18 February 1998
In the summer of 1997 the newspaper Rus Pravoslavnaia, whose chief editor is Konstantin Dushenov, was admonished by the Holy Synod regarding its crude criticism of the position of some bishops of RPTs, which sometimes transgressed the polemical boundaries permitted within the church. However, this paper is the chief antiecumenical publication in Russia. Views of antiecumenists previously were not expressed in the public press. Likewise, direct opposition to these views was not presented by the official patriarchal structure. We present today two radically opposed points of view on the question of ecumenism: those of Konstantin Dushenov and of the director of the secretariat on inter-Christian relations of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, monastic priest Ilarion Alfeev. The general church discussion on problems of participation of Orthodox in the ecumenical movement is just beginning.
LET'S SPEAK FRANKLY
The supporters of ecumenism have a very shaky argument
by Konstantin Dushenov
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 18 February 1998
Today a generally recognized crisis is tearing Russia apart with unrelenting persistence. As a result of the liberal democratic revolution almost all of the national, state, public, and political mechanisms of control of the country have been destroyed. In these conditions the Russian Orthodox church has become virtually the supreme protection against the final degradatin of our national autonomy and the chief support for potential of the rebirth of a self-sustaining Russian civilization. But in order to play this beneficial role, the church itself must be spiritually and morally healthy, well administered and, most important, internally united in the face of a world that is aggressively hostile to God.
However, such unity does not exist. The sharp conflict of liberals and conservatives, renovationists and traditionalists beclouds church life. While energetically and effectively overcoming the horrible consequences of the state's war on God, today the Russian church is nearing the point where the maturing of this schism cannot be ignored. It is necessary to heal it. This can be done only with the help of decisive measures of conciliar action to preserve unconditionally the purity and integrity of Orthodox doctrine.
But unfortunately there is no agreement about this healing. One of the most blatant examples of church liberals' unwillingness to discuss the essence of the problem is the article by Fr Ilarion Alfeev, "Can ecumenism be considered a heresy," which was printed in the November issue of NG-religiia in 1997. All considered, this article should be viewed as a program for a renovated Department of External Church Affairs (OVTsS), following its internal reconstruction. Earnestly wishing to justify the ecumenical contacts of the Russian Orthodox church, he nevertheless cannot find a single new argument in support of these dubious measures. He simply repeats the old, well known and extremely worn out arguments of the ecumenists which were more fully trumpeted by Metropolitan Filaret Vakhromeev at the bishops' council of 1997. These clever statements, perhaps, are still effective in deluding the unchurched readership of Nezavisimaia gazeta, but they are completely ineffective for serious discussion with Orthodox opponents. The cornerstone of the theoretical basis of contemporary "Orthodox ecumenism" is the claim that "neither Catholics nor protestants" are heretics inasmuch as they were "not condemned by any ecumenical or local councils."
But first, this simply is untrue. The third ecumenical council condemned everyone "who corrupts the faith" by any means as a heretic. Both Catholics and protestants, who regularly introduce doctrinal innovations, fall directly under this conciliar decision. (In any case I note that the word "heretic" is not an insult; it merely means that a person affirms a non-Orthodox understanding of Christian doctrine.) But a special conciliar decision is not needed to perceive heresy as heresy. Thus, for example, the Jehovah's Witnesses or followers of Aum Sinrikyo--superstitious sectarians who consider themselves "true Christians," have never been formally condemned by a council. So, will we establish ecumenical contacts with them?
Second, in just the past century there were worked out some quite unexceptional documents by the plenitude of ecumenical Orthodoxy in which Catholicism was completely and unequivocally declared heretical. The most celebrated of these was the "Circular Letter of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church to all Orthodox Christians" of 1848, which is better known as the Letter of the Eastern Patriarchs, signed by four patriarchs and twenty-nine bishops in the name of four Orthodox local churches (incidentally, without a council?).
