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On Church Divisions

Met. Philaret Sketch

St. Metropolitan Philaret of New York
Translated by Dormition Skete, 2021

Saint Basil the Great is a strict, demanding arch-pastor with a firm hand, an inspired defender and guardian of the Church’s truth and canons. However, when it came to those who fell away into schism and returned again, the strict saint opened the gates of the Church wide for them, softening in every possible way the requirements for those wishing to return. Basil the Great eased all the strictness, if only the lost ones came home.

But his tone changes drastically as those in schism persist and remain in the same position. And then Saint Basil says: “One must look at a schism that has been going on for a long time and stubbornly the same as one approaches a real heresy, and therefore it is necessary to treat such schismatics as heretics. Do not enter into any communication with them.” But here is the judgment of St. John Chrysostom: “Nothing offends God like the division of the Church. Even if you have done a thousand good deeds, you are subject to condemnation no less than those that tormented the body of Christ. If we tear apart the integrity of the Church, even the blood of martyrdom cannot atone for such a sin. What I have said is directed against those who indiscriminately remain with people who are separated from the Church.” And how hard and sorrowful it is when you hear: “I go to any church. It doesn't matter that the bishops and priests don't get along. I don't careGod is one, the Church is one.” But look at what Chrysostom says: “What I have said is directed against those who indiscriminately remain with people who are separated from the Church. If these ones in schism hold to dogmas that are contrary to us, i.e., they have distorted the very Faith, it is clear that therefore should no longer have communion with them.” But further he says: “They say that they teach the same thing as we do, and everything is in common with us, everything is correct. But if they think the same way as us, then they should be avoided even more!” said Chrysostom. Why is that? Because this is an ailment caused by love of authority.

This was the case, for example, in both of our schisms: Metropolitan Platon and Metropolitan Evlogius did not want to submit to the synod of bishops. They say that they have the same Faith and that by their Faith they are as Orthodox as we are. If so, why are they not with us? One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one truthnot two graces, not two truths. If they have the good, then we have the bad; and if we are good, then they are bad. There are not two graces; Christ did not divide the Church. If they departed from us, broke away, considering us wrong, then it is one of two things: either they, separating from us, lost grace and left without it, or they took it away from us, which means we are without grace. How can people not understand this? As if it is the same prayer service, as if [they pray] exactly as we do, and they say, “But God is one; we don’t care: there is a prayer service here as well as there.” Once someone said to a priest in Harbin: “Father, why shouldn't I go? They serve there just like we do; I will pray there too, they have there exactly the same prayers and rites, and everything in general.” And the priest took out of his pocket two fifty kopeck coins and said, “Look, they are exactly the same, but one is real and the other is fake. Well, what do you think, if a peasant learns to read and write, to build a church himself, to sew the vestments himself and to serve in the same way we serve, does that mean that he is a legitimate batyushka (priest)? Would those be real prayers, real sacraments?” So Chrysostom says: "If we are good, then they are bad, and if they are good, then we are bad."

You have probably read in the newspapers the response of Metropolitan Irenaeus to our appeal. This is a response to the council's appeal to the American Metropolis (the proto-OCA). Previously, the American Metropolitanate still called itself Russian, but now they are already rejecting this. They already say that “we are NOT a part of the Russian Church.” Metropolitan Irenaeus writes that we have different paths, we have too many disagreements, and we only need to pray together, that the spirit of Christian love calls us to serve together and to pray together. When I read all these magnificent phrases, it was very difficult and unpleasant—after all, we know what it is in reality, and they are trying to perch themselves into a very advantageous position. We are talking about the real state of affairs. But there is still too substantial a disagreement to be able to suddenly unite so immediately without eliminating all these disagreements! And they say: “Let differences of opinion remain differences of opinion, but let us pray and serve togetherwe are of the same faith!” This undoubtedly suits many peoplenot among the faithful children of our Church Abroad, because they perfectly understand what the situation is, but among the silent, which is the majority.

