*Please forgive my reduncy from past posts, some unedited new comments, etc. I was asked about this topic and whipped up my thoughts ratherly quickly.
This week in honor of Christian unity there are many prayer services where Christians of various denominations will come together to pray with one another in an attempt to bear witness in some form or another. In my own area of central Massachusetts there will be an ecumenical prayer service hosted at Assumption College in Worcester, MA by its Ecumenical Institute.
Bearing witness to the Truth of Christ is a duty of every Orthodox Christian, of this there is no compromise. This is true ecumenism, to preach the gospel and to baptize all nations, bearing witness to the Truth of Christ. I take the high road on such matters agreeing with Metropolitan Philaret, former First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, who expressed sober views on those outside of Orthodoxy.He wrote, “It is self-evident... that sincere Christians who are Roman Catholics, or Lutherans, or members of other non-Orthodox confessions, cannot be termed renegades or heretics — that is, those who knowingly pervert the truth.... They have been born and raised and are living according to the creed which they have inherited, just as do the majority of you who are Orthodox; in their lives there has not been a moment of personal and conscious renunciation of Orthodoxy. The Lord, “Who will have all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4) and “Who enlightens every man born into the world” (Jn 1:9), undoubtedly is leading them also towards salvation in His own way [From the pamphlet “Will the Heterodox Be Saved?” (Leaflet #213 published by the St. John of Kronstadt Press)].
Today, however, we have many “churches” claiming to be the one, true Church. Only the Holy Orthodox Church can legitimately claim this title. Some possess “mechanical” apostolic succession, but succession in this form, removed from adhering to the true faith is deficient and viewed as null and void, being outside the boundaries of the Holy Orthodox Church. The Church has always existed and is traceable by the apostolic succession of a valid bishop who teaches apostolic truth. This is essential for the spiritual and historic continuity of the true apostolic church. Paul urges us in Holy Writ: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2. 5). The Church is not just a human organization of brick and mortar and the material world, but the holy and blessed mystical Body and cosmic reality of Christ Jesus, the Logos.
The Holy Orthodox Church is relatively unknown in North America yet it is the original Christian Church. Roman Catholicism can claim the same faith for hundreds of years after Pentecost and even historical continuity since the apostles, but the truth has been preserved undefiled in Holy Orthodoxy. Protestant Christianity, on the other hand, was a reaction to further innovations and abuses of Roman Catholicism and broke from Rome starting another “church”. From there it has been division after division with all types of varying beliefs in western Christendom. Today we now have by some credible sources over 25,000 different branches of Protestantism! This is diametrically opposed to our Lord’s teaching of one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
False Ecumenism is a deceitful, syncretistic movement seeking false intercommunion between all Christian denominations and eventually all religions. Despite doctrinal differences, heretical innovations and scandal, ecumenism tries to unite Truth with falsehoods. It exploits man’s need for acceptance and worldly peace and recognition under the pretenses of "love", "peace”, “harmony” and acceptance to slowly and ambiguously nullify the teachings of Christ into a one world religion created by the minds of men. This is best reflected in Freemasonry, liberal Protestantism and self-styled evangelists who start new “churches” as if the Church has ceased to exist despite our Lord’s own words, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20). This promise was made not specifically to the world, but to the Church, the sacrament of His presence. And yet, it is precisely Christ's abiding presence in the Church that is His saving presence in the world. When Christ comes in glory, He will come as a Bridegroom to receive not the kingdoms of this world, but His spotless Bride, the Church (cf. Eph. 5:25-27)…..the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (cf. Matthew 16:18). The Church, therefore, is a divine-human Mystery. But more than that, She is the Mystery of Trinitarian Life: that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee . . . that they may be one, even as We are one (John 17:21-22). Jesus promised His abiding presence to His Body, the Church, which is the fullness of Him Who filleth all in all (Eph. 1:23). He promised to send the Holy Spirit Who would guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13).
