The Doors of Repentance
Pokrov Note: This article was published in the January-March, 2001, issue of Again.
The Journey of the Holy Order of MANS/Christ the Saviour Brotherhood and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood into the Canonical Orthodox Church
The Christ the Saviour Brotherhood (originally the Holy Order of MANS) started out as a “new religious movement” of the late 1960s. Over the course of the last thirty years, it went through many stages, which prepared its members to be transformed by their contact with the Orthodox Church. That journey into the safe harbor of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church came to fulfillment in the last months of the year 2000. At that time, dozens of churches and monasteries, hundreds of faithful, clergy and laity, monks and nuns were received into the communion of the Orthodox Church. It has been a long journey, but it is a time for the whole Church to rejoice and welcome into its fold these faithful people who diligently sought the true Christ and the authentic Church.
The various communities have gone into three jurisdictions in America. The men’s and women’s monasteries that came out of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood and some parishes and missions have been received by Bishop Jovan of the Diocese of Western America, and Bishop Longin of the New Gracanica Diocese, both of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Many parishes and missions have gone into the Orthodox Church in America under Archbishop Dimitri of Dallas, Bishop Job of Chicago, and Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco. Several other parishes and missions are being received by Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. The ordination of the clergy and mass chrismations of all the members of the communities were joyous events, involving many Orthodox from all the jurisdictions.
The Christ the Saviour Brotherhood is now redefining itself as an organization. No longer is it a church unto itself, no longer a communal semi-monastic movement. No longer are the members of the CSB even in the same jurisdiction. Rather, each community is working in its local context, fully integrating into the fabric of the greater Orthodox community. The CSB itself remains, perhaps moving towards becoming some kind of foundation to support missionary work; but that has not yet become entirely clear.
Personal Discipline and Sacrificial Service: The Holy Order of MANS
The Order initially functioned as communities with strict personal discipline, liturgical life, and teaching; a semi-monastic way of life. The members worked day jobs, and most donated their entire paychecks to the common till. The members did “street missions,” where they would go out on the streets, and simply try to provide a peaceful presence in the midst of people and minister to their needs. This was an especially important task with thousands of young people living in the streets and parks. They took people in off the streets, fed them, gave them a place to stay, counseled them and gave them a discipline and purpose in life. Members of the Order also gave out vouchers for food and shelter, and opened up emergency shelters for the homeless.
As the Order grew and expanded, their internal ways of life as well as their missionary outreach changed. Many of the priests (both men and women) married and formed families. Others formed more traditional monastic communities, one for men and another for women. Other communities lived at and operated the Raphael House homeless shelters in San Francisco, Portland, and St. Louis. Still other communities, with various forms, lived at foreign mission sites in Europe. The shelter ministries became more formal and professional, offering a complete range of services from counseling to job placement; the Portland Raphael House also became a shelter primarily for women with children who suffer from domestic violence.
As the Order became more mature, it also became more and more traditionally Christian. By the early 1980s it had lost much of its early gnostic character and developed an ecumenical focus, working with and within Christian churches of all kinds. The Order strove to be a model traditional Christian church, albeit with a unique and elite vision, and an eclectic synthesis of Christian traditions.
This transformation created an identity crisis within the community, as well as in its members. This change, and the subsequent movement towards Orthodoxy, alienated many members who were more interested in a New Age type of religious experience. By the mid-1980s, no elements of the old gnostic teachings or practices remained within the Order.
Contact with Orthodoxy: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood
At the same time the Order was struggling to develop a more traditional Christian identity, its leader, Andrew Rossi, met Abbot Herman of the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina, California. The St. Herman Brotherhood began at the same time as the Order, both in San Francisco but in radically different contexts.
The two founders of St. Herman Brotherhood were Gleb Podmoshensky, a Russian immigrant who had finished Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, New York; and Eugene Rose, a California intellectual and graduate student of Chinese and Eastern philosophy at Berkeley. Under the direction of Archbishop (later Saint) John (Maximovich) of San Francisco, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, Gleb and Eugene began a publication, The Orthodox Word, and a bookstore.
Their striving together eventually bore fruit in the formation of a brotherhood, and later a monastery, in the mountains of Northern California. Both Gleb and Eugene were eventually tonsured as monks and ordained as priests, Fr. Herman and Fr. Seraphim respectively; and the Monastery grew and flourished. The Orthodox Word became extremely influential in some circles, and nurtured a zeal for the Orthodox Faith and mission to convert ordinary Americans.
Tragically, Father Seraphim died in the autumn of 1982. This left Father Herman in great grief and directionless, as their monastery and mission had been a shared dream. The situation deteriorated, culminating in the suspension of Fr. Herman from the priesthood in 1984, and his eventual defrocking by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. As a result of this, the monastic community began to fragment, most of the monks and novices leaving. During this period, Fr. Herman was looking for a new direction and a new bishop, feeling estranged from his own hierarchy in the Russian Church Abroad.
The Christ the Saviour Brotherhood
Fr. Herman and Andrew Rossi met in 1983, and found themselves in similar situations, both looking for direction. Rossi had come to the conviction that the Orthodox Faith was the direction that he needed to pursue, partly through reading the works of Fr. Seraphim Rose. Fr. Herman meanwhile came into contact with Metropolitan Pangratios (Vrionis) of the Archdiocese of Vasiloupolis, a community of Greeks and Romanians based in Queens (Vasiloupolis in Greek), New York. Fr. Herman subsequently accepted to go under his omophorion, and led the Order into Orthodoxy in this context. However, Pangratios was not canonically recognized as a bishop by any other Orthodox Church.
