On Contemporary Narrow Mindedness in Orthodoxy

Source: Mystagogy

By Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia

Alas, the element of nationalism, of ethnic narrowness, is a fact that we can see very widely in the contemporary Orthodox Church. And it has of course deep historical roots. It is not only a problem of today.

Phyletism, setting nationalism above Orthodox catholicity, was defined as a heresy by the Church of Constantinople in 1872. We must keep in mind, however, that there is nothing wrong in itself with nationhood and our loyalty to our own particular people. In fact it is good. Patriotism is a noble feeling. But this feeling of national identity that humans have when they lead a balanced, full life, has to undergo metanoia, repentance, a change of mind. It has to be baptized. And very often this repentance, this change of mind, hasn’t taken place and we have an untransformed nationalism. So while nationhood is precious and can be a means of grace, we must remember that Christ stands higher than all ethnic differences. “There is no longer Jew or Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Saint Paul instructs us [Galatians 3:28]. And we have to emphasize that what matters about the Church is its universality, its catholicity. Nationalism can be a servant but it must not be allowed to become master of our heart. And, as we said, there is a negative narrowness in the kind of intense national feelings that one encounters in Greece, and in Russia and also among British people, of course. None of us is without sin.

Actually, I have noticed while visiting Romania that though Romanians are proud of their nation they don’t have the hostile, aggressive attitude toward the West and the fear of non-Orthodox churches that I encounter in other Orthodox countries. In Romania I don’t hear, or only very occasionally hear, people talking about ‘Judeo-Masonic conspiracies’ against the Orthodox world. So, in my experience at least, Romanians seem to be more balanced than many other Orthodox in their views about the rest of the world.

But of course we mustn’t generalize. In Greece, in Russia, there are also people with a wonderful vision of the universality of Orthodoxy, who value and love their native land, their national tradition, Greek or Russian, but who at the same time are universalists; and this is surely what the Western world needs. Not an Orthodoxy that is ethnic but a Catholic Orthodoxy. Not an Orthodoxy that is always condemning, but an Orthodoxy that is generous, humble, kenotic [self-emptying]. Not compromising, but not attacking the others.

This could be the kairos, the moment of opportunity for Orthodoxy. But we Orthodox are not ready. We are not Orthodox enough.


  1. Apparently Metropolitan Kallistos does not know what the Romanian Elders say about ‘Masonic conspiracies’

    • I’m confused, does complaining about freemasons make your a nationalist, or a heretic?

      • I am pointing out the inaccuracy of the statement: ” In Romania I don’t hear, or only very occasionally hear, people talking about ‘Judeo-Masonic conspiracies’ against the Orthodox world. So, in my experience at least, Romanians seem to be more balanced than many other Orthodox in their views about the rest of the world.”

        Freemasonry is real and it was condemned by the Orthodox Church. The Elders do talk about it: A word on the “Spirit of the Time” with Fr. George Calciu

        Those who deny its existence are either ignorant, skeptics or part of the system. It is true that we do not have to waste our time talking about it. No matter what their agenda is, I know that the Lord God Almighty is in charge.

        • This was my thinking as well Eliot. I’m just trying to hash out what Kallistos+ meant by this. It seems to me that freemasonry tends to be highly connected to the post-modernists/secularist thinking that is so prevalent today.

  2. RE So while nationhood is precious and can be a means of grace, …

    How is it that nationhood can be a means of grace?

    • “Honor your father and mother”

      The concept of “father and mother” goes far beyond our biological parents, embracing all those people who are our cultural and spiritual fathers, people whose actions and ideas in great measure gave birth to how we think and act. They too, are our “fathers and mothers”. Due respect to our nationality is a means of applying this commandment in its full sense, both to the more famous “fathers of the nation” and to the inumerable and equally worthy unknown people who build our respective countries.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Also, St Peter said “Fear God, love man, honor the king.” St Paul said that “Caesar does not hold the sword in vain.” Sovereign nations are part of God’s plan for humanity. Where we Orthodox fail is when we bring over our past nationalisms and have them override our present nationality. We do that internally to be sure, but ecclesiologically as well when we report to bishops who are not of our nation.

    • Makes sense. Thank you Fabio and George.

  3. Elliot, WRT ecumenism, there are two types of ecumenism.

    The one described assumes that there is such a thing as “mere Christianity”, i.e. the minimum thing you need to get into heaven. This attitude itself is a clear heresy. If you go into a marriage with the attitude, “How much can I get away with and not have my wife divorce me?” your marriage is made in bad faith.

