Some new movements in the Orthodox Church
Rev. Srboljub Miletic
There are certain theologians in the Orthodox world today who naively and frivolously rush to embrace the world with the “love of Christ”, failing to consider that this very same world does not want their love, just as it had once before rejected the love of Christ. As the Savior Himself said: “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent out to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Mt.23:37)
There are many theologians who are under the influence of the modern age of communications and a “global village” mentality, sadly among whom are many priests and even bishops. They feel that “ecumenism is ok, that all we need to do is agree on the truth, accept it and be one in Christ!” Some appeal to humanism, stating that “we are all human beings” made by God, which is the only thing of importance and is a sufficient ground for some kind of unity.
These theologians naively assume that their participation in these movements can change the disposition of others and turn them to Orthodoxy, i.e. convince the followers of other movements to understand and accept the truth. There is a well-concealed rationalistic pride in such notions, as well as an assumption that they would be capable of convincing the rest of the world that it is treading the wrong path as easily as they think that they have a clear understanding of these things. These new theologians seem to have forgotten Christ’s explicit words: Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. (Jn. 15:20)
The propagators of these movements within Orthodoxy often quote the Holy Fathers, whose works they use as proof that we Orthodox ought to have more love and understanding for the rest of the world, that we should not be so full of criticism and rejection, lest we “isolate ourselves and thus shut the doors to those who have a desire for the truth.” However, what they fail to keep in mind is that their definition of ecumenism or, perhaps, humanism (if they have one at all) does not correspond with what these movements think of themselves. Their members do not embrace ecumenism or humanism in order to seek the truth. They think that truth is already on their side, for ecumenism is a movement whose aim is UNITY, not a search for the TRUTH.
If we follow this logic (according to which we owe the world our participation in ecumenical movements), we could also declare secularism to be “ok”, for besides a soul, we have also been given a body which we should care for as a temple of the Holy Spirit; culture is “ok”, since it derives from “cult” and all we need to do is simply introduce Christ into it; modernism is also “ok” - is not Christ always young, new and contemporary? Looking through Christ and past Him in this immature and superficial manner, anything can be “ok”, all we need to do is “christianize it” or “make it Orthodox”, as if this were a simple formula which would place us in the centre of all world affairs.
We know that the Holy Fathers, in their mature and sober wisdom, forbade Orthodox clergy to pursue politics. But, according to pro-ecumenists, even politics can be “ok”, for as important it is to care for the body, so is it equally important to care for the “national body”, the state - all we need to do is reject some “trifles”, such as macchiavelism in politics. All that needs to be done is to replace dishonesty in politics with a Christian conscience and politics will be “ok”, too.
The list goes on. We cannot but admire the naiveté of those who feel that Christ and the truth, the Church and our Holy Faith can be used as wildcards in just about any world movement, which will in turn allow them to be up to date in all current world affairs.
Their calling upon the Holy Fathers makes no sense whatsoever, for the Fathers have never been as rationally self-confident and “open-minded” towards the world as these new theologians are. On the contrary, a common characteristic of the Holy Fathers was that they tried to get as far away from the world as possible, the same world whose brotherly embrace these learned theologians are now flinging themselves into with open arms. The Fathers never considered themselves as miracle-workers who could easily convince the world that it is heading in the wrong direction. They never spoke or wrote short and simple formulas, such as: Roman Catholics are “ok”, they only need to abandon their false teachings; or, ancient philosophy is “ok”, and should be taught and understood, on condition that Christ and His teaching is incorporated into it. Far from it, the Fathers have always taught that a love for the world leads one away from the love for God, just as Christ Himself many times indicated the difference between the world and the life his disciples led: If ye were of this world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (Jn. 15:19). And the holy apostle John, imitating Christ, says: If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 Jn. 2:15). And St. James warns us: Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (Jas. 4:4).
