Why We Left The Antiochian Diocese
And Where We Went
by Nathan Lee Lewis
Grace be to you in the name that is above every other name that is Christ Jesus our Lord and Master and the Savior of our souls.
This letter is to communicate to all who may or may not have heard of our family’s decision to leave our local Antiochian Orthodox Church and the Antiochian diocese. It is our hope that such a written statement may defuse misinformation that may arise concerning our departure. Our decision to leave is based on a measured, prayerful and lengthy evaluation of the purpose and will of God for our family and a desire to be rightly aligned with His One Holy, Catholic and
the Orthodox Church. This is a personal account of our journey and not intended to be an argument or proof text, therefore, not all quotations are sited. We trust that all who desire to verify the documentation contained in our account will search out the easily accessible facts for themselves. Please know that we have great love and gratitude in our hearts for those who long for the truth and the fullness of the faith and who struggle as we do to find it. It is not our intent to cast judgment or indictment on those we are leaving, however, due to the conclusions that have led to our decision, we are aware that it may be formidable to expect that none will take offence at some of the content of this statement. Please forgive us, for we are sinners. Apostolic Church-
In 2006 my wife and I and our two daughters, entered the gates of the Orthodox faith at our local Antiochian Orthodox Church. We were received by economy through Holy Chrismation having been baptized by single immersion in a Southern Baptist Church. At that time we voiced concerns about the method of our reception by chrismation only. Our concerns revolved around the fact that the Southern Baptists did not consider baptism a sacrament, but simply a symbol or ordinance. They also did not consider baptism as being salvific and the list of other unorthodox Southern Baptist doctrines and practices were numerous. We did have a basic understanding of the Orthodox belief that there is neither salvation nor sacramental grace outside the church, so we struggled to understand why we weren’t being baptized. Though we had questions concerning the validity of such a reception, we accepted the word of our priest, believing him to be more knowledgeable than we concerning such things. Two years after our chrismation and the question troubling me still, I raised my concerns once again to the priest via this letter,
I find myself many months after my Chrismation questioning the validity of what I have come to learn is called Baptism of Economy. One of the questions I put to you during my catechism was how, if the Baptist church is not the Church and how, if I had not been immersed three times (trinitarian) as is canon, how could I be received into the Orthodox Faith without being Baptized? Your response to me has always seemed inadequate, though at the time, by faith, I received it as one not having learned. You stated that the Chrismation "completes" or makes right my baptism and that my baptism is accepted because the church "says it is". After limited study I have strong reservations of the validity of what seems to be a new and unorthodox practice. I need clarification for my peace of mind and the salvation of my soul. Not attempting to tell you how to respond, I would ask that the preferred way to respond is to refute the contents of this *statement from
Mount Athos concerning convert Baptism. I am opened to see what I am not seeing.
Nathan Lee Lewis
[* I provided the priest with the link]
The priest’s e-mail response to my inquiry sent us into despair.
“Nathan, I pray that there has not been a gross communication in your preparation for chrismation. I never heard you say you had not been baptized by immersion three times; that historically has been the way the Baptist church baptizes. I always question someone as to whether their baptism was a triple immersion by Trinitarian formula…”
(I later realized that the priest was right in that I had never mentioned triple immersion at the time of our catechism, however, since the subject was whether or not we should be baptized at all, the mode of baptism never came up and we didn’t know at the time to inquire about it.)
Based on this communication from the priest and our concerns being confirmed, my wife and I immediately ceased to partake of the Eucharist and my wife, being a chanter, ceased her participation at the chanter’s stand. We scheduled a meeting with the priest to discuss the issue. In the meantime we receive two communications from the priest. One was via e-mail,
“…I have given you the impression that three-fold immersion by trinitarian formula is the required form for baptism prior to being chrismated. This is not the case: it is baptism with water in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. This is the position of the
and other major bodies of Orthodoxy…” Antiochian Church
Being a striking contradiction to his previous e-mail, this sent us into confusion and further despair. Subsequent to our scheduled meeting, the priest handed me some photocopied pages of a book at Coffee Hour. The pages had neither reference of authorship nor the name of the book. The content contained the writer’s view as to why converts could be received through chrismation and not baptism. The writer credited “most modern theologians” as being in agreement. The pages did not reference the question of converts who had not received a triple immersion baptism nor did it mention any method.
My wife and I met with the priest a few days following. Again, deferring to his pastorate and the fact that he was more learned than us, and that we are also given to the constraints of human frailty, we initially accepted his claim when he said, regarding his first e-mail,
“I don’t know what I was thinking”.
That, together with the fact that he had shown his customary humble and self-depreciating attitude in the second e-mail,
“Again for the confusion I have caused, I am sorry; I am so muddled in my speech sometimes I feel like a Moses in need of an Aaron”,
satisfied us enough to return to the life of the church.
In subsequent weeks, however, I set about to sort out the confusion of the event. The priest had graciously extended to us the liberty to do so when he wrote regarding his baptismal explanation,
“Of course, you will have to decide if you accept that.”
One question I could not get away from was,
“Why, if triple immersion is not required for entry into the church, would the priest find it necessary to ‘always question someone as to whether their baptism was a triple immersion by Trinitarian formula…’?”
Another question was,
“Why, after 20+ years as a priest, would the priest be confused about something as vital as the proper mode of baptism in relation to converts?”
There seemed to be something more in play here than a simple momentary lapse in communication. With a desire to
“Be diligent to present yourself approved unto God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”,
I sought out answers through research sources and materials which consisted of the writings of the Early Church Fathers, the Canons of the church, the Ecumenical Councils, statements from all major Orthodox jurisdictions concerning baptism, personal and written communication with priests of the Antiochian jurisdiction and other jurisdictions and not least, the Holy Scriptures. Without exception, not one source could be found which condoned or even mentioned the mode of single immersion as a valid Orthodox baptism. In fact, I found the opposite to be true. Triple immersion was almost always specified using the word “triple” or “triune” followed with the word “immersion”, as the standard, proper, Orthodox mode of baptism and is used synonymously with the term “Trinitarian Formula”. Further, single immersion is specifically condemned in the canons and in the history of the church as often and as vehemently as is sprinkling,
“If any Bishop or Presbyter does not perform three immersions (literally,“three baptisms”) in making one baptism (literally “one initiation’), but (sc. only) a single immersion (literally, “a single baptism”), that given into the death of the Lord, let him be deposed (sc. from office). For the Lord did not say, “Baptize ye into my death,” but, “Go ye and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
“…concerning the three immersions…without them not only is a Baptism incomplete, but it cannot even be called a baptism at all.”
The priest had also explained in his letter to us that the practice of not Baptizing or of accepting the Baptism of Southern Baptists was
“…based on canons borne out of the Donatist controversy in the early church.”
In looking at the Donatists controversy, I struggled to see how it had led to the current “…position of the
and other major bodies of Orthodoxy…” as the priest had proposed. I learned that the Donatist controversy revolved around the apostasy of believers under the Roman persecution. Under persecution, the believers had renounced their faith. Once the persecution subsided, they wanted back into the church. The Donatists took the position that the apostates were no longer believers and thus should be baptized, their first baptism being of no account. Others said that they were fully baptized believers and should be allowed into the Church through confession, repentance and chrismation. In either case, the Donatist controversy dealt with those who had already been correctly baptized into the Orthodox Church and were returning to the faith. It had nothing to do with heterodox who had never been baptized by, into, or in keeping with the mode the Church. The interpretation of the Donatist controversy to conclude that a single immersion baptism by a Southern Baptist Church was acceptable, raised the obvious question, Antiochian Church
“How could the practice of not baptizing heterodox be ‘borne out of the Donatists controversy, and why had this interpretation seemingly been considered only recently in the history of the church?”
I recalled another thing the priest said to me in a conversation in his office. As he held up a copy of the Canons he said,
“Don’t read this, it will just confuse you.”
Desiring to know if the priest’s own confusion concerning the sacrament of baptism was a result of the “confusing canons” and wanting to discover why the Canons of the Church would be confusing, I set about to research. While I found that some of the Canons were considered guidelines with moveable interpretations based on the necessity of economy and an individual Bishop’s discernment in their use, and opinions varying greatly from parish to parish, there were others having to do with doctrine and the application of the scriptures, sacraments, and safeguards against encroaching apostasy, that were unmovable. I saw for the first time that some in the modern Church considered flexible even that which was not historically flexible. I sought to find the answer as to why this was so. It was at this time in my study that I was introduced to the concept of Ecumenism in relation to the Orthodox Church.
Ecumenism: “A movement promoting worldwide unity among religions through greater cooperation and improved understanding.”
On its face, the definition of Ecumenism seemed to be a diplomatic way for the Orthodox Church to, “as much as possible be at peace with all men”, in cultures and countries across the world in an ongoing effort to evangelize, bringing all men to the Faith of the Fathers, the Orthodox Church. I was startled, however, to learn that there was actually an organized Ecumenical Movement which included all of the major religions of the world, both “Christian” and “non-Christian” and that the “unity” being promoted was not a simple attempt at cultural and national peace among human beings but a clearly defined goal of legitimizing all religions as equal paths to God. The participation of the Orthodox Church in Ecumenism over the years had ultimately brought them to issue an edict which forbade the evangelization or “proselytizing” of any non-orthodox person or group for the sake of this Ecumenical “unity”. Concurrent with that was the evolution and eventual promotion by participating Orthodox Hierarchs, of the ideology that the use of the words “God” and “Spirit” by all religions had merit in truth and were in fact synonymous with the Orthodox meanings of the words, and that the ultimate result and destination of all religions was equal to that of the Orthodox faith-salvation and eternal peace with God. The evolving ecumenical language and practice of these “Orthodox” participants in the Ecumenical Movement made clear that they no longer believed the words of Jesus,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father except he comes by Me.”
Rather, the Orthodox Ecumenical participants say,
“Brothers and Sisters, the watchword of the Holy Orthodox Church today is unity…we must pursue unity with all the children of God…Roman Catholic and Orthodox, Protestants and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Confucians: The time has come not only for rapprochement, but for alliance and joint effort. We have within our grasp the vision of the Psalmist, ‘Behold how good and pleasant it is or brethren to dwell together in unity!”
“Because we have seen and experienced goodness, truth and holiness among followers of other paths and ways than that of Jesus Christ…, we find ourselves recognizing a need to move beyond a theology which confines salvation to the explicit personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”
With volumes of public speeches and documents of “Orthodox” participants of the World Council of Churches, which I discovered was the hub of the Ecumenical movement, it was not hard to discover which groups within the Orthodox Church were in “full communion” with this ecumenical, unorthodox, and unscriptural ideology. Because of their concerted effort to move toward a One World Church by their membership in the World Council of Churches, all member churches of SCOBA had the distinction of belonging to, what non-ecumenists Orthodox referred to as, World Orthodoxy.
Since entering the Orthodox Faith, I have often heard the phrase “in full communion” and felt satisfied that I was in one of the “major” or “official” Orthodox jurisdictions that were in ‘full communion” with the others. The other groups that called themselves “Orthodox” were thought of as schismatic, troublesome, second-class or heretical but most often were referred to as “uncanonical”. In my continuing research I found that a subtle redefining had occurred concerning the concept of canonicity. I found that the current, common use of the word canonical had been influenced by ecumenical ideology that had involved to an emphasis on a hierarchical structure mirroring that of papism. Rather than individual Bishops pastoring their churches in their regions and united in effort by a local Synod, Ecumenism stressed that if you did not comply with the wishes and dictates and authority of a certain hierarchy, you were considered un-canonical. It mattered not that you were an authentic bishop, perfectly adhering to the scripture, the canons and the faith; you were uncanonical, out of communion and held to a minimum of disdain and a maximum of threats against life and property. I found a glaring example of this in my extensive research into the Moscow Patriarchate. Those Russian churches and Bishops who refused to submit under the authority of the Patriarch of Moscow, installed by the atheistic communist government of Stalin, were derided, politically oppressed, confronted with violence, had their properties seized and were forced to go underground. The same occurred in
to those who refused to alter the calendar of the Church that had been used for 1600 + years, when one influential Greek Bishop decided to change it. The full force of the Greek government was released on the Orthodox Bishops who refused to change with the ecumenical times and they were denounced as heretical and uncanonical. Greece
Along with the attack on those deemed uncanonical by the Ecumenists, I discovered that the rulings of the 7 Ecumenical Councils were also under attack. Church Fathers, who participated in them, were referred to as being “out of touch”, “behind the times”, or simply having ruled in ignorance and prejudice. I discovered this to be the justification used by those such as Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch as he rejected the decision of four of the Ecumenical Councils which condemned as heretical the Monophisites, who deny the dual nature of Christ. Advancing the belief that the Monophosites were just misunderstood and the problem was semantics, the leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Church issued an encyclical allowing concelebrating with those whom the church as a whole had consistently called heretics. The same was true on other fronts as I discovered that the World Orthodox Churches have been in official communion with the Roman Catholic Church for years, having dropped the 1054 anathemas and ignoring major unresolved doctrinal, ecclesiastical and canonical differences, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople saying,
“It is the ‘fundamental ecclesiological truth’ that Orthodoxy and Papism constitute the two lungs of the Body of Christ.”
“Our Churches are recognized mutually as Sister Churches responsible together for the preservation of the
of God…We exhort our faithful Catholic and Orthodox to strengthen the spirit of brotherhood, which derives from a single Baptism and participation in the sacramental life.” One Church
When I discovered the depth of this form of Ecumenism that has had 80+ years to develop, my concerns about other matters were validated. Metropolitan Philip Saliba’s consistent promotion of the belief that Islam is a friend to Christianity was consistent with Ecumenical ideology that says,
“We are deceived and we sin, if we think that the Orthodox faith came down from Heaven and that all [other] creeds are unworthy. Three hundred million people have chosen Islam in order to reach their god, and other hundreds of millions of Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists. The goal of every religion is to improve mankind.”
As early as 1989 Patriarch Parthenios of Alexandria stated publicly,
"Mohammed is a prophet and an apostle and man of God,"
"those who speak against Islam and Buddhism are not in agreement with God."
Not one Orthodox bishop of the World Orthodox Churches, including Metropolitan Philip, spoke out to demand a retraction. The resulting application of the evolution of the Ecumenical ideology is that,
“We respect an individual’s choice with regard to his or her faith, and we do not proselytize anyone, nor do we participate in dialogues between Christians and our brother Muslims in order to convince them to accept our faith.”
“We remind all that every form of proselytism…is absolutely condemned by the Orthodox. Proselytism, practiced in the nations already Christian, and in many cases even Orthodox…poisons the relations among Christians and destroys the road to unity.”
I was raised in the fear of God. My father, who was a Southern Baptist Pastor, taught me from an early age to love the souls of men. Old hymn stanzas such as “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying” and “We’ll work ‘till Jesus comes...”, promoted what we referred to as the Great Commission given to us by Christ Himself,
“All Authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth, go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
According to Christ His admonition to “make Disciples of all nations” was the only “road to unity” that mattered and it was exclusive,
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.”
One of the things that inspired me as I entered the Antiochian diocese was the story of the reception of over 2000 converts in the 80’s by Metropolitan Philip Saliba. It is said that he issued this challenge to the Converts,
“Now, teach us how to evangelize.”
Realizing early on that the numbers of Orthodox of all jurisdictions on the North American continent was often grossly exaggerated, there being only around a half a million rather than the six million often claimed and only about 55,000 Antiochians, I have been ever aware of the need to evangelize. What I did not know was that simultaneous with Metropolitan Philip’s exhortation, he was actively working with the Bishops of the World Orthodox Churches to deliberately move the Orthodox churches, clergy, parishioners and converts under their pastorate, to a new World Church concept where all religions are equal and where there is no need for any evangelism,
“The Orthodox Church does not seek to convince others of any one particular understanding of truth or revelation, nor does it seek to convert others to a particular mode of thinking…”
“If the diverse peoples of a culture look to the memories of their faith traditions, whatever they may be, they will be sustained, they will be fed the food of God’s spiritual knowledge…Orthodox Christian and modernist, Protestant and modernist, Jew and modernist, Catholic and modernist: however we worship, as long as we abide in our faith and unite it to our works in the world, we bring the living and always timely message of Divine Wisdom into the modern world.”
As my wife has read the statements and research along with me, she has been astounded and exclaimed, “It is just so blatant!”. Even our teenage daughters have been astonished and disheartened by what we have discovered. All of us have wanted to believe that we were not seeing what we were seeing and took great care to make certain that we were not taking things out of context or reading in meanings that the hierarchs didn’t intend. As we searched as a family for the truth, it was not possible to come to any other conclusion than to believe that these were clearly not isolated statements but an entire body of public evidence some 80 years in the making. We thoroughly digested the lengthy books The Battle For The Russian Orthodox Church by Vladimir Moss and The Struggle Against Ecumenism- The History of the True Orthodox Church of Greece from 1924-1994 by The Holy Orthodox Church in North America, Boston, Massachusetts.
Careful not to be influenced simply by the authors’ opinions, we paid particular attention to the documentations, letters exchanged, official Synod files, encyclicals, and government statements. It was not difficult to ascertain the blatantly open existence of an all out aggressive, anti-Christ attack against the Orthodox Church from within and a massive falling into apostasy which eventually included all major jurisdictions of Orthodoxy as represented by SCOBA- The Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas.
Having discovered this apostatized body of World Orthodoxy which had left the original faith of our Fathers, we also discovered True or Genuine Churches under Bishops who had suffered persecution to preserve the simple formula:
Julian (old) Calendar +
Holy Tradition +
The Seven Ecumenical Councils +
The Holy Scriptures +
The Holy Fathers =
Placing history in a nutshell, the True or Genuine Orthodox Churches in
were those Bishops, priests and parishioners who refused to bow to the Russia and the state-installed Moscow Patriarch. These True or Genuine believers went underground in fear of their lives and became the modern equivalent of catacomb Christians. They only surfaced, with bishops and parishes intact, after the downfall of the Soviet State Soviet Union, only to be persecuted again by the existing Moscow Patriarchate backed by the new . In Greece, the True or Genuine believers were those who refused to accept the decision of a single patriarch (who was given a full Masonic burial at his death) to change the calendar by which the entire Orthodox Church had worshiped for centuries. These True or Genuine bishops, priests and parishioners were violently attacked by the Greek Patriarchate and the Greek government. Liturgies were raided, chalices thrown to the ground and stomped upon, priests arrested and parishioners beaten and killed. They were then legislated out of existence causing them to go underground. They were only recognized by the Greek government after some 40 years of endurance and persistence. Eventually the New Calendar innovation, which coincided with the Roman Catholic Church and the entire West, infiltrated all Orthodox jurisdictions splitting the church in two and setting the groundwork for Ecumenism and the Russian Federation . One World Church
These True and Genuine Bishops and their churches exist in
and all across the world. My research into the True and Genuine America Churches, however, was not without difficult and disheartening discoveries. In fact, there was a period in our endeavor that was nothing short of despairing as we discovered ample disagreements, divisions, politics, and ecclesiastical maneuverings of some of the True and Genuine Bishops. I recently had a friend, who is aware of our journey, use the old adage “when you find the perfect church…”. Unfortunately, he used it with a sarcastic intent to show me the error of my ways so as to encourage me to stay with . I am aware that perfection will not be found where humans are involved but I am also reminded of the promise of Christ that, Antioch
“On this rock will I build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The visible evidence as to where that church exists has been spoken of by the Church Fathers,
“Where the Bishop is there is the church.”
