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162. July 30/Aug. 12, 1974. St. Herman of Solovki

Dear Dr. Johnstone,
Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Concerning Luke Walmsley, we have received from Fr. Neketas two letters (copies) which Luke has recently written him, which are probably similar to the ones you have received. Yes, he writes of experiences which are quite “unusual” — but alas! they are quite true. I will give you a brief outline of what we know, so as to fill in the gaps in your own picture of him. Since he himself has chosen to speak to you about them, I trust that I am not breaking any confidence with him in giving you the “whole picture” which, in his present state, he probably would have difficulty in giving.

We have known Luke since just before he was received into our Russian Church Abroad in San Francisco, some ten years ago or so. He married a Russian woman, a student of medicine, and several years after this became Orthodox (from Catholicism, to which he had been a convert from Protestantism). For long he had dreamed of being a physician, but for some reason he could not go to medical school in the U.S., and very late (in his 30’s) he began studies in Italian medical ‘schools. This was always very difficult for him — he would be in Italy the whole school year (coming back for Christmas, as I recall), and then would work all summer as a lab technician in San Francisco day and night. His wife stayed with her family, which earned many problems — they are “unconscious Orthodox” and he was always a foreigner to them. His wife in the early years supported his struggle and urged him to continue.

We would see him several times on his visits to S. F., but after our move to Platina we more or less lost contact with him. Then, one fall day several years ago, he suddenly appeared at our Skete and laid his problem before us: for two years he had not been back to Italy but had worked solidly (on 24- hour call) as a lab technician, in order to get the money to set up his wife in her private practice of eye-medicine and provide a place in the country (Russian River, north of S. F.) for his two children to escape the corrupting city influences. This, of course, set him back in his studies, and many told him that his career in medicine was finished. Now he had to decide — to go back to Italy or not? His wife still approved, but everyone else had given up on him, as he was now over 40. We tried to encourage him as best we could — and soon he went again to Italy to resume his studies, which still required several years.

Then the devil struck in earnest. In his kindheartedness Luke took into his house a Russian priest from Australia, one of a rather roving disposition who had no church assignment; he had studied eye-medicine (supposedly) and hoped somehow to finish his studies here. His own wife and children were with him, but this did not prevent him from entering into an adulterous relation with Luke’s wife. Luke’s wife’s letters became colder and more infrequent, and finally, on his summer trip to America, Luke found out the whole story. He contacted the spiritual authorities in S.F., and somehow the priest was persuaded to return to Australia with his family. But as soon as Luke went back to Italy the priest returned and Luke’s wife sued him for divorce; his attorneys informed him it was useless to contest it, and of course he was in a despondent condition. He has somehow continued his studies in Italy for the year or more after that, receiving a small stipend from his wife (who at least did not ask him for alimony). Last year there was to be a spiritual trial of the Russian priest, but we do not know whether he was defrocked and is now living with Luke’s wife, or whether he repented, or what.

Luke apparently has less than a year to go to finish his MD, but he is understandably in a low condition. In addition to everything else, the Russian priest in Rome does not understand him and has sided against him, and church life there is very discouraging. Knowing church life in some other places, nothing he has told us about this has surprised us, and we have every reason to believe him. He has visited Lesna and Mt. Athos in the last year, but spiritually he is very much alone, as indeed he has pretty much been ever since he became Orthodox. Because of this he still has some “convert” problems, but I think it is safe to say that the one thing still holding him together is his devotion to true Orthodoxy, according to his strength and understanding. In recent months he has apparently come very close to desperation, and his letters to us have become very fragmentary. His physical condition also is probably not good, as he has never been in good health.

As for his future, we know only one thing: if he does not finish his medical studies, he will be a broken man; this is what he has lived for all these years. If he does finish them, at least there is some hope that he will come out of his tragic experiences whole and able to help others. He has a very idealistic goal of practicing medicine not “soullessly,” as he has seen it practiced so much today, but together with the human and spiritual side; his dream had always been to be a physician-priest. God alone knows what he might become; but certainly he won’t be anything at all unless he can finish his studies.

We do not know how desperate his financial condition is right now, but it has always been very precarious.

What more to say? His is a very suffering soul, and any word of encouragement you could give him will help.

Many thanks for your other comments. We too look forward to more Greek-Russian cooperation for the good of Orthodoxy in America. We haven’t heard from Dr. Cavarnos — but I’m afraid we’ve owed him a letter for some time. Please express to Father Michael our regrets for the delay in getting him the little material we’ve been translating on Bulgakov; God willing, it will be finished soon. (Too many visitors!) Please pray for us.

With love in Christ our Saviour,
Seraphim, monk

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