Stylianos I. Charalambakis (1916-2009) Former Priest of the Greek Orthodox Church

The Apostle Paul writes in the Bible:

1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Man is born into this world, immersed in ignorance and without knowledge, unable to recognize himself or his environment. Inherent to his nature is childhood ignorance. However, as the years go by, with God’s power, man can move from insensitivity and callousness to feeling and awareness, and from ignorance to knowledge, and such was I. Indeed, I started to learn about myself, my background and upbringing, and the values which my parents held. I always upheld the strong religious convictions which I formed under the influence of my parents and teachers. All these things in my youth taught me to fear God. Thus, I decided to become a monk, thinking I would save my soul whilst serving the Lord.

Although at the monastery I realized that I was actually far from serving God and saving my soul, they still considered me suitable for the priesthood. On 13 June 1943, I was ordained a priest and remained in the Greek Orthodox priesthood for the next 12 years.

But how could I be certain that I believed in God’s truth and not in the religious institutions and traditions added by men over the centuries? How do I know that I have not been deceived along with my parents and others in my society? There is an old [Greek] adage which says, “Among men, to know yourself is most difficult”. This proverb testifies and shows that people are in complete ignorance and do not know the nature of God or man. Consequently, they have neither rendered to God the adoration which He truly deserves, nor to man the honour he deserves. Ignorance has planted false doctrines in their hearts, leading them astray and deceiving them not only from matters of life but also in regard to the true worship of God.

I was exactly in such a condition albeit unwittingly. Thankfully, God did not leave me to wander about in my poverty stricken spirit. Help came and, as I studied His divine word, He showed me the way to become a servant of the spirit and not of the letter.

Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those words were truly the start of my spiritual journey. The Lord taught me that with the power of the Holy Spirit, I must free myself of all manner of selfishness and pride, and become like a harmless and innocent child. I discovered true worship (John 4:24) and my real vocation in life (Matt28:19, Mark 16:15) by systematically researching the Bible and as a result of the light which the Divine Light-Giver was giving to my heart.

The word of God now began to work in my heart and gave me the absolute certainty that the doctrines which we inherited from our forefathers, with all the emphasis on empty formalities and rituals, were not taught by the Lord and the Apostles. The Bible informs us that God is a Spirit” (John 4:24). Worshipping and serving God must conform to His nature. Surely the material things, like ecclesiastical vessels, priestly vestments, etc., get in the way of true worship, because their physical nature is not at all like the spiritual nature of God.

The early apostolic Church never used religious ceremonies and rituals such as those performed by the Greek Orthodox priests. Neither did they use material objects or other items to convey their worship. Instead, the believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42).

As soon as the Lord revealed these truths to me, I stopped believing in the Greek Orthodox traditions and oral teachings. Of course, when my bishop branded me as a “heretic”, I began to face difficult persecution. Nevertheless, the Word of God gave me much comfort since He would not allow me to be tempted more than I could bear (1Cor 10:13). I would always loudly repeat with boldness those encouraging words of the Apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” Philippians 4:13.

I realised that I had to pass through a furnace in order to strengthen my character and prove my trust in God. I was certain that a lamb, under the watchful eye of God, will not be eaten by a wolf.

Serious issues continued to occupy my mind. It was not just that the ritualistic way of worship was not in agreement with the Word of God, but the priesthood should no longer exist. The sacrifice of our Lord abolished the need for the Old Testament priesthood.  The sacrifices which were performed by the priests of the Old Testament foreshadowed the unique sacrifice of Christ. Since the Lord Himself made that sacrifice, we must accept that the priesthood was transferred to Him. This is what the Bible emphasises in Heb. 7:23-25 and 9:12. Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled the propitiation, thus removing the need for priests. They should no longer exist because no more sacrifices are made. The word of God is clear about this matter. Hebrews 10:12-14  12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God;  13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.  14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

According to the Bible, there should be no priesthood. Ever since Christ was sacrificed on the cross there exists “a royal priesthood” (1Peter 2:9) made up of all believers in the Redeemer Jesus who “hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father” (Revelation 1:6).

Furthermore, human priests cannot forgive sins but only Christ can. He was sacrificed in order to forgive sinners. Matthew 9:6 “The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” Salvation is granted by believing in the redeeming work which Christ did on the cross. Ephesians 2:8-9   8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Consequently, the priestly clergy are not the custodians and distributors of divine grace. Orthodox doctrine is wrong when it claims the priests have the authority to bind and loose (Matt 18:18). The Orthodox Church misinterprets this verse in applying the function to the priests. The New Testament nowhere mentions that the Apostles ever made use of this authority. They never invited people to come and confess their sins to them. The authority of binding and loosing which the Lord gave his Apostles was in relation to matters of discipline in the Christian community.

Until the 3rd century A.D. the Christian Church regarded all believers as priests, without exception. Each believer is a member of the one and only priest, Jesus Christ. This is confirmed in the writings of the Church Fathers, e.g. Tertullian, Justin, Irenaeus of the 2nd century and Origen of the 3rd century. Also other documents such as the Didache of the Apostles, Epistle of Clement and Epistle of Polycarp refer to only two ecclesiastical offices, namely, bishop or elder, and deacon. Only the Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (2nd century) speak about priests and high priests. Balanos, a professor of theology, wrote in his Patrologia (pp.48, 51,52) that these epistles were forged in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. However, the Word of God is clear on this, and what those epistles say is unimportant.

Now that I had more Biblical understanding, I had to decline the promotion which my superiors offered me. With my newfound faith, I felt the Lord calling me to resign from the priesthood which had been a big obstacle in my spiritual progress. I sought forgiveness, through the blood of Christ, from my God and Father for all the sins which I committed in my life, including those done in ignorance. Immediately, I lifted up my voice, thanking God for His precious promise that He would not remember my unrighteousness, sins and iniquities anymore. Hebrews 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

I left the [Greek Orthodox] Church which I served for 12 whole years and became part of the Evangelical Church, not so that I would be an enemy of the former but rather its friend. As a Protestant, free from the tyranny of the Bishops who forced me to see only as far they could see, I could, as a Greek citizen respecting the laws, raise my voice in anxiety and pain, and call my former fellow priests to repentance – “Repent and believe the Gospel.”

Now I am a minister of God “… not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). I see the aspiration of my life freed from the dead formalities. I will hold on to those words which the Lord said to the Samaritan woman, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

Those who criticize Charalambakis falsely claim that he was only a deacon and was defrocked because he got engaged. The Orthodox Church allows men who are already married to become deacons and priests. However, if a single man is ordained as a deacon or priest, then he is forbidden to marry.

In fact, Charalambakis reached the rank of Archimandrite and became known as Seraphim. He never mentioned this higher position out of humility.

He was not defrocked by his superiors but because he believed in Christ as his Savior,  he resigned from the priesthood of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Ampelokipi, Athens on 14 February 1955. After he became a private citizen, through a mutual friend, he met a fine young lady on 28 April 1955. Three months later, on 28 August 1955, he married Stella at the Church of God, Athens. The ceremony was performed by the then pastor, Nicolas Zazanis. Charalambakis’s marriage lasted until his death in 2009.