Reasonableness of our Faith, Bishop Tikhon and Ecumenism
I was asked to comment on a homily given on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee by Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Egorievsk titled, “A Test of the Reasonableness of Our Faith.”1 I read carefully the rather lengthy transcript.2 Bishop Tikhon said exactly what one would expect from someone who happens to be the vicar of Patriarch Kyrill of Russia, who is also reported to be “the personal confessor of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”3 So, what am I saying? That he delivered a political talk, aligned with the new order of things embraced by Patriarch Kirill, in full support of his friend, President Vladimir Putin, whose goal is to extend his geopolitical influence.
The Reality of Ecumenism
What is this “new order of things”? It was expressed by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, in an interview he gave on Feb. 19, 2016: “Today, we do not speak about overcoming this division [between Christians of the East and of the West], but we speak about learning to live and work in this world as brothers, not rivals in order to protect the values we share, to preach Gospels together, to open God's truth to people.”4 Bishop Tikhon’s talk reflects the new order, the new reality that has emerged: the reality of ecumenism and syncretism. A brief analysis of his talk will reveal that.
An equivocal Orthodox witness
I find his talk to be disconcerting. He is vacillating, and gives an equivocal Orthodox witness, imbued by the ecumenistic spirit of the age. He tries hard to convince us that our relations with the heterodox should be in a spirit of love. He adduces biblical passages and patristic witnesses with seemingly contradictory statements made by them to back up his defense of an indefensible position— indefensible because it is untraditional. Despite his denial, his ecclesiology is ecumenistic. He speaks of “the Holy Orthodox Church,” but he does not identify it with the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” He speaks on preserving “the Christian world with its Christian values,” whereas he should be speaking on preaching the gospel of salvation to the world.
Love and Hate
He quotes Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky, 1886-1929), who, in writing to an Anglican says, “it is high time for us to talk in the spirit of love and good will. I am entirely ready to repeat the words of your letter: ‘The spirit of love should triumph over the spirit of hate; the spirit of humility over the spirit of rebellion and pride.’” He (Bishop Tikhon) chastises “an Orthodox Christian by the name of Joseph” for breaking communion, and rightly so. (Incidentally, a layman does not “break communion”; a bishop does.) However, his lovi-doviness ends there, and gives way to the same hatred and name-calling he demonizes. It happens with all ecumenists: they will fraternize with their likes (Orthodox or not), but lose their cool when dealing (they actually refuse to deal) with the zealots. His rantings with that poor soul betray his own intransigence. Look at his name-calling: “ruthlessness,” “devil’s work,” “devilish outrage,” “demonic mockery,” “frenziedly,” “wretch,” “demonic haste,” “spirit of deceitfulness, condemnation, and self-aggrandizement… drawing others into ruin by word and example,” “total unbelief in the Church.” He is carried away in an uncontrolled rage contrary to his intended main message: make love, not war—to all, that is, except to those he calls “morose isolationists.” Personally, I find his unleashing remarks unbecoming.
Orthodoxy is proclaimed
He sets before us Hieromartyr Hilarion as someone who displays love towards the heterodox. Hieromartyr Hilarion does exactly what the Apostle to the Nations tells us to do: he speaks the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), when he says, “For me, Catholics are not a Church, and therefore not Christians, for there is no Christianity without the Church.” Does he (Bishop Tikhon) have the guts to say the same? (He cannot say yes, because he calls Roman Catholicism a Church.) But Hieromartyr Hilarion has more to say on the subject: “Nowadays Christianity is seen merely as a private, secret form of piety, but Christian life has been impoverished. Christian life is only possible in the Church; only the Church lives the life of Christ… ‘New paths’ are created bearing the name of Christ, but without the Church, ‘near but outside the walls of the Church.’ Those ‘new paths’ prove very convenient for those who preserve the name of Christ but worship their favorite idols.”5 This is Orthodoxy proclaimed and witnessed6 urbi et orbi. Does Bishop Tikhon- or Patriarch Kirill- subscribe to it?
