Orthodoxy and “true” Christianity: what’s the difference?

The "hierarch" of the OCU compared Orthodoxy with a sect and contrasted it with "Christianity." Photo: UOJ

"Bishop" Adrian Kulik said that Orthodoxy is close to sectarianism; hence the OCU needs to strive for Christianity. What is behind these words?

"Hierarch" of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Adrian Kulik in an interview with the "Emigrant Radio" on September 14, 2020, stated that "Orthodoxy" has a sectarian character and expressed the wish that "Ukrainian Orthodoxy" would approach "true" Christianity and would not be isolated from other Christian denominations. The words of this "hierarch", of course, can be dismissed. But in fact, A. Kulik raised a very important problem, which can be worded as follows: how does the Church differ from a sect? There have been cases in history when the Church was represented by just a few hierarchs, while the sect was represented by dozens, if not hundreds.

“Greek Orthodoxy is more civilized (than Russian – Ed.). But to be honest, I would still like to see Ukrainian Orthodoxy approach Christianity. Because Orthodoxy is perceived as a sect or something separate from another movement,” Kulik said. “Still, as envisaged by Christianity, we must unite around Christ. Therefore, even if we have to associate with Catholics or other Christian sects, we must always remain Christians in the first line. However, Russian Orthodoxy is like this: ‘you are Orthodox, and those are all heretics, renegades. Those are perishing, but we are the only ones to be saved, we are the chosen ones’. The technology of imposing occult sects is when a guru makes his adepts believe they are the chosen ones, because they are with him, so God chose them."

In the second part of the quote, Kulik speaks specifically about the Russian Church. However, it is easy to conclude that he compares all Orthodoxy with a sect. In general, the "hierarch" intertwines (most likely out of ignorance) two different problems. The first is the difference between the Church and the sect, while the second is the difference between the Church and what is not the Church. After all, Catholicism and even to some extent Lutheranism cannot be called sects, but at the same time they do not belong to the Church.

To be honest, I would still like Ukrainian Orthodoxy to come closer to Christianity. Because Orthodoxy is perceived as a sect or something separate from another movement.

Adrian Kulik

The difference between the Church and the sect

The "Philosophical Encyclopedia", published back in 1967, gives the following definition of sectarianism: "Sectarianism (Greek σεχταρισμение ‘doctrine, direction, school ‘), religious sectarianism is a collection of religious organizations and groups characterized by a certain hostility to dissidents, a tendency to fanaticism and dogmatism, which, on the basis of anti-church or social protest, have isolated themselves from whatever world religions and dominant churches and are disposed towards them with hostility or opposition."

Despite the fact that this definition is already more than half a century old, sectologists still use it. It stands to reason that A. Kulik was wrong: "Russian" Orthodoxy cannot be a sect, if only because it represents one of the "world religions and ruling churches".

Sectarianism is characterized by two features: blind obedience to the leader and awareness of one's own exclusiveness.

Any sect is led or was led in the past by some leader, founder, guru, to whose authority adepts of the sect blindly obey. The leader's words are accepted as truth without question, no matter how absurd they may be.

The famous American psychologist Margaret Tayler Singer, who has been researching sects and destructive cults for a long time, gives the following definition: “Cult relationships are relationships between people, in the process of which one person deliberately inclines another to complete or almost complete dependence on him in almost all the main life decisions and generates in this person confidence in his special talent, gift or ability." Sect adepts cannot reflect on the orders of the guru, cannot analyze his ideas, they can only obey them. Despite the fact that the leaders of the sects can speak to their adepts about God, the "god" on earth for the adept is the person of guru. This relationship is best illustrated by the statement of the founder of Krishnaism, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada: “If you have problems with God, only your guru can help you. If you have problems with your guru, no one can help you then."

Orthodoxy also has spiritual mentors and leaders. But the fundamental difference between the spiritual leadership in the Church and the sects is that in the Church obedience to the confessor, the rector of the community or the bishop is conditioned by the extent to which the mentor himself is in obedience to the Gospel, Holy Tradition, doctrinal truths and moral norms. As soon as a mentor begins to deviate from church teaching, fall into heresy, or teach something other than what Scripture teaches, obedience to him becomes impossible.

