By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
Through the centuries there have appeared many heretical teachings which distorted the revealed truth, and which the holy Fathers confronted “with the sling stone of the Spirit”, that is to say, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is so because the holy Fathers were the bearers of the pure Tradition of the Church.
Among these heresies are those of Arianism, the Pneumatomachs who fought against the Spirit, the Nestorians, the Monophysites, the Monothelites, the Iconoclasts, etc. All these heresies refer chiefly to the Person of Christ, but also to that of the Holy Spirit, and of course they disturb the foundations of man’s salvation. For if Christ is not consubstantial with the Father, but is God’s first creature, and if the Holy Spirit is not true God, man’s salvation is put in doubt, the possibility of deification is cut off.
Later, during the fourteenth century yet another heresy appeared, which was expressed by Barlaam and based on rationalism. If Barlaam’s heretical teaching had prevailed, the method of the Orthodox way towards deification, which is hesychasm, would in fact have ended in agnosticism.
The question being asked is whether there are heresies today as well. The answer is not hard to find, because all of us are being made witnesses of the fact that there are indeed heretics now, descendants of the great heretics, and there are heretical teachings being expressed, perhaps not deliberately, by some who believe, among other things, that they are really members of the Church of Christ. And indeed all of us in our ignorance and lack of learning, may have some erroneous views about God and the way of salvation, but we must struggle never to become heresiarchs or descendants of the great heretics who have appeared in the history of the Church.
Besides, all the heretics were members of the Church for a time, even Clergy, and were active in it. The Apostle Paul’s prophecy applies here:
“Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30).
All the heresies distort ecclesiology as well. Since the Church is the Body of Christ, every alteration in the teaching about Christ, about the Holy Spirit, about the way to man’s salvation also has ecclesiological consequences.
It can be said that if there is a great heresy today, it is the so-called ecclesiological heresy. And this should be confronted by the Pastors of the Church. There is great confusion today about what the Church is and who are its true members. We confuse or identify the Church with other human Traditions, we think that the Church is fragmented and split up, and furthermore, we are ignorant of the Church’s way of salvation. Thus it is in confusion about this great theme.
In the chapters to follow we shall attempt to examine the subject of the Church from different angles, and we shall try to see what the holy Fathers say about the Church. I think that this will help us to acquire the genuine mind of the Orthodox Church, which is essential for our salvation.