On April 13, 2016 the ROCOR Synod of bishops issued a communication concerning the texts of the Pan-Orthodox Council. In it they also quoted Hieromartyr Hilarion. Here is the pertinent quote:
While our hearts echo the sentiment of the holy Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) who observed the fracture in the Christian world — “What conscious Christian does not sorrow in soul when he sees the enmity and division among people who should be uniting their faith, among whom should be reigning the peace left and given by Christ to His disciples, and love poured into the hearts of Christians by the Holy Spirit!” — we acknowledge at the same time that the advent of such peace to those who are divided can come only through the proclamation of the one true path towards unity: the life of salvation offered in the Church; and that understanding how to return to the indivisible Church begins with a right understanding of separation.7
Here is a bold affirmation of the only stand Orthodox should take concerning the union of Christians: return to the unity of the Church. Can Bishop Tikhon and his fellow ecumenists proclaim this faith to their separate brethren? Why don’t they imitate the Saint they admire?
Bishop Tikhon is very equivocal following a tactic of adducing apparent contradictory statements by Saints and Orthodox theologians, in an attempt to drive home his ecumenist agenda. For example, he quotes St. Theophan as “recognizing” the [Roman] Catholic baptism and other sacraments. Since he does not provide the source of the citation we don’t know in what context St. Theophan formulated the words attributed to him. Even so look how he phrases this statement. “Our Church,” he says, “has condescension toward Catholics and accepts… Catholic baptism and other sacraments.” “Acceptance” does not mean “recognition” or “validity.” “Condescension” means “economy.”
But here is what St. Theophan says elsewhere in one of his letters:
The truth of God, the whole, pure, and saving truth, is to be found neither in the Roman Catholics, nor in the Protestants, nor in the Anglicans… It is to be found only in the One True Church, the Orthodox Church. The others may well believe that they possess the truth. In reality, however, they are far from it. The Roman Catholics, who were the first to split from the Church, consider the truth to be with their side. The Protestants, who protested against the Roman Catholics’ failure on a score of points, failed themselves to return to the truth and, in fact, strayed from it even further than the former. They did not establish their new faith upon God’s truth, but upon heretical sophistries of their own invention. No matter how much they claim to be right, they are very far from the truth.8
The Saint is straightforward in saying that Roman Catholics and other Christians are not “outside the Orthodox Church,” as Bishop Tikhon states, but outside the Church (they “were… split from the Church,” he states). Also note that the Saint does not call Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants “Churches,” as Patriarch Kirill, Bishop Tikhon and the ecumenists do. Incidentally, St. Philaret of Moscow says the same thing in the quotation Bishop Tikhon provides, where he speaks of “the error of those who have fallen away from the Universal Church,” not the Orthodox Church, as if the Orthodox Church was one of the Churches.
Bishop Tikhon attempts to minimize the impact of Patriarch Kirill’s meeting with the pope and of their Joint Statement. The fact is that he has scandalized and let down first his own flock, and then all Orthodox Christians. Not because he met with the pope, nor for displaying together with him solidarity for the suffering Christians, but because of the deceptive statements introduced by the Curia who drafted the Joint Statement, statements which compromise our ecclesial identity. The patriarch should have removed the references that betray the uniqueness of the Church. Conspicuously, at the very top of the Joint Statement appears the following statement: “It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith… to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches.” We don’t have the same faith. If we did we would be united. We don’t believe in a plurality of Churches. We profess our faith in ONE Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. This is the main fault of the Joint Statement.
Following his Patriarch, Bishop Tikhon calls the Roman Catholics “our brothers.” But what happens to his brotherly spirit of reconciliation, unity and love, when it comes to his real “brothers”? Or are these feeling reserved only for schismatic and heretical Christians? Why is he so willing to “speak with the heterodox in a spirit of love and good will,” but so unwilling to do the same with his Orthodox brothers? Brothers and sisters in Christ are our fellow Orthodox Christians with whom we share the same faith and the same chalice. He believes that calling the non-Orthodox Christians “brothers” is in the spirit of Christian love, whereas it is done in a worldly, ecumenistic spirit.
