Protestantism condemned by Orthodox Patriarchs

edited December 1969 in Faith Issues
There is a clear distinction which has been made on this site between individuals and the groups they belong to. There are many Protestants who are clearly on a spiritual journey towards Orthodoxy, the True Faith. I was such a one. I would not accept that I was not a Christian until I became Orthodox. But I do believe that everything distinctively protestant which I learned and taught myself in that time was error, was heresy, was damaging to the spiritual lives of those who embraced it.

I believe that I was in a situation of being a catechumen. Not yet properly received into the Church, but in a state of being made prepared. Yet everything I was taught by dear people who loved Christ was entirely wrong. I might well have been some sort of a Christian, certainly a believer in Christ and a seeker, but the community I belonged to was heretical. It was erroneous in most of the things it taught and did.

I know many other believers and seekers. I deal with many enquirers as a priest. They do not lack faith. They know Christ. But they have not yet been united to His Church. They are not yet entirely and completely Christian. They are still on a journey into the Body of Christ, at which point a new phase of the journey will begin as members of Christ. It is not my place to judge any such a one. I receive all who come into contact with me as those who are seeking after a deeper and more complete experience of God. I have yet to find someone who has not found the experience of becoming Orthodox to be a transition to a different experience of being Christian. I am sure that the Lord will have mercy on a very great many who are born into situations where they grow up as Christians and do the best they can. But doing the best they can where they find themselves is for God to judge, not for us to emulate. We are called to a higher standard because we ARE members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Completely undeservedly so.

In this post I wanted to briefly consider the first contacts of Protestants with Orthodoxy. It took place in the 16th century between the Lutheran theologians of Tubingen and the Greek Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople. This is an interesting encounter because it represents the classical and 'serious' Protestantism of the past, rather than the modern Pentecostal Protestantism which some Orthodox find attractive. Therefore it seems to me that what is being considered at the beginning is not confused by issues of culture and modernity, but is a matter of faith and doctrine.

I will not go into the whole history. But it is enough to say that the Lutherans wrote to the Greeks, hoping both to find in them an ally against Rome, and also to bring about a 'reformation' in the thinking of the Eastern Churches based on the Lutheran view of what was accurate doctrine. Several letters were exchanged in which it became clear that the Protestants were more interested in changing the Orthodox than learning from them. This seems to me to be a constant danger whenever engaging in anything with Protestants.

The Lutherans presented a copy of the Augsburg Confession to the Patriarch, and in due course he responded with a point by point consideration from the Orthodox point of view. It seems to me that this is a very important witness to the Orthodox opinion of Protestantism. The most important reply was sent in 1579.

I won't go through every issue in this post. But let me quote some of the comments of Patriarch Jeremias. We must remember that he had carefully considered the documents sent to him by the Lutheran Protestants, and after considering them and comparing them to the Orthodox Faith he says:

Therefore, brethren, let us stand on the rock of faith and on the tradition of the Church, and not remove the boundaries which our Holy Fathers have set. Thus, we will not give the opportunity to those who wish to innovate and destroy the edifice of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church of God. For if permission is granted to everyone who wants it, little by little the whole body of the Church will be destroyed.


Let us accept, then, the tradition of the Church with a sincere heart and not a multitude of rationalizations. For God created man to be [morally] upright; instead they [humans] sought after diverse ways of rationalizing. Let us not allow ourselves to learn a new kind of faith which is condemned by the tradition of the Holy Fathers. For the Divine Apostle says, "if anyone is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed" [Gal 1:9].

Patriarch Jeremias was very clear, and his three letters are available to be studied in detail. The very foundation of Protestantism was a deviation from the Orthodox Truth. He did not speak unkindly to those who wrote to him. He did not lack love towards them. But he was insistent. We must not allow a New Gospel to be preached, and we must not allow the Orthodox Tradition to be corrupted.

In the centuries since this correspondence the Protestant movement has divided and become even more distant from the Orthodox Faith. We may speak with the same loving charity as Patriarch Jeremias did of those who hold these false beliefs. But we must also stand with him in the defence of the Orthodox Faith which is contrary to that of Protestantism in all its forms.

