Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Assault on Patristic Ecclesiology: A Personal Reflection of the Branch Theory: Part 1

I hope this blog post does not come across as bold, hateful or full of contempt because it is not. It is not meant to be exhaustive, absolute, or a complete defense or position paper either. It is a small compilation of thoughts of a simple clergyman who sees something which is a threat. It is not unique as it has been addressed before and by those much more competent than I.


I personally love and respect all, understanding that we are all in different stages of life, have been reared in different faiths, exposed to different historical circumstances and the like, knowing full well that not everyone has been exposed to Orthodoxy or has made a conscious decision to reject it. Adherents to Orthodoxy are not guaranteed salvation and those outside of her fold are not automatically condemned. That would be insane fundamentalism. Actually just about all of my outreach ministry in the area of nursing home and hospice work and past efforts with the homeless were with non-Orthodox, so, I am not some hateful bigot, I just love Truth. This post is written more for Orthodox people who read my blog and it serves as an airing of thoughts as I continue to witness the “fruits” of the so-called branch theory.

One must not under any circumstance harbor anger, hatred or malice towards a person or group that is hostile toward those who are faithful, period. On the contrary Christ tells us that, one must love him or them unceasingly and do as much good as humanly possible towards him, despite the error, arrogance, violence or hatred. Following the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you" (Mt. 5:44).

Also, I understand and support that on the basis of morality, societal issues, humanitarian causes and so forth, we can have a common witness with those outside the Church in standing against such frightening issues as violence, greed, genocide, so-called same sex marriages, human starvation and a plethora of issues which afflict all humanity and are a common concern to all who label themselves as Christians. My own patriarch, Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russia in recent times stated that: “Together with Roman Catholics, we stand together in facing aggressive secular liberalism, in defence of the traditional Christian understanding of family values and human life. We present a united front against certain sorts of medical-biological experimentation, as so much of it isn’t compatible with a proper respect for human dignity.” This is completely different than accepting false the eccliesology of those outside the Church. It is a heathly balancing act of love, but without compromise. It does not mean “union”, it means agreeing on issues that afflict all human beings and taking a stand. However, even in joint efforts standing against the kingdom of this world we need to be careful. This is one problem I had with the “Manhatten Declaration”. Although I agree with its premise and what it supports, at its heart was that all differing confessions somehow constitute the “global church”.


Archbishop Averky of our Holy Russian Church of blessed memory stated the following: “We are living in a strange time, when all the true and healthy Christian concepts are being replaced by false and deceitful concepts, discovered often with an evil intention with the undoubted intention, naturally, of drawing people away from the right path of a truly Christian life.”

As time, as we humans perceive it, goes on I am exposed more and more too Orthodox clergymen who believe in the branch theory. In good conscience I cannot accept this error. Arguing over truly semantic points, topics where liberty and opinion can be taken is often a waste of time and is not the problem. However there is no doubt in my mind that the branch theory is a direct assault on the nature of the Church, it is not backed up in our tradition and is a battle the Church has waged against constantly. Unfortunately many believe the modern fallacy that the branch theory is orthodox.

We know that compromise with error is falsehood indeed and guideposts from the holy ones before us have always been means of dealing with heretical innovations, various errors and issues which at first may seem like semantically orientated arguments, but in reality are a cancer which seek to enter the body of Christ in an attempt to whither her and ensnare her faithful. One thing is sure though, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18) We must remember what saints before us have proclaimed and even been persecuted for. St. Mark of Ephesus proclaimed "In matters of the Faith, there must be no concessions and no wavering...There exists no little or worthless word in matters of the Faith; and that which appears insignificant contains the most important meaning."


The Problem:

What is the branch theory? As with all errors which seek to ensnare the faithful it is rather ambiguous. It ranges from accepting other sacramental churches with some semblance of apostolic succession which is only mechanical in nature (Augustinian view), to a more brazen acceptance of many or all Christian churches as valid to even the insanity that all religions are sufficient and vehicles to salvation.

