Postcards from Greece: Phyletism

On a new Postcards from Greece, Fr. Peter Alban Heers explains the heresy of Phyletism, which means placing one’s ethnic identity above the Orthodox faith.

Fr. Peter shares with us his ten years of experience of living the Faith and serving the Church in Greece, and in particular the ancient Church of the Thessalonians. On visits to parishes and monasteries, and in interviews with clergy and laymen, Fr. Peter, as an American convert, introduces us to the ancient practice of the Church in Greece in terms and ways we can readily understand and apply to our contemporary way of life.

Listen here:


  1. Here is an interesting question to consider.

    Is the GOA understanding of being Greek and Orthodox with its emphasis on the purity of the omogenia, lobbying, festivals and politics different than how Greeks who actually live in Greece understand their faith?

    Anyone want to weigh in on this one?

  2. Re: ” Fr. Peter, as an American convert, introduces us to the ancient practice of the Church in Greece in terms and ways we can readily understand and apply to our contemporary way of life.”

    Actually Fr. Peter introduces us to the contemporary practice of the Traditional Orthodox of Greece, Mount Athos and the United States because he is a good son of his spiritual father, Geronda Ephraim of St. Anthony’s Monastery and Philotheou.

  3. I love how Fr. Peter Alban Heers introduces us to the “ancient” practice of being separate from the heterodox and showing us how we can readily apply it to our contemporary way of life!

    Fr. Peter:

    [N]ot much has changed in the realm of official, conciliar Orthodox theology. There has been no indication of previous errors; no official corrective synodical judgment has been made – except for those decisions which are considered schismatic and marginal.

    On the contrary, confusion and double‐talk reign and the Orthodox ecumenists would like us to view the World Council of Churches (WCC) as a worldwide humanitarian and peace‐making platform for dialogue, from which we must not be absent “lest we become isolated.” The truth is, however, that the WCC has never ceased to be driven by the Evangelical Protestant dream of a united and worldwide mission irrespective of dogmatic peculiarities and sensitivities – something which perhaps is understandable for the Protestants, with the minor dogmatic differences which usually exist between them, but not for the Orthodox.

    For the Orthodox the very basis for involvement – recognizing a unity in Christ and the Church with the heterodox – nullifies the very reason for involvement, namely, to instill in the heterodox “a good uneasiness” and sense of separation from the Church. That which makes their dream even more dangerous,however, is that today the World Council of Churches advertises its failing as an advantage and begins to honor and “celebrate” the “distinctiveness” and “differences” of its members instead of being aggrieved over them and attempt to overcome them.

    If we add to all of this the pre‐existing estrangement of many members of the WCC from the authentic faith and ethos of the Gospel, as well as its increasingly visible approach to and reconciliation with the religions of the world, glimmers of the nightmare of the Apocalypse are cast upon the globalized mission dream of Ecumenism, a worldwide mission without Christ, ready to accept and preach the Antichrist.

    The one and only way out of the dead end of this ecumenistic ecclesiology and mission – which has done more to split the Orthodox Church than unite Her – is the path of Orthodox mission.

    If Protestant mission led us into ecumenism, Orthodox mission will lead us out: tried and tested apostolic and patristic mission, true, uncompromising, ascetic, otherworldly,and sacrificial, which aims at heavenly, not temporal, ends. Mission in the spirit and tradition of Apostles Peter and Paul, Ss. Cyril and Methodios, St. Stephen of Perm, St.Kosmas Aitolos, St. Innocent of Alaska, and, in our own times, Blessed Father Cosmas of Grigoriou and Zaire and the ever‐memorable Bishop Nectarios of Madagascar.

    To such Orthodox witness there can be no objection on the part of anyone. Such an Orthodox witness can unite all Orthodox in the realization of an authentic catholic vision of mission, where we all, according to the words of the Apostle Peter, will be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).

    With such a spiritual and authentically ecclesiastical Mission we will be able to call all – heterodox and all religious believers – into the unique Ark of salvation,the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is in truth the very Body of the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

  4. “..and, in our own times, Blessed Father Cosmas of Grigoriou and Zaire and the ever‐memorable Bishop Nectarios of Madagascar.”

    Both Greeks.

  5. Postcard from the UK on American Phyletism

    Here’s a perspective on the phyletism American-style that has creeped into the OCA. Fr. Andrew Philips observes the trend of many in the OCA to “modernize, that is protestantize” their jurisdiction in order to make themselves “truly American” and distinct from the Old World:

    “This de facto American phyletism and Protestant ‘missionaryism’ created even more hostility among many ordinary faithful. Genuine missionary work goes with quality, not quantity. In other words, it must remain faithful to the Orthodox Tradition, refusing to make compromises in order to bring in numbers. Missionary work should be fitting, and not some sort of vulgar Protestant proselytism. The only sort of missionary work that is fitting is that which will maintain the converted in the Church, so that, in the words of the Gospel, they will be ‘patient to the end’ and so ‘save their souls’. Becoming Orthodox is not necessarily significant – remaining Orthodox is.”

