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239. Aug. 22/Sept. 4, 1976B Martyr Agathonicus

Dear Christopher,

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Please forgive our long silence. We have had a quiet summer as far as people is concerned (no one has come for more than a few weeks, and we’ve been mostly alone for the past month), but several outward events have caused us trouble. First there was our forest fire (have I written since then?), which came within two miles and forced us to pack up all our rare manuscripts and books in preparation for evacuation (by Vladika John’s prayers the fire was turned back by a strong wind at the last minute); then two weeks of the most unseasonable rain, beginning precisely on the feast of St. Elias, with thunder and lightning, and which laid both Fr. Herman and myself low with colds or flu. The tenth anniversary of Vladika Johns repose (described in the latest OW) gave us a new bit of inspiration; and last week Vladikas Anthony and Nektary visited us and served Liturgy, together with the new Deacon Andrew of the S.F. Cathedral. All the time the “Greeks” are rumbling in the background, and already there are strong hints that we (and our bishops) aren’t Orthodox enough for them. More than ever we need to keep in view the ABCs of Orthodox survival, which more and more seems to us less a matter of doctrinal purity than of a basically sober and other-worldly attitude and orientation.

Your futile excursions into “worldliness” are not at all unusual or untypical in our days. Orthodox, by remaining unchanged, has become so out of harmony with the world, and the world itself has become so “glamorous” and “magical” (a symptom of chiliasm!)—that those who wish to be true Orthodox Christians today must suffer in their own souls the power of this disharmony between true and false life before emerging into a relatively stable Orthodox way of life. Be patient—your suffering-through of this painful state, without losing the deep-down desire to be Orthodox in spite of everything, will do you much good. By the way, your experience is not really so different from that of Blessed Augustine especially in the last months of his conversion when he saw clearly the truth of Christianity but just couldn’t commit himself to it. You should read his Confessions—a good book for our days. (There’s a readable translation in the Penguin Classics.)

The other graduates of our “Academy” are going through experiences analogous to your own. Paul Bartlett has already gone through a period of “renouncing Christianity” and thinking of raking up Buddhism, then returning to Orthodoxy, and now (from his last letter) seems again to be in some strange “mood.” Simeon has already been ordained priest, has spent over half a year in Boston and Jordanville picking up the outward aspect of Orthodox life, and is preparing soon to begin his “missionary parish” in Los Angeles—with what seems to us from here to be very little inward preparation. Paul Bassett has gotten married (to Barbara Rogers of Rochester) and continues to dream of an ideal Orthodox family life, missionary labors in Ireland, etc.—and perhaps his basic “foolishness” and lack of contact with ordinary life will give him the best chance of all not to get knocked off the Orthodox path. But it really is a miracle of God if any survive at all.

Thomas Reszke wrote us briefly of his “personality conflict” with you—probably more a product of his own inner conflict than anything else. (He seems very disappointed at not “finding his place” in life and doesn’t seem to realize that he must first change himself.) You shouldn’t let it disturb you—let this also be for your experience in “survival.”

We have much to do before what seems like an early winter. Pray for us, and let us hear more of your struggles, such as they are. God is with us!

With love in Christ,
Seraphim, monk

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