Repost from 2002 - On "Praying with Heretics"
- One frequently hears, on these lists, people attempting to prove that
membership in the WCC makes an Orthodox Local Church "heretical," or
"graceless"--basing that upon the prohibitions expressed in the Holy Canons
against praying with heretics.
The fact of the matter is that we are constantly praying with heretics.
In my 34 years of serving as a clergyman of the Russian Church Abroad, I
have hardly ever served a Sunday of Feast Day Liturgy where there were not
heretics present and praying along with the faithful.
Our Church is in Hollywood, in an area with a significant Armenian
population. Quite a number of Armenians attend our services regularly. They
are not allowed to receive the Holy Mysteries, but they are certainly
there, and actively praying along with the Orthodox faithful.
We have numerous "mixed marriages" among the parishioners of our Church,
and the non-Orthodox (read: "heretic") spouses attend our services
regularly, together with their spouses and children.
We have a couple in their seventies, who have been married for over fifty
years, who never miss a Sunday liturgy--the husband is a Lutheran--but has
been going to our Church and praying along with his wife for all these
decades. Does his presence at all of our Liturgies cause all of the
Orthodox present to lose grace for praying with heretics?
We have a couple, where the wife converted to Orthodoxy from Roman
Catholicism twenty-five years ago, that attend Church regularly, with the
husband, who remained a Roman Catholic, following the prayers and Liturgy
with his English-language Divine Liturgy book, making the sign of the Cross
in the Orthodox manner--thanks be to God, after twenty-five years, he
decided to become Orthodox, and was baptised.
Of course, we also have many people who are interested in Orthodoxy, and
who attend services regularly while learning more about the faith, and,
later, while preparing for their baptism--a preparation that may take
quite a long time.
These people, too, are technically "heretics," since they are not yet
baptised Orthodox Christians, but still members of their own denominations.
Does their presence in the Church also cause everone else there to fall
under anathema and lose grace?
And think of all of the weddings, funerals, and baptisms that are performed
in our Churches!
At virtually every one of these services, a huge percentage of family and
friends who come to pray at these solemn occassions are non-Orthodox, often
We just had a wedding last Sunday, where the members of the wedding party
included Jews, and Moslems, in addition to Roman Catholics and Protestants
of various types--and the invited guests in the Church were a similar
And some of them, especially among the members of the wedding party,
including the Moslems and Jews, were trying hard to make the sign of the
Cross each time the priest did, during the litanies and prayers.
When I saw this, I was reminded of a very poignant incident in
pre-Revolutionary Russia, described by Protopresbyter George Schavelsky in
his Memoirs. He was the Protopresbyter of the Army and the Navy--with some
five thousand clergymen serving as military chaplains under his direct
He recalls a Paskha service during the First World War that was held right
at the front lines.
The regimental commander, a Colonel, happened to be a Moslem (not
infrequent in pre-Revolutionary Russia), while the Regimental Surgeon was a
After the Paschal service, held out in the open air, the entire regiment,
according to military tradition, came up to exhange the Paschal Greeting
and three kisses with the regimental staff, in strict military rank order.
Each soldier would come up to the commander and say, "Christ is Risen,"
upon which the commander would reply "Truly He is Risen!" and they would
kiss three times.
Fr. George Schavelsky wrote that tears came into his eyes when he saw the
Regimental Surgeon come up, in his turn, to the Regimental Commander, in
front of the whole regiment.
"Christ is Risen!" says the Jew to the Moslem. "Truly He is Risen!",
replies the Moslem to the Jew.
And they exchange the Paschal kiss three times.
With love in Christ,
Prot. Alexander Lebedeff