On Usage of the Terms Heresy and Heretics

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

[W]e in the West have something to learn from Fr. Dimitry’s attitude towards the non-Orthodox. Among Western converts to Orthodoxy (to speak of something close to home) there is indeed a temptation to speak too freely of “heresy” and “heretics,” and to make the errors of the non-Orthodox an excuse for a certain pharisaic smugness about our own “Orthodoxy.” Even when it is worded in a theologically correct manner, this attitude is spiritually wrong and helps to drive away from the Orthodox Church many who would otherwise be attracted to it. Fr. Dimitry’s attitude in this case, even if he sometimes expresses it in an imprecise way, is a sound one, both for the avoidance of phariseeism and a certain “sectarian” attitude on the part of his own Orthodox flock, and for the conversion of the non-Orthodox. Fr. Dimitry emphasizes that Orthodox Christians should go deeper into their own faith without judging the non-Orthodox; he rightly says: “Anyone who grows conceited about his faith is faithless” (Our Hope, p. 19), and again: “One can be Orthodox formally and yet perish faster than someone who belongs to another faith. Orthodoxy is joy at having found the truth, and the real Orthodox always looks at others with love. But if belonging to the Orthodox Church is accompanied by irritation at those who think otherwise, then one ought to doubt one’s belonging to Orthodoxy” (p. 44). By such statements Fr. Dimitry does not at all “betray” the Orthodox faith, as some think; he only encourages his flock to be first of all humble and loving in their confession of Orthodoxy, and to avoid pride and irritable “correctness,” for these are sectarian and not Orthodox qualities (which is why we should doubt our Orthodoxy if we have them) and will indeed cause us to be judged more severely than those of another faith. (In Defense of Fr. Dimitry Dudko)

The word “heretic” is indeed used too frequently nowadays. It has a definite meaning and function, to distinguish new teachings from the Orthodox teaching; but few of the non-Orthodox Christians today are consciously “heretics,” and it really does no good to call them that. (Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works)


  1. Are there heretics that are “conscience” that they are heretics? I think what he is saying is that those that are conscience are those that have been made aware of Orthodox teaching and then reject it. The over correction is often made these days as referring to “heretics” as only those who ONCE WHERE Orthodox. That is a serious error and can lead one to the very heresy of ecuminism.

  2. Met. Philaret of New York

    The Holy Orthodox Church is the repository of the divinely revealed Truth in all its fullness and fidelity to apostolic Tradition. Hence, he who leaves the Church, who intentionally and consciously falls away from it, joins the ranks of its opponents and becomes a renegade as regards apostolic Tradition. The Church dreadfully anathematized such renegades, in accordance with the words of the Saviour Himself (Matt. 18:17) and of the Apostle Paul (Gal. 1:8-9), threatening them with eternal damnation and calling them to return to the Orthodox fold. It is self evident, however, that sincere Christians who are Roman Catholics, or Lutherans, or members, of other non-Orthodox confessions, cannot be termed renegades or heretics—i.e. those who knowingly pervert the truth…* They have been born and raised and are living according to the creed which they have inherited, just as do the majority of you who are Orthodox; in their lives there has not been a moment of personal and conscious renunciation of Orthodoxy. The Lord, “Who will have all men to be saved” (I Tim. 2:4) and “Who enlightens every man born into the world” (Jn. 1.43), undoubtedly is leading them also towards salvation In His own way.

    * The Greek word for “heresy” is derived from the word for “choice” and hence inherently implies conscious, willful rejection or opposition to the Divine Truth manifest in the Orthodox Church.
    (From Orthodox Life, Vol. 34, No. 6 [Nov.-Dec., 1984], pp. 33-36)

  3. I don’t think any Orthodox (worth the name) would argue that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism aren’t “heretical”: Filioque, papal infallibility, denial of priesthood and the mysteries, denial of a one visible Church throughout history, etc. The issue here is culpability. For some of the heterodox holding errors in ignorance AND for the Orthodox that provide bad examples, are smug and not missions-minded.


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