On Ecumenism

“We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families. St. Innocent’s attitude to the Roman Catholics in California is a good example for us. A harsh, polemical attitude is called for only when the non-Orthodox are trying to take away our flocks or change our teaching.”
– Fr. Seraphim Rose (1934-82)

“God is love, and therefore the preaching of His word must always proceed from love. Then both preacher and listener will profit. But if you do nothing but condemn, the soul of the people will not heed you, and no good will come of it.”
– St Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938)

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This evening, I received an update that someone had commented on one of my recent blog pieces. The person, using the name “Orthodoxy or Death”, commented the following:

“Another friend who attended the banquet described to me his shock to hear Fr. Leonid praise Metropolitan Tikhon in his introduction with these words, again a thinly veiled attack on Metropolitan Jonah: ‘This one is no Lone Ranger!’ I respect Father Leonid for his many years of engagement with various ecumenical bodies, such as the World Council of Churches, but I find it difficult to view him as a man of integrity given that he engaged in such derisive remarks about a former Primate of his whom he seems to delight in insulting, regarding as almost an enemy. This just doesn’t seem to me like a Christian way of thinking — or speaking — especially from someone with so many years of active service in the Church.”

Why would you respect anyone for “engagement with various ecumenical bodes, such as the World Council of Churches”? Has he upon every appearance and interaction with that body told it repeatedly that they are all in schism and heresy and that Orthodoxy alone is the Church, and no real Christianity exists outside of us, and that Orthodox shouldn’t even be members of such false “ecumenical” groups?

Here is my reply: 
  • You misconstrued the meaning of my respect for Fr. Leonid– which, I must say, I’m afraid is not very deep since he took a leading role in the uncanonical conspiracy to force Metropolitan Jonah to resign. As the name you use is “Orthodoxy or Death”, it is clear that you are quite anti-ecumenical in your sentiments.

    I don’t know why you ask a question to which you obviously know the answer. Fr. Leonid certainly does not do as you described, since none of these bodies would respect him if he did. No one embraces a faith if they are made to despise and feel ashamed of their own. Instead they become defensive and become less receptive to hearing about the other faith. Would anyone convert to Orthodoxy just because they are made to despise the faith of their childhood, rather than love Orthodoxy for its incomparable fullness? I have never met such a person.

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    Fr. Hiermonk Seraphim (Rose), 1934-1982

    Even the most prominent anti-ecumenists of our day, such as the late Fr. Seraphim Rose, wrote that non-Orthodox peoples must be treated not with polemics and derision, but as fellow icons of Christ, even if they do not worship the same God we do or recognize Christ or the Theotokos the way we do. If we do not treat them with basic kindness and respect as human beings, fellow children of God, we will not be in a position to communicate to them anything about Orthodoxy. False prophets who seek to convert people to their heretical faiths, such as the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon/LDS Church), The Episcopal Church, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, and most if not all evangelical pastors must be condemned as such, as heretics or even as non-Christians, but we much reach out to their ordinary members with love and kindness to begin to bring them away from these heterodox churches or religious groups. Here is a wonderful link which goes into more detail, quoting from Fr. Seraphim Rose and St Silouan the Athonite, my patron saint:

    http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/howtotreattheheterodox.aspx

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    Starets Silouan of the Holy Mountain (1866-1938), my patron saint and one of the most brilliant, illumined Orthodox hiermonks and ascetics.

    I wrote what you quoted above in the interest of basic Christian charity- I wanted to find something to respect in Fr. Leonid. I do not presume to know what exactly he talks about in these dialogues, but I imagine he, in a more polite way, communicates some of the points you mentioned above.

    Engagement in these bodies, generally in the form of lengthy meetings and the writing of many statements of agreement and intent between different hierarchs and various non-Orthodox religious leaders, is often rather vapid in content but generally serves a purpose in that it makes various often extremely heterodox bodies aware of our existence. They become acquainted with our theology, many witness the incomparable beauty, richness, and theological fullness of our Liturgies and other divine services, and I imagine some have been moved to convert to Orthodoxy, inspired by their engagement with our Faith.

    Think of all the tiny Protestant churches which have embraced completely heterodox [usually Calvinist] theology. I imagine sometimes, in areas dominated by more insular, communities of cradle Orthodox which do not reach out beyond their own parish, Orthodoxy has little to no witness or presence outside these small ethnic communities. This itself is an abdication of the Gospel mandate in Matthew 28:19.

    I do not support the kind of involvement in these ecumenical groups which has led to some Orthodox abandoning their obligation to share the Gospel in an organic way.

    Your comment raises an important point- how do we best spread the Gospel? I firmly believe that we should offer to bring our friends to church, and better educate ourselves about our theology and the lives of the saints and the details of the Liturgy, so that, if put in such a scenario, we may talk truthfully and accurately about our faith. This is an area where I have found many predominantly cradle Orthodox parishes to be impoverished, especially those which adapt a generally negative view toward converts, or who presuppose that all converts bring with them significant evangelical, Roman Catholic, or other theological ‘baggage’. These parishes often have almost no faith outreach and do not see the need for the laity to serve as Christian witnesses at all.

    However, those converts who seek too overtly to change what they see as problems in their parishes, or who presume themselves somehow as being more knowledgeable and therefore “more Orthodox” than many of their fellow parishioners, only end up hurting and alienating the cradle Orthodox in their community rather than lovingly and carefully convincing them, for instance, to refrain from putting in pews, or the priceless wisdom found in not abbreviating the Liturgy. The root problem here is a profound failure in catechism and a lot of either overt or latent secularizing/modernizing influences which have crept into many parishes.

    I am in support of ecumenism insofar as it involves engagement with those outside the Orthodox Church for the purposes of 1) teaching them about our beliefs and not simply pretending we all believe the same thing, which we obviously don’t or there would be no need to engage as separate bodies in these dialogues, 2) attempting to show to those in other Christian communions that our Church holds to the original, apostolic Christian Faith, and 3) working toward collaborative solutions to end problems afflicting all of humanity, from the horrific reality of abortion, to child mortality in developing nations, to cyclic poverty and endemic violence in many poorer communities.

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One thought on “On Ecumenism

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