"Skorbnye sobytija, no oni - predrechennogo
(These mournful fortunes are but prophesies come true)
This article was written in the summer of 1996 for another publication which never appeared in print. Nevertheless, the article has gained considerable circulation primarily due to its release on the Internet in Russian and English. In response to critical comments, several people, including myself, have amended and supplemented the text to a certain extent. The version appearing in this issue has seen some further elaborations which do not affect the principal content and message of the article. The focus of the article remains on the most general ecclesiastical issues of the current epoch which has witnessed a sweeping and, apparently, final defeat of true Christianity in the world, its retreat and the onslaught of the adversary. In its retreat, true Christianity-s sole concern is to keep some semblance of order in its ranks, so that its dignified retreat does not turn into a stampede. The ecclesiology of the present epoch addresses only one issue: how to preserve the fragments of a defeated army. We already know that it will eventually fail in this, too. The handful of successors to the true Church that will eventually survive will retain very little semblance to an army. Meanwhile, while there is still an army it has to choose its mission itineraries, improve interaction between its units and, where possible, score victories in minor tail fights.
The subject-matter of this article verges on some vast and vitally important areas which this article has never dealt with, and will never discuss in the future. One of them is an overview (updated to the last minute, not last week) of the present situation in the Orthodox world and analysis of certain problems specific to Russia, Greece, Serbia and other nations with an Orthodox tradition. I have endeavored to adhere to the subjects which may be deemed to be common for the entire Orthodox world or a predominant percentage thereof.
The idea of the reflection, which is now presented to the reader, grew out
of informal communication between Orthodox Christians of various local churches.
лVarious local churches╗ - these are words which should express the only possible
difference between Orthodox Christians. But is it like that now? What does the
concept of local churches mean in our time? Are there not substantial differences
between Christians within the лlocal churches╗? The heresy of ecumenism and
the various tendencies of ecclesiastical лrenovationism╗ that are closely linked
with it engender not only, and not so much theological discussions, and not
merely differences in the style of calendar and the лstyle╗ of spiritual life.
The differences go as far as membership of the Church; some preserve it, while
others are deprived of it. How is one to remain among the former and not fall
among the latter? These are by no means idle questions, and in order to clarify
them we should not confirm ourselves to the limits of those formations which
are called лjurisdictions╗ in contemporary jargon. True Orthodox Christians
are divided by barriers of canonical discipline which inevitably arise from
human feebleness in times of ecclesiastic uncertainty. In ancient times, these
barriers were no obstacle to Orthodox Christians' common understanding of their
shared Orthodox faith, and they must not become such obstacles now. This article
has emerged as a result of my communication with Orthodox Christians belonging
to various Orthodox "jurisdictions" (therefore, I cannot claim its
sole authorship). In its turn, this article has encouraged further communication
and might, by God's grace, continue to encourage it in the future.
The local churches in an ecclesiastical time of troubles
The destruction of the external forms of the local churches
The local churches are the communities of believers which are confined to a definite territory (linked, as a rule, to state divisions) and which have a single first-hierarch - a patriarch, metropolitan or archbishop. The totality of the local churches represents the normal organisation of the Universal Church on earth. There frequently take place more or less serious violations of this normal structure, and sometimes its visible collapse on a universal scale. It is precisely the possibility of the latter which is particularly difficult for us to accept. And yet there is nothing impossible in it, and the visible destruction of the external church organisation at the end of time has been directly revealed by God.
It is difficult for us to comprehend such a catastrophic situation for the simple reason that it has not happened in the Church for a long time now. The greatest tragedy of our millenium has been the falling into heresy of the largest patriarchate - that of Rome. However, this event did not have a particular influence on the general organisation of the Church. There was лjust╗ one less local church, while the structure of the others remained unchanged.
We have a much murkier idea of, for example, the iconoclast and monothelite periods, when almost the whole hierarchy fell into heresy; it is still more difficult to imagine the period of the monophysite disturbances (5th and 6th centuries) and that of arianism, when there were Orthodox among those who rejected the Orthodox Councils, while there were heretics among those who accepted them. Such ages extended over many decades, and were usually brought to an end by a conciliar decision which condemned the pseudo-Orthodox and accepted into full communion those who had aroused suspicions that proved to be unfounded. Thus, for example, the Second Ecumenical Council condemned Macedonius, who formally supported the Nicene Creed, and accepted into communion St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who had been elevated to his see by opponents of this Creed.
