In the last century, a new heresy permeated the Orthodox world, the heresy of ecumenism. This umbrella term encompasses several related problems that have been eating away at Orthodox life for more than eighty years. For the purposes of this article, we will use ecumenism as an umbrella term to refer to the problems of the branch theory, which imagines that the sacraments of the Church are present in various Churches that are not united and do not share the same faith, and modernism, which is at its root the assumption that modern man has the ability to diagnose the development of the Church’s tradition and make modifications as necessary, ignoring the organic development of the past several centuries.
From the beginning of this heresy, Orthodox have resisted it. These Orthodox are known by various names: True Orthodox, Genuine Orthodox, Traditionalist Orthodox, Old Calendarists, and Anti-Ecumenists, for instance. In the beginning, Athonite monks provided the sacraments to those in Greece who refused to follow the first tangible aspect of ecumenism in the life of the common people: the calendar change of 1924, when the patristic calendar was jettisoned in favor of a crude hybrid Julian-Gregorian calendar (a calendar so flawed that in several thousand years Christmas and Pascha will coincide). Later, in 1935, several bishops returned to the patristic calendar. Later, as ecumenism increased, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) also experienced an awakening of anti-ecumenism. In the 1960’s, the ROCOR and the Old Calendarist Greeks began to cooperate in witnessing traditional Orthodoxy: the ROCOR even provided the Greek Old Calendarists with bishops after the last Old Calendarist bishop reposed.
In lands where Orthodoxy is not established, there is generally more confusion as to what constitutes authentic Orthodoxy. With the heresy of ecumenism, the lines have become even more blurred. Anti-ecumenism exists in North and South America, but what constitutes valid resistance to this heresy is not always obvious. Due to the influence of false western ecclesiological ideas, such as the idea that apostolic succession exists outside the Church (and thus anyone ordained a bishop by “valid” bishops is himself a “valid” bishop as long as he can prove his “lines” of succession), combined with pride and ambition, and a desire for money, there have arisen a class of pseudo-Orthodox clergy who claim to be priests and bishops of the Orthodox Church.
These bishops, called episcopi vagantes in Latin ecclesiological terms, sometimes pretend to be Roman Catholic, sometimes Orthodox, or sometimes even combinations of their own creation. Among the New Calendarists, these people are rightly rejected as being false clergy, but the problem becomes acute when innocent people begin to resist ecumenism and look for a new home. This is because when searching for a traditional Orthodox parish, one often encounters these episcopi vagantes who claim they are Old Calendarists too. Those looking for traditional Orthodoxy then end up farther away from it than when they started. Therefore, one must understand the difference between a True Orthodox Church and a false Church staffed by episcopi vagantes, which we hope to make more clear by pointing out several indicators of a Church being false.
The first clear indicator of a false Orthodox Church is one which appeals to “valid orders,” “valid apostolic succession,” or “ordination from valid bishops” and in this context oftentimes usually considers anyone from the Orthodox or Catholic Churches to have this “valid succession.” A traditional Orthodox bishop would not appeal to such concepts because an Orthodox bishop is not made a bishop by those claiming descent from Roman Catholic bishops, or from bishops who he never communes with again, or made an independent bishop. An Orthodox bishop must be part of a Synod which confesses Orthodoxy in an unbroken community, not simply a line of one bishop ordaining another—if a bishop breaks from other bishops and consecrates bishops, these ordinations are meaningless. A bishop can only be created in the Church and for the Church, by people still in communion with the Church and with each other.
Some would argue that because Old Calendarists are not in communion with the so-called “mainstream” Orthodox (i.e. the New Calendarists and those professing ecumenism, or those who are in communion with such persons), they are falling under their own judgment for not being in communion with the Church. We must point out, however, that one of the criteria of true apostolic succession is bishops are ordained in the context of the Orthodox community, and not in schism or heresy. Ecumenists, by their heresy, have cut themselves off from the Church, and as such, we must not have communion with them. An episcopi vagante often does not have concerns about ecumenism, or traditional Orthodoxy, but rather is separate because of personal problems with the “institutional Church” or flaunt their “independence”—but do not resist any heresy. What reason, then, do they need to be separated from New Calendarists, since one can only separate for questions of faith, and not for personal controversies?
Some episcopi vagantes are anti-ecumenist, but then the question arises, why are they not in communion with the Orthodox Church (i.e. the True Orthodox)? Again, one can only separate for reasons of faith, and yet some of these false bishops accept that ecumenism is wrong, and that the True Orthodox are right in their position, and they may even present themselves as True Orthodox, but they do not commune with the True Orthodox nor do they belong to a Synod of True Orthodox bishops? One cannot be Orthodox and be independent of the Church. If one is opposed to ecumenism, he should join the True Orthodox Church—not start his own.
The other major problem of these false Orthodox are ambition and immorality. Some are so interested in becoming clergy that they will do anything to be ordained. When they are turned down from ordination in the New Calendar Church, suddenly they seek out alternatives to ordination. Sometimes they briefly join the Old Calendar Church and successfully feign piety long enough to be ordained and leave. But more often, they rush towards the most sure and quick way to be ordained: by seeking out episcopi vagantes, who are eager to ordain so they can build up their numbers on paper. This double lust for worldly glory leads to disastrous results.
Other clergy are simply immoral, and have been defrocked by other Churches; these people, having nowhere else to go, start their own Churches. Sometimes, there are priests that are not immoral, but wish to become bishops while being married. This is another sign of a false Church: married bishops. No Orthodox Church has married bishops, and there are no exceptions to this rule. A false Orthodox Church will often have more clergy than parishioners, or its clergy will claim grand titles, like “Metropolitan Archbishop” when they only have one parish. While size is not the main factor in determining legitimacy, having a consistent lack of parishioners while maintaining a large number of clergy, or having a consistently changing population of people (i.e. many coming and many leaving, so that at any given time most people are not the same people that attended a year ago) are other clues of being a false Church.
Thus, if one is seeking the answer to ecumenism, he will find it in one place: the True Orthodox Church. In Greece, this is headed by Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens. In America, there is an Eparchial Synod under the presidency of Metropolitan Pavlos of North and South America.