Ecclesiology, Inter-Orthodox Relations, Religion and Conflict

On “Heresy” and the Commemoration of Patriarch Kirill

Published on: April 12, 2024
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Reprinted below are two posts from Sister Vassa’s Telegram channel, https://t.me/vassalarina, translated from Russian by Lydia Lozova. They are offered here with her permission.

Patriarch Kirill
Image Credit: iStock.com/Marina_Skoropadskaya
To Commemorate or Not to Commemorate the Patriarch (Saturday of the 3rd week of Lent) 

    Please read to the end of this 15th Canon of the Protodevtera Council of Constantinople of 861: “What is determined about presbyters and bishops and Metropolitans is the same, and moreover is proper to Patriarchs. Therefore, if any presbyter or bishop or Metropolitan dares to depart from communion with his Patriarch, and does not proclaim his name, according to the definite and established order, in the Divine Sacrament, but, before the Council’s pronouncement and complete condemnation of him, commits schism—such a one the holy Council has determined to be completely alienated from all priesthood, if only he is convicted of this iniquity. This, however, has been determined and confirmed concerning those who, under the pretext of certain accusations, step away from their superiors, and make schisms, and dissolve the unity of the Church. As for those who separate themselves from communion with their primate because of some heresy condemned by the holy Councils or Fathers, when he preaches the heresy publicly and teaches it openly in the Church—such, if they wall off/protect themselves (ἑαυτοὺς ἀποτειχίζοντες) from communion with the said bishop before a Council’s consideration, are not only not subject to the penalties prescribed by the rules, but are also worthy of the honor befitting the Orthodox. For they condemned not bishops, but pseudo-bishops (ψευδεπισκόπων) and pseudo-teachers (ψευδοδιδασκάλων), and did not by schism cut off the unity of the Church, but attempted to preserve the Church from schisms and divisions.”

    So, according to all classical interpreters of this (recognized by the entirety of the Orthodox Church) canon, one cannot stop commemoration of the Patriarch “on the pretext of certain accusations”; for example, accusations of a moral nature, whether it be a luxurious life, a house in Switzerland, an estate in Gelendzhik next to Putin’s palace, the sale of cigarettes and vodka, or even accusations of a canonical kind, such as the uncanonical defrocking of innocent priests, movement of bishops and priests from place to place, or the intrusion onto the canonical territory of the Patriarch of Alexandria in Africa. All this is none of the business of the Patriarch’s subordinates, “before a Council’s pronouncement and perfect condemnation of him.” Nor is it any of their business if he expresses non-Orthodox opinions in private conversations, or supports war and fascism and all that sort of thing.

    But there is a nuance: if the Patriarch “preaches heresy publicly and teaches it openly in the Church,” then those who “wall themselves off” (ἀποτειχίζοντες) from communion with him are “worthy of honor” because they “attempted” in this way not to create a schism, but “to preserve the Church from schisms and divisions” that arise because of the false teaching of a pseudo-patriarch that is preaching heresy. The very wording, that they (but) “attempted” this and are “worthy of (special) honor,” indicates that it was not easy and not many dared to do it.

    So, judge for yourselves. If the patriarch calls a war of aggression and the shelling and bombing of civilians a “Holy War” (capitalized in the text [of “The Present and Future of the Russian World”ed.); promises those who kill in this war that all their sins will be washed away if they themselves are killed, and does this publicly, should we “protect ourselves” from communion with him? I think so. And if I had children, I would try in every possible way to protect them from communicating with him and those who proclaim such lies from the church pulpit, from a holy place. This is an “abomination of desolation in the holy place” (Matthew 24:15), from which the Lord told us to “flee to the mountains.” But I do not despair, nor am I discouraged, my dear friends, because it is not bad “in the mountains.” “I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, whence my help shall come” (Psalm 120:1). Happy Saturday, everyone. Yours Sr V💜

    Is Patriarch Kirill Preaching “Heresy”? (Tuesday of the 4th week)

    WHAT IS “HERESY”?: The word “heresy,” which in Greek is “αἵρεσις” and derived from the verb “αἱρέομαι” (to take or choose for oneself, a choice, to set a path or purpose for oneself), has had various meanings and connotations throughout Church history, which originally were not negative. In apostolic times and for the early Church fathers, “heresy” is “a way of thinking, a system or school of thought, or a faction/party (with its own worldview).” For all references, see the Patristic Greek Lexicon of G. W. H. Lampe. The apostle Paul even says that “there must also be factions (αἱρέσεις, heresies) among you, so that the approved/tested-and-proven-reliable (οἱ δόκιμοι) among you may be made manifest.” (1 Cor 11:19) 

    No one has cancelled these words of the Apostle, though the word “heresies” is softened in the translations of 1 Cor 11:19. Yet it remains important to remember these words, so that we do not lose heart when “heresies” (in our sense) surface among us. It was by the beginning of the era of the Ecumenical Councils that the Church Fathers already understood “heresy” as a false teaching of those who purported to be Christian teachers, but in fact taught something originating from the devil. For example, Athanasius the Great says that the devil is “the father of the Arian heresy.” And Basil the Great (see his 1st Canon, important for our topic), explaining how “heresy” differs from “schism” (σχίσμα), writes that schism is based on “a different opinion” not about faith, but “about matters that allow for healing” – for example, the penitential discipline in the Church. 

