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130. May 27/June 9, 1973. St. John the Russian

Your Grace, Dear Vladika Laurus,

Please forgive us for disturbing you once again with a “problem,” but this “problem” is fortunately not one that concerns us personally, but is rather something more general, about which we think you are probably well aware already. We are rather upset by it, and we beg your advice and a word of encouragement.

As you know, from the beginning we have given full support to our “Greeks” in the Synod, Frs. Panteleimon, Neketas, and others, because we have seen them to be “zealots” of true Orthodoxy and an inspiration for others to follow. Occasionally, it is true, we have noted in Fr. Neketas’ Orthodox Christian Witness some statements that seem rather “narrow,” and a few completely unnecessary comments that do more harm than good (such as his comments on the Metropolia’s Mexican bishop). However, we have always excused these failings, recognizing that no one is perfect and that all of us in the missionary field within our Russian Church Abroad must always be willing to forgive and defend each other and not make big issues out of points which are of secondary importance. And so we have never mentioned these things to the “Greeks” or tried to correct them.

However, in the last few months we have become increasingly disturbed over some of the things which our “Greeks” have been doing and saying. At first our good friend Alexey Young began to tell us that he was very disturbed by the fact that Fr. Neketas was trying to “pressure” him to join his parish in Seattle (instead of going to the Russian Cathedral in San Francisco) and to tell him what he should not be printing in his periodical Nikodemos. Here I should say that from the beginning of Nikodemos Alexey has asked our advice and has even submitted articles for us to correct, and he has always (except once — which I will mention below) taken our advice. Unfortunately, he reacted rather emotionally and hastily to some things which Fr. Neketas said about “evolution,” and this led him to give material to his friend Sarah Hoffman, which she used in the letter which she sent to all our bishops, accusing Fr. Panteleimon, on very flimsy evidence, of “heresy.” This was unfortunate and due to his inexperience. Then, however, Fr. Ephraim wrote a reply to Alexey which was chiefly an excuse for him to express some of his own (or Fr. Panteleimon’s) theological speculations, but he ‘did not at all answer Alexey’s questions, and besides that he even dragged in Metr. Anthony’s “Dogma of Redemption,” showing that he did not at all understand the errors and dangers of the “Dogma.”

When we heard that the “Dogma” had been mentioned, we wrote Fr. Panteleimon a letter warning him about this controversial issue, and when Fr. Panteleimon was in Seattle several months ago I went there and gave to him, with the approval of Vladika Nektary, a “report” on the “Dogma,” telling him of the errors in it which have been pointed out by Archbishop Theophan of Poltava, Fr. Michael Pomazansky, and others. At the end of my “report,” Fr. Panteleimon acknowledged that he had not known about some of these points, but that anyway he was not really thinking of publishing anything on the subject. I went away encouraged, and from my personal contact with Frs. Panteleimon and Neketas I did not feel that they were trying to “pressure” anyone or “take over the convert movement,” as some people have been telling us.

Not long after that, however, Fr. Neketas became very upset with Alexey for publishing an article on “Evolution” and then the pamphlet on the “Holy Shroud,” and since then he has been telling everyone that Alexey is “still a Catholic” and should not be supported or trusted. This has made us very sad, because we know Alexey very well and he is very willing to accept correction and to learn when he is wrong. We did not find anything wrong with the article on evolution, although of course it was much too short to say much about such a complicated subject, and it is possible to have different opinions on some aspects of the question — nonetheless we thought his approach was basically right, more so than the approach of Fr. Neketas, who seems to be more under the influence of “modern ideas.” Nonetheless, even here we should all be meek and forgiving of each other, so we think, and we were simply amazed that Fr. Neketas should react so violently against the article.

As for the pamphlet on the “Holy Shroud,” we warned Alexey that he should not print it without removing all the Roman Catholic references (“Stations of the Cross,” etc.) but unfortunately he had already printed it before he received our letter, and of course it had a violent effect on Fr. Neketas. We ourselves do not claim to know absolutely that the Holy Shroud is genuine, but from all the evidence it seems very likely to be so, and we respect the opinion of Archimandrite Constantine and others who have accepted it; but when the Greeks shout to us that it is some kind of demons’ work, we feel very uneasy, especially because so far they do not give any definite evidence to prove the fact. It seems, in fact, that their reaction is very largely emotional, based on their violent anti-Catholicism.

From all that has happened in the last few months we have discovered several facts which disturb us:

(1) Fr. Neketas has said that there are “great theologians” in Holy Transfiguration Monastery and that the converts should trust them and not anyone else, and certainly not anyone from the “Jordanville school,” which Fr. Panteleimon finds to be not very Orthodox. (We suspect he is rather under the influence of Vladika Vitaly in this respect.) This point disturbs us very much, both because of the disdainful attitude which the “Greeks” thus show to such a truly great theologian as Fr. Michael Pomazansky, and because the “theology” of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, as shown in Fr. Ephraim’s letter to Alexey, does not at all seem to us to be sound, but rather fidl of self-importance, exaggerated arguments, and a very bad light-minded tone. Nonetheless, Fr. Neketas has now printed this letter for everyone to see!

(2) The “Greeks” find “Catholic influence” to be everywhere, even in our great Russian Fathers such as Metr. Philaret of Moscow. But they do not know the Russian language, and their con- vert-translators are not at all familiar with the Russian theological tradition, and when they begin to tell the rest of us what is right and wrong in Russian theology, they are going to make terrible mistakes, such as they have already made regarding the “Dogma of Redemption,” Further, they seem to be so fanatical concerning “Catholic influence” that they are not capable of distinguishing between small failings such as any great theologian might have, and great theological errors. To deny the importance of Metr. Philaret of Moscow, who was exactly a great champion against “Catholic influence,” just because of some small points which may (or may not) be influenced by Catholicism — is a terrible error and a sign of a theologically unbalanced outlook, so we believe.

We already know that not all Greek “zealots” think like Fr. Panteleimon. For example, Frs. Panteleimon and Neketas have been trying to persuade us to throw Blessed Augustine out of the Orthodox Calendar. We told them we do not have the authority to do this, and besides, we know that Vladika John has great veneration for him and celebrated the service to him every year. Nonetheless, Fr. Neketas says that he is in the Russian Calendar because of “Uniate influence.” However, we investigated and found out that he was introduced into the Russian Calendar in the 19th century on the authority of St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, a Greek anti-Latin zealot! We asked Fr. Theodoritos of Mt. Athos about this, and he wrote back: “Yes, I think Augustine must be a Saint, because St. Nikodemos placed him in the Synaxarion.” Of course, we all know that Blessed Augustine had theological errors or at least wrong emphases, but that does not prevent us from paying the due reverence to him. Therefore, the “fanaticism” of our “Greeks” on this point seems entirely unnecessary and a cause of vain disputes.

(3) Most of all we are disturbed because it does indeed seem to be true that our “Greeks” wish to “take over the converts” — and now even our Russians too! We have known Fr. Panteleimon for many years and greatly respect him and his labors, but we know that he has faults, make many errors, and also that in many respects our Russian tradition (especially the Typicon of Divine Services) is much more complete than the tradition Fr. Panteleimon follows. Also, they are “Americans” and have many of the typical symptoms of “converts.” We feel strongly that they cannot be made the only standard for the whole Russian Church and not even for all converts. That would be very dangerous for them and for everyone. We have already noted that their “authoritative” attitude has been very discouraging for a number of converts whom we know, — that is, for those who do not want to have Fr. Panteleimon for their “starets.” (We also are very much afraid of the possibility of “false starchestvo” in him, because we have seen several suspicious cases of people who have been under his influence.) Our “Greeks” are very “intellectual,” but we feel that they do not understand much of the “wisdom of the heart” which some of our simple Russian batyushkas have, even though they may not be “great theologians.”

Please forgive this long letter, dear Vladika. We very much hope to receive from you a letter telling us what you think of all this. We feel that some kind of disaster may be coming in the future because of these things, which would effect not only our converts but Russians also. Please tell us what you think.

By God’s grace we are well and working hard and peacefully. Br. Laurence has been with us for two months now and is struggling.

We beg again your blessing and prayers.

With respect and love in Christ,
Seraphim, monk

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