I recently came across Paul Ladouceur’s translation of an article by Vladimir Lossky on “The Doctrine of Grace in the Orthodox Church,” published in the St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 58, no. 1 (2014).
The whole article contains matters of interest to readers here, but I’d just like to highlight its inclusion of a rare statement by Lossky on his understanding of ecumenical interaction (the text that follows is all Lossky’s):
Union of the Churches & the witness of the Orthodox Church
Before we explore the doctrine of grace in the Orthodox Church, I would like to make some preliminary remarks in order to avoid any possible misunderstandings.
The absence of unity in the Christian world is a cruel reality, constantly present in the conscience of every Christian concerned with the common destiny of humanity. Who could say, especially in the times in which we live, that the destiny of disunited Christianity leaves us indifferent without incurring the terrible condemnation of Revelation: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16)?
The wound caused by these separations remains virulent and bleeding for all those who on the one hand do not allow themselves to become paralyzed in a stupor of self-sufficiency and self-contemplation, but who on the other hand can no longer bear witness to the truth that they confess in the context of activities aimed at the “union of the Churches.” I would like to quote here some words of Karl Barth which clearly express my thinking:
Super- or inter-ecclesial movements are either worthless, since they do not take seriously problems of the doctrine, the constitution and the life of the Church, or else they have some value. And if they view these problems seriously, they are forced to abandon neutrality and create a new Church or community in their own image. Hence if we wish that ecclesiastical work proceed, it must do so in its Christian center: in the Churches. If we truly wish to listen to Christ as He who is the Unity of the Church and in whom Unity is already accomplished, we must therefore recognize in a concrete fashion our particular ecclesiastical experience.
And he writes again:
Only a powerful ecclesiastical reality can motivate a Church to forsake separation. It will not do so if this means abandoning a single dot on an “i” which it holds as truth in obedience to Jesus Christ. We do not make the union of the Churches, rather we discover it.
And I would add to Barth: we discover this union of the Churches on condition that we go to the very end in the clear and sincere confession of the faith of our specific and historical Churches or communities, to which alone we are committed. Hence in seeking to present aspects of the Orthodox doctrine of grace, we will certainly not seek to conceal or to downplay fundamental differences which exist on this subject with other Christian confessions. We do not wish to be polemical, since our aim is mutual understanding. If in this paper we are obliged on a number of points to contrast the teaching of the Orthodox Church with that of other Christian confessions, we should not be accused of harboring thoughts of confessional hostility, even less of the slightest intention of hurting our separated brethren.
As I contrast the teaching of the Orthodox Church with that of other Christian confessions, I will carefully avoid going into the details of the controversies on grace which have created many currents of different opinions in the West. Indeed Khomiakov said almost a century ago that for us Orthodox, the divided West cannot be other than as one family, a relatively homogeneous group. All the splits between Rome and the Reformation are for us but internal ruptures within Western Christianity. Our separation from Rome consummated in the eleventh century is of the same kind as that of the Protestants and all the communities which subsequently detached themselves from the Patriarchate of Rome. This is especially the case with respect to the doctrine of grace, because the separation of 1054, despite everything which was said and written on this subject by later polemicists, was based dogmatically on teachings concerning the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Grace.
We are now ready to address our subject.
The whole article is worth reading. You can find it here.