March 22, 2021

To the Unknown Orthodoxy (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)


By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

(Sermon delivered on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 25 February 2018, at the Metropolitan Church of Saint Demetrios in Nafpaktos)

Today is the Sunday of Orthodoxy, my beloved brethren, and the Orthodox Church celebrates as Theology and as Church and as Life. It is therefore not only about the Orthodox faith, but about Orthodox life - it is ortho-doxy and ortho-life.

As is customary everywhere today, in all the Holy Temples where a Divine Liturgy takes place, sermons on the subject of Orthodoxy will be heard and many Bishops, Clergy and theologians will speak about Orthodoxy. All speakers - Orthodox, Neo-Orthodox, Post-Orthodox, Patristic, Neo-Patristic, Post-Patristic, Modern, Post-Modern - will refer to Orthodoxy and will try to present what they themselves think is the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Theology and Orthodox Tradition.

The question then is: What is Orthodoxy?

It is a question that needs to be answered. A short eucharistic sermon is simply not enough to answer such a question, as to what Orthodoxy is. However, I will try to express some of my views today, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

While I was thinking last night about this question - What is Orthodoxy? - there came to my mind a sermon delivered by the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill. Among some other things he said, he spoke of how when he entered the agora and observed the statues there, all the statues of the gods, among these he beheld a statue which was dedicated to an "Unknown God", which was specifically inscribed: "To the Unknown God".

This incident led me to choose my topic for today. I thought that this is probably the case with Orthodoxy as well. We all talk about Orthodoxy, but in the end Orthodoxy is unknown to many.

Therefore, if we could give an inscription to Orthodoxy today, we would write: "To the Unknown Orthodoxy". I think that for many Orthodoxy is unknown, even though everyone talks about it, everyone writes about it, and there are books that refer to it. All of these speak about the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Tradition, Orthodox Theology and Orthodox Life, but it is viewed selectively and superficially.

Perhaps you may ask me: "Why is Orthodoxy unknown today? How can you say that?"

There are two main reasons why I claim that Orthodoxy is largely unknown to the people, and not only to the people, but also to the Clergy of all ranks.

First, Orthodoxy is unknown, to a large extent, because there is great confusion around Orthodox theological issues, there is a strong ignorance of the clear content of Orthodox issues. I will say it more simply. There is a lot of ignorance about Orthodoxy, precisely because there is confusion in theological issues. This is because there are so many contaminations, so many influences from all directions, from philosophical, theological, Christian and religious, where in the end one asks: "Is this Orthodoxy?" And because there are many contaminations and influences, that is exactly why there is a vast ignorance of knowledge of the depths of Orthodoxy.

One who observes the various theological and philosophical currents that prevail in the Western world sees how much the Orthodox theological issues were influenced by Scholasticism, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, but also by other Eastern traditions.

Also, when one knows to some extent the patristic teachings and the teachings of the Ecumenical Synods and carefully reads some older Dogmatic manuals, which were written by professors of Theological Schools, one sees that there are opinions that are not patristic, but instead they refer to others and try to go beyond the patristic tradition, beyond the Fathers, and they transfer these things to Orthodox lands. At this point one asks: "Is it truly possible to read the Dogmatics of the Church and encounter influences and alterations from other traditions?"

Those of us who are engaged in the teachings of the Holy Fathers and the Christian upheavals that took place in Europe from the eleventh century onwards know that the scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages used the philosophers to interpret theological doctrines. We also know that Protestants have a tendency to accept the views of heretics, on the grounds that they were unjustly condemned by the Fathers of the Ecumenical Synods, such as Arius, Nestorius, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Apollonarius and Dioscorus and they write various studies around these issues.

This shows that today, unfortunately, various heterodox Christians of the West hold heretical opinions condemned by the Orthodox Church, and for this are considered progressive, having been received by some Orthodox theologians, who introduce these things in Orthodox books.

Therefore, one of the great problems we have today, from the point of view of Orthodoxy, is what Orthodox Tradition is and what the other traditions are. Why do I say that? Because there are many traditions, Christian traditions, religious traditions, and it is necessary to see exactly what the Orthodox Tradition is, how it is defined and how the Orthodox Tradition is distinguished from other traditions.

Secondly, there is ignorance of Orthodoxy today, because expediency and selfishness prevail. That is, some may know what the Church Fathers say on various theological issues, but because they are distinguished by various expediencies, they do not present them exactly as they read them in the patristic texts themselves, but present them according to their interpretations. There is a great deal of expediency towards this subject and this is due to the passions which exist within these people.

When I speak of expediencies I also mean, apart from other things, modern nationalisms and geopolitical strategies, which have weakened the essential content of the Church and have made it captive to secular practices.

Thus, everyone interprets the patristic texts, presents the theological issues, according to their passions, and presents Orthodoxy as their own internal sick condition. When one wants to cover oneself and to justify oneself for one's actions, then one relies on patristic texts which of course one misinterprets. There is this great expediency that we see today, which is why many do not know what Orthodoxy is and do not want to present it in its authenticity.

This has to do with the fact that they give different characterizations to those who want to remain faithful to the teachings of the Holy Fathers of the Church, such as fundamentalists, conservatives, traditionalists, etc.

