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A Reply to Fr. John Morris

Concerning His Review of My Book, The Non-Orthodox

by Patrick Barnes

A review, by Father John Morris, of my book, The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church (Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 1999), appeared in Volume 21, Number 3 of Again, a periodical published by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. This piece invites a few comments.

When a reviewer addresses the issue or matter at hand, and not merely the person who puts it forth, he engages in good scholarship. By this criterion, Father John's critique of my book is left wanting of good scholarship. Reading his review, one would likely get the impression that my book is based almost entirely upon the work of what he rather insultingly and ill-advisedly calls a small band of contemporary "traditionalists," self-proclaimed "experts" whom he characterizes as outside the boundaries of Orthodoxy as he conceives it and scholarship as he defines it. In so doing, he simply ignores or fails to mention (let alone address) my numerous citations from the Holy Fathers and Œcumenical Synods, all of which amply support my thesis.

The most obvious and serious deficiency in Father John's criticism of my book, therefore, lies in his penchant for ad hominem arguments and his dismissal of any source that does not originate in what he considers "mainstream" Orthodoxy. He writes, in this vein, that "[Mr. Barnes] has simply repackaged the arguments of a loud, but really rather small, group of self-proclaimed experts on Orthodoxy, whose ideas are really at variance with those of the vast majority of reputable Orthodox theologians and bishops." In his opening remarks, he sounds this same trumpet: "[Mr. Barnes has] limited his research to a very small group whose ideas are far outside the mainstream of Orthodox theology." And in closing his critique, he beats this dead horse one final time: "[This book] is an alarming manifestation of the growth of extremism among those calling themselves Orthodox. One would do better to study the works of credible Orthodox theologians...." The man protests a bit much, I must say, about how authentic and official his opinions are and how inauthentic and unofficial the opinions of those with whom he disagrees are.

All of these rather sophomoric observations by the reviewer beg one question: By what authority does one measure the reputability or qualifications of any given writer, and especially in the Church? It is this very question that I treat extensively in Appendix I of my book. My observations, in this section, about Professor John Erickson's mindset can be equally applied to Father John. In fact, I have argued that we have in contemporary Orthodoxy, not a clash between self-made "experts" and what Father John calls "reputable thinkers" (a crude distinction), but between what I have characterized as a clash of two mindsets: ecumenism-influenced subjectivism and fidelity to the Patristic consensus. There is no need to repeat my arguments in this respect.

I suspect that Father John gave my book a merely cursory glance, rather than a careful reading, when he remarks: "...[H]e never cites the two most important official responses of the Church to the Protestant Reformation: the correspondence between Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople and the Lutheran theologians between 1576 and 1581; and the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem of 1672." In fact, on pp. 35-36, I write:

Unfortunately, classical Protestantism is cut from the same cloth as Papism, while at the same time it is often much further from Orthodox Christianity than is Roman Catholicism. We cite again Father Michaels useful summary:

In the l6th Century, despite the Turkish yoke, Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople rejected the Lutheran overtures in his Three Answers on the ground of heresy while the Council of Constantinople (1638) repudiated the Calvinist heresies; the Council of Jassy (1642) with Peter Moghila denounced all Western innovations and the Council of Jerusalem (1672) under the famous Patriarch Dositheus published its 18 decrees together with the pronouncements of the Patriarch, Confessio Dosithei, forming thereby the shield of truth which opposed the spirit of the ancient Church to the heresies of both the Latins and the Protestants (See I Mesolora, Symbol of the Eastern Orthodox Church (vol. IV), Athens, 1904). Of course, the heresy of the Papists and Protestants is a clear affirmation of the Orthodox Church as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as declared the Council of Constantinople (1672), the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs (1848), the Council of Constantinople (1872), the Patriarchal Encyclical of 1895, the Holy Russian Synod of 1904, and the memorable words of [the] Patriarch of Constantinople, Joachim II, Our desire is that all heretics shall come to the bosom of the Orthodox Church of Christ which alone is able to give them salvation ... (in Chrestos Androutsos, The Basis for Union ... Constantinople, 1905, p. 36).

I am, indeed, left wondering whether Father John has thoroughly read the very texts he falsely accuses me of failing to mention in my book. For example, the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) is scathing in its evaluation of Calvinist Protestants, forcefully labeling them heretics. Consider the following excerpts from the minutes of this Synod (The Acts and Decrees of The Synod of Jerusalem, trans. J. N. W. B. Robertson [London: Thomas Baker, 1899]):

For the Calvinists..., gratuitously indulging in wickedness, say that our Apostolic and Holy Church, the Eastern to wit, thinketh concerning God and divine things as they themselves do wrongly think. And not only by their words, but also by their writings, do these heretics...endeavor to malign us....

