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109. August 16/29,1972. Image of Our Saviour not Made with Hands

Dear Brother in Christ, Alexey,

Congratulations on the feast of the Image of Our Saviour. May the grace of our Saviour be with you now and always.

Thank you for your very frank letter, in which your deep concern is very evident.

Please forgive us if we ourselves have added to your confusion (on the question of the cover), but I sincerely hope you won’t be confused just on our account! I believe (and hope) I presented the matter not in any arbitrary fashion but solely for your consideration, simply to let you know that such an attitude does exist, at least among pious Russians, who don’t feel quite right when they see anything that looks like an icon (that’s why it’s being on the cover is important, because it’s seen) placed under or beside other ordinary objects on a table or wherever, when by its appearance it seems to belong rather in an icon corner. As I think I said (though I believe I wrote in a rush and may not have expressed myself very clearly), it’s a rather fine point and is not subject to a categorical judgment. You’ve correctly observed that we ourselves have violated this “rule” to some degree. I would say, in sum, that where a 100% full-fledged icon is concerned — say, a color icon-reproduction with a large figure, which looks as if it belonged in an icon corner — it would definitely be best and most sensitive not to use it on a cover. Where anything less of an icon than this is used — something more like a line-drawing or simple illustration (such as will in fact appear on the new cover of The Orthodox Word) then it’s a matter of Orthodox taste and feeling. If were the only ones who mentioned the matter to you, then by all means don’t give it any more thought, it’s “passed.” In case we didn’t mention it, we also thought that the illustration is a very good one and very effective, and we certainly don’t think it disrespectful or anything of the sort, and we won’t give you any more trouble about it!

Concerning your being “forbidden” by Fr. Lev not to print on certain subjects: I trust you realize that he’s not in any position to “forbid” you to do anything whatsoever; and it’s only sad that he wants to make himself think so! Vladimir also mentioned on his visit last weekend his being upset at hearing about some intra-Synod personal quarrels about which numerous carbon copies of private letters are circulated via the “grapevine.” Thanks be to God, we are mostly out of this “grapevine” and only seldom get one of these carbon copies; but having received a couple of them in the last few days, we certainly appreciate your distress, because all they do is instil in one a peculiar and frustrating sense of uneasiness about which one really can’t do anything, because the “issues” involved are so bound up with personal attitudes and emotions (and sometimes fantasies) that ther just isn’t anything to grasp hold of. We’ve heard several accounts in particular, of the Ischie-Puhalo fight, in which both are evidently demanding that the other be defrocked, and all we can say is: let’s stay as far as possible away from such things. We frankly aren’t interested in what the “truth” of this case might be; it really looks as if they’re both unbalanced, but one would hope that thereby they would have more compassion for each other! The atmosphere of a large part of the “grapevine” is surely unsound, and your distress over it is a healthy reaction.

Thanks be to God, in the Church Abroad we have much freedom and independence to do and speak as we think is right. Even if there may be some who abuse this right and cause scandal, we would certainly rather weather through such small scandals rather than force everything through some kind of forced higher “censorship,” as some people seem to think or imply. Anyway, let’s just do what we can while there is time, and not get drawn into side issues. You with Nikodemos should by all means treasure your independence, of course drawing on sound counsel wherever it might come from, but never feeling bound to “obey” anyone who pops out of the woodwork and claims to “know more” than you or to be some kind of “authority.”

Concerning the “Shroud,” we poor ignorant ones are not even informed on the subject because we’ve been too busy and lazy to read about it! We’re favorably disposed to the subject and wonder what possible proof there can be that it’s a “fraud” — one might be uncertain or dubious, but to call it a “fraud” one must be quite definite and have proof. And even if one did have “proof,” I wonder what benefit there will be in exposing the “fraud.” It will certainly confuse the readers of Orthodox Life, that’s for sure!

As for evolution, which is a hoax and fraud if ever anything was, we have long wanted to have a good objective ехроѕé (because of its devastating anti-Christian religious overtones and even foundation), but have never had the chance to go into it ourselves. The statements of Fr. Lev’s which you quoted on it sound naive in the extreme. Over a year ago Fr. Neketas mentioned he was going to print an article on the subject by Kalomiros, but we assumed it would be entirely critical and expose the whole fraud of it. We know of no conceivable watering down or modification of the evolutionary hypothesis which would make it acceptable either to theology, philosophy, or science — certainly the more sophisticated scientists today no longer take it seriously, and recognize that it became popular solely by an act of faith and highly rigged evidence!

Well, I think it’s beyond us to start “interfering” with other fellow Orthodox publications and argue over what we think they should print, unless of course we have some facts or information they don’t have, or unless they ask us to give our opinion. But surely we have the right to accept or reject what they do say, and even (if we feel it is necessary) to publish something that contradicts it — without, of course, publicly “fighting” with them. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see (there’s usually more noise that ever comes out of the “grapevine” into public view). We can’t imagine that Fr. Neketas or Fr. Panteleimon would publish anything really pro-evolution, but even a vague middle of the road article would be harmful enough, in view of the fact that evolution seems to be such a key in the whole program of anti-Christianity.

We pray that all these “temptations” won’t get you down or swerve you from your path — which is obviously the devil’s object in working to send them to you! Basically, such temptations are trivial — but that’s precisely one reason why they’re so frustrating! If there were some great attack or error we would find out how to arm ourselves and reply; but rumors and gossip and unsolicited advice and “grapevines” can be so unsettling because one doesn’t know quite what to believe or where one stands in the whole picture. There is a type of unstable converts who delight in all this, and that only feeds the whole fire; may God have mercy on them and enlighten them. Certainly we don’t need to judge them, but we shouldn’t allow them to interfere with the honest and good labors that God has blessed us weak ones to perform.

Above all, we are all human and weak and subject to mistakes and hasty judgments ourselves. We should always keep in mind that we don’t “know better” about Orthodoxy than anyone else and we aren’t “experts” in anything at all (much less the “instant experts” that some converts seem tempted to become), but we only follow the path that we firmly believe leads to salvation, spending our whole life in learning and growing, never really progressing beyond the state of infants in the Faith, and bound by bonds of love and respect with our fellow learners.

We sympathize with you in your family’s misfortunes. Such things only remind us the more forcibly that life isn’t a matter of “knowing better” at all, but of suffering through whatever God sends us in His wisdom, by means of the grace which He also sends.

We hope you’ll be able to visit us again before winter and talk over some of these things. Melchisedek informs us that he probably won’t be coming this summer after all.

Pray for us. Our regards to Susan and Ian.

With love in Christ,
Seraphim, monk

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