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227. June 30/July 13, 1976 Twelve Apostles

Dear Father Panagiotes [Carras],


Thank you for your letter. Your words do not offend us, and in fact we are encouraged by the fact that, while differing so sharply with our article, you expressed yourself in so conciliatory a tone. We pray that, whatever disagreements may lie ahead, this tone will be preserved by all involved.

About the article: yes, part of the difficulty is a matter of expression, and if it is necessary to talk about these things in future we will try to express ourselves in a way less likely to cause unnecessary offense.

But the main problem is much deeper, and we were so bold as to stick our necks out in front of a visible axe, knowing that there would be disagreements and that later we would probably have to at least rephrase what we said there, solely because we see a frightful thing in front of us, of which very few seem to be aware: we see the formation of two distinct wings in our Church—our bishops, who are saying and thinking one thing (mostly in Russian), and a “Greek party,” which is saying and thinking something completely different (in English and Greek). Your words only confirm this for us. Whoever is doing the “translation” between you and other Greek priests, and our Russian bishops, is certainly leaving much unsaid, to say the least. Apparently each party is interpreting the things unsaid in its own way.

I believe that the words in our article which you find so shocking express fairly well what most if not all of our Russian bishops think. Our Synod has not, nor ever said that it has, broken communion with any of the main “canonical” churches; only with Moscow is there an official break, and that for reasons which do not involve a question of heresy (it is rather the “dead rat” in Blessed Xenia’s barrel) and which look to the eventual restoration of communion when the political situation changes (it being understood, and expressed by various of our hierarchs, that when the Communist regime falls the betraying hierarchs will be appropriately handled). (The giving of communion to Catholics is a new element in the Moscow situation which our bishops haven’t drawn final conclusions about as yet.) Whether we like it or not our Synod has used precisely the term “avoiding communion” with regard to the Metropolia—meaning, for all intents and purposes, a break in communion, but without any proclamation of them as “schismatics. The thinking behind our Synod’s actions in recent years seems to be in reality quite different from what you have been told, namely: Fr. George Lewis was allowed to be baptized and ordained solely because he was not received in the Metropolia by a bishop, but only by a priest—thus he was not considered ordained or properly received and was received by us like a Catholic (not one of our bishops, I am sure, would dream of ordaining anyone already correctly ordained by the Metropolia); the establishment of multi-national parishes is a missionary answer, in the midst of a chaos of jurisdictions, to an urgent demand on the part of these groups, with no opinion expressed or implied about the Mysteries of other jurisdictions of the same nationality; the reception of Greek clergy without canonical release from the Greek Archdiocese is a case of economy, because they have been accepted for reasons of conscience but without our bishops officially breaking communion with the hierarchs from whom they have separated (this is the explanation given us directly by an Archbishop who has received two such priests); only very recently (if then) have any of our bishops begun seriously to question the validity of the Mysteries in the “canonical jurisdictions,” and probably all of our bishops still believe that the Mysteries of at least most of the jurisdictions are valid (just recently our bishops refused the request of the Synod of Archbishop Auxentios to agree with it on the non-validity of new-calendarist Mysteries, and it was not until a year or so ago that this Old-Calendarist Synod ceased to believe that the new-calendarist Mysteries are indeed valid); our Church has open communion with the Serbian Church, Jerusalem, and probably others, and leaves separate hierarchs free to serve even with Constantinople if they wish. Indeed, even on the “right” side there is a glaring enough “inconsistency,” in that we continue to have communion (as long as they will allow it) with two groups of Old Calendarists who have no communion with each other.

We ourselves at times have wished to see a little more “consistency” in the positions of the Synod, but for the time being we have to be satisfied with the basic Synod position, which seems to be: individual members and communities of the Russian Church Abroad are free to have no communion with any of the “canonical jurisdictions,” but the bishops themselves are not willing to break communion with these jurisdictions as yet. We spoke just a week ago with one of the leading Archbishops of our Synod, whose views are undoubtedly typical of our Synod, and he made it quiet clear that officially we have broken only with Moscow, and our official responsibility at this time, as far as breaking communion, does not extend beyond the Russian Church situation; about the other jurisdictions we do not yet have to define things so precisely. Like it or not, that seems to be the position of our Church as reflected in the views of individual hierarchs and in the decrees of Sobors and the Synod (and also by the lack of such decrees on some points). In future the Synod or Sobor may change this position; but we must be aware of what their position is now.

