He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. (Mk 16: 16)
One of the teaching challenges of those committed to the Mind of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church is the homogenization of Christianity by those who have been ensnared by the spiritual cancer of religious relativism that has permeated the Western world. Political, religious and social correctness is the mantra of the 3rd Millennium. It is also the great scourge of our modern world. It is the duty of all true and committed Christians, especially those charged with the guiding others in Orthodoxy, to be steadfast to the mind of Christ and His Church (Morelli, 2010). It must begin in the little church in the home the 'domestic church,' then be connected to the local parish and its clergy and then on to the Church universal.
An example of this spiritual virus occurred in a recent conversation I had with an Orthodox Christian who told me they had been told by another 'Orthodox' Christian that one should be happy that anyone would go or pray at any 'Christian' community. It doesn't matter that the community calling themselves 'Christian' was not one of the Apostolic Churchesi. Unfortunately, this view overlooks the fairly obvious fact that some of these 'Christian' fellowships teach what is "man-made," or omit from their teaching what a man or woman wants omitted and still call it 'Christian.'ii The dogmatic teaching of Christ and His Church, as witnessed by the Apostolic Churches, has been relegated to the realm of bias, discrimination and as proclaiming a radical violation of human rights. However, consider this question: Is one Church really as good as another?
The teaching of an Orthodox Metropolitan on the criticality of Dogma
The critical necessity of dogma for the Orthodox commitment to Christ and His Church was recently strongly proclaimed by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (2002, p. xiii), Chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate:
In our own day there is a widely held view that belief in religious dogma is not obligatory; even if they still have a certain historical value, they are no longer vital for Christians. Moral and social agendas have become the main preoccupation of many Christian communities, while theological issues are often neglected. This dissociation between dogma and way of life, however, contradicts the very nature of the religious life, which presupposes that faith should always be confirmed by deeds, and visa versa.
Underlying Processes in Observational Learning
Why is this important? Because our beliefs inform what we say and do, and consequently when and where they are heard and/or seen, they thus serve as models for others to observe, learn and perform. (Morelli, 2006a)
Modeling and Behavior
The essential role of such modeling in influencing behavior is a well supported by behavioral research (Bandura, 1986, Morelli, 2005a, 2005b, 2006a,b,c, 2007). In fact, it is also known that in children's early life parents are the main models. As individuals develop in age, the role of other adults, peers and surrounding society become increasingly efficacious as models. (Grusec, 1992) In as much as so many individuals in modern society are actively hostile to the Orthodox teaching of Christ, the implications are grave. As I emphasize in a previous article (Morelli, 2007): "If a parent capitulates to the culture, then the culture will assume the teaching authority of the parent." In fact, secular culture, with its undisguised enmity to Christ and His orthodox Church, will take over the teaching authority not just of children, but of those of all ages. The first step in attempting to tear down the authentic teaching of Christ and His Church is the homogenization of Christianity, as witnessed by the inference in the example stated earlier in this article that being actively attached and committed to the Orthodox Church 'doesn't matter.'
The Forcing of compliance to immorality by the legal system
Another egregious attempt to attack orthodox morality is to force legalization of immoral behavior. A recent online guest columnist described this trend by saying that some "seek to "rehabilitate" Christians to their way of thinking under penalty of law. ... of old [they] just threw us to the lions. I guess that's what they mean by "progress."iii Another currently well-reported example is the government mandating of abidance by religious institutions to healthcare programs that are clearly not in accord with orthodox Christian teaching.iv
The signs of Christ's orthodox Church
"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (Jn 20: 21-23).
