On Judging the Heterodox

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

“They have repeatedly excommunicated themselves from the Church and are completely unstable in the faith. Additionally, they have been cut off and stripped of priesthood… What Mysteries, then, can they perform? And what spirit descends on those whom they ordain?”

“So then, you alone will be saved, and all others will perish?” the Emperor’s men objected.

The saint explained, “When the people in Babylon worshipped the golden idol, the Three Holy Youths condemned no one. Their concern was not for the doings of others, but that they themselves should not fall away from piety. When Daniel was cast into the lion’s den, he did not condemn those who, obeying Darius, failed to worship God, but kept in mind his own duty. He preferred to die rather than sin against conscience and transgress God’s law. God forbid that I should judge anyone or say that I alone will be saved! Nevertheless, I would rather die than violate my conscience by betraying the Orthodox faith in any particular.” (St. Dimitri Rostov, The Life of St. Maximus the Confessor)


  1. Here St. Maximus affirms excommunication and instability of faith. He denies heterodox Priesthood and Mysteries. The key is that he doesn’t believe that this means they must ultimately perish eternally. These notions can coexist.

  2. Yes, indeed they can, Max. Each one of us is judged according to what has been given to us, as Christ states in the gospel and Revelation. “To much is given, much is required,” he says, and that “each one is judged according to his own works.” If one is given the faith and rejects it, this is very serious, but if one has not been given the faith (like not being presented to them, or presented falsely) it is the heretic that taught them in the first place that pays the price. As Saint Paul says, pastors and teachers have a stricter judgment.

    I would go ahead and say that everyone that enters eternity with Christ becomes “Orthodox” at some point, either in this life or the next. If we look on our post-mortem tab, we can see how there is much sanctification awaiting many souls after they die. Enlightenment has to happen sometime. This cleansing of the soul can happen here, if one allows it to be, or it can happen after death, but this not desirable and would seem to be quite risky, considering what is at stake.

  3. This is a great quotation and used by many to mean things it doesn’t. Just as St. Paul mentions that an unrepentant sinner had been “handed over to Satan” that is, excommunicated, for the ultimate salvation of his soul– that is, so that hopefully he would realize his mistake and repent.

    Additionally, I should like to mention that St. Maximus’ skepticism about the mysteries of the heretics only referred to unrepentant monothelites who had just been deposed at a well-represented General Council, convened in Rome and agreed to by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and hosts of other bishops from all over the world.

    Nevertheless, many heretics mysteries and ordinations are deemed after-the-fact valid and “from God,” as the Seventh Ecumenical Council said concerning the ordinations of the iconoclasts. St. Maximus did not set up rival hierarchies– he was just a lay-monk– but instead refused to commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch after the publication of his heresies and the conciliar proclamations of them.

  4. As a former heretic, I find myself being very judgmental against my former life and the churches that led me down the empty and desolate path of false belief. I am quite sure that this tendency to judge comes from my former heretical belief system. This is irony at its best. The nonjudgmental Orthodox have been a puzzle to me that I still have not been able to figure out. I long to become just like them and live my life with inner peace. The little heretic inside sees the evangelicals and Roman Catholics as great dangers to the souls of those around me and can’t help but sound off against them. I am slowly learning to keep the thoughts from reaching the tongue, but the mind thinks it is the supreme court of spiritual things (another curse developed through the sola scriptura doctrine I lived by for so many years). Are there any secrets to tempering the mind from judgmental thoughts while remaining vigilant against heresy? Am I splitting hairs to fine here? Has this been a problem with the influx of converts in the American Orthodox Churches?

  5. Toby,

    I have the same problem. This is one of the reasons I canceled my FB account. I had to ask myself was I ‘correcting’ people out of love for Christ and their salvation or for my ego and correctness as a means to an end. The secret to conquering this is to have love for everyone, genuine love. That type of Christ-like love that the Apostle Paul displayed when he offered to be cut-off for the sake of his Christ-denying brethren. Another thing that will help is time and maturity within Orthodoxy. As you acquire peace within the Church you won’t feel threatened by the presence of heterodox and because you’ll have a firmer grasp of it you won’t fear someone taking it from you. As we acquire the Spirit of inner peace ourselves, thousands around us may saved as St. Seraphim said. Perhaps we are actually projecting our own dislike for the “little heretic inside” onto other people therefore we should remove the beam from our own noetic eye. I do believe humility, silence and avoidance of any controversy also helps…

    Here is another quote from St. Maximus which may aid you in balancing these tendencies:
    “I write these things not wishing to cause distress to the heretics or to rejoice in their ill-treatment — God forbid; but, rather, rejoicing and being gladdened at their return. For what is more pleasing to the Faithful than to see the scattered children of God gathered again as one? Neither do I exhort you to place harshness above the love of men. May I not be so mad! I beseech you to do and to carry out good to all men with care and assiduity, becoming all things to all men, as the need of each is shown to you; I want and pray you to be wholly harsh and implacable with the heretics only in regard to cooperating with them or in any way whatever supporting their deranged belief. For I reckon it hatred towards man and a departure from Divine love to lend support to error, so that those previously seized by it might be even more greatly corrupted.”(Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 91 col. 465c)

    Thus, true love will suffer being cutoff for the salvation of those who spurn you, rejoice at the repentance and illumination of those darkened by error AND never aid and support any deranged belief i.e. heresy. May God stengthen us for the task!

    Here’s some great advice from Fr. Seraphim which is very helpful to me:

  6. That’s the best breakdown of a us verses them I’ve ever heard. Its easy to feel as though I have it and you don’t, much like children teasing others. Which this most holy saint echos what I believe St seraphim says …to pay attention to thyself . That’s a great quote gotta copy and paste to my personal notes when I feel the need to worry about heterodox.

  7. Toby, as Maximus can attest, I feel the same way, but not towards my mother, she was the one who taught me about Jesus, and she only taught me what she knew, and there was nothing else she could do or know. It lead me here. I have feelings about my former beliefs as well in fact I often say yuck when I hear from someone else speak in the way I used to think. But its best to realize that most of those who may have led you down the path didn’t know much themselves. I think some deliberately suppress knowledge, in order to keep you right with them, while others as I said soley work with what they know and believe. But we should consider our souls and that we have the truth and work from that.

  8. Athanasy – Thank you for your input. There are two Christian ladies who taught me what I knew about Jesus when I was a kid. My great-great aunt was my first Sunday school teacher in the little country Baptist church in which I was raised. My paternal grandmother took me to church when my family stopped going altogether. I could always feel her prayers for me. I have come to realize that my family only knew the Baptist faith…they could only teach me what they knew. I am greatful for the gift they gave me that led me to search for the true Church.

    Max – Humility, Silence, and Avoidance of Controversy…I believe you just hit the nail on the head. I have trouble with all three (especially silence and avoidance of controversy). I am, after all, a former Baptist and the offspring of a stubborn people. In my first year of college, back in 1988, I told my athiest roommate that he was going to hell. Not exactly smart to make the guy you room with angry. That was common for me at the time. I have gotten much better over time, but I still struggle with the urge to speak when temptation comes.

    I am going to work on those three things through prayer and discipline. Thank you again for illumination, Max.

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