Monday, October 21, 2013

A Letter to Father A.

A letter written by a monk of Holy Ascension Monastery, formerly a senior father at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, at the beginning of the second week of the Holy Fast, 2013. The recipient was a priest in the Holy Orthodox Church of North America,, referred to here as Fr. A.  The letter refers to two inmates in a state prison.  Here they have been assigned the names N. and M.  A letter quoted within the letter mentions two monks who left Holy Transfiguration Monastery.  They have been assigned the names Fr. X. and Fr. Y.

Dear to Christ Fr. A,


Enclosed you will find N.’s Baptismal Robe and Baptismal Cross. He requested that I send it to you. Also enclosed is Poland by James A. Michener which you kindly loaned to me a few years ago. I enjoyed it and learned quite a bit about Polish history of which I was largely ignorant.

My dear father and friend, I must confess that I am very disappointed that you never replied to any of my letters or emails, nor did you respond to my offer to meet you in person. Even if we were to disagree, I thought we had a stronger bond than that. Apparently I was mistaken.

In a letter postmarked February 28, I received a letter from M., a catechumen incarcerated in the same prison with N. It was you who read the catechumen prayer over him. In the letter, M. wrote:
N. told me the “New Story” of why HOCNA had this mishap. In N.’s own words this is what HOCNA instilled to his head:
“Fr. X and the others who broke away from HOCNA and went to the GOC tried to get HOCNA to switch to the GOC for several years now. When they saw their attempts to sway the leaders was not working, they had to do something. So they made up false accusations to break HOCNA apart and in the process broke all their vows to Christ.”
I can’t even start to believe this conspiracy theory! Hearing such a blasphemous prosecution (sic) my decision was made on the spot to follow the GOC with Fr. Y and yourself. I can’t see all the monks leaving the monastery on false accusations, especially with how much prayer was put into the decision….

On the 17th, I met with N. and asked him to respect my decision to follow the GOC. We agreed that we will not pass judgment on each other and will continue to meet to praise our Lord together with all differences aside. There will be no falling out between us 3, we are in a controlled environment and need each other as brothers…
In the meantime, N. received the attached letter along primary documents from me in which an exact chronology is given of the events that transpired at Holy Transfiguration Monastery from the autumn of 2011 to September of 2012. The entire letter follows this brief introduction. Since N.’s letter was public knowledge even before I received it, it is only fitting that I should share my reply with you. …..

After receiving my letter, N. wrote me a letter dated February 27 in which he states:
Perhaps you are right. I am in way over my head. I told you from day one I do not like religious controversy….I don’t like trouble for trouble’s sake…I humbly prostrate before you and ask your forgiveness…and all those who journeyed to Holy Ascension Monastery—if I have offended in my manner or said anything untrue. I simply cannot fathom this entire situation….What I cannot comprehend, that as learned as he is, is that Fr. A. remains faithful to HOCNA. So…I must take that into account. I will remain faithful to the jurisdiction of my baptism until God dissolves it. If the HOCNA is wrong, God will dissolve it, not man. If God takes HOCNA out of existence I will find my way to another jurisdiction…You have NOT become my enemy. I don’t agree with you and what steps you and the others took. I believe you could have all humbled yourselves as monks and allowed God to act.  

While N. may be sincere in his sentiments, I and the other fathers who painfully uprooted themselves from their home, in some cases of many decades, can only say that we certainly did give God time to act, and God revealed the canonical, dogmatic, and moral reasons why we could no longer remain at Holy Transfiguration Monastery or in the Holy Orthodox Church in North America.

In closing let me sum up everything in three statements: First, no one can convince me that the Optina Elders, St. Tikhon, St. Philaret, St. John Maximovich, St. Nikolai Velemirovic, St. Justin Popovic, St. Ieronymos of Aegina, Bishop Gregory Grabbe, Vladyka Averky, Vladyka Nikon, Vladyka Nectary, or Elder Joseph the Hesychast would have given Metropolitan Ephraim, Bishop Gregory, or Fr. Panteleimon any credence on their spin of what Bulatovich and his followers “really believed” nor their incredibly tenuous interpretation of St. Tikhon’s Nativity Epistle.

Secondly, I am at a loss how the bishops in HOCNA can recognize the GOC as being Orthodox, yet be completely arbitrary in what ways they are accountable to another Orthodox Church.

