Dear Vladika Hilarion,
Blagoslovite. Greetings in the Lord.
Some time ago, on Dec. 15/28, we received your letter of Dec. 12/25, 1986, hand delivered by Fr. George Larin, and addressed to Fr. Justin, instead of to our duly elected abbot, Fr. Isaac. We have only now been able to complete an answer to your letter because of the many feasts that have come up since then.
The same day we received your letter, another Synod clergyman informed us that copies of this very letter had already been circulated at Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville and elsewhere. Since then, we have learned that copies of it have been distributed to many individuals.
We are very grieved, Vladika, that your letter contains many untruths and distortions.
Let us begin with Synod headquarter's remarkable method of dating, or rather "pre-dating" letters.
Dear Vladika, you write in your letter that our decision to leave the Synod was "a reaction on the part of the brotherhood" to "a diocesan resolution dated December 3, 1986, of His Eminence Metropolitan Vitaly."
It must be pointed out first that our letter to Metropolitan Vitaly informing him of our departure from the Synod was written and read at a meeting of our community on Nov. 25/Dec. 8, 1986, the feast of St. Catherine. It was mailed on Dec. 9, and, as a return receipt clearly demonstrates, was received by you on Dec. 11 (and not on Dec. 12, as you write).
The diocesan resolution to which you refer, "dated Dec. 3, 1986," was not mailed by you until Dec. 10. It was received by us only on Dec. 13.
Ingeniously, you make reference to when Vladika Vitaly's resolution was dated, whereas regarding our letter, you note when it was received. However, as we pointed out above, your latter reference is not true.
It is possible to pre-date letters by several days, or even weeks or months, but we cannot know the contents of such letters to respond to them until we receive them (unless you attribute to us the clairvoyance of the Prophet Elissaeus, who knew the words which the king of Syria spoke in his inner chamber).
Nevertheless, Vladika, are such tactics worthy of men of the cloth, much less of hierarchs?
You write in your letter that our decision to leave the Synod "grieved you" immensely.
You are aware, no doubt, that as soon as we notified you of our decision to leave the Synod, Archbishop Laurus, the Synod's first secretary, was sent immediately to meet with the bishops in Greece in order to thwart or forestall any agreement they might make with the clergy who were withdrawing from the Synod. Actually, he was on the same airplane as Fr. Neketas Palassis of Seattle when the plane departed from New York.
Your statement that you were "grieved immensely" comes as a surprise to us -- especially since one of the first things Archbishop Laurus told the bishops in Greece was how immensely relieved the Synod was by our departure. Of course, Archbishop Laurus said (not imagining the magnitude of the exodus), it was only a matter of some nine or ten clergymen who were leaving the Synod. To use Archbishop Laurus' exact expression, he told the bishops, "neither we, nor they were happy" -- it was a situation which didn't work. He explained that we didn't agree on many issues, and thus, it was for the best that we separate.
Vladika Laurus asked only that the bishops: 1) require of all clergy leaving the Synod to first receive a canonical release from the Synod (thus making it appear that it was not for reasons of faith that they were leaving) and, 2) that they please not ordain Fr. Panteleimon a bishop -- something which would bring great harm to the Church.
It is noteworthy that -- although he had agreed to this beforehand -- Archbishop Laurus refused to speak with the bishops in the presence of the three clergymen (Fr. Neketas Palassis, Fr. Peter Carras, and Fr. Christos Constantinou) who had been sent as a delegation and who were present in a nearby room. This made a very adverse impression on the bishops.
This meeting -- which took place on Saturday, December 20 n.s. -- lasted from five in the evening until almost midnight. At the end, the bishops asked Archbishop Laurus if, in leaving, he would at least greet the clergymen. He said he had no time.
As far as Vladika Laurus' first request was concerned -- that is, that clergy leaving the Synod must first receive a canonical release -- this would have indicated that we continue to acknowledge the Synodal bishops as a canonical authority. Our reasons for leaving the Synod were not administrative disagreements, personality conflicts, ethnic affiliations, or the like. They were precisely disagreements over matters of faith. We had lost all confidence in the integrity of the bishops of the Synod as hierarchs rightly dividing the word of truth, and in such cases it is not necessary, nor even possible, to then approach such bishops with requests for canonical release.
As to the second request, when Fr. Panteleimon was told about it at a subsequent meeting with the bishops (Fr. Panteleimon was still on the island of Oinussai when the first meeting took place), he answered, "Since you will be seeing Archbishop Laurus again, tell him that Fr. Panteleimon said, 'My name is not Pe________, or Pa_______, or Cy________ [other Old Calendar bishops who sought the episcopacy], but rather sinful Panteleimon.' And if I had wished, I could have been a bishop even before His Reverence became one. He need not have any fear, therefore, of my becoming a bishop."
Taking all this into account, then, dear Vladika, whom are we to believe? Your statement that you are "immensely grieved," or Archbishop Laurus', who said that the Synod was "relieved"?
It is a known fact that for some time before we left, you were all conscious of the discontent felt by many of the clergy because of the way things have been going in the Synod since the demise of Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory. You are also aware that since the clergy were not receiving answers to their letters and petitions, that they were seriously contemplating leaving the Synod.
We know of at least one instance when you yourself, Vladika, telephoned a clergyman in an Eastern state during this period and asked him specifically if a certain priest, whom you mentioned by name, would be leaving and if others also were thinking of leaving. According to this clergyman, he told you that there would be more clergy leaving than you could imagine.
This move, therefore, was no surprise to you.
Dear Vladika, you write in your letter that our decision to leave the
a reaction on the part of the brotherhood to the various lawful decisions made by the Synod of Bishops and by Metropolitan Vitaly, as diocesan bishop, with regard to your former abbot, Archimandrite Panteleimon, including his retirement and suspension, and the suspension of Hieromonk Isaac, pending further investigation of the numerous accusations made against them by six former members of your brotherhood.
You speak of "lawful decisions." The only decision (and, as far as that is concerned, the only communication in writing) which we received prior to our leaving the Synod was the Ukaze of Sept. 4/17, 1986 (which consisted of two paragraphs), which we received on Sept. 7/20. This is the sum total of what we received from the Synod for the whole year.
Regarding this Ukaze, both Metropolitan Vitaly and yourself acknowledged during subsequent telephone calls that there was a mistranslation in the text. Therefore, Fr. Ephraim requested in his letter of Sept. 27/Oct. 10 that we be sent a copy of the Russian original, since we had people here who were competent in translating Russian.
Of course, our request went unheeded, even as all our other written and verbal requests had gone unheeded during the past year.
As for the retirement of Fr. Panteleimon, this was at his request - a request of ten years standing, as he verified in the letter which he wrote in June of 1986 to Metropolitan Vitaly.
This is attested to even in your abovementioned Ukaze, where it states:
In accordance with your written request. . .you are hereby relieved of your duties as Abbot of Holy Transfiguration Monastery and granted permission to retire.
The "suspensions" of both Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Isaac, which you mention, arrived only after we had already sent our notification that we had gone under the omophorion of other bishops. Therefore, in observance of the holy canons, they were not taken into account by our present bishops, especially in view of the fact that these "suspensions" were unlawfully arrived at.
As for your phrase "pending further investigation" -- dear Vladika,
this is the whole point of what we were writing about for a whole year!
What "further" investigation? There had not been an investigation. Both
in writing and in person for over eleven months we had been requesting
an investigation. From the very beginning of 1986, we were told that an
investigating bishop would be coming. In addition, in his letter of April
13, 1986 to Vladika Antony of Los Angeles -- the head investigating bishop
-- Fr. Panteleimon wrote:
We cannot demand, but we certainly can urge and reverently ask that one of our bishops come to stay with us, if not permanently, yet for an extended period of time, so that he can ascertain the truth for himself.
Since that time, we have made the same request again, and again, and again. In his letter of August 28/September 10, 1986, Fr. Ephraim wrote:
It is well over nine months now that this situation with the monastery began and, to our sorrow and dismay, no one has visited us on the part of the Synod in order to ask us concerning the trustworthiness of the accusers and witnesses who are speaking against us. Because of this, beloved Vladika, we are obliged to communicate with you in writing. Should you come to visit us, this would not be necessary.
And further in the same letter:
We realize that you are very busy and that many serious matters constantly beset you. However, we feel that this too is an extremely important matter that requires your personal presence here in our monastery.Beloved Vladika, after all these years of service to our Church, is not our monastery worth even a two or three day visit?
In his letter of August 30/September 12, Fr. Isaac wrote:
Our community greets you with much love and respect, and once again we repeat our humble request that you visit us.
In his letter of September 24/October 10, 1986, Fr. Ephraim wrote:
To be sincere, beloved Vladika, we are surprised and disappointed that you, as our ruling bishop, have not once visited us during all these months to speak with the fathers, to hear what they have to say about the accusers, and to determine if the holy canons are, in fact, being observed in this matter, or if, as many clergymen have concluded, the whole investigation has been carried out on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of one canon. Nevertheless, the fathers again ask you to visit us. Indeed. . .Vladika Antony of Los Angeles is welcome to come as a visitor or as an investigator.
Yet, despite all these written requests (and many verbal requests), Metropolitan Vitaly was not ashamed to write to Fr. Michael Azkoul on December 25/January 7, 1987, that "Fr. Panteleimon did not let the investigation commission to come [sic] to the monastery and he left us before that commission could start its work." Can one believe that a whole year was needed before the commission "could start its work"?
And you yourself, Vladika, according to a letter written to us by Fr. Gregory Williams on January 3/16, 1987, repeated this very same falsehood.
Alas, however, one investigating bishop, Bishop Alypy, had already commenced his work (one full year before we left) of disseminating libellous letters against us, before we even knew of an "investigation."
Whoever has heard about the manner of this "investigation" has said
that the whole affair is unbelievable. It has become a joke. In fact, this
is precisely what Fr. Ephraim wrote in his letter of June 7/20, 1986
This ["investigation"] prompted one father here to say facetiously that perhaps five or six of us should run away by night -- and steal a few things from the monastery, just for good measure -- and then begin spreading rumors about how innocent our abbot is. Apparently this is the only way one can get any credibility in this whole affair. First you have to prove that you are a scoundrel, then you are believed.
