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St. Theophan the Recluse Adopted an Ecumenistic Ecclesiology?

According to some, St. Theophan the Recluse is sympathetic toward, if not outright endorsing, an ecumenistic ecclesiology. They suppose that he recognizes the validity of mysteries outside the Orthodox Church and that the boundaries of the Body of Christ extend past the Orthodox Church. The first two quotes may appear to support this, even if indirectly, but the third quote outright contradicts any such notion.


St. Theophan writes:

"Christian churches, as you know, of course, are called, in addition to our Orthodox Church, the Latin Church, and many Protestant Christian societies. But neither the Latin Church, nor even more so the Protestant communities, should be recognized as the true Churches of Christ; because they are inconsistent with the apostolic Church of God's dispensation. The Latin Church is of apostolic origin, but has departed from the apostolic traditions and has been damaged (...) As for the Protestant communities, one can call them Christian because they talk about Christianity, but not the Churches of Christ." (St. Theophan the Recluse, Letter 27 in the Azbyka collection)

He writes even stronger...


"We are private individuals; and in their opinions they must conform to the decision of the Orthodox Church. It seems that our Church is condescending to Catholics and recognizes the power of not only the baptism of the Catholics and other sacraments, but also the priesthood, which is very significant. Therefore, it is better for us to refrain both from asking these questions and from solving them. The only thing that should be kept is that one should not switch to Catholics, because they have some parts in the system of confession and church order damaged, or changed with a deviation from the most ancient." (Quoted from Sergei Fedorov, The Reality of Sacraments Outside the Church)


That withstanding, he also teaches:


"If any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, He is there; believe him not (Mark 13:21). Christ the Lord, our Savior, having established upon earth the Holy Church, is well pleased to abide in it as its Head, Enlivener, and Ruler. Christ is here, in our Orthodox Church, and He is not in any other church. Do not search for Him elsewhere, for you will not find Him. Therefore, if someone from a non-Orthodox assemblage comes to you and begins to suggest that they have Christ—do not believe it. If someone says to you, 'We have an apostolic community, and we have Christ,' do not believe them. The Church founded by the Apostles abides on the earth—it is the Orthodox Church, and Christ is in it.


A community established only yesterday cannot be apostolic, and Christ is not in it. If you hear someone saying, 'Christ is speaking in me,' while he shuns the [Orthodox] Church, does not want to know its pastors, and is not sanctified by the Sacraments, do not believe him. Christ is not in him; rather another spirit is in him, one that appropriates the name of Christ in order to divert people from Christ the Lord and from His Holy Church. Neither believe anyone who suggests to you even some small thing alien to the [Orthodox] Church. Recognize all such people to be instruments of seducing spirits and lying preachers of falsehoods." (St. Theophan the Recluse, Thoughts for Every Day of the Year, on the Monday following the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee)


Does an ecumenist speak like this?

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Leo Pistis
Leo Pistis
Dec 30, 2023

St Theophan the Recluse was absolutely not an ecumenist, that we can be sure.


It seems to me that all he is sharing, in referencing the "recognition" of Roman Catholic Sacraments, is that perhaps the Russian Church (maybe not St Theophan himself) believed something similar to what Patriarch Sergius Stragorodsky eventually communicates a few decades later and Fr Daniel Sysoev seemed to believe regarding sacraments outside the Church:


“the Church somehow gives [the heterodox] the opportunity to partake of the crumbs of grace from the plentiful table from which it nourishes its faithful children. Grace outside the Church does not exist and the Church, having the power to “bind and loose” can continue to preserve this “certain degree of relations”…


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