Does Orthodoxy Matter? A Case Study



And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?


Father Seraphim Rose holding an icon of the Holy Trinityblessed seraphim.jpg

Orthodoxy means “true glory” or “true faith.”  We Orthodox think very highly of the word.  Or do we?  When it comes down to it, does Orthodoxy actually matter all that much to us (as it should)?  Orthodox Christians in the west find themselves living among many different Christianities and it can sometimes be tempting to think that notwithstanding some of the more obvious differences, (icons, the Theotokos, fasting, worship, for example), all these Christian traditions share much the same faith as us.  If you are of this opinion, then I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but it just isn’t true at all.  How so?

I am going to consider this issue by looking at a case study which reveals the damage that heresy can do in our personal lives, our relationships and even to the society and world that we live in.  It is a fictional story, but quite typical.

John and Mary go to an Evangelical Anglican Church.  John is Orthodox (Greek tradition).  Mary is Anglican.  This is her second marriage, being a young widow with one teenage son (Ian, 15) still living at home. She now has two children with John, daughters, aged 5 and 7.  John would prefer to go to his local Greek Church but his wife is a committed Anglican, and their children, although baptised in the Orthodox Church (with the exception of Ian), prefer the “lively worship songs”, as they put it, which are included in the church’s family service.  Ian is very involved in the local youth group and is thinking eventually of becoming an Anglican minister.  Does Orthodoxy then matter to John?  Well, yes, but only in a remote nostalgic sort of way.  It is some years now since he has attended Divine Liturgy, the last time was at Pascha in 2008.  His stepson, Ian, will have nothing to do with what he considers to be the “stuffy incomprehensible worship” at his stepdad’s church which he has visited once, just after his stepfather’s marriage.

Ten years later ….

Neither John nor Mary now regularly attend the Anglican Church.  John still hasn’t been back to the Orthodox Church since Pascha 2008 and Mary doesn’t like the new Vicar who is a woman.  Mary is quite a conservative evangelical believer who maintains that a woman should not be in a place of authority within the Church over men.  (This is the evangelical doctrine of the”headship of the male.”)  Her two daughters, now 15 and 17 still attend on their own and are very active in the youth group.  Ian, who shares his mother’s conservative outlook, has also left the church, disagreeing with what he believes to be the Anglican Church’s tolerance of homosexual partnerships.  He has started attending a very conservative Baptist church that teaches pure Calvinism, in particular, the doctrines known as TULIP (from the first letter of each doctrine), namely:-

Total Depravity – As a result of Adam’s fall, all humanity, is dead in sins and therefore damned.  Humanity’s nature is corrupt and utterly incapable of godliness.

Unconditional Election – Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, from eternity God elected certain people to salvation and others to damnation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response because man is unable to respond to God, nor does he want to.

Limited Atonement – Because God determined that certain people should be saved as a result of His unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected, and for whom Christ died, will be saved but the rest will be damned to hell for all eternity; again as determined by God’s sovereign will.

Irresistible Grace – Those whom God elected He draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds.  Man cannot choose to love God by his own choice and freedom.

Perseverance of the Saints – The precise people God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith to the end. None whom God has elected will ever be lost; they are eternally secure even though they may sin grievously after election.

Although Ian is a pious and committed believer these doctrines trouble him.  He begins to doubt that he is one of the elect, chosen by God for salvation.  His sinful life (he occasionally resorts to prostitutes) troubles him greatly but his church tells him that he is unable to make any right choice and save himself.  Ian enters a very dark period of depression, made much worse by the impact of these heresies on his mental health.  His fragile relationship with his atheist girlfriend disintegrates.  He seeks medical help for a latent depression which has now become the full blown clinical variety.

Five years further on, the two daughters are now at the same university, one just about to graduate but they have been unable to find an evangelical church they like nearby, so they have stopped attending church on the grounds that they believe in Christ and are saved, so what’s the point?  Back home John and Mary now lead thoroughly secular lives.  John sometimes thinks wistfully of his childhood back in Cyprus when he used to attend church with his Nana but this seems to him a very distant idealised time now.  He hopes, nonetheless, that his wife or children will respect his wish for an Orthodox funeral if he dies first.

So, did Orthodoxy matter to John?  Well yes, particularly earlier on, but for most of his adult life only in a nominal sort of way.  He had certainly not been catechised in his youth and his grasp of the faith, therefore, had always been somewhat tenuous.  Did Anglican evangelicalism then strike him as being similar to Orthodoxy?  Well yes, mostly.  He only saw differences in the worship style which often set his teeth on edge.  Let’s face it.  He attended the evangelical Anglican Church for the sake of his wife and family.  When they stopped going, so did he.  There is only one God after all and this was just a different way of being a Christian, it seemed to him.  He did lament his stepson’s involvement in the Calvinist church because he could see how its refusal of human freedom and choice, its dark doctrines of divine election to salvation or damnation, did not feel right to him, but he couldn’t really say why. 

