True Orthodoxy in an Age of Apostasy
The Royal Path
Fr. Seraphim Rose
As the Fathers say, the extremes from both sides are equally harmful … (We must) go on the royal path, avoiding the extremes on both sides. St. John Cassian, Conference II
ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS live today in one of the great critical times in the history of Christ’s Church. The enemy of man’s salvation, the devil, attacks on all fronts and strives by all means not merely to divert believers from the path of salvation shown by the Church, but even to conquer the Church of Christ itself, despite the Saviour’s promise (Matt. 16:18), and to convert the very Body of Christ into an “ecumenical” organization preparing for the coming of his own chosen one, Antichrist, the great world-ruler of the last days.
Of course, we know that this attempt of Satan will fail; the Church will be the Bride of Christ even to the end of the world and will meet Christ the Bridegroom at His Second Coming pure and undefiled by adulterous union with the apostasy of this age. But the great question of our times for all Orthodox Christians to face is a momentous one: the Church will remain, but how many of us will still be in it, having withstood the devil’s mighty attempts to draw us away from it?
Our times are much like those of St. Mark of Ephesus in the 15th century, when it seemed that the Church was about to be dissolved into the impious Union with the Latins. Nay, our times are even worse and more dangerous than those times; for then the Union was an act imposed by force from without, while now the Orthodox people have been long prepared for the approaching “ecumenical” merger of all churches and religions by decades of laxness, indifference, worldliness, and indulgence in the ruinous falsehood that “nothing really separates us” from all others who call themselves Christians. The Orthodox Church survived the false Union of Florence, and even knew a time of outward prosperity and inward spiritual flourishing after that; but after the new false Union, now being pursued with ever-increasing momentum, will Orthodoxy exist at all save in the catacombs and the desert?
During the past ten years and more, under the disastrous “ecumenical” course pursued by Patriarch Athenagoras and his successor, the Orthodox Churches have already come perilously close to total shipwreck. The newest “ecumenical” statement of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, ” The Thyateira Confession” (see The Orthodox Word, Jan.-Feb., 1976), is already sufficient evidence of how far the Orthodox conscience has been lost by the Local Church that once was first among the Orthodox Churches in the confession of Christ’s truth; this dismal document only shows how close the hierarchs of Constantinople have now come to being absorbed into the heterodox “Christianity” of the West, even before the formal Union which is still being prepared.
THE ROOTS of today’s ecumenism in the Orthodox Churches go back to the renovationism and modernism of certain hierarchs in the 1920’s. In the Russian Church, these currents produced, first, the “Living Church” movement which, with the help of the Communist regime, tried to overthrow Patriarch Tikhon and “reform” the Church in a radically Protestant manner, and then—as a more “conservative” successor to the “Living Church”—the Sergianist church organization (the Moscow Patriarchate), which emphasized at first the political side of reconciliation with Communist ideology and aims (in accordance with the infamous “Declaration” of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927), and only in recent decades has ventured once again into the realm of ecclesiastical renovationism with its active participation in the ecumenical movement. In the Greek Church the situation has been similar: the renovationist Pan-Orthodox Council” of 1923, with its Protestant reforms inspired by Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis of sorry memory, proved to be too radical for the Orthodox world to accept, and the renovationists had to be satisfied with imposing a calendar reform on several of the non-Slavic Churches.
Large movements of protest opposed the reformers in both the Russian and Greek Churches, producing the deep divisions which exist until now in the Orthodox world. In the Russian Church, Sergianism was decisively rejected by very many of the bishops and faithful, led by Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd; this “Josephite” movement later became organized to some extent and became known as the “True Orthodox Church.” The history of this illegal “Catacomb” Church of Russia is, to this day, veiled in secrecy, but in the past few years a number of startling evidences of its present-day activities have come to light, leading to stern repressive measures on the part of the Soviet government. The name of its present chief hierarch (Metropolitan Theodosius) has become known, as has that of one of its ten or more bishops (Bishop Seraphim). In the Diaspora, the Russian Church Outside of Russia committed itself from the very beginning of Sergianism in 1927 to a firm anti-Sergianist position, and on numerous occasions it has expressed its solidarity with the True Orthodox Church in Russia, while refusing all communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. Its uncompromisingness and staunch traditionalism in this and other matters were not to the taste of several of the Russian hierarchs of Western Europe and America, who were more receptive to the “reform” currents in 20th-century Orthodoxy, and they separated themselves at various times from the Russian Church Outside of Russia, thus creating the present “jurisdictional” differences of the Russian Diaspora.
