Perplexing questions of Russian Church life and the Replies of St. Theodore the Studite


     In about 1990 the St. Petersburg theological schools of the MP fell into an unenviable position: they had to fight against Ukrainian uniatism. What do you mean: fight? After all, they themselves taught that Catholics and Orthodox are “identically grace-filled”, “sister-Churches”. The scandalous upshot of this fight became known several years later (in 1997) through the newspaper “Radonezh”: 60% of the graduates from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy had become uniate priests.


     The present stand-off between the ROCA and the MP has much in common with that joyless picture. The negotiations conducted by Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany elicited many censures and criticisms within our Church, but the main part of this criticism slid over the surface of the problem. Much was said, but almost nothing about the main thing: is the MP a Church, are its bishops canonical and Orthodox Bishops?



1. Negotiations with a heretical MP or with a part of the One Russian Church?


     The negotiations between the two archbishops of Berlin – Mark (ROCA) and Theophanes (MP) – began with agreement on a “fact”: yes, the MP (like the ROCA) is a Church, and its bishops are true bishops.[i] But this thesis was repeated, as if it were something self-evident, in an open letter to all the members of the Church Abroad, and was accepted at a meeting of clergy and wardens of the German diocese of the ROCA (Frankfurt, 1 May, 1998).[ii] The authors of the given letter cited the Epistle of the Hierarchical Council of the ROCA of 1994: “… The time has come to seek living communion with all the parts of the One Russian Orthodox Church, which have been scattered by dint of historical circumstances… We are ready to clarify the canonical and dogmatic questions which created a schism between the various parts of the Russian Church as a single whole.” In the Epistle of the 1994 Council it was not openly said that the MP was understood to be one of the “parts” of the Russian Church, but this passage of the Epistle could hardly have been understood in any other way, and so one cannot accuse the clergy and wardens of the German diocese of citing it incorrectly.


     The Hierarchical Council of the ROCA in 1998, judging from the published documents, paid no attention to this, although the question of negotiations with the MP was discussed in detail. What is this all about? Are we really separated from the MP only by disciplinary-canonical obstacles, while there can be no question whether in the person of the MP we are having dealings with a Church?


     In the light of the Epistle of the 1994 Council the silence of the Hierarchical Council of 1998 concerning the main point connected with an evaluation of the negotiations with the MP, – the question whether the MP is a Church, - has to be understood as a sign that such an interpretation of the 1994 Epistle is permissible. A witness to the fact that the position of the 1998 Council was perceived in precisely this way in the German diocese is the article by one of the most active participants in the discussions with the MP, the secretary of the German diocese, Protopriest Nicholas Artemov, “What are we actually talking about? An attempt to be more precise…” (Vestnik Germanskoj Eparkhii. 1998. No. 3, pp. 19-24). Fr. Nicholas made a very thorough review both of the positions of the participants in the negotiations themselves, and of the following polemic. It is difficult to suspect Fr. Nicholas of paying no heed to even one clearly formulated expression. Therefore if he no longer finds it necessary to defend the very basis of the negotiations with the MP – the recognition of the MP as having the status of a Church, - it is impossible to explain this in any other way than that in the 1998 polemics the ecclesial status of the MP was no longer disputed by anyone.[iii]


     A strange position has been created: in not one of the official declarations of our Church is it directly said that the ROCA recognises the MP as “a part of the Russian Church”. But in practice in official declarations (not to speak of the personal opinions of hierarchs in recent decades[iv]) there has been a strange mixture of the one and the other: in some places a denial of the ecclesial status of the MP has been implied, in others – a recognition. This witnesses to the continuing gradual clarification of the position of our Church in relation to the MP and the other ecumenist jurisdictions of World Orthodoxy.[v]


     Thus it is only by the absence in Russia of a true, canonical ecclesiastical organisation that the decree of the Hierarchical Council of 1990 concerning the opening of parishes of our Church in Russia can be explained. It is difficult to reconcile this with the recognition of the MP as having the status of a canonical “part of the Russian Church” in the full sense. Moreover, the usual practice of accepting clergy from the MP is justified by reference to the 15th canon of the First-and-Second Council: consequently, the hierarchs of the MP, from whom our Church receives clergy and flock, are recognised as “not bishops, but false-bishops and false-teachers”, as it says in this canon.


     But the Epistle of the Hierarchical Council of 1994 gives the German diocese the complete right to base its activity on it. Let us not that if it had been otherwise – if the German diocese had permitted itself to distort the meaning of the Epistle of the 1994 Council, - then such arbitrariness would scarcely have gone unremarked at the Council of 1998. Of course, Archbishop Mark did not in fact permit himself to do anything going beyond the bounds of that which had been outlined by that same Council already in 1994.


     Another decree of the Hierarchical Council of 1994 implies the placing of a certain theological foundation under the recognition of the MP’s ecclesial status. This was the decision concerning the establishment of canonical communion with the Synof the Resisters of the True Orthodox Church of Greece headed by Metropolitan Cyprian (Kotsumbas) of Fili and Orope. The corresponding conciliar document speaks, in particular, of the identity between the ecclesiology of this Synod and that of our Church.[vi] This decree was far from being accepted by the people of the Church, and its correspondence with the teaching of the Church is still being discussed. Which is not surprising: the councils of Orthodox hierarchs have never assumed to themselves a collective infallibility on the model of the Pope of Rome, and many of their decisions have later been corrected. Even in the question of the relationship of the ROCA with the MP we have a recent example.[vii]



