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127. St. Thomas Sunday, 1973B [Apr. 23/May 6]

Dear Brother in Christ, Alexey,
In truth Christ is risen!

My letter crossed yours in the mail, but even so I think I answered most of your letter in mine already. Please forgive me if I somehow offended you in my previous hasty letter. The comment on “no letters to bishops” was written rather tongue in cheek, and with no real idea that you might do so, but I did want to mention all possibilities of wrong actions, knowing how upset Fr. Neketas’ uncalled- for letter must have made you.

However, now that the dust has settled a little, it really looks as though it is Fr. Neketas who has acted rather like “crazy convert,” whereas you in your restraint have been quite level-headed. Perhaps we’ve all done a little too much talking about “converts” — the pitfalls into which they fall are really the same ones that any believer can and does fall into!

We had a brief letter from Fr. Neketas yesterday. He does not write about evolution, the Shroud, or Nikodemos, evidently because the differences between us on these points are so great, but raises two other points which show that whatever we tried to get across to him did not get across. Truly, as you wrote to him, “grave misunderstandings” exist between us. We sense something is deeply wrong there, but I’m afraid not much can be done or said about it, at least now. For your own peace of soul we would advise you not to worry about “getting through” to him, and in fact for the future to pay as little attention as possible to him*(By that I don’t mean to encourage a harsh or unfeeling attitude toward him, but just to stay as detached as possible from the situation where there seems no hope for “dialogue” right now!) If the Greeks are really trying to “take over” and dictate their ideology to the rest of us, they have simply fallen into the biggest “convert” trap of all, and there is danger for everyone from this. If this is so, their folly will doubtless be exposed sooner or later; but meanwhile, let the rest of us stay as uninvolved with them as possible. Fr. Neketas in the new Witness writes about “converts”; it would be tragic if he and the Boston fathers did not apply all those words first of all to themselves. This is what we must all do when presuming to “teach” (which some of us, surely, are called to do, but in utmost humility).

Concerning “theologians”: some of the fathers in Boston have been to the (apostate) Greek seminary in Brookline, which they admit does not teach Orthodox theology. Orthodox theology they got for themselves by reading books, and I’m afraid they sometimes reveal themselves as amateurs. Fr. Michael Pomazansky (see his article in OW, 1970, no. 6) and others at Jordanville are genuine theologians, with a school and tradition underneath their feet. The Boston fathers are “self-made,” and we’ve already seen several examples (particularly when they try to get into the Russian sphere, in which they are totally lost) of how they jump on some points purely on the basis of impression and whim, owing precisely to their lack of a thorough theological background. They do not trust their Russian elders (and we rather doubt that they have any Greek elders to take counsel of either), because they are under “Latin influence” — this is an extremely dangerous sign. We ourselves, not being “theologians,” follow the Jordanville school, which is in the best Orthodox tradition (and is being much and unjustly slandered today), and we frequently take counsel from Fr. Michael Pomazansky and others, whose judgment we trust and respect, knowing that thus we are in a good tradition and do not have to trust our own faulty judgment for all the answers. Fr. Michael in particular is quite aware of the problem of “Latin influence” and where it exists he explains very soberly why it is not Orthodox, but he has none of the emotional animus which, I’m afraid, clouds the judgment of the Boston fathers on this question.

We see no reason to sit in fear and trembling over Fr. Neketas’ threats. Let’s wait and see if he or the Boston fathers come up with something on “evolution” or the “Shroud,” and if they do let’s examine it objectively for what it’s worth. Whatever any of us says about these subjects later on should be quite calm and with no sense of being part of a noisy controversy. Anything written on evolution, I think, should be quite extensive, with much reference to sources, and treating thoroughly the questions which “evolution” raises for faith and which people seem afraid to bring up. On the theological implications we should by all means ask counsel of Fr. Michael and perhaps others, so as to make any presentation as precise as possible. An important thing also is the approach to be made to readers, for any presentation must be made in a way that is somehow “in their language.” (This probably explains Fr. N s violent reaction — he simply wasn’t prepared for such a straightforward approach.) What do your readers write about “evolution”? Do they indeed find it a problem, no problem, or what, and how did they respond to the article?

On the Shroud, any future article should take into consideration the whole argument of the Greeks against it, and also involve more thorough research into the evidence for Orthodox veneration of it. Unless the Greeks come up with some extremely convincing arguments, the case for the Shroud would seem to be fairly secure, and there is no need for anyone to rush in to “defend’ it as if it were a controversial issue.

We have accepted in the past, and can continue to accept, the Greeks as fellow strugglers on the true Orthodox missionary path. A “struggler” is one who does not trust his own opinion and no one else’s; who does not “know better” on everything, who does not set himself up as an ultimate authority, who does not form cliques and try to crush anyone outside the clique. But if they are not strugglers, but only “experts,” all their good labors will come to ruin, sooner or later. Our Church Abroad has had much experience of this, has had much patience, and has survived those who have gone astray.

You have had quite a few trials in your first year and a few months of missionary labors. Know that God sends these to test and strengthen you, and also to know one day how to help others in a similar situation. We trust that by this time you are not feeling yourself as being so much in the midst of a “storm,” as hopefully the Greeks will relax for a while the pressure that seems to be causing it.

In connection with all that has been happening, we would like to do much more translating of some basic texts. We have a cassette tape recorder now, and now that Laurence has joined us we have set him to work typing out some texts that I read into the recorder, translating orally from Russian so as to save all the time I usually have to spend transcribing and typing. There is a very good text of Fr. Michael Pomazansky on Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, 200 pages long and a very good introduction and background to this whole important sphere. Assuming that it hasn’t already been translated (which we will find out shortly), I would like to start translating it orally. Would you or Susan be able to help out on the transcribing of it?

We’ve also obtained a cassette of the Akathist to the Mother of God sung in the San Francisco cathedral with Vladika John serving. Hardly a word of his is understandable, but the dear familiar voice is there! You are welcome to make a copy for yourself on one of your visits.

We notice, by the way, that Ashanin seems to be talking about you in the new Logos (March- April), apparently paying you back for what you said about him but not mentioning you by name (it’s always easier to discourse beautifully on extremely general themes!).

Pray for us.

With love in Christ our Risen Saviour,
Seraphim, monk

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