Whoever -- both here and abroad -- has heard that in a whole year's time no bishop came to the monastery, all, with one accord, concur that this affair is ridiculous and unheard-of. In fact, many have expressed the thought that the bishops' reluctance to send an investigating committee was due to their hope that we would leave the Synod and, thus, you would not have to face us. Certainly, we did not avoid you. You are the ones who avoided us.
Dear Vladika, you wrote that:
For numerous reasons, including the appearance of many other pressing Church matters and the illness of several of our bishops, the Synod proceeded slowly and cautiously with the matter of the accusations against Archimandrite Panteleimon and Hieromonk Isaac.
Now we certainly can understand that there can be many pressing church matters and illnesses. However, can one say that the matter of the monastery was less pressing?
Did not our former ruling bishop, Metropolitan Vitaly, visit Jordanville on numerous occasions during 1986? Has he not travelled to the Holy Land, Europe, Australia, and attended the conferences in Erie and Nyack this past year? And he could not visit us for at least one day -- especially in view of the fact that New York City is only 35 minutes from Boston by air shuttle (every hour on the hour)? It goes without saying that we would have paid his fare.
The chief investigating bishop, Archbishop Antony of Los Angeles, attended both conferences in 1986 -- in Erie and Nyack. From there he flew on to Montreal for the re-union of the Russian Cadets. We know also that, on numerous occasions, he was in New York throughout the year because of emergency meetings concerning the Russian Mission in Jerusalem. Yet, he could not also find time to make a stopover and stay with us one or two days to hear the fathers and their side of the story.
He had time for the "Russian Cadets" (a "pressing church matter"), but not for us.
This state of affairs, dear Vladika, is inexcusable, if not immoral. No matter how many excuses the Synod bishops try to make, and no matter how they try to talk it away, their conduct and lack of pastoral concern in this instance is glaring and certainly disgraceful.
Believe me, the sad events of this past year were not a plot or a conspiracy on the part of the bishops to discredit or bring harm to your monastery. The origin of your present woes can be traced back solely to your own monastery -- to your own former brethren, who were tonsured and nurtured in your midst, but who, for various reasons, have abandoned you. Not one, not two, but six of them accuse your former abbot of grievous offenses against their persons. They have come to the hierarchs seeking judgment and the bishops have had no other alternative but to hear them out and to commence an investigation. The bishops had no right to turn them away, even though some of the accusers may at the present time be in a fallen state, for they claim to have been personally wronged.
You write that there was no "plot or conspiracy on the part of the bishops to discredit or bring harm" to the monastery. Yet, who suggested that there was? Why should such a thought have even occured to you? Dear Vladika, we trust that you are not speaking from the abundance of your heart.
Yet, it is a fact that both investigating bishops and numerous clergymen -- especially in the Midwest and on the East Coast -- played an energetic part in seeking to discredit the monastery by disseminating copies of letters of accusations which were given to them by one of the investigating bishops -- even though the monastery never received any copies of these letters from the Synod!
Could this be the reason why -- to use your own expression -- "the Synod proceeded slowly" in this whole matter? Whoever heard of such a manner of "investigation" continuing for a whole year? Many of the faithful told us that the purpose for this "slowly" was so that the maximum amount of harm could be done. However, Vladika, the truth of the matter is that neither you, nor our accusers, have done us any harm, but much good. Though we are not guilty of the accusations brought against us, by the many falsehoods which you and our accusers have spread against us, you have covered a multitude of our sins, and for this we are deeply grateful.
You know, Vladika, that in Church law and also in the Athonite Typicon, when a clergyman or an abbot has been accused of any moral charge, the whole investigation and the decision must be concluded within a maximum of two months, which is the definition given for a long period of time. A suspension imposed upon a clergyman for supposed moral infractions can only last fifteen days; and if no investigation is made in that period with no formal deposition and indictment, he is released automatically from that suspension.
Below we quote from a summary of the Greek Archdiocese's Regulations
Concerning the Spiritual Court:
No deposition of a clergyman is valid if the court has been improperly constituted, or if improper accusers or witnesses have been admitted, e.g., those who are not of good repute, not Orthodox, not of unimpeachable character, or avowed enemies; or if the person judged is not present, nor had opportunity to prepare his own defence and to call his own witnesses and to defend himself; or if the same persons are both accusers and judges (Apostolic Canon 74; Canon 6 of II Ecumenical Council; Canon 21 of IV Ecumenical Council; Canons 137, 138, 139, 140 of Carthage; Canon 14 of Antioch; Nomocanon of Photius, Title 9, Chap. 3,4,5)..
Although the Greek Archdiocese and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have foundered in matters of the faith, yet we know that, in the matter of canonical trials, they adhere to the rules and, at least, they display the honesty and common decency that one expects from churchmen..
Dear Vladika, on June 2, 1986, n.s., at our request, His Eminence Metropolitan Vitaly met with Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Ephraim at his private office in New York City. During this meeting, among other things, the Metropolitan explained to them -- to their utter dismay -- of the plan which the Synod of Bishops had devised in order to get "rid" (this was the exact word used by the Metropolitan) of Archimandrite Anthony Grabbe. The Metropolitan explained that the accusations of embezzlement and immorality would not be brought against Archimandrite Anthony because -- again, to use the Metropolitan's exact words -- these issues were "too sticky." Rather, the plan was to further dismiss him from his being head of St. Sergius High School in New York City (he had already been dismissed as head of the Russian Mission in Jerusalem), and to assign him to Wiesbaden, Germany, as the "guardian of the treasures" of the Russian church there. To the dismay of the two fathers, Metropolitan Vitaly explained that all of the bishops were certain that Fr. Anthony would not accept this assignment and would refuse. Consequently, he would be defrocked on the basis of "monastic disobedience."
At a later meeting with Metropolitan Vitaly, again at our request, in the summer of 1986, Fr. Panteleimon explained to the Metropolitan how scandalized both he and the other father were by this revelation regarding the plan to get "rid" of Archimandrite Anthony. The manner of handling this matter was anything but ecclesiastical or that befitting a clergyman.
Was not Archimandrite Anthony led into temptation by the Synod by this manner of handling his case? Was this not a "plot"? Who could possibly read Bishop Gregory's memorandum of June 17/30, 1986, to Metropolitan Vitaly and not be moved by the compassionate and pastoral approach he delineated therein? He asked the very same question: Was not Archimandrite Anthony led into temptation so that he would leave the Synod? Is it possible that there is a repetition of the same tactics in our instance? For a whole year were we not rudely insulted, ignored, intimidated, our letters left unanswered, so that we would get the message clearly that we were not wanted? Yet, we were not led into temptation. As long as we had some hope that various dogmatic and canonical violations would be corrected, we had no intention of leaving the Synod.
Fr. Panteleimon told all the bishops in Mansonville: "We know that we are not liked by many within the Synod. However, even if you defrock me, we have no intention of leaving so long as there is no compromise in matters of the faith." At the time Fr. Panteleimon said this to the bishops, we still had trust in Metropolitan Vitaly, because he had assured us privately that he would take care of the matter of concelebrations with New Calendarists and Ecumenists once and for all.
In your letter to us, you write, "Not one, not two, but six" former members of our monastery accuse Fr. Panteleimon. In his letter of April 13, 1986, to Vladika Anthony, Fr. Panteleimon gives answer in detail concerning the four. Concerning the other two who left by night in May of 1986 -- carrying off with them a truckload of tape recording equipment and merchandise worth over $20,000 -- the bishops never showed any concern to investigate if they had any ulterior motives for bringing these accusations.
Even as it was demonstrated in Fr. Panteleimon's aforementioned letter concerning the four, so can it be demonstrated concerning the two that we have communications of theirs in writing which demonstrate the opposite of what they claim today. It is only after all six accusers themselves became guilty of immorality and/or unethical behavior that they even thought to bring accusations against Fr. Panteleimon and others in the community. Fr. Panteleimon's abovementioned letter speaks very eloquently concerning this. If anyone wishes, he may contact us and we can provide him with these letters of the accusers and other documents regarding this matter.
You write that "the bishops had no other alternative" but to hear them [the accusers] out and to commence an investigation. Yet, if the bishops had truly proceeded "cautiously" as you affirm, then they would have been careful to follow the procedure outlined by the holy canons which pertain to such matters. With one voice, all the holy canons that deal with such accusations state that the witnesses and accusers themselves must be trustworthy. Nevertheless, although we repeatedly requested a canonical trial, we consistently received the same response: no response.
Eventually, it came to our ears that one of the investigating bishops -- Archbishop Antony of Los Angeles -- was misinterpreting one canon (canon 6 of the 2nd Ecumenical Council) in order to establish a "canonical" basis for the "investigation." However, both the New England clergy and other clergymen pointed out that Vladika Antony's interpretation was not in agreement with that of the Orthodox Church's ancient canon law authorities -- Zonaras, Balsamon, Aristenos, and also the famous Serb canonist Milosh. To no avail. Vladika Antony insisted on his own "personal interpretation," no matter what the ancient authorities had to say.
Certainly, who can be so naive as to believe the present claims of Fr. Gregory and Fr. Menas and the others that for years they did not know, or were deluded, and it is only of late that "the scales fell from their eyes" and they came to understand (after 12 or 15 years in the monastery!) that certain things were wrong?
They didn't know, or they were deluded, they say. Yet, the epistles of St. Paul are read every day (in English) in our daily Liturgies in the monastery. Does not St. Paul condemn these very sins openly and repeatedly? Are the accusers trying to tell us that they've never heard of Sodom and Gomorrah? Are not the Lives of the Saints (many of which deal specifically with the sin of homosexuality) read every single day in the church after services and in trapeza in our monastery? The complete life of St. Andrew the Fool for Christ -- which was translated by a member of our community -- repeatedly and very graphically condemns these specific sins. This life, too, is read every year on the feast day of the Saint. Furthermore, the lives of the New Martyrs under the Turkish yoke (many of which have been translated by fathers of the monastery) make frequent reference to the sin of homosexuality, because the Moslem Turks were very much addicted to this particular perversity and many young Christians were martyred precisely because they would not consent to give in to such sexual advances on the part of their Turkish oppressors. Yet, our accusers all use the same story: they did not know! The only excuse they (grown men, supposedly) could have for not knowing, of course, is if they were totally deaf and blind.
Dear Vladika, these falsehoods uttered by the accusers are so transparent, everyone -- including even the simple little grandmothers at the parish of St. Mark's here in Boston -- saw right through them. The only ones who did not see right through these falsehoods were the Synod bishops, and that's because they refused to look.
