03 April 2012
The book Heavenly Realm is a small collection of Fr. Seraphim's lay sermons published in 1984 by Platina, less than two years after his death. The introduction to this book is written by a monk who knew him at the time. It shows a perspective of Fr. Seraphim that needs to be preserved, at the very least, for its historical value. The monk may say something different today, but this is how he said it then.
FATHER SERAPHIM'S BEGINNINGS AS AN ORTHODOX WRITER.
When Vladika John came to San Francisco at a time of ecclesiastical strife over the building of the new Cathedral, The Joy of All Who Sorrow, his stay caused him great sorrow while to his flock it was a source of abundant joy. The whole of the Orthodox community in San Francisco became alive. The building of the Cathedral was restored. Various committees were established and life was bubbling with church activity. At that time, Fr. Seraphim, having become Orthodox, was absorbing rapidly the pattern of church services. He attended services in the morning and evening quite consciously, building in himself a fortification of his spiritual life based on liturgical theology, which he was drawing from the divine services. At every service, Archbishop John not only was present but took part, always unfailingly reading several canons at Compline, sometimes pulling out from his pocket various xeroxes of services of unknown or little known Saints – Greek, Serbian, Saints of the West – of Gaul, Italy, and Belgium.
It did not take long for the Archbishop John to take notice of the thirsty soul of a young man who stood at the back of the Cathedral and ardently prayed. And although Archbishop John summoned him several times to draw closer to the cliros and the altar, he reluctantly withdrew because of his fear of worldliness, which was so apparent in the acolytes and some of the clergymen. His observation of this dampened in him any desire for his participation. And it was not without good reason that he had to preserve in himself, to guard and protect, the thirst for genuine spirituality so as not to be squashed by the prosaic aspect of church life.
It became apparent to his brother-in-the-Lord, when the St. Herman Brotherhood was founded, that this fear of losing the Spirit in the heart of Fr. Seraphim had to be overcome. By avoiding contact with the merely external reality of the church personnel, one can estrange oneself from the very source of grace that the Church offers. Thus he begged him to do an obedience for the sake of Christ: to close his eyes to this interference and to enter into the heart of hearts of liturgics for the sake of the ideals to which the St. Herman Brotherhood adhered. Once Archbishop John perceived this submission for the sake of the love of Christ, he called him and told him not to pay attention to anything or anyone outside the context of the flowing cycle of services.
Archbishop John himself never said a word in the altar. And outside it, he would limit himself to a few brief words, or mostly nods of the head, and gestures of the hands. Fr. Seraphim himself, having undergone the adherence to a life of silence, immediately felt akin to the spirit of this otherwise exceedingly idiosyncratic Archpastor. Very soon he was drawn by Archbishop John to read and chant in Slavonic in the cliros, which, due to Fr. Seraphim's exceeding bashfulness and modesty would have presented a great problem, but he was adamant in pursuing his desire to be in the heart of heart of Orthodoxy. He forced his will and was not only at peace, but even in spite of his English accent, he felt at home and was accepted by everybody as if her belonged there in the first place.
At this time Archbishop John decided to form theological courses, and he summoned his Vicar Bishop Nektary and the rest of the local clergy, giving them courses to teach, and the courses began meeting several times a week and were well attended and highly successful. There were men and women crowding St. Tikhon's parish hall, and every lecture was followed by inspired discussions. Archbishop John taught Liturgics, Bishop Nektary – Patristics, Archimandrite Spiridon – Old Testament, Fr. Leonid – Apologetics; others taught Church history, pastoral theology, church singing, and even Russian literature. All throughout, Archbishop John's eyes were keenly observing the course of Fr. Seraphim's theological development.
