11 August 2006
A Symbol Of Our Times
Fr. Seraphim Rose As A Symbol Of Our Times
Inok Vsevolod (Filipiev) №12 (175) August, 2003
I will begin in a distant place. But maybe "distant" will turn out to be not so far off for some people...
In the 1990s, in the American state of Colorado, there lived a young cowboy by the name of Ross. Yes, here was a real-life modern cowboy. His family owned huge, by Russian standards, tracts of land, on which herds of cows grazed. Nevertheless the family had a modest income; they had to do much with their own hands. Ross spent all fall and spring in the saddle, as cowboys should. During the rest of the year, he was an ordinary American youth: he had a "Harley" motorcycle, very prestigious among young adults; he had long hair, and listened to modern music. The area in which Ross lived was traditionally Protestant. And so his family too was Protestant.
What then happened? Nothing extraordinary, and yet, it was extraordinary - Ross decided to find truth, which would explain to him everything about the world, about life and death, and about himself. Very quickly, Ross went through all the traditional American faiths, not having found what he was looking for. Then he decided to get into church history. Getting deeper and deeper in, Ross opened up for himself the treasury of the literature of the holy fathers. But the holy fathers lived long ago, and Ross wanted to find the thread of their traditions in modern life. He began to read many modern authors, until he came across, "by accident", of course, a book of one hieromonk Seraphim, with a beautiful last name: Rose. The youth did not know then, that this spiritual rose would fill his life with the aroma of true Christianity.
Having read one book, Ross, began to look for others, until he had read all the accessible works of Father Seraphim. From them he found out about Truth, which had already been waiting for him a long time, only he hadn't known the way to It. Ross learned, that this Truth was Christ, but not that sugar-coated and modernized one about which Protestants preach, but the Living Christ, living in the midst of his chosen people, namely the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. He also learned about the history of this Church, and learned of much else, for example, Russian Orthodoxy, holy Rus', and the neo-martyrs of Russia...
Then Ross found Orthodox Christians and accepted holy chrismation with the name Ignatius. He told us about all of this, having come on a pilgrimage to Jordanville...
Of course, similar cases, when young people seeking truth obtained it with the help of writings and the living example of hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), happened not only in America, but on Russian soil, somewhere around Pskov or in Siberia. But if Americans can call Father Seraphim their own, then with what does he attract Russian hearts? And not only Russian, but his likeness is used with no less respect in all the former Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe.
The thing is, that by the will of God, the hieromonk Seraphim became a symbol of our time, a symbol of how, from godlessness and false-spiritedness one can turn to the Truth. Countless times from completely different people I have heard: "You know, my own life is very similar to that of Father Seraphim." Yes. So is his fate - the fate of the lost modern generation, to which, by the mercy of God, true Christianity is opened. The landmarks of this fate are such.
The first landmark: disappointment in the tradition in which you were raised, a realization of its falsehood. In the West such traditions are falsely Christian, more often than not (Father Seraphim was from a Protestant family); in Russia, atheism, and beginning with the perestroika, a "religion" of a love of comfort and luxury.
The second landmark: After the disappointment follows a turning to false spirituality, such as Buddhism, as it was in Seraphim's case, eastern mysticism or the teachings of Nicholas Rerich.
The third landmark: A spiritual sobering and an understanding that in the sphere of "nontraditional spirituality" there is no truth. A dead end in life. A realization of one's own powerlessness, perception of the necessity of meeting the Living God, hungering for the help of the Godly atoner.
And finally, the fourth landmark. Discovery of the Church of God-Man, with its healing sacraments, with its everyday miracle of the co-existence of God with the faithful. Here there can be no mistake, for not only the soul in you rejoices, but every cell of the body rejoices, anticipating liberation. Remember, what Father Seraphim lived through, and he first came into the Russian Orthodox cathedral in San Francisco, where there was a service going on in a language alien to him. He understood, that this "door" had closed behind him forever.
But it is not enough to find the true Church, one must also manage to stay in it. This is especially hard for those, who came to the faith at a later age or were raised in an unorthodox tradition. Here begins the everyday feat of Christian life. Father Seraphim showed us an example, in fact, of how to live day-to-day patiently, in a wise, measured Orthodox way, all the way to the very end. He won a battle with the spirits of evil, a battle especially aggravated before his martyr-like end. He did not give in to any temptations and remained a faithful child of the Orthodox Church until the end.
