Metr. John Issues Reply to Metr. Raphael’s Name-Worshipping Epistle

The Primate of the True Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas and the British Isles has published a response to Metropolitan Raphael of Moscow’s Name-Worshipping Epistle dated Sunday.

In a letter issued in both English and Russian, H.B Metropolitan John (LoBue), while stating his desire to retain the unity of the Church, noted that such unity would be meaningless without a unanimity of faith. Having again appealed to Metropolitan Raphael’s interest in maintaining unity, the letter, translated into Russian by a conscientious True Orthodox priest from a neighboring Synod, then delves into the many misquotes and errors commonly expounded upon by “modern name worshippers” such as HOCNA and Gregory Lourie.

The letter in Russian is here. What follows is the English original in full.

Dearest Svetosti, Mitropolit G. G. Rafael,

Glory be to God in all things.

Last month you sent a response to my message to you.  I have spent this time reviewing everything in this message, and I have determined that whoever wrote these items for you has simply misquoted or manipulated the various quotations from the Church Fathers.

Three years ago Metropolitan Angelos, yourself, and myself signed an agreement of intercommunion on the basis of our common understanding of True Orthodoxy.  The common understanding of True Orthodoxy that has existed for the past 90 years is that True Orthodoxy represents the dogmatic belief and church practice that was in place on the day that St. Tikhon was elevated to be Patriarch of Moscow.  The signing that we had requires us therefore to adhere to this common understanding of True Orthodoxy, and not to make changes to it unless we all together agree to it.  The issues that have arisen, my venerable brother, amount, however, to a fundamental changing of this common faith that we share.  When we brought these items up for discussion three years ago, Bishop Daniel, then your spokesman for External Affairs informed us that no one in your Synod wished to make any such change.  We have relied on our meetings since then to substantiate that our common belief and practice was still in place.   Why, Svetosti, would you now want to change this and to endanger the common belief that both myself and Metropolitan Angelos have shared with you and your Clergy for the past three years?  Do conditions within Holy Russia so warrant that you make these changes even if it were to endanger the common understanding of our intercommunion?  Is this action worth the risk to our common mission to preserve the Orthodox Church on this Earth when other Churches calling themselves Orthodox have publicly abandoned True Orthodoxy?  I hope you will agree that this is simply not worth the risk.

Please understand, Svetosti, that we deeply love you and your Clergy dearly, and it truly grieves us that this discussion has arisen.  We want at all cost to preserve both the Orthodox Faith and the ties of intercommunion that we have forged in recent years with you and Metropolitan Angellos.  Please, we beg of you, do not abandon our Faith and our brotherhood.  Please examine the analysis that I give you here in the following paragraphs.  You will see that you have been presented with misquotes. some of which were known to the Fathers of the Council of 1912 and 1913 in Moscow and Constantinople, including even Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev.  Even my personal discussions of these matters forty years ago with Metropolitan St. Philaret of New York confirmed that we had to preach our understanding of our local devotion to the Holy Name in accordance with these two councils.

Specifically the email you send to me stated:

        “In our opinion, the theological question raised in your epistle has already received a general ecclesial response, which is an integral part of the Sacred Tradition of our Church. This response, contained in Divine Revelation, has attained the fullness of its theological elucidation in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas and other Greek and Russian Fathers, including those of relatively recent times. Please permit me, dear Vladyka, to devote the majority of this, my epistle to you, to a consideration of this question.

        So as not to distract from the subject matter, I will not “get personal” and indulge in arguments about the merits and demerits of Bishop Gregory (Lourié); I will only note that you, through ignorance, are likely to have gathered information about him that does not come from the most reliable sources.

It is unfortunate that you are unwilling to discuss the merits or demerits of soi-disant “Bishop” Gregory Lourie. If you had conferred with me or our Brother Metropolitan Angellos about that, this exchange would not have happened. Certainly we do not have to be appraised of matters that would normally be solely within your ecclesiastical sphere; unfortunately within your own local ecclesiastical sphere the deposed Hieromonk Lourie is very well-known, and roundly condemned. Indeed, his beliefs and actions have earned him condemnations throughout the different Synods of Russian True Orthodoxy, most notably the ROAC, which ordained him, deposed him, and eventually excommunicated his followers. We have already provided you a list of condemnations from the ROAC.

