A well-known and esteemed American priest recently spoke on the topic of the use of appropriate terminology for describing Orthodox clergy, both priests and bishops. Since many issues from secular society present themselves in the life of the Church, it has also become common to use secular labels (all too familiar in political discourse) to describe views expressed by the clergy. This priest was pointing out, quite wisely, that while it is certainly appropriate and necessary for the Church and Her clergy to speak to many political issues which face Orthodox faithful, the political labels of “conservative” and “liberal” do not in fact have any meaning in the Orthodox Church.
Here is the reason:
Any priest or bishop who expresses the teaching of the Church, as it is outlined in the Scriptures, the Canons, the Church Fathers, and all of Holy Tradition, is not “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox, following the traditions of the Church.
Any priest or bishop who does otherwise is not Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who teaches that “God created them male and female” (Genesis 5:2), that the gender and sex of the body correspond to that of the soul is not “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who writes articles or speaks at conferences advocating for various aspects of the LGBT agenda is not “liberal” –he is simply not Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who affirms the unity of all races through the Body and Blood of Christ in the Church, that there is a single Orthodox Church regardless of nation, in which all share Communion within the Canonical order is not “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who pits one nation against another, who advocates for racialist politics or advances the idea that the concept of race is fundamental to human identity is not a “liberal”—he is simply not Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who advocates that human life begins at conception, exhorts his faithful to work to preserve life in the womb, to donate their time and their money to helping mothers and their children who are at risk of abortion, and to vote for candidates who oppose abortion in law is not a “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who supports the killing of unborn children in the womb, either overtly or with veiled terms, or who launches an assault on the Image of God through deceptive language about “respecting the autonomy of women”, which confuses the faithful and allows the Lord’s innocent ones to stumble unwittingly into grievous sins—these are not “liberal” clergy or bishops—they are simply not Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who affirms and teaches that all sexual sins including same-sex attraction arose from the Fall and require struggle and repentance is not “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who goes to the trouble of traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to attend a conference to brainstorm ways in which the Orthodox Church might be “enlightened” to the “new psychology” of contemporary sexuality is not “liberal”—he is simply not Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who draws his teaching for moral, medical, psychological, and family decisions strictly from the Holy Tradition of the Church—the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers—is not “conservative”: he is simply Orthodox.
Any priest or bishop who gives weight in teaching on these areas to the “enlightened” teachings of the human intellect, believing them to be much more progressed than the Holy Tradition of the Scriptures and the Church Fathers is not “liberal”—he is simply not Orthodox.
The wise priest who made this important distinction has done all our clergy and faithful a great service. We might use these terms—“liberal” and “conservative”—in our informal conversations, but this father is correct: there are not “parties” within the Church, only those who hold the Mind of the Church, the Mind of the Fathers, and those who would attack it, and try to redefine it—because they are outside it.
Inevitably, every Orthodox Christian will come across such people. Some of them will even be wearing cassocks. If and when you do, the best strategy might be to turn and run from their churches and their schools, and to warn others to do the same.