2. The MP: a Church without Orthodoxy?


     As is well-known, the ecclesiology of Metropolitan Cyprian is distinguished from all previous teachings on the Church by its recognition of the preservation of the Church among heretics. Metropolitan Cyprian permits an analogy between the present condition of the official church of Greece and the epoch of the 7th Ecumenical Council: “… it [the 7th Ecumenical Council] took place in order that the scattered parts of the Church – at that time divided into iconoclasts who disagreed with the Orthodox faith, and Orthodox who resisted the iconoclast heresy, - should be united in agreement within Orthodoxy. In such a way, through agreement in Orthodoxy, a Council for the unification of Greece could be convened as a Council of unity of the ‘divided’ followers of the ecumenist innovation and those resisting it.”[viii]


     Let us leave aside for the moment the idiosyncratic interpretation of the history of the iconoclast heresy[ix], and let us concentrate only on the conclusion drawn by Metropolitan Cyprian: those who “disagreed with the Orthodox faith”, without whom it was impossible to convene “a Council of unity” fully entitled to give a final evaluation of the beliefs and actions of both sides, were considered “a part of the Church”. Metropolitan Cyprian recognises that union must be accomplished only “within Orthodoxy”, but in his complicated ecclesiology this is compatible with the recognition of the Church also “outside” Orthodoxy. Such a “church” – more exactly, “part of the Church” – is the ecumenist official Church of Greece. Such a “church”, from this point of view, we must also recognise in the MP (this conclusion does not figure in the official documents of the Synod of the Resistors, but it is obvious, and the supporters of the ecclesiology of Metropolitan Cyprian have never rejected it).


     The decree of the Hierarchical Council of the ROCA of 1994 concerning the ecclesiology of Metropolitan Cyprian cannot be understood in any other way than as an attempt to apply to the stand-off between the MP and the ROCA the same schema which Metropolitan Cyprian worked out for Greece. Thus the MP does not stand firmly in Orthodoxy, but nevertheless it is part of the one Russian Church, and we must strive to convene a Russian “Council of unity” on the same ecclesiological bases as Metropolitan Cyprian is planning for Greece.


     Thus the roots of the present undefined and contradictory relationship of the members of our Church to the MP go deeper than a difference in evaluation of this or that fact. The most general ecclesiological concepts are in a mixed-up state. Thus, for example, Metropolitan Cyprian’s ecclesiology is accepted – an ecclesiology which contradicts the ecclesiological position implicit in the acts of the Synod and Hierarchical Councils of the ROCA in the course of the preceding quarter-century. Besides, there has been no discussion of, or official change in, the former ecclesiological position. In the reality of church life a conflict is taking place between completely different points of view, which all, however, find justification in some of the decrees of the ecclesiastical authority. Moreover, these decrees are simultaneously in force and have been repealed by no one.


     It is hardly possible to find one’s bearings in such a chaos unless one takes the trouble of studying the essence of the question  - in its strictly theological bases. It is precisely the fact that many children of our Church have become conscious of this at the present time which explains the great interest in Orthodox ecclesiology in our midst.



3. St. Theodore the Studite on the Moscow Patriarchate


     The main deviations of the Moscow Patriarchate can be characterised by the concepts “sergianism” and “ecumenism”. Sergianism is a series of canonical violations. But insofar as they have been raised to the status of a principle of Church construction, they have been turned into a heresy. Ecumenism is heresy from beginning to end.


     The Constantinopolitan Patriarchate presented a very similar picture during the last 20 years of the life of St. Theodore. On the one hand – canonical violations, raised to the status of a principle; in the mouth of St. Theodore this received the name of “the heresy of fornication (moichism - moicismoV)”. On the other hand – the heresy of iconoclasm.



3.1 The Heresy of “Moichism”: Byzantine Sergianism


     The canonical crimes of Metropolitan Sergius undoubtedly touched, among other things, the relations between the Church and the state. But was the root of all the evils in Sergianism in this sphere? Was it not a matter here of a distortion of the very concept of the Church? Those who speak about the “heresy of Sergianism” have in mind not a series – albeit a long series – of canonical crimes, but precisely an incorrect idea about the Church as such. St. Theodore the Studite helps us to understand the extent to which it is just to think of Sergianism as an ecclesiological heresy. He helps to no less a degree to understand that “Sergianism”’s sphere of activity as a heresy is not restricted to the Moscow Patriarchate.


     At the beginning of the patriarchate of Patriarch St. Nicephorus (806-815) an old church conflict that had not yet completely died down flared up in a vivid flame. The oikonomos of the Great Church Joseph (a post close to the contemporary Protopresbyter), who had been deposed in his time for permitting himself to commit a crude canonical violation, returned to serving as a priest in Hagia Sophia catehdral. Joseph’s fault consisted in the fact that at one time (795) he had crowned in the sacrament of marriage the unlawful cohabitation of Emperor Constantine, for which he was then deposed. The holy Patriarch Nicephorus, yielding to cruel violence on the part of the new Emperor (the usurper Nicephorus), at first allowed Joseph to serve, and in 808 convened a local Council, at which Joseph was officially returned to his former dignity; such a decision was motivated by the church principle of “economy”.