This passage is, of course, the scriptural basis of the Holy Mystery of Confession. It has implications, however, that can be applied to all that makes up the Church. Christ gave Holy Spirit to His Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of His Orthodox Church, to safeguard and transmit His truth from age to age. And it is important to remember Christ's warning in St. Matthew's Gospel (7: 15): "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." St. Paul tells us: "For such false apostles are deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ." (2Cor 11:13)
Continuing with the Holy Mystery of Confession as a springboard toward understanding Christ's true Church. Who has retained this Holy Mystery? Only the Apostolic Churches-The Orthodox Church-the preeminent focus of this article. Who has thrown Holy Confession and most of the other Holy Mysteries out? The non-Apostolic Christian communities. The other Holy Mysteries of the Church are not exempt from either elimination or fundamental re-definition. For example, to align themselves with political correctness, some communities calling themselves Christian perform baptism in the name of the 'Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier,' thus countermanding Christ's explicit teaching as recorded by St. Matthew (28: 19-20): "Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."
The Holy Mystery of the Eucharist can also be considered in this regard. The Apostolic Churches retain Christ's very own words when He instituted the Holy Eucharist:
And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins. (Mt 26: 26-28)
Christ does not say the bread and wine is a figure, memorial or symbol of "my body" or "my blood", but "this is my body ...this is my blood."v
Furthermore, those infected with homogenized Christianity fail to understand the reason the Apostolic Churches only give the Eucharist to those who are baptized and who hold the fullness of the teaching of Christ and His Church. Others are excluded until they have fully "put on Christ." The ancient testimony of St. Justin Martyr (c 147-161 AD) bears this out: The Apostolic orthodox Churches of Christ, therefore, maintain that the Holy Eucharist is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
And this food is called among us the Thanksgiving [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.vi
A personal example of 'church relativism'
I would like to give a very personal example, edited, of course, for purposes of anonymity and charity. Some years ago I was invited, as a friend of the bride's family, to attend the wedding of a Roman Catholic male and a Protestant female at a Catholic Church. The Protestant denomination of the bride considers itself "a branch of the Catholic Church," but this pretentious claim is completely unrecognized by the Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches, and the Orthodox Churches as well. I did not know beforehand who the officiating priest would be, so I was greatly surprised when I saw that he, a member of a Roman Catholic religious order, was someone I knew very well. Many times he and I had had serious discussions and diverged on the issue of 'open communion.' During the Nuptial Mass, I was seated about six rows back , dressed in my clerical street garb. Several pews ahead of me were several girlfriends of the bride, well known to the other guests for their 'party' lifestyle.
At Communion time, the officiating priest turned and invited all to receive the Eucharist. I and others saw the girls joking among themselves, asking if they should go up to receive. They did go and received communion in the hand, and on the way back to the pew were flipping the host up and down, laughing joking, and finally consuming. After the service, I told this incident to the celebrant, and this time even he was in dismay. I said in charity: "Fr. X, this is one of the reasons that in Orthodoxy we reserve communion only to those who are fully united to the Church." I think he got the message.
The Christ-way Church is not a my-way church
Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain [Mt. Athos] (2011, p. 37) comments: "People are in such a state today that they do whatever comes to their mind. . . . Every so often, a few people will get together and start a new religion."
Actually, this state of mind goes back many years. All one has to do is review the founders of non-Apostolic Christian communities. To name a few: Anglican-Protestant Episcopal communities: Henry VIII; Lutheranism: Martin Luther; Presbyterian: John Calvin; Methodist: John Wesley; Ana-Baptists: Balthasar Hubmaier, et. al. These communities, along with too numerous to mention community congregations and mega communities (with members numbering in thousands), thrive in the United States and other countries. On the other hand, the Apostolic Churches are traced back with unbroken succession to the Apostles of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ and sanctified by the descent of Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
As previously noted, many of these groups have changed the meaning of the Holy Mysteries, completely eliminated them or retain only Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and communion merely as a 'memorial,' not as the true Body Blood and Divinity of Christ. Some other worship practices and teachings are equally egregious: seducing people by bright lights, sounds & pop music; equating holiness with feelings, instead of as taught by Orthodoxy: having a mind and heart filled with Godliness.
