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273. June 16/29, 1979 St. Tikhon of Kaluga

Dear Mrs. Prokopchuk,

May the blessing of the Lord be with you!

Thank you for your letter and the article from the Tlingit Herald. We also have been disturbed of late, not only by this, but by other articles also in this publication. It sometimes happens, of course, that there are differences of opinion among writers on Orthodox subjects, but in such cases one should always have a moderate tone and full respect for those with whom one differs, as well as a humble awareness of one’s own fallibility and the possibility of making mistakes or distortions oneself. The articles in the Tlingit Herald on life after death, on the contrary, have been marked by a sometimes very crude tone and a crass disrespect for those whose views the author criticizes. We have noticed the same thing in the articles on Blessed Augustine, the Shroud of Turin, etc. This is all the more inexcusable in that the views the author criticizes are often not those of heretics or of theological amateurs, but often of respected theologians and hierarchs of the Orthodox Church. The attacks on Blessed Augustine, for example, are an insult to the views of virtually every one of our bishops in the Russian Church Outside of Russia. Even in a matter that is legitimately open to different interpretations, such as the Shroud of Turin, such a disrespectful tone simply cannot be taken, if only for the reason that a number of venerable Orthodox authorities do accept it as authentic (such as Archimandrite Constantine of Jordanville, who wrote a moving article in Orthodox Life some years ago on its significance for our times).

Quite apart from the tone of the articles, on the other hand, is the question of whether the author is right in the assertions he makes. It is quite clear, I think, that on a number of occasions he has been very wrong. His assertion, for example, that Blessed Augustine is a “heretic” and has always been so regarded in the Orthodox Church, contradicts every single piece of evidence there is on the subject. (He himself does not give any Patristic evidence for his assertion, but only his own opinion.) The errors of Bl. Augustine have been recognized from an early century in the Orthodox Church, but never was Bl. Augustine himself regarded as a heretic, as our own historical investigation in The Orthodox Word has shown. Some years ago we asked one of our true Orthodox theologians, Fr. Michael Pomazansky of Jordanville, what he thought of the opinion that Bl. Aug. was a “heretic,” and he only replied that yes, he did distort several Orthodox doctrines (as Fr. Michael has set forth himself in his book on Dogmatic Theology), but he could not at all understand this “campaign” against a man who, after all, is a Father of the Church and on the whole taught correctly.

On the question of life after death, the author has made assertions that are also quite far from the truth. His attack on the “toll-houses” comes from his failure (and evident unwillingness) to read the sources on them in the right Orthodox spirit; he makes a caricature of them due to his own crudely over-literal understanding of them and then wishes to accuse anyone who disagrees with him of holding this same crude misinterpretation. Any Patristic texts that disagree with his views he dismisses as “spurious” or “apocryphal” without offering any proof whatever for such statements. Generally accepted accounts in Lives of Saints he calls “wild tales.” But his recent statements on the “sleep” of the soul after death have simply astonished us: how can anyone with the slightest knowledge of Orthodox texts make such a spectacular blunder—is difficult to understand. The few texts he uses to support this and other of his erroneous views are either fragmentary and inconclusive, or simply taken out of context.

In recent months we have seen copies of correspondence between the author of these articles, (Deacon Lev Puhalo) and various other parties. In these letters he makes it clear that he wishes to publicly expose and attack the teaching on life after death of (1) The Orthodox Word·, (2) the Jordanville publications on the subject (especially the Jan.-Feb., 1978, issue of Orthodox Life)·, and (3) Archbishop John Maximovitch. Of course, he will also have to attack the teaching of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, Bishop Theophan the Recluse, and the whole tradition of Orthodoxy on this subject.

This makes us sad, and troubles us—why does such unnecessary conflict have to be stirred up in the Church? We ourselves (and the Fathers at Jordanville) have no desire or intention to enter into a public debate on this subject, and we are all doing what we can to handle this situation quietly. Recently Bishop Laurus of Jordanville saw fit to forbid Fr. Lev to speak on this subject in the Buffalo parish, and Fr. Michael Pomazansky, who is probably the most refined and profound of our still-living Russian theologians, wrote an excellent article in Orthodox Russia defending the Toll-houses against recent attacks on them (without mentioning Fr. Lev by name). Our own series of articles on “The Soul After Death” is intended to give an over-view of the whole Orthodox teaching on this subject, and hopefully when completed it will answer any questions raised by Fr. Lev, but without entering into arguments with him. (Perhaps a “positive” side of Fr. Lev’s articles is that they have caused us to present the Orthodox teaching with maximum clarity, keeping in mind any possible distortions such as he has expressed.)

We have had comments similar to yours from other readers of the Tlingit Herald. Our advice would be simply not to place any trust in any articles there that make sweeping statements and dismiss the opinions of anyone who might disagree. Also, his use of Patristic quotations is not to be trusted—his use of them is often one-sided and out of context. For whatever reason, the author seems to have “declared war” against Orthodox theology the way it has been handed down to us, and we fear he will confuse many in the name of a “return to the Fathers,” while in reality he is misusing the Fathers in the same way he so uncharitably accuses others of doing. May God preserve us from such a “Patristic revival”! It is actually much closer to theological “modernism.”

We ask your prayers for us, that we may continue ourselves to present the Orthodox teaching on life after death as it has been handed down to us from the Holy Fathers and in the Lives of Saints. These sources in the end will survive all the attacks made against them, but they are still far from being well enough known among Orthodox Christians.

With love in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim

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