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In Defense of Father Dimitry Dudko

This article, written shortly before the repose of Blessed Father Seraphim of Platina in 1980, is a bit dated. Nevertheless, it contains many timeless Orthodox concepts that are still very relevant for the Church today. At the very least, this article reflects well the thinking of Fr. Seraphim concerning the Moscow Patriarchate and other dilemmas within the Church. It is worth reading again. —OCIC Ed.

MANY ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS in the free world were saddened to hear of Father Dimitry Dudko’s "confession" on Soviet television (June 20, 1980), when he read a prepared statement renouncing all his articles and books and acknowledging himself guilty of "anti-Soviet activity." This occurred after Fr. Dimitry had been imprisoned for five months and had been allowed to see no one, not even members of his own family.

One can only guess at the pressures and psychological weapons (including injection of mind-weakening drugs) that caused Fr. Dimitry to read this statement, which was evidently composed for him by the KGB. Perhaps he was actually "broken" by the pressures—broken not in his Christian faith, which he did not renounce, but in his sense of mission to preach the Gospel so boldly in the midst of the impossible conditions of Soviet Russia— but until such time as he becomes free to speak openly (which may never occur) it is hardly possible to say just what happened to him. According to the latest information about him, he has been set "free" awaiting his trial, but has been sent outside Moscow and is allowed contact with no one. A few people in the free world took advantage of this sad incident to proclaim in effect "I told you so!"—as though this "confession" proves that Fr. Dimitry was not genuine in the first place, or that he himself and his message are now thoroughly discredited. Some have quoted obviously slanted accounts that state that Fr. Dimitry was "calm and cheery" and was "smiling’ during his "confession," contradicting other accounts that say he was clearly "nervous" and "ill at ease." This response was obviously what the Communist authorities had in mind when they arranged this show "confession"; their clear intent in staging it was to cut off the "religious revival" in Russia and stop the support in the West for such leaders of it as Fr. Dimitry.

But even before this, there were a number of attacks made against Fr. Dimitry in the free Western press, both Russian and non-Russian, and these attacks continue up to the present. In general these attacks, which have caused disturbance and confusion among some Orthodox Christians, are characterized by a lack of understanding and sympathy for the situation of the suffering Orthodox Christians in the Soviet Union, as well as by certain preconceived ideas about Orthodoxy there. The present article will examine some of the main accusations made against Fr. Dimitry and attempt to answer them by giving a more thorough picture of Fr. Dimitry’s actual views and the real situation of Orthodox Christians in the Soviet Union today. In the course of this examination we will try to evaluate Fr. Dimitry’s message for contemporary Orthodoxy and suggest what our attitude in the free West should be towards him and other representatives of the Orthodox revival in the Soviet Union.


Some of the attacks in the West have accused Fr. Dimitry of being a "Russian chauvinist" who places Russia before Orthodoxy, as well as of being "messianic" and "apocalyptic," of placing too much emphasis on a "world crisis" of faith, and of seeing Russia as the very center of this crisis, the religious "resurrection" of Russia having a message for the whole world. For some Russian liberals in the West (many of whom have now rejected Fr. Dimitry) the "last straw" in this respect was his several letters in defense of the martyred Tsar Nicholas II and appealing for his canonization, together with his statement that he already prayed to the "Great-martyr Nicholas" as a saint (Orthodox Life, 1978, no. 5, p. 47). Thus, despite Fr. Dimitry’s clear statements that he venerates the Tsar for religious and not political reasons, some people condemn him also as a "tsarist" and even a "fascist."

These are all precisely some of the chief accusations made against the Catacomb Church of Russia, and this shows (among other things to be noted below) how close in spirit Fr. Dimitry is to the Catacomb Church. What is regarded by unsympathetic outsiders as "chauvinism," "tsarism," and "crisis mentality" is, on a closer and more sympathetic examination, seen to be a profoundly "suffering Orthodoxy" (to use the phrase of St. Gregory the Theologian) which goes deeper than the comfortable, academic Orthodoxy that is so easy to hold in the free West; it is simply Orthodoxy in action, filled with love for the suffering brother in front of one. In his "letter from exile" (The Orthodox Word, no. 89) Fr. Dimitry well says: "If I will simply speak of Orthodoxy and not see suffering Russia, Orthodoxy for me could be something of the head." No one who has read his writings carefully can seriously doubt that, for all his love for Russia and the Tsar, it is always and only Orthodoxy to which he is inviting and converting people. As he himself says: "Both a ‘Russian priest’ and the ‘Russian Church are partial phenomena which must enter into the whole. But before me always and first of all is the Church. It is to the Church that I strive to bring people" (Vestnik of the Western European Diocese of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, 1980, no. 16, p. 17).

This is not "chauvinism"—it is simply heartfelt Orthodoxy, a kind we ourselves need much more of in the West. And if we in the West are not aware of the literally "apocalyptic" crisis of which Fr. Dimitry speaks, and which is felt most acutely in the suffering Russian land (even as many of the listeners of St. John of Kronstadt thought that he also was "exaggerating" about the spiritual crisis of his times), then it is surely time we woke up from our spiritual sleep and began to see it. Finally, if some in the West do not understand what the "resurrection" of Russia might mean, let them at least, in Christian charity, not disparage this hope of a suffering people that is literally going through Golgotha now.


Some people have accused Fr. Dimitry of being an enemy of the Catacomb Church of Russia and state that he is virtually a "heretic" because he does not "join the Catacomb Church" but on the contrary stays with the Moscow Patriarchate and says that "one is forced to remain with the hierarchy that has been given us." This kind of critic can see only "either/or": if the Catacomb Church exists in Russia, one must join it or be outside the Church. When Fr. Dimitry states that the Catacomb Church is very small, has very few priests, and is not accessible to the people, such critics think that Fr. Dimitry is only trying to disparage the Catacomb Church and justify his own position as a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate.

