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ROCOR: Statement from the Chancery of Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2005.02.04 NEWS FROM THE DIOCESES NEW YORK: February 4, 2005 Statement from the Chancery of Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan We normally abstain from participating
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2005
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      NEW YORK: February 4, 2005
      Statement from the Chancery of Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan

      We normally abstain from participating in heated polemics, especially
      those being conducted in the non-ecclesiastical press and on the Internet,
      considering them detrimental. In recent years, such verbal battles, filled
      with mutual accusations and outright slander, which their participants do
      not refrain from, have become almost ubiquitous. The children of our Church
      have fallen under their influence, to our great disappointment. In this
      instance, the Synod of Bishops, while not embarking on aggravated
      arguments, has found it necessary to present to those people who are truly
      concerned and bewildered the facts, which, as it often happens, are either
      completely ignored in the heat of the moment or are distorted to conform to
      the arguments of the quarrelers.

      Therefore, this time we have deemed it necessary to offer information to
      everyone concerned regarding Protopriest Sergei Klestov, who was until
      recently the rector of St Seraphim of Sarov Church in Sea Cliff, NY
      (Eastern American Diocese). A number of items have already appeared in the
      Internet. All these articles are intentionally directed towards painting a
      picture of "persecution" of Fr Sergei Klestov, of "vengeance" against him,
      of the desire to "beat him into submission," etc. We must say first of all
      that even the most biased interpretation of the ukase to Fr Sergei on
      attaching him to the ranks of the clergy of the Synodal Cathedral of Our
      Lady of the Sign in New York cannot hide the main point: Fr Sergei is not
      "punished" at all, and is not "condemned" by the Diocesan Authorities.
      Moreover, any kind of "persecution for his convictions" is completely false.

      For many long years, Fr Sergei Klestov was under the supervision of
      Bishop Mitrophan (Znosko-Borovsky, +2002) of blessed memory, the former
      rector of the Sea Cliff parish. Sharing exactly the convictions of his
      spiritual father on the state of affairs in the Russian Orthodox Church,
      and in many ways holding to significantly more radical views, Fr Sergei
      Klestov constantly declared his desire for ROCOR "to return as soon as
      possible to the Mother Church." It is this very thing that Fr Sergei
      declared during the commemorative luncheon after the repose of Vladyka
      Mitrophan in 2002. Over the last year or two, the views of Fr Sergei,
      possibly under the influence of his new circles, changed: now he declares
      himself a categorical opponent of the position he had unconditionally
      espoused over the prior decade. It is no secret that among the priests and
      laity of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia there is a wide
      variety of attitudes towards the paths of our ecclesiastical unity. This
      concerns literally everything that in one way or another relates to our
      attitude towards the Church in Russia. For this reason, it was decided to
      convene an All-Diaspora Council with the participation of the clergy and
      laity, the preparation of which will be undertaken by the Pre-Conciliar
      Committee. But at no time in our Church have there been any attempts to use
      coercion or force against the consciences of Her clergy or laity; in fact,
      because of the conditions under which our Church exists and operates, this
      would be utterly impossible and would only lead to undesirable
      consequences. We repeat: the views of Fr Sergei, some of which were
      expressed during the feast day of St Seraphim Parish, did not--indeed could
      not--have had any effect on the decision to transfer him to another parish.

      The transfer of priests from one parish to another is a continuous
      practice in the Russian Church, and of course in the Russian Orthodox
      Church Outside of Russia. The circumstances surrounding the issuance of the
      ukase of January 11th are roughly as follows:

      The highest goal of a pastor, and certainly of a parish rector, is the
      preservation and dissemination of peace, concord and brotherly love within
      the parish he is assigned to, for these are the conditions under which the
      flock is saved. The parish Fr Sergei inherited from its founder and
      long-time rector, Bishop Mitrophan, found itself "divided within itself"
      for various reasons, due to its being comprised of mortals. Internal
      dissonances brought it harm. Such things happen because of our sins, and in
      such cases the absolute duty of the pastor is to avoid further divisions,
      to unify the parish, and under no circumstances to take the side of one
      group or another in the parish family. Unfortunately, this did not happen
      in St Seraphim Parish. When divisions occur in the parish, where trust
      towards the rector is undermined within some members of the parish, the
      hierarchy usually makes the decision to appoint another rector to that
      parish, and moves the original pastor to a new church. This cannot be
      viewed as a "punishment" or even the search for a scapegoat. It is only for
      the common good of the pastor and the flock. As it was known, Fr Sergei
      greatly valued his civil job in Sea Cliff, where he and his family live in
      a large, fine home, so the hierarchy proposed to transfer Fr Sergei to a
      nearby parish, so that he would encounter no difficulties in his daily
      life. But Protopriest Sergei refused to even listen to any such offers. He
      said that he would either remain rector of the parish in Sea Cliff, or he
      would retire. This request was granted. It should be added that had the
      situation in the parish not been so tense, it is possible that the very
      reasons that parishioners sent complaints against Fr Sergei to the Synod of
      Bishops could have found a peaceful resolution within the parish family
      itself, and there would have been no need to form a commission to
      investigate. That is how things usually happen in parishes where peace and
      concord abide. But, as we know, things ended otherwise.

      In the publications mentioned above it is persistently stated that a
      majority of the parish is on the side of Fr Sergei. This is not so, and
      those who publish such statements know this perfectly well. In accordance
      with the Normal Parish By-Laws of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of
      Russia, the right to vote on parish matters belongs only to those who pay
      the established parish dues. They are the official parishioners of the
      parish. Those who are referred to on the Internet comprise a minority.
      Parish membership, as a rule, belongs to those who wish to actively
      participate in parish life. This is not a responsibility, but a right. If
      those who demand the return of Fr Sergei to the parish had bothered to join
      the parish earlier, it is possible that they would have formed a majority.
      But at the moment this conflict arose, most of them were not members of St
      Seraphim of Sarov Parish. Incidentally, those whose signatures are found on
      the open letters have every right to form their own parish, find a suitable
      location for a church and appeal to the Synod of Bishops to accept them and
      find them a rector. With their consent, this rector can even be Fr Sergei
      Klestov, for there are no obstacles for this.

      We hope that the troubles and conflicts which are steadily growing among
      the enemies of our Church, through the prayers of St Seraphim of Sarov, who
      more than anything valued the acquisition of peace, would be abated for the
      common good, and that Fr Sergei Klestov would continue his zealous and
      pious service to the Church of Christ.
      + Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan
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