A Letter from Metropolitan Philaret

The following is part one of a rather strong letter written by Metropolitan Philaret to Abbess Magdalena of Lesna. It is “strict ecclesiology” expressed most eloquently. A clear witness of the teachings of the Holy Church is evident. It should be noted that this letter was composed after the “Sorrowful Epistles.” Blessed Philaret did approach the other churches in a plea for unity, but rather than heed the words of the Fathers and 2000 year witness of the Church, many chose to break unity with the Church Abroad and continue on their schismatic path which has led to greater and greater shipwreck.

Originally Published in “The Heavenly Abode”

To Abbess Magdalena (Countess Grabbe),

Superior of the Lesna Convent in France

November 26/December 9, 1979

Your Reverence,

I am writing this letter en route — onboard the ocean liner Orion, which is sailing to Australia. The ship is a rather large one, 42,000 tons (that’s roughly the size of the Titanic) and comfortable enough. This morning my travelling companion, Protopriest Constantine, served Liturgy in our cabin, and I took Communion. We did the same yesterday, it being the apodosis of the Feast of the Entry of the Most-holy Theotokos, since neither on the actual day of the feast, nor on the day following did we manage to serve — the ship was continually tossing. But since Thursday the ocean has grown calm, and now we are sailing peacefully.

For a long time now I have been wanting to share some thoughts of mine with you — on issues concerning which we proved to be of differing views. Of course, I write not in order to initiate a sharp polemic, but rather an exchange of opinions.

You most likely recall that, not during my last visit to the Convent, but during the one previous to it, you and I had somewhat of an argument over the fact that the Convent receives into its church those who, in essence, are followers, members of the former Exarchate, and not of the Church Abroad. And conversely, many of our spiritual children regularly attend [the churches of] the Parisians, and there they go to confession and receive “Communion”…

You pointed out that the Convent acts thus for missionary purposes, in order to give the erring ones the opportunity to pray and be sanctified by the Mysteries in a true Orthodox church. But to this I will say: that may very well be so, just as the emissaries of Holy Prince Vladimir attended the Greek Orthodox Church. However.. and it’s a big “however”! The emissaries of the Prince reported to him concerning the beauty of the Orthodox Faith, and the result was that both they and the Prince himself did not remain in their error, but exchanged paganism for Christianity. And it seems clear to me that proper “missionary work” will exist in the Convent only then, when the Convent, while allowing “them” to visit the church, will, however, allow them to approach the Mysteries only upon the condition that, having received the Mysteries from us, the refuse the “Mysteries” performed at the “Rue Daru”. and in general in the churches of the Exarchate.

Otherwise what is the outcome? The outcome is that everything with them is in order, and there is no need for them to change or correct anything. And we, by admitting them to the Mysteries and not demanding any integrity or constancy in this regard, confirm them more strongly in the conviction that everything is fine with them and that their path is the true and correct path.

At the Third Pan-Diaspora Sobor they started making speeches about how we should unite with the Parisians and with the American False-Autocephalites “in a spirit of love”. Love, you see should unite us, and there is no need to emphasize our differences. But such talk ceased when I cited the words of one of the Holy Fathers which read thus: if we, sup
posedly in the name of love, so as not to trouble our neighbors, are going to keep quiet about their error and not explain to them that they are on a false path, then this is not love, but hatred! Does he do well who, upon seeing a blind man approaching a precipice, does not tell him, about it, so as not to “trouble” him? Is that then love?

At the latest Bishop’ Sobor, Vladyka Anthony of Geneva began to deliver a speech in that vein… he said: as regards Paris, there we have a common flock ( that is, we and the Exarchate). We both alike service one and the same Orthodox people.

At that point I could not contain myself and I burst forth with a speech…

First of all, I pointed out that we really do have a place where we have a flock in common with other ministers of the Orthodox Church. And that is Boston. We have our parishes there, and the monastery of Archimandrite Panteleimon is located there too. And it has Greek practices and Typicon. All the faithful there attend both one and the other equally, since that monastery is of our jurisdiction, is absolutely Orthodox, and has our Orthodox “spirit”, despite the difference in Typicon and practices. Heavenly Abode Note: Sadly this once great monastery separated itself from the Russian Church Abroad after the repose of Blessed Metropolitan Philaret. Our own St. John the Russian Church is the only remaining parish of this group that is still within the Church Abroad. We pray for the repentance and return to unity of Holy Transfiguration Monastery and their affiliated parishes.

