OPEN LETTER TO FR. GREGORY LOURIE
(cc. to Fr. Panteleimon of Boston)
Dear Fr. Gregory,
Your recent letters to Metropolitan Valentine, published in Vertograd (NN 539, 540), are characteristically clever and cunning. "Mixing truth with unrighteousness" (Romans 1.18), they elicit sympathy by their elements of truth, while pouring the poison of unrighteousness into ears thus rendered sympathetic. My aim in this letter is not to "convert" you from unrighteousness to the fullness of truth (I doubt whether anybody can do that, let alone someone so reviled by you as myself), but to elicit from you an honest and public confession of your true aims, since the aims you publicly set yourself are quite obviously unrealisable and therefore point to some hidden agenda that needs to be elucidated.
You write in your letter of 20 September to the metropolitan: "As you must well remember from your own biography, nobody in True Orthodoxy is frightened by an uncanonical defrocking [you are clearly referring to your own defrocking by Metropolitan Valentine on September 5 of this year for the heresy of name-worshipping, among many other things]. Therefore I in no way relate to you as to a man who has an inflicted an irreparable blow upon me. Moreover, I am sure that we will continue to work together.
"We must think together about the future of ROAC. As you said more than once before, the question of this future is the question of the organisation of the higher Church authority. I truly value your services in the matter of the organisation of the True Orthodox Church of Russia. Now for all of us one more action of yours is necessary. This action must by no means consist in the correction of certain private decisions; I am not at all asking you to rescind those decisions that were taken in relation to me. It must consist in something quite different.
"We must all together with you, dear Vladyko, think about how we are to elect the next First Hierarch..."
I have to say: your impudence, and calculated sang-froid is astounding! It all sounds - and this is no doubt the impression you are intending to produce - that you are not in the slightest bit upset by your defrocking, and don't even want it reversed, uncanonical though you consider it to be, because you have no ambition whatsoever with regard to an ecclesiastical career. All you are interested in is having a nice, quiet chat on the future administration of the Church with the man who defrocked you for heresy...
As if he or any of those who supported his decision want to have anything more to do with you!
Who are you trying to imitate? Socrates? Or Oscar Wilde?
Certainly not the Holy Fathers, who, while free of the passion of ambition, were passionately concerned to correct canonical injustice and dogmatic falsehood (see the life of today's saint, St. John Chrysostom, who supported from exile the "Johnnites" who contested his unjust defrocking). In a previous letter you demonstrated at great length why your defrocking was uncanonical. Why write such a long letter if you want the unjust decision to remain on the statute books? And why are you so unconcerned that the metropolitan, after several years of wavering, has finally come out against your heretical teaching on the Name of God? (Your disciple, Nun Martha (Senina), shows much more zeal than you for the theological issues in her letter published in the same issue of Vertograd.) Can we really believe that you care for none of these things?
Allow me to speculate about the real reasons for this studied insouciance...
But first let us dispel the impression you are trying to create that you venerate the metropolitan and "bow down to his holy will". Right from the beginning, even before you joined ROAC, you made clear in a letter to me that you were joining ROAC, not in order to submit to, learn from and be saved by it, but in order to reform it in your own image. Moreover, you had no respect at all for the metropolitan; you called him "adogmatic" and "a typical Soviet pope". Adogmatic and Soviet - perhaps, but useful nonetheless. For, as you confided to me and others, he had promised to make you bishop of St. Petersburg. And I think you would be that now if you had been more careful and restrained yourself from introducing so many heresies into the Church organism so early...
So his defrocking of you is certainly a blow to your plans. Not "irreparable" perhaps - for you hope and believe that the next first-hierarch will reverse the "mistake" of his predecessor and reinstate you with the added aureole of a confessor for the truth. Hence the arrogant confidence of your words spoken to a man who has done the worst he can do to you and may well now be on his deathbed.
Perhaps, though, you still fear that Valentine can upset your plans by telling his disciples, in a kind of spiritual testament against Lourieism, not to reinstate you under any circumstances. Hence your hint about discussing "how we are to elect the next First Hierarch..." For not only does the right man have to be elected as first-hierarch: he must be enthroned as soon as possible. Is that the "one more action" you want him to do before he dies?
More evidence about your true intentions comes in today's Vertograd (N 541), in which you begin to cast off the mask of veneration for the metropolitan. First, you openly mock him by asserting that "most of the [ROAC] parishes in far abroad (USA, Bulgaria, England) were lost... because of the incompetence in personnel politics of the metropolitan, who put too much hope on his personal relations with people." (I can say that in relation to the parish in England this statement is false.) Then in the next sentence: "Various disturbances have also arisen among believers on the territory of the SNG, with which the metropolitan has not been able to cope." But the coup de grace comes in the next paragraph, where you assert that in recent days the question has been raised "of the voluntary retirement of Metropolitan Valentine, whose state of health evidently does not allow him to fulfil the duties of first-hierarch". This question, of course, has been raised by you - because you want to fulfil the duties of first-hierarch - by manipulating the next first-hierarch from behind the scenes. But wait a minute, Fr. Gregory! The present first-hierarch is not yet dead, and may live longer than you think! And even if he doesn't, your open intriguing over his still-warm body is, frankly, obscene!
Impious men are often over-confident. But you must realise that even if your preferred candidate were elected as the next metropolitan, the Catacomb bishops would never agree to your restoration to the priesthood. So even if you obtained some support, it would be at the cost of a schism in the Church - a major schism, involving several bishops and the whole of the Catacomb flock.