Under the false pretenses of "love" and "peace," the Ecumenists even promote the union of Christianity with non-Christian religions. As a gesture of "love" the Ecumenists have forsaken the truth of Christ, forgetting that love without truth is false love. The fundamental belief of Ecumenism is that the whole truth does not exist in any single denomination or religion, but that all sects and cults contain a portion of the truth, and that the whole truth can only be found when all denominations, cults, sects and even religions unite. Since external unity cannot be achieved due to the sense of power each religion desires to retain, the Ecumenists have sought to form a union of all religions through compromising matters of the faith. Thereby all religions may keep their individual doctrines and traditions, but all should unite under the banner of a common belief in a divine power, whether this be God, Buddha or the numerous deities of Hinduism and other pagan faiths.
Many ecumenists promote the union of Christianity with non-Christian religions, recognizing false gods as equal to Christ. This so-called "love" the Ecumenists have forsaken the truth of Christ, forgetting that love without truth is false love indeed. The philosophy of Ecumenism is that there is no whole truth and the whole truth does not exist in any single visible denomination or any religion, but that all sects can
contain a portion of the truth, even if their beliefs differ considerably. A false union of all religions through compromising matters of the faith is a disgrace to the cross of Christ. Ecumenism allows all religions to keep their individual doctrines, traditions, and teachings, forcing a sort of pseudo-unity unite under the banner of a common “god”. God can be “mother earth, Buddha or the numerous deities of Hinduism and other pagan beliefs in stark contrast to our knowledge of the Holy Trinity.
Now this is ecumenism of the most extreme, usually it is much more subtle that goes undetected or unchallenged. The Protestant theory of fragments (fragmentation meaning pieces of the Truth exist apart from one another and no one has the entire Truth, not one body, but a heresy as the mystical body cannot be divided), that Roman Catholics are the same faith, that denominations which deny the Trinity, the Eucharist, who distort basic Christian principles are somehow of the same yoke.
Although a tome can be written on the subject I think the modern heresy of our times is false ecumenism. I do not criticize dialogue which is good, but bad ecumenism where Truth is reduced to be almost meaninglessness for the sake of superficial outward unity and so-called peace. It is in this heresy of ecumenism that all previous hereises are accepted. Since anything goes so to speak one can have superficial unity externally with Arianists, those who deny the Eucharist, Gnostic tendencies and every other heresy made manifest in history under the guise of love, acceptance and a fraternal embrace. It is through this that I truly feel that our desire for love, unity and brotherhood are exploited, making us like Judas and creating a "Christ" we want and not the One who has been revealed in the flesh.
The sacred canons and professions must be upheld. It is essential that the true unity of the Holy Orthodox Church exists in the unblemished expression of the total harmony of Her bishops who hold to these guiding canons., by a common undivided and apostolic faith and a common, pure and holy spiritual life rooted in her Holy tradition. Church's canons are a direct reflection of the essential and unchanging Faith and Doctrine it so proclaims universally throughout all of time. Renovation to the practice of the internal, spiritual life of the Church will certainly cause disarray, confusion and the possibility of error. As taken from Canon I of the Second Ecumenical Synod, “"Let not the Symbol of Faith be set aside…but let it remain unchanged: and let every heresy be given over to anathema.” Or let us look at the eighth proceeding of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod. “If anyone breaks any ecclesiastical tradition, written or unwritten, let him be anathema. We are obligated, despite the times which change as the seasons, to maintain the Truth of the gospel message undefiled and without addition, subtraction or innovation.A bishop has a most difficult task in preserving apostolic truth without alteration or corruption.
The local church certainly constitutes the fullness of the Catholic Church. If it a legitimate assembly possessing the necessary apostolic heritage, faith and worship, gathered around a legitimate bishop rightly imparting the word of truth, this assembly fully constitutes the Catholic Church, not a mere part of it, but the fullness, united to Christ and all others through time and history who have proclaimed the truth. This local assembly would then be partakers of Christ in the Eucharist, united to Christ. It would be of one mind with the saints, martyrs and the angelic hosts, the prophets, all who live in Christ.
