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261. Feb. 9/22.1979 b St. Innocent of Irkutsk

Dear Timothy [Shell],

May the blessing of our Lord be with you!

We were glad to hear from you; thank you for the information on Russian periodicals.

About your personal problems: Fr. Basil Rhodes has also written us a letter, saying about the same things he wrote to you, but apologizing for calling our Church “schismatic” and a “fringe” group. He says he has no objection whatever to your being baptized here—he just doesn’t want you marrying Anna if you are in the Russian Church Abroad!

I think he is being overly-dramatic about the whole matter. The question of “jurisdictions” (in one case of the OCA and our Church Abroad) is not such a crucial one that it would prevent marriage, even if the partners were to belong to different jurisdictions; to be sure, oneness of mind on this question is preferable, but in practice this is worked out by the couple themselves.

Neither the OCA nor the Russian Church Abroad deny the grace of the sacraments of the other. It is true that on the clergy level there is no communion between us; this is a matter of principle on the part of the Church Abroad, which will not compromise on the question of accepting the Soviet-dominated Patriarchate of Moscow (from which the OCA receives its “canonicity”) as a normal Orthodox Church. Now, also, there is the question of the increasingly evident modernism and ecumenism of OCA pronouncement^ and practice, both official and unofficial. The recent publicity given to OCA bishops’ travels to Moscow and Rome, with photographs taken of them with Patriarch Pimen and the Pope—underscore the path which the OCA is taking, following the path of the Greek Archdiocese and other modernist jurisdictions. Our Church stands deliberately apart from this path, and that is the reason for the tensions between us.

Father Basil wants you to have a “true vision of Orthodox Christianity in America”—I heartedly agree. Our Church Abroad stands for preserving the Faith handed down from Christ and the Apostles; the OCA goes along with the times—even though they are slower in this than the Greeks, and they camouflage it with high-sounding but very abstract words about Orthodox “mission.” We are in contact with priests and laymen in the OCA (and some who have left it) who only confirm this diagnosis. Recently we ourselves were given a vivid illustration of this: the people in Medford for whom we served Divine Liturgy several times told me on my last visit that they were asking the OCA to come and serve them, because we are “too strict.” Actually, we were very mild with them, and our “strictness” consisted of speaking about spiritual life during talks and sermons, and once refusing to bless a table of meat and cheese during a fast period (without, however, making a “scene” of it or expressing anger). Their understanding is that the OCA is not “too strict” in this way; and that indeed seems to be the case.

All this is something you will have to see for yourself, and probably already see. Laymen are generally less responsible for seeing the issues involved than are clergy, and in actual practice there is some “intercommunion” between the OCA and the Church Abroad on the lay level. We ourselves do not refuse communion to OCA members if we see that they simply can’t understand the issues (which do, indeed, seem a little complicated to those who are not too close to church life). But Fr. Basil is right that he could not concelebrate with us, because that would imply that we approve of his Church’s positions.

My advice to you now would be to concentrate on the most important personal questions before you: Baptism and marriage. If you understand the meaning of the position of the Russian Church Abroad, I think you should prepare for Baptism here this summer. If you are sure Anna is the woman you want to marry, then that question will be next after Baptism. I think your confusion will disappear more or less by itself as you solve for yourself these two questions. Fr. Basil’s seemingly irreconcilable attitude will probably change also.

Fr. Basil makes a point of the “immaturity” of both of you. Well, of course, you have both proved by your past actions that there is some truth to this; but maturity begins by realistically facing present problems and praying for God’s help to grow into true and fruitful Orthodox Christians. May God help you in this task.

Please write if you have any more specific questions. We plan to have services (and Bible study) on the fourth Sunday of March (the 25th, I think) in Redding, and would be glad to see you then. (Right now we are deep in snow up here, with 3 feet falling this past week.)

With love in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim

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