The reception (not consecration) of Archbishop Ambrose
Life of Archbishop Gregory – the personal story of how this “started”.
A letter written by the Abbot of the Holy Transfiguration monasatery of Brookline, MA, to Archbishop Gregory’s brother on Pascha May, 1983. Found here.
Christ is Risen.
God love us and save us. Amen.
It was a pleasant surprise that you visited the monastery and left treats during the week of Pascha. It was even more a surprise that you left a letter with the gifts and did not wish to greet me and the fathers personally, since I was not absent from the monastery when you came.
I do not know why you chose to write instead of speaking to me as we have in the past. I certainly would have accepted to speak to you, but because of the seriousness of the charges made in your letter I am answering you in writing also, although it is tiring and time-consuming for me.
You begin your letter to me, Richard, saying, ‘Our Saviour said, “do good to them that despitefully use you and persecute you”,’ and then proceed to tell me that your ‘family was greatly scandalized by the conduct of the monastery’ during the last visit of your brother, Fr Gregory, to Boston during the Great Fast of this year.
You charge us with inhospitality towards Fr Gregory during his four visits to Holy Transfiguration since he left the Monastery some five years ago: that we do not permit him to attend services at the Monastery, and that both you personally and your family are ‘deeply hurt’ by our conduct. Because of all this you ‘feel that an apology is in order’ by us, and ask ‘when will I ever see forgiveness on your part, Fr Panteleimon, and normal harmony between the monastery here and the monastery in Buena Vista, Colorado.’
Dear Richard, I am surprised at your lack of understanding in all this affair. You will remember how years ago when Fr Gregory wished to receive a blessing from us to leave and start something on his own, and we did not agree with him, how I called you and we had a friendly and sincere talk about the situation. At the time I explained to you the reasons why both myself and the senior fathers here could not consent to your brother’s request, considering him to be spiritually immature and irresponsible. We told you at the time, as we had repeatedly told Fr Gregory, that no one was held here by force. Our doors are unlocked, both by day and by night, and one is free to come and go as he pleases. But that if he left, he would do so on his own without a blessing, in disobedience to the vows he made when he was tonsured. I explained to you in detail why we would not give a blessing, predicting what would take place should he choose to leave on his own without a blessing. I think that our fears and predictions have come true.
Let us review some of the events prior to Fr Gregory’s leaving and after, to see if your charges against us are valid. The first time that we detected that your brother was unhappy being here is after we told him that we had no intention of ordaining him the diaconate or priesthood. The occasion for this was that one of the senior fathers was passing by Fr Gregory’s room and overheard him intoning the petitions of the Great Litany in the Liturgy. The father knocked on his door and asked him what he was doing. Fr Gregory with his characteristic unabashedness told the father that he was practising the parts of the deacon, since he was going to be ordained shortly. The father asked him who told him that he was going to be ordained, and he answered that it was his turn according to seniority. The father answered that not all are ordained, but only according to needs and then only at the choice of the abbot with the consent of the senior fathers.
Well, when it came to my attention, I explained to Fr Gregory that he was out of order in having thoughts of ordination, and even more so in intoning the litanies, etc. I also told him that neither I nor the community had any intentions of having him ordained. I further pointed out to him that Fr Ephraim, the first after me in seniority, and Fr Mamas among others were not ordained. Therefore, it was irrational to think that he had a right to be ordained because of some kind of seniority, etc, etc. It must be said that your brother, from the beginning of his joining our monastery, had a great opinion of himself, and it is precisely this pride that was and is his downfall. I remember when as a novice he was sent by us to Greece to learn iconography from Basil Lepouras, and we visited the great elder Hieronymos on the island of Aegina, he embarassed me by repeatedly asking me what the elder had to say about him, expecting in his great pride that the elder would make some prophecy concerning him as soon as he saw him. Well, the elder did have something to say about him (although nothing great and exalted). It rather forebode his disobedience and the breaking of his vows years later.
It was because of the patience of our fathers Arsenios and Haralampos and my sinfulness, Richard, that your brother learned iconography, although he fought us all the way with his stubbornness and self-will at every turn. If he is anything to-day, then it is because of our long-suffering and patience. And if he had been a true monk, humble and obedient, he would be much more as an iconographer to-day and still be here. We did not wish him to break his vows and leave the community, and although he tried us greatly by his conduct and unceasing nagging in the year before he left, we did not ask him to leave. His leaving was a clear choosing of his own in disobedience, being warned of the consequences of disobedience. Yet in a way he benefacted us. For since he left, the fathers that remained in the obedience of iconography gave themselves over to serious study and deepened their knowledge and technique so that to-day they produce icons far superior to those made by Fr Gregory. For one, the expressions of the holy personages depicted have a greater depth and spiritual presence which is missing from the work of your brother. Our iconographers also have greater control over colour and a far greater understanding of anatomy, so that the final outcome is greater strength in the icons in both composition and execution. This is not by chance, but by diligent study and application, and we attribute the results to the humility and obedience of the iconographers. Whereas, in the instance of your brother, his pride in thinking that he knows it all, and therefore has no need to learn anything further, and his haste in producing his icons show in his work. In your brothers’ estimation he is the greatest and best iconographer alive to-day, and he has been foolish enough to express this view on more than one occasion. It is because of his pride that his work is lacking.
An example of what I have just written is the church of St John the Russian in Ipswich. The four main icons of the iconostas were executed by your brother while he was still here. The two archangels and the Deisis icon over the entrance were executed some years after Fr Gregory left when the fathers applied themselves to learn what he had not taught them, since he himself did not know, and in his pride thought it superfluous to learn. The outcome is that Fr Spyridon has asked us if we would not consider re-doing the four main icons since the latter ones have so much more depth and strength.
The greatest fault of Fr Gregory is pride — and there can be no greater sin than this. According to the Fathers, it is the father of all sins and an obstacle to any progress in the spiritual life. Again and again, while Fr Gregory was with us he demonstrated the great opinion which he had of himself. He thought of himself from the beginning as being something special. That is why he pushed to be tonsured even before he had completed three years as a novice. We did not give in, and tonsured him a little after the completion of his three-year novitiate; and this only because he nagged us and threatened to leave if we did not. I did not wish to tonsure him at the time because of his stubbornness and self-will, but some of the fathers thought that with time he would mellow, especially if he was kept in strict obedience. Would that I had never tonsured him, for if anything, he became progressively more proud and self-willed.
For one, he had an elder complex from the beginning and always wanted to teach the novices and visitors concerning the spiritual life. Whenever someone was sent to the icon room to learn iconography, he always took it upon himself to be his spiritual guide also. He would begin by asking the person if he drank coffee, how many cups, how many hours he slept, how many prayer-ropes he did, how many prostrations, etc., etc.. Then he would make recommendations, give counseling, etc., etc.. The outcome was total confusion, if not outright spiritual harm for the person involved. Again and again Fr Isaac, Fr Ephraim, and myself had to impress upon Fr Gregory that when someone was sent to the icon room it was solely so that the person could learn iconography, and not to be taught the spiritual life. We tried to impress upon him that he was not able to counsel himself, let alone others in the spiritual life, and prohibited him to speak to anyone concerning spiritual matters.
He embarrassed us on so many occasions by his indiscretions and silliness that we were forced to prohibit him from answering the door when visitors came and from answering the telephone when it rang, for fear of what he might say and thus make a bad impression from the start on people that did not know us and might think that we were all somewhat strange to say the least. It must be said here in all fairness that your brother was not alone in this respect — there were and are others in the community who are prohibited to answer the door or telephone for the same reason. You see, everyone has his pluses and minuses, and not all are for everything as the Apostle tells us. Fr Gregory had his gift to paint icons. Not all can be iconographers.
We lived thus for many years with Fr Gregory. He had his own position of seniority among the fathers. He was given a blessing to say the Creed and Our Father in English in the Liturgy, something reserved for the abbot when he is not serving, or the first after him, which would have been Fr Ephraim in this instance. He went to Greece at our expense to learn iconography; he visited the Holy Mountain, many shrines, etc. A year before he left he went on a pilgrimage with some of our fathers and myself to the Holy Land, Mt Sinai, and Greece for a second time, again at our expense. He was not discriminated against in any way within the community — in fact, he was favored by being excused from many and various common obediences since he was an iconographer. Yet he was not satisfied and aspired to be a chanter, hymnographer, elder, priest, abbot, etc. His pride and jealousy became quite evident to all.
Despite all these aspirations, he seemed to be happy and never found fault with the community. But as soon as it became clear to him that we had no intention to ordain him, everything soured, and he was always finding fault with us. We were not quiet enough. We did not use English entirely in the services. We did not have love in the community, etc., etc. Our Frs Ephraim and Isaac pointed out to him that we had not changed, but rather he had changed. Our typicon and ways were the same as from the beginning. If anything, we were using much more English since more had been translated. As for the lack of quiet and lack of love, this was rather found in him. He did not have love in himself any longer, nor quiet, and now he was projecting his own inner feelings onto the community, accusing us of that which was in himself. Finally, he accused us of heresy because we correctly translated a bold expression at the end of the Ladder of St John Climacus. This is how ludicrous he became in his accusations towards us. It seems that he read somewhere that a monk cannot justify leaving the place of his obedience except for reasons of heresy. We were patient in all this and tried continually to point out to him the fallacy of his accusations.
It was at this time that the then Fr Simeon Hill, a deacon of our Church, came to visit us from the West Coast and remained here to learn iconography and the monastic way of life. It did not take long for Fr Gregory to begin to teach Fr Simeon concerning the spiritual life — in disobedience to what we had told him. Along with his spiritual counsels Fr Gregory began to complain to Fr Hill that he was not appreciated by the community, etc., etc., as Fr Hill told us later. It seems that Fr Hill was not bright enough to see through Fr Gregory’s grievances, or that if he did, he used Fr Gregory to further his own aspirations to start a monastery in California.
Thus, without saying a word to us, they secretly agreed to start something of their own on the West Coast, and began making plans on what and how to take from our community towards this end — sketches, photos, icons, slides, translations, etc., all this in secret. Besides all this, Fr Gregory tried to see who he could influence within the community to follow him when he finally left. There was at that time another young man staying with us and learning iconography, Seraphim Lentz from Denver, Colorado. He was also secretly brought into the plan, along with a novice Michael from New York (our present Fr Joseph) who was working in the iconography room. The aim was to start an iconographer’s skete with all members painting icons. Of course Fr Gregory thought that he was going to be the abbot, whereas Fr Simeon Hill thought that he was going to be the abbot. Fr Hill was most dishonourable in this whole situation, for he abused the hospitality which we offered him and made secret plans to take people out of their obedience and start something of his own. But even more at fault was Fr Gregory who used Fr Hill to further his proud ambitions without saying a word to us.
Of course both understood that nothing could be done without a blessing. Seeing that such a blessing would not be forthcoming from us, they decided on a plan to try to get a blessing by deceit from Archbishop Andrew of blessed memory who was then our spiritual father. Thus, upon leaving us after some months, Fr Hill visited Spring Valley and presented to Vladyka Andrew the plan of starting a skete in California with Fr Gregory, as if we were in agreement with the whole thing. Vladyka did not object and encouraged the project with the stipulation ‘if Fr Archimandrite Panteleimon agrees’, explaining that he did not know the circumstances nor the individuals involved. The thought of Frs Gregory and Simeon at the time was that if they got a blessing from Vladyka Andrew and confronted me and the community with a fait accompli, that out of respect and love for Vladyka we would consent and bless the project — if nothing else, we would not dare overrule Vladyka’s blessing. Thus it was with slyness and deception that they both endeavoured to found a monastic house at the expense of the community here, and with such conduct of ingratitude did they repay us for the trust and hospitality which we showed them during their stay with us — one as a monastic tonsured by us, and the other as a guest and student of iconography.
In time Fr Hill was ordained a priest and returned to California to prepare the ground for the coming of Fr Gregory and the novice Michael and Seraphim Lentz. As of yet we had no suspicion whatsoever of all these secret agreements and negotiations, and thus for the span of many months Fr Gregory was telephoning Fr Hill secretly at night while we were sleeping, and sending him packages of things which would be needed when they started their skete.
When finally the whole thing came out into the open, we were all appalled by the daring and audacity of the whole project and the gall of the persons involved. Many fathers here were angry with Fr Hill for his involvement and conduct. I told them that it was a temptation from the devil and to forgive and forget. This we did readily when Fr Hill asked for forgiveness — it was from him that we learned all the details of the secret telephone calls and communications and things sent in anticipation of Fr Gregory’s arrival in California. Fortunately, the novice Michael did not follow Fr Gregory in his departure, and he is now Fr Joseph. At the time he was led to believe that everything would be done with a blessing, and when he saw that he was misled and there was no blessing, he confessed his involvement in the plan, etc. Much harm and confusion followed, and he was so embarassed by his involvement that he almost left and went back to the world. He would say that he was so rotten to have betrayed our love and trust and be duped by Fr Gregory that he was embarassed to stay and look us in the face. We told him to forget the whole mess and apply himself anew — that since he had confessed the matter it was water under the bridge, etc. To this day he finds it difficult to forgive Fr Gregory for poisoning his mind against the community.
At the time, among the things which uncovered all the details of Fr Gregory’s aborted attempt to found a skete by deceit was a letter from Vladyka Andrew addressed to Fr Simeon Hill, a copy of which was sent to Fr Gregory here at the monastery. In this letter Vladyka writes:
Dear Fr Simeon,
I received your letter and will quickly write you my answer.
When you visited me I remember telling you that your desires depend on the blessing of Archimandrite Panteleimon. You realise that Father Panteleimon is the abbot of both you and Father Gregory. Therefore, again, his blessing is important……
Yet to this day, contrary to the above, Fr Gregory claims that he had a blessing from Vladyka Andrew to found a skete. When I confronted him with this letter and things which I was told on subsequent visits to Vladyka, Fr Gregory would still persist in claiming that he received a blessing, quoting signs and dreams and mental communications to the contrary of what was in writing from Vladyka and what he told me.
