co-creation. And yet we know that the Orthodox Church blesses marriages where the possibility of “creating life” is biologically impossible. For example, in the case of couples where sterility is an issue or in couples that marry later in life. In a broader understanding of “creating life”, the Church even participates in the destruction of a sanctified marriage by no longer recognizing a first marriage and blessing the celebration of a second and even a third marriage.  

His All-Holiness re-called the miracle of Christ performed at the marriage at Cana of Galilee, when Jesus changed water into wine. This blessing and divine action, as recorded in the Gospel of John is read at each and every Orthodox crowning ceremony. Patriarch Bartholomew then states that “the partnering of the same sex is unknown and condemned” by our Lord Jesus Christ, “which is the result of sin and not the law of joy…”[2] And yet one searches the Gospel in vain for the words of our Lord condemning homosexuals, and homosexual partnering. And for those who encourage the acceptance of any false doctrine, including gay marriage, the Patriarch has particularly harsh words; he refers to our actions as “cancerous disorders”. It is perhaps then ironic that His All-Holiness included the following recognition in his sermon.

God blessed our every effort towards the fulfillment of His will, and every struggle in life, according to one’s faithfulness in each and every talent. It suffices to realize in time our given talents and gifts and therefore our obligation for our every personal role which God expects us to live out in the ecclesiastical and familial body as Orthodox Christians, activating its divine-human nature, within the framework of our God-give limits and conditions. (Emphasis mine) (

If I had the opportunity to speak with His-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew in person, I would invite him to our home, a home created by my husband and I. Hopefully as Christ did not refuse to enter the home of Zacchaeus, the tax collector (Luke 19:1-7) the Patriarch would also not refuse the invitation. He would see a loving relationship and a home that is not a “cancerous disorder”, but a home and a relationship that is very much reflects of the will of God.  We live every day to the fullest, making every effort to utilize our God given talents and gifts. God has blessed our love, our relationship and our home, it is the Patriarch who refuses to do so. May his heart and mind be opened.

[1] For a complete translation of the Patriarch’s sermon, offered by John Sanidopoulos, see the website Mystagogy.


[2] See the above website

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Joseph

    Albeit Saint Paul was a convert and most zealous in his conversion and his love for and following of Christ, he, Saint Paul was not infallible. His writing may be canonized in scripture and read at liturgies almost daily, he still was not infallible. I have found many of his writings to be personal opinions on the various matters which he addressed. I sometimes think the man of Tarsus was deeply in the closet of his time. Too much credence has been given to him and not enough to Peter and the twelve (which Paul was not one of). I prefer the words of Christ before anyone else. Christ sent the woman caught in adultery away, un-condemned and unharmed. Paul was at the martyrdom of Stephen. Anyone see the difference?

    1. andre

      Thank you for your comment and support of this website. The Church has interpreted the writings of St. Paul as well as Scripture in general for centuries. One example is Timothy 3:2, that the bishop must be the husband of one wife. How many Orthodox bishops are married (legally and openly) today? None.
      I bid you peace,

  2. James

    Dear Georges et al, I would like to know what sort of science admits several sexes? In my understanding, and forgive my ignorance, there are only two. One is male, the other female. Isn't this the method that nature so cleverly devised in order for the human race to continue on, reproduce and evolve, so to speak? Maybe, in fact, the human race is actually dying out. We have evolved to a point where we no longer need so many persons to habit the planet. Therefore, evolution, if one so wishes to aknowledge this as an absolute form of natural progress, has cleverly devised a method of preventing human reproduction – the homosexual, or even multi-polar human being. I wonder?

    It's either that, or if you believe in God and the Churches fundamental teachings, that Homosexuality is a sin; a passion if you will, that we must pick up our cross and struggle against. St Paul talks about this in his epistle to the Romans.

    God's Wrath against Sin
    26For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,…

    Cross References

    Leviticus 18:22
    "'Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

    Leviticus 20:13
    "'If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

    1 Corinthians 6:9
    Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men

    Jude 1:7
    In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

    I do believe that Christ came and preached a new gospel – one of love and tollerance, but also one of fighting against sin and the passions, with all one's heart, strength, sould and mind – and love your neighbour as yourself. 

    Again, forgive my ignorence, and pray for me.

    In Christ,


  3. Georges

    The problem of the patriarch is two-fold.