Here is a sampling of other expressions contained in the Joint Statement, which are unacceptable from an Orthodox standpoint:
- “We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity”;
- “We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God”;
- “the loss of unity [is] the outcome of human weakness and of sin”;
- “undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited”;
- “We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war.”
Do we realize what the Joint Statement says? It says, We are innocent victims. We would be united today if our ancestors had not sinned in causing the division, which we inherited not because of any fault of ours. As, if not more objectionable than most of the above statements is the invitation not only to Christians, but to “all believers of God” to pray as if we all were believers of the same God. Statements such as the above are not “outright fantasies,” as Bishop Tikhon charges. Like his Patriarch, he too proves to be an ecumenist and a betrayer of the faith in Unam Sanctam, because he speaks of a “division in the Church.” Can Christ be divided? Following the Ecumenists, he says, “how terrible is the sin of division in the Church,” whereas he should be saying, how terrible is to fall away from the unity of the Church. Let him, or anyone else, defend his un-Orthodox expression.
He states that the issue of Christians outside Orthodoxy is a “very complicated question.” It is sad that he finds complicated something that to any Orthodox, and even more so to a bishop should be very simple and crystal clear. He writes: “We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians.” Very, very sad. There are no martyrs outside the Church. Read what the Church says in her holy Canons: “those who pray to heretical pseudo-martyrs are excommunicated,” to which St. Nicodemos the Athonite comments: “For many even of the heretics in the time of persecution and of idolatry showed fortitude even to death, and were called martyrs by those who shared their beliefs.”9 Yes, “called martyrs by those who shared their beliefs” — not by the Orthodox Christians. Their suffering does not unite them with Christ, because they believed in a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6) and in “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:3).10
Since the 1920’s, which mark the beginning of the ecumenical dialogues, the ecumenists have been using loveism ad nauseam. Where has that led us? We should always be following the Apostolic injunction, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We must always speak the truth, we must always proclaim the truth. Truth is Christ; we cannot leave Christ out of our dialogues and discussions. Love without truth is false love, human love, empty love: empty of Christ. We don’t want such love. We should avoid such love, because it is a false love, not a genuine love. What union can we ever have with this kind of love? False union. If we truly love them we need to bring them to the Church, from which they have been separated. The Apostle says, “till we all come in the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:13). We pray for “the unity of faith.” We don’t relegate faith to the back seat, as the ecumenists do.
Who follows faithfully the holy Fathers: we, Orthodox Christians, or the ecumenists? The Fathers will give us the answer. How have they dealt with the non-Orthodox? Despite Bishop Tikhon’s appeal to enlist in his camp St. John of Kronstadt and Hieromartyr Hilarion, Church history proves him wrong. We follow St. Cyprian, St. Athanasios the Great, St. Maximos the Confessor, St. Theodore the Studite, St. John Damascene, St. Photios the Great, St. Mark of Ephesos, St. Gregory Palamas, Patriarch Jeremiah II and his Synod, St. Nektarios the Wonderworker, St. Justin Popović, St. Paisios, including St. John of Kronstadt and Hieromartyr Hilarion, all of whom proclaimed the Orthodox faith. (What else could they do?) Even in our days we have bishops and theologians who divide correctly the word of God’s truth. We will not be left headless, like the Old Believers. “Do not be afraid, little flock…” (Lk. 12:32). We trust that the Lord will reveal His true worshipers, who have not bent their knee to Ecumenism and the Anti-Christ spirit of New Age.
Witnessing our faith
Towards the end of his talk Bishop Tikhon mentions that the contribution of the Orthodox people is “to bring the non-Orthodox to the true Church.” That’s good and commendable. But how? He suggests to witness Orthodoxy “by prayer and the example of our lives,” “to talk in the spirit of love and good will,” and not by “the teaching of the truth,” which, according to him, is “the spirit of hate” and “the spirit of rebellion and pride.” Here we see the “ecumenical approach” hard at work, splitting love from faith, proclaiming the faith when addressing those who share our faith, but witnessing our faith with our example when dealing with people of different religious backgrounds.11 This is the spirit of Ecumenism, which he embraces. If he denies he is an ecumenist let him say so, let him call Patriarch Bartholomew an ecumenist, and if he is not willing to do that, let him say that his predecessor, Patriarch Athenagoras, was an ecumenist.
