Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s readers will recall that Father John Whiteford of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and we have disputed on numerous occasions on both our pages and those of his blog. Enter his name in our internal search engine in the lower right column of this page to peruse our posts in response to him. Whiteford is known throughout internet Orthodoxy for his predictably extremist, inflexible views on virtually every topic of concern to the contemporary Church.
We have also reported on Father Peter Heers on a number of occasions, such as in our Father Peter Heers: Priest of Nowhere? of November 19, 2022. We were compelled to write this piece by ROCOR’s letter of the previous day to the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America (ACOBUSA), in which ROCOR disavows any formal, canonical relationship with Heers. This letter can be seen at the end of the report linked in this paragraph.
While we’re unsure why it took ACOBUSA five months to act, we then reported that, on April 20, 2023, the Assembly of Bishops Declares Peter Heers Uncanonical. The Assembly’s communiqué states:
The Assembly can further confirm that Archpriest Peter Heers is not a clergyman of, or on loan to, any other canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in the United States. To the extent that this individual purports to act as an Orthodox priest in the United States, including celebrating the Divine Liturgy and the other services of the Church and teaching the faithful and those who inquire into Orthodoxy, he does so in a manner outside of the Holy Canons [emphasis ours].
On September 7, 2023, despite Heers’ uncanonical status, Orthodox Christianity posted the 3+ hour livestreamed video of an interview between Heers and Whiteford on the subject of Heers’ On the Reception of the Heterodox into the Orthodox Church: Patristic Consensus and Criteria, newly released by his own vanity press, Uncut Mountain Press. In this connection, it’s relevant to note that Whiteford is a priest of ROCOR’s Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America, under the episcopal authority of Archbishop Peter (Loukianoff).
Archbishop Peter reacted swiftly to Whiteford’s indiscretions. On September 9, two days after the Heers-Whiteford interview, His Eminence sent a 3-page “instructional letter” to the priests of the Diocese, a cohort which includes Whiteford himself.
While His Eminence doesn’t name Whiteford, it’s clear that he is responding to the Heers-Whiteford interview. We summarize the Archbishop’s instructional letter as follows:
- The bishop, and only the bishop, has the authority to determine whether a canon should be applied strictly or economia should be exercised in individual cases.
- Converts who already have a Christian name may take a new name when received into the Church only with the Archbishop’s consent. In a move refreshing to lifelong and longtime Orthodox, His Eminence deplores the use of “exotic names” (his words). He writes, “Our desire is not to exemplify exoticism, but to shepherd, as best we can, the greatest number of the faithful into the Heavenly Kingdom. If we convey first and foremost that we are exotic this will not be attractive to serious people considering the True Faith, and will attract those who are often unstable.”
- His Eminence allows, with his blessing in each individual case, the reception of converts by chrismation rather than rebaptism. So-called “corrective baptism” (i.e., the baptism of converts to Orthodoxy who were received other than through baptism, sometimes after they’ve been Orthodox for a very long time) can only be performed in extreme cases with his blessing. The priests of his diocese are forbidden to “lobby for ‘corrective baptism’ among [their] flock[s].” It is “strictly forbidden” to “suggest [corrective baptism] to someone before speaking to [the Archbishop] about it” or “to preach or publish in this regard.” Most refreshing of all, His Eminence writes, “None of the sacraments, including baptism, are magical spells that need to be completed perfectly in order for the magic to work” [emphasis ours].
- His Eminence names Peter Heers as the individual most responsible for the current resurgence of the “corrective baptism” movement in the US. He states that Heers has been holding secret meetings with laity around the Diocese. He deplores Heers’ new book—the one apparently welcomed by Whiteford—for inspiring some priests to reject episcopal authority in the matter of receiving converts. He “do[es} not bless the selling or distribution” of the book in his Diocese. He echoes Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s assessment that Heers appears to be “a priest of nowhere.”
- Priests must “discuss with [their Dean or the Archbishop] any plans to be interviewed or to otherwise act online outside [their] parish context.” Given the context of his instructional letter, His Eminence clearly has in mind the Heers-Whiteford interview of two days before.
- ROCOR is not bound by the liturgical and pastoral practices of the Moscow Patriarchate, notwithstanding the canonical reunion of 2007.
Will Father Whiteford be instructed to issue a public retraction of his indiscretions?