Wednesday, November 24, 2010

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:

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)

1 comment:

  1. Christ is among us! Thanks for putting all this together, Fr. Maximos. I appreciate that you (or rather, the mindset you have internalized) does not equate finding common ground with heterodox (Christians and otherwise) with the heretical form of ecumenism.

    As for "playing both sides of the fence", I just have a couple of offerings that may help clarify this a bit (if not, ignore them!)

    1. There are often charitable ways to interpret things, even when, a literal reading would suggest otherwise. This, IMO, should be our default/working hypothesis until it is no longer sustainable. I am sure that folks could go through my stuff and find me guilty of various heresies, none of which I hold. Alas, it is all too true that such charity sometimes becomes impossible to maintain!

    2. A dialogue among Orthodox (be it direct or indirect) about how to work with the heterodox and how to bring them to Orthodoxy only double-mindedness when one of the positions is dogmatic/known to be true. Is this the case with talking about the reasons for our different ways of reckoning the date of Pascha or of describing the things that must be dealt with (i.e. "steps") before the Orthodox and Roman Catholics are "reunited" (this is vernacular wording - it goes without saying that such a "reunion" is really about the submission of RC's under Orthodoxy)?

    Again, thank you for taking the time to put this information together. It is a useful correction to a very prevalent (and oft-unresisted) temptation!

    Your servant,

    fr anthony