Guidance In Isolation

To: Exarchate Clergy and Faithful, and Friends
From: Archbishop Chrysostomos

Re.: A Most Edifying Letter

Evlogia Kyriou. Gospod' Blagoslovit.

His Grace, Bishop Auxentios, shared, as he always does, the following advice to a young Orthodox man who has asked to be received into our synod in a foreign country. The Standing Synod has asked our Exarchate to look after him, since, though very far removed, he is closer to us than anyone else.

I was very moved and impressed by His Grace's advice to this young man, and especially his comments about the state of the Church today in a section about half way through his letter, which I have set off with asterisks (the section begins with a paragraph reading, "Finally, I want to say..."). While there is much wisdom in his entire letter, for those of you who may not be inclined, or have time, to attend to all of his comments, I would STRONGLY urge you to read his wonderful words in this section. I found them extremely edifying.

We are fortunate to have such an administrator in our Exarchate.

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Dear XXX, May God Bless You!

First, I will answer your essential question regarding joining our Synod in our struggle and placing yourself directly under our Omophorion (I say "our," since, though I have taken over his administrative duties at his request, I still consider myself an assistant to His Eminence, Archbishop Chrysostomos, and I do nothing without his consultation and blessing).

To this first question my answer is a qualified "yes." I say "qualified" because, as I have expressed to you before, you are in extraordinary circumstances, separated from any mission of our Church where you might receive Mysteriological ("sacramental," to use an imprecise Western term) nourishment by hundreds, if not thousands, of miles. In addition, you are so far removed from our diocese headquarters in California that I could not possibly imagine (let alone commit to) a visit to you in the foreseeable future. And finally, as you yourself admit, you have been abandoned by those whom you thought were of like mind and are nearly alone in your struggle.

These are serious obstacles. I do not bring them up to discourage you, but, rather, mention them so that, making a good evaluation of your circumstances and fortifying yourself in your resolve, you will not stumble in the future under your heavy load. As the Lord said, a man who builds a tower should first consider the full cost, lest he abandon his project mid-course and be ridiculed. You must steel yourself--being prepared spiritually and psychologically--for a difficult path in which, more often than not, you will face obstacles on your own.

Secondly, you ask whether you could be assigned a spiritual Father. I will provisionally assign Hieromonk Gregory, here at the Monastery, to this task. You can write to him at . He has a number of correspondents widely dispersed over the United States whom he advises and instructs with edifying materials in electronic format. I will pass on to him some of your past correspondence, bringing him up to date about your situation. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to devote good a fraction of the time you allocate for study to mining the material on our Synod website, especially the section devoted to Theology. The site is updated regularly, so I recommend that you also bookmark the "New on the Site" page and give it an occasional inspection. Presuming your interest and time, Father Gregory can also help you draw up a reading list for your ongoing catechism. (Note: in the Publications section you will also find links for downloading some of our books as well as back issues of our own English language publication, Orthodox Tradition.)

I note that the assignment of Father Gregory as spiritual father is "provisional," since Bishop Ambrose mentioned that you may have some contact with Father xxx from xxx. Ideally, your spiritual father should be someone you can meet face to face (at least occasionally!), and who can hear your confessions and read for you the prayer of forgiveness. Perhaps the time will come when Father xxx can fill this role. In the meantime, please keep us informed about whether Father xxx does indeed travel to xxx and whether you are able to meet him. I also ask that you inform us about contacts you may make with other Orthodox who can join you in your struggle. Perhaps Father xxx knows such individuals and can put you in touch with them. I realize that such faithful might live a long distance from you, even if they are in xxx. But perhaps they are close enough that you can make occasional visits over the course of a year. Such contact and fellowship with those of like mind would be very helpful for you, especially in view of your isolation. NO LAYMAN SHOULD EVER WORK WITHOUT CLOSE SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE. Such is a course towards disaster, as every Father of the Church teaches.


* * *

Finally, I want to say a word about your bewilderment and sadness over the state of contemporary Orthodoxy. You have brought this up several times, and I fear that in your isolation these thoughts may be more than simple musings, reflecting a temptation to inordinate distress or despair.

I trust that you are mature enough to know what evils dwell in men's hearts. With such knowledge, you have all the facts you need to explain why the Church has suffered with various illnesses through her history. (Surely you know this is not the first time the Church has been ravaged by false teaching or by amateurs and charlatans calling themselves theologians, as one sees on the Internet.) Unlike Roman Catholics, we do not believe that certain institutional facets of the Church militant, e.g., the Papacy, are immune to corruption by worldly forces. (And, in fact, many Roman Catholics who are more reflective admit that those Popes were heretics present their tradition with a dilemma.) We have had heretical Patriarchs, Bishops, clergy, and faithful in the past, and reason dictates that this is possible in the present and for the future.

Moreover, thoughtful observers have no problem mapping the spread of materialism, hedonism, and other selfish interests in contemporary society. These ills are rampant today, and we should not be surprised by their extraordinary influence on souls within the boundaries of Orthodoxy. Our Faith gives us the tools for our cure and sanctification, but it does not assure that process. For the latter, our collaboration is needed. And if we and others fail, the blame goes not to God and His Holy Church, but to us, who have proven ourselves wicked servants.

Knowing that we traditionalists are fallible and just as susceptible to evil and lapses in faith as our fellow Orthodox should help you to understand better the nature of our resistance. We separate ourselves from ailing Orthodox not because we think the matter is as simple as, "we are right, they are wrong," or "we are in the Church, they are not," or, "we have Grace, and they do not." These are the ruminations of the theologically uneducated, spiritually deluded, and ecclesiastical politicians, who dare to speak of things that belong to the great synods and to deliberations of the Church, therein, under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. We separate ourselves because we realize 1) that we need the sanctifying Grace of pure Orthodoxy, which is violated and spurned by the ecumenical excesses of "world" Orthodoxy; 2) as mortals we know ourselves to be just as vulnerable, if not more so, to the enticements that have beguiled contemporary Orthodox, so any censure of those in error necessitates a corresponding humbling and moderating self-rebuke; and 3) our primary motivations are the evangelical virtues of faith, hope, and love: we honor the faith upheld by our Fathers and bequeathed to us; we have hope that even through our paltry efforts God will be able to save us and others; and we struggle to love, benefit, and restore our fellow man, even (or especially) if he be in error or declare himself our enemy.

This is the Royal Path of moderate, conscientious, and virtuous Orthodox resistance advised by St. Basil in the fourth century, more than sixteen hundred years ago, and constantly cited by the Church Fathers. When I was a student of Father Georges Florovsky and Archbishop Chrysostomos at Princeton and decided to convert to Orthodoxy, both warned me, in entering into the Greek Old Calendar movement, to be vigilant NEVER to deviate from the Royal Path or become involved with extremism. I have always been loyal to that advice. May God ever direct and maintain our course and always protect our Church from any harmful diversions to the right or to the left.

May God bless you in your struggles. Please do not hesitate to contact Father Gregory for assistance and direction. And please remember to keep us informed of any contacts you have with Father xxx and local Orthodox.

Conveying to you His Eminence's blessings, I remain

Your unworthy servant,

+ Bishop Auxentios
Servant of Metropolitan Cyprian and Archbishop Chrysostomos

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