You write: “ I grieve, dear Vladyka, that my position regarding the burning dogmatic question of the names of God has caused you anxiety and fear. What should we do? We cannot recognize name-glorifying as a heresy on the basis alone that it was condemned by the ecclesial authorities of Constantinople and Russia. For, first of all, we are far from having crypto-papist ideas about the inerrancy of ecclesial powers. Second, we are taught from Holy Tradition that God’s truth is only revealed through the agreement of the Holy Fathers. Third, from church history we know of many examples when not just patriarchs or synods, but entire councils of hierarchs from all over the world accepted erring and even heretical decisions, which happened to be opposed only by the voices of the Saints. But the truth in those dramatic moments of church history was with the Saints alone, and not with the actual ecclesial power and the majority of hierarchs.”

Svetosti, it is not a form of “crypto-Papism” to adhere to the Church’s teaching because we recognize Her teaching authority. No one to the present day denies that first, the Church was already being assailed by militant atheists and second, that She had retainied the authority of her teaching structure at that time. Of course, in times of great upheaval, heretics are quick to appear, and claim justification for their sectarianism. Certainly we will not dispute your understanding of Church history, as there have been times where Fathers have bravely defended the Faith against noxious and powerful heretics.

Unfortunately, Your Holiness, you have chosen to indeed align with the powerful heretics. The Patristic teaching, to quote St. Vincent of Lerins, is that which is everywhere and at all times accepted by all: this is the Patristic consensus. Yet who is it that believes in name-worshipping among the True Orthodox? Among the True Orthodox in Russia and Greece it has been roundly condemned; in America the heresy has only recently been  heard of. There is a saying: “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” And yet if this is no burning question among most of the True Orthodox in the world, where is the fire? When the leaders of the American HOCNA group (whom only Gregory Lourie calls “the True Orthodox of America”) began to preach the name-worshipping heresy, as in times of old, the Orthodox people fled from them. indeed, almost all of them did so. More than two-thirds of the monastics left immediately, and 20 of their 30 churches left them. (They immediately started empty “missions” with their few people who remained.)

So you may think you are standing with the few faithful, but you are not. You are aligning with the innovators. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

One faithful Orthodox writer summed up our position simply in response to the name-worshippers of “New HOCNA”: No Father has ever said that the name of God is an energy of God. Nowhere does the Church teach of an uncreated name of God.

Indeed, virtually all the quotes that are in this letter that you sent me, whether you wrote this or someone else, are misquotes or very stretched interpretations. The simple fact is that in the 2,000 years that the Church has been teaching, and in 2,000 years of the Fathers and their writings, large volumes of which your advisor Gregory Lourie seems to have access to, one cannot find the simple statement that the name of God is an energy of God. And the reason you cannot find it is because no one believed it.

Nevertheless we will address each of these supposed Patristic quotes for the sake of helping you to understand our position.

It is stated in the letter addressed that St. Anastaius the Sinaite is supposed to have said:

          “Question: “The Name of God is essential, personal, efficient (energetic), symbolical, or metaphorical? Answer: Clearly it is efficient (energetic), for it does not reveal to us the essence of God (because that is impossible to know), but [the name] ‘God’ reveals to us only the contemplation of His activity ” (St . Anastasius the Sinaite, The Guidebook).”

           However, when we examined the relevant passage in Patrologia Graeca, Volume 89, folio 53, we find that the translation given in the letter is not quite accurate. The Greek word ‘onoma’ is not present. Instead, we see that the word is ‘prosygoria’, which really means ‘appellation’. So, in actuality, the question is not stated correctly. 

It is obvious that the whole context here is saying that we can apply an appellation to the Energies; but, it does not say “the Name is an energy”; we can call the Energies justice, love, mercy, etc, but we can apply nothing at all to the Essence, because it is incommunicable.  Thus we can call the Energies by appellations, but, this does not say ‘the Name is the Energy’.

          You stated: “You, surely out of ignorance, call name-glorifying “the heresy of name-worshipping.” But does not Holy Scripture tell us that the name of Jesus is the name before which every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth (Philippians 2:10)? That it is above every name (Philippians 2:9), whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12)? Does Holy Scripture really command us to commit idolatry by teaching us to worship created conventional symbols, an empty set of letters and sounds? Could an empty set of sounds really save us? Hardly!”

St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “It is not as though it were some one name preferred above all others, though still comparable with them, but rather in the sense that He Who verily is, is above every name.” (Against Eunomios, Bk. XI, sec. 4)

          That “the great name of God includes in itself His Divine properties, not communicated by creation (by nature), but belonging to Him alone ” (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, On Inner Christianity).