We will not give the opportunity to those who wish to innovate and destroy the edifice of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church of God.

Father Peter


  • Having stated clearly that we do not condemn Protestants or hate them when we condemn and reject that which they teach. I do think it would be useful to look at what was presented to Patriarch Jeremias, and therefore what he rejected.

    The Lutherans had produced a document which they called the Augsburg Confession, and which listed 21 things they believed and 7 things they were rejecting. I will list these items and very briefly indeed, since I know folk are busy, I will compare them with our faith, as Patriarch Jeremias did. Those things which it seems to me and to Patriarch Jeremias are heretical and erroneous are marked in red for clarity.

    i. Of God - In this article the Lutherans confessed an acceptable belief in God as Trinity, mentioning the One Essence of Divinity, and the Three Divine Persons.

    ii. Original Sin - This article refers to the common inheritance of humanity as separated from God, it goes beyond that which many of the Fathers would say, but is not, since it is short, a rejection of the Orthodox view.

    iii. Of the Son of God - This article also, though couched in the two nature terminology is not objectionable in itself and confesses the humanity and Divinity of Christ, true God and true man.

    iv. Of Justification - This article describes on of the key Protestant teachings, that we are justified by faith alone. Patriarch Jeremias rejected this teaching.

    v. Of the Ministry - This article proposes that the ministry in the Church exists only to help people believe that God has forgiven them, at which point God is duty bound to forgive people. The Orthodox Church rejects this view of ministry. It is not there to help people believe that God has received them, it is there to nourish the faithful Body of Christ with spiritual food so that they might be offered to Him as a true Bride. Protestantism has nothing more to offer once a person 'believes' about Christ. Orthodoxy understands that belief about Christ means nothing, and that becoming a Christian is not a belief about Christ, but an encounter and union with Christ.

    vi. Of New Obedience - This article was also strongly rejected by Patriarch Jeremias since it insists that it is by faith alone, belief in things about God, that a man is saved. While Orthodoxy teaches us that the spiritual works we do are necessary to our salvation.

    vii. Of the Church - This article is also defective. It teaches that the Church is a gathering of believers where the Gospel is properly preached (according to Protestant ideas), and the sacraments (those few the Protestants accepted) are performed. In fact above and beyond all else the Church is the Body of Christ. It is a mystical communion of those united with Christ and only secondarily is a matter of organisations and congregations. According to this article the unity of the Church is only found in agreement on the basics. This has never been the view of the Orthodox Church. It was not the view of Patriarch Jeremias.

    viii. What the Church is - This article states that because there are sinful and hypocritical persons in the Church it is not possible to ensure that the sacraments are administered by true believers, but that it is permitted to receive the sacraments from evil people. It is clear what the situation was that they were trying to deal with, but I am not sure that their position is entirely acceptable. If someone is notoriously evil then they should be subject to the discipline of the Church. But in regard to the general anti-Donatist point of view, it is true, we do not believe that people should run around trying to find the holiest man to receive the sacraments from.

    ix. On Baptism - Surprisingly to some, the Lutherans did accept baptism as a sacrament and baptised their children. They also teach in this article that it is necessary to salvation. But they do not mean by it what Orthodox do. It is an opportunity to have faith, it is not a holy laver in which God Himself acts.

    x. Of the Lord's Supper - It is also the case that the Lutherans believed that the Body and Blood of the Lord were truly present in the Eucharist. But again only by faith and only as a means of producing faith that forgiveness was already granted to the one who believed that Jesus had died for him.

    xi. Of Confession - They also teach that private confession is useful, but they reject any idea of enumerating sins, and are therefore moving away from the Orthodox idea of confession as a sacrament, to the protestant idea of it being a means of exercising faith and having sins forgiven. If a person needs confession to do so then they think that is fine, but if a person doesn't need confession to have faith that his sins are forgiven then he doesn't need to.