     Seeing that Joseph was serving in the main cathedral of the Empire, St. Theodore the Studite and his brother, the archbishop of Thessalonica, stopped commemorating the patriarch. At the same time they abstained from openly speaking against the hierarchy, waiting on the further development of events. That which they were waiting for turned out to be a local council justifying the lawlessness. Then they separated openly from the patriarch. The patriarch in his reply called a “splinter group from the Church”. In 809 St. Theodore was exiled for refusing to submit to the Church authorities. Only in 811, under a new Emperor, did he succeed in returning to his monastery. St. Theodore explained his position in detail in a letter to one of the courtiers – John the spatharius (808; book I, letter 17).[x]


     “In this way have many others acted whose will has been ruled by a reprehensible law that is not of God, but of man. And they may continue to act in this way until the end of the age. But the Church of God has remained unharmed, though wounded by many arrows, and ‘the gates of hell’ cannot ‘overcome it’ (Matt. 16.18). And it does not allow men to do or say anything against the decreed rules and laws, even though many pastors have frequently gone mad, establishing great and numerous councils, apparently caring for the canons but in fact acting against the canons. What is to be wondered at if fifteen supposed bishops have now come together and recognised as innocent one who was deposed on the basis of the canons for two reasons[xi] and have allowed him to serve as a priest? And so, sir, a council is not simply a gathering of bishops and priests, even if there are many of them, - for ‘better is one righteous man’ who does the will of God ‘that thousands of sinners’ (Sirach 16.3), - but a gathering in the name of the Lord; for peace and the fulfilment of the canons, and so as to ‘bind and loose’, not just as it happens, but as follows according to the truth and the canons and exact reasoning… For ‘the word of God’ by its nature ‘cannot be bound’ (2 Tim. 2.9); and bishops have by no means been given the power to transgress any canon, but only to follow the decrees and keep to what was established formerly (part I, pp. 184-185, with insignificant modifications; italics ours).”


     And so the decisions of bishops and even of a Council of bishops have no force when they contradict the sacred canons. A little further on St. Theodore confirms this still more insistently:


     “It is not permitted, sir, either for our Church or for any other, to do anything against the decreed laws and canons; because if it were permitted, then vain would be the Gospel, vain the canons; and each during the time of his episcopate, if it were permitted to him do whatever he wants with his people, would be a new evangelist, another apostle, another lawgiver. But no. We have a commandment from the apostle himself that if anyone should teach or command us to do something ‘other than that which’ we have received, ‘other than that which’ is in the canons that were established during the time of the Ecumenical and Local Councils, he should not be received or considered among the number of the saints [that is, Christians]; we shall not presume to pronounce that unpleasant word which he uttered (Gal. 1.8)” [but we shall nevertheless pronounce this word: anathema] (ibid., p. 186; italics ours).


     This was the essence of the heresy called “moichism” by St. Theodore: the hierarchs had offered a completely new interpretation of the canons, in particular they had offered a new teaching on the limits of ‘economy’ (deviation from the strictness of the canons “through adaptation to circumstances”):


     “For the limit of adaptation, as you know, is not to completely violate some decree, but to weaken it slightly, where possible, in accordance with time and circumstances, so as thereby more easily to attain to that which we desire, without falling into extremes or harming the most important thing… He who adapts to the circumstances of the age does not fall away from the good; for he more quickly attains that which he desires by yielding a little, like a helmsman who yields a little when he lets the wheel go somewhat in the face of an opposing storm. He who acts differently does not attain his goal, committing a crime [Gk. paranomia] rather than a condescension to weakness [Gk. economia]… He who married the adulterer is again serving, as if he had not done anything wrong. Moreover,.. he is serving in the cathedral church, as if he represented a good example for the priests.” (pp. 182-184, with changes).


     The council’s giving permitting to Joseph to serve without interruption was no longer a once-only concession (economia sometimes consists in this), but a change in the canonical structure of the Church, which, however, brought no benefit to the Church.


     “… They announce that each bishop has authority over the Divine canons in spite of the decrees they contain; so when one of the sanctified people is secretly and openly subject to canons that call for his deposition, by the authority of him who desires it he can remain undeposed,”  - that was how St. Theodore formulated the position of the council of 808 in his epistle to Pope Leo of Rome (ibid., p. 220).


     The canons express objective truths, and are not created by the will of the hierarch. If hierarchs go against the expressed canonical truths, their decisions have no force.


     “Now through the acceptance of an adulterous union they are affirming that lawlessness (paranomia) is economia, as if bishops and priests can lord it over the canons whenever they want, while those who do not agree with them are anathematised and persecuted, as you know. This, although it took place after the iconoclast heresy, is not less than it for those who think piously” (part I, Letter 53, to Reader Stephan and those with him; P.G. 99, 1108 A; cf. part I, p. 315).


     The idea that the canons depend on the will of the hierarchs – in other words, the idea that the canons are some kind of rules which are arbitrarily established by a bishop in the Church as by a house-owner in his own house, is the same idea as that which appeared in St. Theodore’s time as “moichism” and in the recent history of the Russian Church as sergianism.


     Sergianism also justified itself as economy, but, like the council of 808, used a means which inevitably led to another – non-ecclesiastical – end: the construction of the Church’s administration, not on canons accepted by the Church, but on arbitrary decisions of the Church authorities (besides, as in Constantinople, behind the seeming arbitrariness of the Church authorities stood true arbitrariness in the shape of the secular authorities which had enslaved the Church authorities).


