The Church or a Sect/Cult?

Introduction: Etymologies

The word for ‘Church’ in Latin languages (Ecclesia, Eglise, Igreja etc and, in English the place-name, Eccles) comes from the Greek word ‘ekklisia’. This is simply because Latin-speakers were converted to Orthodoxy by Greek-speakers – the language of Orthodox in Pagan Rome was Greek until the end of the second century. Thus, English words like church, catholic, lay, deacon, priest, bishop and pope all come from Greek through Latin. ‘Ekklisia’ means those who are all called out (from the world) and so gather together. Interestingly, the word for ‘Church’ in all Germanic and Slavic languages also comes from Greek. Thus, Church, Kirk, Kirche, Tserkov all come from the original Greek ‘kyriakon’, meaning ‘the house of the Lord’, Kyrios. Even the Romanian word for ‘church’, ‘Biserica’ is Greek and is just a form of ‘Basilica’.

The word ‘sect’ comes from the Latin word for ‘cut’. In other words, a sect is a group of people who are ‘cut off’ from others. In the words of contemporary sectarians, they are ‘walled off’. They do not wish to be in communion with others and are not. The word ‘Cult’ comes from the Latin word for cultivate which came to mean worship. In many languages, there is no word for cult, they use the word for sect, whereas in English a cult is specifically a sect led by a leader. A guru, he demands total obedience to himself, whatever the circumstances. Cults are always authoritarian/totalitarian (‘charismatic’ for the naïve convert) with their own exotic ‘convertspeak’ language. This is an esoteric code of specific words and names, demanded of neophytes in order to be admitted as members. For example, ‘temple’ instead of ‘church’, ‘omophor’ instead of ‘jurisdiction’, ‘holy synod’ instead of ‘synod’ etc

The Difference

The Church and a Sect/Cult are precise opposites. The four words which define ‘Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’ cannot in any way be applied to a sect/cult.

Thus, the Church is defined as ‘One’, whereas a sect/cult is by definition cut off, ‘walled off’ in their jargon, from others and therefore small. Inevitably, there is any number of sects/cults, all the more so because authoritarian leaders demand exclusive devotion to themselves. Divisive by definition, a sect/cult is never One, unlike the Church, which is a gathering. This we can see with various Russian sects like ‘Old Ritualists’, who constantly war among each other and condemn each other. The same sectarian infighting can be seen among Greek ‘Old Calendarists’ and Russian ‘Catacomb’ groups. They are all tiny and are in communion with no-one except their own sect. This is clearly why in the Protestant USA, for example, the more extreme Protestants who are attracted by the idea of Orthodox Christianity end up joining not the Orthodox Church, but ideologically-driven old calendarist sects. A sectarian mentality seeks a sectarian mentality and the ability, like the pharisees, to condemn others. Such groups are notable for their ‘One True Church’ ideologies. The members want to belong to an exclusive group which feeds their pride and is fed by their pride. Humility is not a living reality among them: condemnation of others is.

The Church is ‘Holy’ in the sense that it preaches holiness and therefore produces saints. Sects/cults never produce saints, though they love words like ‘holy’ and ‘sanctity’. Indeed, many of their leaders are monstrous egomaniacs, pedophiles, perverts, maniacs, control freaks and money-grubbers. Their sign is a bullying love of power and a greedy love of money, not the humility that is the sign of holiness.

The Church is ‘Catholic’, meaning ‘according to all’, in other words, the Church has the same Faith at all times and in places. This is not the same as international. For example, the Non-Christian (Arian) Jehovah’s Witnesses sect is international, but its members are the same neophytes with the same insecure psychology, whatever language they speak. There is no diversity among them, rather an artificially imposed unionism or sameness. Arguably, it is also a cult, as the earlier name was ‘Russelites’, as they were founded in the 19th century by a Charles Russell. Here too, we can see that they are not ‘Catholic’, for they have not existed since the time of Christ (Catholic = ‘in all places and at all times’), but are a 19th century invention. Clearly, the same is true of Mormons (invented by Joseph Smith) and Scientologists (invented by L. Ron Hubbard), which are also sects/cults. The same ultimately is true of many Protestant groups, who are named after their founders and are therefore called ‘Lutherans’ and ‘Calvinists’.

The Church is ‘Apostolic’, meaning simply that it goes back to the apostles, who were those sent (apostoloi) by Christ. The Church was not founded by a person, ‘Apollos, Cephas’ or others, but by Christ through the apostles. Not only is the Church apostolic, but it also lives in the spirit of the apostles. Those who are more recent and deny the past are not apostolic. This includes those who are stuck in some previous age and place, Russia before 1917, England in the sixteenth century, Constantinople in the fifteenth century, Western Europe in the eleventh century, Egypt in the fifth century (Miaphysites) etc., are not apostolic. They belong to an organisation, not the Church. The Church is greater than any of us and than whole generations of us. The Church was before us, is now, and will be after us. The Church belongs to Christ, not any of us, laypeople, priests, bishops or patriarchs. We are all merely servants of the Church, of the Body of Christ.

Conclusion

We belong to the Church, not a sect or a cult, and we are in communion with all who confess the Conciliar Faith, as defined by the saints in the Church Councils of the fourth century and as is expressed in the unaltered  Creed of the fifteen Local Orthodox Churches