Fr. Alexander Lebedev writes: “Vladimir Kozyreff (and others) have been arguing a position that the Orthodox Church cannot have any compromise with untruth (he calls this ‘sergianism’); that a Church that fails to keep purity of faith loses Apostolic Succession and grace; that heresy cannot coexist with true teaching in the Church.


     “In reality, the history of the Church proves the situation to be otherwise…”[2]


     I have been polemicising with open and covert supporters of the MP for over thirty years, but I don’t think I have ever come across such a shameful statement, a statement that so manifestly contradicts the most fundamental principles of Orthodoxy.


     “Orthodoxy”, as everyone on this list must know, means “right belief” or “right glorification”. It clearly entails freedom from heresy and all untruth. We need only read the Order for the Triumph of Orthodoxy to understand that Orthodoxy and heresy cannot coexist, that the Orthodox Church anathematises all heresies, that all compromise with heresy is sin. Of course, individual members of the Orthodox Church sin and say untruths. Some even stray into heresy, wittingly or unwittingly. But the Orthodox Church can never and has never been reconciled with untruth, wherever it may come from. She always tries to convert her children who are straying into heresy to the path of truth, of Orthodoxy. She does not immediately expel them from her midst as long as there is hope of their conversion. But if they remain stubbornly attached to their heresy, she has to expel them. And at no time does she call the lie truth, or heresy Orthodoxy.


     Fr. Alexander thinks otherwise. So what are we to think about Fr. Alexander? We can think nothing else than that he is no longer Orthodox in his mind-set, even if, perhaps, he remains, for the time being, part of the Orthodox Church.


     And what are we to think of the position of someone who has to justify the presence of lies and heresy in the Orthodox Church? Only that it must be exceedingly weak...


     “But you haven’t considered his arguments,” someone will say. I shall – in a moment. But it is worth pondering this first: that no Orthodox Father or Saint could ever agree with what he has written.


     Now let us look at his first argument: “There were many renowned Saints of the Church who were ordained by heretics. St. Tarasios of Constantinople stated that fully half of the Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council were ordained by heretics.”


     I think he means the Seventh Ecumenical Council, but never mind. If these Fathers, whether of the Sixth or Seventh Ecumenical Council, were originally ordained in heresy, they became Orthodox on their rejection of their heresy and reception into the Church. What is surprising or controversial about that?


     Perhaps Fr. Alexander is inferring (although he does not make this clear) that the Fathers of the Ecumenical Council did not re-ordain those Fathers who had been ordained in heresy, and therefore accepted both their ordination and their heresy. I do not know exactly how these Fathers were received, whether “in their existing rank” or by re-ordination. But it does not really matter. For, as is well-known, although, according to the practice of “oikonomia”, in certain circumstances the Church can receive certain clergy “in their existing rank”, this in no way entails a recognition that the ordination performed in heresy was valid or grace-filled.


      Moreover, we have clear historical evidence that St. Tarasios and the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council did not accept the penitent iconoclast bishops as already bishops and already inside the Church. Thus Archimandrite Nectarius (Yashunsky) writes: “As far as the Seventh Council is concerned, not only did it not consider the iconoclasts to be a part of the Church, but they themselves did not pretend to be such.” In support of this statement, Fr. Nectarius quotes from the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. “These are the words of the uniting iconoclasts. Thus Basil, bishop of Ancyra, said: ‘As far as I was able, I investigated the question of the icons and converted to the Holy Catholic Church with complete conviction.’ Theodore, bishop of Myra, said: ‘... I beseech God and your holiness to unite me, the sinful one, to the Holy Catholic Church.’” (pp. 41, 43 in the edition of the Kazan Theological Academy). And here are the witnesses of the holy Fathers of the Council: “His Holiness Patriarch Tarasius said: 'What is now to be our relationship to this heresy that has again arisen in our time?' John, the most beloved of God, locum tenens of the apostolic throne in the east, said: 'Heresy divides every man from the Church.' The Holy Council said: 'That is evident.' The Holy Council said: 'Let the bishops who are standing before us read their renunciations, insofar as they are now converting to the Catholic Church.’“[3]


     Heresy divides every man from the Church”. Do you hear that, Fr. Alexander? That is what the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council said was “evident” – that is, clearly and obviously true.


