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168. Jan. 7/20, 1975. St. John the Forerunner

Dear Brother in Christ, Alexey,

Greetings on the Feast of our Lord’s Epiphany! Many thanks for your letter and the tapes, and especially your transcription of the Dogmatic Theology. We’ve just glanced at the latter, and in general the idea of the footnotes is very good. Yes, such a book is very needed; I’ve just finished recording the chapter on the Filioque, and such a clear and simple presentation of it I’ve never read anywhere else. The only other such book in English we know of is Karmiris’, a brief exposition by a contemporary Greek “systematic theology” teacher, but it’s just for seminary students, and so abstractly presented that it’s really of no use. Fr. Michael avoids the “academic” pitfall because he understands the whole of Orthodox theology so well that he can present it simply and clearly, and from just the right point of view (it’s called the “Jordanville” ideology by its enemies — but it’s just plain Orthodoxy, shorn of academic pretensions, down to earth).

About Elizabeth, don’t reproach yourself too much, you’ve done what you could. I plan to write her a brief letter, not mentioning anything you’ve written, but only a general letter on the occasion of her moving away and the need to remain in contact with Orthodox souls if her faith is to grow and mature. More than this I don’t know what any of us can do. The “humbling” experience is very good for you. Indeed, how we all must learn and relearn that our pretensions and ideas must be tested by reality and forged in suffering. If David comes to you, give him whatever you can; if not, leave well enough alone. Continue to do all you can with what God gives you, and leave the rest to Him. May God bless the additions to the chapel and house, and also the trip to London; if God gives these opportunities, by all means use them and make the most of them.

We ourselves have had a number of “sobering” experiences by now, especially with people in whom we had great trust or hopes. Daniel is one of them; he could have turned out a zealous and fruitful laborer in Christ’s vineyard, but now…. On his two (lay visit to us just now we noticed that, while he is not “loose” as he was on his previous two visits, when he was out of work, still he has the same self-centered, self-satisfied view of reality; knowing so much about Orthodoxy, and having so many correct feelings about the Orthodox situation also, he probably will never bear fruit now that he has let his opportunity for commitment — first with Fr. Panteleimon, then with us — slip by. We fear he will even bring harm, quite without intending it, merely from being ‘‘correct” without being able to commit his heart to anything or anyone. Understandable? With such a one you should be careful not to reveal the secrets of your heart — neither your hopes nor fears for the future, for an Orthodox community, etc.

We look forward to the new chapter on Kireyevsky, who perhaps is more important than we suspect for today, in Russian also. K. hoped that Orthodoxy could give the answer to the dead-end of the West; today the reawakening philosophy inside Russia is beginning to ask and answer this same question. We will be writing in the next few issues something on the views of Solzhenitsyn and the new Russian Religious philosophers — unfortunately they are mostly off, not taking their inspiration from the Holy Fathers but from modern wise men like Berdyaev. But something significant is happening in Russia. And deep down the situation of Russian Orthodoxy is not too different from that of American Orthodoxy; the same problems of surviving in a hostile world, of making Orthodoxy a way of life and not just a Sunday religion, of living by the Holy Fathers today. Some of these questions perhaps will come out in the last installment or two of Kireyevsky, after the chapter on the Holy Fathers.

Sometimes we find it discouraging that purely physical difficulties look so large — right now, the difficulty in getting the lead to melt in our linotype pot (a problem of insulation, I think, which I’ve only partially solved) — but again, that is to humble us, and really it is much better to learn patience and humility than it is to get everything as one wants and then discover (as the modern Orthodox intellectuals, Russian or Western, should be discovering) that inside they are empty. May God grant us to trust Him as He guides our daily lives better than we could. Pray for us.

With love in Christ,
Seraphim, monk

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