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Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils
13/26 July, 1992

 


Dear Bishop Hilarion,

We received your Appeal, and we welcome this opportunity to respond to you. Years ago, when our clergy and laypeople were addressing our own appeals to the ROCA hierarchy, we were oftentimes rebuffed, and, in many cases, our letters were returned to us unopened. The only formal response received for all of our labors was a civil law suit from Metropolitan Vitaly aimed at taking away our parish property. Perhaps now that the court has ruled against the ROCA in this matter, the ROCA is attempting to resort to more civil means of communication. In any case, we hope that your letter is a sign that your unpastoral policy of the past, so unworthy of hierarchs, has been abandoned.

Let us begin with your reference to the ROCA's handling of the moral charges against Fr. Panteleimon. Your letter, unfortunately, reveals that you are either badly misinformed or purposely deceitful regarding the facts of the case and how such matters are handled. In either case, your treatment of this subject really cannot be defended. (This reminds us of your December; 1986, "chancery letters" which went into their second and third editions, with constant revisions. Remember the one that was dated "Nov. 18/Dec. 1, 1986" and yet mentioned events that took place on December 12th n.s.?)

Contrary to what you write, the ROCA hierarchy, had no intention of conducting a canonical trial for Fr. Panteleimon. At least, people close to Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles have affirmed before many of our people that the reason they left the ROCA was because Archbishop Anthony unequivocally told them that the ROCA bishops had no intention of having a canonical trial for Fr. Panteleimon because he was guilty! Such being the case, it seems clear that either you or Archbishop Anthony are not telling the truth.

Also, although you may not be aware of this (even as the other ROCA bishops apparently were not aware at the time), there are canons which determine how a canonical trial is carried out, and they stipulate that no deposition of a clergyman is valid if the court has been improperly constituted, or if improper accusers or witnesses have been admitted, for example, those who are not of good repute, not Orthodox, not of unimpeachable character, or if the person judged is not present, nor had the opportunity to prepare his own defence and to call his own witnesses, or when he is not formally and properly informed in writing of the charges against him, as even common civility would require. If you wish, we can supply you with a list of these holy canons, as well as their interpretation by the recognized canon law experts of the Church: Balsamon, Aristinos, Zonaras and Milosh.

In Church law and also in the Athonite Typicon, when a clergyman or 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. Although on May 20/June 2, 1986, Metropolitan Vitaly told members of Holy Transfiguration Monastery that a bishop would visit the monastery as part of an investigative committee, and although the monastery continuously requested such a visit for over eleven months, the visit never materialized. The bishops - we were told were too busy with "pressing church matters" (e.g., visiting the Russian Cadets in Montreal).

Also, both "investigating bishops" (Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles and Bishop Alypy of Cleveland) - as many clergymen and laypeople can testify - were involved in a campaign of slander against Fr. Panteleimon during this alleged investigation. In fact, it is quite clear to all of us that, to this very day, those who are associated with the ROCA really seem unable to distinguish between a canonical trial and a smear campaign.

As for the ROCA relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, it would be helpful here to recall Metropolitan Anastassy's Will and Testament:

As regards the Moscow Patriarchate and its hierarchs, so long as they continue in close, active and benevolent co-operation with the Soviet Government. . . the Church Abroad, maintaining her purity, must not have any canonical, liturgical or even simply external communion with them whatsoever. . .
Fr. Victor Potapov, a leading ROCA clergyman and dean of the cathedral in Washington, D.C., in his letter of 15/28 August, 1985, to Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) wrote that Metropolitan Anastassy's Will and Testament was the Metropolitan's own "personal opinion" and that times had changed. This was his justification for visiting the Soviet Union in 1984 and contacting Soviet churchmen. This was also his justification for visiting the Soviet Gorny Convent in Israel in 1985 and 1987. During one of his visits there, Fr. Victor served a memorial service (Litya) for two Soviet nuns.

No canonical action was ever taken against Fr. Victor Potapov for these violations.

