03 September 2015
Four years after encountering Orthodoxy, Craig Young, along with his wife Susan, decided they wanted to be Orthodox. They had both been in the Roman Catholic church. The year was 1970 and they were both in their mid-20s. That year they attended Liturgy at the cathedral in San Francisco, and afterwards approached Archbishop Anthony and told him that they wanted to be Orthodox. The Archbishop called for Fr. Seraphim (with Fr. Herman), who took the Youngs over to a bench and sat them down. Craig Young reported later:
"The two men rained a barrage of questions on us:
'So, why do you want to be Orthodox? Do you know what that means? What's the difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism? Why do you want to join our Russian Church Abroad instead of some other jurisdiction? Don't you know we are a small, persecuted Church living in exile? Everybody hates us and makes fun of us. Why do you want to join a Church like this? Do you understand what really happens in the Divine Liturgy?'
Frankly, it was daunting. Somehow we had thought we would be immediately welcomed with open arms, as though the Church had been waiting for us all these centuries; instead we were being given the third degree!"
Letters p. 5
20 October 2014
A warning against Euphrosynos Cafe and other internet forums
Of 6 Convert pitfalls noted by Fr. Seraphim, "knowing better" is at the top of the list:
A. Trusting oneself, samost
Remedy: sober distrust of oneself, taking counsel of others wiser, guidance from Holy Fathers.
B. Academic approach – overly intellectual, involved, uncommitted, abstract, unreal. Bound up with A. also.
Not of This World p. 781
We see this "knowing better" at work especially on the internet forums. Euphrosynos Cafe in particular, is truly a gathering of the confused. The few members left are adrift either in a schismatic jurisdiction, in a vigante jurisdiction, or in no jurisdiction. (If there happens to be one in a royal path jurisdiction, then their view of the Church is vague, immature, incomplete.) Already their thinking is faulty – they guide themselves, they are their own authority. They each present their own incomplete distorted views/interpretations to each other, charitably or not so charitably as the case may be, supporting each other with mutual acceptance on a very general level, i.e., they all use the old calendar and they all call themselves "true" Orthodox.
Along comes the unwary (but sincere) potential catechumen, also confused, but his confusion is not permanent yet. He is seeking to make sense of all the many jurisdictions. He has at least figured out that he does not want to be in world-orthodoxy. And here on Euphrosynos Cafe is a convenient collection of old calendar jurisdictions for him to explore. He notes what the representatives of the various "true" jurisdictions have to say, and he selects which one "sounds right" to him. Thus he becomes his own authority, deciding what makes sense to him and satisfies his mind.
Rarely though, we might find someone (or rather, he finds us) who is not guided by his own knowing. But, instead, by sincere prayer he is guided by heaven to the Royal Path Churches. This person does not trust his mind or his own thinking, but rather he goes by what "feels right" even if it does not make sense immediately. This "feeling" is not emotional, sentimental or "psychic", but something higher in the soul that becomes sensitive with sincere prayer: prayer born of suffering from being without the Church – not just the mental pain of confusion – but pain that is caused by being estranged from God Whom he loves and wanting to be closer to Him. These are the people who will find us.
Starting on the Royal Path blog accepts the authority of the ROCOR through the guidance of Fr. Seraphim Rose and those older and wiser in our Church who understand and recognize Fr. Seraphim's spiritual superiority. Fr. Seraphim was a true Son of the Church. He was given to us by God through the prayers of St. John S&SF. Anyone who has a problem with Fr. Seraphim has a problem with the Church Herself and with St. John. I do not see how a convert in America can make it into the Church in wholeness without Fr. Seraphim.
November 20, 2014
November 20, 2014
05 October 2014
The Life Of Our Father Among The Saints David of Thessalonica
Compiled by Fr. Demetrios
Who is Commemorated on 26 June.
Who is Commemorated on 26 June.
Translated from the Greek by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston
With David Of Old Art Thou,
now united, O new David;
For thou didst kill the
carnal passions like Goliath
On the twenty-sixth,
David passed through the gates of life.
St. David of Thessalonica
Reposed in the Lord C. 540
♫♪ KONTAKION, TONE I
An ever-blossoming garden, bearing fruits of virtues, thou didst appear on a garden tree like a sweet-singing bird; but all the more didst thou take into thy heart paradise, the Lord's tree of life, and having cultivated it, O divinely-wise one, by it thou dost nourish us with grace: ever pray for us, O David all-blessed.
