Pan Christian Church – An Orthodox Layman’s Perspective
by: Michael Dimozantos
A note by the Author.
I am but a simple layman and a follower of the Orthodox Faith, who wrote this article as a testimonial of my bewilderment at the insistence of some Orthodox leaders, both laymen and clergy, including some Patriarchs, in pursuing dialogues with the heterodox Christian Churches with the purpose of forming a unified “Pan-Christian Church”.
Not being well versed in the detailed theology of the various Christian Churches, I selected some basic salient features on each of the three major Church Faiths (namely the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) and evaluated the feasibility of a negotiated accord in realizing a Pan-Christian Church.
However before indulging into the evaluation of the feasibility of a Pan-Christian Church, I first examined some reasons for the need and possible benefits for such.
Why a Pan-Christian Church?
After almost two millennia from Christ’s resurrection, the face of world Christianity has become unrecognizable. Today world Christianity boasts a vast number of independent Churches, all claiming to own the truth and nothing but the truth. Wars and persecutions were unleashed over the millennia in Europe at a horrendous cost to human life, to impose one brand of Christianity over another.
During the 20th century, after two horrific world wars, an exhausted Europe came to the conclusion that nationalism and religion bred enmity and adversity always resulting into calamitous wars. Something had to change. But what and how?
A decision was made to resolve these two major causes of conflict among the European nations. Nationalism was replaced by the tearing down of national borders and bringing all the nations of Europe under one unified government with common goals and practices, the so called “acquis communautaire”. The European Union (EU) was thus born where people of European member nations could live, work and set up businesses throughout the EU. So far this model seems to function adequately.
Having successfully responded to the old nationalism through the creation of the EU, attention was turned onto religion. Could a similar model be made to apply to religion? Would it be possible to create a European Christian Union where all the independent European Christian confessions are included within one all inclusive Church where Europeans of any Christian faith could worship together, namely an Ecumenical Christian Church? The answer was a resounding yes!! Almost all European Christian confessions, including some Orthodox Churches, each with their own reasons and agendas, joined under the umbrella of the “World Council of Churches” (WCC) to work out a mutually acceptable Union of all Christian faiths, namely a “Pan-Christian Church”.
Is a “Pan-Christian Church” feasible?
For decades now the WCC through countless of meetings, conferences and crusades has been searching for a mutually acceptable way to bring all the European Christian Churches together. Both Protestant and Catholic Churches expressed favourable support. Yet no agreement could be reached mainly due to the “intransigence” of the Orthodox Church. To facilitate the process it was decided to allow the individual Churches to keep their individual confessions. They were only required to open their Churches to common worship. The Roman Catholics even agreed to accept all the Christian Churches as they were with few if any modifications to their faiths, suffice they agree to submit to the supremacy of the Pope. So why is the Orthodox Church at large still negotiating? To examine the reason why the Orthodox Church at large is continuing to negotiate, especially when she is “only” required to submit to the Pope, one has to first consider the fundamental differences of worship of both the Protestant and the Catholic from the Orthodox perspective. To this end seven salient points from the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox confessions are compiled below. Although Protestantism is not so much a Church as it is a movement of Churches, the salient features listed below are common to most Protestant Churches.
Salient features of the Protestant Faith.
1. The Protestant Faith is based solely on the Bible and on faith, namely “Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide”. Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for the Christian faith and it contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.
2. The Protestant Faith demands that only those doctrines are admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid deductive reasoning from Scripture. Such “valid” human deductive reasoning of the Bible has resulted in the formation of thousands of Protestant independent Churches.
3. The Protestant Faith believes that justification is received only by faith and does not accept the Holy Church Traditions, as they are considered traditions of men.
4. The Protestants do not recognize the existence of Saints and consider the Theotokos as a plain woman who just happened to give birth to Jesus Christ. They also consider unnecessary the intercessions of the Saints and of the Most Holy Theotokos to Jesus Christ.
5. To the Protestants, salvation is achieved simply by being “born again”. This can happen by simply declaring their belief in and acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
6. The Protestants believe that the Original Church of Christ ceased to exist during the early Roman persecutions of the Christians. They believe that the Church of the first millennium was formed about 300 years after Christ by the Ecumenical Synods.
