There is talk lately about the fundamentalists in Orthodoxy, but the real problem is not fundamentalism in general, but a group that I would designate as ‘self-proclaimed saviours’. This group is far more dangerous and problematic than the average fundamentalist, simply because in the name of Orthodoxy, they actually go against the very essence of Orthodoxy!
Soft and Hard Fundamentalism
Basically, Orthodox fundamentalism involves the absolutisation of certain historical forms of the Orthodox faith, and thus entails, paradoxically, the historical undermining of Orthodoxy. When one says for instance, that Orthodoxy is realised as the revelation of divine truth within history, yet at the same time limits this history to a very specific history, then for you history is not important at all; it’s just a pretext.
For argument's sake, let’s call the above ‘soft fundamentalism’. On the other hand, there is a ‘hard fundamentalism’, which is not just the undermining and subversion of the intrinsic historicity of the Orthodox Church, but more so the replacement of this historicity by the absolutisation of the believing individual. In this case, it is the individual that dictates the criteria of being Orthodox or not. In other words, it’s like dealing with the worst nightmare of Orthodox-cum-Protestant individualism…
The Historicity of Orthodoxy
When we refer to the historicity of the Orthodox Church, we refer to the latter’s essence; Orthodoxy is what it is in, through and as history! Even its envisioned meta-historical condition enters into its communion with the Eschaton as a transformed historicity. But what is this historicity? It’s what we conventionally call ‘tradition’. But what exactly is the sacred tradition of the Church? It’s the continuity, consistency and convergence of different yet equally genuine experiential instances of the Christ-Event. And all of them make ever-present the past of the historical Jesus as the Jesus-of-the-Resurrection.
But what are the criteria for what I’ve just described? These criteria are no secret – although most people might not be aware of them – for they have been designated as such, namely, as criteria of the right faith throughout history due to the challenges the Church faced to its own authenticity. And these criteria are the Canon of Holy Scripture, Apostolic succession, and the repeatedly affirmed synodality of the faithful. Nowhere does the believing individual come in; nowhere is the super-Orthodox conscience prioritised.
Charismatic Institutions vs Charismatic Individuals
The historicity of the Church is charismatic, and as such it comprises of both charismatic institutions and charismatic individuals. To be sure, it is charismatic for other reasons as well, but let’s concentrate on these two for the purposes of the present article. Charismatic institutions stem from charismatic individuals and charismatic individuals thrive from within charismatic institutions. However, an individual is always an individual and as such they can never fully convey the truth of the Ecclesia, which by definition is collective.
Conversely, charismatic institutions – regardless of how rigid or detached they might have become with the passing of time – convey fully the truth of the Ecclesia in each and every period, for they have been constituted on the basis of the continuity, consistency and convergence of the experience of many charismatic individuals. More specifically, one of the most potent Church institutions is the charismatic ministry of priesthood in all its multiplicity and complexity; an institution that involves the leadership of the Church, that is, the very guidance of the faithful throughout history.
The Leadership of the Church
Leadership and guidance, or even more emphatic corollaries such as authority and power are not particularly the favourites of the modern individual. The latter detests, more or less, all kinds of external imposition and, by extension, all kinds of institutional structure. When it comes specifically to ecclesiology – both as the theory and practice about the Church – the modern Christian individual is many a time prone to express their intolerance to institutions and elevate themselves to the status of the living and true institution. Ecclesiastical hierarchy and charismatic institutionality come down to naught in front of the spiritually privileged individual.
This is the phenomenology of the modern Christian individual that forms the spearhead of hard-core Orthodox fundamentalism. Having puffed up their role and consciousness as charismatic members of the Church they neither accept nor acknowledge any institutional priesthood. Priests, bishops and patriarchs are nothing to them; synods of prelates are to be scrutinised in advanced and invalidated as possible agents of the Holy Spirit. This type of fundamentalists knows better than anyone else and it is within themselves that the continuity, consistency and convergence – so crucial for tradition – are embodied.
The Church, however, affirms the constitutive elements of its essence-cum-tradition via the Bible Canon in conjunction with Apostolic succession and in light of the repeatedly affirmed synodality of the faithful. This is how the communio sanctorum, that is, the body of the faithful expresses and realises itself, and this is how and where the Orthodox individual is called to serve and locate itself. Contracting all this institutionality into the individual and reshuffling it in the guise of some charismatic personality serves one and only purpose: the blasphemy against the age-long historical workings of the Holy Spirit.
Orthodoxy in Need of Saviours…
In the face of the overwhelming changes, advances and developments taking place in modernity, many a circle in global Orthodoxy feel threatened and endangered, so to speak. People believe that the proper response, namely, the orthopraxia, with regards to this situation is the preservation of Orthodoxy much more in the form of heritage and legacy than in the form of intentionality and meaning – if at all! And to achieve this goal, they are willing and determined to do anything; even if that entails dismantling the Church… so that they can recreate it themselves!
Of course, this is their blind spot; they cannot even take into consideration the probability that they might be doing something wrong – something awfully wrong! The ‘saviour complex’ is the psycho-pathology of their religious identity, and this is so crucial an identification for them that the whole of global Orthodoxy has now come to the point that ethno-fragmentation is – in many respects – not the main problem anymore but has been superseded by the disintegrating effects of ego-fragmentation.
Undoubtedly, the solution to this problem of global Orthodoxy is not the primacy of institutions over individuals, priesthood over laity; convention over charisma. Rather, a creative dialogue must be established between the two, so that the most constructive effects can be secured for the Church.
Global Orthodoxy should reaffirm its nature as a hierophanic institution that realises, here and now, Christ-the-Eschaton-of-History through the sanctified historicity of its priestly ministry in conjunction with the repeatedly reaffirmed synodality of the individual faithful. Anything other than that is what they used to call in the old days … HERESY!
ABOUT | INSIGHTS INTO GLOBAL ORTHODOXY with Dr Vassilis Adrahtas
"Insights into Global Orthodoxy" is a weekly column that features opinion articles that on the one hand capture the pulse of global Orthodoxy from the perspective of local sensitivities, needs and/or limitations, and on the other hand delve into the local pragmatics and significance of Orthodoxy in light of global trends and prerogatives.
Dr Vassilis Adrahtas holds a PhD in Studies in Religion (USyd) and a PhD in the Sociology of Religion (Panteion). He has taught at several universities in Australia and overseas. Since 2015 he has been teaching ancient Greek Religion and Myth at the University of New South Wales and Islamic Studies at Western Sydney University. He has published ten books. He has extensive experience in the print media as editor-in-chief, and columnist, and for a while he worked as a radio producer. He lives in Sydney, Australia, his birthplace.