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270. May 24/June 6, 1979 St. Symeon of Wondrous Mt.

Dear Father Theodore,

Christ is in our midst!

I received and read your letter with some sadness. (Father Herman is presendy on a month- long pilgrimage to Mt. Athos and won’t be back for a week or so.) I had heard, rather briefly, from Fr. Chrysostomos and Fr. Auxentios about this incident, and then that they had left you to “sort things out for himself,” and that they could expect no more “support” from you. I was rather puzzled as to what this might mean, and only replied briefly to them that this trial would pass and they shouldn’t let it upset them too much.

We do not know Fr. Chrysostomos well. We began correspondence with him 10 or 11 years ago through a friend of ours who met him in southern California; I assumed at that time that he was a convert, though I haven’t much of a memory for such things. He visited us once at our bookshop in San Francisco for a few hours, and we had a good visit (he had just returned from Greece, where he had visited Dr. Kalomiros and other Old Calendarists). Later he wrote a letter thanking us. Then, after our 1969 issue on “Western Orthodox monasticism” we received a kind of “open letter” from him, which I believe he sent to Boston also, criticizing our use of the term “Western Orthodox”; not a vicious letter, just critical and rather cold and “correct” in tone. Then we heard no more from him; we heard that he had gone to Jordanville to teach, but had been asked to leave in connection with some accusations he and some others had made of some seminarians. He seemed to suffer from the “correctness and criticism” disease of so many young zealous Orthodox people.

After a few years we heard from him again when he was studying at Princeton (I think he was teaching there in the end), and we exchanged some short notes: he sent us a manuscript or two of his student friend (now Fr. Auxentios), promised to send a tape of one of Fr. Florovsky’s lectures if he could, etc. He mentioned being close to Bishop Petros, then Metr. Akakios, and his grief at church politics. Then he was teaching at the University of California at Riverside (in southern California, near his home), and finally (probably no more than three years ago) revealed in confidence that he had formed a monastery with Fr. Auxentios. He sent photographs of the church, then of Metr. Akakios’ visit to make him Archimandrite, and began/to write much longer letters, together with his monthly church bulletin (there was a small parish attached to the monastery). He mentioned Fr. Panteleimon, at first hesitantly, and I told him freely that not everyone in our Church followed the “Boston party line,” and it was possibly for us to have communion with Greek Old Calendarists who were not “approved in Boston.” I read his letters with great sympathy, seeing him as someone broken and humbled by his own over-critical approach in earlier years, as well as by the factions and jealousies of the Greek Old Calendarist movement. Fr. Herman, however (who is sharper psychologically) noted that his letters were too humble and too complicated, and that he probably wasn’t too different from the other Greek factions we already knew about.

Well, all this is the basis of whatever knowledge we have of Fr. Chrysostomos, and it isn’t enough to explain what happened between you. (I imagine that Fr. Herman will not find it too surprising, however.) Apparently, he has some deep personal insecurity about something, and the church situation sets it off. His getting so angry at obviously untrue accusations must be a psychological mechanism for defending himself [against] the deeper attack he feels against his “weak point,” whatever it is. I myself have a feeling that it is all somehow bound up with the great problem of our present-day Orthodoxy (where it tries to be serious and faithful to tradition): too much calculation and not enough heart. We’ve seen this in Father Panteleimon, in Dr. Kalomiros (especially when he formed his own schism over the iconographic depiction of God the Father), in the priests who follow the “Boston line,” in numerous converts; well, why look further—I see it in myself, it’s part of the air we breathe in our “enlightened,” mind-oriented times. Russian priests seem to be freest of it, and I think there’s hope for us converts too, if we suffer enough.

I don’t think you need to doubt the genuineness of the good you received from Fr. Chrysostomos; it’s just that now you see his weak side also. God knows if your relationship with him will ever be anything like what it was. Perhaps, indeed, you were “used,” when his calculation overcame his good heart; but perhaps this calculation itself is only the slave of his deeper emotions.

Well, we are all flawed. Perhaps that is the great spiritual fact of our times—that all the teachers are flawed, there are no great elders left, but only “part-time” spiritual teachers who spend part of their time undoing their good works. We should be thankful for the good teaching we can get, but sober and cautious.

