Ecumenism and the Agony of the Church

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

St. Nikolai’s attitude toward ecumenism is shown by his participation, as an Orthodox bishop and theologian, in the ecumenical meetings and dialogues between the two World Wars, and later he was present, as the accredited visitor, at the meeting of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinois, in 1954. Bishop Nikolai considered the prerequisite for the achievement of union among the Churches to be mutual love. He wrote in The Agony of the Church:

The Church of England cannot be saved without the Church of the East, nor the Church of Rome without Protestantism; nor can England be saved without Serbia, nor Europe without China, nor America without Africa, nor this generation without the generations past and those to come. We are all one life, one organism. If one part of this organism is sick, all other parts should be suffering.

Therefore let the healthy parts of the Church take care of the sick ones. Self-sufficiency means the postponement of the end of the world and the prolongation of human sufferings… It is a great thing to love one’s Church, as it is a great thing to love one’s country, but it is much better to love other Churches and other countries too.

Now, in this time, when the whole Christian world is in a convulsive struggle one part against the other, now or never the consciousness of the desire for one Church of Christ on earth should dawn in our souls, and now or never should the appreciation, right understanding and love for each part of this one Church of Christ on earth should dawn in our souls, and now or never should the appreciation, right understanding and love for each part of this one Church begin in our hearts.

This does not mean that he denies the authenticity and uniqueness of the Orthodox Church, nor does he consider her lacking or defective in any way; rather, in the context of the wartime drama encompassing his and other European nations, he sincerely wishes for the unification of all European Christian communities for their benefit and for the benefit of other Christians in the world. He clearly expresses the Orthodox stance with regard to the ideal of Church unification:

“We must return to the only source of Christian strength and majesty—to the spirit of Christ. This rebirth and the revival of Christianity are possible only in a united Church of Christ. This unity is possible only if built on the foundations of the original Church.”

The above quotation confirms that in the Saint Nikolai’s opinion, there is continuity in two things:

1) only the Orthodox Church has the plenitude of Christ, but this is not her own treasure but the treasure of Christ accessible to everyone;

2) the relationship of the Orthodox Church with other Churches must be a relationship of love, so that they can recognize the treasure that carries the Orthodox Church.

“Liberalism, conservatism, ceremonialism, right, nationalism, imperialism, law, democracy, autocracy, republicanism, socialism, scientific criticism, and similar things have filled Christian theology, Christian service, Christian pulpits as the Christian Gospel. In reality the Christian Gospel is as different from all these worldly ideas and temporal forms as heaven is different from earth.”


St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Agony of the Church, at the online version of the book:

Consequences of the One Church – Unecumenism


by Fr. Stephen Freeman

In thinking through a theological question, I often engage in thought experiments. The Fathers might call it a form of theoria, but I won’t presume that word for myself. But what I do is to make a concerted effort to let go of unexamined assumptions. I look at a different set of assumptions and ask, “What if that were true?” The result many times yields a dead end. But knowledge of dead ends can be just as useful as other information. However, on occasion, the result is genuine insight, even a realization that the assumptions that have encumbered a problem are, in fact, false and unnecessary. Thinking through modernity requires many such experiments. For modernity is not a time period (even though it pretends to be). It is a set of assumptions about the world, about human beings, about history, about almost everything. And in pretty much every case, it is wrong. It is an attack on the most fundamental teachings of classical Christianity. I have written previously that there cannot really be such a thing as “modern Christianity.” It is as contradictory as Buddhist Christianity or Hindu Christianity. Modernity is its own religion.

Most recently, I’ve turned our attention to the question of the Church in modernity. For the modern world has completely re-thought the matter of the Christian Church, and the state of things today is the result. In particular, modern Christians have largely lost the ability to think of the Church as “One,” in any way that is not a vague, nebulous unity of abstraction. This is in utter contrast to the very concrete unity of the early Fathers who proclaimed the Church as “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.”

So we’ll engage in a thought experiment.

Put yourself in the fourth century. There is only one Church, and that Church is One. It is united in faith, teaching, practice, communion, etc. It’s not perfect (there never has been such a thing), but it is One. If something or someone challenges that united faith, teaching, practice, communion, etc., they are themselves barred from communion. This happens not just at great Ecumenical Councils, but is the provence of each bishop and every synod of bishops. The great Councils are only necessary because the Church is One.

However, begin to think. Consider how the verse, “the Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23), and what it means. In this 4th century experience, you can not only ponder this meaning in the abstract, but the very Cup you drink, and everything you tangibly know as Church, is included as well. No longer is the “stuff” of the Church interchangeable with other things. Everything about the life of the Church carries this very same fullness. You eat the fullness and breathe the fullness. When you think about the Church your conscience isn’t troubled and your sense of belonging is unshaken.

We’ll continue the experiment. Consider the word union and its cognates: union, communion, participation (it works in Greek), etc. That union means a sharing and participation but it also carries the meaning of the One. When you think of union with God (and this is the meaning of every sacramental act of the Church), you also think and understand union with the Church. The One God is made known in the One Church.

And now let’s return to the present.

The plurality of Churches (sic) makes it impossible for most people to think of the concept of the Church being One in anything other than an abstract sense.

“We are one body,”

cannot be said or thought without a sense of irony. And so the very word “One” begins to undergo changes. Communion (the Eucharist) is not a true communion. It can be thought of as some sort of special relation or experience of God, but if we think of it as including a true communion with His Body, the Church, that sense of irony returns and true communion necessarily disappears.

Many, of course, strongly insist on some sort of invisible reality called, “the Church.” But the Church consists solely of people, none of whom are in any way abstract. You cannot be in communion with those who do not consider you to be in communion with them, or communion becomes a form of spiritual rape. “We are One” becomes a threat or a coercive assertion. Of course, it’s easy to have communion with invisible, imaginary people. But whatever that is, it is not the Church.

And so, union and communion are largely excluded from the vocabulary of modern Christians. They are often offended by the refusal of Eucharistic “hospitality.” To visit an Orthodox Church during the Eucharist, is also to be told that you are not in communion and that something stands between you and communion with the Church. The politeness of most contemporary Christian groups creates a false communion, a participation in some minimalist version of the faith, marked by asterisks, caveats, and…irony.

There is a cosmic aspect to all of this as well, and consequences for how we think about many things of great importance. For the One Church is also the firstfruits of the One Creation. It is the single work of God

“gathering together all things in One” (Eph. 1:10).

That same work of union that is the “mystery hid from the ages,” is obscured in the verbal abstractions of a modernized ironic unity.

What we have to stop and see is that the churches of the modern world have been robbed of their godly inheritance. Christians in the contemporary world are simply overwhelmed by the divisions and diversity of church groups. It is completely understandable that alternative theories will appear that seek to make sense of things. Chief among these is the notion of the “invisible” Church. This account, in its various guises, simply looks at the whole mess and says that the truth is something else, obscured by human sin. “We are one!” becomes an assertion that denies our manifold divisions. But in denying them, it also relativizes them, and makes the concrete realities of our churchly existence to be of little consequence – for, after all, if we are really one, then what do all of these divisions really mean or matter?

More subtle than this, is what this abstracting does to the meaning of unity and union. Our culture has now had nearly two centuries of treating Christian unity as an abstract notion, manifest, at most, as friendliness. And this has had a concomitant effect on the meaning of union and unity elsewhere. The fact that our culture can describe a same-sex relationship as a “union” is a particularly egregious example. For such a union can have no true concrete expression. But our culture, driven by a false ideology of unity, cannot think of why such a relationship is not a union. “They love each other,” we are told. Sentiment trumps reality.

