‘First I will wither you up, then I will make your bones rattle’.
Said by a demon in the life of St Macarius the Great.
The Orthodox Faith is summarised in the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed, which was drawn up in its definitive form in the fourth century (1). Based on the first-century Scriptures and other revelations of the Holy Spirit delivered to the saints since the first century, the Creed, also known as ‘the Symbol of the Faith’ (2) is guarded only by the Orthodox Churches. No others have kept the Creed intact against all the attacks of this world down the centuries.
It has been noted that each point of the Creed has been assailed in chronological order. Thus, the first attacks on the Creed came from Roman and Greek polytheists and were against the opening statement of the Creed that there is one God. Then came attacks in the following centuries against the next part of the Creed concerning the Person of Christ. This part is long and detailed, for Christ is the One Person of the Holy Trinity Who revealed Himself to us through His Incarnation. It was at this point that Arians, Nestorians and Monophysites fell away from the Church. In succeeding centuries there came attacks against our beliefs concerning the Holy Spirit. It was at this point that Western Europe fell away, despite the later revelations granted to saints like the preacher of grace, St Gregory Palamas, who in the fourteenth century tried to restore the West to Orthodox Christianity out of its neo-paganism.
In modern times, attacks have come on the latter parts of the Creed which concern the Church. These attacks have given rise to various divisions which began in the twentieth century and continue to this day. These attacks concern the beliefs of the Church in one baptism, the resurrection and the life of the age to come. These attacks indicate that we may be approaching the last generations and decades of the life of the fallen world. However, in order to understand these present attacks on the Church, we must return to the Arianism of the fourth century.
The Source of Arianism
When Christianity became the de facto faith of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, there followed a wave of baptisms. These were not all from the repentant and sincere. There were among them the conformists and self-seekers who were only swimming with the tide.
Some of them later became time-serving clergy, alternately Orthodox and Arians, changing as the wind blew. These unprincipled self-seekers are described in detail in the lives, writings and letters of the holy Fathers of the age, like St Athanasius the Great, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian, St Ambrose of Milan and St Hilary of Poitiers.
With this wave of baptisms there came superstition and semi-paganism as well as imperial nationalism. This nationalism was later to provoke in part the Nestorian and especially Monophysite schisms. Some believe that this nationalism was ultimately even partly responsible for the rise of Islam in the seventh century. However, the greatest danger in the fourth century was from Arianism.
Arianism Old and New
Arianism was and is the perennial attack on the Divinity of Christ. It is the attempt to reconcile the Church, Orthodoxy, which believes that Christ is the Son of God, and its enemies, who state that Christ is not the Son of God. Historically, Arianism has commonly been seen as an attempt to reconcile the Church, the Body of Christ, with both superstitious, pagan Imperialism and Judaism, which both refused to recognise Christ as the Son of God. Thus, in wishing to seek unity at any price, it defied the anti-Arian words of Christ in the Gospel that: ‘Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword’. (Matt 10, 33-34). Seeing in Christ only a human-being and not the Son of God, the Arians were the first humanists, worshippers of Jesus the man, not Jesus Christ the God-Man (3).
Arianism was defeated, but it has never died out. It is perennial. For example, over a thousand years after this and much further north, from about 1470 until about 1505 a similar movement took place in the Russian Orthodox Church with the movement of the ‘Judaisers’. Starting in Russia’s most westernised town, Novgorod, this movement tried to reconcile Orthodoxy with the ‘new’ rationalistic, semi-Protestant, intellectual humanism, which was then beginning in the West as a result of the neo-pagan ‘Renaissance’.
This Western humanism had come into being through the influences of Islam and Judaism, both of which refused to recognise the Divinity of Christ. This new form of Arianism, imported from the West through Jewish merchants, called humanism, was naturally anti-clerical and anti-monastic. These Arians, ‘Judaisers’, as they were called, even though very few of whom were actually Jews, were defeated. However, their influence did reach the very summit of the Russian Church, spreading among court clergy and for a time affecting the Grand Duke Ivan III. Only then was it defeated by such champions of Orthodoxy as St Joseph of Volotsk.
In our own times, we have seen in Russia yet another outburst of Arianism. With the collapse of militant atheism and the mass baptism of East Slavs into the Russian Orthodox Church, ‘the Rebaptism of Rus’, the situation in our Church there is not unlike that of the fourth century. As Archbishop Benjamin of Vladivostok said recently, ‘the wave (of baptisms) that unfurled on us in the 1990s brought not only water, but also many pebbles from the sea’.
The ‘pebbles’ here include Soviet-style imperial nationalism, in which pictures of Stalin are held aloft together with icons of the martyred Tsar, and appeals for the canonisation of Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin. Among the ‘pebbles’ there are also superstitions and semi-paganism, in which ritualistic purity or the refusal to accept a tax code or blind obedience to some fraudulent ‘mystic’ or ‘young elder’ are considered to be more important than moral virtue and care for our neighbour in daily life. Just as in the fourth century, all of these problems can be and must be ‘Churched’, that is, dealt with through pastoral care, compassion and patience, channelling the zeal of the neophyte into Church life, making it positive and helpful.