In Greece the movement of protest, by a similar Orthodox instinct, likewise took the name of “True Orthodox Christians.” From the beginning in 1924 (when the calendar reform was introduced), this movement has been especially strong among the simple monks, priests and laymen of Greece; the first bishop to leave the State Church of Greece and join the movement was Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Florina, and today it continues its fully independent life and organization, comprising about one-fourth of all the Orthodox Christians of Greece, and perhaps one-half or more of all the monks and nuns. Although popularly known as the”old calendarists,” the True Orthodox Christians of Greece stand for a staunch traditionalism in Orthodox life and thought in general, viewing the calendar question merely as a first stage and a touchstone of modernism and reformism.
As the “ecumenical” cancer eats more and more away at the remaining sound organs of the Orthodox Churches today, an increasing sympathy is being shown by the most sensitive members of the “official” Orthodox jurisdictions for the cause and the representatives of the anti-ecumenist, anti-reformist Churches of Russia, Greece, and the Diaspora. Some, seeing the “official” jurisdictions as now irrevocably set on a course of anti-orthodoxy, are abandoning them as sinking ships and joining the ranks of the True Orthodox Christians; others, still hoping for the restoration of an Orthodox course in world Orthodoxy, think it enough for now to express sympathy for the True Orthodox Christians or to protest boldly against the “reformist” mentality in the official jurisdictions. The ten years of anti-ecumenist epistles of Metropolitan Philaret, Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, have struck a responsive chord within a number of the Orthodox Churches, even if the “official” response to them has been largely silence or hostility.
Today, more than at any other time in the 50-year struggle to preserve the Orthodox tradition in an age of apostasy, the voice of true and uncompromising Orthodoxy could be heard throughout the world and have a profound effect on the future course of the Orthodox Churches. Probably, indeed, it is already too late to prevent the renovationist “Eighth Ecumenical Council” and the “ecumenical” Union which lies beyond it; but perhaps one or more of the Local Churches may yet be persuaded to step back from this ruinous path which will lead to the final liquidation (as Orthodox) of those jurisdictions that follow it to the end; and in any case, individuals and whole communities can certainly be saved from this path, not to mention those of the heterodox who may still find their way into the saving enclosure of the true Church of Christ.
IT IS OF CRITICAL importance, therefore, that this voice be actually one of true, that is, patristic Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens, especially in the heat of controversy, that basically sound Orthodox positions are exaggerated on one side, and misunderstood on the other, and thus an entirely misleading impression is created in some minds that the cause of true Orthodoxy today is a kind of “extremism,” a sort of “right-wing reaction” to the prevailing “left-wing” course now being followed by the leaders of the “official” Orthodox Churches. Such a political view of the struggle for true Orthodoxy today is entirely false. This struggle, on the contrary, has taken the form, among its best representatives today—whether in Russia, Greece, or the Diaspora—of a return to the patristic path of moderation, a mean between extremes; this is what the Holy Fathers call the ROYAL PATH.
The teaching of this “royal path” is set forth, for example, in the tenth of St. Abba Dorotheus’ Spiritual lnstructions, where he quotes especially the Book of Deuteronomy: Ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left, but go by the royal path (Deut. 5:32, 17:11), and St. Basil the Great: “Upright of heart is he whose thought does not turn away either to excess or to lack, but is directed only to the mean of virtue.” But perhaps this teaching is most clearly expressed by the great Orthodox Father of the 5th century, St. John Cassian, who was faced with a task not unlike our own Orthodox task today: to present the pure teaching of the Eastern Fathers to Western peoples who were spiritually immature and did not yet understand the depth and subtlety of the Eastern spiritual doctrine and were therefore inclined to go to extremes, either of laxness or over-strictness, in applying it to life. St. Cassian sets forth the Orthodox doctrine of the royal path in his Conference on “sober-mindedness” (or “discretion”)—the Conference praised by St. John of the Ladder (Step 4:105) for its “beautiful and sublime philosophy”:
“With all our strength and with all our effort we must strive by humility to acquire for ourselves the good gift of sober- mindedness, which can preserve us unharmed by excess from both sides. For, as the Fathers say, the extremes from both sides are equally harmful—both excess of fasting and filling the belly, excess of vigil and excessive sleep, and other excesses.” Sobermindedness “teaches a man to go on the royal path, avoiding the extremes on both sides: on the right side it does not allow him to be deceived by excessive abstinence, on the left side to be drawn into carelessness and relaxation.” And the temptation on the “right side” is even more dangerous than that on the “left”: “Excessive abstinence is more harmful than satiating oneself; because, with the cooperation of repentance, one may go over from the latter to a correct understanding, but from the former one cannot” (i.e., because pride over one’s “virtue” stands in the way of the repentant humility that could save one). (Conferences, II, chs. 16, 2, 17.)