The lesson to you is probably: sobriety. Yes, you should trust your heart (I’m sure Fr. Herman will agree with me)—what thing better do we have? Certainly not our calculating mind. I don’t think you will be harmed by the trust you gave Fr. Chrysostomos; the good he did will stay with you, if you stay humble and sober. (If you did give him excessive trust, in the guru-sense, then you are suffering the punishment for it now; but that should pass.) But your own conscience and heart have to speak; totally blind obedience simply isn’t possible, especially in our times. In your future relationship with him (if he will allow it), you will just have to keep trusting your heart, I think. Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov’s constant advice to the Christians of the last times is: there are no elders left, check all teaching against the Gospel (of course, not in the sense of “calculating” to see where the teacher is wrong—but naturally, with the heart and conscience).

Fr. Chrysostomos wanted to stop his correspondence with us over this incident, being afraid our friendship with him would “taint” us. We wrote to him that if we were going to be on anyone’s “black list” we were probably already on it, and that our friendship with him had nothing to do with politics. I gather from Fr. Auxentios that at least part of their reason for cutting you off was to protect Fr. Chrysostomos from any taint of controversy, which upsets him terribly. (He had some kind of heart attack over this whole incident.) Of course, one of the reasons why it upsets him is, apparently, because he likes to get into the thick of it himself. His cutting you off is probably as “escape” for him, but the drasticness of it shows that it is not very rational. Fr. Hilarion of Jordanville once wondered aloud to me whether Fr. Chrysostomos might have a “persecution complex,” and perhaps that is the case (whatever precisely it might mean).

Years ago, when Fr. Herman and I were young and naive, we dreamed of a vigorous, single- minded movement of zealous Orthodoxy among young converts, Russians, Greeks, etc. Alas, we have become older and wiser and no longer expect much. All our confessors of Orthodoxy have their all- too-human side also. We had great confidence in Fr. Panteleimon for a while, until we saw the cold and callous way he and his followers “dropped” those who deviated from the “party line”; then we saw the blindness with which he followers repeated even his minor opinions (and kept to them even when he abandoned them!), and we began to hear from his critics in Greece also (it’s astonishing how he has alienated his one-time friends there). Fr. Neketas Palassis virtually cut us off cold when he saw we weren’t accepting the “party directives,” even on such debatable questions as grace among the New Calendarists, the Shroud of Turin, and evolution. We had a good correspondence with Dr. Kalomiros for a while, and then he also dropped us, apparently because we dared to disagree with him over “evolution” (I thought it was just a friendly debate, but apparently it was more important to him than that). We still have a good correspondence with Bishop Cyprian, whom you met, who seems the most moderate of the Old Calendarists we know; but we don’t know him too well. In so many Orthodox zealots, it seems to me, there is an intellectual narrowness, combined with some kind of political orientation, that produces factions right and left and loses sight of the “common task” which we thought (and still think) is so clear, especially when you contrast it with the crude renovationism that is going on now in the Metropolia, Greek Archdiocese, etc.

We ourselves try to keep peace with everyone, but don’t conceal our opinions when we see someone trying to force narrow personal opinions on the Church (as in the “rebaptism” controversy a few years ago in England, which produced such unnecessary schisms both on the right and left). For a while we were upset with Fr. Panteleimon’s seeming attempt to “take over” Church opinion and tell everyone what to think in order to be “correct”; but we see now that there is a “silent minority” (or perhaps even majority) of our priests who don’t follow the party line, and we are calmer about it. After all, parties come and go, but it is God Who governs His Church. In the meantime, we rejoice whenever we see anyone trying to be fervent in Orthodoxy and minding his own business; that’s why Fr. Chrysostomos’ “political fit” is so sad. Maybe (God grant it!) this is just something that will pass, and when he sees the “threat” is not so great he will return to normal.

Of late we’ve had another grief. Fr. Lev Puhalo is out to “get” us. We’ve seen his letters to Jordanville and elsewhere (a couple of which he sent to us himself), and he means to “expose” our teaching on life after death as (apparently) being utterly under “Western influence” and to be totally discarded. We’re in good company, as he places us in the same camp with Jordanville publications on the subject as he well as the “ghastly teaching of Archbishop John Maximovitch.” (He will also have to attack Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninovs teaching, but I don’t know if he realizes it yet.) His idea seems to be to show how “sophisticated” and “theological” he is, and how “simple and naive” the rest of us are for believing the “moral fables” in the Lives of Saints (which are also there in the writings of the Fathers, however)—without realizing it, he’s a real “modernist”! We’re not too upset about it—I think he’ll just burn himself out with these irrational attacks—but it’s sad to think of the unnecessary confusion he is spreading. Even Fr. Neketas Palassis sponsors his strange teaching that the soul is “unconscious” after death—which I’m sure Fr. Lev only invented because he can’t stand the “toll-houses”! For all our sympathy for “underdogs,” we can’t see Fr. Lev as anything but an unbalanced opportunist who will just cause trouble in the Church until he finally collapses. If this is the result of the “Patristic revival” (whose coat-tails he’s trying to ride), then we don’t need it! One can find and manipulate Patristic quotes to “prove” just about anything; what is really needed is a deeper reading and drawing from the writings of the Fathers (which is not being done too much nowadays, as far as I can see).

But we also have joys. Fr. Alexey Young was ordained here a few weeks ago in order to take care of our little mission in Medford, Oregon. Fr. Herman and I were serving this mission once a month, but then the group decided we were too “strict” and called in the OCA. The priest came was so modernist that part of the group was shocked and decided they wanted the “old Orthodoxy” after all and called us back; and of course they’re more satisfied with Fr. Alexey because we’re “monks” and a little too much for them. The leader of the group is a Russian lady from Shanghai, and despite her worldliness it seems that the memory of her childhood Orthodoxy stood up for her and she felt the difference. Please pray for Fr. Alexey—it will be difficult for him.

I’m sorry I don’t have any real advice for you in your grief, unless it’s just one word: yes, trust your heart and conscience, and don’t do anything to violate them. If Fr. Chrysostomos will let you back in his favor without demanding politics of you, well and good; you will already be wiser and more sober. Probably you will have to wait a while before trying to contact him again, if you then feel you should. If he doesn’t change his mind, then apparendy you will have to leave him with his own problems, which evidently are great. May God have mercy on us all! Pray for him. A monastic community, because of its close-knit character, can sometimes be a tense place, and the devil attacks it more powerfully than other places.

Meanwhile, don’t give up spiritual life just because you have no immediate guide! The Fathers still speak to us through their writings (have you read Unseen Warfare recently?), and life itself is a teacher if we try to live humbly and soberly, and once in a while you may get a good word of advice from somewhere. Treasure everything good (it’s good to keep a diary of it), and don’t grieve at what you don’t have!

Fr. Dimitry Dudko, by the way, is good to read—I think on the whole he speaks more to the heart of Orthodox Christians than just about anyone else today. (Of course, he has his mistakes also.) We’ve received two brief notes from him—all the rest of our correspondence with him is probably in the GPU files.

Pray for us strugglers. We have very few laborers (our one novice, a simple boy, was just dragged away by his parents, and he was too weak to resist), and we are surrounded mainly by women and children. I guess this is supposed to humble us, and it certainly does make us think differently than if we were surrounded by “disciples.” God is with us, and we have many joys. We remember you with much love. Hopefully, Fr. Herman will have a word for you when he returns. Pray for him. On his last postcard he says he might have a chance to go to Romania to venerate the relics of Blessed Paisius, and the thought is rather frightening—too close to the Russian NKVD, and Fr. Herman’s father was an “enemy of the people.”

With love in Christ,

P.s. Fr. Auxentios has just written us a new letter, concerning new rumors about Fr. Chrysostomos (that he is a spiritualist and believes in reincarnation), which he is afraid will get to Fr. Chrysostomos. He writes that Fr. C. is “seriously ill, and incapable both physically and mentally…. The doctor tells us that Father needs complete rest and no outside interference…. Suddenly I have seen a human being destroyed right in front of me.”

I have great pity for this man, a part of whose suffering is certainly due to the unhealthy church situation of our times (which sometimes gives me a sinking feeling also, especially all the un- Christian criticism, in the name of Christian truth, of people who at least are trying to struggle and keep the Faith). I don’t know what we can do to help him—but let us increase our prayer and love! Your suffering over him is given you, I am sure, in order to deepen your Christianity and make you better able to help other sufferers.

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