     Now let us turn to the second argument: “A number of Church Fathers wrote and taught outright heresies, yet have not been condemned as being outside the Church. St. Gregory of Nyssa taught the false doctrine of universal salvation, for example. Several of the Church Fathers taught chiliasm…”


     The Church does not accept all the opinions expressed by all the Church Fathers, but only “the consensus of the Fathers”. Some Fathers have at certain times expressed opinions at variance with this consensus. Why did the Church not condemn them?


     There could be many reasons.


     One could be that the Father in question actually recanted of his heretical opinion. Thus Blessed Augustine wrote a whole book of recantations. Or it may be that the Father recanted in private, and this is not known to the world, but is known to the Church, which has the mind of Christ.


     Again, it could be that the Father in question did not actually write what he is supposed to have written, or did not actually mean what people have taken him to mean. In the case of St. Gregory of Nyssa, I have seen a book (which, unfortunately, I have not read) that argues that the Holy Father has been misrepresented, that he did not preach, or did not mean to preach, universal salvation. Even if the world or many of her individual members do not know this, the Church, which is inspired by the Spirit of truth, knows it.


     Again, it could be that the heresy in question has never been properly defined or discussed in council. Thus take the example of chiliasm. I have often heard that this heresy was condemned at the Second Ecumenical Council. And yet I have never seen this condemnation, and no theologian has been able to show it to me. Moreover, even Blessed Jerome, who, with Blessed Augustine, was the foremost enemy of the teaching, while mocking the chiliasts as "our half-Jews"[4], in other places speaks of them with more respect, as holding views "which, although we may not hold, we cannot condemn, because many ecclesiastical men and martyrs have taught the same".[5] One thing is certain: none of the so-called chiliast Fathers - SS. Justin, Irenaeus and Methodius - believed in a literal 1000-year reign of Christ, nor that the Jewish law would be introduced during that period, nor that every sensual pleasure would be indulged in it. So whether they actually preached anything heretical is highly debatable.


     Fr. Alexander’s third argument is based on a false interpretation of the Lord’s Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13.


     “So,” he says, after quoting the whole Parable, “the Church has tolerated some tares among its good wheat during the entire time of its existence. It is not Cyprianism that first invented the terms ‘ailing and well members’ of the Church. This was used by St. Tarasios to describe the situation of the Church at the time of the iconoclastic heresy – and also by St. Basil the Great to describe the sad state of the Church during his time. So – the final answer is that the Church can tolerate those within in it who bear false witness in times of persecution. They do not stain the Church, and it does not lose grace because of this. The wheat and the tares will coexist within it until the time of harvest.”


     With regard to Cyprianism, it should be pointed out that while the members of the Church differ greatly in sanctity and spiritual health, she never tolerates sin or untruth in the sense of allowing it to flourish unchecked. A person who commits a mortal sin is excommunicated. A person who utters heresy and refuses to retract it is also excommunicated and, in extreme cases, anathematised, just as Lev Tolstoy was anathematised by the Russian Church in 1901.


     Where did you get the idea, Fr. Alexander, that the Church tolerates those within it who bear false witness in times of persecution? This is completely untrue. Those who bore false witness in, for example, the African persecution of the third century, were rejected by the Church as being libellatici, and were received by her into communion only after fifteen years of sincere repentance. And you must know that in his encyclical of July 28 / August 10, 1928 Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) expresses “the completely definitive declaration of our Synod of Bishops that the Moscow Synod has deprived itself of all authority, since it has entered into agreement with the atheists”, calling it an illegally formed organization of apostates from the faith like the ancient libellatici, that is, Christians who although they refused to blaspheme openly against Christ and offer sacrifices to the idols, nevertheless still received from the priests of the idols false documents verifying that they were in complete accord with the adherents of pagan religion…”