Is the Church divided? Does the Church embrace all forms of heresy, promotes schism, violate its own synodal decisions, violate its own canons, and spit in the face of its saints and martyrs? Of course not. Whether a moderate or extreme branch theorist, as opinions in its application vary, one thing is clear. It is not patristic.

The branch theory promotes that the Church differs in life, varying doctrines being acceptable or even in the extreme case of its proponents that the Church is not one as required by the very Creed and despite canons and patristic testimony. Canon 1 of the second ecumenical council and other guideposts are set aside brazenly as outdated or not applicable. In the Nicene Creed itself all Christians confess their belief in the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Oneness is essential and is a characteristic of Christ's Holy Church. The Church is not a set of different opinions and practices resulting in denominations having a common claim to follow Christ despite their contradictory life and belief. The Church, which is the Body of Christ, can never be divided, separated or exist in opposition to itself. It is one as the Holy Trinity is one. Christ is not schizophrenic having manifestations which contradict, this is just insane.


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. I am not talking about semantic points, matters of discipline but of the very underlying uniqueness of our holy church.


The branch theorists instead feel when the branches come back together, the fullness of the Church will be enacted. Under the branch theory those in schism and heresy are often embraced as co-equal to the faith delivered unto us by the saints. Under the branch theory the faith and life of an outside body, their “sacraments”, and witness are often misconstrued as no different than that of the mystical body of Christ.

Canon XLVI of the holy apostles states: We order any Bishop, or Presbyter, that has accepted any heretics' Baptism, or sacrifice, to be deposed; for "what consonancy hath Christ with Beliar? or what part hath the believer with an infidel?" Further St. Ignatius of Antioch in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Philadelphians states: “If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

We have Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council and also St. Basil the Great’s first canon and the testimony of St. Cyprian of Carthage that with apparent schism those who depart from the Church no longer possess the grace of the Holy Spirit, the priestly gift of grace is discontinued and void, and the transmission of the priesthood is obstructed. Without the transmission of the true priesthood, apostolic succession, those baptized by them are considered to be baptized by laymen at best. Consequently both argue that, “they have neither authority to baptize nor to ordain.”

Saint Cyprian of Carthage continues: “For if they shall see that it is determined and decreed by our judgment and sentence, that the baptism wherewith they are there baptized is considered just and legitimately in possession of the Church also, and the other gifts of the Church; nor will there be any reason for their coming to us, when, as they have baptism, they seem also to have the rest. But further, when they know that there is no baptism without, and that no remission of sins can be given outside of the Church, they more eagerly and readily hasten to us, and implore the gifts and benefits of the Church, our Mother, assured that they can in no wise attain to the true promise of divine grace unless they first come to the Truth of the Church.”

St. Mark of Ephesus in Florence, who spoke frankly as follows: "We have split ourselves off from the Latins for no other reason than the fact that they are not only schismatics but also heretics." He continues, "The synods condemn those who will not obey the Church and maintain opinions contrary to what she teaches. I neither preach to my own glory, nor have I said anything new or unknown to the Church. I keep intact the pure and unadulterated teachings with the Church has received and preserved, and continues to preserve, from Christ our Savior...Therefore, if I remain steadfast in this teaching and do not desire to deviate from it, how is it possible to judge me as a heretic? First, one must judge the teaching which I believe, and then judge me. If, however, the confession is holy and Orthodox, how can I justifiably be judged?"

St. John Chrysostom states;"Let not the systems of the heretics fool you, my dear listener: for they have a baptism, but no illumination; accordingly, they are baptized, it is true, with respect to the body, but as respects the soul they are not illumined."

A good modern evaluation by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos is: “The Church can receive this or that heretic by the principle of economy, without any implication that She recognizes as a Church the community that previously baptized him.” Ekklesiastike Parembase, No. 71 (December 2001) [In Greek]. Translated by and printed from Orthodox Tradition, Vol XX, No 2, pp. 40-43.

This is why I find the branch theory so repulsive, it undermines the ecclesiology of the church, uniting Truth with falsehood ambiguity and confusion, promotes or rather allows schism and heresy, and ultimately sees nothing wrong with it. St. Symeon the New Theologian says: "A lamp, even if it is filled with oil and possesses a wick, remains totally dark if it is not lighted with fire. So it is with the soul in appearance adorned with all virtues, if it does not have a light and the Grace of the Holy Spirit, it is extinguished and dark" (Homily 59).

