Κυριακή 3 Σεπτεμβρίου 2017

A Lover of Truth: In Memory of fr. Seraphim Rose († September 2, 1982)


Father Seraphim was born into a typical white middle class Protestant family in San Diego in 1934. While growing up, he was the proverbial dutiful child and academic achiever. After high school, however, he began to passionately seek the answer to the question "Why?"--and, not finding it in the society in which he had been raised, he began to rebel. He refused to accept the accepted answers. This was at the very beginning of the modern counterculture, the early 1950's. Father Seraphim became a student of one of the counterculture's first pioneers, Alan Watts (whom he realized later was totally pseudo) and became a Buddhist Bohemian in San Francisco. He learned ancient Chinese in order to study the Tao Teh Ching and other ancient Eastern texts in their original language, hoping thereby to tap into the heart of their wisdom. By this time he had wholly rejected the Protestant Christianity of his formative years, which he regarded as worldly, weak, and fake; he mocked its concept of God and that that it "put God in a box." He Read Nietzsche until the Prophets words began to resonate in his soul with an electric, infernal power.
All this time, he had been seeking the Truth with his mind, but the Truth had eluded him. He fell into a state of despair which he described years later as a living hell. He felt he did not fit in the modern world, even his family, who did not understand him. It was as if he had somehow been born out of place, out of time. He loved to roam under the stars, but he felt that there was nothing our there to take him in--no God, nothing. The Buddhist "nothingness" left him empty, just as it did the founder of the Beat movement, Jack Kerouac; and, like Kerouac, Father Seraphim turned to drink. He would drink wine voraciously and then would pound on the floor, screaming to God to leave him alone. Once while drunk, he raised his fist to heaven from a mountaintop and cursed God, daring Him to damn him to Hell. In his despair, it seemed worth being damned forever by God's wrath, if only he could empirically know that God exists--rather than remain in a stagnant state of indifference. If God did damn him to hell, at lest then he would, for that blissful instant, feel God's touch and know for sure He was reachable
"Atheism," Father Seraphim wrote in later years, "true 'existential' atheism, burning with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God is a spiritual state; it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God Whose ways are so inexplicable even to the most believing of men, and it has more than once been known to end in a blinding vision of Him Whom the real atheist truly seeks. It is Christ Who works in these souls. The Antichrist is not to be found in the deniers, but in the small affirmers, whose Christ is only on the lips. Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist, proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ..."
In searching through various ancient religions and traditions, Father Seraphim once went to visit a Russian Orthodox Church. Later he wrote of his experience.
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"For years in my studies I was satisfied with being 'above all traditions' but somehow faithful to them... When I visited an Orthodox Church, it was only in order to view another 'tradition'. However, when I entered an Orthodox Church for the first time (a Russian Church in San Francisco) something happened to me that I had not experienced in any Buddhist or other Eastern temple; something in my heart said this was 'home,' that all my search was over. I didn't really know what this meant, because the service was quite strange to me and in a foreign language. I began to attend Orthodox services more frequently, gradually learning its language and customs... With my exposure to orthodoxy and Orthodox people, a new idea began to enter my awareness: that Truth was not just an abstract idea, sought and known by the mind, but was something personal--even a Person--sought and loved by the heart. And that is how I met Christ."
On becoming Orthodox Father Seraphim continued to despise modern world and hoped for nothing from it; he wanted only to escape it. He felt no less, if not more, estranged from the Christianity he had been raised in, for while that Christianity was at home in the world, his was radically otherworldly. He had finally found the designation of man's existence, and it was this: man is meant for another world.
Father Seraphim's was an ascetic Faith. He wanted a Christianity that emphasized not earthly consolation and beliefs, but rather heavenly redemption through suffering on this earth. No other kind rang true to him who had suffered much. Only a God Who allowed His children to be perfected for heaven through suffering, and Who Himself set the example by coming to a life of suffering--only such a God was capable of drawing the afflicted world to Himself and was worthy to be worshiped by the highest spiritual faculties of man.

