July 20, 2024

True Orthodox Diocese of Western Europe

Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC)

A Taste of Bitterness. The Letter of Bishop Gregory Grabbe to Metropolitan Vitaly

13 min read

Most Reverend Vladyko!
For a very long time now in fact, since the first days of your leadership of our Church Abroad I have with great anxiety and turmoil of heart been tracing how quickly she has begun to slide into the abyss of administrative disorder and canonical chaos.
All this time I have suppressed within myself the desire to express openly to you my anxiety for the destinies of our Church Abroad, mainly out of worry that every utterance of mine will be taken by you as an expression of personal offence.
Believe me, Vladyko, although I could not fail to have the feeling of a certain chagrin in relation to member of the Council and you personally, by the mercy of God I have nourished no unfriendly feelings towards anyone. As you yourself know, I have by all means tried, and I am still trying, in the first place to be ruled by the interests of our Church, both abroad and in Russia.
I very much beseech you patiently to listen to my observations concerning the years when I ceased to be secretary of the Synod. Although I no longer bear any formal responsibility for the later destinies of our Church, I cannot look with indifference at what is now happening before my eyes.
Our woes began with the first Hierarchical Council to take place after the death of Metropolitan Philaret.
In order to illustrate the relationship of the members of the Council of that time to myself, please recall the speech made at the banquet on the occasion of your election. Then Protopriest Ioann Legky, as he then was, in greeting you, said that he was glad that in my person you would have such an experienced and faithful assistant as had had your three predecessors.
To my extreme surprise, in looking through the protocols at the end of the Council, I saw that his speech had been received as an insult to the whole Hierarchical Council. This amazing resolution remained in the protocol as an instruction to posterity.
At this time you suggested that I keep the parishes in my jurisdiction and add to them some more from Pennsylvania. In accordance with your direction, I then composed a list of the parishes which should enter my diocese. But when I arrived at the session, you detained my report on this matter and sharply attacked me for my bankruptcy as an administrator and in effect gave me an ultimatum: either I myself had to put in an application for retirement, or I would be judged by the Council, although it was not known what for. Seeing that both you and the majority of the members of the Council were seeking an opportunity to drive me out of your midst, I made a declaration about my retirement for the sake of ecclesiastical peace, although I felt absolutely no guilt that would have merited a trial or dismissal. It was said that the reason for the Council members dissatisfaction was my unskilful administration of affairs in Rome, although at that time I had completely supported the opinion of the person sent there as investigator, Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles.
Only the reposed Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago, in spite of being ill with the illness that led to his death, wrote you a decisive protest against my illegal dismissal from the see of Washington and Florida.
At the same Council there was an unexpected declaration that Archbishop Laurus had been appointed as Secretary of the Synod, and Bishop Hilarion as his Deputy. This change in Secretary did not figure on the Councils agenda. I myself had to point out to the Council that in appointing whoever it may be to a post, one must first make that post free from the other person occupying it. I immediately announced my retirement. However, I could not fail to be worried by the fact which the members of the Council did not want to take into consideration that the new Secretary of the Synod would be living 200 kilometres from the Chancellery, while his deputy was a man completely inexperienced in chancellery procedures.
This my very hasty removal from the post of Secretary of the Synod (although it was called different things at different times) after 55 years of service to the Church Abroad must have demonstrated to our enemies that a revolution had taken place among us, which would undoubtedly be badly reflected on the prestige of the Synod. I myself had to point this out to you in my concern for preserving the dignity of the Synod at the given time. Apparently you yourself felt a certain awkwardness at that time, and you expressed your gratitude to me in a laconical way. It is also worthy of note that I was treated like a guilty chamber-maid precisely in the year in which the Council resolved triumphantly to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky]. The Council completely ignored the fact that I was not only appointed to work in the Synod by the personal desire of the Metropolitan but also that I was one of his closest and most trusted co-workers.
In view of this, my daughter [Matushka Anastasia Georgievna Shatilova] refused the responsibilities of Record-Keeper of the Chancellery. For the last four decades, she had been my unofficial secretary and closest co-worker. She already had enormous experience of work in ecclesiastical administration. In unconditionally accepting her resignation, you thereby deprived the Synodal Chancellery of its main worker.
With my and her departure, the Department of External Relations of the Synod was immediately closed. This Department had been acquiring a greater and greater significance in the eyes of the other Orthodox Churches. Reprints from the Newsheet’ that it published had already begun to appear in the official organs of some local Churches. This was a fresh blow at the prestige of the Synod.
