H.G. Bishop Raphael on Doctrine: The Backbone of Orthodox Christianity

“What’s wrong with reading heterodox book ‘X’/singing heterodox song ‘Y’/listening to heterodox sermon ‘Z’? After all, it doesn’t contradict Orthodox doctrine. Abouna [our priest] checked it himself.”
- A typical proponent of introducing heterodox materials into the life of the Oriental Orthodox Communion.

Before we can answer this (fictious) questioner directly, we must at the outset emphasise that he has fallen into a potentially fatal error, upon which premise his entire argument is built. He, and those who are like-minded, fail to realise that doctrine must be lived; ‘lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi’ (‘as we worship, so we believe, so we live’) is a fundamental aspect of patristic Christianity. Or, as H.G. Bishop Raphael, the Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, puts it in this video, “We live the Creed in a special way which demonstrates an Orthodox way of thinking… which is reflected in our Church life… that we may become mirrors [icons] of the Trinity… the Faith [i.e. doctrine] must always be applied practically.” Yet to the closet heterodox, doctrine is not Life Himself, but just a restrictive fence within which one must remain to evade the wrath of his superiors.

To be satisfied that one has accomplished the feat of singing a whole ‘praise and worship’ song without explicitly articulating heresy is like a fisherman who rejoices at spending a whole night on the water without capsizing his boat. The only problem: he hasn’t caught any fish. Our goal, the fish that we seek to catch, is to LIVE the fullness of Orthodox doctrine; capsizing the boat, or articulating heresy, is a disaster, but merely avoiding disaster does not constitute reaching our goal. Moreover, equating the two means that we will never reach our goal, but will remain content with simply keeping our boat afloat, devoid of any fish, as we relentlessly press toward the terminus of the wide and broad way which leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). All the while, the semblance of Orthodoxy may keep us numb to this until it is too late.

Taken to its logical conclusion, such an attitude justifies the inclusion of heresy-free, servant-approved Mormon, Islamic or even ‘clean’ secular songs into our Church’s LITURGICAL worship – for there is no such thing as corporate ‘non-liturgical worship’ in the Orthodox Church. After all, what’s wrong with chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’? God is indeed great (a fact that seems lost on most composers of contemporary, ego-glorifying ‘worship’). God forbid!