HOCNA: Departure Letter of Fr Michael Azkoul

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October 28, 2012
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HOCNA: Departure Letter of Fr Michael Azkoul

For a detailed timeline about the HOCNA crisis and departure of clergy, click here.

The following is a letter from Fr Michael Azkoul dated October 28 (NS). In it, he lays out his reasons for leaving HOCNA on the basis of the name-worshipping heresy.

To read the letter “28 Oct 12” in .pdf format click here.

28 Oct 12

St Louis, Mo

 

Metropolitan Ephraim, Bishop of Boston

Holy Transfiguration of Monastery

278 Warren Street

Brookline, Mass.

 

Your Eminence,

I was unaware until this summer about the nearly two year controversy which had disrupted the harmony of the HTM community. I learned only then that the cause of the upheaval was the Name-Worship heresy — euphemistically called “Name-Glorifying.” I was stunned by what you had written —  “That God’s Name is not His Essence, but rather it is the revealed truth about Himself, that is, His Uncreated Energy, His Uncreated Grace, His Providence, His Glory…”  Are you redefining the glossary of Orthodox theology?

Perhaps, I was wrong I thought,  for it seemed to me that you must have known that the Uncreated Energy is a distinction within the divine Nature, an Operation (to use the language of the Latin Fathers) — It is God, to be sure — but it is impersonal.

It was inconceivable to me that anyone would worship a name, even the holy Name of God. In the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa,

“Names were invented to denote the the Existent One, not for His sake, but for ours” (Answer to Eunomius, Bk. 2)  And again, “We, following the suggestions of Scriptures, have learned that the Nature [of God] is un-nameable and unspeakable, and we say that every term, either invented by the custom of men, or handed down to us by the Scriptures, provides us with  conceptions of the Divine Nature without including the significance of that Nature itself.” (Answer To Ablabius).

Thus,  we honor it, we glorify it, we revere it, venerate it, because God’s Name identifies Him Whom I worship; likewise, the Name of Jesus the Christ.

I cannot understand under what circumstances an Orthodox Christian would be induced an worship a Name. We worship the Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit not their Names. (We also understand Its Biblical and Patristic context, as well as the idioms and metaphors they use to describe the purport of the Name).

At first I did not pay attention to quarrel over “Name-Worship,” until it finally came to my attention that the Name of God was being worshiped as something ontologically equated with the Uncreated Energy of God.  Although the Energies of God may be called God (“divinity”) as emanating from Him, they are Operations of God. We do not worship the Energies or Operations whatever form they take.  The Energies or Operations are divine Forces or Powers. They are impersonal. Moreover, you must see that if the Name of God is the Energy of God — and the Energy or Operation is God — then even letters G-O-D are deified and must be worshiped, for those letters compose the word God. .Why don’t you accept the logic of your position? .

It is the same with the other things you worship:

  Dear Fr. Michael,

Do I worship God’s providence? Yes, because His providence – i.e. His Grace – is God. Do I worship God’s healing Grace? Yes, because His healing Grace – is God. Do I worship His creative Power? Yes, because His creative Power – is God? Do I worship the Holy Trinity? Yes, because the Holy Trinity is God; God’s Essence and Energies are God, and I worship them. Do I worship the Light of the Transfiguration? Yes, because the Light of the Transfiguration is God. St. John Chrysostom says “God’s Name is worthy of praise by nature.” That’s what I believe also.

In Christ,  

 + Ephraim, metropolitan. 

.      The Nature of God has three aspects: the Essence, the Energy or Operation and the Persons. The Essence is incommunicable, the Energy communicable  (e. g., Grace, Light, etc.), while the divine Persons are both; hence, by the latter, the Person of the Son communicates in the flesh with His creatures.  In any case, we do not worship the Essence or the Energy, not even the mystery of divine Incarnating Itself, only the Incarnate Lord; and neither do we worship Names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Names of the Persons indicate the distinct properties of Each:  the Father who is the Cause of the Trinity, the Son Who is Begotten of Him, the Holy Spirit Who Proceeds from the Father alone. The Uncreated Energies or Operations emanates from Each of Them, as St Gregory Palamas wrote.

In the Old Testament, God’s Names —  Yahweh (He Who creates), Elohim (authority), El Shaddai (Almighty), Adonai (Master), etc. — describe His actions, that is, His Energies,  but never are the Names worshiped no matter their grandeur, authority, repute or wonder. The People of ancient Israel adored only their Lord Who in fact was God the Son. To be sure, they knew that “to call upon the Name of the Lord” is to worship God (Gen. 21:33; 26:25), but to call upon His Name is to glorify, implore and entreat Him, not to worship the Name by which they called upon Him.  Thus, your quotation from St John Chrysostom is irrelevant.

