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252. March 22/April 4, 1978 St. Basil of Ancyra

Dear Andrew,

May the blessing of our Lord be with you! Please forgive us also for our offenses against you. May God forgive and enlighten us all!

Your letters, especially the last one (of Forgiveness Sunday), are saddening, as has been the whole course of church life in England recently. Actually, your situation is a reflection of a much larger ailment in the Church body.

When Fr. Herman identified the writer of the Boston epistle as “not believing in God,” he was of course speaking a little strongly. Reduced to plain prose, this statement means: this was not written with love and pastoral concern, but with a coldly calculating mind that is smug in its own “correctness” and relishes the opportunity to spread this “party line” to others—with now already disastrous results. We do not know Fr. Alexis personally, but judging from the epistles of other Boston monks whom we do know, the writers of these cold documents are invariable themselves better (at least potentially) than their “message.” The whole history of Fr. Panteleimon and his charismatic appeal to a certain kind of convert is a history of the immaturity of Orthodox Christians in our times, as well as of the anarchic church atmosphere, which is unable of itself to correct such exaggerations before they cause damage.

The wave that brought Fr. Panteleimon to the fore now seems to be subsiding (certainly his popularity among Russians is at a low ebb), and the events in England may well be his “waterloo” as a church “power.” Of course, he will not just go away, and I doubt that he will start his own jurisdiction (though he or his followers might force him into that position); but the “problem” which he represents can and should be faced now without doing personal battle with him. Many people now have been awakened to Orthodoxy and to the need for a true Orthodoxy, without modernistic distortions; even those who are too “zealous” can yet mature and overcome the mistakes of youth. The number of eager ears willing to listen to the message of Orthodoxy in English has never been greater.

Your work has been and should continue to be one of the voices that point to sound Orthodoxy. Perhaps you think your contribution is very modest. But believe me, in these times of universal coldness and calculation, the mere existence of someone (and more so a printed organ) who cares (about saints, and monasteries, about the suffering people of Russia, etc.) is a great help to everyone who is struggling on the Orthodox path.

So much for the general situation. About you personally, of course, I can’t give any definitive answer. However, I do know that in spiritual life it is often precisely in seemingly “impossible” conditions that one really begins to grow; then one has to become more sensitive, think less of getting one’s own will and ask what is God’s will, learn to see a little deeper into the reality around one—and all this through suffering, both one’s own and that of others. I can well imagine what Fr. Marks move alone has caused you.

І have not seen Fr. Alexis’ letter to you, but I can imagine its content, judging from his earlier epistles and having some idea of what goes on in the mind of an inexperienced person placed in a position of authority (the seeming conflict between the need to be “humble” and the need to “assert ones authority for the general good”). He probably has an exalted picture of the “oneness of mind” which everyone “should” have today, and little practical experience of getting along with those who disagree with you. Surely some kind of modus vivendi is possible? There is, after all, a certain difference between a real spiritual father—with whom one has a certain oneness of mind and can be fully open—and the simple spiritual authorities who are placed over one in the Church but with whom one need not actually have much contact. As for a confessor, if you do not have a trusted spiritual father, then you can “make do” until God grants you one, I.e., confess (if need be) in rather general terms until you find someone to whom you can open your soul more fully.

Without judging Father Mark, I think you would make a bad mistake if you followed him. If you wish to continue speaking to Orthodox Christians through the printed word (especially about things in Russia), I think that you will feel a difference in your freedom, whether or not your ecclesiastical superiors would give you “advice” and “hints” as to how to express yourself. And as for Archbishop Athenagoras—well, Archimandrite Cyprian of Fili has well written that when the squabbles among the small flock of “true Orthodox” are set beside our differences with the modernists, there is no doubt which part we have to choose. Our Church Outside of Russia is in an ideal position to speak the truth freely to the world, at least a small portion of which is eager for the truth; how sad that our petty passions and squabbles so often ruin this great opportunity!

Still, the starting place should always be with me. the cause of my misfortunes is first of all my own sins and shortcomings, and often God heals me through the sufferings He allows me to endure.

May God give you strength in your trials and courage to continue your good work. I think in all of this, despite appearances, God is helping us to a deeper, truer Christianity. So much of our Orthodoxy today is so self-righteous and smug, or at least lukewarm and comfortable, that we need to be shaken up a little. May God only grant that His sheep not be lost!

Are you still planning to come to California for Pascha? Alexey says that you might come later. I was able to travel to Etna last week and serve the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts for the first time in their chapel. We will be happy to see you whenever you can come.

With love in Christ,
Unworthy Priestmonk Seraphim

P.s. Is The Orthodox Word getting through to you? We sent out no. 76 early in Feb., and no. 77 a few days ago.

P.p.s. Regarding the question of Western saints in the Calendar. We would agree with what you say about the impossibility of including some few Western “saints” in Orthodox Calendars (Nicholas I, Charlemagne); but such ones are really very few. Why not a conciliatory attitude towards Augustine of Canterbury and Wilfred: By the way, the Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad did give official approval to the veneration of St. Anschar of Hamburg—in the early 1950 s, I believe, as reported in The Orthodox Word, 1971, March-April.

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