    xii. Of Repentance - The Lutherans did accept that folk could repent for sin after their baptism, and if they had a sense of contrition and a belief that Christ had forgiven their sins then they might be asbsolved. They rejected any sense that a person should practice works leading to repentance. The thought of St Seraphim of Sarov standing on a rock in prayer until he received a sense of grace that his sin had been forgiven would be entirely rejected by the Lutherans. Even in this short article it is clear that the Lutherans are describing a different spirituality. (I must make myself feel very sorry, and then I must acknowledge with my mind that all my sins have been taken away on the cross). This is not Orthodox spirituality.

    xiii. Of the Use of the Sacraments - This article states that the sacraments (which for the Lutherans were only Baptism and the Eucharist) were only a means of encouraging faith and had no power in themselves. There is therefore no real difference between the Lutheran view and that of modern Protestants, that baptism is a witness to faith, and that we meet Christ in the eucharist by faith. This is nothing like the Orthodox teaching on the sacraments in which God works objectively, not subjectively.

    xiv. Of Ecclesiastical Order - This article teaches that no-one should preach or adminster the sacraments unless called. Of course this is reasonable, but it says nothing at all about the Divine Order in the Church, since the Church is understood as a gathering of believers, not the spiritual and mystical Body of Christ.

    xv. Of Ecclesiatical Usages - This article teaches us that fasting, feast days, vows and holy days are all contrary to the Gospel and useless.

    xvi. Of Civil Affairs - This article teaches that it is necessary and proper to engage in civil society, and to obey laws, except when commanded to sin. This is acceptable to Orthodox Tradition.

    xvii. Of Christ's Return to Judgement - This article presents a fairly standard view of the Second Coming of Christ to judge the world, and it speaks of the torment of ungodly men and devils.

    xviii. Of Free Will - The Lutherans accept the teaching of Augustine that a person cannot do anything good without the Holy Spirit. The article is not long enough to determine the exact detail of the views held on this matter. As far as it goes it is not clear that it is false.

    xix. Of the Cause of Sin - The Lutherans correctly identify the will as the source of sin, and that sin is not the creation of God, but a turning away from God.

    xx. Of Good Works - This lengthy article rejects holy-days, particular fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, services in honor of saints, the use of rosaries, monasticism, and such like. The entire emphasis of this article is that we are justified by faith, which means being put right by God by believing things ABOUT Christ. 

    xxi. Of the Worship of the Saints - In this last article describing what the Lutherans believed they teach that the saints are ONLY an example to read about and seek to emulate. The Litherans insist that 'the Scripture teaches not the invocation of saints or to ask help of saints'.

    The Lutherans then go on to describe what they reject.

    xxii. Of Both Kinds in the Sacrament - The restriction of the laity receiving only the Body of our Lord is rejected, but so also is the procession of the eucharistic elements.

    xxiii. Of the Marriage of Priests - The Lutherans recognise that priestly celibacy is a relative novelty and require that priests be married.

    xxiv. Of the Mass - The Lutherans denied that in the sacrament of the eucharist we receive the remission of sins. They taught that such forgiveness ONLY comes through having a belief that Christ has taken away our sins. 'Scripture also teaches that we are justified before God through faith in Christ, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake'. For the Lutherans there is no objective act of God in the sacrament, it is a subjective means of stirring up what is essentially a mental assent to the fact that Christ died for our sins.

    xxv. Of Confession - This again concentrates on the place of faith alone, and stirring up a belief in the words that are spoken, without any sense that the words of absolution spoken by the priest are true in themselves and the gift of God in an objective and absolute sense. If faith is a mental assent, and screwing ourselves up to try and believe something is true then we can understand how so many serious Protestants have had crises of faith because making yourself believe something is not true Christianity at all.

    xxvi. Of the Distinction of Meats - In this article the Lutherans reject the value of fasting, of abstinence, of holy days, and of all of the practical spriitual practices of the Orthodox Church.

    xxvii. Of Monastic Vows - The Lutherans completely reject the monastic life, and any life lived under vows. They consider that far from being the angelic way of life, it is false and empty.

    xxviii. Of Ecclesiastical Power - The Lutherans teach that Bishops do not have the right to introduce fasts, feasts, holy days, or do anything which the Protestants do not determine is found in the Bible. All of the Tradition of the Church is subjected to their interpretation of Scripture. Indeed the Tradition of the Church is described by the Lutherans as the 'doctrine of devils'. They do not consider that the keeping of Pascha and Pentecost are necessary for Lutherans.


