Union of Christians Apart from Grace?

The Shepherd Magazine  February 2012
THE FOLLOWING WORK, translated from the sermons of Archbish- op Averky is undated, but is published in a collection of his works dated only 1961 - 1968. Internal evidence suggests it was written in 1964, when, in early January, Pope Paul VI and Œcumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I met in the Holy Land. The speci c instances that he mentions may therefore be a little dated; however, the teaching that he gives is timeless. And if he expresses deep concern over the inroads of ecumenism in that period, how much more greatly would he have been distressed by its progress in our times? 

May One Speak of the Union of Christians Apart from Grace and Truth? 
By the Blessed & Ever-Memorable Archbishop Averky of Jordanville 
All ye that in Christ have been baptized, Christ have ye put on. 
WE HAVE JUST celebrated the Great Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, or the Theophany. Wondrous is this festival! “The the Christian mysteries,” says the holy hierarch Theophan [the Recluse] of Vysha, concerning this feast, “shine forth here with their Divine light, and they illumine the minds and hearts of those who keep this great celebration with faith” (Thoughts for Every Day of the Year). It is for this reason that the very feast itself is called the “illumination” in our Church Typicon. 
But what does this illumination consist of? It comprises the illumining and sanctification of our minds and hearts through Grace and Truth, brought to earth for the salvation of people by the Incarnate Only-Begotten Son of God Himself, as Christ’s beloved disciple, Saint John the Theologian, bears witness at the very start of his Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us... full of grace and truth.” 
“And of His fulness have we all received, and grace for grace; for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1: 14, 16-17). 
When Christ was born, only a few people knew of this. Only on the day of His Baptism did He clearly and openly appear for that great ministry of His, for which He had become incarnate, and therefore, in her hymns, the Holy Church calls the festival of the Baptism or Christ, the Theophany, the “most radiant” and the “most glorious” day, even in comparison with that most joyous feast for us the Nativity of Christ, and, exulting, she chants: “In the Jordan River’s streams, the Saviour, Who is grace and truth, hath openly appeared to all, and hath enlightened them that once slept in the shadow and the dark; for He hath come and shone forth, the Light unapproachable” (Exapostilarion, 3rd tone). 
But what is exactly is the “grace” and “truth,” imparted to us on the day of Theophany? 
What exactly happens that is important to us on this “most radiant” and “most glorious” festival? 
On this day, the sinless Christ accepted baptism from John in the waters of the Jordan, so that in His Person He might wash away the sins of all mankind, taken upon Himself in His inexpressible love for man. 
On this day, the Master of heaven and of earth bows his neck and receives baptism from a servant, so that He might give an example of humility by observing the rule of baptism established by Him for all people, so that He might thus fulfill “all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15) and by His own example sanctify this great mysterion of spiritual rebirth, without which it is impossible to enter into the Heavenly Kingdom. 
On this day, the Messiah Christ first manifested Himself to the world as the beloved Only-Begotten Son of God, in Whom there rests the favour of God the Father and in Whom the Holy Spirit rests. His measureless humility opened wide the heavens and clearly revealed to the people the formerly hidden mystery of the Three Persons of the Divinity: Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. 

On this day, Jesus Christ, having reached the age of majority according to the law, in that He had reached thirty years of age, enters upon His public ministry to the race of man; having remained until this time in obscurity, today He is manifest to the world and His light is signed upon us, illumining the people “that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death” with a mystical illuminations from on high. 
In what does this “illumination” consist? 
In what we received today in the holy Apostle [reading]: In the Jordan waters, “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13). 
Thus, our Saviour, Grace and Truth, Christ appeared that He might proclaim to us liberty from sin and the beginning of a new life - a life according to Grace and Truth. 
Believing with our whole heart in this Divine Truth, brought to us by the Incarnate Son of God, and accepting this saving Grace in the Mysterion of Baptism, we die unto sin and we are born again unto a new, pure, holy and God-pleasing life, we are clothed upon with Christ and we become one with Him through Grace. 
How can we dare to sin, if we have died to sin, if we have been clothed with Christ and become one with Him? 
In truth, sin is now something completely foreign to us Christians; it is something wholly not our own - it is a rude attack upon our nature reborn in Christ: we cannot sin at will. It is not in vain that the holy Apostle informs us: “as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death, we are buried with him by baptism into death, knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him, likewise reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Christ Jesus our Lord” (see Rom. 6:3-11). 