Worship in the Apostolic Church
For God's presence in the heart is a sense of God's absence: silence (as in the desert). St. Peter of Damaskos tells us ". . .for since God is undetermined and indeterminate without form or color, the intellect that is with God alone should itself be without form or color, free from all figuration and undistracted." (Philokalia III, p. 236). St. Peter, in the 12th Century, is expanding on the teaching of an early spiritual father of the 4th Century, St. Evagrius the Solitary, who said "Never try to see a form or shape during prayer . . . do not long for a sensory image." (Philokalia I, p. 68). St. John of the Ladder (1991) goes on to explain: "silence is the mother of prayer . . . creator of divine vision . . .the friend of silence draws us near to God and, by secretly conversing with Him is enlightened by God." (p. 92). It should be noted that in the public worship of the Apostolic Churches, the Divine Liturgy, the music is reverential and meant to raise one hearts and minds to God. That is to say, to cultivate an 'interior silence.'
Some non-Apostolic communities have also departed far afield from Christ and His Church on moral-social and theological issues, including espousing abortion, pre-marital sex, same-sex marriage, and female ordination. Another comment by Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain is particularly apt in this regard: ". . . they have turned sin into a fashion." (p. 47).
The importance of being in union with the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church
Critical to understanding the importance of unity with the Orthodox Church of Christ are the words of Fr. Georges Florovsky as quoted by Alfeyev (2011, p.16): "Personal convictions and even one's way of life do not yet make one a Christian. Christian existence assumes inclusion and implies membership in the [emphasis mine] community" (from Florovsky, My Father's Home, 10-11) This supports Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev's statement that: (p. 15) "The Church is synonymous with Christianity: one cannot be a Christian without being a member of the Church." In a later work (2012) he specifies exactly what "Church" membership means:
. . . the oldest and most indispensable [ministry in the ancient Church] has turned out to be that of leadership. In the first years of the Church's existence, the apostles began to ordain presbyters and bishops to lead the local churches, creating an apostolic preaching as a result. Thus was the implementation of apostolic succession in the Church. The apostolic succession of hierarchy is a key concept of Orthodox ecclesiology: only that Church in which an unbroken succession of the hierarchy exists, coming from the apostles, is the true Church of Christ. If such a succession is absent or somehow broken [as in the Reformed communions including the Anglican and Protestant-Episcopal communities], the Church cannot be considered true, the hierarchy cannot be considered legitimate, and the sacraments cannot be considered efficacious. (p. 441)
About those who have never known the teachings of Christ and His Church
I am not commenting on the deeds of those who have never been blessed with the fullness of the teachings of Christ and His Orthodox Church. There are many born into Christian communities who have no other knowledge of Christ and His Church except that which has been taught to them by their mankind-founded communities. It should be noted that many adherents of these communities do, in fact, seek to follow Christ with deep fervor and commitment. Furthermore, we are not even to judge the founders of these man-created communities. Only God can know the hearts of these founders, and their followers' as well. As St. John (1Jn 3:20) tells us: "For if our heart reprehend us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."
