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096. Oct. 1/14, 1971. Protection of Most Holy Theotokos

Dear Brother in Christ, Alexey,

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ. We read your two letters with great interest. Little did I suspect, when I casually mentioned Orthodox America in my letter, that it would evoke such a response! We have thought of such a periodical — actually a newspaper — as something to be realized only in an indefinite future, and rather along the lines of Fr. Neketas’ Newsletter, only greatly expanded. An American version of Orthodox Russia. But your idea is actually quite different, so it should have its own title and its own content and governing idea.

Which brings me to the point. There is no doubt that more Orthodox material in English is greatly needed, and there is definitely room for another Orthodox periodical in America. But before a single line is printed, the whole thing should be thoroughly thought — and probably also suffered! through. Vladimir has just written us of his concern that such a periodical might tend to duplicate the coverage of one of our existing Synod periodicals — i.e. Orthodox Word, Orthodox Life, and Fr. Neketas’ publications. The fact that you are interested in serializing the “Shroud” article, when a similar article has already appeared in Orthodox Life, might tend to confirm this fear.

In our experience, the single most important thing for such a periodical is to have its own distinct “personality,” its definite guiding idea together with the way this idea is expressed. This “personality” is seen not merely in the content, format, and editorial policy, but as well in the style, and the revelation of who is behind it (not anyone personally, but what kind of person: scholar? preacher? instructor? the voice of a “jurisdiction”? a convert speaking to and with other converts, etc.) and to whom it is directed (a scholarly audience? popular or semi-popular? converts? etc.). All this is not too easy to define, but it has to be at least felt if the periodical is in fact to have its own personality and not be merely a miscellaneous collection of materials.

Father Herman and I would be happy to be your “advisors” (in this sphere our two heads are definitely better than one!) in this, but that function is limited to general advice, plus any specific comments on content. The “creative” burden — specifically, the creation of a “personality,” and that not as an artificial thing but as coming out of a definite desire to meet a definite need — will rest right on you and your collaborators.

But first of all: be warned. You are a convert, and a pretty new one at that. It is characteristic of converts to start out with big ideas, usually on an insufficient foundation, and most of their projects fall flat, leaving wounds behind them. I say this not to scare you, and certainly not to discourage you, but to encourage your sobriety! When convert schemes fail there are definite reasons. Sometimes it is trusting oneself too much and “knowing better” than anyone else; most often, perhaps, it is the lack of the down-to-earth dimension of practical wisdom and deep determination. A few years ago one convert wanted to build a boat, go to Alaska, and “open a monastery, orphanage, or what have you.” One can almost guarantee that whatever he starts is not going to work out, because he himself does not reveal the specific determination to do one definite thing, and his schemes are not based on a specific need (not even his own) but rather an idle dreaming.

Having said this I’d like to encourage you to do some thinking on the “personality” of your proposed publication. Specifically you mention, besides the “Shroud,” the departments of “Fathers” and “Orthodox Heritage.” These are fine, but they do not yet give a personality or tone to the publication. In fact, this “personality” is so important that the very same article present in magazines of entirely different personality will be read and understood quite differently.

Father Herman and I discussed this matter at some length the other day, and we came up with something that may give you a “hint”; take it for what you find it to be worth. One thing that is largely lacking in our American Synodal publications is what might be called a sense of the “life” or “pulse” of the American mission. Perhaps this pulse is still faint, but it’s the foundation of whatever will be in the future. Fr. Neketas keeps us informed of his parish’s activities, but that’s about all we hear. Are the rest of the American Orthodox, then, just isolated individuals in a Russian sea, or is there really something that ties us all together, which means: that we can help each other. A periodical could help to bring together, which means: that we can help each other. A periodical could help to bring together and mutually encourage our widely-separated brethren. If one looks, one finds quite a few who want the real Orthodoxy for which the Synod stands, as against the spinelessness of what passes for “American Orthodoxy” in general. There is Fr. George Lambros’ parish in Buffalo, Fr. James Griffiths in NYC, Fr. Michael Azkoul s in St. Louis, the new parish in Tucson: and of course Fr. Neketas in Seattle and Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston (and its daughter convent there); and even our predominantly Russian monasteries at Jordanville and Novo-Diveyevo have their part in our true American Orthodoxy; not to mention Fr. Peter Carras and his spectacular Greek mission in Toronto (which has attracted 1000 families in less than two years!); and our many individual converts scattered throughout the land. By the way, Vladimir could write a very interesting report on his trip this last summer. In fact, if you want to know whom to consult, you should consult people just like yourself and put out a periodical by and for converts.

All of this is, conceivably, the raw material for a periodical; the use that would be made of it would be up to you. There could be good articles on various Orthodox topics by Dr. Johnstone, Fr. Michael Azkoul, and others; “reports” from parishes or missions; just plain “letters to the editor,” if they were somehow revealing or significant; etc. etc. There are three of you now interested in this: you, Vladimir, and Dr. Johnstone; all American converts with families. We would hope to see coming out of this common situation something answering to the common needs of Orthodox Americans. In fact — to repeat myself again — “need” is probably the key word to the whole project. It should be undertaken not merely as a “good idea” or something perhaps usefiil — but only as and if it tries to meet a definite and even desperate need. How do you view this need, and what have you to offer?

Another question which is a whole field in itself: Orthodox material for children, which is badly needed. Whether and how that can be included in your project is, of course, another question.

All this I write not in the form of “suggestions,” but rather to give you something to “react” to and to help make your own ideas more definite.

There are many “secondary” questions that are important too, and they should be thought through: practical questions of printing, format, cost, circulation, etc. We will be glad to discuss some of these with you when you come in two weeks (Oct. 23 is fine).

Concerning the title: Orthodox Spirit is already the title of a pan-Orthodox newspaper in Cleveland!

Reflect, consult, pray. Pray to Vladika John. There wouldn’t be any Orthodox Word today without him.

Yes, it will be appropriate, when the project is definite, to get the blessing of Vladika Anthony, and you have the right to tell your readers so, as it is a part of your “personality.”

Concerning the “Shroud”: it is wise to take seriously (even when you may not agree!) Fr. Neketas’ opinions, which generally reflect the views of Fr. Panteleimon and traditionalist Greeks in general. To this day we are not sure the Greeks are right about Zeytoon (they denounce it as a demonic apparition), but in deference to their strong views we will print nothing more about it, barring some spectacular development. Frankly, we don’t know whether the “Shroud” falls into this category or not, as we have not studied it carefully, even though we have been disposed to accept it on the authority of Jordanville. But certainly Fr. Neketas’ objections should be studied and his further opinion (after reading Sarah’s manuscript) taken seriously. Neither of us read it yet, so we can’t comment ourselves.

Many thanks for the offer to bring us anything. If there is anything specific we need, we’ll write a few days before you come. We’ve already had two cold spells, and our warm weather of the last 2 weeks seems to be fading again today. We’d better get our stove established in the trapeza, or you’ll suffer!

With love in Christ our Saviour,

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