This is no more than a re-stating of St. Tikhon’s teaching that the Name of God is given reverence in practice as if it were God. St. Tikhon states:

“Mention the name of God with all reverence, fear and devotion, and that only when and where we ought to mention it, because the name of God is holy and aweful, and those that mention it without reverence sin grievously. Render, then, all reverence to the name of God as to God Himself. You mention the name of an earthly king with respect; that is as it should be. How much more should we mention the name of God the Heavenly King, which is revered, beloved and sweet to angels and to the souls of the saints, with extreme reverence.”

Thus, St. Tikhon compares the Name of God to the name of an earthly king. Is the name of an earthly king the king himself? Or rather, does it not represent the earthly king, just as the Name of God represents God. Surely the latter.

          “The saving Name of Jesus was reserved by the pre-eternal counsel of the Holy Trinity for our salvation, and on this day the righteous Joseph brings it forth like a priceless pearl from heaven’s treasury, so that it may be used to redeem the whole human race “(St. Dimitry of Rostov, Homily on the Circumcision).

This statement only demonstrates that God had many things in His pre-eternal counsels.  God foreknew all things from eternity, yet, just because something is in God’s pre-eternal counsels it does not mean it is Uncreated and therefore God Himself.  The Apostle says the righteous are the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” (1 Peter 1:2). Yet, this certainly does not mean that those who freely choose God are Uncreated in pre-eternity!

You wrote: “Our Russian saints have long taught that “at God’s Judgment we must give an account for every idle world; all the more frightful will be the account for every word of blasphemy against the foundations of the dogmas of Christian faith. The Teaching of God’s power in the name of Jesus has the full dignity of a foundational dogma, and belongs to the all-holy number and corpus of these dogmas “(St. Ignatius of the Caucasus,” Homily on the Jesus Prayer “). We many times meet in our Saints that the Name of God is “Divine; the force and effect of this name is Divine; they are omnipotent and salvific; they are beyond our understanding, inaccessible to us “(St. Ignatius of the Caucasus).”

St. Ignatius says also what this all means on his “On the Jesus Prayer” when he states:

“The Name by its exterior form is limited, but it REPRESENTS an unlimited object, God, from whom it borrows infinite, divine value of worth, the power and properties of God.”

Thus the Holy Name of Our Lord is not Uncreated, but, is a conduit through which God is represented. Similarly, when we honour the Holy Cross, Images of Our Lord and Our Lady, the Saints, as well as relics, we given honour to them knowing that it is transferred to either God or the saint.  God’s power is in the Name of Jesus, like God’s power is in Holy Relics, and in many Holy Things; but, this does not mean that God is the thing in which His Power Resides.  The Lord’s Uncreated Energies in a special way work in us and divinize the righteous, and we partake in the Uncreated Energies, but, this does not mean that we are naturally Uncreated. Certainly the Divine Uncreated Energies, give power to the Holy Name, Holy Cross, the Holy Theotokos, Holy Relics, Holy Water, and many other Holy Things; yet, again, these blessed things themselves are not the Uncreated Grace in which they reside, but vehicles to convey Uncreated Grace.  An Icon of Christ is not Christ Himself, although we often say, if asked, “Who is that?” (with a man pointing toward the holy Icon), “It is Christ;” though, we could just as well say, “It represents Christ, and by homage to the Holy Image, worship is given to the God-Man Christ Jesus.”  The only Object that we ever encounter on Earth that is worthy of Divine Honour and Worship that is alone due to God is God the Son Himself in His Most Holy and Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which is, after all, God Himself since it is His True Gifts to man.

You wrote: “St. Gregory Palamas, in his priceless works, clearly distinguishes, on the one hand, behind the name of God as the fruit of created human thought, expressed in sounds or the written word (cf., Against Gregoras 26-28) in the realm of so-called natural revelation, when from the knowledge of sensory creation one makes certain conclusions about the Creator. But, on the other hand, St. Gregory distinguishes the name of God as the uncreated self-revelation of God Himself, as His divine word exceeding our minds – the name “which is higher than every name, and word, and reason” (cf. Homily 60. On Theophany 4) ; a pre-eternal name, “of which there is nothing more fearful” (cf. Homily 57. On the Sunday of the Fathers 1); a name, with which we do not name Him, but with which He names Himself (cf. On the Divine Energies and their Communion, 16).”

