In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God.
They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.
My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place.
I concluded my past work with a reflection on the precise manner in which sacraments and the grace of the Holy Spirit continue to be present among schismatics. Not content with a baseline “Augustinian” view which posits that sacraments may be present among schismatic without conferring grace to the individual as a beneficiary, I considered the views of Fr. Georges Florovsky:
“One thing remains obscure. How does the activity of the Spirit continue beyond the canonical borders of the Church? What is the validity of sacraments without communion, of stolen garments, sacraments in the hands of usurpers?… The Church performs the sacrament and, in her, Christ the high priest… It may not follow, perhaps, that we should say that schismatics are still in the Church. In any case this would not be precise and sounds equivocal. It would be truer to say that the Church continues to work in the schisms in expectation of that mysterious hour when the stubborn heart will be melted in the warmth of God’s prevenient grace, when the will and thirst for communality and unity will finally burst into flame. The ‘validity’ of sacraments among schismatics is the mysterious guarantee of their return to Catholic plenitude and unity.“ (Fr. Georges Florovsky, “The Limits of the Church.”)
When Fr. Dimitru Staniloae considers the question, he posits that “they are incomplete churches, some closer to fullness, others farther away… Thus in a way the Church includes all the confessions divided from it, because they could not fully depart from the Tradition present [in the Church.” (Quoted in Seraphim Danckaert, “Two Schools: What the Council of Crete Means for the Future of Orthodox Theology”)
Do we have, anywhere in our tradition, an understanding of how a portion of the Church can be simultaneously sundered from it, while intimately associated with the patrimony of the whole? How is it that, as Staniloae says, there can be “incomplete” churches, or how can the Russian Church posit that “In a divided Christendom, there are still certain characteristics which make it one.” (Jubilee Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Basic Principles of Attitude to the Non-Orthodox.”)?
If we recognize the consistency of God in His covenants, we can more aptly recognize how not just our canonical, ecclesiological, and theological traditions provide us with answers, but also our patrimony as Israel. St. Philaret of Moscow provides us with an interesting comparison during his discussions with a questioner of the Orthodox faith. The dialogue goes:
“U. Let us consider it in parts, holding on for clarity to the very order in which the writer expressed his thoughts.“It is not difficult to prove that those of the Greeks who separated from the Church of Rome, through this separated from the true Church of Jesus Christ. In order to convince any well-intentioned person of this, it is only necessary to take into consideration one and the other Church , as they were at the time of their union. Who do you think the writer means by these words: “those of the Greeks who separated from the Church of Rome”?
I. Without a doubt, the Eastern Church .
D. So he is suggesting that the Eastern Church “separated from the Church of Rome”?
I. Do you doubt this?
U. I have no doubt, but I am absolutely sure that this assumption is wrong.
I. I don’t understand.
U. I will explain this to you by an example. When, after the death of Solomon, two kingdoms became from one people of God: Judah and Israel, then, tell me, did Judah separate from Israel, or vice versa?
I. I see that here it would be more correct to say that the kingdom of Israel was separated from that of Judah.
U. Why is this more correct?
I. Because the kingdom of Judah remained as it was before, and the kingdom of Israel founded a new government for itself, violating the right of hereditary government recognized by all the tribes of the people of God.
U. Let us apply this example to the present case. The French teacher says that the Eastern Church separated from the Roman Church. But in order to have the right to say so, it would be necessary first to prove that the Roman Church remained the same after the division as it was before, and that, on the contrary, the Eastern Church violated some great law, inseparable from the unity of the Church. And as he had not yet done this, then this sim admitted a forgery in the very first expressions of his proof, exposing as true what had to be proved. I will say more: he showed the truth in a completely wrong way.” (St. Philaret of Moscow, Разговоры между испытующим и уверенным о православии)
In this article, I propose that this typology of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel provides us with ample content, or a lens, through which to understand the predicaments we face with respect to the status of the heterodox at various levels. To this extent, we can clarify the precise nature of God’s continued sustenance of their sacramental grace, the soteriological value of these groups and individuals, and ultimately, their ultimate role in God’s work in a historical and political sense. Moreover, this teaches us about the nature and character of our own Church, the manner in which schisms are not mere separations, but wounds for the body, and how such a lens can help us understand God’s work in the eventual recovery of a lost patrimony, even if the essential character of the One Church has not been compromised through schism.