Applying this teaching to our own situation, we may say that the “royal path” of true Orthodoxy today is a mean that lies between the extremes of ecumenism and reformism on the one side, and a “zeal not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2) on the other. True Orthodoxy does not go “in step with the times” on the one hand, nor does it make “strictness” or “correctness” or “canonicity” (good in themselves) an excuse for pharisaic self-satisfaction, exclusivism, and distrust, on the other. This true Orthodox moderation is not to be confused with mere luke- warmness or indifference, or with any kind of compromise between political extremes. The spirit of “reform” is so much in the air today that anyone whose views are molded by the “spirit of the times” will regard true Orthodox moderation as dose to “fanaticism,” but anyone who looks at the question more deeply and applies the patristic standard will find the royal path to be far from any kind of extremism. Perhaps no Orthodox teacher in our own days provides such an example of sound and fervent Orthodox moderation as the late Archbishop Averky of Jordanville; his numerous articles and sermons breathe the refreshing spirit of true Orthodox zealotry, without any deviation either to the “right” or to the “left,” and with emphasis constantly on the spiritual side of true Orthodoxy. (See especially his article, “Holy Zeal,” in The Orthodox Word, May-June, 1975.)
THE RUSSIAN CHURCH Outside of Russia has been placed, by God’s Providence, in a very favorable position for preserving the “royal path” amidst the confusion of so much of 20th-century Orthodoxy. Living in exile and poverty in a world that has not understood the suffering of her people, she has focused her attention on preserving unchanged the faith which unites her people, and so quite naturally she finds herself a stranger to the whole ecumenical mentality, which is based on religious indifference and self-satisfaction, material affluence, and soulless internationalism. On the other hand, she has been preserved from falling into extremism on the “right side” (such as might be a declaration that the Mysteries of the Moscow Patriarchate are without grace) by her vivid awareness that the Sergianist church in Russia is not free; one can of course have no communion with such a body, dominated by atheists, but precise definitions of its status are best left to a free Russian church council in the future. If there seems to be a “logical contradiction” here (“if you don’t deny her Mysteries, why don’t you have communion with her?”), it is a problem only for rationalists; those who approach church questions with the heart as well as the head have no trouble accepting this position, which is the testament bequeathed to he Russian Church of the Diaspora by her wise Chief Hierarch, Metropolitan Anastassy (+1965).
Living in freedom, the Russian Church Outside of Russia has considered as one of her important obligations to express her solidarity and full communion with the underground True Orthodox Church of Russia, whose existence is totally ignored and even denied by “official” Orthodoxy. In God’s time, when the terrible trial of the Russian Church and people will have passed, the other Orthodox Churches may understand the Russian Church situation better; until then, it is perhaps all one can hope for that the free Orthodox Churches have never questioned the right of the Russian Church Outside of Russia to exist or denied the grace of her Mysteries, almost all of them have long remained in communion with her (until her non-participation in the ecumenical movement isolated her and made her a reproach to the other Churches, especially in the last decade), and up to this day they have (at least passively) resisted the politically-inspired attempts of the Moscow Patriarchate to have her declared “schismatic” and “uncanonical.”
In recent years, the Russian Church Outside of Russia has also given support and recognition to the True Orthodox Christians of Greece, whose situation also has long been exceedingly difficult and misunderstood. In Greece the first blow against the Church (the calendar reform) was not as deadly as the “Declaration” of Metropolitan Sergius in Russia, and for this reason it has taken longer for the theological consciousness of the Orthodox Greek people to see its full anti-orthodox significance. Further, few bishops in Greece have been bold enough to join the movement (whereas, by contrast, the number of non-Sergianist bishops in the beginning was larger than the whole episcopate of the Greek Church). And only in recent years has the cause of the old calendarists become even a little “intellectually respectable,” as more and more university graduates have joined it. Over the years it has suffered persecutions, sometimes quite fierce, from the State and the official Church, and to this day it remains disdained by the “sophisticated” and totally without recognition from the “official” Orthodox world. Unfortunately, internal disagreements and divisions have continued to weaken the cause of the old calendarists, and they lack a single unanimous voice to express their stand for patristic Orthodoxy. Still, the basic Orthodoxy of their position cannot be denied, and one can only welcome such sound presentations of it as may be seen in the article that follows [in the issue of TOW—Webmaster].
