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March 28, 1991

Dear Mr.

Your letter leaves me a bit puzzled, since I cannot remember that any article or letter or letter appeared in the Orthodox Christian Witness in the last year. In fact, I asked Fr. Neketas about it, and he also was unable to remember any such letter. Perhaps you have in mind the letter by Fr. Seraphim Chewning, rather than one by me.

However, since you saw fit to ask me your question, I will attempt to respond to it as best I can. It is true that at the time I left the ROCOR and joined Archbishop Auxentios, Bishop Gabriel of Portugal was a member of the Archbishop's synod. You mention that he boasted of his friendship with various ecumenically inclined figures, but you do not say if he concelebrated with them. Furthermore, the Archbishop had accepted Bishop Gabriel and his group on the assurance that they were faithful to Orthodoxy and not involved in Ecumenism. Of course, it was difficult for him to monitor their day-to-day activities, since they were far away, and there was no language in common. When the American and French clergy questioned Archbishop Auxentios about the Portuguese situation, he instructed them to present him with evidence of wrong-doing, not just hearsay, and he would take corrective action if necessary. When such evidence was collected and presented to him, the Archbishop ordered Bishop Gabriel to come to Greece and answer the complaints. Bishop Gabriel did not appear when he was summoned, so he and his followers were dropped from the Synod of the True Orthodox Church of Greece. From this we can conclude that Archbishop Auxentios was: a) trusting when someone assured him of his devotion to the faith; b) cautious when accusations were made against a member of his synod; c) ready to investigate reputable charges supported by evidence; and d) ready to exclude from his synod those who violated Orthodoxy. In addition, the Archbishop's synod has a very clear oath against Ecumenism which each clergyman must sign when requesting admission; this oath defines Ecumenism, and forbids contact with members of the World Council of Churches. If a clergyman violates this sworn oath, it is on his conscience.

Now, let us contrast this with the actions of the ROCOR when questions were raised about ecumenical activities, not in some far off country, but in the U.S.A. and in Western Europe. Initially they denied that any contacts with ecumenical Orthodox were taking place. Then they admitted that they were in communion with a member-Church in the World Council of Churches (the Serbian Patriarchate), but claimed that this didn't matter because they didn't serve with the Serbian Church very often anyway. Then they published a letter by Fr. Alexander Lebedev in Orthodox Life in which he claimed that the ROCOR recognized the validity of all other Orthodox jurisdictions, whatever their involvement in Ecumenism. (This in fact contradicted the ROCOR's earlier practice of accepting clergy from those churches without canonical releases on the grounds of the heretical positions of those churches.) Metropolitan Vitaly then published his Nativity Encyclical in which he denied that the condemnation of Ecumenism applied outside the ROCOR at all, stated that the ROCOR did not serve with ecumenical Orthodox, and added that when it did, it was by economy. Of course, this use of economy would justify serving with Roman Catholics and Protestants, which is in fact what happened when a joint ROCOR-Episcopalian wedding was held in the St. John the Baptist Church in Washington, D.C — there was no official reaction to this wedding by any ROCOR hierarch.[*]

From this comparison I hope you will be able to see the difference between the two churches: Archbishop Auxentios acted immediately to correct a situation when he was made aware of it. The ROCOR denied that there was a problem; said it never served with ecumenists; admitted that when it did, it did so by "economy”; and added that it didn’t do it very often, anyway. When I contrasted the two positions, it was clear to me which one was concerned with preserving Orthodoxy and which was concerned with saving face.

I hope this answers your question satisfactorily. I must tell you that I do not have the time to engage in polemics about this matter, so if you do not find my answer sufficient, I suggest that you discuss the situation with Bishop Ephraim.

Sincerely yours,

Priest Seraphim Johnson

[*] Actually, there was an official reaction from Bishop Hilarion, the Assistant Secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR. In a letter to Matushka Anastasia Schatilova (2/5 October 1998), Bishop Hilarion ordered her to print a retraction of her report of this wedding, and he affirmed that a “thorough investigation” had demonstrated that her report did “not correspond to reality.” However, a video-tape of the wedding showed clearly that the service had indeed taken place as reported.