Apostasy, Apostasy-Lite, and the Gospel of John

The Gospel gives us an answer on how to approach the current situation around the UOC. Photo: UOJ

Holy Scripture is God's revelation to man, thanks to which one can find right answers to a variety of questions at different times and in different life situations.

The war in Ukraine has provoked the strongest pressure on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with a clear-cut goal of exterminating it altogether. There are two ways out for the clergy and laity: to get directly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) or to recognize the supremacy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople as the other option for those who are not yet ready for the first one. In both cases, this means apostasy from the UOC and its Primate, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry. The second option suggests a “light version” of apostasy, since it works under the guise of a convenient argument that the Patriarchate of Constantinople, unlike the OCU, is a recognized Local Church with canonical succession of ordinations. However, a few important points should be borne in mind in this regard:

  1. Phanar concelebrated with people without dignity (OCU) and therefore deserves an appropriate canonical assessment of such actions, which will be given in due time.
  2. The modern Patriarchate of Constantinople professes the doctrine of its own primacy in Universal Orthodoxy, which is incompatible with the doctrine of the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."
  3. Phanar declares its intention to enter into "unity" with Catholicism, which is a clear apostasy from Orthodoxy even at this declarative stage. However, until the declared union has become an accomplished fact, one can speak of apostasy only as a probable future.

Whatever the option is, apostasy from the UOC is quite justified from the standpoint of secular logic. After all, Patriarch Kirill actually approves of the war against Ukraine, which means that being under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate implies associating oneself with the enemies of Ukraine. There is a cognitive dissonance: the UOC is the Ukrainian Church, it supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, it blesses its faithful children to stand up for the country, it helps both soldiers and refugees as much as possible. But on the other hand, the UOC – albeit an autonomous Church – is still part of the ROC (paragraph 5 of the Statute of the UOC), while the ROC, in the person of its Primate, as well as many hierarchs and clergy, have sided with the enemies of Ukraine.

Apostasy from the UOC is quite justified from the point of view of secular logic.

How can you live with your own enemies? Naturally, no one in the UOC wants to be associated with them, and hence there is a temptation for some clerics of the UOC to resort to the two options indicated above. This logic is very predictable, but it is human. However, the gospel logic is completely different. Let's open the Gospel of John and see how the closest disciples of Christ, who were facing a situation of cognitive dissonance, acted and what the Lord Jesus Christ told them in this situation.

Reference: cognitive dissonance is a state of mental discomfort of an individual caused by a clash of conflicting ideas in his mind: notions, beliefs, values or emotional reactions.

The preaching of Christ, His words and statements were sometimes so unusual and so much defied the ideas of the then Jews about familiar things and concepts that sometimes it seemed to them that these were the words of a madman or a person in an inadequate state. This feeling was shared even by close relatives of Christ. The Gospel of Mark describes the following situation: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mk 3:20-21). Blessed Jerome of Stridon explains this passage in the Gospel as follows, “In the Gospel, even those close to him wanted to tie Him, as if He had lost his mind. The enemies said mockingly: “... the demon is in Him” and “He is a Samaritan” (cf. John 8:48), and also, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons” (cf. Matt. 9:34, 12:24, Luke 11:15).

Some researches of the Gospel texts assume that this situation could arise after the Sermon on the Mount or in connection with it. Indeed, what Christ said was in many ways so bizarre for the inhabitants of Palestine at that time that the conclusion about His lapse of reason was self-evident. Nevertheless, many people and primarily the disciples of Christ believed His words and perceived them as a revelation from above without questioning it. However, the day came when even His closest disciples were no longer able to take in the words of the Lord. The only logical way out was to admit that Christ was really "out of his mind" and backslide from Him. Many did so, but not all. Let's turn to the Gospel of John.

The day came when even His closest disciples were no longer able to take in the words of the Lord. The only logical way out was to admit that Christ was really "out of his mind" and backslide from Him.

This whole story begins with the fact that the Lord miraculously feeds a multitude of people with five barley loaves and two small fish. “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted’” (John 6:11-12).

After this miracle, the people recognized Him as the messenger of God, and since the Jews associated their liberation from the hated yoke of the Roman Empire with such a messenger, they had the idea to involve Christ in the political struggle, make them their king and, under His leadership, foment an anti-Roman rebellion.

“After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15).

