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208. Jan. 28/Feb. 10, 1976 St. Ephraim the Syrian

Dear Alexey,

Enclosed is a new fruit—unfortunately mostly reprints, but we hope the cover is new and inspiring.

In our visit we didn’t have a chance to ask you how Nina is getting along in the community. Is she getting a longing for big-city life? She told me that she and Barbara are not getting along, and she thinks it must be jealousy. Could it be that Barbara just can’t stand Nina’s “type”—outspoken, “intellectual,” “always right,” still reflecting something of the “hothouse” atmosphere of the “Boston” approach?

I’ve written and talked to Nina some about this “hothouse” approach to Orthodoxy—filled with gossip, knowing “what’s going on,” having the “right answer” to everything according to what the “experts” say. I begin to think that this is really her basic problem, and not Fr. Panteleimon directly.

An example: Nina is horrified that Fr. Herman’s brother-in-law was received into the Church without baptism or chrismation; “that’s wrong,” she says. But we see nothing particularly wrong with it; that is for the priest and bishop to decide, and it is not our (or even more her) business. The rite by which has was received has long been approved by the Church out of economy, and probably in this case it was the best way, because Harvey might have hesitated much more at being baptized—the Church’s condescension here was wise. But Nina would like someone “to read Vladika Anthony the decree of the Sobor…” My dear, he was there composing the decree, which explicitly gives the bishop permission to use economy when he wishes! We don’t like this attitude at all, because it introduces totally unnecessary disturbance into the Church atmosphere; and if she is going to tell Harvey (Thomas) now that he is not really baptized or a member of the Orthodox Church, she could do untold harm to a soul.

Another example: Nina was very pleased that our Daniel was baptized in Jordanville; finally he did it “right”! (Our Laurence thinks the same thing.) But we are not pleased at all, seeing in this a sign of great spiritual immaturity on his part and a narrow fanaticism on the part of those who approve. St. Basil the Great refused to baptize a man who doubted the validity of his baptism, precisely because he had already received communion for many years and it was too late to doubt then that he was a member of Christ’s Church! In the case of our converts it is obvious that those who insist or are talked into receiving baptism after already being members of the Church are trying out of a feeling of insecurity, to receive something which the Sacrament does not give: psychological security, a making up for their past failures while already Orthodox, a belonging to the “club” of those who are “right,” an automatic spiritual “correctness.” But this act casts doubt on the Church and her ministers: if the priest or bishop who received such people were “wrong” (and so wrong that the whole act of reception must be done over again!), a sort of “Church within the Church” is created, a clique which, by contrast to “most bishops and priests” is always “right.” And of course, that is our big problem today—and even more in the days ahead. It is very difficult to fight this, because they offer “clear and simple” answers to every question, and our insecure converts find this the answer to their needs.

I wonder if Phanourios will not have this problem? He is hesitant about just going to confession to be joined to our Church, especially after hearing that his friend Macarios was baptized in Jordanville. When I asked him whether he thought he had to be baptized too, he said no, just as long as he’s given a clear answer as to what he should do. So we told him we would ask Vladika Anthony’s blessing for him to be received and how. But frankly, no matter what anyone might think or say, our Church has never broken communion with the Greek Archdiocese, and in fact Metr. Philaret s latest epistle to the Bishops of the Patriarchate of Constantinople still addresses them as Orthodox bishops. I suspect that any priest in this diocese would be horrified at the idea of baptizing someone who comes from the Greek Archdiocese. But in this case let us see what Vladika Anthony says, and then pray that no one is coming to disturb Phanourios afterwards with tempting thoughts of solving all his problems by Baptism.

At times we would like to think that the whole “Fr. Panteleimon” problem in our Church is just a matter of differing emphases which, in the end, will not be so terribly important. But the more we observe, the more we come to think that it is much more serious than that, that in fact an “Orthodox sectarianism” is being formed at the expense of our simple people. Therefore, those who are aware of all this must be “zealots according to knowledge.” The Church has survived worse temptations in the past; but we fear for our converts lest in their simplicity they be led into a sect and out of the Church.

God is with us! We must go forward in faith.

With love in Christ,
Seraphim, monk

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