Monday, October 21, 2013

From Fr. Nicholas to Bishop Gregory

August 16/29, 2012 Feast of the Icon of the Lord “Not Made By Hands”

To Bishop Gregory of Concord

Dear Despota, Bless!

Ever since the meeting between you, Metropolitan Ephraim, myself and Fr. Isaac a few weeks ago, I have been wanting to write to you about some of the things said then.

On a personal level I have always greatly valued our friendship, and I felt that we had a good rapport. Of late, however, some of your actions and statements have caused me bewilderment and sadness. It is those that I wish to speak about here.

At our meeting in the HTM library, and then later in your cell, you expressed your respect for Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, and you stated that no one could question it, since you had translated our synod’s resolution on The Dogma of Redemption into Georgian. We appreciated your labors at that time and expressed our gratitude to you then.

But let’s be honest, you translated the synodal resolution into Georgian not out of a deep and intrinsic respect for Metropolitan Anthony, but in order to keep peace in our Church, and to calm the Georgian flock, which had been stirred up against Metropolitan Anthony and his Dogma of Redemption by meddling busybodies, such as the then still layman, Basil Lourie. (See appended copy of his letter to the Georgian clergy.) Glory and honor to you for having helped to establish peace and understanding on that issue. But let’s not portray it now as something that it was not.

You may indeed have a general respect for Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky as a prominent ecclesiastical figure in the recent history of the Russian Orthodox Church, but you lack that deep reverence and love of him and his teachings which was inculcated in the rest of us by our ever-memorable hierarchs of the “old” ROCOR, and by Fr. Panteleimon himself (at least, in former times). It was, perhaps, a small thing, but it did not go unnoticed among the brethren that neither you nor Fr. Panteleimon bothered to remain to the end of Midnight Liturgy in order to perform the memorial service for Metropolitan Anthony on the recent anniversary of his repose.

As for your claim that you never made the disparaging remark about me that “he’s a product of ROCOR”, I had that information from the one who heard it directly from you. And I consider him to be a trustworthy and reputable source. But I myself — as one who often heedlessly blurts out whatever is on my mind, and then forgets about it — can quite well understand that you have no recollection of ever having made such a statement. And I did not take it to heart, anyway. Actually, I considered it a compliment of sorts.

But then, your ignorance of the “old days” is not entirely your fault, since you were all of three weeks old in February of 1979, when I entered the monastery as a grown man. So I know very well indeed what was the ethos at the monastery and within ROCOR at that time — I lived it. I remember quite well what we stood for, what we believed, what we taught others then, and what was our confession of faith. But, sadly, it’s been changing of late…

The memory of one incident involving you (when you were still just a novice), which took place in the Coach House breakfast room at HTM, has remained with all those who were present. We were discussing Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, and someone mentioned praying for him. I then interjected that one could almost pray to him. At that point you let out a shocked gasp and asked incredulously: “You could?!!” To be very frank with you, your shock over my comment in turn deeply shocked all of us. Fr. Sergius, Fr. Ignatius and I exchanged the same glance, full of surprise and dismay. We all thought to ourselves: “This does not bode well for the future!” Little did we imagine back then that things would reach the sad point where we are now.

And how is one to explain the source or cause of the awful disparaging remarks which Fr. Panteleimon now makes to people concerning Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky? Remarks for which we would have been given a severe dressing down and an epitimia by him in days gone by! Who could have imagined back then that the time would come when the junior members of the brotherhood would find themselves in the position of having to defend the memory of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky to their hierarchs and superiors, especially to Fr. Panteleimon, of all people?! It boggles the mind. And one can’t help but recall those grave words of St. Paul: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you…”

It has grieved me greatly over the years to watch as Fr. Panteleimon’s previously reverent feelings toward Metropolitan Anthony gradually changed 180° (despite occasional public protestations to the contrary by you and him). The same can be said of Fr. Panteleimon’s perspective on name-worshipping. Incrementally, it was being chipped away, and I felt helpless to halt or resist the process. I had neither the time nor the energy to concentrate on combatting it. And once Fr. Panteleimon has something in his mind, no amount of negative “proof” will dissuade him. However, I did mention my concerns to Fr. Isaac from time to time, and I told him that we would have trouble from it down the line. But I have to hand it to you, for you did an excellent job of cultivating Fr. Panteleimon over the years and winning him to your side.

