Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy and “Ecumenism”: An Editorial


Recent discussions on some posts on this weblog, as well as some I’ve seen elsewhere on social media, have spurred questions about what the official positions of this site are, what my own positions are, etc. I have even had a few instances where commenters quoted to me from Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, attempting to catch me in a contradiction with something I am posting now. Supposedly, I have turned my back on things I wrote earlier. Supposedly, this site has turned into a den of “ecumenism” (a word I’ll return to in a moment).

So I thought it might be worth it to review and reflect on my own reasons for participating in theological discussions involving non-Orthodox doctrines and practices. And I’ll also note here that, even though I’ll be talking about this website in general, I’m only speaking here for myself. There actually is no “party line” for this website.

That said, I have discriminated on certain grounds when inviting ongoing contributors and guest posts: I regard all the participants as being traditional, faithful Orthodox Christians, who are all convinced that the Orthodox Church is uniquely the Una Sancta of the Creed, who are not interested in revisionist, “liberal” theology or morality, who regard the Ecumenical Councils and Scriptures as our highest dogmatic authority, and the Holy Fathers as our most authoritative exegetes, interpreters of dogma and teachers of doctrine. None of them think the canons are irrelevant, the Scriptures outdated, our morality unclear, etc. If I thought that any of them were the least bit sketchy in any of these things, I wouldn’t have invited them to contribute.

I’m actually extremely pleased with the chorus of voices we’ve had here. We don’t always agree on everything, and that’s fine. The discussions we’ve had (both on this site and privately—yes, we have a little “cabal” where we hash things out) have helped to sharpen our arguments and engage viewpoints we hadn’t considered or even disagreed with.

All in all, this site really has become what I hoped it would be—a kind of “extension” of the material in the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy podcast and book. Where there wasn’t space there to deal with a particular subject in detail, there is room here. Where there wasn’t space to work on a question of discerning issues of orthodoxy and heterodoxy within the Orthodox Church, there is space here. This is a project I think is worth continuing, and while we generally operate on a more “popular” level here rather than with a densely academic approach, I believe there is a need for both the former and the latter.

So that brings us to the question of “ecumenism,” a word that seems to mean a lot of different things. Let me tell you some meanings of that word which I reject—that is, I reject the positions I’m about to list. (I don’t care whether they are the correct definition for the word.) Here are some things I don’t believe:

  • That the Orthodox Church is not uniquely the Church.
  • That Orthodox dogma needs to be revised to keep up with the times or to make non-Orthodox people happy.
  • That the canons of the Church are irrelevant.
  • That the Orthodox Church should be working hard to “merge” with another religious body, and that that merger is imminent.
  • That there should be concocted “joint services” with non-Orthodox clergy.
  • That “unity” can happen without full dogmatic agreement.
  • That the Orthodox Church lacks something essential to churchliness and needs to get it from some non-Orthodox group.

I don’t know whether they should be called “ecumenism” or not, but here are some things I do believe:

  • That the Orthodox should meet with anyone who is willing to talk peacefully, even if we suspect that they are total cads, even if we suspect that it is a waste of time.
  • That the point of those meetings should not be “agreed statements” but to learn about each other. Agreed statements can be part of that process but are not necessary.
  • That the Orthodox should do the very hard work of trying to learn what other religious groups teach and practice.
  • That the Orthodox should not rely only on what other religious groups used to teach and practice but should learn about what they’re doing now, how they’ve been changing, how they’re becoming more Orthodox and how they’re becoming less so.
  • That that is going to take a lot of work.
  • That the Orthodox can learn something about Orthodoxy by doing that work, not because the Church lacks anything, but because those in the Church lack something.
  • That the Orthodox should not rely on non-Orthodox criticisms of other religious bodies but should go and find out what they’re like for ourselves.
  • That the Orthodox faith has been and can continue to be expressed in ways that genuinely vary yet are still authentically Orthodox.
  • That the Orthodox should want everyone to become part of the one Church and should find the best way to help that happen without compromising Orthodoxy.
  • That, while it is perfect for eternity because its chief Member is Christ, what the Orthodox Church lacks in time is the presence of every human person within its fold.

There’s a lot more that could be said for both of those lists, but I hope you get the idea.

There is also something I would like to address, and that is that this website’s writers have sometimes addressed themselves not only to the non-Orthodox but to fellow Orthodox Christians, even critiquing positions which are popularly held. Some have called this “Orthodox vs. Orthodox,” have seen it as “divisive,” have seen it as evidence of liberalization, revisionism, betrayal of Church tradition, etc.

We have to understand several things here. First, Orthodoxy (and here I mean the Orthodox community, not the faith qua faith) is not monolithic. There is room for disagreement within the Orthodox Church. Why? Because not everything has been dogmatically defined. We have a whole realm of theologoumena (theological opinions) that is actually a good bit broader than some may realize. As long as one is faithful to Orthodox dogma, one can indeed be “creative” in theology. That is not a call for being experimental but rather for recognizing that there are indeed new challenges in every age and that Orthodoxy needs to meet them.

We should also recognize that, just because something is popular within the circles that we happen to run in (e.g., English-speaking Orthodoxy on the Internet) does not mean that it is held universally within all of Orthodoxy or that it actually represents the Orthodox tradition throughout history. I’ve seen people hold tenaciously to something that’s only a century or two old. It may well be a perfectly acceptable theologoumenon, but unless it’s actually in the dogmatic decrees of the Church, we have to be careful not to treat it as dogma.

And it’s also possible that some Orthodox people hold to heterodox positions. It’s true. So sometimes we need to engage in serious study of the Orthodox tradition to see whether what we hold is actually consistent with the tradition, whether it should just be held as a theologoumenon, etc. That doesn’t mean that the Church has lost the truth. It means that we’re imperfect and always need to be striving for it ourselves, to become more churchly ourselves.