DAVID, OUR FATHER of great renown, the earthly angel and heavenly man, was born and reared in the illustrious and great city of Thessalonica. Renouncing the world and worldly things, he abandoned friends and relatives, temporal honor and glory, money, possessions, and every other passing joy and even his own life, according to the evangelical exhortation. Following the Master, he took up the Cross from his youth; for his heart was deeply pierced with divine love.
He was tonsured and remained in the Monastery of the Holy Martyrs Theodore and Mercurius, which was known as Koukouliaton, and there he struggled in sacred silence in the a manner surpassing the limits of human nature. He observed every virtue most diligently; above all, he kept the virtues of temperance and humility, knowing well that satiety of the stomach drives away spiritual vigilance and chastity, and that vainglory totally obliterates every virtue. Because of this, like a wise man, he was diligent to acquire humility.
Reading the Sacred Scriptures by day and by night, the righteous one marvelled at the virtues of the Saints, both those who were before the Law and those who were after the Law. He observed how God glorified them because they obeyed His commandments and were pleasing to Him as was meet. He made Abel wondrous by his sacrifices, Abraham by his faith, Joseph by his chastity, Job by his patience, He showed from Moses as Lawgiver, and preserved Daniel and the Three Youths unharmed from the fire and lions. Reflection upon the examples of these men, and marvellous David was diligent to emulate them with his whole heart and strength, so that, together with them, he might become co-heir of the Heavenly Kingdom.
While reading the lives of the righteous ones who struggled after the saving Incarnation of the Saviour and who accomplished such marvellous struggles, he marvelled – especially at the life of Simeon of the Wondrous Mountain, and of the other Simeon, and of Daniel and Patapius the Stylites, who spent their lives living in the open, without shelter, tormented by the winds, rains, and snows. As he read the lives of these men, he wept and came to such compunction that he decided to undergo a similar life of affliction for as long as he, the ever-memorable one, could, so that he might find rest with the Saints after death.
One day, therefore, he became so fervent with zeal and his heart so filled with compunction, that he climbed up an almond tree that was by the left side of the church. He remained there upon a branch of the tree where he made a small bench as well as he could, and there he struggled in ascetic labors with wondrous patience, tormented by the winds, the rains and the snows, burned by the searing heat of the sun in summer, and suffering many other afflictions. O the fortitude of this much-suffering martyr, that the ever-memorable one should undergo such hardship! The other stylites had some security, for their pillars were constructed and stood fast, and what is more, when they slept or had some other need, the pillars were immobile. But this adamantine man swayed always in the branches of the tree, and never had any repose, but was tormented by the rains and the winds and suffered greatly from the snows.
In enduring all these things, the stout-hearted one did not let up in his discipline, neither did he become faint-hearted in any way, neither was he overcome by tedium, nor did his angelic face become transformed or changed, but remained as comely as a rose. Indeed, in this thrice-blessed one was there fulfilled that prophetic saying: The righteous man shall blossom like a palm tree, and like a cedar in Lebanon shall he be multiplied. For in his deeds he too blossomed forth like a palm tree, and rendered unto God an acceptable fruit sweeter and more beneficial than the almond or the date palm. For the tree gives forth corruptible blossoms and fruit for man's delight and enjoyment; but the righteous one gladdened our good God with the fruits of divine vision and a holy life, and he praised and glorified Him unceasingly.
The righteous one had some disciples where exceedingly pious and Christ-loving, and they labored and toiled together with him in the monastic discipline. Many times they begged and entreated him to come down from the tree so that they could build him a cell (a place the monastics call a room) he like, in some quiet place, so that he could guide them and tend them as his sheep and bring them into the pastures of salvation. But he answered saying, "My brethren and children, I am a sinner and an unworthy man; but Christ the Master, the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for His sheep, will protect you from the plots of the devil, and as He is supremely good, He will account you worthy of His Eternal Kingdom. But as for me, as the Lord my God Jesus Christ, the Son of God liveth. I will not come down from this tree until three years are accomplished, and even then I will come down only by His command; for if it is not His will, I will never come down from here." When they say that his mind could not be changed, they did not trouble him any longer in this matter.
