FR. SERAPHIM ROSE SPEAKS
Excerpts from His Writings
Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, co-founder and co-editor of
The Orthodox Word and co-founder of the St. Herman of Alaska
Brotherhood and Monastery at Platina, California, reposed in the Lord
on September 2, 1982 n.s. Born in 1934 in California, he was raised in
a typical American Protestant family. He graduated from Pomona College
in the Los Angeles area, and later received his M.A. in Chinese
(Mandarin) from the University of California at Berkeley.
He first encountered true Orthodoxy as a result of
the lecture of newly-graduated Jordanville seminarian Gleb (Abbot
Herman) Podmoshensky in 1961. By 1963 the establishment of the St.
Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, as a missionary endeavor toward the
conversion of English-speaking people, under the aegis of Blessed
Archbishop John (Maximovitch) (+1966) had been decided upon. The
Brotherhood began with headquarters on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco
next door to the Cathedral, which was then in process of construction.
The Orthodox Word began publication with the January-February issue of
1965. The first issues were handset and printed on hand-operated and
hand-powered press. In addition to the publication of the magazine, an
icon and book store was operated. Father Seraphim, with his modest
smile and meek manner, was there to greet customers and answer
questions, and let his light shine.
By 1967, in pursuance of long-range and
long-standing plans, search began for a suitable location for a skete,
so that full-fledged monasticism could be undertaken. Vladika John
having reposed in 1966, the Brotherhood now had a heavenly patron to
assist them in all their righteous endeavors. After considerable
searching throughout northern California, the present location of the
St. Herman of Alaska Monastery was decided upon. Living quarters and
the printing shop were made ready so that the two-hundred
and-fifty-mile move northward from San Francisco was accomplished by
Dormition of 1969. For one year the two members of the brotherhood
labored in solitude and silence before they received tonsure to the
Small Schema in October of l970. In the previous August of 1970, St.
Herman of Alaska had been glorified in the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin
the Joy of All Who Sorrow, in San Francisco. The Brotherhood had
labored long and tirelessly to bring this about, and to make known the
wonders worked by St. Herman, and his importance for the Orthodox
Church, especially in America.
Father Seraphim belonged to that rare species, the
ascetics. His labors, who can tell? Perhaps only Abbot Herman. But
others have been witnesses. Many were the nights when his attention
could be had only with difficulty, because he was so enrapt in the
Jesus Prayer even while at table. He demonstrated the virtues as few
people in our time are capable of doing. He believed implicitly in the
teaching of the Fathers that obedience to ones spiritual father and
director must be given without question. He seldom ever allowed himself
to become aroused enough for one to call it anger.
He built a small hut, approximately 6 x 10 feet, on
the mountainside, so that he had a refuge from ever-increasing numbers
of visitors. For seven years he was blessed to enjoy this refuge, where
he prepared many articles for publication, where he prayed and prepared
himself to leave this world, where he was indeed a stranger and a
pilgrim, and to enter his heavenly homeland. He was ordained
hierodeacon in January 1977 and was raised to the rank of hieromonk on
the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers the same year, so that after eight
years of desert-dwelling he and Abbot Herman were able to celebrate the
Father Seraphim was an inspiration for thousands of
people. He gave some of the most inspiring sermons ever uttered in the
English language. His constant counsel was: Censure yourself. Never
excuse yourself. If you must, or think you must, give way to a
weakness, then be certain that you recognize it as a weakness, and a
sin. But see your own faults and condemn not your brother! During the
latter portion of his life, Father Seraphim continually emphasized the
need for spiritual attentiveness in preparation for struggles to come.
He seemed to have an awareness, a foreknowledge, of apocalyptic times
ahead. His message was conveyed in the well-known phrase: It is later
than you think.
Writing both in Russian and English, Fr. Seraphim
was able to produce a torrent of articles and books in a relatively
short span of time—only 17 years—covering every conceivable subject of
interest and importance to the Orthodox reader, including lives of
saints, Divine services, contemporary problems, and theology. He also
translated many works, making them available in English for the first
time—incomparable service to English-speaking Orthodox Christians.
