For the May 23-27, 2014 meeting of Pope Francis of Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, a new website has been created, called “Apostolic Pilgrimage to Jerusalem.” The site is replete with information regarding the visit, as well as information regarding previous communications and joint statements between the Phanar and the Vatican. According to the official site, the purpose of the meeting is to endorse the idea that “The spirit of fraternal love and mutual respect has replaced the old polemic and suspicion.”
Yet, such soft language conceals the false emotionalism that is associated with ecumenism and modernism. It assumes that you can’t call others heretics and refuse to pray with them without being hateful. It treats polemic as bad; on the other hand, Orthodox polemic has always been about attacking false doctrine. That you can point to cases of those who engage in polemic for emotional, mental, nationalistic, and totally unspiritual reasons does not take away from the Orthodox Christian obligation.
Theological relativism, which is part and parcel of the heresies of ecumenism and trans-religious syncretism, eschews any form of theological argument that would attack the other as not being the Church. Yet, to embrace this essentially Protestant position (deriving really from Latitudinarian Anglicanism and the real authors of branch theorism, 19th century Anglicans) is to attack the ancient, medieval and modern Fathers of the Church. St. Athanasius was thought to be intransigent by many bishops because of his insistence upon ‘Homousios’; the same for St. Maximus Confessor’s battle against monotheletism . St. Mark was undoubtedly viewed in a negative light for ‘causing problems; and not being part of the solution.’
The ecumenist argument is always couched in term like “We can only grow stronger in our Orthodoxy by dialoging with non-Orthodox. If we really believe in Orthodoxy we should have nothing to be afraid of joint prayer, ecumenism, and even sometimes sharing communion, etc.”
Yet, is the alcoholic wrong for avoiding the liquor store and parties? Should he heed his friends who say, “If you are firm in your rejection of alcohol, you should have nothing to fear!” Such statements are folly. The confessing hierarchs, clergy, and erudite laity of the Church have never shied from publicly debating heterodox, and often in a friendly atmosphere that did not involve personal invective. During the reign of the Emperor St. Justinian, he arranged for such debates, following strict rules of procedure (the fair inheritance of Roman law in the Christian Empire), to be held between Severian bishops (i.e., moderate Monophysites) and Orthodox bishops. The result was an Orthodox victory.
Yet, the activity of the Phanar is not that of a missionary debate society or conference, trying to publicly convince the heterodox where they are wrong. In fact, there has been little attempt to do that. Both sides, the Vatican and the Phanar are smart; they know all the ‘historic differences’, and they’ve chosen to minimize and ignore them, if not outright say there are no important differences. The fundamental shift in how Papism and the Patriarchates perceived, and now perceive, ecclesiology is profound. One need only examine the older Papist editions of the Corpus Juris Canonici, or even its condensed replacement in 1917, to realize, that, though heretical, the Papists understood and accepted the concept that joint-services, prayers, or giving of Sacraments to those you say are not the Church was considered abhorrent and forbidden. The Orthodox had the exact same idea. Why? Because, both understood what it meant to ‘be the Church’. Each side understood this clearly because they had similar ecclesiological presuppositions; differing, obviously on whether Papism was the True Church or Orthodoxy (of course, the Orthodox Church is the True Church, but the point is still demonstrated about the ecclesiological views).
The Papists were and are heretics then and now (and despite a more ‘friendly’ attitude towards supposed Orthodox, Papist praxis in various areas has departed even further from the Orthodoxy they used to label ‘schismatic’ not to mention the acceptance of ecumenism). The Patriarchates have, sadly, fallen further and further into heresy and separation from Orthodoxy. The effects of modernism and ecumenism have been the dissolution of the traditional ecclesiological principle of “One True Church” and the implications this found in acts of prayer, communion, etc. It was necessary for modernism to alter Papism and its stance further from its original view in order to soften relations with the Orthodox and thus be a springboard for world-wide ecumenism. The infection of Local Orthodox Churches was similar. The meeting between Paul VI and Athenagoras nearly 50 years ago was the inauguration of this movement into a new stage, giving the impetus for the anti-Orthodox lifting of the anathemas.
Today we are essentially dealing with bodies that no longer resemble their historical selves in their practice and self-identify, though they have the buildings, and administrative structure. A sincere but convinced heretical Severian bishop during St. Justinian’s time who converted to Orthodoxy (as many did by the aid of the Holy Emperor) would have understood he was joining the true Church and leaving a false body behind. Today, Roman Catholic bishops and Phanar bishops generally do not have this understanding and self-identify. They’ve adopted one where ‘niceness’ and ‘progressiveness’ are the keywords, and Orthodoxy as traditionally understood is no more than something held by quaint old monks or dire zealot fanatics.