Is reasonableness a good test?
I reserved my last comment for the title of Bishop Tikhon’s talk: “A Test of the Reasonableness of Our Faith.” What does he mean by that? How does this title relate to his topic? I found it strange that nowhere in his talk does he refer to this title, nor has he provided a clue as to its meaning. Except for an indirect reference, when he uses its opposite, “unreasonableness”: “Unreasonableness” is exhibited by those Orthodox Christians he chastises, so we infer that “reasonableness” is expressed by his fellow ecumenists, who display love for their heterodox brothers. Personally I don’t recall coming across any Father using this term. I ask: is it a prerequisite of faith to be reasonable? How reasonable is the Lord’s resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven? Should we deny it if it is perceived as unreasonable? The more I think about it the more suspect the term becomes. It smells of…Roman Catholicism and Aristotelianism.
In fact, it draws from Roman Catholic sources. As it turns out Pope Benedict XVI gave a talk on Nov. 21, 2012 titled, “The reasonableness of faith in God.”12 I read this catechetical homily and I found it to be…reasonable. Indeed faith in God is reasonable, that is “in accordance with reason”13 or “agreeable to reason or sound judgment; logical.”14 Surely our faith is not against reason or sound judgment; it’s not irrational.
I don’t intend to make a defense of Pope Benedict’s defense of the reasonableness of faith in knowing God. Orthodoxy does not deny such reasonableness, however it points out that true knowledge of God and of the mysteries of faith goes beyond even an illumined reason by a created grace, but is obtained through a superior knowledge, that of the illumination and deification of nous by the rays of the uncreated light. What is missing in Roman Catholic doctrine is the Palamite teaching of uncreated grace, which makes union with God possible.
So what message does Bishop Tikhon want to convey with the title he gave to his talk, “A Test of the Reasonableness of Our Faith”? What other than, those who do not agree with Patriarch Kirill’s “opening” to the West and criticize him are unreasonable? The way I see it, reasonable are those Orthodox who follow the Church Fathers, without deviating from them, who desire the “unity of all” in faith, and believe that there is no other way to be saved but by “belief in the truth” (2 Thes. 2:13).
Bishop Tikhon and those of like mind with him with their reasonableness have turned their backs to Orthodox tradition and have embraced the Roman Catholic (heretical) teaching of pragmatic rationalism. The latest expression of the spirit of the age is included in a recent statement made by a Metropolitan of the Ecumenical (read ecumenistic) throne, Metropolitan of France Emmanuel: “We cannot say we don’t recognize all the other Churches, whether the Roman Catholic Church or the Churches that came from the Reformation.”15 Voila!
- See our post, http://www.orthodoxwitness.org/the-fall-of-the-third-rome-moscow-capitulates-to-papism/
- I don’t know how reliable Wikipedia’s source is, Zhegulev, Ilya (26 November 2015). “Самые влиятельные в РПЦ”. Meduza (I don’t read Russian-actually I could read it, but I don’t understand it).
- “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods!” A Speech in Honor of the 95th Anniversary of the Moscow Theological Academy, http://www.pravmir.com/thou-shalt-have-no-other-gods/.
- Our post on kerygma and martyria addresses this subject.
- See our translation of this precious letter in our publication, Preaching Another Christ (Orthodox Witness 2011), p. 20.
- See Canons 9 and 34 of Laodicea (A.D. 364), which were confirmed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council, thus acquiring ecumenical force.
- Again we refer you to our booklet, Preaching Another Christ (see note 5).
- As we noted above, we address this very topic in another post.
- First meaning in Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
- First meaning in dictionary.com.