"For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30).
The truth of this warning has been demonstrated throughout Church history. The most devastating heresies in the history of the Church have been those which have arisen from within the Church. The reason why this is so was well summed up by Cicero:
"A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague."
Of course the Church not only can, but always will, survive such traitors, because Christ has promised us this, but the damage done to souls by traitors from within is far greater than that done by foes from without for the reasons Cicero gives.
When the Bolsheviks were seeking to destroy the Russian Orthodox Church, they found a group of willing accomplices among its clergy, who supported communism, wanted to allow widowed priest to remarry, married priests to become bishops, the adoption of the new calendar, innovations in the services, and the acceptance of other novel teachings. This group formed the so called "Living Church." The Bolsheviks did not create the Living Church out of thin air, they simply allowed renovationists from within the Church to establish their own version of "Orthodoxy," as a means to undermine the real thing. For a time, it was even recognized as the legitimate ecclesiastical authority in Russia by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. However, the "Living Church" failed, because it was rejected by the faithful of the Russian Church, and when it became clear that it was no longer useful to the Soviets (since they had no real support), they were allowed to wither away, and finally disappear. But the damage done by the "Living Church" was very real and extensive.
Today, we see the beginnings of a new renovationist movement, and this group is so radical that it makes the "Living Church" look quite traditional by comparison. Among the ideas that they promote are the ordination of women as priests, ecumenism, modernism, liturgical innovations, and universalism. However, the most base part of their agenda is their promotion of relativism when it comes to Christian morality, and in particular, their promotion of the acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism.
There are three online journals now which incessantly promote their renovationist agenda. "Public Orthodoxy," "The Wheel," and "Orthodoxy in Dialogue." These journals have hardly attempted to camouflage their agenda, but they usually have tried to use enough weasel words to allow for some implausible deniability. Lately, however, they have become even more brazen.
The most recent issue of "The Wheel," a journal whose general editor is openly pro-homosexual and has argued that homosexuals do not need to remain celibate)* featured an introduction by no less than Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). Since there are now several very thorough refutations of what he says, I won't focus on it myself. I will only echo the disappointment expressed by many, as well as the appreciation for the many good things he has done in the past for the English speaking Orthodox world. I hope we discover that the real Metropolitan Kallistos has been kidnapped, and someone else is writing under his name, but the Metropolitan Kallistos of 10 years ago did not agree with the mealy-mouthed approach he takes now to homosexuality. The Orthodox Faith has not changed in the last 10 years, the only thing that has changed is that western culture has tipped on this question in favor of homosexuality. Whether his comments are due to the weakness of old age, or some other mitigating factor, God knows, and only God can judge his heart. However, we can and must discern whether his words are sound or not.
For the best articles answering Metropolitan Kallistos, see:
"Metropolitan Kallistos and The Wheel," Fr. Lawrence Farley
"Ambiguity Serves No One: A Review of the Foreword by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) to the latest issue of The Wheel," by Dr. Edith M. Humphrey
"Anatomy of a Foreword: Metr. Kallistos on Sexual Morality," by Fr. John Cox.
What I would like to focus on in this article is the response of Sister Vassa to these articles, and then recent comments from Aristotle Papanikolaou of Fordham University, who has let the mask slip a bit more than most of these people have, thus far.
Sister Vassa Strikes Again
Sister Vassa herself has been the subject of controversy on the issue of homosexuality, but in a recent video, she defended at some length Metropolitan Kallistos' recent article.
She argues that he is "just asking questions." The problem is, he is just asking questions about matters that are not questionable. The Serpent just asked a question of Eve when he said: "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" (Genesis 3:1). Entertaining that question didn't work out so well.
She asks why we can't just give people like Metropolitan Kallistos the benefit of the doubt. The problem is, you can't give someone the benefit of the doubt where no doubt is left. If someone had suggested that they heard tell that Metropolitan Kallistos was arguing that a gay couple that was in a committed relationship ought to be given communion, and that their spiritual father should take a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to their relationship, I would have given His Eminence the benefit of the doubt that he actually would have said such a thing. However, I think it is rather unlikely that "The Wheel" published a forgery written under his name, and so we have to deal with what he said, and we have to judge whether what he said was right or wrong.
Sister Vassa repeatedly questioned the qualifications of those who have responded to Metropolitan Kallistos, by saying that they are "not the peers" of this great man. This of course all depends on what you mean by "peers." As a scholar, Dr. Edith Humphrey is certainly a peer. But as a bishop, the bishops of the rest of the Church are certainly his peers, and every time they have spoken on this issue, they have spoken with clarity that directly contradicts the mealy-mouthed approach taken by the article in question. But even the laity have the right and obligation to challenge a bishop who is in error. I am sure few of the faithful in Constantinople were the intellectual peers of the bishops who returned from the false council of Florence, having made a shameful and heretical union with Rome, but they felt like peers enough, as members of the Body of Christ, to not only disapprove of their union, but to greet them with a shower of debris of various sorts, in order to make their opinions unmistakably known. The people of God are the guardians of piety, as the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848 (in reply to Pope Pius the IX) states. It is therefore not only permissible, but obligatory for all of the faithful, and even more so for the clergy, to oppose these attempts to infect our Church with the same heresies that have wreaked such havoc in mainline Protestant Churches, and are in the process of doing the same in the Roman Catholic Church.