It is to be noted, therefore, that the leaders of these heretics, well knowing the doctrine of the Eastern Church, declare that she maintaineth the same as they themselves do in what concerneth God and divine things....For being severed, or rather rent away from the Westerns, and consequently being absolutely rejected by the whole Catholic Church, and convicted, they are manifestly heretics, and the chiefest of heretics....

[H]e who is not adorned with the Church's name, cannot even be called a Christian, much less be a Christian.

Furthermore, in the "Confession" of Dositheus, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, which is appended to the decisions of this illustrious Synod, we find the following:

Decree XI. We believe to be members of the Catholic [i.e., Orthodox] Church all the Faithful, and only the Faithful; who, forsooth, having received the blameless Faith of the Saviour Christ, from Christ Himself, and the Apostles, and the Holy Œcumenical Synods, adhere to the same without wavering; although some of them may be guilty of all manner of sins. For unless the Faithful, even when living in sin, where members of the Church, they could not be judged by the Church. But now being judged by her, and called to repentance, and guided into the way of her salutary precepts, though they may be still defiled with sins, for this only, that they have not fallen into despair, and that they cleave to the Catholic and Orthodox faith, they are, and are regarded as, members of the Catholic Church.

This Decree wholly supports the thesis of my book.

Father John accuses me of overlooking the historical nuances of the term "heretic" and of applying woodenly to our modern times various Sacred Canons and statements made by the Holy Fathers. This is a rather astounding accusation, given the precision with which I treated these nuances throughout my book, including a special discussion of the term "heretic" in Appendix II. Again, it is not necessary to repeat my points here. One need simply read my book. I have no doubt that an objective reader will find Father John's remarks on this issue curious, at best. Again, one is left with the suspicion that, outraged by its thesis, he did not in fact read my book—or at least did not read it with care and comprehension.

With regard to his comments on ecumenism and my alleged unfamiliarity with the movement, let me note that Father John Morris is an active ecumenist and has his own view of the subject: a view which is fanciful, in my mind, and simply ignores the facts. He dismisses out of hand, as products from the fringes of Orthodoxy, the voluminous anti-ecumenical writings (many of which are easily obtainable on my site) of both Orthodox traditionalists and Orthodox Christians of a traditionalist bent who choose to remain within the modernist Orthodox jurisdictions. These writings, most of which contain statements taken from the "Orthodox ecumenists" themselves, fly in the face of Father John's portrayal of a benign and responsible Orthodox ecumenism. 

A competent scholar cannot honestly dismiss material as bogus only because he does not like its source or because it might convict him of irresponsibility. It is one thing to proclaim that the Orthodox ecumenists are not like the Protestant ecumenists. It is quite another to respond to quotations from the Orthodox ecumenists that not only support many of the presuppositions of the "branch theory" of the Church, but which have often been made in the form of joint statements ("agreed statements") with Protestant ecumenists themselves.

Some of the alleged "errors" in my book, I might further remark, are errors only by virtue of Father John's selective use of materials or, once more, his lack of familiarity with the great diversity of practice that has prevailed in the Orthodox Church on a number of practical issues. I will offer but one example. His statement that the canonical witness of the Church (he cites the ninety-fifth Canon of the Fifth-Sixth Synod) provides for the reception of Monophysites by confession, and not Chrismation, as my book claims, is a bit heavy-handed, if not downright wrong from an historical standpoint.

In fact, as Professor John Karmiris points out, since the middle of the eleventh century, "a stricter practice began to be introduced, that in addition to a libellus, they [the Monophysites] should be anointed with Holy Chrism, as we infer from the Pandect of Nikon, who, summarizing the writings of Timothy the Presbyter, adds, 'We see now in the great Catholic Churches, that is, in the Patriarchates and Metropolitinates and the others, that they anoint, but do not Baptize, the Armenians, Jacobites, Nestorians, akephaloi,* and those like them, when they return to the Orthodox Faith'" (Dogmatika kai Symbolika Mnemeia tes Orthodoxou Katholikes Ekklesias, Athens, 1953, Vol. II, p 1009). Karmriris also cites the great canonist Balsamon (and his commentary on the Canon in question), who notes that some heretics are received by Baptism and others by Chrismation only. Among the latter, he includes Monophysites, thus establishing that this practice prevailed in his day, too. In 1301, moreover, the Synod of Constantinople declared that the Nestorians should be received into Orthodoxy by Chrismation, among whom Karmiris ranks all Monophysites. The issue, then, is not as simple as Father John would  have it. 