7. Martin Luther was the first person to restore the “true” Church of Christ around the 16th century (ca 1520AD).
Salient features of the Roman Catholic Faith.
1. The Roman Catholic Church believes that it is the only true Church of Christ as it was built on Saint Peter the Apostle whose holy relics are in the basement of the Vatican.
2. The Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, namely he represents Christ on earth. As such he has absolute authority over his followers, and he can send them after their death to paradise or hell, since he possesses (as he claims) the keys to paradise.
3. The number one duty of every pious Catholic is to submit and obey the Pope in everything and without question. Other Christian confessions are welcome to join the Catholic Church partly or wholly unaltered even if their dogmas and doctrines are diametrically opposed to those of the Catholics, as long as they submit to the authority of the Roman Pontiff.
4. The Pope is considered infallible “ex Cathedra”, namely on matters of dogma.
5. The Pope can free souls from purgatory through the use of the Church Treasury. The Church Treasury possesses all the excess good deeds of devout Catholics and saints of the Catholic Church which were over and above what they needed to enter paradise.
6. The Roman Catholic Church beyond the seven Holy Ecumenical Synods, has convened many more so called “ecumenical synods or councils”, resulting in the creation of numerous new canons and decisions which the Orthodox Church has rejected totally.
7. Catholics believe in the existence of purgatory. Purgatory is a place where souls go which were not good enough to enter paradise but were too good for hell. At purgatory such souls are purged with fire until they become clean and can then proceed to paradise. The Pope could cut the stay of souls in purgatory by the use of the excess good deeds of the Catholic saints that are deposited in the Church Treasury.
Salient features of the Orthodox Faith
1. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Orthodox Church here on earth.
2. The Orthodox Faith is the revealed word of God and is based on the Holy Bible and the Holy Apostolic Traditions. The two cannot be separated.
3. The Orthodox Church, officially known as the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ”, never ceased to exist since Apostolic times to the present day and remains unaltered and unblemished.
4. The Seven Ecumenical Synods did not institute the Orthodox Church but defined her and the holy Canons of the Church were set to protect her from future heresies and innovations.
5. The Orthodox Church venerates the Most Holy and Ever Virgin Mother of the Lord, as the highest of all creation and fervently prays and seeks her motherly intercessions to her Son Jesus Christ. Icons are used to encourage and project the prayers of the faithful to the prototype. They are not revered “per se” but are revered because they bear the likeness of the depicted holy prototype.
6. The holy priesthood of the Orthodox Church proceeds from an unbroken chain of succession from apostolic times and is in strict conformity with the Holy Church Canons.
7. Salvation in the Orthodox Church is a lifelong deification process (theosis), starting from holy baptism with the help of the Most Holy Spirit until repose.
Consideration of the Protestant Church salient features from the Orthodox perspective.
1. For the Orthodox Church to accept the doctrine of the Protestant Churches, namely “Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide” would mean giving up on the Holy Church Traditions, thus disobeying the apostolic admonition of Saint Paul to “keep the traditions which you were given….” (Thess 2:15) and of the Holy Church Fathers and even worse, turning her back on the Most Holy Spirit, which is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, an unforgivable sin (Matt 12:31-32). You be the judge!
2. The simplistic approach of the Protestant Faith is based on human deduction while the Orthodox interpretation of the Holy Bible is based on Divine revelation through the Apostles, Holy Church Fathers and the Saints of the Church, the true mouthpieces of God. It is not possible for the Orthodox Church to adopt the simplistic human deduction and reject the Divine revelation of the Holy Bible and the Holy Traditions. You be the judge!
3. The Orthodox believe that justification is received by faith and good works together with the Holy Mysteries of the Church. Could the Orthodox reject the Holy Mysteries and still claim to be Orthodox? You be the judge!
4. The Protestants do not accept the existence of the Saints and the position of Divine honour attributed to the Most Holy and Ever Virgin Theotokos. For the Orthodox adopting the Protestant position regarding the Theotokos and the Saints would mean a) the acceptance that the Theotokos after the virgin birth of Christ did not remain “ever virgin” since she had more children with Joseph and b) exile the Theotokos and the pillars of the Church, the Saints, to the outer limits of anonymity, which would constitute an extreme blasphemy to God Himself. You be the judge!
