We blogged about the crisis in Eastern Orthodoxy, with the Russian Orthodox Church breaking communion with other Orthodox communions for recognizing the independence of the Ukrainian Church. Since then, the leader of Russian Orthodoxy, Patriarch Kirill, in the name of “Holy Russia”, has been one of the main leaders of the invasion of Ukraine.
Now, however, a number of Orthodox theologians officially accuse Patriarch Kirill and those who agree with his teachings of heresy.
Now, a heresy is not just a theological disagreement or error. This is a fundamental distortion of the meaning of Christianity. I don’t think the document that’s been written has any canonical status, at least not yet. It is written in the classic “we affirm/we condemn” structure that will be familiar to Lutherans, whose Concordian Formula takes the same theologically rigorous approach.
Read everything, but here’s a sample. Excerpt from a statement on the “Russian world” (Russky Mir) Education:
Faced with the teaching of the “Russian world” which is devastating and dividing the Church, we are inspired by the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Sacred Tradition of his living Body, the Orthodox Church, to proclaim and confess the following truths:
1. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here. (John 18:36).
We affirm that the divinely appointed goal and fulfillment of history, its telos, it is the coming of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, a Kingdom of justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, a Kingdom attested by Holy Scripture interpreted with authority by the Fathers. It is the Kingdom in which we participate with a foretaste at each Holy Liturgy: “Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever!” (Divine Liturgy). This Kingdom is the only foundation and authority for the Orthodox, in fact for all Christians. There is no separate source of revelation, no basis for community, society, state, law, personal identity and teaching, for orthodoxy as the living Body of Christ that which is revealed in, by and through our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.
So we have condemn as unorthodox and reject any teaching which seeks to replace the Kingdom of God seen by the prophets, proclaimed and inaugurated by Christ, taught by the apostles, received as wisdom by the Church, presented as dogma by the Fathers, and experienced in each Holy Liturgy, by a kingdom of this world, whether holy Rus’, holy Byzantium, or any other earthly kingdom, thereby usurping Christ’s own authority to deliver the kingdom to God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24 ), and denying the power of God to wipe away every tear from every eye (Revelation 21:4). We strongly condemn any form of theology that denies that Christians are migrants and refugees in this world (Hebrews 13:14), i.e. the fact that “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is hence we look for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20) and Christians “dwell in their respective countries, but only as sojourners. They participate in everything as citizens and support everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their homeland, and every house a foreign land” (The Epistle to Diognetus5).
2. “Render therefore to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
We affirm that in anticipation of the final triumph of the Kingdom of God, we acknowledge the sole and ultimate authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. At this time, earthly rulers bring peace, so that God’s people can live “a calm and orderly life, in all godliness and holiness” (Divine Liturgy). Yet there is no nation, state, or order of human life that can claim more from us than Jesus Christ, in whose name “every knee shall bow, in heaven, on earth, and under ” (Philippians 2:10).
So we have condemn as unorthodox and reject any teaching which would subordinate the Kingdom of God, manifested in the Holy Church of God, to any kingdom of this world seeking other ecclesiastical or secular lords who can justify and redeem us. We firmly reject all forms of government that deify the state (theocracy) and absorb the Church, depriving the Church of its freedom to stand prophetically against any injustice. We also rebuke all who affirm Caesaropapism, replacing their ultimate obedience to the crucified and risen Lord with that of any ruler invested with ruling powers and claiming to be God’s anointed, whether he be known by the title of “Caesar.” , “Emperor”, “Tsar” or “President”.
3. “There is no longer a Jew or a Greek, there is no longer a slave or a free, there is no longer a male and a female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).
We affirm that the division of humanity into groups based on race, religion, language, ethnicity or any other secondary characteristic of human existence is a characteristic of this imperfect and sinful world, which, according to the patristic tradition, is characterized as “distinctions of the flesh” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 7, 23). The assertion of the superiority of one group over others is a characteristic evil of such divisions, which are entirely contrary to the Gospel, where all are one and equal in Christ, all are answerable to him for their deeds, and all have access to his love and forgiveness, not as members of particular social or ethnic groups, but as persons created and born equally in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26).
So we have condemn as unorthodox and reject any teaching which attributes divine establishment or authority, special sacredness or purity to a single local, national or ethnic identity, or which characterizes a particular culture as special or divinely ordained, whether Greek, Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian or whatever.
[Keep reading. . .]
Now here is my question. Heresies, such as the Arian denial of the divinity of Christ or the Gnostic denial of creation, generally afflict the universal Church generally. What this document condemns in the worship of “Holy Russia” would also seem to apply to “Christian nationalism” more generally, including at least some manifestations of American civil religion, wouldn’t it?
I am against the way “Christian nationalism” is used by progressives to hit politically and culturally conservative Christians. It is completely legitimate for a Christian to support Donald Trump and to be patriotic. It is not heresy. I have, however, seen extreme cases of American worship that are beyond pale.
Moreover, these statements can apply to the Christian left. Statement #3 above would seem to condemn both racists and proponents of critical race theory, both of whom place too much emphasis on racial “distinctions of the flesh.” And Statement #1 would seem to apply to both left-wing and right-wing social gospels, both of which confuse the kingdoms of this world with the Kingdom of God.
Image: Russian Orthodox Church by David Mark from Pixabay