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136. Aug. 19/Sept. 1, 1973. St. Andrew Stratelates

Dear Father Neketas,

Evlogeite! Please forgive our long silence. This summer has been an extremely busy one for us, and our two new brothers have only increased the work we have taken on. But I will be frank and add this: your letters and attitude regarding Alexey Young have left us so shocked that we have been just about speechless.

Thank you for your new letter. On “evolution”: what can we say in reply? We will tell you just what we think: the articles of “exetastes” by no means is an “objective Orthodox presentation on evolution” — it is rather a simple-minded “liberal” presentation, in no way different from what any Protestant or Catholic magazine might publish, and is exactly what one would expect of the Greek Archdiocese, in harmony with its general “liberal” orientation. The article does not even raise the most serious questions which “evolution” poses, much less answer them. It is an absolutely typical product of the “spirit of the times.”

Apparently you think rather differently. But Father, let there be peace among us! “Evolution” is an extremely complicated question, all aspects of it considered, and not one of us is in a position to know “all about it” and give a definitive judgment on all its aspects. Calling it a “heresy,” of course is a great simplification, for it is much more complex than that, and it is evident that different people have quite different things in mind when they hear the word “evolution,” which complicates matters even more. Alexey’s article was intended not for theologians but for simple people, and therefore its tone and presentation are admittedly somewhat simplistic and sharp. There are disadvantages to this, the first of which is that it obviously didn’t say anything to you and apparently others of a similar outlook. Obviously, for such people a much more thorough presentation should be made, and I think this would make it much easier for you to see how inadequate the “Exetastes” article is, as we think. If you had read the grotesque, satanic “theology” of Teilhard de Chardin, you would certainly get a funny feeling from an article in which he is held up as an example of a reasonable approach to this question. But who has time to write thoroughly on this subject? We don’t, certainly not now.

Incidentally, the “sharpness” of Alexey’s article we liked — and it is exactly the same “sharpness” (“here’s the truth and you others are all wrong”) which we have recognized in your publications quite often, and for which many have also criticized you. It is refreshing to see such simplicity going boldly in the face of the “generally accepted” errors of the times, even at the risk of being called “unsophisticated,” “behind the times,” etc. Alexey’s article is not perfect, but it certainly makes much more sense than “Exetastes.” But THIS DISAGREEMENT SHOULD NOT CAUSE US TO START FIGHTING EACH OTHER!

I will mention one more point before getting to the main purpose of this letter. The “Shroud” article, as you already know, we regard as unfortunate because of its Latinisms, and it was unwise of Alexey to send it out in this form. (But so that you will feel better: he has no copies left and has no intention of distributing anything else on the subject.) Nonetheless, the articles is really not so terrible as your reaction would seem to indicate, and it is really too much for you (and Fr. Ephraim in his letter) to accuse Alexey of spreading “heresies” in it (you’re doing the same thing to him that you accuse him of doing!). You use the term “heretical Anselmian theology” rather too loosely. (By the way, here again: wasn’t it you who criticized Alexey for saying that T. de Chardin was a “heretic” — because he is obviously a heretic, being a Catholic? In the same way, you call Anselm a “heretic” when there’s no need, because he is obviously a heretic, being a Catholic. This reinforces a suspicion we have that one reason for this sharp conflict between you and Alexey is that deep down you are very similar, in a good sense: both full of zealot spirit, even though you might sometimes have disagreements or make mistakes. I say this trying to urge you to find the good points in Alexey and not concentrate on what seem his faults.) The complete Anselmian doctrine on redemption is not held even by the Catholic Church, much less by those recent Orthodox Fathers whom you think are in the “Latin captivity.” Is everyone who writes of “satisfaction” a heretic? Then you will have to decanonize St. Nectarios and throw out many excellent Greek and Russian Fathers. And what of those who were in communion with these “heretics,” or those zealots (such as Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky and Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch) who indisputably have more theology in their little fingers than any of you or us put together — who did not protest or break communion with those who openly taught “satisfaction”? Father, you have gone a little overboard on this point. The same applies to “merits” — certainly our Orthodox Fathers who use the word do so in a very general sense, and by no means have in mind purgatory, indulgences, and the rest of the strictly Latin context. We will agree with you that it might be preferable to use a different vocabulary so as to avoid any possibility of confusion with Latin legalism — BUT THE ISSUE IS SIMPLY NOT THAT IMPORTANT, and when used by recent Orthodox Fathers these words do not constitute a “heresy,” but are just one possible way of talking about a subject which NO WORDS CAN POSSIBLY DO JUSTICE TO. Let us be milder and more circumspect in the way we speak of such things!

