"Super-Correctness" - Chapter 63 from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works
by Hieromonk Damascene
"Traditionalism" is not the same thing as the real traditional outlook.René Guénon1
Fanaticism hinders a man's understanding, but true faith gives it freedom.St. Macarius of Optina2
Of all the modern philosophies which Alexey Young, as a school teacher and later as a
principal, was confronted with, perhaps the most powerful was that of evolution.
He could see that most parents were ignorant of the very formidable scientific
evidence against evolution, and also of the fact that evolution was being
used (often quite deliberately) to undermine the very foundations of the
Christian worldview. He decided to write an article for the sake of these
parents, to make them more aware of what their children were being fed
intellectually. Sending it to Fr. Seraphim for review, he received it back with
a few suggestions and encouragement to print it in Nikodemos.
Some time thereafter, Fathers Herman and Seraphim were
surprised to receive a letter expressing displeasure over the article, written
by a priest of the Russian Church Abroad who was under the spiritual direction
of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston. According to the fathers of the
Boston monastery, evolution was a "forbidden subject"; and it hurt this priest
to see that Alexey was not agreeing with these authorities. Amazed to read in
Nikodemos an article against such an established "fact" as evolution, the
priest wrote that Alexey, as a convert who had retained his "Roman perspective,"
should not be allowed the "privilege of publication," and he stated that he was
"withdrawing all support from Nikodemos."
While working on The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of
God, Fr. Seraphim had made an investigation into the social, philosophical,
and spiritual roots of evolutionism. Later, when attending the theological
courses instituted by Archbishop John, he had studied the teaching of the
Orthodox Church regarding the creation of the universe, as passed on through the
Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers.* Thus, having understood for a
long time that evolutionism was antithetical to the Orthodox worldview, he
concluded that the Orthodox critics of Alexey's article were "just not aware of
the whole issue of evolution, whether in its scientific side or in its
religious-theological implications." To Alexey he wrote: "Obviously your article
has touched something very deep (frankly we are astonished that people so keen
on ecclesiastical matters, ecumenism, etc., should seem never to have given much
thought to such an important thing as evolution; apparently it is because it
seems to be outside the Church sphere)."3
Fr. Seraphim counseled Alexey not to consider his critics so
much "in error" as simply unaware. He said he should not argue at all,
but that together they should "prepare a more thorough presentation of the whole
subject." "Your article," he wrote, "beyond any doubt is going to make you
'unpopular' in places. Do not let this discourage you, or force you into a
But there was more to come. Alexey wanted to print an
article he had been given on the Shroud of Turin. When he sent it for Fr.
Seraphim to check, Fr. Seraphim wrote back suggesting that it not be printed in
its present form since it was full of Roman Catholic expressions which would
immediately close the minds of some Orthodox. Unfortunately, this reply came too
late: before Alexey could communicate Fr. Seraphim's objections to the author of
the article, the latter had the article printed and sent it out to everyone on
the mailing list of Nikodemos. "When I discovered this I was distraught,"
Alexey noted later, "for Fr. Seraphim's objections were good and thoughtful
ones, and could have been incorporated into the article without difficulty."5
The Shroud article made Alexey's critics even more convinced
that he was an unrepentant Catholic. As Fr. Seraphim recalled: "We sent two long
letters to Fr. in defense of Alexey (while admitting his mistakes) and
begging him to apply Vladika John's principle of trusting and encouraging
missionary laborers and not trying to make them fit into a preconceived pattern
or forcing them to submit to some standard 'authority.' To our grief Fr.
replied that on this point Vladika John was wrong, and converts must at times be
Fr. Seraphim had noticed other signs of this same mentality.
"We were frankly horrified," he wrote, "when we heard that Fr. had suggested
a year or so ago that Vladika Vitaly [of Canada] be somehow placed 'in charge'
of converts or convert priests, to avoid the 'mistakes' of the past. Well, yes,
that might mean the end of the 'mistakes' of the past (but somehow we doubt even
that), but it would also mean the end of the Orthodox missionary movement in the
Church Abroad, period. (And it wouldn't help to have someone better in
chargethe principle itself is the dangerous thing.)"7
Alexey soon received a 21-page "Open Letter" from the Boston
monastery against the articles he printed. "Its author," wrote Fr. Seraphim to
Alexey, "has obviously taken unfair advantage of you in order thoroughly to
discredit you, based on the reputation of the monastery as against you, a
'nobody.' He is riding on a current of intellectual fashion, and this will pass,
and it will not be for the good of the monastery that it has allowed itself to
do this and not faced the real intellectual problems of the day. Pray to
Vladika John for guidance. Know that not everything depends on what some people
'think' of you, and also that at a proper time others will speak up for you."8
The "Open Letter" was published in a newsletter and sent all
over the country. Years later, recalling this and other actions of the Boston
monastery and its followers, Fr. Seraphim wrote: "The fact itself that they
objected to the articles did not upset us ... it was rather the way in
which they objected. Through our extensive correspondence with [them]**, it became
clear that they believed that on such subjects it is not possible to have
different opinions or interpretations: the 'Orthodox view' must be one in
favor of evolution (!) and against the Shroud. We had thought that
Orthodox Christians could at least discuss these subjects together in a
friendly way; but according to them one cannot discuss these questions, but must
accept the opinion of the 'Orthodox experts' on them.... After this, they began to
tell people to 'stay away from Etna' because Alexey Young was 'just a Roman
Catholic,' and we know people who followed this advice....
