By Archimandrite Cyril Kostopoulos
Pietism (pietismus) is a phenomenon of Protestant religious life, which first appeared in the 17th century in the circles of Lutheranism that sought to renew the spiritual life within Protestantism with the intention of stimulating religious sentiment. In Greece pietism appeared in the broader context of the "Europeanization" of the country.
Pietism is primarily intended and designed for "practical piety", in opposition to ecclesiastical and patristic life. The knowledge of God in pietism requires an emotional experience of fundamental truths. It is adogmatic, underestimating and ignoring Patristic theological truth, reaching agnosticism with the garment of moral expediency.
Also, a key element of pietism is the denial of the ontological truth of ecclesiastical communion. It considers the salvation of man as an individual event, an absolutism of individual piety. The Orthodox, however, teach that the salvation of man is an ecclesiastical event. It is the divine-human "new creation" of the Body of Christ, the community of persons, which leads to redemption and salvation. The Divine Chrysostom stresses: "As then our body is one thing though it is composed of many: so also in the Church we are all one thing. For though the Church is composed of many members, yet these many form one body" (PG 61, 527-528).
The Orthodox Church is the Body of the God-man, that has as her soul the Most Holy Spirit, Who works the salvation of her members. He economizes everything so that divine grace and redemption and salvation is "given from God through Christ in the Holy Spirit" (Basil the Great, PG 29, 664D) to all the members of her Body.
However, according to the teaching of pietism, the salvation of man is not an ecclesiastical event. It does not personally share in the ecclesiastical community that saves man, despite their unworthiness. It is simply an individual achievement, an individual consistency in religious events and ethical mandates, an individual imitating the "virtues" of the "sweet Nazarene" that ensures an assurance of justification.
For pietists the Church is a phenomenon of individual justification. It is a gathering of the "clean", a fullness of individual religiosity. Thus it is separated from ecclesiastical truth and piety is changed into an individual achievement that "improves" character and behavior, but cannot transform the way we exist, to transform corruption to incorruption, death to life and resurrection.
Today in Western societies the work of the Church is evaluated on the measure of its social utilization and is organized like a secular institution with moralistic purposes. However, the Divine Chrysostom exclaims: "The Church is heavenly, and is nothing else than heaven" (PG 63, 112).
For this reason pietism ends up being a heresy in the area of ecclesiology, and we support this wholeheartedly. It undermines, we would say, the very truth of the Orthodox Church, displacing the event of salvation from an ecclesiastical to an individual ethos. Finally, pietism undermines the ontological truth of the Patristic Orthodox Church, without questioning the formalities of this truth. It simply ignores it and passes it on to the jurisdiction of academic theology.
We believe that an ecumenical synod must denounce pietism as a counterfeit perception of Orthodox piety and it must be condemned.
Source: Published in the newspaper "Peloponnesos" in Patras on Sept. 5, 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.