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The Psychological Anatomy of Ecumenism

by Bishop [now Archbishop] Chrysostomos of Etna

I have, both in the pages of Orthodox Tradition and in other publications, as well as in various of my lectures and sermons, pointed out that we moderate Old Calendarists are the true ecumenists, since it is out of a genuine love for our Lord and our Faith that we struggle to preserve in the purest possible form the Truth which Christ bestowed on mankind and which has blossomed and developed over the millennia, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the writings of our Fathers and in our purest liturgical traditions, including the finer forms of our Church music, iconography, and architecture. As Orthodox traditionalists, we preserve what rises above personal taste and the whims and fancies of an age; we preserve that creative process which reveals Truth in every generation—a living, vital Truth which, even when it changes inconsequentially its form of expression (allowing, thereby, a sense of human creativity which, because of the limitations imposed on it by the boundaries of Truth, never engenders innovation and pride, but exalts imitation and humility), does not contradict itself or succumb to that state of mutableness and essential evolution which belies the Truth. We preserve oecumenical Tradition, that universal tradition which brings all relative truths and human experience to focus on the Divine simplicity of a universe in which Truth is known in all of its diversity through unity and uniqueness, in the Oneness of the Triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God.

Because we so strongly love the universal Truth of Orthodoxy, which, through the prism of spiritual enlightenment, brings us to a perfect understanding of every aspect and element of human knowledge, we Old Calendarists (or, rather, we "True" Orthodox, whom the Fathers of the Church separate from those ailing and weak in their Faith—those teetering on the precipice of heterodoxy and misbelief) are ecumenists in the truest sense of the word. We preserve a Truth which dwells in every human being, which is sought, however successfully or poorly, by every culture, and which, while it adorned the Orthodox nations of the past with unsurpassed cultural and spiritual beauty, can yet, even now—when civilization is waning and the spirit of Antichrist is a looming threat, when man can for the first time destroy the physical world with destructive weapons of demonic power heretofore unknown in human history—transform any nation and any people, lifting them up to the highest image of human goodness and Godly virtue. It is our duty not to take from the heterodox—to draw from the derivatives of Truth—, but to give from the universal treasure that we have preserved, that others might draw from the criterion of Truth (which alone can restore their relative notions of the Truth to the fullness of Truth) and lift themselves out of that morass of confusing thought which derived truth invites when it separates from Truth, thus becoming, in essence, something which the Truth is not. We Old Calendarists are ecumenists because we seek to bestow on mankind what is universal and to draw what is broken and sundered into what is whole.

There are, of course, New Calendarists and modernist Orthodox, however few and however subject to the fiercely virulent virus of innovation and apostasy, who also treasure the universal primacy of the Orthodox Faith. But the majority of those Orthodox mired in the religious relativism of our age, in the hypocrisy of the ecumenical movement—which in the name of love has spread intolerance and hate and with its talk of unity has divided the Orthodox Church—, seek in unity with other religions the wholeness of Truth which they, in one of the greatest of all ironies, fail to find in the whole Truth of their own Faith. Having failed to grasp the didactic nature of Tradition, dismissing this or that piece of the mosaic of Orthodox life as ethnic or fanatic or inessential, if not superstitious and primitive, they have carved up the wholeness of Orthodoxy, found the isolated pieces of its carcass inadequate to sustain their hunger for the fullness of Truth, and have ventured out into the wilderness of heterodoxy, where even the carcass of Orthodoxy long ago dissolved in the winds of historical and philosophical change and settled only as fine dust on a forgetful and myopic un-Orthodox world.

We True Orthodox are those physicians of the soul who hold in our hands that yearned-for panacea, that universal healing balm that will soothe the wounds of the human heart and soul. We are universal physicians, oecumenical healers. Granted, only with differing skills and variously limited success do we apply this balm; but about its healing properties we have no doubt. Those healed by it, holy men and women and Saints, walk among us and inhabit our dreams and visions. And let it not be said that all Old Calendarists, all True Orthodox, have felt that Divine need, a spiritual imperative, to share the balm of Jesus Christ and His True Church with all. Just as there are doctors of the body who would deny healing to the sick, so there are physicians of the soul who fall to the soul-destroying sin of holding as their own that which is given to them for distribution to the many. But neither poor skills nor poor intentions convict true medicine of impotency; so, too, True Christianity is never compromised by those who dishonorably use and wrongly spread it. No modernist, no New Calendarist, then, has the privilege of saying that the truth of heterodoxy is more appealing because of the foibles of those few who wrongly hold to the Truth of Orthodoxy. For is a man to be more pitied because he too strongly clutches to the Truth and selfishly appropriates it for himself, or because, on account of the weaknesses and spiritual inadequacies of others, he betrays the Truth and embraces falsehood? The one man may squander a precious treasure; the other, however, defiles it!

