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Orthodoxy and Fundamentalism

The Fundamentalism of the Orthodox Ecumenists

by Archimandrite Cyprian Agiokyprianites

A. Fundamentalism

Recently, much has been written about the menace of religious fundamentalism and its various concomitant expressions (ideological, political, nationalistic, etc.); we thus think it an opportune time briefly to refer to its essential characteristics.

"Fundamentalism" is rendered in Greek as "foundationalism" (fundamentum= themelion [ or "foundation"—Tr. ]); we can simultaneously mean, by fundamentalism, a simple adherence to the "foundations" of faith, or of an ideology, etc., deliberated by the standard of genuineness and authenticity; or, again, witless conservatism and unhealthy zeal; or, more specifically, an aggressive and dangerous, if not at times unchecked, expression of conservatism or zeal in the form of extreme fanaticism and a relentless hatred for those of different belief. Fundamentalists feel that their identity (religious, ethnic, political, ideological, etc.) is endangered and that their authenticity is threatened by the corrosive accretions of the innovation, secularism, and modernism which rapid social development entails. This initially salubrious sense of danger leads fundamentalists to retreat into a reactionary defense of their "traditions," of their "fundamentals."

This reactionary opposition, however, when it moves beyond a healthy understanding of Tradition, can, for the following reasons, take on a wholly negative character:

  • since it embraces a clearly static notion of history and the world;
  • equates (the constancy of) essence and truth with its own (fleeting) impressions and historical conveyances;
  • absolutizes custom and form;
  • is fixated on the local at the cost of the universal;
  • refuses productive, brotherly dialogue and haughtily rejects those of a different "mind set";
  • disdains the richness of any diversity in views and fanatically and tenaciously adheres to its unchanging and monolithic grasp of things;
  • does not grasp or desire to grasp the unity of diversity or the diversity of unity.

In short, then, the reactionism of the fundamentalist constitutes a fear of the forces of progress and renewal and, hence, a struggle, with fruitless tenacity and in egocentric insolation, for the maintenance of fundamentals, or foundational things (as if foundations were established for the sake of foundations!), while the collapsing structure awaits renewal and completion.

Fundamentalism, as a strong return to "classical perfection" and as a pugnacious adherence to traditional "fundamentals," is, of course, an ancient phenomenon; but the origin of its revival in contemporary form—and especially in the realm of Christianity—is to be found in the environs of American and Northern and Western European Protestantism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (the World Association of Christian Fundamentalists was established in the United States in 1911).

The Protestants, having rejected living Tradition, estranged ecclesiologically, and ignorant of the divinizing Mysteries and the position of asceticism and Hesychasm in the Church, bequeathed their peculiar identity to so-called Christian fundamentalism (based on seven principal theses or precepts—"fundamentals"—and centered on deontology and ethics, an extremist eschatology, a preoccupation with the Antichrist, and apocalypticism); which subsequently evolved into more of a social movement, its ultimate expression determined by specific circumstance.

B. Orthodoxy and Fundamentalism

It is obvious—from within the confines of true ecclesiastical life and experience, at any rate—that in fundamentalism we have before us that fearful and extremely dangerous phenomenon of spiritual life which our Orthodox Tradition has from the onset confronted in the form of "delusion" and "zeal not according to knowledge," and which has assuredly always been an existing danger, on a personal level, and one that also naturally has social ramifications.

Our fidelity to fundamental things and our reference to Holy Tradition, as they are found within the charismatic perspective of the Orthodox Faith, involve neither fundamentalism, a fruitless domination by tradition, an insalubrious appeal to the past, nor a legalistic mentality.

The Hesychastic and Eucharistic character of our Orthodox Faith holds forth dynamically in the ever-present "now," the eschatological future ("parousa eschatologia"), and our personal communion with the God-Man ("the Alpha and Omega," "the Beginning and the End") transforms us by Grace into that which is uncreated, enrolls us in the "Communion of the Saints" (Communio Sanctorum), and bestows upon us the Grace to transcend the idolism of every created thing and the limiting boundaries imposed on us by the past, present, and future.

