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286. May 14/27, 1980 St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

Dear Fr. Michael [Azkoul],

Christ is in our midst!

Thank you for your letter and its attempt to bring peace in the midst of the “debate” over the toll-houses, the “sleep” of the soul, and so forth. I very much appreciate your concern and kind words.

I must say that for my part, although I realize Deacon Levs articles were occasioned by my own articles (they will bear my signature in the book form), I do not regard this “debate” as primarily a personal one at all. For one thing, it hasn’t really been a “debate” at all, since all the attacking is coming from his side; and for another, the attack is not really against me, since the basic part of my articles is simply a retelling of the teaching of Archbishop John Maximovitch, Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, Bishop Theophan the Recluse, etc.—but rather an attack against this teaching itself, which he has tried to demolish entirely, for whatever reasons of his own. If he wishes to apologize for his rather crude attacks, I hope the apology will be to all the good Orthodox teachers, living and dead, whom he has maligned, and not just to me personally; but I see no need for a personal meeting with him over this.

I suspect that Deacon Lev’s articles are only a small part of a larger attitude in our Church of distrust for the recent theological authorities of the Russian Church. If people like Fr. Panteleimon of Boston had not first suggested that many of our recent Russian bishops and theologians are not really to be trusted, I doubt that Deacon Lev would ever have written such a series of attacks. This is a bigger problem for which I fear there is no easy answer. For our part, we intend to continue presenting the teaching of these bishops and theologians (on various subjects) as authoritative and Orthodox, unless it can really be shown to us that they are not. Deacon Lev’s articles on life after death have not shown us this at all.

I would disagree with only one point in your letter: I do not believe that I have presented the toll-houses as a dogma in my articles. I don’t think they really are a theologoumenon either, because they don’t belong properly to the sphere of dogma at all (except as they touch on the doctrine of the Particular Judgment), but rather belong to the Orthodox ascetic teaching and Orthodox piety. It would never occur to me to make belief in or even awareness of the toll-houses into a condition for baptism; but I would certainly expect that as a person goes deeper in the faith and reads the ascetic texts and Lives of Saints he would become acquainted with them and accept them as a matter of course. My articles have been meant as an attempt to facilitate this, whereas Deacon Lev’s articles, it seems to me, are an attempt to persuade people not to read this Orthodox literature as somehow harmful to a person’s Orthodoxy or state of soul.

By the way, in the several years we have been printing the “soul after death” series, I don’t recall that we’ve received a single comment criticizing the teaching set forth there, whereas we have received many letters expressing interest and approval. The only real criticism we have received is that the series has taken up too much space in The Orthodox Word. I rather agree with this comment, but unfortunately our circumstances, physical and financial, are such that we could not print this book except by first publishing it in serial form.

It is not I, but Father Herman, who has been invited to the Seattle Conference. He is at present very disinclined to go, not out of any personal offense (the “soul after death” series is all my work), but for the same reason our Archbishop Anthony and Bishop Nektary have told us they will not be attending: the atmosphere in Seattle has become rather tense and unfriendly to those of us who do not share the particular views of Fr. Neketas and Fr. Panteleimon on various church subjects. Deacon Lev’s attacks are the most recent and the biggest sign of this tenseness (Fr. Neketas continues to publish them despite our strong protests), but even before then I am afraid that we and our bishops have been regarded as “scholastic,” not really “correct” in our Orthodoxy, too “Russian,” and what have you. I think that Fr. Neketas, in particular, wants to place us in some kind of “categories” that will reduce our influence (and thereby undermine whatever Fr. Herman might say at Seattle—“he’s only a Russian, or a scholastic,” etc). Just last week Fr. Herman personally went to see Fr. Neketas to minimize any “personal” differences between us—but just now we’ve received a copy of Fr. Neketas’ letter to our Archbishop Anthony protesting Fr. Herman’s supposed desire to change his talk to one on the toll-houses at Seattle—a thought that never entered his mind and which he would certainly never do of his own free will! Apparently Fr. Neketas thinks that Fr. Herman wants to force the tollhouses on everyone, and therefore he interpreted his words to produce this result, which is quite far from the truth.

I believe the Synod will be meeting soon to discuss some of these questions, and Fr. Herman’s final decision on Seattle will be made probably after that, and after a last consultation with our two bishops.

Thank you again for you concern, and please pray for us.

With love in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim

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