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117. Feb. 25/Mar. 10, 1973. St. Tarasius of Constantinople

Dear Brother in Christ, Alexey,

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom rejoice!

Good heavens, we didn’t mean for our poor letter to put you into such a state! Indeed, the evil one beset you. It is doubtless profitless to sort out all the reasons, both demonic and human, for such a trial; what is important is that you survive it and are able to go forward having safely passed through the depression and anxiety and trusting in God Who can bring us through every trial.

What to say further about the Shroud article? Fortunately, we had a visitor these past few days, a young convert who came from the Metropolia several years ago and is very sensitive to the mission of true Orthodoxy today (he likes Nikodemos very much, by the way). We “tested” his views:

1st, on the Shroud itself, about which he has read one or two books and accepts it as authentic;

2nd, on what he thinks of Fr. Panteleimon’s outright rejection of it: although he gready respects Fr. Panteleimon, he suspects this might reflect more his strong anti-Latinism than anything else; he would like to see what arguments he has against it.

3rd, what he thinks of Sarah’s ms, which he read here for the first time: he said he was quite sympathetic to the article and its approach, although he would prefer to see everything documented; and he noted that Sarah seemed to be just as certain about some secondary, questionable points (he mentioned the concept of “Basileus,” for example) as about the stronger main points. In general, however, he said he would welcome its publication by an Orthodox publisher as a preliminary, tentative study — but he would definitely wince if he had to read about “Stations of the Cross” from an Orthodox publisher! When he was told it had already been printed, he wondered if it wasn’t possible to reprint at least page 12, leaving out the “Stations.” When asked about the idea that the main point about the Shroud was that it confirms itself — he said no, he couldn’t accept science as that important to faith, it’s too relative and open to change and it’s very important that the Shroud’s Orthodox history and status be documented.

Well, that’s one man’s opinion, and we give it to you (and we solicited it in the first place) because he is doubtless typical of the thoughtful Nikodemos reader. His ideas are rather close to our own. I will only add a few more comments.

(1) As to publishing it as is: that, of course, is up to your conscience. We gave you advice, but certainly not a command. It would be nice to have the whole presentation stronger and with as few points as possible that are open to doubt and legitimate criticism. But, like our friend — and as I noted in my last letter — we find the strongest thing against it to be the R.C. references.

(2) Why are the RC references so objectionable? Not so much because some people will “pick” on this point (that’s secondary) as because these references help to “pollute” the Orthodox atmosphere of the reader and either make him cringe and perhaps even doubt because of them (if he is aware of such things), or (if he isn’t aware) helps him to accept some purely RC “traditions” as though they were authentic — which is worse, as the poor Orthodox people are already “Latinized” enough! Concerning the “Stations of the Cross,” our friend couldn’t see any compelling reason why they were put in in the first place, and indeed the testimony of a certain number of falls certainly is not a part of the primary testimony of the Shroud. The “Stations” are a late Latin innovation, and to speak of them being sanctioned by “Holy Tradition” and “authority” is to do a disservice to the Orthodox reader (which is who your reader is!). On one point, indeed, (“Veronica”) the Latins actually have a “countertradition,” since that is their equivalent of the Orthodox tradition of the Holy Face given to King Agbar.

Another point on Latin influence in the article (which I skipped over in my first letter) is brought out by Fr. Grabbe’s letter to you: indeed, Orthodox tradition is quite certain about the four nails, i.e., the feet of the Saviour were nailed separately, and the RC crossed feet is definitely a later innovation (13th century, I believe). This point, by the way, is also emphasized in the Jordanville [article] on the Shroud. Evidently the Shroud itself does not give proof one way or the other on this point. To overthrow or cast doubt on this quite firm and certain Orthodox tradition, although it might seem like a “small point,” would be very bad. For the Shroud to be Orthodox (i.e., authentic), it cannot contradict firm Orthodox tradition in any respect. Otherwise science is placed before tradition, and the gates are opened! (By the way, I don’t think such as point as the nails through the wrists and not through the palms can be criticized on this ground; there has been no actual tradition about the palms, only a general conception, which is not infallible.)

