Letter of Metropolitan Rafael of Moscow (TOC-R) to Metropolitan John of New York (American Metropolia)
Your Beatitude, Dear Vladyka!
It was with great joy that I received your brotherly epistle, filled with genuine concern for the correctness of our True-Orthodox Confession of Faith, the glory of the good name of our holy Church, and the preservation of our brotherly unity. I cordially thank you for your warm words and your prayerful wishes addressed to my humility, in which I see a pledge to strengthen our brotherly ties.
Indeed, throughout the entire history of our Church’s existence, its unity has been subjected to all kinds of trials, and we should be making maximum efforts to preserve it. Following the well-known commandment of the Apostle, I am convinced that this unity should not prevent private disagreement if, of course, they do not affect the very foundations of our faith, which are related to our hope of eternal salvation. In and of itself, theological polemics within the Church are not only possible, but even necessary – inasmuch as the Church, wandering on earth, is constantly faced with new challenges and temptations to which one is not immediately able to formulate a clear and acceptable answer for the whole Church.
In our opinion, the theological question raised in your epistle has already received a general ecclesial response, which is an integral part of the Sacred Tradition of our Church. This response, contained in Divine Revelation, has attained the fullness of its theological elucidation in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas and other Greek and Russian Fathers, including those of relatively recent times. Please permit me, dear Vladyka, to devote the majority of this, my epistle to you, to a consideration of this question.
So as not to distract from the subject matter, I will not “get personal” and indulge in arguments about the merits and demerits of Bishop Gregory (Lourié); I will only note that you, through ignorance, are likely to have gathered information about him that does not come from the most reliable sources.
I grieve, dear Vladyka, that my position regarding the burning dogmatic question of the names of God has caused you anxiety and fear. What should we do? We cannot recognize name-glorifying as a heresy on the basis alone that it was condemned by the ecclesial authorities of Constantinople and Russia. For, first of all, we are far from having crypto-papist ideas about the inerrancy of ecclesial powers. Second, we are taught from Holy Tradition that God’s truth is only revealed through the agreement of the Holy Fathers. Third, from church history we know of many examples when not just patriarchs or synods, but entire councils of hierarchs from all over the world accepted erring and even heretical decisions, which happened to be opposed only by the voices of the Saints. But the truth in those dramatic moments of church history was with the Saints alone, and not with the actual ecclesial power and the majority of hierarchs.
We would like to be with the majority, but being with the truth is infinitely more important for us. Therefore we encourage you, dear Vladyko, to approach the question of name-glorifying with great care, sobriety, and reasoning. Who stood behind the definitions of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Russian Synod? What did the name-glorifiers actually teach, and what did their opponents teach? Which of the conflicting teachings is in accordance with the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and which is opposed to it? How does name-glorifying correspond to the teaching of the great luminary of the Church, St. Gregory Palamas? We will try to the best of our limited abilities to reply briefly to these questions.