church bell from below

No Other Foundation

Reflections from Fr. Lawrence Farley

In every Orthodox Liturgy there comes a moment when the deacon cries out, “The doors!  The doors!”  This is not (as one parishioner once informed me) the directive to open the Royal Doors of the iconostas, but to make sure that the main doors into the church (the original “royal doors”) remained guarded and closed.  The directive hearkened back to the time when performance of and attendance at the Christian Eucharist was a capital offence in the Roman empire, and so the leaders of the congregation took precautions to make sure that their Eucharist was not interrupted by a police raid.  In those days the deacon was shouting to the door-keeper (a church office that, like the office of deaconess, fell into abeyance) and telling him to keep the cops out.  After Constantine called off the Roman police dogs and ended the persecution, the directive to guard the doors remained in the Liturgy.

       It was, of course, something of an anachronism, and my (former) bishop once gave me to permission to omit it.  Not being fond of meaningless anachronism, I was tempted to take him up on it and omit it, but a look around our present culture gave me pause.  The days were darkening and who knew what persecution the future might bring.  Perhaps the omission might prove to be a bit premature.  Anyway, I retained the directive.  Recent Covid experience in Canada (where in some situations police did raid functioning congregations during worship) seemed to confirm the wisdom of the retention.

       The closed doors of the church, reinforced by diaconal directive each Liturgy, speaks of the firm boundary between the Church and the World.  Sometimes that world is sympathetic and helpful (like in Byzantine times), and sometimes dramatically unsympathetic and unhelpful (like in Soviet times—and increasingly, like in Canada now).  But whatever the times, the Kingdom is not of this world, and so the world is still the World and ever will remain so until the Lord returns.

       The directive about the doors has a larger and wider application than merely that of keeping out unwanted physical intruders.  It also might be applied to unwanted ideological intruders—in other words, heresy.  In fact, heresy is arguably an even greater threat to the Church than persecution, for persecution touches the bodies of the faithful, whereas heresy infects and destroys their souls.  We must therefore close the doors of the Church to heresy as well as to police. 

This is all the more necessary, because the arresting police don’t pretend when they handcuff you and haul you off that they are your friends, but heretics always dress up in sheep’s clothing (or more likely in shepherd’s clothing) and pretend that they are your friends.  They have not come to destroy the saving Tradition of the Church and subvert its teaching, but to update it.  It’s all for your own good.  They have come to help you. 

From the days of St. Paul the Church has always been on its guard against heresy, subversion, and false teaching—and usually has used scathing and impolite language to describe it.  St. Paul warned his converts against heretics, describing them as “dogs, evil-workers, and mutilators”, as “false apostles, deceitful workers” and as Satan’s servants (Philippians 3:2, 2 Corinthians 11:13-14).  St. Peter described them as “irrational animals”, as “blots and blemishes”, as “accursed children” (2 Peter 2:12-14).  St. Jude described them as “waterless clouds, fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 12-13).

Those denunciations expressed the Church’s determination to remain faithful to her Lord, and to resist the spiritual contamination of the World that ever lay in wait as a perennial danger.  Her concern was not “inclusiveness” or “dialogue”, for she knew that there could be no concord or treaty between light and darkness (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-16).  Inclusively welcoming darkness into her life would be like inclusively welcoming cancer into a body:  the survival of the body depended upon not being inclusive, and upon expelling the cancer before it could spread and kill.  The Church knew how quickly a little leaven could leaven the whole lump.  That is why in her many councils, both local and ecumenical, the Church took care to identify and refuse false doctrine, pronouncing those who held them “anathema” and expelling them from the Church.  The anathemas thus functioned like doors—heresy was to be kept outside, just as the persecutors once were.

Every first Sunday of Great Lent we have the opportunity to repeat some anathemas against those adhering to age-old Christological heresies.  I don’t avail myself of the opportunity here at St. Herman’s because those Christological heresies have no relevance to my congregation.  The threat posed by those groups have long since vanished into the mists of history. 

But there are other heresies more contemporary, and which offer a threat to us today every bit as real as the threat posed to our forefathers by the heretics of old.  Instead of condemning the Arians who rejected the homoousios, perhaps we could condemn those who reject a male-only priesthood, or who affirm that abortion is part of a woman’s right to choose, or who deny the binary nature of gender, or celebrate homosexual marriage, or who affirm that all will be finally saved, including the devil and his angels.  That would conform to the spirit of the ancient anathemas, and bring them up to date.  Those who insist that the Church today must be relevant might be heartened, for anathematizing these modern heresies would be very relevant indeed.

It would also serve, as nothing else would, to draw a clear dividing line—the line the sand—between truth and error, between light and darkness.  It would represent a closing of the doors to alien and secular ideology.  And it would also serve as a declaration of where congregations stood on these important matters.  The true Orthodox stance, preserved by the Fathers and declared even now by our faithful bishops, is not in doubt, nor is it up for debate.  By announcing anathemas against our modern heresies our congregations would be upholding the faith declared by our bishops, and would strengthen their hands in their episcopal work of rightly defining the word of truth. 

We want to stand with our bishops and close the doors to secular contamination, for in these tumultuous times, the danger posed by such heresy is real.  A line in the sand needs to be drawn, and the church doors firmly closed.





Fr. Lawrence Farley

About Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman's Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.