Return without repentance: Is unity with heretics and apostates possible?

Reconcilation with the non-Orthodox and those who have fallen away from the Church without their repentance is impossible. Photo: UOJ

It is impossible to reconcile with the non-Orthodox and fallen away from the Church without their repentance and at the same time preserve the Church teaching intact.

Throughout the history of Christianity, the Orthodox Church has been shaken more than once by various heresies and schisms that appeared already in the time of the apostles. During the period of the Ecumenical Councils, the Church showed us many workers in the faith of Christ, who, with their firm faith and holiness of life, bore witness to the truth. All of them viewed the Church as the centre of holiness and eternal life, where Christians, according to the Apostle Paul, constitute the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12, 12-14, 27). Each member of this Body by the action of the Holy Spirit is in a living connection with Christ – the Head of this Body (Col. 1:18).

It should be noted that communion with God, being in unity with Him was not conceived without the right faith and a pious life. Even Saint Irenaeus of Lyons emphasized that "the law of prayer is the law of faith". In other words, the experience of the right prayer cannot be without the right faith and vice versa.

The Holy Fathers argued that true theology is always directly related to the moral life and correct prayer. Thus, according to St. Nilus of Sinai, “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly; and if you pray truly, you are a theologian." That is, the prayer that opens communication with God is true theology since theology is not an intellectual activity, not a search for "new ways", but, first of all, the correct prayer practice of communion with God, arising from Christian asceticism and dogmatic purity. The first prominent theologians of the Church were the humble fishermen, tax collectors and tent-makers ...

Theology is not an intellectual activity but prayer practice of communion with God. The first prominent theologians of the Church were the humble fishermen, tax collectors and tent-makers.

Unfortunately, such an understanding of theology in the modern world finds fewer and fewer supporters. Theology today is perceived in isolation from personal asceticism, patristic experience of life and is presented as a scientific discipline. Moreover, lately we have more and more often come across the phenomenon of “secular theology”, and with it we encounter “theologians” who do not believe in God.

Such a distorted theology leads to a distorted understanding of the fundamental foundations of Christianity, which is primarily manifested in ecclesiology (teaching about the Church), when the Church is viewed not as the Body of Christ, but as a kind of society of believers in Christ, or a confederation of "post-Christian" communities. Based on false doctrinal and canonical assumptions, the creators of the “new ecclesiology”, if they are from an Orthodox environment, cause internal problems for the Church of Christ and Her unity. On the other hand, if these false theological views come from those outside the Church, then they create obstacles to the return of the lost to the Church. And this is well-illustrated by the modern ecumenical movement.

About ecumenism

Ecumenism did not appear today. The first manifestations of the ecumenical movement can be attributed almost to the first centuries of Christianity when the emperors and hierarchs of the Church were looking for ways to unite with those who had fallen away from the Church, based not so much on political considerations or personal preferences rather than the teachings and Tradition of the Church. True, in antiquity there was no systematic ecumenical teaching. But, unfortunately, the main point of numerous unions and treaties with heretics, as a rule, required some unacceptable doctrinal compromise from Orthodox Christians.

Repeatedly attempts to unite outside the framework of the patristic understanding of unity with apostates from the Church have led to the rejection of certain doctrinal truths of Orthodoxy or keeping silent about them in the name of civil harmony and church peace.

For example, in 648, the Emperor Constans II, during a dispute about two wills in Christ, issued a document entitled "Typos", that is, a "model" of the Christian faith. In this document, drawn upon the advice of the Patriarch of Constantinople Paul II, it was forbidden to speak of either one or two wills in Christ. Naturally, Orthodox Christians saw in the typos the patronage of the heresy of Monothelitism (the doctrine of one will in Christ) since, on the one hand, this heresy was not condemned, and on the other hand, it was forbidden to teach about two wills in Jesus Christ. All who disagreed with the document were subjected to severe persecution. It was for the refusal to recognize the "Typos" from the Emperor Constans II that the Holy Pope Martin, the Monk Maxim the Confessor and many Orthodox believers suffered.