But, as the ever-memorable Fr. Michael Pomazansky once said to someone who, in his presence, accused Vladyka Anthony of heresy: “We will not allow our Abba to be insulted!”


I have heard you say on several occasions that the fact of Bishop Gregory Lourie taking Communion at HTM — and the furor which followed it, especially in Toronto — is what caused name-worshipping to become an issue within HOCNA. True, that may have been the spark that started the public conflagration, but who was it that privately had been heaping up firewood and kindling for so many years? How many times had you — while still just a novice — been warned by me, by Bishop Demetrius and by others to leave that topic alone — that nothing good would come of it? But, alas, you wouldn’t listen…

Nor do I accept your assertion that it was merely an intellectual pursuit, or scholarly research, or a desire to better understand a controversial issue in church history. This has always been a passionate cause for you, a crusade to rehabilitate, to vindicate, to exonerate those whom you feel have been unfairly treated. A praiseworthy undertaking perhaps, but what has it led to? Did the contemporary Traditionalist Orthodox Churches not have enough current controversies and problems, without having to dig up a supposedly unresolved one from one hundred years ago?! And let’s be honest, before you joined us, name-worshipping was not an issue with any of us. And it was Bishop Gregory Lourie who resurrected the controversy in Russia.

And tell me, will the Russian Church, or any of the other Local Orthodox Churches, or even our fellow Old-calendarists accept whatever new “resolution” of the problem our little, marginalized group might propose? Of course not! Can you imagine the reaction if some Russian Orthodox Christian appeared in Greece to announce that he, at last, could now resolve all the divisions within the Old-calendarist jurisdictions there?! Contrary to what Metropolitan Ephraim wrote, fulfilling his four stipulations (supposedly found in Patriarch Tikhon’s 1921 Nativity Epistle) will not “resolve the problem”!

But even more alarming was a conversation of yours which I overheard last spring. I was working at the computer in the third-floor shipping department at HTM, and you were speaking quite loudly in Russian on the public telephone located there. (Thus, it was not a case of anyone eavesdropping.) You were talking to Fr. Job and Fr. Martinian (who, at that time, were still with us) and discussing with them the name-worshipping controversy, especially the negative reaction to it here among us. You told the fathers that there was no point forcing (your choice of words) the question here, since it was not really an issue for us, and, besides, people here don’t comprehend it. However, you agreed wholeheartedly with the fathers that there (in Ukraine and Russia) name-worshipping absolutely was a question of confession of faith. You then went on to assure the fathers not to worry, because the important people here do understand and sympathize with name-worshipping. And you yourself mentioned them by name: Metropolitan Ephraim, Fr. Panteleimon, Fr. Isaac, etc. Does this mean that our Church now has some ‘inner circle’ of enlightened individuals who have been initiated into a ‘higher teaching’ which is not understood by the masses? Well, we all know what that smacks of, don’t we?! Might I suggest that you reread the works of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons…

Simply on a pastoral level your intellectual excursion into the dogmatic minefield of name-worshipping has been a disaster for us all. Has anyone’s faith been strengthened by all this; has anyone been edified? Has anyone been added to the Church because of it? On the contrary, just the opposite has taken place. So what has been the point of it all? You may be enamored of this teaching, but we are not. Forgive me, but I don’t think that you fully realize how many of the clergy, monastics and faithful resent having our Church and monastery practically commandeered and used as some sort of juggernaut to achieve ends which are not our own. Your cause to defend name-worshipping at all costs is not our cause. On bended knees I beg you to please stop disturbing the Church over an issue that most of us do not support.


And I am very dismayed to hear from others that it is now being reported that I supposedly have come around and have now accepted your and Metropolitan Ephraim’s interpretation of Patriarch Tikhon’s 1921 Nativity Epistle. For the record, I am still not at all convinced that you and Metropolitan Ephraim understand that letter correctly. And, as we determined during our meeting, neither you, nor I, have access to all the documents pertaining to that period. So, for the present, I stand by my interpretation of the epistle. (See appended copy.) And as I mentioned there, only after I had arrived at my own understanding of the letter, did I find that the Moscow Patriarchate’s Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev) had interpreted it in exactly the same way. Actually, it was that discovery that encouraged me to send my interpretation to Metropolitan Ephraim. And, unlike you and I, Metropolitan Hilarion — who himself is sympathetic to the name-worshippers, and hostile to Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky — did have all the archival documents put at his disposal so that he could write his two-volume study of that controversy.

