The above warning was given to me when I first met Orthodoxy in 1986. Today [2009] it is even more perilous, even more difficult to find the Royal Path. For one thing there is a far greater abundance of misinformation. And many materials are missing, and other materials are being rapidly rewritten. For another thing there are fewer than ever guides remaining on the Royal Path, especially who speak English. Hopefully this website will be a place where Newcomers to the Faith can keep at least one foot on solid ground, while they are "exploring."

blog owner: Joanna Higginbotham


jurisdiction: ROCA under Vladyka Agafangel

who did not submit to the RocorMP union in 2007


22 September 2014

Letters by Fr. Seraphim

Book Review 
by Joanna

Was Fr. Seraphim headed towards world-orthodoxy before he died?
An examination of the book Letters by Fr. Seraphim

Letters by Fr. Seraphim is a collection of letters written by Fr. Seraphim to Fr. Alexey Young during the years 1970 to 1982.   Fr. Alexey Young, in 2001, compiled the letters and published them with his added introduction and explanatory notes.  After Fr. Seraphim's death, Fr. Alexey Young had lost all sense of direction.  Somehow he got the idea that it was o.k. to join world-orthodoxy, and ended up joining the Antiochians.  He eventually returned to ROCOR, published this book, and then left again for world-orthodoxy, joining a new calendar Greek monastery in Ohio sometime before the ROCOR-MP union.  

What does that action say about Fr. Seraphim, when his spiritual son and fellow-priest joins world-orthodoxy?  World-orthodox defenders have used this action to justify their memberships in world-orthodoxy.  And they often, in their arguing of their case, point to the book, Letters by Fr. Seraphim.   Fr. Alexey's fall into world-orthodoxy needs to be contrasted and balanced out by the larger number percentage-wise of Fr. Seraphim's close associates who went to the opposite extreme and joined the super-correct groups.  One is Fr. Seraphim's godfather, Dimitri Langeron, who today is with ROCiE (Paris, Fr. Benjamin Zhoukoff).  Another is Fr. Lawrence Williams (2009†) who died as a full member of RTOC, (even so, his children had him buried by Platina).

We can not follow either of these extremes or consider them examples of what Fr. Seraphim taught.  Neither can we look to Platina for an example.  After Fr. Seraphim's death Platina left ROCOR, something Fr. Seraphim would never do.  Fr. Herman sent Fr. Damascene to the MP to be ordained to the priesthood, something Fr. Seraphim would never do.  Platina was vigante with no bishop for well over a decade before joining world-orthodoxy (never repenting, never returning to ROCOR).  Next, after Platina officially joined world-orthodoxy, they started rewriting/censoring/withholding Fr. Seraphim's materials to conceal the fact that Fr. Seraphim would surely disapprove of their course.

So what do we do?  Who do we trust?  Who do we follow?  We can still follow Fr. Seraphim.  But we have to look carefully, very carefully, at what Fr. Seraphim said and be absolutely certain we are understanding him in context.  And we can't let a world-orthodox or super-correct or other-wise confused person interpret him for us. 

For a long time I refused to read Letters by Fr. Seraphim just for this reason.  I'm not going to let somebody, not even Fr. Alexey Young, tell me that Fr. Seraphim was headed for world-orthodoxy before he died.  Apparently this is the impression given to many readers, especially those seeking to justify joining world-orthodoxy, seeking the benefits of the conveniences and fellowship offered by world-orthodoxy.  The conclusion made by these readers of Letters by Fr. Seraphim is that Fr. Seraphim started out as a hard-hearted super-correct, but then as he grew in the Faith his heart softened causing him to accept world-orthodoxy.  

Yes, Fr. Seraphim's heart did soften.  The Church promises to soften the hearts of those who love Her.  But this "softening" was not towards world-orthodoxy, but rather towards the sheep who were stuck in it.  As his love for Orthodox people (and particularly converts as he) deepened, so did his sorrow over their plight.

Isn't this how saints are born (spiritually)?  Out of love they grieve over the world, over people's sins and separation from God and His Church.  This heart-felt sorrow causes them to pray fervently, to labor even harder to encourage people to wake out of their "slumber".