A Personal Reflection of the Branch Theory Part 2

What adds to the confusion is the often contradictory statements and actions of those who are publicly visible in the Church and hold high positions of authority. But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, nor by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and [your] nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. (James 5:12)


Recently in an interview Patriarch Bartholomew stated:


“As I said earlier, all issues are intertwined with each other – socially, economically, and ideologically. Young people feel unsafe. The Orthodox Church has to offer the original faith as it existed during the first ten centuries of our common road with the West. That is to say, the faith and the Church as the true body of Christ. Before the Great Schism of 1054, all of Europe was Orthodox. Therefore, what the Church is called to offer is the simplicity and authenticity of the christian faith. We teach authenticity, ascetic morality and spirituality. All these are missing from the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.”


"The West was cut off from these values, and this is precisely what justifies the nostalgia that is manifested today. In recent years, more and more liturgical books of the Orthodox Church have been translated and published in foreign countries. Apart from the theological books, one may find spiritual guides in such books as the Philokalia, which is of great interest also to non-Orthodox people." (Source: Cafebabel.com)


On the contrary he has previously stated:


“Our Churches are recognized mutually as Sister Churches, responsible together for the preservation of the One Church of God...We exhort our faithful, Catholic and Orthodox, to strengthen the spirit of brotherhood, which derives from a single Baptism and participation in the sacramental life." (Episkepsis, No. 520, July 31, 1995, p.19)

And, further:

“We remind all that every form of proselytism... is absolutely condemned by the Orthodox. Proselytism, practiced in nations already Christian, and in many cases even Orthodox, poisons the relations among Christians and destroys the road to their unity. “(Summit Message of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches, given at the Phanar, Constantinople, on March 15, 1992; cited in The Struggle Against Ecumenism, Boston, 1998)


In reflection this is nothing but confusing and problematic but we must understand something. With all due respect Patriarch Bartholomew is not "Pope of the East" nor any kind of universal bishop, and certainly not infallible, so he does not speak for the entire Orthodox world. Citing such opinions as “sister church” even though they come from such a source do not necessarily mean they are Truth. Considering there is One Lord, one faith” (Ephesians 4:5) and we are to“Be ye all of one mind” (1 Peter 3:8) I find such overt contradictions disturbing. This is only one example of the many statements and actions of hierarchs who contradict the previous decisions and stand of those who have defended and died for the faith.


There are literally hundreds of phrases and actions we can be confused by, the playing of both sides of the fence. Here in the US for instance we have recent, lesser known documents/statements such as “Steps Towards A Reunited Church: A Sketch Of An Orthodox-Catholic Vision For The Future” and “Celebrating Easter/Pascha Together”. Contrast these statements with that of the “The Basic Principles of Attitude to the Non-Orthodox” issued by the Moscow Patriarchate or “The Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism” and we must ask; who is right? Is Orthodoxy divided, being of two mindsets?


The warming of relationships and mutual respect is a great accomplishment, but sentimentality and false assumptions which are completely blind to Orthodox decisions and patristic views of the past are a smokescreen more in line with the ecclesiology of the World Council of Churches than our holy fathers. It is interesting in all the ecumania how quick the branch theorists forget official statements such as those issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, for instance the Patriarchal Encyclical of 1895 which states: “But, as has been said before, the Western Church, from the tenth century downwards, has privily brought into herself through the papacy various and strange and heretical doctrines and innovations, and so she has been torn away and removed far from the true and orthodox Church of Christ.” In addition, there are the Encyclicals of the Eastern Patriarchs in 1848 regarding Papism and the Jerusalem Council of 1671 under Patriarch Dositheus of Jerusalem which dealt with Protestantism.