This criticism comes, quite simply, from ignorance; no one with a realistic awareness of the actual religious situation in Russia today could say such things. Fr. Dimitry’s description of the Catacomb Church coincides exactly with the description of it we have from actual members of that Church:
it is indeed small, with very few clergy, and it is virtually inaccessible to all but a small number of people; being illegal, it does not make itself known to outsiders but hides from everyone; it is virtually impossible for an outsider to find any clergy from this Church, and out of the question for someone like Fr. Dimitry, who is well-known and under constant watch by the KGB. The most optimistic and sympathetic guess as to the number of Catacomb priests does not exceed 200 for the whole of Russia (less than one to every million inhabitants!)*, and we find out about these courageous strugglers only if the Soviet police uncover them and bring them to trial.

What would be involved for Fr. Dimitry to "join the Catacomb Church"? Even if he could find it (that is, let us say, find an actual Catacomb priest and attend his services), this is not yet the same as "joining" it. In the free West, when a priest wishes for conscience’ sake to change from one Orthodox jurisdiction to another (let us say, from the ecumenistic Greek Archdiocese to the Russian Church Outside of Russia), how thoroughly he investigates the whole situation: talks to priests and bishops, attends services, examines exact doctrinal positions, clears up all manner of rumors and tales; and even then he often hesitates for fear of the difficulties that might arise in an organization and with people so new to him.

How much more complex is this whole process in the Soviet Union, where only one Orthodox jurisdiction is allowed to exist, where the Catacomb Church is fiercely persecuted and reliable information about it is extremely difficult to come by. At the present time Fr. Dimitry’s knowledge of it (on the clergy level) can be little more than hearsay, based on contacts with a few lay members; and does one join a new jurisdiction on the basis of hearsay? Even if he could meet a priest, could he ever go so far as to meet a bishop? If not, he could hardly be received into the Catacomb Church. But how could he know that the person he might be introduced to as a "catacomb bishop" is actually an Orthodox bishop instead of a sectarian irnposter, or even a KGB agent? And what Catacomb bishop will sacrifice his anonymity to meet with Fr. Dimitry, who after all might himself be a KGB agent (for such is the air of suspicion in Soviet Russia that literally no stranger can be trusted)? What of the conflicting rumors that there is not one but several groups of Catacomb Christians who call themselves "Orthodox"—the "True Orthodox Church," "True Orthodox Christians," "True Orthodox Christian Wanderers," etc.? What if one joins an "Orthodox" sect instead of the actual Catacomb Orthodox Church? Critics in the West would surely accuse Fr. Dimitry of being a "heretic" and "outside the Church" if he did that!

The real problems involved (and we have given only a few here) in finding and joining the Catacomb Church in Russia are not at all as simple as they seem to someone enjoying the freedom and leisure of the West, where one need only look in a clergy listing or even a telephone book to find official representatives of whichever Orthodox jurisdiction one might choose.

But even supposing Fr. Dimitry could join the true Catacomb Church of Russia, his first public confession of this fact would be the sign for the
end of his church activity; he would be arrested instantly for belonging to this illegal organization. In such circumstances his only purpose in announcing this change would be in order to confess the truth; but why should he do this if this is not at all what the Catacomb Church itself is doing in Russia today? Catacomb clergy do not confess this fact but remain in hiding until they are caught by the police. We in the free West have little enough right to judge someone there, in enslaved Russia, for failing to be an open confessor; but if we insist on judging Fr. Dimitry for this, then we surely should condemn the whole Catacomb Church for the same thing.

No one aware of church life in Russia could possibly condemn Fr. Dimitry for not "joining the Catacomb Church"; if he did, it would be a miracle—but it is not something we could expect or demand of him.

In actual fact, Fr. Dimitry’s activity in the past several years has been very much in the spirit of the Catacomb Church in its early years. We have already mentioned his "suffering Orthodoxy," his apocalyptic awareness, and his veneration of the Tsar-martyr Nicholas II; further, his bold accusations against the betrayal of Orthodoxy by his own bishops have not been heard in Russia since the days of Metropolitan Joseph and other founders of the Catacomb Church in the late 1920’s; and the fervor of his heartfelt Orthodoxy is so far from the dreary legalism of the Moscow Patriarchate that it can only be compared with that of the early martyrs of the Catacomb Church in Russia.

Let us see now what Fr. Dimitry himself has said about the Catacomb Church in Russia, about his own attitude to the "Sergianism" of the Moscow Patriarchate, and about his view of the church situation in general in Russia.

"We all recognize Patriarch Tikhon, and we look on Patriarch Sergius as a betrayal of the Church’s interests to please the authorities. The following (Patriarchs)—Alexy and the present Pimen—only go on the road already opened. We have no other hierarchy. The Catacomb Church would be good—but where is it? The True Orthodox Church—these are good people, morally steadfast; but they have almost no priesthood, and you simply can’t find them, while there are many who are thirsting. And one has to be ministered to by the hierarchy we do have. Immediately the question arises: are they ministering to us? Basically, they are the puppets of the atheists. And another question: at least, are they believers? Who will answer this question? I fear to answer. . .

"One should say a few words about the so-called Tikhonites, the True Orthodox Christians. I have met them, rejoiced at their moral steadfastness, rejoiced even at their conservatism, rejoiced at their courage and asceticism; but I’ve taken a look at them, and they have no unanimity. And the chief thing about them: they have almost no priesthood, the leadership has been taken over by women dressed in black like nuns, who consider everyone to be heretics and only themselves infallible. They should be put in a museum—and I speak without irony—in a museum where people could look at them and even learn something; but after all, life is not a museum. Some of the "Tikhonites" have begun to preach celibacy for everyone, but can everyone take this?

"Many of them suffer for years without communion. One such person came to me; I spoke with him, and he received communion. And you should have seen how he instantly came to life!

"And so, whether we wish or not, we must take into consideration the hierarchy which we have. What should we do?

