Two Letters From Metropolitan Philaret

To Archbishop Averky[1]


The two letters presented below — one official, the other informal — were sent by Metropolitan Philaret to Archbishop Averky, the then (in 1970) Abbot of Holy Trinity Monas­tery in Jor­danville, concerning the latter’s having permitted the serving of a Coptic liturgy in one of the monastery’s churches. Vladyka Averky is a prominent enough figure in the history of our church so as not to need any sort of “defense”, much less one of maintain­ing silence. We do not fear that the publication of these documents witnessing to his er­rors will cast a blemish upon his memory. Nor do we seek to extol Metropolitan Philaret at the expense of his fellow hierarchs. The significance of these letters of Vladyka Philaret, as we see it, lies chiefly in their allowing us to see and sense the uncompromising zeal of the Metropolitan, and his striving not to deviate by so much as one jot or tittle from the path of the confession of faith of our Church. And they highlight certain very significant internal problems of our church, which Metropolitan Philaret endeavored to overcome throughout his term as First Hierarch.

Indeed, why would someone with such a strong record of opposition to ecumenism and liberalism as Vladyka Averky — rather than some other hierarch with proven liberal tenden­cies — allow a Coptic service in his church? Why would Vladyka Averky, of all hierarchs, attempt to justify himself by citing the fact that no one observes the canons anymore? He realized perfectly well that the Copts are Monophysites, i.e., heretics, and that it was against the canons to permit heretics to serve in an Orthodox sanctuary, and especially, to join them in their prayers. It is quite obvious that if Latins rather than Copts had been involved, no he­retical liturgy whatsoever would have taken place in Jor­danville.

In what did the difference here between these two hierarchs consist— between Arch­bishop Averky and Metropolitan Philaret, both of whom were known precisely for their de­votion to the Tradition of the Holy Fathers? It appears that the reason lies in their dif­fering perception of what faithfulness to the Tradition of the Church means in practice. For Vladyka Philaret this faithfulness con­sisted in adherence to the unadulterated patris­tic doc­trines, as expressed in the writings of the Holy Fathers, in the examples given by their lives, and in the ecclesiastical regulations bequeathed by them… Whereas for Vla­dyka Averky, in addition to the above, the relatively re­cent experience of the Church had significance, espe­cially the experience of the pre-Revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church, when, incidentally, the life of the Russian Church was in many ways very far removed from the teachings of the Holy Fathers. For example, opposition to Latinism was traditional for Russia, and thus for Vladyka Averky it was also a fully organic con­cept. However, within this customary nega­tion of Latinism, aversion to the heresy per se was mingled with rejection of an alien culture which posed a very real threat to Russian culture. But when a heresy unusual and unknown to Russians appeared — regarding which only the “abstract” dogmas and can­ons could serve as guidance — then Arch­bishop Averky’s anti-ecumenism crashed down around him. And not only did Vladyka Averky allow the Copts to serve at Jordanville and the seminarians to pray at their lit­urgy, but he even justified himself by claiming that at present the canons are vio­lated every­where. Vladyka Averky is the person we would have least expected to come up with this kind of argument.

Metropolitan Philaret’s stance is notable not only for its churchliness (in the true, i.e., Patristic, sense of the word), but also for its wise foresight. The constant concern of Met­ro­politan Philaret was the establishing — as a counter­balance to the apostate, “official”, or secularized, “World Orthodoxy” — of True Ortho­dox Churches standing firm in their teaching of the Orthodoxy of the Holy Fathers, and having no ecclesiastical communion with apostates. This concern of Vladyka Philaret’s ex­tended both to the Church Abroad — which gave refuge to many who had fled the ecumeni­cal jurisdictions — and to other True Ortho­dox Churches, especially to the Greek Old Calen­darists. In this light, the inci­dent of the Coptic service at Jordanville especially grieved him — and he voiced his fear lest our Church should lose its new children.