The admonition of Christ on not judging others is explicit and can be considered a cornerstone, making up the foundation of His teachings. It stems from the fact that we are all sinners and must never condemn anyone. Recall our Lord's admonition to those about to stone the woman caught in adultery: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (Jn 8: 7)
- Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Mt 7: 1-2)
- Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. (Lk 6: 37)
- Or how canst thou say to thy brother: Brother, let me pull the mote out of thy eye, when thou thyself seest not the beam in thy own eye? Hypocrite, cast first the beam out of thy own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to take out the mote from thy brother's eye. (Lk 6: 42)
Refusing to judge others can be considered an act of worship of God. St. Peter of Damaskos explains it thus: ". . .confess God's grace continually by not judging anyone." (Philokalia III, p. 160-161)
While we cannot judge others, we are required to judge their acts
Jesus revealed to the beloved Apostle St. John the Evangelist, through the mouth of His angel, His condemnation of the nefarious works of an early sect, the Nicolaitians, that departed from the teaching of the Apostolic Church: ". . . you hate the deeds. . .which I also hate". (Rev. 2: 6). The lesson for us is that with careful, sensible and sound judgment, and with great charity and kindness, but with prudent firmness as well, we can point out the position of the Apostolic Churches on ecclesial, moral, theological and other related issues and pray and work toward healing ourselves and all around us. In this regard, it is well to keep in mind a phrase from the year 2000 Synodal statement of the Moscow Patriarchate entitled Basic Principles of Attitude to the Non-Orthodox. In it was noted that throughout history
. . .the Church struggled on principled terms with the heresies that were infecting her children and that there were cases where those who had gone astray were healed of heresy, experienced repentance and returned to the bosom of the Church. This tragic experience of misunderstanding emerging from within the Church herself and of the struggle with it during the period of the ecumenical councils has taught the children of the Orthodox Church to be vigilant.
There are several other passages from the Synodal statement that are very relevant to this issue and worth serious reflection and study, and which can be found in the Endnote belowvii. The Orthodox Church considers it is the one true Church. The Apostolic Churches are close to one another in many ways and we pray will be most likely to be first in full communion with each other.viii Unfortunately, some reform groups depart very far.
About those who left the plough they were holding onto and look back
Now, and here I am speaking about, and to, all of us Orthodox Christians, let us consider our Lord's admonition that : "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk 9: 62) Now the "plough" can be seen as our baptism and our commitment to the Orthodox Church. The "looking back," then, is reverting to any attitude that draws us away from that, most particularly the subtle and insidious attitude of condoning relativism or, God forbid, the entertaining ideas like: 'I don't need the Church;' 'I can talk to God alone, by myself;' 'I can pray in any church.' The admonition not to look back in this way applies most especially to those originally baptized, but who are later tempted to look back toward the non-Apostolic communities and what they may seem to offer. To them Christ's rebuke speaks: "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." (Lk 12: 48) We need to remember that what is required of us is fidelity and commitment to His Orthodox Church —not to some man-made group. no matter what they call themselves or how many books they carry around or quote from, even a book they call "The Bible."ix
In this regard, we remember the Evil One tempting Jesus in the desert by quoting Sacred Scripture: "And the tempter coming said to Him '. . .: It is written, [c.f. Dt 8: 3] Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.'" (Mt 34: 34) Now, and here I am speaking about, and to, all of us Orthodox Christians, let us consider our Lord's admonition that : "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk 9: 62) Now the "plough" can be seen as our baptism and our commitment to the Orthodox Church. The "looking back," then, is reverting to any attitude that draws us away from that, most particularly the subtle and insidious attitude of condoning relativism or, God forbid, the entertaining ideas like: 'I don't need the Church;' 'I can talk to God alone, by myself;' 'I can pray in any church.' The admonition not to look back in this way applies most especially to those originally baptized, but who are later tempted to look back toward the non-Apostolic communities and what they may seem to offer. To them Christ's rebuke speaks: "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." (Lk 12: 48)
We need to remember that what is required of us is fidelity and commitment to His Orthodox Church —not to some man-made group. no matter what they call themselves or how many books they carry around or quote from, even a book they call "The Bible." In this regard, we remember the Evil One tempting Jesus in the desert by quoting Sacred Scripture: "And the tempter coming said to Him '. . .: It is written, [c.f. Dt 8: 3] Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.'" (Mt 34: 34)
St. Silouan of Mt. Athos: Exemplar of having prayerful love for all
We are required by our commitment to Christ and His Church to go way beyond merely not judging others. We must actively seek reconciliation, and at the very least pray for all, ourselves, as we are all sinners, and extend that reconciiliation to all those who have committed the most egregious offenses. St. Silouan of Mt. Athos tells us ". . . you must love those who offend against you and pray for them until your soul is reconciled to them." (Sophrony, 1999)
A good example is an encounter the saint had with an anonymous hermit as recorded by St. Silouan's cell attendant and spiritual disciple, Archimandrite Sophrony. The hermit, with "evident satisfaction," told the saint," God will punish all atheists." In terms of the theme of this essay, we can add to the word 'atheists:: homophiles, moral relativists, secularists, members of non-Apostolic Christian groups, etc. Of course, the saintly elder was disturbed by the hermit's judgment. St. Silouan responded: "Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy" The hermit responded: "It can't be helped, It would be their own fault." With "sorrowful countenance" the saint responded: "Love could not bear that. . . .We must pray for all." This should be what spiritually animates our hearts, minds and interactions toward all those who do not uphold the fullness of orthodox Christianity.
