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Watchful of HeresyMuch is written these days regarding the “Canonical Orthodox” Churches and how to find them. Many assert [for example] that if a local Church is not in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople [etc.] that local Church is “uncanonical.” This contradicts the record of Church history. There were not a few Patriarchs of Constantinople that were condemned for heresy. During the reigns of these heretical Patriarchs, the saints broke communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and were later praised for this by the Church. In fact, each of the five great Patriarchates, including Rome, was under the sway of heresy at one time or another during the first thousand years of the Church. If this is so, then by what criteria can we use to distinguish a genuinely Orthodox bishop from a false shepherd? The answer is simple. Look into the man’s life and see if he has kept the promises he made at his consecration.

The text of the promises made by a bishop at his Third Confession of Faith:

And the candidate straightway, loudly proclaims the Third Confession thus, with a stentorian voice:

In this my confession of the holy Faith, I promise to observe the Canons of the holy Apostles, and of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and of the holy Local Councils, the traditions of the Church, and the decrees, orders and rulings of the Holy Fathers. And all things whatsoever they have accepted I also accept; and whatsoever things they have rejected those also do I reject.

I promise also to preserve the peace of the Church, and firmly and zealously to teach the people entrusted to me, and not to devise anything whatsoever which is contrary to the Orthodox Catholic Christian Faith all the days of my life; and that I will, in all things, follow and always obey the Most Holy Synod; and to be, in all things, of one mind with my fellow Hierarchs and conjointly with them submissive to the divine law, and the sacred rules of the Holy Apostles and Holy Fathers; and with all sincerity to cherish towards my fellow Hierarchs spiritual affection, and to regard them as brethren.

And I promise to rule the flock committed unto me with the fear of God and in devoutness of life; and with all diligent heed to guard it against all heresies of doctrine.

And I also confess, in this my written profession of faith, that neither by the promise, nor by the gift of gold, or of silver am I come to this ministry; but, on the contrary, I have received it by the election of the Most Holy Synod.

And herewith I promise also to do nothing under constraint, whether coerced by powerful persons, or by a multitude of the people, even though they should command me, under pain of death, to do something contrary to the divine and holy laws: nor to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in another diocese than my own, nor to exercise any other episcopal function without the permission of the Bishop of that diocese; and that I will not ordain either a Priest, or a Deacon, or any other ecclesiastic in another’s diocese, nor receive such into my diocese without letters of dismissal from their own Bishops.

I will deal with the opponents of the Holy Church with reasonableness, uprightness and gentleness, according to the words of the Apostle Paul: “And the servant of the Lord must not dispute, but be gentle unto all, and a teacher, and forbearing, in meekness instructing those who set themselves in opposition, if perchance God might give them repentance unto the acknowledging of the truth.”

I promise to visit and watch over the flock now confided to me, after the manner of the Apostles, to discern whether they remain true to the Faith, and in the exercise of good works, more especially the Priests; and to inspect with diligence, and to exhort and inhibit, that there may be no schisms, superstitions and impious veneration, and that no customs contrary to Christian piety and good morals may injure Christian conduct.

And all those things, my bounden duty, which I have this day promised in word, I also promise to perform in deed unto my uttermost breath, for the sake of the covenanted good things to come. And may God, Who seeth the heart, be the witness to my vow. And may our Saviour Himself by my helper, in my sincere and zealous governing and my performance thereof; and unto Him, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory and dominion, honour and worship, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Sealed Sheep