I point to this example in part to demonstrate how devastating the malformation of words and meaning can be. Union is not something that is achieved by greater and greater generalizing – it comes in greater and greater particularity and specificity. In encountering Christ, we ultimately are not asked to just do something. We are asked to do some one thing, with all our heart and soul: we die. And we do not die “in general.” Love is quite specific and concrete or it is nothing at all.

And so, I bring us to the point. My writing painfully about the meaning of union and the One Church, is not to argue about the status of various Christian “Churches.” There is no accusation nor calumny intended. Rather, it is first to return the meaning of “One Church” to its proper place, with all of the pain and scandal that attends it. The One Church is ultimately found in One Cup, and there, only through true repentance and acceptance of the fullness of the faith. And if we are not there, then at least we must say so and cry out to God. He gives grace to the humble and resists the proud. It is beyond arrogance to say we are one when we are not. There can be no communion in a lie, or only a communion of death.

Christ prayed that we “all may be one,” even as He and the Father are one. That cannot be a vague, ephemeral notion. It must be real, true, concrete and without irony. But Christ did not pray “that they all may be one someday…” His prayer was not an expression of a hoped-for reality. It is His own great Eucharistic prayer in which the Church becomes One. For what He asks, the Father grants. Just as surely as we pray for the Holy Spirit to “make this the most precious Body of our Lord, and God, and Savior Jesus Christ,” and so it is – so the Church became One in that Eucharistic Prayer of Christ Himself.

It is a prayer that will indeed have an eschatological fulfillment:

“All things will be gathered together in one…”

But in Christ, the Eschaton has already come. We may eat and drink of that One and become the life of the One fulfilled in this world. But it will not be true if we choose to distort the very meaning of the word.

Don’t ignore the pain.



On Ecumenism

by St. Justin Popovich

JustinPopovichEcumenism is the common name for the pseudo-Christianity of the pseudo-Churches of Western Europe. Within it is the heart of European humanism, with Papism as its head. All of pseudo-Christianity, all of those pseudo-Churches, are nothing more than one heresy after another. Their common evangelical name is: Pan-heresy. Why? This is because through the course of history various heresies denied or deformed certain aspects of the God-man and Lord Jesus Christ; these European heresies remove Him altogether and put European man in His place. In this there is no essential difference between Papism, Protestantism, Ecumenism, and other heresies, whose name is “Legion.”

Orthodox dogma, that is to say the overriding dogma of the Church, is rejected by them and replaced by the Latin heretical overriding dogma of the primacy and infallibility of the Pope, that is to say of man. From this pan-heresy heresies were born and continue to be born: the Filioque, the rejection of the invocation of the Holy Spirit, unleavened bread, the introduction of created grace, cleansing fire, superfluous works of the saints, mechanized teachings about salvation, and from this sprang mechanized teachings about life, Papocaesarism, the Inquisition, indulgences, the murder of sinners because of their sins, Jesuitism, the scholastics, the casuists, Monarchianism, and social individualism of different kinds…

From the chapter “Humanistic Ecumenism” in Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, by Father Justin Popovich, trans. by Asterios Gerostergios (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1994), p. 169.

The Oldest Protestantism

By St. Justin Popovich

St Justin PopovichWhat are, on the other hand, the fruits of the God-Man society [the Church]?—Saints, Martyrs, and Confessors. That is its goal, that is its meaning and design, that is the proof of its indestructible strength. Not books and libraries, systems and cities—all things that are here today and gone tomorrow. The various pseudo-Christian humanisms fill the world with books, while Orthodoxy fills it with the hallowed.

In the European West, Christianity has gradually transformed into humanism. For a long time and arduously, the God-Man diminished, and has been changed, narrowed, and finally reduced to a man: to the infallible man in Rome and the equally “infallible” man in London and Berlin. Thus did papism come into being, taking everything from Christ, along with Protestantism, which asks the least from Christ, and often nothing. Both in papism and in Protestantism, man has been put in the place of the God-Man, both as the highest value and as the highest criterion. A painful and sad correction of the God-Man’s work and teaching has been accomplished. Steadily and stubbornly papism has tried to substitute the God-Man with man, until in the dogma about the infallibility of the pope—a man, the God-Man was once and for all replaced with ephemeral, “infallible” man; because with this dogma, the pope was decisively and clearly declared as something higher than not only man, but the holy Apostles, the holy Fathers, and the holy Ecumenical councils. With this kind of a departure from the God-Man, from the ecumenical Church as the God-Man organism, papism surpassed Luther, the founder of Protestantism. Thus, the first radical protest in the name of humanism against the God-Man Christ, and his God-Man organism—the Church—should be looked for in papism, not in Lutheranism. Papism is actually the first and the oldest Protestantism.

We should not do this ourselves. Papism indeed is the most radical Protestantism, because it has transferred the foundation of Christianity from the eternal God-Man to ephemeral man. And it has proclaimed this as the paramount dogma, which means: the paramount value, the paramount measure of all beings and things in the world. And the Protestants merely accepted this dogma in its essence, and worked it out in terrifying magnitude and detail. Essentially, Protestantism is nothing other than a generally applied papism. For in Protestantism, the fundamental principle of papism is brought to life by each man individually. After the example of the infallible man in Rome, each Protestant is a cloned infallible man, because he pretends to personal infallibility in matters of faith.

It can be said: Protestantism is a vulgarized papism, only stripped of mystery (i.e., sacramentality), authority and power.

Through the reduction of Christianity, with all its eternal God-Man qualities, to man, Western Christianity has been turned into humanism. This may seem paradoxical, but it is true in its irresistible and unerasable historical reality. Because Western Christianity is, in its essence, the most decisive humanism; and because it has proclaimed man as infallible, and has turned the God-Man religion into a humanist religion. And that this is so is shown by the fact that the God-Man has been driven to the heavens, while his place on earth has been filled with his replacement, Vicarius Christi—the pope. What a tragic piece of illogic: to establish a replacement for the everywhere-present God and the Lord Christ! But this piece of illogic has been incarnated in Western Christianity: the Church has been transformed into a state, the pope has become a ruler, bishops have been proclaimed princes, priests have become leaders of clerical parties, the faithful have been proclaimed papal subjects. The Gospel has been replaced with the Vatican’s compilation of canon law; Evangelical ethic and methods of love have been replaced with casuistry, Jesuitry and the “holy” Inquisition. What does all this mean? With the systematic removal and destruction of everything that does not bow to the pope, even with forced conversions to the papal faith, and the burning of sinners for the glory of the meek and the mild Lord Jesus!

There is no doubt that all these facts converge into one irresistibly logical conclusion: in the West there is no Church and no God-Man, which is why there is no true God-Man society in which men are mortal brothers and immortal fellows. Humanistic Christianity is actually the most decisive protest and uprising against the God-Man Christ and all the Evangelical, God-Man values and norms. And even here is evident European man’s favored tendency, to reduce everything to man as the fundamental value and the fundamental measure. And behind that stands one idol: Menschliches Allzumenschliches. With the reduction of Christianity to humanism, Christianity has been no doubt, simplified, but also at the same time—destroyed! Now that the “gleischaltung” of Christianity with humanism has been accomplished, some in Europe are seeking a return to the God-Man Christ. However, the cries of individuals in the Protestant world—

Zuruck zum Jesus! Back to Jesus!”

—are empty cries in the dark night of humanistic Christianity, which has abandoned the values and the measures of God-Man and is now suffocating in desperation and impotence. While from the depths of centuries past reverberate the bitter words of the melancholic prophet of God, Jeremiah: “Accursed is the man who puts his confidence in man!…”

In a broader historical perspective, the Western dogma about man’s infallibility is nothing other than an attempt to revive and immortalize dying humanism. It is the last transformation and final glorification of humanism. After the rationalistic Enlightenment of the 18th century and the shortsighted positivism of the 19th century, nothing else was left to European humanism than to fall apart in its own impotence and contradictions. But in that tragic moment, religious humanism came to its aid with its dogma about the infallibility of man saved European humanism from imminent death. And, although dogmatized, Western Christian humanism could not help absorbing all the fatal contradictions of European humanism, which are united in one single desire: to exile God-Man from the earth. Because the most important thing for humanism is for man to be the highest value and the highest measure. Man, not God-Man.