    The second type of ecumenism is the ecumenism of return. It assumes that many people are not Orthodox or Catholic because of misunderstandings (e.g. contrary to what Protestants think, Catholics and Orthodox do not think Mary is God) or past offenses (e.g. your ancestors massacred my anscestors) or personal preferences (e.g. liturgical music of the Russian Orthodox is quite different from the Ethiopian Copts but this doesn’t mean one is heretical) or human allegiances (e.g. that church is against my pet cause, so that Church must be heretical). This sort of ecumenism is very in line with the True Church of Christ since divisions resulting from these are the result of sin, not faith.

    • Indeed, we must distinguish between a heresy ( condemned as such by a Church Council) and a schism. Often schisms happen for political, ethnic reasons, shocking liberalism, intercommunion or modernism and there is always the chance of unity, once the errors cease.

  4. Michael Bauman :

    “We Orthodox are not ready….” And we never will be as long as we are kept in an infantile state by our putated leaders. I’ve created a time line of the Church not long after I was received into the Church in 1987. I’ve been keeping it up. I’ve decided to call this period of time “The era of the mad bishops”

    • Michael: I do not really understand how can one be “kept in an infantile state by our putated leaders”. I know very well what I have to to in order to be ready at the great moment – the day of my death: to worship, pray, fast, confess, take communion, give alms, to retain from slandering, etc. Generally, repelling whatever impedes the mind in its ascent towards God.

      My JOY, I beg you, acquire the Spirit of Peace,” said Father Seraphim to the monk, and at once he began to explain what it means to acquire the Spirit of Peace. “That means to bring oneself to such a state that our spirit will not be disturbed by anything. One must be like a dead man, or absolutely deaf and blind during any sorrow,… calumny, accusation or persecution, which inevitably come to all those who wish to follow the saving path of Christ. For one must go through many sorrows to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the way all righteous men were saved and inherited the Heavenly Kingdom. And before this all the glory of this world is nothing. All the enjoyments of this world are not even a shadow of that which is prepared in the heavenly abodes for those who love God; there, is eternal joy and triumph. So that our spirit will have freedom to uplift itself there and be nourished from sweetest conversation with the Lord, one must humble oneself with constant vigils, prayer and remembrance of the Lord.”

      “And I, humble Seraphim,” said the Starets, “for this reason go through the Gospel daily. On Monday I read St. Matthew, from beginning to end; on Tuesday, St. Mark; on Wednesday, St. Luke; on Thursday, St. John; the other days I divide between the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of the Apostles. And I do not for a single day neglect to read the daily Epistle and Gospel, and also the readings to the saints. Through this not only my soul, but even my body rejoices and is vivified, because I converse with the Lord. I hold in my mind His Life and Suffering, and day and night I glorify and give thanks to my Redeemer for all His mercies that are shed upon mankind and upon me, the unworthy one.”
      “Oh, if only you could know,” said the Starets to the monk, “what joy, what sweetness await the souls of the righteous in heaven, then you would be determined in this temporal life to endure any sorrow, persecution or calumny with gratitude. If this very cell of ours” (at this he pointed to his cell) “were full of worms, and if these worms were to eat our flesh throughout our whole temporal life, then with utmost desire we should consent to it, only not to be deprived of that heavenly joy which God has prepared for those who love Him. There, there is no sickness, no sorrow, no lamentation; there is sweetness and rejoicing unutterable; there the righteous will shine like the sun. But if the holy Apostle Paul himself (2 Cor. 12:2-4) could not explain that heavenly glory and joy, then what other human tongue could describe the beauty of the high dwelling in which the souls of the righteous shall dwell?”

      At the conclusion of his talk the Starets spoke about how it is necessary to take attentive care of one’s salvation – now, before the favorable time has passed.

      + St. Seraphim of Sarov http://www.facebook.com/pages/Holy-Fathers/374277930296?sk=wall

      • George Michalopulos :

        Eliot, we all know what to do as well. Michael’s point however is well-taken. How many have lost their salvation because of the “madness” (or idiocy) of bishops? We can’t just waive that away simply because we know what the truth is and what’s expected of us. What about the case in which a pastor (and by extension his bishop) allow a notorious sinner to stay in good standing in his church? Besides being a scandal to the weaker brethren, it very much endangers the salvation of the sinner in question.

      • Michael Bauman :


        We, unlike many other attempts at Christianity, are a community. While we each bear the responsibilty of our own salvation, it is certainly impacted by the acts of others whether we like it or not. We can never be mature as a community as long as our leadership remains in a state of dhimmi or secularized academic nirvana giving us the constant mantra: we’re not good enough, mature enough, anything enough. It is a kind of reverse triumpalism that creates a ‘golden age’ mentality that leaves us in a state of antiquarian suspension. Tradition becomes traditionalism. Generation after generation is sacrificed to the narcissism of learned men and their false humility.