We can see the true Father Seraphim in his letters, – that he was not headed towards world-orthodoxy – despite the book's direction to the contrary.  The letters themselves are taken out of context.  Fr. Seraphim statements have been further taken out of context and misused.  I want to examine a few of these statements and put them back into the context of the whole of Fr. Seraphim's teachings and his life.

pages 152 – 154

See what Fr. Seraphim wrote in his letter dated Jan 28/Feb 10, 1976.  This letter concerns a super-correct convert who had come to the west coast from Boston months earlier.  The content is immaterial to my complaint.  Fr. Alexey adds his explanatory note to this letter on the bottom of page 154.  Most of the note is relevant to the letter, but then the last sentence Fr. Alexey adds: This, however, has nothing whatever to do with the sectarian and extremely legalistic mindset of those few who deny the existence of grace in the New Calendar jurisdictions.

The first question is, if what Fr. Seraphim is saying has nothing to do with those who deny the existence of grace in the New Calendar jurisdictions, then why bring it up at all?  It opens up another can of worms that is only remotely connected to what Fr. Seraphim was saying.  Secondly, and worse, where it is placed and the way it is worded gives the impression to the casual reader that it is a very bad thing to say that there is no grace in the new calendar jurisdictions.  Bad to say it, and bad to think it.  It is true that the super-correct have a fatal legalistic mentality.  And it is true that the super-correct assert (quite obnoxiously) that the new calendar churches have no grace.  So, then what happens next is the reader, whether he has fully understood Fr. Seraphim's letter or not, quickly makes a mental note never to believe such a bad thing, that only fanatics believe such a thing.  This causes a premise to be set for the reader as he continues reading, and, maybe not so subconsciously, he deduces there is grace in the new calendar churches.

The beef the super-correct have with us (ROCA) was the same then as it is today: that we refuse to declare the new calendar jurisdictions to be graceless.  They want us to make an official declaration.  But we will not do so.  Why not? Because, first of all, it is not our place to do so.  And second, it is not always true.  There have been manifestations of grace in the new calendar jurisdictions.  The manifestations of grace in world-orthodox jurisdictions are increasingly infrequent and ever-weaker, but we can't say absolutely utterly "non-existent" or impossible.  We can say so about the Roman Catholic church, but not about the new calendar jurisdictions at this time.  It is not accurate to assume that anyone who says the new calendar jurisdictions have no grace is a sectarian with a legalistic mindset.  The reality is that a number of our own ROCA bishops have expressed this exact opinion even back in the 1970s.  But these are opinions that were contained within the synod and comprised a necessary part of the synodal mind as a whole.  Fr. Seraphim's synod.

Fr. Seraphim did not discuss the issue of who has or has not grace.  He spoke of apostasy and renovationism.  If Fr. Seraphim can make it to heaven without arguing about grace, then I think we can, too.

pages 166 – 170

This letter is dated "Third Day of Trinity, 1976" (June 2/15).  Make sure not to take the letter out of context; Fr. Seraphim continues writing about his ongoing struggle with the Boston super-correct mentality.  How do people come to the conclusion that it is o.k. to join world-orthodox by reading Letters by Fr. Seraphim?  This letter holds at least two clues:

Fr. Seraphim starts out this letter reporting on his most recent exasperations over the Boston super-correct mentality.  

... They feel themselves so strong and sassy now... doubtless they are already furious with us for revealing to the world in our new Orthodox Word magazine that we have not broken off communion with all the Orthodox Churches.   

... the more moderate position of our bishops will now come to seem intolerable to those who think "logically".
... zealotry is empty and even harmful.
... The "right wing" of Orthodoxy will probably be divided into many small jurisdictions in the future, most of them anathematizing and fighting with the others.

See these words of strife in the above: "furious", "intolerable", "empty", "harmful", "fighting".