"Thus, our first cause to be upset with them was our
discovery that they had formed a political party within our Church, and
those who do not agree with the 'party line' are dismissed and regarded as
non-existent, and people are even warned about the 'dangers' of having contact
with such ones.... In the Russian tradition of 'longsuffering,' we said little
about this to anyone for a long time and did not have a similar feeling towards
them, hoping that this was somehow a 'misunderstanding' that would improve with
By 1973 Fathers Seraphim and Herman began to discover that,
not only had a "political party" been formed, but it also used political
techniques to achieve its aims. For example, in 1972 one of the priests in
the group suggested to Alexey Young that he 'merge' his Nikodemos with
their own newsletter, and that they would be happy to print the combined
periodical to make it "easier" for Alexey. "We thought this a very strange thing
at the time," Fr. Seraphim recalled, "and simply advised Alexey to continue his
own independent publishing; only later did we realize that by this means they
intended to 'take over' Nikodemos and ensure that it would never print
anything not in accordance with the 'party line.' Later they told Andrew Bond in
England that they would distribute his publication, The Old Calendarist,
in America, but only on condition that no articles be printed without their
censorship. In 1973, when we had asked them if they could help with the
distribution of our proposed Russian-language periodical (which we were never
able to begin), they insisted that we let them print it alsoand
we began to realize that even our Russian-language work was to be 'censored in
Boston'and not even by Russian-speaking people, but by converts who had learned
"Other 'political techniques' include 'spreading the word'
that some particular publication or person is 'outside the party line.' For
example, after the publication of the 'Shroud' article, Alexey received a number
of letters from [the group], all canceling their subscriptions to Nikodemos
and offering, instead of the friendly criticism one would expect from fellow
Orthodox Christians, a cold cutting him off. Alexey was so depressed and hurt by
the treatment they gave him at that time that he would have given up printing
altogether if we had not supported him and told him that the attitude of other
people in our Church was not at all cold like that."10
Thus, on many occasions the fathers received clear
indications that the new party intended to make their "party line" prevail at
least over the convert wing of the Russian Church Abroad, and if possible over
the Russians also. "This whole attempt," Fr. Seraphim wrote, "is so foreign to
the Orthodox spirit that we have found it to be extremely distasteful, and a
kind of 'Jesuitism' that has crept into our Church."11
Fr. Seraphim noted how the new party had begun to practice
the "Jesuit" principle of "the end justifies the means." "When I went to their
conference in 1973," Fr. Seraphim recalled, "[one of their priests] told me
something that I did not fully appreciate then, but which I now see as a part of
the 'problem' which they have become for us: He told me that if one is working
for a good church cause, it is permissible for one to lie, cheat, etc., for the
sake of the 'good cause.' Sadly, we've seen this 'Jesuit' principle in operation
among them in the way they spread tales about people they do not like,
misrepresent the position of people they wish to criticize, etc."12
At one point the faction began quoting letters against Alexey which the latter
knew for certain he had never written! "The fact that you are having quoted
against you letters that don't exist," Fr. Seraphim advised Alexey, "should make
you sober and realize that against that kind of attack you can't fight,
if you are an honest man. Therefore, don't. Let them do and say what they
More than anything else, it was the "open letters" coming
from the faction that led the fathers to conclude that something had gone wrong.