"I think that, being together with everyone, we should strive to revive church life. But how? This question is like a nail driven into our brains. O Lord, have You really abandoned us?

"It is easy to observe from outside, but how difficult it is to do something—it is unbearable, impossible. But one must do something.

"The question stands thus: either live or perish.

"To perish is not the same thing as deciding the question abstractly. And you who try to draw a conclusion from she whole matter—do not take just one tendency be an example. I think that everyone now wants to find a way out; we’re sick and tired of atheism, it has become repugnant even to the atheists.

"If possible, carefully support us—here I appeal to the West. Try not to remake us to somehow fit your own situation. The Russians have their own path. You can lure them into another one, but you will see that you will get no good from it.

"Each one goes on his own path. We are going on the path of Golgotha, a difficult one; such is God’s will. If you support our cross—thank you. We need nothing more than this; we must find the way out ourselves. If we do this, perhaps we will have something new to say to you also (Possev, July, 1979, pp. 37.38).

No open-minded Orthodox Christian in the West can read such a statement—which comes from a deeply suffering Orthodox heart—without feeling great sympathy for Fr. Dimitry and all like him who are trying to find their way out of the literally unparalleled and impossible situation in which they find themselves within the Moscow Patriarchate and in an atheist society. One cannot quote canons to a drowning person; we cannot turn away from such people and tell them to "join the Catacomb Church" before we will offer them our support.

The agony of suffering Orthodoxy in our days cannot always be by a change of jurisdictions. Even in the free West the jurisdictional situation is immensely complicated. Some of those who see things in terms of "either/or" think that all new calendarist Greeks, for example, should simply "join the old calendarists." But many new calendarist Greeks have found the situation of the old calendarists in Greece—with their innumerable "jurisdictions" and sometimes extreme and ignorant views—to be exactly the same situation that Fr. Dimitry finds in the Catacomb Church in Russia, and they have rejected this "logical conclusion" ("logical" to outsiders who don’t have to face the actual choices involved) in order to join the Synod of the Russian Church Outside of Russia. But this also is an irregular and abnormal solution which produces its own conflicts and problems, and no one has a right to demand of anyone else that they "join the Synod" as the answer to the ever more open apostasy of the new calendarist Greek bishops. If someone can do this, and find his place in this jurisdiction without falling into the pitfall of criticizing his bishops and spreading the atmosphere of suspicion that prevails among Greek old calendarists, and thus coming into conflict with the clergy and believers of the Synod, well and good; but no one can demand this of anyone.

The situation of Fr. Dimitry in many respects is identical with that of those new calendarist Greek priests who are aware of the false path of their own bishops but are unable to "join the old calendarists" because of the confusion and extremism to be found in their ranks (not, of course, among all old calendarists, but in enough of them to make the situation very confusing and difficult). Fr. Dimitry does not have the third alternative of "joining the Synod"—although it is quite clear from his own statements that this is precisely what he would do if the choice were his (that is, if he were to he exiled to the West). Here, for example, are some of his words about the Russian Church Outside of Russia in one of his last tape-recorded talks before his arrest (Grebnevo, November, 1979):

"They have to preserve Tradition in the West. This is better and more convenient for them. Let it be that it is the ‘old women’ there, but they also can do much. We know who is pained over Russia, for whom Russia is dear, even if there may be among them some extreme views. . .

"I will say that I am very thankful to the Synodal Church Outside of Russia, because it is most of all people from there that, when they come here, I feel they are ‘mine’; it is so pleasant to speak with them . . . Perhaps not everyone in the Church Outside of Russia understands me, but for the most part they do understand. And I’m not offended! When people from the autocephalous American Church came, there were good talks; but I feel that they have a somewhat Western outlook . . .

"They tell me that I am of a Slavophile tendency. I acknowledge, of course, that I am really a Russian, a priest, and that I have a Russian attitude, without being separate from the Fullness of the Church. Both a Russian priest and the ‘Russian Church’ are partial phenomena which must enter into the whole. But before me always and first of all is the Church. It is to the Church that I strive to bring people" (Vestnik of the Western European Diocese of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, 1980, no. 16, p. 17).

In the Soviet Union, as nowhere else in the world, it is impossible to apply strict "jurisdictional" labels. In the Moscow Patriarchate there nave been betrayer bishops, and the very principle of "Sergianism" is a betrayal of Orthodoxy, as Fr. Dimitry has said; this is why the free Russian Church Outside of Russia can have no communion with this jurisdiction. But in the same Moscow Patriarchate there is an increasing number of priests like Fr. Dimitry Dudko who do not participate in this betrayal, but speak in the spirit of the Catacomb Church and the free Russian Church Outside of Russia. We even know of at least one Catacomb priest (and probably there are others) who deliberately entered the Moscow Patriarchate in order to bring the grace of God to more people than is possible in the small cells of the Catacomb Church.

