Fr. Thomas Hopko on BEM

by Bishop [now Archbishop] Chrysostomos of Etna

In June of 1985 a number of Hierarchs and theologians from the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Churches gathered at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology/Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts, to discuss the controversial "Lima document," or the statement of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (BEM). Offering his comments and reactions was the Reverend Thomas Hopko, a professor [now Dean] at St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York and a member of the FOC of the WCC. [1]

As Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Myra, another participant in the Brookline conference, also remarked in his own response to Father Thomas' presentation, [2] I find myself "...in agreement, at least with regards to [his] general outline..." of the problematic areas posed by the Lima document; viz., baptism outside the Orthodox Church, non-Orthodox sacraments in general, the Church's eucharistic being, the ministry, and the nexus between belief and practice (action) in the contemporary Orthodox Church. These are important issues. The rather disjointed and immoderate matter in which Father Thomas treats of these matters, however, is another thing. While he often makes incisive and provocative statements, I cannot possibly find myself in agreement with his overstatement of many issues. His text calls for a response.

Father Thomas begins his presentation with comments on baptism, noting that some Orthodox, including many sectarians who call themselves Orthodox, reject the notion of sacraments outside the Orthodox Church, feel that there are no Christians outside Orthodoxy, and count the faith of non-Orthodox as void, "if not plainly demonic." And while he admits that many Fathers and Synods of the Church have declared non-Orthodox sacraments null and void, he suggests that these latter views apply especially to those schismatic and heretical communities whose leaders were once part of the Orthodox Church. In contrast to these rigid reactions, he proffers the "nuanced" and "discriminating" (better, "discretionary") views of other Synods and Fathers who recognized an ecclesial reality outside the Orthodox Church and thus "accepted" non-Orthodox "without baptizing (or 're-baptizing') them." He makes it clear that it is not "pastoral oikonomia" that we see in these latter instances, but spiritual discernment (again, the Patristic word is "discretion") and theological truth.

It seems to me that Father Thomas is a bit heavy-handed with his reference to those Orthodox who reject the validity of non-Orthodox sacraments in the context of sectarians who call themselves Orthodox and vehemently decry all non-Orthodox religious acts as valueless. The venom-dripping mouths of sectarians and fanatics are not the only ones to speak of the absence of Orthodox Mysteries among the non-Orthodox. There are those of us who, while we do not extend the pleroma of Grace present in the Orthodox Mysteries to cover the ritual acts and sacraments of the non-Orthodox, would nonetheless see in the latter what the late Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky called a "charismatic quality." If ancient Roman pagans, in satirizing Christian baptism in mocking dramatic presentations, found themselves converted to the Christian Faith, how can we reckon the pious acts of non-Orthodox meaningless? Rather, we distinguish between the salutary efficacy of Grace acting in the non-Orthodox extrinsically and externally and the vivifying, salvific force of Grace working internally and intrinsically in the Orthodox Mysteries. This distinction is as old as the New Testamental distinction between the Forerunner's baptism of repentance and baptism in Christ. Moreover, it is reflected in the mystical theology of the Church, St. Diadochus of Photiki making precisely this distinction between internal and external Grace (in baptized and unbaptized believers) in his texts on spiritual knowledge and discretion.

It is in his overall approach to matters from the extreme that Father Thomas finds his artificial distinction between those Fathers and Synods of the Church who consider the sacraments of the non-Orthodox null and void and those who "accept" them. He recognizes this artificiality himself and tries to reconcile the two views by contending that the former address themselves primarily to those who were formerly in the Church. In reply to this contention, we might first note that this applies to almost everyone in the early Church—who, indeed, was not formerly within the Church? Secondly, there is no actual reason to believe that the Fathers and Synods have more harshly viewed those who were once brothers than those whom they did not know, even though some modern instances of vulgarity between Orthodox brothers is justified by this post ipso facto creation of historical precedent. In truth, such a notion violates the syneidesis of the Church, ekklesiastike oikonomia, and the spirit of the parable of the Prodigal. And finally, the whole presumption ignores the intricate first canon of St. Basil, which speaks clearly of the Church's rigidity only in the face of an intransigent advocacy of error, to which declarations to the effect that certain mysteries are null and void obviously apply. As for the evidence in support of the acceptance of non-Orthodox sacraments by various Fathers and Synods (evidence gleaned from texts that have become almost hackneyed and which are subject not only to various interpretations, but which have appeared in the poorest possible English translation), there is no reason to believe that they are anything more than what the late Archimandrite Justin Popovich proposed*: cases of the very pastoral oikonomia which Father Thomas says does not apply, the Church creating Grace where there was before simple form—albeit, a pious and charismatically meaningful form, at times—, filling that which was empty of the pleroma of Grace with that very fullness. And if Father Thomas' "spiritual discernment" and "theological truth" have any place, it may be in the decision by which the Church decides to exercise economy and extend Herself beyond Herself.