This must mean that such Bishops still exist and that I can realistically find the Bishop or Bishops who hold to the true and genuine faith of our Fathers. This must also mean that I can and MUST choose between the adherents of the false and the adherents of the true,
“Those who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel, dismissing the True Orthodox Christians because of merely human failures [not doctrinal or against canons] yet excusing the heretical activities to the ‘official’ Orthodox jurisdictions, might well bring into mind Winston Churchill’s criticism of democracy-the worst form of government except for all the others. Certainly when one considers the open betrayal of the Orthodox faith that one witnesses in the official statements and actions of bishops and clergy of ‘World Orthodoxy,”’ the divisions among the true Orthodox Christians, though lamentable, are truly “the secondary issue.”
Saint Basil the Great spoke of the viability of this action,
“A Church pure and untouched by the harshness of our times is not easily found and from now on rarely to be seen-a Church that has preserved the apostolic doctrine unadulterated and inviolate!...Beloved brethren, we are small and humble, but we have not accommodated our faith according to changing events.”
My wife and I have become convinced that as a result of the “blatancy” of their own words and actions, not one of the Bishops of World Orthodoxy can say what Saint Basil the Great said-not one. Therefore, not one priest or one parish in communion with those Bishops can either, as evidenced by the fact that they have strayed from the application of scriptural and canonical baptism and can commemorate heretical Metropolitans and Bishops in each Liturgy among other things, and still consider themselves “orthodox”.
I am also convinced that the “all churches have problems” argument, is subterfuge and smokescreen to prevent sincere believers from seeing the reality of the apostasy of the church. In a separate conversation with my priest concerning the Antiochian Hierarch’s support of Islam, he distanced himself and therefore his parish from having to face the issue of the apostasy and ecumenism of World Orthodoxy by saying,
“I need to be concerned with the people in this little valley.”
Thus another question I cannot get away from is,
“If the chief shepherd of the people in the ‘little valley’ is the Bishop and the Bishop through his heresy, has become a wolf in sheep’s clothing, is not that a matter for the utmost concern? Will the Bishop/wolf, with his larger staff, not eventually lead his sheep to graze in his heretical pasture?”
One of the most disturbing and yet hopeful dichotomies of our journey is the fact that most of the sheep do not know what the shepherds are doing. It is disturbing because if the sheep remain blind to the nature of the Bishops’ apostasy and their priest’s complicities, it will be to their spiritual destruction. It is hopeful, in that if they are enlighten as to the real nature of World Orthodoxy they may give heed to the prophetic scriptures which warn,
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”
“But we command you brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the traditions which he received from us.”
With our decision to withdraw from those who are bringing destructive heresies, there follows the judgment of some who, rather than seeing the approaching danger, see only the comfort and familiarity of the church in which they have so long dwelled. So, rather than consider whether or not the danger is valid, they ask the “are you saying” questions.
“Are you saying that we are heretics?”
“Are you saying that you know more than we do?”
Then comes the “you must” statements.
“You must be upset over something.”
“You must have bitterness in your heart.”
The challenge in answering the “are you” and “you must” questions and statements is that the presenters have already dug themselves in to a conclusion. They are dealing in rhetoric and do not really want an answer. They, mistakenly focus on the messenger. I discovered this prior to our decision to leave
, when I made the mistake of assuming a friend at church, with whom I had had many previous discussions over the years, would welcome knowing about the World Council of Churches. When I related to him my dilemma of not knowing if I could be in communion with any group who did not believe that Jesus was the “Only way, the truth and the life and that no man can come to the Father unless he comes by me”, he responded by pointing at the temple and saying, Antioch
“Nathan, I will always be at this church…”,
and then pointing to the church cemetery,
“…and I will be buried in that cemetery.”
It was a nerve that I had not intended to hit but it was a nerve none-the-less that runs deep. I discovered in a subsequent letter from my friend that the nerve was not just one of intense loyalty, but one which had at its root a much more disturbing core. The friend wrote,
“As for all of the theological and ecclesiastical issues that you present, I don’t believe that Christ is calling us to solve all of these problems. There had always been corruption, dissention and political posturing in the Church, and I don’t think this will change while we are here on this earth. The essence of the Orthodox faith is Truth, and God will deal with those that have other agendas. There are issues that may appear to be monumentally important, but if I chose to focus on these things while sacrificing my life in Christ, I am straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.”
The core of the friend’s resistance to see the reality of the apostasy of the Church was an ideology not birthed in loyalty but, rather, in jaded cynicism. His position was based in the belief that there is no imminent danger enough to warrant a reaction. This is based on the idea that the issues are out there somewhere, they don’t directly involve us and that others will deal with them. I recognized this ideology as being in harmony with the priest’s “little valley” statement. I have not been Orthodox very long, but even I recognized this as a most unorthodox position. The walls of the Orthodox temples are lined with the martyrs of the faith, who, if they had taken that stance, would never have earned their place among the great cloud of witnesses. It is inconceivable that they would take the position that Christ had not called us to “solve all of these problems” and how could we leave the solving to the hierarchs since it is the hierarchs who are the problem? I also could not justify the fact that during the Liturgy we venerate the martyrs of the faith, while at the same time honoring Bishops who teach and believe the opposite of what the Martyrs died to preserve, saying that all religions are equal paths to God!
My friend suggested that to focus on these things would be ‘sacrificing my life in Christ’ The question that follows is,
“What surer way is there to sacrifice your life in Christ than to ignore the heresy of your Bishops?
The ideology presented by the priest and my friend that says, do not “focus on these things”, is reminiscent of the scenario where a beautiful, peaceful valley is about to be flooded to make a lake. In this case, however, the people have heard the rumors that the water from the dam may be released but they remain where they are leaving their fate to the powers that be. It is also reminiscent of a scene from my favorite movie, Sergeant York. In the valley of the Two Forks in
in the early 1900’s there is one community store where all the townsfolk gather to talk and commune. One of their age-old traditions is to have the one newspaper they occasionally receive, read aloud to all gathered. As the aged reader picks up the paper, he turns immediately to the Community Page to get right to the “important stuff.” The boldface headline the reader has turned past reads, “War Breaks Out In Tennessee Europe”. Little did they know that that war, miles away, would reach into their little valley and change their world.
So, “are we saying” that the people in the valley are heretics? No. “Are we saying” that we know more than those who have been Orthodox longer? No. Although those things may be deduced by the reasons we have presented, we are saying only one thing,
“As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”
To illustrate this point we carefully tailored a letter that was sent to the priest upon our departure,
Greetings in the name of the Holy Trinity, Christ is Risen!
It is with great hope for the future that we tell you of our family’s unified decision to leave the Antiochian Diocese and thus [our local church]. In our continued journey to orthodoxy and the theosis of our souls, we have found some significant differences between what is taught and believed in the Antiochian Diocese and the other Orthodox Churches who adhere to more traditional practices and doctrines of the faith. We have come to the conclusion that our hearts and beliefs are more in communion with the latter and so we must go where our conscience calls us and obedience leads us.
We are grateful for the years we have spent at [our local church] and will forever value the friendships we have made. We trust that none will perceive our leaving as an indictment of the clergy or the good people of [our local church] or a result of some interpersonal conflict for there is no motive or reason for our leaving other than that which we have here stated.
We will pray often that our Lord will “complete the good work that He has begun in you.”
In His Hope and Theosis,
The Lewis Family
So “are we saying” that the Bishops who make up the hierarchy of the World Orthodox Church and that those clergy who willingly and knowingly remain in communion with them are heretics? Yes. But as to when, how and if those clergy become so, is not for us to determine.
So what of the “you must” questions? My friend who said that I should not focus on these things also gave a thorough list as to why he thought I was doing so. He suggested in his letter that you must be “prideful”, in “deep bitterness”, personal “turmoil”, “thinking too highly of yourself” and that this is causing me to enter a “troubling transition”, whereby I am in “danger of losing my way” and going “down the wrong path”. To my friend, it was my spiritual weakness that was causing me to focus on the wrong things and to judge others.
There is a common misunderstanding of the term “judge.” We hear often quoted the scripture,
“Judge not that ye be not judged.”