By no means all members of the Catacomb Church itself share the extreme views with which Fr. Dimitry has come into contact there. Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan and other leading hierarchs of the Catacomb Church have regarded it as a blasphemy to deny that the sacraments of the Moscow Patriarchate are grace-filled (see The Orthodox Word, 1977, no, 75 P. 182). An articulate spokesman of the Catacomb Church in the 1960’s has stated specifically that he does not condemn the reception of Holy Communion in churches of the Moscow Patriarchate for those unable to endure the Catacomb life or find the Catacomb Church; he says: "If the present days were like the days of the Sergianist disturbance, I would tell you what I said then: Go to churches which do not have communion with Metropolitan Sergius but do not go to him and his partisans. But the times have changed. We have no churches now in the USSR, and can we, who have gone into our, solitary cells and find there everything which the churches gave us, forbid the thousands of believers who do not have such an opportunity from seeking consolation and spiritual food in the churches that exist, and can we condemn them because they go there?" (Lev Regelson, The Tragedy of the Russian Church, YMCA Press, 1977, p. 192). Many bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia have said the same thing. One of the staunchest defenders of the Catacomb Church in the Church Outside of Russia, Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, notes something that has been mentioned by many others both inside and outside of Russia: "Zealots of the true faith in Russia have nurtured within themselves a feeling of a certain type, which alerts then to those of the clergy whom they can find to be true pastors, and to those they find to be otherwise (Orthodox Life, 1979, no. 6, p. 40); thus, people cut off from the Catacomb Church do receive communion from priests of the Moscow Patriarchate whom they can trust. (Fr. Dimitry has described one such incident, quoted above), and we cannot condemn them for this. The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, in view of all this, has decreed for all dioceses the commemoration at the Proskomedia of Fr. Dimitry and other imprisoned priests and laymen of the Moscow Patriarchate (Ukase no. 17 of Jan. 16/29, 1980; see The Orthodox Word, 1980, no. 90, p. 2); and as zealous a hierarch as Archbishop Andrew of Novo-Diveyevo commemorated publicly at the Great Entrance of the Liturgy the newly reposed hierarch of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archbishop Germogen, who ended his life in disgrace with the church authorities because he would not accept the dictation of the atheists.

None of this changes in the least our basic attitude towards Sergianism is a betrayal of the church, nor does it allow us who are free to enter into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. But it does persuade us that, far from viewing Fr. Dimitry and others like him (such as Boris Talantov ten years ago) as jurisdictional "enemies" because they do not "join the Catacomb Church," we should try to understand better their extremely difficult situation and rejoice that such a genuine Orthodox Christian phenomenon is coming even from the midst of the compromised Moscow Patriarchate—a proof that church life is not dead even there and a promise that, once the political situation in Russia that produced "Sergianism" will have changed, a full unity in the faith will be possible with such courageous strugglers as Fr. Dimitry.

We do know that a Catacomb bishop showed his concern, from the other world, that Fr. Dimitry be ordained to the priesthood, even in the Moscow Patriarchate. This was Bishop Parthenius, a vicar of the Odessa diocese, who died in a concentration camp in the 1930’s without recognizing Metr. Sergius. Once, in the difficult days of 1960 when Dimitry Dudko was despairing of ever being ordained (two years had passed since his graduation from the theological academy, and he was still regarded with suspicion by the church authorities as an ex-prisoner), the mother of his friend Gleb Yakunin had a dream: "Bishop Parthenius was standing fully vested at the table of preparation and told her: ‘I am caking out a small piece of prosphora for your Mitya (Dimitry)—on November 7 (20) he will be a deacon—and a large piece—on November 8 (21) he will be a priest."’ It happened as Bishop Parthenius had foretold, and from that time Fr. Dimitry has always commemorated this Catacomb bishop at the Liturgy as one of his own fathers in the faith. (A. Levitin-Krasnov, in Russian Life, Jan. 22, 1975.)


Yet another criticism of Fr. Dimitry in the West is that he must be a KGB agent himself, or else he could not have been so free in speaking and writing and even sending his sermons abroad for publication.

This is the reward of Fr. Dimitry’s immense labor in confessing the truth of Orthodox Christianity! None but an unloving, un-Christian heart could make such a cruel accusation after reading Fr. Dimitry’s obviously suffering and heartfelt words; one can only assume that these critics have not read his writings. Fr. Dimitry himself, just before his arrest, wrote of his "sleepless nights" of agony and grief after reading such criticisms in the Russian émigré press; and undoubtedly such criticisms were used by the KGB in their attempt to "break" Fr. Dimitry and make him think that even the Orthodox Russians abroad were against him.

Few critics abroad, to be sure, have been quite so cruel, but a number of people have been unable to avoid a certain mistrust of him; the Soviets, they think, must have some "plan" in allowing Fr. Dimitry to speak so freely.

No one aware of Soviet reality can doubt that the schemes of the KGB extend literally everywhere, and that they seek to use the Church and its representatives for their own ends. But let us only reflect for a moment in an Orthodox way: Fr. Dimitry speaks in the spirit of age-old Orthodoxy and he speaks to the heart of the Russian (and not only the Russian!) people today; he is very popular among the Orthodox people, and so of course the Soviets would like to "use" him if they can. They have also sent their agents into the Catacomb Church and have tried to "use" conservative Orthodoxy by having such agents pose as anti-Communist traditionalists. Theoretically, therefore, we have a right to distrust anyone who speaks for Russian Orthodoxy. But it is one of the tricks of satan in our times to sow discord and misunderstanding in the midst of Orthodox Christians, and lack of trust for each other.

The obvious sincerity of Fr. Dimitry Dudko can only be judged by a loving, struggling, Christian heart. If such a truthful man as Fr. Dimitry can be mistrusted (as was Solzhenitsyn before him), then where can trust be placed in our cold-hearted world? One will begin to mistrust everyone around oneself, and end by closing oneself in a small group of "reliable" people—one of whom is probably a KGB agent!

The Orthodox answer to this unhealthy outlook can only be based on a believing Christian heart—which may sometimes be mistaken, but, with God’s grace, will not be led entirely astray. The writings of Fr. Dimitry before his "confession" are of such a character that one cannot reasonably doubt their sincerity; they speak directly to the believing heart as do few other Orthodox writings of our times. Whatever may become of Fr. Dimitry now, these writings will remain—despite his forced "disowning" of them—part of the important Orthodox literature of our century.

Fr. Dirnitry himself gives an answer to this air of suspicion that has become so widespread now in the Orthodox world: "Is it not time for us to learn to understand each other, to help each other, to rejoice for each other? . . . Brethren, Russia is perishing, the whole world is perishing, hiding itself behind a false prosperity, and we hinder each other from doing the work of God!" (Possev, June, 1980, p. 52.)