Beginning in 1973, these letters were directed to people within the Russian
Church Abroad whom the party wished to criticize and correct, including its
chief hierarch and several bishops. "Almost without exception," Fr. Seraphim
noted, "these letters have made a bad impression on us. In most of their
individual points they are 'correct,' but in their tone they are filled with
self-justification, subtle mockery of others, and a tone of cold superiority."14
Many of these letters were actually lengthy essays, filled
with long theological passages which were, at best, only loosely related to the
issues at hand. One young convert in England, on receiving such a letter about
himself, was very disheartened; but Fr. Seraphim identified for him what was
behind it. It was, he said, "a cold and calculating vehicle for their
self-esteem, behind a mask of absolutely fake humility and 'spirituality' (the
Russians would call it 'oily').... Father Herman, who has a thoroughly Russian
approach to such things, said after reading this letter: 'The man who wrote this
does not believe in God,' which is to say: everything holy, spiritual, and
canonical in it is used for some ulterior motive, and the letter is
devoid of Orthodox heart and feeling.... The letter itself does not deserve an
answer. They are experts in this tactic and would tear any reply of yours to
shreds, knowing how to make it appear that whatever you say is wrong."15
Fr. Seraphim called the attitude that produced these letters
"being spiritual while looking in a mirror."16 He noticed that all
the letters coming from people in the party "breathe the same spirit, as if
written by the same personeven though some of the writers we know personally to
be not like that at all.... Just recently I came across some letters to us from
Boston twelve years agoand what a difference! They were just strugglers then,
and too bogged down in daily labors to be writing such long-winded epistles.
What has happened?"17
In order to have its own views prevail in the Russian Church Abroad, the new faction did not
stop at "open letters," but began to systematically undermine the authority of
the most respected Orthodox teachers of recent centuries. Its chief weapon in
this, noted Fr. Seraphim, "is the recent academic fashion of looking everywhere
for 'Western influence' in our theological texts."18 Most of the
recent teachers, from St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain down to Archbishop
Averky, were accused of being under this influence, of being "scholastics." The
theologians of the party were giving people to believe that they knew more about
Orthodox theology than St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, St. John of Kronstadt (who
talked about the "merits" of Christ), Archbishop John (who commissioned a
service to be written to the Western Holy Father, Blessed Augustine), and the
Optina Elders. "Such presumption," wrote Fr. Seraphim, "can only do harm to the
real cause of renewing Orthodox life by drawing from the fresh springs of
As Fr. Seraphim realized, the alarm over "Western influence"
was based upon a half-truth. "Fr. Michael Pomazansky," he wrote, "and other good
theologians will readily admit that there were such 'Western influences' in the
theological texts of the latter period of the Russian (and Greek) historybut
they also emphasize that these influences were external ones which never
touched the heart of Orthodox doctrine. To say otherwise is to admit that
Orthodoxy was lost (!) in these last centuries, and only now are young
'theologians' ... 'finding' again the Orthodoxy of the Fathers.... If such
theological giants as Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow,*** Bishop Theophan the
Recluse, Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, Archbishop Averky of Jordanville, Fr.
Michael Pomazansky, and in general the theology taught in our seminaries for the
last century and more, are not really 'Orthodox' at allthen we are in a very
dangerous condition, and where are we to find our theological authority by which
to stand firm against all the errors and temptations of these times? [The
theologians of the new party] teach: We will teach you what is right,
we will read the Holy Fathers for you and teach you the correct doctrine,
we have excellent translators and interpreters who are more Orthodox than
Bishop Theophan, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, Archbishop Averky, and all the
rest. This is a terribly dangerous game that they are playing; they are
unwittingly undermining the Orthodox ground under their feet."20
Fr. Seraphim believed that what these apparent
traditionalists and zealots were doing was precisely what the so-called liberals
of the Parisian school were doing: severing the link, cutting off the recent
roots to the ancient Fathers, in order that they themselves might be the
authorities. The new theologians of the "traditionalist" school now claimed that
they had been "able to sift through the scholastic attritions to our theology,
and return to the Faith of the Fathers." This was the claim of the Parisian
school, also. As Fr. Seraphim wrote to one priest: "This points you in the
direction of a kind of Protestantism, by placing a gap in the Orthodox
theological tradition which only your group manages to span by skipping
the interval of the 'Latin captivity' and getting back to the 'original
sources.'... The very notion of 'Latin captivity' is played up by Fr. Alexander
Schmemann and his colleagues precisely with the aim of destroying the idea of
the continuity of Orthodox tradition throughout the centuries. DO NOT FALL INTO
THAT TRAP! There are great theologians of the past several centuries who used
expressions one might like to see improved; but that does not mean that
they are in 'Latin captivity' or should be discredited. They just do not use