And to which I then added: but tell me, what sort of “common flock” could I have with the Parisians, when their head, Archbishop Georgy, while passing by our Memorial Church in Brussels, spits in its direction with the words –“Ugh, the Karlovci contagion!” This was seen and heard by our people who were present there… But the Exarchate spits not only upon our churches but upon the Church Typicon and the canons. They perform weddings there on Saturdays and generally whenever you like – just so long as you pay the money. They served a funeral there for an unbaptized Jew – as was reported to us with indignation by our “Zarubezhniki”. What kind of “common flock” could there be here and what could we have in common with them? When I was serving in Brussels for the Day of Mourning, a certain woman started to approach the Holy Cup. I said: ask her whether she went to confession. The answer “no”. “Then you cannot receive Communion.” She began to make a commotion – what is this, all that is needed is a clear conscience, and so forth… But I, I didn’t get to an altercation with her, but only thought to myself: “The Exarchate contagion”… For she was one of the “Parisians”.

I am accused of excessive strictness and of “fanaticism”. But I have sufficient basis for holding to my point of view, for behind me stand great authorities, both ancient and contemporary.

I shall begin with the ancient ones. First and formost – was it, then, in the present spirit of “condescension” towards those who have broken away that these words were spoken: “but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican”? We know Who said these words. Who then will dare to gainsay Him?…

Let us turn to the great authorities. Here we have the hierarch Saint Gregory the Theologian, the incarnation of meekness and pure Christian love towards all, and in particular towards those who have gone astray. However, he frankly states that not every peace is to be prized, nor is every war to be feared. “There is a shameful peace, and there is a good and praiseworthy division”, says Saint Gregory. And the context of these words clearly indicates that he had in view those who had broken away – who had gone off into schism.

Next is Saint Basil the Great – a man stricter than most. Yet we know that when it was a question of a schism that had only just begun to form, then the hierarch was in favor of showing the maximum condescensio
n and , for the sake of facilitating for the fallen the matter of their return to the fold of the Church, strove in every way so that the least possible demands be made upon them as the condition for their return. But how drastically he shifts his position when he speaks of an obstinate and prolonged schism. “Such a schism”, says Saint Basil, is “already in all things like unto heresy, and one must treat such schismatics as one would heretics, not permitting any communion with them.

Severe and categorical. But even more severely and more categorically speaks the third of these great authorities, Saint John Chrysostom. It’s a pity that I do not have here at hand with me on the ship his marvelous sermons, preached precisely concerning schismatics. But I remember them well and shall strive to convey them as accurately as possible. Heavenly Abode Note: see the full text of this sermon in the section The Unity of the Church

Saint John Chysostom begins his talk on schism by citing the ancient testimony of that great saint, Hieromartyr Ignatius the Godbearer. Saint Ignatius says that there is no sin worse than that which brings division into the Church, and he warns that this sin is so great, that not even the blood of martyrdom can wash it away! Corroborating this, Saint John Chrysostom says: I say this for those who indiscriminately go to all churches- both to ours and to those of the schismatics. If they teach differently than we do – then for that very reason, of course, one ought not go to them. But is they teach the very same as we do – then all the more cause why one ought not to go to them, for here is the sin of lust of authority…

Was it not for this very cause that Evlogy, of sorry memory, broke away and became a schismatic leader, because he could not endure the seniority of Metropolitan Anthony? Alas, it is so! I recall how my late father, Bishop Dimitry, upon returning [to China] from the famous “conference of the four”, for all his customary caution in making comments, said in grief: “I did not imagine that an Orthodox heirarch could be as insincere as this Evlogy, whom one simply has no desire to call ‘Metropolitan'”. And Bishop Nestor, who, as a hierarch, received the minutes of the conference, showed them to Fr. Nethaniel. They contained, incidentally, these words of Vladyka Dimitry: “Inasmuch as His Beatitude Evlogy is today saying the exact opposite and I hereby declare my total disagreement with him”…

Saint John Chrysostom continues: Thou (he is addressing his interlocutor) sayest, “We are all the same – they serve, pray, and teach the same as we do.” Very well – why then are they not with us? One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism! They have broken away – in that case, one of two things must be so: either all is well with us and they are in poor straits; or else all is well with them, and we are in trouble!

What do these clear and categorical words of this Holy Father signify? They indicate nothing other than that schism is graceless. Christ was not divided, and His grace is one. If one is to believe in the “state of grace” of schism, then one must either admit that we do not have grace – those who broke away having taken it with them; or else admit that there are two graces (and obviously two true Churches, for grace is given only in the true Church).

Continuing to expound his thoughts, Saint John Chrysostom finally draws his conclusion – inevitable and incontrovertible: “I do say and affirm that schism is just as terrible and evil as heresy.”

And heresy separates the human soul from the Church, from God, – and from salvation.