Finally, especially in connection with one of my points above, I think it’s pretty important that we really seek to discover what the other person believes and then try to give the most charitable interpretation to it that we can. Does it really make sense that someone who could seem so committed to being faithful has suddenly become unfaithful? Why not ask to find out what he really thinks? These discussions often devolve into various sides responding only to caricatures of the other, sometimes in the face of the other actually explicitly rejecting the positions we ascribe to them. I have sometimes been guilty of that, but I’m working to understand better. I’ve been grateful for the ways the rest of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy writers have helped with that, and even for the ways some of you irascible commenters have, too! So, thank you.

And let’s keep striving.


  1. Father Damick,

    Thank you for this well-balanced and well-stated clarification. May there be a discussion about some of your points?

    If so, one thing you might clarify for myself and your other readers is the significance of the modifier “concocted” in regard to services with non-Orthodox clergy. There is both a denotative and a connotative sense of this word, the former being simply “made, constructed” and the latter being “mish-mashed together in an absurd way” or something like that. Did you mean to imply that when an Orthodox and a non-Orthodox clergy member (or bishop, or pope, or patriarch) celebrate services together, this is inherently “absurd” or “falsely fabricated”? Or did you simply mean that these services are “put together” or “made” (as in, the rite is usually compiled for the occasion out of other pre-existing rites)?

    Thank you.

      1. Thanks, Father.

        If I may ask, what qualifies particular rites as “real Orthodox church services”?

        Also, which do you think is worse: concelebrations of “made up” services or concelebrations of “real Orthodox church services”?

        1. Mr. Cuff,

          Since it seems that these questions are following in a series of sorts, I’d appreciate it if you’d go ahead and just skip to the “gotcha” one at the end.

          As for what constitutes the Orthodox liturgical tradition, this is as good starting place as any. But I kind of suspect that you knew that, no?

          1. Thank you, Father.

            Honestly, I am not preparing a “gotcha.” I do read your blog and I am sincerely interested in knowing your opinion (especially as an Orthodox priest) regarding not only the broad strokes of theology, but also the finer points. If you would prefer not to discuss these finer points in the Socratic style as I was attempting to do, let me know and I won’t ask my questions. But I don’t think that I was asking anything off-topic or offensive in the above comments. I also find it to be helpful to proceed one step at a time in a discussion, in order to clarify specifics and avoid mischaracterizations…this is especially true in comment boxes. You probably agree.

            So here comes my next question (unless you choose not to respond, and it’s ok, I really won’t be offended). Was your citation of Fr. Calivas’ article meant to imply that only liturgical texts which are part of the “canon” of the Orthodox liturgical tradition (the Horologion, Synaxarion, etc.) would avoid being called “made up” services, in the terminology you used above? That is to say, if a text were not from one of these “canonical” liturgical books, it would be a “made up” service for the purposes of this discussion?

            If I have read you correctly, would you mind listing what, in your mind, constitutes this canon?

          2. There is “Socratic,” and there is also “loaded.” 🙂 I am responding somewhat with your past comments on this site in mind.

            In any event, we’ve hashed out much of this before, it seems to me.

            As to what exactly constitutes a “canon” for the Orthodox liturgical tradition, I am not sure that such a thing has ever really been canonically defined in any really strict sense. One could at least point to what is in the Typikon, but of course that is not actually exhaustive for the whole of Orthodox liturgical tradition. That there is no specific canon or dogma absolutely defining Orthodox liturgical tradition doesn’t constitute warrant for radical departures from its overall character, however. These things should not be approached legalistically.

            In any event, the point was just one among many in this post. I think what I was saying is fairly clear. I wasn’t putting forward a theory of liturgical validity. I actually serve on my archdiocesan committee for liturgics and know better than that. 🙂

  2. Father Andrew, Your article is “spot on.”

    One can be totally Orthodox and yet be kind and charitable to people who do not (yet?) share the faith. Avoiding those who are not Orthodox for fear of getting “tainted,” or not having the patience to engage the world to witness to the truth of Holy Orthodoxy does not promote the unity of the Church as that unity must be based on the acceptance of Truth.

    We should not fear “ecumenism” if by that term we mean openness to opportunities to share our understanding of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

    1. “We should not fear “ecumenism” if by that term we mean openness to opportunities to share our understanding of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith.”

      But that’s not really what the term means – ecumenism is a movement, a “dialog”, that presumes that unity between the “churches” is the end game. To quote from the WCC:

      “Churches in the fellowship of the WCC pursue the vision of ecumenism as they:
      seek visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship;
      promote common witness in work for mission and evangelism;
      engage in Christian service by meeting human need, breaking down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation.”

      There are all sorts of problematic explicits and presumptions in there (not the least of which is “upholding the integrity of creation” which is just Orwellian speak for “I push the modern misanthropic environmental agenda”). If we are to “share our understanding of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith”, is that not simply to say we are to PREACH the GOSPEL? Of course! But (and this is a very big but) are we to do so in a box, a set of presuppositions, in a “dialog” that defines the tone and meaning of the conversation that such that one has to in a sense lie and be deceitful about ones presence at the table: “you see, the stated goal of this ‘dialog’ is unity between the ‘churches’, but I already believe in the Church so I am here to enlighten you – I am here under false pretense”. Can we be deceitful and preach at the same time (honest question, maybe the answer is yes!)??

      1. So the WCC decides what words mean?

        There have been many Orthodox Christians who have engaged in what they called “ecumenism” or “the ecumenical movement” who by no means were compromisers. Probably the foremost among them is Fr. Georges Florovsky, who was by no means ignorant of the direction the WCC went, having been involved with it from its founding right up to his death. He was always clear what the terms of his participation were. I see no reason why other Orthodox Christians cannot continue to follow his stellar example.