Judging from your letter, you will receive these words with unbelief; if nothing else, then, our article will have served to bring into the open something which has been too long covered up. Apparently some people in our Synod prefer not to “upset” people by telling them what the bishops really think; but we cannot see anything but trouble ahead from such a pretense. Better to know the truth in the beginning, even if it is unpleasant, than to be confronted with it later and find that one has been acting on false presumptions for months or years. Judging from the “Open Letters” of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Fr. Panteleimon is well enough aware of what our bishops really think—but apparently one can read those letters with a different set of presuppositions in mind and not see this.

Even the letter of our Metropolitan on the “Thyateira Confession” does not indicate that we have broken communion with Constantinople; the distinct implication, I would say, is that it threatens a final break in communion if the rest of the bishops of Constantinople do not condemn the document.

We ourselves follow the confessing stand of Archbishop Averky, who based his stand, however, much less on canons and dogmas than on discernment of the spiritual substance of the apostasy of the “canonical jurisdictions”; the break of our Church and the Catacomb Church with Sergius in 1927 was also not primarily a question of canons or dogmas, but a rather more subtle question which the Catacomb hierarchs expressed most frequently as the loss of “freedom” (that is, inward freedom). We as much as you wish to be separate from the “canonical jurisdictions”; but we wonder how adequate is the stand that this separateness must be defined on canonical and dogmatic grounds. The Old Believers to this day defend their separation from the Orthodox Church precisely on canonical and dogmatic grounds; and our hierarchs, in what you probably regard as their excessive caution in breaking formally with the “canonical jurisdictions,” have very much in mind our Russian experience with a tragic mistake made on the “right” side out of immoderate zeal. Dr. Kalomiros and others in Greece who follow the Old Calendar have written to us of the “legalism” and “fanaticism” of some of the Old Calendarists; are we supposed only to praise such people even though we see that they are sowing distrust and discord in the name of “correctness”?

It does not seem appropriate to discuss such things in print, and perhaps even what we printed was a little too much, especially it if is interpreted as a condemnation of many zealot fathers, as you say (although Fr. Theodoritos of St. Anne’s Skete did not tell us in his recent letter on this subject that he was at all offended by the article). But you should know that some of the words and actions of those on the “right” side (we don’t know how else to say it!) are indeed causing trouble among us, and in particular there is good reason to suspect that some of the recent actions towards the “left” of a few of our bishops are a direct reaction to what they regard as a dangerous fanaticism. We fear that if our bishops are going to be told (without asking them) that they regard all the “canonical jurisdictions” as “heretical” and “without grace”—that they may regard it necessary to go a little overboard on the other side. Let’s not force them to that! That danger is greater than you might think.

This is enough to give you our reasons for raising such a controversial point in The Orthodox Word. We fear that the future for true Orthodoxy may be indeed as dismal as Dr. Kalomiros paints it, with isolated groups of believers cut off from each other and even anathematizing each other over points of “strictness” and “correctness.” While we have our free Russian Church Outside of Russia we should treasure it, even while we may have disagreements among ourselves over questions such as breaking communion. If some in our Church are going to insist that their opinions on such questions must prevail—there will be discord and possibly schism, which indeed would do more harm than any possible good, for it would prove to “canonical Orthodoxy” that “true Orthodoxy” is only a conglomeration of fighting sects. May God preserve us from this—this is what made us write the article. Our “correctness” must always be accompanied by humility, and with sufficient doubt in our own opinions as to listen to what those who differ may say, without calling them betrayers or heretics. Thus far the circle of betrayers and heretics is fairly clear, and we should not cease to denounce their path and remain separate from them; but with those who sincerely wish to remain in the tradition of Orthodoxy we must have a spirit of conciliation and openness to listen.

Pray for us, and please keep in contact with us.

With love in Christ,
Seraphim, monk

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