Also in this category are those who feel a fear when they are in front of the powerful of the earth, whether political or ecclesiastical, again for the sake of expediency, and who do not want to express themselves more clearly, but lean more towards the so-called "diplomatic security", that overshadows the theological issues which, however, require a clear expression. This means that even today, even in dogmatic issues, terms and phrases are used that have two or more meanings, ambiguous meanings, so that things are obscured even more.

Also, the phenomenon is observed, when a Clergyman or theologian is present in an audience where heterodox people are present to pretend they are noble, to be self-critical in order for others to have a good idea of who they are, thus they are scared and do not speak as one who is authentically Orthodox and patristic. But when he then finds himself in his own audience, he is a "super" Orthodox. In this mentality one distinguishes the existence of fear and expediency. But Orthodoxy and the confession of truth cannot be expressed with phobic syndromes and with various secular expediencies.

Fr. John Romanides, a professor of Dogmatics, who himself participated in inter-Orthodox and inter-Christian meetings, said that there are Orthodox theologians and clergymen, who stand before the heterodox like "mice", that is they are scared and do not correctly proclaim the word of truth, but when they are in front of their own audiences, then they present themselves as "lions of Orthodoxy". And while it is possible in various inter-Christian and inter-Orthodox meetings to confess Christ and Orthodox theology and they do not do so, nevertheless, when they go to their flocks, they become radiant confessors of Orthodoxy.

Something like this is being done today in Orthodoxy as well. Today, as I said before, everyone will talk about the greatness and value of the Orthodox Faith and the Orthodox Church. But I would prefer them to do the same when they are in inter-Christian and inter-Orthodox meetings.

I noticed with regret that when there was a discussion in the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece about the new curriculum of the religious courses, many priests did not speak to them, but in their silence it seemed to them that they accepted the new curriculum, but when they returned to their own districts they saw the resistance of the theological professors and many other Christians, so they spoke out against the new Religious Program.

That is why I have said before that Orthodoxy is unknown, on the one hand because there is confusion between the traditions, and on the other hand because there is fear and expediency among those who benefit from being confessors of the faith.

Finally the question remains and I return to it: What exactly is Orthodoxy?

You will say to me: "Well, today many Christians have ignorance of Orthodoxy, but also expediency along with fear of the powerful. Hence, what could you tell us in a few words about what Orthodoxy is?"

I think that very briefly it can be said that Orthodoxy is three specific facts:

First, Orthodoxy is the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods, that is, the doctrines formulated by the Ecumenical Synods, but also the Local Synods, which have been recognized by the former. When one reads the minutes and the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods, then one will understand the essence of Orthodoxy.

Second, Orthodoxy is the content of the important five-volume work called "Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics", which shows the way in which one can reach the experience of God, that is, it is sacred hesychasm tied together with repentance, prayer and the purity of the heart. The "Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics" is a collection of patristic works, in which there is talk of sacred hesychasm. This essentially shows the method for attaining the inner spiritual knowledge of God, what the doctrines express, essentially the terms of the Ecumenical Synods.

And thirdly, Orthodoxy is the worship of our Church, its Mysteries with the foremost Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, together with our ecclesiastical arts, that is, the ecclesiastical hymnography, the ecclesiastical music, the ecclesiastical iconography, the sacred icons.

After all, why did the Church determine today, the day of the restoration of the Holy Icons, to be celebrated on the Sunday of Orthodoxy? She did this because the icons are the ones that present the whole spiritual inner grandeur of Orthodox theology and the Orthodox Church, showing in an authentic way the mystery of the incarnation of God and the mystery of the deification of man.

Therefore, when one connects all three of these facts, that is, the doctrines, which are the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods, the hesychastic tradition as recorded in the book of the Philokalia and in other patristic texts, and the ecclesiastical arts, our iconographic and musical tradition, the way in which we build the temples, the way in which we perform the Divine Liturgy, the Divine Eucharist, then they will understand what Orthodoxy is. Everything else that happens in the Orthodox Church is the fruit of these basic features.

This means that doctrine is closely connected with prayer that takes place in the heart of man and the worship of our Church, especially with the divine Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ.

To express this in a simpler way I would say that Orthodoxy is to meet a saint, who is closely connected with the Divine Liturgy, with the prayer of the heart and the empirical knowledge of God, and to be their close disciple, to follow their advice and to imitate their life.

Then one will learn from experience - as a student learns scientific knowledge from a researcher - what Orthodoxy is and they will become Orthodox in all expressions and manifestations of their life. Orthodoxy is received as a spiritual birth through spiritually "living organisms". What takes place here takes place also with biological life, which is transmitted from generation to generation, from biologically living organisms. This is what is characterized as "theology of events". Then one will learn in practice that Orthodoxy is not verbalism, ideologies, slogans, clever dialogues that temporarily impress, like fireworks in the sky.

So, in order to learn Orthodoxy, one has to deal with and be interested in the depth of these things. And finally Orthodoxy is to know its depth, which is repentance and humility, and then one will also know its height, which is Mount Tabor, the light of the Resurrection, and the rushing wind of Pentecost.

May we, until we end our lives, until we leave this vain world, learn, even a little, what the Orthodox Church is and what Orthodox theology is and not remain in the ignorance of Orthodoxy until the end, so that we may confess it and celebrate it brilliantly.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.