Archimandrite Georgios Kapsanis, Abbott of the Sacred Monastery of Saint Gregory of the Holy Mountain – August 2015
The 21st century’s European Union is in search of its identity. The “European identity” was not considered to be an object for serious concern, given that it was shaped solely by economic and political factors. But since cultural and especially religious factors had to also be taken into account during its search, serious discussions, intense disagreements and acute altercations unfolded around whether the “European Constitution” should or should not make any reference to Europe’s Christian identity.
But what does “Europe’s Christian identity” signify, for our Orthodox peoples? Just how Christian exactly is Europe’s “Christian identity”?
Those who struggle with the best of intentions to reinforce Europe’s Christian identity usually speak of it as if it were a historical given or a codex of Christian principles and values, on which the Christian peoples can converge, with the help of ecumenical contacts and inter-Christian dialogues. The Christians of Europe seek to secure it institutionally, because they are afraid of a possible discoloration of their continent, the altering of its distinctively Christian features because of changes in their populations (immigration etc.) or of the exclusion of Christian “inter-ecclesiastic” organizations from the decision-making centres in Europe. By following the same logic, the official Orthodox delegates’ proposals are likewise focused on the reinforcement of an institutional Christian presence in Europe.
The aim of this essay is to point out that the Orthodox self-awareness does not allow us to sidestep the fact that Orthodoxy cannot comprise a uniform “Christian identity” along with Western Christianity; on the contrary, it obliges us to stress that Orthodoxy is Europe’s primary, forsaken Faith, which must –eventually- comprise its Christian identity once again.
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Having lived in the environment of the Holy Mountain and in the spiritual ambiance created by it, we are aware that our Orthodox heritage should not be measured with the measures of this world. In recent years we have been witnessing the piety and the deep faith of the Holy Mountain’s pilgrims, many of whom have gone to great lengths and at a great cost to come here from the Balkan countries with the same religion and from Russia.
In the conscience of all these pious Orthodox, but also of those whom they represent in their country, Orthodoxy does not have the meaning that is ascribed to it by those who regard it or confront it with ideological or sociological criteria; that is, by those who usually see anti-Western “Orthodox” arcs parallel to Muslim ones in our East, or regard Orthodoxy as a nationalist power of the nations that espouse it. As much as we Orthodox may have given such impressions because of our personal imperfections or collective slips, we still have the deeply rooted conviction in our conscience that Orthodoxy is something far more substantial, divine and indestructible: it is the priceless gift to the world by the holy, Triune God – the “faith, once delivered to the saints” (Jud.3) – which our Orthodox Church has preserved intact, without any heretical counterfeiting, and has safeguarded with many sacrifices during difficult times, lest we lose the hope of eternal life.
We Orthodox peoples have been blessed by our holy God to bear the seal of the Orthodox holy Baptism, to partake of the holy Orthodox Eucharist, to follow with humility the dogmatic teaching of the holy, seven Ecumenical Councils as the sole path towards salvation, and to uphold “the unity of spirit in the union of peace” (Ephes.4:3). We do, admittedly, carry the trust of the Orthodox Faith “in earthen vessels” (2 Cor.4:7), nevertheless, this – by the Grace of God – constitutes the reason for “the hope that is in us” (1 Pet.3:15).
Our Orthodox Church is not simply the ark of our national, historical heritage. It first and foremost is the One, Holy, Catholic (universal) and Apostolic Church. Not wanting to lose the hope of in-Christ salvation, the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans had preserved their Orthodox faith through all the difficult times, with the sacrifice of thousands of neo-martyrs who not only resisted islamification, but also to the forced acceptance of Unia (1). That is why the recent, post-collapse of atheist regimes resurgence of Unia, as well as the activity of neo-Protestant Confessions among Orthodox populations, constitute serious challenges for the Orthodox – and should be treated as such, because once again, they have been jeopardizing the salvation of simple souls, “for whom Christ died” (Rom.14:15).
Besides, in the Western societies – the traditionally roman catholic and protestant ones – wherever active Orthodox parishes exist, the Orthodox presence needs to be a modest testimony as to what authentic Christianity is, given that those societies were deprived of it for entire centuries on account of the papist and protestant deviations from the Apostolic Faith. Each time that a nostalgic search for the unadulterated Christian Faith culminates in the return of heterodox Christians to the bosom of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – the Orthodox Church – the true missionary nature of the Church becomes manifest. On returning to the Orthodox Church, the heterodox are not merely abandoning one church in order to espouse another, as is wrongly perceived. In reality they leave behind an anthropocentric, ecclesiastic formation and they rediscover the one and only Church of Christ; they become members of the Body of Christ and they re-orientate themselves towards the course of deification.