Third, it is generally known that one of the basic Orthodox doctrines that equivalent to Holy Scriptures is the Holy Tradition comprising, in particular, the works of the holy fathers who are celebrated by the church in the assembly of God's saints. Thus in the writings of our saints, beginning in the eleventh century, it is impossible to find a single line which would permit any doubt about the heresy of those who believe differently from Orthodox. At the same time, examples of the opposite sort are as many as you want. Suffice it to cite the works of saints Gregory of Palama and Mark of Ephesus, Ignaty Brianchaninov and John of Kronstadt.
Obviously realizing the precariousness of his argument Fr Ilarion becomes nervous and this becomes obvious in his text. He describes how a foreign visitor who happened to arrive in "this country" arrogantly judged the morals of the local aborigines. He is most angered by the "contemptuous, arrogant, abhorant disdain of our brothers who believe differently," which is characterizes as "heresy." Contempt and arrogance, of course, are not Christian sentiments. But what relationship does this banal assertion have to the doctrinal and ecclesiological errors of ecumenists? Meanwhile the personal views of Fr Ilarion can hardly be considered Orthodox. Thus, for example, he begins his article with the pathetic assertion that "in the course of many centuries the Christian church has lived in conditions of tragic division." I would like to know how this bold declaration comports with the Orthodox Creed which proclaims the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, which the Orthodox Church has considered itself to be over the course of two thousand years? The more so since the writer affirms: "Ecumenism really is a heresy if it identifies with the 'theory of branches.'" But he proclaims this theory himself.
No less interesting are Fr Ilarion's statements about the perspectives of unification with those who believe differently. He bitterly concludes: "In the foreseeable future we should not expect reunification even of the pre-Chalcedonians with the Orthodox church, although agreement on several Christlogical questions has been achieved with them." That this agreement violates the resolutions of the ecumenical councils and clearly contradicts church doctrine has been stated in the Orthodox press often. What do the workers of OVTsS understand by this "foreseeable future." Does it mean this vague formulation that the process of unification with the monophysites is only suspended and could begin again at any moment? And on the basis of the "earlier concluded agreements" which were covertly concluded by the ecumenical leaders behind the backs of the church public? "As regards the Orthodox and Catholics," Mr. Alfeev continues, "the disagreements between them in the area of ecclesiology are fundamental. To speak of unification of protestants with Orthodox is completely impossible." The plain meaning of this statement is this: to speak of unification of Orthodox with Catholics (in contrast with protestants) is quite possible since it is necessary only to overcome disagreements in the area of ecclesiology. We know quite well how Rome has "overcome" these contradictions over the course of many centuries so there is no need to entertain any illusions in this regard. However it is extremely typical that Fr Ilarion for some reason does not mention the doctrinal disagreements between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Apparently he forgot.
Nevertheless, summarizing a brief analysis it is possible to say that the embarrassment of the ecumenists is obvious. Judge for yourself. Church liberals finally have admitted that ecumenism may be viewed as heresy. Of course, with qualifications and omissions, but they have admitted it. This cannot help but influence future development of events. Moreover, having finally understood that attempts to cover up problems in this area simply promotes the isolation of OVTsS within the church, they reluctantly are ready to declare a new policy of openness (glasnost) and frankness in their activity.
"The problem consists in this," the monastic priest Ilarion admits, "that the participation of the Russian Orthodox church in ecumenical contacts was the privilege of a very narrow stratum of people, 'professional ecumenists.' Now the situation has changed radically. . . . The question of dialogue of our church with those who believe differently should unfold openly. It should be a subject of criticism and public discussion. Only then will we be able to leave the image of ecumenism as a semi-secret activity of a group of persons who are destroying the Orthodox church from within. . . . The secretariat on inter-Christian relations of OVTsS of MP is preparing a new conception of relations with those who believe differently."