  6. Listen to Fr. Peter Alban Heers at 9:06 of his explanation of the heresy of Phyletism:

    “If we assert our identity as a Greek or an American to the detriment of our identity as an Orthodox Christian, we are in the delusion of phyletism. We are in delusion. We are not in the spirit of God.”

    Thank you, Fr. Peter!

  7. Joe, what you are doing is an attempt to project the label of phyletism on those who are the most ardent resisters of it. It is a psychological response called, not surprisingly, projection, and used regularly and deliberately by liberal politicians throughout the world.

    You simply accuse your opponents of doing precisely what you are doing.

    I don’t know if you are a phyletist, but I suspect you are simply Greek trying to defend Greek-ism which you perceive to be under attack.

    I can assure you that the Greeks who inculturate into America have no problem with a non-Greek Orthodox Church. I don’t think our hierarchs and archons can say the same.

    Think for a moment: Which flag is more prominently displayed at GOA Clergy Laity? Which National Anthem is sung first? Which Independence Day is celebrated “officially” by hierarchs?

    Is it the country they reside in and are citizens of?
    In the GOA: No.

    That is phyletism.

    There is no American race. There are only Americans.

    I’m guessing that you are upset because you feel “Greeks” aren’t getting their due and credit. However, pointing out on each post’s comments who is “Greek” is simply ridiculous and childish.

    The reason AOI has been successful is it gives credit where credit is due, but also lays blame where blame is due. That’s why we read it.

  8. George Michalopulos :

    With all due respect to Fr Alban (who I’m sure is a holy man), people who opine on other lands and their particularities should do so only with extreme reticence. They should also strive to remove the beam from own eyes. As an American of Greek descent, I would NEVER presume to criticize the Church of Greece –short of their espousing heresy–and its internal affairs. That is why I for one, have not commented on the Russian/Ukrainian/Byelorussian kerfuffle. It’s not my place, plus I simply don’t know the internal situation.

    I agree with John, but I will go further: anybody who believes that the OCA (for all its faults) is the most “protestant” of the Orthodox jurisdictions is viewing things from a very –how shall I say it?–“interesting” perspective. I could say, “biased,” “prejudicial,” “nonsensical,” etc, but certainly not “realistic.”

  9. “If we assert our identity as a Greek or an American to the detriment of our identity as an Orthodox Christian, we are in the delusion of phyletism. We are in delusion. We are not in the spirit of God.”

    Fr. Peter Alban Heers, an American Orthodox convert said these words in the podcast that Fr. Johannes posted on this blog, not me. I just happen to agree with these words. BTW, I’m not Greek.

  10. Neither Fr. Andrew Philips nor I ever said
    “that the OCA (for all its faults) is the most ‘protestant’ of the Orthodox jurisdictions.”

    Certain influential OCA leaders in the hierarchy, clergy and laity are very protestant-like (check out AOI and OCANEWS!) and seek to steer the OCA in that direction. I was OCA for almost 10 years so I know whereof I speak.

    George doth protest too much against the words “most protestant” that he likes to put in other people’s mouths.

  11. Michael Bauman :

    He also said there is nothing wrong with being proud of your country and wanting the best for it. I hope for Orthodox unity in America so that we can really evangelize as we are supposed to and get rid of the crippling ethnic/cultural ghetto that too often serves as an excuse not to engage the wider culture at all. We simply retreat into a faux asceticism and proclaim oursevles holy (or have happy time with ‘cultural’ celebrations). All the while the prevailing nihlism of the culture seeps in, poisoning us more and more.

    Either choice we make, to maintain the status quo or go forward to some type of autocephally, has great risk. The question really comes down to which way is the Holy Spirit leading? Traditionally, for the Church to know for sure requires a council of some sort.

    What is wrong with the bishops who are already serving this land getting together?

  12. “What is wrong with the bishops who are already serving this land getting together?”

    They already are getting together (cf. SCOBA) and are likely to get SCOBA-ier as a result of Chambesy. They will continue to meet together and make mutually agreed decisions together, whilst remaining independent of each other. It’s a perfectly fine and democratic way of doing business. It’s the American Way!

    Of course, this status quo does not suit the fancies of the fantasists in a certain American Orthodox jurisdiction that seeks primacy over all other Orthodox bodies in this country, but so what? They have to get with the program and just get over themselves.

  13. On a personal note, It is likenightmare to imagine OCA or AOCA bishops in a “gotten together” synod attempting to make binding decisions on the ROCOR or on the monasteries of Elder Ephraim.

    Let’s all get together on things that we can agree upon and stay away from each other for all of the rest.

    Chambesy points the way for us in America.

