St. John Chrysostom Russian Orthodox Church - House Springs (St. Louis Area), Missouri

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How Should We Conduct Ourselves in Speaking with the Non-Orthodox?

In May, 2005, a meeting of the World Council of Churches was held in Greece. A bishop of the Church of Greece, anticipating that many non-Orthodox participants would be visiting parishes within his diocese, sent the following encyclical to his flock. He instructs them how to welcome these visitors with respect, love, and humility, while at the same time witnessing to the truth. His words are also very pertinent to us, who deal with situations such as this every day. (Emphases in bold have been added.)

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Holy Metropolis of Attica, [Greece]
Protocol No. 334, Encyclical No. 5
Thomas Sunday 2005

To the pious Christians of our Holy Metropolis,

Beloved children in the Lord,

Christ is Risen! As you most probably know, a Conference of the World Council of Churches will take place, with the approval of the Holy Synod, in our province, beginning tomorrow, 9 May 2005, and will last until 16 May. This Council is mainly made up of representatives of Protestant confessions, although representatives of many Orthodox Churches also participate. It is an accepted truth that its role is ambiguous; there are not a few who express their serious reservations about its methodology, function, and ultimate purpose in the contemporary world and its relation with the One Truth. The Holy Synod has nevertheless taken and proceeded with its decision. We respect its decisions, but are, at the same time, also obliged to take the necessary measures to provide a witness in the best possible way, as well as to guard against influences which adulterate our ethos.

Having said this, I would also like to inform you of the following:

If we receive heterodox to impart to them the witness of our faith and tradition, this is holy. If we host them to express to them our respect and our freedom, this is noble. If, however, we extend an invitation to them to water down and pass around together with them the treasure of the true faith, this is impious. Unfortunately, the World Council of Churches is a syncretistic organization. It is a religious organization which advocates the unity of Christians, but with an earthly and worldly perception. The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church does not “pray together,” but does pray for the God-given and ordained union of all. It does not discuss and dialogue with the aim of reaching human agreement, but provides its obligatory witness in order to call us all to conversion. Nor does the Church become passionately fanatical and intolerant or, still less, is it seized with panic, because of heterodox practices and conceptions, but rather, boldly and respectfully, it offers its confession of the faith.

Next Sunday, the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, according to the program of the Conference, quite a few of the participants will visit parishes in our region to observe our divine worship. One can see that the possibility of our liturgical order being disrupted and of some of the aforementioned heterodox asking to receive holy communion or antidoron is not insignificant. I would ask, therefore, that our clergy be especially attentive on this day. As you also know, the Anglicans have in the recent past proceeded with the ordination of women, while a variety of Protestant confessions have gone further and ordained homosexuals. Steps such as these are not of secondary importance, since they are deeply offensive to the most holy sacrament of the priesthood.

We will not drive anyone away. Maybe we will run into a few women who believe that they have the gift of the priesthood. Maybe people of an uncertain character will approach us and present themselves to us as priests. Maybe, furthermore, some attending the Conference with a worldly way of thinking and understanding will approach us and will appear to us as angels of the kingdom of God. We clearly contest their so-called ecclesiastical gifts; however, we will not insult them or offend them. We confess the delusion which exists; however, the persons who expresses it we respect and encounter in a dignified manner. Nevertheless, it is absolutely essential that we take care that the constancy and solemnity of our witness might not be infected; that the peace of our mystical worship not be disturbed; that the avowed truth of our Orthodox faith not be falsified within us. Perhaps these people are better than us, as concerns their characters. Their faith, however, is dangerously unsound and ailing. It is so ill that we could assert that they believe in a Christ Who does not exist.

Christ awaits their conversion in the correction of their teaching, faith and path. From us, he awaits conversion in the humble confession of our holy Orthodox faith and in a consistent and holy life.

In the Protestant world, mission is understood as proselytism, as an effort to persuade others to follow what they preach as the truth. In the Orthodox Tradition, mission means witness and confession. It means giving the opportunity to our fellow human-beings for God to speak within them, that they may go from becoming creatures of God to becoming His children, and go from being our fellow human-beings to being our brothers in the faith. Perhaps some of them will approach us in a spirit of proselytism as understood above. Let us respond by giving them a clear witness, but in the wisdom of love in Christ.

In an age such as that in which we live, the temptation to relativize everything, to sacrifice the clarity of our confession on the altar of worldly-minded tolerance, to call into question the divine gift of our Orthodox faith on account of a wrongly-understood ecumenistic unity, to replace the missionary witness of the conversion of all with the ecumenist vision of universal co-existence, is more than obvious. However, given the many opportunities presented by contemporary ideological pluralism, the blessing to submit our witness—not as an intolerant persistence in crude ideas, but as a magnanimous confession of personally-experienced truths, which we do not uphold as if they were in danger, but rather confess, because without them we are in danger—is exceptionally great.

I pray that the Risen Lord will, on the one hand, help us to know the treasure of the One Church which we hold. On the other hand, I pray that He will help those at the Conference of the many “churches,” to discover, together with the saving faith which they do not know, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, with which they converse.

With much love in the Risen Christ,
+ Nicholas of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki
(Locum Tenens of the Diocese of Attica)