WHEN THE THREE YEARS had passed, a holy angel appeared unto him saying, "David, the Lord has heard your supplication and grants unto you this favor for which you have asked many times, that is, that you be humble-minded and modest, and that you fear Him and worship Him with proper reverence. Come down, therefore, from the tree and live in sacred silence in your cell, blessing God until you accomplish one other act of love; then shall you find comfort of soul and rest from bodily travail." During the whole time that the Angel spoke with him, the righteous one listened with fear and trembling. When he that appeared disappeared, the righteous one gave thanks unto God, saying, "Blessed is God who has had mercy on me."
Then calling together his disciples, he revealed the vision and told them to prepare the cell, as the Master had commanded. Straightway they did as they were ordered and they informed the most holy Metropolitan Dorotheus also. The Metropolitan rejoiced to hear these tidings and took the more pious clerics with him. Going up to the righteous one, he kissed him and they brought him down from the tree with great reverence. After the Divine Liturgy, they placed him in his cell and celebrated this great feast. Thus they returned rejoicing and the righteous one remained in his cell struggling in sacred silence. Even as before, he perpetually and ceaselessly blessed the Lord Who had granted him such grace, that he put demons to flight, gave sight to the blind and healed every incurable disease by calling upon the name of Christ. Out of many signs which he did we mention only two or three as proof of the others; for the lion is known from his claws and the cloth from its hem.
A certain youth had a demon, and one day he came to the cell of the righteous one. Standing, therefore, outside the door, he cried out saying Release me, O David, thou servant of the eternal God, for fire comes froth from our cell and burns me." Then the righteous one stretched forth his hand from a small window and held the youth and said, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, commands you to go forth from His creature, O unclean spirit!" Saying this, he sealed the youth with the sign of the Precious Cross and immediately the demon went form from the youth and he became well. On seeing such a marvel, all who were present glorified God Who glorifies those who glorify Him with God-pleasing works.
But listen to yet another similar miracle.
There was a woman...
Whoever had a any illness would come unto him, and no sooner would the Saint lay his right hand upon the sick man when straightway malady would depart and be dispersed, even as darkness is dispersed and by the light. Having performed innumerable miracles, he was glorified by men and was revered by all.
AFTER MANY YEARS, Dorotheus, the Metropolitan of Thessalonica, reposed, and one other Aristides by name - a man equally virtuous - took his place. At that time, great loss and much confusion was caused by the barbarians in the whole of Thessaly. Hence, the eparch of Illyricum wrote to the Metropolitan, asking him to intercede with the Emperor, or to send him to elect an eparch for Thessalonica, because of the confusion caused by the barbarians; for at the time, there was no eparch in Thessalonica, but only a locum tenens who was under the eparch of Sirmium. When the most holy Aristides, the Metropolitan of Thessalonica, had read the letter of the eparch in the presence of the clergy and the nobility of the city, he told them to choose a capable and erudite man to send to the Emperor for this matter.
When all, therefore, had gathered in the church, they cried out with one accord that the righteous David should be sent, for the most pious Emperor would reverence him as a virtuous and holy man, and thus would carry out their request. This was done by the dispensation of Divine Providence, that the prophecy of the angel might be fulfilled; for the angel told the righteous one to come down from the tree that he might perform one other act of love also, and then he would depart for the Lord.
The bishop, then, took the most pious clergy and the people and went to the righteous one and told him of the matter and entreated him to go to the Emperor with the aforementioned request. At first, the righteous one excused himself, saying that he could not go because of old age. Afterwards, seeing that all constrained him to go, he agreed so that he might not appear disobedient to the bishop and to the Christ-loving people who were urging him.
The righteous one then remembered the prophecy of the angel, and he said these words to the Metropolitan: "May the Lord's will be done, holy master. Yet, be it known unto you that, through your prayers and with God as my helper, the Emperor will grant me whatever I request of him; but as for David, you will not see him alive again to speak with him. For on my return to you from the palace, when I am yet one-hundred and twenty-six stadia from my poor cell, I shall depart for my Master."
Thinking that the righteous one was saying this as an excuse, so that they would not force him to go, the Metropolitan admonished him saying: "Then imitate our Shepherd and Master Who gave Himself over unto death as a man and died for us, give your life for your people that you may receive thanksgiving from men and glory and boundless praise from Christ the Master, as an emulator of His Passion."
