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040. Wednesday of St. Thomas Week

Dear Fr. David [Black],

In truth Christ is risen!

Thank you for your letter and the opportunity to continue our discussion of some of the important Church issues of the day. I shall reply to some of your rather complicated questions somewhat simply, for I think the basic issues today are simple, even though many are forced to take a tortuous path to arrive at this conclusion.

One misconception which, I believe, causes you unnecessary “problems” about the Synodal Church, is unfortunately widespread: that the Synod builds its case largely on canonical questions, big or small. The opposite is, if anything, the case: our hierarchy, well realizing the irregularity of the times, goes out of its way not to enforce the letter of the canons or condemn anyone only on this basis. Even with the Metropolia, its own free sister, for 25 years it has been extremely lenient and even now does not rush to apply the canonical penalty which she deserves. It is rather Moscow, at the bidding of its Communist masters, which tries to use canons to have the Synod condemned, to crush those few who protest in the USSR, etc. — in feet, if there are Pharisees in Orthodoxy today, it is surely the Moscow leaders and no one else, who are consciously destroying the Church and at the same time using the Church’s laws to do it.

No, the case of the Synod is based upon one thing: faithfulness to Orthodoxy, first in spirit, and then to every possible canon. Contrary to one widespread misconception, the Synod has never condemned or judged the Soviet Church or declared it to be without grace; it has many times emphasized (chiefly in the Russian language, to be sure) that the judgement of this Church and its hierarchs must be left to a future All-Russian Sobor in a free Russia, and that until such a Sobor can be called no question affecting the whole of Russian Orthodoxy — as well as any pan-Orthodox questions — can be resolved. And until that time the free Russian Church can and will enter into no contact whatever, no negotiations, no dialogue, will not even sit at the same table with the representatives of Moscow — not because they are uncanonical (although there is much that is uncanonical in their behavior) but because they collaborate with and serve the most determined enemies the Church of Christ has yet fought against. If every Orthodox Christian is commanded by the canons to depart from a heretical bishop even before he is officially condemned, or be guilty also of his heresy, how much more must we depart from those who are worse (and more unfortunate) than heretics, because they openly serve the cause of Antichrist?

But there, probably, is the crux of the issue and the root of our differences: for there can be no doubt that the Synod as a Church views our times as apocalyptic (as indeed St. Paul and all the Apostles did their times) and Communism not as merely another tyranny like the Moslem yoke, but as a radical evil in the direct service of satan for the destruction of Christ’s Church and the enslavement of mankind (all of which can be read in the writings and seen in the actions of Communism). A few outside our Church share this view, but clearly the consensus of “Orthodox opinion” today (not the conscience of the Church — that is sometimes expressed by only a few), at least among world Orthodox leaders, is that this is just another of many similar crisis in the Church’s history. But really, can the restrictions of the Moslem yoke (although, it is true, the free parts of both the Serbian and Greek Churches were at one time forced to break off with the Church authority inside the Moslem territory and form church organizations similar to the present Russian Church Abroad), or even less the admittedly unedifying behavior of some Russian bishops in submitting to the external political pressure of Peter I and Catherine, be seriously compared to the behavior of quite evident and conscious enemies of Christ’s Church, who hold their office at the will of the atheists in order to discredit and destroy the Church? Have you read some of the recent statements of Boris Talantov, who within the USSR has come to the same conclusion concerning the Soviet Church that our Church holds? — that its root disease is “Sergianism” (i.e., the concordat of the Patriarchate with the Soviet Government) and that its leaders (no one would think of condemning the ordinary clergy and faithful or even a courageous bishop like Germogen) are consciously destroying the Church? The Metropolia cannot possibly take the side of Talantov when he says openly that Nikodim betrays the Church abroad, for it has received its autocephaly precisely as one of these acts of betrayal! The Metropolia can continue to talk about “persecutions” in the USSR, but now its hands are tied and it dare not look with absolute openness at the church situation in the USSR for fear of finding itself compromised if a radically negative view of the Patriarchate should be expressed or prevail. And what happens if in future (as some Communist officials have said will finally happen) the Soviet Government decides finally to liquidate the Patriarchate by saying that it is not even a valid ecclesiastical organization but exists only to fulfill the will of atheism, and that even some bishops (quite possible!) were unconsecrated?! Well, this latter point is speculation, but I think the Metropolia has enough reason already to continue to be uneasy over the church situation in Russia, and that the autocephaly will not set everyone’s conscience at ease.

If they wish, world Orthodox “leaders” can condemn the Synodal Church (as Fr. Schmemann does) for “apocalyptic fruitlessness” — but the spiritual fruits and examples which God has granted to the Church Abroad, recognized by many outside our Church, would seem to be strong evidence against such an easy condemnation.

But to speak of “spirituality” brings-ліѕ back to Fr. Florovsky and “Catharism“. Of course, these evident spiritual fruits are not the criterion or proof of the Synod’s soundness, but rather a result of it. But when Fr. Florovsky cites the “spirituality” of the Catharists, one’s Orthodox head swims: what possible standard of “spirituality” can he be applying to those fanatical and most anti-Christian sectarians? True, there is a Hindu “spirituality” — and I know people who have experienced it at first hand and called it beyond doubt satanic: and there is a kind of “spirituality” which fervent sectarians of many sorts have — but these have nothing to do with Orthodoxy, and none of them can be called “Christian” in any but a marginal sense. Whereas the spiritual fruits of our Orthodox pillars of the Church Abroad are unquestionably Orthodox spiritual fruits and testify to a sound Orthodox formation and environment. And by the way, the Orthodox Church still considers St. Isaac the Syrian as an Orthodox Saint, whatever Catholic scholars (and those Orthodox academics who follow them) may have deduced for themselves. (I’m not sure even Fr. Florovsky doubts this.)