Political ecumenism, that folly of seeking for Truth outside the Truth, is the domain of the wicked, the playground of demons. It lures Orthodox into its snare first by blinding them to the Truth, as I have said, and then by cajoling them into justifying their betrayal of the Truth by condemning those whom they assume improperly to express it. That arachnidian Deceiver catches even the learned and those wise of the world in his insidious web, making them believe that the very diamond of Universal Truth is to be found elsewhere, deep in the dark, gaseous mines of heterodoxy; finding the brightness of Truth dulled by the scum and dirt of human imperfection, these poor, purblind flies seek among worthless rocks the same priceless gem that they have rejected as a stone without value. Worse yet, among some of these abject and wretched betrayers, there are those who would, chipping away at the hidden treasure of Orthodoxy, purloin fragments of the Truth—which is never truly broken and which is ever whole—and join them to fragments of falsehood, so as to transform falsehood and sully the Truth. With the peripheral glitter of that which is torn away from Orthodoxy giving light by reflection to the darkness of heterodoxy, such Judases lend credibility to the notion that all religious confessions have a ray of light within them, thus paving the way for the worship of darkness added to a darkness only falsely lighted by a superficial bead of Orthodox truth separated from its life-giving wholeness—betraying their Faith and confirming those whom they should be leading to the light forever in the gloomy hopelessness of darkness. Indeed, political ecumenists are agents of Satan, for they do better than any other his work; they obfuscate and obliterate the Truth, making falsehood a verity and Truth a lie.

Let me say that the psychology of the Orthodox betrayer, of those who misuse and abuse the Truth, is simple. It is the psychology of the deceiver, the psychology of destruction, the mental way that leads from passion to the hanging-tree, from silver to the noose. It is a psychology of devolution, of the collapse of human potential into spiritual incapacity, creating an imposthume on the human soul, flowing with the intoxicants of saccharine-sweet humanistic elixirs drawn from a wicked brew of morbid humors. It is the way of human gain, human joy, and human success, the path from earthly mirth to eternal mire. And if the betrayer evokes from us pity and compassion, we are still somehow, perhaps because of the primacy of justice, content to let him languish in a place which he largely created for himself.

But what of the deluded ecumenist, that seeker after universalism who is misled into the limitations and inadequacies of the sham universalism of religious syncretism, who truly believes the great lie of ecumenism? His psychology, subject to the blinding and misleading traps of Satan, is a tragic one. He is not per se a miscreant, but a wrong-believing victim. His psychology is that of the victim. And thus he should invite more readily our sympathy and compassion, if not our effort to cure the virus of political ecumenism that devours even the personal tissue of his Faith. Let me cite an example. Some years ago, a well-known Orthodox clergyman and scholar invited me to spend a term as a visiting scholar at a prestigious academic institution, an appointment generously funded by a research grant from a private scholarly foundation. Out of courtesy, though he was a New Calendarist and we do not intercommune with modernists, I attended services several times at the Church served by this distinguished and gracious clergyman. I stood among the believers during these services, having not been invited to enter the Altar; and, indeed, it was obvious, both by my general reception at the Church and at the academic institution in question, that my presence as an Old Calendarist was a source of some discomfort. I understood the situation and remained to myself.

