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304. Dec. 28/Jan. 10, 1981

Dear Brother and Sister in Christ, George and Margaret,

May the blessing of the Lord be with you!

Thank you for your letter, which we appreciate for its sincerity. While perhaps there are differences in our views, if we can express them sincerely, and with mutual love and forgiveness, these differences will not constitute an obstacle to our unity in Christs Church. You have expressed your disturbance over some statements we have published in The Orthodox Word, and I would like here to explain these statements a little more fully, so as to avoid any possible misunderstandings about them.

First of all, I believe it is not accurate to say that we have been making “attacks” in The Orthodox Word against Holy Transfiguration Monastery, St. Nectarios Church in Seattle, or any Synod clergy. While we have made warnings about what we regard as unhealthy attitudes which may (or may not) be shared by the individuals you mention, we have been very careful not to phrase these in the form of accusations or “attacks” on individuals—both because we regard such personal disputes as unfruitful and unedifying for the faithful, and because we simply don’t have in mind to “attack” anyone at all: we are only warning about attitudes which have already had disastrous results in our Church and are hoping to prevent the increase of these disasters. If you will read again the passage you interpret as our “attack” on some priests of our Church (on p. 121 of issue no. 92), you will see that we stated there “if someone can find his place in this jurisdiction without falling into the pitfall…” This is not an “attack,” but only a warning, based on the bitter experience of people who have come to our jurisdiction and left it precisely because they fell into this pitfall and are now (in the spirit of some of the fanatical Old Calendarists in Greece) accusing our own bishops of “heresy” and “apostasy.” The bitter spirit of dispute and factionalism which is being spread by some of these people is sufficient cause, I think, to issue a warning about this spirit.

Secondly, I think you should be aware (as perhaps you are not) that, whereas we ourselves have made no attacks against anyone in our Church in The Orthodox Word, the publications of St. Nectarios Church in Seattle have made such attacks. Specifically, in the article in Orthodox Christian Witness directed against Fr. Dimitry Dudko, the editors of The Orthodox Word and Nikodemos are called “unprincipled” and “irresponsible” for their defense of Fr. Dimitry (these editors are not called by name, but their words are quoted); to me, this is a stepping beyond the bounds of a legitimate difference of opinion, and an attempt to begin a “war” on this question. In our “Defense of Fr. Dimitry” we did not answer this accusation, nor did we make accusations of our own, believing that such things are not for the good of the Church. Incidentally, a number of our bishops have expressed their agreement with our position and their grief over the article in Orthodox Christian Witness.

Further, the St. Nectarios Church in Seattle has been responsible for publishing the very crude attacks made by Deacon Lev Puhalo against the traditional Orthodox teaching on life after death and against all of us who uphold it. These attacks have culminated in Deacon Levs proclaiming me (in an open letter) a literal “heretic” because I have defended the traditional teaching in my book, The Soul After Death. These attacks have caused so much disturbance in the Church that the Synod of Bishops has had to issue a decree exposing a few of Deacon Levs errors, exonerating me of the false charge of heresy, and ordering Deacon Lev to cease these attacks; in the Western American Diocese (and perhaps others now) Deacon Lev has been suspended from clerical functions and forbidden to publish or lecture until he admits his errors. Such attacks as his, I am sure you will agree, should have no place in the Church, and I and many others are only grieved to see the part that the St. Nectarios Church has had in disseminating them.

Thirdly, I think you should be very careful when you draw conclusions from the statements of the Bishops of our Russian Church Outside of Russia. When our bishops in 1971 condemned the decision of the Moscow Patriarchate to give communion to Roman Catholics, they used strong language, calling it a “heretical” act; but they did not proclaim the Moscow Patriarchate to be deprived of grace, or to be totally fallen away from the Church. The bishops, on various occasions, have specifically refused to make such a proclamation; and in their statement at the 1976 Sobor they specifically addressed the sincere and struggling priests of the Moscow Patriarchate in terms reserved only for priests who possess and dispense the grace of God (as noted in our article on Fr. Dimitry). This statement was enough to cause some ex-members of our Church in England to proclaim our bishops as “heretical.”

I think the whole question of the Moscow Patriarchate is much more subtle and complex than you seem to think. When you quote our own article on the “Catacomb Tikhonite Church,” I find no contradiction between it and our article on Fr. Dimitry: in the former article, we stated only that “if normal Orthodox Church life is not restored to Russia, the Moscow Patriarchate will eventually wither and die in apostasy, and the innocent people who follow it will find themselves beyond any doubt outside the Church of Christ.” I still believe this to be true; but it does not follow that we must regard the Moscow Patriarchate today as being without the grace of God (this very question was discussed in that same article), nor does the article deny that normal Orthodox Church life could be restored to Russia—and I think the phenomenon of Fr. Dimitry and the other confessing priests of the Moscow Patriarchate gives us good hope that such will eventually be the case (after the fall of Communism).

I myself find it painful that there are differences between some of us in the Russian Church Abroad. However, I think that a sincere expression of these differences is not sufficient cause for a loss of unity between us. Something else, however, is the spirit of accusation and attack which a few members of our Church have been indulging in; this is already a violation of unity, and I very much fear the end result of it. A number of people, as I have said, have already left our Church in anger, and I see others evidently preparing to go the same way. Our warnings on this subject in The Orthodox Word are meant to save as many people as possible from this suicidal step. Some dangerous signs: Just recently the priest of the St. Nectarios Church in Portland told two of my spiritual children whom I had sent there, that our Russian bishops are “betraying” him by their “ecumenism”; another Greek priest has told his flock that soon they will again be without bishops because they will have to leave the Russian Church Abroad; another clergyman openly calls some of our bishops “heretics.” The perils about which we are warning are not imaginary, not at all.

I deeply wish that you will understand that we are by no means against you and other “refugees” to our Church. From the time they joined our Church, we were among the most ardent supporters both of Holy Transfiguration Monastery and St. Nectarios Parish, and we are not “against” them now. Even while we are warning about attitudes which may be held in these places, it is always with the hope that they have not yet taken “possession” of these places, and if we express the warning in general and not personal terms, perhaps these attitudes can still be changed before it is too late and a tragic schism has resulted.

We will be glad to discuss any of these questions further with you in the same spirit of friendly interchange. May God send you His abundant grace in the new year, and forgive all of us our many shortcomings.

With love in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim

P.s. The article by Bishop Cyprian in our new Orthodox Word (no. 93) gives the view [letter ends]

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