Monday, October 21, 2013

Letter to Metropolitan Ephraim

Dear and most respected Metropolitan Ephraim,

Holy Master Bless!

I wished to share some thoughts with you confidentially. I know that you have carried the heavy cross of the episcopacy for almost 25 years.  I do not wish to add to your burden by being anything but supportive and constantly asking the Holy Trinity to guide and enlighten you in these difficult times.

Nevertheless, in times past, when you have ordained or elevated laymen or clergy to higher positions, and then found yourself to have problems on your hands, you have wondered why the faithful and clergy did not come forward to inform you of their reservations.

I have known Fr. Gregory for many years now. I find him an agreeable person for the most part, though rather eccentric in some of his views. I remember being somewhat shocked when he told me that he thought Nazi Germany had been made to look much worse than it actually was and a lot of our perceptions were formed by negative propaganda. Also, from time to time over the years he told me that he was of the opinion that the Name Worshippers had been wrongly condemned and had been misunderstood. On the subject of the Name Worshippers I took his comments into account, but I had never read any first-hand material on the subject.

I have now read Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky's paper on this subject and also the 1913 decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch also confirmed this decision.

The story that has been told so often that Metropolitan Anthony never even read any of the positions of the Name Worshippers, but relied on second and third hand sources, is a lie that has been repeated so often that it has taken on a life of its own. It is very clear that some of the Name Worshippers were confused in their simplicity at best and were openly deceitful and duplicitous at worse, as Metropolitan Anthony's paper so eloquently and clearly demonstrates.

Regardless, it is edifying that both Saint Anatoly and Saint Barsanuphius of Optina read Schemamonk llarion's n the Mountains of the Caucasia with interest and found edifying things in it, but they also had some reservations and after the Holy Synod had condemned the book they neither defended it nor read it again.

It goes without saying what Metropolitan St. Philaret and Bishop Gregory Grabbe of Blessed Memory thought of this issue. I think one can safely assume St. John Maxomovitch was also of one mind with Metropolitan Anthony on this issue.

Who are we, and furthermore, who is a young Hieromonk Gregory to question these theological giants of recent times? And furthermore, to what point? Does anyone doubt that the Name of Jesus sanctifies and is to be held in uttermost reverence? Is anyone saying that the Jesus Prayer is not a channel of uncreated and divine grace? But as the Synodicon of Orthodoxy points out a distinction must be made between essence and energy. Even the Body of the Lord Jesus is not "God" according to the Synodicon let alone His Name. If we are to make a confusion of it we become Pantheists just as the Latins accused the Orthodox of because the Latins said God is simple and cannot be divided. But the Orthodox position is an unmingled union, an unconfused union, a distinction between essence and energy, and that the material world is sanctified but not deified by the uncreated energies.

The Name of God is not essence nor is it an operation of the essence.  It is a name above all names. But to say that the name partakes of the essence or becomes an operation in and of itself is Platonic and not Christian.

Regardless, it is now a dead issue. What point is there is resurrecting it to the scandal of the faithful. If this issue is ever to be addressed again, it must be addressed by not only the Russian Church, but the Ecumenical Church. I hardly think that Bishop Gregory Lourie and those with him constitute the plentitude of the Church.

And we know that Bishop Gregory Lourie has other peculiar ideas as well. His sermon on the "conglomerate" St. Nicholas, his unilateral glorifications of Frs. Antony Bulatovitch and Seraphim Rose, his declarations of the theological incompetence of Metropolitan Anthony and Bishop Gregory Grabbe, and his attitude towards The Dogma of Redemption and God knows what else should raise eyebrows to say the least.

Yes, Bishop Gregory is not an Ecumenist, nor does mince words on the sorry state of the "Official Churches" and likes our publications and opinions on many issues ... but does that excuse everything else? It is extremely disquieting and distressing to observe that our Fr. Gregory is enamored of the person and writings of Bishop Gregory Lourie. Fr. Gregory's mindset is, frankly, alarming to not a few of us who live with him day in and day out.

I do not know what the solution is, dear Vladyka. I know you are in a difficult position and that there is a need for more bishops and there are few candidates. I do not want to see us do something that will cause problems in the future. Fr. Gregory's consecration is premature at best. I wish my heart was not troubled on this issue, but it is and continues to be after much prayer and reading first hand sources. If things go awry in the future my last wish is to say to you, the Elder, and Fr. Isaac, "Well, we told you so!"

Vladyka, I have been here for 31 years. I came here from Jordanville because, though being of Russian ancestry, I wished to be in an English speaking monastic community that was established and had fairly good order. I have seen not only a disrespectful attitude of Fr. Gregory towards Metropolitan Anthony, but animus, and now, to my utter dismay I have seen Fr. Isaac, under Fr. Gregory's influence, prefer Thesis papers from St. Vladimir's Seminary, Fr. Georges Florovsky's scalding critiques of Metropolitan Anthony, and the arrogant and presumptuous writings and opinions of a rather young, eccentric, and acedemic Bishop Gregory Lourie over Metropolitan Anthony and Bishop Gregory Grabbe. This is more than dismaying for me.

Again, who are we to be suddenly gainsaying our fathers to whom we owe everything? We are cutting off the branch we are sitting on. Do we have more discernment than these saints and bishops of blessed memory, or for that matter, the blessed Elders Anatoly and Barsanuphius of Optina, who after they had heard the decisions of both their local church and the consensus of the other Churches lay this issue of the controversial opinions of Schemamonk Ilarion, Fr. Antony Bulatovich and their disruptive disciples aside?

Usually I am not in agreement with our Fr. Basil because I find his opinions usually extreme and myopic, but in this regard I agree with what he wrote to Fr. Isaac a few months ago. He wrote:
Dear Fr Isaac,  
Please, why we should bother entering ourselves in a new controversy? !Nameworshiping or Name-venerating or whatever is more fitting to call it is a dead issue. If 'name-worshipers' are orthodox,fine! they are members of the Church and glory be to God! Nevertheless, given that most people in the whole world consider today (rightly or wrong) that it is a heresy, why are we suppose to undertake the responsibility to give an account on behalf of them, (when even many official contemporaries at the beginning of 20th century where reluctant to do so), to prove they are orthodox. Don't we give in this way a serious cause, for the people that disagree, to be separated from us? and I mean, people that are still with us: those that remain with our bishops after the still fresh schism of last May.  
To those that accuse us we can simply say that we are not the Name-worshipers they think; we are Orthodox and every one knows or can testify our orthodoxy. However, what actually our smart enemies want is to get us involved in an new, unending conflict that only harm will bring to the Church.  
There are quite enough labels they stick on us up to the moment (anti-triadics, neoiconoclasts, 666, Macracists, .. .). They would be happy to add 'Name-worshipers' in the list (with our contribution!).  
The Elder is going to give a talk, precisely on this subject (defending the 'Nameworshipers'!), this Sunday evening in the Metropolis house here in Toronto ... Good luck!  
I kiss your hand, forgive me
Fr Basil

Unfortunately, Vladyka, Fr. Gregory's views are not unknown. It has become controversial both within the community and without. Fr. Haralampos and Fr. Basil were told not to say anything in the talk after the Corporate Meeting this past year while the Elder tried to put his own spin on the Name Worshippers Controversy. The meeting ended with the brotherhood dissatisfied and perplexed. Our questions were not addressed nor was there a fair and open dialogue.

I have mentioned to Fr. Isaac that the only way to lay this to rest is to have a public debate between Fr. Gregory and Fr. Haralampos and Fr. Basil and any other clergyman who may care to be involved on this issue. Fr. Isaac said that the Elder cannot handle stuff like that. As a matter of fact, Fr. Isaac was floored and dismayed that members of the brotherhood even made a peep during the Corporate Meeting. The fathers were respectful and clear, but wanted clarification. It was not forthcoming. So the Elder cannot handle it, and what will the outcome be? The community and even the diocese will become fractured within because this issue is being swept under the carpet. Is it just going to be a "No ask no tell" policy? But it is too late for that.

It is not enough for many of us that he holds this opinion privately in a Gnostic type of way. He should repudiate his views publicly and in writing until the Pan-Orthodox Decision on the issue of Name Worshippers is, if ever, revisited by the entire Church. Obviously the present times will not allow that, but until that time, to think that Bishop Gregory Lourie or HOCNA or even a few Synods of the True Orthodox Church of Russia represent the plentitude of the Church is ludicrous. Lord have mercy!

I never thought, after all we have been through that an internal crisis of conscience like this would come upon the monastery brethren and the diocese as a whole. I know the Holy Synod wrote that very good notice distancing yourself from Bishop Gregory Lourie's controversial views, but now we are about to consecrate a man who makes no secret of his full sympathies with these very same controversial views and their author.

Also, if the consecration goes through, I have heard that Fr. Gregory's title will be "Brookline." Please forgive me beloved Vladyka, but why "Brookline?" There are no parishes or a cathedral in Brookline, only the Monastery and Convent; why not "Roslindale" since we already have a precedent for that, or "Concord" or "Ipswich?" Not a few of us think that will make us look ridiculous.

It looks odd enough that 3 of the 4 bishops of HOCNA will be living in the monastery ... no doubt, too many will say, under the vigilant eye of Elder Panteleimon. In the past we have been so careful of things like this. Yes, I know that St. Katherine's Monastery has its own bishop, but that is because of its own unique isolation, especially in ancient times. When there was a bishop resident at Jordanville it was "Syracuse and Holy Trinity." Bishop Sergius was "Loch Lomond" but I assume that was because there was not another parish even remotely close to Kelseyville. But here we have many parishes and faithful nearby.

My beloved Archpastor, I have expressed most of these thoughts to Fr. Isaac, but not all. I have opened my heart in the secrecy of confession to you. I am one of your humble sheep whose heart is, to my grief, troubled at what should be a cause of rejoicing and expectation. Fr. Gregory is pleasant enough man, and I have nothing personal against him. I am just afraid that his eccentricities could cause great scandal in the future. I know that out of the clergy of the monastery 6 have great reservations. Many of the monks do too.

Please forgive me for troubling you,

Asking your holy prayers,

sinful Sergius, monk