Fr. Seraphim Rose on Calling Someone a “Heretic”

The word “heretic” comes from the Greek word haireisthai, meaning “to choose.” Strictly speaking, a “heretic” is someone who was a right-believing member of the Church but willfully chose a belief in contradiction to the universal faith of the Church.

In other words, being a “heretic” requires a deliberate rejection of the truth.

Yet, in common parlance, the word “heretic” is used much more liberally, especially in online polemics. Is it really accurate or consonant with Christian charity to throw this label around?

Fr. Seraphim Rose, a popular theological writer of the last century who was certainly no liberal, had this to say on the matter:

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.

In the end, I think, Fr. Dimitry Dudko’s attitude is the correct one: We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!).

If we Orthodox were to see other Christians as tragically separated brethren who share a common allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior — instead thinking of them as “heretics” or immediately focusing on their theological errors — perhaps our witness to the truth of the Orthodox faith would reach more people!

What do you think?

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Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Development at OCN. He holds…
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