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