Tuesday, March 16, 2010

There is a difference between sin and heresy

 by Sophocles Frangakis

Ecumenism as a heresy is today known by many as the "Pan Heresy" of our day.

There is a difference between sin and heresy.

Sin is the missing of an established bar whether willfully or through negligence, sloth, ignorance and for any other reason.  Yet, in the missing of this mark, or not measuring to the bar, the sinner yet acknowledges that the bar exists in place as a way to measure oneself accurately.  In other words, the sinner recognizes the bar as "fixed" in place by God.  When he falls, the sinner strives to hit the bar.  He says to himself, "I was not able to attain to the measure of the bar established by God.  God is not at fault for this, I am.  I must struggle more diligently to not miss the mark."

A heresy is altogether different, even though it is also a sin, but of a different nature.  A heretic looks at the established bar and says within himself, "This is not the bar.  This is the bar",  establishing according to himself the criteria of what merits the bar.  It is arbitrary in nature and has no real existence but a shadowy one.  It is not of God, not of the truth.  Further, when the bar is moved from its proper place, sinners do not have the proper measure of a bar to repent to.  This is very dangerous, this obscuring or diverting the sinner from the proper repentance.  This is why heresy must be fought against vigorously.

The following story of Abba Agathon tells the story of the difference between sin and heresy very well.


It was said concerning Abba Agathon that some monks came to find him having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper they said to him,

''Aren't you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?"

"'Yes, it is very true," he answered.

They resumed, "Aren't you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense?"

"'I am."

Again they said, "Aren't you Agathon the heretic?"

But at that he replied, "I am not a heretic."

So they asked him, "Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last insult."

He replied, "The first accusations I take to myself for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God."

At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.


Maxim said...

Early Heresies dealt with Who God is and the relations between the persons of the Godhead, with Christ Himself and who He is as God, and how His Divinity is related to His humanity. Later Heresies seem mostly to attack the Body of Christ, the Church; hence Papal Primacy is an Ecclesiological Heresy, replacing the collegial brotherhood of the Bishops of the Church, the successors of the Apostles, with a single Ruler replacing Christ as Head over all the Church. Similarly, Ecumenism is an Ecclesiological Heresy, saying that the Church has no definable boundaries, thereby effectually disembodying Her. By your definition, Ecumenism is definetely identified as Heresy, because it moves the bar, saying, "The Fathers observed certain precautions in their dealings with Heterodox groups, but we need not observe these proprieties".

Constantine said...

Thank you very much Sophocles, great post. And thank you Maxim for your comment.

Barnabas said...

I agree to an extent, but with an important qualification. It is our calling to encounter the heterodox as individuals. When I was spending time at the monastery at Essex,UK, I found myself in a different context which gave me a different perspective of ecumenical activity.
The Anglican guests/visitors were always graciously and lovingly received...and many of them learned about the Jesus Prayer and practiced it devotionally and returned periodically for retreats and for further spiritual guidance.
Being a Living Icon of Christ in the World dispels Heresy like a candle dispels darkness.

Sophocles said...


Very good summation of the post.

Sophocles said...

Father Barnabas,

And I too, *in genenral*, agree with your comment. And very well said,

Being a Living Icon of Christ in the World dispels Heresy like a candle dispels darkness

However, it must be made clear, I believe, that yes, case by case, each and every person has their own baggage and needs. Each brings with himself or herself all of their own presuppositions and core beliefs when they begin their "journey" towards Orthodoxy. I think that this does not at all contradict the very real need to make sure in our dealings with those examining Orthodoxy to let them understand, according to where they are, that the Church is the Church and only She is the Church.

How this is given to the prospect of course needs care and discretion. It may not necessarily be right to hit someone over the head with such information right away or if the situation warrants, ever. But that the Church is what She claims to be, this vital identity, must never be lost sight of.

ioannis said...

Very nice post!

Sophocles said...

Constantine and Ioannis,

Thank you very much.

Maxim said...

Of course we should behave lovingly to all people, in order that we may bring them to truth in the Orthodox Faith. I believe it was Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain who said that our goal in our encounters with the Heterodox should be to give them "good uneasiness" concerning whether or not they are in Christ's Holy Church. I'm a little uneasy over the current trend of non-Orthodox people to be very enthusiastic over Icons, Prayer Ropes, the Philokalia, or what have you, and yet never seem to have the slightest interest in the Orthodox Church; I know Fr. Seraphim Rose was very much against encouraging non-Orthodox people to encorporate elements of Orthodox spirituality into their own spiritual practice. I suppose if it helps move them in the direction of Orthodoxy, that's all for the good, but too often it seems that the elements of Orthodox practice they pick up become dissolved into a sea of dilettante spirituality, and when that happens, it does not move anyone toward knowledge of the truth, but serves only to progressively annihilate the knowledge that there is any such thing as Orthodox truth. Remember, all the involvement of the Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical movement throughout the 20th century did not move the Heterodox bodies an inch closer to Orthodoxy, but it did do a lot toward infecting many of those involved in such activities with a spirit foreign to the Mind of the Fathers, and very close to the predominating spirit at large in Protestantism in the modern era. The Fathers really did know more than we about preserving the Orthodox Faith against Heresy and perversion; surprise, surprise!

Tracey Elizabeth said...

Thank you Sophocles for posting this...

Anonymous said...

Hi, Sophocles: I read the articles on heresy and ecumenism and I felt very sad. I can see this creeping into our own Orthodox church. To understand why I feel sad, it is because for me it has been a long, hard road to first of all find God and a place in his True Church. From someone who was not raised in any particular Christian tradition, I had to search and search to find it out for myself. The path led through evangelical Protestant churches to mainline Protestant churches to Anglilcan/Episcopalian. When I arrived at that, it felt like how church should be, but unkown to me at the time, there were changes happening - all sorts of innovations were creeping in - changes in language used in the services; modern language, inclusive language; continuing on to forcing acceptance of women "priestesses" and altar servers, and then the "last straw"; openly gay priests and bishops, and denial or minimalization of practically everything in the Creed. I supported all the traditionalist groups in the Episcopal church, and fought against all these changes and wept many tears, but when I realized that all the conflict was starting to affect my spiritual health, I left, and came to Orthodoxy. Af first I breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Now I can be happy, the Orthodox will not allow all these innovations, and they will not change." I was even told that in catechumen classes. Now I see the same process starting over in the Orthodox Church. It looks like there is a schism brewing between the traditionalists and the modernists. Only one of these paths can be right, and I would put my bet on the traditionalists. What will happen? The modernists will not be in communion with the traditionalists and vice versa. To have Orthodox churches separated by their theology and world view is a great sin before God, I believe. Not to have communion with each other is tragic.

Sophocles said...


I agree with you.

As I have begun maturing a bit in the Church, I have come to understand that this is the age old battle in the Church.

In fact another e-mail I received relating to my recent posts both here and on Father Gregory's blog said the following:

The unionist agenda[the person means by "unionist" the ecumenists and their desire to join the Churches together for in their "official" understanding there are no real ontological differences between the Orthodox Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church, only "misunderstandings" that caused and perpetuated the schism] the unionist agenda is relentless and they will tire at nothing to see like minded folks like ourselves go away. The unionists don't rise up from the outside, but rather on the inside. That's the way it has always historically happened. Someone has recourse to what the faith should or "ought" to be and wishes to change it.

I believe we must understand that the duty of preserving the Orthodox Faith rests on the lay peoples' shoulders heavily and that we must be willing to be uncomfortable if the situation arises in our own spheres of influence to manifest always the true teaching of the Church and offer up defense on its behalf.

What we often do is sort of expect things to be on "automatic pilot" with us just walking in and interacting with the Church and Her Faith with all the "preserving" that must take place being done by "somebody else".

It is also *our* Church( it is His Church, in our hands synergistically with Him to tend to).

So we see these things approaching and within the walls. This should not surprise us as the private e-mail above says "it has always been this way".