these expressions in the same context as the Latins, and therefore the issue is
not a very important one."21
"A well-balanced Orthodoxy," Fr. Seraphim wrote
elsewhere, "can easily take any foreign influences that come and straighten them
out, make them Orthodox; but a one-sided 'party-line' cuts itself off from the
mainstream of Orthodoxy."22
In the end, Fr. Seraphim identified this neo-traditionalism
as a kind of "renovationism from the right." "'Boston Orthodoxy,'" he wrote, "is
actually a kind of right wing of 'Parisian Orthodoxy'a 'reformed' Orthodoxy
which happens to be mostly 'correct,' but is actually just as much outside the
tradition of Orthodoxy as Paris, just as much the creation of human logic. A
terrible temptation for our times."23
Concerning this lack of roots in the neo-traditionalists,
Fr. Seraphim wrote: "They have to 'do it themselves,' with no one and no stable
tradition to correct them. Their 'roots' are rather in twentieth-century
America, which accounts for the 'modern' tone of their epistles [and] their
failure to understand the whole significance, religious origin and context of
'evolution.' ... We've already seen several examples (particularly when they try
to get into the Russian sphere, in which they are totally lost) of how they jump
on some points purely on the basis of impression and whim, owing precisely to
their lack of a thorough theological background. They do not trust their Russian
elders (and we rather doubt that they have any Greek elders to take counsel of
either).... They virtually boast that they alone are 'great theologians'
who have just now rediscovered a lost theological tradition; but actually their
theology is remarkably crude and simplistic, especially when put beside the
writings of a truly great theologian in the unbroken Orthodox traditionour own
Fr. Michael Pomazansky of Jordanville, who is subtle, refined, deepand totally
overlooked by the 'bright young theologians.' ... We ourselves, not being
'theologians,'... frequently take counsel from Fr. Michael and others, whose
judgment we trust and respect, knowing that thus we are in a good tradition and
do not have to trust our own faulty judgment for all the answers."24
One point that the neo-traditionalists took issue with was
the use of the nineteenth-century Orthodox Catechism of Metropolitan
Philaret of Moscow, which the later Catechism of Metropolitan Anthony
Khrapovitsky had once been meant to replace. They called Metropolitan Philaret's
work "Roman Catholic" and "awful" even though, as we have seen, it had been this
very catechism that Archbishop John had always recommended to converts.25
Another point concerned saints whom the neo-traditionalists
said were "not Orthodox" or even heretics, and should be thrown out of the
Calendar. Fr. Seraphim was deeply disappointed when their newsletter published a
pointless attack on his beloved Blessed Augustine. The article called those who
venerated Augustine "untrained theologically" and "Latin-leaning." As Fr.
Seraphim pointed out in a letter, however, this would include Archbishop John,
St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, and the Greek and Russian theological
tradition of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not to mention the Fathers
of the Fifth Ecumenical Council. "The universal tradition of the Orthodox
Church," he wrote, "accepts Blessed Augustine as a Holy Father, albeit with a
[theological] flawvery much like St. Gregory of Nyssa in the East."26
The attack on Blessed Augustine revealed to Fr. Seraphim
that the neo-traditionalist theologians were outside the spirit of Orthodox
theology: "not," he said, "because they are not smart or well-read enough, but
because they are too passionately involved in showing how right they always
are."27 In another letter he wrote: "The true Orthodox perspective is, first
of all, to distrust one's abstract 'theological' outlook and ask: what do
our elders think; what did recent Fathers think? And taking these opinions
respectfully, one then begins to put together the picture for oneself.... Anyone
who has read Blessed Augustine's Confessions with sympathy will not
readily want to 'throw him out of the Calendar'for he will see in this book
that fiery zeal and love which is precisely what is so lacking in our
Church life today!... Perhaps Blessed Augustine's very 'Westernness' makes him
more relevant for us today who are submerged in the West and its way of
Fr. Seraphim recalled how, when he had once asked Archbishop
John about Metropolitan Anthony's "dogma," the latter had dismissed the subject
and had instead begun to speak about Blessed Augustine, as if he associated
Metropolitan Anthony and Blessed Augustine in his mind.**** Taking an example from
this, Fr. Seraphim once said, "If one calls Blessed Augustine a heretic, one has
to call Metropolitan Anthony one, also; but if one accepts Metropolitan Anthony
as a great hierarch while forgiving him for his error, then one has to do the
same with Blessed Augustine."29 This view was in marked contrast to
the logic of the neo-traditionalist theologians, who, while rejecting Blessed
Augustine, asserted that Metropolitan Anthony was virtually the only teacher of
recent times who was entirely free of "Western influence."
As Fr. Seraphim once told Fr. Herman, the real "Western
influence" was to be seen in those who placed the opinion of one man (in this
case, the leader of their party) above the testimony of living tradition. It was
just such a concept of authority, he said, that had caused the theological
errors in the contemporary Roman Church. In one letter he lamented, "Has our
Orthodoxy in America become so narrow that we must be under the dictation of a
'pope-expert' and we must accept a 'party-line' on every conceivable subject?