Did Mary his wife ever consider Orthodoxy when the lady Vicar arrived?  Well, no, why should she?  Her husband rarely spoke of his childhood faith and she concluded that it could not have meant much to him in that case, so why should she consider it?  John and Mary now spend a conventional Sunday together as most couples do in their street, getting up late, going to the gym occasionally, shopping at B&Q, taking a drive into the countryside; just the usual and normal things everyone does nowadays.  Both still consider themselves as Christians, but obviously not of the fanatical sort whom they blame, quite rightly, for destroying Ian’s piece of mind.  As for the two girls, well they eventually graduated and now have families of their own.  Churchgoing, however, has become completely alien to all their families with the rest.

So, does Orthodox Christianity matter to you?
Does it matter enough for you to find out about it in more depth?
Does it matter enough for you to practice it as faithfully as you can, notwithstanding the distractions of modern life?
Does it matter enough for you to stay loyal to this faith no matter what challenges are presented to it by both family life and society as a whole?

And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

The Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church – Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaias


  • Theotokos of Vladimir, one of my favourite Theotokos icons, side by side with Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaias, one of the most enlightened, holy and loved Hierarchs of our times, and a great favourite of mine! I had the blessing of meeting him in various church services and conferences in Greece and abroad and I have always experienced Holiness, Light and Love by his side! I would never let go of his hand!

His Eminence, Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaias and Lavriotikis, recently sent the following encyclical message concerning the decision to convene the Holy and Great Synod in Crete, to the clergy and laity of the Holy Metropolis.

His Eminence’ Encyclical follows:

Dear Fathers and brothers, CHRIST IS RISEN!

I am sure you have been informed that beginning on the Sunday of Pentecost for about ten days the so called Holy and Great Synod will take place in Crete. This is a pan Orthodox Synod: in other words all the autocephalous Orthodox churches will participate, represented by arch-priests and headed by their leaders, that is to say their Patriarchs and Archbishops. Some have called it an Ecumenical Synod, although recently in particular for certain reasons they have avoided this title.

A Synod of this size is unique for the second millennium, that is it is the only one after the schism of Rome from the unit of the other Churches, namely from the body of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as we confess in the Creed.

The importance of this Synod and the hopes and expectations concerning it can be perceived. Therefore I consider it my pastoral responsibility to address you, to inform you of its ethos and its significance, since the laity according to our ecclesiastical tradition is not a mere spectator of events, but participates through prayer, dialogue and with their healthy reaction to the life of the Church.

A Synod of this dimension is convened in the name of the Tri-une God, chiefly for spiritual purposes, in order to unite the body of the faithful, to support them, to indicate the path of truth, to heal their perplexity and at the same time to bear witness to the contemporary world in the context of its mission, that is to say to reveal the one truth of God “to all nations” according to the exhortation of the Lord (Matthew Chapter 28, 19)

It must be done supported by the Holy Gospels, interpreted correctly, and according to the Holy Tradition of previous Synods, and to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and of course with reference to the problems of the modern age. It is immediately obvious that the findings of this kind of Synod must be clear, very strong,prophetic and inspired by God. It is as though God opens His mouth to speak after a thousand years of Synodical silence and to a “ warped and crooked generation” (Deuteronomy 32,5), which is confused, makes compromises, reaches dead ends, makes errors, heresies, is in denial, full of atheistic madness, a generation which overthrows  basic timeless values. There is a threat from all sides to the human being, in an age of worldwide insecurity, where technology has super strength; digital imprisonment; co-ordinated insults against God; mass destruction of ancient civilizations; the violent uprooting of peoples from their historical roots; and apocalyptical persecutions of Christians.

The voice of the Church must be “the voice of the Lord is on the waters” (Psalm 29,3) or “ the noise of thy waterspouts ”.(Psalm 42,7) It must move people and resurrect dead lives. If we are not ready for something like that, then it is better to wait, better still even at the last moment to postpone the Synod for later.

If four hundred bishops are photographed together in Crete with conventional smiles, having previously stirred up nothing, or have signed texts without the blood of truth or the water of life, without the knife edge of spiritual speech or reason, with meaningless theological formalities, to camouflage the truth and beautify reality, all this will not only render the Synod meaningless, but will also, more importantly, damage the prestige of the Orthodox witness now and for ever.

The Synod must take place only if it has to say and show something so powerful that it will resurrect all our hopes, lighten our darkness, cancel out the politicians’ suspicions and the egoistic expediency of our age which reaches even to our clergy.

The whole world thirsts for truth, hope, light, strength, life and authenticity. This is what is missing in our age. We are congested by lies, compromises, mediocrity, suspicious expediency, dead religions, faith without substance, religious fanaticism without substance, shallow and ridiculous displays and shallow embraces.