The increasing realization in recent years of the basic oneness of the cause of True Orthodoxy throughout the world, whether in the Catacomb Church of Russia, the old calendarists of Greece, or the Russian Church Outside of Russia, has led some to think in terms of a “united front” of confessing Churches to oppose the ecumenical movement which has taken possession of “official” Orthodoxy. However, under present conditions this will hardly come to pass; and in any case, this is a “political” view of the situation which sees the significance of the mission of true Orthodoxy in too external a manner. The full dimensions of the True-Orthodox protest against “ecumenical Orthodoxy”, against the neutralized, lukewarm Orthodoxy of the apostasy, have yet to be revealed, above all in Russia. But it cannot be that the witness of so many martyrs and confessors and champions of True Orthodoxy in the 20th century will have been in vain. May God preserve His zealots in the royal path of true Orthodoxy, faithful to Him and to His Holy Church until the end of the age!
From The Orthodox Word, Sept.-Oct., 1976 (70), 143-149.
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)
The highest gift that God bestowed upon man at his creation was the gift of freedom. Man was created free. It was within his will to choose one or another path in his life. It was within his will to obey God or not, to honor and love God as his Father, or to reject Him. It was this freedom of will that was the seal of the image and likeness of God in man. And it was this freedom of will that defined the high dignity of man—a dignity that raised him infinitely above every other creature.”
“If you wish to ask of God in prayer any blessing for yourself, then before praying prepare yourself for undoubting and firm faith, and take in good time means against doubt and unbelief. For it will go ill with you if during the prayer itself your heart wavers in its faith and does not stand firm in it; then do not even expect to obtain of the Lord what you have prayed for doubtingly, for in so doing you have offended the Lord, and God does not bestow His gifts upon a reviler. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive,”17 said the Lord. This means, that if you doubt and do not believe, you shall not receive. “If ye have faith and doubt not,” said He also, “ye shall have power to move moun- tains.”18Therefore, if you doubt and do not believe, you shall not have power to do so. “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed,” says the Apostle James; “for let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”19The heart that doubts that God can grant what it asks for is punished for this doubt: it is painfully oppressedIf you wish to ask of God in prayer any blessing for yourself, then before praying prepare yourself for undoubting and firm faith, and take in good time means against doubt and unbelief. For it will go ill with you if during the prayer itself your heart wavers in its faith and does not stand firm in it; then do not even expect to obtain of the Lord what you have prayed for doubtingly, for in so doing you have offended the Lord, and God does not bestow His gifts upon a reviler. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive,”17 said the Lord. This means, that if you doubt and do not believe, you shall not receive. “If ye have faith and doubt not,” said He also, “ye shall have power to move moun- tains.”18Therefore, if you doubt and do not believe, you shall not have power to do so. “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed,” says the Apostle James; “for let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”19The heart that doubts that God can grant what it asks for is punished for this doubt: it is painfully oppressed and contracted by doubt. Do not anger Almighty God even by a shade of doubt–especially you, who have already experienced many and many times, the omnipotence of God. Doubt is a blasphemy against God, an insolent lie of the heart or of the lying spirit that nestles in the heart, against the spirit of truth. Fear it as you would fear a venomous serpent, or no– what I would rather say, is, despise it, do not take the slightest heed of it. Remember that God, during your prayer, is waiting for your affirmative answer to the question which He is inwardly asking you: “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” To which question you must from the depth of your heart reply, “Yea, Lord.”20Let the following considerations also help you in your doubt or unbelief: I ask of God, firstly, that which already exists, and nothing merely imaginary not a fanciful good, and everything that exists receives its being from God: because “without Him was not anything made that was made,”21and therefore, nothing that happens can happen without Him, and everything has either received its being from Him, or happens by His will or His permission, by means of powers and faculties given by Him to His creatures–and in everything that exists or is still happening, God is an all-powerful Master. Besides this, “He calleth those things which be not as though they were.”22Therefore, had I even asked for that which does not exist, He could give it to me by creating it. Secondly, I ask of God what is possible, because what is impossible for us is possible for God; and there cannot be any difficulty even in this respect, because God can do for me even that which is impossible in my own opinion. It is our misfortune that our faith is hindered by the short- sightedness of our reason–that spider, that catches the truth in the web of its judgments, its arguments and analogies. Faith embraces and sees suddenly, whilst reason arrives at the truth by circuitous ways; faith is the means of communication between one spirit and another, whilst reason is the means of communication between the spiritually sensual and the spir- itually sensual and even simply material: the first is the spirit and the latter the flesh.”
“As God is the creative, living and life-giving Wisdom, therefore those greatly sin who, by the thoughts of their spirit, turn aside from the Wisdom of the Trinity and occupy themselves with material, perishable things, thus materialising their spirit itself. Especially do those sin who, during Divine Service in church or during their prayers at home, entirely turn aside in their thoughts from God and allow their minds to wander in different places outside the church. By doing so they greatly offend God, upon Whom on such occasions our minds should be fixed.”