I have corresponded more than once with your Eminence and Bishop Gregory on this matter.  The best His Grace could say — “We do not worship words.”  I was delighted until it was pointed out to me that his statement was tautology. Then, came Fr John Fleser’s compelling letter; the powerful e-mails of Fr Yakov Tseitlin and, to be sure, numerous letters from other confused and disconsolate brethren  priests of our own Church. We saw some of them at the October clergy synaxis  They would not serve at the Sunday Liturgy.  I spoke also with several laymen, monks and clergy who had already left HOCNA, including Bishop Dimitri.

Also, my son immediately saw the flaws in the arguments of your Eminence, your desperate appeal to the Church Fathers. The citations were dubious at best. He mentioned, too, that you had not repudiated the impious “the Awake Sleeper,” the heresy which had so troubled HOCNA and caused so many to depart your omophor. The same has happened again and I fear will continue to happen as the result of your adoption of this new heterodoxy. Indeed, one heresy invites another.

I can no longer endure the painful sentiment which has urged me to remain loyal to irresolute bishops, because they have been so long my friends and companions for fifty years and for whom I have had and continue to have very strong affection.  Although grateful to my HOCNA brethren (especially, Fr Neketas Palassis) for their many kindnesses, I must act according to conscience.  Therefore, I inform your Eminences that, invoking Canon 15 of the First-and- Second Council of 861, I and the congregation of St Catherine of Sinai must withdraw from your authority in order to find refuge with the ecclesial sanity of Bishop Dimitri of Boston under the Synod of Archbishop Kallinikos.

May you find once more the peace in the Faith you once served so well and for so long.

With all respect due your title,

Archpriest Fr Michael Azkoul

 

 

  • Euthymios

    He went from one irresolute bishop to another. Archbishop Kallinikos allows his clergy to give Communion to heretics.

  • Anonymous

    This is a red herring from the main issue. HOCNA is a schism from ROCA. THAT is why they are invalid and uncanonical.

  • Anonymous

    Father Michael is a fraud. He lacks Christian love, and love for justice.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdIsDKBAWSk

  • HermitsOf St-John

    It is a pity that Father Michael jumps from one parasynagogue (HOCNA) to another.(GOC-K). Better he join the American Metropolia who has made great attempts –though all too slowly — to distance Herself from this same heresy.

    Monk Symeon Najmanje, OCSB Rom.
    Stavropegial Hermitage of St John Divine (ROCOR)

    • Deacon Joseph @ NFTU

      Both the GOC-K and American Metropolia would probably argue that ROCOR under the MP is a parasynagogue.

      • HermitsOf St-John

        Probably so Deacon Joseph. But that wasn’t the point of my comment was it? The American Metropolia is the only canonical jurisdiction within the TOC Movement. But because so much time has past and so many are adhering to GOC-K their true origins are being “forgotten” and their legitimacy taken for granted.

        • Deacon Joseph @ NFTU

          I have, and have always had, reservations about referring to the “only” canonical jurisdiction among the TOC’s, if only because of the long and confusing history between all of them. As I’m part of the American Metropolia, I obviously favor my own Synod and I believe we have the most firm canonical basis by circumstance. That said, canonicity is something that is active. We remain canonical by adhering to the canons and the tradition of the Church.

          I don’t agree that any history has really been forgotten; indeed, more has been written over the past decade than ever before. History will judge us by our fidelity to what we have been given– which is also why I am not a fan of those outside the TOC’s picking favorites. (and I am not being specific with you, as I’ve seen this with different TOC’s and different people outside making similar declarations.) If those were completely honest sentiments there’d be no logic in remaining separated from them.

  • BD

    I’ve written many emails to Fr Michael on the union between GOC-K and SiR, and he is in denial of the facts, and simply responds: “i’ve spoken to Bishop Demetrius and he assures me that nothing is wrong”….
    I have much repsect for Fr Michael, but here are the issues he is ignoring:
    -GOC-K’s acceptance of the Heretical Holy Trinity Icon
    -GOC-K and the SiR consider Augustine of Hippo a saint
    -SiR’s belief in the Toll House Theory
    – The comments made by M Chrysyotm of Etna and M Cyprian of Oropos, about how the SiR has not “changed anything bequeaved by the late M Cyrprian” are false rumors.
    – The comments made by M Chrysystom of Etna” “I would have never signed the union statement if it said World Orthdoxy had no grace” is a rumor.
    – GOC-K is in communion with Patriarch Ireneaus.
    – GOC-K sudden adoption of the theory that Ecumenism has not officially been condemnded.