The Ethos of Raising Children and Ourselves as Orthodox Christians
There is a spiritx that should enliven and permeate the 'domestic church' and its anointed leaders: the Godly blessed (by the Holy Mystery) marriage of husband and wife, parents who are to "educate [their children] in faith and fear."xi This ethos should, however, not be limited to those who are married, but extended to all those who have "put on Christ"xii through their baptism, single individuals as well. This would include all laity and monastics.
We know that Christ's visible Church was sealed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and has passed down to the Church to the present day. Originally, the visible Church started with the Apostles and Disciples. In the Church today, each of the Apostles of the twelve and of the seventy has their own day of commemoration, but on the Sunday after Pentecost is celebrated the synaxis, or gathering, of not only the Apostles but, in fact, all the saints of the Church who shone forth throughout the whole world from all time. This includes the powers of heaven (the angelic hosts) and the holy prophets of the Old Covenant as well. There is a great prayer of the Church that calls all this to mind - the Synodikon of Orthodoxy - which can also serve as the ethos of the spiritual life of all true Christians.
The Synodikon of Orthodoxy
The Synodikonxiii was originally proclaimed by the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 843 AD that reinstated the veneration of icons against the heretics who had persecuted Christ's Holy Church and destroyed its icons. Traditionally, throughout the Orthodox World today, it is prayed at Vespers of the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the First Sunday of Lent). It is relevant to be both a daily prayer, and also the ethos of the Christian Life for all those who are true, that is to say, 'non-homogenized,' Christians.
One relevant phrase from the Synodikon is: "As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church received, as the Teachers laid down as doctrine, as the World has agreed, as grace has shone". We see from this that the avowals of all the saints are considered as God-inspired. Divine inspiration is linked with Revelation. The saints experienced God; they attained a spiritual perception of the Divine. They knew a personal God experientially. They received a personal Pentecost. Because of their experiences of a Divine Revelation they are regarded as unerring teachers of the Church. This grace was given them because they embraced Christ's cross by flight from sin, thus attaining theosis ("partakers of the Divine Nature," 2Pt 1:4).
The lives and teachings of the saints echo the mind of the Church. It is unthinkable, therefore, not only for the saints, but for anyone, to be considered an Orthodox Christian if they are separated from the mind of the Church by holding on to erroneous heretical personal conceptions and opinions and, even worse, teach these self-created interpretations to others, either directly or by example (psychological modeling).
Another consideration: The Church as hospital
Let us also recall that another patristic icon of the Church is that it is a hospital (Morelli 2006 b,c) for our spiritual and physical curing. The chief laborers are the physicians with the authority given to them by Christ to heal our infirmities and diseases. Departing from the mind of Christ and His Church by holding on to our personal opinions is a disease to be made healthy by Christ's apostolic Orthodox Church. This healing work of the Church is, and must be, carried out today by the bishops and priests of the Church of apostolic succession by adherence to the apostolic tradition and teaching given by Christ. This calling to service was given to the Church by Christ Himself when He ". . . saith to his disciples, The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few." (Mt 9:37).