Next in his letter Fr. Seraphim spends more than a page talking about how to stay on the royal path and avoid super-correct mentality.  Just before the conclusion of his letter he mentions that he had some feedback from two world-orthodox American Greek priests on the Orthodox Word issue #66.  My copy of Letters is used, I purchased it online from Amazon.  The previous owner had underlined some words in this next part I'm copying here below:

... As for our Metropolitan Philaret issue (OW #66), the little response so far has been mostly favorable.  Frs. Panteleimon and Neketas (Boston super-correct) are conspicuously silent, but we did hear from two Greek-American priests.  Their letters were sincere and without bad feeling, but they are obviously extremely naive about what the Synod believes, and they simply have no idea that there can be any such thing as a temptation on the right side....

See these words of peace in contrast: " favorable," "sincere," "without bad feeling", "naive".

So what does the casual reader of Letters by Fr. Seraphim conclude after reading this letter?  Everything bad is said about the super-correct and everything nice and 'good feeling' is said about the world-orthodox.  Naivit√© is a virtue because naive people are sincere and without bad feeling, unlike the super-correct who are strict, threatening, war-like, demanding, and angry.    

So, for one thing we have in this letter the contrast between the hard-heartedness of the super-correct and the gentle "child-like" ignorance of the world-orthodox.  Add to this contrast the next statement statement (also taken out of context) contained in the above quote where Fr. Seraphim writes:  ...we (ROCOR) have not broken off communion with all the Orthodox Churches...  This statement taken out of context can give the casual reader the idea that Fr. Seraphim's jurisdiction was in communion with mostly everyone in those days, or that it is never necessary to break communion, and that we are adamant about not doing what the super-correct expect we should do.  

Towards the end of 1975 Constantinople issued a now infamous statement announcing firmly their clearly stated ecumenical policy and the aims of the whole hierarchy of Constantinople.  In the Orthodox Word (January-February 1976, issue #66) Fr. Seraphim included Metropolitan Philaret's December 6/19, 1975 epistle written in response to that publication of the Church of Constantinople titled: "The Thyateira Confession".  The Boston super-correct were demanding that ROCOR anathematize Constantinople and all the Churches participating with it.  But instead of instantly breaking communion with all of the newly-avowed ecumenists and officially anathematizing all of them, our Metropolitan first wanted to try again to call them back as brothers, and to even start to grieve their loss which he had seen coming and tried so hard to prevent with his previous "Sorrowful Epistles".  

This was not shown in the book Letters by Fr. Seraphim.  The casual reader of Letters is not given the benefit of knowing what Fr. Seraphim wrote to us.  All he sees here is what Fr. Seraphim wrote to Fr. Alexey.  What Fr. Seraphim wrote to us for our benefit was a 3-page introduction to Metropolitan Philaret's epistle which he published in The Orthodox Word magazine issue #66.  Here is the concluding paragraph of that introduction: 

For over ten years now the voice of Metropolitan Philaret has resounded unwearyingly in a succession of letters of protest and warning to Orthodox hierarchs, particularly of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and in two "Sorrowful Epistles" addressed to the world-wide Orthodox episcopate.  The present letter is a kind of third sorrowful epistle to all the Orthodox bishops, occasioned by the first Orthodox-ecumentist "confession," which makes much more definite the errors which had been perhaps only "tendencies" up to now.  It should be noted that, despite the shocking lack of response by Orthodox hierarchs to his earlier "Sorrowful Epistles," the recent epistle is still addressed to "the Orthodox hierarchs," "the hierarchs of God," letting them know that it is the least of their brothers who is addressing them, not in order to call them names or make a public spectacle of them, but in order to call them back to Orthodoxy before they have departed from it entirely, without any hope of return.  It should also be noted that there is no trace whatever of the light-mindedness and mockery which mar some of the otherwise welcome anti-ecumenical writings of our day, especially in the English language. this is a document of the utmost seriousness, a humble yet firm entreaty to abandon a ruinous path of error, a document whose solemn tone exactly matches the gravity of its content, proceeding from the age-old wisdom and experience of Patristic Orthodoxy in standing in the truth and opposing error.  May it be read and it message heeded!