The Holy Spirit directs the Church and accomplishes that incomprehensible identification in which our incarnate Lord Jesus, and the Holy Eucharist, and the assembly of the Church are one and the same and are called the Body of Christ. To use a quote that I seem to use constantly due to its effectiveness from the mouth of the great exiled and persecuted Saint Athanasius, “You are the ones who are happy; you who remain within the Church by your Faith, who hold firmly to the foundations of the Faith which has come down to you from Apostolic Tradition. And if an execrable jealousy has tried to shake it on a number of occasions, it has not succeeded. They are the ones who have broken away from it in the present crisis. No one, ever, will prevail against your Faith, beloved Brothers. And we believe that God will give us our churches back some day. Thus, the more violently they try to occupy the places of worship, the more they separate themselves from the Church. They claim that they represent the Church; but in reality, they are the ones who are expelling themselves from it and going astray. Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ.”
The ever-memorable Metropolitan Philaret in his first sorrowful epistlestated unto the Church, "Can any one of us be silent if he sees that many of his brethren simultaneously are walking along a path that leads them and their flock to a disastrous precipice through their unwitting loss of Orthodoxy?"…of course not. “For there must be also heresies among you” (I Cor. 11:19). This is true to distinguish the authentic followers of Christ from those heretics who attempt to deceive the elect with their satanic entrapments.
Dr. Alexander Kalomiros wrote, “In the last days all will claim to be Orthodox Christians, and that Orthodoxy is as they understand it to be. But in spite of all this, those who have a pure heart and a mind enlightened by divine grace will recognize the Orthodox Church despite the apparent divisions and utter lack of external splendor. They will gather around the true priests, and they will become the pillars of the Church. Let the people of the world do whatever they will. Let there be ecumenical conferences; let the churches be united; let Christianity be adulterated; let the Tradition and life be changed; let the religions be united. The Church of Christ will remain unaltered, as Chrysostom says, because if even one of her pillars remains standing, the Church will not fall. "Nothing is stronger than the Church. She is higher than the heavens and broader than the earth. She never grows old; she always flourishes." - Against False Union, by Dr. Alexander Kalomiros (Seattle, WA: St. Nectarios Press, 1990 ),
Unity is noble task, but if performed under false pretenses for the sake of mere acceptance is nothing but demonic. It must be performed according to the canons of the Church and in the task of correction and spreading the authentic gospel, not mere syncretistic acceptance of all so-called Christian viewpoints and expressions. For what has Christ to do with Belial? Absolutely nothing! Hence we see the problem with modern day ecumenism. We must defend the faith unto death is necessary for the sake of our souls and that of our brethren. We, of course must also remain loving and not arrogant or possessing an unbecoming demeanor. Our Orthodoxy is not an occasion or excuse for arrogance, but instead loving correction, humility and repentance for our own personal shortcomings.
In an age where schism, heresy and misunderstanding appear to reign supreme, we are losing sight of our mission to both live and preserve the authentic faith of Christ personally and communally. The Fullness of the Church is the Assembly of the people, the children of God for the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, the Divine Eucharist, wherein the local Church or Church proper becomes the true Body of Christ. It is in this Theandric organism that we are communally united, in which the Holy Trinity dwells and we participate on earth in the heavenly mysteries entrusted unto the Church of God.
Ultimately the mission of the Church as the continuation of Christ’s work here on earth means working towards the salvation of souls, that of our own souls and those of dear brethren. Yes there are Christians of all yoke among us, but we need to be careful of subtractions and additions to the faith of our Fathers. Protestant minimalism seeks to look for the lowest common denominator in faith pointing to an ecclesiology in which the bare minimum is required, basically Christianity without the cross. Many rooted in medieval, counter-reformation and post-Vatican II ideas introduced into the Roman Church may have many unnecessary additions to the life of the Church or complete innovations and the overstepping of boundaries in regards to formulated principles. This is evident with some Marian devotions, the use of indulgences and many worldly actions of the papacy. There are even other clerics who are fully liberal, calling for the rejection of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, seeing Him as simple a cosmic archetype and not the Son of God.
There are certainly many innovations evoking confusion among clergy and laity alike. The true and essential unity of the Holy Orthodox Church is fully expressed by the total harmony of her bishops, by a common undivided and apostolic faith and a common, pure and holy spiritual life. The Holy Spirit directs the Church and accomplishes that incomprehensible identification in which our incarnate Lord Jesus, and the Holy Eucharist, and the assembly of the Church are one and the same and are called the Body of Christ. Also the he Church's canons are a direct reflection of the essential and unchanging Faith and Doctrine it so proclaims universally throughout all of time.