In none of these homilies does St. Gregory say, “The Name of God is an Uncreated Energy.” Nor does it say the Name of Jesus is ‘pre-eternal’. That God can give Himself a Name no one denies, and that He Does so we all believe. However, that God through the Archangel Gabriel commanded that St. John the Forerunner be called “John” does not mean “John” is Uncreated. That God’s Energies may be given appellations, and that such appellations were revealed to the Prophets and Fathers we know; but, they may be called such because they can be communicated to man; because the Essence is incommunicable, it may not be named.  That God replied to Moses in the Burning Bush, “I Am”, does not mean the verbs are themselves Uncreated. That we call many things ‘Divine’ does not mean they are by nature Uncreated; we speak of the Divine Liturgy, or the Divine Services, but, we mean only that God is Present by His Uncreated Grace and works, not that the actual text in the service books or the singing, or the incense, is Uncreated.  Indeed, in all these Holy Services, only the Unbloody Offering whereby the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood are made, do we have an act of Divine Adoration, which is Given to the Son of God, truly Present as He is as the Holy Gifts after Consecration.

“That “His name is He -one God in three Persons, a simple Essence” (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ).”

The full quote is:

“When you pronounce to yourself in your heart the name of God, of the Lord, or that of the most Holy Trinity, or of the Lord God of Sabbaoth, or of the Lord Jesus Christ, then in that Name you have the Lord’s whole being: in it is His infinite mercy, His boundless wisdom, His inaccessible light, omnipotence, and immutability. Approach this all-creative, all-keeping, and all-ruling Name in your thoughts and heart with the fear of God, and with faith and love. This is why God’s commandment strictly forbids us to use God’s name in vain, because His name is Himself, one God in three Persons, an incomplex Being, represented and contained in one single word, although at the same time He is not contained or limited either by it or by anything that exists.”

Notice at the very end it states: “although at the same time He is not CONTAINED or limited either by it [i.e. the name] or by anything that exists.” The Name of God is listed as among those things that exist and which can limit or contain; the Uncreated is not limited or contained; therefore, the Name of God is not Uncreated.

St. John of Kronstadt also says:

“Icons are a requirement of our nature. Can our nature do without an image? Can we recall to mind an absent person without representing or imagining him to ourselves? Has not God Himself given us the capacity of representation and imagination? Icons are the Church’s answer to a crying necessity of our nature.

“You who pray! Let the name of the Lord, or that of the Mother of God, or that of an angel, or of a saint, be unto you in the place of the Lord Himself, the Mother of God Herself, of the angel or saint himself; let the nearness of your word to your heart be the pledge and testimony of the nearness to your heart of the Lord Himself, of the Most Pure Virgin, of the angel or saint. The name of the Lord is the Lord Himself; the Spirit is everywhere present, and filleth all things; the name of the Mother of God is the Mother of God Herself; and the name of an angel is an angel, or the name of a saint a saint. How can this be? Do you not understand ? It is thus:—Suppose, for instance, that your name is John Hitch. If you are called by these names, then you would acknowledge yourself wholly in them, and would answer to them, meaning that you agree, that your name is you, yourself, together with your soul and body;— it is likewise with the saints: when you call upon their names, you call upon them themselves. But, you would say, they have no body. What does that signify? The body is only the material covering of the soul, its house,—whilst the man himself, the essence of the man, is his soul. When people call you by your name, it is not your body that replies, but your soul, by means of a bodily organ. And thus the name of God and that of a saint are—God Himself and His saint. But as God is the Most-incomplex and omnipresent Spirit, and all the saints rest in God, therefore our intercourse with all the saints by the prayer of faith is a very easy matter—easier than intercourse with the persons who live with us, as, to communicate with men, we are (page 431) sometimes in want of a corresponding language, or we hesitate how to express ourselves, lest we should be blamed for our speech; whilst there even the simple, artless voice of a believing, loving heart is heard, there even the language of the dumb is understood, there the soul and its conditions and desires are seen even without words.

“Icons in churches and houses are necessary, amongst other reasons, because they remind us of the immortality of the Saints; “that they live unto Him,” (page 1047) as the Lord said that in God they see, hear, and help us.

“What is the name of our God? Love, Mercy, Compassion, Bountifulness. When you pray, contemplate with the eyes of your heart Love and Mercy standing before you,—the Lover of men listening to you.”

