“He … that hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” 1 John 2:9.
Clearly, True Christianity has doctrine, it has canons, it has good order, and so forth as the Scriptures instruct. All of these things are in place to protect and make evident the true revelation and encounter with Christ God. They, in and of themselves, do not guarantee that a true encounter with Christ is taking place, nor do they substitute that encounter. We, as Christians, moreover Orthodox Christians, are transformed by the ongoing living encounter through grace, with the transfiguring energizing power of God whereby we are being saved. Ultimately True Christianity is Life, that is, it is a true and faithful experience and reflection in our own persons of the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Dogma, Canons, and so forth are good and absolutely vital to the proper functioning of the Church. Yet they can be abused and misused and misrepresented, just as the Scriptures can (even though they are the inspired word of God) as is evident with the multitude of groups claiming the Scriptures as the authoritative foundation of their existence.
The Scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s time were dogmatically correct, to the point that Christ Himself says that they “Sit in Moses’ chair” (cf. Mat. 23:2). Yet they actively missed and rejected Christ Jesus not because they did not hold to correct dogma, but because they had not allowed that dogma to have its work in their hearts. The essence of the Law pointed to Christ Jesus, the Law was good according to its dispensation, as Christ Himself testifies (cf. Mat. 5:17ff). The Scribes and Pharisees held to a correct form but completely failed to live in the true spirit of that correct form, to the point that they begin to twist and conform it to their own desires, for which they are rebuked by Christ Jesus. He tells the people, “They say and do not do” (cf. Mat. 23:3). That is, they confess correctly with their mouths but do not believe with their hearts. Yes, they had a correct outward confession but their hearts were far from it, this is why they are called hypocrites, blind guides, dishes clean on the outside but filthy on the inside, and whitewashed tombs (cf. Mat. 23:16, 25, 27). They used the good Law revealed by God for their own self-aggrandizement and applied it in a juridical manner which was completely devoid of the Law’s true intent. They rigorously adhered to the scrupulous details and yet missed the essential points of the Law. They claimed to know much and thus they were held by Christ to a very high standard. They should have known better. Christ Jesus offered them repentance but they actively refuse to repent of their complete lack of interior life and true conversion. They are condemned not because they were “heretical” per se, but because they refused true repentance; therefore they were justly condemned because they refused to repent.
The same point may be made concerning Judas who was one of the Twelve Apostles. He lost his apostolic seat not because he began to promote outright heresy but because he betrayed Christ and then refused to offer true repentance and thus he hanged himself.
We of the Orthodox Church are not exempt from falling into the same error. A tragic example is the current situation in Ukraine. Certain factors are juridically scheming to achieve various goals. The recent purported removal of anathemas from schismatic groups in Ukraine (put in place by the true Church of Ukraine and Russia because of schismatic unrepentance) by the Ecumenical Patriarch under the pretext that there were no “dogmatic” reasons proves this, I dare say, Pharisaical approach.
Is Orthodoxy simply an external institution which requires only an external form and confession? (Again this is not to diminish these things.) Or must the outward expression be tied to that vital inward transformation? Indeed Orthodoxy is about the fullness of life in Christ which encompasses both the outward and the inner. The intimate synergy of the inner life and its outward expression is a vital whole, thus St. Paul says, “If we confess with our mouths and believe with our hearts” (Cf. Rom 9:10). The juridical legislating of the Faith to a predominately outward expression misses the whole intent of the Gospel, as did the Pharisees.
The Schismatics in Ukraine have persistently refused to offer repentance; moreover, they have encouraged not the love of the Gospel but rather the hate of the devil, as their deeds show. They have dressed hatred up as Christ, how revolting, how blasphemous! They have promoted fratricide and actively worked for division. In fact, one would think that a dogma of their “church” is that one must hate all things “Russian.” Their actions show that they have no repentance, just like the Scribes and Pharisees. How can they be reinstated? How can the anathemas be lifted? They were placed on the schismatics because they willingly rent the robe of Christ in His Church in Ukraine, thereby betraying Christ and His Church. Moreover, they persist to this day in their sin of schism. Like the Scribes and Pharisees they were condemned not because of heresy per se, but for an obvious lack of interior transformation, which is vital evidence that one is living the true life of the Church. Yet for various reasons they are now being accepted through juridical means by some in the Church who have, it would seem, extremely questionable motives.