In his letter of 17 December, 1986, to Metropolitan Vitaly, Fr. George Kochergin wrote:

In answer to my question: Why is it now that in written articles and (church) appeals the Moscow Patriarchate is referred to as the Russian Mother Church and our Russian Church Abroad is called the free segment of the Russian Mother Church, when in the past with our first-hierarchs, Metr. Philaret and Metr. Anastassy, the Moscow Patriarchate was called the non-canonical church, the church-of-falsehood, upon which the Holy Patriarch Tikhon had proclaimed an anathema.

Your reply did not refute this new interpretation of the Moscow Patriarchate, and was as follows: the Moscow Patriarchate is comprised of three groups of clergy. In the first group are those that are dedicated to the Soviet Government; they execute everything with loyalty to her. In the second group the clergy is also submissive to the Soviet Government, but on occasion some of them will exhibit non-loyalty, viz., will say a good (spiritual in value) sermon or something else that is Christian, etc. The third group contains those that are not submissive to the Soviet Rule and perform their "spiritual" work in spite [of the government]. Also you added, that the Catacomb Church is found in this third group of the Moscow Patriarchate and not somewhere underground.

With this, your new outlook, the Moscow Patriarchate is justified. Her non-canonical credentials are erased, for within her boundaries is placed "the Catacomb Church". How is this possible?! The Catacomb Church proclaimed anathema on the Soviet Church! The Catacomb Church spilled rivers of blood of thousands of her clerics and hundreds of thousands of laity in protest to Sergius. Metropolitans Anastassy and Philaret of blessed memory left the will and testament for us never to have any communion with the Soviet atheist-church and her clergy!

Others abroad also noted this change of attitude in the ROCA. The French periodical La Lumiere du Tabor (No. 20, 4th Quarter, 1988, pp. 86-88) wrote the following:
Fr. Victor Potapov, in an article published in Novoye Russkoye Slovo, 9 August 1988, p. 16, does not distinguish at all between the Russian Church outside of Russia and the Soviet Church. Concerning the latter and its mistakes during the Stalinist period, he says: "I suffer for the Church of which I am a member." Such a position by Fr. Victor Potapov has not been challenged by the hierarchy of the ROCA, which acts as if it has not seen this priest call himself a member of two Churches which are not in communion.

Even more serious is the fact that this same priest interviewed Metropolitan Vitaly "about the petition of Frs. Gleb Yakunin and Nikolai Gainov asking the Soviet hierarchy to condemn Patriarch Alexis's personality cult toward Stalin"; these priests clumsily said that one is dealing here with a "sin of which the Church had not repented." Regarding this, Metropolitan Vitaly still more clumsily answered: "The Church cannot repent: the Church is without fault; the Church is Christ Himself." In other words, by this [ambiguous] answer he seems completely to recognize the Soviet Church as the Russian Church.

Therefore, it is not as if the ROCA's conduct was chronicled and protested only locally, as a result of Holy Transfiguration Monastery's influence. The parishes in France also left the ROCA for Archbishop Auxentios much later than our Holy Resurrection parish, but for the same reasons. Similarly, catacomb Christians in Russia, who had no contact with, nor knowledge of, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, came to the exact same conclusion as our parish did regarding the ROCA under the new administration of Metropolitan Vitaly. Having heard of our stand and confession, they sought us out and subsequently were received by our hierarchs.

You complain of being "bitterly attacked by the Moscow Patriarchate." The only "bitter" attacks and counterattacks between the ROCA and the Moscow Patriarchate have been over properties. Sadly enough, the issues have not been over matters of faith, but rather over who will serve under which golden cupola or who can seize the most historic setting.

Recently also, in the April 10, 1992 issue of Novoye Russkoye Slovo, a first-hand witness describes four meetings that have taken place since August of 1991 between clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCA clergy. Initially, after the first meeting, the ROCA announced that these proceedings were "unauthorized." We could understand if one isolated meeting - or, perhaps, even two - slipped by without the bishops' notice. But four? Who does the ROCA think it is fooling? And, to date, no canonical action has been taken against these clergy.

If nothing else, what has happened to the Anathema against Ecumenism? How can the ROCA clergy obstinately continue to have "dialogues" with clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate on any level, official or unofficial, so long as the Moscow Patriarchate stubbornly persists in its Ecumenism and its members hip in the WCC?

And this brings us to the final point: the ROCA's relations with ecumenistic church bodies and its re-interpretation of the Anathema against ecumenism.

Our clergy have enumerated over thirty instances of violations of the Anathema. The ROCA never responded to any of our concerns.

Let us refresh your memory with the recounting of just a few of these violations:

1. Archbishop Paul of Australia concelebrated with an ecumenist Serbian bishop in Australia. Despite the fact that this was reported in Pravoslavnaia Rus (January, 1986), Metropolitan Vitaly claimed ignorance about it. No public rebuke of Archbishop Paul was ever issued over this.

2. On the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1986, Bishop Alypy was present with and prayed together with new calendar ecumenists in Chicago. No public rebuke or correction was ever issued over this matter.

3. Archbishop Anthony of Geneva re-issued an old encyclical, which stated that it was permitted to concelebrate with new calendarist (i.e., ecumenist) clergy. No public rebuke or correction was ever issued over this matter.

4. You yourself, Bishop Hilarion, gave your blessing to a Monophysite to continue receiving Communion in the Russian Synod parish in Houston, Texas. No public rebuke or correction was ever issued over this matter.

5. In October of 1986, Bishop Alypy announced that "the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad does not judge any other jurisdiction as being . . . in heresy" (Orthodox America, October 1986). No public rebuke or correction was ever issued over this matter.

After we left, this new course continued with greater impetus.

6. Metropolitan Vitaly issued his infamous Nativity Encyclical of 1986, which overturned the meaning of the word "anathema." As the article in the Orthodox Christian Witness (February 16/March 1, 1987) observed at the time:

In this Epistle [Metropolitan Vitaly] introduces a different meaning into the term "anathema": he speaks of an anathema as an invitation to other local Orthodox churches to "give serious thought" in regard to the heresy of Ecumenism; but was this not the function of our late Metropolitan Philaret's sequence of Sorrowful Epistles? . . . An anathema is not an admonition or a warning at all; it is the final act after all admonitions and warnings have been ignored. . . [Metropolitan Vitaly] states that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia de facto does not concelebrate with the other local churches, but here he is unfortunately in error. In principal the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia should not concelebrate with those of other local churches, but in fact (the meaning of de facto) they do concelebrate.
In the same encyclical, Metropolitan Vitaly re-interpreted the word "economia" in a manner totally foreign to the practice and teachings of the Orthodox Church.

No retraction was ever made of this Encyclical. (We shall return to this subject.)

7. In Church Life (Numbers 1 and 2, January-April, 1987), a publication of the ROCA, the entire hierarchy of the Church Abroad announced their "Resolution" to officially commend Fr. Alexander Lebedev for the letter he wrote against us. In this letter, Fr. Alexander writes that it is permitted to give Communion to "Orthodox" of ecumenist jurisdictions. No retraction was ever made of this "Resolution."

8. In the Russian periodical Trezvon (Numbers 73 and 74), Fr. Victor Potapov, dean of the Russian Synod Cathedral in Washington, D.C., reported favorably on the apparitions at Fatima, which, of course, promote the Roman Catholic doctrines of purgatory and papal primacy. No public rebuke of Fr. Victor Porapov was ever issued over this.

9. On July 17, 1988, the same Fr. Victor Potapov celebrated a joint wedding service with an Episcopalian minister. (We have a videotape of this service.) Again, no public rebuke was ever issued over this matter. On the contrary, the one who was officially rebuked by the ROCA hierarchy was the one who reported and protested over this travesty! (See your letter of 2/15 October 1988 to Marushka Anastasia G. Shatilova.)