        Just because some people practice a bad kind of ecumenism does not mean that there is no good kind. In any event, the point is not which words one uses but rather what the meanings are. If I say that I practice an “ecumenism” that means “X” and you insist that “ecumenism” instead means “Y,” it is dishonest to accuse those who are practicing “X” of being guilty of “Y.”

        What a term “really” means is how it’s used. And that a term is used means that there are users. I see no reason to privilege the uses of the WCC.

        1. “What a term “really” means is how it’s used. And that a term is used means that there are users. I see no reason to privilege the uses of the WCC.”

          Fr. Andrew, are you a nominalist? In any case, the NCC/WCC certainly do get to define what ecumenism means, as it is the very foundation and continuation of the modern ecumenical movement. It’s “their word” so to speak. You only get to borrow it, and use it in it’s correct (i.e. “meaningful”) manner. If you don’t, then your like the eccentric in the room when he keeps pointing at the dog and saying “that’s a banjo”.

          The WCC and the whole ecumenical movement turned out to be a little larger than Fr. Georges Florovsky and the “clear what the terms of his participation were” did it not? In fact, it has walked all over those terms and gone in all sorts directions that any classical Christian (let alone an Orthodox one) simply can not accept.

          I see what you are trying to do, to carve out something good from the failure of the “ecumenical movement” of the last 100 years or so. You seem to tend toward using the phrase “theological dialogue” at times – perhaps you should stick with this as it means something much closer to what you are trying to accomplish than the term “ecumenism”.

          Not that I am convinced of your project. Most of what you seem to want accomplish does not seem to be in need what almost invariably turns out to be confusing “dialog” and the “statements” they produce. The example of these things are legion (“in time”, “two lungs” only being two). If you are trying to preach/evangelize (what I take the Archbishop to mean by “share”) then do so, but don’t do it under false pretense of accepting a dialog whose stated goal is “the unity of the churches” (and solutions to global warming, and all the other pseudo-political goals of these “dialogues”). Seems to be much of the “learning about” these other groups can be done by simply reading their scholarship, or reading their published services/prayers (such as they are). The most fruitful target of “theological dialogue” appears to be the church of Rome, and yet ‘dialogue’ might be needed here the least because of the prodigiousness of their scholarship, councils, encyclicals, etc.

          To be honest, there is also a whiff of arrogance and pride in your project. Somewhere you talked about being qualified to do this work, saying one has to be theologically/scholarly trained, spiritually mature, etc. I don’t disagree, however who gets to decide who is? Those of us who saw just these sorts of “experts” lead the effort to destroy what was left of traditional Christianity in our mainline protestant cradles know just what sort of men these are – the ones so easily tempted by their own pride to “develop” doctrine, etc.

          Over 20 years ago, just before being Chrismated into Orthodoxy I ran across that patriarchal encyclical of 1920. I remember thinking “how naive – does he really not know that the west has lost the idea, the mind, the grammar of “Feast” altogether”. Of course that was not entirely true in 1920, as the church of Rome still had it. But look at them today, they are losing it very very quickly. Does one really need to talk to their “theologians” to understand this? On the contrary, they are likely to defend themselves.

          I wonder, would Fr. Georges Florovsky (who appears to be your mentor in all of this) take responsibility for what the NCC/WCC has become today? What would it look like for those who participate in these “dialogues” to take responsibility for the confusion, the ambiguity that seems to be the primary fruit?

          No, I am not a member of even ROCOR, let alone the “Old Calendarists”, etc (I attend the local American Ukrainian mission – it is the only Church in my small city). No “anthema” against the “heresy of ecumenism” here and I kind of like the “new calendar”. That said, I am no fool – I see the fruit of ecumenism…

          1. Fr. Andrew, are you a nominalist?

            No. And it should be noted that nominalism is a much larger philosophy than merely observing that language’s meaning is contextual.

            Anyway, as for Florovsky, he lamented what the WCC became (the NCC is a different body, one which, you may recall, my Archdiocese withdrew from some years back), though he remained engaged with it.

            As for what ecumenism and ecumenical mean, their use in most scholarship is indeed not defined by the WCC. The general meaning is “inter-Christian relations.” That is how I use those terms. I see no reason to make everyone bow to the WCC’s definitions. They don’t get to dictate usage.

            In any event, this isn’t a “project” for me. I’m not trying to “carve out” anything at all. I’m just using words in their most common ways. To be honest, I really don’t know what you think I’m trying to accomplish, but it’s certainly not a dedication to whatever it is (and, honestly, I can’t tell what it is) that you seem to be unhappy about. I’m also not sure why you bring up the ROCOR or the Old Calendarists. I didn’t mention them.

            My only “project” is to witness to Orthodoxy, and I’ll do that in any context available to me, whether it’s called “ecumenism” or whatever.

            One area in which I will very much disagree with you is the notion that learning about other religious bodies can be done just by reading what they produce. That is nonsense. The Church connects with people and heals them precisely as persons, not by shouting from afar at religious categories. We have nothing to fear from actually meeting with people.

  3. I recently ran across your site and have truly enjoyed your writings. I expect that further reading will help illuminate my Roman faith. Thank you.

  4. I agree. Wonderfully stated. While I am not Orthodox (although I am trying to “figure it out” in the spirit of your writing here), it is this spirit and consideration that brings me back to this blog on a regular basis.

  5. Wonderful (especially given that you serve on a liturgics committee)! You’re right; what you were saying is fairly clear, except I think the clarification I’m trying to make is a rather important one. I am just trying to figure out if your issue with the “concocted joint services” is that they are “concocted” or that they are “joint.”

