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Orthodox People Apart

by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna

I recently spoke with a member of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, who had attended a symposium on evangelization sponsored by the Antiochian Archdiocese. I was surprised when this individual, an articulate and quite well-mannered man, told me that he had been characterized at this conference as a member of an uncanonical jurisdiction. He had, indeed, tried to enlighten other conference members about the true nature of his jurisdiction's witness, but was unable to do so, not only because of their general lack of knowledge about Orthodoxy, but because of the self-serving attitudes and positions adopted by many modernist jurisdictions towards Orthodox traditionalists—attitudes and positions that foster arrogance and a spirit of confrontation. These modernist advocates of the "togetherness" of Orthodox people proved to be, in some ways, the source of much of the inaccurate, ill-advised, and vulgar name-calling that keep Orthodox people "apart."

I would like to respond to the rather unbecoming characterization of the traditionalist Orthodox believer in question by his modernist hosts. By any measure or criterion of canonicity, the New Calendarists and modernists are not canonical. Their claims to canonical status by virtue of attachment to various Patriarchates is a form of neo-Papism that is neither ecclesiologically correct nor consistent with the Church's historical understanding of canonicity. First, any right-believing Bishop in Apostolic Succession and his Orthodox flock constitute the canonical Church. The Orthodox Church is not "Patriarchal" in the way that many superficial Western observers imagine it to be. Second, when the Patriarchates and local Churches have at various times in history been in heresy, resistance movements such as those now undertaken by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Old Calendarists of Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania have preserved the canonical Church.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, the Orthodox Church in America, and the Antiochian Archdiocese, while they certainly are legitimate Orthodox jurisdictions with valid Mysteries, are at the same time uncanonical. They not only share in the uncanonical innovations and ecumenical excesses of their New Calendarist or unhealthy Mother Churches, but they deviate substantially from the traditions of Orthodoxy, which are the foundation of canonicity. The Greek Archdiocese is under the jursidiction of the Jesuit-trained Patriarch of Constantinople, who fancies himself an Eastern Pope. The OCA is so riddled by spiritual problems that even the Russian Patriarchate, which granted it autocephly, seriously considered rescinding that status last year. And the Antiochian Archdiocese is the Exarchate of a Church held captive and influenced theologically and spiritually by the Latin West for centuries.

These and other modernist jurisdictions are also beset by a deep ignorance of traditional Orthodox practice. Their monasticism is largely a scandal. They imagine liturgical services to be man-made and a question of taste, rather than Divinely-inspired products of the consistent action of the Holy Spirit in history. What little they know of liturgical traditions is collected more by way of a "tradition of gossip and rumor" than by any real knowledge of traditional liturgics. And their guide in all of this is the unfortunate, un-Orthodox, and wholly untraditional thought of the late Father Alexander Schmemann on matters liturgical—work so poor and so inconsistent with Holy Tradition, that the late Protopresbyter Georges Florosvsky called it "tragic and intellectually misguided." They take the poorest work of an otherwise competent scholar and elevate it to the heights, ignoring Church Tradition, the more sober scholarship in this area, and the living traditions of the Church. They come to disdain the holy and to elevate what is far from the image of holiness to a status which is both silly and a disservice to Father Schmemann, a man who would have found particularly ludicrous notions that he is a contemporary "Saint"!

Orthodox who "write" Icons ["Ikons"]; who are immersed in the exotic concerns of the superficies of Orthodoxy; who have more often than not been received incorrectly into Orthodoxy by an abuse of economy; who know almost nothing of fasting and the day-to-day traditions of the Church; whose clergy, with shaved faces and Roman collars, thus affirm their conversion to a Byzantino-Protestant rite of the "Eastern Church;" who cannot properly bless a meal; who revive dead liturgical rites and shun learning the difficult services that mark the Orthodox pleroma; who distinguish "Traditions" from "traditions"—a scholarly device no where found in the Fathers—, in order to pick and choose from Church customs; who hold "theosis" picnics and who "rock for Jesus" to a music which Orthodox canons forbid as raucous vulgarity; who have no hesychasts and real monastic guides, but, rather, revile traditional spirituality; who fancy themselves, after a few years of superficial reading in spiritual texts, possessed—and possessed they may be—of prayer of the heart; who live an Orthodoxy of accommodation and romanticism; and who have, in some cases, entered Orthodox jurisdictions from Protestant cults without Baptism, without proper Ordination, without adequate catechism, and without a proper understanding of Orthodox ecclesiology—such Orthodox are certainly not canonical.

Orthodox modernists must understand that the term "uncanonical" is only rightly applied by us: those who are in resistance to their innovations. Their modernism, lack of experience in the Church, and wholesale immersion into American religious culture, with all of its money-motivated interests and outright chicanery, place them outside the pale of Orthodox canonicity, just as surely as do the ecumenical excesses and betrayals of the Mother Churches and Patriarchates to which some of them belong. They are uncanonical, not we. While we, despite their lack of canonicity, do not commonly throw such epithets at them, they nonetheless freely shower us with these unjust accusations. And because of their ignorance of Orthodox theology, they often think that, by accusing us of being uncanonical, they are thereby asserting that we are without Apostolic Succession or valid Mysteries.

Against those of us from families that have been Orthodox for untold generations—many of us from families which shed their blood for Orthodoxy—, these immature, half-converted creators of a new Orthodox religion in America, an Orthodoxy made valid only by its minimal claims to Apostolic Succession, relegate us "ethnics" and "traditionalists" to a place outside the Church. As we watch their incorrectly celebrated and truncated services and hear their smug and ignorant statements about the false traditions with which they have replaced Holy Tradition, we are endlessly perplexed, scandalized, and repulsed. This is especially true when the unhealthier elements in the modernist movement, in a spirit of vile hatred that makes even the small minority of extremist traditionalists seem kind, attack us with rumors, lies, and the most vulgar of personal assaults—the final refuge, of course, of those who find no substance in the positions which they vainly defend.

We True Orthodox must, however, resist the natural impulse to revile what is inauthentic and fake. For many of the modernists to whom all that I have written aptly applies have nonetheless simply been misled into a form of modernist cultism by leaders interested in money and growth—and this at a time that the Church approaches the age of the remnant. Many of these people have been taught hatred instead of love; judgmentalism instead of circumspection; arrogance instead of steadfastness; and a false Orthodoxy in the place of True Orthodoxy. Undoubtedly a great number of these misled modernists seek Orthodoxy and its traditional truths. Certainly they are capable of being enlightened by the truth. And just as surely, their corrupt leaders, who have blinded them to what they seek, will come to justice.

Given this, we traditionalist Orthodox must check our outrage, control our righteous indignation, and overlook the silliness of those who know nothing, but nonetheless stand in judgment of us caretakers of the Church's wisdom. We must go among these people and teach them with love—though with an uncompromising love—of the lie which they have been told, of the stone which they have been given instead of bread. For their condemnation, we must return the true facts. For their ridicule, we must show them compassion. For their arrogance, we must give back humility. And to their concocted Orthodoxy, we must answer with True Orthodoxy. Only then will we truly teach them that canonicity is not a matter of the law, or something to be used by unscrupulous Churchmen to expand their domain in the name of human "officialdom;" but that canonicity is a matter of spiritual primacy, is based on living links with the past, and encompasses an honest, sober, and ultimately apocalyptic view of the future.

"Orthodox People Apart" appeared in Orthodox Tradition, VOL. IX, NO. 1, pp. 25-26.

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