The Excommunication of Matthew Heimbach (Aaron Jacob, 2014)

NOTE: The following article is taken from THE DEN, May 9th, 2014.

“So many sheep without! So many wolves within!” —St Augustine

Last month, activist Matthew Heimbach was received into the Orthodox Church in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. (This was his first mistake; he would have been far more at home in the ROCOR.) Heimbach was, at the time, the leader of the Traditionalist Youth Network; he has since declared an indefinite sabbatical, for reasons to be explained below.

Matthew Heimbach
Matthew Heimbach

According to this statement from Heimbach’s priest, Father Peter Jon Gillquist of All Saints Orthodox Church in Bloomington, he has been excluded from Holy Communion for his “nationalistic, segregationist views”. Father Peter Jon writes: “Orthodoxy rejects the teaching that churches or countries should be divided along racial lines. For, ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’”

Fr. Peter Jon Gilquist
Fr. Peter Jon Gilquist

With all due respect to Father Peter Jon, however, while the Orthodox Church does reject the idea of geographically overlapping ecclesiastical jurisdictions and in particular the heresy of phyletism, which advocates overlapping jurisdictions defined along ethnic lines, it does not reject at all the idea that countries could be divided along ethnic lines. In point of fact, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church wrote in The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church the following, on the subject of ethnic and racial identity and its relationship to the Orthodox Christian Faith:

In the contemporary world, the notion of “nation” is used in two meanings, as an ethnic community and the aggregate citizens of a particular state…In addition to their sharing one religion, the unity of the people of God was secured by their ethnic and linguistic community and their rootedness in a particular land, their fatherland…The ethnic community of the Israelites was rooted in their origin from one forefather, Abraham…The universal nature of the Church, however, does not mean that Christians should have no right to national identity and national self-expressions. On the contrary, the Church unites in herself the universal with the national…Orthodox Christians, aware of being citizens of the heavenly homeland, should not forget about their earthly homeland…Christian patriotism may be expressed at the same time with regard to a nation as an ethnic community and as a community of its citizens. The Orthodox Christian is called to love his fatherland, which has a territorial dimension, and his brothers by blood who live everywhere in the world. (emphasis mine)

This document makes it very clear that the concept of a nation as a community of people descended from the same ancestors and sharing linguistic and cultural ties is not only a legitimate one, but one which is explicitly endorsed by the Church. An Orthodox Christian is not “permitted…to love his brothers by blood;” rather, he is “called” to do so. An Orthodox Christian is obligated, according to the Bases of the Social Concept, to live an “active patriotism” both with respect to his territorial-political state and his ethnic nation.

Father Peter Jon writes of Matthew Heimbach:

Matthew must cease and desist all activities, both online, in print, and in person, promoting racist and seperationist[sic] ideologies, effective immediately. He must formally reject violence, hate speech, and the heresy of Phyletism. Finally, he must submit to period[sic] of formal penance in order to be received back into the Orthodox communion.

Bp. Mark of Toledo visits St Vladimir's Seminary; ordains Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist
Bp. Mark of Toledo visits St Vladimir’s Seminary; ordains Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist

Now, this is where the case gets complicated. Heimbach has apparently been excluded from Holy Communion, and in order for him to return, Father Peter Jon has demanded that he renounce the following three things:

First, “violence”. It’s not entirely clear to me what acts of violence Heimbach has committed. I’ve been unable to find any evidence that he’s ever been charged with a violent crime. In fact, the biggest evidence I’ve been able to find suggesting that Heimbach is violent is this image (and it appears that this action was in self-defense). I was unable to find the origin of the image in order to put Heimbach’s actions in context, but again, there are no reports that he’s ever been arrested or charged with a crime. It is certainly not the place of an Orthodox priest to demand that Heimbach not defend himself if attacked. Whether that is what he is demanding is unclear, as are the circumstances prompting this demand, so my ability to comment is limited.


Second, “hate speech”. “Hate speech” is nothing but leftist smear language. It means any speech that violates the Cathedral’s orthodoxy, nothing more. Any expression of an opinion to the right of Jeb Bush can and will be classified as “hate speech.” There is unequivocally nothing in the canonical or doctrinal tradition of the Orthodox Church that makes “hate speech” an offense worthy of excommunication. This is the part of the letter that should be most troubling. If excommunications for “hate speech” become the norm, then the power of the Church hierarchy will be turned against anyone who expresses a political view outside the Overton window, and excommunications for “sexism” and “homophobia” will not be far behind.


Third, to the question of “phyletism”. Phyletism is a genuine heresy, and some comments Heimbach made at Occidental Dissent suggest he may subscribe to it. If this is the case, he should indeed renounce it. However, there is a certain richness to the righteous fury with which the American Antiochian hierarchy has condemned Heimbach for his alleged “phyletism.” After all, phyletism is nothing other than the proposition that in the same area, there should be separate jurisdictions for different ethnic Churches. This idea was condemned at the 1872 Council of Constantinople, which affirmed the traditional, canonical order of one bishop per territory. But for all practical purposes, the jurisdictional arrangement in America today is phyletist. In a particular city, you might find an OCA church, a Greek Orthodox Church, and an Antiochian Church, all serving different ethnic communities and commemorating different bishops. In fact, even within the OCA (the jurisdiction to which I belong) there is at least one explicitly ethnic episcopate — the Romanian Episcopate, held as a subsidiary title by the Archbishop of Detroit. Romanian OCA parishes all over the country, regardless of whose diocese they are physically located in, commemorate Archbishop +NATHANIEL of Detroit, simply because they are Romanian.

[NOTE: “Regardless of the endless heresies and non-canonical actions of the Antiochian body, the synod(1872) at the time did not condemn ‘nationalism’ and certainly, was not a legitimate synod in the least. Nationalism was and has been the creed of the Orthodox faith since its inception, and the prophets – deliberately left unread by the Americanists – were firm ethnonationalists in very much a modern sense…“Phyletism” was little more than a way to protect the investments of Greek elites at the Phanar. This is undeniable. It is a fake heresy and, on its face, is stupid. Every prophet of the Old Testament was a Phyletist by this definition. Second, that nationalism, when defined by someone actually conversant in the literature in this field, is canonical, healthy and should be pursued. Only a sick society can be threatened by it”Matthew Raphael JohnsonThe Heresy that Never Was: The “Ethnophyletism” Hoax, Usury and Historical Illiteracy]. 

All of this is to say that while phyletism is indeed a heresy, it is highly questionable whether Heimbach has confessed it. And even if he has, he has, by doing so, simply confessed his support of a jurisdictional arrangement no more uncanonical, untraditional, or immoral than the one which our hierarchs maintain and perpetuate in America today.


Matthew Heimbach’s views are no doubt distasteful to many, including churchmen. I don’t agree with everything he says myself. But the bar for excommunication needs to be higher than that. One cannot be excommunicated simply for disagreeing with a particular cleric or hierarch on a matter of politics. One cannot be ordered to renounce “hate speech”, which is not a heresy. Father Peter Jon and Bishop +ANTHONY (if he gave his approval to the excommunication as Father Peter Jon implies) have acted wrongly in this case, and Heimbach ought to seek vindication in a canonical court.

Orthodox Christians of the Right are on notice: You will be attacked from within the Church as well as without.

Matthew Heimbach