On the disorganization of our Chancellery, I can judge from a series of signs. Thus I was sent from Russia copies of your letters to Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Valentine. First, I very soon managed to find out that these documents were unknown to both Secretaries of the Synod, to whom I handed over these copies. Moreover, the very subject of these letters, by the delicacy of their content, demanded their presentation by you for discussion in the Hierarchical Synod. But it turned out that the letters were not only dispatched without the knowledge of the Secretaries but also had a whole series of other defects which quite clearly demonstrated the bankruptcy of your personal Chancellery. Although Russian notepaper was available, the letters to Russia were sent on English notepaper; they not only had no numbers but even no dates. In the letter to Archbishop Lazarus, there was no indication of whom it was being sent to, while Bishop Valentine’s title was incomplete. Finally, the very text of the letters was by no means brilliant grammatically and stylistically. Moreover, it also emerged (which is especially terrible) that at the bottom of both letters was not your signature in your own hand, but a facsimile!
The Synodal House ceased to exist as the centre of our administration. The sessions of the Synods and Councils were usually arranged in any place, only not in the Synodal House. Besides, you are rarely in New York, Vladyka Hilarion is often away, and the Chancellery in his absence does not function in our former centre there is often not a single responsible person capable of giving correct information, or of understanding what to do with information received from outside. Often the responsible person turns out to be the telephonist on duty at the time.
There have been many complaints against your secretary on the part of clergy visiting the Synod, mainly because of her crudeness and unwelcomingness. I know of cases when she refused to connect you by telephone even with Bishops. I personally have more than once been in such a situation. However, in refusing to connect me with you, she was polite to me. But her often provocative behaviour has drawn censure also on you personally, for much is said and done by her in your name.
The Synodal cathedral, which was always famous for its well-ordered and very majestic cathedral services, has for a long time now not had even one permanent priest. Vladyka Hilarion tries to fulfil the role of such a priest as well as he can. But people who turn to the Synod for the carrying out of needs in his absence are often refused in a less than polite manner.
The constantly changing priests in the cathedral read Church Slavonic with evident difficulty, making mistakes even in often-repeated Saturday Gospels.
Things are no better in the Eastern American diocese. I have often had to hear the complaints of our priests about the fact that since the time you became the head of this diocese there has not been a single diocesan Congress, in spite of the fact that at pastoral congresses you have been asked insistently about this by the father rectors. Many priests feel that you have abandoned this diocese when they learn that there have been diocesan congresses in Canada.
Some have begun to be concerned about the danger of losing the guarantee of keeping their parish property. Thus the property of the Eastern American diocese and of the parish at Glen Cove attached to it has suddenly been declared to be the property of the Hierarchical Synod. For a long time now the Synod has been aiming to close down this parish and to sell the diocese’s property for its own profit.
As regards our affairs in Russia, you yourself know how many reports I have made on this issue. Not once have I received any kind of reaction, neither from you personally nor from the Synod Chancellery.
I was particularly distressed by the ban you imposed on me in March preventing me from personally presenting my report to the Synod and from taking part in the deliberations on its contents. This is a completely unprecedented case in the history of the Church Abroad. I do not know of a single case in which a Bishop was refused the right of publishing his report to the Synod.
The actuality of my report has been confirmed by the events that took place one after the other in Russia. A correctly ordered administration should anticipate events, and not simply react to them hastily, which is quite obviously what is happening now. As a result we have brought the matter of the possible regeneration of the Church in Russia to the most undesirable of ends.
Spurred on by envy and spite, certain of our Bishops have influenced the whole course of our Church politics in Russia. As a consequence of this, our Synod has not understood the meaning of the existence of our mission abroad.
As I warned the Synod in my last report, we have done absolutely everything possible to force the Russian Bishops to separate from us administratively.
They have had to proceed from Resolution No. 362 of Patriarch Tikhon of November 7/20, 1920, so as to prevent the final destruction of the just-beginning regeneration of the Russian Church in our Fatherland. But our Synod, having nothing before its eyes except punitive tactics, has proceeded only from the positions of normalised ecclesiastical life. But the Patriarchs Resolution had in mind the preservation of ecclesiastical construction in completely unprecedented historical and ecclesiastical circumstances.
The ukaz was composed for various cases, including the means of restoring the Church Administration in conditions when it had even ceased to be (cf. article 9) and the extreme disorganisation of Church life’. This is the task placed before any surviving hierarch, provided only that he truly Orthodox.
The Russian Hierarchs felt themselves to be in this position when, for almost two years in a row, their inquiries and requests to receive support against the oppression of the Moscow Patriarchate were met with complete silence on the part of our Synod.
Seeing the canonical chaos caused in their dioceses by Bishop Barnabas, and the silent connivance towards him of the Synod, the Russian Hierarchs came to the conclusion that they had no other way of preventing the destruction of the whole enterprise than by being ruled by the patriarchal Resolution No. 362.
Our Synod unlawfully pushed Bishop Valentine into retirement for accepting the huge parish in Noginsk, which Bishop Barnabas hoped to receive for himself, but did not react in any way when the same Bishop Barnabas treacherously shamed the Synod by petitioning to be received into communion with a Ukrainian self-consecrator in the name of the Synod!