     How did St. Theodore act in such a situation? – Like many of the Russian new martyrs, he acted cautiously, unhurriedly, but decisively:


     “… Can the caution we have adopted in our resolutions be more than that which we observed before, when the archbishop [of Thessalonica] and I stood to one side and kept silent, since ‘there is a time to speak and a time to keep silence’ (Eccl. 3.7), taking every measure to ensure that the affair did not become public knowledge? But He Who judges judges, an He Who Spoke did not lie when He said: ‘there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed’ (Mark 4.22), so that, even without our wishing it, because of their very nature, these affairs could not for long seem to be something other than what they were in fact. And now we, acting according to economy, affirm the following two positions: either let he who has been deposed cease from serving, and we shall then enter into communion with the holy patriarch, which would be expedient for all concerned, or, if this is not acceptable, we shall remain, as before, to one side, presenting the judgement about this matter to the Lord. But whatever is more than this [commemoration of the patriarch, to which the recipient of the letter, the spatharius John, was trying to persuade St. Theodore] will be, forgive me, no longer economy, but the guilt of lawlessness and a crime against the Divine canons.” (pp. 181-182, with changes).


     Judging from this statement, what measure of economy would St. Theodore have permitted for the sergianist jurisdiction? Evidently, it would have been a question of deposing the sergianist heresiarchs and reviewing the whole structure of the Church’s administration with a view to removing from it those distortions which had been introduced into it by the actions of Metropolitan Sergius and his successors (it goes without saying that this would have implied – as in the situation in Constantinople at the beginning of the 9th century – the restoration of correct relations between the Church and the secular authorities). This would immediately have allowed him to enter into communion with the patriarch. Until that time St. Theodore abstained from a final judgement on the official Church of his time, but he himself departed to one side. He did not dare to say in the strict and exact sense of the word that the whole Church of Patriarch Nicephorus was a heretical community, but, beginning with the council that justified Joseph and recognised that the hierarchs had the right to display arbitrariness in relation to the canons, he saw in it lawlessness gradually passing into heresy.


     Such a position is very familiar to us from recent Church history: for example, it was expressed at the beginning of the 1930s by Hieromartyr Metropolitan Cyril (Smirnov) of Kazan.


     Let us turn now to another side of the problem. The “sergianism” of the holy Patriarch Nicephorus was nevertheless, in spite of the fears of St. Theodore and the decrees of the council of 808, not raised to the status of a principle: it remained a one-off act which related only to the steward Joseph. As St. Theodore himself recognised, the particularity of acts carried out by economy is the fact that they have in a principled manner not been raised to the status of a rule.[xii] It was impossible to foresee this outcome of events in 808. The outcome was determined by the iconoclast persecution, one of the first events in which was the deposition and exile (815) of the holy Patriarch Nicephorus (+829); still earlier (in 814) St. Theodore had again been exiled and imprisoned… At this time St. Theodore and most of his followers recognised Patriarch Nicephorus as the only lawful head of the Church; suspicions of “moichism” had fallen away still earlier.


     The holy Patriarch Nicephorus was very different from Metropolitan Sergius. In particular, he made a one-off concession to a tyrannical authority, while Sergius’ single concession changed the whole canonical structure of the Church at one fell swoop. Those who separated from Metropolitan Sergius more than six months after the publication of his “Declaration” (Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd, “the Yaroslavl opposition”) did this precisely because they saw that Metropolitan Sergius was subverting the canonical structure of the Church’s administration by raising a “game without rules” to the status of a rule. This “game” has been continued to the present day by the MP, which long ago lost any possibility of referring to violence on the part of the civil authorities. It is on the same game that the “canonical” structure of World Orthodoxy is constructed, and, first of all, the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The very introduction of the papist calendar was done in a completely sergianist manner – by a decision of a small number of bishops who were supported by the secular authorities (in the given case, the British empire).


     We are far from blasphemously comparing, still less likening, our holy Father Patriarch Nicephorus and Metropolitan Sergius. But we would like to draw attention to the similarity in situation: St. Theodore and the True Orthodox at the beginning of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s had almost identical bases for suspecting that an ecclesiological heresy was about to begin. In the 9th century, too, the lawlessness was accompanied by persecutions for the faith (from which St. Theodore himself and those who thought like him suffered), and was, besides, confirmed by a canonically and correctly convened local council. That heresy, “not less than iconoclasm”, which could have been affirmed, but was not affirmed in Constantinople, was affirmed in reality by Sergius and the new calendarists.


     We emphasise that according to St. Theodore the Studite, the main concept of this ecclesiological heresy did not consist in the subjection of the Church to the State. Such a subjection was only a consequence. The main thing was the opinion “that the bishops and priests can lord it over the canons when they want” (touV te ierarcaV kai iereiV opotan boulwntai exousiazein twn kanonwn; letter to Stephan the reader and those with him, see above).


3.2 The Acceptance of Heresy and the Loss of Grace: a process, not a moment


     The heresy of “moichism” was only in process of being formed during St. Theodore’s life, and during this time St. Theodore did not decide to express any judgement on the heretical nature of the whole Church organisation subject to the council of 808. We shall not speculate under what conditions his opinion might have become harsher, still less try to extract for it historical parallels with the sergianist jurisdiction. Instead, we shall use another and much more obvious historical parallel – with the second period of the dominance of the iconoclast heresy (814-842), during which St. Theodore died as a confessor.


     This time we are talking about a well-known heresy already condemned at the 7th Ecumenical Council (787). Like ninth-century iconoclasm, contemporary ecumenism also implies the introduction into the Church of a multitude of heresies condemned by earlier fathers and Councils, including Ecumenical Councils. These heresies, which often contain iconoclast elements, are declared in ecumenist theories to be “branches” of the One Church of Christ…


     St. Theodore had no doubts about calling the “official”, iconoclast church of Constantinople heretical. In this case we never find that caution with which he responded to the anticanonical actions of Patriarch Nicephorus. His explanatory correspondence with the iconoclasts is deprived of any self-justificatory tone; it is theological polemics pure and simple (while his letters to Patriarch Nicephorus were reminiscent in their tone to the epistles of many confessors to Metropolitan Sergius during the first period after the publication of the “Declaration”). What may surprise the contemporary zealot of Orthodoxy in the relations of St. Theodore the Studite with the iconoclast heretics is not his firmness (there is quite enough of that) so much as his softness (which appears in certain special cases).