Father Thomas' further problem with baptism, that of his difficulty in believing "that God would require the 're-baptism' of those whose intentions were pure, but whose faith and/or ritual forms were defective at the time of their original baptism," is a puzzling one. Is it not precisely because we Orthodox recognize the charismatic Grace of God in all Christian religious acts that we extend the Church's wing to cover the non-Orthodox by economy? When we do indeed receive converts by baptism, is this to say that we receive them as formerly evil and heathen by virtue of their non-Orthodox baptisms? Of course not. We introduce them into the fullness of the Orthodox Faith, baptizing them into the pleroma of Grace, and making internal that which might have been so beautifully and sincerely external—even impinging on the internal—yet never having had internal efficacy in the fullest way. The Church comes to fulfill, not deny, the faith of those believers who are not yet within Her boundaries. Were it not so, then why have a Church? Why believe that any boundaries at all have been set? Why believe that the Orthodox Church has mystical dimensions and that She is grounded in truth itself? Why believe that, in constituting the criterion of truth, the Church is the source and fulfillment of all those relative Christian truths derived from Her? With all due respect, Father Thomas' question addresses itself away from sober theologizing, not towards it.

Finally, the "nuanced" and discretionary aspects of an Orthodox confrontation with the non-Orthodox sacramental world is exactly what it is that Father Thomas sacrifices in his discussion of the Orthodox view. The very Reformation-Counter Reformation response set which he rightly sees as inadequate in encompassing Orthodox theological views has captured his discussion of the sacraments. His view of the sacraments in general, while it does—as we shall subsequently see—touch on the eucharist, focuses wholly on baptism, failing to touch on that unity in the Mysteries which is so unique to the Orthodox experience (that unity which challenges the "Seven Sacrament" response of the Orthodox to the theological world of the Roman Catholic and Reformation West in the sixteenth century). He fails to present the subtle aspects of Orthodox mystical (sacramental) thought. It is almost as though he is so busy throwing rocks at the Orthodox abuses of the Mysteries (such as baptisms that become social events—his preference for baptismal liturgies reflected in the standard practice of us Orthodox traditionalists), that he fails to lay before us the beauty of those Mysteries in their ideal form, just as he finds disagreement in the Fathers only because he fails to touch on good Patristic syntheses.

At this juncture, before passing on to some of Father's shockingly extreme statements about the lex orandi of the Orthodox Church (comments that again apply more to abuse and untraditional practice than to the Orthodox ideal), I must make some parenthetical remarks. Father Thomas approaches the sacramental life of the Church, at least with regard to baptism, with such a barrage of unconnected questions (the question of his own baptism, which did not conform to traditional Orthodox practice, being one of them), that one is hard-pressed to respond to his search for uniformity in Orthodox thought. By rejecting pastoral oikonomia at the outset, he rules out one of the very unifying concepts in the Orthodox understanding of baptism outside the Orthodox Church, of baptism in novel form, and of baptism as it is understood by those with spiritual discretion. One wonders about the extent of his reading of the materials which he cites and the bulk of the Orthodox material relating to the complex subjects of sacramental theology and life, oikonomia, and the Church as the pan-mysterion. Father cries out for a systematic theological response to these problems of a kind which the West, too, so desperately desires when it confronts the fluid and expansive theology of the Christian East. In this cry, we see that Father Thomas is rather more captured by the West than his reaction to the Reformation-Counter Reformation response set suggests.

