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084. May 8/21, 1971. St. John the Theologian St. Arsenius the Great

Dear Father in Christ, Panteleimon,

It was very good to talk to you, and one only regrets that the time was so short. We do hope you will be able to visit us the next time you are out on the West Coast, and we can discuss many things more thoroughly.

Glory be to God, we are well and in good spirits. As for the “problem” that still hangs over us, we have been so immersed in our printing work and plans — calendar, Catacomb Church, new martyrs, etc. — that we haven’t been thinking much of it, and in our conversation with you we hardly mentioned it. But for your information as well as to keep our ideas straight, we will give here a brief progress report.

First of all, since Christmas Vladika Anthony has left us alone, so much so that one might almost be tempted to think that he was really content to let us be independent. But such an appearance is deceptive. The Ukase he sent us in March clearly sets forth, in his mind, his “rights” over us, and he can feel himself able to put these rights into effect at any time. And again, we already know from past experience and from talking to others that Vladika likes to assert his “rights” suddenly and unexpectedly, and one is apt to find that what seemed to be a time of peace and repose was really some kind of trap in which one has committed all kinds of sins, usually of omission, against these rights. Our “day of reckoning” with him is doubtless not too far off.

Please forgive us for speaking in a way that might perhaps seem disrespectful to our bishop, but we know that you are fully as aware as we have become of being realistic about such things among ourselves, so as to avoid worse evils in future. In all, we have told only seven people of our situation: besides you and Vladika Laurus, the five people in San Francisco (Vlad. Nektary, Fr. Alexey, Deacon Nicholas Porshnikov, Laurence Campbell, Mrs. Kontzevitch) already knew or suspected, or even warned us, what was going to happen.

From San Francisco there are only two new developments: Laurence Campbell on a recent visit told us that there is talk among laymen who are close to Vladika about our “disobedient” attitude toward him. There is no way they could have formed such an opinion except from whatever Vladika himself has told them. Which only reinforces our idea that Vladika is not acting very seriously with regard to the “monastery” he has formed, talking about our “faults” to others. His approach is worldly, and his behavior is apparently governed by the fact that he has been personally offended by our behavior. You will remember that he declared himself to be personally offended when we declined to be made priests immediately; and to this was added our improprietous behavior at Christmas. This seems to us an unsound basis of behavior, and it can only be a potential threat to our common work, which certainly transcends the personal offenses of a day.

The second new development: when Vladika Nektary visited us recently he called Vlad. Anthony shortly before and requested permission to serve and give us Holy Communion. Vladika told him to relay to us this message: since our Starets was unable to come for Pascha (he is serving in Palo Alto now), and since our behavior at Christmas shows that we are in danger of falling into prelest (?!), he asks us to reconsider our decision about accepting priesthood. Does this make sense? Does one ask a person in danger of falling into prelest to accept priesthood?! Clearly, neither the suspicion of prelest nor the offer of priesthood can be taken seriously in the context of any serious church activity. They are not the statements of someone who knows our work and wants to do what is best for that work; they come, rather, from someone on the outside who is thinking about what will look best, and also what he can best control; for clearly a priest is more closely bound to his bishop than is a simple monk. And so we are only confirmed in our diagnosis of our case and in our desire to be independent of Vladika Anthony. If any further good will come from our Brotherhood, it will be from our independendy pursuing the path already begun, with Vladika Johns blessing, not by meekly accepting directions from without. We recently found, by the way, Vladika Vitalys (Maximenko’s) address on his consecration as bishop, in which he movingly speaks of the spiritual-psychological conditions under which he was able to bring such fruit as a missionary of the printed word: in absolute independence, “not bothering anyone and not bothered by anyone.” Exactly! And that’s normal in the Church, not bending oneself into some other shape for the sake of a purely formal and fictitious “obedience,” That’s the way Vladika John acted, and that’s the inspiration he gave us. If we fall into heresy or give scandal, that’s another matter. For us here in the wilds, our idea of a bishop is somewhat modelled on the vultures who circle our mountain constantly now: “overseeing” everything, they nonetheless do not bother those animals that move around doing their own affairs, but come down to examine and clean up only when they smell something rotten! If Vladika A, after all his “disillusionment” with us, still wants to ordain us priests, then clearly he doesn’t smell anything seriously rotten!

We had a good long talk with Vladika Nektary about all this, and, while he said he would not “advise” us, if it were he that was involved he would simply disobey those directives which he felt to be destructive of the idea by which we live, and thus if there were going to be a complaint at the Synod it would have to come first from Vladika A. himself. This of course reinforces what Vladika Laurus told us about not taking any formal action but nonetheless expressing our disagreement with such actions. And so we are patiently awaiting what will come, content that at least for the time being we are not actually being bothered by any pressing demands and can concentrate on the work at hand, with which we are only slowly catching up.