If these distinct Latin elements could be omitted, or those pages reprinted without them, the article would be much more easily accepted by Orthodox. Otherwise the Shroud is placed in a pretty distinctly Latin context, which is the chief criticism that some people already have against it: that it is not only physically in a Latin land (as are the relics of St. Nicholas; this of course is no argument), but is actually a Latin holy object (however it might be explained), and therefore questionable. If you send it out with such Latin references, your preface would have to do a lot, and you would doubtless have to emphasize that it was written in an RC context and has to be “corrected” by the Orthodox mind.

(3) There are many small criticisms, which are however not really crucial as long as the article is understood as preliminary and tentative. In particular, one reason why we emphasize the need to document its history is that the reference to St. Nina seems to be a mistake, in that her Life contains much material on the Lord’s Tunic, but not a word, as far as we recall, on the Shroud. I haven’t read the whole life recently so can’t be absolutely certain, but one mistake like that would indicate that whoever documented the history wasn’t always careful. A detailed documentation, with full references, and quotes showing how the historical evidence does or doesn’t point to the Shroud of Turin (for example, what precisely are the measurements made by Arculphus — can they be identified in modern measure and do they correspond rather exactly to the Shroud; that would be an important corroboration) — would probably be a long article in itself, but one day it should be done, and by an Orthodox Christian! Research should also be done on the history and texts of the services of Great Friday, the background of the bringing out of the Winding Sheet at Great Friday Vespers, etc. I admit that it rather looks as though all of this material will fit soundly and stunningly together — but until this is done, i.e., as I said before, the Orthodox context of the Shroud is fully established, it will still remain in the realm of private opinion and not something generally and wholeheartedly accepted (or reaccepted!) by the Church.

(4) Agreeing with our friend, we must repeat that we are not impressed with the scientific evidence of the Shroud in itself, it needs confirmation from Church tradition. 75 years ago a new scientific discovery unlocked the truly remarkable secret of the Shroud; but what if a new scientific discovery tomorrow would reveal (to make just one out of many possible speculations!) that a body could separate from such a Shroud and leave the markings intact without being resurrected? Science restored faith, and then took it away!? No — science is only the handmaid of higher knowledge and must be kept in its place. I really think the idea of the Shroud as chiefly self-authenticating is onesided and insecure.

As a conclusion: whatever you choose to do, the question of the Shroud and its acceptance among Orthodox Christians is of course not finished. It is doubtless true that almost anything you could write would not convince Fr. Panteleimon (although conceivably a thorough investigation of church services and history might convince him — he has changed his mind before on such things). Sarah’s article has many good, and some not so good, points; use it as your conscience.tells you. Do not do anything about it as long as your conscience is disturbed or you have gnawing doubts one way or the other — let everything settle down first so you can think and act clearly. Of course, one can always act “wrong” even on a clear conscience! — but even that is not a fatal mistake as long as one’s mind and heart remain open and one keeps first things first.

Please be assured, by the way, that you’re welcome at our humble skete in no way depends on your attitude toward the Shroud or the points of your defense of it! We are all human and fallible and there are many points here that are subject to personal interpretation. We are inclined to agree with you on its authenticity (although we are waiting for the articles on the services and history!) — but if we disagreed we wouldn’t “excommunicate” you — we would just gather our strongest evidence and present it to you.

We hadn’t heard of Vladika John’s attitude toward the Shroud, though of course it’s very likely that he accepted it; where did you hear this?

Tomorrow is Forgiveness Sunday and the beginning of our lenten labor. Father Herman and I both bow before you and Susan (and Ian also) and beg your forgiveness if we have sinned against you in any way, in word, deed or thought. May God forgive and have mercy on us all!

We look forward to your visit.

With love in Christ our Saviour,
Seraphim, monk

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