Having received our letter of response, in which we essentially insist on our previous proposal to meet and discuss the substance of the disagreement, Metropolitan Irenaeus wrote to me as follows:

“Your letter of January 31st clearly shows that our proposal to restore, first of all, prayerful fellowship and thereby initiate the elimination of church divisions, you reject. You reject it in the manner, however, that puts the responsibility on us. You call my letter to you ‘sharply polemic,’ saying that it in itself testifies to how little the ground has been prepared for unity. Other than the fact that my entire letter boils down to an appeal and a proposal to make rapprochement, to start not with polemics but with prayer and the acquisition of God's grace-filled help, let me remind you of my words: 'Our division, caused by the tragic turmoil of our era, does not justify breaks in prayer and mysteries, and therefore it is in the very unity of the holy Mysterieswhich unite us with Christ and, in Him, with each otherthat we see the only way for mutual understanding and reconciliation.’ There is only one way out: in the return to that basic unity, the unity in Christ, in Whom we believe, not broken up by all this difference of thought, the liberating, regenerating power and joy of joint prayer. Any other path, any other beginning will in fact be a continuation of the old path and will only lead to greater exacerbation of our disagreements.”

However, in the sacred canons, which he here with bashful modesty skips over, it is said that if you pray with the wrong-minded, you will be excommunicated from the Church. But this is not mentioned. He continues:

“Your Eminence (addressing me), do you really, in all conscience, perceive these words as filled with a ‘sharply polemical attitude’? And if so, what will our conversations be about in this atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust? How can we condemn others for ‘living a lie’ if, first of all, in ourselves we do not restore the simple truth and do not abandon crooked paths? And how, finally, will we come to this, if not by prayer, if not by meeting each other in Christ? In your initial address to us, we heard the determination to take a truly new step by searching, looking for new ways. And they responded to this with full truth and readiness, with a two-fold proposal to begin with the healing of the most terrible and scandalizing wounds for allthe separation of brothers according to faith, spirit, and bloodat the altar of God. For this holy deed, no preliminary clarifications are needed, on the contrary, only it, only this meeting in Christ and thus the unity of the universal Church will accomplish the succeeding steps! Steps along a new path, and not painfully trampling everything in a hopeless impasse without moving forward.”

When I read this, I remember how in the end I figured it out: he offers fluffy phrases all the time about how good it is when we are close and together and starts from there, and stubbornly refuses to admit that he wants to start where the words end. This is what was written in the newspapers. I answer him:

“Your Eminence, our newspaper correspondence has come to a dead end, and there is no point in continuing it, but I consider it necessary to answer your last letter. Appealing to my conscience, you cite an excerpt from your previous letter and ask where in this excerpt I see a ‘sharp polemic’? But in this excerpt I do not see it. After all, you did not cite your entire letter, where there are completely different expressions, in which you stubbornly avoid the main question dividing us. Which one? Yes, you yourself know. You insistently call for communion in prayer. Needless to say: the renewal of such communion would be a great joy! But you can start with that only when there is only a disagreement of a personal nature, but in that case the matter is clear: ‘Peace, and do not be angry anymore!’ But about fundamental disagreementsaccording to the Church's words: ‘Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess’it is necessary first to achieve such a one-mindedness and only once it is achieved is the joy of this achievement crowned with joint prayer. Remember the historic meeting of hierarchsMetropolitan Evlogius, Metropolitan Theophilus, Metropolitan Anastassy, Bishop Demetrius, just on issues of ecclesiastical disagreements: they did not start their meeting but ended with a joint service. And in general, in the history of the Church, there has never been a joint service without like-mindedness. This is a purely ecumenical invention of the present. “Love,” understood by ecumenical minds, opens wide its loving arms to everyone. But according to the apt and profound remark of the editor of Pravoslavnaya Rus', this love, in its loving embrace, is ready to strangle true Orthodoxy to death. It is not in vain that the apostle, namely the apostle of love, says that a person who is incorrectly speaking about the truth should not be welcomed or received in one’s house, for the one who greets him participates in his evil deeds.