I remember, Richard, that shortly before your brother finally left he had made our life unlivable in the hope that we would become so disgusted and aggrevated that we would gladly give him a blessing to depart, if only to be rid of him. Well, I did not know what to do. This is after you and I had that long talk together with Fr Isaac present. On the one hand I could not agree that Fr Gregory was mature and responsible enough to go off and start something on his own. I was reluctant to give such a blessing as being responsible before God and man and fearing the consequences for himself and for the Church should Fr Gregory be on his own. Again, if he left on his own, he would be totally responsible for the consequences, and no one could blame us that, since we knew how irresponsible he was, we encouraged or blessed his leaving. I had explained this to you in detail during that talk and pointed out to you the difficult position we were in. On the other hand, the situation had become impossible with your brother nagging us to give a blessing. He was convinced that his leaving was blessed by God. We were convinced that it was not. We told him on many occasions when he would exasperate us that since he was convinced that he was doing God’s will, why didn’t he go ahead and do it without our blessing — why did he need our blessing? — if this was really God’s will, then we were opposing it and sinning before God. Therefore, why did he need the blessing of sinners?
But because of his pride he did not want to have it heard that Fr Panteleimon and the Brotherhood did not bless. He thus wanted us to agree to that with which we absolutely and resolutely disagreed. Something had to be done. We could not continue much longer with things as they were. In a way I wished I could say to him ‘Good riddance. Go do what you want.’ But how to take the responsibility? Therefore I went sorrowing and grieving to Vladyka Andrew in the hope that he would encourage me to tell him to go, and thus peace and calm return to the community. As soon as Vladyka saw me he said: ‘You are sad, Father. What is grieving you?’ I began to tell him. This was not the first time I had communicated to him my grief on account of Fr Gregory. But now both the community and I had come to our wits’ end as to what to do.
Believe me, Richard, I had wished that Vladyka would tell me: ‘Tell him to go.’ This is the reason why I had gone so many hours by car to visit Vladyka — so that he might encourage me to tell Fr Gregory to go. Well, as soon as I began to explain to Vladyka how critical the situation was, he cut me off, and looking off to one side as if staring at something not there, he said: ‘It will be very bad with Fr Gregory if he leaves. It will be catastrophic for him!” When I heard this, my heart sank. I understood that Vladyka was not blessing me to tell Fr Gregory to leave. We had to be more patient and long-suffering in hope that Fr Gregory would somehow awaken and not choose to follow the ruinous path of disobedience and self-will. I returned to Boston, therefore, resolved that I would be patient to the end and not tell Fr Gregory to go. Rather, I prayed earnestly that Fr Gregory would straighten out and made a vow to St George the liberator of captives should Fr Gregory remain and find peace.
Well in the end he left without us throwing him out or giving him a blessing. I remember the first time he attempted to leave was the day that I went for a minor operation at Brooks Hospital. We got up in the morning and he had left already without anyone knowing. So heartless was he that he chose to leave on such a day. I went with a very heavy heart to the hospital and had the operation. In the evening when I awoke from the anaesthesia I was informed that on route to California while he was changing planes in Philadelphia he telephoned Fr Hill who told him not to come — that he would not drive to the airport to pick him up and that Vladyka Anthony of Los Angeles did not bless for him to come. Vladyka said that if there was going to be a monastery in his diocese, he did not want it to be made up of a collection of misfit monks who were drop outs from other monasteries. Thus, Fr Gregory was forced to return to Boston and the monastery. Someone else might have felt ashamed or embarassed to return, but not Fr Gregory — he has no shame. When he finally left not to return, he went to Jordanville. Knowing him well and his cunning ways, I did not give him my hand to kiss upon departure, so that it might be clear to all that he left without a blessing. Had I given him my hand to kiss, he would have interpreted it as a blessing and used it as evidence that we agreed with his views. Being proud, he asked that some of the fathers drive him to Jordanville with one of the monastery cars, so that it would appear that he left with our consent. Again for the same reason we refused his request and told him that since he was leaving by his own choice without our blessing it was up to him to find the means to go to Holy Trinity at Jordanville. Yet even with all these precautions on our part to make it clear that we were no party to his leaving, he still claims that he left with a blessing.
Well he left, and it was clear that Holy Trinity was only a stop-over until he moved on to be his own abbot. We spoke with the fathers at Holy Trinity on the telephone and explained to them the whole situation, adding that we did not suggest or send him there as an obedience, but that we were indebted to them for putting him up, and it was certainly better for him to be in a monastery than to be wandering around from place to place on his own. But it was not long before he left Jordanville, since he understood that the fathers there had no intention of ordaining him to the priesthood nor of recognising him as an elder. His next stop was Montreal. When he arrived there Archbishop Vitaly telephoned to inform us that Fr Gregory was there and asked our opinion of him. I explained to him that Fr Gregory was unhappy with us and wanted to leave for some time, that he was spiritually immature and irresponsible, not very intelligent, that he wanted to get ordained very badly, etc., but that otherwise he was of a quiet disposition, he could paint icons, did not have a drinking problem, was a moral and ethical person. I told Vladyka that he need not fear that he would take anything or cause any scandal (I did not know at the time that Fr Gregory had taken things from the monastery here without our knowledge) and ended by thanking Vladyka that he had taken him in, for we had great respect for his person (that is, Vladyka’s) and were happy that Fr Gregory was somewhere in obedience and not on his own. I did not go into detail about the many indiscretions and embarassments which Fr Gregory had caused us while he was here, nor the affair with Fr Hill, etc., etc., not wishing to adversely influence Vladyka and hoping that Fr Gregory would stay there. The Archbishop thanked me and said that he would observe him for some time before he came to any conclusions. I did add that he left on his own not having been sent out of the monastery by us — thus he was in disobedience, but that if things worked out well in Montreal we would be most happy and would consent that he stay there. As you know, it was only a matter of months before Fr Gregory left there also.
In the beginning things looked good. As Vladyka told us later, he was quite pleased — here was a young man, an iconographer, seemingly quiet and reverent, no drinking or smoking problems, etc., etc. What else could one ask for, especially since not too many young persons presented themselves as candidates for monasticism. But it did not take long and the immature and irresponsible side of Fr Gregory became evident. In the end Vladyka came to the conclusion that Fr Gregory was in total prelest (spiritual delusion). Seeing that Vladyka was in no hurry to ordain him to the priesthood, or rather that he had no intention whatsoever to ordain him, he left Montreal also. A little before he left he made a fool of himself by asking Archbishop Paul’s mother, Larissa, who served as the diocesan secretary at the time, “Do you think that Vladyka will ordain me and appoint me abbot of the monastery at Mansonville?” “What!” said Larissa, “You haven’t been here even six months and now you are going to become the abbot of the monastery? Vladyka has monastics who have been with him from the beginning for over twenty and twenty-five years, and he will make you the abbot? You just came and you are going to be the abbot? You are not well. Why, you don’t even know Russian and Slavonic and you want to be the abbot.” Mother Larissa told us this herself. She could not believe the gall of Fr Gregory even thinking such a thing, let alone saying it. And this is not the only incident at Montreal by which Fr Gregory made a fool of himself. Once at table while eating he made an embarassing comment about the chanting of Fr Stephan, one of the senior fathers of the monastery there. Yet for Fr Gregory these things are not embarassing at all. He has such a high opinion of himself that he thinks that whatever he does and says is intelligent and spiritual, and he is so blinded by his pride that he cannot understand why everyone else does not see things as he does.
