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103. Sunday of All Saints of Russia. All Saints of Mt. Athos, 1972 [June 3/16, 1972]

Dear Father Neketas.

Yesterday’s mail brought the second issue of The True Vine and a letter from Alexey Young telling of your proposal to print Nikodemos as a supplement to your Newsletter. (Alexey says were supposed to get a copy of your letter — ?) Somehow in our minds these two events seem to be related; but at any rate we’d like to make a few comments.

The new True Vine is technically improved over the first, from the printing point of view very impressive, and of course almost all of the articles are good, even irreproachable. To be sure, the “ecology” article, and especially the illustration, give a worldly tone that is not pleasant, and Vladika Vitaly seems to make a point of insisting on Dore (and the engraving seems to have been ordered especially for The True Vine, as it’s too large to have been printed in his Russian magazine), and in this he reveals much more about himself than one could infer from the articles! But that’s perhaps not a major point. Again, one does not sense that anyone on the editorial staff, except for Dr. Johnstone, had anything to do with this issue.

More importantly, the deliberate blackout on Jordanville continues (at least two articles are reprints from Jordanville without acknowledgement, although the word “Jordanville” does appear in one or two articles). But still more importantly, one wonders: what place is this periodical supposed to have among the already existing Synod English publications? It seems not to be trying to find its “place” among the others, but rather to be encroaching on the others, and especially on your publications. Again the thought occurs to us: is The True Vine trying to put the rest of us out of business? We have a definite feeling that something is going on, some “plan” we don’t know about, and it makes us uneasy. We will welcome The True Vine as long as it has a definite function in the “common task” of all of us. It would certainly not harm your work, for example, if you could know for sure that when you comment on something like Solzhenitsyn’s letter in your Newsletter, you could refer readers to the full text which would appear in the next True Vine. But we doubt very much that such cooperation will ever exist. A little duplication among our periodicals is not harmful (even so, we ourselves have needlessly duplicated your work once or twice through miscalculation), — but a systematic process of duplication (amounting to some 3/4 if the new issue of The True Vine) raises some fundamental questions. Our Synodal publications are too few and limited to require a “readers digest” of them. (By the way, the Reader’s Digest is Vladika Vitaly’s secret ideal — when you come we’ll show you his early Russian publications which are a direct copy of it.)

Hopefully, we can discuss all this when, God willing (we always say this too!), you visit us next month. In the meantime, we fear that you may be in a discouraged and uncertain state. Specifically we don’t know what you might be thinking — whether to revise or rethink the Newsletter or whatever. But please believe us: your continued existence as an independent voice within the Church Abroad is extremely important, and perhaps much more important than you may realize. It may be that some will try to persuade you that your Newsletter has already “served it function” and can be absorbed into The True Vine. But I think we do not exaggerate in telling you that it probably has not even begun to serve its main function.

I will be more specific — all of this is strictly between us, you and Fr. Panteleimon. We can say frankly that we do not trust Vladika Vitaly to give the “one thing needful.” So far his basic attitudes as revealed in English are “correct” — but there are certain things in which he has not yet revealed himself (which are evident in his Russian publications) But first of all there is lacking in his “correctness” a certain spark, a certain indefinable Orthodox “fragrance” which may be, when the time comes, the only thing that will enable us to discern and cling to Orthodoxy. It is the “spark,” and not correctness, which draws the converts, and when we sense its absence in Vlad. Vit. we become uneasy. (“Sergianism” also seems to be bound up with the loss of this spark.)

Second, more tangibly, there is in the Synod a “dogmatic” issue which is potentially not only explosive, but absolutely catastrophic. We would rather not even hint at what it is until we can explain it more fully from the materials we have and from the opinion of bishops we know. We have wanted for some time to write Fr. Panteleimon a long explanation of it, but that will take some time and concentration. We will tell you about it when you come. For now the important thing is: Vladika Vitaly is on the wrong side of this issue, a side that has not been accepted by the best Synod theologians living and dead; and if, as seems quite possible, the Synod s enemies grab hold of this issue, and Vlad. Vit. is called on to defend the Synod — his “defense” (if he follows what he has printed in Russian) will be disastrous for the Synod.

This is only one “small” issue about which we know something, and which convinces us that in the perilous days ahead there must be not only an “official” Synod press, but also an “independent” Synod press.

Please forgive us for being so cryptic and alarming, but I think you well realize that not everything in the Synod is the same quality of gold, and for our own sake and the sake of those who trust and listen to us we must find out and cling to only the best quality. All of us who have the “one thing needful” at heart should become even closer together in the dangerous days ahead. Right now there are indications that Jordanville (again) is in danger. Probably you have heard the tragedy there last month when one seminarian stabbed another to death (both on marijuana). This has caused a great scandal, police investigations, etc. — so much so that the last issue of Orthodox Russia brings the whole thing out in print, apparently in an effort to defend the monastery’s reputation. Our Vladika Anthony (who basically is a very good man, but is subject to “political” pressures) was sent to investigate, and when he went to the Synod Vladika Vitaly launched into such a violent attack against Vladika Averky (who was absent) that the cell-attendant of Vladika Laurus (through whom we heard about it) was absolutely sick about it. Fortunately our Vladika Anthony came to Vlad. Averky’s defense. It’s well known that for years Vlad. Vit. has wanted to move the seminary away from Jordanville to Mahopac (where presumably he would be in charge), but he’s never been able to make it sound practical.

Alexey tells us that after much prayer he declined your offer, based partly on advice we had given him some months ago concerning the necessity to remain “independent” in case he should be offered a “Nikodemos page” in The True Vine (which however won’t likely happen, and Vladika Vitaly does not like small unofficial projects). As a general principle we still think you both have more to gain by remaining independent. But of course we don’t know the details of the present case, and there are certainly conditions which make such “mergers” sometimes wise also.

If you are already discouraged, I hope this all doesn’t add to your discouragement! Our own attitude is that all this should not discourage us but make us sober and ready for battle. In the end, the one question that matters is the purity of Orthodoxy.

Please pray for us, and also especially for Vladika Averky and Vladika Nektary.

With love in Christ our Saviour,
Seraphim, monk

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