These courses stirred great interest in the Orthodox (community), which was reflected in the church bulletin supervised by Archbishop John and printed by the Convent of Abbess Aridna. This publication, Orthodox Tidings, published by Archbishop John's predecessor Archbishop Tikhon, was in Russian, although in almost every issue was one article in English – almost all by Fr. Seraphim, which served as the Archbishop's missionary outreach to those who could not read Russian. Although the articles were short, just as the publication itself, the bulletin was nevertheless well received and became quite popular, especially after the death of Archbishop John, when it was under the editorship of the Brothers of St. Herman, who enlarged it and made it into a journal of Orthodox spirituality rather than just a parochial bulletin. It was in this periodical that Fr. Seraphim first began to be published, which stirred interest in ecclesiastical circles to the extent that the editor of the leading Russian Church journal Orthodox Russia of Jordanville, Archimandrite Constantine, called Fr. Seraphim, "an established ecclesiastical writer."
Almost from the very beginning, Archbishop John insisted that Fr. Seraphim (then Eugene Rose) write articles, and he was so adamant that not a single issue would be without his article that he would call late at night or in the early hours of the morning to ask that the articles be submitted to the Convent press. Archbishop John never either corrected, added, or made any suggestions whatever in connection with Fr. Seraphim's Lay Sermons, and he always had a very approving attitude towards Fr. Seraphim's writings.
Later, when the Brotherhood began to publish its own magazine, The Orthodox Word, with the blessing of Archbishop John, he made a deliberate point not to have any censorship, insisting that all responsibility for the editorship lay entirely in the hands of the Brothers, for in such a way they would not be swallowed up by opinions that were prevalent at the time. He further indicated that in time of persecution, Orthodox workers must be independent and responsible. The Archbishop would answer questions when the Brothers would come with doubt, always watching keenly the expression in the eyes of those he questioned.
It was during the courses, on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1965, that Fr. Seraphim was ordained to the rank of a reader by Archbishop John, thereby being installed into the first clerical rank. He then went on to successfully complete the theological studies as the top student, even though all the lectures were conducted in Russian. At that time Archbishop John stopped the courses and never again revived them, as if he designed all this activity in order to give the fullness of truth to the thirsty soul of the young man who humbly stood in the back of the Cathedral, as it were, to pass on to Fr. Seraphim his mantle, as did Elijah to Elisha: such was his solicitude for his spiritual son.
After that, Archbishop John would time and again come into the Brothers' print shop, bringing some postcard icons or Troparions, or bit of hagiographical information to share with the Brothers, which indicated he was highly satisfied with their independent and unique activities. Thus, once having asked many questions about the future printing plans of the Brotherhood he looked into the eyes of Fr. Seraphim piercingly and said, "And what will that lead to?" To which Fr. Seraphim said that he did not want to go to a seminary or monastery, but that he would want to give Orthodoxy to his compatriots who are bitterly in search of Orthodox truth. To that, Archbishop John said, "Yes, yes, I believe that there will be a missionary monastery in California." On one of St. Herman's feast days, when Archbishop John, having served a panikhida in the Cathedral before the Brotherhood's icon of Blessed Herman, the Archbishop said in his sermon on St. Herman that although he was not yet canonized, he works miracles and that one of them was next door – i.e., the Orthodox work of the Brotherhood, which "is a reflection of Valaam."
On the very last time he visited the shop, Archbishop John reminded the Brothers that the very next day would be the feast day of St. Tikhon of Kaluga, whom he highly venerated, and from whose monastery Fr. Gerasim of Alaska came. He said that he would serve the vigil to St. Tikhon in his St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Church, stating that it was also the name day of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, and he wondered if the Brothers would attend that vigil service. He looked searchingly into the eyes of the Brothers and with a smile said that he wished they would attend Liturgy in the morning because he had something important to tell them. This was the last time the Brothers saw him in their shop. Fr. Seraphim made a point to go to the evening service, even though they were pressed for time. Afterwards,the Archbishop again asked that the Brothers come for Liturgy,repeating he had something very important to say. Yet with the smile he had in his eyes, it was apparent that he merely wanted to see them rather than impart a special message. The Brothers did not go to that Liturgy. Soon thereafter, Archbishop John made a trip to Seattle,where he was to repose,and on the way he stopped in Redding where he blessed that city with the miracle-working icon of The Sign of the Most Holy Theotokos. Here he looked westward for a long time, where forty miles away, exactly a year later, the land was bought for the missionary monastery in Platina, which he had foretold years before.