        We are also a traditional community which means that our faith is handed down through discipling. If we are not mature enough, it is because we are not taught how to be mature or given the opportunities to show our maturity and therefore grow in it.. Our bishops, by and large, prefer the company of other learned and powerful men to the company of their flock. Consequently, we all like sheep have gone astray, each one to our own way, mewling on the hillside while our ‘shepard’ is in town at the casino or ‘at court’ or off somewhere else.

        If any bishop feels we are not mature enough, he should strip off his vestments, decline any more invitations to banquets and/or speaking events and go the the poorest, smallest parish in his diocese and spend a month teaching, serving with the priest as a priest at first. Oh, I forgot, a good number of our ‘bishops’ don’t have any parishes in their ‘diocese’ do they? The real fact is they have no idea how mature we are or are not. It is all a fantasy role-playing game.

        • Michael, I agree with you, but there was never a time when bishops didn’t cause scandal, even during the life of the apostles. The Churches in Corinth, Galatia, Rome, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea are all rebuked by St Paul and St John. If you expect the Church to be perfect, then you expect heaven on earth which will never happen this side of heaven. More than a few schisms have occurred because of this unwarranted expectation (e.g. Donatists).

          That being said, I also agree we need to rebuke our leaders when they stray, and pray for them since they need our prayers to strengthen them.

          • Michael Bauman :

            Lord knows, I am not seeking a perfect Church. I do know what a difference in maturity a godly bishop can make and the rot that sets in when they do not tend their flocks (if they even have one).

            The fact that there are many faithful who pray a version of the rabbi’s prayer from Fiddler on the Roof: “God bless and keep the bishop…..far away from us is the scandal. That is leading to schisms.

            +Kallistos is just wrong–as he seems to be more and more often lately.

          • Anil,

            In the past, the people had the ability to themselves correct the worst of the ‘bishops behaving badly’ situations either directly in their towns or with the help of an interested (sometimes too interested) government. In modern times the Latins have burned into US law the inability of the Orthodox people to do that, while also entrenching the begnign dis-interest of the state. So, the leadership feels left to do what they do and the people feel little more to the law than the people who pay the theaters to watch movies or the opera houses to see plays and so forth.

            Whlie there are storied bishops of old who caused scandal, the majority of the bishops of old were the head priest of the parishes in a town and were much, much closer to the people and were pastors to them, not administrators of them like now. The ones who took care of their folk and went on to their reward, those were the ones who with their people with whom they were an integral unit formed the body that kept the church alive and brought forth its future— those were the ones that kept the church the church amid the storms in high places.

            In modern times with our specializations and compartmentalisations of skills and attention, if we are in a church we are tempted to put on the ‘church categories of thinking’ so we see theological problems and we think first of theological solutions. But the church is a living thing beyond the catgories of academic theology only. For the very first time in human history do women outlive men this past 100 years. Serious thinking needs to be given to what that really, really means. Do you notice there are almost zero young widows and juvenile orphans of clergy these days? Seems totally normal to everyone. Look in the history and you’ll see that is very, very strange and wonderful for the church. Think about daily life then and now. The wholistic nature of the community of faith. Who were the bishops then? What was their life experience? What about now?

            There you will find the keys to understanding our present struggle.

        • Geo Michalopulos :

          Michael, I completely agree with you. The scandal of “antiquarianism” is just another form of idolatry. It is no different than the heresy of phyletism, except that it worships a culture that no longer exists. To use this as an excuse to not let the jurisdictions in America unite is nothing less than heresy at this point.

  5. Michael: … a perfect Church??? Christ left Judas as a warning to everyone of us regarding the dangers of self-deception, secret cherished sins and hypocrisy. Many will betray Jesus for secular humanism dressed up in religious garb. ” But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” We must be aware least we betray Christ and Truth for the things of this world. Judas’ betrayal did not scandalize the other Apostles: they went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it. Christs worked through His saints in every age.

    The saints do the works of Christ because, by faith and grace, they are united to Him. It is Christ himself, dwelling in them by the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:10), who works miracles, converts idolaters, reveals the hidden wisdom of spiritual knowledge, reconciles enemies and fortifies the bodies of His saints to meet the most dreadful torments with joy; so that the Gospel continues to be written, even to this day, through the evangelic labours of the saints. [3] Thus, whether near at hand or far away, whether ancient or modern, the saints are trustworthy guides to Christ who dwells in them. Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1), the saints say to us with Saint Paul. If we want to make the image of Christ shine within us, we must often cast our eyes upon the saints to find real, practical examples of how to live. http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/synaxarion_intro.aspx

    • Michael Bauman :

      Eliot, I am hard-pressed to understand how anything I’ve said could be interpreted that I am looking for or expect a perfect Church here. That is a form of the heresy of chiliasm. I do want more engaged, apostolic leaders rather than narricistic plutocrats or satraps or tribal chieftans.

