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The Royal Path: True Orthodoxy in an Age of Apostasy

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    The Royal Path: True Orthodoxy in an Age of Apostasy Fr. Seraphim Rose As the Fathers say, the extremes from both sides are equally harmful . . . (We must) go
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 8, 2003
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      The Royal Path:
      True Orthodoxy in an Age of Apostasy


      Fr. Seraphim Rose


      As the Fathers say, the extremes from both sides are equally harmful
      . . . (We must) go on the royal path, avoiding the extremes on both
      sides. St. John Cassian, Conference II


      ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS live today in one of the great critical times in the
      history of Christ's Church. The enemy of man's salvation, the devil,
      attacks on all fronts and strives by all means not merely to divert
      believers from the path of salvation shown by the Church, but even to
      conquer the Church of Christ itself, despite the Saviour's promise (Matt.
      16:18), and to convert the very Body of Christ into an "ecumenical"
      organization preparing for the coming of his own chosen one, Antichrist,
      the great world-ruler of the last days.


      Of course, we know that this attempt of Satan will fail; the Church will be
      the Bride of Christ even to the end of the world and will meet Christ the
      Bridegroom at His Second Coming pure and undefiled by adulterous union with
      the apostasy of this age. But the great question of our times for all
      Orthodox Christians to face is a momentous one: the Church will remain, but
      how many of us will still be in it, having withstood the devil's mighty
      attempts to draw us away from it?


      Our times are much like those of St. Mark of Ephesus in the 15th century,
      when it seemed that the Church was about to be dissolved into the impious
      Union with the Latins. Nay, our times are even worse and more dangerous
      than those times; for then the Union was an act imposed by force from
      without, while now the Orthodox people have been long prepared for the
      approaching "ecumenical" merger of all churches and religions by decades of
      laxness, indifference, worldliness, and indulgence in the ruinous falsehood
      that "nothing really separates us" from all others who call themselves
      Christians. The Orthodox Church survived the false Union of Florence, and
      even knew a time of outward prosperity and inward spiritual flourishing
      after that; but after the new false Union, now being pursued with
      ever-increasing momentum, will Orthodoxy exist at all save in the catacombs
      and the desert?


      During the past ten years and more, under the disastrous "ecumenical"
      course pursued by Patriarch Athenagoras and his successor, the Orthodox
      Churches have already come perilously close to total shipwreck. The newest
      "ecumenical" statement of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, "The
      Thyateira Confession" (see The Orthodox Word, Jan.-Feb., 1976), is already
      sufficient evidence of how far the Orthodox conscience has been lost by the
      Local Church that once was first among the Orthodox Churches in the
      confession of Christ's truth; this dismal document only shows how close the
      hierarchs of Constantinople have now come to being absorbed into the
      heterodox "Christianity" of the West, even before the formal Union which is
      still being prepared.


      THE ROOTS of today's ecumenism in the Orthodox Churches go back to the
      renovationism and modernism of certain hierarchs in the 1920's. In the
      Russian Church, these currents produced, first, the "Living Church"
      movement which, with the help of the Communist regime, tried to overthrow
      Patriarch Tikhon and "reform" the Church in a radically Protestant manner,
      and then?as a more "conservative" successor to the "Living Church"?the
      Sergianist church organization (the Moscow Patriarchate), which emphasized
      at first the political side of reconciliation with Communist ideology and
      aims (in accordance with the infamous "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius
      in 1927), and only in recent decades has ventured once again into the realm
      of ecclesiastical renovationism with its active participation in the
      ecumenical movement. In the Greek Church the situation has been similar:
      the renovationist "Pan-Orthodox Council" of 1923, with its Protestant
      reforms inspired by Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis of sorry memory, proved to
      be too radical for the Orthodox world to accept, and the renovationists had
      to be satisfied with imposing a calendar reform on several of the
      non-Slavic Churches.