Father Thomas also notes in his comments that there are those who might consider his questions un-orthodox and formed by his association with heterodox ecumenists. He resents this. He does so too hastily. I am afraid that, while his questions are often valid, his constant attacks against his own Church smack of the same bigotry found in the observers whom he quotes (as we will see below) in their characterization of the fossilized, retarded communities of warring ethnics who constitute Orthodoxy. It appears that Father Thomas is so concerned about proving to his ecumenical colleagues that his Orthodox brothers are wrong in their claims to ecclesiastical primacy (the actual root of our understanding of the Orthodox Mysteries), that he falls to the contradiction that we traditionalists so often see in extreme ecumenism. Thus we find an Orthodox Priest apparently calling certain traditionalist Orthodox "sectarians," [3] while insisting that the presence of Grace is assured to all of those "whose intentions [are] pure." While I may be as vehement as Father Thomas in opposing traditionalist extremists, I would never call them "sectarians" or impugn their pure intentions, especially in the context of finding Grace among non-Orthodox.

Let me expand on this contradictory element in extreme ecumenism. Though I recognize the Orthodoxy of New Calendarists, it is no secret that I am an Old Calendar zealot. My various writings, appearing both here and in Greece, emphasize that I believe the Orthodox Church to be the standard of truth and that the relative truths of all Christian denominations derive from Her historically and theologically. I obviously speak English. I write. I can read. I am reasonably intelligent. I was educated in institutions considered adequately prestigious. Moreover, I can demonstrate that the Synod of Bishops to which I belong, while separated from the Mother Church of Greece (to use the distinction employed by Archbishop Methodios of Thyateira), stands in Apostolic Succession. Is it not curious, then, that our jurisdiction has been singled out by the Vatican as the bane of its ecumenical efforts—as the "chief impediment" to union because of its anti-papal stance? The vehemence of the Vatican's attacks is astonishing, as witnessed by recent slaps against our Synod's representatives in Italy (two converts from Roman Catholicism). These two clerics were disavowed by the Moscow Patriarchate (whom they formerly served), following successful missionary efforts in Italy. I might add that Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom), who ordained one of them, refused to disavow them for violating the concordat between Rome and Moscow, the terms of which forbid proselytism among each other's faithful. Rome simply went above the Metropolitan's head—and this at a time when Uniate missions in the Levant are wreaking havoc among the Orthodox.

In this exchange with the Vatican, two ecumenist Orthodox Prelates in Europe (whom we shall not, out of propriety, name here) supplied the Vatican press with accusations that the Greek Old Calendarists are outside the Orthodox Church and that their Mysteries are invalid and meaningless. Does this not astonish Father Thomas? While he fights for the recognition of Grace in the sacraments of the non-Orthodox, he does so (in the case of the sources of these accusations to the Vatican) in the company of ecumenists who would discredit traditionalist Orthodox—and this despite the fact that State Church theological panels in Greece have acknowledged the validity of the Old Calendarists' Mysteries! My caution about ecumenism does not make me a schismatic or heretic. Nor have I been approached by any Orthodox who can show me that there is no traditional or Patristic basis for my ecclesiological position and that of my jurisdiction. And if there is any reason to doubt the sincerity of much of this ecumenism, while the aforementioned Prelates were supplying the Vatican press with accusations and letters against our Synod, I was sitting in Oxford with Bishop Kallistos (Ware), during my stay there this past autumn as a visiting scholar under the sponsorship of the Marsden Foundation, listening to His Grace assure me that we Old and New Calendarists must enter into dialogue, his own Patriarchate of Constantinople bringing to such dialogue the understanding that there are, of course, "no questions whatsoever about the validity of ... [the Old Calendarists'] ... ordinations." If I am to believe that ecumenism is benign, that it does not affect the Orthodox who embrace it, and that its contradictions have no significance, Father Thomas must go some distance in convincing me of such. This must begin, naturally, by acknowledging that, in the history of ecumenism in North America, no moderate Old Calendarist, myself included, has ever been invited to attend a theological conference and that, indeed, the Vatican has not only refused to permit our presence in ecumenical meetings, but will not even print our responses to the attacks against us in its official publications.

Father Thomas generally supports the BEM statement on the eucharist, remarking that it is a "a sound and remarkably adequate" document, and finds the BEM statement on the ministry generally "unacceptable to the Orthodox." Yet he finds no soundness and adequacy in the Orthodox Church's actualization of the sacraments in its spiritual life. Nor does the unacceptability of the BEM statement on the ministry mean for him that the Orthodox ministerial witness offers any significant challenge to the WCC document. With the exception of the last section of his comments, which is addressed to belief and practice, Father Thomas' presentation, in some difficult transitions, consists of a fairly constant expression of disdain for the lex orandi of the Church, touching on the lack of Christian charity among the believers, the monotony and irrelevance of Orthodox services, and the unresponsive nature of the ministerial hierarchy.