     St. Theodore’s words concerning heretics – which were made for various reasons, but have in mind heretics in general, - are replies to questions that arise in an epoch of the mixing of Orthodox with heretics. More exactly, such epochs should be called a time when the hierarchical division between Orthodoxy and heresy has not yet been accomplished. In the history of the Church there are many such epochs, but very few written teachings of the holy fathers have come down to us which would explain the very principles which we must follow. Today the relationship of St. Theodore to the official church of Constantinople of his time, which was infected sometimes by “moichism”, sometimes by iconoclasm, sometimes by both simultaneously, can and should be referred to the Mp, and to the whole of World Orthodoxy – those official church communities with which the MP is in communion.


     St. Theodore is one of those fathers to whom we can turn today for an authoritative resolution of the contemporary “quarrel over grace” – the quarrel whether the ecumenist jurisdictions have the grace of sacraments.


     It goes without saying that the grace of God acts everywhere, not excluding the heretical communities, and calls everyone to salvation. By this action of grace people are led to Holy Baptism. But this is not what the quarrel is about. The quarrel concerns only the grace of Sacraments, or, in other words, the true and complete deification given in the Church. “Grace”, in this meaning of the word, signifies being within the Body of Christ. Are heretics in some way participants in the Body of Christ – or are they completely foreign to it?


3.2.1 So-called Sacraments without the Orthodox Faith do not sanctify, but defile


     That which has ceased to be evident for the ecumenists remained clear not only for St. Theodore, but also for those who questioned him: the heretics cannot have the grace of the priesthood, any more than they can have any other sacraments.


     However, many questions arose in connection with the forms in which defilement by heresy could take place. For example:


     “Question 3. On the churches defiled by priests who have entered into communion with heresy [that is, who were originally Orthodox – Vertograd-Inform], and occupy themselves with it: is it possible to enter them for prayer and psalmody? Reply. By no means must one enter such churches for the above-mentioned aims; for it is written: ‘behold, your house is left to you desolate’ (Matt. 23.38). In truth, as soon as heresy was introduced, the guardian angel of those places flew away, according to the words of Basil the Great [Epistle 230], and such a church has become an ordinary house. And ‘I have hated’, says the psalmist, ‘the congregation of evil-doers’ (Ps. 25.5). And the apostle says: ‘what communion has the Church of God with idols’ (2 Cor. 6.16)?”[xiii]


     It was not a matter of priests who accepted ordination from heretics, but simply of priests who had deviated into heresy, not necessarily, moreover, in their thinking, but in eucharistic communion.


     And so without Orthodox faith no sacred action can take place. Faith in the minister of the sacrament is necessary to such an extent that even a person who is Orthodox, but who addresses faithful priests and heretics without distinguishing between them, cuts himself off from the sacraments: “Indifference is the cause of evils. ‘They have not distinguished between the unclean and the clean’, it says in the Scripture (Ezek. 22.26)”, - writes St. Theodore on a related topic.[xiv]


     St. Theodore was so consistent in his logic that he was ready to contemplate the following situation, too. Some Orthodox had gone for ordination to a bishop who was in communion with heretics. They knew about the uncleanness of the bishop, but did not want to notice it, referring to his Orthodox thinking. Naturally, St. Theodore refused to recognise the ordinations carried out in this way. But… “if the ordainer should correct himself, then those (ordained) by him could serve”.[xv] Orthodox faith can “correct” ordinations even in a reverse direction – truly ‘raising sons of Abraham out of stones’ (Matt. 3.9; Luke 3.8).


     Scholastic questions such as “the lawfulness of Anglican (or, say, ecumenist) ordinations” are presented in the patristic system of thought as evident absurdities.


3.2.2 From whom is it necessary to demand Orthodox faith?


     It would seem that there is nothing to ask about: that is clear which is from all, people, clergy and bishops. That is the way it is when heretical and Orthodox communities are completely separate. But what happens when such a separation is only just taking place?


     The canons – that is the general Church norms of behaviour, equally obligatory for all, - are not the best means of regulating such relations, although, of course, some practical rules were later sealed by the canons. The canons establish norms for the relations between Orthodox and heretics when the division is complete. But as long as the division is not yet complete, the situation is so changeable that it is difficult to suggest universal rules. Therefore St. Theodore often qualified himself, saying that he was writing at his own risk and did not claim that his was the only solution. These solutions of his were not always universal, but they were always – as was later demonstrated by the general Church approbation of St. Theodore – true. Consequently, even in that advice of St. Theodore which cannot be applied according to the letter towards, for example, the present-day MP, one can see certain general models of a true Church attitude towards heresy. Here is an example. The question concerned a metropolitan district in which the metropolitan accepted the heresy but a bishop did not, but commemorated his bishop; how then should one be with a priest who commemorated such a bishop, and sometimes also the metropolitan?