Unfortunately, rather than attempt to find what is proper practice, many in the Church today want to argue for what it is that they do, at times doing so with an inattention to matters that produces frightful misrepresentations of things as they actually are. I expose this type of untraditional argumentation in Appendix I, with regard to the mindset of Professor John Erickson, who, in the face of a clearly discernible Patristic consensus, attempts to undermine the traditional Orthodox baptismal practice of triple immersion through some archeological arguments of highly questionable accuracy.  Also, on p. 44 of my book I mention the much-abused phrase of St. John of Damascus concerning the Monophysites. Ignoring prevailing tradition, some modernist Orthodox today receive Monophysite heretics by confession and not Chrismation, referring to the Damascene's statement that the Monophysites are "in every way Orthodox" in order to justify their position. St. John, however, states that, except for the fact that "they are heretics," the Monophysites are in every other way Orthodox (that is, in piety, liturgical practice, and so on). This often misrepresented quotation gives us some insight into what motivates those who, rather than looking for consistency in diversity, would choose to support what they want, what they do, and what they consider correct at the cost of accuracy and the truth. This is not consistent with the Orthodox ethos. It also does not even qualify as poor scholarship; it is no kind of scholarship at all.

Father John's references to various texts about the reception of converts into Orthodoxy are offered as though I do not quote or cite them, when in fact I do, and as though they were definitive and stood alone. The very point of my book is that one must understand these works in context and find, in fact, the Church's consensus on this matter. To imagine that such issues are not subject to historical analysis is to treat them in an isolated and unscholarly way. Father George Metallinos' excellent historical study, I Confess One Baptism, makes precisely this point. And his conclusion, like my own, is that, granting a great diversity even today in this regard, the standard method for receiving converts into Orthodoxy, through the centuries, is that of Baptism.

While my writings in this respect may fall into the category of pseudo-scholarship from a self-proclaimed expert and a follower of cult leaders from the fringes of the Church, as Father John has previously made clear in his own comments about me and some of the experts whom I quote, Father George, a professor of theology at the University of Athens and a very competent scholar, is certainly not a fringe figure in Orthodox scholarship, even by Father John's somewhat bizarre standards. 

Citing certain Synods and Canons, while ignoring those which make contrary judgments, is not a fair approach to finding that consensus that can be drawn from the extant data. One may disagree on what that consensus is and how to interpret those data, but it is certainly not constructive simply to offer what supports one's own view and ignore all else (something which, in all fairness, Father John would have to admit I did not do in my book).

Father John writes: "Perhaps the most serious flaw in Mr. Barnes' work is its basically unorthodox approach to the subject. He shows this by his criticism of an Orthodox representative at an ecumenical discussion who responded, 'I do not know,' when asked by an Anglican, 'Are we, according to your opinion, inside or outside the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?' It is precisely this healthy recognition of mystery that characterizes sound Orthodox theology." Incredibly, Father John accuses me of failing to recognize the mysteries (i.e., unknowns or apparent antinomies) inherent in Orthodox theological expressions. His criticisms are misdirected, for attention to these "mysteries" is evident throughout my book, especially in Appendix IV. 

Moreover, I would argue that he erroneously categorizes as "mysteries" views that are, in the ecclesial consciousness as it can be discerned in the corpus of of Patristic writings, clear-cut. As stated in the aforementioned Decree XI from the Synod of Jerusalem, as well as in Article 5 from the Patriarchal Encyclical of 1848 (quoted in my book), those who do not profess the Orthodox Faith, "whoever they be" (1848), are heretics, outside of Christ's Church. Period. This is a position reflecting the Church's traditional ecclesiology. My book expands upon this undoubted position of the Orthodox Church, bringing in the subject of Holy Baptism, by which a person mysteriologically enters the Church, while at the same time endeavoring to show that, in holding this position, the Church does not make eternal (as opposed to ecclesial) judgments on those outside Her fold. 

Whether the heterodox may be saved is indeed a mystery. I attempt to show, from Holy Scripture and the writings of various Fathers, that we can rightly have such hope concerning them. And if various heterodox are granted life eternal according to the mysterious and all-wise counsel of God, then no doubt they are made members of the Church Triumphant. But concerning the Church Militant, the focus of my book, we cannot answer as did Nicholas Zernov in his reply to the Anglican above. In short, Father John has misread my book. To my mind, I have adhered to St. Gregory the Great's dictum, quoted in Appendix III: Who is able to enter into the secret judgements of God? Wherefore those things which in divine examination we cannot comprehend, we ought rather to fear than curiously to discuss.