    First, most of the Churches are celibate-oriented. If you look carefully in the menaions for the 12 months, there’s no heterosexual non-martyr couple named to be saints. The Western has only two: saint Paulinus, bishop of Nola, with his wife Tharaisa/Therese; and saint Isidore the farmer and his wife Mary of the Head. On the other hand, almost every day, the menaia and martyrologia recall lots of monks. Since the Trullo “council”, bishops cannot get married. Isn’t the marriage a sacrament, and the monastic profession a non-sacrament? Why then monasticism gave more fruits than the marriages? They lack recognizing the sanctity of what they call a sacrament, only because their catechisms do. That’s a late, poisoned, theology of the marriage. The patriarchs and his fellows have issues with same-gender-marriage, just because they still have issues with different-gender-marriages.

    The second problem is science and the lack thereof. What’s the difference between a male and a female? In fact, science admits several sexes, other than the dual male/female.

  4. Takis

    I am afraid that there is no Saint (the tue exegetes of Scripture) or Scripture in support of what you call “God’s will” (ie: “For” rahther than “against” homosexuality).

    That modernity promises to supposedly stop what it perceives as suffering, is a ruse -especially from a spiritual perspective. The Church asks man to actually embrace suffering, and to ascesis -to divest the ‘old man’. That is not asking for “man to be alone” exactly. However, it obviously asks we are as chaste as we can, and refrain from sexual practices such as sodomy – whatever our attractions. The rules are there and being hellbent on changing them does not make someone come across as wanting union with Christ first and foremost. Calling our desires a “bleesing that God Himself has willed” or a “calling” (especially when the backing is the Churches extreme economy being asked to become even more extreme) maintanis that flawed reasoning I am trying to explain is the main issue at hand here…

  5. Takis

    Sorry if it came across that way! I am not saying homosexuality is in any way synonymous with pedophilia. The difference is, of course, huge!
    I also hoped that this extreme example/comparison I used -(for the” sake of argument” as I clarified but that clarification was missed entirely – I guess I shouldn’t have used it…)- would simply demonstrate that anyone can claim that their desires are God-made and therefore should be blessed however, that logic is faulty in the extreme…
    THAT is my point here.
    Also, you cannot bring the law into this argument, as the law was different a few years ago concerning homosexuality too – and still is in many places. So it is beside the point.
    Let’s use another example then:

    I am married with children. I am attracted to another woman (or man – the issue here is adultery). I have a God-inspired desire for such a consensual relationship in my own mind. Does that mean the Chruch should change its tradition and bless this?
    Sorry again for the unfortunate earlier example above!

    Also, I have never heard of the rite of brotherhood used as a marriage – isn’t that what St Sergius and Bachus had to confirm their brotherly bond?

    1. andre

      The Church DOES do what you are writing about – remarriage for a second, third and in a few cases a fourth time. The Church has always recognizes that “it is not good for man to be alone”. Since I am in my first marriage, this is not in anyway an adulterous relationship. The rite of brotherhood has been used for centuries by the Church, and I have suggested that it be used for gay marriages. Gay Orthodox for the most part are NOT called to celibacy. We are called to love and be loved in relationships blessed by God. We are not calling for relationships that are illegal or immoral. We are asking for the outward blessing of the Church, a blessing that God Himself has willed.

  6. Takis

    I have a simple question for you – please don’t delete it as it is KEY to understanding each other here….
    Let’s say that I have a God instilled ‘desire to create a loving relationship’ and I also have a “God made” sexual attraction to three to six year olds (I am obviously being extreme here for the sake of argument), does that mean the Church should bless this?????? Is that not the “logic” in most of what is being said here – as in your above comment!?

    1. andre

      Your question is offensive. Homosexuality is NOT synonymous with pedophilia. Also what you are suggesting is against the law. Minors can’t consent to such relationships. Gay MEN are attracted to gay MEN. If you do not see the difference between blessing the long term and mature relationship of two grown men and NOT the unlawful, perverted relationship between you and a three year old, then I would not know where to begin a discussion with you, and therefore would end ours.

  7. Anonymous

    I have a simple question for you – please don’t delete it as it is KEY to understanding each other here….
    Let’s say that I have a God instilled ‘desire to create a loving relationship’ and I also have a “God made” sexual attraction to three to six year olds (I am obviously being extreme here for the sake of argument), does that mean the Church should bless this?????? Is that not the “logic” in most of what is being said here – as in your above comment!?

  8. Takis

    It is impossible for anyone to say that their sexual desires, thoughts, etc., represent “how they were born.” Human life is exceedingly complex, influenced and effected at all times by the whole of its experience. We are psychosomatic unities. 
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Christian tradition is deeply concerned with the sexual aspect of our lives. The canonical description of sexual relations is somewhat “complex.” It is not simply, “Married people do it, nobody else does.” It would be better said that for even heterosexual married people, sexual activity is fraught with difficulty.
    At present, sexual identity has become a highly charged political issue. Positing the “politically correct” set of arguments is a flawlessly Marxist ruse. The essence of its rhetoric equipment is to take an issue and strip it of its moral content and describe it instead in political terms. Thus moral content is relativized (it’s just your opinion) while the issue is described as political (its a matter of personal freedom or “equal rights”). In a short time, the argument shifts, and the political description becomes the moral norm so that the old moral becomes the new immoral… It’s quite effective, and very much a matter of a conscious decision and a concerted effort.