Thirdly, like it or not, we left ROCOR in 1986 primarily to avoid the case of Fr. Panteleimon being investigated by ROCOR. Fr. Panteleimon, the then monk Ephraim, Fr. Isaac, and a few others were able to convince us that ROCOR was quickly going very soft on Ecumenism and the MP. I read more and more information about what we so bitterly complained about in ROCOR in 1986 and found that the vast majority of them were things we had lived with and even justified for decades. We could have stayed in ROCOR another 10-15 years. Only in 2007, 21 years later, did the union with the MP take place.

What happened in 1986 was schism. It is a pity that Fr. Isaac and the then Monk Ephraim did not have enough integrity to ask for a canonical release from ROCOR and to also rectify Fr. Panteleimon’s problems by seeing that he was deposed and retired and received the proper spiritual remedies to help him repent. We then would have been on a solid foundation.

 I also recall reading a statement in the HTM archives that Bishop Gregory Grabbe was bewildered and disappointed “why we did not join the larger and much more decent synod under Archbishop Chrysostom II instead of Archbishop Auxentios.”

 I pointed out to Fr. Isaac the thing that literally made me ill was that we had gone into schism and perpetuated schism to cover Fr. Panteleimon. This is much larger than just “covering someone’s sins.” The leadership in 1986 were able to convince us that the whole case against Fr. Panteleimon was a shameless smear campaign to discredit the monastery. It is evident now that they actually had hidden motives unknown to us. And there are many victims, some of whom left monasticism or even left the church. That is a very heavy thing. Of course Fr. Isaac now claims that Fr. Panteleimon’s misdeeds have been “exaggerated,” but please give a good reason why I should believe Fr. Isaac since he has been so dishonest? Furthermore individual fathers, some of who are strangely still at HTM (classic Stockholm Syndrome?) told me absolutely shocking things that had happened to them.

There was no possible way I could continue to have Fr. Isaac, Metropolitan Ephraim, and Bishop Gregory as my spiritual leaders. Our Saviour commands us to love all and to have no one in contempt, and I struggle to do that with the help of His grace. But I would lie if I did not say I have complete and utter contempt for their pretensions to spiritual authority and I fear for their souls' salvation if they do not repent. HOCNA has absolutely no room to point fingers at whatever “problems” or “corruption” exists in the GOC real or imagined.

Both you and I know how severely our Saviour censured self-righteousness and hypocrisy. My baba was a very simple and pious peasant woman. She had an earthy and honest way of speaking. Once she said to me, “Honey, there is sh…. here and there is sh… there, there is sh…. everywhere, but it is better to deal with the sh…within the Church than outside of it.”

The final thing for me, dear father, was that the scandal and the immorality and the heresy were bad enough, but we were in schism and were perpetuating schism because of it, and that is the most serious sin of all. HOCNA may say they do not believe they are the only Orthodox Church left in the world, but they certainly act like it, and actions speak louder than words.

One last thing is that I have attended the Divine Liturgy at St. Marcella’s twice. I saw strangers being questioned at the chalice and gently being denied if they were not with the Old Calendar. A woman also came up to me trapeza and spontaneously related how she and her mother were estranged for years over the issue of the calendar, but in the end she came around, went to confession, and received Holy Communion with the Traditionalists. Fr. Agathangelos and Fr. Theologos have been to Greece several times. They saw the same thing there. So I have seen with my own eyes and heard from completely credible witnesses that it is not “open house” as Metropolitan Ephraim likes to claim. I know that even Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Isaac (and others) would use “pastoral discretion” in this matter.

As for Fr. Basil’s rants, know that I have a whole file of emails showing him to be all over the place. When he thought we would be able to expel “the two bishops and the two archimandrites” from the monastery he was on our side 100%. When he saw that he would lose his precious library because we had opted to leave at Fr. Isaac’s request rather than commence on a long ugly fight, he did a classic “180 degree turn.” Also Fr. Basil seems unaware of Archbishop Paul’s repentance and clarifications he made to the Holy Synod in Greece after some unguarded remarks to the press about “World Orthodoxy” and Patriarch Bartholomew.

Father A., I will continue to pray for you. I love you and your family dearly in the Lord. I fervently hope that with time cordial contact will resume between us, just as you have with various clergy in ROCOR and Bishop Anthony Gavalas. I sincerely ask your forgiveness as we enter the Holy and Great Fast.

Here follows an edited version of the letter I wrote to N. This is for your information since you are now essentially his new spiritual father.