The goal of all the spiritual efforts of the believer and all the instructions of his spiritual leader is also important. In the Church, this goal is the union of man with God. In sects, the goals can be very different: from achieving psychological comfort to the banal enrichment of the sect leaders. If in the Church a spiritual mentor leads a person to himself, and not to God, then the Church calls on believers to stay away from such a mentor, and removes him from his duties.

The fundamental difference between the spiritual leadership in the Church and the sects is that in the Church obedience to the confessor, rector of the community or bishop is conditioned by the extent to which the mentor himself is in obedience to the Gospel, Holy Tradition, doctrinal truths and moral norms. As soon as a mentor begins to deviate from church teaching, falls into heresy, or teaches something otherwise than the Scripture, obedience to him becomes impossible.

The goal of all the spiritual efforts of the believer and all the instructions of his/her spiritual leader is also important. In the Church, this goal is the union of man with God. In sects, the goals can be very different: from achieving psychological comfort to the banal enrichment of the leaders of the sect. If a spiritual mentor in the Church leads a person to himself, rather than and to God, then the Church encourages believers to stay away from such a mentor and removes him from his duties.

The fundamental difference between the spiritual leadership in the Church and the sects is that in the Church obedience to the confessor, rector of the community or bishop is conditioned by the extent to which the mentor himself is in obedience to the Gospel, Holy Tradition, doctrinal truths and moral norms. As soon as a mentor begins to deviate from church teaching, falls into heresy, or teaches something otherwise than the Scripture, obedience to him becomes impossible.

The second feature of sects is the awareness of their exclusiveness. Canadian sectologists Mike Cropveld and Marie-Andre Pellan in their book "The Phenomenon of Sects" give the following definition of sectarian thinking: "This is a way of conceptualizing reality and society by dividing them into two monolithic blocks (good - evil, saved - damned, white - black)." Indeed, in order to keep their followers in obedience, sect leaders instill in them the idea that only they are saved, and this salvation is granted to them by their affiliation to the sect and submission to its leaders.

Everything is fundamentally different in the Church. Belonging to the Church is a necessary but by no means a sufficient condition for the salvation of the soul. If a person formally belongs to the Church and even has a priestly rank, but at the same time his life does not correspond to the Gospel Commandments, then belonging to the Church will serve to further condemnation of such a person. “And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12: 47-48).

A sectarian can be sure of his own salvation or his own exclusivity, while a man of the Church simultaneously has in his heart the hope that Christ will save him and at the same time the fear of losing this salvation. On the one hand, in the Creed, we confess that "we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come" and on the other hand, we remember the words of the Apostle Peter: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5, 8).

A sectarian can be sure of his own salvation or his own exclusivity, while a man of the Church simultaneously has in his heart the hope that Christ will save him and at the same time the fear of losing this salvation.

A man of the Church cannot divide people into saved and lost, because he knows how quickly one can pass from one state to another. The Apostle Paul speaks not of the saved and lost but of those being saved and perishing: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The people of the Church recognize themselves as being saved instead of having been saved, hence that they cannot be exalted over anyone, or consider themselves exceptional, or condemn others. The prudent robber repented and was saved at the very last moment of his life. The same can happen to any sinner. In general, the Holy Scriptures tell us that we should take care of the salvation of our souls: "... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling ..." (Phil. 2, 12), rather than decide on whether any other person will be saved or not.

The difference between the Church and what is not the Church

All of the above does not imply that the Orthodox admit the possibility of salvation outside the Church. Both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition tell us that salvation is possible only in the Church. Of the many quotes that support this thesis, we will cite only a few:

“Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5: 20-21).

“Do not flatter yourself, my brothers! Those corrupting houses will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But if those who do this in relation to the flesh are subject to death, then isn’t it not much more if someone corrupts the faith of God with evil teaching, for which Jesus Christ was crucified? Such a person as bad will go into the inextinguishable fire, as well as the one who listens to him” (Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer).

