Just a few excerpts from my OCA parish bulletin of yesterday:
"ABOUT CHRISTIANS WHO ARE OUTSIDE THE CHURCH. ECUMENISM"
The Orthodox Church holds herself to be the continuation of the apostolic Church of the first century. The other Christians do not form part of the true Church, for they have not been baptized into the Church by true apostolic bishops. Christ and the apostles taught that these Sacraments are the way by which we enter the gate which is Christ and become part of the flock of God (Matt. 17:19, Mark 16:16, I Cor. 12:13). If anyone tries to justify another way, he is entering the fold by climbing the wall and is not truly of the flock. For only Orthodoxy is the true Church of Christ. Now if God somehow accounts others to be part of the Church who are not manifestly Orthodox, it would be something He has not told the Church in the Bible, the Ecumenical Councils, or through the Fathers. We would rejoice exceedingly in their salvation if this were to happen, but there is no indication that it will. I do not mean to sound hateful or superior; I am just trying to dispassionately describe the facts. I am sorry to have to say such offensive things, for I too was horribly shocked and offended when I first heard this. Against all my desire, however, I have come to believe that although unpleasant, it is true. The Eastern Orthodox Church is the only Church of Christ. The rest of this letter contains proofs of this statement which are intended to show that ecumenism, the doctrine that all or most who call themselves Christians are truly members of the Church, is a false doctrine.
"Matthew 7:22 says, In that day many will say, "Did we not prophesy in Thy name and in Thy name cast out demons and in Thy name perform many miracles?" but I will say unto them, I never knew you, depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." The outstanding fact to note in this quote is that there are seemingly sincere people who thought they were serving God and praying to Him, and having experiences with God, but God says He has nothing to do with them. There is also the fact that the Protestant ministers seem to have very little knowledge of what sin is, besides the obvious gross sins. There is little if any teaching about how pride, the father of all sins, is manifest in practically every thought, and how much we need to repent of, and what a godly life is really like. I am not trying to accuse them, but I am trying to explain how the last phrase of the quote, ye who work iniquity, can apply to the Protestants who outwardly in the eyes of the world have a form of godliness, but by God's standards are quite unaware of their sin.
"In the Epistles, the Church appears as one Body. Outside of her, there were no Christians. To come to believe in Christ means uniting with the Church. There is no scriptural basis or teachings of the Fathers which would indicate that this has ever changed. Notice also that in the New Testament, with a few exceptions, the new believers did not start their own church, nor did they rebel against the Church after becoming part of it, but submitted to those in authority over them. If that was the way for the Church of the first century, and the Church continued in that doctrine, how can it suddenly be true that as long as a person says, "Lord, Lord," he will enter the kingdom of heaven? (Matt. 7:21).
Christ said, "Morever, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault...if he will not hear this, then take one or two more...and if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the Church: but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen and a publican...Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 18:15-18). The councils have been held. What shall we say of those who refuse to hear the words of the united Church? Christ said that they should be counted by the Church as heathens and publicans. Thus the Church has said, "Anathema!" in her Ecumenical Councils to those who follow heresies. However, the Church also prays (in our daily prayers) for all heretics (the non-Orthodox who call themselves Christians) to come to a full knowledge of the truth. In the meantime, what can we do except preach to those who will listen and otherwise obey this command which Christ gave the Church.
"The canons written by the Twelve Apostles also have some hard things to say about the non-Orthodox. 'Those who have been baptized or ordained by...heretics cannot be either of the faithful or the clergy" (Apostolic canon 68). "We ordain that a bishop or presbyter who has accepted the baptism or sacrifice (Eucharist) of heretics be deposed. For what concord hath Christ with Belial, or what part hath a believer with an infidel?" (Apostolic canon 46). "Let a bishop or presbyter ...who shall not baptize one who has been polluted by the ungodly be deposed as despising the cross and death of the Lord, and not making a distinction between the true priests and the false" (Apostolic canon 47). If this is the confession and belief of the holy apostles who were guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), I cannot justify holding a different opinion.
"If the allegory St. Paul used comparing the Church to a human body can be stretched a little, then let me apply it to this problem. It is easily seen that a hand cannot live apart from the body. If it separates, it dies. Neither can it give life outside of the body, for it is dead and is not capable of giving life. Neither can a hand be united to the head directly. It is true that because of our sinfulness parts of the Body sometimes bicker with each other---as though they had become ill. This can involve individuals who are immature, willfully sinful, or who have "personality conflicts"; or whole portions of the Body may quarrel with one another. If individuals are fighting, they risk their souls, for they may be pruned off by the Husbandman who finds thorns instead of fruit. If it is sections of the body fighting, then either they will become reconciled, or the offending part(s) will be cut off. But the Body remains one.
"Drawing again on the allegory of the Church as a body: if any part of a body refuses to receive blood from the rest of the body, it dies. Those who refuse the cup of the Church, therefore, soon die also, as Christ said, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in yourselves" (John 6:53). Those who have never received the Blood of Christ cannot be alive in Christ, can they? If a person has not partaken of the Body of Christ, how can he be part of Christ's Body? Remember, according to the apostolic canons quoted earlier, the Eucharist of heretics has no validity..."
All of the above is excerpted from the August 31, 2003 Sunday bulletin of my parish church, St. Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church, a member parish of the Orthodox Church in America, in Springfield, MA, and is the ninth in a series on the subject, "Letters from a Convert." To read the other eight in the series in succession from Sunday bulletins in pdf format, go to www.stspp.org
and begin with bulletin #25. ENJOY!