The "Sorrowful Epistle" of Metropolitan Philaret

A Rejoinder to Fr. Alexander Schmemann

by Father Michael Azkoul

Recent months have seen an intensification of efforts on the part especially of the American Metropolia and its ‘theologians’ to discredit the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which has offered an outspoken and uncompromising opposition to Orthodox apostasy in general and to the Metropolia’s recent ‘autocephaly’ in particular. The unfairness of these attacks has been noticed by those outside the Russian Church situation, and—an indication of the signs of these times—the most thorough reply to the most serious of these attacks has come from a priest of the Syrian Archdiocese.

Father Michael Azkoul holds a theological degree from St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York and a PhD in Ancient and Mediaeval History from Michigan State University. He is a contributing editor of The Logos, a director of the Institute of Byzantine Studies, and a contributor of patristic studies to several scholarly journals. Ordained to the priesthood by the late Archbishop Anthony Bashir in 1958, he has since then held pastoral positions in several parishes in the Midwest. His articles in The Logos and other Orthodox periodicals have been notable for their solid patristic foundation and sober logic; among them have been several articles in defense of the Russian Church Outside of Russia.

In May of this year Father Michael himself followed "Where the Truth Leads" (see his article in The Logos, January, 1970), obtaining a canonical release from the Syrian Archdiocese and joining the Russian Church Outside of Russia. This fall he will be teaching in the St. Louis area and will organize a parish there. The present article was, however, written while he was still within the Syrian Archdiocese and should be, therefore, all the more a voice to those outside The jurisdiction of the Russian Synod.

As the influence of the Russian Synod is increasingly felt among Orthodox, criticism of her seems also to be rising. The latest falls from the pen of the eminent Orthodox theologian, Father Alexander Schmemann, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary. It has been more than six months since the appearance of his polemic in The Orthodox Church (Nov., 1969), the official publication of the Russian Metropolia, and no response has been made to it in English. One should be made, because Father Schmemann’s remarks are unjust and directed at a sister-Church.

It is unfortunate that a theologian of his reputation should castigate the Russian Synod, the Supreme Administration of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and that he should use the "Sorrowful Epistle" of Metropolitan Philaret, her leading prelate, as the occasion for his polemic. I wonder, however, if it is significant that his uncharitable reproof appeared on the eve of the disclosure that the Metropolia had been secretly negotiating with the Moscow Patriarchate for autocephaly. I wonder if it is significant that Father Alexander never answers Metropolitan Philaret’s critique of Uppsala. I wonder if it is significant that the charges against the Synod—which have been made and refuted so often before—are compulsively repeated. I wonder if these three matters are related.

In more than three thousand words, Father Schmemann seeks to smack down the Russian Synod, a perturbing "gadfly" which has been haughtily buzzing around the great body of Orthodox ecumenism. Indeed, from the very beginning of his article, the author assumes that his position imposes upon him the responsibility of liquidating this nuisance. Thus, he never concedes that the challenge of the Synod to the present course of Orthodox ecumenism—and its folly—has any validity, and the story of the "other side" is never given. His object does not seem to be the truth, but the negation of all opposition to that religious ideal to which he, and those like him, have committed themselves.

The reader is not told that, until recently, the canonicity of the Synod was questioned by no one (save Moscow); that not until the reigns of Basil III and Meletios Metaxakis did the Constantinopolean Patriarchs ever doubt it. Both Basil and Metaxakis supported the so-called "Living Church" movement in Russia and the latter, like Athenagoras I, was a Freemason. It is true, moreover, that His Eminence, Chrysostom Papadopoulos, Archbishop of Athens, was displeased with the opposition of the Russian Church Abroad to the New Calendar; however, he was in friendly correspondence with the Synod. Neither, indeed, does Father Schmemann even mention Patriarch Tikhon’s famous Ukase 362, nor Canon 39 of Quinisext or Apostolic Canon 34, which gave the Synod her right to exist; or the Sremsky-Carlovtzy Convention which gave her form.

Nevertheless, Father Schmemann denies the canonicity of the Synod. He refers to the flight of the Russian bishops before the Bolsheviks as "having abandoned their dioceses... and therefore formally deprived of their jurisdictional rights which a bishop can exercise only within his diocese, but certainly not at large. He would be right if under ordinary circumstances these bishops had "abandoned" their dioceses; but, as we have said, the canon law recognizes the possibility of bishops and churches in exile [1]—even as civil law recognizes governments in exile. He is further unfair to the Synod, because he knows that the bishops who left Russia did, in many instances, take their flocks with them. He knows, too, that the bishops were often driven out and involuntarily cut off from their dioceses. And he is wrong when he says that these bishops may necessarily be considered as no longer possessing "jurisdictional rights" over those flocks which they left. Was St. Athanasius no longer Bishop of Alexandria because he was banished five times by the Roman authorities? Was St. John Chrysostom no longer Patriarch of Constantinople when he was sent into exile by the Emperor? Was St. Martin I no longer Patriarch of Rome when he was brought to Constantinople by order of the Emperor Constans II, and then imprisoned at Cherson where he subsequently died (653)? In other words, historical and political circumstances, as the Fathers and the canons attest, do alter the usual understanding of that relationship which customarily exists between a bishop and his diocese.

