Ecumenism Awareness: Commonly Misunderstood Terms
This section is devoted to helping clear up the misconceptions of various terms that are often misunderstand by Orthodox Christians today.
"Canonicity" and "Canonical"
"No term is usedand misusedamong the Orthodox people in America
more often than the term canonical."
Alexander Schmemann, The Problems of Orthodoxy
in America, The Canonical Problem
The epistles of Metropolitan Cyril that have come down to us all deal with
one and the same question: the canonical position of Metropolitan Sergius
in the Russian Orthodox Church. But their significance goes far beyond
any mere question of canonical "correctness" or "incorrectness."
The canons were made to bring order among Christians, not to force them
into a strait-jacket of legalism, and thus the epistles of Metropolitan
Cyril, which are full of this awareness, are a guide to us in the difficulties
and often unprecedented canonical conditions of 20th-century Orthodoxy.
Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina, comments on the Epistles of the Holy New-Martyr St. Cyril of Kazan
in Russia's Catacomb Saints
The Problems of Orthodoxy in America, The
Canonical Problem: by Fr. Alexander Schmemann. A brilliant article on the meaning of "canonicity."
On Validity and Canonicity, an Orthodox
Some Thoughts on the Holy Canons, by Fr. Alexander
Lebedeff. A brief, yet brilliant commentary on the application of the
An Appalling Incident In Sweden,
By the Reverend Dr. Gregory Telepneff
Book Review: Eastern Churches in Sweden: An Overview, by Gösta
Book Review: The
Price of Prophecy, by Fr. Alexander Webster.
St. Theodore of Studios on the Canons and Schism:
excerpts from Patrick Henry III's 1968 Yale doctoral dissertation entitled
Theodore of Studios: Byzantine Churchman.
Instructive Examples from the Lives
of St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Mark of Ephesus
of the Holy New-Martyr St. Cyril of Kazan, from Russia's
Catacomb Saints. If you only have time to scan this, do a word search
on "canon" and read the numerous insightful remarks concerning
their use and abuse.
There is no such thing, of course, as a "canonical" Orthodox jurisdiction,
despite the fact that this kind of terminology has crept into our ecclesiological
vocabulary from the West. Nor are there "official" Orthodox
Churches, a category produced by the contemporary ecumenical movement.
Were this so, and were such terms amenable to the nuanced ecclesiological
notions of the Greek Fathers, we would have to concede that the Cappadocian
Fathers, the Studite monks, and the Palamite Hesychasts were, in some
way, "quasi-canonical" and "un-official." This, if
nothing else, warns us against apologetic presentations which unwisely
pass over the intricacies of Church history.
Archbishbop Chrysostomos of Etna, in a review
of Fr. Alexander Webster's The Price of Prophecy (Orthodox
Tradition, Vol. XIV, No. 2&3, p. 71)
"Union" and "Unity"
It is true that today there are people who speak of the union of the Churches.
But this term is worthless theologically. We cannot speak of union, but
of a unity of faith. We cannot speak of Churches which are separated and
struggling to reach the truth and union, but about the Church which is
always united with Christ and has never lost the truth, and about people
who have broken away from it.
Some people who speak of union of the Churches use to satiety Christ's archpriestly
prayer, which is in the Gospel according to John, and especially the point
where Christ asks the Father that the disciples "may be one"
and "that they all may be one" (John 17, 20-22). But if anyone
reads the whole text attentively, he will discover that Christ is not
referring to a union of the Churches which will come about in the future,
but to the union of the Disciples which will come about on the day of
Pentecost, when they will receive the Holy Spirit. This text speaks of
the glorification of the Apostles which took place at Pentecost. Actually,
at Pentecost the Apostles became members of the Body of Christ, they saw
the glory of God, they reached deification, and so attained unity together
in the single Body of Christ. Anyone who experiences Pentecost in his
personal life attains this unity. The Apostle Paul, although he was not
present with the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, is portrayed by the
Church in the icon of Pentecost, because he too reached the vision of
Christ and therefore has unity with the other Apostles.
Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, The Mind of the Orthodox
Church, Chapter II
Concerning the Orthodox Prayers for the Union of All
and the Prayer in St. John 17. Excerpts from Ecumenism: A Movement
for Union or a Syncretistic Heresy?, by Bishop Angelos of Avlona
Orthodox Unity Today, by Bishop Photii of
Triaditza. This is the one of the best articles on the nature of Church
unity that I have ever read.
Orthodox Ecclesiology, by Dr. Alexander Kalomiros.
Sections XXVIII-XXX from his book Against False Union. In this
classic passage he elucidates the proper understanding of Orthodox ecclesial
Christian Unity As Viewed By the Eastern Orthodox Church:
The Oberlin Statement, a classic elucidation of the traditional Orthodox
view of "unity", written during a time when Orthodox participation
in the World Council of Churches was still Orthodox!
For What Kind of "Union of All" Do We Pray?, Concerning the Third Petition of the Great Ektenia.
Now since the Church is one, and that oneness consists primarily and universally
of perfect agreement in Orthodox doctrines, it necessarily follows that
all those who do not conform to those Orthodox doctrines, whether by addition
or omission, or by any innovation of their own, thus changing the truth,
are outside this one Holy Church, as one may also ascertain from a review
of the sixth and seventh canons of the Second Ecumenical Council, and
the first canon of St. Basil the Great.
Divine Prayers and Services of the Catholic Orthodox Church of Christ, compiled
and arranged by the Late Reverend Seraphim Nassar (Englewood, NJ: Antiochian Archdiocese of N. America, 1979), 1031.
"Heresy," "Heretic," and "Anathema"
For an excellent treatment of these terms
see The Mind
of the Orthodox Church, esp. Ch. 9
The Use of the Term "Heretic", by Patrick
The True Nature of Heresy: an outstanding
essay on the use and abuse of this term.
What is Heresy?: St. Nectarios Education Series
The Word 'Anathema' and It's Meaning: by St.
John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco
On Caution Regarding
Anathematization. An Annotated Translation of St. John Chrysostomos
Homily, "That We Should Not Anathematize the Living or the Dead,"
by Hieromonk Patapios.
Heretical Saints?, excerpts from a letter
by Archbishop Chrysostomos on Peter the Iberian, ecumenical dialogue,
and the relation of heretics to the Church.
An Orthodox Tradition Q&A on
Heresy and Praying With Heretics
"True Orthodox Christians": a short explanation
of the term, from Orthodox Tradition, XI-1.
Are the Terms "Christian"
and "Orthodox" Accurate in our Times?, by Archbishop Averky
of Blessed Memory.