Further on “Latin (and/or Protestant) influence”: must we decanonize St. Macarius of Corinth because he used the Catechism of Metropolitan Platon? What of St. Nikodemos, who redid several Latin books on spiritual life (!) and included Blessed Augustine in his Synaxarion? Don’t you see, Father, that with such zealotry you are undermining your own foundations by casting doubt on virtually all the Fathers and Saints of the past several centuries, and proclaiming to the world that you (and those who believe as you do) “know better” than these holy men, many of whom were great theologians?! Logically speaking, this points you in the direction of a kind of Protestantism, by placing a gap in the Orthodox theological tradition which only your group manages to span by skipping the interval of Latin captivity” and getting back to the “original sources.” You wrote some time back that if Blessed Augustine is in the Russian Calendar, it must be due to the “Uniate influence” of recent times. Well, we investigated and found that Blessed Augustine was introduced into the Russian Calendar in the 19th century SOLELY ON THE AUTHORITY OF ST. NIKODEMOS OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN — i.e., because the Russian Church was so concerned to be in harmony with the best tradition of the Greek Church! Isn’t this a good thing? Do you see how far off you can get by making vast generalizations about “Catholic influence” or “Latin captivity”? The very notion of “Latin captivity” is played up by Schmemann and his kind precisely with the aim of destroying the idea of the continuity of Orthodox tradition throughout the centuries. DO NOT FALL INTO THAT TRAP! There are great theologians of the past several centuries who used expressions which one might like to see improved; but that does not mean that they are in “Latin captivity” or should be discredited. They just do not use these expressions in the same context as the Latins, and therefore the issue is not a very important one. We ourselves have great respect for Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, despite the inadequacy of some of his theological expressions, and despite the thorough ridiculousness (forgive the crude expression) of his extreme Westernized views (or rather, taste) in iconography, for example (considering Vasnetsov and Nesterov as the pinnacle of “Byzantine iconography”!!!). Orthodox zealots can live in peace with each other without agreeing on all possible subjects.

But enough on these points. I told you we were shocked by your attitude: we are not particularly shocked by anything you may happen to believe about “evolution” or the “Shroud.” We can live with you in complete mutual confidence, respect, and love without agreeing entirely on such things. But we are shocked that you seriously think of publishing “open letters” against Alexey’s articles, and that you have “withdrawn all support” from him and tell people he is “still a Catholic” and can’t be trusted. Have you lost all awareness of the common task to which all we missionary laborers in the Church Abroad are committed? Vladika John would rap your knuckles for that. It is not Vladikas attitude toward missionary labors that is wrong, but yours, on this point. Alexey is an extremely sympathetic, open, and humble person, and there is no justifiable reason why there should be conflict between you and him; your violent reaction has produced an entirely unnecessary alienation between you. Please do not confuse Alexey with Sarah Hoffmann, who is indeed way off in this respect (and who now, by the way, has also abandoned Alexey as being just as “un-Orthodox” as Fr. Panteleimon, you, and us). You are apparently being misled by the sharp tone of some of Alexey’s articles into thinking that he is a “narrow fanatic,” which is certainly not the case; and even now, after the quite unjust letter of Fr. Ephraim (who obviously misunderstands Alexey completely), Alexey does not have any hard feelings against you and is quite anxious that there be peace between you. Your attitude has caused him quite some pain, but he is taking it all quite in the Orthodox spirit and not harboring any ill feelings. Perhaps you yourself are not aware, Father, how some people are “afraid” of you before they meet you in person, believing from some of the things you print that you are ready to “bite the head off” of anyone who approaches; and they are always pleasantly surprised to meet you and find that such is not the case at all. A good dose of “compassionate love” on all sides would certainly improve the general situation!

