16 May 2012
Introduction to ORF
Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future
by Fr. Seraphim Rose
Part I The "Dialogue with Non-Christian Religions"
Part II "Christian and Non-Christian Ecumenism"
Part III "The New Age of the Holy Spirit"
Part IV The Present Book
The "Dialogue with Non-Christian Religions"
Ours is a spiritually unbalanced age, when many Orthodox Christians finds themselves tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Eph. 4:14). The time, indeed, seems to have come when men will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be inclined unto fables (II Tim. 4:3-4).
One reads in bewilderment of the latest acts and pronouncements of the ecumenical movement. On the most sophisticated level, Orthodox theologians representing the American Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops (SCOBA) and other official Orthodox bodies conduct learned "dialogues" with Roman Catholics and Protestants and issue "joint statements" on such subjects as the Eucharist, spirituality, and the like – without even informing the heterodox that the Orthodox Church is the Church of Christ to which all are called, that only her Mysteries are grace-giving, that Orthodox spirituality can be understood only by those who know it in experience within the Orthodox Church, that all these "dialogues" and "joint statements" are an academic caricature of true Christian discourse – a discourse which has the salvation of souls as its aim. Indeed, many of the Orthodox participants in the "dialogues" know or suspect that this is no place for Orthodox witness, that the very atmosphere of ecumenical "liberalism" cancels out whatever truth might be spoken at them; but they are silent, for the "spirit of the times" today is often stronger than the voice of the Orthodox conscience. (See Diakonia, 1970, no. 1 p, 72; St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 1969, no. 4, p. 225; etc.)
On a more popular level, ecumenical "conferences" and "discussions" are organized, often with an "Orthodox speaker" or even the celebration of an "Orthodox Liturgy." The approach to these "conferences" is often dilettantish, and the general attitude at them is so lacking in seriousness, that rather than advance the "unity" their promoters desire, they actually serve to prove the existence of an impassable abyss between true Orthodoxy and the "ecumenical" outlook. (See Sobornost, Winter,1978, pp. 494-8, etc.)
On the level of action, ecumenical activists take advantage of the fact that the intellectuals and theologians are irresolute and unrooted in Orthodox tradition, and use their very words concerning "fundamental agreement" on sacramental and dogmatic points as an excuse for flamboyant ecumenical acts, not excluding the giving of Holy Communion to heretics. And this state of confusion in turn gives an opportunity for ecumenical ideologists on the most popular level to issue empty pronouncements that reduce basic theological issues to the level of cheap comedy, as when Patriarch Athenagoras allows himself to say, "Does your wife ever ask you how much salt she should put in the food? Certainly not. She has the infallibility. Let the Pope have it too, if he wishes" (Hellenic Chronicle, April 9, 1970).
The informed and conscious Orthodox Christian may well ask: where will it all end? Is there no limit to the betrayal, the denaturement, the self-liquidation of Orthodoxy?
It has not yet been too carefully observed where all this is leading, but logically the path is clear. The ideology behind ecumenism, which has inspired such ecumenistic acts and pronouncements as the above, is an already well-defined heresy: the Church of Christ does not exist, no one has the Truth, the Church of Christ is only now being built. But it takes little reflection to see that the self-liquidation of Orthodoxy, of the Church of Christ, is simultaneously the self- liquidation of Christianity itself; that if no one church is the Church of Christ, then the combination of all sects will not be the Church either, not in the sense in which Christ founded it. And if all "Christian" bodies are relative to each other, then all of them together are relative to other "religious" bodies, and "Christian" ecumenism can only end in a syncretic world religion.
This is indeed the disguised aim of the masonic ideology which has inspired the Ecumenical Movement, and this ideology has now taken such possession of those who participate in the Ecumenical Movement that "dialogue" and eventual union with the non-Christian religions have come to be the logical next step for today's denatured Christianity. The following are a few of the many recent examples that could be given that point the way to an "ecumenical" future outside of Christianity.
1. On June 27, 1965, a "Convocation of Religion for World Peace" was held in San Francisco in connection with the 20th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in that city. Before 10,000 spectators there were addresses on the "religious" foundation of world peace by Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem. Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox representatives, and hymns of all faiths were sung by a 2000-voice "interfaith" choir.
2. The Greek Archdiocese of North and South America, in the official statement of its 19th Clergy-Laity Congress (Athens, July, 1968), declared: "We believe that the ecumenical movement, even though it is of Christian origin, must become a movement of all religions reaching towards each other."
3. The "Temple of Understanding, Inc.," an American foundation established in 1960 as a kind of "Association of United Religions" with the aim of "building the symbolic Temple in various parts of the world" (precisely in accord with the doctrine of Freemasonry), has held several "Summit Conferences." At the first, in Calcutta in 1968, the Latin Trappist Thomas Merton (who was accidentally electrocuted in Bangkok on the way back from this Conference) declared: "We are already a new unity. What we must regain is our original unity." At the second, at Geneva in April , 1970, eighty representatives of ten world religions met to discuss such topics as "The Project of the Creation of a World Community of Religions"; the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, delivered an address calling on the heads of all religions to unity; and on April 2 an "unprecedented" supra-confessional prayer service took place in St. Peter's Cathedral, described by the Protestant Pastor Babel as "a very great date in the history of religions," at which "everyone prayed in his own language and according to the customs of the religion which he represented" and at which "the faithful of all religions were invited to coexist in the cult of the same God," the service ending with the "Our Father" (La Suisse, April 3, 1970). Promotional material sent out by the "Temple of Understanding" reveals that Orthodox delegates were present at the second "Summit Conference" in the United States in the autumn of 1971, and that Metropolitan Emilianos of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is a member of the Temple's "International Committee." The "Summit Conferences" offer Orthodox delegates the opportunity to enter discussions aiming to "create a world community of religions," to "hasten the realization of mankind's dream of peace and understanding" according to the philosophy of "Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Gandhi, Schweitzer," an the founders of various religions; and the delegates likewise participate in "unprecedented" supra-confessional prayer services where "everyone prays according to the customs of the religion he represents." One can only wonder what must be in the soul of an Orthodox Christian who participates in such conferences and prays together with Moslems, Jews, and pagans.
4. Early in 1970 the WCC sponsored a conference in Ajaltoun, Lebanon, between Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and Moslems, and a follow-up conference of 23 WCC "theologians" in Zurich in June declared the need for "dialogue" with the non-Christian religions. At the meeting of the Central Committee of the WCC at Addis Ababa in January of this year (pre-1975-jh), Metropolitan Georges Khodre of Beirut (Orthodox Church of Antioch) shocked even many Protestant delegates when he not merely called for "dialogue" with these religions, but left the Church of Christ far behind and trampled on 19 centuries of Christian tradition when he called on Christians to "investigate the authentically spiritual life of the unbaptized" and enrich their own experience with the "riches of a universal religious community" (Religious News Service), for "it is Christ alone who is received as light when grace visits a Brahmin, a Buddhist, or a Moslem reading his own scriptures" (Christian Century, Feb. 10, 1971).
5. The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches at its meeting in Addis Ababa in January, 1971, gave its approval and encouragement to the holding of meetings as regularly as possible between representatives of other religions, specifying that "at the present stage priority may be given to bilateral dialogues of a specific nature." In accordance with this directive a major Christian-Moslem "dialogue" was set for mid-1972 involving some forty representatives of both sides, including a number of Orthodox delegates (Al Montada, January-February, 1972, p. 18).
6. In February, 1972, another "unprecedented" ecumenical event occurred in New York when, according to Archbishop Iakovos of New York, for the first time in history, the Greek Orthodox Church (Greek Archdiocese of North and South America) held an official theological "dialogue" with the Jews. In two days of discussions definite results were achieved, which may be taken as symptomatic of the future results of the "dialogue with non-Christian religions": the Greek "theologians" agreed "to review their liturgical texts in terms of improving references to Jews and Judiasm where they are found to be negative or hostile" (Religious News Service). Does not the intention of the "dialogue" become even more obvious? – to "reform" Orthodox Christianity in order to make it conformable to the religions of this world.
These events were the beginning of the "dialogue with non-Christian religions" at the end of the decade of the 1960's and the beginning of the 1970's. In the years since then such events have multiplied, and "Christian" (and even "Orthodox") discussions and worship with representatives of non-Christian religions have come to be accepted as a normal part of contemporary life. The "dialogue" with non-Christian religions" has become part of the intellectual fashion of the day; it represents the present stage of ecumenism in its progress towards a universal religious syncretism. Let us now look at the "theology" and the goal of this accelerating "dialogue" and see how it differs from the "Christian" ecumenism that has prevailed up to now.
"Christian and Non-Christian Ecumenism"
"Christian" ecumenism at its best may be seen to represent a sincere and understandable error on the part of Protestants and Roman Catholics – the error of failing to recognize that the visible Church of Christ already exists, and that they are outside of it. The "dialogue with non-Christian religions," however, is something quite different, representing rather a conscious departure from even that part of genuine Christian belief and awareness which some Catholics and Protestants retain. It is the product, not of simple human "good intentions," but rather of a diabolical "suggestion" that can capture only those who have already departed so far from Christianity as to be virtual pagans: worshippers of the god of this world, satan (II Cor. 4:4), and followers of whatever intellectual fashion this powerful god is capable of inspiring.
