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004 Sept. 12, 1963

Dear Alison,

As you see, I am an irresponsible correspondent. I began this letter two weeks ago, which was late enough, and then I went back to work (as a busboy in a restaurant!) and was too tired to finish it. Please forgive my long delay in answering your letter.

I think you are quite correct that there is something missing in the Western Churches; what is missing, I think, is precisely faith. For several centuries now men have been turning their eyes more and more to the earth and chasing the fantasy of earthly happiness and worldly comfort. In such a world even those who still believe in the other world find their faith more and more difficult to preserve; the “spirit of the age” becomes so dominated by worldly concerns that one sometimes begins to doubt ones sanity in continuing to believe what “everyone” regards as incredible. But that is only a passing temptation; there is something worse, and that is what you have noticed: people continue to believe outwardly, and go through the motions of Christian worship, but somehow the substance of faith has evaporated. The spirit of the world is so strong and persuasive that it acts without our knowing it. Of course the world has always been making war on Christian faith, but today it has very nearly succeeded in winning the war. Do you remember the terrible words of Our Lord: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” In the last days faith is to be almost entirely extinguished. And yet the appearance of faith will probably be maintained; Antichrist, we know, will attempt to imitate Christ. Probably the “world Church” that is being formed by the “ecumenical movement” today (whose center, of course, will be Rome) will keep intact most of the externals of Christian worship and dogma — but its heart, true faith, will be missing, and so it will be simply an imitation of Christianity. I’m writing an essay on this subject now, in connection with the “new Christianity” of Pope John XXIII, and I’ll send you a copy when (and if) its published.

Orthodox people of course have the same problem, but with us it is somewhat easier, for several reasons. With us Christianity is less abstract than it tends to become in the Western Churches. When we pray it is always before our icons, which are made with prayer and are blessed by a priest and allow us, with our human weakness, to look upon the very face of the Saints and so gain great strength and fervor in prayer. The Saints are present in a special sense in the icons and thus are close to us; and indeed, many icons are noted for working miracles of healing and protection, due to the special intervention of the Saints (and especially of the Most Holy Mother of God). I think you’ve heard of the “weeping icons” in New York (there are at least three now); in them the Mother of God is warning us of impending catastrophe and calling us to repentance. (One of the icons was here and I prayed before it, though I didn’t see any tears. The icon that weeps the most is a simple paper reproduction which is dissolving from the great quantity of tears.) Also, most of our music is not modern “composed” music (there is some of that, and it’s too bad), but ancient chants composed by Saints inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it speaks direcdy to the heart. The Orthodox Church also preserves many of the old Christian sacraments and customs, long since abandoned by the West (such as the distribution of blessed breads, the anointing with oil every Saturday night and before every feast, the blessing of foods at different seasons, the holding of candles or flowers at different feasts, the kiss of forgiveness at the beginning of Lent and the kiss of peace at Easter, etc.), some of which confer Grace and others of which simply make more vivid and real the meaning of the feasts. And the Orthodox Church retains undiluted the traditional Christian disciplines, especially the practice of strict and sometimes painful fasting, which are necessary more than ever today if we are to overcome the power and temptations of the world.

But most important of all is faith, our immediate contact with the other world, without which nothing else would have any meaning. By ourselves we are powerless to preserve this, and if Our Lord were not with us, faith would dry up in us even as it has in the other Churches. But Our Lord is with us, and in a special sense with the Russian Church, which He has chosen for a special role in these times. (The Russian Saints of the 19th century prophesied concerning the Revolution and the providential dispersion of Orthodox Christians to every country of the world, before the end. The “Russian mission” has a spiritual meaning, even though the Soviets have capitalized on it for their own Satanic purposes, and even though someone as Orthodox as Dostoyevsky interpreted it in too worldly a sense.) It is by trials that faith is strengthened, and the Russian Church in Exile today lives by the prayers of its millions of “new martyrs,” who are to Orthodox faithful what the first martyrs were to the early Church. Indeed, I think it highly likely that we Orthodox today, living in a time and a place of “peace” and “security,” will before too long be called upon ourselves to die a martyr’s death for our faith. The possibility is certainly a real one in the face of the anti-Christian spirit of “peace” that seems to be overwhelming the world today and lulling people into the sleep of worldliness and forgetfulness of Heaven.

As far as I can see, the closest of our churches to you is in Rock Island, Ill. It is at 1110 10th St., Warsaw (I think Warsaw is a suburb of Rock Island), in case you ever go there. There are two in Chicago: a cathedral with an Archbishop at 2056 N. Kedzie Boulevard, and a chapel at 2141 W. Pierce Ave. There are other Orthodox churches of various kinds (mostly Greek and Russian) in most fair-sized cities in the Middle West (several in Kansas City and St. Louis), which would be listed in the telephone directories, but they haven’t got much spiritual strength and are rapidly going the way of the Catholic Church. Our churches always have services at six or seven (for about two hours) on Saturday night and at ten Sunday morning. I imagine, however, that you seldom go to the cities. We are fortunate in San Francisco to have many fine Russian churches; in fact, I think San Francisco is now the chief center of the Russian emigration. It is more difficult, though still quite possible, to lead an Orthodox life without the help and consolation of frequent attendance at church. The sister of my godmother, for example, lives in Peru and has been for several years without a church, and only receives Holy Communion about once a year when the Archbishop comes from Chile. Many of the desert saints, too, were seldom in church; and St. Mary of Egypt, I think, received Communion only once in her life. (Have you read her Life? She is a marvelous Saint; I will send it if you haven’t.) But we, alas, are not so strong, and require much more help.

In reading your letter over again, I see that you say, “Your life is now complete, and you have many friends a great deal dearer than I. I am not one of you.” But that is not true. As a matter of fact, I have very few close friends; but that is not what I mean. Spiritual friendship (and every other kind, while having its consolations, ends with death) does not require the conditions (common activities or work, a common circle of acquaintances, frequent meetings, etc.) without which worldly friendships simply evaporate. Spiritual friendship is rooted in a common Christian faith, is nourished by prayer for each other and speaking to each other from the heart, and is always inspired by a common hope in the Kingdom of Heaven in which there shall be no more separation. God, for His own reasons, has separated us on earth, but I pray and hope and believe that we shall be together when this brief life is over. Not for a single day have you been absent from my prayers, and even when I heard nothing from you for two years and thought perhaps I would never hear from you again, you were still closer to me than most of the people I see frequently. Oh, if we were real Christians, we would be strangers to no one, and would love even those who hate us; but as it is, it is all we can do to love a few. And you are certainly one of my “few.”

I had better finish this at last, for I know you must think I have deserted you. Since I began typing this, this afternoon (it is now night), I have already lost my job, and must look for another one. It is somehow a sobering thought for me, with all my philosophical and abstract pretensions, to be a failure as a lowly busboy. I will be sending soon to the monastery in New York for books and such things, and I’ll get a few things for you. Please be kinder to me than I have been to you, and write soon. And pray for me, a sinner.

In Christ, your brother,

P.s. In any kind of danger or affliction, pray (besides to the Mother of God) to Saint Nicholas; he is the greatest of the Saints, and a speedy intercessor. Also, for healing, pray to Saint Pantaleimon, a fourth-century martyr of the universal Church. I will pray to him also for you and your husband.

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