The saints of our Church preferred standing in the Truth even to their own lives because they understood that a compromise with a lie, consisting in heresy, would lead to the loss of grace and spiritual death. And if earlier such a compromise was imposed from the outside, most often by the state power, today we are witnessing such ecumenical processes within the Holy Church or in other confessions, initiated by hierarchs and theologians who base their missionary activities on theological arguments that are alien to the Tradition of the Church and the teachings of the Holy Fathers. 

Obviously, this has created certain conditions for the modern crisis of Orthodoxy, which follows, first of all, from a lack of understanding of the nature of the Church of Christ and the introduction into the Church of worldly tools for solving the problem of unity. In this case, preference is given to external unity, provided by human efforts, while internal unity is the result of Divine action and being in grace, imparting vitality to this unity.

Can the Church apply oeconomy to those who are not going to repent?

The most interesting thing is that supporters of such a "new ecclesiology" try to explain the logic of their reasoning and actions by the concept of oeconomy (Greek: oikonomia), that is, dispensation. In this sense, in the name of oeconomy, it is justified to violate the canons of the Church expressing Her teachings to bring about a certain chimeric unity.

However, adherents of this view for some reason do not want to see that the Church applies oeconomy only in relation to a repentant sinner but not to an unrepentant apostate.

The Church applies oeconomy only in relation to a repentant sinner but not to an unrepentant apostate.

Thus, in Canon 74 of St. Basil the Great, we read: “If, however, any man guilty of any of the sins mentioned in the foregoing should become honest enough to confess them, he that is empowered by the kindness of God to loose and to bind may, if he see fit to exercise greater kindness, mitigate any excessive penalty imposed upon the one confessing his sin if he sees it to be excessive, by shortening the sentences, and in doing so he does not become worthy of condemnation, seeing that the history contained in the Holy Scriptures acquaints us with the fact that those who confess their sins with the greater painfulness soon have God’s kindness bestowed upon them.”

Canon 5 of St. Gregory of Nyssa reads: "So that if the reversion obtains the appearance of plausible credibility, the number of years should not be maintained unabated, but for the sake of commutation the penitant should be restored to the Church and to the right to partake of the essence of the great boon involved in the Mystery of the Sanctification of the Holy Elements."

As you can see, the Church means that the principle of applying oeconomy can only be used in relation to a Christian who sincerely repents of his sins, shows correction with his life and is worthy to receive the forgiveness of the Church. Сondescension, or the principle of oeconomy, is possible in relation to both schismatics and heretics who are admitted into the Church through different rites (there are three rites of receiving those who have fallen from the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Repentance). However, every rite of admission to the Church presupposes renunciation of errors and repentance. In some cases, accepting heretics or schismatics without re-baptism and chrismation, the Holy Church applies oeconomy, but only through repentance, which becomes the conductor of the grace of the Holy Church for the fallen and lost.

Therefore, the application of the principle of oeconomy to justify the violation of church canons is no longer tenable. Oeconomy is an exclusively intra-church principle, one might even say an instrument for applying church rules. Replacing the rules with oeconomy means substituting for the essence of things, and in this case, we can say more – it means bringing confusion and division into the Church.

Oeconomy is an exclusively intra-church principle, one might even say an instrument for applying church rules. Replacing the rules with oeconomy means substituting for the essence of things, and in this case, we can say more – it means bringing confusion and division into the Church.

In an effort to achieve unity with representatives of other Christian denominations, modern ecumenists often speculate on such a concept as Christian love. They are trying to hide behind love in order to promote modernist theories that destroy the internal unity of Orthodoxy.

However, love for one's neighbour does not imply love for the sin and error of one's neighbour. The Lord denounced sin and did not tolerate it. Moreover, the Gospel understanding of love for one's neighbour suggests the use of all available means to correct him – this is exhortation, conviction, and a call to repentance. The Apostle Paul in the 2nd Epistle to Timothy writes: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4, 2). St. Basil the Great, explaining this passage from the Epistle of the Apostle Paul, says: "Any reproof perceptibly bites the accused, greatly torments him, representing the shame of sin; and through this, it is very beneficial for those who do not feel their own falls because it brings him into consciousness and true repentance." 