But the laborers in the hospital vineyard are not limited merely to the clergy. As St. Paul reminded the Galatians, we have each received individual gifts and can offer different service to the 'Body of Christ:" "For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member. And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracles; then the graces of healing, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (Gal 3: 27-30)
Let us all put our hands to the plough that is Christ and His Church and never take them off or look back. Let us hold fast to the Mind of the Church, to be informed and formed by it so as to courageously model it in our lives. This way we will be faithful laborers in Christ's hospital vineyard (the Church) according to the gifts we have been given. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians:
But be zealous for the better gifts. And I shew unto you yet a more excellent way. (1Cor 12: 31)
Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion, (2002). The Mystery of Faith. London, England: Darton, Longman and Todd.
Alfeyev, Metropolitan Hilarion. (2011). Orthodox Christianity: The history and canonical structure of the Orthodox Church. (Vol. 1). Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary Press.
Alfeyev, Metropolitan Hilarion. (2012). Orthodox Christianity: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church. (Vol. 2). Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary Press.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Breck, J. (2001). Scripture in Tradition: The bible and its interpretation in the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
Elder Paisios of Mount Athos. (2011). Spiritual counsels, I, With pain and love for contemporary man. Thessaloniki, Greece, Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian.
Grusec, J.E. (1992). Social learning theory and developmental psychology: The legacies of Robert Sears and Albert Bandura. Developmental Psychology, 28, 776-786.
Morelli, G. (2005a, September 17). Smart Parenting Part 1.
Morelli, G. (2005b, September, 22). What Do You Know: The Score Or The Saint?
Morelli, G. (2006a, September 24). Smart Parenting IV: Cuss Control.
Morelli, G. (2006b, December 21). The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing.
Morelli, G (2006c). Healing: Orthodox Christianity and Scientific Psychology. Fairfax VA: Eastern Christian Publications.
Morelli, G. (2007). Smart parenting VI: Talking to Children About Sex.
Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia, I - IV. London: Faber and Faber.
Sophrony, Archimandrite. (1999). St. Silouan the Athonite. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
St. John Climacus (1991). The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
Zoghby, E. (1996). We are all schismatics. West Newton, MA: Educational Services.
Zoghby, E. (1998). Ecumenical Reflections. Fairfax, VA: Eastern Christian Publications.
i What better way to understand what is meant by the Apostolic Churches than to visit the website of the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region: www.lightoftheeast.org. At this site you will see this short introduction: "The Society of St. John Chrysostom — Western Region is an ecumenical organization of laity and clergy of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches. We work to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of Eastern Christianity, and for the fullness of unity desired by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
In this particular essay I use the term 'Orthodox' Christian in two senses. At times I mean a member of a Canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction. At other times I mean 'orthodox' in the sense of holding on to the Apostolic Tradition, not departing far in spirit from the theme of Melkite Catholic Elias Zoghby's (1996) book We Are All Schismatics that original causes of separation between the Apostolic Churches had attenuated and they are open to new understanding. This view is underscored by the Preface written by Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Vsevolod to Zoghby's book Ecumenical Reflections, who viewed Zoghby's thesis as an opening ""to ecumenical metanoia ... [affirming] that where there is the fundamental common faith, held alike by Catholics and Orthodox, [thus] there is no defensible impediment to Eucharistic Communion." I want to firmly point out, however, that such complete communion can be finalized only by our bishops and possibly a great Council of the Church.
ii On the other hand it could be noted that for a non-Christian to take some first step toward learning about Christ is a blessing. However we should pray that they continue on their journey to complete their journey to the fullness of being a member of the Christ's Church (The final step to be united to one of the Apostolic Churches [in communion with one another]).
v Emphasis mine
vi www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm; Apology I, Chapter 66, c.147-161 AD. (St. Justin Martyr's work can also be accessed at: Writings of St. Justin Martyr, Trans. Thomas B. Falls, (Fathers of the Church series) Christian Heritage, NY 1948.( pp 105-106).