Jesus Christ withdrew to the mountain alone and sent the disciples by boat to the other side of the lake in Capernaum. This was a ploy that allowed Christ to avoid being proclaimed king, since no one had expected He would follow the disciples on foot on the water. So when it turned out that the Lord, together with the disciples, was already in Capernaum, the moment was lost. He was again surrounded by people, and it was no longer possible to "accidentally take Him." The Jews could only ask in bewilderment, “Rabbi! when did you get here?" (John 6:25). To which the Lord answered them: “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (John 6:26). With this begins the conversation of Christ about the true Bread of Life, which is His Body.

The Jews beg Christ for a sign and hint that this sign should be no less tangible than the manna that the people of Israel ate after they were freed from Egyptian slavery. “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:31-33). Here we see the first, not yet explicit, indication that the Bread of Life is Jesus Christ Himself. The Jews do not understand this, as they are still under the impression of the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and the feeding of many people, so they ask, “Lord! Always give us this bread” (John 6:34). The Lord answers more clearly, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

From that moment on, the Jews are growing even more perplexed and offended: “At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven?'" (John 6:41-42). Further, the situation escalates even more, because the Lord not only testifies to Himself as the Bread of Life, but also says that the words that His physical Flesh and Blood is this Bread is not just a beautiful turn of phrase.

“But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:50-51).

At this point those who were listening to Christ understood that He was talking about His Flesh and Blood, but they still had the hope of getting some reasonable explanations of how it all might look in reality. They start a discussion about how this can be: “Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52).

Now that we have been partaking of the Flesh and Blood of the Lord under the guise of the Eucharistic bread and wine for two thousand years, we are not at all perplexed by the words of Christ. However, for the Jews of that time, this was a mental shock, because Jesus Christ spoke, in fact, about cannibalism.

If there had been a man in Christ's place who cared to convince his listeners, to win them over, and not to alienate them, he would have probably explained to them what we know about the Sacrament today. But Christ does not. On the contrary, He further aggravates the shock of the Jews and repeats that it is actually about literally eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood. Moreover, He warns that those who refuse to do this will not see the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever’” (John 6:53-58).

After these words, the Jews had no choice but to draw the logical conclusion that something was really wrong with Christ and that He was saying something completely absurd and unacceptable. “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60). After they draw such a conclusion, they depart from Christ to choose another, more reasonable and convenient way. “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66). Note that the Evangelist John speaks of "His disciples", not just of his listeners. These people were with Christ, listened to His sermons, probably believed them, but they could not grasp the meaning about literal consumption of His Body and Blood. The Gospel gives us reason to assume that Judas Iscariot turned out to be one of the apostates, who, although he did not physically depart from Christ, his heart had already departed from Him. “’Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him” (John 6:64).

After this apostasy of “many of His disciples,” the Lord is left alone with the twelve apostles. This is not directly stated in the Gospel, but follows from the context. By our human logic, Christ certainly had to reassure them and say something like “Don’t worry and don’t be alarmed, it’s all allegorical, not literal, everything will be under the guise of bread and wine” and so on. Nevertheless, the Lord does not say anything of the kind; He does not even hint that the sacrament will take place in a form acceptable to our understanding. To make matters worse, the Lord does not at all calm the apostles and does not bring them out of the state of the cognitive dissonance they were affected by. On the contrary, He exacerbates this state even more: “Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘You do not want to leave, do you?’” (John 6:67). This was a very severe test of the apostles, similar to the test of the faith of the wife of the Canaanite, when the Lord clearly and unequivocally refused to heal her daughter (see Matt. 15:21-28).

Having no hope of resolving their perplexities, continuing to be in a state of terrible cognitive dissonance, the apostles make their choice. They remain faithful to Christ.

Having no hope of resolving their perplexities, continuing to be in a state of terrible cognitive dissonance, the apostles make their choice. They remain faithful to Christ, choose to believe that everything He says is the truth and accept this truth no matter how shocking and beyond common sense it may be.

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:67-69).

***

If we take a look at the current situation in the UOC through the prism of this gospel narrative, we will see that those who have departed from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and His Beatitude Onuphry or are about to choose this path, are doing the right thing from the point of view of our earthly secular logic. On the contrary, loyalty to one's Church seems to be something strange, unreasonable and creates many everyday problems. However, the example of the apostles says that we must remain faithful no matter what. To remain faithful despite the fact that we do not know how the situation will develop further, we do not know whether the UOC will become autocephalous or not, we do not know whether the UOC will be banned by the authorities or not. We must simply trust Christ and His Church.

"You do not want to leave, do you?" Each of us gets to choose.

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The recommendations of the VR committee to hold worship services only in Ukrainian are:
legal requirement of the state
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mere talk
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