Regarding the Behavior of an Orthodox Priest towards Heterodox

Decision of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
Confidential. Not for Publication. For circulation. September 13/26, 1974, No. 889

Regarding the Behavior of an Orthodox Priest towards Heterodox

At the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia of September 13/26 1974, the following decision was enacted: To task the Synod of Bishops to send out for guidance the direction contained in the decisions of the Council made on October 13/26, 1953.

The decisions from the above-mentioned date in 1953:

It was decided: To issue the following direction to clergy, which are necessary for their guidance, but not to publish it.

  1. Under no circumstances should heterodox priests be allowed to co-serve in any form, and one should not stand vested at their services.  If a heterodox priest, who is present in a neighborly spirit at a celebration in an Orthodox church, puts on vestments, the rector should, through the warden or someone else, ask him to take an honorable place somewhere to the side, away from the serving clergy, so that no one could get the impression that co-celebration is taking place.
  2. An Orthodox priest who is present at a heterodox gathering should rise when prayers are read, but he should not participate in those prayers or cross himself.
  3. If an Orthodox priest is asked to bless the food at such a gathering, then he should do so, since he would have had to read prayers before the meal and bless the food for himself anyway.
  4. It is permitted to read prayers for the start of a good deed at joint meetings of Orthodox and heterodox charitable committees.
  5. On state occasions, it is permitted to serve a moleben for the health and salvation of the Head of State, if he calls himself a Christian.  However, in the event of his death, it is not permitted to serve a panihida for him, just as it is not permitted to do so for heterodox in general.  In such a case, one should limit oneself to expressing condolences in some form (sending a telegram, making a personal visit to the appropriate people, organizing a commemorative meeting outside of the church, or something of that nature)
  6. Under no circumstances should priests or parishes become members of local so-called Church Councils.
  7. If local Protestant clergy periodically gather to discuss dogmatic issues or issues of pastoral practice, participation in such meetings is only permitted for priests who have sufficient theological preparation to convincingly explain Orthodox teaching.  This is permitted only for priests who, having the above-mentioned preparation, receive a specific blessing for this from their diocesan bishop.
  8. One must avoid organizing any meetings on YMCA premises and protect one’s flock from any influence of that organization.  In the same way, pastors should keep track of those who join this organization and exhort them to leave it, even at the cost of having to suffer all sorts of trouble.  Those who are obstinate should not be allowed to approach Holy Communion, and it should be pointed out to them that participation in Masonic lodges is forbidden not only by the Russian Church, but by Greek churches,  and that even the bishops of the American Church, currently led by Metropolitan Leonty [Turkevich, d. 1965], who are generally liberal, have issued similar direction.
  9. Pastors should by various means exhort their flock not to enter into mixed marriages.  They should make it clear to them that a marriage in any heterodox church is not recognized as valid by the Orthodox Church.   The latter allows mixed marriages only in those cases where the heterodox person intends to join the Church in the future or, at the very least, promises in writing to raise the children of the marriage as Orthodox within Orthodoxy.  If these conditions are refused, the priest must decline to perform the marriage.  In such a case he should not be present at any heterodox marriage service or wedding reception, and should not agree to serve a moleben.
  10. Under no circumstances should heterodox be permitted to serve as sponsors at baptisms. It should be pointed out that godparents are responsible for raising the baptized person in Orthodoxy, which is something that cannot be expected from a non-Orthodox person.
  11. It is permitted to cooperate with non-Orthodox organizations on practical matters, such a change of location or charitable work.  However, Orthodox parishes should in no way become part of such organizations.
  12. The receipt of financial assistance from non-Orthodox religious organizations should be avoided.  Those church organizations that have continued to receive such assistance should gradually look for other sources of support in order not to be dependent in any way on heterodox. This must be done gradually and tactfully in order not to offend one’s benefactors.

Metropolitan Philaret, Chairman of the Synod of Bishops; Bishop Laurus, Secretary

Translation by Subdeacon Andrey Anishchenko for Course 104: The Orthodox Church in the 20th and 21st Centuries, The Pastoral School of Chicago and Mid-America of The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, April 12, 2013 (Zakonodatel’stvo Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi Zagranitsei1921-2007, Dmitry P. Anashkin, ed.  Moscow, St. Tikhon’s University for the Humanities, 2013, 187-188 )