Letter from a Catacomb Bishop (1948)



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Orthodox America

Letter from a Catacomb Bishop (1948)

From an unknown Catacomb Bishop "A." addressed to "F.M.", c. 1948
May God's mercy be with you, My Son!
I am so glad that you are seeking the truth: Blessed are they who thirst and hunger after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. It gives me even greater joy that your faith sees that the truth is to be found only in Christ's holy Church.
In today's evil age many people, especially the so-called "educated", have altogether lost the taste for truth? Who is searching for truth nowadays? Who needs it? Who lives according to truth? Never before, it seems, has there been such a time as ours, when man has so devalued the meaning of life, his immortal soul, the responsibility for evil committed, etc. It used to be that people studied, they ran after learning in order to know the truth. Today, people study and acquire knowledge only in order to secure for themselves a more comfortable, more carefree, animal-like existence. Many people are only concerned with what they eat, what they drink and how they clothe themselves; they don't trouble themselves over their conscience....Never before have our people served the earth and their flesh as they do now. Never has man so brazenly rebelled against God and His law for the sake of the fleeting sweetness of sin, as he does today.
Never before has man been such a slave of the devil's lie! This is why the search for Divine truth in these dark days is so praiseworthy.
You write: "People go today to a church that's functioning and they don't care whether or not that church contains Christ's truth. And they don't think about their actions-are they serving truth or its enemies." Here you are quite right. This type of lamentable attitude is widespread.
But you are not right in your extreme despondency, approaching despair. If today someone, by reason of his passions or the will and cunning of wicked people, scorns the one thing needful and lives only to satisfy the flesh, this is not to say that he is going to be like that forever. No matter how low a person falls, he is God's supreme creation.... "I am the image of Thine ineffable glory, tho' I bear the marks of sin..." Today he might be fallen, but tomorrow, through the power and truth of Christ, a man might rise up in glory. Wholly wretched and sinful, man bears within himself an immortal spirit. And if not today, then tomorrow, man's spirit will cry out to his Father: Abba, Father... (Gal. 4:6). Tomorrow he will say together with David, Unto Thee have I lifted up mine eyes, unto Thee that dwellest in heaven (Ps. 122).
We have in the Russian land a senseless, pagan intelligentsia, some of whom nourish themselves solely on demonic pride and their so-called "erudition". We have, sad to say, clergy who traffic in their faith, and others of the so-called Moscow Patriarchate who are altogether without faith. This clergy, for the sake of their own well-being, for the sake of their passions, serve the enemies of truth. But we also have our Russian Orthodox people. Deceived and deprived, they seem to lack the slightest opportunity for striving towards truth. But whoever knows our people knows that this people lived and lives by faith in Christ's truth, which is preserved only in His Church...
No other people has endured such demonic attacks as have the Russians. No other people has experienced such cruel sufferings for the Orthodox faith, as have the Russian people. Today it is being inundated with a flood of godless propaganda, borrowed from wicked and cunning enemies of Christ from all nations, all times; and despite this propaganda, even today, "the ears of the people," as St. Hilaire Piktaviisky put it, "are holier than the hearts of contemporary hierarchs." No matter what Russian village you go to, even the smallest, the shabbiest, you will always find people whose faith we would do well to emulate...
Christ said, I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness (John 8:12). And we firmly believe and know that it is only from His Church that the light of Christ shines brightly and illumines all. Only the children of the Church see the light of truth, they alone have "received the Heavenly Spirit, acquired the true faith." ..."Outside communion with the Church," writes St. Cyprian of Carthage, "even deeds which appear good, even such important works as prayer, have no meaning, no power"...
You write, "I know that the truth of Christ lies in His Church. I know that outside the Church there is no truth, but I have no feeling of respect for the so-called 'Moscow Patriarchate,' that part of Christ's Church. But where, then, is Christ's Church in Holy Russia? Where today is one to find her holy abode of the Most High?"
Further you write, "For me the concealed falsehood and lies of the Moscow Patriarchate become increasingly evident and increasingly offensive. When I go to an open church where the officiating priests are from the Moscow Patriarchate, my soul finds no rest there, no spiritual consolation. It feels stifled. And I am not the only one who experiences this; many have the same feeling. Standing in such a church, I have seen people approach the candle counter and ask, 'Can you tell us in what churches the services are better conducted?' And so the soul languishes, unable to find where it might quench its spiritual thirst. When I am in church, my soul says to me, 'This isn't what I need.' I cannot explain this to myself clearly, in theological terms, but I feel that in going to these churches I am not coming in contact with Christ's Church." Your letter ends with a touching, tragic cry of the soul, "I feel that the Moscow Patriarchate and its churches are not my faith; this is not what was for me, from childhood, the holy of holies. Where then, is my Church, Christ's Church? Will I find it, that I might worship the truth, be sanctified by it and learn from it?"
My dear, beloved son! In order always to know where the Church in Russia is to be found, and not to depart from her, one must first of all be her faithful son to the last of one's days. The Church is visible only to those who believe and reverently honor all her precepts. Then, too, one must remember the history of the Church. /.../
From the very day of her founding by our Lord Jesus Christ, a war has been waged against the aims of the holy Church, and today this war is being waged with increased persistence and cruelty. The fierce enemies of the Church are Satan and his minions. For his attacks on the Church, Satan mobilizes the entire world, defiled by transgressions, and clothes himself as an Angel of Light (II Cor. 11:14), in the garments of a feigned righteousness.
Throughout the history of the Church one finds traces of the devil's attempts-the cruelest, the most varied in their cunning methods and vain in their results-to destroy and annihilate Christ's inheritance, His Church. So, too, the history of the Church contains an endless and glorious record of victories over her enemies. If the history of the world is, as
Dostoevsky wrote, a battle between God and the devil, in the Church this uprising of all the powers of hell against Her is characterized by particularly demonic malice, cunning ruses and cruel deceptions. The center of this great, undescribable war was and always will be the Church of Christ, for she alone destroys the might of hell and overthrows the pride of the devil and his angels. /.../
You must know, my dear one, of the unprecedented rage and insolence with which the enemy has attacked Christ's Church in Russia these past thirty years. The cruelty of the enemy's war against Christ's Church here in our Orthodox country, before our very eyes, has been hitherto inconceivable. Is this not substantial evidence that the Russian Orthodox Church is a priceless branch of the True Vine?
Doubtless you are already aware that in attacking the Russian Church the enemy is using a combination strategy. On the one hand the enemy is persecuting the Church today using ancient methods from the first centuries of Christianity, when the Church was incriminated as being an anti-govern-ment institution and everything belonging to it was destroyed by outright, external force. In our own day this method has been applied to the destruction and defilement of countless churches in Russia; to the physical extermination of a canonical hierarchy, monastics and clergy faithful to the Church, by means of exile, camps, execution. Using such means the enemy wants to rapidly extirpate the truth.
The enemy also attacks the Church using more subtle methods-by sowing disorders in the Church through numerous schisms, heresies, artificially created with the help of clergy who are servants of satan. By means of such schisms the enemy strives to lead astray those seeking for the truth, and through his many false teachers to pass off to the unwary his falsehood as the Christian truth. For those lacking strong faith, this method is ruinous.
The third-and more modern-form of attack on the Church is especially important for us to be aware of. Here the enemy, having destroyed the lawful and canonical hierarchy, plants his own false hierarchy to govern the Church, and creates a clergy which is only externally churchly, being wholly obedient to his evil designs. Operating in this way, the enemy fashions the most cunning forgery of the truth; he makes every effort to govern the Church himself, and laughs fiendishly at those souls he deceives.
This method is a current favorite of the enemy. It is frightful to speak of all his schemes. Instead of the holy Orthodox Church, he has built his own, outwardly resembling the Church in every respect, even, as he says, "improved". Today the enemy is making a special concerted effort to rapidly establish his own in place of Christ's Church, utilizing for this purpose people who have become his obedient tools. The Renovationist schism was the first attempt by the demons to forge a substitute for Christ's Church in Russia. Thanks to the faith of the Russian people and its true pastors, this attempt was exposed. Then Satan began acting with still greater cunning. In the Gregorian and later in the Sergian apostasy from the Church, the enemy has made still more refined moves to subvert the Church, moves barely noticeable to those indifferent to the truth.