A final criticism of Fr. Dimitry, made by some would-be zealots of Orthodoxy in the West, is that he is an "ecumenist" and thus is literally a "heretic." This accusation is made on one of two grounds:

a. He belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate. which since 1970 has allowed Holy Communion to be given to Roman Catholics and Old Believers in Russia, and thus is a "heretical" organization, all of whose members are likewise "heretics."

b. In some of his writings and sermons, Fr. Dimitry praises "ecumenisrn," and he does not condemn heterodox Christians and does not state explicitly that Orthodoxy alone is the Church of Christ.

The first of these accusations may be dealt with briefly: the decision of the Moscow Patriarchate to give Holy Communion to the non-Orthodox (under certain restricted conditions) is surely an anti-canonical act and one, perhaps, that is even heretical (if those promulgating it actually believe that Roman Catholics can be part of the Orthodox Church). As such it was condemned by the Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia shortly after its promulgation (see The Orthodox Word, 1971, no. 6, p. 301). But this canonical disorder does not as such constitute a heresy that deprives all members of the given Church of the grace of God. The same bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia who condemned this act in 1971, in their Sobor of 1976 addressed the priests of the Moscow Patriarchate as genuine Orthodox pastors, giving them the greeting reserved only for Orthodox priests who have God’s grace: "Christ is in our midst!" [See excerpts, below—Webmaster]. The Moscow Patriarchate has worse faults than this (the chief of which is "Sergianism" itself—the subjection of the Church to dictation by atheists), but the free Russian Church has never condemned it as "heretical." Fr. Dimitry cannot be called a "heretic" on this basis, and those who attempt to do so find themselves at variance with the bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia.

As for the second accusation, even friends of Fr. Dimitry have to admit that in his earlier writings he sometimes used the word "ecumenism" as a word of praise. This was obviously done in ignorance of what the "ecumenical movement" actually is, and any sympathetic Orthodox Christian in the West can readily overlook this fault (as did Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky in his review of Our Hope in Orthodox Russia in 1976), as long is Fr. Dimitry is not teaching the actual heresy of the ecumenical "super-church."

This brings us to a fundamental question of definition: what is ecumenism? Some would-be zealots of Orthodoxy use the term in entirely too imprecise a fashion, as though the very use of the term or contact with an "ecumenical" organization is in itself a "heresy." Such views are clearly exaggerations. "Ecumenism" is a heresy only if it actually involves the denial that Orthodoxy is the true Church of Christ. A few of the Orthodox leaders of the ecumenical movement have gone this far; but most Orthodox participants in the ecumenical movement have not said this much; and a few (such as the late Fr. Georges Florovsky) have only irritated the Protestants in the ecumenical movement by frequently stating at ecumenical gatherings that Orthodoxy is the Church of Christ. One must certainly criticize the participation of even these latter persons in the ecumenical movement, which at its best is misleading and vague about the nature of Christ’s Church; but one cannot call such people "heretics," nor can one affirm that any but a few Orthodox representatives have actually taught ecumenism as a heresy. The battle for true Orthodoxy in our times is not aided by such exaggerations. All the less, then, can one call Fr. Dimitry a "heretic" for his naive praise of a movement in which he has never himself participated.

But what are Fr. Dimitry’s actual views about the Church of Christ? Is it really a matter of indifference for him, as his critics say or imply, which Christian sect one might belong to?

These critics quote certain statements of Fr. Dimitry (in his book Our Hope) which they think deny the uniqueness of Orthodoxy: "We can’t look down upon those of other faiths" (p. 19); "rejoice that you’re Orthodox, but don’t look upon others as if they’d all gone astray. God will judge us all, and we should leave such judgment to Him" (p. 44); "the Catholics also form a church, and we don’t call them heretics" (p. 46). In some of these statements there are faults—strictly speaking, for example, Roman Catholics are indeed "heretics," as St. Mark of Ephesus stated them to be. But these statements are addressed to simple people whose main concern is not theological precision, but practical advice: how should we behave towards the non-Orthodox? Fr. Dimitry’s replies are pastorally correct, even if theologically sometimes imprecise. For this he cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a "heretic."

In actual fact, however, we in the West have something to learn from Fr. Dimitry’s attitude towards the non-Orthodox. Among Western converts to Orthodoxy (to speak of something close to home) there is indeed a temptation to speak too freely of "heresy" and "heretics," and to make the errors of the non-Orthodox an excuse for a certain pharisaic smugness about our own "Orthodoxy." Even when it is worded in a theologically correct manner, this attitude is spiritually wrong and helps to drive away from the Orthodox Church many who would otherwise be attracted to it. Fr. Dimitry’s attitude in this case, even if he sometimes expresses it in an imprecise way, is a sound one, both for the avoidance of phariseeism and a certain "sectarian" attitude on the part of his own Orthodox flock, and for the conversion of the non-Orthodox. Fr. Dimitry emphasizes that Orthodox Christians should go deeper into their own faith without judging the non-Orthodox; he rightly says: "Anyone who grows conceited about his faith is faithless" (Our Hope, p. 19), and again: "One can be Orthodox formally and yet perish faster than someone who belongs to another faith. Orthodoxy is joy at having found the truth, and the real Orthodox always looks at others with love. But if belonging to the Orthodox Church is accompanied by irritation at those who think otherwise, then one ought to doubt one’s belonging to Orthodoxy" (p. 44). By such statements Fr. Dimitry does not at all "betray" the Orthodox faith, as some think; he only encourages his flock to be first of all humble and loving in their confession of Orthodoxy, and to avoid pride and irritable "correctness," for these are sectarian and not Orthodox qualities (which is why we should doubt our Orthodoxy if we have them) and will indeed cause us to be judged more severely than those of another faith.

