For those who follow this blog, we concern ourselves here with Church history and Scriptural exegesis. I have made brief forays into current events, but usually with an emphasis on how they connect to historical issues.
The Situation Summed Up Without Names. The preceding being said, imagine a situation as follows: a Greek priest receives a canonical release from his Metropolitan to enter into another jurisdiction, the Moscow Patriarchate. The Moscow Patriarchate Bishop was in good standing and received the Greek priest to conduct missionary activity outside the specific Greek jurisdiction belonging to the Metropolitan. Then, due to the MP shifting the responsibility of the Russian Bishop, he is moved elsewhere—but a new bishop is not assigned. The diocese is now run by another bishop and he is difficult to contact, nor does he reach out himself. The Greek priest over the course of nearly a year looks for a way to be under another bishop, as is appropriate. The priest petitions to the Metropolitan and First Hierarch of ROCOR, who unambiguously receives the priest after being sent documentation permitting the priest to be received. The First Hierarch of ROCOR then assigns him to a local bishop.
For more than half a year there is no issue with this arrangement. Suddenly, for reasons not publicly enunciated, members of ROCOR’s synod and the First Hierarch then reconsider the latter’s decision to receive the Greek priest. They continue to consider him a priest of good standing. However, they now recognize him not as a priest who has already transferred from the Moscow Patriarchate, but rather as one in the process of transferring. Then, months later, after reviewing the matter members of ROCOR’s synod allege the transfer never went through and the Greek priest is still under the Greek Metropolitan. The Greek Metropolitan, who canonically released the Greek priest, refuses to recognize this, citing his letter of canonical release. As for the Greek priest, having been released long ago by the Greek Metropolitan and then accepted into ROCOR from the Moscow Patriarchate, this reneging on his reception makes his status uncertain. In effect, there are multiple episcopal authorities alleging that the Greek priest belongs to a different jurisdiction — a set of circumstances out of his control.
The above situation can be summarized as follows: a Greek priest is released to enter the Moscow Patriarchate to serve in America. The MP’s plans change so he moves to ROCOR. Decision makers in ROCOR ex post facto “invalidate” his reception, presuming that he belongs to a Greek Metropolitan. This is despite the fact that the Metropolitan had given the priest a canonical release to the Russian Church. Due to the preceding facts not yet being made public, many scrupulous laymen fear that somehow the priest is a free-agent, thereby invalid sacramentally. However, if documented evidence demonstrates his reception, in reality the priest is properly under his canonical bishop.
This can be illustrated by way of analogy. A man marries a woman. About a year later, after a car accident, she suffers severe amnesia. She no longer recognizes him as her husband and in her mind, she is not really married. She wants to be considered “unmarried” and so she hires lawyers to annul the marriage on the grounds of some technicality. Yet, to any normal person, the man is married to his wife until a formal legal decision is made (like a divorce).
Applying the analogy to the Greek priest in question, a formal decision such as a canonical release and acceptance by another bishop would have to occur. Presently, this is not the case.
Concerns With Father Peter Heers. Father Peter Heers is a popular evangelist and apologist of the Orthodox faith. Rightly and wrongly, popular people are controversial. Because controversy surrounds the man, despite his situation being pretty straightforward, all sides seem to lose focus on the facts. Having recently communed at an Uncut Mountain Press conference and at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, I was concerned with the material facts connected to the situation. I know many people share my concerns, particularly over sacramental validity.
I was able to get into contact with Vladika Luke who is the abbot of the monastery and I expressed my sincere concerns about the situation. He agreed, as a pastoral condescension to myself, to make available all the documents connected to the situation outlined above as he was the bishop that Father Peter Heers (the “Greek priest”) was put under. I drove to Jordanville (a short ride from my home) and reviewed the documents personally.
The Contents of the Documents. What follows is a summary of all the relevant documents. I was not blessed to make copies, but they are freely available for anyone to see if they, like me, are distraught by the whole situation and are looking for resolution. They contain letterheads and signatures, signifying they are official correspondence. Here is what they are and their contents:
- A “canonical release letter” from Metropolitan Serapheim in Greece from 2018.
