In the August, 1999 issue of Uspenskij Listok, Hieromonk Dionysius (Alferov) offers a tribute to St. John Maximovich with most of which the venerators of St. John can be in full agreement. St. John was indeed one of the miracles of twentieth-century Orthodoxy, a saint and wonderworker to be compared with the greatest hierarchs of antiquity. However, after a few paragraphs it becomes clear that the main reason why Fr. Dionysius wrote this article was not to glorify St. John, but to use St. John as a weapon with which to beat what he calls the "ultra-rightists" in the contemporary Russian Church that is, those who consider the Moscow Patriarchate to be a graceless organisation. The purpose of this article is to consider what relationship the supposed views of St. John have to the contemporary debate on the status of the MP.
First, what do we know about St. JohnÕs views on the MP? The answer, surprisingly, is: very little. As far as the present writer knows, he never expressed himself in public on the presence or absence of grace in the MP. What we do know is that once, in Shanghai shortly after the last war, St. John commemorated Metropolitan Anastasy of the ROCA together with Patriarch Alexis of the MP. What we also know is that in a letter to Metropolitan Anastasy St. John later very humbly repented of this act (the letter was seen by Anastasia Georgievna Shatilova in the archives of the ROCA Synod).
Some have pointed to a certain "liberalism" practised by St. John in relation to "World Orthodoxy" in general. There seems to be some foundation for believing that St. John was a "liberal", not so much in his evaluation of the errors of "World Orthodoxy" (in relation to which he could be strict, - cf. his article on the decline of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), as in the method of his reception of people from World Orthodoxy. Thus it is known that he admitted the fledgling Dutch Orthodox Church into communion from the MP without insisting that they immediately change from the new to the old calendar although he was so attached to the Old Calendar that even in civil letters he always used only the Old Calendar date. Again, Metropolitan Philaret of Blessed Memory recounts in one of his letters that he was forced to rebuke St. John once for making hardly any distinction, in the matter of eucharistic communion, between the flock of the ROCA and that of the Evlogians in Paris although St. John had strongly condemned the Eulogian heresy of Sophianism.
What conclusion are we to draw from this "liberalism"? I believe that we cannot draw any clear conclusion about St. JohnÕs views on the ecclesiological status of the MP or "World Orthodoxy" in his time. The most we can conclude, it seems to me, is that: (a) he once made a serious error in commemorating the Soviet patriarch, of which he immediately and sincerely repented, and (b) in regard to the laypeople of other jurisdictions he practised the maximum degree of "economy" or condescension, judging that in our extremely difficult and confusing times such loving condescension was indeed the most appropriate way of building up the Church of Christ.
But let us suppose for a moment that Fr. Dionysius is right, and that St. John was a "liberal", not only in his method of receiving people from the jurisdictions of "World Orthodoxy", but also in his estimate of those jurisdictionsÕ ecclesiastical status. What follows from this in regard to the contemporary debate on the status of the MP?
Again the answer is: very little.
First, let us bear in mind that St. John died in 1966, a full generation ago, when the pan-heresy of ecumenism was only just beginning to penetrate the Slavic Churches (the MP joined the World Council of Churches in 1961, and the Serbian Patriarch became president of the WCC in 1965). It was still some years to the ROCAÕs definitive condemnation of ecumenism in 1983. Even if St. John had been a "liberal" in his lifetime, there is no reason at all to believe that he would have dissociated himself from his SynodÕs anathema against ecumenism if he had lived to 1983, still less if he had lived to 1999. The heresy and apostasy of the MP, like all apostatical movements in history, developed and deepened over time. What reason can there be for believing that the thinking of such a holy man as St. John would not also have developed in response to the changing situation?