In his journal, Father Seraphim wrote: "Let us not, who would be Christians, expect anything else from it than to be crucified. For to be a Christian is to be crucified, in this time and in any time since Christ came for the first time. His life is the example--and warning--to us all. We must be crucified personally, mystically; for through crucifixion is the only path to resurrection. If we would rise with Christ, we must first be humbled with Him--even to the ultimate humiliation, being devoured and spit forth by the uncomprehending world.
"And we must be crucified outwardly, in the eyes of the world; for Christ's Kingdom is not of this world, and the world cannot bear it, even in a single representation of it, even for a single moment. The world can only accept Antichrist, now or at anytime.
"No wonder, then, that it is so hard to be Christian--it is not hard it is impossible. No one can knowingly accept a way of life which, the more truly it is lived, leads more surely to one's own destruction. And that is way we constantly rebel, try to make life easier, try to be half-Christian, try to make the best of both worlds. We must ultimately choose--our felicity lies in one world or the other, not in both.
"God give is the strength to pursue the path of crucifixion; there is not other way to be Christian."
Before he had found the truth, Father Seraphim had suffered for the lack of it. Now, having found it, he suffered for the sake of it. He devoted the rest of his life to living that truth, and killing himself to give it to others. Together with a young Russian man, named Gleb Podmosphnesky, he formed a Brotherhood which practiced the "Do it yourself" philosophy. They opened a bookstore in San Francisco and began printing a small magazine called the Orthodox Word by hand on a small letterpress, translating Ancient Christian texts and bringing Orthodox Literature to America. Later, to avoid the emptiness of the city, they moved their printing operation to the wilderness of Northern California, where they began to live like the ancient desert dwellers, of ancient times. There was not running water on their forested mountain, no telephone, no electric lines. They built their buildings themselves out of old lumber taken from pioneer dwellings and hauled water on their backs up the mountain. They lived with deer, rabbits, bear, foxes, squirrels, bats, mountain lions, scorpions, and rattlesnakes.
In 1970 the became monks, thus dying forever to the world. In the wilderness Father Seraphim's spirit began to soar "The city," he once said, "is for those who are empty, and it pushes away those who are filled and allows them to thrive."
Working by candlelight in his tiny cabin, Father Seraphim created a great number of original writings and translations of ancient ascetic texts. In America his writings have so far reached only select circles but in countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain they have had and incalculable impact on human lives. During the communist era, Father Seraphim's writings were secretly translated into Russian and distributed in the underground press (samizdat) in the form of typewritten manuscripts. By the time the fall of Communist power in 1991, Father Seraphim was known all over Russia. Today his books are on sale everywhere in Russia, including book tables in the Metro (subway) and on the street. The reason that he has made a much greater mark on Russia that on his homeland is because in Russia people knew how to suffer. Father Seraphim's message of underground Christianity, of suffering and persecution in this world for the sake of truth, touches a responsive chord in people who have already been crucified. In America people would rather hear the "nice" messages of preachers like Rev. Robert Schuler (who, by the way, broadcasts his show in Russia, where people can hardly believe how stupid it is). 
I met Father Seraphim a year and a half before his death in 1982. Like him, I had been seeking reality through Eastern religions, etc., by seeking to escape pseudo-reality through a Zen-like breakdown of logical thought processes. Finally, reduced to despair, I listened to Sid Barrett's two schizophrenic-withdrawal, childhood-regression solo albums over and over, until I had memorized all his word salads. One day Father Seraphim came to the campus where I was going to school. He drove up in an old beat up pick-up truck and emerged in his worn out black robe, his long hair, and his exceedingly long grey beard which had become matted. I was the image of absolute poverty. Next thing I remember I was walking with Father Seraphim through the college. Dinner had just ended and students were milling and hanging around the outside cafeteria. Everyone was staring at Father Seraphim, but he walked through them as naturally as if he had been at home. I the middle of a progressive American college, he seemed like someone who had just stepped out of the 4th century Egyptian desert.
Father Seraphim went to a lecture room and delivered a talk called "Signs of the Coming of the End of the World." He had happened to be sick at the same time and sniffled throughout his lecture. Obviously exhausted, he yet remained clear-headed, cheerful, and ready to answer questions at length. I could see that he was at least as learned and far more wise than any of my professors, and yet he was clearly a man of the wilderness, more at home in the forest than in a classroom.
What struck me most about Father Seraphim was that here was a man who was totally sacrificing himself for God, for the truth. He was not a university Professor receiving a comfortable salary for being a disseminator of knowledge, nor was he a religious leader who hankered after power, influence, or even a bowl of fruit to be placed at his feet, as did the "spiritual masters" who had followings in that area. He was not "into religion" for what could he get out of it; he was not looking for a crutch to "enjoy spiritual life." He was just a simple monk who sought the Truth above all else. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would die for that Truth, for I could see he was dying for it already.
Monk Damascene 
Christ’s call is still reaching to us; let us begin to listen to it.” These words of Father Serpahim (Rose)—ascetic, theologian, and preacher—are relevant today more than ever. His books helped many to hear this call. Written in the 1970s and ‘80s for his contemporaries lost in the intellectual wastelands, his works are today even more relevant, because today’s “intellectuals” are wandering lost in even more dangerous deserts of spiritual morbidity. 

