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


30 March 2020

A Radio Interview

A Radio Interview With Hieromonk Seraphim Rose
Recorded at the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery on November 4, 1981.
The interviewer, Fr. John Ocana, was at that time hosting a weekly radio show on Orthodox Christianity.

FJ: Good morning. This is Fr. John Ocana of the Antiochian Orthodox Church of the Redeemer in Los Altos, California. (1)  Last week we were speaking about St. Seraphim of Sarov and the ascetic life in the Orthodox Church. My guest this morning is Hieromonk Seraphim of the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina, California. Good morning, Father.

FS: Good morning, Father.

FJ: For the benefit of our radio listeners: Fr. Seraphim is a hieromonk, and perhaps many of you are not familiar with this term. Father, perhaps you can explain to us: What is the meaning of a hieromonk? What does a hieromonk do?

FS: A hieromonk is simply a monk who also happens to be a priest, and his function is the function of a priest. In the monastic community, he, in alternation with the other priests of the community, serves the Liturgy. At times, as is the case in our monastery, he might serve Liturgy for mission parishes outside of the monastery.

FJ: We are speaking about – as I said before – the ascetic life. Perhaps you can explain to our radio audience some of the aspects of the ascetic life and what is the meaning of this life-style for our world today. Perhaps you can help our radio listeners to understand what is this ascetic life? What do you actually do? What is your goal in life as a hieromonk?

FS: Perhaps a more understandable term tan ascetic might be simply the life of struggle. The monastic life is the life of Christian struggle. There are many forms in which a Christian can struggle, and the monastic life is one of these. Historically, the earliest age of the Church, during the first three centuries, was the age of martyrdom. Those Christians who went willingly to suffering and death for the sake of their faith in Christ, and who refused to bow down to the pagan idols, were performing a struggle. Later on, when the Church became officially recognized and therefore more subject to being influenced by the world, there were men and women who went away from the world into the deserts, and that was the beginning of what we know now as the monastic life.

FJ: I know that the monastic life and the monastic tradition is part of the Orthodox tradition. I was thinking this morning about the impact of the ascetic life on the life of the Church, and the life of us as individual Christians. What do you feel are some of the benefits that the Christian community derives from having people like yourself in the monastic life? What do we receive from that, if I can put it in those terms?

FS: Well, first of all I would say that the monk is really no different from other Christians, in the sense of being a struggler, because Christianity is not possible without struggle. We receive from our Lord Jesus Christ salvation. And the, as St. Paul says, it is required for each one to work out [his] salvation with fear and trembling. (2)  Therefore, each Christian must be a struggler in order to receive, to appropriate to himself, this salvation which is given to us by Jesus Christ. And the monk is simply one who has committed himself to a particular way of life which is directly bound up with this kind of struggle.

FJ: Can you share with us some of the principles of the ascetic life? What are some of the guidelines that you follow, which help you to live this way of life? And what precisely is the goal? What are you trying to achieve in this way of living?

FS: Well, the monastic, whether male or female, is leading a life which, to the best of our ability, is one of regularity. This involves a definite discipline of attendance at Church services, of performing a rule of prayer, of nourishing our minds and hearts with the word of God and the writings of the Holy Fathers. And this is the same kind of disciplined life which Orthodox Christians in the world also live, according to their ability – or should be living. One can say that if the monastic of our times has something to show to the rest of the Christains, it is this showing forth of the disciplined life to which everyone is called according to their strength, and which might inspire them when they see a particular class of people who are devoting themselves entirely to this.

FJ: I would like to be a little bit more specific. How do you, as an Orthodox Christian, put on Christ? (3)  How is this done within your way of life? Perhaps you can share with us some of the guiding principles, or some of the sayings of the Fathers of the Church, that help you to understand and to live this life more fully.

FS: Well, in the monastic context, we make a point of first of all of putting off our own will, which means submission to the authority of spiritual fathers, to the abbot. The Christian in the world has the same concept of obedience – though not in such a direct form – because he must be obedient to Christ, to the Church, to the authority of the Church. So this is something which happens in the life of everyone, but the monastic has this particular form of very strict obedience to the abbot or his spiritual father. The particular benefit which a monk or nun derives from obedience is directly related to the quality of his spiritual life.