    Do we see how even at the beginning of Protestantism their foundational document describes a Christianity which is not Orthodox at all, and which the contemporary Patriarch of Constantinople had to warn would lead to the destruction of the Church? These teachings are not published by men who have grown up in the Lutheran Church and know nothing else, these are ENTIRELY NEW IDEAS produced by men who have relied on their own understanding.

    What sort of Church do they describe?

    It is one in which the priesthood is a matter of organisation, like the management of a business, and not a divine ministry instituted by a sacrament. Indeed this Church has only two sacraments, and in neither of them is it considered that God acts according to the Holy Spirit, but in each case they are merely a means for those participating to be encouraged to think more earnestly that they have been saved because Christ has died.

    In this Church there are no saints, the Virgin Mary is simply an example of a virtuous woman. There are no feast days, no fasting, Pascha is an optional observance. There are no monasteries. No monks, no nuns. Indeed the very idea that the spiritual life is one of ascesis is rejected. Faith is not a living union with God , but a mental assent to certain facts.

    All that is required, according to the Lutherans, is a belief that Christ has done certain things for us.

    This is not Orthodoxy. See how many red sections there are. This is a new religion, based on Christianity certainly, and undoubtedly containing people who wished to serve Christ. But they were deceived. In falling away from a Catholicism that had become corrupt to some extent they did not fall into a better state but a worse. Having abandoned all authority save that of their own understanding, they became their own Pope.

    This was but the first encounter of Orthodox with Protestants. There were others as Protestantism began to diversify. But if even the classical, most historic Protestantism is already entirely compromised by false and heretical ideas then what does this say for the branches that spring from such a root?

    Let us love Protestants, but let us love them enough to tell them the truth.

    Father Peter
  • Let me also add some thoughts from His Holiness Pope Shenouda. It seems to me to be clear that he is both loving towards Protestants, as is proper, but also very strictly critical of their false teachings.

    i. Preachers are not entitled to teach their own opinions on the subjects of faith and doctrine but they must teach what is
    recorded in the Church doctrine entrusted to them. For if the freedom is given to every person to spread his own opinions, we
    will have differing dogmas and we cannot call this the Church doctrine.

    Man has freedom of belief but he does not have the freedom to teach according to his own thoughts because heresies sprang from
    the different schools of teaching.

    When Luther started to teach according to his own thoughts and was followed by Calvin, Zwingli and others, a new schism
    occurred in the Church. As time passed, many contradicting dogmas were formed, and what the Church knew as "one faith"
    began to fade away.

    ii. Sometimes the reason for an error in faith or teaching is due to mixing with different dogmas, or being influenced by them
    and their teachers, or by being disciples of such teachers or their writings. Sometimes the reason for an error in faith is due to
    one's sticking to one's own opinion, neither accepting any change nor obeying the Church. Most probably the reason
    behind this is pride in the heart convincing the person that he is right and whoever objects to his opinion is wrong, and that he
    understands what no-one else does.

    iii. A third major schism occurred in the 15th century caused by Luther, the establisher of Protestantism. Different dogmas
    sprang up afterwards within Protestantism. Hence arises the necessity of presenting a comparative theology to compare the various beliefs attributed to Christianity, to study the points of differences, and to reply to every teaching that does not conform to the doctrine of the Church.

    iv. The Orthodox believe that baptism is the way to receive salvation, purification, justification, renewal of life and membership in the Body of Christ? While these things, according to the Protestant denominations, are only received by faith? If the latter is correct, what is then, the use of baptism?

    v. Baptism in the Orthodox Church is administered only by the clergy. But our Protestant brethren do not, at all, accept human
    Priesthood. So in their churches, a minister and not a clergyman administer baptism. He could be an elder (or a lady elder in case
    of groups who allow women ministers). Anyhow, according to the Protestant belief, the elders or the ministers are not clergymen.

    vi. We do not accept a baptism which was not administered by a clergyman. The clergyman should be an canonical clergyman in the sense that the laying on of hands was carried out by an apostolic and a canonical bishop. He should not be an expelled nor an anathematised priest, but a priest who has the authority to administer the Sacraments.