I do not know whether you have read the full text of the Resolution of November 7/20 at a session of the Synod. I myself earlier paid little attention to it, but now, on reading it through, I see that the Russian Bishops have every right to refer to it, and this fact will be revealed in the polemic that will now inevitably develop. I fear that the Synod has already opened the way to this undesirable polemic by its decisions, and it will betoken a schism not only in Russia but also with us here
There are things that cannot be stopped, and it is also impossible to walk away from an accomplished fact. If our Synod does not now correctly evaluate the passing historical moment, then its already infinitely undermined prestige (especially in Russia) will be finally and ingloriously destroyed.
For all the years of the existence of the Church Abroad, we have enjoyed respect and glory for nothing else than for our uncompromising faithfulness to the canons. They hated us, but they did not dare not to respect us. But now we have shown the whole Orthodox world that the canons are for us just an empty sound and we have become a laughing-stock in the eyes of all those who have any kind of relationship to Church questions.
Look you yourself, at the Council in Lesna, permitted yourself to say that for us, the participants in it, this was not now the time to examine canons, but we had to act quickly. You, holding the tiller of the ecclesiastical ship, triumphantly, in front of the whole Council, declared to us that now we had to hasten to sail without a rudder and without sails. At that time your words appalled me, but I, knowing of your irritation towards me because I insist that we have to live in accordance with the canons, still hoped that all was not lost and that our Bishops would somehow shake off the whole nightmare of these last years.
Think, Vladyko, of the tens of thousands of Orthodox people we have deceived both abroad and in Russia. Don’t calm yourself with the thought that if there is some guilt somewhere, then it lies equally on all our hierarchs. The main guilt will lie on you, as the leader of our Council. I have had to hear from some Bishops that sometimes the Synod decrees one thing, and then you, taking no account of previous resolutions, on your own initiative either change them or simply rescind them.
And look now, as has already become quite well known, after the stormy March session of the Synod, it dispersed without making a single resolution. During it the question was discussed of banning the Russian Hierarchs from serving. Nevertheless, you demanded that the Secretariat that it send an ukaz banning bishops who were not even under investigation. Both from the point of view of the 34th Apostolic Canon and from an ecclesiastical-administrative point of view, this is unprecedented lawlessness.
Remember, Vladyko, your reproachful speech against Metropolitan Philaret, when in 1985 you for ten minutes non-stop fulminated against him for transgressing the 34th Apostolic canon. The crimes of Metropolitan Philaret seem to me to be minuscule by comparison with what is happening now. He only occasionally gave awards to clergy of other dioceses at the request of his cell-attendant, but never interfered in the affairs of the dioceses of his brothers. But that is what both you personally and certain of our Bishops have begun to do. Fr. Nikita was not able to get the reposed Metropolitan Philaret to commit those uncanonical acts in which the activity of Bishop Barnabas and certain other bishops abound with the silent agreement of you as the First Hierarch, who must know all these circumstances well.
Forgive me, Vladyko, if my letter grieves you. My aim is not, and never has been, to wound or offend you. In going through the results of your rule in recent years in chronological order my aim was by no means to complain about my own fate. You of course must know that I have not once expressed any offense or complaint of a personal character. I write this letter only in order to show you clearly how we have come off the canonical rails since 1985, we have more and more begun to depart from the basic ecclesiastical canons and rulers of our Local Church and now we have reduced all our affairs in Russia and abroad to the saddest condition.
I was a witness of, and participant in, the glorious period in the life of the Church Abroad, and now with pain, I look on what I consider to be what is already its inglorious end.
The growth of our parishes abroad has ceased since the death of Metropolitan Philaret. We have no candidates to fill the hierarchical sees, which witnesses to the fact that we are gradually becoming smaller. And now at this portentous moment, we are simply renouncing the link with Russia that was established with such labour.
Our Synod must understand that we by our actions have elicited the speedy administrative departure from us of the Russian Hierarchs. It had to happen one way or another on the basis of the Resolution of Patriarch Tikhon of November 7/20, 1920 and of our own Statute concerning the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad’. If we do not now understand this, then we only demonstrate before the whole world our bankruptcy and our failure to understand the whole historic mission laid upon us by the Providence of God.
In their resolution of March 22 the Russian Hierarchs declared that they remained in communion of prayer with us and commemorated you in the Divine services, but we, instead of understanding the unprecedented state of ecclesiastical affairs in Russia, and not thinking about building up the Church or of the tens of thousands of people deceived by us reply to everything only with canons which were meant to be used in normal conditions.
It is absolutely necessary for you sharply and decisively to turn the rudder of our administration in the direction of keeping the canons before it is too late.
Vladyko, do not allow your name in the history of the Russian Church to be linked, not with the peaceful construction of Church life, but with its abrupt and shameful destruction both in Russia and abroad.
March 24 / April 6, 1994
Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20130515200357/http://roacusa.org/htdocs/7.html

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