It has perhaps been foolish to try to understand the Orthodox spirit merely by reading Lossky, Meyendorff, and others of their ilk. One could no more correctly grasp the spirit of 18th century congregationalists by studying Jonathan Edwards. Certainly the theologians to whom I gravitate represent a position within the Orthodox Church, even a vocal and prominent position, but they are no means representative of the Orthodox Church universal. There is an equally vocal dissenting group (perhaps even a dissenting majority) that espouse ideas quite opposed to the more temperate positions of many of the Orthodox authors I read. I have encountered these voices more and more, the more I detach myself from the lofty literature appearing in periodicals and collecting dust on the library shelves.
Specifically, I came across a particularly disturbing document recently which seems to have substantial support. A Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism is a vitriolic denouncement of the Orthodox participation in ecumenical dialogues, meetings, and activities. I do not intend to restate the entire document here. Instead, I will give five points which I found especially unsettling, and leave others to be unsettled by the rest should they so choose:
- Straying dangerously close to Donatism, the authors suggest that all the sacraments of the Catholics and Protestants are utterly devoid of grace on the basis of their errors. Curiously, they are willing to accept unity on the grounds of baptism, provided the baptism is a triple-immersion performed by a legitimate priest (which exist only in the Orthodox Church): “One enters the church, however, and becomes Her member, not just with any baptism, but only with the ‘one baptism,’ that uniformly performed baptism, officiated by Priests who have received the Priesthood of the Church.”
- So certain are these Orthodox of their own correctness and of the depravity into which the rest of us have sunk, that they refuse to pray with other “Christians,” even in private: “As long as the heterodox continue to remain in their errors, we avoid communion with them, especially in common prayer…not only common officiating and common prayer in the temple of God, but even ordinary prayers in private quarters.” I have been blessed in my encounters with the Orthodox never to be confronted with this attitude, but I cannot imagine my response if an Orthodox person refused to pray with me because of the insufficiency of my single-immersion baptism.
- The document is surprisingly alarmist, all of it coated with a thick layer of fear-mongering. For example, it is suggested that if we make the audacious suggestion that there are Christians outside the Orthodox Church then we might as well call Buddhists Christians: “This inter-Christian syncretism has no expanded into an inter-religious syncretism, which equates all the religions with the unique knowledge of and reverence for God and a Christ-like way of life–all revealed from on high by Christ.”
- The authors seem to describe to the kind of cold, formal conservatism that so many of the authors I read have vocally rejected: “We maintain, irremovably and without alteration, everything that the Synods and the Fathers have instituted. We accept everything that they accept and condemn everything that they condemn; and we avoid communication with those who innovate in matters of the Faith. We neither add, nor remove, nor alter any teaching.” Contrast this attitude–that the Orthodox have held fast without addition or alteration to the historical statements of the Church–to the sentiments of Archimandrite Lazarus Moore: “The true traditionalist is not a person who lives in the past, but one who is open and alert to the voice and activity of the Spirit today…[Tradition] is not the sum of past experience, but a living experience of God’s action today.” Equally unnerving is the self-deluded sense of nostalgia that accompanies the formal conservatism. If only we could go back to better times, earlier times…”Up until the beginning of the 20th century, the Church has steadfastly and immutably maintained a dismissive and condemnatory stance towards all heresies…” Sure it has.
- Perhaps most disturbing of all is how convinced the authors (and signers) of this document are that whatever they say and however they say it may be wrapped in a banner of “tough love.” Love, apparently, gives the Orthodox carte blanche to be as hateful as they like, to–in their own words–wage war on the rest of us: “The Church’s strict stance toward the heterodox springs from true love and sincere concern for their salvation, and out of Her pastoral care that the faithful be not carried away by heresy…There is such a thing as a good war and a bad peace.”
Some, certainly, will not object to some of those points. In particular, I have in mind the readiness of the Churches of Christ to condemn as invalid all baptisms which do not take place by immersion or baptisms of children. (Ironically, members of the Churches of Christ might be pleased to see the Roman Catholic Church blamed in the Confession of Faith for the introduction of instruments into worship.) Of course, there are undoubtedly also things to which others will object that I do not. Which is fine. Just so long as we all find something objectionable in this mess.