Ancient Arian Controversy

“In 1848 the Eastern Patriarchs said: ‘The protector of religion is the very body of the Church, even the people themselves.’ So when religion is threatened the people must act. How? ‘it is better to be led by no one,’ said St. John Chrysostom, ‘than to be led by one who is evil.’ Indeed, as St. Paul says, even if an angel from heaven preaches to you a different Gospel, let him be anathema.” (St. Savva and our Time)

Vladimir Moss, speaking of the church in Russia under the Soviets, confirms that there are times when the true church must flee to the “wilderness” of exile from apostate church jurisdictions. (The Battle for the Russian Orthodox Church, 2010):

As the Russian Church in Exile said in its Second Pan-Diaspora Council in Karlovtsy in 1938: “Since the epoch we have lived through (struggling with a church authority that was under the soviet thumb) was without doubt an epoch of apostasy, it goes without saying that for the true Church of Christ a period of life in the wilderness, of which the twelfth chapter of the Revelation of St. John speaks, is not, as some may believe, an episode connected exclusively with the last period in the history of mankind. …

If the Church of God is destined to live in the wilderness through the Providence of the Almighty Creator, the judgement of history, and the legislation of the proletarian state, it follows clearly that (during that time) she must forego all attempts to reach a legalization, for every attempt to arrive at a legalization during the epoch of apostasy inescapably turns the Church into the great Babylonian whore of blasphemous atheism.

The near future will confirm our opinion and prove that the time has come in which the welfare of the Church demands giving up all legalizations, even those of the parishes. We must follow the example of the Church prior to the Council of Nicaea, when the Christian communities were united not on the basis of the administrative institutions of the State, but through the Holy Spirit alone.” (p.13) (Citing A. Gustavson, The Catacomb Church, Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1960, p. 102.)

Here is a sampling of what the Church Fathers had to say about the response of the faithful to the Arian heresy. These quotes are from a Catholic webpage, THE ORTHODOX SAINTS AGAINST THE ARIAN HERESY OF THE FOURTH CENTURY.

Saint Basil the Great described the extent and character of the Arian heresy, here.

The danger is not confined to one Church…. The doctrines of Godliness are overturned; the rules of the Church are in confusion; the ambition of the unprincipled seizes upon places of authority; and the chief seat is now openly proposed as a reward for impiety; so that he whose blasphemies are the more shocking, is more eligible for the oversight of the people. Priestly gravity has perished; there are none left to feed the Lord’s flock with knowledge; ambitious men are ever spending, in purposes of self-indulgence and bribery, possessions which they hold in trust for the poor. The accurate observation of the canons are no more; there is no restraint upon sin.

It is shocking how well this describes mainline Orthodoxy in America today. We almost need to be reminded that St. Basil was writing in the 4th century. If the reader doubts this similarity, it is hoped that the other pages and links in this blog will help clarify the issues. St. Basil continues,

Unbelievers laugh at what they see, and the weak are unsettled; faith is doubtful, ignorance is poured over their souls, because the adulterators of the word in wickedness imitate the truth. Religious people keep silence, but every blaspheming tongue is let loose. Sacred things are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in faith avoid the places of worship, as schools of impiety, and raise their hands in solitude with groans and tears to the Lord in heaven. –Epistulae 92 (ca. 372)

Again, St. Basil could be describing mainline American Orthodoxy.

Matters have come to this pass: the people have left their houses of prayer and assembled in the deserts, — a pitiable sight; women and children, old men, and men otherwise inform (sic), wretchedly faring in the open air, amid most profuse rains and snow-storms and winds and frosts of winter; and again in summer under a scorching sun. To this they submit because they will have no part of the wicked Arian leaven. –Epistulae 242 (376)

Well we don’t see worshipers out in the elements today, but we do see those that have elected to leave their mainstream churches forced into a scattered and marginalized existence; worshiping in their homes or storefronts, etc., having cut themselves off from the resources and respectability available to the large “jurisdictions”.