      Large movements of protest opposed the reformers in both the Russian and
      Greek Churches, producing the deep divisions which exist until now in the
      Orthodox world. In the Russian Church, Sergianism was decisively rejected
      by very many of the bishops and faithful, led by Metropolitan Joseph of
      Petrograd; this "Josephite" movement later became organized to some extent
      and became known as the "True Orthodox Church." The history of this illegal
      "Catacomb" Church of Russia is, to this day, veiled in secrecy, but in the
      past few years a number of startling evidences of its present-day
      activities have come to light, leading to stern repressive measures on the
      part of the Soviet government. The name of its present chief hierarch
      (Metropolitan Theodosius) has become known, as has that of one of its ten
      or more bishops (Bishop Seraphim). In the Diaspora, the Russian Church
      Outside of Russia committed itself from the very beginning of Sergianism in
      1927 to a firm anti-Sergianist position, and on numerous occasions it has
      expressed its solidarity with the True Orthodox Church in Russia, while
      refusing all communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. Its uncompromisingness
      and staunch traditionalism in this and other matters were not to the taste
      of several of the Russian hierarchs of Western Europe and America, who were
      more receptive to the "reform" currents in 20th-century Orthodoxy, and they
      separated themselves at various times from the Russian Church Outside of
      Russia, thus creating the present "jurisdictional" differences of the
      Russian Diaspora.


      In Greece the movement of protest, by a similar Orthodox instinct, likewise
      took the name of "True Orthodox Christians." From the beginning in 1924
      (when the calendar reform was introduced), this movement has been
      especially strong among the simple monks, priests and laymen of Greece; the
      first bishop to leave the State Church of Greece and join the movement was
      Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Florina, and today it continues its fully
      independent life and organization, comprising about one-fourth of all the
      Orthodox Christians of Greece, and perhaps one-half or more of all the
      monks and nuns. Although popularly known as the"old calendarists," the True
      Orthodox Christians of Greece stand for a staunch traditionalism in
      Orthodox life and thought in general, viewing the calendar question merely
      as a first stage and a touchstone of modernism and reformism.


      As the "ecumenical" cancer eats more and more away at the remaining sound
      organs of the Orthodox Churches today, an increasing sympathy is being
      shown by the most sensitive members of the "official" Orthodox
      jurisdictions for the cause and the representatives of the anti-ecumenist,
      anti-reformist Churches of Russia, Greece, and the Diaspora. Some, seeing
      the "official" jurisdictions as now irrevocably set on a course of
      anti-orthodoxy, are abandoning them as sinking ships and joining the ranks
      of the True Orthodox Christians; others, still hoping for the restoration
      of an Orthodox course in world Orthodoxy, think it enough for now to
      express sympathy for the True Orthodox Christians or to protest boldly
      against the "reformist" mentality in the official jurisdictions. The ten
      years of anti-ecumenist epistles of Metropolitan Philaret, Chief Hierarch
      of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, have struck a responsive chord
      within a number of the Orthodox Churches, even if the "official" response
      to them has been largely silence or hostility.


      Today, more than at any other time in the 50-year struggle to preserve the
      Orthodox tradition in an age of apostasy, the voice of true and
      uncompromising Orthodoxy could be heard throughout the world and have a
      profound effect on the future course of the Orthodox Churches. Probably,
      indeed, it is already too late to prevent the renovationist "Eighth
      Ecumenical Council" and the "ecumenical" Union which lies beyond it; but
      perhaps one or more of the Local Churches may yet be persuaded to step back
      from this ruinous path which will lead to the final liquidation (as
      Orthodox) of those jurisdictions that follow it to the end; and in any
      case, individuals and whole communities can certainly be saved from this
      path, not to mention those of the heterodox who may still find their way
      into the saving enclosure of the true Church of Christ.


      IT IS OF CRITICAL importance, therefore, that this voice be actually one of
      true, that is, patristic Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens,
      especially in the heat of controversy, that basically sound Orthodox
      positions are exaggerated on one side, and misunderstood on the other, and
      thus an entirely misleading impression is created in some minds that the
      cause of true Orthodoxy today is a kind of "extremism," a sort of
      "right-wing reaction" to the prevailing "left-wing" course now being
      followed by the leaders of the "official" Orthodox Churches. Such a
      political view of the struggle for true Orthodoxy today is entirely false.
      This struggle, on the contrary, has taken the form, among its best
      representatives today?whether in Russia, Greece, or the Diaspora?of a
      return to the patristic path of moderation, a mean between extremes; this
      is what the Holy Fathers call the ROYAL PATH.


