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216. April 18/May 1, 1976 Bright Saturday


Dear Brother in Christ, Andrew [Bond],

Thank you for the copy of your “sorrowful epistle” to Vladika Nikodem. What you describe there is indeed but one case of a very widespread problem now in our Church, a diversion from the devil “on the right side,” as it were, and it will require much patience and prayer and level-headedness to stay afloat in the stormy sea which it is causing. I will tell you something based on our own experience in America.

This “zeal not according to understanding,” about which Archbishop Averky has warned in his sermons, is by no means limited to baptizing those coming from other Orthodox jurisdictions or (most shocking of all) re-baptizing those who have already been receiving Holy Communion in our Church for months or years—it is a whole mentality which insists on being “always right” and looking disdainfully on all who disagree as “not really Orthodox.” This attitude is revealed, for example, in the recent totally pointless attacks made by some of our Greek priests in America against Blessed Augustine. It is well known in the Orthodox Church that Bl. Augustine made mistakes, went “too far” on some points—but the Church has never called him a heretic or denied him the name of Father, as is quite clear from the evidence of one Ecumenical Council (perhaps two, but I can’t find the second reference yet), St. Photios the Great (who is repeating explicit on this point), St. Mark of Ephesus, St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, and our own Archbishop John Maximovitch. Yet some now seek to prove “how Orthodox I am” by calling him heretic and various other evil names.

If this mentality were allowed to “take over” in our Church it would mean not merely isolation for us (about which, in itself, we are not very upset, because it is obvious that “world Orthodoxy” is crumbling, losing its identity), but also, much more importantly^^ losing of Orthodox tradition itself, losing the contact with those who have handed Orthodoxy down to us, for the sake of an abstract “Orthodoxy” which exists only in the minds of the “zealot party.” The over-emphasis on the “Western captivity” of Orthodox theology in recent centuries is a symptom of the same mentality. Orthodox tradition was transmitted in those centuries, despite certain outward Westernisms, but our new “zealots” literally wish to throw out or at least regard with utmost disdain virtually all the great Fathers of those centuries—Metr. Philaret of Moscow, St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, Bp. Theophanes the Recluse, and others. (They haven’t attacked Bp. Ignatius Brianchaninov yet, but only because they can’t read Russian; but St. Macarius of Corinth will obviously have to go with St. Nikodemus, especially if—as I strongly suspect—his book on “Continual Communion” comes from Latin sources. A well-balanced Orthodoxy can easily take any foreign influences that come and straighten them out, make them Orthodox; but a one-sided “party-line” cuts itself off from the real mainstream of Orthodoxy.)

We have heard of a few mistaken “re-baptisms” in America and have asked several of our bishops about them. In every case, as it turns out, the diocesan bishop was not informed of the circumstances of the case. Recently some wished to see such a “rebaptism” performed in our Western American diocese, but our Archbishop Anthony wisely refused to allow it, in which we gave him our full support—for indeed, it would have been tantamount to an open declaration of the absence of Grace in the Greek Archdiocese. Our bishops, by the way (whether at the 1974 Sobor or later, I don’t know) explicitly refused to make such a declaration when asked to do so by one of the Greek Old Calendar jurisdictions (the Auxentios group, unfortunately, which has recently joined the Mathewites in this opinion, although on less fanatical grounds).

This “zealot” mentality, in America at least (and largely in England too, I suspect), is almost entirely due to the influence of Fr. Panteleimon of Boston. In our personal meetings with Fr. Panteleimon we have not found him to be a “fanatic,” but those under his influence are quite mercilessly so. Sadly, this group is now forming a kind of independent psychological “diocese” within our Church, and they have no respect whatever for the bishops who disagree with them. This means trouble ahead, and you are certainly right that we are sitting on a volcano.

However, let me tell you this: we know well a number of bishops and the views of most of the rest—and we don’t know a single one who would approve of “re-baptisms” such as you describe. I very much doubt that Vladika Nikodem would approve either, if he were fully informed, and any problem you may have with him is more likely to be owing to the way your attitude has been presented to him as “insubordination,” “undermining priestly authority,” etc. In that case it is above all important for you to show yourself as meek and obedient and not insisting on “being right” for its own sake (in the new “zealot” sense)—without, of course, giving up your basic position—which is certainly in accord with what our bishops and soundest priests believe.

Regarding our Church as a whole, I do not think you need to fear an “extremist takeover.” Our bishops are quite moderate, and I think it is safe to say that their earlier “fascination” (for bishops are also a little subject to “fashions”!) with Fr. Panteleimon (as at the 1971 Sobor) is a thing of the past. In general, Fr. Panteleimon has lost his influence almost everywhere (Greece and Mt. Athos also)—except in one place: over the young people, both converts and Western-born native Orthodox; for he offers them some “simple” answers to complex questions, and that is very attractive to those a little uncertain and shaky in their faith. (These are precisely the ones, by the way, who think they will “put everything right” by getting baptized all over again!) These young people are now the ones who are beginning to fill the places of the departing generation of Russians (in our Church), and this is a source of danger for the future of our Church.

I do not know what more to say of your specific “incident,” but I do hope you will place it in the perspective of the whole Church situation today. One would like to avoid a direct “battle” with the “new-zealot” mentality, if possible, because there are many good people now under this influence who can eventually come back to a sounder Orthodoxy if only they aren’t prematurely forced to “defend” their mistaken idea of Orthodoxy. Above all for us who have the printed word at our disposal, I think it is important to strive to inculcate respect both for our bishops and older priests, and for the whole theological tradition of recent centuries. In the name of “anti-scholasticism” the “zealots” are throwing out the whole baby together with the bath water! They virtually boast that they alone are “great theologians” who have just now re-discovered a lost theological tradition; but actually their theology is remarkably crude and simplistic, especially when put beside the writings of a truly great theologian in the unbroken Orthodox tradition—our own Father Michael Pomazansky of Jordanville, who is subtle, refined, deep—and totally overlooked by the “bright young theologians.” Of course, the “language gap” is also an unfortunate factor here, as it is in the whole situation I have described here. We must strive all the harder to make the influence of the real Orthodoxy more deeply and widely felt—and then the emergence of sudden “know-it-alls” will be taken more in stride by the Church as a whole.

By the way, at the Synod you should be in contact first of all with the Secretary, Bishop Laurus (who now is being greatly slandered by the “zealots”)—his position is quite moderate and sound, and he is doing superhuman work for the good of the Church in most difficult circumstances.

To all this I would only add: let us also beware of the temptations on the “left side.” We do not need to declare fanatically that we are the “only Orthodox left,” but let us also be aware of the process of apostasy that is taking possession of virtually all the Orthodox Churches now, and to which we too can fall if we are not sober and cautious. Our own Sobor of Bishops some years back already “discouraged” communion with the Greek Archdiocese, and our own Bishop Nektary of Seattle is for us a model of sound moderation when he warns us that some of our bishops are doing a little too much for the sake of being “recognized by world Orthodoxy.” Perhaps the best description of our Church’s status at the present time is something like “moderate, sober,—and aloof.” But in practice this is a difficult path to follow.

We ask your prayers for us.

With love in Christ,
Seraphim, monk

P.s. We are sending you another parcel of Northern Thebaids. You can give away the damaged ones. We will also begin sending you one copy of The Orthodox Word by airmail, hoping to hear some response from you on the articles we will be printing in the months ahead.

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