According to our own Orthodox feeling: Christianity is only Christianity through the God-Man, through His God-Man ideology and God-Man methods. That is the fundamental truth for the sake of which no compromises can be made. Only as the God-Man is Christ the highest value and the highest measure. One should be truthful and consistent to the end: if Christ is not the God-Man, then he is the most impudent fraud, because he proclaimed himself as God and the Lord. But the Evangelical historical reality irrefutably shows and proves that Jesus Christ is in everything and in all things the perfect God-Man.

Therefore, one cannot be a Christian without a belief in Christ as God-Man and in the Church as His God-Man Body, in which He left His entire Miraculous Person. The saving and life-giving power of Christ’s Church lays in the eternally-living and all-present personality of the God-Man. Any substitution of the God-Man with a man, and any winnowing of Christianity in order to pick out only that which pleases a man’s individual preference and reason, turns Christianity into shallow and impotent humanism.

The outstanding importance of Christianity for making lies in its life-giving and unchangeable God-Manhood, by which it models humanity as a whole, bringing it from the darkness of non-being to the light of Pan-being. Only by its God-Man power is Christianity the salt of the earth, the salt that saves man from rotting in sin and evil. If it dissolves into various humanisms, Christianity becomes bland, becomes salt that has turned flat, useless, fit to be tossed out and trod on.

Any tendency or attempt at a “gleischaltung” of Christianity with the spirit of the times, with ephemeral movements and regimes of certain historical periods, takes away from Christianity that specific worth which makes it the singular God-Man religion in the world. In the Orthodox philosophy of society, the rule above all rules is this: do not accommodate the God-Man Christ to the spirit of the times, but rather accommodate the spirit of the times to the spirit of Christ’s eternity—Christ’s God-Manhood. Only in this way can the Church preserve the life-giving and irreplaceable personality of the God-Man Christ and remain a God-Man society, in which people fraternize and live with the help of Divine love and justice, prayer and fasting, meekness and humbleness, goodness and wisdom, charity and faith, love of God and love of one’s brother, and all the other Evangelical virtues.

According to the God-Man philosophy of life and the world, man, society, nation, and state are to accommodate themselves to the Church as the eternal ideal, but the Church must never accommodate itself to them—much less submit to them. A nation has true worth only inasmuch as it lives the Evangelical virtues and incarnates in its history the God-Man values. What applies to the nation, applies to the state as well. The goal of the nation as a whole is the same as the goal of the individual: to incarnate in one’s self Evangelical justice, love, sanctity; to become a “holy people”—”God’s people”—which in its history proclaims the Divine values and virtues (1 Peter 2:9-10; 1:15-16).

+ + +

They will ask us: where are the concrete fruits of this God-Man society? How was it that precisely on the field of Orthodoxy’s radiation came about the appearance of “the most radical secularism in human history?” (Joseph Piper) Does there not also exist an Eastern “Humanism” (for ex. Caesaro-papism, etc.)? The success of atheistic social humanism on the soil of Orthodoxy: is that not proof of the “inability of Orthodoxy” to solve the most elementary social problems?

It is a fact that this world lies in evil and sin. The reduction of everything to man is in fact the atmosphere in which sinful human nature and man in general—no matter where he is located—lives and breathes, and something toward which they strive. It is, therefore, no wonder that the tides of this sinfulness, just like the tides of European pseudo-Christian poisons, from time to time wash over the Orthodox peoples as well. However, one thing is irrefutably true: the Orthodox church has never ecclesiologically dogmatized any sort of humanism, whether we are talking about Caesaro-papism or any other “ism.” With the strength of its genuine and uncorrupted God-Manhood and Evangelical truthfulness, and through its constant call for repentance regarding everything that is not from God-Man, it has preserved, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom and the chastity of its heart and its soul. And by this it has remained and continues to be the “salt” of the earth, man and society.

