An Ignatian Problem
St Ignatius of Antioch said, “If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Ep. Phil. Chapter 3). This would become a problem in the 20th century. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad rightly resisted the “Sergist Compromise.” They broke off from the established Orthodox Church (I might be mistaken, but I am fairly sure that ROCOR and ROCA were not in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate). Now, one could argue that the Bolsheviks were Satan’s Incarnate Presence on Earth (funded by London Bankers and Wall Street, let’s not forget) and one had to separate. Well, I agree. At that point, though, the rhetoric is essentially the same as the Protestant who separates from a corrupt Papal church.
Here is the problem, though. As ROCOR’s actions look a lot like schism, so do St Ignatius’ words apply or not? Few would argue that St John Maximovitch is not going to inherit the Kingdom of God. This same problem was complicated when the Soviet Union fell. Does the MP have grace or not? The same people who rightly resisted the MP 40 years ago and still remain in the catacombs say no. Others say yes. How can the outside observer make a clear and informed decision when eternity is on the line?
Continuing that above thought: the Old Rite in 17th century Russia resisted +NIKON because he tampered with the liturgy, and also for other substantial reasons. They later resisted devil-worshiper Peter the Great. In a very real sense these guys carried on the faith and tradition, yet on a surface level reading of Ignatius, they are schismatics and destined for hell.
Outside the Church…or just on the Front Porch?
Outside of a few passages from Augustine, the most famous line in church history must be St Cyprian’s “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” The Orthodox scholar John McGuckin (2010: 263ff) says that other Church Fathers like St Basil held to a wider interpretation than what Cyprian allows. Basil’s Letter to Amphilocus suggests that those who aren’t “in the church” aren’t necessarily deprived of the grace and the Spirit’s working in their lives. Basil’s recommendation for receiving them into the Church suggests that he doesn’t simply view them as “going to hae-yul” until they “join.” Yes, they need to repent, but not all non-Orthodox are on the same “pre-convert” level.
Does that mean I am in error until I join the Orthodox Church? Possibly, but it also means I am not in the same category as the Arian, Nestorian, or Moonie. It also means I can work faithfully where I am, leading my family into a deeper knowledge of Christ, reject Nestorian Christologies, etc.
The Current Scene—and Chaos
If I am outside of canon law and am, at best, an “irregular Christian,” it also appears that the Orthodox Church in North America is also highly irregular, if not uncanonical. Wasn’t Ignatius’ vision “One city, one bishop, or at least one metropolitan”? To be fair, I don’t know how the Church could have avoided that situation, what with America being a nation of immigrants and all.
That, and quite frankly it would be impossible to bring my family into the local parish. The liturgy is almost entirely in Greek; there are seven people there, there is no sermon (contrast with the example of Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzus) and when I pulled into the parking lot I saw cars with pro-choice politicians’ bumper stickers. Okay, so that last line doesn’t imply squat about Orthodoxy, but it does say a lot about what kind of local church I would be entering.