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Heretical Saints?

Excerpt from a Letter from Archbishop Chrysostomos

With regard to your questions about Peter the Iberian, who has apparently been a subject of debate on the EOCHR-List, this fifth-century heretic is not a saint in the Orthodox Church, but in the non-Chalcedonian Syrian, Coptic, and Armenian churches. As you point out, superficial scholars have associated St. Isaac the Syrian with Monophysites (or St. Constantine the Great with Arianism, for that matter), and so here a superficial view of this Georgian figure—whom the Georgian Church has tried to revive and whose Monophysitism it has played down—leads to his association with "Orthodox Saints." He is not recognized or commemorated by the Orthodox Church as a Saint.

More to the point, once we pass beyond the non-Orthodox, dated book by the eccentric British scholar D.M. Lang, who is quoted in the text that you sent me, as well as the mind-set of such Westernized theologians as Father John Meyendorff and Metropolitan John (Zizioulas), to the eminently Orthodox thought of Father Georges Florovsky (though Zizioulas was a student of Father Georges, his theological and philosophical thinking has deviated substantially from the Patristic principles set forth by his mentor), we see this matter in a clearer way. First, it is not sufficient to cite objections to the Tome of Pope Leo or a rejection of Chalcedon to convict one of Monophysitism. The Tome was accepted only after careful scrutiny and following initial objections to some of its expressions. And the Synod (Council) of Chalcedon was not immediately fully understood by all, as evidenced by the clarification of the Synod's decisions in a subsequent synod. So, while Peter the Iberian was certainly a heretic, initial opposition to Chalcedon does not necessarily signify heresy. (We see a similar situation in the Arian controversy, where some Fathers, influenced by Arianism, later came, after the declarations of the First Ecumenical Synod, to an wholly Orthodox understanding of the controversy.) The Synods were not convened to define the Faith, but to reveal the Church's common teaching (its consensus), through the action of the Holy Spirit, and thus to call those who had deviated from it back to the standard of Faith. One cannot speak of "Arian" Orthodox or "Non-Chalcedonian" Orthodox, but only of those who, errant in their Faith, eventually returned to the common body of belief. Those who resisted such a return, Peter the Iberian being a case in point, are heretics and always have been. They are not "heretic Saints," an oxymoron which betrays a poor understanding of the very notion of sanctity in the Orthodox Church, but heretics outside the consensus of Orthodoxy.

I should also add that the dogmas of Orthodoxy are not subject to mere intellectual evaluation (however unsophisticated or unlearned that evaluation). Consensus, by the same token, is not simply empirical or representative of some attitudinal "mean." When the Church excludes heretics from its consensus, it does so not only because of their wrong belief, but because that wrong belief simultaneously and inevitably estranges them from the common spiritual experience of Orthodoxy. An ignorant man can believe wrongly and come to correct his belief by submission to the Church (even, at times, without understanding the "intellectual" source of his wrong belief), a spiritual act which restores his mystical communion with the body of True Believers. A heretic, however, cannot enter into that communion, if he persists in wrong belief, not simply because his views are wrong, but because his defiance closes to him the spiritual path to communion with Orthodox believers. Even if he were to come to a correct confession intellectually, if this confession is not within the context of submission to the Church and a spiritual re-entry into Her consensual integrity, it does not necessarily restore him. The matter is not one of "right" or "wrong" or of personal opinion, but of genuine spiritual experience within the authentic body of Christ. Just as contemporary Orthodox "officialdom" (which hides a deep spiritual inferiority) destroys the spiritual foundation of the Church, so ecumenical thinking, which looks at right belief and heresy from the standpoint of mere belief and verbal confession (and thus as things that can be reconciled by dialogue and common formulations), leads us away from the fact that heretics are estranged from the Church. They exist outside that common arena in which we are transformed, united to God, and made saints.

A mere listing of Western and "Westernized" writers who express their various opinions about this-or-that theological matter is not sufficient, in Orthodoxy, to express the deeper, inner meaning of the things which we hold as Truth. Theology begins, as Father florovsky emphasizes, quoting a great Father of the Church, with "fact" (that is, "spiritual fact," an ontological phenomenon) and with experience, not theory and speculation. Dispute is solved not by reconciliation and dialogue, but by humility and submission. And the criteria by which Truth is established are not the domain of arrogant, puffed-up Christians who have created, in the name of Orthodoxy, a religion of their own, but of those who exist among the properly Baptized, who converse with God, heal the sick, raise the dead, and who converse with Angels, according to St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite. This alone should warn us against the kind of babble which "computer Orthodoxy" engenders, for all of its possible good points. It should warn us, too, about the ascendency of "unstudied" opinions about who is or is not genuinely Orthodox. Those who occupy themselves with this matter are usually the ones with the most to lose. We must simply state the spiritual facts and let God, not organizations and self-created church authorities, reveal the Truth."