Let us first make some comments about Father Thomas' characterization of Orthodox communities as seen by non-Orthodox observers: "a fossilized remnant of times long gone"; "a museum piece of long-dead dogmas and rituals"; "a cluster of retarded and isolated and self-interested ghettoes"; "ethnics" who "can hardly relate to each other in a peaceful and civilized manner." One is simply astounded by the impetuosity of these comments, but even more astonished that Father Thomas finds that they do, indeed, reflect the fact that our "ecclesiastical organization and activity is [sic] not formed by the eucharistic Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, but rather by the 'flesh and blood' of the fallen world which ...'cannot inherit the kingdom.'" And to our amazement we can add absolute incredulity at Father's repetition of the comments of a convert to Orthodoxy from Anglicanism, who writes that Orthodox are commonly misperceived by the heterodox as "unredeemably ethnic, nationalistic, sclerotic, rigid, unmoving.... [and] utterly lacking in life or dynamism and in a state of irreversible rigor mortis... ." [4] Why the astonishment and incredulity? Quite simply because we Orthodox might direct these kinds of statements back to the non-Orthodox who make them, asking for their credentials as charitable Christians.

The Orthodox communities in this country, at the very oldest—despite fanciful notions about the Russian mission in Alaska, which was moribund within four decades of its foundation—, date to the end of the last century. A great many of today's Orthodox are only second-generation Americans. Our "ethnics" came here after the frightful political upheavals that placed Eastern Europe under communist bondage. They came here from Greece and the Levant, where the tyranny of Turkish rule had left them poor and often downtrodden. They came here from Western Europe, where they had lived in refugee compounds and in concentration camps. In their ghettos (or "survival communities," as many social observers have called them), they forged out lives from nothing. And if our Orthodox jurisdictions are not yet united and still reflect the nationalistic rivalries that were natural in Europe, who can go into any city in America and not marvel at the beautiful structures which we have built—in our poverty and in our disunity? Among these retarded "ethnics," Father Thomas would do well to remember, were our pious grandparents, who found nothing inadequate about their ethnic Orthodoxy, but who survived, within the bosom of the Church, fed by the Body and Blood of Christ, providing us with that which some of us can now so blandly attack.

As for faith that exists among fallen people, it is Christ, not social cohesion, which gives it form and which saves it from passing away. We Orthodox survive as a fossil of the past simply because we are dead bones that have been given the life of Christianity. Our dead rituals have kept us alive against all odds, without the power of the Papacy, the social regard wrought by the fruits of the Protestant ethic, and the starched collars and woolen couture of the comfortable pew. If we are given to gossip and village politics (and, unfortunately, we often are), we would remember that the Vatican remains a political force—the same force which supported the burning of wrong believers in the Inquisition and which, despite modern niceties that would have us re-write history, converted many of Father Thomas' own forefathers at the end of a sword. Our upright Protestant brothers, not many decades ago, would not allow Blacks (and sometimes Greeks and Slavs!) into their Churches, and this not from the ethnic insularity of our people, but because official doctrines supported the subjugation of these "soulless" people. If Rome and errant Protestants can be forgiven their past, we Orthodox certainly should be praised for our present and future witness. Like the Byzantines, whom the West holds in disdain, we modern Orthodox are condemned for human failings that pale before those of the Western empires. No, we do indeed have no apologies to make. We can change ourselves; but we should not do so without acknowledging the good that exists among our faults. We need not acknowledge those who call us dead, unproductive, and fossilized. Such is sheer bigotry. It also leads us, as we can see in Father Thomas' sympathetic response to it, away from the fact that we are not fossilized, but, ancient. Our rituals are not antiquated, but misunderstood. Our failures are not deadly, but natural. And our contributions to American society are not small, but great. We are as much the victims of the jealousy of others, then, as we are tainted by our own human faults—the human faults which do not impede or tarnish the Church entrusted to us by Christ, that criterion and standard of Christianity, Orthodoxy.