But then, if there are six accusers, there are over thirty-six members still in the community who can attest to the opposite. Numerous also are the former members of the community who have written (not at our request) in defense of Fr. Panteleimon and the community. They, too, lived with us for many years. In some of these letters, they even bear witness concerning the character of some of the accusers. Indeed, one of these former members was requested to testify by Bishop Alypy, one of the "investigating bishops." This is the present Fr. Mark Gomez of San Francisco, California, who not only did not confirm the accusations (as Bishop Alypy had evidently hoped) but even testified the complete opposite -- that is, that there are no secrets, and no improprieties at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, and (in a manner which was actually quite humorous) he demonstrated why this was so.
Among former members of our community who have testified in our defense are: Archimandrite Alexis of England; Fr. Mark Gomez of San Francisco; Dr. Richard Stockton (in monasticism Fr. Arsenios) of Bakersfield, California; Ephraim Figueroa, Andrei Dudkin, Basil Buell, and Peter Kordan.
Who, then, should we believe? People who themselves have been guilty of immoral or unethical behavior, or who are emotionally disturbed (and who, in addition, have borne witness against themselves in writing), or people who are clergymen and pious laypeople?
Another point which should be mentioned in this letter, dear Vladika -- since no bishop ever visited us so that we might discuss it with him in person -- is the matter of the properties of Holy Transfiguration Monastery and Holy Nativity Convent. From time to time, certain remarks reached our ears concerning this matter; however, we immediately dismissed these comments as something far-fetched and inconceivable.
A week or so before we received the Ukaze of September 4/17, 1986, a delegation of Russian laypeople made a visit to our monastery and had a frank discussion with Fr. Panteleimon. These laypeople wished to impress upon Father how much they appreciated the monastery and all that it had done in behalf of the Synod for over twenty years -- notwithstanding the fact that certain individuals in the Synod did not like us and would like to see us leave.
The laypeople tried to impress upon Fr. Panteleimon that he should not resign as abbot, because if he did, the bishops would then immediately move to appoint an abbot of their own choosing, and thus be able to remove anyone they wished from any position in the community, until they could secure the properties for the Russian Church Abroad. The truth of the matter is that with today's real estate values, the monastery alone and its properties are worth many millions of dollars. Fr. Panteleimon told this delegation that any such designs seemed far-fetched, and that, in any case, the monastery was incorporated long before it came into the Synod as a duly incorporated society under the laws of the State of Massachusetts. Reflecting the Typicon of the Holy Mountain, therefore, the property belongs to the brotherhood, and not to any individual or to parties outside of the community. Also, on the basis of the Athonite Typicon and the monastery's by-laws, the election of the abbot depended on the members of the community alone, and it is from the current members of the community alone that the abbot could be selected. Thus, there was no way that anyone could be appointed by some outside party.
The delegation was happy to hear this and they were relieved of their anxiety. This conversation was related to the community at one of the monastery's meetings and -- because certain comments made earlier by leading Synod clergymen concerning properties had reached the ears of the brotherhood -- it strengthened the brotherhood's suspicions even more that, indeed, there was some substance to the concerns expressed by the delegation of Russian laypeople.
Well then, Vladika, you can well imagine the impression that the Synod's Ukaze made upon the community when it arrived a week or so later. This, precisely, is why in his letter of September 27/October 10, 1986, Fr. Ephraim speaks about how the fathers here were having all sorts of suspicions, especially with the arrival of the Ukaze.
In a written letter to us in the early summer of 1986, Yelena Gaponova, a spiritual daughter of Vladika Antony of Los Angeles, related to us what Vladika Antony had told her during a conversation. He told her that both Holy Transfiguration Monastery and Holy Nativity Convent can withdraw from the Synod at any time and no one would be able to contest their properties. She replied, "But, Vladika, haven't the monastery and the convent proven their faithfulness to the Synod for the past twenty years -- even though many occasions have arisen for them to leave? Yet, they did not and they have proven their loyalty." Vladika Antony attempted to rectify this error, or perhaps slip, on his part by assuring Yelena that, of course, the Synod's primary concern was the salvation of souls.
Others at Synod headquarters in New York expressed the same concern on occasion, that is, that the properties of the monastery and the convent in Boston had not been incorporated under the Synod, and therefore could not be contested should the communities decide to leave. Such comments have come forth from yourself, Metropolitan Vitaly, Bishop Alypy and his circle, Fr. George Larin and other clergy.
On hearing that our monastery and the convent here had left the Synod, Archbishop Antony of San Francisco said to one of his parishioners in Seattle, "A ripe plum has slipped right through our hands." When the parishioner asked what this meant, Vladika Antony said, "All these years the properties of the monastery and convent were not incorporated under the Synod."
It is incredible that such a thought should even occur to anyone. In the twenty-five years of our monastery's existence, we have never made any appeal or collection in any jurisdiction. We have lived by the sweat of our brow, and paid our debts, and provided for our keep by the work of our hands. The one and only appeal that was made for Holy Nativity Convent a few years ago (when they moved to their new location) was not for donations, but for parishes and individuals to buy candles made by the sisters, and thus assist them in paying their debt. The few individuals who, in this instance, helped the Convent considerably by outright donations did so of their own free will and were totally unsolicited.
On what basis then, could one propose that the properties of the monastery and the convent should be in the Synod's name? Indeed, we were the only monastic communities under the Synod which did not make regular appeals for contributions.
But then, you yourself, in your letter of December 12/25, 1986, allude to the thought that, somehow, we owe our properties to the Synod. You write: "All this time while under the Synod, you enjoyed peace and tranquillity, and the monastery and parishes flourished both spiritually and physically."
Dear Vladika, if anything, by belonging to the Synod Abroad we forfeited monies, positions, and honors. If we had remained under the Greek Archdiocese, we would have paid off our debts with little effort years ago, and, at present, would have a large endowment to boot. If the convent were presently under any other jurisdiction, it would not have an outstanding debt. Indeed, it is a fact that we have lost monies by belonging to the Russian Synod Abroad.
This is not to say that this is the fault of the Russian Church Abroad.
It is an acknowledged fact that even as some Russians have a certain xenophobia, so also do many non-Russians unjustly and/or erroneously equate Russians and Communists.
How many times during the past twenty years did we hear such cheap comments as, "You have joined the Reds." Sadly enough, the American public equates Russians with Communists. We always had to be explaining that it was matters of faith which brought us to the Russian Church Abroad, and that we had joined ourselves to the White Russians, who were fiercely anti-Communist and did not recognize the Soviet regime and the Moscow Patriarchate, its puppet church. In most instances, our explanations were to no avail.
Had individuals such as Fr. Michael Azkoul been under any other jurisdiction except the Russian Church Abroad, he would have had a prominent teaching position and many amenities. Can this not be said of many, if not all, of the non-Russian clergy, most of whom now have to have secular work to support their families?
Fr. Neketas Palassis aptly quoted St. Paul in his letter of February
19/March 4, 1978 to Archbishop Laurus:
We have refused to be called the sons of these new Pharaohs, "choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. By faith we have forsaken Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king for we endure as seeing Him Who is invisible."
As for the Greek people, we would have had many more adherents among them, had we not belonged to a "Russian" jurisdiction. Indeed, certain Greek Old Calendar bishops in the United States and abroad use cheap phyletic arguments to dissuade other Greek people from joining "the Russians."
Yet, notwithstanding these disadvantages, the non-Russian parishes have been the most dedicated members of the Synod in the matter of contributions and financial support. Just the parish of St. Nectarios in Toronto alone contributed to the local diocese more than any other parish. One may even be so bold as to say that, in some respects -- such as the purchase of candles from the diocesan candle shop -- this one parish rivalled all the other parishes of the diocese put together -- and this does not even take into account its free-will donations and parish assessment.
Likewise, the parishes of St. John the Russian in Ipswich, St. Nectarios in Seattle, and St. Mark of Ephesus also contributed a very significant percentage of their respective dioceses' income.
Indeed, were not all of our non-Russian parishes, including the monastery and the convent, contributing monthly to the upkeep of the Synod, and did they not respond to its various appeals made from time to time?
You yourself, Vladika, wrote to the monastery in December of 1985 to
thank us for a $2000 donation sent in response to an appeal made by the
bishops for the restoration of the Synod's headquarters. You wrote:
We are all very mindful of the fact that your community supports itself by its own labors, and that the sum of money you provided represents a considerable investment in time and effort on your part, and we invoke upon you the blessing of our dear Saviour for your willingness to sacrifice that His temple, the home of our beloved Mother of God, may be all the fitter appointed.
The year before this (i.e. 1984), we had sent $1000 in response to the same appeal. This was besides our monthly contribution.
In spite of its outstanding debt for its own new property, Holy Nativity Convent also contributed $1000 to this same appeal, and it too received a similar acknowledgment from you.
Therefore, if in any way we have "flourished", as you express it, we have certainly also contributed to the Synod as generously as our financial circumstances permitted.
Unfortunately, dear Vladika, in your letter to us you wish to give the impression that we left the Synod for no other reason than to avoid an investigation regarding the accusations which had been brought against our elder and the community. You call our departure from the Russian Church Abroad "hasty and uncanonical," and call upon us to repent of our "hasty and impulsive error."
We have already demonstrated conclusively how much we ourselves repeatedly requested this investigation and how our requests fell upon deaf ears.
Aside from this, however, no one can say that our departure was in haste. Indeed, many people, both within and without the Synod, have asked us why we took so long to leave. Certainly, as we will demonstrate below, no one can accuse us of not seeking to address our bishops repeatedly before we came to the conclusion, finally, that we had no other recourse but to leave.
At the meeting of the bishops in Mansonville, which took place during the season of Mid-Pentecost, Fr. Panteleimon said to the hierarchs present, "Even if you defrock me, there is no way that we are going to leave the Synod -- so long as we believe that there is no compromise in matters of the faith."
Of late, we have learned that Metropolitan Vitaly has been saying that Fr. Panteleimon has not kept his word about not leaving the Synod, and that this reflects badly on him in regard to the accusations made against him. However, in reporting what Fr. Panteleimon said, Vladika Vitaly neglects to repeat Fr. Panteleimon's words: "so long as we believe that there is no compromise in matters of the faith."
Indeed, as late as the beginning of October of 1986, Father Panteleimon still had hopes that the Metropolitan would somehow come through with clear-cut pronouncements condemning concelebrations with Ecumenists and New Calendarists, and the leanings which certain Synodal clergy have shown towards the Soviet Church of late.
At a meeting in our monastery in the middle of October of 1986, where concerned clergymen from the Boston area and from afar had come together, it was Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Peter Carras of Toronto who defended the Metropolitan on this score, whereas all the other clergy spoke of a betrayal and cited incidents to support their convictions regarding this betrayal. Yet, when this meeting ended, Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Peter were still convinced that Metropolitan Vitaly would come through and take a firm stand -- as he had promised earlier -- in the matter of concelebrations.
Permit us now, Vladika, to present a chronology of events during this year which inescapably led to the monastery's decision, and the decision of many others, to leave the Synod.
As it was reported in the beginning of the year 1986, Archbishop Paul of Australia concelebrated with Bishop Basil of the Serbian Patriarchal Church at a consecration of a Russian church in Australia.
This incident was in defiance of a previous decision of the Russian Church Abroad which prohibited concelebrations with the Serbian Church on an episcopal level. Of course, we had no means of knowing of this event until it was later reported in Pravoslavnaia Russ (Jan. 1/14, 1986), which is published by Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville.
On Orthodoxy Sunday, as is well known, Bishop Alypy of Cleveland attended a Pan-Orthodox Vespers service in the Serbian Cathedral of Chicago. At this service, besides the Serbian bishop, there were present also Bishop Iakovos of the Chicago diocese of the Greek Archdiocese, Bishop Boris of the OCA, and clergymen of all the other national Orthodox jurisdictions of the U.S.A. It is reported that a Synodal clergyman took part in the service itself, with Bishop Alypy standing in the kliros in a place of honor.
Is it possible that, during this service, Bishop Alypy did not make the sign of the cross, or make prostrations, and did not pray with all the others, and that he did not greet the bishops and clergy as "brothers in Christ"?
Many clergymen and laypeople protested concerning these events to the Metropolitan and to other hierarchs. This is demonstrated by the letters themselves which were written when these incidents were reported.
On the Saturday of the Akathist Hymn, April 6/19, 1986, Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Ephraim of our monastery visited Vladika Vitaly in Montreal. Although accusations had already been brought against Fr. Panteleimon, nevertheless, Fr. Panteleimon's primary purpose and subject of discussion during this meeting were the above-mentioned two incidents, as well as other incidents where Synodal clergy were meeting and visiting Soviet clergy and monastics, in open defiance of the Synod's by-laws and resolutions and the last will and testament of Metroplitan Anastassy of blessed memory.
This alone demonstrates that matters of faith were and are first and foremost for Fr. Panteleimon and the monastery, and that they have precedence over any personal matters.
During this meeting, Metropolitan Vitaly claimed ignorance of all these events. The fathers gave him some documents concerning these incidents and also informed His Eminence that Pravoslavnaia Russ (1/14 Jan., 1986) had reported in detail Archbishop Paul's concelebration with the Serbian bishop. In view of the fact that Pravoslavnaia Russ is one of the Synod's foremost publications, it could hardly be ignored. The Metropolitan answered that he was so busy, he had not time to read Pravoslavnaia Russ and, therefore, was unaware of the aforementioned article. However, he remarked, that both the concelebration in Australia and Bishop Alypy's attendance at the Pan-Orthodox service were infractions of Synodal resolutions and, if true, would be dealt with accordingly.
At this meeting also, on his own, the Metroplitan made certain revelations (which none of us at the monastery were in any position to know and, indeed, we would still be ignorant of them had not Vladika volunteered to tell us). In view of the fact that the fathers had come to speak to him primarily concerning matters of the faith and also concerning some alarming trends within the Synod, what the Metropolitan said only verified our fears. Vladika Vitaly revealed the following:
1) At the very sobor which elected him at the beginning of 1986, three bishops asked that the Anathema against Ecumenism be revoked. Vladika named two of these bishops. "Can you imagine such a thing?" were Vladika's very words to our fathers. "We would become ridiculous. I told them, 'We were all present when the Anathema was discussed and we all affixed our signatures. Why didn't you speak then? We would now appear ludicrous if we attempted such a thing.'"
On a previous occasion some years ago, right after the pronouncement of the Anathema, the then Archbishop Vitaly told a group of clergymen who were close to him (Fr. Panteleimon was one of those present at this meeting) that one of the bishops at the regular Synod meeting had asked for a clarification of the meaning of the Anathema. According to Vladika Vitaly, this hierarch said, "Of course, we condemned only a teaching, not any individuals."
At this particular Synod meeting, there were many serious bishops present, such as the late Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory, Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago, Bishop Gregory, the secretary of the Synod, and Archbishop Vitaly. It was both Archbishop Vitaly and Bishop Gregory who replied to this interpretation offered by a brother hierarch. According to Archbishop Vitaly, it was explained to their fellow hierarch that the erroneous teaching of Ecumenism did not appear of itself, nor was it formulated by beings from another planet. It originated and is propogated by individuals both within and without the so-called Orthodox world.
2) Metropolitan Vitaly also informed our two fathers that he too had received word from Europe concerning Archbishop Antony of Geneva's re-issuing of an old encyclical which permitted concelebrations with New Calendarist -- and hence, Ecumenistic -- jurisdictions. The two fathers from our monastery had also mentioned this to him at this very meeting.
3) The Metropolitan further revealed that Archbishop Antony of Geneva had issued a written document to one of his priests who was given an extended leave of absence from the diocese for the purpose of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Near East, Greece and Mount Athos. In this document, the priest was given permission to concelebrate with whichever of the local churches (Jerusalem, Antioch, Greece, the Ecumenical Patriarchate) accepted him.
4) The Metropolitan also informed our two fathers that during a visit of the myrrh-streaming icon to France, Archbishop Antony of Geneva permitted his clergy and the clergy of the Russian Exarchate in Paris (which is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate) to concelebrate a service in the presence of the icon. Archbishop Antony told the faithful that one of the reasons why the Theotokos had showed such a sign from her icon was to give an opportunity to all Russians -- irrespective of their jurisdictional differences -- to come together in prayerful communion and thus be united.
At this time, Metropolitan Vitaly gave his own interpretation concerning the myrrh-streaming icon. First of all, he protested over Archbishop Antony's interpretation and said that that's not at all why the Mother of God is causing her Iviron icon to flow with myrrh. Metropolitan Vitaly saw this as a sign from the Theotokos proclaiming to the world that the Russian Church Abroad was grace-filled. This happened, said the Metropolitan, because a few months before the icon began to flow with myrrh, Patriarch Pimen of the Soviet Church said publicly that the Russian Synodal Church was outside the Orthdodox Church and, consequently, was without grace..
The Metropolitan himself said that all these things were alarming and had to be dealt with in a straightforward manner. Otherwise, he said, there would be more and more confusion among the flock. The two fathers of our monastery were very relieved to hear this from him. They came back to the monastery and reassured the whole community that the Metropolitan was well aware of some of the "liberalizing" trends within the Synodal Church and was going to deal with them in a resolute way. Furthermore, the Metropolitan asked prayers that God would give him the strength and the wisdom to straighten things out.
Thanks to this firm stand which Metropolitan Vitaly took, not only when
he spoke with our two fathers in April, but also earlier, Father Panteleimon
could, at that time, justify and defend the Synod Abroad when he wrote
a letter to a certain Synodal clergyman who complained about the low spiritual
level of the average Synodal parish. This clergyman wrote:
The quotations from Fr. Alexander Schmemann about the level of spirituality in the OCA (Metropolia) were most interesting, not least because what he describes is precisely also the same low state as may be found in the average Russian parish of the Church Abroad! Havingnow served such a parish for 7 months, believe me, Fr. Alexander's statements about OCA parishes nearly a generation ago also hold true for us. Only, we may, in fact, be even a little bit worse off than what he was describing 20 years ago! I'm not being harsh or unfair to our parishes, and have confirmed my observations by talking to other clergy serving Russian parishes, both convert priests and Russians..
In a letter of 28 Jan./10 Feb., 1986, Fr. Panteleimon answered this clergyman by saying that we were in the Synod, not because its level of spirituality was higher than other jurisdictions (for there have always been periods or places where the spiritual level was low -- but this does not mean that the Church ceased to exist at those particular times or places.) Rather, as Fr. Panteleimon wrote to this clergyman:
This then, Father, is the reason we are in the Synod -- because grace abides in the Synod, because Truth is found in the Synod. It is not for pietistic reasons, or for cultural and ethnic reasons that we came to the Synod, but rather because of the Faith.
Since it was not for cultural, or ethnic, or pietistic reasons that we were in the Synod, but only for matters of faith, this is precisely why Fr. Panteleimon told the bishops that we will never leave the Synod so long as we believe that there has been no compromise in the Faith.
(Father Panteleimon's answer to the above-mentioned clergyman covered many crucial points; inasmuch as quotes from this particular letter have been circulated, our community feels that it would be profitable for the faithful if, in the future, it were printed in full, with a commentary.)
When Fr. Panteleimon wrote the above in early 1986, he believed that this was true -- primarily because of the Metropolitan's assurances.
Some months later, Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Ephraim visited the Metropolitan for a second time, on May 20/June 2, again at their request, at Synod headquarters in New York. During this meeting, the fathers inquired concerning the matter of the concelebrations mentioned above. To their dismay, the Metropolitan answered that he had not wanted to embarrass the two bishops (Archbishop Paul and Bishop Alypy) during the Synod meeting, and therefore, he had spoken to them privately and separately. The Metropolitan claimed that Archbishop Paul told him that even while he was celebrating with Bishop Basil (of the Serbian Patriarchal Church) his conscience censured him. Bishop Alypy is supposed to have said that he was led astray in this matter by a certain clergyman and that this would not be repeated in the future. Metropolitan Vitaly said that both bishops felt remorse; however, he mentioned nothing about Archbishop Antony of Geneva and how he (the Metropolitan) had dealt with the former's manifold infringements and "activities."
The fathers returned and reported all this to the community and to the parish clergy (not only of the Boston area, but also from many parts of the country) who were continually asking about what was being done about these matters. When the fathers reported what the Metropolitan told them, all, with one accord, were dismayed and greatly disappointed. They believed that, in fact, nothing had been corrected. Many pointed out that these had been public acts, reported in our publications and/or witnessed by many, and therefore, they should have been dealt with during a Synod meeting with all the bishops present. If these "corrections" were not recorded in the minutes, and if a resolution were not published to clarify these issues, then nothing was accomplished. The resolution did not have to be stern or insulting. All that was necessary was for it to say simply that a mistake was made and that the former Synodal decision which forbade episcopal concelebrations with the Serbs was still in effect. If this course were not taken, then what would ensure that these incidents would not be repeated, or indeed, that they had in actuality even been dealt with?
Indeed, should such episodes be repeated, how could one point out to the erring hierarchs that what they had done was wrong -- especially should the present Metropolitan repose or retire? Since the former incidents were not dealt with synodically and "resolutely," and in writing, then there is no way one could ascertain who said what to whom in private. Each person could give his own interpretation to what was said. And whom, then, could one believe?
And behold, this has happened already, even before the demise or retirement of Metropolitan Vitaly. Already, there has been a denial of what was reported to our fathers by Metropolitan Vitaly. During a telephone call made by Fr. John Shaw of Chicago to our Fr. Ephraim on December 14/27, 1986, Fr. Ephraim mentioned what Metropolitan Vitaly had said to Fr. Panteleimon and himself regarding how Bishop Alypy had felt remorse over being present at that "Pan-Orthodox" Vespers, and that he would not do it again. Fr. John's reply to this was, "That's not true."
Now, what or whom is one to believe?
Perhaps Fr. John Shaw is telling the truth. One could draw such conclusions from the very reverent letter which Fr. Michael Henning wrote to Bishop Alypy (with copies sent to Metropolitan Vitaly and Archbishop Laurus) on March 28/April 10, 1986, and from the very curt reply which Bishop Alypy sent back. There is no trace of remorse in Bishop Alypy's answer. Indeed, the tone of the Bishop's letter is indignant and insulting.
Nonetheless, Metropolitan Vitaly made the same claim (regarding how the bishops allegedly felt remorse) to other clergymen as well. Since the bishops felt remorse, said the Metropolitan, it was not necessary to put anything in writing. This, at least, is what he told Fr. George Kochergin on December 18, 1986, in Nyack, N.Y., in the presence of some twenty-five others, clergymen and their spouses.
But Fr. John Shaw says that, at least in Bishop Alypy's case, what the Metropolitan is saying is not true.
Vladika, it appears that this is a problem that you are going to have to resolve among yourselves.
Nonetheless, though disappointed with all these developments, Fr. Panteleimon still had hopes that the Metropolitan would hold the helm and straighten things out. It was not long after this meeting with our fathers that Metropolitan Vitaly went to the Holy Land for the 100th anniversary of the Eleon Convent, which it celebrated on the feast of Ascension. From there, he travelled to Europe and visited all the dioceses there.
One would have thought that during this visit he would have found the opportunity to speak with Archbishop Antony of Geneva and Bishop Mark of Germany concerning the many infringements which had been reported to him (and which, indeed, he himself had reported to our fathers). For example, it is a known fact that OCA clergy serving as chaplains in the American armed forces celebrate in the Synodal churches of Germany. This has been brought up to Bishop Mark, and it was also pointed out to him that there is an Ukaze of 1971 (protocol #8) which prohibits concelebrations with OCA clergy. Bishop Mark's reply was that this prohibition applies only in the United States (however, the Ukaze itself makes no such exceptions). In Europe, he claimed, it is permitted because of "special circumstances."
It is also a known fact that Bishop Mark -- who in the past has celebrated at the Serbian Monastery of Hilandar, where both Patriarchs Demetrius of Constantinople and German of Serbia are commemorated -- also permits individuals of all jurisdictions to receive communion, both in Europe, and also in Britain (where he is the administrator). This is especially prevalent in England and has been reported by pilgrims who have visited the Synodal parishes there.
After the Metropolitan's return to the United States, there was no longer any mention about correcting the violations in Europe. On the contrary, wherever he spoke, he reported how pleased he was with the organization and activity of the European dioceses.
Indeed, on June 15/28, 1986, he wrote to Archbishop Antony of Geneva, "I have strongly expressed a great joy in this fraternal unity of thought and of spirit, when I visited the Diocese of Western Europe, where I acquainted myself with your activity." Is this the straightforward correction and censure of Vladika Antony's "activities"?
In view of this, many of the clergy became more confused and demoralized, seeing that the problems were not being dealt with "resolutely" as the Metropolitan had promised at the beginning of the year. At a private session of the bishops and some twenty-five clergy at the Erie conference, the clergy brought up these points, and a few were dealt with, such as the prohibition against giving communion to members of the OCA and other new calendarist jurisdictions. However, as soon as questions were raised concerning the European scene, especially the encyclical and activity of Archbishop Antony of Geneva, the meeting was abruptly adjourned. No answer. (Exactly the same thing happened when the same question was asked at the St. Herman's Day Pilgrimage at Jordanville on Dec. 12/25, 1986. The Metropolitan's response? "I have to catch a plane now.")This only further demoralized the clergy and strengthened suspicions that nothing was going to be corrected, either "resolutely" or otherwise. If anything -- because of this refusal to deal with the issue resolutely -- these infractions would become the rule of the day and a precedent for further violations.
In addition to all these developments, clergy from the New England and New York area visited Metropolitan Vitaly on three occasions -- June 27/July 10 (8 clergymen), August 29/ September 11 (9 clergymen), and September 3/16 (3 clergymen). Over this period of time, they themselves witnessed a change in the Metropolitan's attitude.
During the second meeting (August 29/September 11) in New York, although the Metropolitan in the beginning appeared apprehensive and nervous, when he saw that the clergy had come in a respectful and humble manner, he was put at ease and graciously gave them two hours of his time. At this meeting, many of the infractions were brought up again. The Metropolitan told the clergy to sit down when they returned home and make a written list of specific incidents, to assure that it would not be hearsay -- "someone, somewhere, sometime, said or did this or that." In obedience, the clergy did precisely this. In fact, they were very encouraged that, finally, some action would be taken and these matters would be resolved.
On September 3/16 -- five days later -- the clergy (including Fr. George Kochergin, the dean of the New England clergy) again saw the Metropolitan in New York. Evidently, the mood of the Metropolitan had changed, and in a curt manner he said to Fr. George in Russian, "Why did you haul all of these clergy here?" In fact, except for Fr. George, he refused to see the clergy, even though for them it was a matter of considerable expense, time, and loss from work to make this trip from their respective cities to New York. At this meeting, the Metropolitan spoke with Fr. George for 25 minutes only. His comments were quite rude and his manner curt. The clergy returned having lost all hope that anything would be accomplished or that any of the issues would be resolved as the Metropolitan had promised in the springtime.
They were further disheartened and their suspicions were verified when, later, they sent the Metropolitan their letter of November 8/21 in obedience to his explicit instructions to document in writing all the infractions. They learned that his reaction was that he took the letter as an affront and as flouting his authority, and he called the clergy disobedient and rebels.
After the meeting of September 3/16, the Metropolitan consistently refused to meet with any of the aforementioned clergy, or anyone from the monastery, or any of the Greek clergy from Toronto. On Wednesday, September 4/17 (i.e. one day after his last meeting with the delegation of clergy from New England), the Metropolitan signed the two-paragraph Ukaze, which granted Fr. Panteleimon permission to retire as abbot and which appointed Fr. Isaac as temporary administrator until the arrival of Archbishop Antony of Los Angeles as "acting abbot" -- to use the exact expression in the Ukaze. After signing this document in New York, the Metropolitan left immediately for Montreal, and within a few days was in Australia.
Thus, when the Ukaze arrived at the monastery on Saturday, September 7/20, we were unable to communicate with His Eminence by telephone. As we documented in our letter of September 27/October 10, we made many attempts to reach him. Finally, after we made five telephone calls (including two to Australia), the Metropolitan returned our call and we explained to him that the Ukaze presented very serious legal problems for us. All this is well-documented in the abovementioned letter, and especially in the lawyer's letter which pointed out all the legal ramifications. We were very earnest in our attempts to speak with the Metropolitan since, according to our Athonite Typicon and our by-laws, upon the demise or retirement of the ruling abbot, a new abbot had to be elected within three days maximum, and he had to be elected by the community and be a member of the community.
During this telephone call, the Metropolitan was informed of the date and all the above-mentioned circumstances surrounding the election of the new abbot, so that the election would not take place without his knowledge or blessing. It was during this telephone call that he said that there was a mistranslation in the Ukaze regarding the term "acting abbot." Although this conversation was not put in writing, we have two witnesses who were on extensions and who can verify what was said. The Metropolitan gave his blessing and told us to go ahead with the election.
Thus, on Friday evening, September 20/October 3, at an official meeting which had been announced eight days prior, Fr. Panteleimon submitted his written resignation to the community and Fr. Isaac was elected as our new abbot.
On the next day, Saturday, September 21/October 4, in the early afternoon, we received a telephone call from yourself, Vladika. You asked to speak with Fr. Ephraim. This telephone call was also heard by two other members of the community. During this telephone call, you told Fr. Ephraim that the Metropolitan had communicated with you, and had asked you to get in touch with us to inform us that since our Typicon and by-laws stated that we had to elect our abbot from someone within the community, there was no objection to this. The only stipulation was that Fr. Isaac could not be a candidate for the abbacy. This came as a surprise, and when Fr. Ephraim asked what was the basis for this stipulation, you replied that it was because of moral accusations. Of course, this was the first time that such a thing was heard by us, and, as usual, we were informed of nothing of this in writing -- as, in fact, nothing had been given to us in writing before or after this. Who the accusers were, what were the specifics of the accusations, we were not told, neither during that telephone call, nor subsequently.
This whole matter was incredible, both in the manner in which it was handled and in its content. A week prior to this telephone call -- according to the Synod's Ukaze -- Fr. Isaac was appointed "temporary administrator." How is it that on September 4/17, he could be appointed "temporary administrator," and then, one week later, be excluded as a candidate for the abbacy because of accusations against him? From whence did these moral charges suddenly materialize?
Fr. Ephraim answered you, Vladika, that only a few days previously, on Wednesday, September 18/October 1, the Metropolitan had telephoned us from Australia and had been informed of the impending election, and he had not mentioned any stipulations at that time. You answered that the Metropolitan had been trying to get you, since you were the deputy secretary in New York, but you had been away and had just returned to Synod headquarters, whereupon this message was given to you, and you were passing it on to us.
Certainly, you may have been absent from Synod headquarters as you claimed, yet none of us here at the monastery were absent. Therefore, we cannot possibly understand how these could be the Metropolitan's instructions and why he had not called us directly. Even if he could not get you on the phone (which somehow seems improbable, since, if you were absent, you surely must have left a note as to your whereabouts), yet, from our telephone call with him, he knew of the date of the election and he could have called us again directly from Australia, even as he did before.
You were further informed during this phone call that, in fact, the election had already taken place. There was a momentary pause and silence on your end of the line, and then you asked who had been elected abbot, and you were informed that Fr. Isaac had been elected. You expressed surprise, and then said that the election would not be valid until it was ratified by the Synod. Fr. Ephraim informed you that there were no such stipulations in our by-laws. You continued to defend your point and to proclaim the election invalid, whereupon Fr. Ephraim asked you to put all this in writing so that it could be presented to the community, and examined from a legal point of view, and an answer could be given. In fact, Fr. Ephraim impressed upon you at least three times that if what you were saying on the phone were not put in writing, it could not be considered. Indeed, we could no longer continue dealing with these matters by rumor, hearsay, word-of-mouth, and telephone calls. Since our legal counsel impressed upon us the legal complications that could arise by not observing our Typicon and by-laws, he stressed that it was necessary that everything be in writing. Hence, any verbal reports or telephone calls were to be totally ignored, as if they had never taken place. And, in fact, true to form, nothing was sent to us in writing from the Synod to inform us of these new stipulations, nor were we sent a copy of the "corrected" Ukaze (since the Metropolitan told us that the first one had been mistranslated).
But then, dear Vladika, even without taking into account the legal aspects, it is unheard-of, even from a spiritual and an ecclesiastical point of view, that such serious matters would be dealt with in such a casual and cavalier manner, and that by telephone calls and messages related by third parties.
This is the very reason why in our letter of September 27/October 10, 1986, your telephone call was not even mentioned. We expected that since this was a serious matter -- the request of the bishops, as you said -- then it would be put in writing, and we would answer in writing. Alas, months passed, until we finally left the Synod for reasons of conscience, and we still had not heard from you in writing concerning this matter. Now we see a document with the Synod's letterhead, undated, unsigned, with a stamped notice "Not for publication" -- which no one from the Synod had the kindness to send us, of course -- and filled with outright distortions of the truth of what actually happened in regard to the election of our abbot.
In this document, now signed by you -- and which, of late, has gone into its second and third editions, with different dates and corrections of "typographical errors" -- you claim that we were prohibited from having our election, but that we went ahead and had it anyway. Dear Vladika, is this not an outright lie? Where are your written documents to us that you prohibited us from having our election? If such a resolution was passed, it was never sent to us, nor were we informed of it. And there are three witnesses that your telephone call informing Fr. Ephraim of the new "stipulations" came one day after the election. The truth is that -- again, with witnesses -- the Metropolitan telephoned us two days before the impending election and gave his blessing, with none of these amazing stipulations. What is truly unheard-of is that, just on the basis of an accusation, certain members of the community are judged guilty and thus disqualified. Evidently, for you, accusation equals guilt. Matters such as "due process" or even common civility, apparently, have been set aside in this particular case.
Yet, even after these incredible and sorrowful events, Fr. Panteleimon continued to defend the person of the Metropolitan. He had hopes that, although on a personal level, the Metropolitan's dealings with the monastery were not pastoral, or even civil, yet he believed that in matters of the faith and in dealing with the incidents regarding the concelebrations, the Metropolitan would yet stand up and put a stop to all this nonsense.
Proof of Fr. Panteleimon's feelings in this matter is a meeting which took place at our monastery in the middle of October. Many concerned clergymen from the New England area, Canada, and other parts met here in our monastery to discuss the church situation. During this meeting, both Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Peter Carras of Toronto defended the Metropolitan and proclaimed to all that they still trusted in his integrity, since they had known the Metropolitan better than the others. The other clergy thought that this was naive on their part, and they pointed out numerous incidents which verified the opposite of what Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Peter were saying. They spoke of an outright betrayal, let alone a reluctance on the part of the Metropolitan to correct these matters and rightly divide the word of truth.
Upon the Metropolitan's return from Australia (which was during the latter part of October), many of the clergy -- including Fr. Peter Carras of Toronto -- attempted to communicate with him, but he steadfastly refused to speak with them. Laymen also attempted to speak with him (such as Mr. George Jerenic, a pious Serb who lives with his family in Acton, Mass.), and again the Metropolitan remained out of touch.
It should be noted here that after the Metropolitan signed the Ukaze and left immediately for Australia, we attempted again and again to communicate with him, especially through Fr. Sergius, a priest-monk of the Metropolitan's brotherhood in Montreal. We were able to impress upon Fr. Sergius that many of the problems had arisen because of a lack of communication on the Metropolitan's part. This very thing was impressed upon Fr. Sergius by the Toronto Greek clergy also. Fr. Sergius himself said that it was absolutely necessary that we all meet together with the Metropolitan upon his return from Australia, and he said that he would impress upon the Metropolitan how imperative it was for him to visit our monastery as our ruling bishop. Fr. Sergius was of one mind with us regarding this and understood how important it was that such a meeting take place. He assured both us and the other clergy that as soon as the Metropolitan returned, he would speak to him about this. Yet, even after the Metropolitan returned -- which was in the latter part of the October -- nothing materialized.
This greatly demoralized both Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Peter Carras, and they also began to lose hope that the Metropolitan would do anything to set matters aright.
Months before Fr. Panteleimon left for the annual pilgrimage, one of the persistent rumors was that no bishop would visit the monastery as long as Fr. Panteleimon were present here. The reasoning behind this (so the rumor went) was that Fr. Panteleimon is a strong personality, and that if he were present, the fathers would not be able to speak. Because of this rumor, some of the fathers expressed the opinion that perhaps it was not wise for Fr. Panteleimon to go on the pilgrimage this time, since no one was as well informed as himself concerning many matters, and they had apprehensions that upon his departure, bishops would appear at the monastery and attempt to divide the community and bring about confusion. Fr. Panteleimon did not accept these arguments, and he trusted that should anyone appear, the new abbot and the community would be quite able to take care of any and all circumstances. Well, Fr. Panteleimon left, and we were totally ignored. No one came, nor communicated with us in any manner or form. No letters, no calls. Nothing.
When Fr. Panteleimon finally arrived at Oinussai after the middle of November, he learned from a letter sent to the convent that a certain abbot, Archimandrite Dorotheus of the Monastery of St. Nicholas on Andros (under the new calendar church of Greece) had visited Geneva and concelebrated with Archbishop Antony of Geneva on the Exaltation of the Precious Cross (the altar feast of the Geneva cathedral).
This same Archimandrite Dorotheus later visited France and again concelebrated with Archbishop Antony at the Lesna Convent on the feast day of their convent (which is the Lesna icon of the Mother of God).
This, then, was how Metropolitan Vitaly had "resolutely" corrected things in Europe.
It is noteworthy that all these incidents took place after his visit to Geneva, France, Germany, and England.
Thus, Fr. Panteleimon himself was the last to be convinced that there was no longer any hope of correction, but rather, that there would be a continuation and extension of these concelebrative trends -- no matter how deeply involved or unrepentant the new calendarists and other "Orthodox" were in their Ecumenistic activities.
Hence, it became impossible for Fr. Panteleimon or Fr. Peter Carras to defend Metropolitan Vitaly any longer. Indeed, it was the fathers of the monastery who telephoned Fr. Panteleimon and informed him that they had no desire to remain any longer in the Synod and that, in fact, they had already written a "farewell" letter.
One may ask why we did not leave previously? You allude to this in your letter to Fr. Justin when you write: "There has been no significant change in the degree of involvement of the Patriarchate of Serbia in the ecumenical movement." (Now we have begun to talk about "degrees of involvement." Dear Vladika, you see how you yourself admit that the Serbian Patriarchate is involved in Ecumenism. At some time in the near future, we will demonstrate how there has been a very significant and progressive change in the degree of involvement of the Serbian Patriarchate in Ecumenism.)
It is true that many of these events took place even under Metropolitan Philaret. Examples of this are the Dudko affair, the Tavrion affair, local concelebrations and other issues. Yes, this is true. But under Metropolitan Philaret there was also a response when concern was expressed over these issues.
Regarding the matter of Fr. Tavrion, we here at the monastery -- like many others throughout the country -- wrote to Metropolitan Philaret as children to a father, and there was a response. We have in our possession a letter written by Metropolitan Philaret in reply to our letter, which asked for a clarification because of the confusion that the Tavrion affair, or more precisely, which an article in Orthodox Word had created. By misusing a letter written by Metropolitan Philaret, this article had tried to create the impression that the Metropolitan approved of a priest who had joined the Soviet Church, but "absolutely stood apart from it in his activity." This was not Metropolitan Philaret's intention at all, as his letter to us confirmed. At the time, the Metropolitan asked that his letter to us not be published. But with his blessed demise, we feel free to publish it in the future. In this letter, the late Metropolitan had some interesting things to say concerning the Soviet Church.
The same is true with the whole matter surrounding Fr. D. Dudko. We here at the monastery -- as well as many other clergy throughout the diaspora -- refused to comply with an Ukaze which requested public prayers in the Liturgy in behalf of Fr. Dimitri Dudko when he was arrested by the Soviet authorities. Basing ourselves on the last will and testament of Metropolitan Anastassy of blessed memory, we refrained from public commemorations of a clergyman who still considered himself a priest of the Soviet Church. We know also of at least one Synod bishop who, at that time, refused to commemorate Fr. Dimitri Dudko and who protested over the aforementioned Ukaze.