Sister Vassa suggests that those criticizing this article are guilty of the sin of Ham. Ham's sin was to reveal his father's nakedness when he was drunk (Genesis 9:18-23). Had Noah run around naked for all to see, Ham would not have been wrong to have suggested his father ought not to have done so. The nakedness here is the error of this article. The article was not made public by those criticizing it. If anyone is guilty of the sin of Ham, it is perhaps the editors of "The Wheel" who published the article in the first place, and I am sure that all of the critics of this article would have been far happier had someone committed the article to the shred bin, and thus actually covered the nakedness of His Eminence.
And to defend the article in question, Sister Vassa had to equivocate on what is in dispute here. She said:
"Some people want to pretend that there aren't questions... we have all the answers... Is that true? Is that true, that we are finished perfect works as human beings? Or do we still need a little bit of work? Do we still need to be developed? Of course we do. We are all God's precious works in progress. And we grow in our faith. We grow not only as individuals, but hopefully as Church... right? Can we imagine that we as the Church in this world have nothing else left to learn? Can that be possible?"
The question is not whether any of us are perfect, nor is the question whether any of us as individuals have all the answers. The question here is whether the indisputably consistent teachings of the Church on this issue, found in both Scripture and Tradition, are correct or not, or whether we might today be in a position to revise such clear and consistent teachings -- teaching that even heretics have not generally disputed in Church history.
Metropolitan Kallistos suggests that somehow if a gay couple is in a committed relationship, this is a mitigating factor. However, the man in Corinth who was in a sexual relationship with his step mother was also in a committed relationship... and yet this does not seem to be a mitigating factor for St. Paul, who said that this man was to be barred from the fellowship of the Church until he repented (1 Corinthians 5-6). Likewise, Herod was in a committed relationship with Herodias, his brother Philip's ex-wife, and yet St. John the Baptists did not suggest that this was a mitigating factor in his sin either (Mark 6:14-29). And in both cases, the sin was far less of a violation of the natural order than that of homosexuality.
Aristotle Papanikolaou Let's the Mask Slip Further
For those of you who might be confused by the abbreviations and the Twitterisms here, let me put his statements into clearer English:
"One more thing: the heart of the debate is on what can be talked about in Orthodoxy. [Public Orthodoxy, the online Journal he helps run] simply asserts that everything except the dogmas (statements of faith, not morality--contra[ry to Rod Dreher], whose 'Orthodox morality' is ironically a modern neologism) is up for discussion."
Is there any basis for separating Orthodox dogma and Christian morality? No. Let's go back to the very first Council of the Church, the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15. The question was to what extent ought gentiles be held to obey the Mosaic Law. On one side, there were those who argued that gentiles had to become Jews, and live according to all of the ceremonial and moral laws of Moses. However, the Apostles said that gentiles were to be held instead to the basic laws God gave to Noah for all of mankind (see Genesis 9:1-17), and to the Moral Law of God, particularly with regard to sexual morality. They wrote to the gentile converts:
"...it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well" (Acts 15:.28-29).
Some will object that Christians do not observe what the Apostles wrote with regard to eating the blood of animals, but while this is generally true of the heterodox, it is not true of the Orthodox (See "Stump the Priest: The Council of Jerusalem on the Blood of Animals").
And when the text speaks of "fornication," the word is porneia (πορνεία), which refers to any sex which is unlawful, and in the Jewish and Christian context, this means any sexual relations forbidden by the moral law of God, as expressed in the Scriptures, including homosexual sex (see The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 6, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1964-1976), p. 587-595) .
So is this decree of the Apostles, that all Christians must refrain from sexual immorality, dogma? Well the Scriptures say that this is exactly what it is. The Apostles obviously did not post their epistle to their website. The way this epistle was disseminated to gentile converts was by people like St. Paul himself. We are told in the chapter immediately following the record of the Council of Jerusalem that St. Paul and his companions delivered this epistle as they went on their next missionary journey:
"And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decrees, that were ordained by the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem" (Acts 16:4).
And what is the Greek text for "the decrees"? "τα δογματα" ta dogmata (i.e. the dogmas).
How far does Aristotle Papanikolaou think anyone would have gotten with St. Paul or any of the other apostles, if they had suggested that the dogma forbidding sexual immorality was up for debate? I would think that they would have had little patience with such an argument.
We seem to be heading into a period of Church history in which we will be increasingly confronted by renovationists of this kind. We must stand firm, and we must, as the People of God, reject what they are trying to sell.
*In the original version of this article I wrote that the general editor was a lesbian, based on things I had read from her. I have been informed that my reading was incorrect, and I apologize for making the error, and ask for her forgiveness.