Many times, at various meetings with people, even within ecclesiastical synodical bodies, the view is expressed that we must always agree on a matter, even if we hold a different opinion, for the “sake of unity”. It so happens that these synodical bodies, in which the same people partake, decide in a different way, a matter which is justified that this is being done “for the sake of” or “for” unity.
As there are some individuals, politicians, clergymen, that claim to toil for the unity of the body which they belong to, as if others are not concerned with unity.
It must be noted from the beginning that a unity in communion and the Church is ultimately the target we should aim for.
In the Church, particularly, this is the purpose of us all, since this is what was achieved on the day of Holy Pentecost per the Kontakion of the feast, “When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, he divided the nations. When he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity”. This is the function of the Holy Spirit which operates in the Church. Therefore, the unity of the Church is the experience of Holy Pentecost, which is why unity (accord) exists in the theology of the Apostles and of the Holy Fathers.
However, it is imperative to note that unity can be found among those who do evil and those who make up a criminal organization, and aim towards creating division and malaise in society. These people are concerned with their unity so that they can do evil and not be exposed. Therefore, unity alone is not the aim, but the combination of unity with truth.
In Divine Liturgy, the faithful are encouraged with the words, “Having asked for the unity of the faith and for the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.” Unity in ecclesiastical language is not abstract and unconditional but related to faith. It is a unity of faith, as it has been revealed by God to the Saints, linked clearly with the “communion of the Holy Spirit”, and certainly presupposes the surrender of our entire life to Christ. Such a unity is blessed by God and not a unity that might be shared by heretics, who are based on speculative reason and combat Orthodox doctrine.
Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, advises Christians to struggle to keep the unity of the Holy Spirit, which is connected to the One LORD God, with the One faith and One baptism. He writes, …endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Eph. 4:3-6). The unity of faith is connected to the One LORD, the One faith, the One baptism, the One body, the One Spirit.
Furthermore, the same Apostle in another verse speaks about the unity in deification: And He gave some to be apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, and for the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). This means that unity of faith is connected to the knowledge of the Son of God, and its aim is perfection; to acquire the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, which is deification.
The Fathers of the Church proceeded with the same perspective and strived to preserve the unity of the Church in the faith revealed, chasing away the heretics from the Church; those who were breaking up the unity of the Church with their heretical doctrines. Heretics were anathematized to ensure the unity of the faith and the unity of the Church. When the Fathers distanced the heretics from the Church, they did not shatter unity but defended it. Any other interpretation contradicts the function of the Ecumenical Councils of the Church.
Abba Dorotheus relates unity among Christians with the same belief. “Nothing unites as much as to rejoice for the same things and to have the same belief in Christ Jesus!” This statement is associated with many passages by Apostle Paul. For example, he writes to the Christians of Rome, Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus, that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 15:5-6). Likewise, to the Christians of Philippi, he writes, If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tenderness and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord and of one mind (Phil. 2:1-2).
Saint Isaac the Syrian defines what exactly is meant by spiritual unity. He writes, “Spiritual unity is an unsealed and perpetual recollection, which incessantly blazes in the heart with ardent longing; and from perseverance in the commandments, the heart receives its capacity for this bond, not figuratively, nor in a natural way”. (Ascetical Homily 1:8). Spiritual unity is achieved through the keeping of the commandments of Christ and ignites the divine longing in the heart of people.
In society, there is much said about unity despite the existing differences of opinion, and this is what democracy aims for. The different authorities and their different programs dividing the parties, the different positions and their internal party operations, which are demonstrated through elections, when expressed in a democratic manner they are considered as an element of unity. In Church things are different. Unity is not a superficial agreement of views, and indeed those which are distinct from the tradition passed down, but is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, a communion of the Holy Spirit; it is a unity of faith.
Consequently, for the Church it is not possible “for the sake of unity” to negate Orthodox ecclesiology, Orthodox theology, and finally, to undermine the entire faith revealed. When a divergence from faith prevails, unity is not laudable. Contrarywise, the one who preserves the unity is the one who preserves the faith revealed. Likewise, one cannot follow diplomacy in ecclesiastical matters and recant and change opinions every time, and to characterize this mentality as a contribution to unity.
We live in a time in which the degradation of words cannot be allowed, especially the meaning of the word unity, for the sake of some artificial and changing diplomatic mentality, which hides elements of intent and utilitarianism.
Met. Hierotheos Vlachos
21 / 03 / 2017
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