Then the thrice-blessed one went forth from his cell and all worshipped him; for his countenance was a marvellous sight; the locks of his hair fell down to his belt and his beard down to his feet; his venerable face was handsome and comely, just like Abraham's and everyone who saw him marvelled. He took with him two of his disciples, Theodore and Demetrios; these men were pious and virtuous, and were like David, not only in the comeliness of the soul, but also in that of the body.
When they reached Byzantium, the report of the righteous one was heard throughout the whole city. At that time, the Emperor was the pious Justinian. Since the Emperor was absent when the Saint arrived, the Empress Theodora sent chamberlains and escorts to welcome him and she received him with much honor and reverence. On beholding his radiant and angelic face and his venerable white beard, she marvelled and worshipped him with much humility, and asked for his prayers and his blessing. The Saint, therefore, prayed for the Emperor, the imperial city and every city. The pious Empress received him with such gladness and with such friendly hospitality that I am not able to describe fully the reverence which the ever-memorable one showed him; for she thought that she had received an angel of the Lord and not a man. When the Emperor returned, the august Empress told him of the righteous one, saying, "The supremely-good God has taken compassion on us, Master, and has sent His angel unto your majesty on this day from the city of Thessalonica; and in truth, it seemed to me that I saw Abraham."
On the following day, when the whole Senate had gathered, the Emperor gave orders for the righteous one to be brought in. When the Saint entered, he placed live coal and incense in his hands and, together with his disciples, he censed the Emperor and the whole Senate without his hands being burned at all from the fire, even though he took more than an hour censing, until he had censed all the people. All were astonished as they beheld this wonder. Rising from his throne, the Emperor received him gladly and with much reverence, and he, in turn, received the gifts of the Metropolitan of Thessalonica from the hands of the Saint. The pious and Christ-loving Emperor listened to the Saint's request and voted that the seat of the eparch be changed from Sirmium to Thessalonica. Not only did he fulfill the written requests of the Thessalonians, but with great willingness, he carried out the righteous one's other requests as well, and, in accordance with the custom, signed them in vermillion. With his own hand, he gave them to the righteous one and told him, "Pray for me, venerable Father." Afterwards, he dismissed him and sent him on his way with a great escort, even as it was meet.
AS SOON as the righteous one had fulfilled his mission, he set sail to Thessalonica. But even as he had prophesied, he did not reach the city. When they were passing near a Lighthouse he said these words to his disciples: "My children, the time of my end has come. See that you bury my remains in the Monastery where I dwelt. Take care for your souls, that your find eternal rest." Saying these and other edifying words, they arrived at the promontory which is called Emvolos, from where his monastery could be seen. He looked towards it and prayed, and after he had kissed his disciples, the thrice-blessed one surrendered his soul to God.
When the righteous one reposed a strong wind was blowing; and though they had been sailing most swiftly, at that very moment, the boat stopped for a long time in spite of the wind (O the wonder!) and did not move at all. Furthermore, there came forth a wondrous fragrance as of indescribable incense, and voices were heard in the air melodiously chanting praises to the Lord. After a long time the voices stopped. Immediately the boat began to sail again, but it did not go to the harbor as usual; but rather it sped to the west side of the city, at the place where the impious had cast the holy relics of St. Theodoulus and St. Agathopodus.
When they people heard of the righteous one's repose and arrival, the whole city came forth with the Metropolitan. Carrying his holy relics with much reverence, they came to the Monastery, and they made him a coffin of wood in which they placed him and buried him with honor. Afterwards, in accordance with the imperial decree, they changed the seat of the eparch from Sirmium to Thessalonica. As for the righteous one, his memory was celebrated by all the people each year in the aforementioned Monastery.
After 150 years had passed, the abbot of the Monastery was a certain virtuous man, Demetrios by name. He had much reverence for the righteous one. Moved by a desire to take a portion of the Saint's holy relics in order to have them for sanctification, he took men and had them begin digging at the grave. Immediately the slab broke into four pieces. Seeing that the Saint did not wish them to go on, the abbot abandoned his plan. A disciple of this abbot, a man named Sergius who likewise became abbot, and through his virtues, later Metropolitan of Thessalonica, revered the Saint greatly. Many times he besought him in prayer to allow him to take a small portion of his Holy Relics. When he was informed by God that the Saint agreed to it, he opened the tomb and there came forth a wondrous fragrance. Seeing that the Saints's relics were entire and unharmed he did not dare to take any part except for a few strands of hair from his head and beard. These were kept with care and are kissed on the Saint's feast by the Christ-loving peoples. The feast is celebrated annually on the 26th of June with much joy, in praise of the righteous one, and to the glory of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
also published in The Orthodox Word magazine #32, May-June 1970
24 September 2014
This is the Introduction written by a nun for the book Letters by Fr. Seraphim. She sees Fr. Seraphim from the perspective of a fellow-monastic – she sees him first as a monk. She understands the inner life and struggle of monasticism, and recognizes Fr. Seraphim as one who truly took the yoke on his shoulders.