During such disturbances the local churches in the usual, that is, purely external, sense of the word ceased to exist. Instead of them there arose temporary unions of church communities headed by bishops who were in communion with each other. (Such a form of ecclesiastical organisation was foreseen by the holy Patriarch Tikhon in his Ukaz No 362 from 7/20 November of 1920). It was precisely such unions, even if constituted by only one bishop with his flock, that were the true лlocal╗ churches. The word лlocal╗ is put in inverted commas here because, in reality, in view of the difficulties of communications and the small size of the communities, there could turn out to be several in one and the same locality. Apparently that was the organisation of the majority of Christian communities until the 2nd century.
If we look at the history of such ages of ecclesiastical collapse through genuine documents, they are very reminiscent of the contemporary situation of the Church. Thus in the 4th century very many Orthodox bishops separated from St. Basil the Great because he was in communion with Eustathius of Sebaste, whom almost everyone considered to be a heretic. However, St. Basil trusted him, being well-disposed towards him as to a former elder comrade, almost his mentor, in the monastic life. Years passed, and Basil had to admit that Eustathius was a heretic; then he broke communion with him. But until then he could involuntarily have been a snare for others by his insistence on trusting Eustathius. Were not those who broke communion with St. Basil in his time right? In this way were they not urging the Hierarch to be less trusting in relation to Eustathius' hypocrisy?.. Analogical problems fill the correspondence of the Russian hierarchs of the 1920s and 30s, who in just the same way broke communion with each other because of differences with regard to the admissibility of showing condescension to various kinds of schismatics and apostates.
We shall not multiply examples.
After a thousand years of global stability in the Universal Church we have come to our century, which is marked by the pan-heresy of ecumenism. It has become a new epoch of similar ecclesiastical disturbances. As in the period of arianism, heretics have appeared within the visible limits of the Church, even on the highest rungs of the hierarchy. Far from all the Orthodox have broken eucharistic communion and communion in prayer with them. At the same time many Orthodox have already lost visible eucharistic communion with each other because of canonical divisions and political disagreements. Some adhere to dogmatic and canonical strictness [akribeia] more firmly, others less so, while yet others... do not know what to adhere to, or, more exactly, what to reach for.
Of course, even now there exist organisations calling themselves лlocal churches╗ - as they existed both in the arian and in the monothelite periods. However, hardly any of them is a local church in the true sense of the word. The transformation of the Universal Church into a patchwork quilt of лjurisdictions╗ (there is no such word in either the Church Greek or the Church Slavonic languages) is glaringly obvious, but it is, alas, far from being the worst manifestation of the global crisis. The most important thing is to be found elsewhere. A true local church does not tolerate in itself, and still more in its hierarchy, and most particularly in the place of the chief-hierarch - heretics. It deprives them of their rank and excommunicates them from the Church following an ecclesiastical trial. But if such a trial cannot be carried out, although the necessity of it is evident, then it is clear that the given hierarchy has lost the capacity to act. Consequently, as a dead structure it cannot be an organ of a local church - a part of the living Body of Christ.
This reasoning is just in relation not only to heresy, but also to disciplinary questions, in which the indulgence of clear sin becomes a heresy sui generis. Thus St. Theodore the Studite separated from his patriarch St. Nicphorus insofar as the latter had accepted into communion a presbyter who had been banned for marrying a king who was living in adultery. St. Theodore called this act of the patriarch лthe heresy of moichism╗ (лadultery╗). However, one could still say here that the position of St. Theodore was лbetter╗ while that of Patriarch Nicephorus was лworse╗, although he deserved a certain condescension. But in the case of heresy proper, that is, a real distortion of the Orthodox Faith, there can be no question of condescension. лNever, O man, is that which relates to the Church corrected through compromises: there is no middle way between the Truth and the lie... and although one can say that there is a mean between light and darkness which is called the morning and evening twilight, nevertheless between the Truth and the lie, however hard you try, you will never find a mean.╗ (St. Mark of Ephesus, from the epistle to Scholarius).