      The saints are wonderful and their participation with us is a great strength that allows us to endure despite all of our failings, but the idea of the saints can also become a form of antiquarian idolotry and a tool used to slap us down. The idea of the saints can be so presented that they are far ago figures that don’t really have any life anymore–antiquarianism and false worship Fr. Seraphim Rose frequently cautioned that it is not enough to know the words of the Fathers or the activities of the saints–we must, each of us, strive to take on the mind of the Fathers and the humility of the saints in our own lives here and now. As we do that, we become more mature. How many bishops are leading their flocks in such a work, calling us to such a life, working to form communities dedicated to that life?

      We cannot wait on the bishops that’s for sure, but neither can we be entirely successful without their participation.

      I have seen many comments to the effect that we are obviously not mature enough to have a cannoncial Church here because we don’t have saints. Is anybody looking for them? Certainly not our absentee bishops. +Jonah is the only one who has even mentioned the possibility of recognizing a new local saint: Matuska Olga of Alaska. How many are dedicated to celebrating the ones we have as St. John Maxomovitch taught?

      • Michael: You did not say that you expect a perfect church. I have read “seeing” instead of “seeking”. My mistake …. sorry. I hardly see my bishop once a year and I do not expect from him more than what he is already doing.

        I see that you know what is required in order to become more mature. “Fr. Seraphim Rose frequently cautioned that it is not enough to know the words of the Fathers or the activities of the saints–we must, each of us, strive to take on the mind of the Fathers and the humility of the saints in our own lives here and now. As we do that, we become more mature.”

        Words alone cannot determine a person to strive for the Kingdom. I started to believe in Christ when I read the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Honestly, I looked at the icon of Christ and I said from the bottom of my heart: “truly, You are wonderful in your Saints!”. When I see people criticizing other lees religious people I tell them “I was like him/her ten years ago, why do you criticize me?”

  6. There’s another piece circulating by His Beatitude on the “smiliarities” or “commonalities” between Orthodoxy and Protestantism on Facebook. I guess to find some sort of common ground. I think I find it very troubling and disheartening in this juncture that such a renowned Orthodox Hierarch would focus his energies on the Orthodox-protestant common ground instead of attempting to heal the schisms or so-called schisms within Orthodoxy. Clearly we need to sort out our own yard before we move on to these other “pastures.” It is interesting that I find this to be trend from more and more among Orthodox folk –

    • Macedonia74:

      It is interesting that I find this to be trend from more and more among Orthodox folk –

      We know that the Synods condemned Arie, Origen and others. Nowadays we hear that “there wasn’t enough love” when the Synods defended the Truth, the Faith, the holy icons, the cross, etc.
      We see the truth and definitions are being changed or reversed. The Scriptures say that in the later times love will grow cold. The father of all lies works as he always did; as the devil did the first time when he said” you will surely not die you will be gods (Gen. 3:4-5).

      • Eliot it is indeed interesting that you say that many believe that “there wasn’t enough love” when fighting heresy. Yet many Orthodox are starting to believe the pre-emptive war effort of western protestantism against the greatest heresy of the last decade: Islam. They seek more love, yet they also want to bomb. Why can’t we just fight the heresy of Islam like we did the rest throughout history and save the bombs for our defense?

        Besides, Islam isn’t the greatest evil – secularism within our own ranks is.

        • Besides, Islam isn’t the greatest evil – secularism within our own ranks is.

          Secular humanism attributes to humanity ‘rights’ and ‘dignity’, advocating the ‘sacredness of human life’, implying also the “sacredness” of its sins.
          Vladimir Lossky, a Russian theologian, wrote that the only alternative to the Trinity is hell.
          If we take a look at some history, we’ll begin to understand and fully appreciate what he meant. Contemporary world, having denied hell, has created hell in its midst. The most murderous regimes arose throughout the 20th century at time of mass murderers like Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Hitler and Pol Pot. Hell is here in the abortion clinics. Hell is here in the prisons filled with sadistic murderers and pedophiles. Hell is here in the mental hospitals with their schizophrenic and drug addicts.

          Humanism (materialistic worldliness or worship of humanity) has always been the enemy of Orthodox Christianity.
          Christians believe fervently that there is a life after death on earth: an eternal life awaits everyone either in Heaven or Hell.

          The more a person loves God, the more he loves other people. He loves them with holiness, respect and refinement, as images of God.

          When your heart does not have Christ, it will contain either money, property or people instead.

          God’s protection diminishes temptation.

          Because of widespread corruption, people cannot understand that spiritual love exists. http://agrino.org/cyberdesert/makris.htm

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