“Heresy is alienation from God. The heretic is excommunicated from the living and true God and have communion with the devil and his angels. The one who has been separated from Christ no longer has God Whom he could pray for his sins, and in all respects he is lost” (Abba Agathon).

“We know that salvation is the lot of the One Church only and that no one outside the Catholic (conciliar – Trans.) Church and faith can participate in Christ or be saved ... we do not allow heresies to have the hope of salvation, but we put them completely outside this hope, since they do not have the slightest communion with Christ” (St. John Chrysostom).

Orthodox theologians identify several external signs by which one can distinguish the true Church from the fake one.

  • First, it is the intact pure Christian teaching preached by the apostles.
  • Second, it is the grace of God, which is passed on through continuous apostolic succession. Or in other words, the Holy Spirit, which descended on the apostles on the day of Pentecost and is transmitted by ordination from the apostles to bishops and priests.
  • Third, it is the continuous historical existence of the Church from the apostles to the present day.

It is important to understand that the Church has always strived to keep the teachings of Christ intact and was not afraid to cut off false teachings, no matter how many people could be carried away by these false teachings and on whose side the secular authorities were at that moment.

All Ecumenical Councils defended the truth regardless of any political or other circumstances. The story of St. Maximus the Confessor during the Monothelite disputes in the middle of the 7th century is very indicative in this respect. Then the Orthodox faith was essentially defended by only three people: the Jerusalem Patriarch Sophronius, the Pope Martin and the Greek monk Maximus the Confessor. All other hierarchs agreed or were ready to agree with the heresy. Despite the fact that the Byzantine Empire at that time was under serious threat both from Persia and from the newly emerging Muslim Arabs, and the empire needed religious peace like air, the Monk Maxim rejected any opportunity to compromise and give up the truth.

It is interesting that at that time the Monk Maximus was accused of exactly what Orthodoxy (even if it is "Russian") is accused of by A. Kulik – of sectarian thinking. When Maxim's accusers at the trial asked him if he really considered himself the only one who was being saved, and everyone else perishing, he replied, “God forbid, God forbid me to condemn anyone that I will be saved alone, but as long as I can, I would rather die than have the fear before my conscience for having transgressed faith in God in any way."

When asked what he would do if everyone received the Holy Communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople, who was then infected with the Monothelite heresy, the Monk Maximus said, “If the whole universe begins to commune with the Patriarch, I will not receive communion with him. The Holy Spirit anathematized through the apostle even angels, introducing something new and alien to preaching." And when he was asked to recognize Monothelism and thereby make it possible to bring unification of Byzantium and Rome, he replied, "I am thinking not about the unity or separation of the Romans and Greeks but about not deviating from the right faith." After severe tortures, the Monk Maximus the Confessor died in 662, and in 680-681 the Sixth Ecumenical Council took place, which condemned Monothelism as heresy.

***

As you can see, the Holy Church has always defended the truth, even if it remained in the minority. It was by no means a manifestation of sectarian thinking, of which A. Kulik accuses Orthodoxy. One should also pay attention to the context in which Kulik's accusations were made. The "bishop" of the OCU compares Orthodoxy with a sect after mentioning the "civilized" Greek Orthodoxy, i.e. he still speaks of the entire Orthodox Church. But Kulik specifies his claims in relation to the Russian Orthodox Church. Let us repeat his words once again: “Therefore, even if we have to communicate with Catholics or other Christian sects, we must always remain Christians first. And Russian Orthodoxy is like this: "you are Orthodox, and those are all heretics, renegades."

Consequently, "Russian" Orthodoxy is an obstacle to communication with "Catholics and other Christian sects." It hinders the possible unification of the Orthodox with the Latins, about which both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople speak. Well, in this case, it can be stated that "Russian" Orthodoxy acts in exactly the same way as the Church of Christ treated heresies at all times of its historical existence.

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Poll

How do you assess the Phanar's statements about possible union with Catholics?
negatively, association with heretics is impossible
64%
why not, we used to be one Church
25%
this is the case of Phanar and the RCC, we have nothing to do with it
11%
Total votes: 69

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