     Question. “If a bishop does not attend an adulterous council and calls it a false assembly, but commemorates his metropolitan who did attend it, should one have communion with a priest of such an Orthodox bishop?”… Reply. “Yes, by economy, as long as he does not serve together with the heretics. For it means nothing that he, while commemorating an Orthodox bishop, should out of fear of him commemorate his heretical metropolitan. When such a priest invites a person to a panikhida [that is, an all-night vigil, not a panikhida], he should go, and when he presents him with a church, he should accept it, and when he himself enters into it to serve there or to pray for a deceased person, then providing the latter is Orthodox he should permit him, and when he prepares to serve in it, he should not hinder him. But if he commemorates a heretical bishop, then however much he may indulge him (who thinks in an Orthodox manner), and even if he himself thinks in an Orthodox manner, he should abstain from Divine administration of the sacrament (together with him), and from a common meal, if during it he has to pray for him. One can accept him into communion with blessings and psalmody only on condition that he does not celebrate services with a heretic, whether his own bishop or some other, or has no communion with him consciously.”[xvi]


     By referring to economy St. Theodore gives us to understand that according to akriveia – the strict sense of the canons – one should have no communion. But the separation of the Orthodox from bishops accepting the heresy was at an early stage. Economy was necessary. One could have nothing in common with heretical presbyters. But it was necessary to treat presbyters with Orthodox convictions with discernment. And St. Theodore distinguished four degrees of economy:


1.      The presbyter commemorates his Orthodox bishop, and at the same time “out of fear” also commemorates a heretical metropolitan: with such presbyters (we emphasise: only with presbyters, but not with bishops) full communion, including eucharistic communion, is possible.


2.      The presbyter commemorates his own bishop, but the latter is himself a heretic. However, the presbyter does not, factually speaking, concelebrate with the bishop. Eucharistic communion and those services in which the heretical bishop has to be commemorated are categorically forbidden. But “psalmody” (prayer services without commemoration of clergy or with commemoration of Orthodox authorities) and “blessings” are permitted.[xvii]


3.      The presbyter does in fact concelebrate with his heretical bishop. However, he does not do this “consciously”, knowing of his heresy. The same recommendations here as in the previous case.


4.      The following case is entailed: a priest consciously (for example, “out of fear” again) does in fact concelebrate with his heretical bishop. Such a presbyter is not to be distinguished in any way from one who has deviated into heresy out of conviction, so with him there can be no communion.


     From all this it is evident that there is a profound difference between heresy organised into a separate community, and heretics who are only in the process of separating from the Orthodox. In the first case all the members of such a community are known to be separated from the Church. In the second case only those who personally confess the heresy are known to be separated, as well as those who freely have communion with the former. But between those who have separated from the Church and the Orthodox there arise numerous “borderline” situations.


     Above St. Theodore was speaking about the clergy. Let us now cite his more general reasoning – about laypeople and the clergy:


     “Question 6. Can an Orthodox priest give the holy sacraments to those who chant with heretics, but who abstain from communion with them [in the Eucharist], whether they be priests or deacons or laymen or women? Reply. As far as giving the sacraments is concerned, then it is permissible to give them: to clergymen with a penance, condescending to the fact that in everything else they depart from the heretics, and to laypeople without a penance. To a reader who in the course of two years has abstained from communion with the heretics it is just to give communion in the holy sacraments, even if in other respects he has been carried away. However, this is said by condescension to the weakness of men, lest we, in wishing to make them completely pure, should imperceptibly subject them to mortal danger.”[xviii]


     And so it is wrong to be in communion of prayer with heretics, but a certain condescension is possible towards those who do it in relation to modern-day heretics – provided they do not partake of the heretical eucharist. Besides, clergy deserve less condescension than laypeople.


     We shall not try to discuss the extent to which St. Theodore’s recommendations can be applied to the MP or World Orthodoxy. It is evident that they are applicable to some extent; at the same time, establishing to what extent is a matter for archpastoral, pastoral and personal responsibility, and not only dogmatic and canonical discussion.


3.2.3 The forming of a heretical community as a process


     The “erosion” of the canonical norms can seem to be the “erosion” also of the very boundaries of the Church. If by “boundary” we mean the boundary of the external Church organisation, then that is in fact the case. But at the same time there can never be an “erosion” of the true boundary of the Church: each person can be only in one of two situations: outside the Church or inside it.


     Would it be incorrect to ask: how many Orthodox must leave a given organisation for it finally to cease to be the Church? The saints put the question in another way: at what stage does a delay in separating from heretics cease to be an excuse for a person who is Orthodox by conviction?


     The answer to such a question, too, cannot be fully formalised, but a partial formalisation is possible: the most important stage is the Orthodox Council which anathematises the heresy or other transgressions committed by those who have fallen away from the Church. Here is an example:


     “Question 13. If a bishop who has committed a crime is deposed by a council, and them, after his deposition, ordains a presbyter, and this presbyter, coming to a monastery, receives a penance from his abbot for a time and then begins to perform sacred actions; then we would like to know whether such a priest can be accepted if he is guilty? Reply. Since this is a manifest absurdity, you should not even have asked about such a crime. For Christ said: ‘an evil tree cannot produce good fruits’ (Matt. 7.18). And so, even if he received a penance from a saint, and not only from his abbot, he is not allowed to serve. He is not a priest, and he who allowed him to serve is not a saint; otherwise all the canonical decrees will be overthrown and disappear.”[xix]


     However, a Council does not solve the problem in an automatic manner (in spite of the opinion widespread today – and not only of Metropolitan Cyprian). The Council is only one of the private moments that are important for applying the most important criterion: the degree of knowledge of the Orthodox concerning where communion with heretics begins. This is confirmed by the attitude of St. Theodore to the heretics of his time, among whom were the iconoclasts condemned by the 7th Ecumenical Council (787):