During the almost thirty years since this event, the problem of choosing between the dogmatic and canonical purity of Orthodoxy on the one hand, and the usual routine of church life on the other hand, has only become more acute for our Church. The conven­tional struc­ture of church life, like all earthly things, cannot but come into conflict with our Christian duty sometimes. At present, the external forms of church life on both sides of the barrier separating the MP and the ROCA are becoming increasingly similar. Partly due to the MP’s successful restoration of its ecclesiastical activities, and partly due to the naturally waning numbers of the bearers of the old traditions within the ROCA, the MP has begun to “catch up” with the Russian Church Abroad in upholding the pre-Revolu­tionary Russian Orthodox traditions. This reason alone — and it’s far from the only one — is enough to give a power­ful impetus to the process of mutual recognition by the MP and the ROCA as two parts of “one and the same” Russian Church. If there is anything that could — and should — say a firm “no” to such recognition, it is precisely the dogmas and canons.

If we regard dogmas and canons as “theory”, and golden domes and fascinating stories by Ivan Shmelyov as “life”, then we need to “normalize” our relations with the MP as soon as possible and secure for ourselves some kind of “environmental niche” in World Orthodoxy. If, however, we regard an Orthodox idyll à la Ivan Shmelyov as no more than a passing weather condition or last year’s snowfall, while we consider dogmas and can­ons, along with the other precepts of the Holy Fathers, to be “words of life”, and eternal life at that, then perhaps there is still hope that we will follow in the footsteps of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Philaret.


Both these letters are reprinted here from photocopies of the originals, which were type­written by Metropolitan Philaret himself on his own official letterhead and signed per­sonally by him.

An Official Memorandum

from Metropolitan Philaret
To Archbishop Averky


To His Eminence, the Most Reverend Averky, Archbishop of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery:


November 14/27, 1970

Your Eminence, Most Reverend Vladyka,


At the beginning of last week I received a communication from one of the archpastors of our Church that a “service” by Copts (i.e., Monophysite heretics) had been conducted in the lower church of Holy Trinity Monastery.

Since Your Eminence has answered in the affirmative to the inquiry made by me con­cerning this matter, then in order to avoid possible temptation, I ask you to issue the fol­lowing directive:


1) That the lower church be sprinkled with Holy Water, and that the prayers ap­pointed to be read in a church that has been desecrated by heretics (The Great Book of Needs, chap. 40 or 41.) be read.


2) That any services or praying in the lower church be immediately discontinued until such time as the directive in the preceding point has been carried out.


Your Eminence’s Brother in Christ,

@   Metropolitan Philaret








A Letter from Metropolitan Philaret

To Archbishop Averky



November 14/27, 1970

Your Eminence, Gracious Archpastor,


With this letter I am enclosing an “official” memorandum to you. And at the same time I wish to express my views concerning that which you write to me in the letter which I have just now received.

Let me start from the beginning. On Monday or Tuesday of last week I had a tele­phone call from one of our archpastors who informed me that in the lower church of Holy Trinity Monastery a “service” was performed by Copts, that is, by Monophysites.

This news seemed incredible. I expressed my doubts. But the speaker added that his source of information was absolutely reliable, and that he had no doubts that it was true. I promised to try to clear up the matter, and so made inquiry of you. Vladyka Laurus was intending to go to the seminary on Wednesday for [to teach] classes. I re­quested him also to find out what was going on. He consented, but upon his return he did not tell me any­thing at all. Seeing that for some reason he was avoiding speaking on this topic, I didn’t bring the matter up again with him, but rather awaited a reply from Your Eminence.

Today I received your answer. But in the course of these intervening days of expecta­tion, various reports of the Coptic service have reached me from different quarters. The arguments brought forth in defense of this fact have been varied. I will now speak con­cerning this.

Before all else, I want to emphasize something of which you, as an enlightened archpastor and theologian, are already quite well aware, but which for me constitutes the decisive factor in evaluating the present incident. The word “Mono-physite”, translated literally, obvi­ously means “of one nature”. This is in keeping with the heretical false teaching of the Monophysites, who maintain that in our Saviour there exists but one na­ture — the Divine, since the human nature, you see, has disappeared, has drowned, has dissolved into His Divine nature, just as a small drop vanishes without a trace in the boundless sea.