Fr. Seraphim in the St. Elias Skete, Noble Ridge, near the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina, Cal. In the background is Mt. St. Herman.
Father Seraphim departed to the Lord on September 2, 1982—30 years ago. In honor of this day, Pravoslavie.ru has asked several pastors of the Russian Orthodox Church to talk about what Father Seraphim means to them.
Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky:
Books by Father Seraphim (Rose) played a very important role during the period of my life when I was coming into the Church. When I read during the early 1980s in samizdat Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future and Signs of the End Times, I was stunned by his ability to connect and place into Christian context the scattered and multi-faceted phenomena of modern times. He taught me that that the history of mankind, indeed the very life of every person is filled with meaning. Father Seraphim has remained a unique example of a missionary in whom were combined a powerful mind and asceticism, and the ability to speak with fervent faith to his readers in their own language. His path to Orthodoxy was thorny, but through his personal experience and choice by both the mind and the heart, he brought and will continue to bring a multitude of people to the Church. 
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Archpriest Andrei Tkachev

This man’s name and information about him entered into my life during the time when the song, “Good-bye America, o-o-o” was a fresh hit. Secretly raised on a love for a country of “forbidden fruits” and its culture, many of us truly viewed America as a country “where I will never be” and where “you can find everything”, but you won’t find Orthodoxy, and probably never will. In our country during that period, whole generations were discovering the Orthodox faith like a kind of “Atlantis”, and we were greatly surprised to learn that a similar discovery was taking place in other countries by people of other cultures, including in the States.
Father Seraphim is very close to me as a person who sought Truth without compromise. He was prepared to undertake any physical or intellectual labor, just to achieve that goal. This is always a rare quality. But during these times of spiritual slackness, when even the strongest souls often look like twice-boiled cabbage, it is especially rare. “If the Chinese possess the truth, then I will learn their language and read their books,” said Eugene Rose. “If the Hindus have the truth, I will learn Sanskrit and drink from their sources”. That is what he did, passing the experience of peoples and nations through himself, studying whatever was the main thing these peoples have given to mankind.
Such behavior is, I will repeat it, rare in our days. Not everyone has a thirst for the truth, and it would follow that not everyone seeks the Source of Life. People think that since they were born in, say, Russia, then they will be elemental Christians all their lives by birthright, just as if they were born in a bread shop and will therefore happily be a bread roll all their lives. Various faiths have become intertwined with ethnicity and have turned into a kind of national and cultural appendage. Such manifestations are just as dangerous for the Christian faith as erosive skepticism. The true search for Truth is preceded by an existential anxiety, a feeling of being torn away from the sources of existence. And the more outwardly successful a person appears, the stronger this feeling is.
If Eugene had been hungry, all his energy would have gone into the search for food for himself and his family. Had he been deprived of the opportunity to study, to rest, have a good time and enjoy life, all the passion of his soul might have gone into social pathos, the fight for justice, equality, etc. But he was not hungry, he was successful, young, handsome, and not excluded from modern comforts of life. So, instead of burning out his life and going from one pleasure to another he began to seek the Living God. I found all this very amazing some time long ago, and it still amazes me whenever I think about it.

Fr. Seraphim Rose giving a lecture at the New Valaam Academy, Platina, 1980. 