Ecclesiastical authority that is slow to condemn heresy loses its property of being an authority. After all, just as in an ordinary organism the function of the immune system is to cast out all alien bodies, in the same way the basic function of the ecclesiastical, hierarchical authority is to preserve the flock лfrom the wolves that destroy it╗ (cf. John : 10.12-13). Therefore the point is not only that the лheresy-loving╗ hierarchs are themselves naturally suspected of heresy. Independently of their personal heresy, they lose ecclesiastical authority insofar as they do not carry out the main function of this authority. Consequently they cannot carry out as they should the other functions of episcopal service which are subject to, and dependent on, this main one. Such hierarchs should not be obeyed in that which is directly related to heresy. But it is also not always possible to obey them in other matters... In the final analysis, it becomes difficult and even impossible to define where is the boundary between where one can and where one cannot obey them.
In such a case the collapse of ecclesiastical discipline is inevitable, and this means that the given hierarchical structure ceases to be a real ecclesiastical organisation. In particular, it can no longer exert the exclusive right to a canonical territory, and in practice the presence of various Orthodox лjurisdictions╗ on one and the same territory is now universally recognised. (The recognition of the possibility of лjurisdictions╗ does not prevent protests against the tearing away of parishes to a лstranger's╗ benefit; but then if the head's gone, there's no point crying over the hair...)
The structures which continue to call themselves лlocal churches╗ are in an unstable state. They are changing the whole time, and if we examine the direction of these changes in the last 70-80 years, then we have to say: they are disintegrating.
New structures are emerging - first of all, the Old Calendarist movement in Greece, Romania and Bulgaria. This movement is based on the clear principle of separation from those who proclaim heresy. However, it has quite a few internal problems-
All this means that at the present time there exist no Orthodox Christians who live in completely well-ordered local churches. The former structure of Orthodox local churches has collapsed, and it is hardly likely to be regenerated in its former form.
2. The Canonical Principles of Relations with Heretics
The regeneration of the normal organisation of church life now must be the aim of Orthodox Christians, even if this aim is not always attainable. At least we must not increase the disorder by our unwillingness to help in the creation of order.
At the present time it is especially important for Orthodox to work out the same practice in relations with the newly-appeared heretics, which is what the ecumenists and modernists undoubtedly are. It goes without saying that such practice would have to correspond to Church Tradition. But it turns out at this point that the inertia of a peaceful period of Church life has been so powerful up to now that it is only with great difficulty that one is reminded of this practice. Thus in Moscow one hieromonk (Fr. Tikhon Shevkunov), having just delivered (and then published) a big speech against the heretical actions of one Muscovite neo-renovationist лpriest╗ (George Kochetkov), himself began to concelebrate with him! Thus the rebuker of heresy without any words gave it to be understood that he did not know what he was saying: he is able to define heresy according to certain formal signs (completely reliable ones, let it be said), but has no understanding of what heresy is in essence! St. Maximus the Confessor, who was not even a priest, categorically refused to have ecclesiastical communion with heretics, although at that time they had not yet fallen under any conciliar condemnation (until the Lateran Council of 649). Whence does such a difference in positions arise, that some resist even to the shedding of blood only so as not to be defiled with the so-called лDivine services╗ of the heretics, while others, though capable of uttering denunciatory speeches, notice no impediments in the way of concelebration?
But what do the Church canons say about those cases when the person uttering heresy does not belong to an heretical community which has not yet been expelled from the Church? The Church canons distinguish two cases.
1. When the person uttering heresy is not a bishop (in which case it is not important who he is: a layman, a monk, a deacon, a priest, a superior, etc.).
In this case the full force of the words of the Apostle Paul is preserved: лa heretic after a first and second admonition, reject╗ (Titus 3.10). They are not supplemented by any Church canons.
This means - and it is precisely such an understanding that is confirmed by the practice of the Holy Fathers - that one must not wait for any ecclesiastical condemnations of, for example, the priest that is uttering heresy. One must immediately stop praying with him, and going to confession and receiving communion from him, and concelebrating with him. First one must break communion in prayer with him, and only later, if possible, appeal to an ecclesiastical court (juridical authority over a priest is given to a bishop).