With regard to ministry, Father Thomas finds that "our contemporary approach to the issues at hand are [sic] still almost exclusively determined by conditions of by-gone imperial and Turkocratic times." He complains, with some justification, that we condemn papism and Protestant ecclesiology while at the same time elements of both are present in much of the structure of today's Church. These are valid points only to an extent. They must be put in perspective. In fact, Father Thomas' history is wanting. The ecclesial structure of the Church of Greece alone is terribly complex, having gone through tremendous changes after the end of Ottoman rule, and then along definitely un-Orthodox lines. For a good part of the nineteenth century, Greece was ruled by forces hostile to her nationhood, culture, and religion. Russia was going through a great upheaval in Church life even before the Revolution of 1918. And the situation in the Levant, thanks to the machinations of Rome, has been chaotic for centuries. The past alone explains many of the problems in Church administration today. We must be given a chance to deal with that past. With the vast majority of the Orthodox Church under communist rule, moreover, it is a rather vacuous accusation to say that we Orthodox are lax in treating of matters like this. Furthermore, Father Thomas speaks throughout his paper with a certain eye toward Orthodoxy in America. This is quite wrong, since we are a small minority of the Orthodox world. What we know of world Orthodoxy here is absolutely pitiful. We should not use a minority experience and a lack of knowledge of the broader historical picture to make generalizations about what a largely captive Church is doing to respond to its administrative ills. This is not the time.

Father Thomas characterizes the corporate worship of the Orthodox Church by citing the words of a lay believer in upstate New York who participated in a colloquium designed to measure Orthodox lay response to the BEM document. This woman complains that Orthodox services are long, uninspiring, conducted in a foreign tongue that even the ethnics cannot understand, or conducted in English in an off-handed manner that gives them no substance. People stand or sit passively, separated from the Priest by a screen of Icons, and are discouraged from receiving Holy Communion, except during Lent, when the atmosphere is penitential and lacking in joy. Fasting is a prerequisite for this infrequent communion, and women, during their female cycles, are discouraged from communing, attending Church, and kissing the Icons or Cross. Father Thomas rightfully calls this picture a "sorrowful" one. But it is not so much sorrowful because it reflects the poverty of Orthodox worship, but because it betrays such a total lack of understanding of what that worship is. If the challenge which the BEM offers us results in this kind of response, then the BEM document is not the issue. The issue is that of teaching our people the rudiments of their Faith and bringing them back to an understanding of how that Faith beautifully and joyfully expresses itself in worship.

It is true that even ethnics cannot understand the exalted language of the services. I would argue that this should also be the case with English—poetic, beautiful, inspiring language, instead of the ugly translations which we see so often today. We might complain that the Scripture is difficult to understand, ostensibly contradictory, and vague. Christ spoke in parables that demand thought and reflection. When we do so complain, the answer is obvious: lift the mind up to the majesty of Scripture. Study, learn, and teach. No less does this apply to the Divine Liturgy. Its language and content are directed to spiritual faculties—to noetic faculties, if you will—that rise above the human intellect. A fool endowed with spiritual wisdom can understand the mystical elements of the Liturgy. A genius without spiritual discernment becomes a fool when he attempts to grasp the mere "words" of the Liturgy as spiritually deep. Like the words of Scripture, which by themselves are dead, the words of the Liturgy have meaning only in spirit. One cannot sit back and complain that he cannot understand things. He must study. In the same way that the heterodox study Greek and Hebrew to grasp the meaning of the Biblical texts that, ironically enough, they often characterize as the simple writings of fisherman, so we Orthodox must study our Services, whether in another language (which is not a bad pursuit for civilized people) or in English. When we find the exclamations to the silent prayers of the Priest meaningless, as the aforementioned believer also notes (and I find it difficult to believe that a term like "meaningless" applies to an exclamation in praise of the Holy Trinity, as almost all of those in question are), and feel cut off from the Priest, perhaps we should understand that there is a true Priesthood in the Orthodox Church. We do not ordain the members of the Priesthood as mere functionaries, but we endow them, as I remember from my catechism, with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. If they are separated from us, they take on this role with the permission of the people, taking the prayers of the Royal Priesthood to that Divinity from which we are separated and to which we seek union. If we resent the separation of the people from the Priesthood, then we have no concept of what that separation means, what the Priesthood is, or what the divine economy has ordained in the Christian ministry.

