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240. Oct. 1/14, 1976 Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos

Dear Mr. Graves,

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We were glad indeed to hear from you and were encouraged by your interest in something so dear to us as the Orthodox saints of the West, as well as by your offer to help us with translations from Latin.

About the phenomenon of Orthodox saints of the West in general, it is primarily the zeal and interest of Archbishop John Maximovitch which has inspired us and many others to do what we can to speak of and glorify them. I think this is of value not only to Orthodox of Western background, but to all Orthodox, for Russians and Greeks in the full “Eastern” tradition find many of the lives of the early Western saints to be entirely authentic and in the full Orthodox tradition, and thus an unexpected wealth is added to the already rich Eastern tradition.

Of course, there are grounds for your “mixed feelings” about entering the sphere of “Latin” Orthodoxy, for the Latin West did indeed fall away into a spiritual outlook quite foreign to Orthodoxy. I would not blame the language for this, however—such pillars of Eastern Orthodoxy in our own times as Archbishop Averky of Jordanville have found Latin to be a very rich and expressive language for Orthodox use. The limitation of the Latin West is probably best described as the Russian philosopher Kireyevsky described it over a century ago, as an intellectual narrowness which, being no more than a tendency as long as it had the whole Orthodox atmosphere to correct it, became the predominant modern-Western trait of rationalism when Orthodoxy was lost through the pretensions of the later Roman popes.

Blessed Augustine shares in this “Western” limitation by his over-logicalness (I will enclose Kireyevsky’s quote on this if I can find the issue of Nikodemos in which it was translated), which led him into several mistakes which the East did not fall into, most notably regarding predestination. In general, Augustine was not much read in the East, but there was never any doubt whatever that he was regarded as one of the great teachers of the Orthodox Church, although not without his flaws. (In the East we have St. Gregory of Nyssa, who taught a doctrine rather worse than any of Augustine’s errors!) St. Photios the Great in the 9th century was extremely insistent that Augustine, despite his errors, was “not to be cast out of the rank of the Fathers”; St. Mark of Ephesus did not question his status as a Father, calling him “Blessed”; St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain put him in the Eastern Calendar (together with many other saints of East and West), and the Orthodox tradition since then, both Greek and Russian, has been universal in accepting him as an Orthodox teacher, albeit of lesser authority than the great Eastern Fathers and also several other Western Fathers, especially St. Ambrose. Our own Archbp. John Maximovitch greatly venerated him and had a church service composed in his honor. Our recent and contemporary Fathers seem to see his greatest value not in his dogmatic writings but in his writings on piety, such as the Confessions, which do indeed have a warmth and love which we can certainly learn from today.

The term “Blessed” in the Orthodox Church is rather a comprehensive term which takes in many classes of holy men, some “canonized” and some not. In the case of Augustine, it is used because of his theological flaws which give him a rank something less than that of St. Ambrose, for example.

With Blessed Jerome the case is a little different, since he does not have the theological flaws of Augustine. Apparently his one-time contact with Origenism has given him a slight “taint” in Eastern eyes, which would account for the “Blessed” by which he is usually called—but not always, for he is sometimes called by the term appropriate for all monastic saints. THe Orthodox attitude to these two saints is perhaps best indicated by a Western Father who was fully in the Eastern tradition and was contemporary with both saints—St. John Cassian (who taught the Orthodox doctrine of grace as against Augustine’s overemphases), in his book against Nestorius, quotes as authorities in the West both “Jerome, the teacher of the Catholics, whose writings shine like divine lamps throughout the whole world,” and “Augustine, bishop of Hippo.” That is, Jerome is highly praised, and Augustine is not—but Augustine is still quoted as an Orthodox authority, as sharply contrasted with someone like Pelagius, whom St. Cassian calls a “wicked heretic.”

Well, this is enough on a subject not very important in itself. I am afraid that some of our Orthodox people, in their anxiety to protect themselves against “Western influences,” are going a little overboard on “throwing our Augustine”—that is not the attitude of the Orthodox Fathers throughout history, who never called him heretic or denied him the rank of Father; to this day he is in all Orthodox Calendars (including those of the Old Calendar jurisdictions of Greece) under the date of June 16—actually, he would more appropriately be placed under the day of his repose, Aug. 28, but perhaps St. Nikodemos wished simply to place him together with Jerome.

It is also an unnecessary exaggeration to blame him for the errors of Calvinism. The Reformers took some “seeds” from Augustine, but their full-blown doctrine of predestination and “salvation by faith alone” was not taught by Augustine. It should also be noted that the Orthodox West itself corrected Augustine in his chief error—the Council of Orange in 529 anathematized (but without mentioning Augustine, the rest of whose teaching on grace it approved) the doctrine of predestination to damnation, which Augustine had indeed expressed several times.

Concerning your offer of help with translations: we have the translation of St. Gregory’s Life of the Fathers. It was done basically from a rather literal French translation of the 19th century, with comparison of the Latin for consistency in monastic and technical vocabulary. However, there are some translations which we would like done. First of all, the “Praise of the Desert” (“Laus eremi” I believe, in Latin) of St. Eucherius of Lyons (a contemporary of St. Cassian and a disciple of the “Eastern” monastery of Lerins). We have heard of no translation at all of this work, except for a 17th-century French translation which is unavailable to us. I think this work is short, no more than 30 or 40 pages and probably less. I have seen a few excerpts from it in French and it is of interest to us especially for its joining of the ideas of the “desert” with the forest (of Gaul—as in later Russian “deserts”), and also as an early document of the monastic movement in the West. If you would be able to translate this work (perhaps we could include it as an appendix to The Life of the Fathers), I could make a Xerox copy of whatever Latin text is available at the University of California in Berkeley.

We are also interested in some of the works of St. Faustus of Rhegium (Riez), a 5th-century defender of St. Cassian who seems to be also something of an “Eastern” Father in the West, and who seems to be totally untranslated as yet. But about this we could write later.

We would be very glad if Constantine Desrosiers would join you in this project. We have known him since before his conversion to Orthodoxy.

Please let us know when you might be able to work on the text of St. Eucherius, which would be of great value to us. (One of the Lives of St. Gregory’s work is of a monk who was in a monastery in Lyons at about the time St. Eucherius was bishop there.) Please remember us in your prayers.

With love in Christ,
Seraphim, monk

P.s. The 1977 Calendar is only being printed now, and will be sent our around the end of the month.

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