A REFLECTION ON A TEXAN

By dogcatcher on February 25th, 2012

 

A Reflection on a Texan

This brief article contains my reflections on the posting of June 17, 2011 on gotruthreform.org entitled “The Living Saint.” I found what was being said about Elder Ephraim and Orthodox clergy in general to be completely in error in regard to the teachings of the Orthodox Christian faith. In fact, the Texan gentleman quoted in the article demonstrates that much of what is coming out of Florence, AZ is heretical and, in my opinion, demonic.

To begin with, I find it disturbing that Elder Ephraim is being called a “living saint.” Too often we forget that as baptized and Chris mated Orthodox Christians, we are all “saints” albeit with a little “s.” Christians are called “saints” throughout the pages of the New Testament – and this is referring to the people alive on earth now, in what we call the Church Militant. The Saints (capital “S”) that we commemorate liturgically for their holy lives and great deeds – The Church Triumphant which includes forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith – are declared as such by the Orthodox Church and not by a fan club. We are all called to be “living saints” being conformed into icons of Christ (re: Romans 8:29). That title is not solely for monastics.

The gentleman quoted in the article goes on to make this statement, “I don’t go to a Greek Church anymore. None of you should. All of the bishops and metropolitans are corrupt and not true Greek Orthodox Christians.”

Let me first discuss the last sentence. The Elder Ephraim movement has oftentimes been accused of Donatism and this statement supports that notion. What is Donatism? Donatism was a heresy that arose in the 4th century.

The Donatists took the lines of rigorism; the validity of the sacraments, they taught, depended on the worthiness of the minister, and the Church ceased to be holy and forfeited its claim to be Christ’s body when it tolerated unworthy bishops and other officers (…) in its ranks.

In other words, only the clergy that were deemed holy or pure were able to perform “valid” sacraments. This heresy split the North African Church and, for a while, was the dominant version of Christianity in that region. Condemned in 314 at the Council of Arles, the Donatist movement continued to exist until the 7th or 8th century when all of North African Christianity fell to Muslim conquerors.

It seems to me, that declaring the bishops of the Church as corrupt and not “true” Christians sounds a lot like Donatism. However, the long-accepted prayers of the Orthodox Church, which are considered to have dogmatic authority, demonstrate that this is not so. What follows are three very clear examples.

First, there is the celebrant’s (priest or bishop) prayer at the Cherubic Hymn. This beautiful penitential prayer is read just before the celebrant does the Great Censing. It states:
No one who is bound with the desires and the pleasures of the flesh is worthy to approach or draw nigh or to serve thee, O King of Glory: for to serve thee is a great and terrible thing even to the Heavenly Powers. (…) Wherefore I implore thee who art good and art ready to listen: Look down upon me, a sinner, and thine unprofitable servant, and cleanse my soul and my heart from an evil conscience; and by the power of thy Holy Spirit enable me, who am endued with the grace of priesthood, to stand before this thy Holy Table, and perform the sacred Mystery of thy holy and immaculate Body and Precious Blood. For I draw near unto thee, and bowing my neck I pray thee: turn not thy face from me, neither cast me out from among thy children; but vouchsafe that these gifts may be offered unto thee by me, thy unworthy servant….

Clearly, this prayer demonstrates that the celebrant is unworthy to offer the gifts. There is no perfection prerequisite. It is also clear that the Orthodox Church believes that the “validity of the sacrament” (a purely Western and Latin concept by the way) is not based on the holiness of the priest, but rather by the grace and operation of the Holy Spirit. This prayer and the two that follow are clearly anti-Donatist and anti-Ephraimite.

Secondly, there is the Prayer of the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great. Just after the commemoration of the Bishop, the celebrant says,
Be mindful, O Lord, of mine unworthiness, according to the multitude of Thy compassions; pardon me every transgression, both voluntary and involuntary, and withhold not, because of my sins, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit from these gifts here spread forth.

As with the prayer above, this prayer assumes that the celebrant is a sinner (as we all are) and again reaffirms the teaching that it is the grace of the Holy Spirit and not the worthiness of the celebrant that enables the sacrament to be performed.