Only one offense is now vigorously punished, an accurate observance of our fathers’ traditions. For this cause the pious are driven from their countries and transported into the deserts. The people are in lamentation…. Joy and spiritual cheerfulness are no more; our feasts are turned into mourning; our houses of prayer are shut up; our altars are deprived of spiritual worship. No longer are there Christians assembling, teachers presiding, saving instructions, celebrations, hymns by night, or that blessed exultation of souls, which arises from communion and fellowship of spiritual gifts…. The ears of the simple are led astray, and have become accustomed to heretical profaneness. The infants of the Church are fed on the words of impiety. For what can they do? Baptisms are in Arian hands; the care of travelers, visitation of the sick, consolation of mourners; succors of the distressed…. Which all, being performed by them, become a bond to the people… so that in a little while, even though liberty be granted us, no hope will remain that they, who are encompassed by so lasting a deceit, should be brought back again to the acknowledgment of the truth. –Epistulae 243, to the Bishops of Italy and Gaul (376)

Again the parallel is strong. Today’s mainline American Orthodox churches generally fail to inoculate the ignorant against the ungodly and spiritually enervating practices of contemporary American culture. These churches are more likely to present Elvis Presley and Harry Potter as popular art than as part of a spiritual agenda focused on undermining the Christian faith. In reality they have more in common with Aleister Crowley than with artistic expression.

And from St. Gregory of Nazainzus:

Surely the pastors have done foolishly; for excepting a very few, who either on account of their insignificance were passed over, or who by reason of their virtue resisted, and who were to be left as a seed and root for the springing up again and revival of Israel [the Church] by the influence of the Spirit, all temporized (dissembled, dissimulated) … –Orationes 21:24 (360)

St. Eusebius of Vercelli was a bishop of Italy who resisted Arianism. The webpage says that he, “not only consecrated (non-Arian) bishops, but even gave them jurisdiction over certain dioceses. He even went so far as to declare the Arian bishops deposed, though these were put in place according to the apparent rules of Church law (by the Arians).” We see that an Arian hierarchy had co-opted the Church, and that faithful hierarchs resisted this by declaring the Arian hierarchs non-canonical and by establishing alternative jurisdictions.

Similar resistance is happening in America today as alternative jurisdictions have come into existence that declare mainline Orthodoxy in America to be in heresy.

The webpage quotes John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), in The Arians of the Fourth Century, saying that when most of the bishops, and the Roman Pope fell from the Faith,

the body of bishops failed in their confession of the faith…. (but) the laity … the Catholic people, in the length and breadth of Christendom, were the obstinate champions of Catholic truth, and the bishops were not. … And again, in speaking of the laity, I speak inclusively of their parish-priests … at least in many places; … the governed were pre-eminent in faith, zeal, courage, and constancy. … not the wise and powerful, but the obscure, the unlearned, and the weak … . It was mainly by the faithful people that Paganism was overthrown; it was by the faithful people, under the lead of Athanasius and the Egyptian bishops, and in some places supported by their Bishops or priests, that the worst of heresies was withstood and stamped out of the sacred territory.

Vladimir Moss, in his book, The Battle for the Russian Orthodox Church, cites Saints Basil,  John Chrisostom, John of Damascus, and Theodore the Studite, to say,

St. Basil the Great says that it is better not to have a bishop than to have a false one. Why? Because, as St. John Chrysostom says, he who communes with one who has been excommunicated from the Church is himself excommunicated; and as Saints John of Damascus and Theodore the Studite say, those in communion with heretics are themselves heretics, even they personally do not agree with their heretical leaders. This follows from the integral character of the Church in which we all – bishops, priests and laity – have the right and duty to check out the genuineness of our bishops’ confession of faith.

Hopefully we have established the legitimacy of exile from the hierarchical jurisdictions under certain circumstances. Vladimir Moss explains in his book that the Russian church entered apostasy at the time of the communist revolution. The entire book can be read online at no charge, or you can see excerpts from this book here.

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