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277. Aug. 22/ Sept. 4, 1979 Martyr Agathonicus

Dear Father Mamas,

May the blessing of the Lord be with you!

Thank you for your letter. I wondered when I sent my little note: maybe this will just evoke another “open letter” such as your monastery is famous for? But I thought: No, it is so obviously a purely personal note that an “official answer” won’t be seen as necessary. But you did make such an answer, after all.

Why such an “over-reaction” on your part? Like so many of the letters from your monastery, there are many correct points in it, which in my case I never intended to challenge; but also there is so much that is unnecessary, as if you wish to make sure that I know you are qualified to teach me. And the parts of your letter that are wrong you (in my view) would require much effort to explain, and given the tone of your letter you would not yet be receptive to such an explanation in any case.

My short note to you was purely personal, and I aimed at your heart, not your head; if I misled you into thinking I in principle favor second-hand translations and “pious fables” and “Old Believerism,” I am sorry, especially since I caused you to take such unnecessary time explaining things to me which I had no thought of questioning in the first place.

But when all is said and done, my initial feeling remains: I am afraid for you. So you have a “community” and an “elder”—I didn’t “overlook” them, I was only trying to speak to you personally. Do I have to remind you that a group passion can be even more deadly than an individual passion? Forgive me, but I feel passion in your letter—a passion that will be expressed also in your translations, no matter now many work on them with you. Do you realize what times we live in? We live in an atmosphere of such spiritual fakery that it infects us and spreads even when we are reading accurately- transmitted Patristic texts. We are all sick with this plague—and can we be so self-confident about our Patristic translations, about our community and our elder? There is nothing automatic or infallible about an elder, a community, about obedience, or any of the words of the Scripture and the Fathers; they all can be merely outward and without effect for salvation; the only test of them is the effect they truly produce upon the soul.

I will not answer your letter on the level you wrote it; you were not writing to me, but to a straw man you could shoot down. It is pointless for me to defend myself when you “correct” me on points I never held and never defended. Even on the “literal” level, you read our Blessed Paisius book so carelessly that you didn’t find there the passages you thought you had to translate yourself, and then tell me that it is a “great pity” we didn’t translate them!'(See Blessed Paisius, pp. 81, 119, 180. 183, etc.) I’m not saying this to prove you’re “wrong” and I’m “right, or to score one more “point” against you—we’re all wrong so much of the time, if not with the head then certainly with the heart, that none of us have anything to boast about. I use this merely as an example of how unnecessary so much of your letter was.

I only wish, once more, to speak a word to you personally, using an example or two from your letter.

You mention Vladika Andrew and his “mistake.” Frankly, this story doesn’t ring true to me; it seems like a “pious fable” in reverse—one intended to show how “simple” the Russians are, and how “smart” we others are. Some Russian priests, it is true, make this simple mistake, and it is rather a joke among some of them; I would doubt that Vladika Andrew would make this mistake—but even if he did, how could it be that you, who know both English and Russian, “had a hard time figuring out” what he was talking about? Any convert or Greek who knows Russian should have got the point immediately; are you sure this wasn’t some misunderstanding on your own part, or on that of the translator if there was one, or some joke of Vladika Andrew that you didn’t get? But that’s secondary; * the point is: you stored up the incident to “use” later on, and the way you use it does not reflect well on you. You will say that you are “correct”; but your attitude is superior and cold (that’s my feeling from your words), and you do ill to repeat the story in this way. I have heard Russian clergy tell similar stories about bishops’ mistakes, but it was with warmth and affection; “correctness” is thereby maintained, but without any of the coldness and superiority I feel in your words.

You mention “Eastern Orthodox Books”—which, by the way, is not “somehow affiliated” with us, but is an independent enterprise. Their printing of St. Isaac, in the copy we have, does not indicate a publisher at all, and I understand this was done deliberately to avoid giving “Orthodox approval” to it; the very few copies printed were for customers of the more expensive edition. Perhaps they should have printed the Introduction too—but my point here is that again you have “stored up” this information to “use” at the right time (and you even had to do a little research to know that Eastern Orthodox Books printed it). But then Why didn’t you store up some “good” information about Eastern Orthodox Books. Why didn’t you mention in the Foreword to the Ladder (I assume you were part of this group effort—if not, forgive me for the mistake) that Fr. Lazarus’ translation has been in print these several years and is still available in paperback with an introduction by I. M. Kontzevitch? Aren’t you, in many cases, selectively “storing up” information that makes others look bad or “simple” or non-existent? Is this the Christian spirit? (I am speaking this to you personally·, please do not write another letter defending your monastery against thinking evil of others; I’m only writing this to hit your heart, and I’m not attacking your monastery or sending this letter to your “enemies.”)

Only one more point: you “catch” us teaching “the baptism of the dead”! Good heavens! Are you going to let this image throw you? Well, perhaps if there are readers like you such images should be excised—you will extract the last drop of blood from them. But even so, the “deductions” you draw from it! No papalist would be so scholastically “logical” as you were! Would you really “eat, drink and be merry” if you thought there was “some sort of baptism after death” as described in this story? I don’t know a single Orthodox Christian who would! And because someone might want to pray for his unbaptized grandfather (in the way handed down to us by Fathers like Elder Leonid of Optina, Theophan the Recluse, and Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd)—is he really teaching that God is “the ultimate cause of the damnation of sinners and unbelievers”?! Really, your reasoning is so outlandish that I am at a loss to “defend” myself—just line me up against the wall and shoot me down! Do such accusations benefit those you show them to? I sincerely doubt that they benefit either you or me.

Well, enough. It seems I’ve now lined up my own accusations against you! Please forgive me, I am not the one to humble you—but I do hope you will extract whatever good you can for yourself from my words, sinful and passionate as they may be. My heart is sad for you; I feel there is something you miss. I think you need a big dose of warmheartedness and simplicity; may God grant that you get it! I say this because your letter was so overblown and so unnecessary. If you think images like the “baptism” one are unwise (an image which none of our readers who has mentioned it has taken literally), perhaps you could say so in a sentence or two, without making all those “deductions,” which I think are an unfruitful use of your time.

Please forgive me for my words if they seem harsh or unkind; I assure you of my sincere love and prayers for you. Please pray for us.

With love in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim

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