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139. Week of Nov. 6, 1973

Dear Brother in Christ, Alexey,

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for the new Nikodemos, which was full of spiritual food from first to last, including the “fillers.” May God give you the strength to continue giving this spiritual food to those who are starved for it (often without knowing it).

We received two days ago, with a sigh, Fr. Ephraim’s third letter to you. Before reading it we wondered, “is this really necessary?” And after reading it, of course, we saw that it is not. And. now (after starting this letter) we have received your new letter expressing your being “shaken” over Fr. E s -epistle. This I think I understand, although not perhaps too rationally, and I will try to express something of what I feel you might be going through.

Of course, the sometimes flippant tone disturbs you, especially as coming from a monastery which is supposed to give precisely the right, serious, (but not pompously solemn) tone. Again, there is much that is totally irrelevant in the letter, as though you are to be awed by the very fact that Lives of Saints and Holy Fathers are thrown at you, quite apart from whether they are relevant or not. Then, the patronizing tone toward St. Nikodemos and St. Nectarius, as much as to say: “we know better than our own Saints; they are not as sophisticated in theology as we are.” Yet again, the citing of Metr. Anthony and Bolotov, which means the authors think they are in the full Russian tradition, and therefore you have no ground to stand on at all (more on this below). Again, the letter contains much quibbling over words, in a rather “scholastic” spirit. And perhaps most of all: their approach and assumptions are so different from yours (and ours) that you probably just don’t know what to say in reply. Their use of Anselm is a variation on the standard joke: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” — i.e., if you enter into a discussion on their terms, you will never get out of the swamp, but will have to force yourself to be “defensive” about something that is actually quite unimportant.

Here I will set down a few impressions which this letter produced on me:

(1) Positively, it would seem that the Fathers are no longer, as in the second letter, intent on annihilating Nikodemos, but have apparently accepted the fact that you will continue to exist, outside their control. If so, glory be to God for such a measure of peace, at least.

(2) The whole letter is written in what seems to us an idle, sometimes frivolous tone, and it would really be a waste of your time and energy to make any substantial reply to it. We do not need “debates” on this level. Obviously, they have certain set ideas which are not going to be changed by any “point-by-point” reply. Your best “reply” is to continue publishing Nikodemos without letting this static interfere with you.

(3) It has now become rather obvious that Holy Transfiguration Monastery is quite limited in its theological and philosophical understanding. It is apparently not capable of understanding in full Orthodox context what is happening in the world today (intellectually [or] philosophically), nor of placing in proper perspective the theological writers of the last two centuries.

(4) The reasons for this, it would seem, lie: (a) in the poverty of the recent Greek theological- intellectual tradition, which must really have been thoroughly paralysed and devastated by the Turkish experience (in a way that the Russian tradition certainly was not). If this is so, then such Fathers as Sts. Nikodemos, Macarius, and Nectarius are evidently rare exceptions who do not really form a continuous tradition (and notice that Fr. E. disowns the theology of even these Fathers!).
(b) In the consequent unrootedness of the Fathers of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in any Orthodox theological tradition — they have to “do it themselves,” with no one and no stable tradition to correct them. Their “roots” are rather in 20th-century America, which accounts for the “modern” tone of their epistles, their failure to understand the whole significance and religious origin and context of “evolution,” the utter ridiculousness of dilettantism of their dabbling in Russian sources. To say that Metr. Philaret of Moscow is not in the Orthodox theological tradition, whereas the academic scholar Bolotov is, and that virtually all our great recent theologians and Saints teach “anselmism” — means that as theologians they are irresponsible and unaware, and their convert translators from the Russian cannot give them the whole context of Russian theological thought which might straighten them out.

(5) Therefore, let us thank God that Holy Transfiguration is raising up monks in the genuine Orthodox discipline of monasticism, inspiring zealot parishes, and translating and spreading some patristic texts and Lives of Saints. But let us not expect more of the Fathers than they can give; they are not capable of giving the Orthodox theology and philosophy which is needed for our times. (Not unless they change their outlook, that is.)

(6) This Orthodox theology and philosophy must obviously come from the Russian tradition of the last two centuries, in particular the tradition inspired by Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky. Therefore, there is much for us to do who love this tradition and want to be formed in it!

(7) Concerning evolution: Fr. E. is quibbling over words, because he simply does not understand the whole question. He obviously misunderstands both St. Nectarius (who certainly is not trying to make a “scientific” statement, but is only, quite properly, ridiculing the pseudo-scientists who find man’s origins in the аре-kingdom) and St. Basil (who is scientifically correct in his statement on pines and oaks, and he certainly did not intend to say that the seed of one produces the other, since the whole Hexaemeron emphasizes that each kind of creature reproduces only according to its kind). But it is futile to make an answer to these points: rather, the whole discussion must be placed in a different, more serious context. Hopefully, this will be what your future article on evolution will do (whenever God wills!).

Above all: what we need now are persistent, independent labors, such as you and we are trying to make; and not useless debates.