     But let us examine the Parable you quote, and in particular a patristic interpretation of the Parable, by Blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria: “The field is the world, or, each one’s soul. The sower is Christ. The good seed is good people, or, good thoughts. The tares are heresies, or, evil thoughts. The one who sows them is the devil. The men who are sleeping are those by their indolence give entry to heretics and evil thoughts. The servants are the angels, who are indignant that there are heresies or any wickednesses in the soul, and wish to seize and cut off from this life the heretics and those who think evil thoughts. But God does not allow the heretics to be destroyed by wars, lest the righteous suffer and be destroyed along with them…”[6]


     It should be noted, first, that there is nothing said about the Church here. The actors – those who eventually gather up the tares - are the angels, not Church hierarchs. Moreover, the action that is being debated – whether and when the tares should be gathered up and destroyed – does not concern the Church’s judgement on heretics by means of conciliar decisions and anathemas. It is the physical extermination of heretics. This is made clear by the words: “But God does not allow the heretics to be destroyed by wars…”


     Now is Vladimir Kozyreff or anybody else advocating the physical extermination of the sergianist heretics? Of course not! God will decide when to send the angel of death to take from this life Alexis II and the other heretics. We Orthodox Christians, however, have a duty to express our rejection of heretics and their heresies, and to try to have them removed from the Church if they prove impenitent. In other words, the Church strives, not for the physical extermination of heretics, but their spiritual detoxification or decommissioning, just as one might attempt to decommission a dangerously malfunctioning nuclear reactor.


     In typically sergianist fashion, Fr. Alexander has confused the Church and the world. The world lies in evil and heresy; this is its normal condition; and it will not change until its final destruction at the Second Coming of Christ. It has no means of cleansing itself because it does not have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of purity and truth. The Church, on the other hand, being the home of the Holy Spirit, is in the process of constant self-purification. Of course, this process is never complete, and the world, the flesh and the devil are constantly introducing impurities and untruths into it. But as long as the process of self-purification continues, through the action of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Mysteries, the Church remains the Church, “the ark of salvation” and “the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3.15).


     However, a local Church ceases to be a Church when the process of self-purification comes to an end. And that takes place when the Holy Spirit flees from it as a result of either (a) the enthronement of heresy in its official teaching, or (b) its falling away from the Body of Christ into schism. At that point it becomes part of the world – a very “religious” part of the world, perhaps, but still a part of the world, whose essence is worldliness and whose natural element is filth and lies. The idea that the pillar and ground of the Truth can accept untruth and heresy officially is absurd and a contradiction in terms. If the Church were to tolerate heresy in principle, as Fr. Alexander is suggesting, then it would immediately cease to be the Church and would become a part of the world. For it has accepted the basic principle of the world, which is acceptance of evil and untruth, as its norm, and in which, like the witches in Macbeth, men "lie like truth". But the truth is, as St. John the Apostle says, that "no lie is of the truth" (I John 2.21).


     It's really very simple. So why is Fr. Alexander trying to make it so complicated? Because he wants to join the truth of the Church to a lie - the lie of the Moscow Patriarchate - in a monstrous and adulterous union…


     Let us remind ourselves what that lie is: that it is possible for the leading hierarchs of the Church to lie "in order to save the Church" - by which they actually mean themselves. Metropolitan Sergius lied about Soviet power, saying that it was "God-established", and about the Church's relationship to that power, saying that their "joys and sorrows" were the same. He justified this "sacred lie" on the grounds that thereby he was saving the Church. So "the pillar and ground of the Truth" had to be saved by a lie, "the ark of salvation" - by immersion in the flood of the revolution!