Lastly, and most poignantly, there is the fifth prayer recited at the sacrament of Holy Unction. Here the celebrant says:
O Lord our God (…) who also hast called me, thy humble and sinful and unworthy servant, entangled in manifold sins and wallowing in the lusts of pleasures, to the holy and sublime degree of the Priesthood, and to enter within the innermost veil, into the Holy of Holies, whither the holy Angels desire to penetrate, and to hear the evangelic voice of the Lord God….

Personally, that prayer sends shivers up my spine when I read it. It forces me to realize my standing before God and just how much I have sinned and fell short of the glory of God (re: Romans 3:23). Yet at the same time it fills me with joy in the mercy and compassion that the All-Holy Trinity has towards us sinners. To assume that holiness abides only in (certain) monks and not in the bishops and their ordained clergy is simply a variant form of Donatism. We are all sinners, clergy, monastics, and laity alike, and we are all called to a life of repentance as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (re: Philippians 2:12).

Lastly, the man in the article is quoted as saying, “I don’t go to a Greek Church anymore.” I assume that by the term “Greek Church” he is referring to any Orthodox Christian Church in general, be it Greek, Antiochian, Serbian, OCA, etc. To me, this is the most horrific result of the Elder Ephraim movement. That this so-called “living saint” would convince people to abandon parish church life is a sin and a heresy in itself. From the earliest days of the Church we are told that the Church, not the monastery, is the central locus of the Christian faith throughout time and space. It is the clergy and the laity, together with the Bishop, offering the sacraments, that makes the Church Universal. St. Ignatius of Antioch writes in the early years of the second century that the bishop is a model of God the Father in the ekklesia and that anyone who does anything behind the bishop’s back serves the devil. So, in pondering who or what is motivating Elder Ephraim and driving this man from Church, I have no recourse but to quote the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live and say, “Hmmm. Satan, maybe?” When, through Elder Ephraim, men and women are convinced to abandon their churches, it is a victory not for Holy Orthodoxy, but for the Devil himself.

I have long held the personal theory that we are living in the era of the Monastic Captivity of the Church. Having liberated ourselves from the Turkish Captivity and from the Communist Captivity, the Church is now under a new captivity – sola monastica – where the only “true” Christians are monks and everyone else is somehow a second class citizen. This is simply not true. The anti-clericalism of the Ephraimites is nothing but regurgitated Donatism; it is heresy re-born. The liturgical prayers of the Church clearly refute this teaching.

In closing, I remind all faithful and true Orthodox Christians that in times of heresy the majority of the Church oftentimes falls into error. This was the case with the Donatists in North Africa and with the Arian heresy. However, it was through the prayers, teachings, and determination of the minority who held onto the true faith that heresy and the devil were overthrown. It is time for us to pray even more diligently for Christ’s Holy Church that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2007), pg. 410.
Service Book of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church (Englewood, NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, 1997), pgs. 104-105.
The Divine Liturgy for Clergy and Laity: Text and Music for Congregational Participation (Englewood, NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, 1996), pg. 60.
The Services of Great and Holy Week and Pascha (Englewood, NJ: Antakya Press, 2006), pgs. 329-330.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Trallians 3
St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrneans 9

Editors’ Note
This letter to the Editors was written by an Orthodox Priest. He asked us to publish his name. The Editorial Board concluded that this loyal faith abiding priest should not subject himself to insidious retaliation by followers of Elder Ephraim “theology” including the Priest’s affected brethren clergy. The Editors explained the Board’s concerns to the faith abiding Priest who reluctantly agreed to remove his name. We will continue to protect the identity of all our contributors to the website in order to shield them from attacks. Instead of focusing on the issue raised, too often people criticize the messenger. “Kill the messenger” is a familiar metaphoric phrase which has been used throughout history and refers to when the bearer of bad news is attacked for bringing the message, no matter how true. This tactic is used to direct focus and attention away from the issues and to create controversy. “Kill the Messenger” is too often the first response used by many followers of Elder Ephraim against those who dare speak unfavorably against the movement.