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282. Jan. 24/Feb. 6, 1980 Blessed Xenia of Petersburg

Dear Father Ambrose,

Christ is in our midst!

Father Herman has asked me to answer your inquiry about Fr. John Lewis. We have known him by correspondence for a number of years, and I know several people in the parishes where he served before becoming a monk (including my godfather, who was his chief help in his parishes and helped him establish them).

To our knowledge, he is a typical “American convert”—very fervent, but with a certain instability or imbalance which can be healed (if then) only after many years of struggles and sufferings. He came to our Church from the American Metropolia with perhaps a little too much “zeal” and rather too much talk about how wrong everyone in the Metropolia is (of course, he was mostly correct, but the tone of “criticism” was a little too present in him). I think he was sobered somewhat by the difficulties he experienced in starting a parish, but then his “criticism” began again, this time directed against members of the parish. He began to set up “Russians” against “Americans,” and finally chased all the Russians out of the parish and “excommunicated” my godfather in a very bad letter (which I have seen) that shows him to have illusions about himself as a “spiritual guide”; he made what seems to have been a conflict of personalities into a case of “righteousness vs. unrighteousness.”

Then Fr. John began to dream about monasticism. He visited Archbishop Andrew of Novo- Diveyevo, who wanted him to become a monk and open an old-folks’ home (he had been a celibate priest until then). He wrote us then about this, and we encouraged him, knowing that Vladika Andrew was very realistic about spiritual life, and that Fr. John seemed to understand the need for sufferings in spiritual life. But this monastic desire took a very strange form: Fr. John and his deacon were tonsured (by Fr. Panteleimon in Boston, who I believe was against the idea, but followed Vladika Andrews desire), and then told his parishioners that the church was now a monastery and that they should not come and bother the “monastic calm.” Finally he had the parish sign over the church property to the monastery, he sold it and moved away. He tried to make his second parish in Pennsylvania also sign their property over to him, but they refused. He changed the location of his monastery several times, and then about a year or more ago moved to Florida.

On my recent visit to the Eastern U.S. I visited my godfather and met people from both of Fr. Johns former parishes. I found that he left a very bad impression behind him. His first parish was completely destroyed and the people scattered; the second parish remains but has bad feelings about him. The impression was strong that Fr. John has acted in a very unbalanced and irresponsible way.

I do not know the nature of Fr. Johns present troubles with Bishop Gregory; very possibly (knowing this bishop) there are some injustices there. I spoke with Bishop Laurus about the matter in Jordanville, and his impression is that Fr. John is moving around simply to escape supervision from any higher church authorities. I myself think that he is a restless, somewhat unbalanced person whose only hope for spiritual survival is to “stick it out” where he already is. I have written this to him myself, but have received no answer. I really don’t know what his state of soul has been in this past year, and why he is moving around so much.

Of course, for your Church to receive him without a canonical release would place a very big obstacle in the way of peace between our jurisdictions. But even with a canonical release I think you will have trouble with him, and I think you should get to know him rather well before accepting him even canonically. Because of Vladika Andrews blessing, I still have hopes that he will survive spiritually—but only on condition that he stay put in one place and not go from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Vladika Andrew told him that he would learn through sufferings and would not be considered a “real monk” by others because of his “non-monastic” work in taking care of old people. How your bishops would accept such an idea I don’t know; I think Fr. John could get along with our bishops if he really wants to (our bishops are really quite tolerant and lenient on the whole). From my talk with Bishop Laurus, I doubt very much that he will be able to get a canonical release to your jurisdiction. I think your bishops should emphasize to him the necessity for such a canonical release, and of getting to know him better if he does obtain it.

On my trip to Jordanville last month I visited the fathers at Hayesville and had a very nice visit. I think such quiet visits are the best we can hope for at the present time; our bishops are still “reacting against” all their bad experiences with “Greeks” in recent years. However, I noted that Vladika Laurus was very well disposed to what Fr. Chrysostomos wrote in his recent article on the Old Calendar situation—a balanced, objective view of it; and such things will help much in the long run, I think.

Please give our heartfelt greetings to Bishop Cyprianos and ask his blessing for us.

With love in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim

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