In connection with this same matter, Father Alexander states that the Russian Synod was "challenged and not recognized by other Russian jurisdictions which arose out of the same tragedy" (i.e., the Communist Revolution and its aftermath). The other "jurisdictions" to which he alludes are the Paris emigres under Metropolitan Evlogy, the Metropolia, and, of course, the restored Moscow Patriarchate. Leaving aside the latter for the moment, abroad it was after all only the Synod that emerged from the Revolution. Both Metropolitans Evlogy of Paris and Platon of North America were originally members of the Synod Abroad; and in fact the Metropolia was nothing more than the North American administration of the Synod from 1921 to 1926 and from 1935 to 1946. In 1927, the other "jurisdictions" attempted to submit themselves to Moscow, but finding the Soviet demands insupportable, Evlogy in 1930 went under the Patriarch of Constantinople le (after suspension by Metropolitan Sergius), while Platon decided upon autocephaly. In 1935, the Patriarch of Serbia, Varnava, undertook to reconcile the Russian churches, and a conference was held in Serbia. The result was that both Theophilus (the new Metropolitan of North America) and Evlogy vowed fidelity to the Russian Synod Abroad. Their agreement was put in writing and signed. The reunification of the Russian exiles was announced by Metropolitan Theophilus at the 1936 Pittsburgh Sobor [2] and in 1937 in New York. Evlogy, on returning to Paris, broke his promise, and eleven years later, at the Cleveland Sobor, the Metropolia followed suit.

The Synod Abroad, therefore, considers both the Paris emigres and the Metropolia as "schismatic." Many United States civil courts agree with the contentions of the Synod. For example, the Opinion of the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Los Angeles (Judge Joseph W. Vickers) stated in 1949 regarding the Metropolia, "In November 1946, at an All-American Sobor held in Cleveland, a resolution was adopted which purported to terminate the 1935 Provisional Agreement and to sever all relationship with the Church Abroad. The effect of the resolution was to declare the North American District (Metropolia) to be autonomous and subject only to such relationship as it could establish with Patriarch Alexy and his Holy Synod of Moscow." Elsewhere the Opinion continues, "If Metropolitan Theophilus and the Sobor had believed that Patriarch Alexy and his Synod was the Supreme Church Administration, they would have had no choice in the matter and would not have admitted that they had not theretofore been subservient thereto or attempted to place any conditions upon their recognition of its supremacy. In addition, the Holy Synod of the Church Abroad has repeatedly declared that a canonical Supreme Administration has not been restored in Russia. Since it appears from the pleadings, the evidence and the admissions and contentions of all parties that free church life has not been restored in Russia, the court must find that the Church Abroad is still the Supreme Administration of Russia." The Conclusion of the Opinion refers to the Metropolia as "a schismatic and unlawful faction or group." The Synod, consequently, was awarded the Holy Transfiguration church. Even if we chose not to accept this Opinion, it is, at least, significant that a disinterested third party found in favor of the Russian Synod. The picture which Father Schmemann paints may be a little distorted.

If the Synod "is still the Supreme Administration of Russia," then the Eviogian Parisian emigres are also "a schismatic and unlawful faction or group." Of course, the Synod Abroad never recognized either Sergius or Alexy as the legitimate successors to Patriarch Tikhon. There is some reason to believe she is correct if these men are puppets of the Soviet government. Sergius did publish an agreement on July 16/29, 1927, in which he promised to be loyal to the Soviet regime both ‘in word’ and ‘good conscience.’ That Alexy has ever deviated from that promise cannot be demonstrated by the evidence. He has supported Communist policies in almost every instance, and there is some reason to think that many clergy in the Moscow Patriarchate are agents or, at least, selections of the Communist government. In the words of Metropolia Archbishop John (Shahovskoy) of San Francisco, "the Moscow Patriarchate is unable to express the voice of the Church of Christ freely" (see D. Grigorieff, "Historical Background of Orthodoxy in America," Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, vol. V, 1-2 (1961), 44). Under these circumstances, then, Father Schmemann is wrong and it is the Synod alone which may judge "the Russian ecclesiastical problem," for she is the only free part of the Mother Church, while the other "jurisdictions" are dissidents. Moreover, the entire matter seems to have been taken out of their hands, because the Moscow Patriarchate officially intends to give Holy Communion to Roman Catholics.[3] Its status within Orthodoxy is open to review.

I do not think Father Schmemann himself can draw any other conclusion from the facts. He instructed us at the seminary that "intercommunion" must presuppose a common faith and life. If he still believes what he taught us, he must further admit that "intercommunion" without this imperative implies an ecclesiology to which Orthodox cannot adhere. What, then, are the consequences for the Metropolia which seeks autocephaly from Moscow? But more important than this seven-year deception, is it to be denied that, underlying it, we find "the spirit of the times"? Is not ecumenism an offspring of the zeitgeist? Is it not the deleterious effect of ecumenism upon Orthodoxy which has drawn Moscow and the Metropolia together and away from the Russian Synod Abroad? Has it not so enervated the conscience of Orthodox that "forgiveness" has become a pretext to ignore Christian doctrines, canons and moral precepts?

I think Father Schmemann is cognizant of the role played by ecumenism in the new arrangement between the Metropolia and Moscow. He knows and resents the Synod’s stinging criticism of that "arrangement." For example, was not the "secret meeting" between the Metropolia and Moscow at Geneva under the auspices of the WCC? Were not representatives of the WCC present at the recent meeting in New York? It follows, then, that his defense of the ecumenical movement had to involve the dissolution of Synodal opposition to it. Moreover, he has had to anticipate those serious and embarrassing questions which the people of the Metropolia will ask upon hearing that Moscow will grant autocephaly—why after so many years has the Moscow Patriarchate suddenly become acceptable to us? How can we believe that it can now act independently of its Communist masters? Why did we not receive autocephaly in 1946? What did we give away to get it? Then, the people might begin to believe that the answers to these questions are somehow connected with the changing mood of both hierarchies. It might occur to them that the ecumenical movement—and the WCC is involved—might be overrated, that the Synod might be right about everything, that 1946 was a mistake. [4] Two Metropolia parishes have returned to the Synod already and others are threatening to do the same.

Therefore, Father Alexander must defend ecumenism and discredit the Synod. The first step must be to minimize her claim to virginal Orthodoxy, to the Fathers, the Bible and, particularly, to the canons. Strangely, citations from these sources are conspicuously absent from his article, except for one lonely quotation from the New Testament (I John 2: 18). He does not even bother to quote modern authorities in support of his arguments. It is also strange that he deliberately avoids mentioning that the Synod’s attitude toward ecumenism per se has never been closed, e.g., her representatives were present at the Faith and Order Meeting of 1937. She rejects only the heresy that ecumenism has become. Although he alludes to the fact that Metropolitan Philaret’s "Sorrowful Epistle" admits conditions under which participation in this movement is possible, his article nowhere discusses either these conditions or the arguments by the Synod against participation without those conditions. In fact, he hesitates to concede anything without qualification—"she may be right or wrong, but . . ." Whenever the issue becomes sticky and it appears that he might have to surrender a point to the Synod, he makes a hasty retreat to the handy ecclesiastical cliche, "this is for the entire Church to decide." Throughout his attack upon the Synod and Metropolitan Philaret’s Epistle one is struck by Father Schmemann’s patent bias.

Father Alexander is forced, nonetheless, to admit that one should distinguish ‘good’ from ‘bad ecumenism.’ But he fails to define either. He does not, because he cannot. He his already argued that "there is no consensus on ecumenism." The contradiction is glaring: if there is no consensus at all, then it is impossible for him to distinguish ‘good’ and ‘bad ecumenism.’ No consensus means no criterion. Again, if there is no consensus whatsoever, then there is no consensus for ecumenism. Why, then, have we joined the WCC? On what basis? Why scold Metropolitan Philaret as if his opposition to ecumenism were wrong?

In any case, a consensus does exist and the Metropolitan employs it. One may contend that there is no formal spatial consensus, but there is an available temporal consensus, the judgement of history. The words of Saint Vincent of Lérins should be instructive: "Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all... . We shall hold to the rule if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from the interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike... . What will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? ... He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb. But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a portion of it? Then, he will take care to cleave to antiquity which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty. But what if in antiquity itself two or three men, of it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils... . But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort can be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers... . And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only, but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this to be held by him without the slightest hesitation" (Commonitorium, II: 3 - III: 4).

There is, then, a consensus—one which is to be preferred to spatial consensus: the consensus of time. Upon its scales, ecumenism stands in historical judgement, a judgement which Metropolitan Philaret’s Epistle manifests. He appeals to the Orthodox episcopacy "knowing perfectly well" the consensus of historical Orthodoxy.