This is erroneously used in circumstances to which it does not apply in order to silence or cast dispersion on any who would speak out against heresy, when it actually refers to pointing out the individual shortcomings of a brother and murmuring against him out of lofty arrogance and pride such as,
“God I thank you that I am not like other men…”
Was Timothy judging when he gave a list of sins that were prevalent, saying that some had a form of godliness but denied its power, that some were always learning and never coming to the truth and that,
“From such people turn away?”
The fact is that acknowledging and recognizing where sin is and where it isn’t is appropriate scriptural judgment. We are commanded to always judge in matters of faith and truth. Paul exhorts us to
“…flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the cup of communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”
We must judge that if anyone has left that one communion saying that there is another way other than the blood and body of Christ, he is given to idolatry. But it is actually through one’s own actions and not the attitude of another that they are judged, for they judge themselves,
“It is necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first: but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”
We are to separate ourselves from those who refused to follow that faith. Were Paul and Barnabas being “judgmental” in this statement or were they acknowledging where the truth was and where it wasn’t, who embraced it and who didn’t? Do we any more judge when we recognize and acknowledge when a Bishop or a church or and individual has left the faith to follow another gospel? Was my friend unscripturally judging me when he listed what he saw to be my sins? I think not, for he was humbly sincere in his intent and his judgment was this scriptural kind, albeit based on a flawed assessment.
So, we are quick to rightly judge concerning the greater heresies such as atheism, but is the heresy of denying that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is the only way to heaven, any less a heresy? Is this not the heresy of heresies? Is not the incarnation of Christ the very catalyst for the gathering of the Seven Ecumenical Councils? The fact is sure that there exists absolute truth, that it is preserved in the One Holy, Catholic and
under faithful and obedient Bishops, and that we are commanded by God to judge as to the adherence or the straying from that truth. To judge in this manner is Orthodox. To fail to judge in this manner is to adhere to the modern Western philosophy of relativism, the heresy of Ecumenism and follow a false road to unity that leads to destruction. Apostolic Church
It is our prayer and desire that all who are in communion with the bishops, priests, or churches who have become apostate and part of the World Council of Churches, who adhere to the unscriptural tenants of Ecumenism and who have sided either knowingly or unknowingly with those who have split the church with the New Calendar innovation, either depose their hierarchy or remove themselves from them. This is scriptural. This is Canonical. This is Orthodox. Thus, to the Antiochian Diocese, all members of the World Council of Churches all participants in Ecumenism, all members of SCOBA, all local priests, deacons and parishioners, I offer the same exhortation and proclamation that Saint Maximus the Confessor did to Theodosius, Bishop of Caesarea in Bithynia. It is as relevant today as it was then. Only the names have changed,
“Let these offences, introduced by Ecumenical Patriarchs Sergius, Pyrrhus and Paul into the Church, be removed; let those who have introduced them be deposed; and then the path to salvation will be cleared of all barriers, and you will walk on the smooth path of the Gospel, cleansed of all heresy! When I see the
as she was formerly, then I will enter into communion with her without any exhortation on the part of men. But while there are heretical temptations in her, and while heretics are her bishops, no word or deed will convince me ever to enter into communion with her.” Church of Constantinople
One final question follows,
“Was Saint Maximus the Confessor being “uncanonical”?
Neither are those today who withdraw from heretics, for such are the True, Genuine and canonical Orthodox Christians, The Orthodox Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against them.
“Illumine with the light of awareness the apostates from the Orthodox Faith, and those blinded by pernicious heresies, and number them with Thy Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church.”
With a desire to remain free of unreasonable accusation, my wife and I and our daughters unanimously decided to leave our local church and the Antiochian Diocese only having delivered by mail, the brief departure letter. We made no public or private announcements, have not engaged parishioners, distributed information, nor attempted to encourage others to join us. We will, however, from this point on, preach, teach and practice that which has been handed down to us encouraging all within our voice to join one of the faithful groups of True or Genuine Orthodox believers and their Bishops. For where such a Bishop is there alone is the canonical church.
May God have mercy on our souls and forgive all our trespasses even as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
Nathan Lee Lewis