Eugene accepted Orthodoxy in an unassuming church and had the feeling of coming home. This is also a very important moment granted to many people. Entrance into the Promised Land should be emphasized by its contrast with the lifeless desert that one leaves behind. The Father’s embrace is especially warm after the prodigal son’s life among the swine, far from home. Contrast is needed, which says to the heart: “Well, here it is, finally.” This contrast is needed not only for those who were born and raised in a non-Orthodox country. It is needed for all those who seek God and find Him after long effort,though he be not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27).
“The doors of the church literally closed behind my back,” recalls Fr. Seraphim. For those who seek God alone and His grace, similar things happen without the participation of any strong mediators; that is, without any powerful sermons, grand architecture, or soul-stirring music. Everything around might be very humble and everyday, but the seeker experiences a memorable meeting with the One Who is likewise seeking the seeker. This is the moment of conversion.
Orthodoxy should become a world religion that counteracts the ethnic limitations we are used to. Orthodoxy is by nature supra-nationalistic and universal. It is fitting for it to become this. If only we ourselves would enter in, and not prevent those Americans, Brazilians, Thais, Congolese, etc. who want to enter into communion with God, theywillenter the Church, every day. They will bring their historical and mental characteristics, make us take another look at what we have grown accustomed to, from the vantage point of eternity. The first among them will be people like Father Seraphim Rose—that is, the intellectually gifted and insatiable in their desire to know God, the energetic and uncompromising, who want to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father seeketh such to worship him (Jn. 4:23). And there is no nation that is absolutely incapable of bearing this fruit.
Thus through the name of Father Seraphim Rose did we learn that the American nation does not consist only of people chewing gum and insensibly watching television (you see, it was easier for us to think that way), but also of those who seek the Truth and will not rest until they find it. This alone compels us to remember Father Seraphim in our prayers. 
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Hieromonk Symeon (Tomachinsky): 

In the early 1990s Father Seraphim Rose played a large role in my Christian formation. We read his books The Soul After Death, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, God’s Revelation to the Human Heart and others, but we were especially impressed by his biography, Not of This World, written by Hieromonk Damascene. (Several years ago, a much re-worked edition of this book was published by us in Sretensky Monastery.) An American born, intellectual and rebel, a spiritual diver, first of all amidst the depths of Eastern practices, a charismatic personality—he reminds us very much of Steven Jobs. But Eugene Rose sought the truth and not the exotic; he had no use for glory and success, he was truly not of this world. And his conversion to Orthodoxy, especially to Russian Orthodoxy, made a very strong impression on us young Russians who were only recently discovering the faith of our fathers.
In 1993 I had the good fortune to become acquainted with Orthodox Americans who continued Father Seraphim’s work. I even worked with them at the Valaam Society of America. They were then situated on Pogodinsaya Street, under the hospitable protection of Metropolitan Pitirim, and I was often with them. There you could find Father Seraphim’s books in the original language, watch how the Russian versions were being published, and come into contact with the mission that those American monks had begun in the wild forests using antediluvian printing presses.

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose.

In those days I was able to edit the translation of Father Seraphim’s book on Blessed Augustine—in the Russian it is called, A Taste of True Orthodoxy. (This was probably one of my first editorial experiences.) I was glad beyond words to read Father Seraphim’s inspired defense of Blessed Augustine, who was one of my favorite authors, from the attacks of Orthodox people who had “zeal not according to knowledge”. I still consider this small brochure to be very important for a correct understanding of patristic works as a whole, and Latin patristics in part.
And, of course, the ‘zine later published by his brotherhood called Death to the World made a huge impression on me. The idea was that Christianity, and especially monasticism, fulfills the yearning of “angry young people” towards non-conformism, rebellion against falsehood and hypocrisy. This is the very experience that inspired me and Vladimir Legoida when we discussed the future publication of an Orthodox periodical for young people. From these discussions were later born the periodicals, Foma and Tatiana’s Day. [Foma means “Thomas”, and the periodical is subtitled, “A journal for those who doubt”. Tatiana’s Day is named after the Martyr Tatiana, to whom is also dedicated a church in the Moscow State University.]
In a word, Father Seraphim Rose means very much to me, and I always commemorate him in the Divine services and ask his prayers. 
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We would like to include for English readers some of the readers’ commentary to this article, which further shows how Russian Orthodox Christians feel about Father Seraphim Rose.
“The example of Father Seraphim’s life and ascetic labors have helped and continue to help me during the most difficult moments of my life, and his book, The Soul After Death strengthens us when we see our close ones off to eternal life. I believe that the Lord has taken Father Seraphim into His Heavenly abodes. Father Seraphim, pray to God for us!” —Galina
“The amazing books of Father Seraphim Rose opened to me the beauty of Orthodoxy, and they are still my favorite books. I bow my head before his ascetic labors, his path, and his zeal.”—Natalia
“Father Seraphim, pray to God for us… His books were some of my first, and they formed in me an enduring immunity to all sorts of eastern garbage.”—Vasya
“Father Seraphim showed us how the heart opens up to God. What else do we need in life? Thank you!” —Alexander 
Significance of Fr. Seraphim Rose for the Christian of Today

