Since Fr. Mark’s letter to you has been used to defend the Holy Orthodox Church in North America against charges of heresy, I think it is fair to point out that he is mistaken.
Fr. Mark answered you sincerely, but his answer has a flaw which he himself does not recognize. All of his evidence and reasoning is an echo of what his bishops have said publicly. Clearly, he trusts his bishops and believes that they must have the correct answer. This is where he is mistaken. He received disinformation from his bishops, and he is naively passing that disinformation along to you.
The three bishops of the Holy Orthodox Church in North America wrote in their recent statement, “Divergent Teachings” that Orthodox Christians believe “God’s Name is not His Essence, but rather is the revealed truth about Himself, that is, His Uncreated Energy, His Uncreated Grace, His Providence, His Glory.”
In fact, this is not what Orthodox Christians believe. Remember, as Orthodox Christians we believe what the Church has taught always and everywhere. Common sense alone should tell you that if this were a universally held belief about the Name of God, articulated by St. Gregory Palamas, it would not have languished misunderstood and forgotten until the early 1900s, when a couple of renegade Russian monks rediscovered it and brought it to the attention of the Orthodox Christian world through insurrections in the Russian monasteries on Mt. Athos. Right? Now let's look at the disinformation.
Fr. Mark writes:
In my first letter to you, I hoped to illustrate that there is an abundance of passages from the Scriptures and the Fathers that talk about the glory and power of the Name of God. It is interesting to me that so many ignore this and, instead, zero-in on the decisions of a local "synod" in Russia. Why? Why do they ignore the Holy Scriptures which speak of God's Name? Why do they ignore the many instances in the Liturgy and services of the Church which encourage us to glorify God's Name? Why is the Russian "synod" of 1913 so important?Part of the problem in debunking the name-worshipping doctrine is that its promoters do not clearly define what they mean by the “Name of God” and do not take into account that the Holy Scriptures use this phrase differently.
Very often in the Psalms, for instance, “the Name of God” refers to God Himself, and not to any particular name for Him. By analogy, think of a chase scene in a western movie, when the sheriff shouts, “Stop in the name of the law!” Who would imagine that the sheriff is referring to a particular name, or even to the word “law?” No, his words actually mean, “Stop because the law (in the person of me) orders you to do so.” Likewise, when we read, “Praise the name of the Lord, for exalted is the name of Him alone,” isn’t it clear that it is actually not a name that is praised, but the Lord Himself?
Orthodox Christians believe that God’s name is holy, because He Who is named by the name is supremely holy. According to St Basil the Great, “The name of God is said to be holy, not because it contains in it any special virtue, but because in whatsoever way we contemplate God, we see Him pure and Holy.” (On Psalm 32) Icons of our Saviour are also considered to be holy, not because the wood and paint are intrinsically holy, but because He Who is depicted is holy. As Fr. Barsanuphius has pointed out, the Name of God is an icon in a word.
Orthodox Christians do not believe that God’s name is God Himself, either in His Essence or in His Energies. Name-worshippers do. The reason the decisions of the Russian Synod of 1913 are so important, along with the decisions of the Sacred Community of Mt. Athos, and of Patriarchs Joachim and Germanus of Constantinople, is because they were the official statements of the Orthodox Church condemning the heresy of name-worshipping.
Fr. Mark writes further:
St Anthony Khrapovitsky said of these Russian "synods" in 1912: Our Church [in Russia] is governed by a layman, or, to say it officially, by a collegial institution never seen by the Church of Christ before... The [Russian] Church is deprived of its lawful head and is given over for enslavement to lay officials, which hide behind an assembly of six or seven hierarchs who are changed every half a year, and two presbyters. Who is not aware that such an institution is uncanonical? That it was not approved at its very inception by two Patriarchs; and even if it had been approved by all four, this would only show the unlawful deed of the Patriarchs and not the canonicity of [Russian] synodal rule, because no Patriarch can establish and authorize an institution which is unknown to Holy Orthodoxy and which was invented only to bring weakness and decay..."Metropolitan Anthony, of blessed memory (he has not been glorified as a saint), rightly complained that Tsar Peter “the Great” was wrong to replace the patriarchal system of church governance with a synodal one, in which the synod was appointed and supervised by government officials. However, while this quote is intended to suggest that Metropolitan Anthony did not support the work of the Russian synod, the opposite is true. Metropolitan Anthony not only accepted the work of the synod, but participated in the synod for five years. He was an active member at the time he wrote the above-quoted article and when he participated in the condemnation of the name-worshipping heresy. Like all the saints, tsars, bishops, monastics, clergy and laity of the Russian Church for the 200 years the synodal system was in force, Metropolitan Anthony abided by its decisions and considered them binding on the Church in Russia.
(Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, Voice of the Church, Jan 1912).
Fr. Mark continues,
The decisions of the 1913 synod condemning Name-worship was reversed several times in the ensuing years. The synod itself back-peddled its own decision soon after by only requiring the "heretics" to venerate the Cross and Holy Gospel rather than renounce their "error."This is factually incorrect.
It is useful here to note that the recent revival of name-worshipping began with Gregory Lourie, who was at the time a priest in the synod of the late Metropolitan Valentin of Suzdal. The controversy over name-worshipping in HOCNA was touched off after Lourie was communed at Holy Transfiguration Monastery last fall, and then-Hieromonk Gregory vigorously defended both Lourie and name-worshipping. The arguments put forth by the HOCNA bishops now are arguments which Lourie used to defend name-worshipping to the bishops of the Suzdal synod. (They did not buy his arguments and defrocked him. He later was consecrated a bishop by other renegades.)
Vladimir Moss, who was Lourie's chief opponent at the time, has written an extensive review of name-worshipping. In an appendix, he writes:
On October 5/18, 2002 Hieromonk Gregory (Lourié) supposedly expressed “repentance” for his name-worshipping views before the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. In fact, however, Lourié’s “repentance” read more like a self-justification than a statement of repentance. He expressed “regret”, not about his belief in the Bulatovich’s heresy, but only about the fact that his public statements on the subject had “become a reason for discord within our Church” – in other words, that he had been indiscreet in his public proclamation of the heresy. There was no mention of Bulatovich, no condemnation of any specific heresy, and no admittance that he had ever confessed any heresy at any time. Instead he actually denied that he confessed heresy: “I hold to the teaching of the Holy Fathers and confess no heresy about the names of God, which would have been condemned by previous Fathers and Councils”. He could say this with sincerity (and cunning) because he considers that the teaching of Bulatovich is “the teaching of the Holy Fathers” and is in fact not a heresy. Moreover, no large Council has yet condemned Bulatovich’s teaching, only several Synodal decisions of both the Russian and the Greek Churches. So in saying that no Council has condemned the teaching, he is not lying according to the letter of the law. But there is a direct lie in is his assertion that no previous Fathers ever condemned that teaching. For several Fathers did, including Patriarch Tikhon, Hieromartyr Vladimir of Kiev, Hieromartyr Agathangel of Yaroslavl, Hieromartyr Basil of Priluki, St. Barsanuphius of Optina, etc. And he lies again when he says: “I also hold to the resolutions of the All-Russian Local Council of 1917-1918, which were confirmed by two resolutions of the Synod of our Church, in accordance with which the decision on the essence of the question of name-worshipping belongs exclusively within the competence of a Local Council of the Church of Russia”. For there were in fact no resolutions of the 1917-18 Council on name-worshipping, as Lourié (who has gone on record as calling the 1917-18 Council “a tragic-comic story, which exerted a minimal, or negative rather than positive, influence on the following life of the Church…”!) well knows.So you see, Anastasia, that the Russian Synod was in fact consistent in its treatment of the name-worshippers: it issued decrees against them in 1913, 1914 and 1916. I hope you also see that Lourie and his disciples among the HOCNA bishops use the four points from Patriarch Tikhon's Nativity epistle and the decision of the Moscow Synodal Office as red herrings to make it seem as though the Russian Church authorities sympathized with the name-worshippers and opposed the synod.
A few weeks later, ... Fr. Gregory wrote a further “report”, dated November 11, 2002, in which he states that he “submits to Church authority and rejects the errors listed by the holy patriarch Tikhon” in a Nativity Epistle written on February 19, 1921.