Upon leaving Montreal, he told Archbishop Vitaly, “You don’t have to worry, Vladyka, I won’t say anything about you and the brotherhood to anyone.” “What?” said the Archbishop. “Our life here is an open book. We have no secrets. What is there, therefore, to say.” You see, Richard, your brother is so self-righteous and considers himself so perfect that he is always covering up the faults and sins of others — never seeing his own faults and sins. After Fr Gregory left Montreal, Vladyka told me on the telephone, “You were too kind in your assessment of Fr Gregory when I first asked you for recommendations. The man is totally deluded. You should have warned me!” “What could I say, Vladyka?” I answered, “I told you that in our estimation he was immature and irresponsible, but if I had said much more it could have affected you adversely concerning Fr Gregory, and you may have thought that we were slandering him. Forgive us for the embarassment that he has caused you and the fathers there. One of the main reasons why we would not agree to give him a blessing to leave the monastery was just this — we knew beforehand from bitter experience of many years that he would be a cause of embarassment and confusion because of his inately irresponsible statements and actions.”
Once Fr Gregory had left Montreal, it was Seraphim Lentz of Denver, Colorado who invited him to go to Colorado, and who came out East and drove him there. Seraphim is the person whom I mentioned earlier in this letter, who had been taught iconography by Fr Gregory here at Boston with our blessing and who was involved secretly in the plan with Fr Hill to start a monastery in California. His main interest in Fr Gregory was iconography, and I must say he is gifted and learned it quite well. Having settled in Denver, Fr Gregory finally realised his dream come true in the founding of the skete in Buena Vista and being ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Seraphim (as deacon) and Bishop Alypy (as priest). At the time, Seraphim joined the skete — but later he married and asked to be ordained to the priesthood for the convent in Chile. Fortunately, Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles did not rush to ordain him, and in time Seraphim’s wife left him with bitter complaints against him and Fr Gregory who was acting as their spiritual father. Seraphim rejoined the skete in Buena Vista and later left again and apostatized, rejoining the Roman Catholic communion in which he had been a monastic formerly. After some time he returned to Orthodoxy and rejoined your brother once again — only to leave again and apostatize a second time. He is presently living in San Francisco, painting what he designates “liberation icons” of everyone under the sun — Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Avila, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero of South America, etc.
I mention Seraphim Lentz because he is not in any way connected with us — neither does he write us nor phone us. Since he left our monastery about six years ago — he was for a short time a novice — he has never communicated with us. Mayhaps he feels embarassed that he was part of the Fr Gregory-Fr Hill episode, having been received first as a visitor and later as a novice in our monastery, and afterwards having betrayed our hospitality and trust. No one, therefore, can accuse us of influencing Seraphim against Fr Gregory. Actually he has been Fr Gregory’s greatest supporter and is responsible for his locating in Colorado.
Well, about a month ago we received a copy of a letter which Seraphim wrote on April 18, 1983 to a certain Jim in Salt Lake City, Utah, in which Seraphim explains the reasons why he left our Church and returned to Roman Catholicism. The letter was sent to us by Gregory, a nephew of Fr Isaac, who along with Jim were friends of Seraphim. I think this letter says all that need be said about Fr Gregory. It verifies our fears and predictions concerning the spiritual irresponsibilty and ineptness of Fr Gregory. It is a full three-page typewritten single-space letter. Following are a few quotes:
“At the skete was a novice with a personal problem. Father Gregory treated him like a demoniac. Weekly, and sometimes more often, he read exorcisms over him. Months of this, plus Fr Gregory telling him that his “sin” had destroyed his brain, had reduced this poor novice to something little better than a spiritual vegetable. I began having bad troubled with my blood sugar at 9000 feet in the unheated building — something that medical doctors had explained very clearly to me in the past, after expensive and extensive testing. Fr Gregory responded by reading exorcisms over me.”
“I do not claim that Fr Gregory is typical of all Orthodox clergy or spiritual directors, but by exemplifying some rather basic moral attitudes of Orthodoxy in an extreme manner — the way political cartoons exaggerate in order to reveal truth — he brought home to me some very important flaws in the Eastern Church…”(page 1)
“Fr Gregory had two types of peanut butter — one with oil added and one without oil. That was so that he could observe the fast strictly. At the same time, poor Brother Gregory was constantly reminded that he was possessed by filthy demons, the Catholics of the Spanish community were railed at as heretics, and other Orthodox jurisdictions were mocked or charged outlandish prices for icons. The Lenten services talk about greed and almsgiving and love. Daily I heard these services and likewise watched the caricature of Christianity by the poor little priest-monk Gregory. What was different about him from the Pharisees in the Gospel? So what if he could claim to have perfect(?) dogmatic formulations and to keep traditional fasts beyond reproach?” (page 2)
“I was at the skete only three weeks before the results of my own fanaticism crashed on my head. As I said, what I began to see in myself sickened me. Whatever Fr Gregory might choose to do was his business, but I was responsible for my own life. Soon after I left, two others left, including the poor novice, Brother Gregory. (I pray that he did not commit suicide, since he left in a broken state, ridden with tremendous guilt.) Fr Gregory would not return my savings of $300, which left me penniless, until I began to spread word about that in the village, and he felt shame. I do not know what has happened there since, but I was about the fifteenth novice who left him.” (page 3)
Dear Richard, the above quotes and much more are written not by a foe, but by the very person who persuaded Fr Gregory to go to Colorado and helped him to set up his skete. He is at least fair in writing “I do not claim that Fr Gregory is typical of all Orthodox clergy or spiritual directors…”, but he does think that Fr Gregory exemplifies certain attitudes “in an extreme manner — the way political cartoons exaggerate” and that he makes a “caricature of Christianity”. We certainly did not teach Fr Gregory the things which Mr Lentz describes above. Rather, we were afraid that if he left his obedience and went out on his own, that it would come to this and much worse. And our fears have been verified by his foolishness.