Thus, the holy Apostles ends this instruction: “Let not sin there- fore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof, neither yield ye up your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield ye yourselves up unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:12-13). 
“Sin shall not have dominion over you,” the Apostles concludes and he explains: “For ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). 
From all of the above, it should be abundantly clear that where there is neither grace nor truth, there is no freedom from sin; where they disdain grace and truth, there they involuntarily sin and excuse sin, and there there is no Christianity. 
But grace and truth abide only in the true Church, namely that Church which was founded by the incarnate Only-Begotten Son of God, and which was granted the great promise, that the gates of hades should not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18), and which, it follows, always was, is and will be until the end of the age, and does not stand in need of being founded anew. 
It is from this precise viewpoint that we must understand and assess all that is happening in the world now. 
And it is because of this that we cannot but be horrified at that which is accurately called “a sign of the times,” and is in actuality a terrible, terrifying, ominous sign that we, who witness it and see it, behold who are living through our dreadful times. 
We have in mind those “fruits” which the so-called “Ecumenical Movement” has produced, particularly now the meeting that has taken place, and the “symbolical” kiss, between the Pope of Rome, Paul VI, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I. [Now in 2012, nearly forty years on, we could add countless other examples of meetings, common prayers, “sacramental hospitality,” to this one instance that Archbishop Averky cites - translator]. 

It is not the meeting itself, such as it was, that horrifies us, but its inner content, which encloses within something spiritually unhealthy, at root rejecting authentic Christianity, something of a fully ecumenical bent, which was so clearly and powerfully exposed in Patriarch Athenagoras words themselves, when he spoke in a sermon before setting out for the Holy Land and for this meeting with the Pope: “I will meet the Pope and embrace him as a brother, leaving aside theological discussions.” 
“What is this?” - it only remains for us to ask: “Extreme mindlessness or a conscious betrayal?” 
Did we really so quarrel with the Pope that it was necessary to be reconciled, demonstrating before the whole world this “reconciliation” with brotherly embraces? 
Or does Patriarch Athenagoras desire to abound more in love that the very “Apostle of love” himself, the beloved disciple of the Lord, Saint John the Theologian, who tells us in a teaching which stands for all times: “If there come any unto you and bring not this (the true, Apostolic teaching of faith and piety) doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither greet him” (2 John 10)? 
Is Patriarch Athenagoras not a theologian? If he really did not study theology and is not aware of the fundamental dogmatic truths of Orthodox Christian teaching, nor how they are manifested in the spiritual and moral life of each and every Orthodox Christian, is it not a mistake that he bears such a high calling? 
Can it really be that our separation from the Roman Catholics was caused by some purely personal feelings of hostility, by some personal ill-will? 
Or is it that our profound divergence from them, being dogmatic as also of a spiritual and moral character, only came about through some abstract disagreement of learned theologians, divorced from real life, mindlessly quarrelling between themselves? And was it necessary only to “make peace” with the Pope, so that all these disagreements and “discussions” could be so lightly settled? 

