Word Magazine January 1961 Page 11


By Fr. Michael Azkoul, Spring Valley, Illinois

This important term in the world of religion needs complete and clear definition

Heresy is a word too many people are afraid to use. Some believe they are sophisticated and need not use a term which belongs to the “Dark Ages”. Some are sentimental and find the word “not very nice”. Some are “broadminded” and consider “heresy” an equivalent to intolerance. Also, the word has fallen into disrepute because of those who employ it against everyone who might not agree with them. These use it without understanding, out of anger and passion. Yet, we must avoid either extreme because the word has a legitimate place.

What Is Heresy?

What is “heresy”? Father Bulgakov writes: “. . . heresy is a separation from the Church, a falling away from her, a spiritual eccentricity, and the self-existence of separation . . . heresy appears not as a verbal or logical error in reasoning on divine matters, but as a living perversion of the heretic himself …“ (Does Orthodoxy Possess an Outward Authority of Dogmatic Infallibility, “The Christian East”, Aug. 1926, pp. 14-16). For this opinion there is much support. Saint Paul says: “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject (lit. “dismiss, drive out”); knowing that he is such is subverted and sinneth, being condemned of himself”. (See also Galatians i, 8).

Adversaries of Christ

Among the Fathers of the Church there is agreement that “heretics” have been cut off from the Church. Saint Cyprian calls them “adversaries of Christ”: Saint Athanasius says “they are vain and useless”; Saint Basil the Great says heretics “are alienated from the Faith itself”; Saint Hillary of Poitier states that heretics are “traducers of the faith of the Church”; Saint John Chrysostom commands that heretics be “barred from entering the Sheepfold”; Theodosius says “they are expelled from the Church and barred from Communion”, and so on.

“Keep Away from Heretics . . . ”

In the Prayer Book For Eastern Orthodox Christians compiled by the Reverends Peter H. Horton Billard and Vasile Hategan, translated by Archpriest Michael G. H. Gelsinger and approved, authorized by Archbishop Athenagoras (now Patriarch of Constantinople), Metropolitan Antony Bashir and Metropolitan Benjamin, there is to be found “The Nine Commandments of the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church”, the 5th reading: “Keep away from all heretics and schismatics; neither pray with them nor attend their religious meetings or services”.

That an Orthodox Christian ought to have no religious association with heretics is very clear from everything the Church teaches. For example, Her canons are very severe and as an instance of this take canon 45 of The Canons of the Apostles: “Let any Bishop or Presbyter or Deacon that merely joins in prayer with heretics be suspended, but if he has permitted them to perform any service as clergyman let him be deposed”; or the 77th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council which forbids marriage with heretics: and Saint Athanasius in his 3rd canon declares that heretics returning to the fold ought not be given any ecclesiastical office, and so on.

Heresy Is Heresy

Why is it now that we do not feel so strongly about heresy? Are we greater or wiser than St. Paul, the Fathers, the canons? Perhaps, we think the heresies of long ago are worse than the ones that exist today? Perhaps, there is so much talk about union and “unity” that we have forgotten that there can be no compromise with heresy? There is so much talk about “the changing times” but Truth and Error do not take it into account. We like to use the word “progress” but the Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, always! The Orthodox Church has not changed the Truth ever. Will she begin now by ignoring the suffering and the agony that she went through to preserve it? Heresy is heresy whether it calls itself Arian, Nestorian, Monophysite. We can not lose the Truth, we must not, we dare not, but we will if we accept heresy.

* Both Romans and Protestants were declared heretical by the Council of Jerusalem.