"Christian" ecumenism relies for its support upon a vague but nonetheless real feeling of "common Christianity" which is shared by many who do not think or feel too deeply about the Church, and it aims somehow to "build" a church comprising all such indifferent "Christians." But what common support can the "dialogue with non-Christians" rely on? On what possible ground can there be any kind of unity, however loose, between Christians and those who not merely do not know Christ, but – as is the case with all the present day representatives of non-Christian religions who are in contact with Christianity – decisively reject Christ? Those who, like Metropolitan Georges Khodre of Lebanon, lead the avant-garde of Orthodox apostates (a name that is fully justified when applied to those who radically "fall away" from the whole Orthodox Christian tradition), speak of the "spiritual riches" and "authentic spiritual life" of the non-Christian religions; but it is only by doing great violence to the meaning of words and by reading his own fantasies into other people's experience that he can bring himself to say that it is "Christ" and "grace" that pagans find in their scriptures, or that "every martyr for the truth, every man persecuted for what he believes to be right, dies in communion with Christ" (Sobornost, Summer 1971, p.171). Certainly these people themselves (whether it be a Buddhist who sets fire to himself, a Communist who dies for the "cause" in which he sincerely believes, or whoever) would never say that it is "Christ" they receive or die for, and the idea of an unconscious confession or reception of Christ is against the very nature of Christianity. If a rare non-Christian does claim to have experience of "Christ," it can only be in the way which Swami Vivekananda describes: "We Hindus do not merely tolerate, we unite ourselves with every religion, praying in the mosque of the Mohammedan, worshipping before the fire of the Zoroastrian, and kneeling tot he cross of the Christian" – that is, as merely one of a number of equally valid Spiritual experiences.
No. "Christ," no matter how redefined or reinterpreted, cannot be the common denominator of the "dialogue with non-Christian religions," but at best can only be added as an afterthought to a unity which is discovered somewhere else. The only possible common denominator among all religions is the totally vague concept of "spiritual," which indeed offers religious "liberals" almost unbounded opportunity for nebulous theologizing.
The address of Metropolitan Georges Khodre to the Central Committee meeting of the WCC at Addis Ababa in January, 1971, may be taken as an early, experimental attempt to set forth such a "spiritual" theology of the "dialogue with non-Christian religions" (full text in ibid., pp.166-74). In raising the question as to "whether Christianity is so inherently exclusive of other religions as has generally been proclaimed up to now," the Metropolitan, apart from his few rather absurd "projections" of Christ into non-Christian religions, has one main point: it is the "Holy Spirit," conceived as totally independent of Christ and His Church, that is really the common denominator of all the world's religions. Referring to the prophecy that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28), the Metropolitan states, "This must be taken to mean a Pentecost which is universal from the very first... The advent of the Spirit in the world is not subordinated to the Son... The Spirit operates and applies His energies in accordance with His own economy and we could, from this angle, regard the non-Christian religions, as points where His inspiration is at work" (p. 172). We must, he believes, "develop an ecclesiology and a missiology in which the Holy Spirit occupies a supreme place" (p. 166).
All of this, of course, constitutes a heresy which denies the very nature of the Holy Trinity and has no aim but to undermine and destroy the whole idea and reality of the Church of Christ. Why, indeed, should Christ have established a Church if the Holy Spirit acts quite independently, not only of the Church, but of Christ Himself? Nonetheless, this heresy is here still presented rather tentatively and cautiously, no doubt with the aim of testing the response of other Orthodox "theologians" before proceeding more categorically.
In actual fact, however, the "ecclesiology of the Holy Spirit" has already been written – and by an "Orthodox" thinker at that, one of the acknowledged "prophets" of the "spiritual" movement of our own day. Let us therefore examine his ideas in order to see the picture he gives of the nature and goal of the larger "spiritual" movement in which the "dialogue with non-Christian religions has its place.
"The New Age of the Holy Spirit"
Nicholas Berdyaev (1874-1949) in any normal time would never have been regarded as an Orthodox Christian. He might best be described as a gnostic-humanist philosopher who drew his inspiration rather from Western sectarians and "mystics" than from any Orthodox sources. That he is called in some Orthodox circles even to this day an "Orthodox philosopher" or even "theologian," is a sad reflection of the religious ignorance of our times. Here we shall quote from his writings (as cited in J. Gregerson, "Nicholas Beryaev, Prophet of a New Age," Orthodox Life, Jordanville, NY, 1962, no. 6).