Just as Fr. Seraphim was compelled by a sense of urgency to assimilate all that the grace-filled Church has to offer, so, too, was he driven to share it with others. These short sermons, so much liked by Archbishop John, are the fruit of that urgency to give to others, as they were also the starting point of the missionary and theological journal the Brotherhood would later publish, The Orthodox Word. In a broader sense, they serve as an introduction to the entire theological service Fr. Seraphim would render to the 20th century English-speaking world. This importance is underscored by the fact that they are a monument not to some grace-filled epoch of bygone years – of Holy Russia, Byzantine, Greece, Serbia, etc., but to a 20th century American who converted to and fully entered into the spirit of Patristic Orthodoxy and became entirely transformed by it – truly a modern miracle. May these sermons open up to the reader that heavenly realm that opened and revealed itself to Fr. Seraphim, thereby giving him strength and fortification against the days to come, for the times are evil.
R. monk Steven K.
Great Lent 1984
Here is also the preface to the same book written by another man, maybe an American of Russian descent. Again, as with the R. monk Steve K., this man might write his preface differently today; but, for the record, this is what he wrote then.
Father Seraphim (1934-1982), Eugene Rose, before monasticism was a very perceptive and sensitive young man, highly talented in many fields: philosophy, science,mathematics, linguistics, literature, music and theology. It was mostly his philosophically analytical mind that made his college years so full and intense in achievements. His unquenchable thirst for the Truth led him to the threshold of True Christianity, the Universal Orthodoxy. But at first it was for him too abstract to be able to engross himself into it totally. He really was more a realist than an idealist, and he certainly hated the spineless "academic Orthodoxy," of the modern school, which barred him from entering into the very heart of the living contact with Christ through the experience of the Mysteries and Patristic otherworldliness that the Church live by. This heavenly realm of Traditional Apostolic Orthodoxy was not opened to him until some living representatives of contemporary monasticism out of the martyric Russian Church entered into his life. The ground of his heart through personal suffering was now ripe. His study and his deep understanding of the "Mystery of Iniquity" of our Post-Christian era made his soul sober. And when he knew that this long sought-after realm was opening before him, he accepted the fullness of Christ whole-heatedly.
And at once he began to bring forth fruit with his might pen, sharing this priceless acquisition with his contemporaries, consciously leading them into this heavenly realm. To this he dedicated the rest of his short but full life.
The proof that all this was genuine is that he henceforth bore fruit an hundredfold in the vineyard of Christ; fruits literary, missionary, monastic, pastoral, and even after his death – a glory to all Orthodox Americans – apparently even sanctity. One outstanding* contemporary theologian, the late Alexander Schmemann, having served a panikhida for Father Seraphim said, "here is a man to whom belongs the future."
In this book we present his little 20 essays, so-called "lay-sermons," his earliest Orthodox writings, produced in the early 1960's. Although much too brief and limited they clearly indicate and with full force demonstrate both the spiritual impact Orthodox Spirituality was making on him, as well as the desire to put his share in leading others into his newly-discovered heavenly realm.
To the non-Orthodox reader this little book of the "early Father Seraphim" might not give an impression of the full magnitude of his impact on us young Americans. But the wonder of a soul of a 20th century modern young man who managed somehow to penetrate into the realm of the rich Byzantine Tradition, then to become genuinely saturated by its divine splendor,and finally to emerge as a living link with the Church Fathers – is indeed awesome!
Who would suspect that our prosaic America could produce such a visionary?
And finally, here is copied a portion of the "epilogue" or last chapter, which contains a personal letter that Fr. Seraphim wrote in 1962, the month before he was received into the Church.
