How Solid is Christian Solidarity?

Examining the Assumptions
of Orthodox Ecumenists

In this article we choose not to reveal the personal identity of the man hereinafter referred to as "the Professor." Our arguments are not against a person; we argue against ideas expressed in an official Orthodox publication.

In the year 1917, the following laudation of the historical Serbian people was written by a respected English scholar. It was deemed worthy of reprinting in 1989. Quite plainly it reflects a friendly and positive attitude toward the Serbian people:

Is it possible for the Serbs ever to recover from the desolation that has swept over them?

Thousands of the little nation, of both sexes, have perished. It will be difficult no doubt to build up once more the national life. Those who know the Serbian peasant, who is the backbone of the nation, do not doubt his ability to restore 'the years that the locust hath eaten.' For five hundred years they have never been content to submit to slavery, but have unceasingly struggled toward the light. (R.G.D. Laftan, The Serbs, New York: Dorset Press, Reprinted Edition, 1989, pp. 281–2).

Unfortunately, this friendly British assessment of the Serbs did not survive the twentieth century. The present British Prime Minister assumed a leading role in the air attacks on Serbia in 1999. The violent US-NATO attacks were publicized as efforts to dislodge Milosovic (or his attitudes) from the government of Yugoslavia (Serbia).

Writing in the January 15, 2000 edition of The Diocesan Observer, a publication of the Serbian Orthodox New Gracanica Metropolitanate, a Serbian-American professor of Church History laments, "Whatever happened to Christian Solidarity?" He poses this question because he believes that American and British Protestants — his fellow ecumenists — have betrayed and abandoned their Orthodox "brethren" by supporting the US-NATO aggression on Serbia and by directing their sympathy toward the non-Christian Albanians.

The notion that Orthodox Serbs have anything supportive to hope for from any nation but themselves is foreign to the eulogy of Laftan's classic 1917 study: "Anyone interested in a historical perspective on a great and heroic people will find The Serbs as absorbing as it is inspiring. For as Laftan writes: 'The Serbs have shown that, despite adversity and homelessness, their spirit remains unconquerable'" (The Serbs, dust jacket).

Obviously, the Serbs have fallen on not entirely deserved evil days since Laftan wrote his book. We believe, however, that the article written in the year 2000 by the Serbian-American Professor is poor advocacy for the contemporary Serbian Orthodox people. It does not rise to the level of heroism which characterizes so much of the Serbian past.

Concerning his background, the Professor reveals having left his native Yugoslavia in 1945 to escape "the Communist persecution of Christians." Despite his background, in America he has worked exclusively for and among Protestants. He studied at several Protestant schools and universities before becoming a professor of Church History. Apparently he occupied that professorial position for many years at an unidentified institution which prepares young Americans for the Protestant ministry. He has, in other words, made a life-long professional investment in pursuing, not Orthodox, but Protestant goals.

His explanation and rationale for such a long and apparently successful teaching career among Protestants stresses some of his assumptions about means and goals which he clarifies in the following statement cited here in its entirety:

I was a professor with Protestant colleagues, striving always to strengthen my Protestant students in their knowledge of church history which I assumed to be our common heritage, without which the church of Jesus Christ, regardless of its doctrinal or political stance, could not navigate its future passage through history. I did this because Christian solidarity was a given for me, which I found to be the same also with some Protestants.

From an Orthodox perspective there is something very strange about this statement. The following assumptions, rephrased, stand out:

1. The knowledge of Church History is the common heritage of the church of Jesus Christ. (Note that "church" is spelled lower case.)

2. Christian Solidarity is a "given," i.e., good and worthy to be assumed. By dictionary definition, Christian Solidarity must imply "an entire union of interests and responsibilities among Christians, that is, adherence by Christians to a community of interests and standards together with mutual support." Such an "entire union and community of interests, standards and mutual support among Christians" is judged to be a positive and unqualified good.

3. The ability of the church of Jesus Christ to navigate its passage through history depends on a knowledge of Church History. (Otherwise, lacking knowledge of the past, the church could not navigate its way successfully into the future.)

4. From assumption 3 above it is apparent that "navigating the church" must be a function of men and women in high ecclesiastical positions. The meaning of the phrase "regardless of its doctrinal political stance" is ambiguous. But since the Church of Christ cannot have "its" doctrinal "stance" other than that given it by Christ, and should not have a "political stance," it must mean that leading ecclesiastics frequently hold and teach different, even mutually exclusive, "doctrines and political 'stances.'"

Whether or not Fundamentalist Protestants and Roman Catholics, who are not members of the World Council of Churches, are to be counted as fully embraced in the term, "church of Jesus Christ," is not clear. The Professor declares that "when the Orthodox think of Roman Catholicism their prayer is that God will bless it and keep it far away from them." This "prayer for blessing" must be taken as a gratuity, for given his distancing Orthodoxy and himself from them, it seems unlikely that Roman Catholics ought to be included in his concept of Christian Solidarity.

