Thursday, July 31, 2008

A New Orthodoxy: Is this the Faith of our Fathers?

Posted on July 30, 2008 by Fr. Stavrophoremonk Symeon

The Orthodox Church professes to preserve the Faith of the Apostolic Church. Wherever a right-believing Bishop with Apostolic Succession walks in the spiritual footsteps of the Fathers, there the whole Church of Christ is. Wherever there are those loyal to the rock of St. Peter’s confession of Christ as the Son of the living God, there Orthodoxy is. And wherever the traditions of the Church and the Fathers are guarded faithfully, as St. Paul enjoins us to do, there we find our Faith. Spiritual succession, the living Faith of the Saints, the unity of God-inspired liturgical and spiritual traditions, the oneness of witness in Orthodox Baptism and Communion—these express our Faith.

But now we find, especially in America and Western Europe, a new kind of Orthodoxy, based on innovation, neo-papist notions of “officialdom,” sophomoric criticism of the Fathers and of the Church’s liturgical practices, and a relativism that places fidelity to the humanistic dictates of ecumenism above the dictates of the Christian conscience.

We are seeing inadequately converted clergymen and scholars create, in the midst of several modernist jurisdictions, a “church” which is far from that of the Fathers. This new Orthodoxy has manifested itself in two forms. On the one hand, there is a would-be “intellectual” trend in modernist circles, replacing the pious study of the Fathers that marks true theology in the Orthodox Church with the traditions of textual criticism, often marked by a snide spirit of doubt and impiety unknown to Orthodox spirituality. The expertise of Latin scholarship is often exalted over that of pious Orthodox theologians—”the superstitions of simple-minded Greeks,” as one seminary professor recently remarked. So it is that another seminary instructor in a modernist jurisdiction beset by this spirit of unedifying disdain for Orthodox tradition began a course on liturgics with the incredible comment: “Now we will see how the Liturgy came into its present decrepit state….”

It is no wonder that these same “intellectuals” clamor to create a monasticism which is unrecognizable to us traditional Orthodox, compromised as it is by innovation, a spirituality of the brain, not the heart, and by a minimalism that dismisses traditional Orthodox asceticism with unwise talk about its abuses, rather than its centuries of triumphs —a monasticism of communal romanticism and social service lived, at times, by unbalanced individuals more to be pitied than emulated. No wonder, too, that such intellectual circles have created a “reformed” Liturgy derived from the data of historical research rather than the living, organic witness of a Liturgy wholly adequate to those truly immersed in the spiritual life which has formed it.

On the other hand, we are seeing the humble and self-effacing example of our Saints swept aside by the pompous and bombastic egotism of Bible-thumping “evangelists,” who have come into various modernist jurisdictions with an understanding of traditional Orthodox piety so minimal that one blushes in thinking about it. The rubrics of pop-psychology and the tactics of the “Jesus freaks” of the 1960s are now openly preached in the name of the Orthodox Church, at times with arrogant denunciations of the ethnics and” backward” traditionalists into whose Church these misguided individuals have entered by the back door. Gone for them is the sure guidance of spiritual principles based on centuries of spiritual experience—Holy Tradition.

One would, of course, delight at the thought of a true Patristic revival in the Orthodox Church, a truly intellectual movement towards the brilliant body of wisdom contained in the Fathers. We desperately need such a thing. But such a movement must be based in true scholarship, not on snide commentaries gleaned from secondary (and usually non-Orthodox) materials by those who can only minimally read the Fathers in the original anyway. And certainly such a movement cannot divorce a study of the Fathers from traditional piety, from profound awe for what they have passed down to us, including the Divine Liturgy in its present form, and for the common civility which should mark true scholars, one aspect of which is respect for our Church Fathers and for our elders in the Faith.

One could also do nothing more than shout for joy at the return of Protestant evangelicals to the Orthodox Faith. Sincere evangelicals, deeply rooted in a Biblical Christianity and a respect for moral rectitude —how could they do anything but fulfill their Faith and adorn our Church by returning to Orthodoxy? But such Christians are a far cry from the cigar-smoking, tract-distributing purveyors of the “religious product” who now wish to use Orthodoxy to “evangelize” America. Real evangelicals would truly understand the need for self-perfection as a path to evangelization. And certainly they would have entered into the Church, not through innovation and “deals,” but through humble submission to the traditions of the Church—including Orthodox Baptism, which is required for entry into the Eastern Church, save in rare and individual cases.
In seeing all that this new Orthodoxy is, as well as what it is not, one is prompted to ask: “Indeed, is this the Faith of our Fathers, the Faith for which many of us have sacrificed, even to the point of shedding our own blood?”

An Inauthentic Witness

The majority of the Orthodox Church is suffering under the yoke of communism and hostile oppression. The modernists—a handful of Orthodox in Western Europe and the Americas (less than 20% of world Orthodoxy) and the products, for the most part, of the calendar reform of the 1920s—, however, enjoy the freedom and wealth of the West. They have used these advantages to establish their minority views, to foster the un-Orthodox innovations which hold forth under the sponsorship of their jurisdictions, and to gain the attention of the press in the New World.
They have effectively disenfranchised the body of True Orthodox. With their money, they have even taken over several, dying ancient Patriarchates, or sought legitimacy from captive Sees anxious to have any voice in the West. Mediocre theologians and Churchmen, more marked by their experience in the corporate boardroom than the cells of monasteries—the traditional training grounds for spiritual leaders—, have spewed forth notions of Orthodoxy that, while perhaps new and intriguing to a naive heterodox audience, smack of the innovative spirit of those who have little careful guidance and experience in the way of life which they purport to teach.

