When Your Bishop Preaches Heresy, This is How to Respond

"Unfortunately, those on the right [True Orthodox], undiscerning, have not followed that canonical tradition, have not followed the patristic methodology. [They] have created more problems for the Church and have not been a part of the solution. . ."

Originally appeared at: The Orthodox Ethos

Excerpt from Lesson 6 of Russia’s New Martyrs & The Catacomb Church by Fr. Peter Heers:


Fr. Peter Heers: There are many confessors in the Church of Greece today against the pan-heresy of ecumenism. The ecclesiology that says you have to be a non commemorator, or you have to believe in the loss of the grace of God in a local Church is not Orthodox ecclesiology. I do not admit the loss of the grace of God to a Church. I've always held with the Church canons and Fathers hold. And that is when anyone, on many levels, steps away from the teachings of the Fathers, the commandments and the canons. For instance, there's a canon that forbids prayer with heretics, and that hierarch goes and prays in a church of the heretics or praise with heretics, he immediately falls away from the grace of God by that violation. However - and this is Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite speaking, not me - the application of that canon in ecclesiastical life, such that that person, that hierarch or priest or anyone who violates these canons, the canons say very clearly what needs to happen to him, to be defrocked or to be excommunicated.

That obligation has to happen in real time. It has to happen from a Synod. It has to happen and be applied. It is not applied de facto. The spiritual reality is happening when one is unrepentant and turns away from God in such a basic matters of church boundaries, church doctrine that is undisputable, whether that's applied and acted so that it becomes a reality in church life that has to happen every time by a Synod. And until that happens there is not a rejection of that person. He personally loses the grace of God, but the Church does not. This is the teaching of the Holy Fathers. Read St. Nicodemos, read the canonical literature. That distinction is there. This is the distinction that the zealot, undiscerning on the right do not understand. They think because Sergius stood up and he was deluded and he taught delusions, therefore, everyone under him, everyone who agrees with him, everyone, in the four corners of the Russian Empire lost the grace of God. That's nonsense. Never taught. 

St. John of Shanghai does not teach that. St. John of Shanghai likens it to the many leaders of heresy throughout church history. And he says clearly in one of his talks that yes, the hierarchs Macedonios, Nestorios, the iconoclasts lost the grace of God fell away from the Church, but the Churches did not. The Churches returned to, over time, fought heresy and the councils were called and Churches returned. The Churches as a whole ipso facto, de facto, however you would like it, do not immediately lose the grace of God because one person, two, 10, 20, 50 turn away from God, doesn't mean. And a Council has to be called to deal with it and then to rule, that's the voice, the infallible voice of the Church is in the Council. Your voice, my voice, my voice, or your voice, not the Church's voice until the Council speaks on it. [That] there are Saints who speak the Consensus of the Fathers is absolutely what we follow, but it is confirmed in real time by a Council. And then it becomes enacted and real for the Church in those places and times. And until that time, as the New Martyrs say, very clearly, we are waiting for a Council to judge our actions - they say - we are waiting for a Council to judge the actions of Sergius or every successor of Sergius. That's what should be at the top of the priority list for the Church. Absolutely across the board for every heresy, every ism, every secularism, a Council has to deal with it. 

This is the great tragedy of the Church's life in the last a hundred years, that the Church Fathers were fighting against it. And the Church generally has not had this overarching pressing need that we have a Council, a true Council called. And until that time we don't out everyone and everything because we have decided that they must be outed. We stand up and condemn them. This is not the patristic way of how to deal with heresy and it doesn't solve heresy. It creates more division and does not solve the problem. The way, the methodology of the Fathers is as much important as the truth of the gospel. In these instances, you have to follow the way of Christ, not just speak the truth of Christ. And the fact that those who have departed on the left to the right and do not enact and follow the patristic methodology has caused more problems, not solved the problems that are created by these diversions, these innovations, these delusions that have been introduced in the Church.

So, I think I've answered your question. There is definitely the possibility of becoming a non-commemorator, as Fr. Theodore has done, as the Elders on Mount Athos have done during Athenagoras. That is not out of the realm of possibility, it's a question of discernment. It is not imposed by the holy canons. Read canon 15 of the first second council. In no way in the canon can you read that to see it as an imposition at rather they praise the one who ceases commemoration, because that is meant to lead again to a council. That non-commemoration is not an end in itself. It's not the end of the question or the solution to the problem. It's a methodology which then leads to the healing in council. The council was called, the Bishop was teaching heresy is called to account and the Church's Fathers rule. That's how you solve the problem. Non-commemorator, if he chooses that path of resistance to heresy for his Bishop and only his Bishop, according to the canon, does not speak of other bishops, is possible, and it is praised if it's done, but it's not enforced. There's no implication that it has to be followed because it's a question of discernment. And if you read the canons of St. Nicodemos he's very clear on that. He even says, if you think your Bishop is still able to be brought back from the delusion, do not cease commemoration, he says. 

So, this is a question of discernment, how you deal in and solve the illness, the sickness of heresy. So non-commemorator is not a position that has to be a hundred percent across the board. If you have an Orthodox Bishop, who's not teaching heresy, the canon does not tell you to cease commemoration. Even if he's in communion with those who are teaching heresy, that's the canonical Tradition of the Church. Unfortunately, those on the right, undiscerning, have not followed that canonical tradition, have not followed the patristic methodology. [They] have created more problems for the Church and have not been a part of the solution.

One of my great pains of heart is that our fellow co-strugglers among the more zealous on the rights have become irrelevant and have not been a part of the correction of the problem because no one, no one, absolutely no one who is teaching heresy today in the various local Churches pays any attention whatsoever to those who have broken off entirely and formed parallel jurisdictions. Patriarch Bartholomew or any other Patriarch pays zero attention to those - not the non-commemorators, that is, those who are still fighting, those who they have to pay attention to - but those who've created parallel jurisdictions, left and have made themselves irrelevant. So the struggle do not resemble the Holy Fathers of ages past. The Holy Fathers were suffering, were exiled, were persecuted. And when the Council was called, those heretics were called to account. But if a Council today is called by the "True Orthodox" churches on the right, no heretics will be called to account because they're not even a part of the realm of the problem of the heresy. They've become irrelevant to the question. 

So they don't resemble the Fourth Ecumenical Council - they'd called Dioscorus to account. He was teaching heresy. There was no question he was teaching heresy. The Fathers knew he was teaching heresy. They didn't go to find out his faith in the Fourth Ecumenical Council, they went to condemn it, but they called him to account. And all the heretics that are teaching heresy will be called to account at the future Council, God willing. If the Second Comming doesn't happen, the Church will have by God's grace and where will be our brothers and sisters who have separated from us and gone off and are now irrelevant to the whole debate and are not going to be considered? Will they be called? I hope they're called to the Council. That would be the right thing to do, but will they be called? I don't know. Will they even come if they are called, or will they consider us all of those who are fighting against heresy and now are calling a Counsil to deal with it already sold, and Sergianists, and condemned and all the rest?

This is a problem that need not have been created. If a patristic ecclesiology and theology and methodology was followed, there would not be these problems today in the Church. It would be much more of a struggle against the heresy of ecumenism and sergianism which we'll talk about, whether it's a heresy, what kind of heresy it is next time. Some said it was a heresy, other said it wasn't a heresy, certainly it was caesaropapism. And I think it's, in so much as we can say caesaropapism was a heresy, then it was a heresy as well.

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