    The above reasons are our answers to the question, repeatedly asked of us: "why do the Orthodox Church re-baptise the converts from the Protestant denominations"?

    We could also say that we adorn them with all the spiritual treasures which they did not receive when accepted their Protestant baptism. We usually ask of them: "Have you received salvation in your baptism? Have you received righteousness, newness of life and the forgiveness of sins? Have you been clothed with Christ in baptism? Have you been born anew? Especially since you did not consider baptism to carry with it any of those graces We also repeat the non-Orthodox baptism as a canonical priest did not conduct it, while our Protestant brethren reject human priesthood, as well as the teaching of the holy sacraments.

    While it may have been administered in the Name of The Holy Trinity, we tend not to call the baptism of a Protestant convert "a re-baptism" as it lackes three important qualities:

    (a) It was not administered by a clergyman
    (b) It was not considered a Sacrament
    (c) It was not considered to carry any spiritual efficacious

    vii. Our Protestant brethren do not believe in Tradition. They only abide by the Holy Bible. In this way they exclude the heritage which the Church received from the previous generations: the writings of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church, the decisions of the holy councils, the Church Canons and regulations, the Church rituals and the oral Tradition. Tradition is older than the Holy Bible. It goes back to the time of our father Adam.

    viii. Our Protestant brethren reject intercessions of the Virgin Mary or of the angels or of the saints they base their rejection
    on Saint John the Apostle: "... we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1John.2: 1) and the words
    of the Apostle Paul: "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1Tim.2: 5).

    ix. It is quite obvious that fasting was not a symbol but a commandment in the Old Testament and New Testament. Our Protestant brethren do not utterly deny fasting but they have practically cancelled it.

    x. The Spirituality of Fasting - Points of variance:

    (1) Our Protestant brethren say that fasting should be practised secretly between man and God, following the Lord's
    commandment in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.6: 17,18).

    (2) Our Protestant brethren do not have fixed fasts for all the believers at set times and on certain occasions, but most of their
    fasts are individual practices. The individual fasts whenever he likes, in the manner he likes, and the Church has no authority over
    him and does not interfere in his fast.

    (3) Our Protestant brethren depend on a misinterpretation of the verse: "Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or
    regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col.2:

    (4) Our Protestant brethren disagree with vegetarian fasting and with abstaining from foods of animal produce. They accuse us
    that in doing so, at least the second part of the following verse applies to us: ".... in latter times some will depart from the faith,
    giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons... forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods
    which God created to be received with thanksgiving" (ITim.4:1,3).

    xi. (1) Our Protestant brethren do not venerate our Lady the Virgin nor do they ask for her intercession. Some of their
    groups even go to the extent of likening her to the eggshell that loses its value after the chick hatches. This exaggeration in not
    venerating the Virgin Mary is probably a reaction to the exaggerated veneration given her by the Roman Catholics.
    Thus our Protestant brethren do not celebrate any of the Virgin's feasts.

    (2) Some Protestant groups call the Virgin Mary `our sister'.

    (3) In addition, our Protestant brethren say that after the Virgin had given birth to the Lord Jesus she consumated her marriage to Joseph and begot children known as Jesus' brothers" or "the Lord's brothers".

    (4) Our Protestant brethren also object to some of the titles which our Church gives to our Lady the Virgin.

    (5) One of the features which reveals the non-veneration of the Virgin is that, in their translation of the Holy Bible, they have changed the title given her by the angel from 'full of grace" into "highly favoured".