That Fr. Dimitry does indeed confess Orthodoxy to be the true faith, and does not regard it a matter of indifference what sect one might belong to, can be seen in numerous statements he has made, many of them already translated into English. For example, in Our Hope he states: "All religions
do, indeed, contain some truth in them—some more, others less. Therefore, I welcome all religions and would like to find a common language with them all. This, however, does not in any way exclude the fact that I myself consider Christianity to be the only religion which satisfies all the needs of the human spirit—and moreover, Christianity in the Orthodox understanding . . . Now if Christianity fails to satisfy someone—that’s a matter for his own conscience. Let God judge him—I won’t. But my opinion about such people is this: God hasn’t yet revealed Himself to them from the Christian point of view. Seek and you will find—just don’t try to create your own religion" (pp. 234-5).

Fr. Dimitry’s attitude to the non-Orthodox may be seen in his meetings with Baptists and other sectarians:

Two young men somehow came to us. They were happy, polite, believing people. For a long time we could not make out what confession they belonged to. But as the conversation advanced it began to be felt that they were not Orthodox . . .

"What confession do you belong to?" I asked.

"And is that so important? We are Christians: with this, everything is said."

"Of course, Christians, that is good . . ."

They continued: "With the Catholics we are Catholics, with the Orthodox we are Orthodox, with the Baptists we are Baptists . . .

"You can combine all these things right away?

"Of course . . ."

"And if all families would be poured together into one collective farm, so that nobody knows who is father and who is mother?"

"Well, so what?"

"And how long have you been believers?"

"A year. . ."

"My, my! After a year you have been able to hold so much! Live a little longer and you will be able to hold yet more . . .

Another incident: A Baptist came to me. (I try to be respectful to every one.) He even came to beg pardon: somewhere in a conversation he had said about me that I was "combining" everyone in myself, and people told him that he had betrayed Father Dimitry, and the Orthodox might punish him.

"Of course," (I said,) I am respectful to everyone, but with this reservation: I am strictly Orthodox. I strive to preserve my own character. This does not mean that today I am one person and tomorrow somebody else. The attempt to create a universal Christianity is a fantasy . . ."

"But I would like to be simply a Christian," the Baptist interrupted me.

"You can’t do that. For example, you come up against the Sacrament of Communion. The Baptists perform this simply as a remembrance, while we Orthodox perform it not only as a remembrance, but (believing) that this is the True Body and True Blood , . ."

"Yes,"—he understood.

"One must choose and stand on a definite point of view."

. . . People ask: there are various churches; which is the right one?

Khomiakov, the Orthodox philosopher and theologian, and most important, a true Christian in his life, has said: "The Church is known only by one who lives by the life of the Church." Like is known by like. Live rightly and a little longer, grow strong as is fitting, and here the Church will be also; but just considering yourself churchly is not enough.

"One must live by the life of the Church!"

Further, noting in this same place that Christian seminars are being started in Russia, Fr. Dimitry clearly warns against the non-Orthodox, non- churchly attitude which is often present in these seminars: About the seminars, he writes, "one can only rejoice. However, one can also give a warning: strive not to break away from the Church, remember that Christianity is not a matter simply of glittering with knowledge; here spiritual experience is needed, and this is given by life in the Church." (Nikodemos, Fall, 1979, pp. 28-30).

Thus, it is clear enough that Fr. Dimitry strives to be "strictly Orthodox"; he is respectful towards those of other religions, but he is quite firm that one cannot be "simply a Christian" but must be definite in one’s belief—and in his opinion Orthodoxy is the true belief. When he states that "for me Orthodoxy is correct," or "we shouldn’t judge those of other faiths," we need not believe that he is denying the objective truth that Orthodoxy is indeed the true Church of Christ; he is simply expressing himself in a humble manner which, especially in Soviet conditions where the people are just awakening to faith as opposed to atheism, is very understandable, sharply distinguishes him from the sectarians who proclaim loudly that everyone else is in error, and helps to make converts to the Orthodox faith. Fr. Dimitry himself has baptised some 5000 adult converts—itself a testimony that he is not "indifferent" as to which faith one should belong to, and that his missionary approach is quite effective!

Some Orthodox people outside of Russia who are aware of the actual indifferent and even non-Christian character of the ecumenical movement, rather than condemn Fr. Dimitry for his naive statements about it as an "ecumenist" and a "heretic," have written to him warning him of its nature and perils. As a result, Fr. Dimitry’s later statements reveal a different attitude towards it. Thus, in 1979 he wrote strong words against the "progressive" tendency among some of the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate: "They are for reforms! They can do anything—both lie and change things. Their emphasis is on young people, no matter what kind they might be. Anything is acceptable. Quantity! Throw dust in their eyes! They can collaborate with anyone you please—with the state security organs (KGB), with other confessions. ‘Ecumenism’ is their slogan. I am afraid that one can create a church in one’s own image and likeness—a church of evil and cunning men" (Possev, July, 1979, p. 37). In this and other articles he confesses himself to he a "conservative" in church matters—even to the extent of admiration for the Catacomb Church in Russia and the most traditional elements of the Russian Church Outside of Russia.

Such a man cannot be regarded as a ‘heretic" or an "ecumenist." This accusation comes from ignorance or a misreading of his actual views. Those people who are applying these false names to Fr. Dimitry today, if they do not see the error of their views, will undoubtedly be applying them in the near future to the bishops and priests of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, as well as to certain spokesmen of the Catacomb Church in Russia, with whom Fr. Dimitry is in agreement.


We have tried to defend Fr. Dimitry from the unfair accusations made against him by people who have acted in ignorance or out of a lack of sympathy for the situation of suffering Russia today. No one will deny that Fr. Dimitry has faults and has made mistakes: but none of these justify the evil slanders that have been heaped upon him: "agent," betrayer," ‘heretic." He has been a courageous priest preaching the Orthodox Gospel of Christ in an almost impossible situation; and he has deserved our full support and ardent prayers. These prayers are warmly offered by the clergy of the Russian Church Outside of Russia both at the Proskomedia, in accordance with the decree of the Synod of Bishops, and at other parts of the Divine services.