Now, see what you can see by putting things back into their context about Fr. Seraphim's true thinking about world-orthodoxy. 

page  227 

One more example:  A letter dated Nov 22/Dec 5, 1981.

Enclosed is a copy of Fr. (  )'s statement of separation from our Church.  Now, it seems, the sorry fruits of "super-correctness" are coming out.  One wonders how long Fr. Panteleimon will continue to inspire such acts without taking the jump himself?

In any case, it is a sad thing, but it makes our duty all the clearer; we have to preach even more strongly the true apostolic, missionary Orthodoxy and help to keep as many of our zealous convert priests as possible.  Orthodox America began its existence at just the right moment, and now it should be even more of a uniting voice for the true Orthodox fervor of our Church.

We, of course, are already guilty of many of the "sins" with which Fr. (  ) castigates our Church – worst of all (I suppose), the giving of Communion to New Calendarists.  I can see how each priest should be free to do as he thinks best on this question, but for us, I see that we must open ourselves to all the Orthodox who aren't being helped by their own bishops and priests. .... 

This, as Fr. Seraphim said, is the worst of all.  Here is confirmed the rumor everyone has heard that Fr. Seraphim communed New Calendarists towards the end of his life.  And here we have it straight from the horse's mouth – it is so.  Here to the casual reader is proof that it is o.k. to join world-orthodoxy.

First of all, know this background: that basically the policy in ROCOR is not to commune new calendarists.  But, and this is a big but, most bishops will give many of their priests the right to take each case individually.  It is the priest who has to answer to God for any misuse of the Mysteries.  The priest has a duty to each soul, and a duty to God at the same time.  In each circumstance the priest needs to discern if withholding the Mysteries will unnecessarily deprive the soul, or if administering Communion will harm the soul.

... I see that we must open ourselves to all the Orthodox who aren't being helped by their own bishops ...

Fr. Seraphim here says that "we" (probably meaning he, Fr. Herman, and maybe Fr. Alexey also) must always choose to help Orthodox people get what they are not getting from their own bishops.  He is not saying that he communes New Calendarists because it does not matter since on a higher level we are all one big happy ecumenical family anyway.

... I see that we must open ourselves to all the Orthodox who aren't being helped by their own bishops ...

He is not saying he has to help prepare Orthodox people for end times by teaching them about Antichrist, which their own bishops are neglecting.  He is not saying he has to help give Orthodox people the full experience of the church services, which their own bishops are abbreviating.

What is he saying?  Stop breathing for a minute and realize what he is saying.  

... I see that we must open ourselves to all the Orthodox who aren't being helped by their own bishops ...

He is saying he has to give the Body & Blood to Orthodox people who are not getting the Body & Blood from their own bishops.  Read between the lines – in there is a glimpse of the Royal Path.


Can you see how both an unprepared reading or a casual reading of Letters can give the wrong impression?  Fr. Seraphim did not write these letters to us.  He wrote them to his fellow-priest and fellow-writer/publisher, who was also suffering at the hands of the super-correct.  How Fr. Alexey got the message that it is o.k. to join world-orthodoxy, I don't know.  I can only guess that maybe he was fooled by the idea to "work from within".

In conclusion:
1. The letters were never meant for general readership, and certainly not meant for newcomers to the Faith.  Some of the thoughts are obviously very private.
2. The book was published and presented by one very good-hearted but very mixed up priest who ended up in world-orthodoxy.
3. The whole book is taken out of context.  If anyone must read Letters by Fr. Seraphim, then first they should read the issues #1 – 101 of Fr. Seraphim's Orthodox Word magazines, up to the time he died.

Platina would have done much better to make available Fr. Seraphim's back issues of The Orthodox Word, instead of withholding the very materials Fr. Seraphim's labored so hard to give us who come after him. Instead, what does Platina do?  They give the world something Fr. Seraphim has not intended to be given to everyone.

See these excerpts from letters to others besides Fr. Alexey:

And also see issue #100 of the Orthodox Word magazine.  This issue was done the year Fr. Seraphim died and shows he was just as strong against world orthodoxy at the end of his life as he was in the beginning:

reference: Orthodox Word #66
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