This is against everything Vladika John taught us and did in missionary labors."30
Father Seraphim gave this type of narrowness the term "super-correctness," sometimes calling it
"correctness disease." He saw how it could have a strong pull on young people,
both converts and Western-born native Orthodox. The new "super-correct"
authorities, he observed, "offer them some 'simple' answers to complex
questions, and that is very attractive to those a little uncertain or shaky in
their faith.... We know many converts who grasp at 'correctness' like a baby's
bottle, and I think they could save their souls better by being a little
'incorrect' but humbler."31
With its modern, overly logical approach, the
"super-correct" wing had set itself above the simple believing Greeks of the
"old school"; and Fr. Seraphim perceived how their mentality was also foreign to
that of long-suffering Russians. In a letter he wrote: "One basic element seems
lacking in all their 'wisdom,' one which the Holy Fathers emphasize is essential
for genuine Orthodox life: suffering. The 'wisdom' born of leisure and
idle disputes is not worth having; but the wisdom born of deep suffering (such
as God has given above all to the Russians of our day) is alone truly balanced
and sound, even if it cannot give a glib answer to every mocking question. Let
us try to enter more deeply into this suffering, God giving us His grace to do
One of the "simple answers" provided by the super-correct
contingent concerned the relations of the various Orthodox Churches. These
people maintained that all Churches on the New Calendar or involved in
ecumenical activities were "heretical" and "invalid," that they were "no
churches at all," that their bishops were "pseudo bishops," and that they had no
grace in their sacraments.
Some of the leading priests of the new faction, before being
received into the Russian Church Abroad, had been ordained by one of these New
Calendar Churches, the Greek Archdiocese of America. These priests had a whole
theory worked out whereby the Greek Archdiocese, due to ecumenical activities,
had supposedly lost its grace sometime after they had been ordained.
Unfortunately, one of the priests had a brother who was
still a priest in the Greek Archdiocese. During a visit to Platina he told Fr.
Herman, "I certainly don't pray for my brother!"meaning that he would
not pray for him when the Orthodox are commemorated during the Divine Liturgy.
Astounded, Fr. Herman went to tell Fr. Seraphim. "Can you imagine?" he asked.
"He's talking about his own blood brother, ordained by the same bishop as he!"
Fr. Seraphim blinked his eyes with astonishment. "Well, it
certainly is 'correct,'" he said with a sigh.
When The Orthodox Word published an appeal from the
poverty-stricken Orthodox Church in Uganda33which was in desperate
need of food, clothing, spiritual books, icons, etc.another of the
super-correct priests wrote to the fathers inquiring whether these African
Orthodox were "indeed brethren." This priest maintained that if they belonged to
a New Calendar, allegedly "graceless" jurisdiction (which in fact they did),
they should not be helped. "I would rather donate whatever I can to some worthy
Orthodox family or organization," he concluded.
"How can we combat this cold-hearted elitism?"34
Fr. Seraphim asked on reading this letter.
The super-correct view of graceor rather
gracelessnesscaused many problems for the Russian Church Abroad. The faction's
leaders were representing to peopleespecially impressionable convertsthat the
bishops of the Russian Church Abroad considered this Church virtually the only
Orthodox body left in the world, most of the others being graceless. As Fr.
Seraphim observed, however, "our bishops refuse to 'define' this matter and make
everything 'black and white'; and I am sure that, perhaps without exception, our
bishops not only refuse to declare them without grace, but positively believe
(at least by giving them the benefit of any doubt) that they do have grace."35
Many of these hierarchs had spoken powerfully against ecumenism, Sergianism,
etc., but they had not formally broken communion with any Church save the Moscow
Patriarchateand even there they had not presumed to proclaim it "without
grace." As Fr. Seraphim wrote elsewhere, "The bishops [of the Russian Church
Abroad], on various occasions, have specifically refused to make such a
proclamation; and in their statement at the 1976 Sobor they specifically
addressed the sincere and struggling priests of the Moscow Patriarchate in terms
reserved only for priests who possess and dispense the grace of God."36
Going to Greece, the super-correct faction tried to create
political ties between the Russian Church Abroad and the most extreme of all Old
Calendar groups: the "Matthewites," who believed that not only were all the New
Calendar Churches without grace, but any Church that had anything at all to
do with them was also graceless. This plan later backfired, for the
Matthewites learned that, contrary to what they had been led to believe, the
Russian Church Abroad was far too "liberal" for them.