Unfortunately, syncretistic Ecumenism has been following the opposite direction, as expressed by the institutional instruments of the so-called Ecumenical Movement as well as by the vehicles of Papal-centered Ecumenism. By disregarding Orthodox Ecclesiology and pursuing the Protestant “branch theory” or the more recent, Rome-centered, “sister churches” theory, they maintain that the Truth of the Apostolic Faith – or parts thereof – is preserved in all of the Christian churches and confessions. That is why they have been directing their endeavours towards the realization of a visible unity of Christians, in disregard to the deeper unity in the Faith.
In this sense, ecumenistic “theology” has equated the Orthodox Baptism (with triple immersion) to the Roman Catholic sprinkling; it regards the “Filioque” heresy dogmatically equal to the Orthodox teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit from only the Father; it misinterprets the Pope of Rome’s primacy of authority as a primacy of ministry; it labels the Orthodox teaching that distinguishes between the essence and the energy in God and the teaching on Uncreated Grace e.a. as topics that are subject to theological examination.
This is nothing more than a flippant ecumenism, about which the ever-memorable Fr. Dimitri Stanisloae had written so accurately: “Out of the great desire for unity, an unconstrained enthusiasm is created every now and then, which believes that with its emotional fervour it can liquidate reality and reshape it without any difficulty. Also created is a diplomatic, conciliatory mentality which believes it can reconcile dogmatic positions or more general situations that keep the churches divided, by means of mutual submissions. These two methods, by which reality is confronted (or ignored), reveal a certain pliancy or a relativizing of the worth attributed to certain articles of the churches’ faiths. This relativizing may quite possibly be reflecting the very low importance that certain Christian groups –either in total or in certain of their circles– ascribe to those articles of faith. Out of enthusiasm or a diplomatic mentality, they propose exchanges and compromises to those articles, precisely because they have nothing to lose with what they are proposing. However, those compromises present a huge danger for the Churches whose corresponding articles carry an importance of the first degree. For those Churches, all such proposals of exchange and compromise are comparable to undisguised attacks.” (2) Parallel to the above, the protestant Confessions – which have gone as far as denying fundamental Dogmas of the Faith (the historical evidence of the Resurrection, the ever-virginal state of the Holy Mother e.a.), and the acceptance of anti-evangelical mores (homosexual marriage etc.) – are being equated with the most holy Local Orthodox Churches on the panels of the World Council of Churches. The theory of “demystification”, the “theology” on “the death of God”, the ordination of women to hieratic ranks, the church ceremony for homosexual marriages, undoubtedly do not constitute elements of our Christian identity.
Protestantism has arrived at a very deep crisis of faith. In his book (“Dancing Alone – The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion”, Regina Orthodox Press, Salisburg), Frank Schaeffer, the eponymic American Protestant who, after many years and tenacious personal research became Orthodox, provides a great deal of interesting information which reveals Protestantism’s falling away from the Truth of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
The extension and inevitable consequence of inter-christian syncretism is inter-faith syncretism, which recognizes the potential for salvation to those who belong to any one of the monotheistic religions. An Orthodox bishop wrote that “deep down, a church and a mosque… aim for the same spiritual awarding of mankind” (3). Inter-faith syncretism does not hesitate to even acknowledge salvific paths in all the religions of the world. (4) A few years ago, an Athens University Professor wrote that he can light a candle before the Icon of the Holy Mother, and just as readily before a statue of one of the Hinduist goddesses….
Orthodox bishops, clergy and theologians have unfortunately been influenced by this syncretistic mentality. With their theological views, which secularized leaders and intellectuals usually hear and acknowledge as Orthodox views, they are contributing towards this mentality’s overstepping of the narrow boundaries of personal viewpoints and becoming a “guideline” with targets and aspirations. In a prospect such as this, love – which has no reference to the dogmatic truth– is being established as a criterion for the union between Christians, while steadfast adherence to the traditional Orthodox theological positions is condemned as religious intolerance and fundamentalism, With regard to how the ecumenistic mentality is constructing the model of a superficially christian identity of Europe, characteristic are the “commitments” of the delegates of the christian churches, who had signed the Ecumenical Charter on the 22nd of April in 2001. (5)
This “christian” identity of Europe is however a far cry from the true Christian identity of the European peoples. It must be noted with every kind of emphasis, that Europe is being wronged, when we ascribe an identity to it which is not truly Christian, but only externally so. A morbid, adulterated Christianity is not the Christianity of the catacombs of Rome, of Saint Ireneos of Lugdunum (modern Lyon, France), the Orthodox monks of Scotland and Ireland and generally the Christianity of the first millennium. An adulterated Christianity cannot protect Europe from the onslaught of non-christian beliefs and morals in its societies.
It is already a known fact that many Europeans have become weary of dry rationalism; they long for a forsaken mysticism, which is why they are embracing the Muslim faith, Buddhism or Hinduism; why they surrender to esoteric pursuits or seek metaphysical experiences in New Age movements. It has been reported that in Italy alone, there are about 500 functioning Muslim mosques; while in France, 5 percent of the populace are Muslims.