5. To the Orthodox, salvation is a lifelong process of deification (theosis) starting from baptism and proceeding with the help of the Most Holy Spirit through the Holy Mysteries of the Church until our repose. To adopt the simplistic formula for salvation of the Protestants would mean the end of the Orthodox Church, for she would be rendered an empty meaningless and useless shell of a Church. You be the judge!
6. For the Orthodox to accept the Protestant belief that the original Church of Christ disappeared during the early Roman persecutions of the Christians and was formed 300 years later by simple men is an affront to Jesus Christ Himself. To believe so, would mean that Jesus Christ lied when He promised that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church” (Matt. 16:18). Could the Orthodox adopt such a blasphemy on Jesus Christ and still claim to be Orthodox? You be the judge!
7. To believe like the Protestants that Martin Luther some 1500 years later restored the true Church of Christ, on which earlier the gates of hell had prevailed, requires the Orthodox Church to accept Martin Luther above Jesus Christ Himself!! What a blasphemy! You be the judge!
Consideration of the Catholic Church salient features from the Orthodox perspective.
1. The Catholic Church’s assertion that their Church is the only true one because it is built upon Peter, basically implies that the Apostle Peter preached a different truth of Christ than Saint Paul or Saint James or the other holy Apostles especially since the Orthodox Church remained unchanged since Apostolic times. Saint Paul warned of such foolishness when he said “Now this I say, that every one of you says, I am of Paul and I of Apollos and I of Cephas and I of Christ. Is Christ divided?......” (1Cor 1:12-13).
Also since they consider the Orthodox Church heretical, they too must be heretics since they were part of the Original Church of Christ for over one thousand years, since the Orthodox Church remained completely unchanged and undefiled to this day. Furthermore, such assertion by the Catholics clearly blasphemes all the Holy Church Fathers as liars since they composed the Christian Creed of Faith, defined the Truth from heresies and enacted the Canons which later both the Catholics and the Protestants substituted or abolished. You be the judge!
2. The Pope by representing Christ on earth implies that Christ left the earth and His Church until at least His return on Judgment Day. He therefore needed a representative here on earth to act on His behalf (It sounds so laughable but also tragic). For this is contrary to Christ’s promise “…..: and lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt 28:20). Could it be perhaps that Jesus Christ forgot to tell us that He would send us the Pope together with the Helper (the Most Holy Spirit) to assist and lead us? What a horrible blasphemy!! How could the Orthodox Church accept such a blasphemy by accepting the Pope as the Vicar of Christ on earth? You be the judge!
3. Submitting totally to the Pope as is required by the Catholic Church means that the Orthodox Church must accept beyond the Holy Church Traditions, Dogmas, Doctrines and Canons, many later perverse traditions, doctrines, dogmas and canons of the Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church must also submit without question to the whims of a human, namely the Pope, when history has proved such whims often resulted in horrific and most unchristian activities, such as the “holy” inquisitions, the indulgences, the Crusades and more, that lay to waste millions of human lives. To excuse such history as mistakes of some distant dark times would be foolish, considering the atrocities perpetrated on the Serbs, Jews and Gypsies by the Catholic Croats during the Second World War, with the full blessing of the Catholic Church. Adding insult to injury, the late Pope John Paul 2nd selected Croat Cardinal Alojzije Stepanic, the butcher of the Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, for canonization. He, Stepanic, who headed the committee responsible for the forcible “conversion” to Roman Catholicism of the Serbs under threat of death. He, who was also the Supreme Military Vicar of the Ustashi Army, and who publicly consorted with Ante Pavelic, the Head of the Ustashi Army and most vicious and sadistic leader who reprimanded Hitler for being too lenient. Him, whom the Vatican propaganda presented as a “suffering martyr” of the communist Yugoslav regime for being sentenced to 17 years jail by the Yugoslav government for war crimes!! Furthermore, even if by joining the Catholic Church the Orthodox Church was allowed to keep all her dogmas and doctrines intact, it would mean not only we shall be venerating such saints as “Saint Stepanic” but we shall also be contravening the Holy Canons by co-worshipping with heretics. You be the judge!
