U.S.A., October 16, 2023
Archpriest Peter Heers sent a letter to His Eminence Archbishop Peter of Chicago and Mid-America (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) on September 18, responding to a letter that the hierarch had circulated to his clergy earlier that month in which he wrote about Fr. Peter and the new book from Orthodox Ethos, On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church: Patristic Consensus and Criteria.
Abp. Peter’s letter is an instructional letter intended for his clergy, but was also posted and circulated online and thus became a point of wide discussion. Fr. Peter’s response to Abp. Peter was also sent to all the hierarchs of the ROCOR Synod and was made available to OrthoChristian by our own sources (see below for both complete letters).
In his letter, His Eminence addresses the issue of economy and strictness, which is also the overriding topic of Orthodox Ethos’ On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church. Abp. Peter instructs, as does the ROCOR Synod, that reception by Baptism is the norm for all converts, and that to “deviat[e] from the canons” and receive by Chrismation is possible only with his blessing. And regarding the issue of “corrective Baptism” (the practice of baptizing someone who is already a practicing Orthodox Christian but who was received incorrectly by economia), again, he instructs that this is possible with his blessing after it’s been demonstrated “that someone was clearly brought into the Church incorrectly.”
Following on his instruction about corrective Baptism, Abp. Peter turns immediately to Fr. Peter Heers and the new book. Like Abp. Peter and the ROCOR Synod, the book argues that Baptism should be the norm for reception and that the economia of Chrismation can be applied under the proper circumstances.
The Archbishop makes several assertions regarding Fr. Peter (that Fr. Peter then responds to in his own letter):
He states that Fr. Peter “has been sneaking around our diocese, holding assembles for the faithful, and instructing them not to tell their local priest about these gatherings.”
He addressed His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus of the Church of Greece about the above accusation, whom he writes “seems to be [Fr. Peter’s] bishop.”
“By not recognizing that the hierarchs have the exclusive ability and responsibility to exercise economy vs. strictness, Fr. Heers teaches that there is in fact no True Church.”
He states that Fr Peter “insist[s] that the canons are self-actualizing magical spells.”
“By insisting that reception of converts to Orthodox Christianity can be done ONLY by baptism Fr. Heers misunderstands God’s Grace and treats it essentially as a created object.”
Abp. Peter does not bless the selling or distribution of On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church within his diocese.
Abp. Peter then instructs that any clergy must discuss plans to be interviewed or act online with him or the diocesan dean. Archpriest John Whiteford, a priest under Abp. Peter, had appeared on Fr. Peter Heers’ podcast to discuss the new book not long before His Eminence distributed his letter.
Fr. Peter opens his response letter recalling how he addressed a Lenten clergy gathering in 2017 at Abp. Peter’s invitation. He was surprised to learn of the negative references in the recent episcopal letter, and he assures Abp. Peter that he is always welcome to contact him and speak with him directly.
He explains: “Your Eminence, as your letter has been widely and publicly disseminated, many have urged me to reply publicly to the accusations leveled against myself and against this recently published book. I chose first to write to you directly with the hope that your concerns can be resolved.”
Regarding the points made by Abp. Peter:
In response to the accusation of sneaking around the diocese, Fr. Peter recounts all the contact with and presence in the Archbishop’s diocese he has had over the past year.
Fr. Peter explains that he was released by Met. Seraphim of Piraeus to the Moscow Patriarchate already back in 2018. He was later received into ROCOR by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion in January 2021 and attached to Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. In December 2021, the ROCOR Synod ruled to undо Fr. Peter’s reception into the jurisdiction, but without issuing a canonical release.
In response to the accusation that he does not recognize that hierarchs have the exclusive right to exercise economia, which, Abp. Peter writes, leads to the idea that there is no True Church, Fr. Peter writes:
We, in fact, not only fight for the “right” (or responsibility) of the Shepherd (particularly the Bishop) to manage the household (economize) but see the akriveia-oikonomia dichotomy as the main interpretative key to properly enter into the patristic outlook on the reception of the Heterodox.
He also emphasizes that the new book is not about corrective Baptism.
Fr. Peter writes: “Your Eminence’s characterization of my alleged stance vis-a-vis the Holy Canons as ‘self-actualizing magical spells’ is confusing, because it’s a stance I reject heartily with you. To what from our lectures or writings are you referencing precisely? It is certainly not in my book or any of my lectures.”
Fr. Peter asks Abp. Peter to watch two videos he made on this topic and to offer constructive criticism: Are You Being Healed? On Confession, Penances, and the Spiritual Father (https://youtu.be/Jc8mQShVYUE?si=SkFmH9UhEFN2qNPN) and Our Spiritual and Ecclesiastical Crisis: An Interview with Professor Demetrios Tselengides, Pt. 1/3 (https://youtu.be/mx4U37GCSH8?si=MaxVSVSJWvEW4ViC), starting at the 21:16 mark.
Regarding the assertion that Fr. Peter insists reception can be ONLY by Baptism and therefore he conceives of grace as a created thing, Fr. Peter responds that the teaching of created grace is a heresy, and he rejects any such accusation. Further: “Your Eminence, as stated above, it is impossible to deny (‘ONLY’) the possibility of oikonomia. The Shepherd can absolutely apply economia and chrismate those who have been formerly baptized with proper form.”
Again, he points to one of his videos: On Canon 95 and Application of Economy at the 7th Oecumenical Council (https://youtu.be/UtCNG5DMftw?si=nlihgz_7aSuFZA0l).
In conclusion, Fr. Peter writes: “I truly hope and expect that this response will be met by Your Eminence with both understanding and love, as a true Shepherd of Christ, and even with joy — joy that one sheep that you went in search of has been found, found to be not far, but within, the sheepfold. I hope you agree and will see it necessary then to change what has been written.”
Abp. Peter’s letter:
Fr. Peter’s letter: