Sunday, November 24, 2013

Monasticism, Abuse and the Truth

This letter was written to N., a prison inmate and the recipient of other letters posted on this site, in response to his accusations against the monks who left Holy Transfiguration Monastery in the wake of revelations of abuse and of heretical teaching.  The letter was written by a parish priest who was formerly a member of HOCNA and who is now in the GOC.

Jan. 22 / Feb 4, 2013
Apostle Timothy

Dear to Christ N.,

May our Lord bless you and keep you! I received and read your letter and attachment. I too have been praying about this unfortunate and sad situation, and feel it is my pastoral responsibility to reply. I will not profess or suggest that my insights are guided by the Holy Spirit, (although such guidance is my private, prayerful wish), as such an assertion would belie my sinfulness and unworthiness. The Holy Fathers also caution against such an assertion, as it can readily open the door to the subtle and insidious passion of prelest, which can effectively blind one’s spiritual eyes.

Although your intentions and perspectives are earnest, your letter is laden with suppositions that lack factual basis. I do not wish to specifically address all of your articulated concerns at this time, except for a few essential areas.

Firstly, the allegations against Fr. Panteleimon are true, as per an open and clear admission on the part of Fr.Isaac, who admitted his central role in the cover-up in the presence of several credible witnesses (including myself). Your reference to “morality charges against one of your fellow Monks” demonstrates a weakness in your understanding about predatory sexual behavior and authority. There is a general consensus agreement amongst experts in the psychiatric community that the perpetuation of predatory sexual overtures by an authority figure in a closed community oftentimes yields silence and inaction on the part of the victims. The unique environment of the monastery, where the elder hears all the intimate thoughts of his subordinate monks and novices, (who are also immersed into an ongoing effort of self-denial and giving up of one’s own will), is a virtual “ideal” environment for the potential propagation of such activity, with a resultant functional paralysis of its victims. Therefore, particularly in such a setting, the absence of a retaliatory response on the part of the victims does not render the accusations non-credible. The age of the victims is also not a relevant issue in the monastic setting, as the monks are taught to manifest an unswerving “child-like” obedience to their elder. Your stated analogy referencing the scenario of a prison environment simply doesn’t apply.

Secondly, the monks were poised to leave HTM, with or without any financial assistance from Fr. Isaac, as they were determined to flee a poisoned environment and resume their monastic struggles in a more conducive setting. It was Fr. Isaac who offered the funds for financial support. I have been to the monastery in Bearsville. The monks there live in a very austere, primitive and simple environment that is much closer to the “vow of poverty” that you’ve referenced in your letter. If Fr. Isaac follows through with his offer and promise, the funds will be used to glorify God through the construction of a beautiful church (they now worship in a very small and simple chapel). The funds are not slated to improve the personal living standards of the monks, who, despite the somewhat rough conditions in Bearsville, are very happy to be resuming a true monastic life.

Also, your characterization of the intent of those that have fled HOCNA as being related to a “lust for power” or self-gain is unfortunate and couldn’t be further from the truth. Speaking for the non-monastic clergy (a majority of HOCNA non-monastic clergy have departed in the last 2-3 years), all of us have incurred great hardships and challenges since the move, and, for what purpose? For self-gain? Power? The banner that was carried by us who, with great pains, left HOCNA, is the banner of TRUTH.

In that regard, Abba Dorotheos of Gaza writes:
We need great vigilance so that we are not cheated by lies. No-one who lies becomes united with God. The lie is alien to God. It is written that, “Falsehood is from the evil one”, and also that, “He is a liar and the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). You see he calls the devil “the father of lies”, while God is the truth. He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). See what we are separating ourselves from and what we attach ourselves to through lies, clearly the devil. Therefore, if we really want to be saved, we are obliged to love the truth, with all our strength and concern, guarding ourselves from all falsehood, so that we are not separated from truth and from life.

Practical Teaching on the Christian Life
As for the Name-worshipping issue, I will defer to the various writings of the councils and Holy Fathers who are much better equipped than I. When viewed in a proper context, your statements regarding the name of God have some merit. The name of God is holy. The name of God is blessed. The name of God is a portal through which one can access grace and mercy, if opened with a spirit of faith. But the name of God is not… God. Such a notion is clearly heretical and is outside of the Church.

In the end, dear Tikhon, TRUTH will prevail. Because, TRUTH is CHRIST.

In Christ,

Fr. X, sinful priest 

Lie not one to another… (Colossians 3:9)