The charismatic life in Christ of the church community of the past is lived dynamically through the Holy Spirit in the present day, with the Divine Eucharist at its center, and marches on into the future towards its fulfillment and perfection in the life of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason, True Orthodoxy never approaches, or prattles about, the false dilemmas between conservatism and liberalism, isolationism and internationalism, or provincialism and cosmopolitanism, since it, as the unending manifestation of the "New Creation," is ceaselessly "new," "renewed," and "modern."

C. Fundamentalism and Ecumenism

Orthodox ecumenists have always appeared to be flatly opposed to the dangers of fundamentalism, if only because ecumenism wishes to hold forth as "open," international, turned outward, and receptive to everyone and to everything.

Indeed, the late Patriarch Parthenios of Alexandria (†1996), a veteran ecumenist, boldly proclaimed: "We cannot stop the dialogues. In my opinion we have no right to cease. We must continue. Many times I say—and I do not know if it is a sin—that I am ready for dialogue even with Satan.  We must not stop our exchanges...."

Despite this, recently a (resurgent) fundamentalistic ecumenism, or the fundamentalism of Orthodox ecumenists, has made itself manifest in the most violent of forms, directed against the anti-ecumenical Orthodox who follow the traditional (Patristic) Church Calendar. The fundamentalistic representatives of the Œcumenical Patriarchate in Geneva have "lashed out" at us resisters to the heresy of ecumenism with the most "fraternal" of characterizations:

  • The anti-ecumenical struggle has become "the daily bread by which the Old Calendarist leaders and their henchmen nourish themselves"!
  • The supporters of "the so-called ‘Patristic’ Julian Calendar" have undertaken an "anti-ecumenical campaign" for the purpose of "expanding their flock"!
  • "These various Orthodox cliques" and "peasant ecclesiastical figures" confront "the ecumenical movement with pusillanimity and maliciousness."
  • "These illicit assemblies, which lay claim to a monopoly over Orthodoxy and preach warfare against the ‘panheresy of ecumenism’ to just about any followers they can hunt down."

The relationship between ecumenism and fundamentalism is clearly indicated by these representative citations (as well as many others of similar relevance). 

The pathology of the fundamentalistic syndrome among Orthodox ecumenists can be easily described and catalogued:

  • The ecumenists feel threatened, because by means of True Orthodox anti-ecumenism their self-assurance is shaken and threatened, in that they have ignored and defied the People of God.
  • The ecumenists are uneasy, since their "eschatological," messianic vision of the re-establishment of a "Single Christendom" is being thwarted.
  • The ecumenists are recoiling, pleading their "fundamentals" as the criteria of genuineness and authenticity (1920 Encyclical of the Œcumenical Patriarchate et al.).
  • The ecumenists zealously hearken to the "fundamentals" of their ecumenical "model," claiming a monopoly on the genuine and authentic expression of Orthodoxy, without permitting dissent.
  • The ecumenists have fallen to fanaticism, resorting to extreme and aggressive means of opposition.
  • The ecumenists sponsor numberless dialogues with the whole spectrum of non-Orthodox and non-Christians, yet refuse polite and brotherly dialogue with those Orthodox opposed to ecumenism.
  • The ecumenists fanatically retreat into the "authenticity" of their leaders (literally forming a "party") and allow no challenge whatever to, or diminution of, this authenticity by those of a different "mind-set."
  • The ecumenists deny the synodal nature of the Church as a charismatic reality, as an experience of Christ proper to the entire ecclesiastical body, and have for decades bureaucratically laid the ground, with an academic "coldness"—from within their ecumenical oligarchy—, for a supposed Holy and Great Synod, in order to impose on the People of God that which they have rejected and cast out: the "dialogues," the "ecumenical movement," and the "World Council of Churches" and its ecclesiological deviancy.
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Ecumenism and Fundamentalism...!

Heretofore, most have thought their symptomologies incompatible....

But now we have seen where these two "extremes" meet....

"Inclusive" ecumenism, in the guise of an international ecclesiology, having lost sight of the "boundaries" of the Church, is conjoining, ironically, with the "introversion" of fundamentalism, usurping its militant conservatism, aggressive fanaticism, and zealous hatred of those of different belief.

Fr. Cyprian is the Secretary of the Holy Synod of the True (Old Calendar) Orthodox Church. of Greece Translated by Archbishop Chrysostomos from the Greek collection, Contributions to Anti-Ecumenical Theology (Athens: Holy Synod in Resistance, 1997), Series B(2), pp. 89-95.