Truly, one could only marvel at such infantile naïvety on the part of the “First Hierarch of Orthodoxy” (as the Patriarch of Constantinople considers himself by tradition, it being once the [premier] see of the world empire), if only this apparent naïvety did not conceal something much more dreadful. 
All this is exactly in the spirit of authentic ecumenism - ecumenism without a mask. Our Orthodox “ecumenists” have for a long time persistently assured us that they had entered the ecumenical movement with one purpose - which outwardly appears wholly good - “to witness before the heterodox about the truth of Holy Orthodoxy,” “to reveal to them the depth and beauty of Holy Orthodoxy,” and thus “to draw them to embrace Holy Orthodoxy, from which they had fallen away.” 
And how has it turned out in fact? 
The complete opposite thing has come about: not the return to Holy Orthodoxy of those who had fallen away, but the tacit, “symbolical” recognition of the unimportance and the insubstantiality of all that which distinguishes Orthodoxy from heterodoxy, that is and that caused a complete falling away from Her, and therefore also from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by Christ the Saviour, of Roman Catholicism and thereafter of Protestantism and the other, now numberless, sects and every possible self-directed confessional entity, which without any rationale lays claims for itself to the name “Church of Christ.” 
Grace and truth, which abide only in the true Church, which has received the promise of Christ that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against Her, are, apparently, completely forgotten! 
And how strange it is to hear from the “First Hierarch of the Holy Orthodox Church” that all the distinguishing characteristics of Holy Orthodoxy, which form a definite barrier between it and Roman Catholicism, are no longer to be the subject of theological discussion. 
The dogmas of Holy Orthodoxy are not somehow abstractions, out of touch with the life of truth, such that we can consider them or recognise them as inconsequential.  
The dogmas - the great and saving truths of the Faith, were re- vealed to us by the incarnate Son of God; they are His Divine words. And these “words, that I speak unto you,” as He Himself says, “they are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). 
How can we consider them as having no substance in the great work of the union of all Christians, which can only come about in grace and in truth? 
How can one think that this task can consist only of “brotherly” embraces and kisses? 
And are such kisses not those of Judas, if behind them there is concealed the betrayal of grace and truth? 
And furthermore the fundamental difference between us and the Roman Catholics and all the others, who profess to call themselves Christians, obtains precisely in spirit and in life. 
It is awful to say, but apparently for the contemporary ecumenists, in whose number one can think to include both Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, even Baptism itself, which was inaugurated for all who desire to become Christians by Christ the Saviour Himself on the great day of Theophany, is not a great Mysterion (sacrament), which opens to us the entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom, but just a empty subject of “theological discussion,” devoid of any significant meaning. And therefore for eternal salvation, in the view that is precisely theirs, it is not a necessity to be baptized and to be clothed in Christ. For their talk now is of a general union not only of Christians, but with Jews, though they do not recognise Christ the Saviour as the Messiah - (concerning this the notorious proposal of the Vatican Council testified regarding the Jews and the amicable regard that the Pope now has for the state of Israel) - and with the Muslims and with the pagans. [Again this tendency has gone much further than when Archbishop Averky wrote, with pagan ceremonies being part and parcel of WCC and other Ecumenical Assemblies (see News Section below) - translator]. 

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They speak and write more and more nowadays about the one, common, universal religion for all peoples, just as they do about a one world government.
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They speak and write more and more nowadays about the one, common, universal religion for all peoples, just as they do about a one world government. 
The union of all peoples, “at any price,” and “in spite of everything,” is required, as we have long since known well from the prophesies of the ancient Fathers of the Church, so that in the last days all peoples will be united under one authority, and it will attempt to substitute another for Christ. 
Truly, even now it is fearful to live in the world in the midst of such anti-Christ untruth, such deception, such falsehood and hypocrisy, through which the servants of the coming Anti-Christ strive even now to replace in the consciences of the people and to obliterate the true Church. 
But, God is with us! And “the fear of them we shall not fear, neither shall we be troubled!”  For we know that the “gates of Hades” shall not overcome the true Church.  It remains only for us to adhere to this true Church until the very end, to draw from her the grace and truth of Christ, and always to bear in mind that we, who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ, and therefore we must live worthily of our high calling as Christians, as ones dead unto sin, and raised again to a new, God-pleasing life - life in Christ. 

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