related post: Book Review of Letters by Fr. Seraphim
With the publication of this volume of letters written from 1970 to 1982 by the late Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) to Fr. Alexey Young, the reader is given a partial glimpse into a relationship between a spiritual father and son, as well as a record of the growth of a working partnership between two men actively involved in English-language missionary work in the Orthodox Church.
There would be no point in publishing these letters were they no more than a remembrance of times past, no more than the memento of a relationship that, however significant to those involved, has little to say to a reader who has never met either of these men. In fact, these letters may help us discern and apply a number of important principles of the Orthodox Christian way of life. They also show us that Orthodox missionary work is the fruit, not of abstract theorizing, but of practical, applied spiritual struggle. Ranging across more than a decade, covering a wide variety of topics, these letters provide a record of Fr. Seraphim’s carefully thought-out approach to helping a new convert to Orthodoxy move from the first “baby steps” of his new life in Christ, through the development of a growing faith and maturity, toward greater stability of soul and a desire to share the treasures of the Faith with others.
There is a timely relevance to these letters, almost as though they had been written today. Although Fr. Seraphim addresses specific issues and events occurring in Church life twenty and more years ago, he does so in a way that provides the reader with a serene and mature viewpoint — a truly Christian way of evaluating people and events from the objective standpoint of history and spiritual principles rather than the gossipy and passionate approach so often found in Church circles. This invaluable quality makes his letters as instructive today as they were when they were written.
Born Eugene Rose in 1934 and raised in a Protestant family, Fr. Seraphim was from his youth intellectually gifted and philosophically inclined. By the time he reached college, the young Eugene Rose had rejected the Christianity he had seen in his childhood, turning instead to science and philosophy. During his student years, like many young people, he continued to search for the meaning of life — a search pursued with passion and even torment of soul. His longing to know why we are born led him along many paths, including several painful dead ends: scientific rationalism, Chinese classicism, Zen Buddhism, nihilism, atheism, aestheticism, hedonism.
After finishing his undergraduate degree, he enrolled as a graduate student in the department of Oriental Languages at the University of California/Berkeley, where he submitted his master’s thesis in 1961.
During the early 1960s, he began attending Russian Orthodox church services and soon realized he was finally within reach of the spiritual harbor he had almost despaired of ever finding. His conversion to Christ and to Orthodoxy was complete and unstinting. The sincerity of his repentance was matched only by the strength of his determination to submit his whole being to the will of God and the mind of the Church.
Thus began a remarkable living demonstration of the power of divine grace in human life. The intellectual pride and intolerance, the anger and impatience, the emotional and psychological complicatedness that so often go hand-in-hand with such gifts as the young Eugene Rose displayed, were gradually corrected, healed, eased. The Mother of God, to whom he developed a great devotion, helped strengthen his repentant spirit and encouraged his struggle. When ill shortly after his conversion, he prayed ardently to her to grant him time to serve God. No one who looks upon the remarkable body of work he left behind at his death can doubt that she heard his prayer.
While still a new convert, Eugene enrolled in the theological classes offered in San Francisco by Saint John Maximovitch. As a reader at the cathedral, his piety was formed and developed by the cycle of Divine services into which he plunged his heart, mind, and soul, and he had ample opportunity to learn from the example and presence of Saint John himself, before the latter’s repose in 1966. By 1966, Eugene was selling Orthodox books and icons from a small shop near the cathedral. He and Gleb Podmoshensky (later named Fr. Herman in monastic tonsure), who were the first members of the Brotherhood of St. Herman, had begun an English-language missionary magazine, The Orthodox Word, making available lives of saints, patristic texts, and commentary on contemporary matters. Their desire to move out of San Francisco to live a quiet “desert” life of prayer and labor was being realized as the correspondence published in this volume begins.
