Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The not-yet-Orthodox

For me, a more than timely reminder from Fr. Seraphim Rose.

The ancient Fathers had five categories for the non-Orthodox: schismatics (that is, those who have broken from the Church -- they are not always heretical, but certainly never Orthodox as one must be a member of the Church to have that title), heretics (those who were formerly Orthodox but chose another belief than that of the Church), heterodox (those who were never Orthodox themselves, but have chosen another belief than that of the Church), Jews (those who still live as if they were under the Old Covenant), and pagans (non-Christians, non-Jews). Perhaps in this day and place (I speak here of modern America, but many other places around the world today equally qualify) when "Christianity" is there, but not the Church, and so there is no "choice" being made per se we may need to add another category: the not-yet-Orthodox. And, as Orthodox Christians, we need to be conscious of the fact that most of the people we encounter on a daily basis have probably never heard of the Orthodox Church and so our actions and attitudes represent the Church to them. I remember hearing a Protestant song not long ago, the chorus of which was "we may be the only Jesus they ever see" -- a heavy burden we bear, and one we have to keep in mind at all times.

About those Christians who are outside the Orthodox Church, therefore, I would say: they do not yet have the full truth—perhaps it just hasn’t been revealed to them yet, or perhaps it is our fault for not living and teaching the Orthodox Faith in a way they can understand. With such people we cannot be one in the Faith, but there is no reason why we should regard them as totally estranged or as equal to pagans (although we should not be hostile to pagans either—they also haven’t yet seen the truth!). It is true that many of the non-Orthodox hymns contain a teaching or at least an emphasis that is wrong—especially the idea that when one is “saved” he does not need to do anything more because Christ has done it all. This idea prevents people from seeing the truth of Orthodoxy which emphasizes the idea of struggling for one’s salvation even after Christ has given it to us, as St. Paul says: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [Phil. 2:12]…

…The word "heretic" is indeed used too frequently nowadays. It has a definite meaning and function, to distinguish new teachings from the Orthodox teaching; but few of the non-Orthodox Christians today are consciously “heretics,” and it really does no good to call them that.

In the end, I think, Fr. Dimitry Dudko’s attitude is the correct one: We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, and recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families.

- Blessed Father Seraphim Rose, Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works.

(h/t: Leah at Christ is in our midst!)

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