...Let us examine what the patriarch supposedly said in this previously completely unknown Nativity epistle: “In these high days, when the Church is celebrating the Nativity of the God-Man, Who brought the peace and goodwill of God the Father to earth, I consider it appropriate to remind you in brief of the Athonite imyaslavtsi (name-glorifiers) and give you certain instructions on how to treat these monks. It can be seen, that the Holy Synod in its definition of April 22-25 1914, number 3479, was indulgent to the spiritual mood and to the way of thinking of the Athonite monks, who have a poor knowledge of theology as expounded in books and of the forms of paper work, and allowed them, instead of the previously required signing by the imyabozhniki (name-worshippers) of a denial of their false teaching, to substitute for this a written testimony (a promise on oath) of their Orthodox faith, with the kissing of the Holy Cross and the Gospel. They promised exactly to follow the Orthodox Church and obey the God-established hierarchy, believing exactly as the Holy Church teaches, neither adding anything from themselves, nor taking anything away. In particular in regard to the glorification of the name of God, they promised not to consider His name the essence of God, nor to separate it from God, not to venerate it as a separate Deity, nor to worship the letters and sounds and occasional thoughts about God. The Holy Synod decided to admit into Church those who believed in this way and declared their willingness to obey the Church authorities, and to allow their priests to serve. But, in rendering its indulgence, the Holy Synod did not change its former opinion of the very error contained in the writings of Anthony Bulatovich and his followers, whom the Synod decided to pass over for the consideration of the All-Russian Holy Council, upon which depends the resolution of the whole issue in essence”.
Now the teaching of Bulatovich can be summarized in two propositions: that the names of God are energies of God, and that the name of Jesus is Jesus Himself. Neither of these teachings is in the list of errors listed by the patriarch. “To consider His name the essence of God” was not one of Bulatovich’s teachings (although it may have been that of some of his more ignorant followers). For, as St. Gregory Palamas teaches, the essence of God is not to be identified with the energies of God. “To venerate it as a separate Deity” is, again, not one of Bulatovich’s teachings. “To worship the letters and sounds” is, again, not one of Bulatovich’s teachings. “To worship… occasional thoughts about God” is one of Bulatovich’s teachings, and the only one, therefore, which Lourie may be said to have renounced (although it is doubtful, judging from his dialogue with Vladimir Moss on the subject, that he would accept such a phrase as representing Bulatovich’s real view). In any case, the most important point is that the two propositions that summarise Bulatovich’s main views are not in this list, nor can they be reinterpreted to come within this list.
So why was the patriarch’s characterization of Bulatovich’s errors inaccurate? In order to answer this question, we need to investigate a little further. Let us begin by posing the question: In what other document of the time can we find this same list?
The answer is: in the judgement issued by the Moscow Diocesan Court with regard to the name-worshippers on May 8, 1914: “… The Synodal Office has found that in the confessions of faith in God and in the Name of God coming from the named monks, in the words, ‘I repeat that in naming the Name of God and the Name of Jesus as God and God Himself, I reject both the veneration of the Name of God as His Essence, and the veneration of the Name of God separately from God Himself as some kind of special Divinity, as well as any deification of the very letters and sounds and any chance thoughts about God’ – there is contained information allowing us to conclude that in them there is no basis for leaving the Orthodox Church for the sake of the teaching on the Names of God.’ (decree № 1443)”. The coincidence of wording is striking. It is obvious that the list of errors referred to by the patriarch in the document quoted by Lourié is in fact the list drawn up, not by the Holy Synod in its Resolution № 3479 of April 22-25, 1914, which does not contain a list of errors, but by the Moscow Diocesan Court on May 8, 1914.
However, it is essential to realise that the decision of the Moscow Diocesan Court of May 8, 1914 was overturned by the Holy Synod in its decree № 4136 of May 10-24, 1914, which set aside decree № 1443 of the Moscow Synodal Office, and confirmed the sentences against the name-worshippers. This confirmation of the sentences against the name-worshippers was again confirmed by decree № 2670 of March 10, 1916. And yet again by Patriarch Tikhon and his Synod on October 8/21, 1918. And yet again by the Nativity Epistle of 1921.
Lourié tries to get round this by claiming that there was yet another decree of the Holy Synod that was supposedly passed in 1921, just before the patriarch’s Nativity epistle, and which supposedly formed the basis for the patriarch’s Nativity epistle. “Unfortunately,” Lourié writes, “the true text of the decree of 1921 on removing all the bans from those name-worshippers who remained alive has not reached us”. Unfortunate indeed! And devastatingly destructive for his whole case. For since this mysterious decree “has not reached us”, I think we are fully entitled to conclude that it does not exist. After all, if it did exist, why should the patriarch not refer to it?