Here are some more voices from antiquity. Saint Peter of Alexandria saw the Saviour in a torn robe — the Lord was clutching it in His hands. The hierarch made so bold as to inquire: Who has rent Thy garment O Saviour? There followed the mournful and indignant reply of the Saviour: Arius the madman – he has separated My sheep from Me which I have purchased with My blood…

In the live
s of the saints it is related that the righteous Gregory once had a revelation. He beheld the future Dread Judgment of Christ. And at that judgment the Lord summoned Arius to Himself and threateningly asked him: Am I not the God-man Christ, equal in Divinity to the Father and the Holy Spirit? How is it that you reduced My Divinity to the level of creation an have brought this assembly deceived by you (the followers of Arius) to eternal torment?…

What do these terrible words tell us? That the heretic leads his followers to eternal torment!… We have already seen that – not according to the present spineless reasoning, but according to the teachings of the Holy Fathers – schism is just as terrible an evil as heresy, and that obviously the end of it will be the same. I do not dare to pronounce judgment on our contemporary founder of schism, Metropolitan Evlogy; but I fear for his soul and I fear for all those who have been deceived by him and his successors and have been carried away into schism.

And I cannot understand the position taken on this issue by the late Vladyka John – a true minister of God and a man of God. Why didn’t he “dot the i” from the very beginning and explain to the Evlogians the total falsehood of their path and position? For it is precisely because of this, because it was not stated at once and clearly where the truth is and where falsehood (for two truths there cannot be), where is white and where is black, where light and where darkness, which path is correct and which incorrect – there would not now exist this “inter-jurisdictional hodgepodge” and the position would be clear.

The fact, that many from among the “Orthodox” indiscriminately attend whatever church, what does it tell us? Why simply that people do not hold the truth dear. For this very reason they don’t bother giving the matter much thought. “The services are identical, everything is the same – what need is there to philosophize?” Or, as our Fr. John Storozhev in Harbin (the last spiritual father of the murdered Imperial family), one of the best pastors of the Diaspora, used to say with poignant irony: “the bells ring: the popes serve; the singing is good – what more do you want?” To which may be added the oh, so familiar: “After all, God is one!”…

If only people loved the truth and cherished it – would they really be content with such indifference? No, and a thousand times no! Their soul would ache, and it would not rest content until it had discovered where is the truth, which can only be one – for two truths cannot be. How correct Vladyka Nektary is when he always affirms: there is no such thing as “different jurisdictions”; but there is only the Orthodox Church Abroad, and outside of her are schisms and heresies.

Now I should like to cite a contemporary authority, one not ancient, but an authority before whom we all must bow. This, of course, is that great “Abba of all abbas”, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky].

Vladyka Anthony, when presenting the abbess; staff to Abbess Paula, said to her: “Be condescending to all, know how to converse with those weak in faith and with scoffers. Behave wisely with heretics, but never agree with them that they supposedly have the grace of the Holy Spirit; know that the Roman Catholics, the Mohammedans and all other heretics are without grace.” And we have already seen that the Holy Fathers equate obstinate and prolonged schism with heresy. Consequently?…

A quotation from a paschal encyclical of Vladyka Anthony’s (1934):

“The present age is rich not in ascetical feats of piety and confession of faith, but in cheating, lies, and deceits. It is noteworthy that several hierarchs and their flocks, for the most part Russians, have already fallen away from Ecumenical unity, and to the question: “What dost thou believe?”, reply with references to self-proclaimed heads of all sorts of schisms in Moscow, America, and Western Europe. It is clear that they have ceased to believe in the unity
of the Church throughout the whole world and do not wish to admit it, attempting to bear calmly the refusal of the true Church to have relations with them, and imagining that one can supposedly save ones sould even without communion with Her… Those who have cut themselves off from Her deprive themselves of the hope of salvation, as the Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council teach concerning this, having recognized the renegades as being totally devoid of grace , according to the word of Christ: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”

“Unfortunately, some Orthodox laymen, even, alas, many priests (and hierarchs) have subjected themselves to this state of gracelessness, although still retaining the outward appearance of the church services and the apparent performance of the Mysteries.”

Ponder those last words of the great Abba: the apparent performance of the Mysteries… What horror! But these his words concur totally with my own conviction regarding the gracelessness and inefficacy of schismatic Mysteries.

When at the Sobor I cited these words of Vladyka Anthony in support of my conviction, the hierarchs received them in silence – Vladyka Anthony [of Geneva] likewise held his peace. While Vladyka Filothei thanked me on behalf of the entire Sobor for such and exceptionally important explanation.

Peace and God’s blessing be with you. May the Lord and His Most-pure Mother preserve you and the Holy Convent in health and prosperity!

+Metropolitan Philaret

Originally Published in “The Heavenly Abode”

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