In 1976 the English-speaking Orthodox mission was also
struck a blow when people (mostly insecure converts) who had been baptized in
other canonical Orthodox Churches were directed by the super-correct contingent
to get rebaptized in the Russian Church Abroad. "Recently," Fr. Seraphim
wrote, "some wished to see such a 'rebaptism' performed in our Western American
diocese, but our Archbishop Anthony wisely refused to allow it, in which we gave
him our full supportfor indeed, it would have been tantamount to an open
declaration of the absence of grace in the Greek Archdiocese."37
Bishop Nektary was alarmed to hear of this unprecedented
practice. "Perhaps the second baptism," he remarked, "washes away the grace of
the first one."
At the height of the correctness mania in 1976, Fr. Seraphim
explained to one convert why his path could not be with this type of "zealotry."
"Their 'strictness,'" he wrote, "forces them to become so involved in church
politics that spiritual questions become quite secondary. I know for myself that
if I would have to sit down and think out for myself exactly which shade of
'zealotry' is the 'correct' one todayI will lose all peace of mind and
be constantly preoccupied with questions of breaking communion, of how this will
seem to others, of 'what will the Greeks think' (and which Greeks?), and
'what will the Metropolitan think?' And I will not have time or inclination to
become inspired by the wilderness, by the Holy Fathers, by the marvelous saints
of ancient and modern times who lived in a higher world. In our times
especially, it is not possible to be entirely detached from these
questions, but let us place first things first."38
In another letter he wrote: "We who wish to remain in the
true tradition of Orthodoxy will have to be zealous and firm in our Orthodoxy
without being fanatics, and without presuming to teach our bishops what they
should do. Above all we must strive to preserve the true fragrance of Orthodoxy,
being at least a little 'not of this world,' detached from all the cares and
politics even of the Church, nourishing ourselves on the otherworldly food the
Church gives us in such abundance."39
There were times when Fr. Herman feared that the super-correct group was actually powerful
enough to set the tone for all the converts coming to traditional Orthodoxy in
America, and particularly to the Russian Church Abroad. But Fr. Seraphim,
although it hurt him to watch people being captured by this extremism, was not
convinced. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, he told Fr. Herman, "It is true that you may
fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all
the time; but you can't fool all of the people all the time."
Judging from the way things were going, Fr. Seraphim
predicted that the super-correct group would eventually stage a schism and end
up as a narrow, isolated sect of its own. In his letters over the years, he
stated this many times:
June 15, 1976: "The 'right wing' of
Orthodoxy will probably be divided into many small 'jurisdictions' in future,
most of them anathematizing and fighting with the others.... We must keep up the
living contact with the older Russian clergy, even if some of them may seem to
us a little too 'liberal'otherwise we will be lost in the 'zealot' jungle which
is growing up around us!"40
July 8, 1980: "We ourselves have felt for some time that Fr. and others who share
his attitude are heading straight for a schism, which now seems almost
inevitable if he does not change his direction. Such a schism nobody needs;
there are so many groups of 'correct' Orthodox in Greece now (none in communion
with the others) that a new group will only prove the devil's power to divide
October 27, 1980: "I look with pain
and sadness on this whole situation; ... but I am powerless to do anything about
it.... The inevitable schism which they are now preparing (if they don't change
soon) will be the last step in a process which only they can change."42
September 17, 1981: "Judging from the
last outburst, the schism is close, and I'm afraid the 'silent majority' of our
priests and laymen will only heave a sigh of relief when the troublemakers are
goneleaving behind them a bad harvest of ill will, and continuing their
name-calling and hatred in a louder tone from their new 'jurisdiction.'
"May God preserve us from all of this!
Please forgive my frankness, but I feel the time is very late, and anyone who
can do anything had better do it now. I know God will continue to preserve His
Church and I believe He will prosper the true Orthodox mission which is just
beginning in our Church.... But the tragedy of souls caught in a self-willed
schism will be incalculable."43
December 8, 1981: "How tragic that some are now
leading their flocks (albeit still very small flocks) out of communion with the
only people who can still teach them what Orthodoxy is and help them to wake up
from their fantasies of a 'super-correct' Orthodoxy that exists nowhere in the
Not long after Fr. Seraphim's repose, his prediction
unfortunately came true just as he had written.
"All this will pass, like some horrible nightmare,"45
Fr. Seraphim remarked in a letter. Looking back at his support of the
super-correct group in previous years, he wrote: "We feel ourselves badly
betrayed.... All these years we trusted that they were of one mind and soul with
us, giving everything they had for the cause of the English-speaking mission.