When I talked about this matter with the wise and peace-loving Right Reverend Andrew, Archbishop of Rockland, he spoke about this matter so figuratively and so convincingly that I want to quote this statement to you, without any abbreviation. Vladyka Andrew says: “I am reminded of an incident from the life of Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg. She was especially popular in the merchant world. The merchants noticed that each visit of the blessed one brought them good fortune in trade. The same was the case with Fr. John of Kronstadt: when he came to merchants and bought something, God sent them good fortune. Once in one trading place, the merchants managed to get from one rich estate several different varieties of the most fragrant honey. There was linden honey, buckwheat, and that of other flowers. Each had its own special taste and fragrance. And when the merchants mixed all these varieties into one large barrel, they got such a fragrance, such a taste that one cannot even dream of. Buyers took honey in great demand, sparing no expense. And suddenly, Blessed Xenia appeared: “Don't take it, don't take it,” she cried, “you can't eat this honey; it smells like dead meat!” And she began to drive away buyers. “Oh, matushka, what is wrong with you, have you lost your mind? Don't bother us, what a profit we have made! How can you prove that this honey should not be eaten?" “Look here, I will prove it!” said the blessed one, who then leaned on the barrel and knocked it over. While the honey flowed onto the pavement, it emitted a nice fragrance. And when all the honey flowed out, then everyone screamed in horror and jumped back; at the bottom of the barrel lay a huge dead rat. Even those who bought this honey for a high price and carried it in jars threw it away and fled. “Why,” Vladyka continued, “did I call to mind this incident? Why I am bringing it up now, I will gladly answer: the other day one American who is interested in Orthodoxy and who has visited all Orthodox churches—both in the Soviet Union and here in America, asked me: ‘Why do you and a whole group of Russian Orthodox people not participate in the reception of the patriarchal delegations and, in general, somehow shun everything that is connected with the Church life in the Soviet Union, and even here, in America, we shy away from those Orthodox groups that are somehow connected with the patriarchate? What's the matter? Can it be that the dogmas are not the same, or the sacraments are different, or the worship is something else?’ I thought,” said Vladyka [Andrew], “and answered: ‘No, that’s not the point: the faith is the same and the services are the same. The Orthodox Faith, in itself, smells like sweet honey, wherever it may be proclaimed. But if this fragrant honey was poured into a barrel where there would be a dead rat at the bottom, would you want to taste that honey?' He looked at me with horror and said: ‘Of course not!’ ‘So here we are,’ I answered him. ‘We shun everything that is connected with communism. Communism is to us like the dead rat at the bottom of the barrel. And if this barrel were filled to the very brim with the best fragrant honey—no! We do not want that honey! By itself, honey is excellent, but putrefying poison and stench got into it.’ My interlocutor silently nodded his head—he understood.”

Now comes my own speech: The main question that divides us is the question of the Soviet hierarchy, which you stubbornly keep silent about. The Church Abroad will only recognize her as the legitimate authority of the suffering Russian Church when, with all determination, she rejects the shameful, terrible declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, leaves her pernicious path, and embarks on the path of Church truth, fearlessly and openly defending her. The stain must be washed away. While this is not the case, she is under the “omophorion” of the atheist power, not daring to take a step without its “blessing,” especially in her actions abroad—this is clear to any child.

And at the end of this letter, taking an example from you, I ask you: Do you, according to your bishop's conscience, consider the servants of the KGB, dressed in cassocks and klobuks, really true spiritual leaders and authorities of the Russian Church? Can you not see that there is a dead rat at the bottom of the Soviet organization with which you tied yourself? And if you do not see this, or do not want to see it, if you prefer, as the Gospel says, to “close your eyes and shut your ears” (cf. Mt. 13:15) in order to somehow shut yourself off from the sad reality, then, of course, further negotiations will be completely meaningless, either about unification, or furthermore, about joint prayers, concerning which there can be no question.

Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
Contact: Archbishop Gregory
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