In the back of the St. Herman Calendar published by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, there is a page entitled Remember Your Instructors, on which we find among others the name of Hieromonk Seraphim Rose of Platina. Why do we need to remember our instructors? The purpose of remembering our instructors is, it seems to me, threefold: first, to reverence their memory as holy, wise, and beloved counselors and teachers (as St. Paulinus of Nola said, “Only if the sky can forego its stars, earth its grass, honeycombs their honey, streams their water, and breasts their milk will our tongues be able to renounce their praise of the saints, in whom God is the strength of life and the fame of death”); second, to pray for the repose of their souls and to seek their intercession on behalf of our continuing spiritual warfare here on earth (“Give rest to our fathers and brethren who have departed this life before us, and through the prayers of them all have mercy on my unhappy self in my depravity,” says St. Peter of Damascus in the prayer at the end of Compline); and third, to imitate their example (as St. Basil the Great points out, “The righteous themselves do not want glory, but we who are as yet in this life need remembering them, so as to imitate them”).
In a sense, this third purpose for remembering our instructors, to imitate their example, implies the other two, and is the really important reason for us to keep fresh in our memories the lives of those who handed down the Orthodox faith and tradition to us. I believe the example of Fr. Seraphim Rose, both in his life and in his work, contains a key that is of universal Orthodox significance in these last days, and is especially important for all those seeking to find and struggling to preserve true Orthodoxy in the West. For Fr. Seraphim is our contemporary, a man who lived and breathed the same deadly modern atmosphere of godless humanism, atheistic hedonism, and soulless ecumenism that is the common experience of all modern children of the West. Yet he, by the grace of God, not only found his way to the Pearl of Great Price, holy Orthodoxy, but also was able to penetrate to the very heart of the true and free tradition of living Orthodoxy: the genuine patristic spirituality founded on the Divine Scripture and the Holy Fathers. 
Fr. Seraphim was a native son of America who became a true spiritual son of the Holy Fathers who are the sources of holy Orthodoxy. In order to accomplish this, he, with the help of God‘s grace, had to face and overcome by means of unseen warfare the very temptations that all contemporary Westerners must also face as they begin the arduous path of repentance and conversion: shallowness, light-mindedness, worldliness, over-correctness, anti-Westernism, externalism in Church life, individualism, rationalism. Fr. Seraphim overcame these temptations in his own heart and life by his God-inspired struggle against the spirit of this world, and by so doing, blazed a path to the heart of Orthodoxy that contemporary men and women, especially those of the West, might be able to follow. It is up to us to profit from his example, both of his teachings and of his life.
Orthodoxy in the contemporary world is virtually invisible. Certainly, contemporary man is aware that there exist such entities as the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and so on, but he does not thereby perceive the richness, the fullness of true and living Orthodoxy. What the contemporary man sees are the multitude of “denominations” or “branches” or “sects” of that one of the six or seven dominant “world religions” called Christianity. At best, the Orthodox Churches are pigeon-holed as “Eastern Rite Protestants” or schismatic Roman Catholics.