What these new theologians forget is that even if the supporters of humanism or secularism by some miracle accepted Orthodoxy, they would have to stop calling themselves humanists and secularists. If pro-ecumenists accepted Orthodoxy, there would be no point in their calling themselves ecumenist any more. This is true of any movement, including culture, civilization, science, and anything that has its inspiration in the world, rather than in God.
However, there are those that argue that Christ is greater than the world, that He encompasses all that man has, Himself having, as God, incomparably more. They conclude that Christ is greater than any world trend or movement and that He can draw to Himself anyone who yearns for Him. This is correct, but only on one condition: Christ is indeed greater, but only in truth, not in illusions and lies. His teaching and his Church are all-encompassing, greater than any movement or philosophy, but only in truth, never in faults and defects. Christ can indeed draw to Himself anyone who wishes to follow Him, but He is neither an ecumenist, nor a humanist, nor a politician, and cannot be ascribed any of these worldly epithets. Therefore, the disciples and followers of Christ cannot be what their Teacher is not, just as they cannot accept any of these epithets for the sake of “loving their neighbors” without the danger of drifting away from Christ.
Love for one’s neighbor does not imply that one should be a greater humanist than the humanists and a greater politician than the politicians, because the mere involvement in these activities alienates one from Christ. The aim of these movements is not drawing people to Christ, but the establishment of a new order in this worldly life without Him and His help.
The Fathers have never spoken about world movements in this manner. They have never shown their “love and understanding” by saying that these trends are “good in their essence and that they only need to be introduced to Christ.” Christ and the Truth are not some kind of all-purpose patch for a torn garment, nor an ingredient, albeit an important one, in a hearty meal, nor can they serve as décor for a new world philosophy or movement. Christ fundamentally changes a person, He does not just “make a man better”, he makes a man new: Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (Rom.6:4-6).
Can we at least try to imagine what would happen to Christianity had Christ been a little more “considerate” towards the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders? Or if the apostles had been a little more tolerant towards worldly powers and philosophies?
The wise and learned Orthodox rationalists’ favorite argument is a sentence from the holy apostle Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians: I am made all things to all men, that I might, by all means, save some.” But the whole context in which the apostle speaks is this: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might, by all means, save some. And this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
It is clear that the apostle speaks here about evangelization, not about becoming a member of an organization, or about his “equal rights” involvement at their conferences. We are not against the preaching of the Gospel to sectarians, humanists, nihilists, ecumenists, materialists, politicians, or to anyone else… for preaching is one thing, and “pulling the same plough” is something very different, and it is precisely this difference that some of our theologians are not able to see, being preoccupied with the love of their neighbour in a very worldly sense.
Does not the apostle Paul point to a commandment God gave to all mankind, including the Corinthians? Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And I will be a Father unto you and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Cor. 6:14-18)
What does this mean? Is this not a clear warning that we should not be “yoked together” into the same secularist, humanist or ecumenist “plough” and all other “ploughs” that are not ours: for we have our yoke, our plough, our burden and our Cross and we cannot hold “copyright” disputes with heretics, humanists, atheists and materialists over their “spiritual” concoctions, no matter how or from what aspect we see and interpret them.
For the same apostle writes to the Ephesians: Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be ye not, therefore, partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now ye are light in the Lord: walk as children of light… and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph. 5:6-11).
A favorite tactic of the adversaries of the Truth is to hide behind empty words and phrases. How pitiful some of our Orthodox theologians look as they hunt for scraps of truth in these empty words, which will allow them to declare a whole movement as “good and profitable, with only one thing missing: Orthodoxy.”
