top of page

Why are Orthodox Christians Forbidden to Pray with the Heterodox?

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

By Fr. Mikhail Baleka

 

As Orthodox Christians living in the West, we have a unique challenge in the multicultural and pluralistic religious landscapes of Western countries, wherein we not only encounter different religions far-removed from anything remotely Christian, but also the various heterodox confessions of faith which have arisen since the apostasy in the 11th century of the Pope in Rome from the Church of Christ.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch Theodore with Pope Francis Praying Together Violating Canon XXXIII of Laodicea.

The sea of divided and competing heterodox confessions has been fertile ground in the 20th and 21st centuries for the pan-heresy of ecumenism to flourish, and we see social media posts of hierarchs not only praying informally with those who out of communion with the Church, but even some concelebrating with them (without publicly communing). This is not a problem that is limited only to hierarchy but one that laity, especially converts, are faced with. What is an Orthodox person to do when their family may still be Protestant or Roman Catholic? Here in Canada the Thanksgiving weekend is long past, but for our brothers and sisters in the United States, that time is approaching near the end of the month. Inevitably when it comes to gathering for a family reunion and sharing a meal, the issue of prayer with the heterodox undoubtedly will arise for some.


First, let us look at what the Church stipulates about this matter:

Canon XXXII of the council of Laodicea states: “That one must not accept blessings of heretics, which are misfortunes rather than blessings.” [1]
Canon XXXIII of the council of Laodicea states: “No one shall join in prayers with heretics or schismatics.” [2]
Canon X of the Holy Apostles states: “If anyone shall pray, even in a private house, with an excommunicated person, let him also be excommunicated.” [3]
Note: What is meant by an “excommunicated person,” is anyone that is barred from communion, not just those who used to be in communion.
Canon XLIV of the Holy Apostles states: “Let any bishop, or presbyter, or deacon that merely joins in prayer with heretics be suspended, but if he has permitted them to perform any service as clergymen, let him be deposed.” [4]
Canon LXV of the Holy Apostles states: “If any clergyman, or layman, enters into a synagogue of Jews, or of heretics, to pray, let him be both deposed and excommunicated.” [5]

In reading these canons of the Holy Apostles and Church Fathers, it is clear that prayer with anyone outside of the Body of Christ is forbidden. This of course does not mean that we shun or reject our relatives who are not Orthodox, but we also must not compromise.


The Holy Fathers in their wisdom have given us the Holy Canons and cut off heretics because heresy is a dangerous spiritual illness which separates one from God. Many people think this sounds harsh or lacking in love. This could not be further from the truth, as it is out of love for the Church — of the Lord and His flock — and for the heterodox themselves that the Holy Fathers guide us away from common prayer. It is also love for the heterodox, for this would give them the wrong idea or impression that we are already united, which would cement them in their separation. In his farewell address in the book of Acts, Saint Paul said, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29-30)

Patriarch Kirill of the Moscow Patriarchate Engaging in Ecumenist Dialog with Monophysites.

In his spiritual counsels, Saint Paisios the Athonite states, “The Holy Fathers were right to forbid relations with heretics. Today we hear: ‘We should pray together, not only with the heretic, but also with the Buddhist, the fire-worshiper, even the demon-worshiper. It is important that the Orthodox participate in conferences and be present at their prayer sessions.’" [6] Indeed we hear this kind of talk from either the poorly-catechized, certain hierarchs or those who worry more about “not offending others” with little to no fear of offending God. Following up from the previous quote, Saint Paisios rightly asks: “What kind of presence are they talking about? They try to solve everything using logic and end up justifying the unjustifiable.”[7]


To further highlight the dangers of engaging in prayer with the heterodox, I will relate a story once told to me by a good Matushka (who will remain unnamed). This Matushka knew a woman who specialized in ancient languages. In particular, the woman studied an ancient dialect of Japanese that died out a millennia ago. One Sunday she and her husband were looking for a church to attend, and they settled on a nearby Pentecostal church. As the service progressed and the Pentecostals began to work themselves up into a frenzy, they started shouting in “tongues.” They believe that the Holy Spirit takes control and that they speak a “heavenly language,” oftentimes not understanding what they’re saying. Many times, it is simple delusion but occasionally they in fact speak another language. However, it is not the Holy Spirit but another spirit who directs their speech.


As they started shouting, the woman’s face became pale and she grabbed her husband by the arm, saying that they needed to leave immediately. Once outside she explained to him that the people inside were indeed speaking a language, and it happened to be the one she studied. However, she related that the congregants were not glorifying God; rather they were uttering blasphemies and shouting profanities against God.


In this account we can see the very real danger of participating in these prayer services. When we participate in ritual actions (including something as seemingly innocent as a prayer service), we leave ourselves open to the demonic. Perhaps, for many, the greatest temptation is to want to take the stance that “love” should outweigh the importance of the canons and the guidance of the Holy Fathers. It can be tempting for some to be swayed by seeing individuals from heterodox confessions who are either virtuous in conduct or zealous in regards to the application of their particular sect.


The damage that is done in being persuaded to join in prayer with the heterodox, especially if one is in a situation where their spouse or immediate family is still outside the Church, is that it can send across a different message than what one intends. This is precisely why it is forbidden — because it undermines salvation, which everything in the Church serves. It communicates the false notion that either:


A. There are no differences, or at least no significant differences.


B. You are giving them affirmation that their beliefs are correct, or that everything is simply “relative” or worse, that somehow, we are part of the same body in an “invisible church.”


The truth of the matter is that aside from the belief in the incarnate Word, heaven, hell and the agreed upon books of the New Testament — their understanding of what prayer is and what prayer accomplishes, as well as how it is accomplished is not merely different, but also erroneous. Quite simply put, we Orthodox have the truth and we must safe-guard it. The danger of the heretics is that they alter the words of revelation; they poison Christians by mixing their ideas and false doctrines with elements of the truth in order to make it more palatable. [8] Heresy is akin to atheism because it does not communicate correct belief in God as He has been revealed to the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, and so it teaches the belief in a non-existent God. [9] The Truth is identified with the Church, and those who withdraw from the Church and do not receive Revelation do not have the Truth. [10] We are not only Orthodox when we are at Church; we are Orthodox Christians every day and in every part of our lives, keeping in mind that we confess the Dogma of the Church (One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic), and that the Truth is the Church.

Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch Theodore, Pope Francis and Monophysites at a Joint Prayer Event

So, what are we Orthodox supposed to do if our friends and family (extended or immediate) ask us to attend a “mass” or a Protestant service of any kind? The answer, as always, can be found in the lives of saints and their example. It is particularly helpful for us to look to contemporary saints as they speak to the issues we face today. As Saint Paisios said, “The Truth is not up for negotiation. The Truth is Christ.” [11] He fought against ecumenism, though he was gentle, and he was uncompromising as we ought to be. The answer to how we should respond is found in what he said in the account of his life, “There is no need for us to tell Christians who are not Orthodox that they are going to hell or that they are antichrists; but we must also not tell them that they will be saved, because that’s giving them false reassurance, and we will be judged for it. We have to give them a good kind of uneasiness – we have to tell them that they are in error.”[12] This is what we must do; give them a “good uneasiness.”


We do this via our actions, by how we live the Faith. Let us be charitably uncompromising and when the matter of prayer with the heterodox comes up, out of love let us either politely excuse ourselves or, if we are in our own place and it will not be seen as common prayer, take the lead in saying the prayer. Again, it is always best to instill that “good uneasiness,” and if we find ourselves in a difficult situation where we wish to convey respect for our loved ones, then we can still avoid participating in prayer without anger or disdain. In this we can exemplify the correct way to pray and God-willing, we will see the sheepfold of Christ increase.


 

References


[1] Council of Laodicea, “The Canons of the Synod Held in the City of Laodicea in Phrygia Pacatiana in which Many Blessed Fathers from Diverse Provinces of Asia Were Gathered Together, Canon XXXII,” in The Seven Ecumenical Councils Vol XIV, ed. Philip Schaff & Henry Wace (Oxford: Benediction Classics, 2011), 238.


[2] Ibid, 238.


[3] Protopresbyter Anastasios K Gotsopoulos, “On Common Prayer with the Heterodox: According to the Holy Canons of the Church,” trans. by Daniel Houlis, ed. Gregory Heers (Florence: Uncut Mountain Press, 2022), 7.


[4] Ibid, 8.


[5] Ibid, 8.


[6]. Saint Paisios the Athonite, “With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man," in Saint Paisios the Athonite Vol I, trans. by Cornelia A. Tsakiridou, Ph. D. & Maria Spanou, Ph. D. Ed. Fr. Peter Chamberas & Eleftheria Kaimkliotis (Thessaloniki: Holy Hesychasterion Evangelist John the Theologian, 2019), 394.


[7] Ibid, 394.


[8] Metropolitan Hierotheos S. Vlachos, St Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, trans. by Esther Williams (Levadia-Hellas: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2000), 369.


[9] Ibid, 368.


[10] Ibid, 368.


[11] Hieromonk Isaac, Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, trans. Hieromonk Alexis (Trader) Ph.D, and Fr. Peter Heers D.Th. ed. by Hieromonk Alexis (Trader) Ph.D, Fr. Evdokimos (Goranitis) & Philip Navarro (Chalkidiki: The Holy Monastery of Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian, 2016), 658.


[12] Ibid, 658.


 

About the Author


Fr. Mikhail Baleka (born as Matthew Baleka), is descended from immigrants from the old Russian empire in what is now modern day Ukraine. His great grandfather Mikhail Balyka (Baleka) was a Cossack and left what is now modern day Ukraine with his wife Feodora in 1914. He was ordained a priest in the 1920’s and served the Church faithfully under Metropolitan Platon in what was then known as the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church. Father Mikhail’s grandson Vasil Baleka was raised in the Orthodox faith but, ran away from home due to family issues. He later met Alexandra Baleka and had two children with her, Matthew (Fr. Mikhail) and Maria, who were at the time, raised as Protestants.


Mikhail Vasilievich was baptized on February 8th 2020 alongside his wife Anna Miroslavovna after a long journey of seeking Christ. They converted from Uniatism (Eastern Rite Papists) They were then married on February 10th of the same year by Fr. Vladimir Morin at Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Church. Afterwards Vasil returned to his faith and Alexandra, along with Maria and her husband Gio, were converted to the faith. Mikhail began distance studies with Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary in the fall of 2020.


On October 10th of 2021 Mikhail was made a Reader and a Subdeacon by Archbishop Ireneé of the OCA on behalf of Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal and Canada. On May 21st, 2022 Mikhail was ordained to the Diaconate by Bishop Luke at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville NY, and the next day Ilya Poloushin was tonsured a reader and Fr. Mikhail was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Gabriel. He assisted in the burial of the beloved Metropolitan Hilarion that day. Father Mikhail now serves as the second priest at Christ the Saviour (Image not made with hands) parish. Father Mikhail and his wife Matushka Anna love the parish and are eager to serve their community.



11,575 views36 comments

36 Comments


How does it work when St. Tikhon's Seminary and St. Vladimir's Seminary are accepting/preparing "Oriental Orthodox" students for ordination to the sacred priesthood? These two seminaries make up a large portion of the future Orthodox priests in America.

Like

When Saint Porphyrios first became a Parish Priest in Athens, he gave out very harsh penances based on what he was used to as a monk on Mount Athos. Many never came back to the Church, and he didn't understand why. When he learned that what he was doing was considered extreme, he came to regret this and repented of it for the rest of his life.

Like
Replying to

That has no bearing on the topic at hand. No Saint or Church Father would bless praying with the heterodox. The Church is extremely clear on this subject from the Apostles teaching on heresy in the New Testament, throughout Church History, and into the contemporary Fathers of the Church. When Christ came and gave us the Gospel, the Jews considered that extreme too.

Like

Scott Klaudt
Scott Klaudt
Nov 10, 2022

This honestly hurts my heart to hear people say they won’t pray with anyone. Seems very untrue to the

Like
Replying to

Late to the party here, but I offer this, since my beloved wife is a Missouri Synod Lutheran, which was where I worshipped for many years before my conversion to the OC. When I attend her church, aside from the Our Father, I pray silently for them, but not with them. I yearn for their conversion, but do not compromise the faith. I recommend asking your Priest for instruction. I add this: be respectful to the heterodox as (however erroneous) they are Christians at large who need live and guidance, not a haughty scoff; this would be un- Christian and could dash their chances for conversion.

Like

Unknown member
Nov 10, 2022

Dear Father Mikhail,


can you please suggest a good prayer to say in the event one is caught blessed to do so in this position?

thank you!

Like
Fr. Mikhail Baleka
Fr. Mikhail Baleka
Nov 11, 2022
Replying to

When in doubt, Jesus prayer.

Like

Scott Garrison
Scott Garrison
Nov 10, 2022

I have to say this one hit home hard for me. My wife is Roman Catholic and adamantly refuses to "allow" me to catechize our children in the Orthodox faith, demands that I attend Mass with her etc. Sadly, my parish priest has told me to go along with her desires. Thank you for this.

Like
Scott Garrison
Scott Garrison
Nov 10, 2022
Replying to

Thank you, Father.

Like
bottom of page