Revisiting the Sacraments
We know rather conclusively that sacraments are indeed present among schismatics and heretics whose patrimony and succession remains founded in the Church of Christ. It is perhaps insufficient to keep it at this, since such statements do have implications for ecclesiology as a matter of study. If we choose to approach the matter with a “minimalist” understanding, we may inadvertently fall into the temptation of mechanizing the sacraments. The question of whether or not schismatic and heretics have grace and sacraments is left sufficiently answered, but the question of “why” they do is not. We can therefore affirm that the Church is indeed, One, as Christ is One. Likewise, we can affirm as Florovsky did, that the Orthodox Catholic church is the “One Church” in question. But we must lend credence to the rigourist position when they push the question, what does it mean for the “oneness” of the Church that those separated from it are able to draw upon the well of its mysteriological grace, and how can it be said that such separations do not compromise its inherent “oneness”?
As far as sacramentology is concerned, a de facto branch theory arises in the event that we make radical, perhaps modernist assumptions about this question. The belief that the mere presence of sacraments renders a given church full, normative validity, is remarkably simplistic and will not be considered here. All these questions must necessarily relate to an affirmation of the Oneness of the Church, and as Orthodox Christians, we must necessarily identify the “One Church” as our own.
By way of example, it is impossible to see a compartmentalization of the sacraments if we wish to recognize the integrity of Christ’s Body. Therefore, is a baptism truly washes away original sin, and the individual participates in Christ’s death and resurrection, a schismatic who is truly baptized receives the same baptism as an Orthodox Christian. Their baptism, therefore, is a baptism into the “One Church,” for no other exists.
We can take this example further when we consider the fact that we receive individuals not only by chrismation, but by confession as well. In a sense, when an individual coming from non-Chalcedonianism or Uniatism is received by confession, they undergo an identical process to an Orthodox Christian who has found himself sundered from the Church, either through his own conduct or lapsed participation. This example extends to the fact that we normatively do not re-ordain clergy brought in from these confessions, including Roman Catholicism. If the sacrament is whole, and one, it means that these clergy were not only brought into their respective churches and received the gifts therein, but the gifts which they receive make them priests of the One Church. Does this mean such individuals are not schismatics or heretics, or belong to schismatics or heretical bodies? Surely not.
The most obvious response is to ask, precisely what relation then, do schismatics have to the One Church? The economic model, is demonstrably insufficient to tackle questions of canonical order, patristics, and ecclesiology, and would posit only that they have formal sacraments with no movement of the Spirit. Having dealt with this sufficiently, we can consider other questions. Namely, if the Church is “One,” and the sacraments are not compartmentalized as would be suggested by an “invisible Church” model which begets branch theory, then we must see schismatics within the general “oneness” of the Orthodox Church.
Is this truly a stretch? Do we not also have an ecclesiology of disunity? For indeed, one can hardly name a time when a truly canonical and functional ecclesiology operated, unopposed within the framework of our Church as an institution. I will not speak of the many schisms, Meletian or Photian, between Uniates and Orthodox, between the Bulgars and Constantinople, and many others. A “foot in the door” ecclesiology borders on absurdity, for to say that a Church can retain its relationship to those churches with which it is in disunity merely by having communion with even the smallest among them. Could we not simply accept the reality of retained, full covenantal unity even in the midst of separation among brothers? Moreover, could we not also say that among those who break unity, there are those who stand in justification?
I posit that it is precisely an ecclesiology of disunity that permits us to reunify with brothers who have fallen away for any reason. Indeed, by this method we have received countless brothers in schism. The Ukrainian Churches of Canada and the USA were both received with no reordination or call to repentance, likewise the Macedonian Church, none of whose living members would have received a “canonical” ordination under the Serbian Church, was received broadly with the implicit recognition of its ecclesiality. This was stated explicitly by Archimandtrie Porphyrius (Uspensky) when he spoke of the reception of 13,000 Uniates through confession, stating:
“The Uniates, by their inner conviction and faith have always been in communion with our church and had no need to be re-baptized.” (Quoted in Archimandrite Ambrosius (Pogodin))
This echoes St. Augustine’s view to what the nature of schismatics are, stating:
“And hence it is clear that they are guilty of impiety who endeavor to rebaptize those who are in Catholic unity; and we act rightly who do not dare to repudiate God’s sacraments, even when administered in schism. For in all points in which they think with us, they also are in communion with us, and only are severed from us in those points in which they dissent from us.” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 1:1)
How then, is covenantal unity maintained amidst disorder? To what extent can we extend the ecclesiology of disunity to the heterodox and schismatics? I posit that the Old Testament provides us with the necessary typology to understand precisely how God’s faithfulness to His covenant is maintained amidst disunity, and that His promises to His covenant do not falter in His ceaseless efforts to bring His children into oneness.
