Q. In considering becoming part of the GOC in America, I am getting warnings from various circles that the attitude of GOC people is that of being “walled off,” “arrogant,” “judgmental,” and “in your face” toward those not in the Genuine Orthodox Church, with accusations such as “World Orthodox” priests are “not even Christians” and the like. Could you give me your personal, realistic assessment of this dynamic and possibly refer me to an official statement on how GOC members should and do relate to and communicate with those in “World Orthodoxy”?
A. We should start by realizing that we all must be careful not to generalize and to avoid all prejudice and chauvinism. The Church consists of all those confessing the Orthodox faith, who are at various stages on the path towards salvation. At any given time, one may find in the Church members that are progressing spiritually, members that are static or stagnant in their spiritual lives, and members that are regressing. The Church is likened to a hospital, where sinners have come to be treated of their illness; one would expect a hospital to be full of sick people, with some already cured, others on their way to full health, and some not at all yet cured. When people remark that the Church is full of sinful people, they miss the bigger picture that the Church is there precisely for the reason of taking in the ill. Finding people possessed of spiritual ailments in the Church, in this view, is something expectable. If, however, we look beyond the body of the Church, we encounter no healing whatsoever. In the Church we have the hope of finding the cure. Canon 102 of the Council of Trullo bears out this medicinal metaphor:
It behooves those who have received from God the power to loose and bind, to consider the quality of the sin and the readiness of the sinner for conversion, and to apply medicine suitable for the disease, lest if he is injudicious in each of these respects he should fail in regard to the healing of the sick man. For the disease of sin is not simple, but various and multiform, and it germinates many mischievous offshoots, from which much evil is diffused, and it proceeds further until it is checked by the power of the physician. Wherefore he who professes the science of spiritual medicine ought first of all to consider the disposition of him who has sinned, and to see whether he tends to health or (on the contrary) provokes to himself disease by his own behaviour, and to look how he can care for his manner of life during the interval…
Thus among the G.O.C. as well, we find people who are arrogant, judgmental, and “in-your-face”, as we also find charitable, loving, peaceful, and humble people. This is not a problem peculiar to the G.O.C., but rather part of the fallen human condition, which the Church heals.
In regards to the terms “World Orthodox” and “True Orthodox,” we can only say that such terms are born out of the necessity to distinguish what are, sadly, two different groups of people calling themselves Orthodox Christians. The term “True Orthodox” was formed as an alternative to the term “Old Calendarist”, which was used pejoratively against the G.O.C. in the past. True (or Genuine) Orthodox was needed to distinguish us ecclesiologically and legally from those who were persecuting our Church in the 1920s. This term is referential in a sense, however, insofar as we simply believe that we are the Orthodox Church of Greece.
Moreover, the contrast between our confession of faith and ecclesiological position, on the one hand, and the pan-heresy of Ecumenism professed at very high levels in other “World Orthodox Churches,” on the other hand, creates the need for us to distinguish ourselves from those who have adopted the New Calendar innovation and/or participate in the Ecumenical Movement. They identify themselves as Orthodox, yet we believe that they have compromised the Orthodox faith in various ways. “World Orthodoxy” is, thus, a term that some have adopted to describe those local Churches that have adopted these innovations. The term is not exact but it serves a purpose in an unofficial capacity.
In regards to those warning you, any attempt to defend our Church and its position over and against theirs is likely to be met with the charge of judgmentalism. We certainly should refrain from judging those in “World Orthodoxy” personally, and we should treat them with love and respect. While we exist as the Church of Greece, without recourse to outsiders, and must act and behave accordingly, part of our mission is to enlighten those currently involved in innovation and to encourage them to return to communion with us. While a future situation where the innovators never return will not impact our status as the Church, it would still be lamentable, and therefore we must do everything in our power to continually engage them and extend a helping hand to them. It would be uncharitable of us to pretend that there are not any differences between us, and never to offer a defense of our confession of faith. It would also be foolish and naïve of us, because there are those on their side who would take advantage of any perceived weakness in our Church. So we preach the truth, that the New Calendar and Ecumenism are innovations that jeopardize the ecclesiastical status of their adherents, leading eventually to schism and heresy. We state our views lovingly and charitably, both because we must and because we long for the return of our brethren.
As far as “walling-off” ourselves from them, the charge is completely true. We do refrain from communion with those who are outside of the Genuine Orthodox Church. One would not treat a patient infected with a communicable disease without a mask and appropriate equipment, as the patient’s disease would spread. Similarly, we cannot fight against innovation “from within” as we would ourselves become ill in the process. The only solution is to refrain from communion with the innovation. This “walling-off,” however, is not a judgment on the person from whom we are separated, but a judgment on their incorrect confession of faith, and a confession of our own. This goal should always be kept in mind: we want them to return to the full confession and praxis of Orthodoxy. We want to be in communion with them. But it must be predicated on the common confession of faith. As for an official statement, one can see our Metropolitan’s Encyclical of 2002 where he reminds the children of our Metropolis:
For this reason, the genuine Orthodox Christians are not permitted to enter the churches of heretics or schismatics to receive communion, for such is a very serious sin. The person, who does so, cuts himself off from the Orthodox Church. For this same reason, the Fathers of the Church forbid to heretics or schismatics communion of the blameless Mysteries in our Churches, since by so doing, instead of salvation, they receive “a consuming fire,” (Hebrews 12:29) that is, a fire, which burns up all those who dare to partake of it.
We must never be arrogant towards those not of our Church. Our confession of faith must be made with humility and fear of God, for we are not confessing just our personal faith but joining in the confession of the Fathers and repeating the words that were uttered by the Master to His Disciples; the words that the Logos spoke to Moses; the words that were spoken to Adam in Paradise, which St. Paul witnessed in the third heaven, and Isaiah the Prophet wrote about. Standing in the company of God Himself and the countless generations of Saints will not produce in ourselves any sense of superiority towards the erring sheep, but will create in us a spirit of contrition and repentance for our sins, keeping silent except when asked to give an account of the hope within us (I Peter 3:15), or when led by the Holy Spirit to speak as when St. Stephen was martyred, but never out of our own will or desire.
Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Tucson, AZ, is a beautiful mission parish near downtown Tucson, a city in southern Arizona. It was started in 1997 by Father John Bockman, who was a missionary priest formerly serving missions in Tennessee and Massachusetts since 1990. Read more...