Looking with disdain upon the Orthodox Fathers, upon the "monastic ascetic spirit of historical Orthodoxy," indeed upon that whole "conservative Christianity which ... directs the spiritual forces of man only towards contrition and salvation," Berdyaev sought rather the "inward Church," the "Church of the Holy Spirit," the "spiritual view of life which, in the 18th century, found shelter in the Masonic lodges." "The Church," he believed, "is still in a mere potential state," is "incomplete"; and he looked to the coming of an "ecumenical faith," a "fullness of faith" that would unite, not merely different Christian bodies (for Christianity should be capable of existing in a variety of forms in the Universal Church"), but also "the partial truths of all the heresies" and "all the humanistic creative activity of modern man ... as a religious experience consecrated in the Spirit." A "New Christianity" is approaching, a "new mysticism, which will be deeper than religions and ought to untie them." For "there is a great spiritual brotherhood ... to which not only the Churches of East and West belong, but also all those whose wills are directed towards God and the Divine, all in fact who aspire to some form of spiritual elevation" – that is to say, people of every religion, sect, and religious ideology. He predicted the advent of "a new and final Revelation": "the New Age of the Holy Spirit," resurrecting the prediction of Joachim of Floris, the 12th century Latin monk who saw the two ages of the Father (Old Testament) and the Son (New Testament) giving way to a final "Third Age of the Holy Spirit." Berdyaev writes: "The world is moving towards a new spirituality and a new mysticism; in it there will be no more of the ascetic world view." "The success of the movement towards Christian unity presupposes a new era in Christianity itself, a new and deep spirituality, which means a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit."
There is clearly nothing whatever in common between these super-ecumenist fantasies and Orthodox Christianity, which Berdyaev in fact despised. Yet anyone aware of the religious climate of our times will see that these fantasies in fact correspond to one of the leading currents of contemporary religious thought. Berdyaev does indeed seem to be a "prophet," or rather, to have been sensitive to a current of religious thought and feeling which was not so evident in his day, but has become almost dominant today. Everywhere one hears of a new "movement of the Spirit," and now a Greek Orthodox priest, Father Eusebius Stephanou, invites Orthodox Christians to join this movement when he writes of "the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our day" (The Logos, January, 1972). Elsewhere in the same publication (March, 1972, p. 8), the Associate Editor Ashanin invokes not merely the name, but also the very program, of Berdyaev: "We recommend the writings of Nicholas Berdyaev, the great spiritual prophet of our age. This spiritual genius ... is the greatest theologian of spiritual creativeness ... Now the cocoon of Orthodoxy has been broken ... God's Divine Logos is leading people to a new understanding of their history and their mission in Him. The Logos is the herald of this new age, of the new posture of Orthodoxy."
The Present Book
All of this constitutes the background of the present book, which is a study of the "new" religious spirit of our times that underlies and give inspiration to the "dialogue with non-Christian religions." The first three chapters offer a general approach to non-Christian religions and their radical difference from Christianity, both in theology and in spiritual life. The first chapter is a theological study of the "God" of the Near Eastern religions with which Christian ecumenists hope to unite on the basis of "monotheism." The second concerns the most powerful of the Eastern religions, Hinduism, based on a long personal experience which ended in the author's conversion from Hinduism to Orthodox Christianity; it also gives an interesting appraisal of the meaning for Hinduism of the "dialogue" with Christianity. The third chapter is a personal account of the meeting of an Orthodox priest-monk with an Eastern "miracle-worker" – a direct confrontation of Christian and non-Christian "spirituality."
The next four chapters are specific studies of some of the significant spiritual movements of the 1970's. Chapters Four and Five examine the "new religious consciousness" with particular reference to "meditation" movements which now claim many "Christian" followers (and more and more "ex-Christians"). Chapter Six looks at the spiritual implications of a seemingly non-religious phenomenon of our times which is helping to form the "new religious consciousness" even among people who think they are far from any religious interest. The seventh chapter discusses at length the most controversial religious movement among "Christians" today – the "charismatic revival" – and tries to define its nature in the light of Orthodox spiritual doctrine.
In the Conclusion the significance and goal of the "new religious consciousness" are discussed in the light of Christian prophecy concerning the last times. The "religion of the future" to which they point is set forth and contrasted with the only religion which is irreconcilably in conflict with it: true Orthodox Christianity. The "signs of the times," as we approach the fearful decade of the 1980's, are all too clear; let Orthodox Christians, and all who wish to save their souls in eternity, take heed and act!
Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future
Epilogue to the Third Printing