     “But if he [the priest], although he received ordination from a heretic, or was ordained for money, is not himself a heretic and was without his knowledge (oute en gnwsei) ordained by someone who had been ordained for money, that is, by a simoniac, and confesses the whole truth, and preserves the faith and the canons unchanged and rejects those who depart from the one and the other, then we have no basis for separating from him. For such a person is not subject to condemnation, according to the opinion of the saints – and through them, of all. In such a case we have communion, and we advise you to do the same. For if the investigation extends further, then the exhortations of the saints will be rejected, as I have said, and the great gift of the priesthood becomes vain (eklimpanei de tosouton to thV ierosunhV dwron).”[xx]


     The critical words in this paragraph are: “without his knowledge”. “The gift of the priesthood” was passed on only to the person who was in his consciousness Orthodox, and who only through ignorance received the priesthood through the heretic. And so an Orthodox person who has only through ignorance communed with a heretic who did not preach his heresy and was thereby among the Orthodox, receives that grace of the sacraments of which heretics are deprived.


     In this way and only in this way did the saints interpret the situations in which a heretic acts within the society of the Church: every sacrament is performed by the Church as a whole, and not personally by the clergyman. Moreover, every person approaching the sacrament, not excluding a clergyman, can enter into judgement and condemnation of himself and not receive grace. Therefore the appearance within the visible confines of the Church of heretics must lead, not to the destruction of the Church organisation, but to the casting out of these heretics from it. But if there is no healthy reaction of rejection – if they begin to commune in the sacraments with heretics in full consciousness that they are heretics, - this witnesses to the beginning of the destruction of the Church organisation. Gradually such an organisation can itself become heretical. It goes without saying that one must not offer an external criterion for distinguishing between the Orthodox Church organisation into which heretics have insinuated themselves, and the heretical organisation in which through misunderstanding there remain people of Orthodox convictions. But the difficulty of making this distinction in practice does not remove its reality:


     Within the grace-filled Church organisation there may temporarily (and only in an external manner) be heretics: then the organisation is grace-filled, although the heretics have fallen from grace. But it can also be the case that within an organisation that has become heretical there remain people of Orthodox convictions: they, however, have fallen away from grace and from the unity of the Church, and must show their faithfulness to their convictions by separating from the heretics. In the above advice given by St. Theodore the Studite only the first type of situation is reviewed – although it had already become extremely complicated as a result of the large quantity of heretics and the seizure by them of the higher hierarchical positions. Situations of the second type are sufficiently regulated by the canons and could not have elicited questions among those who wrote to St. Theodore.


4. The MP and World Orthodoxy in relation to the True Church of Christ


     In the 20th century within the historically existing Church organisations there have appeared heretics who created their own pseudo-ecclesiastical organisations which  have preserved from the Local Churches of the recent past only the shell and the name. The Orthodox began and have continued to separate from the heretics, but it is very difficult for their – truly ecclesiastical – organisations to acquire firm external forms, although it is to them alone that apostolic succession in relation to the Local Churches of Russia and Greece (the only exception – Cyprus, where the Local True Orthodox Church has existed since 1948).


     The MP and World Orthodoxy have been equally engulfed by the ecclesiological heresies of our time – canonical fornication (“moichism”) and ecumenism. One must flee from the ecumenist “churches” not because it is “bad” there, because there are certain “unpleasant” conditions for spiritual life and the acquisition of the grace of the sacraments there, - but simply because they no longer have saving sacraments.


     It would be premature to represent these organisations as dark stone sacks from which there is no escape to the light, but if there is, then it is only at the price of superhuman efforts. There is a substantial difference between a jail and a desert, in which are found oases and caravans, with the possibility of escaping to people - although destructive mirages are also possible. In comparing the MP and World Orthodoxy to a desert, and not to a prison, we want to say that within their visible confines there have been preserved certain manifestations of the life of grace, the most important of which is the possibility of escaping to the Truth.


     One can speak about a certain Orthodox piety that has not yet been extinguished, although frequently in a perverted form, and also about a certain zeal for God. One can also feel that not all the souls in these organisations have yet been covered with the mould of conscious stagnation in heresy. By paths that are unknown, but also sometimes known, the Lord leads these souls out to the light of Church grace. They have not yet been sealed off in relation to the breathing of True Orthodoxy. We can still find one language with these souls and understand each other. Some are deceived precisely by this understanding, and they try to represent this as unity of grace-filled life. But such a substitution would be in the highest degree irresponsible.


     For us it is extremely important not to lose time and drag as many souls as possible out of the trap before its heavy doors slam firmly shut. Hasty and ill-considered declarations about the unity of Church life, about the preservation among the ecumenists and sergianists of true sacraments can only hinder here – they destroy every stimulus and dull the feeling of real danger threatening. Therefore, even if not everything in such declarations is dogmatically wrong, they contain a very great pastoral mistake. It is already later than we think!

[i] “If we recognise ourselves to be members of the One Russian Church, then we also bear responsibility for the further manfestation of its unity in essence” – from the Declaration of the participants in the Ninth discussion between representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church on the territory of Germany (December, 1997) signed by Archbishops Mark and Theophanes.

[ii] Vertograd-Inform, No. 4-5, 1998.

[iii] However, certain documents by Russian opponents of the German diocese (in particular, Protopriest Lev Lebedev and Priest Timothy Alferov) contain assertions that it is impossible to recognise the “ecclesial status” of the MP as being identical to the ecclesial status of the ROCA. However, Fr. Nicholas mainly analyses criticisms from authors from abroad.