St. Paul suggests that we prepare ourselves for communion with fasting. The Church Fathers prescribe this. This is meant, not to separate us from the Body and Blood of Christ, but to call us to the higher life that Holy Communion is. Doing away with choirs, chanters, fasting, and the like will not make the Church any more relevant to us. It will reduce it. Communion taken without preparation will not enliven us, but in many ways harm us. The fault lies not in the Church, but in our unwilling intransigence to lift up our lives to what it is the Church offers us in Her Services. And if they become meaningless when truncated and taken out of context—another accusation of our disgruntled believer—, then perhaps we traditionalists are not wrong in asking that an Orthodox ethos be preserved in the totality of Church tradition. Moreover, we should not throw away Lent because it calls us to guilt and to repentance. This is what Christianity should do. And it offers us Christ's Body and Blood not within this guilt and repentance, but as a Divine Medicine for our sins, washing away guilt and making repentance joy. Lent itself, as Father Alexander Schmemann wrote in an excellent book on the subject some years ago, is not a path to despair, but a path of effort leading us to the joy of Pascha. We stand through the long Services of the Church, not to suffer, but to quiet our minds and receive that quiet peace that lies beyond worship as most of us wrongly understand it. The fault lies not in the worship of the Church, but in our own shallowness.

As for women approaching the Holy Communion in a pure state, this too is not a denigration. Women are not dirty and evil. To enrich their purity, to emphasize the new Eve symbolized in the Theotokos, women, like men, transcend their fallen natures. They rise above the fallen by preparing it and by subjecting it to the Holy at the most opportune time. And in general, we do not go to shows, dance, drink, and sing, not because we wish to be miserable, but because spiritual values rise above these things and call us to something greater. As a monastic, I do not avoid these things because they are intrinsically evil (and they are not), but because they have lost meaning for me. A woman, then (or a man, or a couple), approaches Holy Communion in the purest possible state, not because a state in which the sexual nature of man is pronounced is evil, but because spiritual communion belongs to a realm above such—above that which will pass away. There is nothing wrong, meaningless, or denigrating about such things. It is our misunderstanding that makes something of them which they are not.

I must say, too, that many of these reactions fall flat on us traditionalists. Fasting, cleansing ourselves for communion, turning away from our physical functions—for many of us these are practices which elevate our daily lives and infuse them with the reality of God. We see behind the altar the majesty of God. The chanters offer up for us a beautiful litany of prayer in which we participate with our spiritual voices. We see the "wall" of Icons, not as a barrier, but as windows into the spiritual world. We greet Lent with anticipation and joy. And when we enter the Church for long services, we do so with great expectation, knowing that as we quiet our worldly minds and senses, the peaceful, deep, transforming Grace of God will enter into our hearts. The Church services are not obligations, but privileges. So beautiful is this world to us that we fall in reverence to the ground in our Churches. We dress and prepare ourselves to encounter this beauty as though we were going to a great banquet. And in this traditional love we find an Orthodoxy which many modern Orthodox are apparently missing—perhaps because, many of them being converts from Greek Catholicism, they have not fully understood the depth of the Orthodox experience. But the fault here lies in us, not in the Church's worship.

To the extent that we fail to understand that the Church's Services are divine and that they represent a touch-point between the temporal and the eternal, the human and the Divine, we "humanize" what is not human and attribute our own weaknesses to that which is above those weaknesses. The Services of the Orthodox Church reach into antiquity and Her ritual is both a language above languages and a spiritual formula which invites, evokes, and actualizes the dimensions of another reality. If we see such things as human, we are no more than the Jews of Christ's time, who are chastised for asking from Him what they would not receive from the Prophets and from God's Old Testamental covenant. If we find no meaning in our Services, to what avail almost two thousand years of development and preservation? The Roman Catholic Bishops, meeting recently to evaluate the post-Vatican II era, expressed their belief that the reforms of the Second Vatican Councils had imposed on their Church a view that was far too human. Orthodox must never, in the name of resenting their own ignorance about their Faith, find themselves in such a position. They must never overlook the divinity of the Church in the name of their own failings and thus lose what it is that the Church offers. In the end they will be outside the Body of Christ and captives of a man-made church, not members of that Church which, despite the weaknesses of the humans who inhabit it, will prevail even against the Gates of Hell.

