A Curious Change in the Anathema of Ecumenism: What's Going On?

with commentary by Father John Bockman

In 1983 the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) made a bold decision to anathematize the heresy of Ecumenism. The anathema disturbed many timorous Orthodox circles, both within ROCOR and without. Unfortunately, compromise of faith and tolerance of heresy are very much in keeping with the contemporary spirit of the times and are widely supported by some who call themselves Orthodox. They display a timidity and lack of heroic dedication to the faith of Christ totally out of keeping with two thousand years of martyric Orthodox confession. Untold thousands of Orthodox Christians in the twentieth century alone suffered deprivation, humiliation, and death rather than sanction the attenuation of the faith.

In 1983, then Archbishop Vitaly, now Metropolitan of ROCOR, stood firmly for this decision and gave it his unqualified support in a published leaflet, "Orthodox Review" (#58, April 1984). He wrote, "Without doubt, the time for discussion and polemics has passed and the time has come to judge this movement and, however insignificant our Council of 1983 may seem, it has condemned Ecumenism and anathematized it in the following words: ‘To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that the Lord's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" of sects or denomination, and even religions, will be united into one body, and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians: Anathema.'"

For a number of years this very same text was announced in the Synodal cathedral on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

In the meantime, however, rumors circulated widely (even quoting the words of Archbishop Laurus, Secretary of the Synod of Bishops) that during the sessions of the 1983 Council of Bishops the matter of Ecumenism had allegedly never been discussed, but that Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) had somehow manipulated an unauthorized conciliar decree behind the backs of the bishops of the Council.

Nevertheless, the periodical Pravoslavnaya Rus' (#9, 1998), when reporting the major decrees of the Council of Bishops, wrote: "In connection with the matter of Ecumenism, which at present is causing not a few problems even within the local Orthodox churches, after a thorough discussion of the question, it was decided to confirm the anathematizing of Ecumenism, the text of which had been approved at the conclusion of the Bishops' Council of the ROCA in 1983" [emphasis added by the editor of Church News].

Church News reports having received a cassette tape of the service in the ROCOR cathedral on the Sunday of Orthodoxy this very year (2000). The cassette shows that the text of the original Anathema appearing above had been changed to read as follows: "To theosophists and like heretics, to Masons, occultists, spiritualists, magicians who have fallen away from the Orthodox faith and who accept other (heresies) to the scandal of our brethren, to the persecutors of the Church of Christ and to impious apostates who attack the Church of Christ, and to those who have communion with them and with these heretics or who abet them, or defend the new heresy of Ecumenism under pretext of brotherly love or the unification of the various Christian groups: Anathema." The original text of the Anathema was decreed by the Council of Bishops in 1983 and confirmed again with the same text by another Council of Bishops in 1998, giving rise to the interesting question:

Between 1998 and 2000 no Council of Bishops was convoked. On what grounds, then, has the Synod of Bishops (just an executive body within the Council, according to its statutes) dared on its own to change a text that was approved by the two previous Councils of Bishops?

The editor of Church News concludes: "In any case, the new text composed by the Synod of Bishops not only demonstrates a presumption on the rights belonging to the entire Council of Bishops, but on top of that was watered down, and was combined with a long-known anathema of atheists and others so as to now include Ecumenism."

Adapted from Church News, vol. 12, no. 4, April 2000

It has often been necessary for the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to exercise great patience and fortitude against what appear to be overwhelming obstacles to the preservation of the true faith delivered just once to the saints.

An examination of a fifty-six years segment of Church council history between the First and the Second Ecumenical Council, 325 to 381 A.D., shows that bishops who adhered to the Arian and Subordinationist heresies most often appeared triumphant over orthodox bishops in the thirty or so councils which have captured the attention of history. Orthodoxy seemed all but suppressed in the east by the year 355 A.D.