    Narratives of human suffering and redemption are being created and exploited for a wide variety of purposes. Sadly these narratives are even finding their way into theological discussions. Proponents describe a suffering, indeed a great pathos, within the gay community. The truth is, there is great suffering and pathos everywhere. Human lives (including those of multiple marriages) are full of suffering. It is for us to be merciful and kind. The hatred that some direct towards others has no place within the Church. But erecting a false narrative of human sexual union will not ultimately remove the suffering of any. The transient joy of personal fulfillment is a very sad substitute for salvation and Theosis. Human life, including human sexual experience, is filled with distortions and disasters. Orthodoxy, in obedience to Christ, can offer no solace to anyone other than the ascesis of the Cross taken up

    1. andre

      It is much simpler than you present. There is nothing false about my love for my husband, I take umbrage at that suggestion. Millions of men are not attracted to women, they are homosexuals, God made them that way. They also have instilled in them the desire to create a loving relationship.
      God has blessed this, the Church should do the same.

  9. Takis

    “Because of this did God give them up to dishonorable passions, for even their females did change their natural function into that which is against nature; and in like manner also the males having left the natural use of the female, did burn in their longing toward one another….” (Romans 1:26-27) is certainly a condemnation -of many- that we accept as from the “mouth of Christ” even if Christ did not condemn certain passions explicitly such as incest, homosexuality, drugs…
    I cannot understand how you keep claiming “God has blessed” you union? Unless you are Protestant where are the Orthodox tradition;s blessing?
    Besides, as Christians we understand that the great mystery of marriage can never be captured between a relationship of Christ and Christ or church and church.

    1. andre

      Jesus Christ forbade second marriages and yet the Orthodox Church allows second and even third marriages. Therefore to only quote Scripture on this or any other issue is faulty. If we relied only on Scripture, Orthodox Christians would not be allowed to eat shrimp, and women would not be allowed to speak in Church and other numerous issues. My marriage was blessed by a canonical Orthodox priest using the ancient rite of brotherhood. I am an Orthodox Christian and so is my husband.

  10. Anonymous

    God shows forth in everything that we do… even when we sin, we are constantly reminded of God, and what his plan is for us. God often comes to our minds and blesses our Conscious, and shows that through him, we will see our right path. I cannot say whether your relationship is in vain or not.. but what I can say is that having a spiritual father, and obeying his will (as said in the divine ascent) is one of the first steps needed to be taken before even reaching heaven. I feel that when you post a blog entry that is only known to 198 orthodox people out of the millions of orthodox christians throughout the world, it is only saying half of the story, especially when talking about a holy man. Positions of power in the Orthodox church are blessed by God, and have been known since the beginning of time, just as God knew Pannagia would conceive the Lamb Jesus Christ. God knows all of our mistakes, and having confession to get them forgiven is God’s blessing to us. Even if we confess on our own in private, it is his blessing to have them washed away from us in Holy confession. Our sins are made known to God before they even occur, and having a spiritual father is a blessing since God is speaking through him… In Holy confession, God is helping us get over our passions, and realizing what passions we have. Although I have not read all of the blog entries, I think that it is none of anyones business to take the flaws out of anyone else… especially such a holy man. we can use that tool wisely, and focus on our sins even harder. Again, I do not know you, but I will say to please be mindful of the people you are talking about. We are all going through struggles in our own daily lives, but one day God will show us the way.

    Pannagia mazi sas.

    1. andre

      I thank you for your comment about the article. Although you do not identify yourself, I accept the sincerity of what you are saying. Indeed we are all sinners. However, those who God created as heterosexuals do not sin simply for loving their husband or wife, expressing that love, and making a family that is Christ centered. This is denied to the man or woman who God created as homosexual. You state that my views are known to only 198 people – perhaps. The website has 10 times that in traffic every month. 198 is only current number of Facebook likes. But these numbers are irrelevant. What is the truth is that His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is not infallible and on the issue of gay marriage, he is wrong. My prayer and the prayer of millions of LGBT Orthodox Christians and their families is that he will open his heart and mind to the possibility that God loves us just as much as He loves the heterosexuals He created. I hope and pray that you will get to know one or two Orthodox gay people who desire to live Christ-centered lives just as you do. You will see that the love they desire is just as holy as the love you desire. Just because we are gay or lesbian does not make us any more sinful that anyone else. I bid you peace.


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