The Davidic Church
To be the “One Church,” we must necessarily investigate the matter as pertains to God’s covenant with Israel. Theologically and ecclesiologically, it is nonsensical to suggest that the New Covenant is necessarily one which has lost its substantive and formal relation to the Old in God’s economy of salvation. As David says, “Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire,” (2 Samuel 23:5), and “For thus saith the LORD; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel;” (Jeremiah 33:17).
The Kingdom of Israel, consisting of the northern ten tribes which had broken from the Davidic Kingdom, existed in a state of disunity from the covenant of God to Israel. As stated in Jeremiah, God’s covenant, established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, realized its center of unity around the monarchy of David.
David, as a type of Christ, served as a center of gravity and unity for the Old Covenant. We cannot truly consider the New Covenant to be of a new substance in contrast to the Old. God maintains that the covenant he established “forever, is an everlasting covenant to Israel” (1 Chronicles 16:17)
Scripture maintains this principle, from the words of our Lord:
“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18), to the words of St. Paul:
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)
Israel being a type of the covenant under Christ provides us with similar models for how Israel relates to all that are within the covenant, whether or not those under the covenant have remained faithful to it. This provides us with a model of ecclesiological disunity not merely for bodies which separate, but even for ourselves. Indeed, as Christians we routinely find ourselves in a state of unfaithfulness to our covenant with God.
Two factors are very important to understand. The covenant God makes with Israel is an eternal one, and therefore it is fulfilled and continued in Christ, who fulfills the typology of David, satisfying His words concerning the law, “till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18). Secondly, the covenant God makes is not merely with Israel in a corporate sense, but specifically with His prophets, culminating in David as a center of unity. “For thus saith the LORD; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel;” (Jeremiah 33:17), and “Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:16).
Would we say then, that God repented of such statements when he spoke to Solomon, saying “I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant. Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son.” (1 Kings 20:11-13)? By no means! It would likewise be absurd to suggest that after the death of Solomon, Rehoboam and all that was under him solely retained the everlasting covenant.
The Schismatic Kingdom
The Kingdom of Israel by its very nature set up an aberration of God’s covenant, notwithstanding the establishment of the high places and worship of foreign gods. The establishment of Mount Gerizim and Schechem in contrast to Jerusalem as a center of worship is attested to by our Lord as an aberration in John 4:21-24. In this we already see an aberration of worship, along with the nature of the new temples in Bethel and Dan, as well as an incomplete relation to the covenant God established with David, though the Israelites were not united to it.
How does God continue to interact with the Kingdom of Israel? In sending countless prophets and recounting the history of the Kings of Israel in scripture, God affirms His own faithfulness not merely to the Kingdom of Judah and the throne of David, but indeed all those who are sons of the covenant even if they find themselves out of unity with it. It is in his sending Elijah and Elisha, and His deliverance of Israel from the Arameans under the reign of Jehoahaz, who despite his evil, “besought the LORD, and the LORD hearkened unto him… And the LORD gave Israel a saviour, so that they went out from under the hand of the Syrians.” (2 Kings 13:4-5). God likewise sees success in sending His prophets to the fallen Kingdom of Israel, most aptly with Joash and his fathifulness and love for Elisha in 2 Kings 13:14-17.
Despite the clear aberration of proper worship that was established in Israel in contrast to the temple in Jerusalem, we know that Elijah builds a legitimate altar on Mt. Carmel when he overwhelms the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:30-33), and proclaims “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.” (1 Kings 18:36). In doing so, Elijah declares God’s continued presence in Israel, according to the common covenant which was not abrogated or broken. The sheer fact that God responds in kind should indicate to us that God continues to actively work under such circumstances, and it cannot be said that there is something lacking in this work. Likewise, when we speak of sacraments being performed in schism, we should always state that a sacrament is performed fully wherever it is performed, just as God’s work is not partial or incomplete.
It is clear that God continues to act normatively within the context of what we might call a “schism” in Israel without having transgressed or compromised the “oneness” of His covenant which he had made with David. However, rather than settling for mere sufficiency in sustaining Israel, God actively uses the northern kingdom to further his aims.
One prominent example of this is where God raises up Jonah from the north to proclaim Him in the heathen land of Nineveh, even against Jonah’s wishes. In many ways, Jonah’s story can be compared to our own situation, where the ability of the Orthodox Church is so limited, and yet God actively continues to seek out opportunities where He can have His name proclaimed in the world. For Jonah, He says as much, “Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11).
