Orthodox America

  Today's Ecumenism  ...and the "Still, Small Voice"

by Priest Alexey Young

A difficult test awaits . . . . The faithful children of the Church of Christ must now prepare themselves for difficult, psychological isolation."1

It is a time of such confusion as to stupefy the average Orthodox Christian-in any jurisdiction-who sincerely tries to understand the true state of the Church in the world today.  Sometimes so shrill and equally self-confident are the opposing sides-like so much sound and fury-that one longs to hear a "still, small voice" (I Kings 19:12). More Than Ever Before, Confusion Reigns

On the one hand, we have the recent Balamand Agreement (briefly described at left), an astonishing document in which there seems little doubt that the Orthodox signatories did indeed give some kind of official recognition to Rome as a "Sister Church." This, however, was not quite as new as it first appeared: the idea that Orthodoxy and Rome are "Sister Churches" has been around, in one form or another, for some time.  It has its theological origins in the 19th century Church of England 2 and has been at the heart of the Ecumenical Movement for some decades now.  Consistent with this teaching, the late Patriarch Demetrios of Constantinople asserted (in 1974) that the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, was now restored to his ancient primacy of "love and  honor . . . in the pentarchy of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."3  Similarly, last year the present Patriarch, Bartholomew, publicly hailed Pope John Paul II as a "brother Patriarch" and, using the Pope's own imagery, spoke of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as "the two lungs of the Body of Christ." This, Bartholomew proclaimed, is a fundamental ecclesiological truth"! 4

On the other hand, publication of the Balamand Agreement was met with undisguised criticism-not only on the part of Orthodox traditionalists, but even among hierarchs and clergy belonging to those Churches which were signatories to the Agreement; some of these were frankly appalled, even embarrassed.  Bishop Antoun  (Antiochian Archdiocese) told this writer, in outraged tones, that this Agreement "is of no effect," that it is "nothing," that it has in fact been given "no authority," and should be viewed as if it had never happened.  This, in spite of the fact the Agreement was signed by official representatives or delegates of nine Orthodox Churches, including the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Moscow, and Romania!

How Could This Have Happened?

Of course, any kind of rejection of this frightful Agreement is welcome. But what many thoughtful people are now asking is: How could the Balamand Agreement have happened in the first place? Was it an "accident," a "mistake"?  Is it even possible that such stupendous "mistakes" can happen "accidentally"? And why is it that these criticisms were so slow in coming forth?  Some clergy in various jurisdictions in this country have quietly spread the word that they are poised to leave their present jurisdictional affiliation, depending on future developments foreshadowed by such "mistakes" as the Balamand Agreement.

Among those possible "future developments" is the approaching visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to the Vatican, set to "coincide" with the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29 of this year.  The Pope has himself already announced that he wants union with the Orthodox, and sent a message to Patriarch Bartholomew saying that he was asking all Roman Catholics to pray that the two Churches by united by the year 2000.  "I ask the Lord for it with insistence," he wrote. 5  (We have heard that Patriarch Bartholomew has privately expressed the same desire, and that he will invite the Pope to be present together with heads of the various Orthodox Churches for the 1,900th anniversary celebration on Patmos of the writing of the Book of Revelations.6) The Pope has made it clear that the final, perhaps climatic, event of his pontificate is reunion with the Orthodox.  Since he is now old and in failing health, this goal has an urgency and priority for John Paul that it did not have before.  Accordingly, he plans to concelebrate with Patriarch Alexey II in Moscow before the year 2000!  Although there is as yet no word concerning how Patriarch Alexey feels about this, 7 it is clear that John Paul is now laying the groundwork for something of almost cataclysmic importance, church-wise.