But let us assume for a moment that an Orthodox Council is convened to determine the attitude of the Church towards ecumenism. What will be its criterion in its evaluation of this movement? Will it not be the witness of the Holy Scriptures, Holy Councils and Fathers and, to be sure, recent declarations of our spokesmen at Lambeth, Amsterdam, Evanston, etc.? If not, then by what standard of judgement? Will it be extra-ecclesial? By what principle will this extra-ecclesial standard or criterion be chosen? By another principle itself extra-Orthodox? If the new Council finds new standards, then, either it must accept theological and/or cultural relativism or confess a new Revelation from God. In either case, it will render its decisions relative, open to continual revision and, consequently, discredit itself and the timeless truths of Christ. It will, then, also introduce a horrendous host of new problems, such as demonstrating its reasons for relativizing our past and, at the same time, justifying the truth, necessity and applicability of the new theological criteria and categories.

On the other hand, if the Council receives our Orthodox inheritance with honor, trust and obedience, its conclusions can be nothing other than that which has already been proclaimed by the Russian Synod. Thus, Protestants and Papists are heretics, because, to use the words of St. Basil the Great, their difference (he diaphora) with us relates directly to ‘the faith in God itself’ (peri tes autes tes eis Theon pisteous. Canon 1). Father Alexander is surely aware of the innumerable conciliar decisions and patriarchal epistles (e.g., the Three Answers of Jeremiah II, Confessio Dosithei, the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs (1848), the Council of Constantinople (1872), etc.) which have encouraged the heterodox to enter the Orthodox Church, ‘the Ark of Salvation’ (Holy Russian Synod, 1904). Indeed, our relationship to all heretics in all times has been clearly delineated by the Scriptures (Eph. 4: 14, II Tim. 2: 15-18, Tit. 2: 9-10, Gal. 1: 8-9, and Heb. 13: 9); by the canons (Apostolic Canons 10, 11, 45, 65; St. Timothy of Alexandria, Canon 9, etc.); and the writings of the Fathers, such as St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haeresus; St. Cyprian of Carthage, De Unitate Catholicae Ecclesiae; St. Athanasius, Orationes contra Arianos, etc. In other words, the consensus in time has determined and must determine the consensus in space if Orthodoxy is to remain faithful to her spiritual and doctrinal heritage. There is a judgement upon current ecumenism, and the "appeal" of Metropolitan Philaret to his episcopal brethren is no more than a call to confirm, formally and publicly, their obedience to that judgement.

The demand of that "judgement," the Metropolitan maintains, is that the ecumenical movement, as it is, must be condemned. To be sure, there is "good ecumenism," that is, to confront the heterodox with the Apostolic Tradition. to explain and defend it. Although we might assemble with the non-Orthodox for this purpose, neither common prayer or worship nor spiritual intimacy is possible. On the other hand. "bad ecumenism" is participation in this movement with little or no regard for the dictates of Orthodox life, law and doctrine. Therefore, we can participate in this movement only on the basis that our presence be understood as a testimony, a mission, not as a dialogue between equals. However, the WCC and the NCC, the entire "ecumenical movement" has become something incompatible with Orthodox ecclesiology. For example, the WCC is gradually being secularized. i.e., offering mankind the "social Gospel" instead of salvation in Jesus Christ. In its demeanor, utterances and its liturgies, the WCC gives clear indication that it has passed from the initial stage of definition or ‘form’ to the present stage of ‘function.’

A propos this contention is the Ecumenical Service of the At-One-Ment, held at the First United Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma (Jan. 26, 1969). The liturgy begins with an Organ Prelude, then, The Call to Worship, the Processional Hymn, the Invocation, the Anthem, the Offertory and the Doxology. The entire Service is Protestant in structure and interdenominational in spirit. The clear impression is that all the ‘churches’ belonging to the WCC compose the Church. Thus, the ‘Leader,’ as he is called, reads a list of names—some of them are Orthodox Fathers, Confessors and Martyrs—then follow such ‘ecumenical saints’ as Dante, Michelangelo, Bach, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, Cranmer, John Knox, Milton, Fox, Wesley, Walter Rauchenbach, Albert Schweitzer, Kagawa, John XXIII, Martin Luther King, Eugene Carson Blake, Julian Bond, Karl Barth, Harvey Cox, Gandhi, etc. Then, the words of the People’s response: "Reform your Church, Father, and give her the courage to be, to follow you and do your word; May she cease in her attempts to dominate men; May she make no more demands and claim no more privileges, but only try to contribute to men’s happiness; May she neither repel nor exclude anyone by the words she uses or the ideas she has, but be open to everyone who seeks to live a happy and creative life. . . ." After a few more similar verses, the Leader and People together proclaim, "I saw the city of God, the new holy Jerusalem... ." Then, the sermon by M. M. Thomas, an Anthem, Closing Hymn, Benediction, Recessional and the Organ Postlude, "Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand."