The ‘Brother Gregory’ who is mentioned in Mr Lentz’s letter is Gregory Smith who is presently with Bishop Alipy in Chicago. And his case exemplifies both our attitude to Buena Vista and the outcome of people who go there. We knew Gregory well before he went to Colorado. He had visited and stayed with us here in Boston for some time and had lived for some years as a member of our parishes in Seattle, Washington. He was well-acquainted with the clergy there and the late Bishop Nectary of blessed memory. When he was about to go to Fr Gregory, he asked us for our opinion and a blessing. We told him that it was in order to receive a blessing not from us, but from Bishop Nectary of Seattle, from his spiritual father, and from Archbishop Seraphim, since he was going to join a monastery in his diocese. We did not encourage him to go nor did we discourage him. We told him that we were full and could not take him, and it was for him to decide where he would go. We did not say anything against Buena Vista or Fr Gregory, telling him that Buena Vista was very far away from us in another part of the country, in another diocese, and thus we were in no position to recommend it to him or not recommend it. He had to go and see and decide for himself. Well, he interpreted this as consent on our part and must have surprised Fr Gregory by telling him so. It was this Gregory who appeared in a photograph washing dishes in a local newspaper article on the skete and who was quoted as saying that he hoped to die and be burried there. The outcome, I presume, you know. He came to such a state of confusion and agitation due to the spiritual direction of your brother that in the end he left in a state of anger, having struck Fr Gregory during a quarrel. He was in a bad state for a long time, and he telephoned us to tell us what happened. Upon hearing that he struck your brother before leaving, I censured him sternly, telling him that it was a grave sin to strike a priest, and that if he was unhappy there he should have left quietly without making a scene. He retorted by blaming us for not warning him concerning Fr Gregory. In other words he held us responsible for not discouraging him to go to Buena Vista. I then pointed out that neither did we actually encourage him either to go to Buena Vista; we were just neutral about the whole thing. He still wished to know why we did not fill him in concerning the total ineptness of Fr Gregory as a spiritual father. I then proceeded to explain to him that at the time he had made up his mind to go to Colorado, and if we had tried to dissuade him he probably would have been confused and scandalized, thinking that we were envious of Fr Gregory and were slandering him. He probably wold have complained to Archbishop Seraphim that we were talking against an institution of his diocese, which would have upset Vladyka Seraphim and caused an uncalled for misunderstanding between us. We chose therefore to be neutral in the whole matter and not express our opinion. Besides, who could tell at the time, maybe he would have gone and things would have worked out for him —so it seemed in the beginning. If they didn’t, then he would find out for himself, but we certainly did not expect that things would come to blows. If we had said anything derogatory in the beginning, it would have only poisoned his mind against Fr Gregory, and we would be blamed that later things didn’t work out.
So you see, Richard, the difficult position that we are found in — we don’t say anything against Buena Vista when we are asked, yet later we are blamed that we did not forewarn people when they asked us. This has not been the case in Gregory Smith’s instance only but in other instances also. As, for instance, that of Dismas who also did not stay and then complained to us bitterly for not informing him of the true state of affairs in Colorado. Either way we can not win. Whatever we do we are blamed. Yet I do not think that you will be able to find one person to whom we have spoken disparagingly about Buena Vista. If people have not stayed, and if there is no one there presently who has joined the skete, certainly the cause cannot be laid at our door. That has all been the doing of your brother, and all responsibility rests with him.
You complain, Richard, in your letter to us that we do not receive your brother here warmly when he visits. When he left, Richard, he was very sly and without our knowledge made copies of everything he could get his hands on (We have a copying machine at the monastery.) What he could not copy and he thought that it could later be useful, he just removed. Among the things which he copied were all the orders that we had for icons. We learned of this because some people contacted us, saying that they were surprised that Fr Gregory was not with us any longer, and that he had written to them that if they wanted their order executed quickly, he would be willing to do it. He even contacted St Nectarios Church in Toronto, but Fr Panagiotis said that he would rather have photo icons permanently on the iconostas than icons painted by someone in disobedience. We usually advised people that if they wanted their icons quickly, to order them from Fr Gregory since we were in no position to do them immediately. Others did not contact us, but when it was time to execute their order, one or two years after Fr Gregory left, and we wrote them to confirm the order, they informed us that they had already obtained their icons and therefore there was no need for us to paint them.
Now this did not put us into poverty, for we do not support ourselves by painting icons only, and it is understandable that Fr Gregory was in need of funds, since his goal was to set himself up independently, but still it was not an honorable thing to do. He could have begun advertizing in Orthodox periodicals for new orders. But this was not the only thing that he was not honorable about. Without our authorization he made copies of our translation of church services and other texts, but what is even worse, he removed from the premises of the monastery certain things which are irreplaceable.
In the beginning we had no suspicion that he took things without our knowledge when he left. But with time we became conscious of certain things were missing, and we did not know how to explain it. We verified in at least one instance that it was Fr Gregory who took the missing item. And this concerns certain slides that were taken of our synodia on the Holy Mountain in 1962, when the grave of our elder Fr Joseph was opened. There were slides also of churches and icons of interest to us. All the slides were kept in the iconography room. We rarely have a showing, but once in a while, when we have visitors from abroad or elsewhere, we show them. Some years after your brother left the monastery, we had a showing and I was surprised that many slides were missing — in fact, the best ones. I told the father who was showing them, “Where are the rest of the slides? Surely there are more. These are but a few.” He answered me that these were all that he knew about — there were no others. Neither I nor the senior fathers who had seen the slides years before could explain their absence. We had a thought that they had been mislaid, and told the fathers in the iconography room to be on the lookout for them. They were never found. At the time, we did not suspect Fr Gregory, but then again we could not imagine what happened to them. About a year and a half later Fr Hill from California happened to mention to us during a telephone conversation that he had a series of slides in his possession which Fr Gregory had sent him by mail before he left. The slides were of monastics holding a skull and bones and certain other scenes. “Oh,” we said, “those are our missing slides. So that is what happened to them. Please send them back to us.” Well, Fr Hill never got around to sending them back, although we reminded him a few times. Then he left our Synod and has been defrocked since. Some months ago we were missing a transparency of the Mystical Supper, and not being able to find it anywhere, Fr Isaac telephoned Fr Gregory (something very rare on our part) in desparation and asked him if he had any knowledge of its whereabouts. Fr Gregory said that he did not know where the transparency was. During the conversation, Fr Isaac mentioned the missing Holy Mountain slides, and Fr Gregory was somewhat embarassed but acknowledged that he had taken them. He promised to contact Fr Hill and get the slides back for us. Some weeks later he telephoned and asked Fr Isaac if we had received the slides, saying that he had telephoned Fr Hill twice, asking him to return the slides to us. To tell the truth, we here at the monastery don’t think we will ever see the slides again. We have the suspicion that the former Fr Hill has destroyed them out of anger and malice towards everyone in the Synod.
Now this is one instance that we have verified that Fr Gregory, in leaving the monastery without a blessing, removed things without our knowledge. Maybe it is the only instance. Maybe He did not take anything else — but only copies — again without our blessing. But pray tell us, how can we not have a suspicion every time that something is missing (an icon book, church book, icon photo, slides, etc.) that mayhaps Fr Gregory has taken it. It may be that others have taken the missing items (so many visitors come through continually) or simply they have been mislaid and will later turn up. But after the above incident, how not to always have the thought that maybe Fr Gregory is responsible.
We ask you, Richard, if you had an employee who upon leaving your store took with him a copy of all your customers throughout the country, and removed certain things from the store without authorization (it is called stealing), how would you receive him if he visited? Would you receive him at all? And if you did, would you not feel uneasy if he lingered in the store? Put yourself in our position.
Yet, as for ourselves, we receive Fr Gregory, and during his last visit gifted him a mounted icon which he wished to purchase. We just don’t want him to linger at the monastery and convent. As far as we are concerned he broke his vows in leaving the community and is living in disobedience. He makes people feel uneasy when he appears here. The reason that we do not wish him to stay for services or trapeza is pastoral. For should he stay, many of the fathers, if not all, will not wish to kiss his hand and ask for a blessing. In trapeza he would not be seated at the main table with the fathers, but at the guest table. All this would not be embarrassing for us, but rather for him. Thus, by asking him not to be present at the services and at meals we are doing him a favor by saving him embarrassment. But it seems that he is not intelligent enough to understand this. And by not kissing his hand and asking for a blessing, this does not mean that we deny that he is a priest, but that he became such by slyness and without a blessing. To kiss his hand and ask for a blessing is to condone and accept what he has done, something which no one can force us to do. Parish priests who ask us what they should do when he appears at their parishes are told by us that if his serving would not create any pastoral problems for them, then there is no reason why he should not serve with them. Some priests though feel that his ordination was a mistake, and knowing that it took place without a blessing, feel uneasy about serving with him. We on our part have never told anyone not to serve with him.