Once settled in the remote forests of northern California, near the small hamlet of Platina, Fr. Seraphim lived an intense life of prayer that nourished his work of translating and writing — work carried out amid much other labor. Living with no electricity, running water, or telephones, even the simplest tasks required much time and effort, yet the very roughness of such a life lent a down-to-earth immediacy to all of his daily experiences.
Although the brothers had moved out of the city in search of quiet and solitude, over time they found themselves in the public eye to a degree they had neither anticipated not desired. After Fr. Herman and Fr. Seraphim were ordained to the priesthood, they naturally became more visible than ever. More people came to visit, more demands were made on their time, and Fr. Seraphim found himself increasingly involved in Church life and events outside his longed-for desert stillness. From then until his death in 1982, his writing and translating work was conducted amid growing duties within the monastery and the English-language missions that sprang up around it, and under increasing pressure from some unhealthy factions within Church life in America.
Fr. Seraphim was not, by any stretch of imagination, a renegade who thought himself above the ties, realities, and obligations of church life. He was from his conversion to his death a faithful son of the Russian Church Abroad. While he was always receptive to all Orthodox Christians of good will and sincere heart, he was never a fanatic of any sort, and he found fanaticism in others sad and wearisome. His own path was firmly linked to that of his first preceptors in the Faith, among them Saint John Maximovitch, Schema-Abbess Ariadna (of the Vladimir Mother of God Convent in San Francisco), and others. Like Saint John, Fr. Seraphim was truly Orthodox and truly catholic, loving all that was best in each national Church, without making up some hodgepodge to suit his own taste.
Obedient to lawful Church authority in the persons of his teachers in the Faith and his archpastors (including not least of all his immediate diocesan hierarch, the late Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco), Fr. Seraphim was always opposed to the creation of any factional or party spirit in church life. He was keenly aware of the myriad dangers from the right and the left that surround the Christian struggler in our present age of spiritual enfeeblement and confusion, and constantly reminded others to keep to a middle or “royal” path in all things, trying always to keep solely to the line marked out by older, wiser guides, emphasizing the need for patience, balance, sobriety, humility, steadfastness, and deference to the counsel of trusted advisors.
During the first years of his Orthodox life, Fr. Seraphim had ample opportunity to see what it means wholly to subject oneself to Christ. In Saint John Maximovitch he saw someone of whom it could truly be said that he no longer lived, but Christ lived in him. In Abbess Ariadna, Archbishop Averky (of Holy Trinity Monastery), Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, and others, he saw men and women who had truly become so imbued with a living spiritual tradition that it affected all they did and were. He saw clearly that one who desires to walk the path of Christ cannot do so in company with rebellion, self-will, self-opinion, factionalism, condemnation of others, or any other impassioned notion to which the soul clings more tenaciously than to Christ. His yardstick in such matters was a simple one: any impulse or action which feeds a spirit of calculation and cold-heartedness, and one‘s desire to be right, while weakening the feeling of self-reproach and repentance, is wrong, no matter how right it may appear logically.
Indeed, during the last years of Fr. Seraphim’s life, temptations from the right abounded in church life, so that he began to speak of the “correctness disease,” which attacked many people, making them [imagine themselves to be] instant experts in theology, ecclesiology, canon law, and other exalted matters.
Long before others, Fr. Seraphim identified a profoundly dangerous problem, which he called “the great conflict of our times—the Orthodoxy of the head vs. the Orthodoxy of the heart.” He never denied the existence of serious issues in contemporary church life, but he felt, with growing alarm, that something was wrong in many “answers” to these problems, as we see in these Letters.
At the same time, “zeal without knowledge" was not the only pitfall facing Orthodoxy in America. Orthodox Christianity was then, as it remains now, a numerically small presence in American life, surrounded by other faiths and philosophies often either indifferent or actively hostile to traditional Orthodoxy. The Orthodox immigrants who came to America in the first half of the twentieth century were mostly poor villagers from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Greece, eager to fit as quickly as possible into their new home. Few of them were capable of explaining their faith to their American neighbors; fewer still realized that their desire to fit in to American culture could pose grave spiritual dangers. The sense of Orthodox tradition was eroding.