Metropolitan Philaret was visiting Australia at the time. Upon his return, he justified all those who had not commemorated Fr. Dudko, and he affirmed that he himself had not commemorated him. When he arrived by ship on the West Coast, he expressed himself clearly concerning this to the hierarchs who met him. Furthermore, at a subsequent meeting in New York City, he praised a group of concerned clergymen who visited him, and he told them that they did well not to commemorate Fr. Dudko. In short, he expressed himself in most clear terms concerning that whole episode. Indeed, Metropolitan Philaret was of the opinion that Fr. Dimitri was a "plant" of the Soviets, and that he was working for them in order to bring about confusion and dissent within the Russian diaspora. He had said this very thing to the bishops who met him upon his arrival at the West Coast -- and this at a time when Fr. Dimitri was still under arrest and had not publicly recanted. When questioned about his reasons for believing that Fr. Dudko was an agent (had the Metropolitan received some communication from the Soviet Union to this effect?), he answered simply that, no, he had not received any information concerning this, but he believed that it would be naive in the extreme for one to think that Fr. Dudko could be speaking and writing openly for such a long time under such a totalitarian regime, unless it were with the permission and approval of the Soviets. They could have silenced him from his very first sermon -- before he became known within the Soviet Union, let alone abroad.
Fathers Gleb Yakunin and Nicholai Eshlimann were suspended immediately after they wrote their one letter. Deacon Vladimir Rusak was likewise dismissed and suspended when it became known that he was writing a history of the Russian Church since the communist revolution. It does not take much intelligence, said the Metropolitan, to understand that this was a Soviet-engineered affair. It is precisely for this reason also that Metroplitan Philaret totally ignored the open letter which Fr. Dudko wrote to him and did not even deem it worthy of an answer.
Another example may be recounted demonstrating Metropolitan Philaret's response to the flock. It was reported in the religious press that Bishop Christopher of the Serbian Patriarchal Church had taken part in ecumenical services, with rabbis and women ministers as fellow-concelebrants. When this was brought up at a Synod meeting, it was at Metropolitan Philaret's suggestion that a letter was sent to the Patriarch of Serbia to bring this sad event to his attention. Patriarch German replied that he was unaware of the event and that it would be looked into.
Of course, at this time and in the years that followed -- as has been documented elsewhere on other occasions -- Patriarch German himself was guilty of such acts, and of acts far worse.
One can see from these few instances that Metropolitan Philaret was fully aware of developments in the ecclesiastical sphere, and that he was responding as a true pastor to the perils of Ecumenism and Communism.
On one occasion, Bishop Gregory -- who was then still Fr. George Grabbe -- was speaking with a visiting hierarch of the Old Calendar Church of Greece. The Greek bishop had expressed the view that more exactness and less economia should be observed concerning the nominal Orthodox who were involved in the Ecumenical Movement. Bishop Gregory responded, "The bolt is being tightened slowly but surely as time goes by." This impressed the Greek bishop very much. And truly, it reflected reality. With the Sorrowful Epistles, and with a continuous, meek, but courageous and resolute protest over the activities of Ecumenistic patriarchs and bishops, and over the blasphemous things written in the Thyateira Confession, and finally, with the 1983 Anathema of the heresy of Ecumenism and of its adherents and proponents, Metropolitan Philaret rightly earned the title "confessor of Orthodoxy" in this age of apostasy. It seems, however, that since his holy repose, the bolts have come loose; and, if one considers Metropolitan Vitaly's re-interpretation of the Anathema, the bolts have been completely removed.
You write that we "falsely accuse the hierarchy of our Church of being soft on ecumenism or of succumbing to it." Yet, some recent events attest that this is so. Just one episode which has come to our attention of late illustrates this point well.
Mr. John Gavalas, who is serving in the military and is stationed near Houston, Texas, was attending the Synod's parish of St. Vladimir served by Fr. John Valasek -- one of the three former Soviet churchmen who are presently serving in Synodal parishes in the United States. It should be noted that Mr. Gavalas has always been very respectful and supportive of Fr. John, to the degree that, as it was reported to us, at one parish meeting, where he defended Fr. John, he was almost physically assaulted by a parish board-member for this. At one Liturgy, an Egyptian Copt (i.e. Monophysite) approached and received Holy Communion. John reverently drew this to the attention of Fr. John, who did not see anything wrong in it. Whereupon, unsure of what to do, John telephoned his brother, Fr. Anthony Gavalas, in Astoria, N.Y., and asked him if he should continue attending services at this parish. Fr. Anthony was surprised, but before making any decision, he wished to verify what had happened. Thus, he telephoned Fr. John and politely inquired about this incident. He asked if the Coptic Monophysite had been received into the Orthodox Church. Fr. John became quite indignant that Fr. Anthony had even inquired. Because Fr. Anthony quietly protested over this incident, Fr. John told him, "This sounds like Fr. Panteleimon and the Boston monastery." (What a nice change, to be accused of defending Orthodoxy!). On his part, Fr. Anthony made an intelligent point when he told Fr. John, "The Egyptian Monophysites accept only three Ecumenical Councils, whereas the Roman Catholics accept all seven -- and have just added a few more of their own since then. Such being the case, why not give communion to them too?"
Fr. John retorted that he had a blessing to give communion to the Monophysite, and that he had received this blessing from no less than you yourself, Vladika.
That was the end of the telephone conversation.
Of course, since -- presumably -- none of your instructions to Fr. John regarding this matter are in writing, you could claim that you were misunderstood by him, or you could even deny that you gave such a blessing. This is precisely the very point that we are trying to make: if nothing is in writing in regard to these matters, then it may as well not exist. Anyone can interpret his bishop's verbal instructions as he pleases, or the bishop can even deny that he even gave such instructions. The result of this is not ecclesiastical order, but pandemonium.
Another indication of a change of attitude is Metropolitan Vitaly's
recent Nativity Epistle, quoted below. This Epistle well illustrates the
change, both in himself and in the direction of the Church Abroad. Here,
in part, is what this Epistle says:
At the present time the majority of local Churches have been shaken throughout by a dreadful twofold blow: the new calendar and the heresy of Ecumenism. Despite this lamentable situation, however, we dare not assert (and may God preserve us from this; for such is the duty only of an Ecumenical Council!) that they are devoid of the grace of God. We have pronounced an anathema upon the heresy of Ecumenism for the benefit of the faithful of our Church alone, yet we thereby also call upon the local Churches (in a modest but firm, gentle but decisive manner) to give serious thought to the implication of our action. This is the role of our small, modest, somewhat persecuted, but always vigilant, true Church. De facto, we can celebrate neither with new calendarists, nor with the Ecumenists; but if any one of our clergy, indulging in ecclesiastical leniency, [In the Epistle's Russian text, the term used here is "economy."] has ventured to take part in such a celebration, this isolated fact in no way affects our stand for the truth.
Here we must note that the phrase "the duty only of an Ecumenical Council" is not in the original Russian text of the this Epistle. In any case, this assertion is unfounded. Did any Ecumenical Council condemn the Roman Catholics and Protestants? Of course not. And yet what true Orthodox would claim that they are still part of the Church and have sacramental grace?
It is evident from this interpretation which the Metropolitan has given to the Anathema that he himself has adopted the mentality of those in the Synod who consider the Anathema little more than a piece of paper.
Certainly, as things have developed, it is apparent that, de facto, (to use Metropolitan Vitaly's own term), the Anathema has now become -- to use Fr. Michael Azkoul's words -- merely an act of "ecclesiastical bravado" (Fr. Michael Azkoul's letter to Metropolitan Vitaly, Dec. 2/15, 1986).
First of all, nowhere does the text of the Anathema say that it is only for the faithful of the Church Abroad. As we have written elsewhere, that's like saying: "I have a bottle of deadly poison here; but I am labelling this bottle 'Poison' for my children only." Secondly, an anathema is not an invitation to others to begin "giving serious thought" to the matter. An anathema is the Church's final verdict against a heresy and those who adhere to it and practice it. It attests to an existing fact (separation from the Church) brought about by the heresy itself, to use the expression of Fr. Michael Azkoul. If we are looking for calls to serious thought or "warnings," or "admonitions," then we have to look for something like St. Cyril of Alexandria's first two letters of admonition to Nestorius, or to Metropolitan Philaret's three sorrowful Epistles. Of course, an anathema is not a final judgment against an individual -- after all, individuals may repent of their error and return to the Church. But it is a final judgment against the heresy and those who persist unrepentantly in the heresy.
As Fr. Michael Azkoul wrote:
An anathema is not an opinion imposed on the Church, but drawn from her experience. It is a formal declaration of an established fact. If the Russian Church Abroad gave expression to her opposition to ecumenism, it is not because this group of bishops dislikes it; rather they have explicated the mind of the Church--- the universal Church, the Church in heaven and on earth. No local church may define doctrine for Israel. Thus, if the 1983 Anathema has any validity, it is valid because it is true---"true for the Holy Spirit and us."Everyone is bound, whether in the Russian Church Abroad or outside of her, by the Anathema; nay, every human being on the face of the earth is bound by the 1983 Anathema---just as every creature is bound to confess the Orthodox Faith. The Anathema is the voice of God--whoever may have composed it. It is disobeyed or ignored at one's own risk.
(Letter to John Hudanish, Jan. 9/22, 1987)
Thirdly, it is simply not true that, de facto the Synod clergy do not serve with New Calendarists and Ecumenists. They serve with them in almost every diocese of the Church Abroad, and neither are these incidents "isolated," as the Nativity Epistle asserts. Indeed, they are the norm in many dioceses, and furthermore, in the past year, they have increased on an episcopal level.
How different is the Metropolitan Vitaly of the Nativity Epistle of 1986 from the Archbishop Vitaly of 1983 who corrected a fellow-hierarch's misinterpretation of the Anathema (as we noted on p. 13 of this letter). In short, it is quite evident that what we have here is an "about face".
On page 2 of your letter you write:
If some of our bishops have erred as individuals (and what most of their critics call errors are really the differing opinions of the bishops concerning the use of economy), this does not change the general course of our Church, which condemns ecumenism and the innovations of ecclesiastical modernism."
Your explaining the actions of the bishops as a use of economy was an argument first used by our Fr. Panteleimon in his letter of March 17/30, 1982, to Eric Inglesby of England. This letter was printed in Orthodox Christian Witness (Oct. 3/16, 1983).
One can rightfully speak of the use of economia in our dealings with the Ecumenists up to the time of the condemnation of this heresy and the pronouncement of the 1983 Anathema. However, how is it possible after the issuing of the Anathema to still be speaking of economia regarding unrepentant Ecumenists? And what of Metroplitan Vitaly's promises to deal with these concelebrations "resolutely" -- especially since they are so wide-spread and are increasing on an episcopal level? As Fr. Michael Azkoul, a clergyman under the Synod, wrote above, "every human being on the face of the earth is bound by the 1983 Anathema."