What makes genuine Orthodoxy so hard to see in the modern world? A kind of veil has been created by the demonically derived Weltanschaaung of the modern world, a veil that subtly distorts everything we see. We might call it the mindset of modernity.

Fr. Seraphim was acutely aware of the uncompromising enmity between the demonically-inspired modernistic world-view and the Holy Spirit-inspired Orthodox world-view, having exposed in his own life the illusions and emptiness of modernity. His writings have an uncompromising polemical tone that is somewhat disconcerting or off-putting to a first-time reader raised on the “democratic” illusion of “tolerance,” that shallow open-mindedness of which modern man is so proud, but which is actually the denial of that hierarchy of values founded on the revelation of the eternal mystery of the Triune God through the God-Man Jesus Christ. That hierarchy of values which is the manifestation in human souls of the sustaining and life-giving power of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Church, that hierarchy of values, which is the living tradition of Holy Orthodoxy, is a Spiritual matrix in which is formed a truly Orthodox mentality, way of feeling, and formation of the will. This is what St. Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 1:17: For God but not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love, and of a sound mind. The spirit of power (Orthodox formation of the will), of love (Orthodox soul or way of feeling), and of a sound mind (Orthodox mentality) is called by the Christian tradition the mind of the Fathers.
Fr. Seraphim immersed himself fully, even saturated himself, in the mind of the Fathers. Gradually (although by the yardstick of what seems possible to us in this spiritually degraded age, it happened with astonishing, almost impossible speed and completeness), Fr. Seraphim’s soul was transformed by Tradition (the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church) into a flaming sword, capable of rending the veil of delusions of the modern world and revealing the Holy Place: the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic and Orthodox Church.

Fr. Seraphim became a living link with the Holy Fathers, exactly in the way foretold by the demon who appeared to Elder Sophronius, one of the disciples of Elder Paisius Velichkovsky. Revealing his hatred for spiritual books, the demon says that these “wretched rags” teach “simple fools” to live like the Christians of old. The demon reasons in a disconcertedly modern way: He seeks “peace and concord” with the Christians; he complains about the “unrelenting and uncompromising” enmity of traditional Orthodox piety; he pleads for “tolerance” and “moderation” and open-mindedness among the monks. Fr. Seraphim was one of the “simple fools” most feared by the demon. Inspired by the writings of the Holy Fathers, he took up arms against the Adversary and put into practice the traditional practices of the Christians of old: unceasing prayer, unceasing warfare, fasting, examining and confession of thoughts, keeping vigil, living as a stranger in this world. In the writings of Fr. Seraphim there breathes the unquenchable spirit of the ancient, yet timeless Orthodox piety: not the spirit of fear or tolerance so-called, but the spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind.

Unlike many Western Converts to Orthodoxy, Fr. Seraphim was able to avoid the three great traps of the convert: anti-Westernism, over-correctnes, and ecclesiastical externalism. Instead, he practiced and advocated what he called, following the teaching of St. John Cassian and other Fathers, the Royal Path: a balanced sober approach to Orthodoxy and Tradition that emphasized the freedom of the Orthodox way of life as well as the authority of its truth. For Christ Himself said, Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32.) 
If holy Orthodoxy is the fullness of Christian truth, then its practice, if it is in accordance with the traditions of the Fathers, must make one free. Over-correctness, or zeal not according to knowledge, is precisely an all-too-human limitation of freedom in Christ, and a return to the very pharisaism that Jesus Himself rejected. Anti-Westernism is an all-too-human identification of the truth of Christ with ethnic or historical concerns. Externalism in Church life is an all-too-human emphasis on those aspects of the Church that are of this world, with a corresponding incapacity to perceive and participate in its other-worldly essence. The Royal Path, as taught by Fr. Seraphim, is freedom in authority and authority in freedom, based on self-knowledge, discernment, and sobriety. It is the safest, truest, swiftest way to Paradise, but it is not easy. It demands constant unseen warfare, suffering of heart, devotion, compassion, scrupulous self-honesty, and ruthless self-criticism. Such is what Fr. Seraphim asked of his spiritual children.

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The restoration of an Orthodox way in the West

How was Fr. Seraphim able to avoid the pitfalls facing the convert? What is the significance of his example for universal Orthodoxy today? These two questions are related, for Fr. Seraphim's spiritual journey contains an answer not only for the individual convert but also for the entire Orthodox Tradition.