As Father Schmemann is fond of saying, lex orandi, lex credendi—law of worship or prayer is the law of belief;" or, in another way, worship is the ‘epiphany’ of faith. If he is correct, then the ecumenical Service of the At-One-Ment—in which Orthodox participated—is the lex orandi of the ecumenical lex credendi. Hence, his statement that "the unity of ‘ecumenism’ is a myth which makes it impossible to use this term of a ‘heresy’ for it" —is nonsense. Its lack of ‘unity’ proves nothing. Neither the ‘unity’ nor ‘disunity’ of a sect has anything to do with its heterodoxy. Neither the ancient Gnostics nor modern Protestants are unified, nor were the ancient Nestorians or (until this decade) Papism without unity. Moreover, the lack of ‘unity’ in ecumenism may be the very nature of the heresy. (We must wait and see whether it becomes something other than a potpourri of denominations.) Ecumenism now is reminiscent of Freemasonry: a common-denominator deity, a common morality and worship, the peculiar theological beliefs of each member left to himself. The result, of course, is religious subjectivism.

Ecumenism, however, has a discernable substantia—it is a soteriological heresy which is at once the context and apex of all those heresies which preceded it. The triadological, christological, mariological, cosmological, ecclesiological and anthropological heresies each in its turn came forward to entice the Church and failed. Now, however, they are regrouped and united, led in their assault by ecumenism, the religious progeny of a long Western epistemological nightmare. Archbishop Vitaly of Montreal and Canada comes to a similar conclusion:

"Ecumenism is the heresy of heresies, because until now every separate heresy in the history of the Church has striven itself to stand in the place of the true Church, while the ecumenical movement, having united all heresies, invites them all together to honor themselves as the one true Church. Here ancient Arianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Iconoclasm, Pelagianism, and simply every possible superstition of the contemporary sects under completely different names, have united and charge to attack the Church. This phenomenon is undoubtedly of an apocalyptic character ("Ecumenism," The Orthodox Word, July-August, 1969, p. 155.)

Since ecumenism is an encompassing perversion of Christian doctrine, it strikes at the very heart of the Christian Economy: salvation; and because it is the anti-type of the Catholic Church, it ironically relates ‘salvation’ and the ‘Church.’ But it is a ‘salvation’ and a ‘Church’ without the Truth. It denies to Orthodoxy, of course, and to itself the possession of the divine and saving Truth. To say as it was said, "To seek the Truth, which we have not known. . . . (Invoc. Prayer, Uppsala, 1968) is to assert a belief utterly foreign to Orthodox experience. It is tantamount to denying the Church Her deifying powers. It offers an evolutionary, vitalist and utopian ecclesiology, abrogates the scandalon of the Church and prepares ‘the Church’ for her secular quest.

Yet, Father Schmemann refuses to call ecumenism a heresy or those ‘Orthodox’ who have become an organic part of the WCC, apostates. He is content to denounce Metropolitan Philaret and the Synod for calling Archbishop Iakovos and Patriarch Athenagoras pseudo-bishops. He contends that Metropolitan Philaret has ‘prejudged’ them and, therefore, characterizes his Epistle as ‘hypocritical.’ Why, Father inquires, call for a judgement upon those men when you have already condemned them? "The very purpose of the appeal is precisely to call the brother-bishops to judge and evaluate another bishop’s action," he declares. But the Metropolitan nowhere in his Epistle states that he seeks a vote from his ‘brother-bishops,’ only concurrence with the Orthodox Tradition. His ‘appeal,’ then, is no summation to the jury; it is an exhortation to obedience. Metropolitan Philaret wants agreement with the temporal consensus—not his own personal intuitions.

Anyone who teaches, as does the Ecumenical Patriarch, that the Church should be ‘refounded’ (Christmas Message, 1967) or espouses a crypto-branch theory of the Church, such as that propounded by Archbishop Iakovos (The Orthodox Observer, April, 1961) stands condemned. Metropolitan Philaret does not condemn them.

Nevertheless, Father Alexander will admit only that these men have "provoked serious controversy" in the Church. The value of their opinions (and Metropolitan Philaret’s) must await conciliar decision—which, he says, the Metropolitan urges while, at the same time, ‘prejudging’ the issue. Again, Father Schmemann errs, for he fails to reckon with the explicit teaching of the Church that a council is unnecessary when a bishop ‘publicly preaches heresy and with bared head teaches it in the Church.’ And, to be sure, those who withdraw from him or sever relations with him ‘before synodical clarification’ are not ‘subject to canonical penalty’ and ‘have not fragmented the Church’s unity with schism, but from schisms and divisions have they sought earnestly to deliver Her’ (Council of Constantinople, 861, Canon XV). What is commended and sanctioned by this canon is the immediate concurrence with temporal consensus and separation from a ‘false bishop.’ Metropolitan Philaret clearly acted in the spirit of this canon.

