Fr. Gregory's Open Letter of December 2006

21 Nov/ 4 Dec 2006
Entry of the Mother of God

Beloved Archpastors and Fathers in God:

With heavy heart I regard the impending (so it seems) submission of our Church to the Moscow Patriarchate. For more than a quarter-century we have worked together, seeking first, I trust, the Kingdom of God. By His Grace, the work of the St. John of Kronstadt Press has flourished, and the Church's mission in Haiti has grown, and our tiny parish of the Annunciation has held firm in the Faith. Now, I look upon the impending dissolution of my family, spiritual and corporeal, and I weep, serving, perhaps for the last time, with many of my brethren with whom I have so long labored. My own family is only one of hundreds, more likely thousands, which will be shattered if the proposed submission actually takes place.

As you well know, I am not Russian, nor Greek, nor Syrian. I am at least as much Haitian as American at this point, and really neither. My commitment is to Orthodox Christianity and so it should be for every Orthodox Christian. But it seems that an overwhelming tide of sentiment for "Russian unity" is driving the move to submission, with much else laid aside, to be dealt with at a later date, or altogether ignored.

Were the Moscow Patriarchate what it pretends to be, and is in effect proclaimed to be by the proposed "Act of Canonical Communion", that is, truly the Orthodox Church of Russia, then there would be no question: we, ROCOR, must either resume our place within it, or be canonically established as a wholly independent body. But, historically and ecclesiologically, I cannot see this to be the case.

But what is today known as the Moscow Patriarchate has no historical or theological continuity with the Orthodox Church of Russia, the Church of St. Tikhon and the New- Martyrs and Confessors. By the might of the Soviet state, the once-legitimate Metropolitan Sergius, having gone into schism, became at best a usurper, at worst an outright impostor and fraud. The post-Declaration "Church" was wholly the creation of the Soviet power, conceived to further its own evil designs. Following in the same model was the "restoration" of the "patriarchate", at Stalin¹s behest. Unless we engage in Soviet-style rewriting of history (and it seems there are many so occupied), this history cannot be undone. What was created was at best a schism (the legitimate Orthodox Church of Russia continuing within Russia in the catacombs, outside Russia in what is now known as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia). It was a schism (or far worse) compounded by its later engagement in ecumenism, rightly condemned by the Anathema proclaimed by our Church.

Such a separation cannot be remedied by "negotiations", but only by open acknowledgment of the Truth and public repentance on the part of those who have perpetrated the false "church". This has not occurred. "Regret" will not do.

At a recent meeting of the clergy of the Southern Deanery, one of my brother priests (himself a proponent of submission), asked what would satisfy us (those who cannot in good conscience be party to such a submission). This is a fair question, for, to the best of my knowledge, all of us grieve at the current situation, in which we are (we believe rightly) sacramentally isolated from nearly all of what claims to be Orthodoxy, not only the schismatic Moscow Patriarchate, but as well the so-called OCA, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the rest of "World Orthodoxy". We would dearly love to see an end to this isolation, but not at the expense of Truth.

I can answer only for myself, but suspect many others would make a similar answer. On the count of what has come to be known as "Sergianism", the answer is fairly simple. A clearly stated renunciation by the Moscow Patriarchate (in the person of the "patriarch" himself and enacted by synodal decree) of the infamous "Declaration" which proclaimed the submission of the "Church" to the State, and public repentance for having participated in the institution which falsely proclaimed itself to be the "Russian Orthodox Church" would be necessary. Further, those individuals who received their illegitimate ecclesiastical authority from that Soviet institution must publicly repent and retire from their offices, or be reinstated by a legitimate Sobor, not one controlled by those very same persons and their appointees. Impossible? No; for with God all things are possible.

With respect to ecumenism, the question is far more complex, for it involves not only the Moscow Patriarchate, but as well all those bodies with which it is in sacramental communion. (If the "Act" is ultimately adopted and implemented, those who accept the submission would likewise be in communion with those same bodies). As to the Moscow Patriarchate itself, an immediate and unconditional withdrawal from the World Council of Churches would be an encouraging sign, though far from a complete response.

Incomplete, because it would not address the question of the other bodies with which the Moscow Patriarchate remains in sacramental communion. Briefly, only the two most egregious cases need be mentioned: The ecumenist activities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (and its subsidiary, the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas) are too well-known and too current to require further comment; even one of its most "traditional" hierarchs publicly proclaimed the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church to be "two lungs" of the same body. But far more serious is the second: What calls itself the Orthodox Church of Syria has formally and publicly entered into sacramental union with the heretical Monophysite church of Syria (which even now on its web site proclaims its rejection of the Council of Chalcedon and adherence to its heresy). In our own backyard we have, of course, its child, the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Are we to be a party to all this? God forbid!

