Fr. Seraphim Rose encouraged Fr. Gregory's ordination
from the unpublished letters of Fr. Seraphim Rose
#257 and #259
Jan. 14/27, 1979
St. Nina of Georgia
Your Grace, dear Vladika Laurus,
I hope you and the brethren spent the feast days peacefully and joyfully. For us these days went very well, both in the monastery and in our missions in Redding and Etna. Despite the troubles of the times and our sorrows over many “converts,” there are still some people left, both Russians and converts, who are willing to give their hearts and sacrifice themselves for the Orthodox Faith, for which we thank God.
I am writing this letter in hope of receiving from you some advice (your personal opinion, and not any decision of the Synod) regarding one particular problem which has been presented to us: the reception of converts from the “non-canonical” Orthodox jurisdictions.
Last November we were visited by a priest from one of these jurisdictions. He is in his early 30 s, is married and has several children, and lives on a farm in Tennessee, where he has a very small flock. He is very poor and has deliberately chosen a path of “struggle.”
After studying at an Anglican seminary, he became Orthodox in a “non-canonical” jurisdiction about 10 years ago and was ordained priest about five years ago, I believe, by a “Bishop Christopher” in Pennsylvania (who has since died). He is now under a “Bishop Trevor” in Pennsylvania, who is head of a very small jurisdiction of probably no more than six priests; this jurisdiction is one of many that trace their ancestry back to the Metropolia's “autocephaly” of 1927 (Bishop Eftimios).
The priest who visited us left on the whole a good impression on us (unlike some other “non- canonical” priests we have encountered); he seems not very different from many of the serious convert-priests in our own Synod. He realizes that he has much to learn about Orthodoxy, and that he really started learning only after becoming Orthodox and becoming a priest. He came to visit us because he is very much attracted to the kind of Orthodoxy he finds presented in The Orthodox Word (as opposed to the “Boston” emphasis on “zealotry” and “strictness” and “correctness,” which he does not like). While he was with us (for nearly a week) he asked us if we could find out how he might be received into the Synod, and we told him we would inquire. We asked our Archbishop Anthony, but he seemed to indicate this was not his sphere, and so we are writing to you.
With all this in mind, could you give us your opinion on the following questions?
1. What is his present status in Orthodoxy, in the eyes of our Russian Church Abroad, and how might he be received into our Church? Is he simply without grace and should be baptized and start over again as Orthodox? I know our “Bostonites” would say this, and according to “strictness” perhaps they are correct. But is a more “pastoral” approach not possible? I ask this for two reasons:
a. He himself sees his coming to the Synod as the culmination of a process of growth in Orthodoxy, and he would have a very difficult time totally denying his past Orthodox experience, as he would seem to be doing if he were to be baptized now. (And then would he not have to “rebaptize” those he has already baptized as a priest?) We tried to give him as his example the Orthodox Church of Eastern Africa, which began in a “non-canonical” jurisdiction but persevered until finding true Orthodoxy; but even there, I wonder how those first priests were received by the Patriarch of Alexandria—were they baptized and ordained, or received br cynzemr caht?
b. Our experience with converts of the “strict” school (the “Bostonites”) has made us a little afraid of total “strictness,” which sometimes seems to produce something like a “sectarian” mentality.
Therefore, our question is: if he could be a priest in our Synod, could he be accepted ________, in the manner that Roman Catholic priests are sometimes accepted? (As a matter of fact, he knows one Old-Catholic priest who was accepted by Vladika Nikon in this way—Fr. Augustine in Florida).
2. He is married to a widow, who has children from her first husband. I already told him that this would probably be the biggest obstacle to his being a priest in our Church. I realize .that he probably could not be ordained in our Church with such a canonical impediment; but is it at all possible for him to be received
3. Under what diocese does Tennessee come?—Chicago is by far the nearest diocesan see.
We ourselves would very much like to see him received into our Church, first because he seems to be a “normal American” (unlike some of our converts) who would be able to give Orthodoxy to some ordinary people who would never think of going to a “Russian” Church, and second because he is hungry for a deeper kind of Orthodoxy than the “OCA” and other jurisdictions are giving today. It grieves us to see so much of the American “missionary territory” occupied by the “OCA,” which is becoming more and more spiritually empty (as we hear from people who are there), when there is the possibility for at least a few “strugglers” to give something deeper.
