ENGLISH VERSION: The Path of True Orthodoxy: Sermon on the Feast Day of St. Philaret, First Hierarch of the Church Abroad. By Bishop Gregory (Lourie) of Petrograd and Gdov. October 28 / November 10, 2011
St. Philaret became the head of the Church Abroad in 1964 by accident, if one is to judge from a worldly perspective – or providentially, if one is to judge in a Christian manner. At that time the bishops of ROCOR were divided for reasons of power and influence into two warring parties of roughly equal strength. The aged Metropolitan Anastassy understood that he could do nothing to pacify the Church and therefore decided to retire. A successor needed to be chosen. Each party of bishops wanted its own candidate, but the opposing party was strong enough to prevent this. A schism was avoided when the leader of one of the warring parties, St. John (Maximovich), offered to chose as First Hierarch not one of "his own," but rather to chose the youngest bishop, consecrated only in 1963 and not yet belonging to any of the clans. This was Bishop Philaret of Brisbane, who became Metropolitan.
Being a pious person, he strove to do all that was required of him in his new position of ministry. But only a few years had past when it suddenly became apparent that the main problem that he needed to resolve was not that financial-property dispute over which the bishops had quarreled – that dispute settled itself in time – but rather an entirely new problem, namely the collapse of the historic Orthodox Churches.
If it had already partially collapsed, with that which was left remaining unstable, then in 1965 – in St. Philaret’s second year as First Hierarch – a completely unthinkable event took place. The Patriarch of Constantinople, the highest-ranking bishop of World Orthodoxy, solemnly renounced the anathema that had nearly one thousand years early been imposed against the Roman throne for falling into heresy. The Pope of Rome correspondingly lifted the anathema that Rome had imposed on Constantinople.
The Patriarch of Constantinople thereby completely renounced the borders by which the Holy Fathers had outlined Orthodoxy when they set a boundary between Orthodoxy and the Latin heresy. Then very many people in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in the Greek Church, and in other patriarchates began to understand that these bishops were not at all Orthodox and that they must separate from them. They joined the Greek Old Calendarists. But in America people began to join not only the Old Calendarists, but also the Russian Church Abroad. In particular, Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston joined ROCOR.
It was these people who explained to Metropolitan Philaret just how serious the situation of World Orthodoxy was. Metropolitan Philaret began to think about this. He began to write to the Primates of the local Churches his so-called "Sorrowful Epistles," which were open letters that were published. The Metropolitan wrote three such epistles in all, in which he called upon them to reconsider. Of course none of them reconsidered but, in any case, people who were the indirect recipients of these epistles did reconsider.
As a result, the Church Abroad under Metropolitan Philaret stopped concelebrating with World Orthodoxy. At just this time the Moscow Patriarchate, using the diplomatic influence of the Soviet Union’s powerful government, began to pressure other Churches to stop concelebrating with the Church Abroad. Metropolitan Philaret began to establish relations with Greek Old Calendarists.
Unfortunately, the people who understood the task of Orthodoxy, who supported Metropolitan Philaret in this endeavor, not only did not make up the majority in the Church Abroad, but they were not even an especially influential group. In time they were able to gain some influence, as a result of which the anathema against the heresy of ecumenism was adopted in 1983. But the anathema, as we know, is half-hearted and completely abnormal. Of course it articulated what the heresy is, but did so without naming a single heretic. This allowed the anathema later to be reinterpreted. We know that when someone is anathematized, not only is the heresy itself anathematized, but those who espouse it are named. But in this case this did not happen. As western zealots of Orthodoxy disappointed in ROCOR remarked, it named the sickness but not the sick – as if there were illnesses that made no one ill.
As a result, Metropolitan Philaret’s work has not prevailed in the Church Abroad. As soon as he died everyone who supported him, his closest associates, found themselves pushed out of the Church Abroad in one way or another. This applies to the Boston monastery, which immediately underwent persecution, and Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) who, although he never formally separated from the Church Abroad, supported the separation of Suzdal. He always remained in communion with Suzdal, even after Suzdal became non grata in the Church Abroad, when the Synod of the Church Abroad already no longer served with Suzdal.
Be that as it may, St. Philaret remains for us a guide of True Orthodoxy and simultaneously of the path to True Orthodoxy. What is this path? Without especially getting into it, but at the same time without making any mistakes, it consists in not accepting any heretical confessions, and staying with the Holy Fathers and with those hierarchs and ecclesiastical organizations that do not accept any heresy.
But the problem is that this rule is difficult to fulfill. Maybe you will find someone who will explain all this to you, and this explanation will convince you and seem right, or you maybe you will not. Therefore one needs to sort through this oneself, so that this will not be left to chance. One needs to sort through this in exactly the same way that St. Philaret did.
Therefore the most important thing that he teaches us is the means by which one can discern for oneself which Orthodoxy is true and which is false. There is one means: Christian asceticism. This means that one needs to try to be a Christian, one needs to try to struggle. On the one hand, this means not getting involved with all the ideas of this world that in the long run lead us to accept that which makes life comfortable. That is normally how ecumenists become ecumenists.
On the other hand, one need not travel to distant lands in one’s dreams. There are people who do not accept any worldly comfort, but who live so fully in their own thoughts that they are not in contact with reality. They might be at, or even beyond, the boundary of mental health – and this, too, is not good.
Of course, one should not accuse such ecumenists of being self-serving or of selling out the Christian faith for certain material rewards. Yet at the same time there is something selfish about them. Because for their own spiritual comfort, in order to tell themselves tales, to lull themselves, they are to some extent betraying the Christian faith. This condition is called deception [prelest] in ascetical language for a reason: it is a false understanding of one’s spiritual path, one that does not allow one to distinguish between heresy and Orthodoxy.
Although I also remind you as a warning that people in deception may well be in the true Church. They are not saving themselves while at the same time interfering with others. Therefore let us strive to look at things simply and realistically, like Philaret, but also ascetically, again like Philaret.
Let those who are monastics strive to be monastics, and those who are not monastics at least to be monastics inwardly. This is beneficial for everyone, not excluding people with families. We all need to be Orthodox Christians because then we will be preserved in the true faith, looking especially at such luminaries as St. Philaret, whose help we can feel quite directly.
He lived among us, and there are still some people living who remember him. They are bringing together in friendship, in the spiritual sense of the word, those people who in one way or another are guided by him. Therefore quite recently St. Philaret’s beloved monastery, Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston, which was once in the Church Abroad, is now one of our parish’s friends.
So do Catacomb believers who are still living in various places in Russia, although they are now already elderly. They gave us such a holy object as St. Philaret’s belt, which now everyone can venerate.