    The reason I think this is important is because if “concocted” is your main reason, it would place you in a different category than most who oppose these sorts of joint Orthodox-Catholic services. If you take issue with both “concocted” and “joint,” my next question would be whether you think that all “joint” services are “concocted” (because that would be a problem with “joint” under your view as well).

    I think if all “joint” services were by nature “concocted” (meaning non-canonical, whatever that would mean), that would be a pretty solid argument against conducting joint Orthodox-Catholic services if you could demonstrate that.

    [I realize that this is just one point among many in your post, but “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is also just one point among many in the Ten Commandments. I’m afraid I am always interested in the details.]

    1. Both aspects are, to me, a problem. Concelebrating with those with whom one is not in communion is pretty well against even a fairly minimal reading of the Orthodox canonical and patristic tradition in general. I don’t see that inventing new services in order to make that happen makes it any better. It’s also, in itself, something of a problem. That doesn’t mean that new services are impossible, but if the idea of creating such services is to almost-but-not-quite do that which is traditionally outside the boundaries of the permissible, then it seems to me rather worse.

  6. About a year ago I had occasion to take some RC friends with me to church. Their interest in visiting an Orthodox church was piqued by the possibility of the union of the Latin Church and the Orthodox. There were 7 of them so I asked for and received a blessing from the pastor of the church I was attending which, because of its small size and congregation would make my group of friends seem like a mob of strangers were invading. At any rate I was happy to take them and overall they were pleased and impressed. Nevertheless, they did have a few suggestions.
    1. The service is a “bit” long. The church needs to understand that people have lives to live even on Sunday.
    2. The priest needs to smile more. In fact everybody in the church needs to smile more. Church is after all supposed to be a happy time. In this same vein the priest needs to interject some levity into his sermons.
    3. Where are the girl servers?
    4. Where are the pews?
    5. Is fasting and confession really necessary to receive communion? They don’t do that.
    6. I (and the congregation) really should raise these issues with the priest. As one fellow asked “How will the priest know what needs to be changed if the people don’t speak up?”
    I relate this story because I believe Orthodox who are enthusiastic about the possibility of union with Rome have not considered that, should this union ever come about, it is not the theologians and intellectuals who are going to be showing up at your church to receive communion, but the people. And they’re going to want to have a little chat with you.
    I almost forgot #7. They are sincerely happy that we have returned to Rome.
    I have read all that has been written on your extraordinarily good web site. I fear that those who seek this union have failed to anticipate the veritable culture clash that will ensue. Like the President’s Affordable Health Care Act, nobody seems to have considered the practical impact of such a union at the local level, where the people are. Like the President, the EP seems to be more concerned with leaving his “legacy” in the expectation that everything will work itself out…. or something.

    1. I’m not sure it’s correct to say that “nobody seems to have considered the practical impact of such a union.” I, for one, have considered it a lot, actually. For example, let us imagine that Rome abjures all her heresies tomorrow and comes crawling to the Orthodox for forgiveness, etc. (That’s the scenario some would like, though I can’t imagine that it could really work that way.) Will there be some sort of task force sent to cleanse the Catholic bookstores of all their superstitious trinkets, such as scapulars that promise various magical effects? (I know those aren’t “official,” of course, but they are permitted by toleration.) What will happen to RC churches named for people we consider heretics? Feast days? Will Catholics in certain third world nations who do things like literally crucify themselves during Holy Week be prevented from those and other practices and instructed in traditional Orthodox asceticism? There are, in my opinion, much harder pastoral difficulties to surmount than just some nosy activist laity who’d like to see things reformed a bit. They’re a problem, too, of course.

      I’m with Florovsky, though, in that these things need to happen at the dogmatic/doctrinal level first. That doesn’t mean the rest would be easy. But the dogma and doctrine are critical and primary and (IMO) probably won’t make any major progress for some centuries. But we should still work at it even if we ourselves never see the fruit of that work. And if we do, perhaps Rome really can eventually get to the point where it jettisons Vatican I, etc. And perhaps the process of getting there may alter some of those objectionable practices.

      Whether the Ecumenical Patriarch has considered all this himself, I do not know. (His “ontologically different” remark from 1997 leads me to think maybe he has.) But I do know that thoughtful, educated, traditional, committed people in the Ecumenical Patriarchate are indeed considering all these issues (I’ve spoken with some of them). I’m always wary of arguments drawn from “Where is the _______?!” that are so often found on the Internet. Just because I (or Google) haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

      1. I agree Father. Nevertheless, the people in the RC pews, having been allowed to evolve (?) as they have because of the Latin church’s toleration, are the force{s} you as a pastor will have to deal with. I submit that too many in the RC hierarchy have encouraged much of this liberal activity in their churches. The congregations are moving inexorably in one direction and are not going to be amenable to instruction from Rome. They are more protestant than I ever was. We who are converts have chosen not to go in the same direction. From my perspective, in practical terms, the EP has invited the Latin church into ours and the Latin church folks will be bringing a lot of baggage with them.
        Please do continue the dialogue. Your criteria for proceeding are right on. But the people only hear “inter-communion” which to them means they get to receive at our churches and we “get” to receive at theirs. They do not hear the rest of the argument.

        1. For whatever it may be worth, my friends in the RCC who keep tabs on such things say that many in the younger generation, especially among the clergy, are far more traditionally minded than the folks you mentioned in your previous comment. A lot of them tend to think that once the Baby Boomers (who are beginning to grey) are out of leadership, that there will be a shift that will be much more favorable to the Orthodox way. We shall see.