This is the Orthodox understanding. This, also, is our answer to Metropolitan Vitaly's interpretation of the use, or rather abuse, of economia (or "ecclesiastical leniency") in his Nativity Epistle.
It is interesting to note here that during the second visit of the New England clergy with Metropolitan Vitaly, on September 3/16, 1986, the Metropolitan made an interesting comment. At the time, he himself did not believe the accusations against Fr. Panteleimon (he said that they were of the evil one), and he revealed to the clergy present that the real bone of contention was, as he put it, that many bishops felt that Fr. Panteleimon, the monastery, and many non-Russian clergy were in the foreground, whereas the bishops were in the background. They felt that since this was the Russian Church, this arrangement was irregular. The Russian bishops, said the Metropolitan, were the front-line troops. The others were only reserves; they should not be in the front line. In other words, the bishops felt threatened.
If this parable reflects reality, has it not occured to the good bishops why this is so? When the flock again and again address their concerns to the hierarchy, and either get no response, or a half-baked, muddled response, whereas whenever they address the same concerns to Fr. Panteleimon, the monastery, or our other clergy, they at least receive clear-cut and thought-out (if not always prompt) replies, whose fault is this? What is the monastery supposed to do? Slam the phone down whenever someone calls and asks for an answer to something to which his bishop does not respond?
Reflecting this attitude of "feeling threatened," Archimandrite Cyprian, the spiritual father of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, has on occasion expressed himself publicly to pilgrims, and boasted that "we have finally gotten rid of the Americans here, and thus they will not inherit our labors of so many years." This statement once elicited the following comment from one elderly Russian gentlemen, who said, "Yes, now the Soviet Jews can inherit your labors" -- thus alluding to the recent inundation of new immigrants from the Soviet Union who are of Jewish background and who have taken up residence at Jordanville.
We think that both comments are unfortunate and uncharitable. But what is really sad is that Metropolitan Vitaly has on occasion expressed the same sentiments, saying, "I don't know how he did it, but Archbishop Laurus should be congratulated for getting rid of all the Americans in the monastery."
It is evident that there is a certain paranoia and xenophobia in some quarters of the Synod. Has not the same mentality prevailed to a great degree at Synod headquarters in New York?
Well, we think that individuals of such a mentality should now feel relieved, since many of the non-Russians have left (if not been driven out), and now they can be in the front line and feel secure.
It is evident that, from the beginning, certain bishops and other individuals in the Synod resented the presence of the non-Russians, but they were in no position to be able to do anything about it. Fr. Neketas Palassis' letter of February 19/March 4, 1978, to Archbishop Laurus says much concerning this.
Dear Vladika, it has been reported to us that there are in existence three letters written by Metropolitan Philaret to various bishops. In these letters, he notes that Fr. Panteleimon and Holy Transfiguration Monastery are not liked by certain individuals within the Synod because the former are straight and speak the truth. A Synod clergyman who read these letters has informed us and others of their existence. It is also a known fact that, sometime before his blessed demise, Metropolitan Philaret said in confidence to Russian clergy who were close to him that three bishops of the Synod (and he named them) are "quite liberal," as he put it, and that one day there will be great problems because of them. With the blessed repose of Metropolitan Philaret, and of such hierarchs as Archbishop John Maximovitch, Archbishop Averky, Archbishop Andrew of Spring Valley, and the "retirement" of Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago and Bishop Gregory -- a whole era of the Russian Church Abroad has come to a close.
Vladika Hilarion, in your letter to Fr. Justin you speak of the "sudden" decision of our brotherhood to leave the Synod of Bishops. From all that has been recorded above, one can readily see that there was no sudden decision. If anything, it was a slow, and painful, and delayed decision. No other course was left to the clergy and the monastery. The clergy and the laity had exhausted all means of recourse. When people try to speak to their hierarchs, and the hierarchs refuse to hear them; when they send letters and the letters are returned unaccepted and unopened (as Bishop Alypy, and even Metropolitan Vitaly, have done); when they are prohibited from publishing and commenting on blatant ecumenical activities (as occured in the instance of the Orthodox Christian Witness), the message becomes only too clear -- these clergy and laity are not wanted.
In a few instances, some preceded us in leaving the Synod Abroad for conscience's sake (e.g. Fr. Gleb Jensen, who left the Synod's Canadian diocese some years ago). Of late (a little over a year ago), one clergyman left quietly without notifying anyone. He just retired "for reasons of health." Because of the great respect that he has for us, he told us that he could no longer in good conscience continue as a clergyman of the Synod Abroad, and if we ever decided to leave he asked us to get in touch with him.
Another clergyman also left for another jurisdiction during the past year -- with your knowledge and blessing in this instance -- and as soon as we left the Synod, he re-joined us.
Seeing, therefore, that there was no hope of matters being corrected in the Synod, and not wishing to see more and more clergy and faithful drifting off in different directions, we decided that the time had arrived for us to depart also.
Unfortunately, church matters cannot be governed or resolved by rumors and hearsay, by personal re-interpretations of canons and of Anathemas, and by returning letters unopened and refused. If some of the faithful and the clergy became grieved and exasperated over the past year because of this type of "pastoral" handling, who is to blame?
No, our departure was certainly not in haste, or sudden. When your pastors refuse to respond to you for months, then you have no choice but to find pastors who will respond.
Now that we have left, all of a sudden, there is an outpouring of pastoral concern from the Synod for our "eternal salvation," as you expressed it. For one year, we pleaded with you to visit us, to hear us and others, and you lent us a deaf ear. Where was your pastoral concern then? Is this how pastors respond to their flocks?
Of late, the Russian Orthodox parish of the Holy Resurrection in Worcester, Mass., also left the Synod. You yourself, Vladika, were well aware of its possible departure. It was neither "sudden," nor "in haste." A week before the parish left, you telephoned Fr. Victor Melehov and spoke with him. You knew very well his concern over certain matters in the Synod, but you gave him no straight-forward answers. In the beginning of the conversation, when Fr. Victor mentioned the clergy's grievances on matters of the faith as expressed in their letter of November 8/21, 1986, to Metropolitan Vitaly, you claimed ignorance of the contents of the letter and said that you had not seen it. You said that you had heard something concerning such a letter, but that the Metropolitan had somehow misplaced it somewhere, and could not find it.
Yet, it is a known fact that some weeks prior to this telephone conversation with Fr. Victor, you had been telephoning clergy and laypeople, and telling them that all the violations recorded in the above-mentioned letter were nothing but fabrications and lies.
Furthermore, in the long telephone conversation which you had with Fr. Victor, Fr. Victor said to you some time later in the conversation that "things are not resolved if they are not squarely faced and dealt with, or by pretending that they do not exist, or by saying that they are lies." You promptly replied, "But they are lies." Whereupon Fr. Victor reminded you that, at the beginning of the telephone conversation, you had claimed that you had never seen the letter and did not know its contents!
In any case, what was the Synod's "pastoral response" to the concerns which Fr. Victor expressed? One day before the Worcester parish was to have a meeting to decide what course it was to take, Fr. Victor received a telephone call from an "operator." The message which was conveyed to Fr. Victor by this means was a threatening note, alledgedly from Vladika Vitaly. Basically, it said, "If you have this meeting, consider yourself suspended from the priesthood."
What an outpouring of pastoral care! Since both Vladika Vitaly and you knew of Fr. Victor's concerns from a long time before, would it not have been in order for either of you to make a special trip to speak with Fr. Victor and the parish, to listen to what they had to say and to seek to try to re-assure them and answer their questions and concerns straight-forwardly and paternally? By showing such true concern, you might -- or might not -- have been able to sway the parish. Whether you did or did not is irrelevant -- at least you would have acted as fathers. Instead of this, threats.
At this point, Vladika, you will permit us to point out to you with all due respect and charity that, as deputy secretary of the Synod, you must have realized by now how much more care is needed regarding what you say during interviews with the Russian press (in order to avoid the need for later clarifications). Also, more care is needed with the chancery letters, some of which (as we mentioned earlier) have gone into their third edition (with constant revisions). Your "second edition" chancery letter, dated November 18/December 1, 1986 -- which nonetheless mentioned events which took place on December 12th n.s. -- caused some of the faithful to marvel at your apparent gift of clairvoyance. Others thought that perhaps the Synod's "pre-dating" machine was running a little fast. But others thought that it revealed considerable deviousness on your part. Thank God, at least in your "third edition," this particular bit of deviousness has been corrected -- but others remain.
It is evident that your letter to Fr. Justin, which was delivered to us by hand, was not really written for us, since it was circulated before we even received it. It was written for external consumption in your attempt to justify yourselves for the Synod's many misdeeds of the past year. If we have taken time out to answer it, it is for the sake of others to whom you have sent it and who have asked information from us. We have no intention of continuing any correspondence with yourselves. All our letters addressed to the Synod during the past year have remained unanswered on your part. Enough has been written. Now time will tell, for "the tree is known by its fruit," as our Saviour said.
Please forgive us if in any way we have grieved you, even as we forgive all that have grieved us in the past year.
Permit us, Vladika, to conclude this letter with a quote from an article
entitled "Reply of a Parishioner of the Russian Church Outside Russia to
the Appeal," written by Mr. A. Okhotnikov, a pious Russian Orthodox layman
who lives in Richmond Hill, New York. The above-mentioned article appeared
in Novoye Russkoye Slovo (Sept. 21, 1986), and, among other things,
says the following:
No one is trying to "undermine the authority" or "confidence in the hierarchy of the Church Outside Russia." If the hierarchy is acting incorrectly, then it is itself undermining its authority by its own actions. But the Church hierarchy should act in a spirit of love, like a father, not like a step-father. After all, we call the Church a mother, and not a step-mother. But if the pastors turn out to be step-fathers, and the Church acts like a step-mother, then the reaction of the "children" to the actions of such "parents" should be completely understandable -- in the present case [to the actions] of the archpastors of the Church Outside Russia who by their own actions are themselves undermining their authority in the eyes of the flock.
With respect, on behalf of the community of Holy Transfiguration Monastery
Fr. Isaac, Abbot
Fr. Ephraim, Grammateus
Fr. Justin, Priest-monk
P.S. Dear Vladika, we feel that enough has been said about these matters. However, should you wish to write anything more, please address it to our hierarchs.