At the same time, the Holy Scripture says that the truth cannot be neglected, even for the sake of love: "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them." (Titus 3:10). Also, the apostle and evangelist John the Theologian writes: “Everyone who transgresses the teaching of Christ and does not abide in it does not have God; he who abides in the teaching of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them (2 John 1:10).” Thus, the correct teaching about Christ is a necessary condition for religious communication with another person.

In turn, St. Theophan the Recluse writes that “conviction goes both to the one who deviates into dissent (dogmatic – M.F.), and to the one who breaks the commandments. Conviction has as its purpose to reveal to one the wrongness of thought, and to the other – the wrongness of behaviour; to bring one and the other to the consciousness of guilt and arouse in them the desire for correction. It requires a strong heart so as not to be ashamed of the face."

From these words, we see that the true goal of the Christian understanding of love for one's neighbour is to correct sin, be it moral or doctrinal. At the same time, the Church has the right to use punishment. But again, let us emphasize that She does this out of love, with the sole purpose of correcting the sinner.

In other words, love is not infantilism, not indifference, but on the contrary – a lively participation in a person's life, a desire for all kinds of benefits for him/her, and above all – correction for achieving unity with God and salvation of the soul. Not calling things by their proper names is of little help.

In this sense, the absence of a call to repentance in relation to heretics and schismatics, as well as the absence of indications of their delusions in the desire to achieve unity with them only on the basis of false principles of humanism, has nothing to do with the Christian understanding of love. Love does not imply permissiveness and neglect of a life in faith and in the Holy Spirit. Love for God and neighbour is based on Truth and cannot exist without it.

Humanism, relying on an exclusively human understanding of values, demonstrates a complete disregard for Divine Revelation. It must be assumed that the introduction of humanistic ideas into the Church seriously influenced the emergence of the modern Pan-Orthodox crisis, which offers a false path to unity and reveals the absence of true love and harmony in the inner life of the Church because unity cannot be achieved, replacing Divine wisdom with human knowledge that affirms human pride and arrogance. Unity can be realized only through the acceptance of Divine ordinances and assistance from above.

It is impossible to reconcile with the non-Orthodox and fallen away from the Church without their repentance and at the same time preserve the teaching of the Church intact.

It is impossible to reconcile with the non-Orthodox and fallen away from the Church without their repentance and at the same time preserve the teaching of the Church intact.

In attempts to unite with apostates, using human tools, the illusion may arise that one cannot worry about internal unity in this case, since it is unshakable. But this is a huge delusion, as shown by the history and recent events associated with the Council of Crete, the granting of autocephaly to the OCU by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as well as the non-canonical recognition of this autocephaly by individual primates of the Local Churches.

Unity, first of all, is unity in Christ and with the whole Church, and not with some chosen part of it. It is not based on false theological, humanistic, national views and personal preferences, but only on Christ. And efforts in the process of unification should be aimed not at achieving the predominance of some over others, not at gaining power in the Church, but at achieving unity in Christ, which presupposes abiding in Truth and Love. All other paths are destructive.

In this sense, reliance on the Gospel, canonical rules and patristic experience of spiritual life should become the basis of our unity, and it cannot be achieved without this. Otherwise, self-deception will occur when a Christian imagine that he, by his own or collective invention, is doing something more important than what he should do at the direction of the Church. This is a false path offered by the enemy of the human race – this is a path that leads away from God. Thus, church unity can be realized in Christ, through Christ in His Divine Truth, and the path to it lies through patristic faith and penitential deeds, which give rise to harmony and love.


If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor.


Do you support the call of His Beatitude to end the war and organize an exchange of prisoners?
yes, the Church must do everything to end the war
no, we must fight until complete victory
we must pray, it's up to politicians to deal with the war
Total votes: 133


Система Orphus