Concerning the ordination of Fr Gregory to the priesthood, we here at Holy Transfiguration consider it a mistake and indiscretion on the part of the ordaining bishops. And if they have not yet come to this conclusion, then we think that it is only a matter of time before they will. We love and greatly respect both Vladyka Seraphim and Vladyka Alipy, yet we do think that they did a disservice to the Church by ordaining Fr Gregory. Knowing the bishops, we are positive that there was no guile or slyness on their part. But knowing Fr Gregory even better, we are most certain that there was both guile and slyness involved on his part. God only knows what half-truths and outright untruths he told them in order to be ordained, claiming that he had blessings from everyone, as he still claims. Yet it was still a mistake on the part of Vladyka Seraphim that he did not write us to ask if we gave our consent and blessing, and to ask under what circumstances Fr Gregory left his monastery, etc.
At the time of his ordination (and even until this day) Fr Gregory had neither a release from our monastery nor a blessing to be ordained. Strictly speaking, therefore, his ordination is uncanonical, to say the least. (See Canon 88 of the Council of Carthage, which Council was ratified by the Sixth Ecumenical Council and upheld by the Fifth, page 656 in the English Rudder.) We did not protest the ordination at the time, since no one asked us about it, for we did not wish to create an issue. We trusted that time would show that it was unwise. Archbishop Vitaly, though, did protest it, without our knowledge at a Synod meeting in New York. Vladyka Seraphim at the time only blinked, not fully understanding why Archbishop Vitaly was protesting. It is a fact that Vladyka Seraphim had already had a serious stroke which had partly incapacitated him. We heard of all this much later. Many at the time were scandalised by the ordination. Not only the brothers of Fr Gregory here at the monastery who could not believe that such a mistake was made, but clergy and laity also were puzzled how such an ordination could take place without anyone asking the monastery for permission and a witness to his character, etc., as is customary before an ordination.
Many at the time asked if we were not a house divided against ourselves in the Synod, since such things could take place. We are convinced, though, of the guilelessness of the bishops, and offer as an example a recent event that they were probably told misleading things by Fr Gregory. Someone reported to us that in a conversation you said that Fr Gregory did have a blessing from us to be ordained — that in the beginning he did not, but that later Fr Martin Brokenleg served as an intermediary between us and finally we gave our consent. Now I am sure that you did not fabricate this story, but that you must have heard it from your brother. Yet I am in a position to assure you that it is pure fiction. Neither Fr Martin Brokenleg nor we ourselves know anything of such a thing ever having taken place. In fact, Fr Martin is one of the clergy that was scandalised by the ordination and asked how it could take place. He even wrote a letter to Archbishop Seraphim concerning this at the time. Therefore, who knows what stories your brother told the bishops. What is sad is that no one ever tries to verify what Fr Gregory’s imagination produces. The mistake of the bishops was that they did not keep Fr Gregory for a period of time in Chicago and observe him before ordaining him, neither did they ask us who knew him well for a recommendation.
Actually, Richard, Fr Gregory should be indebted to me personally for the kind way that he is received when he visits the monastery, and that he is not put in an embarassing position. It is a fact that I have prohibited both the fathers and mothers of our monastic communities to tell him their thoughts concerning his disobedience, etc. Maybe next time he visits I should permit them to give him a piece of their mind. I think that it will be his last visit if I should, and not because we will ask him not to come again, but because he himself will not wish to ever show his face here again.
Your brother has continually been making a fool of himself since he left, and consequently has been a source of embarrassment to us. This is one of the main reasons why we could not consent to his trying something on his own. Whenever, therefore, his foolishness comes to our attention, we try to point out to people that we can in no way be held responsible for him since he left without a blessing in total disobedience. But because he became a monastic here, people think that he represents us. Then they hold us responsible for giving him a blessing to start something on his own (for this is what he claims).
An example: When he first left Boston he went on a tour of California looking for a suitable place to settle. At the time we received a letter from the Platina Fathers asking us to please not permit Fr Gregory to visit California again, for he had wrought much confusion, etc., etc. We wrote back to them that Fr Gregory left us in disobedience, and therefore were in no position to impose on him not to visit California. Since he did not listen to us in leaving the monastery, there is no way he would listen to us in this instance. We also wrote that we are in no way responsible for what he says or does since he is outside of the monastery without a blessing.
Some years later while I was visiting the West Coast, a pious layman, John Hudanish, of Oregon approached me and with embarassment brought to my attention a certain episode. John has a great friendship with the Russian Old Believers in his area, and one of these Old Believer families had a young son, Michei by name, who learned iconography at Jordanville. While there he had visited our monastery with novices and seminarians from Jordanville. Of course he did not attend services or trapeza because of the Old Believer mentality, but he was a very modest and meek boy, quite pious and genuine. After the boy learned iconography he returned home, and during the process of moving the family’s personal belongings he got killed in an accident. One can imagine the sorrow of the family. John Hudanish, wishing to comfort the father of the boy, suggested that they visit Fr Gregory’s skete. John knew that both the icons and the chanting would be traditional since he knew us, and of course thought that the skete had been our idea and had been begun with a blessing.
The father of Michei would, therefore, not feel uneasy because of the icons and the chanting. The two drove all the way from Oregon to Colorado. While there they acquainted Fr Gregory with the tragedy of the family and he, thinking that he has spiritual insight, said with authority that the father was the cause of his son’s death because he was a sectarian (Old Ritualist). You can imagine the blow that the poor man received by this “revelation”. Now John was very much surprised and saddened by Fr Gregory’s diagnosis and left confused and wounded. Here he had brought Michei’s father all the way to Colorado at great labor and expense, only to receive such a blow. This was the consolation that they came hoping to receive. In his grief he was scandalised with us here, having never visited us, and thinking that Fr Gregory reflected our monastery.
Upon returning home, he communicated the whole thing to Vladyka Nektary who was surprised and told him that Fr Gregory was in prelest and “who does he think he is — God?” When John told me the incident without mentioning that he had already told Vladyka Nektary, I told him that what Fr Gregory said was total nonsense, that in our estimation, we here at the monastery were convinced that he was in total delusion, and we could not in anyway be held responsible for his elder-playing. I said that what Fr Gregory did was cruel, and that even if he knew from God such a thing he would have not said it in this manner to the man. I explained to John that we had the same trouble with Fr Gregory in the monastery, that he was always wanting to guide people, and thought of himself as a seer and elder. I further explained to him that we did not give him a blessing to leave and begin something on his own. He was relieved to hear this and then told me that Vladyka Nektary was of the same opinion concerning Fr Gregory — i.e. that he is deluded. John then expressed astonishment that Vladyka Seraphim of Chicago ordained Fr Gregory and gave him permission to begin a skete.
