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Responses to a Correspondent

The following is an exchange between Archbishop Chrysostomos and a clergyman in a modernist jurisdiction on a variety of timely topics. While they constitute his personal views, and are not meant as a statement of the official policies of our Synod, we found His Eminences’ replies to the questions posed by this correspondent particularly useful and insightful. We publish them here for the benefit of our readers—Editors.

Question: Can Grace be present in parishes or Orthodox jurisdictions in part or in some limited way? Or do they either have Grace or not have it?

Answer: Mathematical approaches to Grace are useless. They are Western in provenance and foreign to the Apostolic Church. Quantification is not the issue. Grace is where God grants it. The mystery of that gift is unknown to us, except in the area of revelational ecclesiology, where the presence of Grace is defined and delineated by God Himself. It is simply ours, in the observance of the Canons and the fullness of Orthodoxy within the Church as it has been revealed by God and handed down to us, to follow obediently the Fathers and Saints. We trust, as Orthodox Christians, that God will bestow His Grace upon us for our efforts to follow their path to enlightenment and theosis, or divinization, which is what salvation actually is—I should note—according to Patristic tradition.

Question: Some Orthodox jurisdictions—e.g.. yours—feature traditional church buildings, follow the Church (or Old) Calendar, and are careful to follow traditional liturgical practices. They also often question the appropriateness of the ecumenical movement (or condemn it). Do you believe that the Energies of God, or Grace. are found more abundantly in their sacraments and church life?

Answer: The Energies of God (Grace) and the salvific efficacy of the Mysteries (“Sacraments”) exist where one communes, again, with the Truth of Orthodoxy, which is manifested, in turn, in the life of the Church. That truth, as I said above, is appropriated through imitation and observance: when we preserve all that has been handed down to us by the sages of our Faith, whether in writing or by oral tradition, as St. Paul exhorts us, and when we observe every Canon and tradition of the Church—however minute or apparently insignificant—to the best of our ability, as St. Theodore the Studite says. In so doing, we are not saved by our efiorts, but by the Grace of God, with which we come into communion through that synergy with Him that is effected by our faithful efforts.

There are those who call this fundamentalism, but this is because they have built an artificial (innovative and modernist) religion within the framework of Orthodoxy (as Bishop Photii of Triaditza [First Hierarch of the Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Bulgaria—Ed] so perfectly describes the modernist Orthodoxy that he saw in the West), hoping that without obedience, humility, repentance of a truly spiritual kind, asceticism, sacrifice, and observance, they can, in this religion of their own creation, achieve [theosis]. In fact, however, lacking all of these things (“that which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers preserved”), they come to naught, since they lack a final essential: love. They do not love those traditions which, for us, contain and express externally the inner essence of the Faith. They lack our attraction through love to things that, for them, are dead rituals and “mere human behaviors.”

These “non-traditional” Orthodox are attracted to what is, in essence, a fundamentalistic construct of Orthodoxy: Patriarchates, administrative prerogatives, high-sounding historical claims and cute phrases (“Christianity’s oldest Church,” “the place where Christians were first called Christians”), and primacy of a very personal and prideful kind, which they apply or relax and toss aside (as in their ecumenistic activities) when comfort or expediency dictates. They seek to be recognized by the world in a religion which must, in its true form, resist, transform, and restore the world. In short, their fundamentalism is self-serving. If we are fundamentalists by adhering to Tradition, I would submit that this is not really fundamentalism, but observance and prudence. It is also an earmark of spiritual authenticity and the primacy of prophecy over order.

If what I have described applies to so-called “official” or “world” Orthodoxy, as well as many of the “modernist” Orthodox jurisdictions in this country (the OCA, the Antiochians, the majority of Greek New Calendarists), that speaks for itself. It does not mean, as they say of us, that they are bereft of hope for enlightenment, that they are somehow outside the Church, or that they are all deluded fundamentalists. That is, of course, certainly not mine to say. It does mean that they follow something of their own making. How God relates to that creation, in terms of their sincerity and intention, I also cannot say. I can only identify what Orthodoxy and the Fathers teach us and say that these innovating Orthodox have not fully embraced that. The consequences of what they have done are not things to be quantified; they are things about which we can only be circumspect, in terms of consequence, as we nonetheless vociferously repeat what the Fathers say of Orthodoxy and what it must entail.

It goes without saying, I should note, that there are assuredly some traditionalist-minded, sincere Orthodox in modernist jurisdictions. What they also are, at the same time, by virtue of maintaining communion with what I have heretofore described—this is a matter of no little concern. But again, any final statement about them is not mine to make. Deus scit.

Question: Now, having asked about your View of traditionalists, let me ask about Orthodox jurisdictions that feature less traditional church architecture, use the “New” Calendar, are less exact in following the canons, are less traditional in worship, and are more ecumenical in their view. Do they have less (or even no) Grace in their sacraments and church life?

Answer: Vide supra. I can tell you, again, what Scripture, as understood from the Tradition in which it arose and was appointed, and what Holy Tradition, the Canons, the Patristic consensus, and the Saints tell us about whatwe must do to find ourselves in Grace, and thereby to be transformed, divinized, and joined to Christ (Who became man that we might [also] become Divine [by Grace], to quote the most common soteriological aphorism of the early Church). Like St. Mark of Ephesus, when he broke from the “official” Churches of “world” Orthodoxy after they had all accepted a false (political) union with the Papacy in the fifteenth century, we True Orthodox define ourselves by affirming, with him, that we are “united with the Truth and the Holy Fathers and Theologians of the Church” by our observance and traditionalism.

If one does not accept the narrow path of Orthodoxy, why should he care to be Orthodox, except for something so superficial as the fatuous, and fastuous claim—mentioned above—that he “belongs to the right religion”? This pursuit of proud status through religion is, to me, similar to the fruitless pursuit of a state-of-the-art telescope by a blind man.

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As a post-script, let me say that if my comments seem at times sharp, they are deliberately so. Those who wish to compromise us Orthodox traditionalists, while adhering to some sort of religious syncretism or to the appurtenance of what used to be called the “comfortable pew,” should be quite forcefully upbraided for making us their allegedly fundamentalist “whipping boys.” They are not only unfair to us, but they also disfigure Patristic tradition itself, to which we turn in presenting an organic Orthodoxy which we live and which we try to preserve and which they use to denigrate us. As an example of all of this, I suggest that you read a piece on our Synod website: http://www.hsir.org/Annals_en/E2d029barnes.pdf. This article touches passim on many of the issues I have discussed above.

As for those critics who call us fundamentalistic cretins and hateful purveyors of a religion of laws and canons, on account of our opposition to the superficies of political ecumenism, many of the same have fiercely essayed to accommodate the fundamentalistic legalism of Papal supremacy to Orthodoxy, in their ecumenical efforts to court the (tarnished) prestige of the Vatican. Calling us “peasants in clerical garb” and religious bigots—and we are not bigots—, and accusing us of posing as “parallel churches” to their “official” bodies, they dismiss us as the detritus of antiquity, yet embrace the heterodox as “brothers.” This is where disdain for Holy Tradition and for those who follow it leads: to contradiction and hypocrisy. And one might rightly argue that these foibles at least compromise the action of Grace.

Orthodox Tradition. Volume XXIV, Number 3, Pages 41-43.