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043. May 5/18, 1970. St. Irene

Dear Craig and Susan,
Christ is risen!

Please forgive me for such a delay in writing — just too much to do! I wrote Vladimir and Sylvia, begging them to clear up the unfortunate and unneeded conflict between you. They seem to be so terribly emotional! I pray that this has already been resolved by now.

Now for your questions:

Your son (what is his name?), if as I presume he has been baptized (you should then supply his baptismal certificate too) will be received by chrismation and thereafter may (and is encouraged to as often as possible) receive Holy Communion without confession until age 7, after which he must go to confession each time — which is of course very elementary at that age, but instills this Christian principle in the child at an early age. By age 7 the child should also be observing the Church fasts, especially the pre-Communion fast, and while fasting is not required of him before that it is wise to begin preparing him early for this, by giving him a smaller breakfast than usual on days when he is to receive Communion, etc. You can judge for yourself how much you can expect from your own child.

The general practice of Orthodox confession differs, I believe, from the general Catholic practice, by being less legalistic and formal. We have the same seven major sins, but apart from major sins there is a general emphasis on one’s constant sinfulness in minor things, whether in word, deed, or thought. One should also make oneself aware of these things and confess them so that they won’t pile up on one. One need not go into unnecessary details of circumstances, etc., unless you have some particular question about this; you will find that the local priests are accustomed to quite general confessions, the important thing being to mention specifically any major sins, to sincerely repent of all your sins and imperfections before God, great and small, and to leave nothing weighing on your soul. It is especially important to retain no animosity for anyone, and it is the custom to beg mutual forgiveness with those nearest one (usually one’s family) before receiving Communion. (The customary reply is: “God will forgive; forgive me.”) As for the first confession, I am sure it will be satisfactory to mention briefly and generally any major sins of the past, and then especially any major sins since you last received Catholic confession.

On the subject of birth control, the Orthodox Church is certainly no more “liberal” than the Catholic, and any kind of interference with the natural object and result of intercourse, i.e., the begetting of children, is strictly condemned as a severe sin. Certainly the “pill” falls into this category. The “wisdom” of man is one thing, the law of God is another. As to abstinence on fast days, this is part of the same asceticism or self-denial that decrees fasting from foods. Married love is not regarded as “evil” any more than meat or eggs are, but our life here is a preparation for an eternal life where “there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage,” where there is an endless feast not of earthly foods, and a part of the discipline on the way to this Kingdom is through taming the flesh to the spirit. St. Paul speaks of husbands and wives denying each other (I Cor. 7:5), and this is interpreted as referring especially to preparation for Holy Communion, but also to other fasting periods. Women, by the way in their “unclean” periods are not suppose to enter a church. Last year, when one woman was in this state on Easter, Archbishop Anthony told her she could go to church and stand in the back, without kissing icons, taking antidoron, or of course receiving Communion.

I hope all this doesn’t discourage you. I think you will understand that it doesn’t come from any attempt to place impossible demands upon people, but rather from great reverence for the things of God and the necessity for our purity in approaching these things.

It is true that the Church day — beginning with Vespers — begins at sunset, but it is the universally accepted custom in the Russian Church to fast from midnight to midnight.

As for the “intolerant” attitude of our Synod to other Orthodox Churches: Several years ago a Catholic girl was received into our Church, and she told me that one of her earliest puzzlements concerned the seemingly great contrast between the frightful statements made about heretics, apostates, etc., and the universally kind and loving approach which she always found when talking to our clergy and faithful. I see no conflict whatever. To guard the truth one must speak straightforwardly about those who depart from it, in order to protect the flock and, if possible, to enlighten those in error. But to every soul the Church opens Her treasures — if only he will listen to the truth and accept what She teaches — which comes from the Holy Spirit — and not his “reinterpretation” of it. With regard to those Orthodox Churches that are departing from the truth, one should be if anything even more outspoken — for their leaders, having known Orthodoxy, are consciously departing from it and trying to lead the flock away with them. But in all my contacts with the zealots for Orthodoxy within our Church, I can truthfully say that I haven’t found one of them without true Christian love for those in error; they would be the first to embrace Patriarch Athenagoras and others if they repented of their errors and returned to Orthodoxy. The contrary impression, I believe, comes chiefly from the criticism of those whose idea of the Church is very vague and who therefore accuse our zealots of “lack of love” when they rightfully attack apostasy.

The Orthodox Church situation, alas, is not getting any better, and the action of the Metropolia in finally siding with the Soviet Church renders communion with them impossible. One can have every sympathy with the suffering members of the Moscow Church, but the evidence that the leaders of this Church are trying to discredit and destroy the Orthodox Church in the interests of the triumph of Communism is too irrefutable for us not to speak out against them. But even here we do not pass judgment on them, but only try to refute their lies and try to help those whom they persecute and imprison in the USSR.

I hope I didn’t give you too much of a scare on “meditation.” Certainly there is nothing wrong with reading Scripture and reflecting on it. It would be even better to read also a commentary on the Scripture passages — such as that of St. John Chrysostom, which exists complete in English (Eerdmans series).

I certainly pray that you successfully fight off the Uniate temptation. I have heard of so many Catholics coming to a spiritual dead-end there, that even if I weren’t Orthodox I would advise you to stay clear of it. The universal complaint of these Catholics is that they finally realize that they are “play-acting,” they go through the motions of Orthodoxy without being Orthodox, and at the same time they lose their identity as Catholics and feel themselves to be neither Orthodox nor Catholic but in some strange limbo — and end by becoming Orthodox, going back to “Western” Catholicism, or worse.

I don’t know the exact time of services at Fort Ross, but as a rule one can count on such a feast-day Liturgy beginning about 10 a.m.

Certainly you can invite whomever you wish to witness your reception into the Church.

I hope that answers your questions for a while, but don’t be afraid to ask more. Learning about the Orthodox faith is a lifelong task, and you will hardly have touched the surface when you are received into the Church. But you have the essentials, and with these you can already swim in the Church’s current of grace.

Trusting in your prayers,

With love in Christ our Saviour

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