Excerpts from the Moscow Patriarchate Synodal Statement of 2000: 1.15. The Orthodox Church, through the mouths of the holy fathers, affirms that salvation can be attained only in the Church of Christ. At the same time however, communities which have fallen away from orthodoxy have never been viewed as fully deprived of the grace of God. Any break from communion with the Church inevitably leads to an erosion of her grace-filled life, but not always to its complete loss in these separated communities. This is why the Orthodox Church does not receive those coming to her from non-Orthodox communities only through the sacrament of baptism. In spite of the rupture of unity, there remains a certain incomplete fellowship which serves as the pledge of a return to unity in the Church, to catholic fullness and oneness.
1.16. The ecclesial status of those who have separated themselves from the Church does not lend itself to simple definition. In a divided Christendom, there are still certain characteristics which make it one: the word of God, faith in Christ as God and Savior come in the flesh (1 Jn. 1:1-2; 4, 2, 9), and sincere devotion.
1.17. The existence of various rites of reception (through baptism, through chrismation, through repentance) shows that the Orthodox Church relates to the different non-Orthodox confessions in different ways. The criterion is the degree to which the faith and order of the Church, as well as the norms of Christian spiritual life, are preserved in a particular confession. By establishing various rites of reception, however, the Orthodox Church does not assess the extent to which grace-filled life has either been preserved intact or distorted in a non-Orthodox confession, considering this to be a mystery of God's providence and judgment.
1.18. The Orthodox Church is the true Church in which the Holy Tradition and the fullness of God's saving grace are preserved intact. She has preserved the heritage of the apostles and holy fathers in its integrity and purity. She is aware that her teaching, liturgical structures and spiritual practice are the same as those of the apostolic proclamation and the Tradition of the Early Church.
1.19. Orthodoxy is not a national or cultural attribute of the Eastern Church. Orthodoxy is an inner quality of the Church. It is the preservation of the doctrinal truth, the liturgical and hierarchical order and the principles of spiritual life which, unchangingly and uninterruptedly, have been present in the Church since apostolic times.
ix The word 'bible' connotes text authoritative in its own right. [www.wordweb.com: "A book regarded as authoritative in its field."] From the perspective of the Apostolic Churches this concept is historically and dogmatically incorrect. It is a Protestant notion.
In the spirit of the Apostolic Church, I prefer to use the term Sacred Scripture to refer to the written Tradition of the Church. Written Sacred Scripture came from the oral traditions canonized by the Holy Spirit inspired Church centuries after Pentecost. Only the Church can "interpret" Sacred Scripture. Written Sacred Scripture is not authoritative in and of itself. The authority is the Church. We may ponder on the words of St. John reflecting on himself receiving the oral teachings of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ and the futility of a complete book comprising His teachings: "This is that disciple who giveth testimony of these things, and hath written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written." (Jn 21 24-25). For a more complete Orthodox understanding of Sacred Scripture I highly recommend the book by Fr. John Breck (2001) Scripture in Tradition.
x As I have written in a previous article on the Ethos of Orthodoxy: "The term mind of the Church refers to the collective teaching of what it takes to be a true follower of Christ by those recognized by the Church as authentic followers of Christ whose teaching and way of life can be trusted. These teachers stand on and within the Gospel of Christ given to us by the Apostles and which constitute and judge the Church even today." (Morelli, G. (2009, September 26). Secularism and the Mind of Christ and the Church: Some Psycho-Spiritual Reflections. www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-secularism-and-the-mind-of-christ-and-the-church-some-psycho-spirit.)
xi From a prayer from the Orthodox Marriage Service.
xii From the Baptismal Hymn of The Paschal Divine Liturgy.
xiii For a brief history and text of the Synodikon consult: www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/02/synodicon-of-orthodoxy.html
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
He is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is also Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
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