Friday, January 4, 2013

A Call to Abide by the Canons and to Reject Heresy

Excerpts from a letter written by Archpriest John Fleser to the Holy Synod of HOCNA in October of 2012.

Metropolitan Ephraim
The Holy Orthodox Church in North America
86 Country Club Road Dedham, MA 02026

Your Eminence:

I have just been made aware that a draft copy of my letter was, without my knowledge or consent, sent to laity. I learned of this on Saturday, October 20, 2012. The following is the corrected letter.

I am sending this directly to you for you are the President of the synod; however, I am also sending a copy to Metropolitan Makarios and Bishop Gregory. Because these topics are of importance for all the clergy and faithful in our Church, I will make this available to them as well.

At the synaxis, October 5 and 6 of this year, the only topic that was discussed for two days was the Name Worshipping controversy. The accusations against Father Pateleimon were only mentioned by Metropolitan Makarios in his statement just before his departure to return to Toronto. I want to address the two issues, Name-worshipping and Father Panteleimon in this letter.

At the Synaxis you stated, as you have on other occasions, that our opinions have no value, rather, only what the Holy Fathers and the councils teach determines the teaching of the Church. You and Bishop Gregory then presented your opinions regarding the Russian council's decisions in 1913 as to why you rejected their statements regarding Name-worshippers. (Metropoolitan Makarios made no comments during the two days except shortly before he left to return to Toronto.) These were your opinions because from what you presented, you, Metropolitan Makarios and Bishop Gregory are the only three bishops in North America who have come to this conclusion in one hundred years.. (It is interesting to note, Bishop Gregory Lourie in Russia agrees with your position.) Because so much was said at the Synaxis and because many articles written regarding this matter have been distributed on both sides, it has taken time to read and comprehend what is the issue. Even after the Synaxis there are clergy who do not understand your position and why many monks have left Holy Transfiguration monastery and why many of your priests and parishes have departed from the Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Boston.

[Five pages on the name-worshipping controversy are omitted here]

In late afternoon on Saturday, October 6, you, Metropolitan Ephraim, were asked this question: Is name worshipping a heresy? When it was repeated a second time you said, ―Yes, it is a heresy, how many times do we have to say it before you people understand what we are saying?  You were then asked, ―Put it in writing. To that you did not reply. To date you have not put in writing that Name-worshipping is a heresy. You have stated that the hierarchs of the Holy Orthodox Church in North America are not Name-worshippers, but that does not mean you agree that Name-worshipping is a heresy. Since you have said, before the clergy and bishops, that Name-worshipping is a heresy, I ask you to state clearly and unequivocally, that Name-worshipping is a heresy.

To the second issue: Father Panteleimon. The issue is not Father Panteleimon, it is what you, Metropolitan Ephraim, and Father Isaac did after you learned of his transgressions. The clergy and laity who have known the fathers at the monastery for many years reacted when they heard there was truth in the accusations against Father Panteleimon. Their initial response, from the majority of them, was, ―It is not true, this is a slander against Father Panteleimon, etc. It is understandable as to why they responded as they did, yet, it turns out that in fact there was truth in the accusations.

It is helpful to read the following from the Gospel of Luke:
And one of the malefactors which were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Amen I say unto thee, Today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.
Luke 23:39-42

The one thief on the cross recognized the consequences of his action; for this reason he said, And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: It is exactly this point that has been ignored in the case of Father Panteleimon. St. John Chrysostom wrote: ―He (Christ) did not say: I deliver you from damnation and from punishment; rather, He puts him into paradise as a righteous man. Did you see that he became righteous through confession?‖ (On Repentance and Almsgiving, The Fathers of the Church, pg. 117.)

If there was truth in the accusations against Father Panteleimon then, as you stated in your letter to the faithful dated September 1, 2012: ―The truth is that some fathers of the Monastery have requested that Fr. Panteleimon retire from the Monastery for reasons that are under investigation by the bishops. This investigation never took place and as a result the faithful have heard mixed statements regarding this matter. Father Panteleimon, by his own actions, falls under the canons of the Church and he should be held accountable for what he has done.

A chronology of events:

  • August 20, 21, 2012: the monks' depositions regarding Father Panteleimon were given to you, Metropolitan Ephraim, as you had requested (this fact that you had been given 8 depositions from the monks became known to the clergy only after the September 1 meeting.).
  • August 23, 2012, a copy of one deposition was faxed to Metropolitan Makarios in Toronto at the St. Nicholas House.
  • Saturday, August 25, 2012: a meeting was held at Holy Transfiguration monastery with you, Metropolitan Ephraim, Father Isaac, Father Barsanuphius and 10 clergy. At this meeting Father Isaac stated there was truth in the accusations against Father Panteleimon and he asked forgiveness for having covered up his transgressions. He wept as he asked forgiveness. You, Metropolitan Ephraim, said no monk had said anything to you or given you any statements; you then corrected yourself and said that Father Elias, Metropolitan Moses‘ brother, did give you a letter on his return to the monastery (this was a number of years ago) but you did not investigate or make further inquiry into it. The clergy said this should be dealt with at the monastery and appropriate action should be taken, namely, Father Panteleimon should be deposed. The matter was to be discussed at a scheduled meeting of all the clergy in the area on Saturday, September 1, 2012.
  • Saturday, September 1, 2012: Present were Metropolitan Ephraim, Bishops Demetrius and Gregory, Father Isaac and 18 clergy. Once again when the issue of Father Panteleimon was raised, Father Isaac, with great remorse, asked forgiveness from all present for having covered up Father Panteleimon‘s transgressions. All the clergy were in agreement this matter should be handled discreetly and Father Panteleimon should be deposed and retire to the skete in Maine. At the end of the meeting a draft letter was composed and given to the bishops to go over and send out. That same evening a letter to the faithful was sent out signed by all three bishops. The above quote regarding the investigation was in that letter; however, no investigation was ever conducted.
  • September 11/August 29, 2012: Synodal Statement regarding Father Panteleimon said: ―With regard to Father Panteleimon, the Holy Synod has resolved to accept his resignation from the priesthood and his retirement so that he would live out his last days in solitude and hesychia. This raises many questions, e.g..; Why would a priest resign from the priesthood when he retires? How does a priest resign from the priesthood? What canons give this privilege to a priest to resign from the priesthood?
The fact that you have refused to look into the accusations against Father Panteleimon has caused confusion and doubt among the clergy, but also among the faithful because you have deliberately covered up Father Panteleimon‘s transgressions. No one is interested in his transgressions and that has been stated clearly at each of the meetings with the clergy, however, the clergy did ask that appropriate discipline be taken against Father Panteleimon according to the canons. I spoke twice with Father Panteleimon over the phone prior to the Synaxis. He advised me he was writing a letter and the monastery was typing it and he would sign it on Monday, October 1, when he came into Boston for a doctor's appointment. I asked him if Father Isaac could make the letter available to everyone, and he said, ―Yes. I also advised him of what Father Isaac said at the meeting regarding himself; Father Panteleimon said he was at the skete and the matter was between Father Isaac and the clergy, he offered no further comment.

In your 3rd Confession of Faith you stated the following:
In this my confession of the holy Faith, I promise to observe the Canons of the holy Apostles, and of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and of the holy Local Councils, the traditions of the Church, and the decrees, orders and rulings of the Holy Fathers. And all things whatsoever they have accepted I also accept; and whatsoever things they have rejected those also do I reject.

I promise also to preserve the peace of the Church, and firmly and zealously to teach the people entrusted to me, and not to devise anything whatsoever which is contrary to the Orthodox Catholic Christian Faith all the days of my life; and that I will, in all things, follow and always obey the Most Holy Synod; and ...And I promise to rule the flock committed unto me with the fear of God and in devoutness of life; and with all diligent heed to guard it against all heresies of doctrine…

I promise to visit and watch over the flock now confided to me, after the manner of the Apostles, to discern whether they remain true to the Faith, and in the exercise of good works, more especially the Priests; and to inspect with diligence, and to exhort and inhibit, that there may be no schisms, superstitions and impious veneration, and that no customs contrary to Christian piety and good morals may injure Christian conduct.

And all those things, my bounden duty, which I have this day promised in word, I also promise to perform in deed unto my uttermost breath, for the sake of the covenanted good things to come. And may God, Who seeth the heart, be the witness to my vow.
Your action to do nothing except deflect attention to other matters has made some clergy to question your moral authority in resolving conflicts and following the canons of the Orthodox Church.

I still believe you can reinstall peace in our Church, if you respond to my following two requests:

1) State in writing what you have said verbally: The Synod of HOCNA condemns the heresy of name-worshipping.

2) Explain why you have refused to investigate the accusations against Father Panteleimon when you have been given depositions from the monks and heard Father Isaac‘s witness to the truth of those accusations in front of three bishops and eighteen clergy. Father Isaac has admitted to several laity that the accusations against Father Panteleimon are true. Is it so difficult to admit that there is truth in the accusations and that you have mismanaged the handling of the charges for not taking corrective action immediately?

Since September, seventeen monks (eleven schema monks and of those, seven were clergy), and seven parish clergy and three parishes (these numbers may be incorrect) have left the Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, yet the Holy Synod is acting as if there is nothing to be concerned about. At your consecration you promised ―to preserve the peace of the Church‖; your position is to see only fault with all those who have left, never believing that you, our bishops, were at fault in anything. You are falling into the same pattern as when 10 monks left the monastery years ago; find fault with them, slander them and accuse them unjustly.

Metropolitan Ephraim, all this division that has taken place could have been avoided if you had followed the canons of the Church; and the directives of the Holy Synod: it is still possible to heal the wounds if you would admit to your mistakes and respond to the above requests.

Your unworthy servant in Christ,

Father John Fleser
Parish Priest
St. Anna‘s Orthodox Church