God grant that these words not remain an empty declaration. However we must understand that such amazing "democracy" of Mr. Alfeev is not at all the fruit of the good will of ecumenists but the result of the incessant pressure of the church "masses" on the highly placed church apparatchiks. If this pressure weakens, the whole "inner church democracy" will come to an end before it begins. For the time being, facing the universal concern about ecumenical apostasy, the staff of OVTsS is prepared even to suggest that the Russian Orthodox church "will make a decision to withdraw from WCC." People who are aware of how the internal church situation has developed in the last decades will understand how costly such an admission of one of the leading Russian ecumenists is.
In sum, we can draw this conclusion. The Russian Orthodox church is on the verge of serious changes. By virtue of the natural weakness and caution of Russian church consciousness, these changes can hardly be sudden and revolutionary, but their antiliberal, nationalist, and conservative direction cannot be doubted. Wily Russian democracy has lost the battle for the church. Nevertheless under current condition of general disorder, the final resolution of the problem of spiritual unity of Russian Orthodox will take more than a year or two. The most important role in this sacred task is the vocation of church councils. The next bishops' council of 1999 and then the local council of 2000 unquestionably will not be able all at once to resolve all tasks that now face the Russian church. But they should outline the scope of these tasks and point the way to their resolution. Hiding from these problems is unthinkable, acting as if one doesn't notice the obvious. Wouldn't it be better to agree with all interested parties about the list of fundamental questions which require immediate conciliar review? The participation of the Russian Orthodox church in the ecumenical movement unquestionably is one of those questions. The wish of the overwhelming majority of ordinary laity and priests not to participate in any kind of ecumenical exercises is quite obvious. Nevertheless the influential liberal ecumenical fraction within the episcopacy, led by metropolitans Kirill Gundiaev, Filaret Vakhromeev, and several others time after time has blocked the adoption of these decisions that have been maturing for a long time. Under their pressure the documents of the bishops' council of 1994 merely affirmed modestly the "ambivalent attitude toward our church's participation in the ecumenical movement and inter-Christian organizations." As a result the council adopted the decision that obligated no one to do anything speaking about the "necessity of subjecting all question that are disturbing clergy and laity of our church in regard to its participation in ecumenical movement to careful theological, pastoral, and historical analysis and review." While they actually removed all restrictions on ecclesiastical fellowship with heretics, resolving that the "question about the usefulness or lack of usefulness of conducting joint services with those who believe differently is left to the discretion of diocesan bishops."
The results of such "discretion" of various ecuminist bishops, from Metropolitan Vladimir Kotliarov of St. Petersburg to Bishop Sergius Sokolov of Novosibirsk are well known and need no comment. As regards "careful analysis and review," they have simply forgotten about it: with the exception of the eternally remembered Metropolitan Ioann, not one bishop has decided to state publicly to the Orthodox his point of view on this most critical question of church life. The bishops' council of 1997 left the matter essentially unchanged, despite its rather sharp dispute over the necessity of withdrawal from WCC and a sterner opposition to Catholic expansion.
Today it is clear that for now the question of the Moscow patriarchate's participation in the ecumenical movement cannot be put "on ice." Moreover, the latest statements of Patriarch Alexis II give reason to surmise that his holiness has already decided upon a toughening of the position of the Russian Orthodox church on this matter. Nevertheless everyone who is sincerely concerned for the cleansing of the church organism from the consequences of the soviet battle against God must recognize clearly that withdrawal from the ecumenical movement is not an end in itself. It is only the first timid step upon the road to the regeneration of Holy Rus.
Teach us and have mercy on us, O Lord, upon this road.
CANDOR FOR CANDOR
Antiecuminism has become the instrument for combatting the church hierarchy
by Monastic priest Ilarion Alfeev
Nezavisimaia gazeta--Religii, 18 February 1998
People who do not belong to the church or who are not inclined toward it cannot help but be repulsed by what at first glance seems to be conflict among various parties and factions within the church organism. When on the pages of the would-be Orthodox newspapers would-be Orthodox publicists savage the church and its individual representatives, accusing them of every deadly sin and even heresy and apostasy, the naive reader inevitably forms an image of the church as an organization that is rent with internal contradictions. Again, as in soviet times, they write with an insulting and cavalier tone that spares neither the ordinary believers and priests nor the representatives of the higher church leadership. But now the denunciations come not from certified atheists but from persons who present themselves as Christians who are concerned for the church's welfare.