Father, I have been as frank as possible, and we pray that this will be for the common good of all. Please show this letter to Father Panteleimon. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, GOD GIVING US STRENGTH, WILL WE ALLOW THERE TO BE ANY FIGHTING OR HOSTILITY BETWEEN US. You and Fr. Panteleimon have a somewhat different approach from ours — for which, glory be to God! We do not need to be carbon copies of each other, and different people find help and inspiration in different approaches within the one and same zealot tradition. Our own labors and ideals are so in harmony with those of Fr. Panteleimon that we feel a definite support just by the fact of his existence. You and he both are a help to the Russian Church (though sometimes this isn’t recognized in our midst), but in order to continue a sound and faultless path you will have to be circumspect about how you express certain things, so as not to cause unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings. In particular, we strongly urge you not to let certain disagreements cause you to make sweeping judgments, such as that Alexey is an “unrepentant Catholic,” or that Russian theologians with whom you disagree are under “Latin influence.” Such judgments prevent you from seeing the deep agreement which you actually have with such people on the basic issues of Orthodox zealotry, and they reduce theological questions to some kind of personal level, making discussion impossible. (Obviously, nothing that someone who is under “Latin influence” may say will be acceptable to you, since you think he’s “tainted” and apparently can’t say anything without this sinister “influence” making itself felt. But do you think you yourself are entirely free of some “influences” or other? Being brought up in and being at home in an entirely “Western” environment, have you really entirely escaped this influence? I can tell you frankly our experience from living in the wilderness: if you go to a supermarket or listen to radio or television, or read newspapers — you are certainly not going to escape some kind of “modern” influences, in ways you are probably unaware of. And what if some ill-wishers begin to find a sinister “Greek-Archdiocese influence” in you?) All this talk of “influence” is extremely shaky and probably useless; let us attack the issues directly instead, and let the differences come out and be resolved (if possible) by reasonably objective criteria, rather than just dismissing someone because we fancy him to be under some “influence” or other.

Regarding Jordanville: we ourselves can recall a few articles which the monastery printed which didn’t seem to us to be very useful, but we certainly don’t recall any “Protestant sectarian literature concerning the ‘Anti-Christ’ and the ‘last days’”! Is this real, or an exaggeration? PLEASE DO NOT ALLOW YOURSELF ANY EXAGGERATIONS WHATEVER IN THIS RESPECT: the common zealot cause for which our Church Abroad, despite the human failings and intellectual incompetence of all of us her members, stands almost alone today, is too precious to allow it to be damaged by such unsympathetic judgments of our fellow laborers. Much can be forgiven, if only the basic Orthodox orientation is present; and even if that be lacking, silence is usually the wisest policy (with regard to the printed word).

After all this I bow down to the ground and beg your forgiveness if I have offended you in any way by this letter or anything else, and Father Herman does likewise. Let peace and mutual love and respect always prevail between us!

We thank you for your prayers and beg you to continue them. Yes, our Brotherhood seems to be growing, and we only pray God that we will be able to use rightly the gifts which He showers upon us and the souls He sends us.

With heartfelt love in Christ our Saviour,
Seraphim, monk
with the blessing of Father Herman

P.s. We are not sending any copy of this letter anywhere. Let it be strictly between us, you, and Fr. Panteleimon.

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