But who is it that Father Schmemann accuses of ‘schism’? —the Synod. How strange it is that a church whose "fidelity to the teachings of the Orthodox Church . . . Apostolic Succession ... the piety of the clergy or laity" cannot be denied, as St. Vladimir’s Professor Bogolepov wrote in his Towards an American Orthodox Church (New York, 1963), should find herself ostracized by Orthodox for the sake of ecumenism and heretics. And is it not curious that those ‘Orthodox’ who openly and blatantly break the canons, advocate the ‘branch theory’ or some form of it, who offer Holy Communion to non-Orthodox, are honored as great Christians and good sons of the Church? Now Father Alexander, not unaware of the Synod’s faithfulness to Orthodoxy, cleverly seeks to sidestep the real problem. He states not that the Synod has been declared ‘schismatic’—and, therefore, uncanonical—but has ‘of her own volition’ withdrawn from the Universal Church—I assume he means the Orthodox Church. Then, he compares the Synod to the Donatists of the 4th century, an analogy which is inapplicable. The Donatists were in fact heretics, because they departed from the traditional sacramentology of the Church and identified themselves as the Catholic Church. Blessed Augustine made this same observation and refuted them in eleven different treatises.

Another indication of the Synod’s ‘schismatic mentality,’ according to Father Schmemann, is the presumption with which she ‘rebaptizes’ heretics coming to Orthodoxy. He says that the "leaders of ‘the Russian Church Outside of Russia’ know perfectly well that the Russian Church, whose tradition they claim to maintain, for the last three hundred years did not rebaptize the heterodox whose baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity she could ascertain His statement is misleading for many reasons: (1) that the Synod may ‘rebaptize’ Christian converts is permissable, since, as Father ‘knows perfectly well,’ the heterodox have no ‘baptism.’ Thus, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, "None but heretics are rebaptized, because their former ‘baptism’ was no baptism" (Procat., 7); and (2) that ‘the Russian Church’ has not ‘rebaptized’ the heterodox for three hundred years is unimportant. The Orthodox Church of Russia has ‘rebaptized’ heretics in the past—a canonical and theological precedent exists; (3) that ‘the Russian Church’ has received heretics without immersion is not the same as accepting them without baptism, for, as Father Alexander ‘knows perfectly well,’ the entire rite of initiation, the sacramental rite of incorporation into the Church—baptism—includes not only sanctified water, but also chrism and Holy Communion; (4) the Orthodox Church has applied the principles of canonical akrebia (strictness) and economia (accomodation) according to her needs. Those principles have not always been applied uniformly; thus, the Orthodox Church of Greece may use one while the Orthodox Church of Russia employs the other. In times of greatest danger, the Churches invariably turn to akrebia, as the Ecumenical Patriarchs, Cyril V and Paisius II, did in the face of the 18th-century Jesuit menace. The Synod looks upon ecumenism as a threat; therefore, some of her clergy are following a traditional practice of the Church by ‘rebaptizing’ Christian converts; and (5) Father Alexander speaks of ‘the Russian Church’ as if she were not a member of the Universal Church, as if the ‘tradition’ of ‘the Russian Church’ were distinct from the Apostolic Tradition which governs all Orthodox Churches. It is true that the Tradition has circumstantial application, but the ‘tradition’ of ‘the Russian Church’ remains the Tradition of the Universal Church. Consequently, even if the Russian Church during some 300 years had no local precedent on ‘rebaptism,’ the Synod could appeal to the Church at large.

Ignoring such facts, Father Schmemann, throughout his polemic against Metropolitan Philaret, continues to misrepresent the position of the Synod. These misrepresentations arise often from his own ambivalence and uncertainty. Thus, Father Alexander’s article tends to oscillate between whether the Synod is ab initio uncanonical or uncanonical by virtue of her ostensible withdrawal from communion with the universal Orthodox episcopate. He may not in fact know that originally the canonicity of the Synod was accepted by virtually every other Orthodox Church. Not even Archbishop Iakovos questioned it until Metropolitan Philaret’s Open Letter to him in 1968. From the very first, the Synod was invited to become a member of the Standing Conference of Canonical [sic*]Orthodox Bishops in America. It was only when a similar invitation was extended to the Moscow Exarch that she declined to join. "We never and nowhere will sit at one table with them," writes Archpriest George Grabbe, "but by this our spiritual communion with the Universal Church is not broken." [5]