[iv] Thus at the 1994 Council his Grace Bishop METROPHANES of Boston spoke about the danger of turning the ROCA into a “sect” if our Church does not immediately, without any conditions being fulfilled first, unite with the MP. A similar “warning” was addressed to the 1998 Council by the superior of the Pokrov church in Boston, Protopriest Roman Lukyanov in his letter “to all the children of the ROCA” (Vertograd-Inform, No. 7, 1998).

[v] This is the name for the community of official Orthodox churches which are linked together by mutual recognition and participation in the ecumenical movement. Here and later in this article the term “World Orthodoxy” signifies official Orthodoxy which has fallen away from True Orthodoxy through acceptance of the heresy of ecumenism.

[vi] Before, in the 1960s and 1970s, the ROCA had been in communion with the Synods of Archbishops Auxentius and Andrew, which implied a unity of ecclesiological positions precisely with these Synods, and not with the Synod of Metropolitan Cyprian, who opposed his new ecclesiology to the common confession of the other Greek Old Calendarists (the Encyclical of the three hierarchs of 1935, which declared that they were creating a hierarchy of the True Orthodox Church of Greece and recognising the official new calendarist church of Greece to be in schism). In spite of the breaking of canonical communion with the Synod of Archbishop Andrew (1976) and with the Synod of Archbishop Auxentius (1978), our Church never said that it disagreed with these Synods in the ecclesiological sphere. The decree of the Council of the ROCA in 1994 was not strengthened by any other decrees essentially expressing the ecclesiological position of the ROCA. On the contrary, the new position was defined by means of the already well-known ecclesiology of Metropolitan Cyprian.

[vii] Thus the Hierarchical Council included in its Epistle the following phrase: “We believe and confess that in those of the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate where the priest truly prays and loves his flock saving grace is given in the sacraments.” This phrase, which was supposed to express the teaching of the Church on one of the questions that are most important for our Church (whether the MP has grace), was actively criticised from the most varied directions, insofar as in it the action of grace was placed in dependence on the personal spiritual and even psychological qualities of one person. Paying heed to this criticism, the Hierarchical Council of 1996 decreed that this phrase should be removed and that the conciliar Epistle of 1990 should be published in a new edition.

[viii] Cyprian, Metropolitan of Orope and Fili. Ecclesiological Theses, or an Exposition of the teaching on the Church for the Orthodox resisting the heresy of ecumenism, Fili, 1983, p. 8 (#5).

[ix] According to Metropolitan Cyprian, the iconoclast ‘part of the Church’ was necessary and, what is more, a component with full rights in the composition of the Council, which he for some reason calls ‘a council of unity’. But in fact the iconoclasts repented at the Council and were received into the Church by the Orthodox side. Being iconoclasts, they had no right to speak at the Council. Something similar took place at the Council of Chalcedon (the Fourth Ecumenical in 451) with some of the participants in the “robber council of Ephesus” (the Monophysite council of 449).

[x] About half of St. Theodore’s letters that have come down to us have been translated into Russian: The Works of our Father St. Theodore the Studite, translated from Greek at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, Part I, St. Petersburg, 1867; Part II, St. Petersburg, 1867 [on the cover: 1869]; we shall cite this translation (sometimes allowing ourselves some stylistic changes), indicating the pages in the text. This translation corresponds to the Greek text in P.G. 99.

[xi] From the epistle of St. Theodore to Pope Leo III it is evident what reasons he is speaking about: the union of adulterers is justified by economy, and kings are excluded from the sphere of action of the canons (part I, epistle 33, p. 220).

[xii] Cf. pp. 182-183: taking as an example Paul’s circumcising Timothy, and St. Basil, St. Theodore continued: “But neither did Paul continue to purify himself, nor did Basil continue to receive gifts from Valens and not call the Spirit God….” In another letter (part I, letter 49, To his son Naucratius, p. 293), St. Theodore explained this in more detail, saying in particular: “That which was allowed for a certain time is not subject to condemnation and is in no way either strange or lawless, but only evasive and not very exact. That is temporary economy. For neither is it possible for a doctor to deliver a sick man from illness immediately…” etc.

[xiii] Letter 215, to Methodius the monk; part II, p. 555.

[xiv] Ibid., question and answer 10, p. 538.

[xv] Here is the full text of this remarkable judgement: “You well answered the priest snd the abbot, saying that those ordained by the said (bishop) were barred from serving, although he said that the [iconoclast] council was bad and we had perished. For if he recognised this why did he not run from destruction and decline from heresy, so as to be a bishop of God? Then his ordinations would be immediately accepted. Or why, during the dominance of heresy, did the abbot send some of the brothers to receive heretical ordinations? And so, if the ordainer had corrected himself, he would have been able to serve; but since he was in heresy and commemorated a heretic, then, although he said that he preserved the right manner of thinking, those ordained by him cannot be true servants of God [that is, their priesthood is not true]”. Letter 40 to Naucratius; part I, pp. 260-261.

[xvi] Letter 49, to his son Naucratius; part I, pp. 295-296 (translated with minor changes; italics ours).

[xvii] It seems that what is had in mind here is the possibility of giving antidora – Gk. “evlogia”, “blessing” – from the Orthodox liturgy. It may be, however, that St. Theodore allowed such a presbyter to perform certain blessings for the Orthodox.

[xviii] Letter 219. The resolution of various questions (to an unknown person); part II, pp. 610-611.

[xix] Epistle 215, to Methodius the monk; part II, pp. 599-600.

[xx] Epistle to Reader Stefan… pp. 312-313; P.G. 99, 1105A-C.

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