frgavin on August 7th, 2011

This is the way the ecumenical movement should always work. The Presbyterian Church (USA) invited Archpriest Siarhei Hardun, of the Belarus Orthodox Church, to the deliberations in its 219th General Assembly (2010) as an “ecumenical observer.” PCUSA has had a long-standing practice of support for the Church in Belarus. Fr. Hardun makes a point of thanking the Presbyterians for enabling his church to grow from 370 to 1,500 congregations in the years following the suppression of religion in the Soviet Union. Then, however, he offers them some unsolicited (but sorely needed) spiritual advice, which stems from his careful observation of both their worship, and of their tangled debates over present-day Christian morality:

ECUSA, and not just PCUSA, would do well to take the Orthodox Archpriest’s words to heart:
As an Ecumenical Advisory Delegate, I represent here the Orthodox Church of Christ — the Church that has an unbroken, unchanged, and unreformed tradition — and our theology has never been changed or reformed for almost two thousand years. . . .
I am for the first time with Presbyterians, because in Belarus we don’t have Presbyterians . . . There are some things . . . [by which] I was surprised . . .
. . . I was really struck by listening to your discussion about moral issues. Christian morality is as old as is Christianity itself. It doesn’t need to be invented now, and those attempts to invent new morality look (for me) like attempts to invent a new religion — a sort of modern paganism.
When people say that they are led and guided by the Holy Spirit to do it, I wonder if it is the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Bible — if it is the same Holy Spirit that inspires the Holy Orthodox Church not to change anything in Christian doctrine and moral standards. But, if it is the same Spirit — I wonder. Or perhaps, there are different Spirits acting in different denominations and inspiring them to develop in different directions, creating different theologies and different morals.
My desire is that all Christians should contend earnestly for “the faith which was once for all delivered to the Saints”, as Saint Jude calls us to do. And my advice is, as an Ecumenical Delegate — my advice is the following: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” — yes, the words of St. Paul [Romans 12:2]. Anyway, I thank you for your kindness, for your love, hospitality — and of course, for your attention.
Sometimes it takes a loving, but disinterested, observer to enable us to see the nature of the path on which we are traveling. Father Hardun spoke the truth, and his words for the Presbyterian Church (USA) a year ago are as timeless as they would be in any age, or for any Christian church.
It really, really comes down to “the faith once for all delivered to the Saints.” To the extent we feel free to reinvent it, we betray the saints who have handed down to us that which they once and for all, at great cost to themselves, received. The Orthodox Church may be politically divided today in its many overlapping jurisdictions, but it is not theologically divided in the faith once for all received — and that unbroken tradition is what entitles Father Hardun to administer his gentle warning to the churches of the West.
We who come from the Protestant (whether Lutheran or Calvinist) tradition of sola scriptura would be especially advised to take his remarks to heart. Can the same Holy Spirit which has guided and preserved the Orthodox Church in the East for over two thousand years be the “Holy Spirit” to which ECUSA’s General Convention acknowledges its adherence today? There is a paradox in any such claim, and we are in Fr. Hardun’s debt for so clearly pointing out to us its blatant inconsistency with the historical facts.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.