the Attitude of the Orthodox Church Towards the Heterodox and Towards
The Russian Orthodox Church strictly adheres to the teaching set
forth in the Creed that the Church of Christ is one.
As the Body of Christ and the sole vessel of salvation, as the pillar
and foundation of truth, the Church never divided itself nor disappeared,
but always, over the entire history of Christianity, taught the
pure teaching of the Gospel in the abundance of the grace-filled
gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Having received the command from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself,
the Church is called upon to fulfill her Apostolic mission "to
preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). For this
reason, over the course of her thousand-year history, the Russian
Church illuminated with the light of the Truth of Christ both those
peoples among whom she was found and those of neighboring countries.
At the same time, she strove to return into the salvific bosom of
the Church the separated Christians of other confessions, and with
this goal, in the 19th century, created special committees for dialog
with them, taking into account at the same time the various degrees
of their distance from the faith and practices of the Ancient Church.
Up until the 1960's, in hopes that their participation in inter-confessional
meetings might encourage the study of Orthodoxy by Christians of
other confessions, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
sent their representatives to such gatherings. The aims of such
participation were expressed in a decision of the Council of Bishops
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on December 18/31,
"Preserving faith in the One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic
Church, the Synod of Bishops affirms that the Church never divided
itself. The question lies only in who belongs to her and who does
not. At the same time, the Synod of Bishops fervently welcomes
all attempts of the heterodox to study Christ's teaching on the
Church in the hope that through this study, especially with the
participation of representatives of the Holy Orthodox Church,
they will ultimately come to the conclusion that the Orthodox
Church, as the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15),
fully and without error preserved the teaching handed down by
Christ the Savior to His disciples."
Still, a significant portion of the Protestant world in the course
of its development embarked upon the path of humanist liberalism
and is losing its bond with the Tradition of the Holy Church more
and more, changing by whim the divinely-established norms of morality
and dogmatic teachings and placing itself at the service of the
interests of the consumerist society, subjecting themselves to notions
of earthly comfort and political goals. As "salt that lost
its savor" (Matthew 5:13), such communities have lost their
power to resist human passions and sins.
Such tendencies evoke profound anxiety, and have motivated the Orthodox
Church to reexamine its relationship with various confessions and
The Inter-Orthodox Conference in Thessaloniki (1998) was convened
in part to address this question. The practice of inter-confessional
relationships was subjected to intense examination in the "Basic
Principles of the Russian Orthodox Church's Attitude to the Non-Orthodox"
adopted at the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church
(2000). It is recognized that if the aforementioned negative tendencies
reign in inter-confessional organizations, the Orthodox will be
obliged to withdraw from them. For this reason, a resolution must
be found in the nearest future to the problem of the degree to which
existing forms of inter-Christian cooperation permit Orthodox representatives
to remain free of those attitudes and participation in those practices
which contradict the spirit of Orthodoxy. A condition of the participation
of the Orthodox Church in inter-confessional organizations, including
the World Council of Churches, is the exclusion of religious syncretism.
Orthodox Christians insist on their right to freely confess their
faith in the Orthodox Church as the One Holy Universal and Apostolic
Church without conceding the so-called "branch theory"
and definitively reject any attempts to dilute Orthodox ecclesiology.
The Orthodox Church excludes any possibility of liturgical communion
with the non-Orthodox. In particular, it is considered impermissible
for Orthodox to participate in liturgical actions connected with
so-called ecumenical or inter-confessional religious services. In
general, the Church should determine the forms of interaction with
the heterodox on a conciliar basis, stemming from its teachings,
canonical discipline and ecclesiastical expediency.
Nonetheless, the possibility of cooperation with the heterodox is
not excluded, for example, in helping the unfortunate and by defending
the innocent, in joint resistance to immorality, and in participating
in charitable and educational projects. It may be appropriate to
participate in socially meaningful ceremonies in which other confessions
are represented. In addition, dialog with the non-Orthodox remains
necessary to witness Orthodoxy to them, to overcome prejudices and
to disprove false opinions. Yet it is not proper to smooth over
or obscure the actual differences between Orthodoxy and other confessions.