The fact that the schismatics in Ukraine lack repentance is evident to any clear seeing Orthodox person. To support and condone them is to support and condone that which is opposed to the virtues of repentance and humility and brotherly love, all of which are just as important and vital as the Nicene Creed. Is it not written, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now … He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, for the darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 Jn. 2:9, 11)? Again it says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 Jn 1:6). Can one rightly confess Christ in two natures while actively hating his brother and still be a follower of Christ the Lord? No! The inner disposition corrupts the correct, albeit in such cases superficial, confession. Thus, even though the outside may look nice and white, the inside is full of death, dead men’s bones. The Gospel is clear – those who claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in darkness are liars. Persistence in schism and obvious hatred of one’s brother is darkness, and the schismatics walk in it.
One of the major problems with the situation in Ukraine and the purported lifting of anathemas by the EP is that we are being told that as long as the outside is whitewashed then no bases exist for the anathemas. Hatred of brother is fine as long as one is outwardly “correct”?! The fact that the schismatics still walk in the darkness of hatred is exemplified by their raiding of Orthodox churches, destruction of icons of Russian Saints, beating up of faithful clergy and laity, abusive language and behavior, and so on. Are these the actions of Christians? Have Fake Patriarch Philarate and company actively condemned these actions or promoted them? Clearly, they are promoting them, and are salivating greedily to devour all the churches of Ukraine. How can one enter into fellowship with darkness, even though this darkness might wear vestments and miters? No decree from the Ecumenical Patriarchate can fix what is not there, and thus no decree can, in fact, reunite such ones to the Church because they are in darkness even until now as their deeds prove. Truly who could in good Christian conscious be in fellowship with such as these? Is not such a fellowship with them a condoning of their actions and inner disposition? If one communes with darkness then one is inevitably condoning the darkness. If one communes with schismatics such a one makes himself a schismatic.
Also, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is condoning petty national divides together with geopolitical machinations. The Orthodox Church transcends petty national divides, indeed this is why it is feared. This is why it is being attacked in Ukraine. The Blood of Christ binds all Orthodox Christians together and this bond is feared by the devil.
There are obviously numerous canonical issues at stake in Ukraine, which must be addressed and I leave this to other capable persons. Yet just as vital are the issues of Christian living – can one be a Christian and hate his brother? As clear as day, no! The Scriptures and the saints say NO! Are we called simply to an outward form and a Pharisaical adherence to it? Is this what makes us Orthodox Christians? Or must these outward manifestations be indestructibly united to the inner life, indeed are they not in truth a harmonious whole? And is not the rejection of the inner life also a rejection of the outer in all its veracity? If one holds to the forms only on a superficial level then one becomes a Pharisee and is deserving of their lot, unless true repentance is offered.
Thus, at stake also is the internal spiritual life of the Church. If the lifting of anathemas is accepted, then a whole false spirituality is being accepted, one in which externals are the most important; externals devoid of any interior life. It is the condoning of the whitewashed tomb and the holding up of it as a valid spiritual existence.
Every God-fearing Orthodox must make plain and clear – no we reject the way of the whitewashed tomb, as our Lord Jesus commands. Fellowship in the Church transcends juridical decrees; we will not admit fellowship with those who claim to follow Christ but in reality actively walk in darkness. This is not the Christian way.
(The schismatics can and may repent but it must be done it the proper manner. They sinned against their brothers and sisters of Greater Rus, encompassing Ukraine and Russian, thus they must seek repentance there. When true repentance is offered then we may all truly rejoice.)
Endnote: I originally penned the draft for this piece on the 12th of October before the Moscow Patriarchate announced the cessation of Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. My heart is pained but at the same time given the situation, the response is justified. The blatant abuse by the Ecumenical Patriarchate must be addressed and they have clearly rejected the Orthodox approach of conciliarity.