As one Orthodox journal writes, rather brightly if naively, we should "expect a dramatic overture from the Vatican to the Orthodox world perhaps as early as March [of this year].  The pope intends to issue an encyclical on ecumenism, which might be the vehicle for a serious attempt at reunion with the Christian East. If not that encyclical, then the next meeting between John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in June will, presumably, provide the anticipated occasion.  Just how determined he is to heal the 940-year schism may be evidenced in the Roman pontiff's willingness to remove the long-standing obstacle of 'universal papal jurisdiction' from Rome's preconditions for reunion. [!]  Readers. . . may be assured that our staff will monitor this ecumenical front very carefully and, to be sure, with great expectations." 8


If it proves true that the Pope is willing to "remove the long-standing obstacle of 'universal papal jurisdiction' from Rome's preconditions for reunion"-frankly, a hardly credible concession on the part of the papacy-we may then have something to carefully examine and study.  But this still does not mean that union is possible or even desirable. However, for purposes of discussion, let us say that the Pope is indeed ready to make this concession and that many local Orthodox churches, following their own Patriarchates, might thus proceed into sacramental union with Rome. The resulting chaos and division in world-wide Orthodoxy is scarcely to be imagined, for the question of papal authority is, after all, only one of many obstacles. In nearly one thousand years of separate history and spiritual development, we have become two quite different churches.

Those who refuse to enter this new unia (and they may be more than one might think), will be ridiculed as reactionary obstructionists and dangerous fanatics.  In the ecclesiastical "new world order" this Pope and Patriarch are seeking to create, such "old fashioned" Orthodox Christians will be considered "un-Orthodox" or even "heterodox."  God help us, but we will be living in an ecclesiastical Alice Through the Looking Glass. Those Orthodox clergy and hierarchs who are already well-disposed towards the Church of Rome are usually very "nice," congenial folk.  They appear to mean well.  But, at best, they suffer from dangerous naiveté.  Either they simply don't know what they are talking about, or they imagine Rome to be something quite different from what, in fact, she is. Or they are fully conscious of what they are doing and saying-even when it is untrue-, as in the case of Patriarch Bartholomew declaring that our Orthodox "aims are like John's [Pope John XXIII]: to update the Church and promote Christian unity . . . By the grace of God, all Orthodox Churches now favor ecumenism"! 9  Sadly, such inaccurate statements confirm what more cautious Orthodox have been saying-that there has been and still is "a slow but conscious movement to bring Orthodoxy closer in spirit to changes in modern secular life [insuring future] disastrous spiritual consequences [:] the loss of Orthodox consciousness among the clergy and laity alike..10 The "Still, Small Voice" is Hushed

Almost a generation ago, Archbishop Averky (Taushev) of blessed memory, declared in a particularly fiery sermon, "Outside the true Church a huge, perhaps overwhelming, majority of people now live without taking any account at all of the voice of their consciences, which they have put to death in themselves, being guided only by their own egotistical, conceited inclinations and impudently flouting the Law of God."11

Many years have passed since these disturbing words were spoken.  But if Vladika Averky were preaching today he would add that such conscienceless people are no longer just outside and surrounding the Church; they are now inside-and some of them wear mitres, have great titles, and sit on "important" committees and commissions.  We are reminded of what St. Gregory the Great wrote to a Byzantine emperor in the seventh century-we need only substitute "the Church" for "all of Europe," and "local jurisdictions and some Patriarchates" for "cities," and we have the precise situation the Church is in today:

"All of Europe is in the hands of the barbarians," St. Gregory wrote. "Cities have fallen, fortresses are in ruins. . . and idol worshipers persecute and even kill the believers.  And in the midst of all this, priests [bishops and patriarchs] who should fall down in church courtyards in sackcloth and ashes in prayer, instead run after empty titles"!12 These frivolous ones are also those who "preach a new sort of saccharine, sentimental, rosy-hued neo-Christianity devoid of all labor and struggle, an imaginary, all-encompassing pseudo-Christian love.  [They deceive us when they say] it is not necessary to labor over oneself, and no spiritual struggle is required. . . . Our faith [however] is the faith of the holy ascetics. . ."!13

Will It Be "Politics As Usual," or Holiness?

Recently, Bishop Photios of Triaditsa 15 wrote the following about the present quandary of compromising ecumenism: "The union of all Christians cannot be found by seeking a common language, indulging in common activities, or even in union in prayer between various confessions. In other words, the path to unity is not found along eroded and nebulous paths but rather by a repentant return to Orthodoxy."