During Fr. Seraphim’s lifetime, this loss of the “savor of Orthodoxy” inevitably affected much of church life here, and he rightly warned of this dangerous watering — down of the priceless inheritance of Orthodox faith. In church architecture, pews, organs, and choir-robes replaced the traditional atmosphere of Orthodox worship with a hybrid of Catholic and Protestant fashions. In seminary studies, fashionable “higher criticism” and liturgical innovation replaced the “outmoded” methods of traditional Orthodox seminary training, as professors and students caught up to trends already becoming passe in heterodox theology. Clerical attire common in the Old World was deemed unsuitable for the American scene, and was replaced by almost-beardless priests wearing Roman collars. Among many of the hierarchs and clergy, there existed an overtly anti-monastic spirit. The list could go on. These temptations from the left — from the spirit of the world and the Prince of this world — proliferated along with those from the right — of false zeal and correctness.
All of these factors together produced an often-unstable church life, which was prone to easy infection by passing fashions of heterodox spirituality, theology and sociology, and not readily inclined to find its remedy in the monastic, ascetic, patristic ethos that had for generations anchored Orthodox life in the Old World.
Therefore, in these letters, as in his other writings, Fr. Seraphim not only warns against “zeal without knowledge.” He also speaks, sometimes quite sharply, against the false liberalism that is equally dangerous to the struggle for salvation.
One cannot deny that the years since Fr. Seraphim’s death have seen these tendencies toward polarization, fragmentation, and factionalism get worse, not better, both here and abroad. When reading these letters we are sobered and warned.
Throughout these letters, Fr. Seraphim emphasizes several themes he thought essential for anyone learning to live in Christ and that are certainly preliminary to bearing any fruit for Christ. These are also the indispensable hallmarks of the “royal path” of moderation between all extremes—spiritual, personal, or historical.
He often speaks of the need for “more heart and less head.” Life in Christ is not an intellectual pursuit, but a deep, often painful process of repentance and renewal. Fr. Seraphim was himself a good example of a complicated intellectual who had found in Orthodoxy the key to unlocking an ardent but often tormented heart, and uniting the powers of mind and heart to fruitful spiritual work, first on himself and then also on others.
Orthodox Christianity must be a way of life. It is not a Sunday morning religion that we can toss into a corner as we walk out the church doors at the end of the service. It must encompass our whole way of looking at ourselves, our brother, our world, radically affecting our daily life.
Life in Christ may often be difficult, but it is not complicated. Humble self-reproach, attention to one’s own sins, not judging one’s neighbor, faithful participation in Divine services, regular prayer, frequent Confession and reception of Holy Communion, reading the Scriptures and spiritual books — all these small, steady labors, all part of a traditional Orthodox life, will gradually effect deep changes of heart and mind.
There are no shortcuts. “There is no ‘instant theosis’,” he writes. “We must have resolve.”
Life in Christ is a process of growth and change, nourished by Divine grace and based on repentance. We must grow into the measure of Christ and become responsible children of the Church, not only receiving but capable and willing to give.
Fr. Seraphim saw clearly the problems of contemporary man. Even more clearly he saw that the answers to those problems lie in God and that no obstacle is too great to be overcome by the mercy and grace of our loving Father in Heaven.
Prayer, ascetic labors, and experience gave Fr. Seraphim a solid faith in the Providence of God, and he never became too bogged down in passing matters. He constantly reminded everyone that life passes quickly, that nothing worldly abides after death, and that we must always keep our chief goal in life — the Kingdom of Heaven — squarely in view. His own life on earth was short — a mere forty-eight years — but once he gave his heart to God, he lived only for Him and worked tirelessly that others might find the same Truth Whom he had come to love.
Fr. Seraphim’s hope and prayer for all who read this book may be expressed in the words he once wrote to a tiny, unknown mission in Northern California, where a handful of people gathered daily in a homemade chapel to read the Divine services together:
May the joy of our Risen Saviour be abundantly with you on these bright and radiant days of Pascha, and may you ever preserve the grace which you have received as a free gift from Him! Let no temptation overcome you, no darkness cloud your path, and no trial come upon you, in which you do not immediately turn to Christ our All-Merciful God, Who has trampled upon death and abolished the power of the devil. Remain in Christ’s grace and He will guide you all to salvation. Remember the end of your life, the never-setting Day of Christ’s Kingdom, and you will know why you are alive, and what you are striving for.
Christ is Risen!
H.M. of Apostle Paul