Not long ago one of our Orthodox bishop-ascetics said that in our day the enemy would make several attempts to ruin the Church through schisms. The first schism, said this bishop, everyone will perceive, but subsequent surrogates will be more difficult to recognize, and few will understand the truth. Then the enemy will try to seduce, if possible, even the elect (Mark 13:22).
Here one must add that besides the various attempts at fashioning surrogates of the Church, Satan has stirred up a fierce persecution against all those who discern and are unmasking his frightful activity. In punishing them the enemy has tried to organize the cruelest tortures and punishments. All truthful, genuine archpastors, pastors and devout laymen, particularly those who have made others aware of the demonic stratagems, now find themselves captive in prisons and forced labor.
We have experienced years of nightmarish cruelty. How many soldiers of Christ have fallen! How much the enemy has destroyed! /.../ My dear one, I dare hope that you will tuck my words into your heart. As you have made clear to yourself that the truth lies only in Christ's Church, so, too, you must understand, and understand clearly, thoroughly, that Christ's Church is engaged in a constant, unrelenting warfare. All the powers of hell and of this world are directed against her. Likewise, you must be aware of the enemy's persistent attempts to destroy her, to disfigure her, to create a counterfeit, to turn her to his service. If you are a Christian, if you sincerely love your Mother the Church, think about this warfare and put your life on the line of battle. If in addition you are attentive to the Holy Scripture, to the teachings of the Holy Fathers concerning the Church, to the precepts of the holy Apostles and church councils, then you will always clearly distinguish the holy Church-the Body of Christ, and Satan's masquerading falsehood. Then you will know that the power of the Church is always greater than all the power of hell, and that the truth of the Lord abideth forever (Ps. 116:2).
This letter had but one aim: to point out to you the unrelenting warfare of the devil and his servants against Christ's holy Church, and to say that whoever is attentive to this warfare will always know where to find the true Church. But to know is not enough. We have lost the feeling of "churchliness" because we don't come to the defense of our Mother, the Church; we don't stand up against the enemies of the Church with firm faith and unequivocal love.
I will add briefly that many, as you call them, "features of our contemporary church existence," cannot be recognized as belonging to the Church. Can one, for example, recognize as canonical the elevation by the militant godless of "his Holiness Alexis" (Patriarch Alexis I, 19) to the patriarchal throne?...this "patriarch", who has received decorations and medals from the persecutors of the Church, who prays for and devotes himself to establishing the kingdom of the prince of this world? In the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate (1943, No. 3 and others) clerics of the Moscow Patriarchate scorn martyrdom for Christ's sake and those, so dear to our hearts, who suffered for the faith and Christ's Church. The Moscow Patriarchate calls all such martyrs "state criminals justly sentenced". After this, can one honor the voice of the Moscow Patriarchate as the voice of the holy Church? St. Cyprian of Carthage writes that he who acts against Christ's ministers cannot be with Christ.
Already back in his day and age, Dostoevsky spoke about the emergence of fake clerics (Diary of a Writer). Don't be amazed if, in the functioning churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, you see dressed up in vestments members of the Komsomol performing "divine services", and priests and "bishops" who at one time denied Christ. One shouldn't get depressed by all this. One must simply bear in mind the devil's persistent warfare against the Church.
That's enough on this subject for now. In closing I'd like to cite the words of the Golden-mouthed teacher [St. John Chrysostom]: "Boistrous are the waves and violent the storm, but we do not fear being drowned because we stand on the Rock. Let the waters rage, they cannot destroy the Rock. Let the waves rise up; they have no power to overturn the ship of Christ. There is nothing, O man, more powerful than the Church. If you do not believe words, believe the deeds. How many tyrants have there been who wanted to defeat the Church! How many burning cauldrons, blazing furnaces, beasts' jaws, sharp swords! And they failed. Where are all these antagonists? Dead and buried in oblivion! And where is the Church? She shines more brightly than the sun. Their deeds have vanished, but the deeds of the Church are immortal."
May the Lord, the Queen of Heaven and all the saints of the Russian land preserve you.

(Translated and excerpted from Russkiy Pastyr #12, pp. 42-51; San Francisco, 1992)