Evidentally, Father Grabbe is right, because, despite the eventual recognition of the post-1927 Moscow Patriarchate by the other Orthodox churches and the ban it placed upon the Synod, the latter remained within the Universal Church. For example, in the Near East, Synodal priests served in Greek churches and vice-versa. In 1955, His Beatitude, Christopher, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, requested that the late Metropolitan Anastassy take part in the consecration of a bishop for his jurisdiction. In 1968, Metropolitan Ignatius of Latakia (Antioch) participated in the consecration of Bishop Nicander as Suffragan Bishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil. Elsewhere, the Greek Bishop Dionysius of New Zealand collaborated in the order by which Metropolitan Philaret was designated Bishop of Brisbane (1964). In the United States, Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) of New York assisted at the elevation of the late Syrian Metropolitan, Antony Bashir (1936), on the request of the Patriarch of Antioch. On the death of Metropolitan Anastassy, Patriarch Athenagoras sent the people of the Synod a telegram of condolence, and Archbishop Iakovos chanted a Trisagion over the remains of the late Metropolitan.

Now with the spread of "ecumania" and the vocal opposition of Metropolitan Philaret to it, the Synod is viewed as ‘schismatic’ and ‘uncanonical.’ It is true that she has ‘voluntarily’ broken communion with some Orthodox churches, but it is likewise not inaccurate to say that the Synod has been isolated. Therefore, the idea that the Synod has ‘of her own volition’ gone into schism is false. Rather should it be said that she has followed the Biblical injunction—We command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from all brethren that walk disorderly, and not after the tradition that you have received from us (II Thes. 3: 6). The Synod has ‘withdrawn’ from apostasy—or been separated from it.

But Father Schmemann construes that ‘separation’ as a schism of the Russian Synod and therefore inquires: "One may ask, to which ‘brothers,’ to which ‘Primates’ is the ‘Sorrowful Epistle’ addressed? Since the Synod believes all other Orthodox bishops to be in schism and heresy—as a result of their ecumenism—and, therefore, no longer Orthodox, no longer members of the Church, no longer Bishops, the ‘appeal’ to the Orthodox episcopate as ‘brothers’ is, to say the least, illogical and meaningless. One cannot pretend to uphold the canons and at the same time deny canonical protection to those whom she has already condemned." He then lists four steps by which a ‘church’ falls into ‘schism’ and, eventually, ‘heresy’ through her denial of ‘the action of the Holy Spirit’ in the body from which she has seceded. The suggestion here is that the Synod has fallen or will fall into heresy if she refuses to desist from her present course.

Father Alexander’s theology here is poor. In the first place, that some Orthodox bishops have succumbed to the heresy of ecumenism, that many have violated the canons, does not constitute a Synodal schism. Again, that some Orthodox bishops have apostacized or gone into schism is not a verdict of the Synod, but of the Apostolic Tradition. Neither is it the Synod which denies those bishops ‘canonical protection,’ but the canons themselves. Furthermore, Father Alexander fails to distinguish between ‘heresy’—theological departure from the Faith—and ‘schism’—an administrative rupture. Although heretics are not members of the Church, schismatics retain their membership (I Const., Canon 6). Thus, violation of canon law which may, in some instances, lead to schism does not necessarily involve apostasy. To break a canon law may be impious, but in itself it is not heretical. As far as I know, the Synod has accused only a few ‘Orthodox’ ecumenists of heresy, others of schism; she remains in communion with a number of Orthodox Churches and is looked to as a beacon of Orthodoxy by the Catacomb Church of Russia, by the monks of Mount Athos, and by the Greek Old Calendarists. Therefore, it may be said that despite the ‘ecumenism’ of the Orthodox episcopacy in general, her individual members are within the Orthodox Church, that is to say, so long as those ecumenists do not consciously repudiate the teachings of the Church nor adopt ecumenical ecclesiology and soteriology. Since most of our bishops are misguided and not heretical, it would seem that Metropolitan Philaret’s ‘Sorrowful Epistle’ is logical, meaningful and urgent.

We suggest, therefore, a serious re-appraisal of the Russian Synod and of our participation in the so-called ‘ecumenical movement.’ It should be clear to all that the only effect of our current involvement with the heterodox is a scandal to those who wish their Orthodoxy pristine, further confusion to weak Orthodox, greater comfort to the indifferent, and continued compromise by the ‘liberal mentality’ whose ecumenical posture the continuous stream of ugly polemic against the Synod seeks to justify. Despite whatever sins she may have, the Synod is correct. Father Schmemann cannot shake this fact by falsely accusing the Synod of "adding new divisions to our Church, for creating an atmosphere of suspicion and ultimately schism." Such imprecations might more profitably be leveled at Athenagoras of Constantinople, Iakovos, Athenagoras of London, Nikodim of Leningrad-Novgorod, the Metropolia’s John Shahovskoy, etc. There is no justification for Father Alexander’s diatribe against the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, save that her bold witness to Orthodoxy is a constant reproach to those who seek to revise "the faith once delivered to the saints."