At the end of his comments on the BEM document, Father Thomas calls for a unity between right belief and right practice—a call so Orthodox that he seems almost to forget the implications of what he writes. It is, indeed, in the correct understanding of the Tradition which has been passed down to us, in its correct reception and practice, that correct belief becomes clear. Not human sexuality, as Father Thomas mistakenly thinks, but the ancient heresies are what concern us today. In correctly understanding Christ, His Church, and the spiritual witness of Orthodoxy, we correctly understand ourselves and the world around us. By restoring the very "Mind of the Fathers" to which he once appeals, we find that unity in thought that restores our unity of practice, which unity in practice reflects our unity in thought, this great cycle revealing to us Orthodox what it is that is always present to us. Our witness in the WCC is not one of discovering together with others the lost unity of thought and practice in Christianity, but of restoring that nexus between Orthodox thought and Orthodox life which is the true core of the Orthodox witness. In so discovering this inner spiritual core of Orthodoxy, we will witness more loudly to our faltering brothers than we might in any other pursuit. In Tradition in the unity of what we believe and how we should act, we will discover the missing elements in our modern Orthodoxy. We must regain and restore, not denigrate and reform.

I must, at the conclusion of these comments, make it clear that I am not attacking the integrity or sincerity of Father Thomas' views. He has made many fine contributions to Orthodox thought. He is a respected and thoughtful figure in the Orthodox world. I am simply attempting to tell him that many of us traditionalists, rather than scream and proclaim him un-Orthodox because of the unusual form of his baptism (an outrageous and stupid accusation, to be sure), feel the same need for a deep, serious Orthodoxy that he does. We find our answers, however, within our traditionalism. He must acknowledge this and think about our views—all of which certainly may not be true—before he castigates Orthodoxy for what it seems to lack in its confrontation with the problems that beset other Churches. We do have answers; we do have a unity of thought and action; we do have a universal witness. If it seems that we do not, it is because we are passing through a period of confusion and mediocrity and of uncharitable slaps against one another within the Church. If we rise above these things and speak with one another, we have much to learn from one another within Orthodoxy and not as much to apologize for to the non-Orthodox as a first glance might lead one to believe. Let us face these questions which Father Thomas has raised in a spirit of Orthodox unity and reconciliation. All of us can do nothing but grow from it. It is here that true ecumenism must begin: at home. BEM can speak to those outside Orthodoxy. Within Orthodoxy we must speak with one another, before responding to others.


* In a scholarly work published after this article was written, this proposition was proven. See Fr. George Metallinos' I Confess One Baptism.

1. The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, XXX (2), 1985, 235-247.

2. Ibid., p. 249.

3. It is, of course, difficult and unwise to say that Father Thomas has in mind any particular Orthodox body by the words, "many sectarians who call themselves Orthodox." Despite the fact that clergy directly ordained in the Old Calendar Greek movement were once under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevich), we have even heard of clergy in the OCA (which has its source in the old "Metropolia") refer to Greek Old Calendarists as sectarians. And despite the fact that, before the Cleveland Sobor, the old "Metropolia" and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia were largely one body, we see some rather distasteful attacks between the OCA and the ROCA to this day, the OCA itself not being innocent of less-than-edifying characterizations of this other body. In the face of this, one cannot make quick conclusions with regard to Father Thomas' reference. We can only hope that the allusion was a lapse in objectivity. If such is not the case, it seems appropriate to cite, here, the words of a contemporary Greek theologian, A.D. Delembases, who has made a rather apropos observation about Orthodox who condemn as uncanonical those with whom they do not maintain communion. Such an ecclesiological position was harshly condemned by the Fathers of the Seventh Œcumenical Synod and is a view subsequently held by sectarians themselves. Indeed, if there are any who should avoid the immoderation of dismissing other Orthodox as "sectarians," it is those who, like Father Thomas and myself, resist fanatics who, in the name of "tradition," have decided, without synodal decrees or official Church pronouncements of a general kind, that certain factions in the Church are without Grace. If this resistance is to be meaningful and true, it must extend to considerations of the more conservative, or traditionalist, Orthodox by the modernist believers.

4. The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, op. cit., p. 241.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. III, No. 2, pp. 63-75.