Now, of course, he has "recanted" his sermons and writings. Should our attitude towards him change?

The Russian Church has known a similar situation in this century. Patriarch Tikhon, after his imprisonment in 1922, began to make statements and issue decrees which indicated a certain compromise with the atheist authorities, in sharp contrast to his uncompromising statements and decrees made before that time. The free Russian Church accepts his earlier statements, which remain part of the inalienable heritage of the suffering Russian church in the 20th century—so much so that even the absolutely uncompromising Catacomb church continues to regard itself as "Tikhonite"; but the statements made after his imprisonment, obviously issued under compulsion, are disregarded without any doubt being thereby cast upon him as an Orthodox confessor and new martyr.

Towards Fr. Dimitry we cannot but have the same attitude. His truer statements will continue to be regarded as an important part of the Orthodox confession and teaching of the suffering Russian Church under Communism, but his "recantation" and any subsequent statements that contradict what he said earlier must be rejected.

Archbishop Anthony of Geneva, of the Russian church Outside of Russia, has noted how much closer Fr. Dimitry is now to those who look at suffering Orthodox Russia with sympathy and love: "By the ‘repentance’ of Fr. Dimitry, the atheists have deceived not us, but themselves, in that now the whole world understands what frightful means for the murder of the human will and personality the contemporary persecutors of Christ are using! . .  This mockery of Fr. Dimitry has made him even closer to us, our own brother in Christ, not only a confessor but also a martyr; it has allowed us to participate in his sufferings. It is not doubt and uncertainty that should take hold of us, but the firm conviction of our victory, by the power of Him Whom Fr. Dimitry serves so sincerely and with such self-sacrifice" (Orthodox Russia, 1980, no. 15, p. 1).

But the question of our attitude to Fr. Dimitry is not limited to his person; behind him stands the whole Orthodox revival of the much-suffering Russian people—a revival to which the atheist authorities hope they have given a fatal blow by "breaking" Fr. Dimitry. Fr. Dimitry has helped to lead the way in this revival; but others will follow. Our attitude towards Fr. Dimitry will indicate what attitude we have to this Orthodox revival in Russia.
From the time when Fr. Dimitry’s sermons and writings became known in the West in the mid-1970’s, he was accepted as a genuine manifestation of Holy Russia by the most responsible and conservative elements in the Russian Church Outside of Russia. This was in spire of the almost universal initial reluctance to listen to him because, "after all, he is in the Moscow Patriarchate." The free Russian Church, one may say, took him to heart and, without changing in the least its uncompromising stand towards the "Sergianism" of the Moscow Patriarchate, recognized in Fr. Dimitry an authentic representative of the deep religious and Orthodox awakening of the Russian people.

This was not in the least a "liberal fashion," as some enemies of Fr. Dimitry would like to make it out. It was precisely the older, more conservative generation of Russian theologians who led the way in the discovery of Fr. Dimitry among us. Thus, Fr. Michael Pomazansky, the preeminent theologian of the Russian Church Abroad and surely (in his late 80’s then) a leading "conservative" of this Church, gave great praise to the book Our Hope, even while noting that one should not be put off by Fr. Dimitry’s superficial praise of "ecumenism," which he excused owing to Fr. Dimitry’s ignorance of this movement (Orthodox Russia, 1976). Fr. Sergei Shukin (now reposed), at 80 years of age one of the last of the real zealots of Orthodoxy in Russia in the 1920’s, wrote a review of Our Hope and other writings of Fr. Dimitry, highly recommending them to Orthodox readers and affirming that "in them we feel that in the Soviet Union there is truly occurring a spiritual awakening" (Russian Word in Canada, Sept., 1976, p. 16).

Archbishop Vitaly of Montreal, in the foreword to the second of Fr. Dimitry’s books which he has published, calls Fr. Dimitry "a fearless confessor of the true Orthodox Church. . . Only the grace of the Holy Spirit strengthens his always limited human powers, inspires him in the exploit of confession and martyrdom, and places in his words a divine fire which burns the hearts of men" (Sunday Talks, St. Job Brotherhood, Montreal, 1977, p. 5).

Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles, who is always most strict in his judgments regarding church life in the Soviet Union, has quoted pages of Fr. Dimitry’s writings in the church press, noting that "although we do not agree with everything in the book of this exceptionally gifted priest, we cannot deny his faith, sincerity, and lively talent," and he cites Fr. Dimitry’s words as proof that "in Russia a great and for us a tremblingly-joyful religious rebirth is occurring" (Orthodox Russia, 1976, no. 18, pp. 5-6).

One could also cite the enthusiastic solidarity shown for Fr. Dimitry by Archbishop Anthony of Geneva, Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco, the official periodical of the dioceses of Western Europe and Australia, the leading church organ of the Russian Church Abroad—Orthodox Russia—and  numerous bishops and priests, all of which testify that the best part of the Russian Church Outside of Russia has found in Fr. Dimitry a priest who is one in spirit with them in their battle for true Orthodoxy. Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) of Manhattan has written: "Those in Russia who are holding fast to Orthodoxy and preaching the truth, not submitting to the influence of outside powers, are not merely our allies, but our brethren in one and the same Church" (Orthodox Life, 1979, no. 6, p. 40). That is why the Sobor of Bishops in 1976, in the official epistle representing the views of Metropolitan Philaret and all the bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, declared to the courageous priests of the Moscow Patriarchate who are following Fr. Dimitry’s path: "We kiss the Cross which you have taken upon yourselves, O pastors who have found the courage and power of spirit to be open accusers of the faintheartedness your hierarchs who have capitulated to the atheists. . . We know of your exploit, we read about you, we read what you have written, we pray for you and ask your prayers for our flock in the Diaspora. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!"
This is not the enthusiasm of a moment; it is not a blind following of some new intellectual fashion. It is rather the deep response of the best part of the free Russian Church to the re-awakening voice of true Orthodoxy in Russia—a response which is all the more heartfelt in that it sees that Fr. Dimitry and others like him have something important to say to us in the free world also.