The life and writings of Father Seraphim have much to offer to the contemporary Christians. We believe that he was sent by God to lay open more fully for us the dilemma of how a fully modern man – with all the "hang-ups" and idiosyncracies of today's abnormal life – can enter into the saving enclosure of Christ's Body, the Church, and remain there, bringing forth spiritual fruit, while not becoming crippled by the pedestrian "ethnic" mentality that today has become so inseparably bound p with most of the historic Orthodox Churches.
Father Seraphim died too early, we feel, without having pronounced his "last word." He dedicated his whole life to the question of the "Royal Path" of genuine, sober Christian spirituality and worked with great intensity to disseminate it in the context of traditional monastic experience, giving forth a truly flourishing output in literature, lectures, missions, conferences, Pilgrimages, etc.,, inspiring all kinds of people to flow the Royal Path to Christ.
More and greater difficulties lie ahead for the Orthodox Christians of this country. In view of this, perhaps Father Seraphim's final and most important message to us is his often repeated warning. "It's later than you think. Hasten, therefore, to do now the work of God." This was no "doomsday hysteria," but rather the sober counsel of a true spiritual Father to his many spiritual children. "For you know not in what hour the Bridegroom will come." And so let us gather and treasure in our hearts the reflections of the love of God found in the thoughts of Father Seraphim, that our lamps may not be found empty in the day of trial to come.
Father Seraphim's longed-for "heavenly realm" was bought at a very dear price. He acquired the complete Christian world-view by perceiving the spirit of the age immediately preceding the Antichrist. Once he understood its infernal nature, he rejected it and began a thorough investigation of Eastern wisdom. This did not satisfy him, but became a challenge through which he came to Orthodoxy,into living contact with Jesus Christ. To Christ he gave his heart entirely. The flowing brief random notes shed some light on the mystical make-up of Father Seraphim's soul.
A LETTER OF 1962
The salutation of the letter is omitted in the book, but reading the letter we can see at the end that it was written to Gleb Podmoshensky, the future monk Herman.
I have just recently returned from Carmel, where I spent Western Christmas with my parents. Carmel, in case you have not heard of it, is a town about 120 miles down the coast (from San Francisco), very beautifully situated among pines and cypresses and the ocean, formerly a colony of Bohemian artists and poets, now a rather too "quaint" and "arty" place of retirement for the moderately wealthy who have some "cultural" pretentions. It has a strong odor of the spirit of comfortable worldliness.
To me this wordly atmosphere is an instruction in the "spirit of the age," as well as in humility – though I fear I take all too little advantage of the latter. In this outwardly "neutral" and seemingly harmless atmosphere I detect all too clearly the signs of the spirit of Antichrist: the pseudo-pious "religiosity and self-righteousness; the superficial anti-Communism which can all too easily be fanned into a pseudo-religious neo-fascist "crusade" to make the world safe for "Christian democracy"; the mental and spiritual aimlessness, covered with a cloak of vague morality and well-meaning "idealism" that can regard a heretic like Albert Schweitzer as a "saint" and that believes all the pious propaganda of "peace" and "brotherhood" that emanates from both sides of the Iron Curtain. all of the spiritual falseness seems to me but raw material that is waiting to be exploited by the Prince of Evil for the establishment of some monstrous, deceitful "Kingdom of this world"; indeed, I detect in this atmosphere – as in the whole spirit of the age – a sense of expectancy, as if men were awaiting the coming of some Messiah to solve all the seemingly insoluble problems and resolve all the agonizing anxiety that characterize our age; men seem ready to prostrate themselves before some great apocalyptic figure who will bring "peace" and "brotherhood" – and, most of all, forgetfulness of Christ and of the fact that the "problems" of our age are not external but internal, for they are the product of our turning away from the Face of that terrible God Who expects so much from us, and has promised us an eternal live that will be unbearable to men who want only to "get along in the world."