There are many other such incidents and statements as well. If these official Encyclicals and Resolutions and statements of the ROCA hierarchy are not a serious and consistent violation of Orthodoxy, then what is?

Other former ROCA clergy, such as Fr. Michael Azkoul, and Fr. Seraphim Johnson, and the French clergy, came to the very same conclusions about these matters and left your jurisdiction long after we did, after they gave up hope of seeing any correction.

As regards your re-interpretation of the Anathema against Ecumenism, here is what Demetra Frost, one of our parishioners in Ipswich wrote regarding a jurisdiction (your own) "that has no problem compromising with Ecumenism - by 'economia,' of course." The ROCA, she writes,

has conveniently forgotten the clear meaning of "anathema"[1] - in particular Metropolitan Philaret's 1983 Anathema Against Ecumenism - and is trying to negate it by such "weasel words"[2] as Metr. Vitaly's Nativity Encyclical and others. The Russian Church of 1899 called an anathema "the cutting off of a person from the fellowship of the Church" but the Russian Church Abroad of 1992 views it "as a means of calling the erring back to the Holy Church" [italics ours]. Only "the more immoderate Greeks, seem to treat it as a device to exclude others from the Church"![3] (Were the Russians of 1899 "immoderate Greeks"?) The grave sins for which the Church reserves an anathema (i.e. concelebration with heretics) are presented to us now as mere "infractions." The Anathema Against Ecumenism has suddenly become subject (Episcopalian-style) to each bishop's "interpretation."
Dear Bishop Hilarion, it is your privilege, of course, to remain in communion with bishops and jurisdictions committed to a condemned heresy. Ecumenism (see, for example, the shameful betrayal of Orthodoxy in the official Agreed Statement with the Monophysites, signed also by a high-ranking clergyman of the Serbian Patriarchate; or, the equally disgraceful and openly ecumenistic Summit Message issued recently from the Phanar in Constantinople, and signed by the Patriarchs of Serbia and of Jerusalem, and almost all the other heads of the autocephalous "Orthodox" churches).

But, by the same token, it is also our privilege and duty to follow, not personal re-interpretations or opinions, but the teachings of the Church Fathers in these matters. The following quote from Saint Basil the Great applies directly to the ROCA:

As for all those who pretend to confess the sound Orthodox Faith, but are in communion with people who hold a different opinion, if they are forewarned and still remain stubborn, you must not only not be in communion with them, but you must not even call them brothers.
 


(Patr. Orientalis, Vol. 17, p. 303)

Dear Vladika, it has been a pleasure writing to you. We will be very happy to keep up this correspondence, just as long it is based on the holy canons and teachings of the Church Fathers, and not on your own personal opinions about what constitutes Orthodox Christianity.

We greet you sincerely and hope that you are well.

Protopriest Victor Melehov, Rector,
Clergy and Parishioners of the
Russian Orthodox Church
of the Holy Resurrection
[1] Here is the meaning, from a Russian publication printed long before the "new policy" took over the Russian Church (Abroad)! "Anathema - Gk. anathema, means the cutting off of a person from the fellowship of the Church, and, consequently, from the communion of the faith and of the saving mysteries; it is the giving over of the one cut off to the judgment of God, as is evident in I Cor. 16:22. With the same force "anathema" is said in the councils to heretics who have not repented [italics ours]. See The Acts of the Councils in the Rudder." From the Complete Church-Slavonic Dictionary [Slavonic/Russian], compiled by Priest Grigorij D'jachenko. Moscow: 1899.

[2] "Weasel-word (U.S.), a word which destroys the force of a statement, as a weasel ruins an egg by sucking out its contents. Hence Weasel v., to deprive of its meaning by using weasel-words." The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1973).

[3] Answers to Questions Posed by the Faithful of the Orthodox Parish in Somerville, South Carolina, dated Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers 1992, signed by Bishop Hilarion of the ROCA, p. 2.