I will mention one final flaw in Father John's review, evident when he writes: "However, [Mr. Barnes] also criticizes those who recognize that some non-Orthodox Christians have a relationship with Christ which, although incomplete, has some degree of validity, or that these Christians are somehow part of the Church in a mysterious way." This statement is only partially true. Concerning the ecclesial status of heterodox Christians prior to death, we are in disagreement, his views being at odds with the consensus of the Holy Fathers. Concerning the possibility of heterodox Christians having some degree of a relationship with Christ in this life, however, my book treats this throughout, most succinctly on p. 79, where I state: "A failure to extend sincerely the courtesy of [the label 'Christian' to non-Orthodox Christians] causes unnecessary offense and gives the impression that [they] have no relationship with God at all. This would place them on the same level as pagans, which is decidedly not the case." I support this view throughout my work. Again, Father John has failed to assimilate what I wrote.

In closing, I would point out that Father John Morris's review of my book is very revealing. For one thing, it shows that the traditionalist criticism of the modernist wing of Orthodoxy is striking home. If we were actually only a "fringe" group, there would hardly be any necessity to respond to a book like mine. I believe it is only because such criticism is finding fertile ground within some of the modernist groups, that books like mine evoke the kind of unbalanced and emotional responses contained in Father John's review. Whatever the case, I am grateful to Father John for the added exposure of my book that his review will undoubtedly bring.

* The Greek word "akephaloi" ("headless ones") is used here for Monophysites. As St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite remarks in his preface to the Canons of the Fourth Œcumenical Synod, "all Monophysites were called akephaloi, an allusion to the fact that were cut off from the Patriarchate of Alexandria..., and showed allegiance to no one  head but some to one and some to yet another."

** Numerous documents critiquing the position of Father John Morris can be found on the "Baptism and the Reception of Converts" page. At least two documents directly address Father John's errors concerning these matters.

Another Review by an Antiochian Priest

In the March 2000 issue of the ecumenical journal Touchstone (p. 38, "Books in Brief" section), a short review appeared by Father Patrick Reardon, a convert to Orthodoxy from Anglicanism. I have reprinted this review in order to demonstrate how dubious it is to write critical comments about a book which, by his remarks, he seems not to have read. My book does not blindly and simplistically defend the thesis he claims, nor does my book rely on spurious quotes from "eccentric fringe groups" (the unnecessary ad hominem remarks are telling). Rather, as any unbiased and honest reader will attest, it contains numerous theological, canonical and Patristic references.

The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside the Church, by Patrick Barnes, Salisbury, Massachusetts: Regina Orthodox Press, 1999 (173 pages; $19.95, paper)

Written by a newcomer to Orthodoxy within the first three years of his coming thereto, this little work shows no familiarity with the long, intricately detailed theological and canonical complexities of the Orthodox Tradition, especially in the literature of its myriad councils over many centuries. The author cites no ancient theological or canonical texts as primary sources and demonstrates familiarity with these sources in neither their original languages nor their historical contexts. The author relies, rather, on the more recent views of certain eccentric groups at the extreme fringes of Orthodoxy.

Indeed, beyond asserting that all non-Orthodox should be baptized upon their entrance into the Orthodox Church (a thesis that the Orthodox Church does not hold nor, in fact, has ever held [and which, in fact, I did not hold in my book!—PMB]), the author says rather little related to the title of the book. Instead, most of the book is spent lamenting the current friendly relations that Orthodoxy cultivates with other Christians (if, indeed, this is the case!)

In short, if someone wants to know what the Orthodox Church believes about those outside of the Orthodox Church, this is a book to be avoided.

—Patrick Henry Reardon

The Non-Orthodox Recommended by Bishop Basil (Essey) of the Antiochian Archdiocese

Despite the strong reservations of the two aforementioned Antiochian Priests, Bishop Basil had the following words to say in the "Ask Sayidna" column of the May 1, 2001 issue of Cross & Quill, a publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education.

Q. If you were brought up by non- Orthodox parents or not in the Orthodox Faith, does that mean you automatically go to hell?

A. As you know, a lot of people who were brought up by non-Orthodox parents or not in the Orthodox Faith, have later been catechized and received into the Orthodox Church. But I assume that your question refers specifically to those who end their earthly lives as non-Orthodox. In his book The Non-Orthodox (Regina Orthodox Press, Salisbury, MA, 1999. ISBN 0-9649141-6- 6) Patrick Barnes gives a very succinct (and very correct) answer to this question: "The status of the heterodox (the non-Orthodox) is properly seen in two ways. When speaking of their ecclesial status—i.e., their relation to the Orthodox Church—we would say that the heterodox cannot be seen as Her members, because they have not been grafted into the one true Body of Christ through Holy Baptism." (It might be helpful to read again my answer to the second question in the April issue of C&Q.) "On the other hand, when speaking of their eternal status—i.e., the implications of this ecclesial separation—we leave them to the mercy of God and do not judge them. To affirm their separation is not to imply their damnation" (The Non-Orthodox, page 8).