Likewise, it would be advisable not to charge the Synod with negating "canons and procedures, jurisdictional rights and due process." Whatever may be the ecumenists’ concern for such things, their own actions prove that they use them arbitrarily, selectively, and when it suits their own convenience. Again, Father Alexander argues that the Synod behaves as if there were a consensus against ecumenism when in fact, he says, there is none. But ecumenists act as if there were a consensus for ecumenism and behave as if the canons did not exist. He maintains that the Synod condemns such hierarchs as Iakovos and ‘the Ecumenical Patriarch’ without ‘due process,’ but he and the other anti-Synodalists have pronounced the Synod schismatic—virtually heretical—without ‘due process.’ He says that the Synod raids other jurisdictions, pilfering their priests, when Father Alexander ‘knows perfectly well’ that she has the duty to receive those in flight from apostasy; and he should know that the Synod otherwise never accepts other clergy without an official and canonical release. He mentions the irregular conduct and attitude of the Synod towards other Orthodox jurisdictions, but he utters not a word about the members of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops who do not recognize each others’ ‘canonicity.’ He likes to think of the Synod as trouble-maker, but he overlooks the ‘trouble-makers’ who undermine the entire episcopal structure of the Orthodox Church by their contempt for canon law and the spiritual life.

One may very well call it ironical that a Church which has produced such men as Archbishop Leonty of Geneva, Archbishop John Maximovitch, Archbishop Tikhon of San Francisco, Metropolitan Anastassy—all of whom reposed with divine odor—a Church which has innumerable monastic centers, which publishes journals such as Orthodox Life, The Orthodox Word, La foi transmise, etc., which has translated countless liturgical, ascetical and patristic works into various languages, which has organized missions in America and abroad and which has suffered persecution and slander for the sake of our Holy Faith, should be branded ‘uncanonical,’ ‘schismatic,’ ‘trouble-maker’ by her own brethren, There is no explanation but the devil working through this present age. The Scriptures have rightly said that in Godless times, in the last days, ‘righteousness’ will be called ‘unrighteousness,’ ‘light, darkness,’ ‘truth, falsehood,’ and ‘good, evil’... .


1. The head of the "Holy Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church-in-Exile," Archbishop Palladios, is a member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Bishops in America. Apparently, the Standing Conference recognizes "churches-in-exile," the opinion of Fr. Schmemann notwithstanding.

2. In 1936, a Sobor of Bishops was convoked in Pittsburgh at which was announced: "With great joy, beloved, we inform you that we unanimously accept the temporary status of the Russian Church Abroad... . All our archpastors with our Metropolitan (Theophilus) at the head, join themselves to the Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which is the highest Church organ for all our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which at the same time remains an integral part of the All-Russian Church" (Quoted, "The Historical Path of the Russian Orthodox Church in America," Novoye Russkoe Slovo, Feb. 7, 1970).

3. The Holy Fathers forbid the giving of the Holy Communion to the heterodox. "With all our strength, therefore, let us beware lest we receive communion from or grant it to heretics; Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, saith the Lord, neither cast your Pearls before swine, lest we become partakers in their dishonor and condemnation For if union is in truth with Christ and with one another, we are assuredly voluntarily united also, with all those who partake with us... . " (St John Damascus, De Fid. Orth., IV, 13)

4. It cannot be doubted that the Metropolia was part of the Russian Synod Abroad, but separated from her in 1946. The Cleveland Sobor, writes Dimitry Grigorieff, "promulgated the withdrawal of the American Metropolia from membership in the Russian Synod of Bishops Abroad. Since then the Synodical group has become a distinctively separated church organization in America once again" ("The Historical Background of Orthodoxy in America," Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Ibid., p. 41. Mr. Grigorieff gives no reason for the ‘withdrawal’.

5. "An Answer to Archbishop John and Fr. Joseph Pishtey," Orthodox Life, I (1970), 29.

* Fr. Michael incorrectly inserts the word "Canonical" in the SCOBA acronym. This word was not in the original acronym, but has unfortunately crept into it through frequent usage.

Fr. Michael's rejoinder appeared in The Orthodox Word, Vol. VI, No. 3 (May-June 1970), pp. 128-143. For an Orthodox treatment of the concepts of "unity," "schism," and "heresy", etc., see the Ecumenism Awareness: References and Terms page. Also, Metropolitan Philaret wrote two more "Sorrowful Epistles" after the one Fr. Alexander criticized.