Of course, this may well be what you are aiming at; for the last five years in the history of the ROAC have been, in essence, a struggle between the "neo-renovationist" wing under your leadership and the "traditional ROCOR-Catacomb" wing under the leadership of the Catacomb hierarchs, with the metropolitan trying to hold the balance by slapping down first one and then the other. You had the edge for some years, and so could afford to live with your opponents (while working to expel the most vocal of them, such as Anton Ter-Grigorian). But the pendulum has now swung the other way; and after your defrocking you must realise that no reconciliation or "cohabitation" between the two wings is possible any longer. And so you are looking for a schism...
And yet can reinstatement (and possible promotion to the episcopate) in a "purged" ROAC be the height of your ambitions? I think not. You are looking for a wider flock and a larger dominion, which is why you have taken such an active interest in various Greek Old Calendarist jurisdictions. Thus recently you announced that you were starting a joint missionary project in Western Europe with one of these jurisdictions - but without the knowledge or blessing either of your hierarchy or of the hierarchs of the Greek jurisdiction in question.
But I think that was just a diversion. Much more serious, in my opinion, is your relationship with HOCNA. It is tempting to speculate that the recent visit of Fr. Panteleimon of Boston, the "elder" of that jurisdiction, to Russia has something to do with your plans...
Your sympathies with HOCNA have been evident for some years. I wrote to you several years ago warning of the moral problems in that jurisdiction. But you paid no attention...
There is a certain logic in a tie-up between a "purged" ROAC and HOCNA. Both jurisdictions are, or will be, ruled by a priest directing the bishops from behind the curtains. Both are linked to the criminal world: the one by his passion for smuggling antiques; the other through his mafia connections. Both have heretical views on sexuality, which views they have not been afraid to put into practice, to the scandal of thousands. Both have sullied their reputation in the Russian Church, and have dreams of restoring it in the Greek Church....
Again, your two groups have a similarly rationalist and reformist approach to theology - you see yourself as cleansing the Russian Church of its anti-canonical practices deriving from Peter the Great, and returning it to "Byzantinism", while HOCNA wish to purge it of "scholasticism".
HOCNA rejects as heretical Blessed Augustine of Hippo, St. Philaret of Moscow and Fr. Seraphim Rose - and by implication all the Holy Fathers of the Church, who shared the so-called "juridical theory" of redemption which HOCNA condemns. In their zeal for purging the Church of Latinism and scholasticism, the HOCNA theologians threaten to become "Protestants of the Eastern rite", throwing out all traditions (toll-houses is another) that do not accord with their neo-Protestant outlook. You, on the other hand, reject Patriarch Tikhon, St. Barsanuphius of Optina and a number of Russian New Hieromartyrs as "fighters of the Name" because they rejected the name-worshipping heresy of Fr. Anthony Bulatovich, which you accept as Orthodox. In your zeal for purging the Church of Petrine "Sergianism", you have already called the Most Holy Synod of the pre-revolutionary Russian Church "chimerical", and in your letter written in 2000 and published just recently to Metropolitan Valentine you write that "all the [pre-revolutionary] Synodal decrees are equally lawless - even when they are just in essence. In the best case, they have the juridical status of just sentences delivered by a band of robbers - something in the nature of the [Mohammedan] sharia courts in Chechnya"!
If we combine these two positions, we obtain an explosive new brew which makes the renovationists of the 1920s look like amateurs!
And yet I don't think that spreading a new brand of renovationist theology in conjunction with HOCNA is your main aim. Like the HOCNA theologians you may talk theology and the canons, etc., but your real aim is quite different. It is power. Not power in a crude political sense. But power over the hearts and minds and wills of men - the same power that Satan himself desires.
For power-hungry ecclesiastical politicians like you and Fr. Panteleimon (and you're not the only ones: Gregory of Colorado is another in the news just recently), theology is a means, not an end. Like any cult leader, you first have to attract people by a doctrine, a doctrine of salvation. Then you have to demonstrate that salvation is in your doctrine, and no other, because the others who pretend to be Orthodox, and may even have big reputations in Orthodoxy, are in fact, according to you and Fr. Panteleimon, heretics. Of course, you cannot go too far in that direction. Orthodoxy is based on tradition and authority, so you have to have some authorities: "The Holy Fathers", "Byzantinism", etc. But on the basis, supposedly, of this ancient authority, you then strive to undermine other, more recent, and therefore more "attackable" authorities. This course also has its dangers, but if carried out with skill can reap great rewards for the cult leader. For fallen men have something rebellious and ambitious in them; "the seed of corruption is in me still", as the prayer says. And it tickles their vanity and ambition to think that they are joining a movement that is "reforming the Church", "returning to the Holy Fathers" from the "Babylonian captivity of nineteenth-century Russian theology..."
But having joined this movement, they are enslaved to it. Because it goes without saying that the leader of this movement, if he is truly "reforming the Orthodox Church", must be a saint and endowed with the most wonderful spiritual gifts. So to leave him, or stop obeying him absolutely, would be spiritual suicide and the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit! And he, of course, would be completely justified in punishing his former disciple for his apostasy by condemning him to the outer darkness of rejection by the cult. For having once joined the campaign "to save the Church", he cannot leave it without finding himself, according to cult logic, outside the Church itself.
Of course, in reply to this you will say: where's the proof? I have no proof, I admit. I am only speculating that you and Fr. Panteleimon will join up, and thereby create perhaps the greatest danger to True Orthodoxy that has yet arisen in modern times. But I do have proof about you, and I do have proof about HOCNA. And as surely as 2x2=4, a union between your proven heresies will produce a multiple catastrophe for the Holy Church!
And yet, as I said at the beginning of this letter, I am not so stupid as to think that I can "convert" you. The most I can hope to achieve is an honest statement by you of your true ecclesiastical aims, of your grand strategic design. Then at least "he that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still" (Revelation 22.11); while he that is righteous, being warned of your filthiness, let him flee to the mountains like a sparrow, where God will receive him in safety...
September 14/27, 2005.