On the Status of the Heterodox
by Fr. Michael Pomazansky
The Orthodox teaching of the Church, which in itself is quite clear and rests upon
Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, is to be contrasted with another concept which is
widespread in the contemporary Protestant world and has penetrated even into Orthodox
circles. According to this different concept, all the various existing Christian
organizations, the so-called "confessions" and "sects," even though
they are separated from each other, still comprise a single "invisible Church,"
inasmuch as each of them confesses Christ as Son of God and accepts His Gospel.
The dissemination of such a view is aided by the fact that side by side with the
Orthodox Church there exists outside of her a number of Christians that exceeds by several
times the number of members of the Orthodox Church. Often we can observe in this Christian
world outside the Church a religious fervor and faith, a worthy moral life, a
convictionall the way to fanaticismof one's correctness, an organization and a
broad charitable activity. What is the relation of all of them to the Church of Christ?
Of course, there is no reason to view these confessions and sects as on the same level
with non-Christian religions. One cannot deny that the reading of the word of God has a
beneficial influence upon everyone who seeks in it instruction and strengthening of faith,
and that devout reflection on God the Creator, the Provider and Saviour, has an elevating
power there among Protestants also. We cannot say that their prayers are totally fruitless
if they come from a pure heart, for in every nation he that feareth Him... is accepted
with Him (Acts 10:3-5). The Omnipresent Good Provider God is over them, and they are
not deprived of God's mercies. They help to restrain moral looseness, vices, and crimes;
and they oppose the spread of atheism.
But all this does not give us grounds to consider them as belonging to the
Church. Already the fact that one part of this broad Christian world outside
the Church, namely the whole of Protestantism, denies
the bond with the heavenly Church, that is, the veneration in prayer of
the Mother of God and the saints, and likewise prayer for the dead, indicates
that they themselves have destroyed the bond with the one Body of Christ which
unites in itself the heavenly and the earthly. Further, it is a fact that these
non-Orthodox confessions have "broken" in one form or another, directly
or indirectly, with the Orthodox Church, with the Church in its historical form;
they themselves have cut the bond, they have "departed' from her. Neither
we nor they have the right to close our eyes to this fact.
The teachings of the non-Orthodox confessions contain heresies which were decisively
rejected and condemned by the Church at her Ecumenical Councils. In these numerous
branches of Christianity there is no unity, either outward or inwardeither with the
Orthodox Church of Christ or between themselves. The supra-confessional unification (the
"ecumenical movement!') which is now to be observed does not enter into the depths of
the life of these confessions, but has an outward character. The term "
invisible" can refer only to the Heavenly Church. The Church on earth, even though it
has its invisible side, like a ship a part of which is hidden in the water and is
invisible to the eyes, still remains visible, because it consists of people and has
visible forms of organization and sacred activity.
Therefore it is quite natural to affirm that these religious organizations are
societies which are "near," or "next to," or " close
to," or perhaps even" adjoining" the Church, but sometimes "
against" it; but they are all "outside" the one Church of Christ. Some of
them have cut themselves off, others have gone far away. Some, in going away, all the same
have historical ties of blood with her; others have lost all kinship, and in them the very
spirit and foundations of Christianity have been distorted. None of them find themselves
under the activity of the grace which is present in the Church, and especially the grace
which is given in the Mysteries of the Church. They are not nourished by that mystical
table which leads up along the steps of moral perfection.
The tendency in contemporary cultural society to place all confessions on one level is
not limited to Christianity; on this same all-equalling level are placed also the
non-Christian religions, on the grounds that they all "lead to God," and
besides, taken all together, they far surpass the Christian world in the number of members
who belong to them.
All of such "uniting" and "equalizing" views indicate a
forgetfulness of the principle that there can be many teachings and opinions, but there is
only one truth. And authentic Christian unityunity in the Churchcan be based only upon oneness of mind, and not
upon differences of mind. The Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth (I Tim.
From Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, trans. by Fr.
Seraphim Rose (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), pp. 243-246.
See also "Attributes of the Church," by St. Justin
(Popovich) of Chelije.