If it would be possible for him to be received into our Church, I am sure he would be willing to go to Jordanville for some time in order to increase his knowledge of Divine services, customs of our Church, general Orthodoxy, etc. He clearly indicated to us his desires to learn and be corrected.
I hope this letter has not burdened you too much, and it will not be too difficult for you to give at least a brief reply. Please pray for us.
With love and respect in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim
Jan. 28/Feb. 10, 1979
Sts. Ephraim and Isaac of Syria
Dear Fr. Donald,
Please forgive my long delay in answering your letters. I wanted to hear first from Bishop Laurus, and I wrote to him only after Christmas in order not to burden him at a busy time. I received his reply on the same day as your new letter this week, but now it has been nearly a week more before I am writing this, what with our printing, missionary trips, etc.
What Vladika Laurus writes will be difficult for you to accept, and I only ask you to receive it with prayer for God’s guidance. Here I will simply quote his words, translated from Russian (parentheses added by me for clarity). I had mentioned to him your Bishops Christopher and Trevor, but had not mentioned you by name.
“Inasmuch as the one who called himself Bishop Christopher did not have a correct ordination, all (of this jurisdiction) are unordained. Consequently, their uniting people to their jurisdiction, whether through baptism or however they receive them, is also without effect, for what they celebrate are not sacraments. Therefore, there can be no question of the reception (into our jurisdiction) of such (clergy) in their existing rank. (In the past) it has been allowed among us to receive Catholics and Uniates in their existing rank, on the ground that they have apostolic succession in their ordination. But in this (jurisdiction) there is no succession. If their “bishops” had been in schism (after being properly ordained and in communion with the Orthodox), this would have been a different question.
“With the person you mention there is another difficulty in that he is married to a widow. This is an impediment to ordination.
“I understand your feelings and, of course, it is sad that there are good people who are beginning to understand Orthodoxy correctly but by their previous actions have closed the way to priesthood. Of course, if he will sincerely approach and understand Orthodoxy, he should leave his priesthood’ and become a good Orthodox layman, perhaps, with God’s help, to raise up children who might themselves serve the Holy Church in priestly rank.”
I have also spoken to Bishop Nektary of Seattle about you, and while he knew nothing of your jurisdiction, he did say that the canon forbidding marriage to a widow is one that is strictly kept and cannot be put aside.
What to say? These words are from bishops who are loving and understanding as well as strict, and I accept them as from God Himself. I believe Archbishop John would not have given a different opinion. It is not for me to advise you to abandon what you have thought was the priesthood; I will only tell you my thoughts on your alternative.
To join yourself to our church as a layman would be an act of courage and suffering, but would open up to you the possibility of spiritual fruitfulness in genuine Orthodoxy, which comes only with suffering. (To remain in our Church alone will require suffering.) To deny the grace of Christs Church on your previous ministry would be difficult, but would not mean denying God’s guidance of you during this time. The character of your present mission, of course, would be different: there is no reason why you could not continue the mission of the printed word (avoiding the pitfall of trusting oneself too much, and listening to the advice of others), but it would be a “priestless” community, with daily common prayers and hopefully occasional visits for Liturgy by a priest like Fr. Theodore in Cleveland.
To remain as you are, on the other hand, would mean to remain outside of communion and deeper contact with us in the Church Outside of Russia, and probably stuck in the rut of “non-canonical” Orthodoxy. In the latter case there will not be much we can do to help you, though of course we would remain in contact with you.
May God guide you in His path, by the prayers of Archbishop John. Please pray for us also.
With love in Christ,
Unworthy Hieromonk Seraphim
P.s. We will continue to send you our publications as they come out—if we overlook you, please remind us. Please send us your publications also.
As for the title Living Orthodoxy, the idea is good, but Fr. Herman fears the word “living” is already “polluted” for us because of the “Living Church” in Russia and now has an overtone of “renovated.”