Personal statements of scholastics that are often falsely deemed “theologians” if not re-iterating of bearing witness to the faith should be discarded. If the teachings do not echo what the Church has already held, died for and defended, they are not friends of God but workers of iniquity and deception, for they mix truths with unrighteousness (Romans 1.18) They deceive many who listen to their satanic diatribe. Instead of being “scholarly” they fall into the vanity of their own minds, complete with utter delusion, poor scholarship and complete disregard for the faith. We need to shed our emotion, personal will and just be honest. We do not hold the same faith as other confessions. It is just a sad fact and I pray many will be brought to the Truth. Compromising in essential areas will not bring others to the faith, but keep them from it, the blood on our own hands.

Let us be honest in evaluating the beliefs of other denominations and religions. Do we share the same fullness as those who do not believe in Christ? Do we share the same faith of those whose faith is based solely on rationalism, humanism and pride? Do we declare with one mind the same Truths of those who reject the salvific continual process of purification, illumination and glorification? With those whose sole faith is only the bible or with those who vehemently reject the holy mysteries, abhor the saints, decry icons as idolatry and who incorporate paganism and every other falsehood into their beliefs? Does one who does not work out their salvation with fear and trembling because of the false notion of being born again with the falsehood of once saved always saved, being saved by faith alone (despite biblical truth to the contrary …1st John 1:6 …Romans 11:22 …1 Cor. 9:26-27 …1 Cor. 10:12… Hebrews 10:26-29… Romans 8:7-8, etc.) hold the same faith? I can go on and on.

However, saying the above, declaring everyone who does not agree with us as heretics is rather uncharitable and should not be the ammunition we use. We must use love, honesty and be a living example. Saint Seraphim tells us that if we acquire the Holy Spirit thousands around us will be saved. Metropolitan Philaret, former First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, expressed sober views. 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)].


The Spirit blows where He will (John 3:8), but it is not up to us to lay aside Truth to dwell with error. Jesus certainly exalted the faith of the centurion whose servant was healed: 'Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.' (Matthew 8:10), but we cannot assume that all, including ourselves if we stray from Truth will be included. The point is that we adhere to the unadulterated, divinely revealed faith, not the opinions of men who distort the faith delivered once and all unto the saints. It is obvious that those outside of the Church are led to her experience grace. This is not to be confused with so-called sacramental grace. They are indeed being led to the fullness of Truth where they may communicate with the salvific energies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They who are outside of the church are best termed heterodox and not heretics unless they do subscribe to the unadulterated teaching of the church or unless they embrace heresy. Further we must remember that “all things are possible to him who believes.”(Mk. 9:23)

A Personal Reflection of the Branch Theory Part 3

The Church:


The church is a microcosm of the Holy Trinity and cannot be divided into branches which are at odds, lest the Holy Trinity be considered schizophrenic. St. Maximus the Confessor tells us that:"An Icon of the Triadic God is the Holy Church, as she operates the very union among the faithful to God, albeit to those who happen to be of different speech and from different places and customs, according to which [union], by the faith, are made one." (Patrologia Graeca, vol. 91 “Mystagogy,” ch. i, p. 668 B)

St. Photius the Great further states: "Wherefore, on the one hand, the unity of the Trinity towards itself, it is lawful to say, FORMED A CHURCH [Greek: ἐκκλησιάσασα, i.e. “was congregated”], while on the other hand, it is lawful to say, that, at the moment of the creation of mankind, the term “let us make man in our image and after our likeness,” was bestowed upon created man in oneness of opinion, and thereby the creation of mankind from shattered creation was prepared..." (Homily 9:9)

Pertaining to the Church, Saint Theophan the Recluse wrote the following: “What is the holy Church? It is a society of believers, united among themselves by a unity of confession of divinely revealed truths, by a unity of sanctification by divinely established Mysteries, and by a unity of government and guidance by God-given shepherds. The oneness of confession, sanctification, and administration constitutes the rule of this society, which is obligatory for anyone who joins it. Membership in this society is contingent upon accepting this rule and agreeing with it; remaining in this society is contingent upon fulfilling it. Let us see how the holy Church grew and how it continues to grow. The preachers preach. Some of the listeners do not accept the preaching and leave; others accept it and as a result of accepting it are sanctified by the holy Mysteries, follow the guidance of the shepherds, and thus are incorporated into the holy Church -- they are churched. That is how all the Church‘s members enter her. In entering her, they are mingled with all her members, they are united with them, and they remain in the Church only as long as they continue to be one with them all.”

