ROCOR Holy Synod instructs faithful to disregard “pastorally harmful” statements from Sr. Vassa

New York, July 19, 2017

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The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has issued a circular communique in response to the recent scandal concerning the publicly posted and distributed email from Sr. Vassa (Larin) to the Uniate mother of a teenager who recently told his parents he is a homosexual, stating that her advice is in contradiction to the Church, and therefore instructing the faithful to “disregard” the email and its follow-up.

The Holy Synod begins by stating that, having reviewed Sr. Vassa’s original email, dated July 2, and the follow-up, dated July 8, it “is compelled to confirm to its flock and to all Orthodox Christians that the counsel contained therein is in contradiction to the Church’s teaching on sexuality, repentance and family life.” Sr. Vassa herself had declared this, stating, “my personal opinion is not in line with some official pronouncements of my Church.”

While many praised and were quick to defend her counsel, the ROCOR hierarchs write that her advice “does not represent an Orthodox understanding of anthropology or theology, and in the counsel it purports to offer presents a grave spiritual danger to those who might follow it, in terms of their own understanding of sexuality, as well as in the rearing of children.”

Sr. Vassa’s pastoral advice, now condemned, created a stir after her email was distributed to her subscribers and posted publicly on her Facebook page. Among the controversial points of her email was what many saw as an attempt to downplay the sinfulness of homosexuality. “It should be clear to men and women of faith that mere verbal acknowledgement, with regards to homosexuality, that ‘actively living it out is a sin,’ is not sufficient to establish a text’s keeping with Orthodox teaching in the light of the Gospel, when the same text nevertheless equates homosexuality in numerous places to a ‘God-given gift, and cross,’” the Holy Synod writes. ROCOR priest Fr. John Whiteford, who wrote a response to Sr. Vassa’s advice, writes that “after giving quick lip-service to the idea that an active homosexual lifestyle was sinful,” she “proceeded to undermine that belief by minimizing the seriousness of the sin.”

The Synod also writes that Sr. Vassa “[departs] from all Christian teaching,” “falling into the social trap of suggesting that ‘God made me that way,’” condemning her advice that the mother either help her son seek out a parish that will accept homosexual activity, or that he remain in his current parish and thus willingly cut himself off from the communion offered in the Byzantine Catholic Church. Contrary to her advice, the Synod advises that the mother of such a child “should help him, with the Church’s loving care, to repent and seek healing unto redemption of soul and body and the fulness of life.”

Especially offensive to many was Larin’s equating of abstention from communion due to repentance and abstention due to intentional sinfulness in her statement that if the boy abstains from communion because of his sin, then he could inspire his parish as St. Mary of Egypt, who lived so many years in the desert without Holy Communion, inspires Orthodox Christians to this day. In the Holy Synod’s words, Sr. Vassa, “falsely equat[ed] a consequent withdrawal of approach to the Holy Mysteries to the example St. Mary of Egypt, whose long struggle without Holy Communion was not due to her steadfastness in sin but to the extreme conviction of her utter repentance.”

Sr. Vassa deleted her initial email from her Facebook page after a few days, which led many to think she had rethought her position after seeing the controversy that it caused. However, in the follow-up email, also referenced by the Holy Synod, she writes, “No, I didn't delete the post because I'm retracting it in any way. I just thought that, after three full 24-hour days of people fighting about it, it was enough.” She goes on to say that, in fact, she received a popularity boost: “But please note that ca. 90% of the response I got has been positive. I have more followers now, on Facebook, and also more subscribers to my audio-podcasts. So, this isn't some kind of catastrophe or ‘failure,’ for me. OK?”

“In these spiritually confused times … there can be no room for ambiguity or false witness on such critical matters,” the ROCOR encyclical continues, emphasizing that only the Gospel of Christ, proclaimed in the Orthodox Church, can heal, while all deviations from it only contribute to the pain and brokenness of the world.

Sr. Vassa also writes in her second email that, although she can’t necessarily give the best answers, she cannot avoid certain questions, because “I think that for whatever reason, known only to God, I need to speak on certain issues, because I happen to be called to.”