But really, it seems that all this time they were only building for their own
glory, cruelly abusing the trust of our simple Russian bishops, priests, and
laymen....46 We fear that all our articles about 'zealotry' in the past
years have helped to produce a monster!"47
Of course, there was disillusionment on both sides. The
leaders of the new party, having been inspired to take up the zealot position in
the first place largely thanks to the Platina fathers, assumed that the fathers
would naturally join their movement and begin to take their directives from the
Boston monastery. Some of them were truly disappointed when it became clear that
the fathers were not going to follow their line. They had thought that Fr.
Seraphim wanted absolute strictness just like they did, but in this they were
wrong. Fr. Seraphim wanted Truth, which is on a deeper level altogether. "They
have built a church career for themselves," Fr. Seraphim wrote, "on a false but
attractive premise: that the chief danger to the Church today is lack of
strictness. Nothe chief danger is something much deeperthe loss of the
savor of Orthodoxy, a movement in which they themselves are participating,
even in their 'strictness.'... 'Strictness' will not save us if we don't have any
more the feeling and taste of Orthodoxy."48
During the last decade of his life, Fr. Seraphim poured an
incredible amount of time and energy into the question of "super-correctness,"
having to uphold the Orthodox consciousness handed down from his Fathers against
the many idiosyncrasies of the neo-traditionalist "theology." Not only were
articles needed, but also carefully thought-out answers to the many who came to
him wondering about the new tone that was being set in the Church.
Looking back on this, one might be inclined to regard it as
a waste of time. These were, in Fr. Seraphim's words, "college boys playing at
Orthodoxy,"49 trying to prove they were tougher than everyone else.
They were not sensitive thinkers like Fr. Seraphim, and were not in the least
interested in what he had to say if it did not accord with the party line.
Several considerations, however, lead one to conclude that
his time was not wasted at all. First of all, as Fr. Seraphim was acutely aware,
souls were at stake in this matter, for in leading people into schism from the
Church, the super-correct faction was blocking off their means of salvation. "A
number of people," Fr. Seraphim wrote, "have already left our Church in anger,
and I see others evidently preparing to go the same way. Our warnings on this
subject in The Orthodox Word are meant to save as many people as possible
from this suicidal step. Some dangerous signs: Just recently the priest of the
church in told two of my spiritual children whom I had sent there, that
our Russian bishops are 'betraying' him by their 'ecumenism'; another Greek
priest has told his flock that soon they will again be without bishops because
they will have to leave the Russian Church Abroad; another clergyman openly
calls some of our bishops 'heretics.' The perils about which we are warning are
not imaginary, not at all."50
Secondly, we should consider the effect that this matter had
in rounding out Fr. Seraphim's message to the modern world. As we have seen,
super-correctness (and not always in the obvious forms mentioned above) is a big
temptation for Orthodox people of these latter times, when "the love of many
grows cold."***** Indeed, correctness is built into the very word "Orthodox," which
means "right worship." A key question for our days, which Fr. Seraphim had to
face, was: How does one remain a right (Orthodox) believer without
It was because Fr. Seraphim had a head-on collision with
"correct" extremism that he was able to help his contemporaries out of this
ditch. If he had not had it, it is likely that his writings would have proved
one-sided. Even if he had avoided this pitfall himself, his words would not have
been able to prevent less balanced individuals from going off the deep end on
the right side. As it stands now, however, his message to people of today is
full of sobering warnings against renovationism on the right as well as on the
left, against legalism and loveless externalism under the guise of
"traditionalism." "Anything outward," he had said, "can become a counterfeit."51
Finally, we should not neglect to mention the value of all
this on the formation of Fr. Seraphim's own soul. He himself had been a convert
to "zealot Orthodoxy"; and it was necessary that he go deeper into the
phenomenon of zealotry, which by itself was not the answer. By dealing
with it, and even more by suffering over it throughout many years, he had
been forced to eradicate vestiges of cold elitism from his Christian faith, even
while maintaining his devotion to the cause of "true Orthodoxy." As he wrote in
a letter, "I think in all of this, despite appearances, God is helping us to a
deeper, truer Christianity. So much of our Orthodoxy today is so self-righteous
and smug, or at least lukewarm and comfortable, that we need to be shaken up a
little. May God only grant that His sheep not be lost!"52 And in
another letter: "Deep down I do hope that we will 'suffer through' this
whole problem and that the deeper heart of our Church will make itself
known in the end."53
In this suffering Fr. Seraphim was able, as we shall see, to
achieve that rare combination of an uncompromising stand for Truth and a warm,
living Orthodoxy of the heart. Such is what makes all the difference
between experts of dead "traditionalism" and true carriers of living
tradition such as Archbishop John.