St. John Chrysostom tells us, “Nothing is more abiding than the Church: she is your salvation; she is your refuge. She is more lofty than the heavens; she is more far-reaching than the earth. She never grows old; she always stays in bloom. And so Scripture indicates her permanence and stability by calling her a virgin; her magnificence by calling her a queen; her closeness to God by calling her a daughter; her barrenness turned to fecundity by calling her 'the mother of seven'. A thousand names try to spell out her nobility. Just as the Lord is called by many names - Father, Way, Life, Light, Arm, Propitiation, Foundation, Gate, Sinless One, Treasure, Lord, God, Son, Only-Begotten, Form of God, Image of God, - since one name could not hope to describe the Omnipotent, and many names give us some small insight into His nature, so the Church goes by many names.”


The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, 1983, signed by all the Bishops, to be permanently added at the end of the Anathemas listed in the "Rite of Orthodoxy," celebrated on the First Sunday of the Great Fast, the Sunday of Orthodoxy is sobering indeed for the Russian Orthodox faithful for whose protection it was enacted:


"To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the Priesthood and Mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and Eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their heresy of ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!"

The so-called “lifting of anathemas” even though the differences have grown consistently since the Great Schism. More recent events like forbidden concelebrations and joint prayers with known heretics, various “statements” such as the Chambesy Agreement, Balamand, Canberra, the agreement in New York, and the Toronto statement continue to confuse and blur the lines between Truth and falsehood.


The Moscow Patriarchate in recent years has made much clear for the Orthodox faithful under her care. In the profound document entitled, “The Basic Principles of Attitude to the Non-Orthodox”, we have the following:

2.4. The Orthodox Church cannot accept the assumption that despite the historical divisions, the fundamental and profound unity of Christians has not been broken and that the Church should be understood as coextensive with the entire “Christian world”, that Christian unity exists across denominational barriers and that the disunity of the churches belongs exclusively to the imperfect level of human relations. According to this conception, the Church remains one, but this oneness is not, as it were, sufficiently manifest in visible form. In this model of unity, the task of Christians is understood not as the restoration of a lost unity but as the manifestation of an existing unity. This model repeats the teaching on “the invisible Church” which appeared during the Reformation.


2.5. The so-called “branch theory”, which is connected with the conception referred to above and asserts the normal and even providential nature of Christianity existing in the form of particular “branches”, is also totally unacceptable.

2.6. Orthodoxy cannot accept that Christian divisions are caused by the inevitable imperfections of Christian history and that they exist only on the historical surface and can be healed or overcome by compromises between denominations.


2.7. The Orthodox Church cannot recognize “the equality of the denominations”. Those who have fallen away from the Church cannot re-unite with her in their present state. The existing dogmatic differences should be overcome, not simply bypassed, and this means that the way to unity lies through repentance, conversion and renewal.

A Personal Reflection of the Branch Theory Part 4

Overt Ecumenism:
Saint Cyprian tells us: “Not only must we beware of what is open and manifest, but also what deceives by the craft of subtle fraud. And what can be more crafty, or what more subtle, than for this enemy...to devise a new fraud, and under the very title of the Christian name to deceive the incautious.”

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" and "peace," to slowly and ambiguously nullify the teachings of Christ into a one world religion created by the minds of men.

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.

It is only in Christ and in His Church that I will be redeemed and experience the fullness of His abiding grace. Christ further told His followers, “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).

The Church is of the living God, the pillar and the ground of the truth. (1 Tim 3:15) The nature of the Church instated by Christ and ultimately established at Pentecost is one of love, truth and is directly attached to Christ, its head. The Church is the “Bride of Christ” based on this truth. Christ and His Church are one, Christ as the giver of life to each member. All people are called to be the branches, extending from Christ, the head of the universal Church. The Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. It is the only spiritual and true body, divinely initiated, universal and timeless and stems from Christ to His apostles and continues through her bishops. The Church is undoubtedly the living 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 Epistle stated 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.

