They went out from us, but were not of us” 1 John 2:19.
Every serious Orthodox Christian should be concerned about the current situation revolving around the Church in Ukraine. As I have eluded to elsewhere there are inevitable canonical consequences, yet the canons of the Church are in place to safeguard the Spirit of Truth. In some sense, would that we were such Christians that we did not need canons! And yet, the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is exploiting the canons in a cold and calculating manner exposes the fact that it is misusing the canons.
The intent of this article is not the topic of canons, others have covered it extremely well.
Together with the good order of the Church, the essentials of Christian life are being tested in Ukraine. How so? The acceptance into communion of Phileret (self-proclaimed “Patriarch of Kiev”) and CO. is the acceptance of an anti-church, indeed an antichrist spirit. It is the acceptance of a false spirituality, a false “Orthodoxy.” Anyone with basic research skills may easily uncover the kind of person who Fake Phil of Kiev truly is. (here is a good place to start – http://orthochristian.com/115806.html ). He in the past was a dedicated KGB agent who constantly sold Christ and the Church for personal gain, a violent and cruel man, a breaker of monastic vows (he had children out of wedlock), and the list goes on. Currently, he has found new handlers and is attempting to enrich himself through the destruction of Christ’s Church (yet again!). Truly may he repent, and we will all rejoice at this! But has he? Has he repented of the great evils that he has worked in Ukraine, for which he was excommunicated? It seems very clear, no. How then can the EP lift an anathema when no true repentance has been offered? He cannot, no matter what claims he may make.
Such ones as Fake Phil are called antichrists (different from the Antichrist, although partakers of the same spirit). Indeed St. John the Theologian says, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come … They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 Jn 2:18-19). The sequence is clear, “They” (referring to antichrists) are such because they willingly broke fellowship with the Church and rejected the Truth; if they had been true followers of Christ, they would have remained in the Church. Yet their leaving makes manifest their falsehood, indeed that they are participators in the spirit of antichrist.
Christ the Lord says, “Every tree is known by its fruit” (Mat. 6:44). There is a major difference between struggling with sin and actively facilitating and participating with it. Every Christian has struggles but active, willful, and conscious participation, fellowship, with sin is evil, such a one cease to be a Christian. The fruits of Fake Phil and Company are evident, again anyone with research skills and a desire to know can identify the “fruit.” By their fruit, we may know that they are false trees — death-bearing. St. James tells us, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not come from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:13-16). Thus, the Scriptures testify that all envy, hatred, self-seeking (some of the reasons Phil was excommunicated) lead to a “boasting and lying against the truth.” The clear identification is made – this “wisdom” is not from God but is ultimately demonic, and with it abides “every evil thing.” What sane Orthodox person would desire to be in communion with such as these?
St. Symeon the New Theologian tells us, “The works of the devil are every kind of sin: envy, lying, cunning, hatred … and every other evil. And so for those who are called Christians and do such works of the devil, what benefit is there from the fact that they are called Christians … If anyone will say that some of those who are like this explain the Divine Scripture, theologize, preach Orthodox dogma – let them know that it is not in this that the work of Christ consists. John the Theologian does not say, ‘to this end was the Son of God made manifest,’ that certain ones should theologize and orthodoxize (that is, pride themselves on their Orthodoxy – tr. note) but that ‘He might destroy the works of the devil.’ Concerning such ones, I shall say that first one must clean the vessel of every filth and then place in it myrrh, lest the myrrh itself become defiled, and in place of fragrance there should come from it an evil smell” (First-Created Man, p. 62-63).
The holy Forerunner, St. John, preached, “Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mat. 3:10). Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself says, “I am the vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away … If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (Jn. 15:1, 6). These warnings are spoken to all, thus let us guard our hearts. Yet, it is evident that Fake Phil & CO. are but dead branches; without a true return of repentance only fire and burning await. (They must repent to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Russia, for against them have they sinned.) The EP does not have the authority nor power to speak life to such dead branches, and it is deeply concerning that it has united itself to them. And elsewhere, what does our Lord say? “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5).
The Lord warns: lampstands can be removed; branches can fall off. Take heed. No one is exempt, not even grand Patriarchates. The fall of old of the glorious Roman Patriarchate into heresy stands as a testimony to this reality. True Orthodoxy is not defined by a particular Patriarchate, rather every Patriarchate is answerable to Christ and His Gospel. As Rome once lost its lampstand, so may any other if it is not vigilant in standing steadfast in the Truth of Christ. True Orthodoxy is an abiding in Christ the Lord, and He has given us a very clear standard by which to discern this. One cannot willingly break clear Gospel principles and be Orthodox. From Patriarchs to laymen, all must give an answer according to the commandments of Christ the Lord. No one is exempt.
Thus, in Ukraine, two paths are being manifested. One leads to life, upon it walks Met. Onuphry, and the long-suffering faithful Orthodox. The other leads to death, upon it walks Fake Phil and orthodoxy of the whitewashed tomb. The two are diametrically opposed. On the one path, we see the humility of Christ exhibited by Met. Onuphry and the faithful clergy and people who have been betrayed by those who should be their brothers, those in whom they should find common allies. The EP almost completely ignored and shunned the rightful hierarch of Ukraine and rather gave preference to Fake Phil, a trader and apostate of Orthodoxy. And on the other path we see self-exaltation and the active promotion of hate, we see the religion of death, the religion of dead men’s bones. Once again upon the cold and callus stones of Gabbatha, a throne is erected and the heartless cry rings out, “According to the Law!”
What an encouragement and Godly example such a courageous hierarch as Met. Onuphry is!
Of course, we know there is and always can be only One true path and we either do or do not walk upon it. Thus, True Orthodoxy will always stand, be it in the millions or the hundreds. Will we remain faithful? Will we truly be Christians? The flames of pseudo-orthodoxy are being fanned in Ukraine, one that is outwardly “correct” but is inwardly full of death and filth. It will only defile the myrrh which is being united to it, thus making it filth. All God-fearing Orthodox must state clearly: we will never have fellowship with such as these. Now is the time for courage now is the time to stand steadfast in the Faith.