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In our most recent series of classes we have, as it were, made out a case for leaving or remaining out of World Orthodoxy in order not to be in communion with the heresy of ecumenism, and for belonging to one of the Orthodox bodies that call themselves the True or Genuine Orthodox. Those listening may say at this point, “That’s all well and good, but which True Orthodox jurisdiction should I join? There are so many of them, and how do I discern which is legitimate, or at least has the best argument for legitimacy?” Today I am not going to tell you which one you should join. I shall tell you where I am, and I hope to give you criteria for making your own choice by means of a discussion of issues that come up when in the midst of making such a momentous decision.
By the way, I hope to finish this section of our Survival Course very soon. If you will recall, after that whole section on the Great Stereopticon, I planned to talk about what the bad guys were using the Stereopticon to destroy: Church, Family, and Society. This section we are concluding, “Faith Comes First,” has been about the Church, which is the most important thing, without which the other two things don’t make sense. I think by this point I have said enough on these questions of ecumenism and “World” or “official” Orthodoxy vs. “True” Orthodoxy, or at least enough to give you some tools to deal with these things. In this class and the next, I would like to address this question of discerning where to go – or where to stay – in the True Orthodox world. This question affects those who are thinking of leaving World Orthodoxy for a True Orthodox jurisdiction, as well as those within True Orthodoxy who are questioning where they are and are wondering if they should be somewhere else. This will be our final sub-topic under “Faith Comes First,” taking up this class and the next, and then I would like to move on to the current crisis of the family and society, constructing our Orthodox lens through which to view these things.
A. Our Inner Struggle
1. A time of crisis: can produce fear and confusion. You feel like the ground is moving under your feet. You can be depressed, as in the early stages of grieving or tempted to unbelief.
2. So we must be convinced that God loves us and desires our salvation. Life is not a trick question.
3. Must keep up our spiritual life: prayer, spiritual reading (not just polemical or apologetic reading), fasting, acts of charity, etc.
4. Don’t make hasty decisions. Pray, study, seek counsel. Give your priest, your bishop, and where you are now the benefit of the doubt and ask them to give you answers, and then ponder those answers objectively. Don’t stop going to communion or otherwise participating until you have arrived at a point of moral certainty and peace of heart.
B. Full Disclosure
I am a priest in the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, whose synod’s first hierarch is Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens. The English language website of our synod in Greece can be found at https://sites.google.com/view/ecclesia-goc-en/home?authuser=0. The website of the Metropolis of America, to which my parish belongs, is at http://hotca.org/
In the course of our talk today, I am not going to tell you, “You must join (or stay in) the jurisdiction I belong to.” If you want to know my opinion of it, all you need to know is that I am in it and I am not leaving it; in other words my conscience tells me that this jurisdiction fulfills the criteria I shall discuss below to the extent that I have a moral certitude that I am in the Church and that I can function, at least in a quasi-normal fashion, as a priest.
C. Good Signs, Bad Signs
Choosing a church is like choosing a spouse – you look for good signs and for bad signs. The good signs need to outweigh the bad signs in a critical mass, to the point at which you can say with peace of mind, “This is the one.” Here is a list, in no particular order, of questions to ask yourself about a jurisdiction calling itself “True Orthodox.”
1. Is it a one-man show? One bishop or one dominant bishop or “elder” who runs his synod like a personal enterprise. Bad sign. Or is it historically a collection of bishops with varying personalities, outlooks, and from different places and with different spiritual fathers?
2. Do they spend more time talking about what they are for or what they are against?
a. Are they still teaching and living the ABC’s of Orthodoxy? or…
b. Do they spend all of their time on polemics against others?
c. Do they speak of their opponents with charity or with malice?
d. Are they obsessed with getting you to join them? “We are it, and if you don’t join us, you are doomed.”
3. Is it run like a cult? Is there a spectrum of opinion allowed on secondary issues? Does Fearless Leader use cult methods like guilt-loading (“You have disappointed me!), inspiring phone campaigns to harass you, encouraging stool pigeon behavior in which everyone goes straight to Fearless Leader instead of resolving problems among themselves, public shaming, and so forth?
4. Do the bishops and priests act like down to earth people (good sign), or are they phony baloney fake pious/fake elder types (bad sign)? Do they have an air of superiority or elitism, whether spiritual or intellectual? Are you talking to a real person or someone putting on a front of holiness or learning?
5. Historically, how many degrees of separation are there between this TOC hierarchy and the historical institution of their national Church? Is it a split of a split of a split of a split? The greater number of degrees a particular group gets from the original decision to break communion with the ecumenist official church, the more difficult of proof the claim of the particular group becomes.
6. In the history of this group, were there one or more incidents in which a key figure fled his old jurisdiction while under investigation for moral offenses? Bad sign. Or, on the other hand, are they free of this, and moreover show a zeal for investigating and rooting out such problems? Good sign.
7. Do these bishops and priests show an awareness and zeal for helping families deal with real life issues, or are they in denial about what is going on out there and just leading insulated lives? If the latter, this does not mean that they do not have sacramental validity or canonicity, but it does mean that they are just leading worldly lives with a churchy veneer, and they won’t be much interested in helping you.
8. On the spectrum of apocalypticism vs. normie-ism, are they too much one way or the other – so apocalyptic that they are nuts, or so normie that you might as well have just stayed New Calendar (or United Methodist, for that matter)? Bad sign. Or are they striving earnestly to read the signs of the times and respond soberly? Good sign.
9. Perhaps the most important sign: Are they striving for unity (good sign) or are they content with disunity or even aggressively pursuing disunity (bad sign)? Remember: schism is just as deadly as heresy. Breaking communion with the great historical church institutions is an emergency situation, not the norm, and sober TOC bishops are aware of this, and they strive to show forth the unity of the Church with their brother TOCs, eschewing a schismatic mentality and showing a catholic spirit. And not only do they strive for unity with their fellow TOCs, are they also are constantly aware of, praying for, and reaching out to the “World Orthodox”? Good sign. Or do they just condemn them and are content with this? Bad sign.
We’ll continue this discussion in Class 52 and wrap up the “Faith Comes First” section.