    • Deacon Joseph @ NFTU

      Please stop combining the issue of Cyprianism with your renovationism. The Holy Trinity icon’s been around for over 5 centuries, and St Augustine’s always been a saint, and toll-houses have been in the prayer books. Distrust those who find the uninterrupted teaching of the Church offensive.

      • BD

        Deacon Joseph – I am simply stating Fr Michael issues. I am not debating them.
        But while we are on the topic, the Great Synod of Moscow in 1667 forbade depictions of the Father in human form….although the Greek Churches don’t follow this teaching and rather side with there western catholic brethren. Do we need a Pan-Orthdox Synod????

        • Deacon Joseph @ NFTU

          I find it odd that you can’t accept an ecumenical council’s acceptance of a saint but a local council’s directive about icons that wasn’t even completely followed in Russia obviously means that we need an ecumenical council. It’s not a dogma, it’s not a heresy. It’s a question of how the Father can be depicted. You can’t say He can’t be depicted in a human form at all: there are icons with the Father’s blessing hand (looking like a human hand) going back from the time of the schism and before. It was a reaction to over-Westernization, and not specifically dogmatic.

          PS. I should that I am not a fan of “God the Father” icons. I consider them a Westernization. But I wouldn’t paint over them, burn them, spit at them or not treat them like icons. That’s when folks cross the border to crazy town.

      • faithful christian

        Toll houses stand in opposition of the true teaching of the Orthodox Church. As St Symeon the New Theologian writes on the parable of the ten virgins, “Blessed are they who have even now kindled the light in their hearts and have preserved it from being extinguished, for in their departure from life they, being radiant, shall meet with the Bridegroom and shall enter with Him into the bridal-chamber bearing their lamps”. To suggest that the soul immediately after death has to be examined by demons and that if they find the soul guilty of one single sin then it is damned? This gnostic concept that demons sit in judgment over souls, usurping Christ’s place is not Orthodox

        The Holy Trinity Icon has been around for 5 centuries, but that does not make it right. Not one person has seen God and been able to truly depict Him in an icon. He was created based on someone’s thought of what God might look like. All other icons of our Savior, the Theotokos or any of the Saints are of likeness to them that walked the earth.

        • Deacon Joseph @ NFTU

          I’ll say you’re wrong and add that I’ve argued these same points for the past decade, and I don’t have time nor inclination to do it all over again on a comment board.

          • faithful christian

            That’s quite a narcissistic comment. I didn’t expect that one. I thought these forums were about subjective discussions to gain a greater understanding of the topics that are raised.
            But, I agree 100% that I now do not want to talk to you about it any further than this.

          • Deacon Joseph @ NFTU

            I’m a little tired of the “narcissistic” comments. (I guess you’re a ROCOR refugees fan! Argue with them on those issues.) When someone says “I don’t feel like talking about a rehashed issue”, that’s not narcissism, that’s frustration. But again, these issues were both argued by the Old Calendarists (and settled) and the ROCOR (and settled). It’s narcissistic to think it’s your job to “fix the Church” after 600+ years of practice and saints. And it is a discussion forum. If someone else wants to talk about these rehashed issues, great.

            But if you’d like to call my comment “narcissistic” well then, all the best. I’ve been discussing toll-houses and the icon since 2000, along with, dunno, hundreds of other people. Who were discussing and arguing arguments made about oh, 40 years more ago.

            Your problem is you think it’s special, like you’ve discovered something. (That’s how I got roped into it back in ’99, and it took a lot of arguing and honest research to wake up from it. Surprise!) It’s old, and only the renovationists care. You don’t want to talk to me further about this. Because I can ban you. I’d suggest you wait for someone else to do so. If anyone still cares about these “issues”.

          • HmkEnoch

            Met. Macarius of Moscow and Particular Judgment after Death
            http://classicalchristianity.com/2014/05/27/on-the-reality-of-the-particular-judgment/

            Depictions of God the Father in iconography
            http://www.saintjonah.org/articles/ancientofdays.htm

          • Marlon Scott

            It always amazes me that there are people that still reject the Orthodox teaching on post-mortem demonic encounters. Here is yet another explicit quote I came across:

            St. Meletios Homologetes ca. 1209-1286
            …[T]he time of death is full of consternation since all the tax collectors bring forward deeds and words, plans and thoughts, desires, and all that we have done when instructed by them, in obedience to our enemies. Alas for our lack of perception! After the release the powers and authorities and all the principalities of Satan pick everyone out and examine minutely the things that are in the soul and the body. They meet with us to cut and chop, to forcibly drag us down because of the previous disposition we had towards them, because the affection and condition through the passions, and because of our familiarity with them, by which they alienated us from God our Maker and Master. (excerpted from “Traditions of Belief in Late Byzantine Demonology” by R.P.H. Greenfield, pp. 17-18)

          • HmkEnoch

            Absolutely, Maximus. I can hardly reading through the lives of the Celtics saints (early Irish and Scottish), without constantly coming across instances of St. Kevin, St. Kentigern, St. Columbkille (Columba), etc, praying and rescuing a man’s soul after death from the demonic hosts with the helps of the Angels.