These are but two instances, Richard, of the many which show how indiscreet your brother is and irresponsible in his dealings with people, and how this always comes back to us since he was tonsured here, and many think that since he was ordained and started a skete, that it was with our consent and blessing.
Actually, your brother does not cease to amaze us with the lack of intelligence which he displays. It is not too long ago that he wrote a letter to Mother Stephania of the convent here in Boston — which he endearingly signed “your little boy” — in which he invited the convent to leave Boston, since they could not find larger quarters in the area, and join him in Colorado where a farm could be bought. It was understood, of course, that he would be their spiritual father. How naive (some call it stupid) can one be? He did not even have the sense to write “If it is blessed,” but just went ahead and extended an invitation, as if the convent was not in obedience to anyone. The sisters became furious and wished to answer him and tell him a few things. ‘Some gall he has,’ they told me, ‘to suggest such a thing.’ The senior sister after Mother always thought that he was audacious in even showing his face at the monastery and convent since he is in disobedience, and that he should not be allowed to visit, as an example to the others in the community if they should do likewise. I always told them that would be misinterpreted by some, and that it was better that he be allowed to visit, but asked not to stay for any extended length of time. Well, I did not give the sisters a blessing to answer Fr Gregory’s letter, but thinking myself that it was a little much, I instructed Fr Isaac to answer his letter. Fr Isaac, therefore, wrote him that he was out of order in inviting the convent to Colorado — that the convent was founded by our monastery, both spiritually and physically — that all of the sisters except Mother had been tonsured by my sinfulness, and most had even been baptised by me. How is it, therefore, that he was so presumptuous to think that they would ever think of leaving their obedience to follow him in his disobedience. Fr Isaac pointed out to your brother that the sisters had not been tonsured in the street, that they had spiritual fathers and directors in ourselves and were in obedience. He left in disobedience to his vow in the Great Schema that “unto death” he would be in obedience to the abbot and community, and now he was inviting others to imitate him in his disobedience. Fr Isaac wrote to him in a meek and humble manner, but pointed out to him his great fallacy. We have the correspondence on file, if you wish to see it. Fr Gregory wrote back with an apology, saying that after all that Fr Isaac had pointed out to him in his letter, he sees that it was wrong to write the letter which he did to the sisters. Again your brother should be thankful to my sinfulness, Richard, that I did not permit the sisters to answer the letter themselves. Had they, I do not think that he would ever wish to visit them again.
Another example which shows that your brother is not intelligent is a letter written to me early this year in which after thanking me and the community for everything which he has in the monastic life — training, tonsure, typicon, etc., he proceeds to tell me that he does not have anyone with him because his place is “too much like Boston.” So he claims that those who pass through there tell him, and he ends the letter by telling me that he would rather never have anyone with him than change and be different from us. He thus attributes the lack of vocations at Buena Vista to the fact that Holy Dormition is too much like Holy Transfiguration. I intended to answer the letter myself, but because of my operation and pressing matters, I have not answered till this day. I was going to point out to Fr Gregory the fallacy of his thinking — that he should look for the cause of the lack of vocations there to other reasons, than the one which he writes. For if Buena Vista was truly like Boston, I do not think that he would have room to put the people which he would have. I say this because for some time now we have been full and not able to take any new novices. We are over thirty-five people and absolutely have no more room for anyone else. Thus, we are forced to tell all who inquire that they should try elsewhere, for we cannot take them. Those that persist we inform that the only way that we can take them is if someone leaves or reposes. We, thus, have a waiting list. If Buena Vista, therefore, was truly like Boston, there would be no lack of vocations.
It is over five years now that Fr Gregory has left us, and he still has not been able to gather even two, three permanent candidates around him. This is what is wrong with self-willed founders of monasteries; they think that it is easy to start a monastery. One need only open shop and then people will flock. Well, it is not so. The former Fr Hill thought it was easy, and like Fr Gregory had a high regard concerning himself, and tried it. When he failed, he blamed everyone but himself. And so it is with these people. They are so proud that they can not see where they are at fault and they blame everyone else for their failure. So it is with the former Fr John Lewis and many others. One such self-appointed founder and abbot once bought a big place somewhere in N.Y. or Penn., I forget, and named it Holy Eucharist Monastery. It was a huge thing with many Victorian buildings, enough to house hundreds. I told the person involved, since he asked, that the project was a little ambitious, to say the least. I advised him to start out either by renting or by purchasing a small house, and after a few years, if he had a community gathered, he would be able to move to larger quarters. No, said he, it would be the plant that would attract the candidates — therefore one had to start out big. I asked him how he would heat the place. He said that everyone could wear long johns, just like your brother. Well, after some time, seeing that there was no support forthcoming from the Orthodox jurisdictions and no candidates, he became so frustrated and angry that one day he smashed the windows of a store because it was displaying immodest literature, and not having any money to pay for the damage incurred, he was put in jail, and that was the end of Holy Eucharist Monastery.
If we have a monastery here, Richard, it is not because of any personal ingenuity or merit, — God knows what sinners we are — but because it was founded in obedience with a blessing. In obedience to Fr Joseph of the Holy Mountain and with many blessings from the same elder and our spiritual fathers after him, the Elder Hieronymos of Aegina and Vladyka Andrew of Spring Valley — all of blessed memory now. I ask you, what is the foundation of your brother’s skete? Is it not disobedience and self-will? How can one hope then that such a project will ever prosper? One of the clergy in our area told me of late that when Fr Gregory was about to leave he told him as an accusation against us that we pray too much here at Holy Transfiguration — we celebrate too many feasts with vigils and consequently spend too much time in church — time which for him was valuable to paint icons. The priest was taken aback by such a complaint and understood how far off base Fr Gregory was. When we were tonsured, Richard, we did not give vows to become iconographers, nor translators, nor incense makers, but we did give a vow that we would be “an harmonious instrument, both reclining and arising with hymns and prayers” imitating the angels in unceasing glorification of our Creator, redeeming the time with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” I can think of no better way for a monastic to spend his time, except in church. There is no safer place than in church. Yes, we do spend much time in church at Holy Transfiguration. We celebrate the Divine Liturgy daily and the feasts greatly. This is the very reason why we became monastics and gathered together in community life — in order to celebrate the feasts daily. Our first and foremost work is prayer and doxology — all other work is secondary. Your brother thinks otherwise, therefore he joins those in the parable who when invited to the banquet make excuses that they had something more important to do than come to the banquet. Our banquet is the Holy Liturgy and the feasts — and there is absolutely nothing more important than this in our life. Your brother complained that our services were not entirely in English. Now he has no services in any language, and if there is no one else there with him, which is so often the case, he cannot have the Liturgy even on Sunday, and has to go to a parish. So it is when one is ungrateful and even complains against the gift of God. Then it is taken away from him and he is left empty.
Fr Gregory advertises in print that his monastic endeavour is a “skete dedicated to iconography.” Now we have never heard of a monastery dedicated to such a thing. We do much translation work here at the monastery. Should we therefore designate ourselves as a monastery dedicated to translation, and perhaps our convent as dedicated to candle making? Are not all monasteries dedicated to God through prayer and hymnody, irrespective of the handiwork in which they excel or by which they support themselves? Is not this designation of Fr Gregory an innovation or in the least a little presumptuous? We do not refer to ourselves as dedicated to iconography, yet we have three full-time iconographers and two learning, whereas Fr Gregory has a skete dedicated to iconography and is the only iconographer there, if not the only resident also.
