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Neo-traditionalist ecclesiology in Orthodoxy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 November 2019

Paul Ladouceur
Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College, University of Toronto; Faculté de théologie et sciences religieuses, Université Laval, Quebec
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Modern anti-ecumenism in Orthodoxy is grounded in a sacramental or eucharistic ecclesiology which identifies Christianity and the church exclusively with the Orthodox Church and stands in opposition to universal baptismal ecclesiology. This neo-traditionalist ecclesiology stresses the unity of the sacraments of baptism, chrismation and eucharist as equally necessary for membership in the church, identified exclusively with the Orthodox Church. It exploits a weakness in Orthodox eucharistic ecclesiology, according to which the church, identified with the Orthodox eucharistic community, can be interpreted as excluding non-Orthodox Christians from the church. The article demonstrates that this anti-ecumenical, exclusivist ecclesiology is contrary to several major aspects of the Orthodox tradition.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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1 For a discussion of neo-traditionalist ‘prophetic ecclesiology’, see Ladouceur, Paul, ‘Orthodox Theologies of the Afterlife’, St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 62/1 (2018), pp. 5172Google Scholar.

2 Popovich, Justin, The Orthodox Church and Ecumenism (Birmingham: Lazarica Press, 2000 [1974]), p. 69Google Scholar.

3 See e.g. ‘Patristic Theology and Post-Patristic Heresy: Symposium of the Holy Metropolis of Piraeus’ (Piraeus, 15 February 2012). <> accessed 5 Dec. 2018.

4 See Romanides, John, ‘The Theologian in the Service of the Church in Ecumenical Dialogue’, Greek Orthodox Theological Review 25/2 (1980), pp. 131–51Google Scholar.

5 See Chaillot, Christine (ed.), The Dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Volos: Volos Academy Publications, 2016), pp. 437–8Google Scholar, 440–41.

6 Metallinos, George D., I Confess One Baptism: Interpretation and Application of Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council by the Kollyvades and Constantine Oikonomos (1983) (Holy Mountain: St Paul's Monastery, 1994)Google Scholar, B.1 ‘Ecclesiological and Canonical Presuppositions’. <> accessed 2 Dec. 2018.

7 Metallinos, A ‘The Principal Figures’; and B.1 ‘Ecclesiological and Canonical Presuppositions, in I Confess One Baptism.

8 Heers, Peter, The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II: An Orthodox Examination of Rome's Ecumenical Theology Regarding Baptism and the Church (Simpsonville, NC: Uncut Mountain Press, 2015)Google Scholar.

9 Ibid., p. 23.


10 Ibid., p. 196, citing Ratzinger, Joseph, ‘Protestantism: III. Assessment from the Catholic Point of View’, in Horn, Stephan Otto and Pfnur, Vinzenz (eds), Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), pp. 1415Google Scholar.


11 Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), §3.

12 Ibid.


13 Heers, Ecclesiological Renovation, pp. 211, 212–13.

14 Ibid., p. 213.


15 Ibid., pp. 203, 206.


16 Ibid., p. 30, n. 25.


17 Ibid., p. 199.


18 Vlachos, Hierotheos, The Mind of the Orthodox Church (Levadia: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1998 [1990]), pp. 4950Google Scholar.

19 Ibid., p. 49; see also pp. 131, 148.


20 Theodore Zisis, ‘The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church: A Cause for Hope or Concern?’ International Theological Conference on Inter-religious Syncretism, Chisinau, Moldova, 21–22 Jan. 2016. <> accessed 25 Apr. 2016.

21 Florovsky, Georges, ‘Sobornost: The Catholicity of the Church’, in Gallaher, Brandon and Ladouceur, Paul (eds), The Patristic Witness of Georges Florovsky: Essential Theological Writings (London: T&T Clark, 2019), p. 258Google Scholar.

22 Romanides, John, An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics, trans. Dragas, George Dion. (Rollinsford, NH: Orthodox Research Institute, 2004 [1972]), pp. 77Google Scholar, 79.

23 Ibid., pp. 77–9. Note that the comma after ‘is not granted by the Church’ creates an ambiguity not present in the Greek text, which has no comma here.


