Orthodox America

  The Royal Path

As the Fathers say, the extremes from both sides are equally harmful (We must) go on the royal path, avoiding the extremes on both sides.        (St. John Cassian, Conference 11)

Central to Fr. Seraphim's theological writings is the patristic idea of the "royal path".' He saw that American converts especially were inclined to look for a "formula" in spiritual life which too often led to a pharisaical 'correctness'. "Born"-Orthodox, on the other hand, fei1 more easily into lukewarmness and ecumenism. The following excerpt is from Fr. Seraphim's article, "The Royal Path," (Orthodox Word, #70, 1978) written to combat these two dangerous tendencies. 

      Orthodox Christians live today in one of the great critical times in the history of Christ's Church. The enemy of man's salvation, the devil, attacks on all fronts and strives by all means not merely to divert believers from the path of salvation shown by the Church, but even to conquer the Church of Christ itself, despite the Saviour's promise (Matt. 16:18), and to convert the very Body of Christ into an "ecumenical" organization preparing for the coming of his own chosen one, Antichrist, the great world ruler of the last days.

      Of course, we know that this attempt of Satan will fail; the Church will be the Bride of Christ even to the end of the world and will meet Christ the Bridegroom at His Second Coming pure and undefiled by adulterous union with the apostasy of this age. But the great question of our times for all Orthodox Christians to face is a momentous one; the Church will remain, but how many of us will still be in it, having withstood the devil's mighty attempts to draw us away from it?

      Our times are much like those of St. Mark of Ephesus in the fifteenth century, when it seemed that the Church was about to be dissolved into the impious Union with the Latins. Nay, our times are even worse and more dangerous than those times; for then the Union was an act imposed by force from without, while now the Orthodox people have been long prepared for the approaching "ecumenical" merger of all churches and religions by decades of laxness, indifference, worldliness, and indulgence in the ruinous falsehood that "nothing really separates us" from all others who call themselves Christians. The Orthodox Church survived the false Union of Florence, and even knew a time of outward prosperity and inward spiritual flourishing after that; but after the new false Union, now being pursued with ever-increasing momentum, will Orthodoxy exist at all save in the catacombs and the desert?...

      Today, more than at any other time in the 50-year struggle to preserve the Orthodox tradition in an age of apostasy, the voice of true and uncompromising Orthodoxy could be heard throughout the world and have a pro-found effect on the future course of the Orthodox Churches .... It is of critical importance, therefore, that this voice be actually one of true, that is, patristic Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens, especially in the heat of controversy, that basically sound Orthodox positions are exaggerated on one side, and misunderstood on the other, and thus an entirely misleading impression .is created in some minds that the cause of true.. Orthodoxy .today .is a kind of extremism," a sort of "right-wing reaction" to "official" Orthodox Churches. Such a political view of the struggle for true Orthodoxy today is entirely false. This struggle, on the contrary, has taken the form, among its best representatives today—whether in Russia, Greece, or the Diaspora--of a return to the patristic path of moderation, a mean between extremes; this is what the Holy Fathers call the ROYAL PATH.

      The teaching of this "royal path" is set forth, for example, in the tenth of St. Abba Dorotheus' Spiritual Instructions, where he quotes especially the Book of Deuteronomy: Ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left, but go by the royal path (Deut. 5:32, 17:11), and St. Basil the Great "Upright of heart is he whose thought does not turn away either to excess or to lack, but is directed only to the mean of virtue." But perhaps this teaching is most clearly expressed by the great Orthodox Father of the 5th century, St. John Cassian, who was faced with a task not unlike our own Orthodox task today: to present the pure teaching of the Eastern Fathers to Western peoples who were spiritually immature and did not yet understand the depth and subtlety of the Eastern spiritual doctrine and were therefore inclined to go to extremes, either of laxness or over-strictness, in applying it to life. St. Cassian sets forth the Orthodox doctrine of the royal path in his Conference on "sobermindedness" (or "discretion")--the Conference praised by St. John of the Ladder for its "beautiful and sublime philosophy":

     "With all our strength and with all our effort we must strive by humility to acquire for ourselves the good gift of sober-mindedness, which can preserve us unharmed by excess from both sides. For, as the Fathers say, the extremes from both sides are equally harmful--both excess of fasting and filling the belly, excess of vigil and excessive sleep, and other excesses." Sober-mindedness "teaches a man to go on the royal path, avoiding the extremes on both sides: on the right side it does not allow him to be deceived by excessive abstinence, on the left side to be drawn into carelessness and relaxation."

And the temptation on the "right ,side", is even more harmful than that on the “left”: “Excessive abstinence is more harmful than satiating oneself; because, with the cooperation of repentance, one may go over from the latter to a correct understanding, but from the former one cannot" (i.e., because pride over one's "virtue" stands in the way of the repentant humility that could save one).

     Applying this teaching to our own situation, we may say that the "royal path" of true Orthodoxy today is a mean that lies between the extremes of ecumenism and reformism on the one side, and a "zeal not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2) on the other. True Orthodoxy does not go "in step with the times" on the one hand, nor does it make "strictness" or "correctness" or "canonicity" (good in themselves) an excuse for pharisaic self-satisfaction, exclusivism, and distrust, on the other. This true Orthodox moderation is not to be confused with mere luke-warmness or indifference, or with any kind of compromise between political extremes. The spirit of "reform" is so much in the air today that anyone whose views are moulded by the "spirit of the times" will regard true Orthodox moderation as dose to "fanaticism," but anyone who looks at the question more deeply and applies the patristic standard will find the royal path to be far from any kind of extremism.

    The Russian Church Outside of Russia has been placed, by God's Providence, in a very favorable position for preserving the "royal path" amidst the confusion of so much of 20th-century Orthodoxy. Living in exile and poverty in a world that has not understood the suffering of her people, she has focused her attention on preserving unchanged the faith which unites her people, and so quite naturally she finds herself a stranger to the whole ecumenical mentality, which is based on religious indifference and self-satisfaction, material affluence, and soulless internationalism. On the other hand, she has been preserved from falling into extremism on the "right side" (such as might be a declaration that the Mysteries of the Moscow Patriarchate are without Grace) by her vivid awareness that the Sergianist church in Russia is not free; one can of course have no communion with such a body, dominated by atheists, but precise definitions of its status are best left to a free Russian church council in the future.

    The increasing realization in recent years of the basic oneness of the cause of True Orthodoxy throughout the world, whether in the Catacomb Church of Russia, the Old Calendarists of Greece, or the Russian Church Outside of. Russia, has led some to think in terms of a "united front" of confessing Churches to oppose the ecumenical movement which has taken possession of "official" Orthodoxy. However, under present conditions this will hardly come to pass; and in any case, this is a "political" view of the situation which sees the significance of the mission of true Orthodoxy in too external a manner. The full dimensions of the True-Orthodox protest against "ecumenical Orthodoxy", against the neutralized, lukewarm Orthodoxy of the apostasy, have yet to be revealed, above all in Russia. But it cannot be that the witness of so many martyrs and confessors and champions of True Orthodoxy in the 20th century will have been in vain. May God preserve His zealots in the royal path of true Orthodoxy, faithful to Him and to His Holy Church until the end of the age)

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