2. When the person uttering heresy is a bishop. Here the Church at various times has introduced various elaborations of the apostolic formulation. That which functions at the present time was introduced in 861 at the so-called First-and-Second Council of Constantinople, in canon 15. This canon condemns those who under the pretext of various accusations separate from their bishop; there later follows the clarification that condemnation by no means extends to those cases in which the reason for separation from the bishop is heresy:
лFor those who, on account of some heresy condemned by holy Councils, or Fathers, withdrawing themselves from communion with their president, who, that is to say, is preaching the heresy publicly, and teaching it barehead in church, such persons not only are not subject to any canonical penalty on account of their having walled themselves off from any and all communion with the one called a bishop before any conciliar or synodical verdict has been rendered, but, on the contrary, they shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honour which befits them among Orthodox Christians. For they have defied, not bishops, but pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers; and they have not sundered the union of the Church with any schism, but, on the contrary, have been sedulous to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions.╗
From these two canons there follow the main principles by which each person
must be guided who does not want to fall away from the Church: he must not go
to the churches where the priest-heretics serve, or pray together with the heretics
among the laymen or monks. He must not go to the church where the bishop-heretic
is commemorated during the Divine service. The latter, however, not unconditionally:
if we are talking about a bishop who has not been deposed in accordance with
an ecclesiastical trial, then one must separate from him without a trial only
if two conditions have been fulfilled: the heresy must have been uttered by
him for all to hear, and the essence of this heresy must be already well-known
and condemned. The latter condition is always fulfilled in the case of ecumenism - after all, it contains in itself the union of many formerly condemned heresies.
But it is necessary to say something more about that which is in principle new
in ecumenism. This is linked with a most important feature of our epoch.
3. Ecumenism as a New Heresy on a Universal Scale.
The Consciousness of a Break with the Tradition of the Holy Fathers.
In order to draw a conclusion concerning the heretical nature of ecumenism
it will be sufficient to examine the ecumenist theories (especially those like
the лbranch theory╗, which was condemned at the Hierarchical Council of the
Russian Church Abroad in 1983) from the point of view of their relations with
But we must not stop at such a conclusion if we want to evaluate the scale and perspective of the development of the new heresy. The fact that its scale is great is evident at a glance. But we must understand the mood of contemporary man that the heresy particularly satisfies. The everyday experience of mixing with ecumenists who call themselves Orthodox very often reveals in their heretical utterances just the same motives that have made people victims of various mass false-teachings in all ages. These can be avarice or non-acceptance of Orthodox asceticism and in general the Orthodox лstrictness╗ of life and discipline of mind. They can also be faith in the лbatyushkas╗ or in the bureaucratic apparatus of the ecclesiastical organisation - a faith which takes the place of faith in the Church, the Church which the Creed talks about. There are many such people - they are as it were the stones and debris that have been caught up in the heretical maelstrom. But it is significantly more rarely that one meets people of another kind, who voluntarily and consciously call up this maelstrom. However, it is precisely these people who are capable of expressing the true idea behind the phenomenon - and at times more precisely even than the most penetrating Orthodox critics.
In the case of ecumenism, such a person was лPatriarch╗ Athenagoras of Constantinople, who is especially notorious for his лlifting of the anathemas╗ against the Latin heresy (in 1965). Athenagoras loved the Latins and did not consider them to be heretics. But his denial of their hereticalness was not the manifestation of a special love for them: Athenagoras did not recognise the existence of heresy in general! On hearing of a certain man who saw heresy everywhere, Athenagoras said: лI don't see them anywhere! I see only truths, partial truths, reduced truths, truths that are sometimes out of place...╗
The teaching of the Church, of the Holy Fathers, is based on the rock of the
confession of the fullness of the Truth incarnate in Christ, which is
organically incapable of being mixed with lies. The ecumenists consciously choose
the sand of лpartial truths╗ cemented by the lie of the denial of Christ as
the true Son and Word of God.
The New Feeling of Pan-Human Unity and the Expectation of the Antichrist
Why can Athenagoras and people like him, who are characterised by their own kind of deep faith, asceticism and even capacity for sacrifice, completely consciously go against, not simply individual Fathers, bu85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 214 215 216 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 244 245 246 247 248 249 250