Secondly, the infallible voice of the Church is not to be identified with the voice of any individual father of the Church, however holy, but only with the consensus of the Fathers. There are many cases of individual fathers making pronouncements which have not been accepted by the Church as a whole. As Fr. Basil Lurye writes, commenting on the 15th canon of the First-and-Second Council of Constantinople: Ô"The fathers" are accepted only as the consensus patrum ("the agreement of the fathers", "the council of the fathers"), that is, those patristic judgements which were not contested in council by other fathers.Õ
If we make the mistake of identifying the opinion of this or that individual father or saint on this question with the infallible voice of the Church, we may find ourselves labelling undoubted saints of the Church as either "ultra-rightists" or "ultra-leftists", to use Fr. DionysiusÕ terminology. For example, let us take the case of holy Hieroconfessor Victor, Bishop of Vyatka, who was recently recommended for canonisation by a commission of the MP on the basis of the incorruption of his relics and the many miracles that have been wrought at his shrine. He was perhaps the very first hierarch to separate from Metropoltian Sergius in 1927, and his condemnation of Sergius was about as "extreme" as it was possible to be. Thus he called Sergianism "worse than heresy", and in his last known letter, of unknown date, he wrote: "In his destructive and treacherous actions against the Church, Metropolitan Sergius has also committed a terrible blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which according to the unlying word of Christ will never be forgiven him, neither in this life, nor in the life to come.
"'He who does not gather with Me,' says the Lord, 'scatters.' 'Either recognize the tree (the Church) as good and its fruit as good, or recognize the tree as bad and its fruit as bad' (Matthew 12.33). 'Therefore I say unto you, every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto me, but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven unto me' (Matthew 12.31). 'Fulfilling the measure of his sin,' Metropolitan Sergius together with his Synod,, by his ukaz of October 8/21, 1927, is introducing a new formula of commemoration.
"Mixing together into one, despite the word of God, the 'faithful with the unfaithful' (II Corinthians 6.14-18), the Holy Church and those fighting to the death against her, in the great and most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the metropolitan by this blasphemy of his destroys the prayerful meaning of the great sacrament and its grace-filled significance for the eternal salvation of the souls of Orthodox believers. Hence the service becomes not only graceless because of the gracelessness of the celebrant, but an abomination in the eyes of God, and for that reason both the celebrant and he who participates in it subject themselves to severe condemnation.
"Being in all his activity an anti-church heretic, as transforming the Holy Orthodox Church from the house of the grace-filled salvation of believers into a graceless, carnal organization deprived of the spirit of life, Metropolitan Sergius has at the same time, through his conscious renunciation of the truth and in his mindless betrayal of Christ, become an open apostate from God the Truth.
"Without a formal external trial by the Church (which cannot be carried out on him), he 'is self-condemned' (Titus 3.10-11); he has ceased to be what he was - a 'server of the truth', according to the word: 'Let his habitation be desolate, and let no one live in it; and his office let another take' (Acts 1.20)."
Now according to Fr. DionysiusÕ criterion, St. Victor must surely be considered an "ultra-rightist", because, in spite of his living right at the beginning of the Sergianist schism and a full generation before the MPÕs acceptance of the heresy of ecumenism., he nevertheless has the audacity to call the MP "graceless". But Fr. Dionysius does not call St. Victor an "ultra-rightist", nor the very many new Russian martyrs and confessors who shared his opinion, nor Metropolitan Philaret of Blessed Memory who likewise declared the MP to be graceless. And yet if he is not prepared to call these holy fathers "ultra-rightist", he should withdraw that label from the contemporary zealots of Orthodoxy who assert the same thing, but on even stronger and more extensive evidence than was available to St. Victor or Metropolitan Philaret!
And yet our aim is not to establish the opinion of St. Victor or Metropolitan Philaret as expressing the infallible voice of the Church in opposition to the supposed opinion of St. John Maximovich. The essential point is that it is not the opinion of this or that father that must be accepted by all Orthodox Christians, but only the consensus of the fathers. Fr. Dionysius offers no compelling reason to believe that the consensus of the fathers is to be identified with his "moderate" opinion on the status of the MP, even if he could convincingly enlist St. John in his support.
So what is the consensus of the fathers on this matter? That is another question which is too large to be broached within the limits of this small article. What we can assert, however, is that God has both accepted and glorified men and women holding different opinions on the status of the MP but having in common their refusal to have any communion with the traitors who have rent apart the seamless coat of the Russian Church. There may come a time it may have come already when such diversity of opinion is no longer permissible. One thing is certain: labelling as "ultra rightists" the zealots of Orthodoxy in a cause for which thousands if not millions of True Orthodox Christians have already given their lives is not the right way to resist apostasy.
October 25 / November 7, 1999.