Thus, the only fully satisfactory response to this issue on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate would be for it adopt the course set by Metropolitan Philaret, of blessed memory, and to sever sacramental communion with those ecclesiastical bodies which engage in such heretical activity. Impossible? No. But, sadly, unlikely.

For most of the twenty-six years since my baptism and ordination, I have found it necessary frequently to reassure troubled people that no "intercommunion" with the Moscow Patriarchate was imminent, that I believed our hierarchs would hold firm in their commitment to true Orthodox Christianity. I watched schism after schism, grieved over the premature flight of many of my brother priests out of fear of such an event, and continued (and still continue) to voice my conviction that only official (as opposed to disorderly and disobedient behavior) action is ground for active response. Now, it appears, we are on the brink of such action. If the "Act" as proposed is actually adopted by our hierarchy, and proceeds to implementation (in the form of public concelebration by hierarchs of our Church and those of the Moscow Patriarchate), our Church as I have known it will have ceased to exist - or will continue to exist only as a remnant Church, not a party to the "Act" or submission to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Should that day arrive, God forbid, I cannot in good conscience be a party to the submission. I have no "plans", have communicated with no other hierarchs, and do not know what is to become of me personally, nor of those committed into my charge. As directed by ukase, I will do my best to inform my flock of the situation, of the proposed actions and of my own response to it. In response to numerous anguished inquires, from clergy and lay people alike, I have counseled the same: wait, and pray; when and if the day of definitive action comes, the godly path will become apparent.

As you well know, I have resisted, and continue to resist, anything resembling the Mansonville schism. This does not mean, however, that my conscience is quiescent. Vladyka Gabriel, you and I discussed the proposed preposterous "permissive non-commemoration" some months ago, at which time you found it as absurd as I. Indeed, it is an insult to the integrity and intelligence of those to whom it is addressed. How does this differ from a conscripted soldier hiring a replacement, or a Christian who hires someone to take his place before the idol?

I cannot commemorate a false patriarch, nor can I be part of the false church which he heads -- whether I myself utter his name at liturgy or not. The time has not yet come, though it now appears it almost certainly will do so -- but when it does, if need be I'll stand alone, whatever form that might take. At that point, as I see it the Church which gave me birth and has nourished me will have ceased to exist swallowed up in an anti-church. I won't have "gone into schism" or "left" -- I'll simply be left standing
where I was before.

What is that point? The point at which submission is formally declared, and/or Metropolitan Laurus publicly concelebrates with or commemorates the pseudo-patriarch.

Is it possible I am wrong? Of course, and I freely admit that I might yet be "enlightened" - but not by "negotiations" and rewriting of history.

On the brink of departure for a two-week visit to our missions in Haiti, I am especially concerned for the future of the flock there: two priests, a deacon, six established missions, some hundreds of faithful. What is to become of them? Again, I will do my best to explain the situation (in a meeting of clergy and the most aware readers and laymen next week), and to explore with them their options.

Beloved hierarchs: If this "Act" is adopted and implemented, it will have a devastating effect upon me personally, and upon a very large number of our clergy and faithful. Many will scatter, grieving and reluctant, into other "jurisdictions". Not a few will despair and fall into total apostasy. Some will withdraw into isolation (as has already at least one family), doing their best to survive with private prayers and readers' services, cut off from all sacramental communion.

In the name of God, I beseech you, stop this course while it is yet possible. Continue discussions, of course - not only with the Moscow Patriarchate, but even with outright heretics, where it is possible in good faith. But discussions are not negotiations, and the Truth is not to be compromised.

Prior to sending this letter of appeal to you I have shared it with a few close associates amongst the clergy (not for further distribution), trusting their insights to help me better to say what must be said. I intend later -but only after allowing time for your responses, if any -to make it public, believing truly that "by silence is God betrayed".

Please forgive me if I have been over-bold, or if I have in any way offended you. I regret that I cannot simply lay my own conscience aside and follow, blindly as a sheep the shepherd. Had I been able to do that earlier in my life, I would never have become Orthodox - and I cannot do so now.

Begging your prayers...

In Christ Jesus,
Fr. Gregory Williams

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