These theologians appear to miss the significance of something that the Holy Fathers understood very well: that the enemy of God almost never speaks a naked lie without a trace of truth, because then the lie would be too obvious. The Deceiver mixes in scraps of truth to lure men into following him, and he uses these scraps in such a way that men are led in a direction opposite to the truth. He cannot invent that which does not already exist, but he can abuse and distort that which already exists. A perfect example for this is found in the Scriptures, when Satan tempts the Lord: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” The tempter has no need for the truth, or proof for his own conviction, for he already knows that Christ is indeed the Son of God. Therefore, he uses true facts - that Christ is hungry, that He is the Son of God and that He can, if He so wishes, change stones into bread - in order that he might trick Him into vain words and proving that which is well-known to both. But Christ, instead of flaunting His power and proving the truth to the fallen one, answers modestly : “It is written: man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
The tempter does not give in, for he is not touched by this reconciliatory tone. It is clear that he is not concerned with Christ’s hunger, or with the truth about Him. What he does, however, is borrow bits of truth from the Scriptures in order to add more weight to his demand for empty and seemingly “innocent” proofs of God’s power, “and he saith unto Him: if thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: he shall give his angels charge: concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus said unto him: it is written again: thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Christ once more rejects the false curiosity of the tempter and draws the attention again to the real reason behind these vain words, which has nothing to do with desire for the Truth: temptation.
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him: All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Now, at last, the real motive of this drama is revealed: seeing that all his empty words are to no avail, the tempter now introduces a real value, a really high stake, into the game: all the kingdoms of this world and their glory.
Perhaps according to our human reasoning it would be more logical to completely expose this lie and tell the tempter that under no circumstances are these things his to give away. But instead, Jesus says: Get thee hence, Satan! for it is written: thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve! Interestingly, the Lord does not answer him: Get away from me, Satan, for how can you give me that which is not yours, but mine?! The Lord knows that the tempter is, in fact, the prince of this world (Jn.14:30), and He permits this, at least temporarily. However, He does not wish to dispute who has been given what and in which period of time, for that is not the point of this exchange; His answer is like a double-edged sword, in that it also applies to the tempter himself: Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve!” after which another question might follow: “And why do you yourself not obey this, since you know the Scriptures so well? Seeing that he could not, with bits of truth, persuade the One Who is the absolute Truth, then the devil leaveth him (Mat. 4:3-11).
This temptation of the Lord by the supreme tempter himself is a reflection of all of our temptations with the logic of this world, its system of values, its truths and half-truths. As was the case with the temptation of Christ, the real reason behind the temptations and their goal is important, and not the manner and form in which the temptation is carried out. As the saying goes: “the best way to convince someone to believe in something is for yourself to start believing it, too.”
One would be extremely naïve to believe that certain individuals thirst for the truth to the extent that, instead of searching for it, in their ignorance they go and start an ecumenical movement in which the “love for one’s neighbor” will perform the task of uniting the “churches.” To a sober-minded person it is quite clear that the primary goal for the existence of such movements is a “melting pot” of churches, and not the Truth, just as their primary means for doing so is the “love for their neighbor” and not the love for God. They have placed unity and their neighbor above God and the truth. If formal membership of the Orthodox in such an organization is not being “unequally yoked” and a “fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness”, then what is? If these declarations of tolerance, i.e, that other “Christian brethren and gentry” - the humanists, ecumenists, materialists, rationalists and the like, should be understood and accepted, are not in total opposition to the apostle’s words: … have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Eph. 5:6-11), then what is? Have some of our new theologians suddenly become diplomats overnight? Or perhaps supporters of Church politics which purports to ensure the survival of our Church in the world?
That the admirers of ecumenism, humanism, brotherhood and unity among nations and their religious sects like to fall back on the Holy Fathers is totally inappropriate, for the Holy Fathers long ago had their final say on the subject of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and all kinds of pseudo-Christian sects, not to mention syncretism, materialism or atheism. Therefore, no Orthodox Christian today, even if he is a layman uneducated in religious matters, let alone a member of the clergy, should have any doubts as to the Holy Fathers’ very clear judgement of any deviation from the true Faith. If nothing else, each Orthodox Christian should at least know and heed the words of the First Psalm: Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night (Ps.1:1-2).