Some months ago, I read an interesting account by this same clergyman and scholar of a sojourn which he made to an ecumenical gathering in Northern Spain. Reflecting on the theme of this conference, which focused on many liberal ideas—the universality of Grace, the Church as it functions beyond its boundaries, the ordination of women—, he noted that he was overcome by a great sense of impatience, and even anger, at the fact that, while—out of a conviction of conscience that I must admire—he could not commune with the other (heterodox) participants at the gathering, he nonetheless felt a deep, internal desire for such, feeling frustration at knowing that he could not now do so, but knowing that one day the road to such intercommunion would be officially (or these days, given what happens behind the barrier of officialdom, we might say "publicly") opened for Orthodox. He compared this feeling to our lives in Christ, about which he has written much of an inspiring nature, in which we are one with Christ but yet separated from Him. And drawing, again, on such feelings and the frustration attached to them, he went on, in his comments on this ecumenical gathering, to speak of the difficulty in expressing Orthodox opposition to the ordination of women or in expressing the notion that Orthodoxy alone contains and purveys to the Faithful that peculiar kind of Grace which accrues to the criterion of Truth and which thus renders the very heterodox sacraments that so lured this clergyman to communion with those from whom he is separated in conscience and Faith empty and void.

I was immediately struck, in reading the moving and heartfelt words of this clergyman, by the fact that he felt such intense frustration at being separated in an essential way from his heterodox cronies at this great ecumenical convocation in Spain, but had felt no need to express his embarrassment at seeing me, an Orthodox clergyman, standing in the congregation of his own Church (and being an intelligent and informed man, he is not among those New Calendarist polemicists who deny the validity of the Priesthood of us Greek Old Calendarists). He pined to commune with the heterodox, but felt in no way compelled to invite an Orthodox brother to stand in the Altar with him—a courtesy which we of course normally extend to New Calendarists. While communing with the heterodox would have violated an official policy of his Church and might have invited harsh punishment (though probably not), asking me to stand in the Altar of his Church would have earned him nothing but chastisement of a political kind. The cunning appeal of religious syncretism apparently distorts and transforms the natural sensitivities of Orthodox ecumenists, such that they feel a natural attraction to what is foreign but are almost passive to the ties that unite those of like Baptism, like mind, and like Faith. When this psychological disorder becomes critical, then we see the crushing spectacle of an Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, tearfully calling for joint prayer with the Papists at the same time that he not only refuses to talk to us Old Calendarists, but declares us to be both schismatics and heretics!

The effects of ecumenism on the psychology of its victims are also obvious in the subtle distortion that enters into their inner spiritual lives. They come to feel frustration at the unfulfilled Christian potential, looking at the disunity among Christian believers as though it belonged to the realm of the Church, which has never been divided. The disunity that we see among men belongs to the Providence of God. We can regret it and seek to correct it in principle and by the acquisition of personal virtues and love; but it is not primarily frustration at this ill that motivates a True Christian or that propels him in his search for virtue and love, as they are finally given by Grace. Rather, the True Christian is frustrated most deeply by the separation of man from God, the very cause of human division. Our solace in all of this is the Oneness of the Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, that strong wall upon which we can metaphysically lean when the imperfections of the world and our sinful perceptions of the universe overwhelm us and weigh down upon us.

Nor is the True Christian frustrated by the Divine potential that we partly realize here on earth and only fully know in the next life. There is a bridge between these two realms, human growth and death, which again rests within the Providence of God; it is our faith in Providence, in the sure nexus, beyond human effort and beyond time and  space, between the Divine potential of this life and the joyous fulfillment of Eternity that removes from us all frustration and impatience. What the ecumenist feels is that impatient frustration which befalls anyone who usurps the Providence of God, who anticipates that which is not yet his to have, and who fails to accept without passion that which he does not yet know. We humans have not divided the Church of God. It cannot be divided. We have divided one from another. And because we do not have the power to heal the wounds, divisions, and vicissitudes of history, we must virtuously accept what we cannot change and focus on that which we can change: ourselves. And therein lies the sound psychology of a True Christian, the psychology of a man who is a servant to the Truth, not that of a man who has attempted to enslave the Truth and recreate what is not his in his own image, seeking unity as he desires it and as he sees it, succumbing to frustration and impatience. Ecumenism is an insidious demon. Those whom it enslaves it makes it own, taking their minds and souls. Those whom it only afflicts, it makes spiritually mad, blackening their virtue, blinding even the brilliant, distorting perception, and creating, in the place of loving acceptance and fidelity to the Faith, a demanding sense of worldly immediacy.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XII, No. 1, pp. 67-72.