In the course of our discussion on the text of the Nativity Epistle of 1921, you seemed exasperated at my repeated observations concerning the translation errors contained in the English text cited by you and Metropolitan Ephraim. I found that odd coming from someone who knows more languages than I do, and who, one would expect, should understand well the need for precision in translating important texts, especially ones on which ecclesiastical decisions are to be based. A couple of times you conceded that there may be some errors, but then, English is not your native language, as it is for me, etc. Those comments puzzled both Fr. Isaac and me, since originally, when we had all assumed that you had indeed been the translator, we were told several times that no, Fr. Andrew Boroda had translated the epistle. So who, in fact, was the translator, and why the obfuscation?

Further, you later told me that, having read my literal English translation of the epistle, you now understood the Russian better. [?!!] Yet, for all that, you and Metropolitan Ephraim still insist on your interpretation of the epistle, based on what you have admitted is a flawed translation of a text which you did not fully understand. You contend that the text must say what you want it to say. Forgive me, but the translation of texts cannot be conducted in such a cavalier manner.


But, for the sake of argument, let us concede that your interpretation of the epistle is correct. Nonetheless, that still would not solve the dilemma for you. Anyone who considers that that epistle can form the basis for a satisfactory compromise on this issue is simply not thinking logically. The epistle does not give succor to name-worshippers, rather, it reiterates their condemnation. Nor can one arbitrarily extract “four stipulations” from the letter and blithely ignore the rest of the text, as Metropolitan Ephraim and you have done.

(Besides, why should we even feel compelled to seek some sort of “compromise” with you and the few adherents of name-worshipping among us? Forgive me, Despota, but you joined us; we didn’t join you. Why should we agree to accept a teaching foreign to us, simply to satisfy you and Metropolitan Ephraim? It’s as if someone had seized a man’s house, and while squatting in the man’s living room, he offers to open negotiations with the owner concerning how much of the house he is willing to give back to him. Such a “compromise” would be a surrender or capitulation. We have no desire for such a compromise on this issue. Instead, why can’t you and Metropolitan Ephraim just drop it all together? If for no other reason, then for pastoral ones.)

No one denies that the Local Russian Church has the right, if she so desires, to return to the issue of name-worshipping at some later date and to reconsider the controversy and her decisions concerning it. But, until such time as she does so (and it is doubtful that she will), her present resolutions, decisions, and condemnations remain in effect and are canonically binding. As you yourselves translated the epistle: “…But, while showing its indulgence, the Synod did not change its previous opinion regarding the error itself, which is found in the writings of Anthony Bulatovich and his followers…” One cannot violate present legal codes based on the hope that those laws will supposedly be abolished sometime in the future by a, as yet to be convened, legislature! So too here: until such time as the Russian Church revokes its previous decisions regarding the name-worshippers, they are still in force.

Thus we see that Patriarch Tikhon, his synod, and the hierarchs that went before him, declared that the writings and teachings of Fr. Anthony Bulatovich and his followers do contain grave errors which have been synodically condemned, and which are to be considered still under that condemnation. However, in e-mail messages to us, you, Bishop Gregory, have declared “…there are no strange or erroneous teachings in Fr. Bulatovich's books.” So, I ask you, whom should we believe; whom should we heed? You, or Patriarch Tikhon and his hierarchs?

And please don’t attempt to use purported post-revolutionary concelebrations to refute the statements made above. Why should we be compelled to accept such concelebrations as proof that the Church supposedly relented and retracted its demands? Perhaps the opposite is true, and the name-worshippers repented? (Why cannot their apologists even entertain such a thought?) Perhaps after the name-worshippers demonstrated a certain degree of humility and obedience, the Church showed them condescension, as in the days of Saint Cyprian of Carthage? As long as the persecutions were in abeyance, Saint Cyprian demanded that the lapsed fulfill the strict epitimia which had been laid upon them. But when the persecutions were renewed, he urged that ‘weapons’ be put into the hands of those willing to struggle in the front ranks for Christ, and so he ordered that the lapsed be accepted back into the Church and allowed to receive Holy Communion. Perhaps something similar took place within the Russian Church after the Revolution and the Bolsheviks persecutions. As I said before, we may never know…

Despota, you sometimes make sweeping statements or categorical declarations, and then later seem surprised or offended when people draw the obvious, logical conclusions. For example, you have told many of us that the councils and synods which condemned the name-worshippers were “heretical” (your choice of words). Well, heretical councils, which make heretical pronouncements, are convoked and attended by… heretics! And those who promulgate, disseminate, and support the teachings of such heretical councils are themselves considered by the Church likewise to be heretics.

