by Metropolitan Sergii (Stragorodsky)
Part Four of Four.
An understanding of the Ecumenical Church as a conglomerate of heterogenous parts.
But this very attractive, broad and most pleasing to all theory cannot be attributed to the Church. The Church of Christ always understood its unity in the one Eucharist: “all commune from the one bread and the one cup.” The hierarchy may be present; it can trace its orders directly to the Apostles; but having broken the Eucharistic communion with the Church, that hierarchy loses the power which remains with the Church, to bind and loose and particularly, to celebrate the true Eucharist. Therefore, the only viable members of the Universal Church of Christ can be only those local churches which have not lost their participation in that one universal Eucharist.
The number of such participants can at times be reduced to an absolute minimum; but this does not change the situation for the fallen-away majority and does not permit it to call itself a Church. The most that it can be: the heterodox are in a darkened porch or a courtyard of the Church where sinners and those deprived of communion had to stand, although they were not completely cut off from the Church. The way to restoration of communion and through this to eternal salvation is the same for fallen away organizations as it is for any fallen individual. It is necessary not only to recognize one’s sins before the Church but to receive admission to the Eucharist from the Church which has the power to bind and loose, which takes place through the rite of reconciliation. Only such a reception opens the way for the fallen to the full membership in the Church.
That this was the original teaching of the Church about itself and that this is the teaching of the ancient “undivided” Church, so dear to the Old Catholics and their types, can be seen not only from written sources from those times but from living witnesses, namely the still viable groups of Nestorians, Monophysites, Armenians and Copts, Maronites, etc. All these organizations split away from the yet “undivided” Church, and when they left her, each of them believed (and continues to believe) that they are the true Orthodox Church of Christ, and that others (including our own Orthodox) are schismatics or heretics.
They by no means see themselves merely a part of the Church alongside other independent parts, although superior to them. The Church for them was and is not a sum total of various parts of a whole of one degree or another, but a single monolithic organization united by one Eucharist. Outside that organizations are ecclesiastical splinters which do not have an independent meaning. These organizations learned to believe this from the “undivided” Church.
As for the previously described attempts to obtain the grace of priesthood somehow apart from the Church, that is outside from her or within her but without her consent, all these attempts are in themselves under judgement.
They are unacceptable to the Church and for the seekers themselves, without any value: they do not give them the desired grace of priesthood.
In the first place all such attempts are based on a crudely sensual, superstitious understanding of the Mystery of the priesthood, as if it were some magic talisman which is so powerful that it can perform miracles and at the same time helpless as any inanimate thing. It can somehow be captured from the magician and then used as a talisman according to one’s wishes. Such spiritual blindness reflects internal unbelief a “petrified sensation” towards the life of spiritual grace, a general condition of the soul standing in the way of receiving the desired grace.
Let us recall that Simon Magus did not receive hierarchal grace precisely because he contemplated about God’s gift blasphemously, which showed that
“his heart was not right before God” (Acts 8:18, 23).
Yes, there are priests in the Church with such a spiritual condition. But as long as the priest is in the Church and acts in her name, his defects are covered by the Church’s plenitude. Leaving the Church, what can he offer to his new flock?
In the second place, the above attempts in fact are accompanied with canonical transgressions, which bring about ejection, frequently by way of bribery, especially with the enticement of priests and bishops, as was the case with Amvrosii of Belokrinitza (and here not only those who ordain and were ordained for a reward are deprived of grace, but all those who were with them, laymen and monastics, subject to anathema. E.C. IV:2), or almost always accompanied by fraud in one way or another which is equivalent to bribery and likewise results in the deprivation of grace (Cf E.C.VII:8).
A classic example of an attempt to fool each other in the transmission of the grace of priesthood from the Orthodox Church to the dissidents is the “rite” developed in September of 1925 in Ashkhabad by Bishop Andrey Ukhtomsky and Archimandrite Kliment, who left the Church. Upon instruction from the Old Believers, Kliment came to Bp. Andrey inviting him to go over to the Old Believers. Bp. Andrey knew very well that the Old Believers would receive him only by way of the Second Rite, that is with the renunciation of Nikoniasm and by chrismation and he still agreed. But, in renouncing Nikoniasm he took advantage of a sophism: Nikon’s reforms served as an impetus for Church reforms of Peter I and on the basis of the latter a new direction in Church life came about, bringing on the Renovationists.
