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What is “heresy”?

A hospital that doesn’t know how to cure

Fr. John Romanides (†)

Source: "Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church according to the oral lessons of Fr. J. Romanides” – Vol.B

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlassios



Even since the very founding of the Church, various heresies had made their appearance and were duly tackled by the Church, with Her synodical tradition.  A heresy is formulated by an individual or by a group of individuals, who promote other teachings and thus form various heretical groups, which are initially active within the Church and eventually leave the Church and become active outside Her - except that they strive thereafter against the Revealed Faith.


The term “heresy” involves a view that deviates from the official teaching of a religion – and that of the Church; in other words, it is another kind of teaching.  In his address to the Elders of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul made mention of the heretics that would originate from within the very Church: “For, this I know: that, following my arrival, savage wolves will enter among you, not sparing the flock; even from among you, there will be men who will rise up, speaking perverse things in order to break the disciples away, towards themselves.” (Acts 20:29-30).

The Apostle Paul also makes reference to the heresies that had unfolded, even within the first Church: “…For there must also be heresies amongst you, so that the tested ones among you may become evident.” (1 Cor.11:19). The appearance of heresies renders Christians tried and tested, because it reveals their steadfastness. 

In another Epistle, the Apostle mentions how the heretic should be confronted: “Resign from a heretical person after the first and the second admonition, seeing that such a person has turned away and sins, having thus condemned himself.” (Titus 3:10-11).

The first Church handled the heresies both personally as well as synodically. In his Epistles, the Apostle Paul confronted many such “other teachings”, but the Church Herself had convened the Apostolic Synod in Jerusalem in order to handle the manner in which the Judeans wishing to be baptized could be introduced into the Church (Acts 15:6-29).  This first, Apostolic Synod became the model for all the other Synods that were convened later on by the Church. We shall examine the matter of heresies and Synods further along.

As regards its connection to the dogmatic teaching of the Orthodox Church, heresy is usually a different teaching that is assembled and formulated with other dogmas. But, given that dogmas (the theoretical teachings) are linked to life in practice, likewise heresy is linked to the way of life of those who preach it.  For example, the opinion that the Logos is a creation of God the Father, denotes that the one who preaches thus, does not have a true spiritual knowledge of God, because if he was truly a theologian, a “God-sighter”, he would have known that Christ as God is Uncreated, because the glory of Divine Nature is uncreated. As such, he is just a philosopher, a speculator, and not a God-sighter.

Heresy usually confines itself to theoretical teaching, and a heretic is the one who deviates from the instituted dogmas of the Church.  However, we need to examine heresy in regard to its inner dimension; because, just as dogmas are an expression of revelations and the observing of dogmas leads to experience, likewise heresies are deviations from revelations and simultaneously the ruin of the way to deification. It is like having a hospital, which is unable to cure man.

“When the Church confronts a heresy, the criterion is that heresy is whatever overthrows the Pentecost experience - when the fullness of truth was revealed – and when one’s course towards deification is interrupted.   That is why heresy is dangerous”.

The overthrow of the Pentecost experience occurs, because heretics have denied the teaching of the Theumens (God-enlightened) Fathers of the Church – that is, by having abandoned the revelatory truth, they mainly rely on their own logic and speculation.

“They change tradition, based on the forms of logic that they themselves compose; they show more trust in their personal logic rather than the experience of the Theumens, which is why they conceive something with their logic and relate that to the reality that pertains to God.  All heresies are derived from that kind of an erroneous basis”.

This means heretics rely more on their own philosophy which is full of thoughts, speculations and fantasies, and do not rely on revelations by God.  Given that they rely on philosophical principles, in reality they are also denying the teaching that leads to theopty (God-sighting).

“Arianism is not merely a heresy from the aspect of theoretical science and bad speculations.  Arianism is a heresy, because it strives to destroy the teaching of Theosis.  It cannot comprehend the matter of deification, the relations between created and Uncreated, etc.. Furthermore, a heresy can never turn a dogma into experience, because its dogma remains a bad experience, which will not be the experience of deification.  And if one observes all the heresies, it will always become obvious that the criteria of heresies are spiritual ones.  Heresies are heresies because they do not lead one where they should.  And heresy cannot lead one into a proper spiritual life.”

“Heresy originates from a lack of catharsis (spiritual cleansing) and enlightenment. When one does not have enlightenment, there is imminent danger of falling into heresies, because he will confuse God with his personal thoughts regarding God.”

The heretic cannot come to know God, because he does not know the method of theognosy (knowledge of God).  Every science has its own theory, which is confirmed experimentally, and every experiment’s verification directs to that same theory.

“The heretic does not possess the method of catharsis (spiritual cleansing), enlightenment and deification, which is why it is impossible for one to learn from him the method of deification.”

“Heresy consists of the inability to discern between the created and the uncreated energies; also, it originates from an obscured nous (mind).  And, because the mind is obscured, man theologizes according to his own imaginings and contemplations.  Patristic theology however is not of the reflective kind.  The Spiritual Fathers do not merely speculate; if they did, there would be no reason for anyone to escape from the devil.  And one CAN escape from the devil’s ploys.”

Heresy does not only pertain to dogmatic issues, but also to spiritual living.  For example, the separating of Christian living into a theoretical one (dogma) and a practical one (ascetic) is a delusion.  There are some who accept the dogmas but refuse the prerequisites of the dogmas.



    Translation:  A.N. 

Article created:  21-05-2017.

Updated on:  21-05-2017.