The word “heretic” is indeed used too frequently nowadays. It has a definite meaning and function, to distinguish new teachings from the Orthodox teaching; but few of the non-Orthodox Christians today are consciously “heretics,” and it really does no good to call them that.
In the end, I think, Fr. Dimitry Dudko’s attitude is the correct one: We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). — Father Seraphim Rose
In the light of what he said, Patriarch Kyril of Moscow’s words ought also to be considered:
Church divisions, schisms, attitudes towards and relations with heterodoxy need to be reassessed theologically at a new level, taking into consideration the ecumenical experience of the 20th century. Russian theology has seen the widest possible array of views on this matter: from the total negation of the presence of divine grace in heterodox churches to the total negation of any real division between the churches. Even now some still think that “human barriers do not reach up to heaven”; and there are others who, on the contrary, are convinced that no salvation is possible for non-Orthodox. Obviously a certain variety of views here is entirely acceptable and natural; yet whatever position a member of the Orthodox church may express, it is essential that this be supported not only by neophyte passion or zeal for the purity of Orthodoxy, but by deep knowledge as well: for any position acquires the right to exist only when it is carefully argued and theologically founded.
On various blog posts throughout the blogosphere, various people are posting angry diatribes about the meetings between Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis. Sadly most of them do not meet the guidelines given by either Father Seraphim Rose or by Patriarch Kyril. It is important that we not throw the word “heretic” around. It has the same effect as throwing around the word “traitor.” Why do I say that?
Under USA law, in order to be a traitor, one has to deliberately choose to damage the USA. Whether my fellow Viet Nam veterans like it or not, Jane Fonda is not a traitor, nor were charges ever considered against her. Why not? From all the evidence available, and even from her own words, it is clear that there was no intent to damage this country. She was in deep disagreement with the policies of this country and freely expressed so. But, she actually never committed a prosecutable act. She supported North Viet Nam’s position and even visited there. But, she never committed any act that directly endangered USA service members. To argue that her simply being in North Vietnam somehow hurt USA service members is a popular argument, but it is not a legal argument. Legally, she never quite crossed the line. The anger that is directed against her is visceral, but not entirely appropriate.
I have chosen a controversial person from my generation to make the point of what both Father Seraphim Rose and Metropolitan Kyril are saying. Father Seraphim is cautioning us that to be a heretic, one must be consciously rejecting truth. Yet, we fail to recognize that while a man like the presbyter Arius was called a heretic, few of the people who agreed with him were also called heretics. None of the common Christian believers was called a heretic. The attitude was that only very few qualified to be heretics, even if a vast mass of people were Arians in belief. More than that, the canons dealing with heretical baptisms, etc., from back then were very gracious, essentially recognizing them in practice while finding theological reasons why they should be accepted. The same is done today when we refuse to baptize again those who were baptized outside the Church. To merely hold a different opinion is not sufficient to make one a heretic. A heretic must have enough theological understanding and enough exposure to the Truth for the Church to be able to say that they are rejecting Truth. That is as difficult a standard to achieve as is the USA legal standard in order to declare someone a traitor.
When I became Orthodox, I already had two earned Master’s degrees. (I now have three.) In spite of that, I was never treated as a heretic. It was never said to me that I needed to make a series of public rejections of my previous beliefs. Mind you, of course I had to change my beliefs! But, I was treated as a prodigal son. I was welcomed home. Like the prodigal son, my confession was brief, and it was quickly accepted and put aside in favor of killing the fatted calf and celebrating. That is the attitude that, I am convinced, that both Fr. Rose and Metropolitan Kyril want us to hold. It should be hard to declare someone a heretic, but easy to declare someone a friend. It should be easy to listen to someone who has an honest disagreement and is willing to discuss it in the spirit of finding commonality and maybe even reconciliation. This does not mean that I need to act as though their beliefs are correct. But, it does mean that there are kinder gentler ways to genuinely disagree and discuss.
Patriarch Kyril warns us in a way that applies to many of those who are bloggers, “Obviously a certain variety of views here is entirely acceptable and natural; yet whatever position a member of the Orthodox church may express, it is essential that this be supported not only by neophyte passion or zeal for the purity of Orthodoxy, but by deep knowledge as well: for any position acquires the right to exist only when it is carefully argued and theologically founded.” All too many bloggers hold positions that are merely “neophyte passion.” They can neither explain the depth of their position, nor can they argue it thoroughly. Sadly, they pick out one or two quotes from a website with which they agree, or from a monastic who is a self-styled elder, and they think that they are speaking wisdom. Whether you are for or against the meetings and the talks, if you are going to express your opinions, make sure that you can thoroughly back them up.
Having said that, let me put out there that I am not only in favor of the talks, but I constantly hope for a reunion between East and West. And, uhm, you are welcome to challenge me, just realize that I think I can back my opinions up. GRIN.