The new Orthodox Life, by the way, has an article by Fr. Lev Puhalo which apparently comes from the same theological “school,” and which we found very unsatisfactory. Not only is such frequent and open discussion of the “sex act” distasteful and unnecessary, but the whole context of the discussion is rather pagan-modern than Orthodox. True, marriage is sacred, but the “sex act” among fallen humans certainly is not, but should always be bound up with repentance, awareness of sin (as in Psalm 50), and a humble awareness of how short married life falls of the perfect Christian life. (Likewise, one who lives in virginity should be constantly reproaching himself for the vileness of his thoughts; in no state of Christian life is there room for smug self-satisfaction.) Fr. Lev’s “positive view of sex” would seem to be rather a 20th-century reaction against Victorian prudery than anything patristic or Orthodox.

A very important point: it is not enough to talk about a “return to patristic sources” — that can be just another intellectual fashion, which I’m afraid it is to some extent among some of our new theological “experts.” There are some tell-tale signs by which these academic theologians reveal their own inadequate patristic foundation, one of the most obvious of which is the attitude: we know what is right and everyone else is wrong, under foreign influence, etc. (including great Saints and theologians). Fr. E. is telling you that he and his group (who are graduates of the pseudo-Orthodox seminaries of Holy Cross and St. Vladimir’s) know more about Orthodox theology than: St. Nikodemos, St. Nectarios, Metr. Philaret of Moscow, Bishop Theophanes the Recluse, St. John of Kronstadt (who also talks about “merits” of Christ), Archbishop John Maximovitch (who sang the service every year to Blessed Augustine, and in fact commissioned the writing of it!), and also the Elders of Optina! Such presumption can only do harm to the real cause of renewing Orthodox life by drawing from the fresh springs of Orthodox tradition.

The best advice we can give you is this: do not enter into any further discussion with Fr. Ephraim on his level. You are entirely correct that a public apology for the Shroud article would complicate rather than simplify matters. Indeed, if you were to apologize for publishing a heresy (which you certainly did not do), you would thereby publicly accuse many Saints of heresy, as well as the whole Russian Church (which uses Metr. Philaret’s catechism as an official statement of faith). Fr. E. has gone quite overboard on this subject, thereby revealing the academic amateurish level of his “theology”; do not allow yourself even to think in the same terms he does. Neither you nor we are “experts” in theology, and it is not for us to enter into debates with those who think they are. Let us rather follow the stable path which our recent Fathers have trodden before us, and not get excited over issues which did not bother them.

By the way, it cannot be doubted that the issue of “Latin influence” is real — our own recent Fathers tell us of this; but Fr. E. does not have the proper, balanced and sober, approach to it.

We just received the O.C. Witness with the article on “intellectual converts.” I don’t know what use such an article can have. Everyone when reading it will think of his own favorite “crazy convert”; the first one that came to our mind was Fr. Lev Puhalo! But let us rather be patient with each other and help each other with love and encouragement to overcome our faults and ever strive to enter more fully into the Church’s true spirit.

It does look as though the winter will be longer and severer than usual. We had snow flurries several times, but with no more than an inch of snow so far; however, the first real snow looks to be close (27° this morning, and probably colder down in Platina). We had two solid weeks of rain, which makes one place in our road (very close to us) quite difficult, but so far we’ve managed to get up and down safely. We have almost all our winter supplies, and need just two more trips for paper and gasoline.

Yes, Daniel left us, which saddened us and makes us realize all the more how strongly the devil is fighting us (for Daniel really belongs here). Our Catechumen John also left last week, without yet receiving what he came for — another attack of the devil. But we try to learn through our trials, and we have many consolations also. Last Tuesday Fr. Spiridon came and served Divine Liturgy on his namesday, and we all received Holy Communion.

We will be glad to talk to David, whenever you can bring him. St. Seraphim tells us to sow the seed of the Word whenever and wherever we can.

Trust in Vladika John’s prayer. Pray for us all.

With love in Christ our Saviour,
S. M.

P.S. I am enclosing (or maybe sending separately) two cassettes, which you might try to type out. One is the life of St. Simeon of Verkhoturye which I mentioned to you before, which is almost complete on the two sides (there’s a little more on another tape, which we’ll type out). This tape (and the other as well) were translated “live” and so will need some correction before being printed as a whole; but if you want to abridge it yourself you might be able to do so from this preliminary version.

The second cassette is part of a booklet we may be printing: Vladika Averky s commentary on the Apocalypse, which comes from Vol. 2 of his New Testament Commentary. Vladimir Anderson asked about the Orthodox interpretation of the Apocalypse recently, so we re doing this, which might be able to be printed much sooner than the Orthodox Dogmatics. (40-50 pp.) If they aren’t too difficult to transcribe (I’m doing the Dogmatics with puctuation marks, erasing my mistakes, etc., so it’s easier to follow), then please send us one copy of the complete text of both tapes (8 1/2×11 paper, doublespaced) so we can make corrections.

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