4. To accept the Catholic assertion that the Pope is infallible “ex Cathedra” would mean the erasing of the whole history of the Catholic Church which regularly adopted faulty dogmas and doctrines. History records that many times the dogmas formulated by one Pope were rejected by the following Pope(s). This assertion was enshrined as dogma during the First Vatican in 1868-1870. Perhaps after that date the Popes became infallible. For the Orthodox Church to accept such proposition would mean the immediate rejection of the Holy Church Canons, for after all she would not need them since she would be led by a Divinely wise and infallible Pope. You be the judge!
5. The assertion that the Pope can free souls from purgatory through the use of the Church Treasury is a multi-faceted blasphemy. Firstly because it places the Pope at the same level if not higher than Jesus Christ in saving souls. Secondly, it also means that the Catholic Saints were “good” over and above what Jesus Christ needed to save them. Any excess He returned back to the Catholic Church Treasury. What a blasphemy! Who decides how much is enough? Besides did Jesus not tell us that we all came short? (Rom 3:23). It is such a blasphemy to imply that the faithful need only perform a finite number of good deeds to be saved! Such an assertion also rejects the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of the Lord who paid for the sins of the world. Could the infallible Pope see the fallibility of this doctrine? You be the judge!
6. The Catholic Church by commission or omission has rejected the Holy Church Fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Synods (who acted in accordance with the Holy Spirit) by her introduction of a huge number of heresies after the great schism. The Orthodox Church by accepting the Catholic Church would mean the “de facto” rejection of the Holy Church Fathers and their Canons. You be the judge!
7. In her “great love” for mankind the Catholic Church decided to accept within her, “heretical” Christian Faiths, even if their doctrines and dogmas are diametrically opposite to hers (Uniates?) as long as they submit to the Pope. After all he can save his followers since he possesses the “Keys to Paradise”. This is the most diabolical plan because they know that any Church that submits to the Pope will very soon be absorbed and assimilated by the Catholic Church. You be the judge!
Considering the above it becomes evident that the Orthodox Church is not negotiable. Any type of union with the Catholic or the Protestant Churches will necessitate the Orthodox Church to abolish the Holy Church Canons and expel Jesus Christ to the outer limits of the Church and replace Him by each individual faithful (as in the case of the Protestants) or with the Pope as her Head (as in the case of the Catholics). Moreover the Most Holy Theotokos, the Holy Church Fathers and the Saints of the Church will have to either be exiled to spiritual obscurity, or perhaps elevate the Most Holy Theotokos to the position of co-redemptrix, namely, equal to Jesus Christ and as a bonus, we shall be venerating such “saints” as “Saint Stepanic”, the butcher of the Serbs.
It does not require any imagination to conclude that negotiating any type of union with Protestants and Catholics, will prove fatal to the Orthodox Church’s existence. Firstly, because the Pope has been given by the First Vatican full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and secondly and more importantly, the Orthodox Church does not belong to man but to God Himself. If the Orthodox Church negotiates even an iota of her Faith, (if that is possible, for God would not allow it) God will recall His Church from earth. On the other hand both Protestant and Catholic Churches are not confined by the Divine and Holy Canons having rejected them earlier. Thus both being worldly confessions based on human intellect and humanistic principles are free to negotiate any and all the fundamentals of their faiths. It must also be understood that co-worshipping with the heterodox Christian faiths is again not feasible. For how could those who oppose the Truth of the Orthodox Church and having dismissed or altered her Holy Church Traditions, commune and partake of her holy gifts that are part of the Church’s Holy Traditions? “….. for what communion has light with darkness?” (2Cor 6:14).
What is most perplexing having considered all the above, is the insistence of some clergy and even patriarchs, who intimately know the spiritual wealth and fullness of the Orthodox Church, with her multitude of martyrs and saints, the most beautiful flowers in the garden of Christ’ dwelling, to delve into negotiations and dialogues with the heterodox seeking to trade her genuine jewels with the fake ones of the heterodox Churches. In the name of God, the Most Holy Trinity, whom you profess to serve and love, we the simple and scandalized flock of Christ, ask you as our anointed guardians and shepherds, to tell us the reasons why you insist in pursuing such activities with the heterodox which are obviously corrosive and toxic to our beloved Orthodoxy, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, while heeding the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ that the “Gates of Hell shall not prevail against His Church (Matt 16:18). Amen.
Written by: Michael Dimozantos