Thus to renounce Renovationism would mean a renunciation of Nikonism. Anointing himself with Holy Chrism, he thought that he is not performing the rite of chrismation but a simple anointing as a sign of spiritual joy on the occasion of the event. Kliment, who was to receive consecration to the episcopate from Bp. Andrey, quickly closed his eyes to these small details. Bp. Andrey became an Old Believer bishop and Kliment was consecrated. However such quid pro quo did not satisfy the Old Believers and they did not recognize Andrey as one of theirs nor Kliment as a bishop.
The Old Believers not infrequently resort to such trickery themselves. For example they make sure that someone leaving the Church to join them, so to say jumps the fence, that is he goes through the rite of reception as an Old Believer before there is time for the Church court to suspend him or deprive him of Orders. They forget that in addition to the earthly court there is the judgement of God from which no one, no where, can hide.
“Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them” (Amos 9:2).
Even the earthly Church court can reach the one who ran away, wherever he may have gone: according to the canons a vagrant cleric remains a cleric of his former diocese and as such is subject to judgement by his bishop, likewise a vagrant bishop is still subject to his superior. Joining a dissident organization does not shield one from a Church court but merely an additional reason to deprive the vagrant from his Orders or at least to suspend him and declare all his ministrations after leaving the Church to be ineffective.
Even more questionable and hopeless is the attempt to obtain ordination from some heterodox organization. For example, one Archimandrite, who was not really a bad sort, lost his patience in waiting for an Orthodox bishopric and decided to get what he wanted by indirect means: he went over to the Renovationists, obtained a consecration and soon after that came to me with repentance and with a request to be taken back to the Church.
An even better case: a young Hieromonk who was very active and received awards from his bishop for among other things his struggles against Renovationists and Gregorievites, all of a sudden becomes a Gregorievite bishop and writes to me requesting admission to the Church, promising to bring over the whole episcopate. Their logic is understandable:
“To be sure, it is a sin to go over to the Dissidents; the Church court will impose a penance; I will repent of my sin, perform the penance but nonetheless I will remain a bishop.”
Certainly, it is not possible to receive those two in their present rank even if we recognized Gregoriavite ordinations and (after 2 April 1924) those of the Renovationists. A considerable condescension in both cases would be not to deprive them of Orders for their blasphemous fraud but to retain the one as an Archimandrite and the other as a Hieromonk.
Such are the voyages of the learned German professors to the Monophysites for ordinations. The candidate for ordination is obviously lying: he reads the Monophysite confession, he promises loyalty to the Monophysite hierarchy and he knows very well in his soul that he doesn’t want to nor will he be a Monophysite, that he will immediately cut all ties with the Monophysite hierarchy because he wants the bishopric for himself alone and for his organization. If those who ordain are not fooled by the true intentions of the candidate, then they are acting dishonestly with respect to their Monophysite organization. It is no wonder that suspicions arise that the alertness of the guardians of the Monophysite integrity in such cases is made dormant by some unspiritual means. Even if those who ordain are motivated by self-imagined benevolence that is, to provide hierarchs for the wandering organization, having left the Lutherans or Roman Catholics but who did not join the Church, then the Church has the right to view such an ordination as an act directed towards harming the Orthodox mission and to apply all the strictness and force of canons to such an extraterritorial ordination (Ap. 14; E.C.I:16; Sard. 15, etc.).
With respect to the above mentioned Gregory Guzik and his candidate Spiridon, neither one nor the other can be recognized as bishops even if both of them were not married. Guzik received his Orders from Anglicans, whose orders are not recognized by the Russian Church. The recognition of that ordination by Kasangian, who broke away from Rome, an Armenian Uniate, is not binding on anyone. One must wonder about Spiridon, why did a person with a theological formation, allow himself to be ordained by some wandering bishop with questionable orders, and then proclaimed himself an Orthodox bishop.
By the same token those who reject all signs of Apostolic succession in heterodoxy are likewise wrong, as is the case of extreme protectors of Orthodox dogma, but those are even more in error who see that succession as some value in itself which can be utilized without and outside of the Orthodox Universal Church. The heterodox group have a great advantage who have preserved Apostolic succession in that the Church still considers them
“of the Church” (ek tis ekklisias), “not yet foreign to the Church.”
She still preserves
“a certain order of communion”
with them, on the same level as she has with the sinners and those under penance. However if this impaired and hopeless communion does not lead to full unity with the Church in the one Eucharist, then all the advantages of such heterodox organizations fall away without any benefit. (Rom 9:4-5; 10:4).