The lesson of history is that the truly Orthodox must be prepared to witness the apostasy of entire patriarchies and.ecclesiastical jurisdictions, and the loss of historic church buildings, monasteries, and monuments while the true Church retreats to catacomb and house-church status.

The Holy Spirit, Who does not force the will of man, waits strong but patient until such time as heroic saints are again raised up in synergy with Him to bring about the resurrection of the fullness of Orthodoxy. The gates of Hades will not prevail over the true Church of Christ!

Father John Bockman

The Holy Fathers Speak: St. John Cassian

One after another, heresies give rise to heresies, and all teach things different from each other, but equally opposed to the faith. . . In our own days we saw a most poisonous heresy spring up, and though there was no doubt about its error, yet there was a doubt about its name, because it arose with a fresh head from old stock. . . It is the best thing never to fall into error; the second best is to make a good repudiation of it. . . [The heretic must acknowledge] clumsiness and pride and foolish ignorance together with wrong notions, zeal combined with indiscretion, and a weak faith which gradually fails — all these must be admitted and cast out of the soul. . . .

There has never] been anyone who quarreled with this faith without being guilty of unbelief; for to deny what is right and proved is to confess what is wrong. The agreement of all ought then to be in itself already sufficient to confute heresy, for the authority of all shows undoubted truth, and a perfect reason results where no one disputes it, so that if a man endeavors to hold opinions contrary to these, we should in the first instance rather condemn his perverseness than listen to his assertions, for one who impugns the judgment of all announces beforehand his own condemnation, and a man who disturbs what has been determined by all is not even given a hearing. For when the truth has once for all been established by all men, whatever arises contrary to it is by this very fact to be recognized at once as falsehood, because it differs from the truth. . . For this purpose God willed to be born on earth and among men, viz., that there might be no more room for falsehood. . . .

As the new heretic is but an offshoot from ancient stocks of heresy, the due condemnation of the earlier heretics ought to be enough to secure a sentence of due condemnation for him. For as he has the same roots and grows up out of the same fallow, he has already been amply condemned in the persons of his predecessors, especially as those who went wrong immediately before these men very properly condemned the very thing which these men are now asserting, so that the examples of their own party ought to be amply sufficient for them in both directions; viz., that of those who were restored and that of those who were condemned. For if they are capable of amendment they have their remedy set forth in the correction of their own party. If they are incapable of it they receive their sentence in the condemnation of their own folk.
          But that we may not be thought to have prejudged the case against them instead of fairly judging it, we will produce their actual pestilent assertions, or rather I should say their blasphemous folly, taking "above all the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God" (Eph. 6:16-17), that when the head of the old serpent rises once more, the same sword of the Divine Word which formerly severed it in the case of those ancient dragons may even now cut it off in the persons of these new serpents. For since the errors of these is the same as that of those former ones, the decapitation of those ought to be counted as the decapitation of these; and as the serpents revive and emit pestilent blasts against the Lord's church, and through their hissing cause some to fail, we must on account of these new diseases add a fresh remedy to those older cures, so that even if what has already been done prove insufficient to heal the malady, what we are now doing may be adequate to restore those who are suffering from it. . . .

The scheme of the mysteries of the Church and the Catholic faith is such that one who denies one portion of the Sacred Mystery cannot confess the other. For all parts of it are so bound up and united together that one cannot stand without the other, and if a man denies one point out of the whole number, it is of no use for him to believe all the others. . .

But we will not fear the pitfalls which crafty heretics have dug in front of us, nor the paths thickly strewn with horrid thorns. For as they make our road difficult but do not close it, there is before us the trouble of clearing them away, rather than the fear of not being able to do so. We lay our hands upon that monstrous head of the deadly serpent, and we pray that our Lord Jesus will grant us to bruise its gaping mouths and its neck that swells with deadly poison, to remove its foul and deadly pollution, to pour upon all whose eyes have been blinded by heretical obstinacy the light of His compassion and truth, that they may with clear and unveiled sight behold the great and life-giving mysteries. . . .

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