Such being the state of affairs, what then does the Coptic, i.e., Monophysite, “liturgy” constitute, if not a subjectless absurdity, lacking any real content or meaning? For after all, the “subject” of the Mystery of the Eucharist is the Most-holy Body and Blood of Christ — the Body, having suffered for us, the Blood, having been shed for us. But then, They are the properties of the human nature of the Saviour — the Di­vinity can neither suffer nor die. Yet the Monophysites flatly deny the human nature of Christ — then what sort of “liturgy” can they possibly have? Verily, their “eucharist” is numbered among those which the Holy Fathers, without mincing words, called “the food of de­mons”. …Say what you will, Vladyka, but I myself would in no wise permit the per­pe­tration of this blasphemous absurdity, not only not in church, but not even in any other building whatsoever!

According to the categorical testimony of eyewitnesses, our seminarians bowed down (albeit, not to the ground) at the “elevation” of the Copts. But then, it cannot be denied that such bowing is an expression of religious reverence, that is, a certain participation in what has been performed — namely, in the supplications of heretics. And you know how mercilessly and strictly the holy canons treat participation in heretical prayers. The can­ons of this type are severer than all others; by this means the Church decisively fences herself off from association with those who are outside her enclosure. And the Copts are found outside her. For — no matter what might be said concerning their present rap­prochement with us — as before, between us and them there lies that abyss over which they can cross only by means of a total renunciation of their false teaching, and the accep­tance of Ortho­dox doctrine. Of course, by now the acrimony of the ancient dogmatic disputes has passed, while at the same time, as regards, for example, the observance of the fasts and other ascetical principles — undoubtedly the Copts are closer to us than, say, the Catholics. This has been pointed out by his Beatitude, Metropolitan Antony [Khrapovitsky], and by his true disciple and follower, Vladyka John [Maximovich]. But inasmuch as their fundamental dogma remains the same as before, then, as before, they are found outside our enclosure.

The very fact itself that they were permitted to serve in an Orthodox church, is that not some sort of sanction of their ritual? After all, if, for example, some sort of graceless Samosvyatsy [“self-ordained” clergy] or simply some impostors should wish to serve — would they really be allowed to do so? And yet in this case they served as cler­gymen, like our Orthodox clerics. But do you recall, Vladyka, the Forty-fifth Canon of the Holy Apostles?[2]

It is said: after all, we serve at the Lord’s Tomb, and at the Tomb of the Heavenly Queen — and the Copts and Catholics serve there… But is it really possible to put our regular services on the same level as that which is performed in that center of worldwide Christianity? All that is performed there, is performed “outside of the usual order[3] and cannot be performed anywhere else at all. Besides, if those holy places were in our [the Orthodox] hands, no Copts or Catholics whatsoever would serve there. But ac­cord­ing to God’s will, or by the permission of God, we are not the masters there.[4]

You pointed out, Vladyka, the fact that the lower church has not been conse­crated. To which I will reply that, when I was in that church, prayed there, and took Com­mun­ion in the holy altar, the celebrating priest, at the appropriate place in the service, ex­claimed: “For this holy church, and for them that with faith, reverence, and fear of God enter herein…” Or are these merely empty words?…

Our service books contain prayers appointed to be said at the re-opening of a church which has been desecrated by heretics. Their purpose is to cleanse from heretical defile­ment a church which has been seized by the heretics. Before conducting Orthodox serv­ices therein, it is required that these prayers be read in it. What is one to say if the church was not seized at all, but the Orthodox themselves permitted the heretics to perform therein their heretical prayers?!

People cite Vladyka John… To that which has been said above concerning him, I will add yet the following. Two days ago I was conversing about Vladyka John with a man whom Vladyka knew while still in Yugoslavia. When war broke out in the 1940s, and then during the post-war upheavals, this man was forced, “in the struggle for existence”, to roam quite a bit about this wide world. When, after the passage of sev­eral years, he again met with Vladyka, he began to recount to him concerning his “tribulations”. In particular, he said: “For three years I had to live where there was no Orthodox church, and I went to the Copts.” “What? You went to the Copts?” inquired Vladyka John. The man, having cringed, as he himself related, at Vladyka’s severe tone, replied: “Yes, I did, but I didn’t attend their liturgies”. “But you did attend the vigils?” “I did, Vladyka.” “But did you repent of it?” “No, but then, I didn’t pray there, I was only present.” “Well, the next time you go to confession, without fail repent of the fact that you were present at the services of the heretics,” concluded Vladyka John.

In regards to the violation of the canons, over which you lament, Vladyka, well, of course, alas, they are being violated at present. But I’m not so sure, can that most regret­table fact be used as an argument for the defense? Does it not remind one of the case when a thief, caught in the act and not being able to deny the fact itself, attempted to de­fend himself by observing that all his neighbors likewise stole? But that defense did not help the wretch.

You write, Vladyka, concerning “economia”. Yes, I don’t doubt for a moment that you acted out of a pastoral desire to render spiritual aid to the victims of a heresy con­demned by an Ecumenical Council.[5] But I question whether economia can stretch that far. Not without cause did you yourself remark: “Perhaps I shouldn’t have given them per­mission to do that.” In the matter of the salvation of souls from erroneous thinking, economia is permitted and approved by the Fathers. But in all its forms and applications, it must not depart from this fundamental position: it must be explained to heretics that the Truth of Christianity is precisely what is being offered to them in Orthodoxy. They do not have the Truth, or else it has been corrupted and distorted, and they can be par­ticipants of it only by means of a total renunciation of heresy and a total acceptance of Orthodoxy — its doctrines, moral teachings, liturgical practices, canons, regulations, and so forth.

Holy Vladyka! Not the desire to grieve you, nor to dispute out of mere obstinacy compelled me to write all this. But, as a hierarch fully conscious of my responsibility, I will candidly say that I consider this present case incomparably more perilous than other issues concerning which so much noise was made at the time: about the pretender [to the throne], the $138,000, the Serbian affair, and the others. Those cases were all due to someone’s negligence, or someone’s erroneous actions, or else some disagreement of an ecclesiastical-political nature (the Serbian question) — but no one could accuse us of devi­ating from Orthodoxy; the faith and dogma remained inviolable. Not without cause, even after all this, did so many souls who had been seeking the truth and who had found it in our Church join us. But now? …Talk concerning the heretics serving at Holy Trinity Mon­astery is spreading rapidly, and every day I fearfully await an inquiry, if only from those very same Old Calendarist, or from the Greeks: “Is it really possible that heretics served in Jordanville?” What am I to reply? To deny it is impossible; we can’t lie (and it would be even worse if we did lie, and then the lie were discovered…). Shall we cite economia? But we shall be told that the history of the Church does not know of such an economia as would accommodate heretics in their heretical institutions and rituals. And what if our new spiritual children turn away from us?…

It grieves me to hear what believing people say they have heard from the in­habitants of Jordanville: “Here with us Ecumenism is flourishing: heretics serve in church; Catholics receive the Holy Mysteries without joining our Church.” (And whence is this, Vladyka? What is the basis for such talk, which I have already heard more than once?) If we are living in an era of the proliferation of the poisonous infection of Ecumenism, then in dog­matic matters is it not our duty to strictly subordinate the principle of economia to the principle of deliberate and particular prudence, so as not to scandalize “these little ones” by too great of conciliatory steps towards the heterodox and non-Orthodox?…


Forgive me, Holy Vladyka, for this unpleasant letter. I ask for your holy prayers.


With fraternal love in the Lord,



@   Metropolitan Philaret


[1] Vertograd-Inform, Russian ed.: No. 11, Oct. 1998, pp. 7-8; English ed.: No. 4, Feb. 1999, pp. 11-15. Vertograd-Inform is a monthly journal published (in both Russian and English) in St. Petersburg, Russia, by members of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Their English translation has been compared with the Russian original and corrected accordingly. In the introductory remarks from the editors, some passages present in their English version, but lacking in the original Russian, have been retained — they likewise being the opinions of the editors of Vertograd-Inform.

[2] Canon Forty-five of the Holy Apostles: Let any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon that merely joins in prayer with heretics be suspended, but if he has permitted them to perform any service as clergymen, let him be deposed.

[3] Evidently a quote from the rubrics of the Typicon.

[4] Here, of course, the Metropolitan is not speaking of concelebrations with the heterodox taking place at these shrines, but is referring to the fact that, according to the Status Quo agreement, after the Orthodox, the Latins and Copts have rights to serve at these holy sites.

[5] The Monophysite heresy was condemned at the Fourth Ecumenical Council held in 451 at Chal­ce­don and attended by 630 bishops. At this council Euthyches and Dioscorus were anathematized.