Regarding the Russian Synod, Fr. Mark concludes:
So, we come, now, to what I wrote to you in my last email. By the definition of the 1913 "synod", a Name-worshiper is someone who deifies the letters and sounds of God's name; believes that God's Name is His Essence; and that the name is a separate deity. The Athonite monks did not believe this. These heretical ideas were attributed to them by the synod of 1913. When investigations were actually done and the monks allowed to speak for themselves, they were found to the fully Orthodox. A final decision of the subject of Name-worship was expected at a pan-Russian synod which never occurred due to the revolution.This paragraph is full of errors and misconceptions. First, the Russian Synod was not of 1913, its investigation and condemnation of name-worshipping were issued that year. The Athonite monks were not found to be fully Orthodox. Anthony Bulatovich, the chief proponent of name-worshipping, died a violent death outside the Church. The pan-Russian council did occur, but did not take up the issue of name-worshipping.
The definition that Fr. Mark attributes to the Russian synod is in fact taken from the one the HOCNA bishops use to define a name-worshipper, including deifying letters and sounds, identifying God's Name with His Essence, or considering God's Name to be a separate deity. These were beliefs which the Moscow Synodal office found the name-worshippers did not hold and which Patriarch Tikhon listed as points for them to specifically renounce in returning to communion with the Orthodox Church. But they never constituted a definition of name-worshipping for anyone until the HOCNA hierarchs determined to use them in that way. In essence, in their statement "Divergent Teachings," the HOCNA bishops have redefined name-worshipping to make it seem as though they have condemned it, when in fact they have also redefined Orthodox belief to include tenets of name-worshipping. It's propaganda, pure and simple.
Fr. Mark then writes,
So, we can all condemn Name worshipers, because they do not exist (as I said, there may be someone, somewhere, but who knows?). St Philaret can condemn them as have our holy Hierarchs.By the definition of the HOCNA hierarchs, indeed there may be no name-worshippers in the world. But by the traditional definition -- one who believes the name of God is God Himself -- the HOCNA bishops have made clear, in stating that the Name of God is an Energy of God and therefore God Himself, that they are name-worshippers. They are joined in their heretical beliefs by Lourie and his followers, and by "Bishop" Job, our former priest in the Ukraine who was consecrated a bishop by Lourie last summer, and his followers.
The HOCNA bishops wrote in "Divergent Teachings:"
All should understand that, by these pronouncements, we hierarchs are not Nameworshippers as defined in this statement, and that we believe, confess and espouse the Orthodox Christian belief, also defined in this statement.Again, remembering that Orthodoxy is what the Church has taught always and everywhere, the fact that the HOCNA bishops needed to write their own definition of Orthodox belief should make you deeply suspicious. The fact that their definition of Orthodoxy includes the traditional definition of name-worshipping should be conclusive proof that they have fallen into error, and sadly have drawn Fr. Mark into error as well.
Fr. Mark concludes,
Anastasia, the Name of God is a holy mystery. We cannot understand it. It is a Divine Energy which is a revelation of God (Like Grace). To say that the God's Energies are not divine is to fall under the anathemas of the Synodicon of Orthodoxy and it runs contrary to Holy Tradition.This is not the teaching of the Orthodox Church, it is the teaching of the name-worshipping heretics of the early twentieth century and of their modern followers, Lourie and the HOCNA bishops.
Hear St. Gregory of Nyssa: ...[N]ames were invented to denote the Supreme Being, not for His sake, but for our own.” (Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book) 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, is indeed explanatory of our conceptions of the Divine Nature, but does not include the significance of that Nature itself.” (To Ablabius)
Hear St. Gregory the Theologian: “The divinity is un-nameable." (Fourth Theological Oration)
Hear St. Isaac the Syrian: “There was a time when God had no name, and there will be a time when he will have no name.” (Unpublished Chapters on Knowledge)
The Holy Fathers of the Church have spoken, and their teaching is not the teaching of the HOCNA bishops. God's Name is not His Energy.
As a tree can be known by its fruit, so too can the heresy be detected by its effect. In the early twentieth century, the name-worshippers brought violence to Mt. Athos. Now, a century later, the revival of name-worshipping has brought devastation to HOCNA. Our former spiritual community has been divided. Holy Transfiguration Monastery has been divided. Parishes are being torn apart. As clergy and laity who recognize this heresy depart, the circle of HOCNA has grown even smaller and tighter. In embracing their own definition of Orthodoxy and rejecting all those who accept the decrees on name-worshipping, the HOCNA bishops also have more surely than ever isolated themselves from other old calendar true Orthodox Christians.
Anastasia, our beloved HOCNA has ceased to be a true Orthodox Church and has devolved into a heretical sect. May our Lord enlighten and save you and Fr. Mark.