    (6) Our Protestant brethren frequently give our Lady the Virgin the title 'Mother of Jesus' instead of 'Mother of God' (Theotokos).

    xii. One of the differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism is the Orthodox's wonderful veneration of the cross. Our brethren the Protestants do not sign themselves with the sign of the cross before or after prayer, and say: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." They do not sign food with the sign of the cross before eating, nor do they use the cross to bless people or clothes.

    xiii. There is neither a sanctuary nor an altar in Protestant churches. The reason for this is more serious: There is no Sacrifice.

    xiv. Our brethren the Protestants do not use incense or censers, considering them part of the Old Testament worship which
    were mere symbols and have now terminated.

    xv. The Orthodox Church is characterised by its lights. We use candles in our prayers, during the Bible reading, in front of the
    icons of the saints, on the altar, in the sanctuary in general and in front of the altar on its eastern side, and the church remains lighted constantly. Our brethren the Protestants do not use any of these rites despite their symbolic significance.

    xvi. Our brethren the Protestants do not believe in the pictures and icons in the Orthodox Church or in the statues in the
    Catholic Church. They consider them against the second commandment.

    xvii. The importance of repentance is undisputed by all but repentance in the Orthodox Church is totally different from
    repentance in other Churches with respect to its definition, efficacy, practice and necessity for salvation.

    xviii. the Protestant groups, in not believing in the Church Sacraments, do not consider repentance a holy Mystery. Therefore, there is a difference between repentance and the Sacrament of Repentance. This difference has its consequences.

    xix. As for our Protestant brethren, they present repentance as being completely independent from the Church. It is an individual act, with no relation with priesthood because they do not believe in priesthood but they believe in the direct relationship with God.

    xx. Many of our Protestant brethren try to separate repentance from the subject of salvation. When they concentrate on Christ's Blood, they say to people: "You are saved by the Blood of Christ and not by repentance. Repentance is one of the deeds and you cannot be saved by deeds."

    xxi. Many Protestant groups hold that repentance is one of the works of Grace and all man's strivings are void. It is sufficient
    that man casts himself at the feet of Christ to save him from his sins. The Orthodox doctrine holds that the whole spiritual life of
    man is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit supports but man should strive. If man does not strive the Apostle will
    reproach him, saying: "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin" (Heb. 12: 4).

    xxii. Our Protestant brethren consider repentance an experience, and encourage repentant to inform people of their experiences.
    So you hear from them the expression: "I was so and so, and now I have become so and so". The repentant continues to
    recount his previous sins in front of everybody without shame, covering his sins with the grace he has now attained. If he
    keeps silent, he will be asked: "Tell us about your experiences." but Orthodoxy forbids these narrations as they mainly involve
    boasting of the change, which the repentant has reached.

    xxiii. Protestantism, however, pushes people towards joy, which involves no contrition. In most cases, the repentant directly becomes a minister, which gives him no chance to grieve in his inner self over his sins. The reason the Protestants give for this attitude is that a repentant should rejoice over his salvation.

    xxiv. One of the Protestant books even attacked the phrase "Lord have mercy" which we say in our prayers! It also attacked all the phrases of contrition, condemning them to be against the joy of salvation.

    xxv. What we call in Orthodoxy 'repentance' is frequently called by our Protestant brethren `newness of life', `renewal' or
    `salvation'. Some Protestants ask one another: "Have you been renewed? Have you been saved? Have you experienced newness of life?" And all they mean is the act of repentance; no more, no less.

    These are just a few of the teachings of our father, Pope Shenouda against the errors of Protestantism.

    Father Peter
  • Just printed off 20 copies. I'm going to make a fortune!

  • Lol!

    All my work is copyright.

    You owe me £1000 per copy.

    Father Peter
  • You take monopoly money?
  • [quote author=TITL link=topic=10596.msg129108#msg129108 date=1296500999]
    You take monopoly money?

    there is little difference between monopoly money and fiat currency, not joking at all.
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