However, we can go still further than this: a "repentant return"-yes, certainly.  But, as Bishop Kyrill has written, "only a heart, warmed by love, is capable of repenting."16  We have no love-which is to say that we have cold hearts-because we are unaware of, or indifferent to, our personal sinfulness.  More than anything else, it is precisely this abysmal spiritual state that has brought about the lack of love and division in Orthodoxy today. Many, perhaps all, of us have learned how to love inconsequentials rather than holiness.  Concern for our comfort and material well-being is more important to us than Truth. Thus, many have turned to a  dangerous and false ecumenism as a way of masking their own sinfulness and lack of repentance. We are instead filled with self-infatuation and self-idolatry.  This has become a substitute for real spiritual life.

And this is also why "everything, everywhere, is penetrated and filled through and through with evil-insincerity, deceit, craftiness and betrayal, even from people from whom, judging by the position they hold and the calling they bear, one would not expect it.  But there is something strange and sad: many ,very many people, even though they see and know all this, act like the unwise rather than the wise, destroying both themselves and others."17  It is the "mystery of iniquity" at work in today's world. The Message of the "Still, Small Voice"

When the "still, small voice" of the Lord God came to the Prophet Elijah, he was told that God had preserved "seven thousand in Israel-all the knees which have not bowed into Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him" (I Kings 19:18).  This symbolic number-seven thousand-signifies that small remnant which, in the last days, is aware of its personal sinfulness; individuals who are repenting, and filling their hearts with love for holiness rather than for the world and its blandishments.  It is these few, and only these, whose warm hearts and consciences will keep them other-worldly and free of compromise and error if the darkness of false ecumenism continues to descend upon the Church.

This "still, small voice" can be heard by those who will listen, by those who are longing for holiness. One must, however, set aside self-righteous, angry and self-justifying polemics (sometimes on both sides), the noisy committees and commissions, the high-sounding "reports" and "goals," and realize that all we need do for the accomplishment of all that is pleasing to God is to repent; repent, and return . . .  Everything else, then, will happen according to the ineffable will of God, rather than the corrupt will of men.  We need not worry about "church politics" (an overly-used term) or any other such disturbing thing.  Whatever else happens, we need only keep our eyes on the prize, the goal, which is the all-holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Monk Gorazd, "Quo Vadis Constantinople Patriarchate?", Orthodox Life, No. 2, 1992. 
2. The term "Sister Churches"-sometimes also called the "Branch Theory" of Christ's Church-is actually an early 19th century Masonic idea. It easily penetrated the Church of England because so many bishops, clergy and laity were Freemasons. From thence it migrated to other Christian communions.  It is, however, not part of the patristic teaching concerning the nature of the Church.  
3. Quoted in The Balamand Union, Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies.  
4. Ibid.  
5. The Orthodox Observer, January, 1995.  
6. Inside the Vatican, February 1995. 
7. In January 1995, at a meeting in Rome on the subject of rapprochement between Roman Catholics and Orthodox, a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate expressed his conviction that Orthodox and Roman Catholics are "two families, two Churches; [they] have everything in common: the sacraments, a hierarchy, spirituality, theology"-Russkaya Mysl, 9-15 February 1995.  
8. "The World of Orthodoxy: Views on the News," St. Sophia Quarterly, Winter 1995.  
9. Monk Gorazd, op. cit.  
10. Igumen Luke, "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled," Orthodox Life, No. 4, 1992.  
11. Quoted in The Just Shine Like the Stars, Fr. Demetrios Serfes, ed.  
12. Quoted in Monk Gorazd, op. cit.  
13. Ibid.  
14. Bishop Kyrill, "The Future of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad," Orthodox Life, No. 1, 1993.  
15. Photios, Bishop of Triaditsa, "The 70th Anniversary of the Pan-Orthodox Congress in Constantinople," Orthodox Life, No. 1, 1994.  
16. Bishop Kyrill, op. cit. 
17.  The Just . . ., op. cit.