Father Seraphim accomplished more for the glory of
God and the spread of true Orthodox Christianity than any other person
born on the American continent. May God grant him rest with His saints,
where the light of His countenance shall visit him. And may his memory
Rassophore-monk, Reader Laurence
(Fr. Seraphim's first godchild)
+ + +
The following letter was written by Hieromonk
Seraphim in response to a question concerning spiritual guidance.
Dear brother in Christ:
Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ! Thank you
for your letter. I appreciate the seriousness of what you have
written, and I will reply with the same seriousness.
I must tell you first of all that, to the best of
our knowledge, there are no startsi today—that is, truly God-bearing
elders (in the spirit of the Optina elders) who could guide you not by
their own wisdom and understanding of the Holy Fathers, but by the
enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. This kind of guidance is not
given to our times—and frankly, we in our weakness and corruption and
sins do not deserve it.
To our times is given a more humble kind of
spiritual life, which Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov in his excellent
book The Arena (do you have
it?) calls life by counsel—that is, life according to the commandments
of God as learned in the Holy Scriptures and Holy Fathers and helped by
those who are elder and more experienced. A starets can give
commands; but a counselor gives advice, which you must test in
We do not know of anyone in particular who would be
especially able to counsel you in the English language. If this
is really needful for you, God will send it to you in His time,
according to your faith and need, and without your making too
deliberate a search for it.
Since you have written me, I will venture to give
you a word or two of general advice, based upon what you have said in
your letters, as derived from the experience of our small monastic
community and our reading of the Holy Fathers.
1) Learn first of all to be at peace with the
spiritual situation which has been given you, and to make the most of
it. If your situation is spiritually barren, do not let this
discourage you, but work all the harder at what you yourself can do for
your spiritual life. It is already something very important to
have access to the Sacraments and regular church services. Beyond
this you should have regular morning and evening prayers with your
family, and spiritual reading—all according to your strength and the
possibilities afforded by your circumstances.
2) Among spiritual writings you should read
especially those addressed to people living in the world, or which give
the ABCs of spiritual life—such as St. John of Kronstadt's My Life in Christ, St. Nikodemos Unseen Warfare, the Lives of Saints
in general, and Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov's The Arena (this book, while
addressed to novices, is suitable for laymen insofar as it gives in
general the ABCs of spiritual life as applied to modern times).
3) To help your spiritual growth and remind you of
spiritual truths, it would be good to keep a journal (the hardbound
record books sold in stationery stores are good), which would include
excerpts from the writings of spiritual books which you find especially
valuable or applicable to you, and perhaps comments of your own
inspired by reading and reflection, including brief comments on your
own shortcomings which you need to correct. St. John of Kronstadt
found this especially valuable, as can be seen in his My Life in Christ.
4) Don't criticize or judge other people—regard
everyone else as an angel, justify their mistakes and weaknesses, and
condemn only yourself as the worst sinner. This is step one in
any kind of spiritual life.
I offer this for whatever help it may be to
you. I would be glad to try to answer any specific questions you
might have, especially on the teaching of the Holy Fathers, almost all
of which we have access to in Russian-language editions.
Asking your prayers,
With love in Christ,
From Living Orthodoxy,
+ + +
The life of self-centeredness and self-satisfaction
lived by most of today's Christians is so all-pervading that it
effectively seals them off from any understanding at all of spiritual
life; and when such people do undertake spiritual life, it is only as
another form of self-satisfaction. This can be seen quite clearly in
the totally false religious ideal both of the charismatic movement and
the various forms of Christian meditation: all of them promise (and
give very quickly) an experience of contentment and peace. But this is
not the Christian ideal at all, which, if anything, may be summed up as
a fierce battle and struggle.
Orthodox Christians! Hold fast to the grace which
you have; never let it become a matter of habit; never measure it by
merely human standards or expect it to be logical or comprehensible to
those who understand nothing higher than what is human Let all true
Orthodox Christians strengthen themselves for the battle ahead, never
forgetting that in Christ the victory is already ours.
Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, St Herman
of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1979.
