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 Holy Mysteries.
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 be eternal!
Rassophore-monk, Reader Laurence
(Fr. Seraphim's first godchild)
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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 experience.
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, Jan.-Feb., 1984.
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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.
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...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.
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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.
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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 us!
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 destroying souls.
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 souls.
Introduction to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, by Schema-monk Metrophanes; St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1976.
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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, Sept.-Oct. 1982.
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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 grace).
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Do not trust your mind too much; thinking must be refined by suffering, or it will not stand the test of these cruel times.
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.
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