One of the most obnoxious denouncers of the leadership of the Russian church is Konstantin Dushenov, chief editor of the newspaper Rus Pravoslavnaia. On 3 October 1997 this publication, along with Moskovskii komsomolets, was condemned by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church for publications characterized as "defamatory, aimed at discrediting the bishops and pastors in the eyes of believing people, conducted with the intention of sowing ill-will and distrust both in society and within the church and thus of promoting disorder within the Russian Orthodox church." The actions of both papers was called a "struggle against the church," and journalists, responsible for the antichurch publications, were called "deserving canonical punishment." The Holy Synod in its determination resolved "to appeal to the conscience" of the named reporters, "recalling that if they consider themselves Orthodox they must recognize the sinfulness of their evil deeds."
Thus the issue is not the "conflict of liberals and conservatives" within the church, as Mr. Dushenov represents it in his article "Let's talk frankly," but a conflist of people who do not have access to the levers of church adminstration and for the right to possess these levers. The issue is an antichurch campaign produced by those who are trying to take over the essential church leadership. These people have by no means recognized their guilt after the synod's determination of October. But they have recognized more sharply the "guilt" and "apostacy" and other evils of their opponents, the members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church.
Mr. Dushenov's article in NG-religii reproduces with slight elisions his article in Rus Pravoslavnaia, no. 6, 1997. Both works are a response to my publication in the November issue of NG-religii of 1997 titled "Can ecumenism be considered heresy?" Mr. Dushenov attacks me so strongly, obviously, because he considers me on the basis of the charge of a certain Bocharov (Radonezh, Nov. 1997) "the author of the notorious indictment of the synod." I hasten to disappoint Mr. Dushenov. I had nothing to do with the text of the synod's decision. Mr. Bocharov simply had false information.
Insofar as the text of the two article of Mr. Dushenov are almost identical, I shall permit myself to respond to both. Like many other publications of this writer, they manifest a mixture of ignorance, deliberate disinformation, indictments of church leadership, and calls for schism.
Mr. Dushenov's incompetence in theological questions in unavoidable. Objecting, for example, to my thesis that Catholics and protestants were not condemned by ecumenical or local counsils (which would seem to be an obvious affair), Mr. Dushenov appeals to the third ecumenical council which condemned all who "corrupt the faith" through additions. This citation is no more than juggling of facts: the third ecumenical council was in A.D. 431, but the "Great Schism" between East and West was in 1054. Speaking of additions, Mr. Dushenov obviously has in view the Filioque ("and from the Son"), added by the Latins to the Nicaean Cred. Well, such an addition falls under the seventh rule of the third council which says: "No one may pronounce, or write, or lay down another faith except what was determined by the holy fathers at Nicaea." But if one interprets this rule literally and univocally, as the author of said article does, then the father of the second ecumenical council (381) fall under it inasmuch as they expanded the Nicaean Creed, adding to it the points about the Holy Spirt, church, baptism, and the resurrection of the dead. If one speaks of the historical context in which this rule arose, it is as follows: at the third ecumenical council they took up the Nicaean Creed and its distorted version presented to the council by Elder Kharisy of Philadelphia (mentioned in a note in Book of Rules of the Ecumenical Councils); and the fathers of the council condemned the distortion of the Creed. There is nothing about Catholics and protestants here.