However, in conclusion, the ROCOR Synod writes to the contrary, saying, “We instruct therefore that the contents of these publicly-posted materials be disregarded by the faithful as contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and pastorally harmful; that they be withdrawn and removed from any web sites or publications that seek authentically to represent Orthodox theological and pastoral teaching; and that in the future such materials be treated with most extreme reticence and caution.”

Read the entire statement at the site of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.


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Anne4/21/2023 11:37 pm
Well tackled by ROCOR. There are too many people driven by their own egos and unwilling to bow to Church teaching.
Joshua Wherley6/29/2020 8:50 pm
Thank you, Masters. We must stay on guard against those who seek to alter the truth that the church has preserved.
James8/24/2019 5:04 am
I'm disappointed in the judgmental spirit of one poster: Paok. May our Lord forgive him.
Paok11/18/2017 7:35 am
HUMILITY-precisely those virtues which St. Paul asks women ESPECIALLY to strive to acquire".Our Lord commands us to judge a tree by its fruit and with "righteous" judgment. When you read Sr. Vassa's website(!), do you see a nun striving to acquire what is described above, or do you see a blogger who revels in her fan-base? True monastics are very easy to spot. You only need to meet one to know what the orthodox monastic life is about-conforming to the "mind of Christ", not the mind of the Ecumenical Patriarch, since we have had persons sitting in that seat who have made countless mistakes throughout the centuries.The Church and her "thinking" is what matter. Men are fallible!
Paok11/18/2017 7:17 am
Amy, I am not really certain what you are trying to say, but I think you are saying that Sr. Vassa made a mistake, by expressing her "perspective", but please keep in mind that we do not believe in two separate persons within the one being. If she is a nun, and has not yet cultivated the mind of the church and of Christ, then maybe she should read the life of Maria of Olonets, who was a true ascetic and lived as a dessert dweller.The last chapter of her book entitled "women of God" speaks of how an orthodox Christian women and nuns should live-"This monastic life of silence,FOR IT TO BE GENUINE,must be built upon the foundation of the virtues of purity, obedience, SUBMISSION, MEEKNESS and...
Amy Lothian10/17/2017 8:21 am
Sr. Vassa is a monastic. This does not make her perfect, just as any clergy are not perfect. We are all humans struggling in our imperfect state. Sr. Vassa made it clear, I think, that her response was a human attempt to give a perspective on a human question and she was careful to state it was not a church view. As for the Catholic bashing above that states Sr. Vassa was "brainwashed" by the Catholic Church, I would be interested to hear the Ecumenical Patriarch's reply to this. We are all on the ladder, trying and failing as we fall off repeatedly. I am not sufficiently paying attention to the plank in my own eye when I write this. We are all trying. We all struggle.
Andrew Fedosov8/8/2017 8:38 pm
Sister Vassa was brave and there is no other reaction to be expected besides this one from the hierarchs.
Silouani7/21/2017 5:16 pm
Well done by the venerable Hierarchs of ROCOR. Thanks God we still have reliable and trustworthy hierarchs who remain faithful to the teaching of the Church.
Paok7/21/2017 9:42 am
Editor- My apologies. Thanks for the correction.
Editor7/21/2017 8:52 am
Paok - Byzantine, TX is run by a priest of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church.
Paok7/21/2017 4:26 am
Sister Vassa's true colors came to light when she started to talk about the so called "great and holy council". In 2016 she dedicated a video defending the usuage of the word "Church" for non-orthodox. She also called St.Cyprian's teachings "rigid" in the same video. Sr. Vassa become pro-latin slightly after the union between Moscow and ROCOR. She moved to Vienna, studies at a Roman Catholic University and has a RC professor. What made the bishops believe that she would maintain her Orthdooxy after she is subjected to such brainwashing? I really would like to know why our Bishops waited so long to make such a statement? Only after being posted on "Texas Byzantine" which is run by an eastern right catholic do they make a statement.
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