+ + +
...Orthodox Christians of these latter times are
indeed spiritually sleeping and desperately need to be awakened by a
trumpet of the Spirit like Saint Symeon [the New Theologian]. Those who
are Orthodox by birth and habit are not those who will inherit the
eternal Kingdom of Heaven; they must be awakened to the conscious
fulfillment of Christ's commandments and a conscious reception of Gods
Holy Spirit, as Saint Symeon so eloquently taught.
...For Saint Symeon, as for all true Orthodox
Christians, theology is life; the true words of God which speak to the
Christian heart, raise it from its sloth and negligence, and inspire it
to struggle for the eternal Kingdom, which may be tasted in advance
even now in the life of grace which God sends down upon His faithful
through His sanctifying Holy Spirit.
Preface to The Sin of Adam and our
Redemption: Seven Homilies by Saint Symeon the New Theologian;
St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1979.
+ + +
We must not deceive ourselves: the life of the
desert-dwellers of the Northern Thebaid is far beyond us in our time of
unparalleled spiritual emptiness. In any epoch the monastic life is
limited by the kind of life which is being led in the world. At a time
when daily Orthodox life in Russia was both extremely difficult and
very sober, monasticism could flourish; but in our time when ordinary
life has become abnormally comfortable and the world-view of even the
best religious and intellectual leaders is shockingly frivolous, what
more is to be expected than that luke-warm spirituality with comfort
with which bold voices from inside Soviet Russia even now are
reproaching the free West?
Everywhere today the disease of disbelief has
entered deeply into the minds, and most of all the hearts, of men. Our
Orthodoxy, even when it is outwardly still correct, is the poorest, the
feeblest Christianity there has ever been And still the voice of the
Northern Thebaid calls us—not, it may be, to go to the desert but at
least to keep alive the fragrance of the desert in our hearts: to dwell
in mind and heart with these angel-like men and women and have
them as our truest friends, conversing with them in prayer; to be
always aloof from the attachments and passions of this life, even when
they center about some institution or leader of the church
organization; to be first of all a citizen of the Heavenly Jerusalem,
the City on high towards which all our Christian labors are directed,
and only secondarily a member of this world below which perishes.
Epilogue to The Northern Thebaid,
St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1975.
+ + +
The time of the end, though it seems to be near, we
do not know. However close, it is still future, and in the present we
have only the same age-old fight against the unseen powers, against the
world, and against our own passions, upon the outcome of which our
eternal fate will be decided. Let us then struggle while it is still
day, with the time and the weapons which our All-merciful God has given
Truly, we are far more in need today of a return to
the sources of genuine Orthodoxy than Blessed Paisius was! Our
situation is hopeless! And yet Gods mercy does not leave us, and even
today one may say that there is a movement of genuine Orthodoxy, which
consciously rejects the indifference, renovationism, and outright
apostasy which are preached by the world-famous Orthodox theologians
and hierarchs, and also hungers for more than the customary Orthodoxy
which is powerless before the onslaughts of a world refined in
Many young people today are seeking gurus and are
ready to enslave themselves to any likely candidate; but woe to those
who take advantage of this climate of the times to proclaim themselves
God-bearing elders in the ancient tradition—they only deceive
themselves and others.
Our times, above all, call for humble and quiet
labors, with love and sympathy for other strugglers on the path of the
Orthodox spiritual life and a deep resolve that does not become
discouraged because the atmosphere is unfavorable. We Christians of the
latter times are still called to work persistently on ourselves, to be
obedient to spiritual fathers and authorities, to lead an orderly life
with at least a minimum of spiritual discipline and with regular
reading of the Orthodox spiritual literature which Blessed Paisius was
chiefly responsible for handing down to our times, to watch over our
own sins and failings and not judge others. If we do this, even in our
terrible times, we may have hope—in Gods mercy—of the salvation of our
Introduction to Blessed Paisius
Velichkovsky, by Schema-monk Metrophanes; St Herman of Alaska
Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1976.
+ + +
As to the fatalism of those who believe that man
must be a slave to the spirit of the age, it is disproved by the
experience of every Christian worthy of the name, for the Christian
life is nothing if it is not a struggle against the spirit of every age
for the sake of eternity.
Man's freedom has been given him to choose between
the true God and himself, between the true path to deification whereon
the self is humbled and crucified in this life to be resurrected and
exalted in God and eternity, and the false path of self-deification
which promises exaltation in this life but ends in the Abyss. These are
the only two choices, ultimately, open to the freedom of man; and upon
them have been founded the two Kingdoms, the Kingdom of God and the
Kingdom of Man, which may be discriminated only by the eye of faith in
this life, but which shall be separated in the future life as Heaven
and Hell. It is clear to which of them modern civilization belongsThe
old commandment of Thou shalt, says [Nietzsche's] Zarathustra, has
become outmoded; the new commandment is I will.
In the Christian life, the old self with its
constant I will must be done away with and a new self, centered in
Christ and His will, be born.
Christian compromise in thought and word and
negligence in deed have opened the way to the triumph of the forces of
the absurd, of Satan, of Antichrist. The present age of absurdity is
the just reward of Christians who have failed to be Christians.
It is futile, in fact it is precisely absurd, to
speak of reforming society, of changing the path of history, of
emerging into an age beyond absurdity, if we have not Christ in our
hearts; and if we do have Christ in our hearts, nothing else matters.
"Subhumanity: The Philosophy of the Absurd" in The Orthodox Word, Platina,
+ + +
Looking at Orthodoxy, at its present state and its
prospects in the period before us, we may see two opposed aspects.
First of all, there is the spirit of worldliness which is so present in
the Orthodox Churches today, leading to a watering-down of Orthodoxy, a
loss of the difference between Orthodoxy and heterodoxy. This
worldliness has produced the Ecumenical movement, which is leading to
the approaching Unia with Rome and the Western confessions—something
that may well occur in the 1980s. In itself, this will probably not be
a spectacular event: most Orthodox people have become so unaware of
their faith, and so indifferent to it, that they will only welcome the
opportunity to receive communion in a Roman or Anglican church. This
spirit of worldliness is what is in the air and seems natural today; it
is the religious equivalent of the atheist-agnostic atmosphere that
prevails in the world.
What should be our response to this worldly
ecumenical movement? Fortunately, our bishops of the Russian Church
Outside of Russia have given us a sound policy to follow: we do not
participate in the Ecumenical Movement, and our Metropolitan [Philaret]
has warned other Orthodox Christians of the disastrous results of their
ecumenical course if they continue; but at the same time our bishops
have refused to cut off all contact and communion with Orthodox
Churches involved in the Ecumenical Movement, recognizing that it is
still a tendency that has not yet come to its conclusion (the Unia with
Rome) and that (at least in the case of the Moscow Patriarchate and
other churches behind the Iron Curtain) it is a political policy forced
upon the Church by secular authorities. But because of this policy, our
Church suffers attacks both from the left side (from ecumenists who
accuse us of being uncharitable, behind the times,and the like) and
from the right side (by groups in Greece that demand that we break
communion with all Orthodox Churches and declare them to be without
Indeed, if one looks at the state of the Orthodox
Church in Greece, we can see that the Ecumenical Movement has produced
a reaction that has often become excessive, and sometimes is almost as
bad as the disease it seeks to cure. The more moderate of the Old
Calendarist groups in Greece has a position similar to that of our
Russian Church Abroad; but schism after schism has occurred among the
Old Calendarists over the question of strictness. A few years ago one
of these groups cut off communion with our Russian Church Abroad
because our bishops refused to declare that all other Orthodox Churches
are without grace; this group now declares that it alone has grace,
only it is Orthodox. Recently this group has attracted some converts
from our Russian Church Abroad, and we should be aware that this
attitude is a danger to some of our American and European converts:
with our calculating, rationalistic minds it is very easy to think we
are being zealous and strict, when actually we are chiefly indulging
our passion for self-righteousness.
One Old Calendarist bishop in Greece has written to
us that incalculable harm has been done to the Orthodox Church in
Greece by what he calls the correctness disease, when people quote
canons, Fathers, the typicon in order to prove they are correct and
everyone else is wrong. Correctness can truly become a disease when it
is administered without love and tolerance and awareness of ones own
imperfect understanding. Such a correctness only produces continual
schisms, and in the end only helps the Ecumenical Movement by reducing
the witness of sound Orthodoxy.
Conspicuous among Orthodox today—certain to be with
us into the 1980s—is the worldly spirit by which Orthodoxy is losing
its savor, expressed in the Ecumenical Movement, together with the
reaction against it, which is often excessive precisely because the
same worldly spirit is present in it.
There will undoubtedly be an increasing number of
Orthodox converts in America and Europe in the coming decade, and we
must strive that our missionary witness to them will help to produce,
not cold, calculating, correct experts in the letter of the law, but
warm, loving, simple Christians—at least as far as our haughty Western
temperament will allow.
Once Fr. Dimitri [Dudko] was asked about how much
better off religion was in the free world than in Russia, and he
answered: Yes, they have freedom and many churches, but theirs is a
spirituality with comfort. We in Russia have a different path, a path
of suffering that can produce real fruit.
We should remember this phrase when we look at our
own feeble Orthodoxy in the free world: are we content to have
beautiful churches and chanting; do we perhaps boast that we keep the
fasts and the church calendar, have good icons and congregational
singing, that we give to the poor and perhaps tithe to the Church? Do
we delight in exalted patristic teachings and theological conferences
without having the simplicity of Christ in our hearts? Then ours is a
spirituality with comfort, and we will not have the spiritual fruits
that will be exhibited by those without all these comforts, who deeply
suffer and struggle for Christ. In this sense we should take our tone
from the suffering Church in Russia and place the externals of the
Church's worship in their proper place.
Our most important task, perhaps, is the Christian
enlightenment of ourselves and others. We must go deeper into our
faith—not by studying the canons of Ecumenical Councils or the typicon
(although they also have their place), but by knowing how God acts in
our lives; by reading the lives of God-pleasers in the Old and New
Testaments (we read the Old Testament far too little; it is very
instructive); by reading the lives of Saints and the writings of the
Holy Fathers on practical spiritual life; by reading about the
suffering of Christians today and in recent years. In all of this
learning our eyes must be on heaven above, the goal we strive for, not
on the problems and disasters of earth below.
Our Christian life and learning must be such that it
will enable us to know the true Christ and to recognize the false
Christ (Antichrist) when he comes. It is not theoretical knowledge or
correctness that will give this knowledge to us. Vladimir Soloviev in
his parable of Antichrist has a valuable insight when he notes that
Antichrist will build a museum of all possible Byzantine antiquities
for the Orthodox, if only they accept him. So, too, mere correctness in
Orthodoxy without a loving Christian heart will not be able to resist
Antichrist; one will recognize him and be firm to stand against him
chiefly by the heart and not the head. We must develop in ourselves the
right Christian feelings and instincts, and put off all fascination
with the spiritual comforts of the Orthodox way of life, or else we
will be—as one discerning observer of present-day converts has
observed—Orthodox but not Christian.
"Orthodox Christians Facing the 1980s",
A lecture given at the St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage, Platina, CA,
August 9, 1979.
+ + +
The significance of the Catacomb Church does not lie
in its correctness; it lies in its preservation of the true spirit of
Orthodoxy, the spirit of freedom in Christ. Sergianism was not merely
wrong in its choice of church policy, it was something far worse: it
was a betrayal of Christ based on agreement with the spirit of this
world. It is the inevitable result when church policy is guided by
earthly logic and not by the mind of Christ.
Introduction to Russia's Catacomb
Saints, by I.M. Andreyev, Platina, 1982.
+ + +
The Orthodox Christian of today is overwhelmed to
open Saint Gregory's Book of Miracles
and find there just what his soul is craving in this soulless,
mechanistic modern world; he finds that very Christian path of
salvation which he knows in the Orthodox services, Lives of the Saints,
the Patristic writings, but which is so absent today, even among the
best of modern Christians, that one begins to wonder whether one is not
really insane, or some literal fossil of history, for continuing to
believe and feel as the Church has always believed and felt. It is one
thing to recognize the intellectual truth of Orthodox Christianity; but
how is one to live it when it is so out of harmony with the times? And
then one reads Saint Gregory and finds that all of this Orthodox truth
is also profoundly normal, that whole societies were once based on it,
that it is unbelief and renovated Christianity which are profoundly
abnormal and not Orthodox Christianity, that this is the heritage and
birthright of the West itself which it deserted so long ago when it
separated from the one and only Church of Christ, thereby losing the
key to the secret which so baffles the modern scholar—the secret of
true Christianity, which must be approached with a fervent, believing
heart, and not with the cold aloofness of modern unbelief, which is not
natural to man but is an anomaly of history.
Introduction to Vita Patrum,
by Saint Gregory of Tours, Platina, 1988.
+ + +
We must not artificially isolate ourselves from the
reality of today's world; rather, we must learn to use the best things
the world has to offer, for everything good in the world—if we are only
wise enough to see it—points to God, and we must make use of it. Too
many people make the mistake of limiting Orthodoxy to church services,
set prayers, and the occasional reading of a spiritual book. True
Orthodoxy, however, requires a commitment that involves every aspect of
our lives. One is Orthodox all the time every day, in every situation
of life—or one is not really Orthodox at all. For this reason we must
develop an Orthodox worldview and live it.
"Living an Orthodox World-View",
a lecture given at the St Herman Summer Pilgrimage, Platina, CA, August
1980; Orthodox America, Aug.-Sept. 1982.
+ + +
Do not trust your mind too much; thinking must be
refined by suffering, or it will not stand the test of these cruel
Of course, one can always act wrong even on a clear
conscience! But even that is not a fatal mistake as long as ones mind
and heart remain open and one keeps first things first.
How much our American Orthodoxy needs more heart and
not so much mind! I don't know any answer for it, except more prayer
and basic education in Orthodox sources.
Orthodox Christians, surrounded by and already
swimming in a sea of humanist-worldly philosophy and practice, must do
everything possible to create their own islands, in that sea, of
other-worldly, God-oriented thought and practice.
Above all, may we all grow in spiritual
understanding, not rational understanding—which I fear is the constant
plague of all us poor converts!
The two sides quote canons back and forth, when what
is needed is love and understanding—and that statement, I realize,
could have come straight from the lips of some ecumenist, which only
shows how difficult the path of true Orthodoxy has become in our days.
Good heavens! What is happening to people? How
easily one gets dragged off the path of serving God into all kinds of
factions and jealousies and attempts at revenge.
How much hope there is for those who do not trust in
themselves too much and are not overly-critical of others! And how
little hope for those whose orientation is the opposite!
Psychological trials of dwellers in the last times
will equal the physical trials of the martyrs. But in order to face
these trials we must be living in a different world.
I think about that older generation that is now
almost gone, and I want to weep for the young know-it-alls who have
missed the point. But the understanding comes only through real
suffering, and how many can do that?
We must be open rather than closed with regard to
the Moscow Patriarchate. The whole question of ecumenism and apostasy
cannot be placed simply on the canonical-dogmatic-formal level, but
must be viewed first spiritually!
Its obvious that the zeal not according to knowledge
is becoming a matter of some concern to [Metropolitan Philaret] and for
many of our bishops, and I'm afraid the solution to it, if any, wont be
easy I think the quality needed is a certain deep humility of mind that
enables one to accept other ways of looking at things, other emphases,
as equally Orthodox with ones own.
Try to remember that all real Christian work is
local right here and now, between myself and God and my neighbor.
Do you have a notebook for taking down quotes from
Holy Fathers in your reading? Do you always have a book of Holy Fathers
that you are reading and can turn to in a moment of gloom? Start
now—this is essential!
Now one cannot be a half-hearted Christian, but only
entirely or not at all.
Letters from Father Seraphim,
Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society, Richfield Springs, NY, 2001.