Mr. Dushenov further appeals to the epistle of the eastern patriarchs of 1848, equating it for some reason to a council. Without going into the details of the circumstances under which this epistle appeared (it was a response by four eastern patriarchs to an encyclical of Pope Pius IX), I will say only that it never had authority in the Orthodox church equivalent to that enjoyed by the documents of the ecumenical and local councils. The comprehensive evaluation of this epistle and of several other similar letters that appeared in the nineteenth century was given by the famous theologial Archbishop Vasily: "Composed for specific cases, they usually have not a systematic theological character but a popular, missionary, and apologetic one. . . . What is essential is not always distinguished from what is secondary and the theological and historical argumentation is not always of uniform quality. . . . All these epistles were adopted without the participation of the Russian church and they do not have general church authority." In this sense there should be no less authority for such documents as, for example, the epistle of the primates of the holy Orthodox churches of 1992, where it is said, in particular, that participation of Orthodox churches in the ecumenical movements "is based on the conviction that Orthodox should with all their energies contribute to the restoration of unity, testifying to the undivided church of the apostles and the father of the church and ecumenical councils." Why is the epistle of the four patriarchs of 1848 used in the argument against participation in the ecumenical movement but the letter of nine patriarchs, two metropolitans, and three archbishops, i.e. heads of local Orthodox churches of the whole world including the Russian Orthodox church, is completed silenced?
My declaration that "in the course of many centuries the Christian church has lived under conditions of tragic division," Mr. Dushenov somehow equates with the protestant "theory of branches." He "would like to know" how such a statement comports with the Creed that speaks of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. In my opinion, it comports exactly with the Creed as do the following words of his holiness Filaret, metropolitan of Moscow: "From the time that Christianity was divided into two separate halves, there could not be ecumenical councils and thus far there has been no unification." We, Orthodox Christians, have identified the Orthodox church with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. But this does not mean that we should close our eyes to the sad fact of Christian division. Saint Basil the Great in his letters called us "to strive together for restoring the unity of the church which has so many divisions within itself." Both Saint Basil in the fourth century and Filaret in the nineteenth clearly understood that there is one true church, but there also are Christian divisions which wound ecclesiastical unity; this is a paradox and tragedy of historical Christianity.
In his article Mr. Dushenov affirms that "conciliar decision is not required for recognizing heresy as heresy." Then what is necessary for such a recognition? The personal opinion of Mr. Dushenov, who without batting an eye names as "heretics" and "apostates" Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the late Metropolitan Nikodim, the current members of the Holy Synod, and many others?
The contemporary warriors for Orthodoxy, including Mr. Dushenov, love to appeal to the holy fathers in confirmation of their opinions. At the same time, as a rule, the appeal is made not to some specific father of the church but to the "holy fathers" in general. I found recently in one pamphlet the sentence: "According to the teaching of all the holy fathers, all contagion comes from the West." In Mr. Dushenov's article we read a no less categorical statement that in the writings of the father of the church, beginning from the eleventh century, "it is impossible to find a single line which would permit one to doubt that those who believe differently are heretics." Is it possible to imagine that Mr. Dushenov has read all the works of all the holy fathers, beginning from the eleventh century and in each line has found what he sought. However, many of the holy fathers were much more cautious in their judgments on those who believe differently than Mr. Dushenov states. Saint Basil the Great did not equate all those who believed differently with heretics, but he drew a sharp distinction between heresy, schism, and self-promotion. Saint Filaret of Moscow did not agree with the opinion of a certain priest who called protestantism heresy in his presence. "In order to decide the question whether protestantism is a heresy, we need an ecumenical council," the bishop declared.
I shall now try to answer the question why Mr. Dushenov generally in his struggle against the church plays the ecuminism card. Aren't there more successful subjects exploited by other accusers: cooperation of the church with the KGB (Yakunin), "tobacco deals" of the OVTsS (Bychkov)? It would seem not. The subject of ecumenism is the most successful for achieving the goals set by Mr. Dushenov, because all the permanent members of the current Holy Synod has participated over many years in ecumenical years and to one degree or another continue to participate in ecumenical activity. If the church followed Mr. Dushenov in condemning ecumenism as heresy, then all the higher leaders of the church would be recognized as heretics. It would be easier to do this since "conciliar resolution" is not required for such a judgment.