The Orthodox Church possesses the Truth. She has Christ at Her core. Everything in Her is God-human, because everything being offered to the God-man Lord is blessed by the Uncreated Grace of the Holy Spirit. That is the reason She is able to repose the well-meaning souls that seek their release from the asphyxiating grip of rationalism, of scientism, of materialism, of idealism, of technocracy. That is why Orthodoxy must not be dragged into the melting-pot of syncretism; why the hope of the entire world must not be lost.
As Orthodox shepherds and as Orthodox faithful, we have a duty to safeguard the sacred trust of our Orthodox Faith. The Apostle of Nations, Paul, tells the presbyters of Ephesus and the shepherds of the Church to this day: “Take care of yourselves and all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as overseers to shepherd the Church of God, which He made His, through His own Blood”. (Acts 20:28) And the same one, when addressing the faithful people of Thessaloniki and the entire Church: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught…” (2 Thess.2:15)
In the sector of Faith the Old Continent has failed. The New Age is now openly threatening the European societies with de-Christianization. This is not strange. Europe turned its back on Christ and it had persecuted Him in the past, as astutely observed by Dostoevsky in his “Grand Inquisitor” (6) and by the Bishop of Zitsa, Saint Nicholas (7).
The Orthodox Church has an obligation to reveal Her charisma and Her mission, proclaim to the peoples of Europe that if there is something that can save Europe at this critical juncture of its history, it is Orthodoxy. Let us not deprive the Orthodox Church ourselves of the opportunity to share this salvific message to the peoples of Europe, by equating the Orthodox Faith with heresy, within syncretistic Ecumenism’s hazy perspective and ambiguous vision.
We can help to contribute towards a healthy, absolutely Orthodox Ecumenism, revealing to the heterodox Christians the Mystery of the God-Man and His Church, and proclaiming along with the blessed confessor, Elder Justin Popovitch “The exit from all the impasses –humanitarian, ecumenistic, papist– is the historical God-human, the Lord Jesus Christ and His God-human edifice – the Church – whose eternal Head He is, and Whose eternal Body She is.
The holy Apostolic, Patristic, Traditional, Conciliar, Catholic (universal) Orthodox Faith is the medicine that resurrects from all the heresies, whatever their names are. After all, every heresy is by man and “according to man”; each and every one of them places man in the God-man’s place and substitutes the God-man through man. In this manner, it denies and rejects the Church… The only salvation from this is the apostolic, God-human faith – that is, the full return to the God-human path of the holy Apostles and the holy Fathers. And this means a return to their immaculate, Orthodox faith and to the God-man Christ, and to the Grace-filled life of those in the Church through the Holy Spirit, and to their in-Christ freedom.
Differently, without the apostolic and Patristic path, without the apostolic and Patristic follow-up behind the only true God in all the world, and the worship of the only true and Ever-living God – the God-man and Saviour Christ – it is certain that mankind will be engulfed by the dead sea of a European, civilized idolatry, and instead of the Living and True God, it will be worshipping the false idols of this era, in which there is no salvation, no resurrection, and no deification for the sad being called “man” (8).
(1) Archimandrite George Kapsanis, Abbott of the Sacred Monastery of Saint Gregory of the Holy Mountain : “THE ECCLESIOLOGICAL SELF-AWARENESS OF THE ORTHODOX, FROM THE CAPTURE UP TO THE BEGINNING OF THE 20th CENTURY” in the collective tome “EIKOSIPENTAETIRION” (“25YEAR COLLECTION” – a dedication to Metropolitan Dionysios of Neopolis and Stavroupolis), Thessaloniki, 1999, p.124.
See also “UNIA AGAINST THE SERBIAN CHURCH” by Athanasius Yevtich, (retired Bishop of of Zahumlje-Herzegovina) in the collective tome “UNIA YESTERDAY AND TODAY”, Armos Publications, Athens 1992.
On the activity of Unia in Transylvania, see «30 BIOS OF RUMANIAN SAINTS», Orthodox Kypseli Publications, Thessaloniki 1992, p. 123.
(2) Dimitru Staniloae, «FOR AN ORTHODOX ECUMENISM», Athos Publications, Piraeus, 1976, pp. 19-20.
(3) «ORTHODOXY AND ISLAM», A publication of the Sacred Monastery of Saint Gregory, 1997, p.16.
(4) As above, pp. 9-11.
(5) See «Apostle Barnabas» magazine, Nicosia, Cyprus, Issue No.10/2001, pp. 411-423.
(6) «BROTHERS KARAMAZOV», F. Dostoevsky, Govosti Publications, Athensι, pp. 99-121.
(7) “ORTHODOX CHURCH AND ECUMENISM” by Archimandrite Justin Popovitch, Orthodox Kypseli Publications, Thessaloniki, 1974, p. 238 and 251-252.
(8) As above, pp. 256-257.
Holy Mountain, 24th March 2006.