On the other hand, the tragedy of Western Christianity lies precisely in the fact that it, either by correcting the image of the God-Man, or by denying it, has attempted to once again introduce demonized humanism, so characteristic of sinful human nature, to—where? Into the heart of the God-Man organism itself—the Church, whose essence lies precisely in the freeing of man from it. And through it into all regions of life, person and society, proclaiming it as the supreme dogma, as the universal dogma. With this, the demonized intellectual pridefulness of man, hidden under the cloak of the Church, becomes the dogma of a faith without which there is no salvation! It is horrible to think it, much less say it: with this, the sole “workshop of salvation” and graduation to God-Manhood in this world, is gradually turned into a demonized “workshop” of violence over consciousness and dehumanization! A workshop of the disfigurement of God and man through the disfigurement of the God-Man!

The Orthodox Church has proclaimed no poison, no sin, no humanism, no earthly social system as dogma—neither through Councils, nor through the “Body” of the Ecumenical Church. While the west, alas, does nothing but that. The latest proof: the Second Vatican Council.

The Orthodox Faith: in it, repentance is a necessary holy virtue; and it always calls for repentance. In the West: the pseudo-Christian faith in man does not call for repentance; on the contrary, it “clerically” obligates a maintaining of its fatal-to-man homo-idolization, its pseudo-Christian humanisms, infallibilities, heresies, and it pridefully considers that in no case are these things for which one should repent.

Contemporary atheistic social humanism—ideologically and methodologically—is in everything a fruit and an invention of pseudo-Christian Europe, wed with our own sinfulness. They ask us: how did it arrive on the soil of Orthodoxy? It is God trying the endurance of the righteous, visiting the children for the sins of their fathers, and announcing the strength of His Church by taking it through fire and water. Because, according to the words of the wise-in-God Macarius of Egypt, that is the only path of true Christianity: “Wherever the Holy Spirit is, there follows, like a shadow, persecution and battle… It is necessary that the truth be persecuted.” What are, on the other hand, the fruits of the God-Man society?—Saints, Martyrs, and Confessors. That is its goal, that is its meaning and design, that is the proof of its indestructible strength.

Not books and libraries, systems and cities—all things that are here today and gone tomorrow. The various pseudo-Christian humanisms fill the world with books, while Orthodoxy fills it with the hallowed. Thousands and hundreds of thousands, even millions of martyrs and newly martyred, fallen for the Orthodox faith—there is the fruit of God-Man society. Thus does the famous Francois Mauriac, a Roman Catholic, on the dark horizon of the contemporary world, with each day more and more pushed into the darkness of born-in-Europe, soul-losing homo-idolatry, see only one bright spot, that gives hope for the future of this world: the bathed in the blood of the martyred and newly-martyred faith. The Orthodox faith.

But in the West? They neither know the Church, nor the path, nor the way out of the hopelessness; all is sunk in soul-losing idolatry, in love of pleasure, love of self, and love of lust. Hence in Europe we see the renaissance of polytheism. The “False Christs,” false gods that have flooded Europe and are exported from it to all the marketplaces of the world, have for their main assignment the killing of the soul in man—that unique treasure of man in all the worlds, and in that way make impossible the very possibility of a genuine society.

In writing this, we are not writing the history of Europe, its virtues and faults, nor the history of the European pseudo-churches. We are merely laying out the entelechy of its ontology, descending into the pith of European intellectual pridefulness, into its demonic underground, where its black sources are, whose water threatens to poison the world. This is not a judgment of Europe but a heartfelt prayerful call to the solitary path of salvation, through repentance.

From the book The Orthodox Church and Ecumenism, by Archimandrite Justin Popovich.