    In the case of “heresy,” on the other hand, St. Basil says: “there is here a clear difference in the very faith in God.” Note that “the very faith in God” concerns the teaching, way of thinking and purpose of the *faith in God* of our Church, which includes not only trinitarian theology and Christology, but also (the closely-related to Christology) soteriology, ecclesiology, anthropology, theology of time, liturgical and sacramental theology, etc.

    OUR QUESTION: Is the whole concept of “Russian World” a “heresy,” as expressed in the “Edict” of the XXV “All-World Council of the Russian People,” approved under the chairmanship of Patriarch Kirill on March 27, 2024, and as expressed in other manifestations of this concept in the words and actions of the patriarch? Yes, this is “heresy.” Below I will explain why we have to admit, as difficult and painful as it is for us, that, as Basil the Great said about heresy, “there is here a clear difference in the very faith in God.” Here we have a substitution of the beliefs of the ecclesial and Orthodox Christian teachings with anti-ecclesial and anti-Christian ones, which are passed off as “sacred” and “traditional,” and even as “the meaning of life.” And, unfortunately, there is no reason to think that this anti-Christian way of thinking has not long been the patriarch’s “choice” (“αἵρεσις”), as well as the path, goal, and “meaning of life” that he has set out for himself (“αἱρέομαι”), and which he now imposes on everyone whom his “canonical” authority might reach. In what follows, let us see exactly what his substitution of the beliefs of the Church comprises.

    Substitution of Church-Beliefs: 

    1. Instead of the Triune GOD, not mentioned a single time in the “Edict,” we are called to believe in a “triune people” (триединый народ); 

    2. Instead of CHRIST and SALVATION in Him, also not mentioned anywhere in the text, we are called to recognize the “Russian tradition, the shrines of Russian civilization and the great Russian culture” as the “highest value and meaning of life”; 

    3. Instead of the CROSS and the WAY OF THE CROSS, we are called to the way of aggression and to a “Holy/Sanctified War” (Священная война), a term that justifies killing in the name of the above-mentioned “triune people”; instead of the SACRIFICE of Christian “witness” or MARTYRDOM, the patriarch proclaims as something salvific and sacrificial the “sense of duty” and “fulfilling of the oath” vis-á-vis a criminal regime (in the patriarch’s sermon of 25 September 2022); 

    4. Instead of the way of REPENTANCE, the way of the wise or penitent thief, we are called to the way of the other, not-penitent thief who was crucified to the Lord’s other side, i.e., the way of resentment and blaming everyone and everything else (see the resentment towards Ukraine, the “global” West, the law passed in Russia against “offending the feelings of believers,” – all supported by the Russian Orthodox Church); 

    5. Instead of the Church’s understanding of the SACRAMENTS, which are inextricably linked to a “change of mind” (i.e. “repentance,” which involves changing one’s way of thinking and behavior for the better, with help and openness to the grace of God) we are instead called to occultism, i.e., the manipulation of sacred objects (that is, icons, as in the case of the Kazan icon “miraculously” found by the patriarch in November 2023; and Rublev’s “Trinity” icon) and relics (of Alexander Nevsky), from which, without any effort on our part, the patriarch invites us to seek a “miracle,” as he explained at length in his Christmas interview of January 7, 2024 and elsewhere;

    6. Finally, instead of a church COUNCIL (Sobor in Russian), which has not been held in the ROC for years, and conciliarity (sobornost’), we see this strange “All-World (Всемирый)” (Ecumenical?) “Council,” presided over by the patriarch, gathered in the main conference hall of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and whose Presidium includes Russia’s Defence Minister Shoigu, the religious-political philosopher Alexander Dugin (“We have spilled seas of blood, our own and other people’s, to make Russia great. And Russia will be great! Otherwise it will not exist at all. Russia is everything! All else is nothing!,” is one of his quotable quotes, from 2012), film director Nikita Mikhailkov, members of the Russian federal parlament, prominent businessmen… (nomina sunt odiosa). 

    The list of the substitutions of Orthodox church-beliefs and concepts could go on, to include the CANONS of the Church turned into weapons to punish or divide the innocent faithful; the erection not of CHURCHES as places of true worship but as shrines to “victory”; the replacement of Orthodox EXEGESIS of the Holy Scriptures with manipulations of these Scriptures, to justify all-of-the-above. 

    To conclude, the above list stems from the fact that in the case of today’s Moscow Patriarchate under the leadership of patriarch Kirill “there is a clear difference in the very faith in God,” as St Basil the Great said about heresy and its “difference” with the teaching of the Church. Let us, my friends, be manifested as “reliable” or “tested-and-proven,” as Apostle Paul calls us to do, so that “the gates of hell,” i.e., the way of thinking of hell, do not overcome the Church in us. Let us not lose heart, but become better, more faithful to our Church, and stronger in faith, and in the freedom and wisdom of the Spirit. And let us “protect ourselves” from the heresy of the Russian world, as best as each of us can, according to the 15th Canon of the Protodeutera Council, about which I wrote my previous post. Happy Tuesday to all, dear friends. Yours SV💜

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    About author

    • Sister Vassa Larin

      Liturgiologist and Founder of Coffee with Sister Vassa

      Sister Vassa Larin (born Varvara Georgievna Larina, December 11, 1970 in Nyack, New York, United States) is a Russian Orthodox liturgiologist. She is the founder of Coffee with Sister Vassa, a non-profit organization for the production of online and offline catechetical programs and religious educat...

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