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Does the Russian Orthodox Church Need to Participate in the Ecumenical Movement?

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

By Saint Seraphim of Sofia


Delivered During the Proceedings of the Congress of the Orthodox Churches at the Celebration of the Quincentennial of the Autocephaly of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow, Russia,

July 13, 1948

Recently, the Russian Church has been under intense pressure from ecumenists to take part in the ecumenical movement. On August 22 (New Style), the ecumenists will convene their “All-Church Conference,” as they call it. According to the announcement in Церковный вестник [Tserkovny vestnik, “Church Bulletin”], published by the Bulgarian Synod, 136 so-called “Christian churches,” as well as representatives of Eastern Greek Churches will participate in this “All-Church Conference.” No doubt, representatives of Russian ecclesiastical organizations abroad will also be present at the assembly. The ecumenists have invited the All-Russian Church as well to participate in the work of the Amsterdam conference. Up to this point, the Orthodox Church of Russia has not joined the ecumenical movement. It is desirable that it continue to have nothing to do with this movement, for the reasons given herein.

St Seraphim of Sofia

The Russian Orthodox Church has been invited to participate in this ecumenical conference as one of many ecclesiastical organizations, each of which understands itself to be the Church. But we Orthodox Christians confess that, strictly speaking, only one community of true, faithful Christians can be called “the Church,” as established by God Himself for our salvation. To call every heretical community “the Church” is to have an incorrect understanding of the word and to trample upon the dogma of the Church as it is taught in our Faith, as laid down by the ninth article of the Symbol of the Faith. Evidently, ecumenists, pointing to the great number of denominations — so-called “Christian churches” — which are members of the ecumenical movement and whose representatives will be taking part in the Amsterdam conference, attach great significance to their numbers. But the manifestation of a falsehood in large numbers rather than in small ones does not make it the truth; on the contrary, it all the more distorts and negates the truth.

However, numbers are not the crux of the issue; it is that ecumenists, and unfortunately even some Orthodox Christians, understand the concept of the Church incorrectly. They consider all those who have received Christian baptism, of whatever kind, to belong to the Church, thereby placing both genuine Christians and heretics in the same ranks and recognizing all of them as the Body of Christ. For example, let us look at an article by one of the most influential Russian ecumenists in Paris, Professor and Assistant Rector of the [Saint Sergius Orthodox] Theological Institute in Paris, [Protopresbyter] V[asily] V[asilievich] Zenkovsky [1881–1962]. He writes the following in the journal of the Russian Y[oung] M[en’s] C[hristian] A[ssociation], Вестник русского студенческого христианского движения [Vestnik russkogo studencheskogo khristianskogo dvizheniya, “Bulletin of the Russian Students’ Christian Movement”] (№ 5, pp. 17–18):

We must ever unlearn and grow unaccustomed to the proud thought that the Spirit of God is solely in us and with us [Orthodox].... While outside of Orthodoxy, I nevertheless felt myself to be in the Church. I saw that the limits of the Church were infinitely wider and more accommodating than we might normally think them to be. And, truly, who can say where the fence of the Church ends and the green field of Christ begins?

Who dares to claim that outside of the fence of Christ there is no Church, no servants or disciples...? Must we really cast others aside just because they serve Him in a different way than we...? I am now convinced that Protestants, too, abide within the Church and labor for the Church, even if unwittingly and not recognizing or calling things by their proper names.... No, Christ’s Church is wider than our limited understanding of it; the Church includes within itself all believers in God and lovers of Him, no matter how their faith and love is manifested

In another one of his articles in the same magazine, entitled “Основы экуменического общения” [“Osnovy ekumenicheskogo obshcheniya,” “Fundamentals of Ecumenical Association”], Protopresbyter Zenkovsky expresses even more bizarre ideas, ideas wholly unacceptable to an Orthodox consciousness. In defining the association of different ecclesiastical bodies and their union “through love,” within the framework of the bases and the goals of the ecumenical movement, he makes the following statement, demanding complete assent to it from of all of the denominational representatives seeking union with each other. He says: “Their salvation is possible only through the church to which they belong, and in their churches there is absolute (if not full) truth” (January–February 1935). Father Zenkovsky is saying, here, that salvation is possible in every creed. And, by contrast, if a Christian of one creed should leave his own confession and join with others of another confession, or even with the Orthodox Church, then salvation for that person is no longer possible. Of course, the ecclesiastical union envisioned here disregards dogmatic differences entirely, making this a union through love, i.e., a sort of

amicable association.

Protopresbyter Stefan [Stanchev] Tsankov [1881–1965], a Professor at the Sofia Theological Faculty (and another highly authoritative figure for ecumenists), expresses a similar opinion in his article “Аktyу альные проблемы и задачи православного богословия и Православной Церкви” [“Aktualnye problemy i zadachi pravoslavnogo bogosloviya i Pravoslavnoy Tserkvi,” “Present-Day Problems and Tasks of an Orthodox Theologian and the Orthodox Church”]. He writes:

The question of Church unity has become highly complicated and can no longer be an idle or self-satisfied way, as it has been up to now.... Even now, the real relationship of the Orthodox Churches of today with a series of churches of other creeds (the recognition of their baptisms, of some of their hierarchies, and other matters) and the recognition by the Orthodox Church of its own weaknesses and inadequacies as they exist

among its members demonstrate as incorrect those who say that only Orthodox Christians belong to the mystical body of Christ (the Church) and that beyond visible division there does not exist an invisible, mystical unity in the Church of Christ.

The review by Professor Iliya Tsonevski [1903–1992], of the Theological Faculty at the University of Sofia, of Father Tsankov’s Die Orthodoxe Kirche des Ostens in ökumenischer Sicht [“The Eastern Orthodox Church from an Ecumenical Viewpoint”] (Zürich, 1946) is noteworthy. In his review, Professor Tsonevski states:

The nature of the Church and its fundamental attributes are, in the most intimate possible way, linked to its unity, because it is the Body of Christ and Christ is its Head. The Church could never be either holy, or catholic, or apostolic, unless it were one. The whole reason for and the full significance of the ecumenical movement consist in the unity of the Church; this is its basis, as well as its task and its goal. The very fact that Orthodox Churches are actively taking part in the ecumenical movement indicates that already the old view, that only Orthodox Christians are true Christians and that only they belong to the Church of Christ, is gradually being dismissed.

In this manner, Orthodox ecumenists have the unity of the Church, or one Church, as their main objective. However, their understanding of “One Church” is incorrect, for they comprehend thereby not only Orthodox Christians, but also all Christians of every other creed—i.e., heretics—as being included in Her. This ecumenical point of view is at complete variance with an Orthodox outlook. The Orthodox viewpoint always defines the One Church as consisting only of right-believing Orthodox Christians. Our Church has never considered heretics to be included in Her ranks, as members of the Body of Christ. And how else could the Orthodox regard this matter, given that the Œcumenical Synods always anathematized heretics, i.e., excommunicated them? Obviously, in their ecclesiological doctrines, ecumenists no longer recognize the authority of the Œcumenical Synods. But their refusal to recognize the authority of the Synods is tantamount to a denial of the authority of the whole Orthodox Church and to an acknowledgement, in this case, of personal intellect as the sole criterion of truth—which is a denial of the Orthodox dogma of the Church.


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2 Kommentare

Leo Pistis
Leo Pistis
30. März 2023

How ought we to understand this holy man’s writings as it pertains to the baptisms of the Roman Catholics? It seems he recognizes grace is given, a “spark”, in heretical baptisms. Does this conflict with the understanding set forth for us by St Nikodemos the Hagiorite? Thank you.

“What, beloved, should we extract here for a salvific lesson for ourselves? Hearing these apostolic words, we should rejoice and thank God that we are children of the Orthodox Church of Christ, through which the Lord gives us this great grace, unmatched by any treasure in the world. In Catholicism there is no such grace; more properly, it cannot manifest itself among Catholics, because of their deviation from the truths of the…

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Unknown member
29. März 2023

Better yet, can they participate? Can we?

Why speak of any authority but that of our Lords? If we are in relationship with God again the price and treasure is knowing the difference between good and evil. By living for good we are transformed and reality changes These thoughts of ecumenism do not exist in Gods reality.

Do they?

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