     Was the sergianist church saved by this lie? By no means! It was rather as the Lord said through the Prophet Isaiah: "Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand: when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it" (28.18). For the overwhelming scourge of the 1930s swept through the sergianist church with a terrible vengeance. By 1939 only 4 hierarchs (Sergius among them, of course) had survived in freedom in the whole land of Russia, and many tens of thousands of priests had been killed (85,000 in 1937 alone!).


     But this physical destruction was as nothing compared to the spiritual devastation. For from a spiritual point of view, the sergianist church did not survive even in a greatly reduced form: it died a terrible and ignominious death. For it was no longer "the pillar and ground of the truth", but the upholder and champion of the greatest of all untruths: that Christ and Antichrist can live together in harmony, the former sharing the joys and sorrows of the latter...  


     If the sergianist church was no longer "the pillar and ground of the truth", what was it? There are only two possibilities. Either it became a non-religious society not directly concerned with truth, but rather with, for example, Russian culture or art of folklore - a kind of ethnographic museum. Or it became the pillar and ground of the lie. There is no other alternative, because, as St. Mark of Ephesus said, there is no mid-point between the truth and the lie.


     Let us listen to the words of Hieromartyr Damascene, Bishop of Glukhov, who suffered a terrible but glorious death because he refused to accept Sergius’ lie: "What will those who have come to the Church say? What will they feel when, even from there, from the height of the last refuge of righteousness rejected by the world, from the height of the ambon, there sound words of hypocrisy, of man-pleasing and slander? Will it not seem that falsehood is achieving its final victory over the world, and that there, in the place where the image of Incarnate Truth flashed for them with the Unwaning Light, there now laughs in a disgusting grimace the mask of the father of lies?


     "It is one or the other: either the Church is truly the immaculate and pure Bride of Christ, the Kingdom of truth, in which case the Truth is the air without which we cannot breathe, or, like the whole world which lies in evil, it lives in lies and by lies, in which case everything is a lie, every word is a lie, every prayer, every sacrament.


     "It seems to us that Metropolitan Sergius and those with him are enslaved by a terrible fantasy, the fantasy that it is possible to build the Church on man-pleasing and untruth. But we affirm that a lie can give birth only to a lie, and that it cannot be the foundation of the Church. Before our eyes we have the shameful path of "the church of the evil-doers" - renovationism. And this shame of the gradual immersion in the engulfing mud of ever more terrible compromises and apostasy, this horror of complete degradation awaits the community of the Church if it goes along the path marked out for it.


     "It seems to us that Metropolitan Sergius has wavered in his faith in the omnipotence of the All-conquering Truth, in the omnipotence of God. And this wavering has been transmitted in the form of a terrible jolt to the whole body of the Church, making it shudder. There will be more than one heart that on hearing the words of untruth within the walls of the church will shake in its faith and perhaps be wounded in its most secret sanctuary; it will tear itself away from the Church that has deceived it and will remain outside her walls. The silence of thousands will utter a terrible word to the very heart of the people, wounding their much-suffering soul, and the rumour will spread to all the ends of the earth that the Kingdom of Christ has become the kingdom of the beast.


     "What a pitiful and unworthy existence. Truly it is better to die than to live in this way…”


     You have heard the words of the hieromartyr, Fr. Alexander: it is better to die than to live on the foundation of the lie. So go away and tell this to those Muscovite hierarchs with whom you are negotiating for the souls of thousands of eternal souls for whom Christ died. And before you make your Faustian bargain with them, think of these words from the Truth Himself: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8.44).


Vladimir Moss.

December 28 / January 10, 2005/2006.


[2] Lebedev, “[orthodox-synod]Wheat and Tares – a Much More Fundamental Question”, orthodox-synod@yahoogroups.com; orthodox-tradition@yahoogroups.com, January 4, 2006.

[3] Yashunsky, Ecclesiological Antitheses (MS, in Russian), p. 48.

[4] St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 60.1, 66.20.

[5] St. Jerome, Commentary on Jeremiah 19.10.

[6] Blessed Theophylact, Exposition of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press, p. 115.