The Professor states that the above assumptions, which are both explicit and implicit in his declaration, have supported his life-long commitment and the totality of his professional life.

An assumption, however, is something taken for granted as true,
whether or not, objectively speaking, it actually is true.

An assumption, however, is something taken for granted as true, whether or not, objectively speaking, it actually is true. An assumption remains an unproved and objectively unverifiable supposition within a given closed faith-system. The actual validity and truth of any and every assumption can therefore be challenged outside its system. How devastating it must be to recognize at the end of a long professional life that the assumptions underlying it may now be proven untenable.

The Professor frankly acknowledges that his "life-long commitment has been challenged by Western Christian countries, both Catholic (sic) and Protestant, and their actions and attitudes toward the Orthodox Christian Serbs of Yugoslavia during the recent NATO attacks on them." It is not clear whether this perception is prompting him to reconsider his commitment to these assumptions. He launches into an elaborate rationale accounting for the US-NATO attacks as "expansionist aggression toward the Orthodox people of Eastern Europe and Russia," a statement, however, which can be considered as yet another assumption.

To illustrate this claim, the Professor uses his knowledge of history and his inclination to rely on assumptions to deliver a lengthy harangue replete with exaggeration. He equates contemporary NATO with the thirteenth-century Teutonic Knights as a 700-year-long aggressive animosity toward both Russians and Serbs: "Although at present their organizational structure is obscure," he writes, "the psychology of the Teutonic Knights is very much alive and has let [led?] the Western Europeans and the USA to organize themselves in a military force called NATO which used all its air power to destroy 10 million Serb peasants in 1999" [emphasis added]. This violence was wrought, he claims, because the Serbs espouse the hated Orthodox Christian tradition as their faith and their church! He finds that this same psychology was at work in Napoleon's invasion of Russia, in Hitler's and the Nazis' treatment of the Jews, and in the World Alliance of Socialism with its "zeal for religious conquest."

The following statement, among others that could be cited, seems very far-fetched as an explanation for whatever real anti-Serbianism there may be in the West: "What does all this [legacy of the Teutonic Knights] say about European and American Protestantism? It says clearly that Protestantism is willing to forego Christian solidarity with Orthodox Christians and is ready to retreat into the tribal mentality of the martial German race because that race, through the Teutonic Knights, received papal approval to conquer those who did not subscribe to the doctrine of the universal papal monarchy."

In 1914 the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand
was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Serb.

The Professor goes on to cite the following explanation for the reputed hatred and antagonism of the "Teutonic Order" toward the Serbs: "In 1914 the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Serb. The Archduke was "in all probability the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order" [emphasis added]. Therefore, all military action against the Serbs, including the US-NATO action of 1999, may be explained simply as revenge against the Serbs' attack on the Teutonic Order. The Serbs must pay "now and until the end of history" for Princip's murderous deed.

Finally, the Professor's elaborate rationale forces him to recognize that "Orthodox hope of understanding and help from the Protestants of America was a vain one." He admits that the alleged alliance of Protestants with the Teutonic Order makes "the Orthodox investment in ecumenism since the Amsterdam Assembly and the founding of the World Council of Churches [in 1948] a wasted investment." He does not go so far as to label it a huge historical mistake and an abject betrayal of Orthodoxy. At the end he piously wishes that he had never had to see, in his old age, this betrayal [by the Protestants] before being called to enter another world "where the souls of the faithful to Christ keep the 'Festival of Faithfulness' and adoration of the Triune God revealed by Jesus Christ — Redeemer of the world."

Some New Calendar Orthodox seem willing now to join the Professor in his disenchantment with the World Council of Churches, if not with the entirety of the ecumenism movement. The WCC is said to be going broke financially, and we are told that the twenty-two Orthodox churches who represent at least half the membership of that body "give a meager $32,000 [per year], and the jurisdiction called the Orthodox Church in America [OCA] gives nothing" ("Curtains for the WCC?" Orthodox Christian Witness, Vol. XXXIII, No. 8, December 20/January 2, 2000, p. 3).

Let us turn now to question the assumptions on which the Professor based his professional life.

1. To what extent is Church History the common heritage of all those calling themselves Christian?

Heritage is that which we inherit, that is, what we receive or acquire from our parents, ancestors, or predecessors. A common heritage would have to be one shared similarly by all members of a given group. If part of a heritage is not accepted or is rejected by some while accepted by others, the heritage can no longer be termed common. The Christian heritage coming down to us consists of the canonical scriptures and the entire Christian Tradition, including the writings of the Holy Fathers of the Church and the Seven Ecumenical Councils. It is ludicrous to assert that those who reject the Divinity of Christ, His Resurrection from the dead, the Ever-virginity of the Holy Theotokos, the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and every other teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church are sharing similarly in the one heritage of the Church. Heretics are those who pick and choose what they will believe to the exclusion of all other elements of Tradition and the teachings of the Church. There is and can be no common heritage binding the Orthodox and the heterodox.

Heretics are those who pick and choose what they will believe
to the exclusion of all other elements of Tradition
and the teachings of the Church.

2. Is a union of Orthodox and heterodox possible and desirable?

An all-comprehensive union of Orthodoxy and heterodoxy on an equal footing in common Faith and canonical standards is impossible and would be undesirable in any case for the following reasons:

    a) Such a union would require a heterodox ecclesiastical body to accept the entire unchanged Tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church and to abandon all dogmatic teachings and standards which were developed by men outside that Tradition and those dogmas and canons. Conversion of the formerly heterodox occurs only as the result of a complete abandonment by individuals of their previous heterodox faith. Such a conversion, however, does not by any means constitute a union of Orthodoxy and heterodoxy, for the formerly heterodox person ceases to be heterodox and has become Orthodox.

    b) A reciprocal union of ecclesiastical entities with Orthodoxy would require the Orthodox Church to accommodate heterodox teachings and practices in whatever ways required to bring about an authentic unity. True mutuality of action between the parties would not be achieved unless there was a disposition on the part of the Orthodox negotiators in the move to accept certain teachings and innovations reflecting the opinions of men according to "reason" and the "spirit of the times." In that case, the Orthodox participants in the union would have ipso facto apostatized and ceased to be Orthodox. The result would not be a union of Orthodoxy and heterodoxy, but rather a conversion of Orthodox to heterodox.

3. Does the Church navigate itself through history?

To navigate was originally a nautical term, but is validly used as a metaphor for directing oneself or others, especially through difficult channels and complex situations. The Church, however, does not and cannot navigate itself. It must have, and does have, a Navigator; that is, One Who directs Her toward His goals. No patriarch, no pope, no bishop, no group of bishops, no priest, no deacon, and no layman is charged with steering the course of the Church. Even the participants in the Ecumenical Councils recognized that "the master of the vessel [of the Church] is our Lord Jesus Christ, whose hand is on the helm." Patriarchs, bishops, priests, and deacons form only the crew of the ship, so to speak.

While it may be said that the Church navigates through history, the term navigates in this context is an intransitive verb meaning simply moves, meaning "passes through time like a ship." While the Church moves, Christ alone directs Her, and the Holy Spirit "wafts [Her] on [Her] course" (The Rudder). For many centuries, heterodox-minded men have been committing the sacrilege of attempting "to save the Church" by seizing the helm from the Hand of Christ.

4. May one hold the belief that the "Church of Jesus Christ" embraces both the Orthodox Church and heterodox churches or that the World Council of Churches itself is a harbinger of the "emerging" Church of Jesus Christ?

No true Orthodox believer may hold
that the Church embraces both Orthodox and
heterodox, or that the World Council of Churches
represents the "Church of Jesus Christ"
now emerging for the first time.

No true Orthodox believer may hold that the Church embraces both Orthodox and heterodox, or that the World Council of Churches represents the "Church of Jesus Christ" now emerging for the first time. It is rash, reckless, and sacrilegious to manipulate and reinterpret the Mind of Christ. His Mind was revealed once and for all through the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church. It is the responsibility of His followers today to defer to the Mind of Christ as already fully revealed.

At no time in 2000 years of Orthodox Christianity, navigated by Christ and protected by the Holy Spirit, has the Church tolerated the yoking of the Orthodox and heretics and unbelievers. In fact, all deviations from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith have been regularly condemned (anathematized) and recorded since 843 A.D. in the Synodicon of Orthodoxy.

For us, the Mind of Christ and the corresponding Mind of the Church have spoken decisively against the heresy of Ecumenism. This was accomplished in The Anathema Against the Heresy of Ecumenism and Its Adherents which was formulated and published by the Russian Bishops Abroad in July/ August 1983, and is entered into the text of the Synodicon used by the Holy Orthodox Church in North America:

To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ'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 or sects or denominations, 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.

Father John Bockman

The Holy Fathers Speak

The truth is to be found nowhere else but in the catholic Church, the sole depository of apostolic doctrine. Heresies are of recent formation and cannot trace their origin back to the Apostles. Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church. The apostles . . . lodged in Her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth, so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from Her the water of life (Rev. 22:17). For She is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the things pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the Tradition of the truth. . . Suppose there arise a dispute among us relative to some important question. Should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches . . . and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? . . .

St. Irenæus, Against Heresies, Bk. 3, Chap. 4

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