Example and Testament
Those who knew the hieromonk Seraphim closely say, that he actually was a role model in everything: he behaved himself simply and with humility at all times; did not fall into extremism; sought an answer from the holy fathers regarding any occurring temptation, sought the will of God through the decisions and edicts of the spiritual leadership, was tolerant of the weaknesses of those around him and intolerant of his own shortcomings. Father Seraphim did not ail from the syndrome of those newly-converted to Orthodoxy: he did not make himself out as a spiritual elder or a more-than-spiritual theologian. But it was for this very humble attitude towards himself, that the Lord made him a fountain of living water for many suffering souls. The Lord put into his mouth words, full of reason and love. The Holy Spirit enlightened his mind, when he was creating his theological masterpieces, preaching, instructing spiritual children in letters or orally.
But are there really few people, for example in the USA, with the same fate as Father Seraphim? There are many such people. Are there really few religious authors in our time? There are enough. Then why do we venerate Father Seraphim above all? Why do Orthodox hearts on all continents answer to his word? Is it not because the Lord raised him up and even in life blessed him with spiritual gifts? And we reach out to Father Seraphim, feeling this holiness with our hearts.
In ancient times, Christ's teachings were called simply "The Way". And it seems this is not coincidental, for in order for us to be saved, it is not enough to simply master Christian teaching, we have to go through to the end of the difficult and trying Way of Christ ourselves. In our times many do not think through to the end how to travel this path? And so let us learn this art from the hieromonk Seraphim (Rose).
Father Seraphim taught that in any complications, doubts or the occurrence of a new, unforeseen until now, question, it is, first of all, absolutely necessary to cast off all preconceptions, prejudices and suspicions and attentively investigate, what the holy fathers said about the issue. Secondly, turn to a confessor; and third, ask the Lord for intelligence, and an answer will always come. This answer must be received, even if it contradicts the opinions of society or your own previous convictions. In this way Father Seraphim himself always acted.
The hieromonk Seraphim always considered the intelligent study of the holy fathers' works a very important part of the life of a Christian. It is not surprising, then, that one hieroschemamonk in Russia once said, that Father Seraphim, although he was an American, but he assimilated the spirit of the holy fathers better than many of those who had grown up among Orthodoxy. As we know, the main quality peculiar to all holy fathers is sobriety. And this quality was mastered by the hieromonk Seraphim from the holy fathers' legacy.
Sobriety taught Father Seraphim not to be proud at the veneration which surrounded him even during his lifetime. Sobriety held him back from the precipices on the walking of the monastic path. Sobriety guided him in the choosing of a church position, showing him the middle Royal path between the extremes of church renewal and fanatical self-sufficiency. Sobriety gave him the intelligence him to deal with Orthodox modernists and non-Orthodox Christians not as enemies, but as lost brothers, who had not yet understood the perniciousness of their views.
The hieromonk Seraphim taught that if we sit on our hands before the forces of darkness, if we abandon hope, then we will stop being Christians. He thought that under no circumstances, under no persecution, an Orthodox person cannot become malicious, for Christian love believes in everything, hopes in everything, never ceases.
The teachings of Fr Seraphim were not dismal. Even about the end of the world he spoke calmly and judiciousness, "eschatological ecstasy". He was completely pierced by the biblical spirit: the spirit of the apostles, the first Christians, ascetics. In his face an example of the Christians of the first time was shown; gazing their hearts' eyes to the heavenly sky, in anticipation of the coming Lord.
At the same time, Father Seraphim as a real "Egyptian" monk of our time. His soul was in love with the ideals of the monastic otherworldly life - life not according to the laws of the sinful world, but by the sermons of the heavenly world. At the same time, he did not create a cult out of monastic rejection of the worldly, as some modern Church writers do, playing in asceticism. Father Seraphim did not play; he lived ascetically, and so did not do it for show, did not become vainglorious, but chastely hid it from accidental sighting. He, like any other righteous Orthodox person, was a biblical child at heart, deeply felt and loved the beauty and harmony of God's creation.
In the essays and letters of Father Seraphim, all throughout his work reoccurs the thought that our goal today is the unity of the Orthodox; or strength, an honest but brief word. If we are to be firm and persistent in the attainment of this goal, then we, by the mercy of God, will yet see the triumph of Orthodoxy. And, conversely, we will never see this heavenly triumph, if we cross out all those, who, for whatever reason, are not with us now; if we isolate ourselves and abandon the preaching of Christianity to which we are called.
