Sunday, April 10, 2016

An open letter on George Demacopoulos' recent article on the Great Council, "Innovation in the Guise of Tradition"

-- By an anonymous Greek Orthodox Priest

In Professor George Demacopoulos’ recent article, "Innovation in the Guise of Tradition," we find a perspective which unfortunately has become widespread throughout much of the Orthodox world today. This perspective is one in which the term “traditionalist” has become an ad hominem attack, and the referenced “traditionalists” are mocked rather than engaged with in a serious and thoughtful manner; as much as it has already been pointed out over the past decade or so, it seems worth repeating that the tone towards those labeled “traditionalists” or “fundamentalists” (the more frequently used choice term of derision) is less charitable than the tone applied to the heretical heterodox. Furthermore, the openness for sincere dialogue is less eagerly approached with those labeled “traditionalists” than the zeal with which we see those same people approach dialogue with those who think the Orthodox to be heretics. When there seems to be more derision toward those who sincerely seek to follow the phronema of the Fathers (and thus the mind of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself) than with those who have explicitly rejected that phronema, then one should not be surprised to see the “traditionalist” class approach such efforts at the upcoming Council with extreme caution and great trepidation.

Thus, when Professor Demacopoulos begins his piece with the statement that the “documents approved by the Primates of the Church for the Great and Holy Council are not particularly controversial,” he is merely encouraging the very caution and hesitation that he derides. “The documents are not controversial to us,” he seems to be saying, “so anyone with whom they are controversial need not be taken seriously.” Where is the desire for dialogue? It seems that such desire only goes one way... toward modernists and the heterodox.  

Professor Demacopoulos qualifies his assertion by stating that “The one possible exception is the document Relations of the Orthodox Church With the Rest of the Christian World.” This is, of course, no small exception; this document is by far the longest and deals with a situation that, in its scope and approach, is still relatively new to the Orthodox world. Ecumenical relations, as they are carried out today, are novel territory for the Church.

And this is the crux of the matter. Both sides of this debate could easily quote Patristic texts and canons back and forth, and this exercise would be fruitless. Those in favor of the above-mentioned document and the Council as a whole would find quotes (in or out of context does not matter) to “justify simplistic ideological conceits” just as they continue to accuse the traditionalists of doing the same (And yes... that quote is aimed at the traditionalists in Professor Demacopoulos’ piece). 

I still believe that there is a Scriptural, Patristic, and canonical case to be made against the document in question, but I believe that such a case would not be particularly beneficial; the other side would simply levy a plethora of their own Scriptural, Patristic, and canonical quotes which would be too tiresome – even if absolutely possible – to dismantle one by one.

Perhaps, then, a different tact is needed. Perhaps we need to confess that, while we indeed seek to follow the Patristic witness, we are still in an arena about which the Fathers of old never dreamt. So what makes our situation so different?

Of course, technology and communication come immediately to mind. But there is something greater happening here. In the early – or simply “earlier” – Church, when heresy arose, there was confusion. The Church, however, strenuously and with a united Voice condemned that heresy. They condemned the heresy with fiery zeal as something which could rip a soul from the hands of God and place it in Hell. They made certain that the laity understood the seriousness of the heresy.

Thus, when a person was brought into the Church from a heresy – whether they were brought in by Baptism, by Chrismation, or even simply by proper confession of Faith – they understood that this was not a mere change of address for Church services; it was a transition from poison to medicine, from death to Life, from darkness to Light, from falsehood to Truth. They understood that they were leaving the grasp of the Devil and entering the true sheepfold of God’s loving mercy. Is this how we view things today?

Today, a spirit of confusion reigns among many of the faithful. “Love” has come to mean tolerating anything which makes a person “feel good,” and guarding someone in the Truth is seen as “bigoted,” “extremist,” “fundamentalist,” and “hateful.”

In such an environment, using the word “church” for heterodox denominations is a much more serious thing to consider. And in such an environment, the “closeness” of Orthodoxy with certain heterodox denominations – in the mind of the traditionalist – doesn’t mean that conversion through baptism should be less common but that it should be more common; only in this way do we distinguish the fact that the unity of the Body of Christ – and division from that Body – is a serious thing... no matter how much the Bishops of the Orthodox and the heterodox like to take pictures together and come up with agreed statements.

The reality is that, today, we have watered down differences so much so and chose to focus on agreements – real or perceived – that much of the laity believes that differences don’t matter at all. Orthodoxy is seen as just one among many options... and this is a dangerous belief. This leads people who are professed Orthodox Christians into casually entering into their own “dialogue” with the heterodox... reading dangerous spiritual texts, accepting heretical theology, and engaging in harmful spiritual practices. We Priests offer warnings, but they respond: “We aren’t all that different! We even accept their Baptism!”

In other words, in the earlier Church, heresy caused confusion and the Church offered clarity; today, with the advent of ecumenism, it is those in the Church who are causing greater confusion while we who try to offer clarity are silenced and scorned. 

Another problem with having Patristic “quote wars,” though, leads us to a greater discovery of the mindsets of those both for and against the upcoming Council: the traditionalists don’t accept that there was an “Age of the Fathers.” There may have been a “Golden Age of the Fathers,” but the same Spirit Who enlightened the Fathers of the first millennium of the Church continues to enlighten Fathers of today. We traditionalists then ask, “What are such Fathers telling us?” When it comes to ecumenism... and when it comes to this Council... we see concern and anxiety. We don’t see excitement or encouragement. This is not something that should be taken lightly.

The Fathers of today – when they err – seem virtually always to err on the side of being too stringent. They often appear “fundamentalist” in their approaches. If anything, love causes them simply not to speak rather than to condemn modernism in the Church, but they always seem to remain on the side of the “traditionalists.”

A Priest friend of mine always tells me that the Fathers should never been seen as “too traditional” or “too conservative” (to use a term that I don’t particularly like); if, my friend says, we don’t see them as being on the “royal, middle path,” then it shows us that our views are either too far one way or the other... that we haven’t obtained the mind of Christ. When Christ’s mind is in us, the Fathers always look well balanced.

To many advocating for the upcoming Council and the document in question, many of the Saints of old and the Saints of today look too stringent, too “fundamentalist.” Or – more absurdly – they see the Saints of today as being of a different and more fundamentalist mind than the Saints of old (who they, as is probably clear that I believe, understand selectively and wrongly).

What this all comes down to is this: If I could speak with Professor Demacopoulos, I would ask him why his tone towards us “traditionalists” (which is a term I hope I live up to) lacks the same eagerness for dialogue and charity with which I see so many ecumenists engage those in heresy. I would ask him if he really wants to understand our position. I would ask him if he recognizes our concern that, as we see more Bishops engage with environmental concerns and constantly advertise their meetings with the Pope and other religious figures, these same Bishops seem to be talking less and less (if at all) about the deadly passions and tactics of the devil that have become so successful: the destruction of marriage and the family, the widespread plague of internet pornography and masturbation, the almost complete disappearance of the Holy Mystery of Confession in some parishes, the laxity with which people engage the fasting rules of the Church, and many other issues.

Why are we traditionalists so skeptical of the upcoming Council? It is because we see the souls of our parishioners at risk, and we see the muddied theology found in the document on ecumenical relations is both a symptom and further cause of us losing our way. We see Orthodoxy engaging more with the rest of the Christian world and less with our own suffering people. We see the Pope being embraced and us being derided. We see concerns for the preservation of the purity and sanctity of the Church ridiculed and dismissed.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we see the general direction of the world into greater and greater madness, and when we compare this with the prophesies concerning the state of the Church in the Last Times, we see that more caution is needed, not less. In this, we see the upcoming Council as potentially leading to the fulfillment of these prophecies... not as helping push them off. If some, like Professor Demacopoulos, don’t see this, we are not surprised... but we are aroused to action. We know some will disagree, but we hope that those who do disagree will at least try to understand our watchfulness and vigilance... at least to the extent that they try to understand the heterodox.