          1. I too have seen evidence of that! The new liturgies seem to be having an effect opposite that envisioned by their creators and supporters. But the RCC at large and the hierarchs and many clergy do not seem to be paying attention. They appear to be in persistent denial of the significance of these changes that are going on, in larger and larger measure, before their eyes. One gets the impression they’re not happy about it.
            Still and all, I see difficulties when they come to see that Orthodoxy is a way of living; a way of seeing the world which will entail work more difficult than many will be willing to exert. But, as my spiritual Father once told me, we may rest supremely confident that the Holy Spirit will move whom it wills, the choices will be the perfect ones, and are always a cause for rejoicing. Just be glad it’s not up to us to decide.

          2. This is also my opinion. In my experience, the Baby Boomers are attempting a departure from church tradition, where the younger generations are just departing from church altogether. Those that remain are much more traditional.

  7. Very good points made here by Gregory Manning.

    Just to note, I am pretty sure that scapulars are indeed “official” at least in the sense that the practice of wearing of them still enjoys certain indulgences attached to it by the papacy. The Roman Catholic Church still issues indulgences. The book of indulgences has been revised more than once since Vatican II. The last edition published by the Vatican was the 1999 Enchiridion indulgentiarum, I believe.

    Incidentally, I don’t know of any RC saint whom the Orthodox Church has formally condemned as a heretic. But it is extremely difficult to imagine how, even under the most utopian conditions of doctrinal agreement and shared liturgical and spiritual ethos, the Orthodox could ever accept the “sainthood” of a figure like the Uniat Josaphat Kuntsevich, whom a Roman Catholic head of state in his day criticized for persecution of the Orthodox. Some canonizations are more than a little ideological. Arguably the Orthodox have had a few too.

  8. A couple counter-points:
    For information on Orthodox indulences see here (http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/7185.htm). At Constantinople in 1838 they were called “most holy, most sacred, and most awesome.” (Bill and Ted, is that you?) At the same time, though, the use of them to make the Church rich was condemned.

    As for “superstitious trinkets”–I can’t even count the Orthodox parish bookstores I’ve been to that sell “evil eye” warding pendants. So…there’s that.

    On the other hand, Patriarch John X (Antioch) did insist this year that Antiochian parishes not give the little bottles of oil out to the laity, because people were using it for “unseemly and superstitious uses.” I was a little bit miffed, but it is good to root out superstitions.

    As for the actual conversation:
    Gregory Manning, those are good points. It’s hard to respond except by saying there’s no telling what the future holds. As Father ASD said, if Rome “came crawling back” (so to speak) tomorow, in what order do all of these doctrinal/practical things happen? It’s so hard to say.

    But allow me to just offer this: it shouldn’t be fear of the future that governs the dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics. I will risk cliche by suggesting that it be love, and boldness.

    1. This is getting somewhat off-topic here, but for whatever it’s worth, it should be noted that the “absolution certificates” that were once sold in Orthodox churches (and which pretty much everyone now rejects, BTW) were never equivalent to Roman Catholic indulgences. We have no doctrine of Purgatory, for instance. Indulgences and absolution are not the same thing. And of course indulgences are still very much in play in Roman Catholicism. You can’t quite buy them outright, but you can certainly make a donation to get them, which isn’t terribly different.

      As for the “evil eye” beads, they have never, to my knowledge, had any sanction from the Orthodox Church (and I discourage them, though I don’t go on witch hunts). Scapulars have and continue to have sanction from Rome, though I don’t think they’re officially taught to have the magical effects that often come included on little instruction slips that come with the purchase.

      Regarding boldness and love, as Florovsky once pointed out about the latter, it is not something which is opposed to truth. There can be no compromise when it comes to dogma. Such compromise would be neither bold nor loving, but rather cowardly and (at best) sentimental.

      1. But if you look at the article Jacob linked above, you see that multiple patriarchs and synods did indeed speak as if they believed the “psychocartia”/”absolution certificates” were indeed equivalent to Roman indulgences. You’re right, indulgences aren’t absolution, in the sense of sacramental absolution from sins. Indulgences are concerned with removing “temporal punishments for sins,” something believed to remain even after absolution. The number of days that used to be listed on the cards (I believe the newer book of indulgences eliminated this) pertains not to Purgatory, but what would have formerly been the number of days given as a penance for a particular sin. In any case, the use of indulgences or soul-cards in Orthodoxy was at the very height of the Latinizing “pseudomorphosis” of theology of which Florovsky spoke critically.

        As for purgatory,I think we need to be clear about what is and isn’t rejected. The Fathers, not only Latin but Greek, certainly teach the need not only for forgiveness, but also purification of the effects of sin; the reality of continued purification of sins beyond death; and the efficacy of prayers for the dead. The term purgatorium, to my knowledge, was introduced into theology by St Gregory the Great — an Orthodox Father. His Dialogues were early on translated into Greek and quite popular in the East. In that work he writes:

        “Each one will be presented to the Judge exactly as he was when he departed this life. Yet, there must be a cleansing fire before judgment [judicium purgatorius ignis], because of some minor faults that may remain to be purged away. Does not Christ, the Truth, say that if anyone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit he shall not be forgiven “either in this world or in the world to come” (Mt 12:32)? From this statement we learn that some sins can be forgiven in this world and some in the world to come. For, if forgiveness is refused for a particular sin, we conclude logically that it is granted for others. This must apply, as I said, to slight transgressions.” (Dialogues, 4:39)

        If I recall correctly, the Greeks at Florence objected to purgatory because (1) some of them mistook it for Origenist universalism (so thought Bessarion), and (2) they did not accept the idea of temporal punishment for sin (so said St Mark of Ephesus); (3) they did not accept the idea of a temporary fire of purification — only the eternal fire of hell (this in spite of Paul’s words about some being saved as through fire in 1 Cor 3:12-15).

