Spot the fake: can you spot the fake $50 note?

One of the most common arguments we’ve heard since starting this blog is “Orthodox is Orthodox”. What the person usually means when they say this is that “if it looks like an Orthodox service, then it must be Orthodox”. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, because there are counterfeits out there – services that are are designed to look Orthodox but in fact are not.

In order to address this issue, we aim first to look at a case of counterfeiting in another field where people might be more aware of the issues of counterfeiting: money. We will look at how our money has special security features in it in order to detect counterfeiting. And finally, we will look at how the Orthodox Church applies special security features to its own services in order to make it possible to detect counterfeits.

Counterfeit currency

Counterfeit notes can be hard to detect. While Australia has possibly the most difficult-to-forge notes in the world, this does not stop some people from trying. For example, in 2007 there was a case of fake $50 notes appearing in Brisbane. More recently a counterfeiting ring was busted in Sydney, with a large stash of fake $50 notes.

As the above picture shows, fake notes can look identical to a legitimate note at first glance. However, merely looking identical is of course not enough to make a note legitimate, so we should never rely on superficial appearances alone to judge whether or not a note is legitimate. So how do we judge if a note is legitimate or counterfeit if they look almost identical?

The Reserve Bank of Australia is the organisation responsible for producing bank notes. Because they knew that people would try and forge their bank notes, they have included a number of security features in the notes’ design. A person who is aware of these security features & knows what to look for will easily be able to tell if a note is fake, even if it looks genuine.

It is good for people to know their rights & how to detect a counterfeit note. When you are presented with a bank note as payment for something, you are entitled to review its security features and to reject it if you think that the note is not genuine.

Counterfeit Orthodox Church Services

Unfortunately, as with currency, there are services out there which at first glance look identical to Orthodox services. Take the above clip from a service in the US: It looks for all the world like it is Orthodox, doesn’t it? And yet, this is a so-called “Ukrainian Catholic” Church, and is actually part of the Roman Catholic Church. This service is the product of a program known to Orthodox as “uniatism” and to Roman Catholics as “Eastern-Rite Catholicism” – in this program, Roman Catholics tried to entice Orthodox to join their church by allowing them to keep the externals of their worship the same. In doing so they also relied on the ignorance of the simple faithful who couldn’t see the change that had taken place. Their confusion is humorously summed up in the following quote from His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos Ware: “Many of them, at any rate, explained the matter by saying that the Pope had now joined the Orthodox Church” (in actual fact, it was them who had left the Orthodox Church and joined with the Pope).

So what are the faithful to do? Are they forever doomed to be uncertain as to whether or not a service is legitimately Orthodox? Fortunately, just as the RBA has included security features in Australian bank notes, so too has the Orthodox Church over the years developed “security features” in its services in order to make it possible to distinguish a real Orthodox liturgy from a counterfeit. So what are these security features?

The “Security Features” of the Orthodox Church

The Church has a number of security features that must be present in order for a service to be a legitimate Orthodox service. Some of the most important features are described below – if any of these features are missing than a service is not a legitimate Orthodox service.

Security feature #1. Commemorating an Orthodox Bishop

Here is a video of another uniate service. Like the previous service, it looks Orthodox but is actually Roman Catholic (the parish is called St Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church). However, this video is at a different part in the service, which is actually perhaps the most important “security feature” of the Divine Liturgy. Here the priest is commemorating the names of those bishops & hierarchs with whom he is in communion. Listen carefully to the name of the first person that he commemorates:

…our holy father Benedict, Pope of Rome…

In other words, he is commemorating the current pope (Benedict XVI)! By commemorating him, he is indicating the fact that he is in communion with the Pope – in other words, that he is a Roman Catholic priest and that this is a Roman Catholic service.

In an Orthodox liturgy, we commemorate an Orthodox bishop at this point – for example, in the Greek Archdiocese of Australia (eg, when Bishop Nikandros is officiating or one of the canonical priests), we commemorate Archbishops Stylianos. Or if Archbishop Stylianos is himself conducting the liturgy, he will commemorate Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. If an Antiochian priest is celebrating a liturgy here in Australia, he will commemorate Metropolitan Paul. And so on.

Security feature #2: Being commemorated by an Orthodox Bishop

Of course, anyone can commemorate any bishop they want in a service, so this alone is insufficient to guarantee that a service is legitimate. It is important that the bishop being commemorated actually gives his approval for doing so. The bishop will express this by in turn commemorating the one who commemorated him.

For example, as noted above when Bishop Nikandros officiates, he commemorates Archbishop Stylianos. Conversely, when Archbishop Stylianos officiates he commemorates Bishop Nikandros (along with all his other assistant bishops). Likewise, the Ecumenical Patriarch in turn commemorates Archbishop Stylianos.

Security feature #3: Priests having permission from an Orthodox Bishop



In the Orthodox Church, only the bishop has authority to conduct mysteries (aka sacraments). But because the bishop cannot be everywhere at once, he usually delegates this authority to his priests. As a sign of his authority, he will give them a special cloth called an antimension, as well as the Holy Chrism used for Chrismation. We discussed these features is some detail in an earlier post, so we will not repeat them here, but instead refer you to the earlier post.

Is your service counterfeit?

Please be on the lookout for fake services. Don’t fall for the spin “Orthodox is Orthodox”. You wouldn’t accept money that is missing security features from someone just because they said to you: “money is money” – you should reject it regardless of what they say. How much more important are our worship services than money! If someone offers you an Orthodox service that is missing one of the above “security features”, then it is a counterfeit, no matter how similar it may otherwise look. If you are not sure, don’t be afraid to ask the person leading your worship as he has an obligation to tell you: as a worshipper you have a right to know that you are getting an Orthodox service.