You write us, Richard, that you are scandalized because we do not receive your brother here with open arms, and he complains to all that he is not allowed to remain overnight and attend services. Yet you both seem to forget that it is a very serious thing for one tonsured into the Great Schema to break his vows and leave without a blessing. You wish us to receive him as if nothing has happened. Next thing, he will wish to take part in the services here. Yet you seem not to want to understand that that would be undermining the monastery’s unity. It is as if we would be saying to those continuing in obedience, “Look, if you find it difficult here, then you can leave in disobedience, even after taking vows, and it will only be a matter of time before your disobedience will be accepted and even rewarded.” If for no other reason than just for the reason that this would be a bad precedence which would work against the community, Fr Gregory should not ever be permitted to take part in the life of the monastery when visiting here. The way that he acted and left was most dishonorable.
But then again, having lived with him and knowing his slyness and devious ways, who can assure us that visiting us and having free access to all and everything, that he will not try again to influence others to join him or take something again without our knowledge? If he did it before, why not again? Do you know, that after we became conscious of things missing in the iconography room we changed the lock to the room. Since we never used to take inventory, we do not know how much gold leaf or brushes or other things are missing. And since Fr Gregory used to prowl around when we were sleeping, telephoning Fr Hill and preparing packages secretly, who can assure us that there shall be no repeats?
Has Fr Gregory really changed? We do not think so. A couple of years ago he ordered from us a series of tapes of our chanting. We sent them with a bill. After some time he returned all the tapes saying that they were too expensive and he could not afford them. Did he not know the price before he ordered them? It isn’t as if we charged him some outlandish prices, as he does with some clients. Our prices are printed and are the same for all. Or did he expect us to send the tapes as a gift or give him some great discount? We are not indebted to him in any way. If anything, he is indebted to us. Well, knowing Fr Gregory, he probably made copies of the tapes before returning them. You see, he thinks that he is smart and we are all stupid. No, he has not changed in the least.
During his last visit here, Richard, your brother said in desparation to Fr Isaac after he was told that he may come to the monastery and convent but not for services and any prolonged periods of time, “What do you people want from me?”, meaning, of course, so that he will be accepted by us. Fr Isaac answered him, “We don’t want anything from you. Look, Fr Gregory, you wanted to be your own elder — you wanted to be a priest, an abbot, to have your own monastery. Well you have all this. Now what else do you want? We don’t want anything from you, but what is it that you want from us?” Your brother gave no answer, but we all know what he wants. He wants recognition. He wants that we agree to what he has acquired by hook or by crook — to condone and bless his disobedience and self-will — to applaud his undertaking. Well, this we shall not do. We shall in no way be party to his foolishness and “caricature” of monasticism, to use the expression of Mr Lentz, quoted above. Nor are we going to be intimidated to change our mind.
Your brother did not listen to our counseling while he was here. Your yourself attested to his stubbornness and lack of balance in certain things and agreed with us on certain points during the conversation we had together with Fr Isaac prior to Fr Gregory’s leaving five years ago. Now he bears full responsibility for his actions and words. We bear him no ill will, nor do we hinder him in his pursuits. He is some thousands of miles away in another diocese and another part of the country. Since we do not bother him, why does he bother us?
Know also, Richard, that his separation from us is complete and final with no possibility of return. Had he remained a simple monk when he left, then there could be a possibility of return if he ever repented and wished to. But since he sought and became ordained to the priesthood without our blessing, he is not acceptable ever to return to the community. If for any reason, therefore, in the future, because of health or economic reasons, he leaves Buena Vista, he will have to find somewhere else to go, but not Holy Transfiguration Monastery. You cannot imagine the grief that Fr Gregory has caused our community. Everytime that his name is mentioned or whenever he comes to mind I shudder and sigh deeply, remembering his stubbornness and slyness. He has become a parable in the monastery — an example par excellence of one who is self-willed and in spiritual deception. Whenever someone in the community becomes a little difficult or self-willed, he will inevitably hear, “Watch out, that you don’t end up like Fr Gregory.”
You write us, Richard, that you are scandalized by us, and an apology is in order. Well, yes we agree that an apology is in order, not just one, but many, and not by us, but taking into account all that is written above, rather by your brother and yourself. Yet we ask no apologies from anyone. We forgive all and ask forgiveness from all.
We never thought, Richard, that Fr Gregory was very intelligent, but we did have a high regard concerning yourself. Now you have shaken our confidence in your own person. If Fr Gregory complained to you concerning ourselves, we would think that you would at least have enough sense to say to him, “Listen, brother, if the people don’t want you to linger when you visit the monastery — then don’t. Under the circumstances it is understandable that they feel nervous when you go there. They never agreed to your leaving and what you are doing. So if you think that you are right — prove yourself in Buena Vista. They are not bothering you. Don’t bother them either. Leave them alone.” Alas, though, instead of reacting in sich a manner, you have chosen to try and justify him.
Since you chose to write us, Richard, we are answering in writing also, although it would have been much easier for both of us to have exchanged our views orally. We are giving a copy of this letter to Fr John Fleser of St Anne’s Parish since you gave him a copy of your letter to us. We are also sending a copy to Vladyka Alipy in Chicago whom we love and respect, since the whole letter is about Fr Gregory who is in his diocese, and we would not wish to be misquoted and thus give cause to a misunderstanding. We shall also feel free to share our answer with whoever Fr Gregory complains to concerning us and who in turn make this known to us. Already Fr Demetrios Serfes has informed us during a telephone conversation that Fr Gregory complained to him over the phone that we do not receive him cordially when he comes to Boston. Fr Demetrios pointed out to him that under the circumstances it is not surprising. What is surprising is that he is received at all. This surprised your brother, who claimed that he left with a blessing from us, and that all which has since taken place has also been with our consent. Fr Demetrios told me that he answered him saying, “Now listen, Fr Gregory, you and I know that you left without a blessing. I was living in Boston at the time when you left, and frequented often at the monastery, and I remember distinctly that Fr Panteleimon and the other Fathers did not agree and did not give a blessing.”
Dear Richard, I have written much, but I do not think that it could have been said in a few words. As for Fr Gregory, may God not account unto him the griefs and sorrows which he has caused us, and the ungratefulness which he continues to show us by slandering us that we are persecuting him. Actually, this “persecution” consists in nothing else than that we do not agree with him and do not receive him here at the monastery as if he is one of us. From the present state of affairs it is evident that the first part of the prediction of Vladyka Andrew concerning Fr Gregory that “it will be very bad for him if he leaves” has been fulfilled. Let us pray that the second part will not be fulfilled, by his true repentance and putting himself under obedience to an experienced spiritual guide.
Again we thank you for your Paschal gifts. Had you not left in haste when you delivered them, we would have shared our Paschal treats with you and your family as we have done in years past.
Please forgive me if in aught that I have written I have grieved you. May God enlighten us all and keep us. Amen.
With the love of our Saviour,
Archimandrite Panteleimon and Synodia in Christ