John S. Romanides

I have been asked to make some remarks at this point on Religious Freedom from an Orthodox point of view. I will preface the theological portion of my statement with some observations on current Orthodox concerns about Religious Freedom.


Of the 150 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world today, the great majority are behind the Iron Curtain. Many millions of these people have lived through several decades of persecution and are now enjoying what seems to be precarious toleration. Several million Orthodox have survived the social and religious disabilities imposed upon them by Islamic conquests. The few million who are today within the Islamic world enjoy a ghetto-type toleration not very different fronI that of old. In at least one modern and supposedly liberal Islamic state the Orthodox population has in receut years undergone one more persecution and is now living in a state of terror.

In one European country the Orthodox Church is the state religion and in another predominantly Lutheran nation the small but dynamic Orthodox minority enjoys the status of a state church. The 500,000 citizens of the newly democratic Cyprus have elected as their first president an Orthodox Archbishop and in spite of their insignificant numbers are members of the United Nations with a vote equal to that of India.

Nevertheless, a recent American author[ 2 ] has indirectly, and I believe unintentionally, informed more than three million Americain Orthodox Christians that they are not regarded as real Americans because they

have not yet disappeared in the boiling oil of the "triple melting pot" of Protestantism, Roman Catitolicism, and Judaism.

From this very brief description of current conditions one can readily see why most Orthodox Christians must remain content with toleration at the church-state level. A radical separation of church and state has become the rule for almost all Orthodox churches, and indications are that these churches have benefited in the process. In the United States the Orthodox Church is in an advanced stage of transition from a religion of immigrant groups to that of second- and third-generation Americans. Fourth-generation Americans are increasing by the thousands every year. We are getting greater numbers of third-generation candidates for the priesthood at our theological schools.

We have survived the melting pots of Communism and Islam and are not about to accept the social disibilities inherent in the "triple melting pot" theory based on the false impression that Cristianity is a monopoly of Catholics and Protestants. Until the time comes for the reunion of Christendom, we are here to stay, and as real Americans. We have a melting pot of our own and are not about to use anyone else's.

American Orthodox of Greek ancestry are especially proud and very sensitive about the fact that so much of the ancient democratic and republican traditions of Athens and Rome have been incorporated into American democracy. Perhaps one of the reasons most Greek immigrants joined the Democratic party was that it never occurred to any Republican to explain to them that the Latin word res publica means almost the same thing as the Greek word "democracy".

Father Ellis[ 3 ] pointed out that great sections of the United States once belonged to Catholic Spain and France. It's also interesting to note that the largest state in the Union was once ruled and christianized by Orthodox Russia. Orthodox Christianity came to Alaska, which then included Oregon and Washington, in the middle of the eighteenth century and after 200 years is still the religion of a large section of the native population. We were the first to establish Christianity in Alaska and have been on the North American Continent longer than the Constitution of the United States. Regardless of the significance it may or may not have, this Union is made up of vast expanses once ruled by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox nations.

Before I turn to some observations on the theological aspects of the new principle of religious freedom, which is somehow lumbering through the limits of the mere toleration of private individual or group conscience, I would like to point to the significance of the fact that within the last year all Orthodox churches behind the Iron Curtain have joined the World Council of Churches. Orthodox membership is now 100 per cent and comprises about half the total membership of the Ecumenical Movement. The basis of this encounter between Protestants and Orthodox is obviously not mere toleration, but a sincere desire for dialogue and understanding in an atmosphere of mutual respect, not only for each other's persons, but also for each other's beliefs. Some Roman Catholics and even some Protestants may be horrified by this turn of events, but there are those who already appreciate the tremendous possibilities of this revolutionary and extremely daring adventure.


In speaking of the three contributions to the meaning of religious liberty that a Protestant Christian finds in his most basic faith and theology, Dr. Shinn expects considerable agreement with Jews and Roman Catholics since this faith is rooted in the Bible. An Orthodox Ghristian, faithful to the theology of his church, must also give his wholehearted endorsement, but would preface it with some remarks about God's love for man and add some further remarks about the nature of man's love for God and neighbor. While the points I am about to make would take us well beyond the level of toleration, they are still short of any guarantee of religious freedom.

The attitude of Orthodox faith and theology to sociological realities outside of her sacramentaltal reality as church, in other words, to those not participating in her inner soteriological experience, is governed by the nature and purpose of her inner cornmunity life, which, in turn, is determined by her understanding of God and spiritual freedom.

The doctrine of beatific vision, borrowed by Augustine of Hippo from the Neo-Platonists, whereby man's destiny is to become completely happy in the possession of the vision of the divine essence, is unknown to the Orthodox Patristic tradition. Man's destiny is rather the transformation of the desire for happiness into a non-utilitarian love which does not seek its own. Whereas in Neo-Platonic Christian theologies the reward of the just will be or is the vision of God, and the punishnient of the unjust will be the privation of this vision, in the Orthodox tradition both the just and the unjust will have the vision of God in His uncreated glory, with the difference that for the unjust this same uncreated glory of God will be the eternal fires of hell. God is light for those who learn to love Him and a consuming fire for those who will not. The reason for this is not that God has any positive intent in punishing but that for those who are not prepared properly, to see God is a cleansing experience, but one which does not lead to the eternal process of perfection. This understanding of the vision of God does not belong to the rewards and punishment structure of theologies geared to transcendental happiness and therefore overcomes the dualistic distinction between an inferior world of change and frustration and a superior world of immutable realities and happiness. Salvation is not an escape from motion, but an eternal movement toward perfection within the time process.

Preparation within the eschatological dimension for the vision of God unto blessedness and not unto spiritual stultification depends on whether or not man has allowed God the possibility of beginning the transformation of self-centered happiness and security-seeking love, which is a good at its own level, into a love which does not seek its own. Salvation, therefore, cannot be the product of unmerited meritorious works and intentions rewarded finally by the happiness of the beatific vision. Good works and good intentions are only preliminary steps to the necessary preparation. To reward these preliminary steps with the vision of God would not be salvation, but damnation. Neither are these preliminary steps meritorious in the sense that they are possible by virtue of the gift of prevenient and habitus grace continuously moving the will to good intentions and good works. In the Orthodox tradition the responsibility for good works and good intentions rests with what one may call natural man, both within and without the church, whereas the good work of transforming man takes place by the grace of God in cooperation with man. It is the latter stage of cooperation which leads from a utilitarian to a non-utilitarian love of eternal perfection. Being a Christian is not to attain to the reward, which in a real sense will he ommon to all, but of being prepared that the reward will not in fact be an eternal stagnation. God has predestined all the salvaion, but by their own spiritual laziness some will be spiritually stymied.

It goes without saying that the doctrines of original sin, atonement, and predestination were never understood by Orthodox Christians in an Augustinian, Anselmian, and Calvinistic manner. Original sin is not an inherited guilt, nor is death a punishment from God for such guilt. God permitted death in order that sin may not become eternal. Salvation is not a question of satisfying a wrathful God. God really loves those who refuse to return his love and so are eternally damned. Therefore, anyone who thinks that he has a special claim on the love of God because of any special church affiliation or predestination will be in for a real surprise. On the other hand, he who has confidence in the love of God and is indifferent to the question of salvation will also be in for a surprise.

I was especially gratified by Dr. Shinn's remarks about self-knowledge and hidden motives. It has been my impression that the Augustinian Latin tradition restricted or overemphasized the work of grace in moving the will to faith and good works to the detriment of the Greek patristic understanding of the work of grace in what some people call the subconscious in which we call the heart, distinguishing it clearly from human reason and will. From the Orthodox position willful good works and a faith rationalized by the needs of a sick subconscious can hardly be called a work of the Holy Spirit. The heart captive to hidden motives produces a utilitarian love which seeks to use either God or its neighbor or both for the satisfaction of the desire for happiness.

It is my suspicion that each man's understanding of God and the nature of love has more to do with our problems than we are usually led to suspect. For me personally the principle of utilitarianism is good and legitimate at the level of public order, but with the limitations based on equality of humin rights and secular interests. However, when this same principle becomes the basic guiding light of one's convictions concerning the relaionship between God and man, then I fail to see how such a religion differs from nature worship even in its transcendentalized form of Platonic idealism. If I believe that God is just waiting to punish those who refuse to join my church or that most people

won't join because they haven't been eternally elected, then we would have a hard time maintaining the case for tolerance, let alone religious freedom and mutual respect. There is a strong tendency for people who believe that they have a monopoly on God's love and that God by a positive decision is going to punish others, to be sometimes tempted in anticipating future punishment by beginning to help God now. I say this in full awareness of the fact that the Orthodox Churches have not always been careful in living up to their theological insights. A form of cul ture religion is a real problem with us also and was partly re solved by Islamic conquest, and the Communist revolution has helped do away with some of it.






[ 1 ] Delivered at the First National Institute of the Project, Religious Freedom and Public Affairs of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C., November 20, 1962, on the occasion of the presentation of a paper by Dr. Roger I. Shinn, "A Protestant Looks at Religious Freedom," to be published by Union Seminary Quarterly Review.

[ 2 ] Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew (Garden City: Doubleday, 1955).

[ 3 ] John Tracy Ellis, "Religious Freedom in America," a paper presented November 18, 1962, at the First National Institute reffered to innote 1. Cross Currents, Vol. xiii, No. 1, Winter 1963, pp. 3-12.



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