This response of the Russian Church Outside of Russia is quite remarkable in the contemporary Orthodox world, which is characterized by canonical and doctrinal looseness at one extreme, and a self-righteous "correctness" on the other. We in the free Russian Church are in one and the same Church with Fr. Dimitry, even though we have no communion with his hierarchs and even with him (until he becomes free of them). Fr. Dimitry himself has expressed this paradox well: "The unity of the Church at the present time consists in division . . . Right now we cannot be one; we must be separate in order to preserve unity. The kind of unity where they want to drive us all into a single herd—this is precisely the worst kind of division . . . We must all learn to understand each other, to be tolerant towards each other. This will also be a pledge of our unity. Let everyone be guided by his own conscience; each one stands or falls before God, and God will judge everyone . . . But this does not mean that one should not stand up for the rightness of his own jurisdiction and even consider others to be in error. One must look more widely through the narrow gates of love; the commandment of love is wide. Live as your conscience says, choose according to your conscience, battle according to your conscience—and you will preserve unity!" (Vestnik of the Russian Student Christian Movement, 1979, no. 129, p. 272).

Those who try to see everything in terms of the canons regarding officially "schismatic" organizations will not wish to understand this message, which has been taken so much to heart by the free Russian Church. Yet this is precisely the teaching of one of the founding fathers of the Catacomb Church of Russia, Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan, who fought against the "legalistic" understanding of the Church’s laws which Metr. Sergius was advocating. He wrote to Metr. Sergius in 1929: "It amazes you that, while refraining from celebrating Liturgy with you, I nonetheless do not consider either myself or you to be outside the Church. ‘For church thinking such a theory is completely unacceptable,’ you declare; ‘it is an attempt to keep ice on a hot grill.’ If in this case there is any attempt on my part, it is not to keep ice on a hot grill, but rather to melt away the ice of a dialectical-bookish application of the canons and to preserve the sacredness of their spirit" (The Orthodox Word, 1977, no. 75, p. 183).

The leading canonical expert in the Russian Church Outside of Russia, Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), has written that the canons of the Church "give the reaction of the Church to persecution of the Faith under the conditions of the first centuries of Christianity. Now, apparently, there also exist other causes unforeseen 1700 years ago and which we, outside the Soviet Union, cannot assess. For this reason alone we have been compelled to abstain from very decisive judgments concerning personalities and certain phenomena of the religious life of the Soviet Union, both from condemning them and approving them, with the exception of individual cases that are sufficiently clear" (Orthodox Life, 1979. no. 6, p. 43). This caution in applying the canons to church life in Russia has enabled us to be both strict in condemning "Sergianism" (even though it is accepted as "canonically correct" by most of the Orthodox world) and supportive of priests like Fr. Dimitry who are with us in our anti-Sergianism even while belonging (for outward reasons) to the Moscow Patriarchate.

What is happening in Russia, so difficult to puzzle out for the logical mind, is much more easily understood by the believing Orthodox heart. And it must be understood by us in the free world. Fr. Dimitry speaks to us: "We must understand that what is being done in Russia today is being done for the whole world. And if they will understand our experience, they will not suffer everything that we have suffered. But if they will not understand, then, as Solzhenitsyn has said, only Gulag can bring them to their senses. May God grant it may not be thus!" (Vestnik of the Western European Diocese of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, 1980, no. 16, p. 14.)

The Gulag, the Golgotha of Russia, may indeed come to us for our sins; but will it produce the Orthodox revival which Russia is now undergoing? Let us admit that, seeing the awakening of Orthodox Russia in the midst of unparalleled sufferings and difficulties, our own feeble, comfortable, calculating, "correct" Orthodoxy is exposed for the pitiful thing it is; and let us take our example from the suffering, heartfelt Orthodoxy of Fr. Dimitry and his fellow strugglers. They are calling us to a deeper and more genuine Orthodoxy. If we do not hear their call, we could indeed have an Orthodoxy that is only a "museum-piece"—as proper and correct as you want, but without the fire of true zeal and love which our Lord came upon this earth to ignite.

* Religion and Atheism in the USSR, December, 1974, p. 2.

From The Orthodox Word, No. 92 (Vol. 16. No. 3, May-June 1980), pp. 115-122, 127-138.

Excerpts from the Epistles of the 1976 Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russian, especially "To the Russian People in their Homeland"

To Priests of the Moscow Patriarchate

We kiss the Cross which you also have taken upon yourself, O pastors who have found the courage and the power of spirit to be open accusers of the faintheartedness of your hierarchs who have capitulated to the atheists, to be fearless gatherers and instructors of those who seek spiritual food—first of all, young people. We know of your exploit, we read about you, we read what you have written, we pray for you and ask your prayers for our flock in the Diaspora. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

The Orthodox Revival in Russia

The life of the Church continues even under the pressure of atheism, often taking, thanks to the pressure and violence, forms unusual in peaceful circumstances, breaking out through the bonds and chains into the freedom of spirit and the victory of the children of God!

With love we follow this process in our Homeland and rejoice over it. We know how difficult it is, especially for young people, to find Christ after the atheist upbringing they have received in school. This is why they often waver between Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the sects. But Prince Vladimir, who renounced paganism at the end of the tenth century, did not waver. He became Orthodox, finding in Orthodoxy the true Faith, and he placed Russia upon the historical Orthodox path. We believe that if you will seek the truth freely, sincerely and honestly, you will go on his path.

We know that among you some are attracted by so-called "ecumenism." We fully understand that the rightless and persecuted want to feel the support of a neighbor, of someone who is also a believer, even though in some other way. Against this one cannot object . . . But even under the best of mutual relations, there is still a boundary which an Orthodox Christian cannot cross, where the "holy of holies" of the true Faith begins.