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291. June 25/July 8, 1980 Martyr Febronia

Dear Father Michael [Azkoul?],

Christ is in our midst!

I have read your letter to Father Herman, expressing your grief over the division which seems to be occurring in our Russian Church Abroad. You are certainly correct that the issue at stake is not the teaching of Deacon Lev Puhalo, nor is it the attitude towards Fr. Dimitry Dudko. These are only the forms this apparently deepening division has taken in recent months.

If Fr. Alexey Young has sent you a copy of his own letter to Fr. Neketas telling of his withdrawal from the Seattle Conference, you will see a little more how this problem seems from our side. Frankly, a number of us for some time have felt ourselves to be considered “second-class citizens” in the Church by Fr. Neketas and Fr. Panteleimon, expressed by their private (and some not so private) “warnings” that we are not really Orthodox, are really “scholastic,” shouldn’t be supported or mentioned, etc. The recent escalation of these “warnings” by Fr. Neketas, which has caused the present scandal, seems to indicate that our views (which generally only reflect the views of our bishops) are really quite “dangerous,” and a kind of public “war” has to be declared against them. This we all regard as exceedingly sad and unnecessary, but as long as this attitude exists I don’t know what other response can be given than the one given by Fr. Herman and Fr. Alexey. The form of an “open letter” was used so as not to drag the matter into the church press, where it does not belong (the open letter was sent mainly to our English-speaking priests for their information). Several of our bishops have expressed their gratitude and approval to Father Herman for his letter, which seems to indicate the deepness of what is occurring.

Since you do not seem to be partisan in this conflict, you could perhaps help towards an eventual restoration of peace. Therefore, I would like you to know that none of us (as far as I know) who are on the “black list” of Fr. Neketas regards any one of the differences which he has raised with us to be an insuperable barrier to the unity which should exist between us; we are on excellent terms with other people who differ with us no less on certain questions. The cause of disunity, rather, is in the attitude of Fr. Neketas (and those who think as he does) towards these difference, towards our bishops and their authority, towards the theological authorities of our Russian Church, etc. As long as Fr. Neketas regards his opinions as the only permissible or Orthodox ones in the Church, and regards with suspicion (which he spreads to others) all those who disagree with these opinions, there will be conflict. Fr. Herman’s letter (and Fr. Alexey’s) is a challenge to Fr. Neketas to change his attitude and accept the rest of us (including the bishops with whom he disagrees) as equally Orthodox. It goes without saying that he will also have to accept and live with the decisions of our bishops on church matters. If they are no authority for him, he will not long remain in our Church.

Until such time as Fr. Neketas reveals a basic change in his attitude, the rest of us will continue to grieve over the kind of Orthodoxy he is preaching, which drives some people away from the Church and makes others into something near a kind of sect. None of us wish to be identified with this kind of Orthodoxy.

In your letter you mention the “disaster” which could occur because of this division in the Church. We ourselves have felt for some time that Fr. Neketas and others who share his attitude are heading straight for a schism, which now seems almost inevitable if he does not change his direction. Such a schism nobody needs; there are so many groups of “correct” Orthodox in Greece now (none in communion with the others) that a new group will only prove the devil’s power to divide Orthodox Christians. There is something terribly wrong in this attitude, but we ourselves are powerless to change it (Fr. Neketas simply won’t listen to what we and others have tried to tell him). I would wish Fr. Neketas and others would take to heart the humble confession of Bishop Kallistos of Corinth (whom Fr. Neketas praised to the skies in his bulletin some years back, when he was still a Mathewite); when asked recently why he has left the Mathewites and joined the “moderate” group of Old Calendarists (together with Bishop Cyprian of Athens and others), he replied simply: “I used to be a fanatic, but by the prayers of my elder I was delivered from this.” If you ask Fr. Neketas about him now, I suspect you will hear that he has become “senile.” If so, that is another part of an attitude which cries out for correction. When there is evidence of this correction, there will be peace in our Church.

Asking your prayers,

With love in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim

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