I believe the answer lies in Fr. Seraphim’s penetrating insight into and profound criticism of modernity. His understanding of the real conditions of modern life freed him from the cultural conditioning of his Western upbringing. But he also was able, paradoxically, to fulfill the spiritual possibilities of the Western soul. This he accomplished by his refusal to reject everything Western in favor of an ethnically-oriented Eastern Orthodoxy.

Through all his researches, Fr. Seraphim came to believe that only a culture with a strong living tradition had a chance against the corrosive and destructive forces of modern life. The only force capable of withstanding modernity is tradition; but tradition is not mere conservatism, nor is it primarily a cultural phenomenon. The essence of tradition is religion: It exists only through Divine revelation; it survives and sustains itself through the vicissitudes of time and history in this world only by means of its timeless, trans-historical, otherworldly qualities. Fr. Seraphim did not find these qualities in non-traditional Western Christianity, so he turned to the Far East where the religious tradition was stronger; but there, too, he discovered that wherever the influence of modern life penetrated, it usurped and undermined traditional forms. It was only when he came into contact with Russian Orthodoxy that he discovered a tradition that has withstood every imaginable blow from the forces of history, and is still capable of resisting the corrosive, dissolving influences of modernity.

It was through the providential guidance of a righteous man of God, Archbishop John Maximovitch, that Fr. Seraphim embarked upon his life’s work: the restoration of the Orthodox way of life in the West. Archbishop John loved and venerated the Orthodox saints of the West, the holy and just men and women of the West before the Schism, whose lives shone like the stars, but who were being unjustly neglected in the contemporary Orthodox world. He inspired Fr. Seraphim to begin studying and translating the lives and work of such Western Saints as St. John Cassian.

Photo: amazon.com
One of Fr. Seraphim’s most important achievements was the English translation of St. Gregory of Tours’ never-before-translated Vita Patrum, a Western patericon of utmost importance because it provides direct evidence that the Christian roots of Western culture are unquestionably Orthodox in spirit, substance, form and savor.
Fr. Seraphim realized that without tradition, not only every culture, but every organization, every parish, even every contemporary individual is helpless before the all-pervasive influences of modernity; but to adhere to Tradition did not mean blind conservatism, worship of the past, or rigid uniformity of ecclesiastical policy. It meant, for Fr. Seraphim, to acquire the mind of the Fathers. Here is more than mere unbroken historical continuity imposed by the Church “discipline” or thought control or outer correctness. The holy Tradition is, above all, spiritual and ontological identity in mind, heart, life, spirit. “This is the apostolic faith, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the Orthodox Faith, this faith has established the universe.”

Without this living identity with the Patristic spirit, Fr. Seraphim realized, the souls of Western converts would be in great danger of being internally split between a “traditional” pattern of “piety” and worship and an untraditional pattern of mind and an unchanged heart. The “born” Orthodox are equally susceptible to this condition. There is no compromise between the Patristic and the modern spirit. One or the other must triumph. What good is all the fullness and richness of traditional Orthodoxy if the convert embraces Orthodoxy in an outward way yet remains unchanged in heart and mind? Fervency and zeal must not be mistaken for inwardness and transformation. In such cases, the very beauty and power of the ancient forms of the Orthodox Church would be chains binding the soul in its delusions. As the Apostle says, For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Romans 8:15); and again: He that searcheth the heart knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the Saints: according to the will of God (Romans 8:27).

Universal Orthodoxy

Throughout his writings, Fr. Seraphim repeatedly uses such words as “savor,” “flavor,” and “taste” to convey to his readers something of the undefinable yet tangible essence of the Patristic spirit.[1] There is a unique savor to the genuine Orthodox Tradition, he told his spiritual children, and you must taste it. Only when you “taste and see” the flavor of the genuine teaching of the Holy Fathers will you know how to discern the false from the true, the inward from the outward, in Orthodoxy.