  14. Chambesy:

    This Conference, to which all of the most holy Orthodox Autocephalous Churches were invited and were represented, studied the issue of the canonical organization of the Orthodox Diaspora. Pursuant to article 16 of the Rules of Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conferences, this Conference discussed the relevant documents submitted in 1990 and 1993 by the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission, amending and approving them as follows:

    1. a) It is affirmed that is the common will of all of the most holy Orthodox Churches that the problem of the Orthodox Diaspora be resolved as quickly as possible, and that it be organized in accordance with Orthodox ecclesiology, and the canonical tradition and practice of the Orthodox Church.

    b) Likewise, it is affirmed that during the present phase it is not possible, for historical and pastoral reasons, for an immediate transition to the strictly canonical order of the Church on this issue, that is, the existence of only one bishop in the same place. For this reason, the Conference came to the decision to propose the creation of a temporary situation that will prepare the ground for a strictly canonical solution of the problem, based on the principles and guidelines set out below. Of necessity, this preparation will not extend beyond the convening of the future Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, so that it (the Council) can proceed with a canonical solution of the problem.

    2. a) This Conference proposes that, for the transitional period where the canonical solution of the issue will be prepared, “Episcopal Assemblies” of all canonically recognized bishops in each region should be created (or founded) in each of the regions defined below. The bishops will continue to be subject to the same canonical jurisdictions to which they are subject today.

    b) These Assemblies will consist of all the bishops in each region who are in canonical communion with all of the most holy Orthodox Churches, and will be chaired by the first among the prelates of the Church of Constantinople and, in the absence of thereof, in accordance with the order of the Diptychs. These Assemblies will have an Executive Committee composed of the first hierarchs of the different jurisdictions that exist in the region.

    c) The work and the responsibility of these Episcopal Assemblies will be the concern for manifesting the unity of Orthodoxy, the development of common action of all the Orthodox of each region to address the pastoral needs of Orthodox living in the region, a common representation of all Orthodox vis-à-vis other faiths and the wider society in the region, the cultivation of theological scholarship and ecclesiastical education, etc. Decisions on these subjects will be taken by consensus of the Churches who are represented in the particular Assembly.

  15. George Michalopulos :

    Anybody who believes that “all bishops get together” to “make decisions” via SCOBA is delusional. Nothing that SCOBA has ever done is binding. The last “all episcopal conference” (super-SCOBA) in 2007 was a joke. Any such future conference with preconditions will be ill-attended.

    But, this is free country (for a while yet anyway) and anybody who wishes to believe that Chambesy-like proposals will work or are legitimate in and of themselves, is perfectly free to do so.

  16. Sorry, messed up the URL:

    They have ties to worthy hierarchs, clergy, monastics and teachers in the “Old World” like the signatories to the Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism:

  17. John,

    BTW, the pointing out of “Greek(s)” is about providing some answers to Andrew’s query (comment #1 on this post) rather than mere Greek chest beating as I am 100% xeno.

  18. I cherish my parish (Greek Orthodox) and the opportunities to come into contact with the living treasures of Mt. Athos – particularly Elder Ephraim, so many worthy priests (and there are), and the monasteries that have been blossoming across the country. I also cherish so many saints and writers from the Russian Orthodox tradition – from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom and John Meyendorff to St. John Maximovitch and St. Theophan the Recluse. They were (and remain) invaluable in the ongoing conversion of my heart. Likewise, reading St. Isaac of Syria or Sts. Barsanuphius, John and Dorotheos of Gaza are an incredible blessing. I cherish them all; they are themselves gifts from God who help to reveal the way and path of theosis in Christ.

    So often, however, the jurisdictional tub-thumping gets to be wearisome. St. Paul’s point is non-negotiable: Christ transcends our genetic or cultural legacy. While I recognize that good order requires some very practical and essentially political decision, it is always critical to keep our eyes fixed on Christ in the process. The moment we divert our gaze, we begin to sink. All the saints and all the treasures of the Church belong to us through Christ; they are gifts given for our blessing and His glory. (What is amazing is that the same is true of us.) Yet they belong to us – not in the manner that the prophets did to the Pharisees – but in order to lead us to follow them, becoming like them living temples of the Spirit. I am convinced from my own experience that only contact with living saints – with Christ “incarnate” in his people – is powerful enough to be able to effectively turn what is fallen within us and those around us toward God. There is no unity apart from Him. Our own efforts avail nothing. Perhaps we need to focus more on the transfiguration of our hearts and relationships in order to build the foundation that will make true unity possible – namely, participating in the life and communion of the Trinity.

  19. The more I think on this issue, the more I am coming to believe that this problem may be a gift – a goad given to force us to focus our own efforts properly. It is an unavoidable wound that can only be healed when we dedicate ourselves to and begin to realize the life to which we were called.

    Our salvation is built on one fact – that Christ did not consider equality with God something to be used for His own advantage but emptied Himself for our sakes. St. Paul shows that we are called to do the same: after encountering Christ, he did not count his considerable advantages to be gain, but instead a loss – in fact, “dung” by comparison to the surpassing value of knowing Christ. (Phil. 3 is a parallel to and application of Phil. 2.) He even claims that “all who are mature should think this way.” Whether our leadership does or doesn’t “get it,” our own life and the lives of those around us and after us will be blessed – or not – by our striving to gain Christ, the pearl that costs everything to acquire – especially our “advantages.”

Care to Comment?