Orthodox America

  Be not deceived . . .

In the end, when critical times come, I think it will be seen how useful it was that there were some [jurisdictions] which stayed behind, and some bishops and priests who stayed in a sort of backward point of view in order to be of help when a crisis comes.  Because it is true that many of the Orthodox hierarchs are going much too far in following Rome which is following the Western confessions. It will come to a disaster before very long. - Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) at a gathering of an Orthodox student  fellowship at UC Santa Cruz, 1981

Be not deceived . . .

When, in 1439, Orthodox delegates to the Council of Florence, returned to Constantinople, they were asked, "How did it go? Were we victorious?"  And when the people heard that the Orthodox had shamefully capitulated to Rome, selling the purity of the Faith for military protection from the Turks, they were so enraged as to create an atmosphere of revolution in the city; churches were empty, no one wanted to serve or attend services with those who had signed the Union.

And today?  What reaction would such a union elicit?

The seventh plenary session of the "Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church," meeting in June 1993 at the Balamand School of Theology in Lebanon, issued a statement recognizing the Orthodox and Roman Catholics as "sister Churches." On this basis, the statement declares that neither Church can claim as its exclusive property the profession of apostolic faith, the validity of the sacraments and the apostolic succession of bishops." And further, that there "is no question of conversion of people from one Church to the other in order to ensure their salvation"; proselytism (missionary work) on either side is therefore to be rejected. It recommends that the history of the division between the two Churches be forgotten and church education be "objectively positive with respect to the other Church . . . [The faithful] should be informed of the apostolic succession of the other Church and the authenticity of its sacramental life."

In other words, the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches are simply different-but equal-expressions of the One Church of Christ.

The document was signed by representatives of the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Moscow, and by the Churches of Romania, Poland, Albania and Finland.  (The Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Churches of Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Czechoslovakia did not send delegates.)

Just as the monks of Mt. Athos rallied around St. Mark of Ephesus in opposition to the Union of Florence, this Balamand Union evoked a detailed protest from the Athonite monks, officially addressed to Patriarch Bartholomew from the Sacred Community in a letter dated 8 December 1993.

The monks objected:

"The plan for union is to take place despite the differences, through the mutual recognition of the Mysteries and apostolic successon of each Church, and the applicaton of intercommunion, limited at first and broader later. After this, doctrinal differences can be discussed only as theological opinions." Among these differences, the letter cites the filioque, papal primacy and infallibility, purgatory, the Immaculate Conception and created grace.  These "are receiving amnesty, and  a union is being forged without agreement in dogma."  The statement essentially accepts the branch theory which, the monks point out, "comes into screaming conflict with Orthodox Tradition and Orthodox Consciousness." (The entire text of the letter appears in Orthodox Life No. 4, 1994.)

Too many of us lack a sufficiently developed Orthodox consciousness to be aware of this "screaming conflict." Not only is the development of such a consciousness greatly hindered by the dogmatic relativism saturating our society, but our natural longing for peace and harmony and the many appeals to Christian love and brotherhood have made us vulnerable to ecumenical "sweet talk."  An inadequate knowledge of Church history and a weak understanding of Orthodox ecclesiology put us further at risk.  We cannot afford to be naive.  These are dangerous times, and we would be wise to arm ourselves with some sobering lessons from history-and the art of Vatican diplomacy.

At the Council of Florence, papal demands for Orthodox concessions were clearly spelled out: they were to accept the filioque, papal primacy, purgatory-and only thanks to the staunch opposition of a single hierarch, St. Mark of Ephesus, was Orthodoxy preserved.  "Matters of faih," he declared, "do not admit of compromise. This would be the same as to say: Cut off your head and go where you wish."  A century and a half later, Rome used more subtle persuasion to lure thousands of unwitting Orthodox into a Unia under papal authority.  Today's Balamand Agreement is crafted even more carefully, steering clear of any language that would suggest concession or compromise, emphasizing instead "sharing," and "mutual recognition," and asserting that neither Church has exclusive claims to be the Church of Christ.  How thoroughly modern!

May God preserve us faithful to the end.

"A good thing is not good if it is not achieved in a good way."  (Patristic aphorism) Editor