        The tendency nowadays among better RC theologians – as evidenced for instance in Ratzinger’s book on Eschatology — is to speak of purgatory in terms of transformation, healing, etc, rather than temporal punishment, merits and the like. But the latter are still official magisterial teaching, even if they are played down. It seems to me that properly speaking the Orthodox objection is less to the notion of a purgatorial process after death than it is to the soteriology of merits and punishments which it was understood and framed in medieval and Tridentine theology. That, and the piety that went with it, which tended to overliteralize to an extreme what was never a particularly good metaphor to begin with.

        Also there is a connection with papal claims too, as regards indulgences: namely, the medieval talk of the pope having authority over the treasury of the merits of the saints. A bizarre implication there, it seems: did the pope have authority not only over the Church militant, but also the Church triumphant?

  9. Sound words from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, from 1999, back when he was Metropolitan of Smolensk:

    It seems to me that dialogue with heterodoxy is indispensable for us. Encounters between heads of churches and representatives of their administrations are of the utmost importance: only through personal contact can the numerous barriers that exist between Christians of different confessions be overcome. Yet encounters between theologians, both on an official and non-official level, are no less important. We need theologians not only with perfect command of the treasures of their own tradition, but also with a sound understanding of the heterodox tradition with which they enter into dialogue. At present, the Russian church has virtually no such specialists.

    Church divisions, schisms, attitudes towards and relations with heterodoxy need to be reassessed theologically at a new level, taking into consideration the ecumenical experience of the 20th century. Russian theology has seen the widest possible array of views on this matter: from the total negation of the presence of divine grace in heterodox churches to the total negation of any real division between the churches. Even now some still think that “human barriers do not reach up to heaven”; and there are others who, on the contrary, are convinced that no salvation is possible for non-Orthodox. Obviously a certain variety of views here is entirely acceptable and natural; yet whatever position a member of the Orthodox church may express, it is essential that this be supported not only by neophyte passion or zeal for the purity of Orthodoxy, but by deep knowledge as well: for any position acquires the right to exist only when it is carefully argued and theologically founded.

    . . . It should be a serious, thoughtful discussion, not a malicious row. Those engaging in it should be theologically educated, responsible and spiritually experienced persons. Neophyte squabbles are totally misplaced in such a discussion.

    Yet the problem lies precisely in the fact that for the time being Russia lacks such theologically educated and responsible people. The discussions (or rather, rows) are engaged in by ill-educated people lacking in responsibility. A new generation of theologians is needed, one sufficiently competent to participate in this discussion. We also need to part with prejudiced approaches and stereotypes, which may undermine even the richest of dialogues. Finally a healthy climate within the church is needed, one which presupposes the existence of such a discussion and allows its participants to have an opinion of their own.

  10. I took it from the OCN site, where it was posted as being from Kirill. But now I see that it is actually from Met Hilarion Alfeyev (Kirill’s successor as head of Dept of External Affairs). The confusion is understandable though, as this paragraph is a quotation from Kirill:

    “Today we face a unique opportunity to include all healthy theological forces in this process of assimilation: theological schools, monasticism, hierarchy, clergy and individual theologians. The time has come for serious debate on the participation of the Orthodox Church in the ecumenical movement. It should be a serious, thoughtful discussion, not a malicious row. Those engaging in it should be theologically educated, responsible and spiritually experienced persons. Neophite squabbles are totally misplaced in such a discussion.”

    All the rest of the quote is from Met Hilarion, and can be found here: http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/11/1/1.aspx

    and published here:http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1758-6623.2000.tb00039.x/abstract

    The bit about neophytes and the need for serious theological education and specialists and the present lack of them could not be more apropos. If it is true of the Russian church (and it is obvious it is — they cannot compete with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Romania, Serbia, Greece or even Antioch when it comes to theologians today), it is even more true of the Orthodoxy on the English-speaking internet. It is dominated by neophyte squabbles and lacking in well-educated specialists, on virtually any topic, let alone ecumenical affairs. Even our published literature is lacking in the latter regard.

  11. To note, things do seem to be improving in terms of theological education in the Russian church since that article of Met Hilarion was written in 1999. St Tikhon’s University is Moscow is teeming with faculty, and by the looks of some the research being done, it appears that in a generation or so things will be very different. But on the other hand when I was in Moscow this fall for a conference on the theological and philosophical legacy of Florovsky, aside from one deacon from America, I noted that there was not a single clergyman present.

    In view of that, the conclusion of the article above has further good reflections (with not a few ironies as well, such as this little gem: “We need the encounter with the contemporary western scholarship in order to part with a scholastic heritage long ago abandoned there”):

    7. Theological Education

    Theological academies and seminaries should, in principle, play a leading role in the renaissance of Russian theology: they concentrate within their walls the primary forces that might take the lead in this process. However, Russian theological schools have as yet not grown into centres of independent theological scholarship, first of all because their overall level of education remains unimpressive: they are approximately one century behind modern times. The “Western captivity” mentioned above has by no means been outlived in our theological schools: the teaching of many subjects still follows scholastic schemes characteristic of the mediaeval West, brought to Russian soil in the times of Peter Moghila. Modern Western theological scholarship has long ago abandoned these schemes and hinges upon a totally different foundation: the critical study of primary sources. But students in Russian seminaries still learn by heart the “five qualities of the mind of God” or the “four qualities of the will of God” and the like. We need the encounter with the contemporary western scholarship in order to part with a scholastic heritage long ago abandoned there.