Far from mere speculation, we know that God frequently threatens Israel with being dispersed among the nations should it fail to abide by His commandments. However, He says of Israel (Ephraim), “Though I sow them among the nations, they will remember Me in distant lands; they and their children will live and return.” (Zechariah 10:9) What this should tell us is that our own weakness, schism, and failure to act not only as individuals but as communities, churches, nations, do not preclude God’s continued work among those who have fallen away.
Pertinent to our study is Florovsky’s aforementioned thoughts on precisely what God intends with those churches which are out of communion with our own.
“It would be truer to say that the Church continues to work in the schisms in expectation of that mysterious hour when the stubborn heart will be melted in the warmth of God’s prevenient grace, when the will and thirst for communality and unity will finally burst into flame. The ‘validity’ of sacraments among schismatics is the mysterious guarantee of their return to Catholic plenitude and unity.”
Though Florovsky himself does not make the parallel, it is in the Old Testament that we see God acting precisely in this way through Israel. “For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God,” (Jeremiah 31:6) he further states, “And I will bring Israel again to his habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon mount Ephraim and Gilead.” (Jeremiah 50:19). The latter verse indicates that Israel shall feed on Carmel, Bashan, Ephraim and Gilead, in all the areas where the Israelites themselves were established, while at the same time He maintains, “They [the children of Israel and Judah] shall ask the way to Zion and turn their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” (Jeremiah 50:5)
We have therefore established a typology of oneness, where Israel is subject to an everlasting covenant, and this covenant is one, inseparable, and intimately attached to the throne of David. We have also established a typology of schism, where the oneness of the Davidic covenant is maintained and remains active among the Kingdom of Israel, though they find themselves operating under strange altars, and covenantally speaking, an illegitimate center of unity in their kings.
God continues to send prophets to them, deliver them from their enemies in times of distress, and moreover we see albeit minor examples, of a latent faithfulness among them. Moreover, God even brings up prophets from among them to minister to the nations. Jonah was a prophet of Israel, and it is from this schismatic kingdom that he ministered to Nineveh.
In fact, the uncanny parallels between Israel and Judah, Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, extend not merely to the ritual and spiritual spheres, but even in terms of history and politics. The northern kingdom, considerably larger and more formidable than Judah, the seat of God’s promise, is nonetheless empowered to proclaim God’s name not only through prophets such as Elijah, Elisha, and Jonah, but even through their exile. It is telling that they managed to do this without such interventions as the recovery of the law undertaken by King Josiah in 2 Kings 22. Could we not then speak of Orthodoxy as the abiding voice of the faith, retained, sustained, unadulterated, without also claiming that God could not and does not act among our separated brethren, who proclaim the name of Christ without the fulness of the tradition which we have inherited?
Can we truly say that when Roman Catholics convert millions to Christ, we are speaking ontologically of nothing fundamentally different to a Muslim converting a pagan to a form of abstract monotheism, which in some sense can be seen as preferable to polytheism? Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory does not even perceive things thus:
“With such people we cannot be one in the Faith, but there is no reason why we should regard them as totally estranged or as equal to pagans.” (Fr. Seraphim Rose, quoted in “How to Treat the Heterodox.”)
Fr. Seraphim further states:
“The word “heretic” (as we say in our article on Fr. Dimitry Dudko) 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… 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!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families.”
It can therefore be said that there is, even in a minimal sense, some value in the fact that Roman Catholics perform such works of mission, mercy, healing, and other key functions of the Church (which we regrettably fail to do in equal measure.) The only question is, do we settle for a minimal understanding that there is some “benefit,” or do we also perceive God’s providence and economy at work in a deliberate sense through these people?
Ultimately, we see a logic to this. God’s faithfulness is not arbitrary, or a mere formality. God’s faithfulness is maintained toward an active desire to see Israel reunited under the throne of David. His tolerance is directed towards a particular end. He both delivers Israel as they are, where they are, in spite of their faithless disunity and foreign worship, and He maintains them even in the darkest point of their exile towards a final reunification under the perpetual successor of King David — Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Conclusion, A Faithless Judah and Hope for Israel
The typology established indicates that the focal point of fullness, and oneness, is Judah under God’s covenant with David. It therefore follows that the oneness of the covenant is most aptly present in the Orthodox Church, which has maintained its faithfulness to God in its orthodoxy and orthopraxis. But just as Judah is subject to the same evils in many cases, as their Israelite brothers, we could also say that as Orthodox Christians, as a Church, we continue to rely on God’s continued faithfulness to us, while we fail to be faithful to Him.
An Orthodox Christian can at any time find himself excommunicated. Whether rendering automatic excommunication due to one or another failure, an Orthodox Christian is responsible for reuniting himself with the Church. And yet, has an Orthodox Christian in need of confession lost his patrimony? Being separated from the Church, does he cease to be its member? And indeed, we must recognize that many such individuals find themselves in these positions due to false belief, false conduct, and failure to truly be “in communion” in accordance with the faith of the Church.