St. John says the name of the saint or the Theotokos is that person. But, is the name “Theotokos” not just a representation, or an immediate connectable form, with who it represents? St. John clearly says the names we use represent or signify something:

“When we call upon the Saints in prayer, if we pronounce their names from the heart, it already means that we bring them near our heart itself. Therefore ask their prayers and intercession undoubtingly for yourself. They will hear you, and will speedily lay your prayers before the Lord, in the twinkling of an eye, for He is omnipresent and omniscient. When the Oblation you call in prayer upon the Lord Jesus Christ, or upon His Most pure Mother and the Saints, or when you commemorate the living or the departed, then the portion taken from the Bread, that has been offered, represents, and as if replaces by itself the Lord, or His Most-pure Mother, or some particular Saint, or many Saints conjointly; also the living or the departed commemorated, while the name thought of represents and replaces by itself the soul of the being invoked or commemorated. Thus, in a small form, on our lips and in our hearts, the beings of the higher and lower worlds are reflected, and all this through faith, by the Holy Ghost, who alone is being everywhere and filling everything.”

Notice how St. John says God creates His Name:

“Lord, how shall I glorify Thee? How shall I praise Thee for Thy power, for the miracles of healing by means of Thy Holy Mysteries, manifested upon me and many of Thy servants, to whom I, an unworthy one, have administered these Thy holy, heavenly, life-giving Mysteries after the sacrament of penitence. They confess before me Thy power, Thy goodness, loudly proclaiming to all that Thou hast stretched out Thy wonderworking hand over them and raised them up from the bed of sickness, from their death-bed, when no one expected that they would live; and then, after the communion of Thy life-giving Body and Blood, they soon revived, were healed, and felt upon them at the very same hour and day Thy life-giving Hand. And I, Lord, the witness of Thy deeds, have not hitherto praised Thee in the hearing of all for the strengthening of the faith of Thy servants, and even do not know how and when to praise Thee, for every day I am occupied with some kind of work. Create Thyself a name, Lord, as Thou hast done; glorify Thyself, Thy name, Thy Mysteries:”

It does not seem correct to attack the Holy Governing Synod, since the members of it, especially at the time of the condemnation of Name-Worship were men who were not reproachful.  Indeed, Met. Vladimir (Bogoyavelnsky), who chaired the Synod at the time, was persecuted by the Communists, and later killed either by the Communists themselves, or by brigands inspired by their propaganda. Abp. Nikon, who also was influential in the decision was martyred by the Communists. Abp. Anthony (Khrapovitsky), later to be the First-Hierarch of the ROCOR, was man who was greatly loved by all he shepherded.  These do not seem like aristocrats unconcerned for the Faith, nor men who did not pray, nor haters of monasticism.

It is unclear why you brought up Sergius, except to perpetuate the fantasy that the name-worshippers were the catacombniks. It is typical for heretics to fabricate deceits, and we strongly feel you may have been misled.  Certainly we have little to say on Vladimir Moss except that he is in fact one of the most knowledgeable archivists the Westerners have on the revolutionary and catacomb Russian Church, and the claim that appears on Russian Wikipedia, obviously written by a Luriyite, that“Sergius sent the name-worshippers into the catacombs with his declaration” is so fantastic Moss would probably hurt himself laughing. Sergius’ own secretary, a staunch Sergianist, and co-founder of the St. Sergius institute in Paris, Soviet Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov), was not only sympathetic to name-worshipping, but wrote an essay in its defense. In fact, many “intellectual” writers of the Paris school wrote defenses of name-worshipping. And Sophiology too.

So to claim that name-worshipping was persecuted by the Soviets is a not true. The few name-worshippers of note in Russian religious life, since the death of Antony Bulatovich, were members of the Moscow Patriarchate. It even has defenders in the Moscow Patriarchate in the present day, such as Hilarion of Volokomansk. So in no way does this teaching separate us from the Moscow Patriarchate, but brings us closer to it!

Thus, my beloved brother, it is so very necessary that I implore you to consider what a departure from True Orthodoxy it is that you propose.  We once again beg you, on bended knee, please do not abandon the True Orthodoxy for which you have stood, and the belief that we have visibly shared in common for these past years of our brotherhood,

As always, I ask you prayers, and I remain,

Your unworthy brother,

(His Beatitude, Metropolitan) John

First Hierarch of the Holy Synod