However, other more intellectual newly-baptised converts have brought a far more serious temptation with them, which can only be compared to Arianism. This ‘Neo-Arianism’ does not reject the Divinity of Christ like the old Arianism, but rather rejects the Divinity of the Body of Christ, that is, the Divinity of the Church. This means the attempt to desacralise the Church, to copy Protestantism, which has no concept of the Church, no sense of the sacred and gave birth to modern secularism. Thus, Neo-Arianism is simply following the way in which post-First World War Protestantism and, two generations later, Roman Catholicism in its Second Vatican Council, desacralised themselves. Their loss of all sense of the sacred, behind which lies a chronic loss of faith, brought about self-secularisation and so the defection of hundreds of millions of their faithful.
How to Desacralise the Church
The temptation to desacralise the Orthodox Church first appeared among Protestantised intellectuals of Russian origin living in the West, those who belonged to the ‘Paris School’ of ‘Neo-Renovationists’. (We use the term ‘Paris School’ even though some of them emigrated to England and the USA and others who lived in Paris, like the Orthodox academic theologian Vladimir Lossky, had nothing to do with the ‘Paris School’). These intellectuals often held occult views (Bulgakov (4) and Kovalevsky), others (Afanasiev, Schmemann) simply held neo-Protestant or semi-secular beliefs (5). All of them were under the delusion that they were restoring Orthodoxy, when in reality they were simply being used to try to secularise the Church through the illusory bubble of self-important ‘academic theology’.
The attempt of Neo-Arianism inside Russia to ‘de-Divinise’ the Church was imported into Russia from France and the USA in the 1990s. It naturally meant to ally the Russian Orthodox Church with already de-Divinised heterodoxy (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) through ecumenism. (Ecumenism had existed before, but it had been a pure political machination, imposed by the Soviet State). This syncretistic reductionism is the attempt to reduce the Church, the Body of Christ, to a mere denomination or philosophy. Thus, four generations after the spiritual collapse of Protestantism and two generations after the spiritual collapse of Roman Catholicism, comes the attempt to de-Divinise the Russian Orthodox Church. This was prophesied to me in the 1970s by modernist Russian Orthodox clergy in the Diaspora. Containing three-quarters of all remaining Orthodox Christians, the Russian Orthodox Church is the last strong bastion of all the Local Orthodox Churches.
In order to desacralise the Russian Church, a number of specifically Orthodox traditions must be lost. The overall aim is to destroy the whole Tradition of the Church. These traditions, some of them already imported into the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the 1920s and from there to Alexandria and the more westernised Orthodox Churches in the Balkans and the Near East, include for example attacks on ‘liturgical piety’. (This expression was first used, it seems, some fifty years ago by Fr Alexander Schmemann in his ‘Introduction to Liturgical Theology’. This textbook on liturgical protestantisation was denounced even then by the Orthodox Fr Michael Pomazansky). Below, in ten well-trodden steps, we list some of the main features of Neo-Arianism. This programmed attack on the Divinity of the Church, ranging from relatively minor changes to total apostasy, has been well-rehearsed in the Diaspora for ninety years. Since the 1990s it has been preached inside Russia.
The Ten Steps of the Neo-Arian Programme
The following ten steps are not fantasy. They have already been carried out in parts of what used to be the Russian Church in the Diaspora in our own lifetime. We are speaking about what we have ourselves seen introduced against the wishes of the faithful and we do not have to travel far to see these steps in operation now. They are presented approximately in the order in which they came into force and in which some from the Diaspora are now trying to introduce them into the Church inside Russia, under the pretext of modernisation.
1. Set aside the prescriptions of modest dress in Church and allow immodest, secular dress, especially for women.
2. Abolish fasting and also preparation before communion (including abolishing confession) to the Roman Catholic level (no fasting or preparation at all), so allowing communion on demand at any time of the month. Thus, typically the long Lenten services are reduced to evening Presanctified Liturgies by the modernists.
3. Abandon the reading of the hours before the Divine Liturgy, introduce other liturgical abbreviations, read the secret prayers and eucharistic canon aloud – if possible shouting them out like a market trader - and drop the use of different liturgical colours for vestments.
4. Discredit saints such as St Isaac the Syrian, St Dionysius the Areopagite, St Symeon the New Theologian and St Silvanus the Athonite. All of these have been made out by the Neo-Arians to be in some way not Orthodox and to justify their aim of desacralisation. Thus, St Isaac has been called a Nestorian, because some semi-Nestorian writings have been attributed to him. St Dionysius, a special hate figure for the Neo-Protestants, has been slandered as a ‘Neo-Platonist’ – because he sacralises the Church and liturgy. St Symeon has been designated as an anti-Establishment ‘liberal’ (here, the Neo-Arians are talking about themselves), whereas in reality his words on Roman Catholicism are very harsh. As for the holy peasant-monk, St Silvanus the Athonite, his emphasis on the Holy Spirit has been seen by them as a sort of Orthodox ‘charismaticism’, overlooking his great emphasis on continual repentance. This ‘charismaticism’ is the source of ‘prelest’ or spiritual delusion, widespread in certain sections of Orthodoxy in the Diaspora.