It is quite obvious that Mr. Dushenov has a clearly developed planned for struggle with the Russian church. "Withdrawal from the ecumenical movement is not an end in itself," he admits. "It is only the first weak step on the path to the regeneration of Holy Rus." The second step must be the overthrow of the patriarch and synod on the charge of heresy. The third step is the substitution for the overthrown patriarchate by "NN, bishops of N, and N" (which the newspaper Rus Pravoslavnaia calls "our synodists" saying that they "are fed up with ecumenism and no paper has moved"). Fourth step: break with the canonical local Orthodox churches and conversion of the Russian Orthodox church to the Karlovtsy, or old style, or Free Russian, or True Orthodox--in a word, to one of those self-styled assemblies with which Mr. Dushenov sympathizes.
He does not hide his sympathies and antipathies, strictly speaking. It is sufficient to review one of the issues of Rus Pravoslavnaia to see this. I acknowledge that before the appearance of the article by Mr. Dushenov in no. 6, 1997, with the attacks upon me I had never held his paper in my hands. Reviewing this issue of Rus Pravoslavnaia, I was most struck by the way Mr. Dushenov (in the words of his readers and of himself) presents himself and his opponents. The voice of Dushenov is the "voice of God" (p. 1); Dushenov himself is a "martyr for the faith and a witness," inscribed "in the book of life" and standing on a par with St. Nicholas the Man of God, and his paper is "salve for the eyes of the blind, staff for the lame, food for those hungering for truth," "Light of the world in the kingdom of darkness" (p. 6). On the other hand, his opponents are "arrant renovationists" (p. 1), "ordained apostates" (p. 2), "spiritual killers," "renovationists, catholocphiles, and ecumenists" (p. 6). These "killers" include the entire membership of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox church, "the narrow group of 'Nikodimites," who illegally have 'privatized' the inalienable right of the people of God to collectrively and openly decide the most important church affairs" (p. 2).
Dushenov's sympathies are completely on the side of those like "the most blessed Archbishop Chrisostom II of Athens and all-Greece," i.e. the schismatic Greek archbishop who as the "legal and canonical" archbishop resisted the "uniate-renovationist Bartholomew Arkhonidis," i.e. the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I (p. 5). The solution to the secret of Mr. Dushenov is simple: he and his associates proclaim the ideology and arguments of schismatics, who have created their "alternative" Orthodox church in violation of the canonical local Orthodox Churches, which Rus Pravoslavnaia calls "false sisters, false churches" (p. 5).
Evidence of the delusion which the publications of Dushenov's paper evoke among clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox church is found in particular in the letter of monastic priest Kirill of the Pskov caves monastery, addressed to him. The writer of the letter is especially concerned that in the heat of the newspaper polemic, "respected warriors" of Rus Pravoslavnaia have not spared even the person of the most holy patriarch, for whom Orthodox Christians pray as the supreme master and father. Mr. Dushenov replies to this that he sees "nothing criminal" that his criticism touches upon the patriarch personally: "If the acts of one or another person are not consistent with his rank and thereby deceive many people then I dare say that to warn about this deception is the inherent responsibility of every Christian." Moreover he considers himself no lower than the most holy patriarch in terms of responsibility: "I, an ordinary layman, sinner and unworthy...am equal with any master, bishop and even the patriarch in being responsible for preserving the divine truth throughout the church completely and inviolate." I think comment would be superfluous.
In conclusion I wish to return to the point with which I began: The conflict is not between right and left, progressives and conservatives within the church. The struggles is for overthrowing the legitimate and canonical leadership of the Russian Orthodox church (i.e. "Nikodimites," "ecumenists," and "renovationists," in Dushenov's terminology). Against the "official church" right and left, conservatives and democrats have united--all those who are dissatisfied with the balance of forces that has developed within the church. These people may be diametrically opposed in political orientation, theological views, and opinions on social and public problems, from the radical right of Rus Pravoslanvaia to the liberal sacriligeous Mosckovskii komsomolets. But the are united by one thing, their desire to split and weaken the Russian Orthodox church. To achieve this goal they will stop at nothing. (tr. by PDS)
Russian text from Russian Story