- The letter plainly “accepts the application” regarding Father Peter Heers and issues a “canonical release” citing his good standing.
- The same letter acknowledges receipt of a letter from “his Grace, John” a Russian bishop and that Father Peter Heers is to serve under him.
- A “decree” from 2018 by Bishop John of the Moscow Patriarchate which commissions Father Peter Heers as a priest, with permission “to conduct missionary activity” in the United States.
- A “certificate” a few months later in 2019 signed by Bishop Matthew (a different Russian bishop) to go to Australia and speak in the Serbian Diocese there, citing that Father Peter Heers is in good standing.
- A letter in 2020 from Father Peter Heers to Vladika Luke (ROCOR) requesting to be transferred from the Moscow Patriarchate to ROCOR.
- A letter from 2020 from Vladika Luke (ROCOR) to Bishop Matthew (Moscow Patriarchate).
- The letter cites that he has “the blessing” of Metropolitan Hilarion to receive Father Peter Heers from “the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.”
- A letter from January 2021, all in Russian, from the Moscow Patriarchate.
- Vladika Luke informed me that it communicates that the MP permitted ROCOR to receive Father Peter Heers provided that he be considered a Greek clergyman, due to the Patriarch (Kyril) not personally approving of the reception and thereby the MP not considering him under their jurisdiction.
- An email from Metropolitan Hilarion to Vladika Luke in the same month stating that Father Peter Heers “is received into the clergy ranks of the Eastern & New York Diocese” in very large letters.
- This document has no letterhead or official signature, because it is an email.
- A letter from March 2021 by Vladika Luke that confirmed that Father Peter Heers “with the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion is accepted into the ranks of clergy” for the monastery.
- A letter from September 2021 signed by Metropolitan Hilarion citing theological controversy surrounding Father Peter Heers, specifically regarding vaccination (and no reference to canonical issues with his earlier release) requesting his reception be deferred until the Synod decides the question.
- A letter from December 2021 on behalf of the ROCOR synod citing that despite the “good faith” of those who sought to receive Father Peter Heers that at present he is not received.
Conclusion. Many historical questions that I regularly tackle are far more complicated (and profound, in all honesty) than the current events revolving around Father Peter Heers. His situation is simple. He was certainly released from the Church of Greece, received by the Moscow Patriarchate, who then permitted his reception by ROCOR. Official correspondence details all of this in no unclear terms—at least to a “man on the street.” This correspondence is readily available for anyone to see in Central New York, where I live.
What can be known with certainty is that Father Peter Heers, by everyone’s written testimony, has a bishop. According to Metropolitan Serapheim, Father Peter Heers belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate. According to the Moscow Patriarchate, due to Patriarch Kyril not personally approving of the decisions of subordinate bishops, he was never received so he is still under Metropolitan Serapheim. According to Metropolitan Hilarion, he was received into ROCOR and assigned to Vladika Luke. Then (again) according to Metropolitan Hilarion (and the rest of ROCOR’s synod), his reception was retroactively deferred. Then, it was declared that Father Peter Heers is no longer received by ROCOR–thereby reverting him back to Metropolitan Serapheim. Ironically, the issue is not that the Greek priest has no bishop, but that multiple ecclesiastical authorities can canonically lay claim to him.
Perhaps if the synod were to publicly bless the dissemination of these contents, the confusion of the public and even some of their own members would be cleared up. Sadly, in the meantime, Father Peter Heers is being treated as a spiritual orphan. His spiritual parents, that being the episcopate of ROCOR, are still alive. There may have been issues with the “adoption papers,” but without having access to more documents I cannot comment intelligently on this.
What can be done to give justice to the orphan? Hopefully, mutual work in the spirit of peace, as the Lord commends us all to, can be made to resolve any misunderstandings to everyone’s satisfaction. May all of us make peace with those who have something against us before we approach the altar.