St. Nektarios of Aegina said the following:“Neither the Papist nor the Protestant church can be considered the True church of Christ. The first was altered by a number of innovations and the accursed despotism (Primacy) due to which resulted the schism from the Orthodox. The same goes for the Protestants whose innumerable innovations lead to total anarchy and chaos. Only the Orthodox Church maintained the teaching of Christ flawlessly without a single innovation. Only in the Orthodox Church does unity exist. The unity which the Savior was petitioning from the Father saying, ‘Holy Father keep them in your Name those that you gave me so they can be one just like we are one. (John 17:11…)”

“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 [1967]),

So what are we to do?

Saint Basil the Great instructs us: “Be attentive to yourself (Deut. 15:9). That is, observe yourself carefully from every side. Let the eye of your soul be sleepless to guard you. You walk in the midst of snares (cf. Sirach 9:13). Hidden traps have been set by the enemy in many places. therefore observe everything, that you may be saved like a gazelle from traps and like a bird from snares (Prov. 6:5)”

Let us take heed to the following: For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate. – Didiche 16:3 (The Teachings of the Apostles)

The erection of parasynogogues, extreme zealotry, hatred, overt personal opinions will not suffice. Love, truth and humility are needed in such a discussion and in preserving and battling for truth. We must fight the good fight and refute any and all nonsense, not losing sight of our goal; the Truth of Christ. Saint John Damascene tells us, “If someone is teaching you outside of the things which the holy Catholic Church received from the Holy Apostles, Fathers and Synods and preserved up till now, do not listen to him..., close your ears."

Saint Theophan the Recluse stated, “Be encouraged! Take up prayer more readily and continue without interruptions—and you will soon achieve your desired goal. Soon a reverent attention to the One God will be established, and with it, inner peace. It may take a lifetime. Ask the Lord and He will help.” "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life." (John 6:27)

Fr. Seraphim Rose promoted the acquisition of the mind of the fathers. Not mere academic theology, a superficial pondering of the fathers, but understanding them and the salvation in the faith they acquired. This is the mindset we need to acquire to fight temptation in these dark days. Further St. Theodore Studite states: "The Church of Christ is not comprised of the many, but of those who keep the correct and saving confession of faith, even if they are few." How true and sober this is! All who appear in the “physical” boundaries of the Church do not always have the mind of the fathers. We are forewarned. "Even if we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8) If they do not teach what has been taught by the Holy Church then we know they cannot be of God. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Matthew 7:15-20.

St. John of Kronstadt – “Outside of Orthodoxy there is no other confession which can lead man to the fullness of the Christian life, to sanctification, to the cleansing from sin or to eternity, because the other ones, the non-Orthodox confessions, suppress ‘the truth in wickedness’ (Rom 1:18). They confuse the truth with sophistries and lies and in this way they don’t maintain the means of Grace necessary for man’s renewal. These only belong to the Orthodox Church the only ‘Holy and Spotless’.”(Eph 5:27)

Saint John of Shanghai and San-Francisco once stated, "There will be a mass falling away from faith, moreover many bishops will betray faith justifying themselves by pointing at the splendid state of the Church. People will be disposed to search for compromise. A forthright confession of faith will disappear. People will excel in justifying their fall, and tender evil will contribute to such general disposition, and people will become accustomed to apostasy and to sweetness of compromise and sin."

As I stated earlier this is not an attack on anyone, but this is an airing of some real concerns in the confusing times we live in. The point is we cannot compromise in matters of truth, but need not be filled with animosity. We all have a God that wills our salvation and our God is ultimate love and knows our hearts. Let us hold on to the faith of our fathers, which was given unto us preserved in its fullness. May we safeguard the Truth even unto death since we know this is where our hearts true home is.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Politics

Here are some good podcasts, short too, about politics from an Orthodox perspective. Considering all the hoopla this week I would suggest taking a half hour to listen to all three.

http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/carlton/my_two_cents_on_capitalism
http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/carlton/liberty_and_property_part_1
http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/carlton/liberty_and_property_-_part_2