      The teaching of this "royal path" is set forth, for example, in the tenth
      of St. Abba Dorotheus' Spiritual lnstructions, where he quotes especially
      the Book of Deuteronomy: Ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to
      the left, but go by the royal path (Deut. 5:32, 17:11), and St. Basil the
      Great: "Upright of heart is he whose thought does not turn away either to
      excess or to lack, but is directed only to the mean of virtue." But perhaps
      this teaching is most clearly expressed by the great Orthodox Father of the
      5th century, St. John Cassian, who was faced with a task not unlike our own
      Orthodox task today: to present the pure teaching of the Eastern Fathers to
      Western peoples who were spiritually immature and did not yet understand
      the depth and subtlety of the Eastern spiritual doctrine and were therefore
      inclined to go to extremes, either of laxness or over-strictness, in
      applying it to life. St. Cassian sets forth the Orthodox doctrine of the
      royal path in his Conference on "sober-mindedness" (or "discretion")?the
      Conference praised by St. John of the Ladder (Step 4:105) for its
      "beautiful and sublime philosophy":


      "With all our strength and with all our effort we must strive by humility
      to acquire for ourselves the good gift of sober-mindedness, which can
      preserve us unharmed by excess from both sides. For, as the Fathers say,
      the extremes from both sides are equally harmful?both excess of fasting and
      filling the belly, excess of vigil and excessive sleep, and other
      excesses." Sobermindedness "teaches a man to go on the royal path, avoiding
      the extremes on both sides: on the right side it does not allow him to be
      deceived by excessive abstinence, on the left side to be drawn into
      carelessness and relaxation." And the temptation on the "right side" is
      even more dangerous than that on the "left": "Excessive abstinence is more
      harmful than satiating oneself; because, with the cooperation of
      repentance, one may go over from the latter to a correct understanding, but
      from the former one cannot" (i.e., because pride over one's "virtue" stands
      in the way of the repentant humility that could save one). (Conferences,
      II, chs. 16, 2, 17.)


      Applying this teaching to our own situation, we may say that the "royal
      path" of true Orthodoxy today is a mean that lies between the extremes of
      ecumenism and reformism on the one side, and a "zeal not according to
      knowledge" (Rom. 10:2) on the other. True Orthodoxy does not go "in step
      with the times" on the one hand, nor does it make "strictness" or
      "correctness" or "canonicity" (good in themselves) an excuse for pharisaic
      self-satisfaction, exclusivism, and distrust, on the other. This true
      Orthodox moderation is not to be confused with mere luke-warmness or
      indifference, or with any kind of compromise between political extremes.
      The spirit of "reform" is so much in the air today that anyone whose views
      are molded by the "spirit of the times" will regard true Orthodox
      moderation as dose to "fanaticism," but anyone who looks at the question
      more deeply and applies the patristic standard will find the royal path to
      be far from any kind of extremism. Perhaps no Orthodox teacher in our own
      days provides such an example of sound and fervent Orthodox moderation as
      the late Archbishop Averky of Jordanville; his numerous articles and
      sermons breathe the refreshing spirit of true Orthodox zealotry, without
      any deviation either to the "right" or to the "left," and with emphasis
      constantly on the spiritual side of true Orthodoxy. (See especially his
      article, "Holy Zeal," in The Orthodox Word, May-June, 1975.)


      THE RUSSIAN CHURCH Outside of Russia has been placed, by God's Providence,
      in a very favorable position for preserving the "royal path" amidst the
      confusion of so much of 20th-century Orthodoxy. Living in exile and poverty
      in a world that has not understood the suffering of her people, she has
      focused her attention on preserving unchanged the faith which unites her
      people, and so quite naturally she finds herself a stranger to the whole
      ecumenical mentality, which is based on religious indifference and
      self-satisfaction, material affluence, and soulless internationalism. On
      the other hand, she has been preserved from falling into extremism on the
      "right side" (such as might be a declaration that the Mysteries of the
      Moscow Patriarchate are without grace) by her vivid awareness that the
      Sergianist church in Russia is not free; one can of course have no
      communion with such a body, dominated by atheists, but precise definitions
      of its status are best left to a free Russian church council in the future.
      If there seems to be a "logical contradiction" here ("if you don't deny her
      Mysteries, why don't you have communion with her?"), it is a problem only
      for rationalists; those who approach church questions with the heart as
      well as the head have no trouble accepting this position, which is the
      testament bequeathed to he Russian Church of the Diaspora by her wise Chief
      Hierarch, Metropolitan Anastassy (+1965).


      Living in freedom, the Russian Church Outside of Russia has considered as
      one of her important obligations to express her solidarity and full
      communion with the underground True Orthodox Church of Russia, whose
      existence is totally ignored and even denied by "official" Orthodoxy. In
      God's time, when the terrible trial of the Russian Church and people will
      have passed, the other Orthodox Churches may understand the Russian Church
      situation better; until then, it is perhaps all one can hope for that the
      free Orthodox Churches have never questioned the right of the Russian
      Church Outside of Russia to exist or denied the grace of her Mysteries,
      almost all of them have long remained in communion with her (until her
      non-participation in the ecumenical movement isolated her and made her a
      reproach to the other Churches, especially in the last decade), and up to
      this day they have (at least passively) resisted the politically-inspired
      attempts of the Moscow Patriarchate to have her declared "schismatic" and
      "uncanonical."


      In recent years, the Russian Church Outside of Russia has also given
      support and recognition to the True Orthodox Christians of Greece, whose
      situation also has long been exceedingly difficult and misunderstood. In
      Greece the first blow against the Church (the calendar reform) was not as
      deadly as the "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius in Russia, and for this
      reason it has taken longer for the theological consciousness of the
      Orthodox Greek people to see its full anti-orthodox significance. Further,
      few bishops in Greece have been bold enough to join the movement (whereas,
      by contrast, the number of non-Sergianist bishops in the beginning was
      larger than the whole episcopate of the Greek Church). And only in recent
      years has the cause of the old calendarists become even a little
      "intellectually respectable," as more and more university graduates have
      joined it. Over the years it has suffered persecutions, sometimes quite
      fierce, from the State and the official Church, and to this day it remains
      disdained by the "sophisticated" and totally without recognition from the
      "official" Orthodox world. Unfortunately, internal disagreements and
      divisions have continued to weaken the cause of the old calendarists, and
      the lack a single unanimous voice to express their stand for patristic
      Orthodoxy. Still, the basic Orthodoxy of their position cannot be denied,
      and one can only welcome such sound presentations of it as may be seen in
      the article that follows.


      The increasing realization in recent years of the basic oneness of the
      cause of True Orthodoxy throughout the world, whether in the Catacomb
      Church of Russia, the old calendarists of Greece, or the Russian Church
      Outside of Russia, has led some to think in terms of a "united front" of
      confessing Churches to oppose the ecumenical movement which has taken
      possession of "official" Orthodoxy. However, under present conditions this
      will hardly come to pass; and in any case, this is a "political" view of
      the situation which sees the significance of the mission of true Orthodoxy
      in too external a manner. The full dimensions of the True-Orthodox protest
      against "ecumenical Orthodoxy", against the neutralized, lukewarm Orthodoxy
      of the apostasy, have yet to be revealed, above all in Russia. But it
      cannot be that the witness of so many martyrs and confessors and champions
      of True Orthodoxy in the 20th century will have been in vain. May God
      preserve His zealots in the royal path of true Orthodoxy, faithful to Him
      and to His Holy Church until the end of the age!


      This article originally appeared in The Orthodox Word, Sept.-Oct., 1976
      (70), 143-149.
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