     We can see in the example of the Saint you talked about last week, St, Seraphim of Sarov, that he – living in the desert, in the wilderness – could have acquired great spiritual benefit perhaps even without someone over him to whom he had to be submissive; but unless his Christian life had been tested by this particular virtue of obedience, we might not have been quite so certain as to what state he was in. For example, it happened that some of the brothers in the monastery complained that he was not coming to the services like the other monks (he was living outside the monastery in a cell in the wilderness), that he was living a life too remote from them, that he was perhaps falling into the danger of trusting himself, and therefore the brethern asked the abbot to force him to come to the monastery. The abbot did this: he sent word that he was to come to the Liturgy to receive Communion, and so that the brethern would not be scandalized. St. Seraphim, hearing this, instantly obeyed. He came without saying a word, because he was at that time living a life of total silence; he came in obedience to the monastery and in accordance with the will of the abbot, and acted just like the other brothers. Thereby he showed that he had humility; because , if he were unwillingly to oney, it would mean that there was pride in him.

     For people living in the world this might seem an advanced thing to understand, but it is not so at all, because this virtue of humility is basic to all the other Christian virtues. It is revealed in one's willingness not to trust oneself, but rather submit to the will of one's superior.

FJ: That's an interesting concept and an interesting aspect of the Christian life. Perhaps you can share with us a few more of the virtues that a monk develops in this form of life, that we as Christians must also develop.

FS: Well, closely bound up with this idea of obedience is this idea of not trusting oneself, not trusting one's opinions. This does not mean that one is in a state of total confusion. It means that there is somewhere in oneself a humility that refuses to take one's own opinions as the ultimate law. Of course, in the Orthodox Church we have the whole hierarchy and discipline of the Church, which gives to us the basic belief and way of life that we have. Therefore, our life is constantly being tested against this measuring stick.

     It so happens that, in the Western world especially, the habit of placing to much trust in one's own opinions, in one's own way of thinking, has led to the formation of many sects, each one of which promotes simply the personal opinion of the person who founded it.

FJ: We certainly see within many churches in the Western world a division according to various denominational lines, and I know that the Orthodox Church does not consider itself a denomination. Perhaps you can share with us some thoughts as to why the Orthodox Church does not consider itself just one more denomination among other Christian groups.

FS: Well, historically one can trace back from the present-day Orthodox Church and go back all the way to the Apostles. One can trace the teaching of the present-day Orthodox Church and go all the way back through the Holy Fathers of the Church and the Ecumenical Councils, again to the Apostles. And in fact, one can even trace such things as the Church vestments and services back through the earlier Church to the fourth century and even beyond that. This is a very persuasive thing. For example, the Orthodox Church in Uganda was formed, not by missionaries coming from outside, but by two Anglican seminarians, who, investigating the history of the Church, found that historically the Orthodox Church was the only one which was tied to and came down in a straight succession without change from the age of the Apostles.

FJ: One of the things that we spoke about earlier, Father, was prayer, and the role that prayer has in [the] life of a monk. Could you speak a little about this? We also spoke about your praying for the world. I found this very interesting. Can you share some of those thoughts with your audience?

FS: Yes, of course. A monk is free to pray more than the ordinary layman is able to, because the whole monastic life is centered around the Church services, which we have in the morning, in the evening, and at various times of the day. Therefore, he prays with the cycle of the Church's services. And a special part of his prayers is the prayer, both in Church and in his own cell, for others. In the world, people are not usually so free to devote time to praying for others; but the monastic has the opportunity to devote himself to this kind of prayer. In his prayer in the desert, away from the ways of the world, he can call to mind those who are in various conditions of suffering, sorrow, or struggle. Often those people in the world have no one to have sympathy on them in their struggles. The monastic is one who can do this. We receive mail from people all over the world telling about their needs and their struggles, and therefore we take this obligation upon ourselves of praying for them, asking God's mercy upon all those who are in conditions of need throughout the world.

FJ: I can see that our time is just about up. Father, I'd like you to share with our radio audience some last thoughts that you might have for them this morning.

FS: I would encourage people to become acquainted with the monastic tradition of the past, because this is not so much a special way of life as it is a way of preserving true Christianity in the midst of the temptations which inevitably come from the world. If one reads, for example, the Life of a struggler like St. Seraphim in more modern times, or the Lives of the saints of the desert in the early centuries of Christianity, one finds there a simplicity and a warmth, and a basic Christianity that is so easily clouded over by the influence of the world upon us. Therefore, the reading of such texts as the Lives and the sayings of the Desert Fathers is something that can, I think, open up and strengthen true Christianity in people today.

FJ: Father, I would like to thank you very, very much for being with us this morning.

FS: Thank you.  

Special thanks to Fr. John Ocana for granting permission to print this interview, and to Fr. Paul Baba, now the priest of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cedar Rapids, who recorded it and provided us with the tape recording.

1. At the time of publication of this edition (2001) he was pastor of St. Herman of Alaska Church in Sunnyvale, California, of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
2. Philipians 2:12
3. Galatians 3:27

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