Fr. Herman felt he had found a context for his missionary movement in America, despite the fact that it was outside the canonical structure of the Orthodox Church. Fr. Herman’s traditionalist approach and “catacomb” ecclesiology also fit in well with the vision of the Order, as a faithful remnant preserving the full integrity of the ancient Tradition in a hostile world.
Andrew Rossi introduced many elements of Orthodox faith and worship into the life of the Order in the period between 1984 and 1988. In 1987, Rossi was present at the meetings of the Evangelical Orthodox bishops with Metropolitan Philip, at which the EOC submitted to the Antiochian Orthodox Church. There had been a long acquaintance between the communities, and a shared direction towards the Orthodox Church. Rossi declined to go under Antioch, having decided that the Order’s path was linked with Fr. Herman and his traditionalist catacomb vision.
During Pascha of 1988, 750 members of the Order were baptized into Orthodoxy. Metropolitan Pangratios ordained members of the Order as priests for the new parishes of his jurisdiction. This marked a complete transition, a fundamental rejection and renunciation of the old Order, and a new identity, theological as well as communal, emerged: the Christ the Saviour Brotherhood.
Despite the institutional changes, the work of the CSB continued, especially in the human services area, with a continued development and professionalization of the Raphael House ministries. The cooperation with the St. Herman Brotherhood also proved particularly fruitful, resulting in creative new ministries, publications, and remarkable missionary efforts.
The CSB funded many activities for Fr. Herman in a teaching ministry which stretched across North America and Europe to Moscow. Priests and deacons serving the missions were trained, and the precious Orthodox Tradition was studied. The Valaam Society bookstores, small missionary communities with a bookstore in front and a chapel in back, sprang up all over the country.
In Russia, the Valaam Society set up a publishing mission in collaboration with the Publishing Department of the Moscow Patriarchate. Fr. Herman realized part of his dream of the revival of the spiritual journal Russkiy Palomnik (Russian Pilgrim), and the publication of works especially by Fr. and about Fr. Seraphim Rose. As a result of this, Fr. Seraphim is perhaps the best-known Orthodox American writer in Russia.
Another unique ministry made possible by the greatly expanded influence of St. Herman Monastery through the Valaam Society was the Death to the World youth ‘zine, reaching out to the most at-risk youth who are consumed by nihilism, and the books and other ‘zines that came from that movement.
Thousands of people in America, and tens of thousands in Russia brought to and strengthened in the Orthodox Faith, and ministered to, by this work. In addition, there were numerous conferences, teaching sessions and retreats. Schools were opened in Forestville at St. Paisius Women’s Monastery, and in Kodiak. There seemed to be unlimited potential and tremendous fruit.
A Dead End
Eventually, however, both Fr. Herman and the leaders of the CSB came to the inescapable conclusion that their position in a noncanonical group was untenable. They were rejected by the wider Orthodox community from concelebration and communion. From the early 1990s, discussions were being conducted by Fr. Herman with bishops from a variety of Orthodox Churches both in America and abroad to resolve the jurisdictional separation of his monasteries and the CSB from the canonical Church. While the noncanonical context provided complete freedom for Fr. Herman to do his work without hierarchical interference, it was compromised by being outside the structures of the Church.
This was a period of great pain for many people in this movement. They had often had bad press in the past. Now having sacrificed so much to become Orthodox, they were being “Hermanites,” and regarded as a sect by the Orthodox Churches. They were being told their baptisms and chrismations were invalid, and that they were not really Orthodox. The CSB clergy were told their ordinations were invalid, and they were not priests. Hence, what was the status of all sacraments they had performed? This had to be resolved.
At the beginning of 2000, with failing health and realizing that his personal situation was a large part of the problem, Fr. Herman stepped aside from his role of leadership, both of the CSB and as abbot of his monasteries. This permitted the various communities to find their right places within the existing canonical structures of the Church.
The saga of the CSB and the St. Herman Brotherhood underlines that the Church is a community of reconciliation and healing. Glory to God that they have come home to a safe harbor! But it also underscores the tragic ecclesiological crisis in which the Orthodox Church finds itself in North America. The lack of administrative unity and the denominationalizing of the multiple Orthodox jurisdictions presents a profoundly confusing vision of what is supposed to be the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Twenty-one parishes and missions and eight monastic communities which came out of the CSB and St. Herman Brotherhood have now entered the canonical Orthodox Church.
In the monasteries that have come out of the St. Herman Brotherhood, there are now nineteen men monastics and forty women monastics. Of these monastics, twenty-three men and women have come from the Christ the Saviour Brotherhood and its communities. Twenty-five clergymen who have come out of the CSB have now been ordained in the canonical churches, and many others are preparing for ordination.
Despite the organizational chaos, and the immense personal transformation the members of the CSB have had to go through over the past thirty years, they remain profoundly committed to Christ and His commission to serve those in need, both spiritually and materially. The little bookstore missions, the emergency shelter ministries, the monasteries and the parishes all survive based on tremendous personal sacrifices and selfless service. The ascetic traditional vision of Orthodox Christian life is incarnated in each of these efforts, which provide endless opportunities for people to serve others.
This commitment to service in self-denial, trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, is the core and essence of the vision of the faithful people who have now entered fully into the life and communion of the Orthodox Church. We must not only welcome them rejoicing with open arms: we have a lot to learn from them. May we all be enriched by the gifts God has brought into the Orthodox Church through the entrance of these strugglers for the Faith.
Hieromonk Jonah is Economos of the Monastery of St. John of San Francisco, Point Reyes Station, California, of the Orthodox Church in America. He has been closely acquainted with the fathers of the St. Herman Brotherhood for over twenty years, and with the CSB for ten years. He formerly worked at Raphael House in San Francisco and the Valaam Society publishing mission “Russkiy Palomnik” in Moscow.