We see converts and former Greek Catholics dismissing traditionalist Orthodox as fanatics and “fringe elements” outside the Church, all the while violating every basic Canon of the Orthodox Church by inviting joint prayer with those who are outside the Church—outside the Church, not by virtue of traditionalist polemics, but by the decrees of the Fathers and Councils who guide our Faith. All of this characterizes this new church: an inauthentic religion rooted in a deviation from genuine tradition and watered, at times, by an unfortunate spirit of arrogance—a church fueled by hostility towards authentic Orthodox tradition; towards the ethnics who have, however perfectly or imperfectly, guarded it, following the apostasy of the West; and towards all that calls Orthodoxy, not to a witness of worldly officialdom, but spiritual succession and honesty.

Sad Consequences

One of the sad consequences of the ascendency of this inauthentic Orthodoxy over True Orthodoxy is that, at a time when Western Christians are increasingly hungry for new spiritual food, they are being offered a proverbial stone in the place of Orthodoxy’s Apostolic bread. Inauthentic Orthodoxy is victimizing the hungry West.

Orthodoxy teaches that Christ established one Church and that the Orthodox Church embodies this True Church. There are Mysteries within this Church—Baptism and Ordination among them—which belong only to Her. She is the criterion of truth and within Her lies the fullness of the Christian witness. She is the anchor after which many Western Christians seek.

This new “Orthodoxy,” seeking to attain worldly recognition and to give wrong and un-Orthodox beliefs the flavor of Orthodox historical primacy, has changed this teaching. It has, in accord with political ecumenism, begun to declare that the Orthodox Church is not the One, True Church, the criterion of Christianity, but that She, in a spirit of deep love, accepts the sacraments and Christian ways of others. They have made of the Orthodox anchor a sail by which to blow the dinghy of their self-created church here and there, according to the whims of contemporary ecumenism.

Thus it is that the ecumenical movement is more often than not deprived of the witness of True Orthodox—though we emphasize here very clearly that there are yet some traditional voices in the modernist Orthodox Churches and among their representatives in the ecumenical movement, and that the inauthenticity of what these modernists have created certainly has not taken from them Orthodoxy in the canonical and technical sense. In ecumenical meetings, the heterodox inevitably encounter shaved clergy in Roman clerical garb. The witness of the Apostles and Patriarchs embodied by traditional Orthodox garb they see only in Hierarchs, many of whom are represented, not as equals among the many Bishops, but as the equivalents of “Cardinals,” “Princes of the Church,” and so on. Few ecumenists see Orthodox representatives at their various gatherings refraining from meat and dairy products on Wednesdays and Fridays, and few, to be sure, realize that their steak-eating Orthodox guests, who ignore these canonical prescriptions, are violating the basic spiritual disciplines of the religion they claim to represent.

The ecumenists learn from most of these modernist Orthodox representatives that the traditionalists—a majority—are a minority, overtaken by a spirit of fanaticism and “legalism” incompatible with the ecumenical spirit. Never do they learn that we who hold strongly to the tenets of our Faith do so with a deep yearning for Christian unity and with a deep love for our Christian brothers and sisters outside the Orthodox Church. They do not learn that we hold fast to our Apostolic Faith because we believe that the non-Orthodox will one day return to it, finding in Orthodoxy the fulfillment of their own sincere and honored Christian aspirations. They do not know that our “legalism” is based on honest adherence to our Church’s teachings and that our “fanaticism” is nothing more than a fidelity which leads us not to hatred for the non-Orthodox, but to a profound love for them.

Were sincere heterodox ecumenists to hear our voices, they would hear both a stern and a loving note. And they might encounter an Orthodoxy with a power far greater than the inauthentic Orthodoxy which says: “Together with you we will find the Church.” Indeed, they might rejoice at the refreshing honesty of an Orthodoxy that says: “We are what you were, and in us you can return to a unity which belongs to all of us, which was never really lost, and that has preserved the Church of the Apostles.”

The ecumenical spirit of the Faith of our Fathers in based in honest and uncompromising love, not a love created by inauthenticity and human machinations.

An Impediment to Unity

Another tragic effect of the ascendency of inauthentic Orthodoxy is the separation of Orthodox themselves. What is inauthentic is threatened by the authentic. It strives to obscure the authentic. Thus, the modernist movements have found themselves increasingly separated from True Orthodoxy. Even when they go to such places as Mt. Athos, they seek out those who will tolerate them, not those who can lead them, correct them, and counsel them. If we can stop the course of Orthodox innovation and persuade the innovators to leave their false ways, then we Orthodox can find unity. This demands of us traditionalists both a stern and uncompromising stand and a loving, open attitude. But it demands from the innovators something which they do not have: honesty and humility. They must turn from their errors, admit those errors, and honestly confess that they are not what they should be.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1989, pp. 1-2.

hat tip: Mrs Xenia Suaiden of Orthodox Christian blog

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