But all of this does not yet lead to the deduction which you expressed (whether or not you believe that we hold it): that “the Church in Exile is the only faithful Orthodox Church.” No, our Church has not declared this, and the most one could possibly say, I think, is that the Synod almost alone is carrying on the battle for Orthodoxy today on the main fronts (against ecumenism-communism-renovationism, et al). I would rather call the Synodal Church the voice of the Orthodox conscience today; however much Fr. Schmemann was displeased over it and misunderstood the fact, nonetheless Metr. Philaret in his “Sorrowful Epistle” addressed the world episcopate in a plea — not to join the Synod — but to return to Orthodoxy. The Synod has not “condemned” Athenagoras and Iakovos, but merely warned the Orthodox faithful against their heresy and un-Orthodoxy, and some among the Greeks have obeyed the canons and departed from a heretical bishop before his condemnation so as to be free of his heresy. Our Synodal faithful are not Orthodox supermen; they are subject to the same influences that are destroying the Orthodoxy of many today, and in fact in my observation of some of our parishes a part, certainly, of their preservation of Orthodox ways is owing to their more recent immigration, but the next generations after them will be in trouble too. But their hierarchs are fighting for them, not leading the way to their apostasy.

In sum, then, the Synod is not putting itself against the Orthodox world, it is leading the fight for them also, and it must condemn heresy and apostasy where they appear. From the practical point of view, I agree wholeheartedly with those like Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Neketas (and more and more people in Greece now) who tell their people in America to go to Synod churches and nowhere else — for the Synod in practice has preserved Orthodoxy, both outward and inward, better than the other jurisdictions, and the latter are going to become Uniates before they know it. The response is now up to the other Churches and jurisdictions. If they follow Moscow and cut the Synod off completely from “world Orthodoxy” as uncanonical, schismatic, sectarians, etc. — then I do not know what one can possibly think, since the Synod has remained faithful to Orthodoxy and has the spiritual fruits to show for this, while the others have changed and abandoned both — than from that moment the Synod and those who follow her are left as the Orthodox Church, and the others are outside of the Church. There have been times in the Church’s history when a few hierarchs or monks represented the whole Church; it is thus conceivable that in our day one part of a Local Church could represent the whole Church. Their Orthodoxy, it is true, vindicates the integrity of the whole Church — but nonetheless, those outside of communion with them are outside the Church, in such a situation. This result would not be our doing — it would be the doing of those who would cut us — and thereby Orthodoxy — away from themselves. I do not see the situation as quite this radical yet, but it would seem to be going in this direction. Metr. Ireney calls for peace with those who prefer not to join the Metropolia now but to remain under their Mother Churches; what then of us who are not under a Mother Church. I think, alas, that another of the unwritten benefits which Moscow obtains from the autocephaly is that the Metropolia, as the preliminary articles of Frs. Schmemann and Meyendorff indicate, will be forced to wage war against the Synod, to stifle her conscience if for no other reason.

A few minor points: “autocephaly” as “independence” is, I think, adequately criticized in our Jan-Feb Orthodox Word: if the means are dubious, the end can only be illusory. And if Moscow gained anything in way of prestige, etc., then the Metropolia has a tainted “independence,” to say the least. And if now Bp. Theodosius goes to Moscow — what a cruel blow to the faithful in Russia who will find their own betrayers have deceived even America. Does the Metropolia really want to reduce the Russian faithful to absolute hopelessness?

As for the Serbian Church: if the Synodal hierarchs were indeed Pharisees or at least “canonists,” they would not serve with Serbian bishops, who in turn serve with the Soviets; but in fact the situation of each Iron Curtain Church has been viewed separately, and the Serbian Church is the only one the Synod considers not Communist-dominated and with whom there can be concelebration. I believe the Serbian Church was also the only one that accepted our canonization of St. John of Kronstadt. An abnormal situation, perhaps — but I wouldn’t call it inconsistent.

The other “inconsistencies” of which Fr. Meyendorff accuses us have been answered in Fr. George Grabbe’s reply to Fr. Meyendorff’s attack, as were the other main inaccuracies and mistakes. Fr. Neketas is probably printing this soon. We still hope to get off our own reply, bringing up some different points.

A final note: you write that “the autocephaly has been accepted from the hands of some who may have compromised their episcopacy — though, canonically speaking, no Council has confirmed that compromise, as is necessary before it is accepted as definite fact.” But if you must wait that long, you will never be able to act in an Orthodox way at all! And what if that Council turns out to be a “Robber Council” — must you then wait another 50 or 100 years to find out which Council the Church accepts? No, the Holy Spirit guides the Church now\ only one’s conscience must be attuned to receive this guidance. The Russian Church Abroad, I would say, has received a prophetic call for the Orthodoxy of these times; only let the Church hear, and act accordingly!

May Father Herman pray for and enlighten us all!

With love in Christ our Saviour,

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