Orthodoxy and Other Christian Confessions

Excerpts from The Orthodox Church By Archpriest Sergey Bulgakov (1871-1954)

All the foregoing may give some idea of the relationship between Orthodoxy and other Christian confessions. Note at once that the Orthodox Church is aware that she is the true and only Church, possessing the plenitude and purity of the truth in the Holy Spirit. Hence proceeds the attitude of the Orthodox Church toward other confessions, separated, immediately or not, from the unity of the Church; it can desire but one thing, that is to make Orthodox the entire Christian world, so that all confessions may be grounded in universal Orthodoxy. This is not a spirit of proselytism or imperialism; it is the inherent logic of the situation, for the truth is one and cannot be measured by half-truths. Neither is it a mark of pride, for the guardianship of the truth is entrusted to a recipient, not for its merits, but by election, and the history of the chosen people, as well as that of Orthodoxy, shows that the guardians of the truth may be little worthy of their calling. But truth is inflexible and inexorable, and will not suffer compromise.

Thus the Christian world should become Orthodox; but just what does this mean? Does it mean that everyone should become a member of a certain church organization? Is it a conquest of ecclesiastical imperialism? There does not even exist in Orthodoxy a single ecclesiastical organization which could be entered; the Orthodox Church is a system of national, autocephalous Churches, allied one with another. It is true that individuals often join themselves to Orthodoxy by becoming members of one of the national Churches, but this fact offers no solution for the question of the relationship between ecclesiastical communities or confessions. The only solution would be the following: these communities, while preserving intact their historical, national, and local characters, would draw near to Orthodox doctrine and life and would become capable of joining forces in the unity of the ecumenical Church, as autonomous or autocephalous churches. Such an exterior reunion presupposes, of course, a corresponding interior movement. But such a movement is not impossible.

(Editor’s note: Orthodoxy has understood the term of oikoumeni/ecumenical to refer to the universal Church. This must not be confused with the 20th century creation of Ecumenism, which does NOT proclaim Orthodoxy as THE TRUTH, but rather as one of the many paths leading to God. This new understanding contradicts the very essence of the Apostolic mission of the ONE CHURCH: “The fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). In his classic work, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky states that this concept indicates that the whole human race is called to salvation, and therefore all men are intended to be members of the Church of Christ, even though not all do belong to her in fact.)

Only an agreement between the Churches, founded on the maximum of their common inheritance, can lead the Christian world to real union. This maximum is Orthodoxy. It cannot be a sort of amalgam or compromise, like a religious Esperanto, still less indifference to all dogmatic questions. Neither can it be something quite new in the history of the Church; then all the earlier life of the Church would have been a mistake, a misunderstanding, non-being. Orthodoxy is the interior way, the interior necessity for the universal Church on its way towards unity; it is only in Orthodoxy that the problems raised by the Christian confessions find a solution and an end, for it possesses the truth. Orthodoxy is not one of the historic confessions, it is the Church itself, in its verity.