The way to a Russian heart
Some ask: "Is it possible, that the Russian people understood and took to heart the mission of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia?" And it never occurred to such people, that the people have already accepted it and this had happened when they took to heart such shining beacons of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia as the saintly bishop John Maximovich, hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), and the martyred keeper of the Myrrh-streaming Iveron icon Joseph Munos'. Without a doubt, the widespread veneration in Russia of the saintly bishop John, hieromonk Seraphim and Brother Joseph is a pledge that the Russian people are alive spiritually, that they have the power to cast off from their bodies unclean growth.
It should be understood, that the way of the saintly bishop John, Father. Seraphim and Brother Joseph - it is the only possible way to the hearts of the Russian people. Positive results cannot be attained with proud conviction and self-assured super-correctness. There is one true way - to go into one's own heart and through ceaseless repentance and prayer become a light for the world, and through this depending not at all on oneself, but all hope having been placed on the Lord. The saints went this way, and so their word was the word spoken "with power", and the word and deeds of Christ Himself, through their having addressed the people.
Let there be, on the way of all those going with a spiritual sermon to the Russian people, like a light in the dark, a light likeness of the hieromonk Seraphim (Rose).
Let's point out several examples, bearing witness to the fact of Father Seraphim's being chosen by God, his care about us, and likewise to the veneration of his faithful.
The hieroschemamonk Raphael (Berestov) tells how back in Soviet times the monks of the Trinity-Sergeivoj Monastery highly valued the compositions of Father Seraphim. They translated some of his masterpieces into the Russian language and distributed them among the faithful.
When a photo-portrait of Father Seraphim, lying in his grave, was sent to the monastery, he [the hieroschemamonk Raphael) was shocked by the fact that Father Seraphim's face was fair, clear, and alive. Father Raphael recalls that he literally ran about the monastery showing everyone the photograph, saying that having seen such a face, an unbeliever could be made to believe.
When Father Raphael, due to his hard-line anti-ecumenical position, and similarly his love of the desert, abandoned the monastery (formally he was given blessing to do so), he built a small hermitage there in the mountains of the Caucasus with the hieromonk Pius. He named it, symbolically, after Father Seraphim (Rose). They also had there an alley of trees that had essentially sprung up, which Father Raphael named, likewise with reverence, "the alley of Father Seraphim"...
So this is how long Russian monks, given with all their hearts to undamaged Orthodoxy, have already loved and read Father Seraphim.
Another incident happened in Russia already much later than the passing away of Father Seraphim, in the mid-90s of the 20th century. One monk, combining veneration of the hieromonk Seraphim with belief in the righteousness of so-called "Sergianism", decided to write an essay in defense of this very "Sergianism". At that time the pilgrim Tatiana was heading to America, to the Platina monastery. And it was to her that the monk turned with a request to bring him any holy relic of Father Seraphim. Time passed. And lo and behold, in those very days, when the aforementioned essay was supposed to be going to the printer's the monk received a holy relic from Platina. It was an envelope, on which in the pilgrim Tatiana's handwriting was written: "From the hieromonk Seraphim". As Tatiana explained, in the envelope was a note from Father Seraphim, from his papers in Platina.
The monk opened the envelope and froze, stunned. On a scrap of paper was written: "Stubbornness in Sergianism is heresy."
Needless to say, quite a feeling captured the author of the "Sergian Apology", having received this very "letter" from Father Seraphim. Of course, there was no longer any talk of the essay's publication. After an excruciating search of Church truth, the beauty of the Christian moral ideal was revealed before this person's very eyes. This ideal, the ideal of martyrs and confessors of Christ; this ideal which is incompatible with the hypocritical compromise and "false salvation." And compromise, along with evil and the "lie of salvation", are in fact synonyms for Sergianism in a spiritually moral way.
Now let us return to America. Here in 1997 misfortune befell an Orthodox family: the head of the household subdeacon Vasilij Anderson. In life Vasilij was a kind Christian, who worked with much activity for missionary publishing houses. Together with his wife they took out of Russia two orphans for upbringing. Vasilij was a godchild of Father Seraphim. After the sudden passing away of Vasilij, Father Seraphim appeared in a dream to his [Vasilij's] sister Cecily, who was also one of his godchildren. He was preoccupied with something, he was doing something. Cecily asked him, what he was so busy with. Father Seraphim replied that he has many cares, seeing as how he is preparing the place to meet the newly-reposed servant of God Vasilij...
Father Seraphim (Rose) in the coffin (photo in original http://www.russian-inok.org/)
If in this life we try to get spiritually close to Father Seraphim (Rose), then, we, by the mercy of God, will be with him in the next life as well.
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