Sermon of Metropolitan Philaret

on the Sunday of Orthodoxy

14/27 February, 1972

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

During the services last night we spoke of the difficulties with which the Orthodox Church met in ancient times when She was the object of persecutions and then later when She was threatened by heresies. But these times are past and do not return. But let us look around us and observe the condition in which Orthodoxy finds itself in these contemporary times.

We see nothing of the multitudes of heresies that existed then, in the form of imitations, false images of the truth which tempted men to exchange the True Orthodox Church for a mock church, a pseudo-church.

No! Now we see the disease of Ecumenism, which has spread abroad, uniting upon its convenient platform those of elastic backbone and elastic conscience. They assert: “We seek the unity of all. We believe that every church, every confession, has a part of the truth and we would unite these particles of the truth into one whole and complete, one new church.” That would mean, brethren, that our Russian Orthodox Church would have to agree that She does not possess the whole of Christ’s Truth, but only a bit of it, and that the rest of our tradition is in error. It would be interesting to hear the reaction of St. Seraphim or St. John of Kronstadt to such a statement.

Our Orthodox Church does possess the Truth and is steadfast in it. We are but weak people, clergy as well as laity, we stumble, we sin, we fall; but still, being within the fold of the Church we do have the Truth by the great mercy of our Lord, and we will never agree that this is but a particle and not the whole truth.

Such a temptation gives birth to another: incorrect faith is followed by incorrect practice. Take, for example, the so-called “modernism” which has penetrated church life everywhere. Can we not see how distorted, how empty would be our ecclesiastical life if it was emptied of our Orthodox and Russian Tradition which at this moment are being called into question as having outlived their usefulness?

You all know of the confusion and temptation which was created when some of those who lived in America split from the Church Abroad. We, for our part, never ceased to pray for their return. And the proclamation of their “autocephaly” was the opportunity for the return of some. Indeed, parishes with their pastors have come to us from them, and just during these last days we have welcomed a hierarch, Archbishop Ambrose[1], who today prays with us. His Eminence saw the logical conclusion of this Red Autocephaly and by his return has testified that the archpastoral conscience of a Russian bishop can never be reconciled with such a criminal betrayal.

Yet the reaction to this Communist-conferred autocephaly is sadly far from what it should have been. One would expect that many parishes, masses of people would have stood apart from this disease; but we do not see this. Only a small number have left, and this is a sure sign of the difficulty of the path of our Church Abroad, which sees as her mission the preservation of all the Tradition of our Holy Fathers as well as the traditions of our own Holy national Russian Church. But we know well that God also dwells where there is truth, and in our effort to preserve our faithfulness to the Truth, He will not desert us.

Permit me to repeat something of which I have spoken in the past because, first of all, it is easily forgotten, and secondly, those who have not heard it ask us, “How is it possible that the Orthodox Church on this Sunday of Orthodoxy curses all those who fall into error and away from her; why does She damn them? This is too strict, too cruel!”

But let it be known to all that the Church has never cursed anyone. The word accursed is a terrible word, and from the Gospels we know that it will be pronounced but once by Him Who is able to pronounce it: at the Last Judgement, when the stern Judge will address those who were unfaithful to Him: “Depart from Me, ye accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Mat. 25:41) Only He may say this; we accurse no one. The “Anathema” pronounced by the Church is not a damnation, not the calling down upon a person’s head of the Lord’s anger; it is the expelling from the Church of those who HAVE FOR ALL PRACTICAL PURPOSES CEASED TO BE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH.

Within the Church there remain only those who are faithful to Her.

Yesterday, we heard our Lord’s words: “But if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” (Mat. 18:17) That is, let him be considered not a Christian. This is the declaration of the Church about those who sever union with Her and refuse to hear Her maternal voice. And this measure is taken not only to inform others of this lapse, but also in the hope that those who are the subjects of the Church’s care will take heed and repent, returning to the bosom of the Church.

When the Apostle St. Paul wrote to the Christians of Galatia, informing them that after him there would come false teachers who would preach false doctrines in an attempt to deceive them, he said, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be anathema.” It is in the spirit of this “let him be anathema” that the Church proclaims the anathemas today.

Let us also remember that the proclamation of the anathemas is accompanied by moving prayers to the Almighty God that He, Himself, will intervene, enlightening them to return again, for though the Church has been forced to declare their separation from her, yet She does not cease praying that they return to Her having been convinced of their error.


[1] Archbishop Ambrose reposed in 1974 at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston.