Obstacles to the Foundation of New Local Orthodox Churches
Quench not the Spirit.
I Thess. 5, 19
Fundamentally, there is only one obstacle to the foundation of new Local Orthodox Churches. This is a lack of living faith, which leads to spiritual impurity in the confession of the Orthodox Faith and so to poverty of witness. As a result the Church remains small. However, this lack of living faith can take various forms. These come under two general headings, errors to the right and errors to the left.
Errors to the right often come from group pride. This can take various forms:
1. The first error to the right is Conservatism. This is a spiritual disease which leads to the worship of the past. It often comes about through lack of contact with or loss of the younger generation. Intense conservatism leads to ‘preservationism’, which reduces the Church to a museum, where the Tradition is preserved like an organism that is pickled in a museum. Church communities affected by this spirit begin to die out, resembling old people’s homes, places only for cultural nostalgia and childhood reminiscences. Here is a backward-looking and inward-looking spirit of pessimism which sees no hope in the future.
2. Conservatism is closely linked to Phyletism, in other words, racist nationalism or national pride, which has been condemned as a heresy by the Church. This spirit is racially exclusive and puts a particular nation or race and its language above the Church, therefore excluding any sense of mission towards others. This is the spirit which would reject Christ if He came back today, because He is not of the ‘correct’ race or language. Essentially, like all forms of nationalism, it is pure worldliness, since it is attached to a particular racial identity created by this world.
3. Conservatism can also lead to Sectarianism. The spirit of the sect is the self-righteous and censorious spirit of the pharisee, which cuts itself off from others in imagined self-importance and puritanism. The spirit of the cult is similar, except that it is based around a personality. It is because cults are dependent on a single mortal human-being that they die out much more quickly than sects. In Church history such sectarianism is known as the heresy of Donatism.
Errors to the left often come from individual pride. This too can take various forms:
1. The first error to the left is Liberalism. This is a spiritual disease which stems from a lack of roots. It often comes about though lack of contact with or loss of the older generation. Liberalism leads to the intellectual fantasy of ‘renovationism’ or modernism, which reduces the Church to a place of human experiment and unceasing change. Liberalism lacks all sobriety and is possessed by the spirit of activism – outward activities - which attempts to disguise its inner, spiritual emptiness. It is intellectualist, even though ‘the knowledge of wickedness is not wisdom’ (Sirach 19, 21) and ‘knowledge puffs up’ (I Cor 8, 1). As Liberalism is intellectual, it is also elitist and so intolerant, violent and aggressive towards those who resist it. Liberalism denies the Holy Spirit and therefore the Church Tradition, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit. In theological language, this is the heresy of ‘Pneumatomachy’ – the struggle against the Spirit.
2. Liberalism and renovationism/modernism are closely linked to Ecumenism. This is the spirit which puts manmade institutions above the Church of Christ, denying the Orthodox Faith. As such, Ecumenism is a ‘pan-heresy’. This ‘Vienno-Austrian’ spirit (as it is now called in the Russian Church) is conformist, it says ‘we must be like the others’. Thus, it puts its syncretist ideology above the Church, excluding any sense of mission towards those who thirst for the Truth. Why have missions, if all religions are equal? This is the spirit which would reject Christ if He came back today, because He is not a syncretist. Essentially, like all forms of Liberalism, Ecumenism is pure worldliness, since it is attached to all the religions, however impure and even demonic they may be, of this world.
3. Liberalism can also lead to ‘Autocephalism’. This is an immature spirit of teenage rebelliousness found in certain parts of the world, where some Orthodox believe that independence from their Mother-Church is the solution to all their problems. In the Orthodox contact, it inevitably leads to hatred for Mother-Churches, for example for the Russian Church (Russophobia) among certain groupings in France and the USA, or else hatred for Mother-Churches in Greece, Syria etc. As such, Autocephalism is often phyletist (racist) and puts a local nationality and identity above the Universal Church and her Catholicity. Autocephalism is the spirit of independence manifested by immature adolescents who want to run before they can walk. It always ends in tears.
At the present time, many are entering sidestreets and dead ends in the hope of founding new Local Orthodox Churches. Such is the situation not only in countries of the Orthodox Diaspora, but also in countries like the Ukraine, Estonia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Different groupings are swayed alternately to right and left, trapping themselves in Conservatism, Phyletism and Sectarianism, Liberalism, Ecumenism and Autocephalism. They will find no salvation in any of these isms, for, like all isms, they are not of the Spirit, but are thisworldly.
As we have said, without the living faith of Orthodoxy, without spiritual purity, there is no wisdom to understand and no vision to see. The spiritually deprived suffer from unwisdom and are therefore blind. The demons mock those who are without living faith, without spiritual purity and the demons trap them in isms. There is only one hope and that is to pursue the middle way, the royal path of the Church, of Christ, of the Tradition of the Holy Spirit, erring neither to the right nor to the left. To those who wish to ‘create’ artificial, new Local Orthodox Churches, we say: It is not for us to do the impossible, to try and create a Church. It is for God, to Whom the Church belongs and only He can establish new Churches. What is manmade will perish. Man proposes, but God disposes.