All of this is the subject of the book I am writing on the spiritual condition of contemporary man, and I am sometimes frightened by the magnitude of the undertaking and by my own unworthiness to undertake it. I actually began thinking and writing about it a number of years ago, before my conversion to Orthodoxy, when I was full of pride over my own "knowledge" and hatred of this contemporary world; my visits home and to the world of Carmel reduced me to a state of rage and despair. But since my conversion and my growth in faith these feelings have been replaced by a feeling of pity and helplessness; pity over the sad state of the world that has renounced Christ and is not even aware of the fact, a world full of well-meaning" people who are miserable and do not even know it – or if they know, do not know why, and look vainly outside themselves for the cause –; and helplessness over the fact that, try as I might, I can never communicate with the vast majority of these people. My only hope is to be able to communicate what little I know – or think I know – to the more thoughtful, especially among the young, who are not totally deceived by this false world but still do not know where to turn for the Truth. For the others, my uncompromising tone (for I think it is too late to speak "mildly" about such things, for there is the danger of being confused with the vague "new spirituality" of Berdyaev and other "well-meaning" people that is so increasingly prevalent) will no doubt provoke hostility, if not ridicule; so much so that I have doubts of even finding a publisher. But even this hostility may be of some use; for I think it is a good thing for people to know that not all who call themselves "Christians" are satisfied with the vague pesudo-religious "spirituality" being propagated on all sides today; and I think it needs to be pointed out with absolute clarity that the religion of "compromise" is self-deception, and that there exist today at bottom only two absolutely irreconcilable alternatives for man: faith in the world and the religion of self, whose fruit is death; and faith in Christ the Son of God, in Whom alone is eternal Life.
I would like very much to receive your comments and criticisms of all this.
Fortunately, Carmel is but five miles away from Seaside, where there is the marvelous little church of St. Seraphim I told you about. I had attended liturgy there several times on previous visits, but this time for the first time I went to see the priest, Fr. Gregory K. My visit confirmed the very favorable impression he had already made on me, both from his appearance and from his careful celebration of the liturgy. He is a very sensitive and intelligent man, and he seems very genuinely humble and simple. If the choice were mine, I should certainly go to him as a spiritual father. I mentioned you to him, and he had heard of you and wondered why you had not visited him and shown your slides to his flock. I hope you can meet him sometime. It seems strange to me that he is so little known in church circles; he appears to be quite isolated.
I cannot express to you my joy over your visit. I had become accustomed to almost total isolation from Orthodox people, and your visit was truly providential. My own faith has been greatly strengthened by yours and by your revelation of the spiritual life at Jordanville, I hope to hear from you soon, and I ask your prayers, as I pray for you.
Your brother in Christ,
St. Seraphim of Sarov
January 2, 1962
Q. Why don't you want to go to Mt. Athos?
A. We should strive, according to Bishop Ignatius Brainchaninov's advice, to have Mt. Athos in our heart. Actually, we are working to have our own Mt. Athos in America. The only problem is there's not much time left.
Q. Wouldn't you like to have a net of monastic sketes cover America?
A. God forbid! It would be full of "kooks." Individual strugglers, yes, but if you try to organize them together, then there will be a real disaster.
• Every ecclesiastical organization will eventually bow down to Antichrist.
• Pornography is Antichrist's iconography
• Antichrist will have as his symbol and image a perfectly genuine Byzantine icon similar to Christ's.
• The "super-Orthodox" of today can very easily become the prey of Antichrist.
Q. What about all these "crazy converts"?
A. Those who are raised Orthodox from childhood have patience, but lack zeal. The converts have zeal, but lack patience. The ideal is to have zeal tempered by patience. But the Church climate today turns humbleness and patience very often into passive fear and paralyzed inactivity. The zealous ones are often accused of being in prelest, and are pushed away, right out of the Orthodox Church. We must be governed by the Church Fathers, who are the mind of the Church.
*Outstanding? When Fr. Seraphim Rose spoke of "theology with a cigarette" he was referring to the renovationism of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who was a lifetime smoker.