    The number of theological schools has grown nearly twenty times over the past ten years, yet this has not by any means led to a rise in educational standards. On the contrary, standards have dropped: the already meagre number of teachers have been lured away to the newly created theological schools. As a result of the absence of qualified teachers, quite frequently people with only the most foggy idea about theology end up in teaching positions.

    The situation in some provincial seminaries and theological colleges is particularly troubling. More often than not, graduates become teachers in the same school, more or less short-circuiting the possibilities for qualitative improvement of the educational level: a graduate from a particular school can not give his students anything substantially different from what he studied at this school himself. A leap forward in quality requires teachers with a higher level of education than that which they have received from their own school. It is therefore necessary to invite secular specialists, university professors and teachers from other institutions of higher education to teach in seminaries. In addition, it is necessary to send students abroad for training. Students and teachers educated initially in a theological school in Russia, subsequently in a Western university, would familiarise themselves with the achievements of twentieth-century theological scholarship and learn to do theology on a contemporary level. On their return to Russia they could create a school of a new type and level.

    The need for reform of the entire system of theological educational of the Russian Orthodox Church has been voiced for a long time. A plan has already been proposed: it suggests the restructuring of seminaries from secondary to higher educational institutions by extending the educational programme from four to five years, with the academies being changed to some kind of post-graduate programme, while reducing the programme to three years and adding some subjects. However, the present plan does not provide any means to raise radically the academic level of the teachers themselves, and subsequently of the students. Prolonging the study programme of a secondary educational institution by one year does not make it an institution of higher education. The same process takes place everywhere: what earlier was called a college becomes an institute, institutes become universities, universities become academies, and academies, since there is nothing left to change into, split into two. Will this raise the educational standards of these schools? Hardly. And it is hardly worthwhile for an Orthodox theological school to prolong its existing classes without radical qualitative changes.

    A radical reform of theological schools is inevitable, and sooner or later it will take place — it is merely a matter of time. The reform will touch upon the curricula and all other aspects of the educational process, including the disciplinary system (which in our theological schools is totally out of line with any modern educational institution). In the new theological schools the emphasis will not be on the passive learning by heart of a given quantity of material, but on its creative understanding, on the student working independently with the primary sources. This is precisely the approach not only of Western universities, but also of many Russian educational secular institutions.

    When, then, will this reform take place? It will obviously happen when a new generation of Orthodox scholars comes to the fore, the very same who will receive both a Russian and a foreign education, helping them to attain the level of contemporary international scholarship. Students from the Russian Church are already today studying in Greece, Italy, America, Britain, Germany, France and other countries in a few years they will start coming back to Russia. For the time being those that have returned are very few, and they are not in demand: there is no place for them in theological schools. But soon they will be counted by the dozen, and it will become impossible not to take them into account: the Church will be obliged to make room for them within its system of theological education. These persons — on condition, of course, that they do not struggle for survival individually but are united in their efforts — will be able to secure the transition to a qualitatively different standard in both Russian theological scholarship and the entire system of theological education.

    It is crucial that as many Church people as possible realise the need to raise the educational level of the clergy. At present, educated priests (especially in monastic circles) are viewed with suspicion within the Church, as representing a potential threat to Orthodoxy. In reality the threat comes precisely from illiterate and uneducated priests. In the early 1990’s, when vacancies for the priesthood suddenly appeared, they were hastily filled with people lacking sufficient training and sometimes lacking any theological education whatsoever. This turned out to be a time-bomb. In many ways the problems that are surfacing in Church life today are caused by the lack of elementary theological training of certain priests. In particular the increasing misuse and abuse of the Sacrament of confession, as well as many alarming irregularities in the practice of spiritual direction, noted by the Holy Synod in December 1998 when it issued a special decree on the subject, is in many ways the result of the ignorance of certain priests of the basics of Orthodox theology and Church history. Deeper knowledge of these areas could help such priests to find guidance in the in the complicated and spiritual direction.

    Improvements in the level of education in theological schools should be accompanied by a new, well-thought out and focused recruitment policy. Priority for admission to theological schools should be given to the most promising high-school graduates (and not to those who promise most obedience and loyalty to the administration). The most gifted, talented, seminary graduates, those most dedicated to the Church, should be admitted to theological academies (and not solely the offspring of archpriests or episcopal subdeacons who are offered a place “by acquaintance”). Only those who have at least graduated from seminary should be ordained to the holy orders; to episcopal sees only those having a higher theological education should be admitted. Naturally, education can not be the only criterion: other criteria should be taken into account as well. Nevertheless it is indispensable to establish an educational census. In many Western churches one cannot become a priest without a bachelor’s degree in theology, nor become a bishop without a PhD. In Russia certain bishops, while already occupying a see, still follow correspondence courses in a theological school.

    I foresee opposition from those who consider education unnecessary for priesthood: “in the ancient Church there were bishops and priests who could neither read nor write, who knew no theology, and still achieved genuine holiness.” First of all I would answer to this that there were nevertheless other bishops and priests who could not only read and write, but who were among the most brilliantly educated of their times (Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom and others). Secondly, even those bishops and priests who did not know how to read or write were theologians: they studied theology orally (which was quite a wide-spread way to study in those days). Thirdly, we are no longer in the fourth, the fourteenth or even the nineteenth century; we are entering the twenty-first century, where it is very unlikely that an ample space will still exist for the ignorant and the half-educated. Priests wishing to build the Church in the coming century, to defend it from the attacks of enemies both internal and external, priests wishing not only to save themselves, but others as well (which is precisely the essence of priesthood), not only the ignorant and the illiterate, but also the intelligent and the educated – such priests must be educated themselves. They have to have a perfect understanding of the treasures of Orthodox theology. In our times — as in all times — it is impossible for a priest not to be a theologian.

    When theological schools change into genuine centres of theological scholarship; when theologians from a new generation and a higher scholarly level take up teaching positions, when highly educated, enlightened people are raised to episcopal and priestly functions, then it will be possible to speak not only of the renaissance of theological scholarship in the Russian Orthodox Church, but a genuine rebirth of the Church itself.

    8. Looking towards the future

    On the basis of the above, the following conclusions can be drawn:

    1. The renaissance of Russian theological scholarship is possible, but it will take place only when theologians of a new level appear in Russia, with the education that our own theological academies and seminaries cannot yet provide; when specialists in biblical studies, patristics, Church history, other theological disciplines as well as ancient and modern languages appear, then and then only will the new school of Orthodox theologians be born, one that can take over from the “Paris school” and formulate a theological vision for the twenty-first century. Such a school could take shape within Russia or beyond its borders. One would wish it to appear in Russia, where all the necessary conditions are already in place.

    2. The renaissance will take place when we come to an understanding of the entire historical experience of the Church in the twentieth century, the experience of survival under the conditions of religious persecution.

    3. The renaissance will take place when a process of radical changes on several levels of Church life begins, a process initiated by the Local Council of 1917-1918.

    4. The renaissance will take place when Holy Scripture takes the place that befits it in the life of the Orthodox Church.

    5. The renaissance will take place when systematic work on the translation and publication of the writings of the Church Fathers begins.

    6. The renaissance will take place when worship becomes accessible to the people.

    7. The renaissance will take place when the heritage of Russian theological scholarship and the experience of the “Paris school” have been assimilated and implemented by Russian theologians.

    8. The renaissance will take place when Russian theology frees itself from its “Western captivity,” when it returns its own roots in ancient Christian and Byzantine tradition. This return also requires fresh theological forces and a new, creative approach adopted by all main theological disciplines.

    9. The renaissance will take place when Russian theological scholarship leaves the “ghetto” where it has already spent eighty years, when it reaches the level of modern Western research.

    10. The renaissance will take place when the theological schools of the Russian Church are reformed, when their curricula and educational approach are adjusted in accordance with the need to develop properly the creative potential of their students.

    11. The renaissance will take place when a climate is created within the Russian Church that will facilitate healthy theological discussions on the most essential questions of contemporary Church life.

    The Russian Orthodox Church disposes of colossal human resources, probably more than any other Church of the Christian world. Western theological seminaries (Roman Catholic in particular) are closing one after the other, while we witness explosive growth in the number of theological schools. The West complains about the lack of “vocations,” about the dwindling numbers of people wishing to dedicate their lives to the service of the Church, while in Russia the ratio for entry into certain theological schools is still five candidates to one place. We simply have to learn how to use this potential most effectively, how to recruit more scrupulously, to attract young and creative forces and to set them on the right track, not fearing to send people to “retraining courses” abroad and to offer them positions upon their return.

    The historical situation in Russia on the threshold of the twenty-first century is extremely favourable for the renaissance of theological scholarship. The Church still holds an unused credit of confidence, a credit of support from the worldly powers, from the people. It would be a crime to miss this historic chance.

    1. You mean #4 of Alfeyev’s point above, about Scripture? These are Alfeyev’s words, not mine.

  12. So sorry. I carelessly read through the article and tried to get in a question before unplugging my computer in the face of an oncoming thunderstorm ( a common occurrence here in Florida). Alas, greediness comes in so many unexpected forms.

  13. In all this discussion of Rome coming back to Orthodoxy has anyone ever thought they might fit in the Eastern Rite alittle easier?

    I have never been to an RC Mass, but those who visit us seem to not be too taken aback. And, they say our Liturgy is so beautiful, compared to their own.

    It is my understanding the Eastern Rite is practicing a Liturgy from about the year 500. Obviously pre-schism, but somewhat latinized.

    1. I’m assuming you’re actually referring to the Western Rite, rather than the Eastern/Byzantine.

      What exactly the Orthodox Western Rite(s) is(are), with regard to history, is a subject of some controversy that we won’t go into here, but I don’t think Rome becoming Orthodox has as much to do with which rite they would worship by were it to happen. I don’t think anyone who is really engaged with this stuff envisions trying to convert them to using the Eastern liturgical forms.

      1. I am so sorry for such a late reply, I have been sick. But yes Father, I meant Western Rite.

        I do understand some hold the Western Rite as controversial, but I would hope that with the blessing of The Patriarch of Antioch, our Beloved Met. Phillip, Bishop Bazil and Bishop John this would not be so.

        The point I was trying to make was that as folks from the RCC look this way, they would see the Western Rite as a means of – for lack of better words – an easier transition, which might serve as one more vehicle to help this matter. Maybe, just one more stone in the foundation of building this bridge.

  14. I apologize for this somewhat late remark, but I have had somewhat of a personal breathrough regarding my own way of looking at this thorny issue:

    It recently occurred to me that one problem with ecumenism is this: if in fact one church does have the right answer, and let us suppose for a moment that it could be any of them, if all churches accept dogmatic compromise to accomplish reunion, no one will be preaching the correct doctrine. Whichever church is right, at the dread day of judgement, could they not ask the Lord to have mercy on their fellow Christians, for God is loving and merciful, and said “Ask and ye shall receive?” Surely it would therefore be better if each church focused on remaining faithful to its own unique traditions, rather than compromising their dogma for the sole purpose of unity, given that there are other possible interpretations of “May they all be one, as You and I are one,” for example, expressing a desire for humans to iconographically represent Trinitarian love. We can do that without the dogmatic compromise required in order to establish communion; treat our fellow Christians as brothers and pray for them, while recognizing there is a difference in doctrine, and perhaps, celebrate unity in diversity, rather than the WCC Faith and Order model of unity by conformity.

Comments are closed.