Likewise, we can see that Judah’s faithlessness is not identical to that of Israel’s. Judah falls, but remains a part of the patrimony that God promised to David. Israel falls in similar, and sometimes considerably worse ways, and fails to restore itself in the manner of Judah under Hezekiah and Josiah, but it is Judah alone which retains in itself the promise of David’s throne. Israel, ultimately, must be restored to unity with Judah. It cannot establish its throne nor altar above that which God raised for David, in Jerusalem, upon Mount Zion.
Those who call for a rigourist ecclesiology are more often than not also those who would be quick to compare the Church as an institution to a faithless generation unworthy of its covenant, whether it has faithless bishops, priests, or laity. Have we not also failed to tear down the “high places” and do evil in the sight of the Lord, when so often as Orthodox we preach a gospel of nationalism, of one or another political ideology, or raise up new golden calves of our nations and declare boldly their unique role in God’s ultimate plan for this world? I should hope that none of us see these things as matters to be ignored, and perhaps we can look upon the Kingdom of Judah and see a reflection of ourselves.
And yet, from the individual who must be reconciled to the Church but does not lose its patrimony, to the Church institution itself, whose sinful members fail to proclaim God in truth, we maintain Christ as the faithful guarantor of our everlasting covenant, and are established upon His throne forever.
Perhaps it is necessary to see the division of the kingdoms as a lens to see God’s purpose in sustaining our separated brethren– that schism does not automatically result in an ossification of fragmentation, but a wound in the body. Lest I be accused of ecumenism through such a statement, I defer to St. Philaret of Moscow when he says, “but I just simply look upon them; in part I see how the Head and Lord of the Church heals the many deep wounds of the old serpent in all the parts and limbs of his Body.” (Quoted in Fr. Georges Florovsky, The Limits of the Church). Indeed, God may continue to act through the schismatics in the hope of the eventual ingathering of all the divided parts of the Church, and indeed to the extent that the grace of these bodies itself serves a role within the patrimony of the Church.
The bedrock of such an understanding is that the Church loses none of its essence, but in a temporal sense, does not retain a static sense of perfection through its various schisms. This is to say, the schism of non-Chalcedonians, Roman Catholics, and others, actively wounds the Church, and may in fact reduce the quality of its spiritual and ritual patrimony. This is not a radical assumption, for we are already struggling with the fact of being robbed of the spiritual patrimony of the West in many cases, not just for the beauty of its ritual and liturgical traditions, but also its theology. St. John Maximovitch worked tirelessly to receive this patrimony back in its pre-schismatic content, but we should also understand that the very basis of the Western Rite as it exists in the Church today in some of its most vibrant communities relies on the notion that the Western liturgical patrimony has not become “defunct” as of 1054 AD– Indeed, there is something to be received, something to nourish the Orthodox Christian in this tradition, and it is precisely the doctrinal clarity and truth that our Church offers exclusively that can inherit this and provide it with fulness of life and character. If the Church therefore, can be wounded by schism, how much more so can it be healed through reconciliation! It could only be said then, that to delegate these Christians to an irreconcilable outer darkness, whose remedy is only, and can only be, a full assimilation into the Greco-Slavonic Byzantine tradition as it is practiced today, only serves to exacerbate our wounds and limit our voice calling all to unity, not uniformity.
It is abundantly clear that God remains sacramentally active among our schismatic and heretical brethren. We are called to unity, but one that is established under the one covenant, the throne of Christ. Too often are we tempted to adopt a strongly formalistic understanding of precisely where it is the Spirit breathes, and what this implies for us. But once we develop an understanding of God’s covenant, His economy, and how He works among His fallen children to bring them back into unity, we can recognize with peace what God offers to all those who would call themselves Christians. All are called to unite themselves to the Orthodox, Catholic faith, and all those in disunity with her risk the presence of their own high places and false altars. Should we believe God fails to raise up prophets among them to proclaim His name? She would believe they cannot call upon Him for deliverance? If God is faithful to Israel, His bride, I should surely think not.
2 thoughts on “Typology of Schism: The Status of the Heterodox in God’s Covenantal Unity”
This is shaping up to be one of the most rigorous, intelligent, and faithful Orthodox theology resources regarding controversial issues in the Church today, not to mention sorely needed in order to counter-balance the influence of many so-called “traditionalist” narratives. You don’t post nearly often enough, but when you do you always knock it out of the park. Bravo.