We can no longer suffer the secularization, syncretism, opacity, bilingualism, and public relations theology: the degeneration of the Church from a sacrament of revelation of the true God and the manifestation of His will, to a semi –religious concoction with a worldly orientation. We hope and pray that the Synod will be a witness to unity which is certainly not something small, but also a prophetic message. Indeed the fact that all these Orthodox churches will meet and announce the fact that despite widely varying languages and mentality, despite our faults and human weaknesses, despite our misunderstandings and contrasts, our possible differences and conflicts we share this one faith in the Tri-une God and in the God-Man Lord Jesus Christ, in the sacraments of the Church and of the people and this common faith is what we confess and proclaim: this is great and holy and it alone makes the Synod Great and Holy. However its rationale must be God inspired. It must make as the other Synods did, an impression on history, and impart honour and value in our age as nothing else has done, it must make an indelible mark on the life of the Church. It will be the voice of God today! Otherwise it has no value. His silence is enough.

We do not wish to hear the human words of contemporary bishops nor to learn the thoughts of the more educated and clever than they are.

We want to hear the voice of God from the lips of our bishops and even more from the convocation of our Synod. If today’s lay Christians are not comforted, if we are not supported and illuminated, if coming ages do not have recourse to this Synod as a source of irrefutable truth, then why should it be convened? The rationale, the raison d’etre of the Church cannot be banal or a half measure or little, and what the Synod has to say and what it should say is certainly not little.

This has been a millennium inspired by theological wisdom such as that of Saint Gregory Palamas, an experience of unceasing continual worship, analysed indeed by theologian saints such as Saint Nicholas Kavasilas and Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki, a time of confession and the blood of the new martyrs, watered by the sweat of great ascetics such as Saint Seraphim of Sarov and the contemporary Saint Paisios, sealed by signs and miracles of the saints up to the present day such as Saint Nectarios and Saint Luke, bishop of Crimea, the saints of the Russian Church, of the Balkan Churches and of Greece, and of the whole world. A path through the sea of the grace of God within ecclesiastical unity must be registered as the “new rationale», the message of the Great Synod. Today when man has become a biological machine or a social unit or has degenerated into an ephemeral entity or a device for controlled thought, is it possible for the Orthodox witness of the community of God, engraved and documented through experience in our churches and monasteries in our sacraments and in our life not to be a stentorian pan Orthodox call in our times?

It is impossible to imagine that in this age of insidious and ferocious persecution of the church, unprecedented spiritual asphyxiation, confusion and “distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring.”(Luke 21,25), in an age full of the anguish of the last days, that this Great and unique Synod of the Orthodox will be content with a news report, a communication with photographs, bereft of meaning and dry in content. This Synod is the only one after the Schism. The secession of the West from the trunk of the ecclesiastical tree has most certainly caused errors, different teachings and heretical beliefs for which perhaps today’s Western Christians may not be so much to blame as is often presented.

The Synod has a huge responsibility to protect us from every danger of this sort, not harshly treating without pity those who unwittingly inherited the error but identifying it with pain, love and theological accuracy.

It also has the ineffable responsibility first and foremost to challenge the Orthodox to repent at the same time, so as to live consistently the truth which by the grace of God we inherited or discovered.

We must repent first if the others are to return. If we do not live this then the Orthodoxy we confess is lacking, and if the Synod does not tell us this, it may be great but it is not Orthodox.

Is ecumenism a heresy? Could it be a blessed initiative in some conditions ? Is anti-ecumenism always acceptable to God?

Can the Church be One and not Catholic and Holy, that is emphasizing the Orthodox confession and not the corresponding missionary testimony? Could it be Catholic without being one, that is to pursue the unity of Christianity, sacrificing its uniqueness, in other words its consciousness that it is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church? We expect this Synod to speak persuasively about the uniqueness, holiness, Catholicity and apostolicity of the Church in an authentic dialogue full of repentance and practical holiness to the Orthodox, to speak with respect and love to those with other beliefs and not with overweening triumph or empty sweet talk to keep the worldly balance. We need to learn the traditional respect through which our ancestors in Constantinople showed that they were ready and willing to die

“We shall not deny thee, beloved Orthodoxy, nor will we be false to thee, tradition’s respect. We were born to thee, we will live in thee, and in thee we will fall asleep. If the times call for it we will die for thee many times.” Joseph Bryennios said.

If our ecumenism is not missionary or prophetic it cannot be Orthodox and ecclesiastical. Dear brothers, I ask you all to have a humble vigilance, to have heartfelt prayer, to struggle and have repentance, for God to give the Synod His voice and for the Synod’s rationale to be really God inspired, and for our hearts to be resurrected with the persuasion that “The Lord is alive” today.

We have so much need of this: everyone does! Only in this way will the Synod be Holy indeed and not by economy. If the Synod is not Holy it will not be Great either and if it is not Great then the question why it was convened will be the only thing Great about it.