So, the inescapable conclusion is that (according to you) Proto-New-Hieromartyr Vladimir of Kiev (head of the Holy Synod during the name-worshipping controversy), New Confessor Metropolitan Agathangel of Yaroslavl, Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, Metropolitan Anastasy Gribanovsky (who, as a vicar bishop of Moscow, also signed the proceedings against the name-worshippers), and all the members of the Holy Synod, the hierarchs in communion with them, and all those who supported the synodal condemnation, including Holy Patriarch Tikhon — are heretics too. (God forbid!)

And remember what Saint John Chrysostom has taught us: Even the blood of martyrdom does not wash away the sin of schism and heresy!


You and Metropolitan Ephraim also chose to ignore another very important point in the epistle: “…promising to follow exactly the Orthodox Church and to be obedient to the God-established Hierarchy.” The “God-established hierarchy” mentioned there was not some abstract, faultless, future hierarchy of the name-worshippers’ own choosing, but the flesh-and-blood members of the Holy Synod and the local hierarchs appointed by them. (Certainly that is how Patriarch Tikhon and his synod understood the phrase.) And that is precisely what Fr. Anthony Bulatovich and his followers categorically refused to do. Thus, they themselves negated the conditions of the epistle under which they could have been received back into the Church. Moreover, they publicly declared their “secession from any spiritual communion with the ecclesiastical authorities”.

When I pointed that fact out to you during our discussion, you excitedly exclaimed two or three times: “Yes, but what sort of hierarchs were they?! They were blasphemers of the Holy Spirit!” (Again, your choice of words.) I was shocked and dismayed to hear you utter such a thing.

So let me ask you concerning those same venerable hierarchs of the Russian Church whom I listed above:

  — Did they ever comprehend or acknowledge themselves to be ‘blasphemers of the Holy Spirit’? (No.)

— Did they ever “repent” of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? (No.)

— Do you recall what awful words our Saviour said of those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit?...

And, according to the teaching of the Church, what are the Mysteries performed by heretics and blasphemers?!

So where does that leave us, the direct spiritual heirs of those same hierarchs, from whom proceed the grace of all our Mysteries and ordinations — including your very own?

You profess to have a devotion for Metropolitan Philaret, the New Confessor. Well, I can tell you very well what he would have to say to you concerning Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky and name-worshipping!

Despota, you may consider it unkind of me, or even unfair, to put you on the spot now, but here too, as with the name-worshipping controversy, it is you yourself who have forced the issue. The faithful will “connect the dots”, even if you do not wish to do so yourself. And since, as the Church rightly teaches, the faith of the bishop is the faith of the flock, then the faithful have every right and duty to inquire into the faith of their hierarch.

So, to make very certain that I have not misunderstood you, I am compelled to ask you point blank:

Do you consider yourself to be a bishop and the spiritual heir of the above-mentioned hierarchs of blessed memory, or not?

More importantly, are those hierarchs heretics and blasphemers, or not?

That last question, Despota, requires — nay, demands — a simple answer: “Yes” or “No”. Please do not equivocate or qualify your reply.

If “Yes”, they are heretics and blasphemers in your eyes, then I thank you for your frankness, but I obviously cannot have anything more to do with you as a bishop.

If “No”, you do not consider them to be heretics and blasphemers, then I will rejoice greatly to hear you state it unambiguously and unreservedly. However, to fully convince the faithful, you will obviously need to publicly retract your previous statements in which you have indeed declared them to be heretics and blasphemers, or, at least, you have left that definite impression. Please find the strength and humility to do so.

If not, then I have to be honest and tell you that I (and many others) will find it very difficult to continue to recognize you as the direct spiritual heir of those blessed hierarchs (which you are, willy-nilly, at least by ordination), or to treat you as one of our bishops, lest by doing so we be found to have betrayed our spiritual forefathers. May it never be!

Forgive me. May the Lord forgive, guide and save us all. Amen!

O Kyrios! Fr. Nicholas Holy Transfiguration Monastery

P.S. If I did not care deeply for you and your salvation, and for our Church, I would never have labored to compose the above letter. I am your genuine well-wisher. FN