The following abbreviations have been used in these Notes:
FSRFr. Seraphim Rose
LERLetter of Eugene Rose
LFSRLetter of Fr. Seraphim Rose
JERPhilosophical Journal of Eugene Rose, 1960–62
OWThe Orthodox Word
SHBSt. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California
CSHBChronicle of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, written by Eugene/Fr. Seraphim Rose
Letter, Journal and Chronicle dates are according to the civil calendar, except where a
Church feast day is indicated, in which case both the Church (Julian or "Old"
Calendar) and civil (Gregorian or "New" Calendar) dates are given.
Most of the letters of Fr. Seraphim cited in this book were preserved in carbon copy
by Fr. Seraphim himself; some were sent by their recipients to the author for
publication in this book. In some of the references to letters the names of the
recipients have been abbreviated, and in others the names have been omitted
altogether in order to protect the privacy of living persons.
The book Letters from Fr. Seraphim by Fr. Alexey
Young includes many letters that were not preserved by Fr. Seraphim in carbon
copy. When we have quoted these letters directly from this book, references to
the book have been given.
* His instructor at that time had been Fr. Leonid Upshinsky, who had taught classes on the first few
chapter of Genesis according to Patristic commentaries.
** In this and other passages from Fr. Seraphim's letters quoted subsequently in this chapter, we have
removed the names of individuals.
*** On Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, see pp. 478, 508-9 above.
**** See p. 509 above.
***** Cf. Matthew 24:12.
1. René Guénon, Crisis of the Modern World, p. 18.
2. Fr. Leonid Kavelin, Elder Macarius of Optina (SHB, 1995), p. 47.
3. LFSR to Alexey Young, April 18, 1973.
5. Fr. Alexey Young, Letters from Fr. Seraphim, p. 81.
6. LFSR to Fr. Ioannikios, Transfiguration of the Lord, Aug. 6/19, 1973.
7. LFSR to Fr. N., Palm Sunday, April 9/22, 1973.
8. LFSR to Alexey Young, July 12, 1973.
9. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
13. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 17, 1975.
14. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
15. LFSR to A., June 4, 1976.
16. LFSR to Vanya (John), April 14, 1981.
17. LFSR to Fr. Hilarion (later Archbishop), Oct. 3, 1979.
18. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
19. LFSR to Alexey Young, week of Nov. 6, 1973.
20. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
21. LFSR to Fr. N., Sept. 1, 1973.
22. LFSR to Andrew Bond, Bright Saturday, April 18/May 1, 1976.
23. LFSR to Alexey Young, Third Day of Trinity, June 2/15, 1976.
24. LFSR to Alexey Young, week of Nov. 6, 1973; LFSR to Alexey Young, St.
Thomas Sunday, April 23/May 6, 1973; LFSR to Andrew Bond, Bright Saturday,
April 18/May 1, 1976; LFSR to Alexey Young, St. Thomas Sunday, 1973.
25. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
26. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 15, 1975.
28. LFSR to Nicholas, March 30, 1976.
29. FSR, as told to Fr. Herman Podmoshensky.
30. LFSR to Fr. Igor, Oct. 12, 1975.
31. LFSR to Andrew Bond, Bright Saturday, April 18/May 1, 1976; LFSR to Fr.
Alexis, June 23, 1976.
32. LFSR to Alexey Young, July 12, 1973.
33. "Help the Orthodox in Uganda!" OW, no. 92 (1980), pp. 98, 151.
34. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Oct. 27, 1980.
35. LFSR to Andrew Bond, June 4, 1976.
36. LFSR to George and Margaret, Jan. 10, 1981.
37. LFSR to Andrew Bond, Bright Saturday, April 18/May 1, 1976.
38. LFSR to Daniel Olson, Apodosis of Ascension, May 29/June 11, 1976.
39. LFSR to Alexey Young, Third Day of Trinity, June 2/15, 1976.
41. LFSR to Fr. Michael, July 8, 1980.
42. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Oct. 27, 1980.
43. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Sept. 17, 1981.
44. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Dec. 8, 1981.
45. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 17, 1975.
46. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 15, 1975.
47. LFSR to Alexey Young, Third Day of Trinity, June 2/15, 1976.
48. LFSR to Andrew Bond, June 4, 1976; LFSR to Daniel Olson, Apodosis of
Ascension, May 29/June 11, 1976.
49. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 15, 1975.
50. LFSR to George and Margaret, Jan. 10, 1981.
51. [FSR], "Archbishop Andrew of New Diveyevo," OW, no. 63 (1975), p.
52. LFSR to Andrew Bond, April 4, 1978.
53. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Oct. 27, 1980.
From Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press),
pp. 518-532. Copyright 2003 by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California. Used with permission.