5. Abandon the sacred language of Church Slavonic for everyday Russian, the language of the street. This is a typical piece of Protestant pseudo-rationalism. (‘We must all understand’, say the intellectuals, even though the Creator will always be beyond our feeble created ability to understand).
6. Spread Origenism, directly from the Paris School, which claims that ‘all will be saved’. This is another attempt to spread humanism within the Church (6).
7. Abolish the sacral, Orthodox calendar, introducing the Roman Catholic calendar, camouflaging it under the name of the ‘new’ or ‘new Julian’ calendar.
8. Like the Uniats and other Roman Catholics, abolish the iconostasis (which, the anti-clerical Neo-Protestant Origenists claim ‘divides’ clergy and laity).
9. Discredit monasticism (always so detested by the Paris School). Following the latest in the series in the Diaspora, we fear a wave of self-defrockings and monks marrying now. We must pray for the victims.
10. Officially recognise Roman Catholic ‘sacraments’, abandoning all missionary work in Western Europe and North America, next hold services in Roman Catholic churches and finally merge with the Vatican. You will now have desacralised, dismantled and so destroyed your part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In this way it will have become a mere secular, political organisation, a Third Vatican or a Third Rome, instead of a New Jerusalem. Thus, it will imitate Roman Catholicism, of which the error was to be Roman and Imperial rather than Catholic and Christian, to be rich and powerful rather than humble and holy. You will have been fooled into self-destruction, your intellect deluded, your vanity flattered, your person worshipped by the media. You are very clever, but you are not intelligent. Now satan’s rule on earth is complete.
Essentially, this contemporary Neo-Arianism, the attack on the Divinity of the Body of Christ through desacralisation, is an attempt to reconcile the Church with secular humanism. This is to reconcile light with darkness (see 2 Cor. 6, 14), thus gaining more money, political power and so prestige through numbers. Neo-Arianism wishes to do as Judas the thief and ‘keep the money’ (Jn. 12, 6) and as the rebuked Peter, who cut off the ear of Malchus and was told that ‘all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword’ (Matt. 26, 52).
This present wave of Neo-Arianism comes at a time when ordinary Orthodox are concerned about several recent events. These include recently revealed documents from last year’s ecumenical conversations in Cyprus, protests against which were dealt with harshly by the Local Church there. Then came the recent refusal of the Bulgarian Orthodox hierarchy to return to the Orthodox calendar for the fixed feasts.
More recently there has been the disturbing message of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, issued on, at all times, the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which appears to reject all the monks of Mt Athos, who are at present in the very jurisdiction of that Patriarchate. This seems to indicate new persecutions ahead within that jurisdiction. Then there are disturbing changes in NATO-occupied Kosovo. Finally, there are the messages coming from Moscow, which clearly reiterate the Neo-Renovationism of the Paris School and praise various figures in that School, whose Orthodoxy was long ago tarnished by spiritual delusion. The temptation in Moscow today is clearly to let the Third Rome conquer the New Jerusalem. It will not.
What is to be done? The response of the Church to self-seeking conformism in the fourth century was twofold. Firstly, resistance came in monasticism, the rise of which had already been prepared by St Anthony the Great in the third century. Secondly, resistance came in the sturdy and robust opposition of ordinary clergy and people. They did not ‘wall themselves off’ in the irrelevant ghetto and sect, but remained inside the Church to fight for the Truth of Christ. This twofold path is still ours today. And all of us must renew our prayer for the victims of this delusion. Having withered up the faith of these victims, the demons wish to make their bones rattle. We must pray that they will not succeed.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
12/25 February 2010
1. The text of the Creed, divided into the four parts referred to in this article, is as follows:
I believe in one God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, Who was begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten, not Made, of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.
Who was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures. And He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose Kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets.
And in One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the age to come. Amen.
2. The Greek word ‘symbol’ means ‘thrown together’, that is, words thrown together to form a summary and be a watchword.
3. ‘For when God was born to be man, the purpose was not that Divinity should be lost, but, his Divinity remaining, that man should be born to be God. Therefore Emmanuel is His name, which means ‘God with us’, so that God should not be brought down to the level of man, but that man should be raised up to the level of God’. (St John of Damascus, On the Trinity, Book X, 7).
4. Thus does St John of Damascus refute Bulgakov’s Sophianist heresy twelve centuries before it was conceived, in his On the Orthodox Faith, Book III, Chapter VIII: ‘In this we do not pay homage to the created. For we worship Him not as mere flesh, but as flesh united with Divinity….I worship the twofold nature of Christ because of the Divinity that is bound up with the flesh in Him. For I do not introduce a fourth person into the Trinity. God forbid!’
5. For a recent Russian critique of the Paris School and its repercussions among the Neo-Renovationist ‘Kochetkovtsy’ in Russia, see the article by the New Martyr Priest Daniel (Sysoiev): http://sysoev2.narod.ru/parizh.htm
6. ‘The absurd nonsense of Origen’. (St John of Damascus ‘On the Orthodox Faith’, Book IV, Chapter IV.