Vladika Nektary told us in more detail about his own relation to Vladika Anthony, and we will tell you of one or two points so that you will be informed of what seems clearly to be an unsound situation that may later have broader repercussions in the whole Church. Vladika Nektary told us: “I am not a bishop; I am a doll in a ryassa.” Vladika A. gives him no freedom whatsoever, and will not even allow him to tonsure a candidate to be his cell-attendant. One incident in particular is most revealing: In the cell in which Vladika John reposed in Seatde there is small bed, on which he was laid just after his repose. One day at the Synod Vladika Anthony, without saying a word to Vladika Nektary in advance, in an irritated tone announced to the bishops that an intolerable situation exists: Vladika John never lay down to sleep, and yet in his cell in Seatde there is a bed; it must be removed. The bishops more or less agreed (although apparently this hasn’t been done yet), and Vladika A receives the impression of a zealot for the memory of Vladika John. Later Vladika A. came to Vladika Nektary’s cell at the Synod and made a prostration to the ground before him, begging pardon if he offended him. We do not want to believe that all this was some kind of “act,” and we can easily enough believe that Vladika A acted sincerely, unaware of how very wrong such behavior surely is. Why create such a scene, when the matter could easily be discussed with the local bishop (Vladika N.) on the scene? The Synod need not be involved at all. But why, after all, remove the bed when it actually does have such significance, as the first bed in which Vladika John lay in 40 years? The basis for such behavior is surely unsound. In our own case we have noticed that Vladika A. does not care to discuss things with us; he acts only as he sees fit, and everyone else must agree with him. And as regards his veneration of Vladika John, we find it to be, like other things, more outward than real. Otherwise he would not have simply declared our Brotherhood abolished, without consulting or even telling us in advance, and certainly without thinking whether, for the sake of the blessing of Vladika John which rests upon it, the name should somehow be preserved even in our monastic state. Likewise he would not have abolished Vladika John’s Blagovestnik in order to begin his own (frankly trivial) Tropinka. He told us directly: I’m opening my own little magazine; Blagovestnik is closed; if you want to print anything in Russian, you will not call it Blagovestnik. Vladika Nektary, a very sensitive man, was very hurt by this. Are we wrong to suspect some kind of jealousy at work here? Of course, it’s not our business to judge that; but we cannot be blind to actions which are, in a church sense, wrong.

I think you can understand after all this why we do not care to have any direct contact at all with Vladika Anthony. Rather than have a monastery subject to him, we will have no monastery at all — that will be more fruitful. For the time being we will stay as we are, acting independendy while awaiting future developments. The question of priesthood, of course, will not even arise until we can be assured of an officially independent status; for someone who does not understand what we are doing here, it would be the easiest thing in the world to send a useless wilderness priest to one of the several S.F. parishes that need or will soon need a priest.

For the immediate future we sense two sources of trouble: Vladika A., against our wishes and without our knowledge, collected money in every parish for his monastery — probably several hundred dollars at least. That was six months ago, and we have not heard anything from him as to giving it to us. We suspect that it will involve some kind of “plan” of his own, and so we are >afraid of this money. Even accepting it with no strings attached bothers us, because he would give it as “Abbot” of his “Diocesan” Monastery. Of course, we also would not want to offend those who gave in good will, knowing us, although we would never have asked them ourselves, not wishing to be parasites. So we are hoping that our “day of reckoning” with the Archbishop will come before he tries to give us the money, and then the use of it will be up to his conscience.

Secondly: soon we will put out our Orthodox Word devoted largely to Vladika John, openly confessing his sanctity. We believe that Vladika A. would prefer the veneration of Vladika John to be quiet and private, and all emphasis on sanctity to be hushed up. If so, he might react adversely to this issue; although we don’t know, (all of this would become more evident, of course, if God grants us to print something in Russian.) Then, of course, we would only rejoice if we were to suffer for our veneration of Vladika John.

A third point I forgot: Probably soon will be the S.F. Diocesan clergy assembly; and as a “Diocesan” organization we would be obliged to attend and give a report. What do we do about that? I think we had probably better send instead a letter explaining why we do not attend, not acknowledging ourselves to be a “diocesan” organization; and of course, that would precipitate our day of reckoning. To become involved with the Diocesan clergy would be our spiritual suicide. To name only one point: possibly the majority, or at least the most vocal members, of the clergy are against Vladika John, and our public veneration of him would be a Diocesan scandal.

All of this is a clearing of our mind, our Brotherhood’s “confession” to you, as it were. Please do not despair for us. We are in good spirits and working hard, and are much better prepared now for the coming trials than we were some months ago. We are most consoled of all by the fact that the bishops in whom we have confided did not at all tell us to be falsely meek and let the powerful do what they want. Thus we are not too unrealistic and naive in believing that truth and principle and serious labor for the Church should come first, and all politics and organizational questions second.

After receiving a third letter from Priestmonk Innocent (together with a copy of the letter he wrote to Anastasios Luebke, telling him he would not serve for a parish that was calling St. Herman instead of Germain), we wrote a reply to him begging him not cause a scandal and make a useless campaign out of such a minor thing which is after all a matter of usage and not principle. But we will stick to the Alaskan usage of Herman.

With love in Christ our Saviour,
Seraphim, monk

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