24 But presumably all are saved by Christ not the church, as Romanides affirms elsewhere: ‘Even within the corporate life of the Mysteries, it is Christ and not the Church that saves.’ Romanides, John, ‘The Ecclesiology of St. Ignatius’, Greek Orthodox Theological Review 7/1–2 (1961–2), p. 74Google Scholar.

25 Ibid.


26 Ibid.


27 Heers, Ecclesiological Renovation, pp. 242, 291.

28 Georges Khodr, ‘Will Non-Christian Be Saved?’ (in Arabic), An-Nahar (Beirut) (22 June 2002), trans. Najib Coutya <> accessed 21 Aug. 2018.

29 Heers, Ecclesiological Renovation, pp. 183–4.

30 Ibid., pp. 188–90.


31 Ibid., p. 184.


32 See Metallinos, I Confess One Baptism, p. 115; and Heers, ‘The Mystery of Baptism’, pp. 2–3.

33 Georges Florovsky, ‘The Limits of the Church’, in Gallaher and Ladouceur, Patristic Witness of Florovsky, p. 249.

34 Ibid., p. 253.


35 Heers, Ecclesiological Renovation, p. 291.

36 Florovsky, Georges, ‘The House of the Father’, in Ecumenism I: A Doctrinal Approach, vol. 13 of The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (Vaduz: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1989), p. 79Google Scholar. Cited in Heers, Ecclesiological Renovation, pp. 298–9.

37 See the texts contained in ‘Ecclesiology and Ecumenism’, part III of Gallaher and Ladouceur, Patristic Witness of Florovsky, pp. 247–308.

38 Schmemann, Alexander, ‘Unity, Division, Reunion in the Light of Orthodox Ecclesiology’, Theologia (Athens), 22 (KB), 2 (1951)Google Scholar.

39 Ibid., p. 253.


40 Ibid., p. 249.


41 Ibid., p. 251.


42 See Heers, ‘The Mystery of Baptism’; and Ware, Kallistos, Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church under Turkish Rule (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013 [1964])Google Scholar.

43 See the passages cited by Peter Heers in ‘The Mystery of Baptism’, pp. 2–3, from Ware, Eustratios Argenti, pp. 83–5.

44 Ware, Timothy (Kallistos), The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin, 1963), p. 316Google Scholar. This passage has remained unchanged in subsequent editions of this classic work.

45 Letter from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware to the author, 4 July 2017.

46 Heers, Ecclesiological Renovation, pp. 255–6, n. 531, citing Romanides, ‘St. Ignatius of Antioch’, p. 76.

47 Romanides, ‘St. Ignatius of Antioch’, p. 76.

48 For an overview, see Ladouceur, Paul, ‘On Ecumenoclasm: Anti-Ecumenism in Orthodox Theology’, St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 61/3 (2017), pp. 323–55Google Scholar.

49 Erickson, John H., ‘The Church in Modern Orthodox Thought: Towards a Baptismal Ecclesiology’, International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 11/2–3 (2011), p. 149CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 Ibid.


51 Popovich, Justin, Philosophie orthodoxe de la Vérité: Dogmatique de l’Église orthodoxe. L’Église comme Mystère du Christ, vol. 4 (Lausanne: L'Age d'homme, 1997 [1978]), pp. 2930Google Scholar. For Popovich the Orthodox Church is the Church, as he says in the next paragraph, referring to ‘a single great mystery which encompasses all that is divino-human in an integral mystery – the Orthodox Church’. The tone of the generally universalist ecclesiology of Popovich's treatise contrasts with his often outspoken denunciations of non-Orthodox Christianity in other writings. Peter Drobac revised this translation from the Serbian.

52 Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church, 14; John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle to the Ephesians, 11. Cited by Heers, Ecclesiological Renovation, pp. 270–1.

53 Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 204.

54 Heers, Ecclesiological Renovation, p. 279.

55 I am grateful to Dr George Demacopoulos (Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University) and to the reviewers for the Scottish Journal of Theology for comments on an earlier version of this article.

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