          • faithful christian

            I’m not a ROCOR refugee, thank you. The narcissistic comment was directed at the fact that you stated that I’m wrong without discussion! I wasn’t aware that someone called you that before, nor have I used that reference here before as I barely make any comments on this forum.
            If you had simply stated that you did not want to discuss the issue, I would have been fine with that. But to blatantly imply I’m wrong and that was the end of it, well… I call it as it is.
            I’m not here to digress from the subject at hand. Someone else brought up Toll houses and the Trinity Icon, you responded with your comments and I did with mine. I haven’t discovered anything new and am quite aware that these “issues” have been discussed time and time again. But just as you have your thoughts and beliefs on a subject, I have my own. You are not the one to determine who is right and wrong. I did not dismiss any of your comments, because I respect that they are your beliefs. Just like anyone who posts in this forum should have their opinions respected and be able to share their thoughts without being provoked, dismissed or even being threatened.
            If mine or anyone else’s comments are too much for you to handle, then you should definitely ask someone else to moderate this forum.

          • Deacon Joseph @ NFTU

            “I’m not a ROCOR refugee, thank you. The narcissistic comment was
            directed at the fact that you stated that I’m wrong without discussion! I
            wasn’t aware that someone called you that before, nor have I used that
            reference here before as I barely make any comments on this forum.”

            Oh, well since you don’t know, there’s a whole section of a blog dedicated to it. However, they’d also tell you that they recognize Toll Houses and the Trinity Icon in the same breath.

            “If you had simply stated that you did not want to discuss the issue, I
            would have been fine with that. But to blatantly imply I’m wrong and
            that was the end of it, well… I call it as it is.”

            This is a stupid argument. If you said “Orthodox have broken from the true Church under the See of Peter, His Holiness Francis of Rome”, and I said “you’re wrong and I don’t feel like discussing it”, that wouldn’t make me a narcissist. It would make me tired of discussing with Papists.

            “I’m not here to digress from the subject at hand. Someone else brought
            up Toll houses and the Trinity Icon, you responded with your comments
            and I did with mine. I haven’t discovered anything new and am quite
            aware that these “issues” have been discussed time and time again.”

            This just means that you have even fewer grounds for calling me a narcissist.

            “But
            just as you have your thoughts and beliefs on a subject, I have my own.
            You are not the one to determine who is right and wrong.”

            Well, I have to be for me, otherwise I’d be in a cult. But the Orthodox teaching is based on the Patristic consensus. The Patristic consensus doesn’t agree with Lev Puhalo on such matters, and consequently, I don’t make a great deal to either.

            “I did not
            dismiss any of your comments, because I respect that they are your
            beliefs.”

            Huh. I really felt that respect when I said that’s not the Orthodox position and you called me a “narcissist”. See, if you called me *wrong*, I would have probably left it alone. But you made it personal, the hallmark of just about every cultist or groupie I’ve dealt with. There’s no objective right or wrong. There are only levels of offense. And clearly I “offended” you, not because I might have debated this, but because I’m a self-loving narcissist.

            “Just like anyone who posts in this forum should have their
            opinions respected and be able to share their thoughts without being
            provoked, dismissed or even being threatened.”

            That wasn’t a threat. As a moderator, I determine where personal attacks go too far. You haven’t gone too far yet, but your track record ain’t looking too good right now.

            “If mine or anyone
            else’s comments are too much for you to handle, then you should
            definitely ask someone else to moderate this forum.”

            I’ll call Fr Panteleimon tomorrow to see if he’s busy.

          • faithful christian

            Do you actually read the whole conversation from your first post and my first post?
            I’m not going to debate this or any other topic further with you. I can EASILY get into a Theological discussion concerning Toll-houses or the Trinity Icon, but I don’t play nice with people that think they know it all.
            Call Fr Panteleimon, I’m sure he is available. If not, try one of your bishops if they are not too busy shaving and looking pretty.

          • Deacon Joseph @ NFTU

            Oopsie! It looks like someone’s pride was offended! While our Miami Bishop does have a short beard (work-related) the rest of our bishops, last I checked, have nice fluffy beards. I don’t have Fr P’s itinerary, but I assume there’ll be space between counseling his subjects and his usual menthol vapor baths.