As an instructor and transmitter of the Orthodox Tradition, Fr. Seraphim was a realist. He knew, in dealing with converts, that it was unrealistic to ignore or reject the thousand years of Western cultural and psychological experience in which their souls were formed. A teacher of Orthodoxy should not attempt to convey the impression that Western culture was of no value in order to influence Western students in favor of an “Eastern” Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox Tradition, Fr. Seraphim realized, is not diminished if it recognizes the genuine values and virtues of Western culture. Orthodoxy, if it is the fullness of truth, should reveal such largeness of soul, such generosity of spirit, that anything of value in any culture is purged and transfigured in its radiance, and its own otherworldly essence is enhanced and strengthened in its earthly manifestation by such transfigured values. This is what happened when Orthodox Christianity met and baptized the Russian folk soul: A Christian culture was produced that received the torch from faltering Byzantium and held it high for a thousand years. Fr. Seraphim taught that the Russian experience holds a crucial lesson for latter-day Christians.

So too when the culture of the Celts was baptized by Orthodox missionaries from the East: The Celtic soul was instantly enkindled, producing an explosion of monks, monasteries, and missionaries, whose light was the glory of Orthodoxy in the West for hundreds of years. Fr. Seraphim wrote numerous articles proving that the roots of the Western soul, despite all appearances, rest in Orthodoxy.

Photo: epicenter.bg
Of course, the contemporary secular culture of the West is not the culture of Martin of Tours or Vincent of Lerins. No one recognized that more acutely than Fr. Seraphim, but he also knew that ethnicity and over-correctness, no matter how Orthodox, would suffocate the souls of Western converts. Furthermore, unlike fourth-century Ireland or tenth-century Russia, the West has known a Christianity of one sort or another for a millennium and more. Modernity is not innocent paganism—it is a rejection of Christian values as powerless and ineffective.
The answer, according to Fr. Seraphim, is “universal” Orthodoxy, the trans-historical, transcendant teaching of the Holy Fathers and God-bearing saints, the savor of which will transform any cultural conditioning, Eastern or Western. For “savor,” as Fr. Seraphim well understood, is precisely the tangible grace of Patristic spirituality; and he was fully confident that the taste of that grace (which is, after all the Mind of the Spirit [Romans 9:27]) was more than equal to the task of forming the souls of Western converts. In this, Fr. Seraphim shows a greater faith in the power of the Orthodox Tradition than do his “super-correct” detractors.

All the Orthodox jurisdictions in the West (and in the East as well) struggle with the problem of modernity. None seems to have found a real solution as yet. Neither ecumenical revisionism nor old-world conservatism provides an effective answer to the allure of contemporary culture in these latter days. The former trades the precious pearl of traditional Orthodoxy for the fool’s gold of “relevance” according to today’s standards; while the latter buries its talent in the protective earth of old-world values, thus isolating itself and rendering the genuine Tradition which it protects incapable of responding to the many souls hungering for the fullness of truth.

It is to his everlasting credit and our great good fortune that Fr. Seraphim found a way between these two extremes, a way that was not an innovation, but the timeless, yet ever-vital path of the Holy Fathers. The Royal Path is absolutely sober and brooks no compromise with the “strong delusion” of modern times; yet, the Royal Path, as taught by Fr. Seraphim in accordance with the mind of the Fathers, has the power to empower the soul to engage in unseen warfare and to work out its salvation along tested, proven, traditional lines. In Fr. Seraphim we see the reawakening of Patristic spirituality, not in academic isolation, but in the real world of monastic struggle, poverty, obedience, piety. The life of Fr. Seraphim Rose shows us that the way to recover our souls as Westerners is to return to the roots of the real culture of the West—Patristic Christianity, to form our souls, not of the pablum and poison of contemporary culture, but on apostolic faith, catacomb spirituality, Orthodox piety, and the mind of the fathers.

Epiphany vol. 9, no. 4, Summer 1989

Vincent Rossi

[1] His use of these words may also have been elicited by a miracle that he experienced after his entrance into the Church. When he received the Eucharist for the first time, he felt an indescribable, Divine taste in his mouth which lasted for over a week. He at first assumed that this was experienced by every Orthodox Christian, but when he later asked newly-baptized people whether they had the same sensation, he concluded that this was a special, unique gift of God’s grace to him.

Theosis, St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony

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