Fr. Seraphim Rose Speaks
Excerpts from His Writings
Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, co-founder and co-editor of The
Orthodox Word and co-founder of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood and
Monastery at Platina, California, reposed in the Lord on September 2, 1982 n.s.
Born in 1934 in California, he was raised in a typical American Protestant
family. He graduated from Pomona College in the Los Angeles area, and later
received his M.A. in Chinese (Mandarin) from the University of California at
He first encountered true Orthodoxy as a result of the
lecture of newly-graduated Jordanville seminarian Gleb (Abbot Herman)
Podmoshensky in 1961. By 1963 the establishment of the St. Herman of Alaska
Brotherhood, as a missionary endeavor toward the conversion of English-speaking
people, under the aegis of Blessed Archbishop John (Maximovitch) (+1966) had
been decided upon. The Brotherhood began with headquarters on Geary Boulevard in
San Francisco next door to the Cathedral, which was then in process of
construction. The Orthodox Word began publication with the January-February
issue of 1965. The first issues were handset and printed on hand-operated and
hand-powered press. In addition to the publication of the magazine, an icon and
book store was operated. Father Seraphim, with his modest smile and meek manner,
was there to greet customers and answer questions, and let his light shine.
By 1967, in pursuance of long-range and long-standing
plans, search began for a suitable location for a skete, so that full-fledged
monasticism could be undertaken. Vladika John having reposed in 1966, the
Brotherhood now had a heavenly patron to assist them in all their righteous
endeavors. After considerable searching throughout northern California, the
present location of the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery was decided upon. Living
quarters and the printing shop were made ready so that the two-hundred
and-fifty-mile move northward from San Francisco was accomplished by Dormition
of 1969. For one year the two members of the brotherhood labored in solitude and
silence before they received tonsure to the Small Schema in October of l970. In
the previous August of 1970, St. Herman of Alaska had been glorified in the
Cathedral of the Holy Virgin the Joy of All Who Sorrow, in San Francisco. The
Brotherhood had labored long and tirelessly to bring this about, and to make
known the wonders worked by St. Herman, and his importance for the Orthodox
Church, especially in America.
Father Seraphim belonged to that rare species, the
ascetics. His labors, who can tell? Perhaps only Abbot Herman. But others have
been witnesses. Many were the nights when his attention could be had only with
difficulty, because he was so enrapt in the Jesus Prayer even while at table. He
demonstrated the virtues as few people in our time are capable of doing. He
believed implicitly in the teaching of the Fathers that obedience to ones
spiritual father and director must be given without question. He seldom ever
allowed himself to become aroused enough for one to call it anger.
He built a small hut, approximately 6 x 10 feet, on the
mountainside, so that he had a refuge from ever-increasing numbers of visitors.
For seven years he was blessed to enjoy this refuge, where he prepared many
articles for publication, where he prayed and prepared himself to leave this
world, where he was indeed a stranger and a pilgrim, and to enter his heavenly
homeland. He was ordained hierodeacon in January 1977 and was raised to the rank
of hieromonk on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers the same year, so that after
eight years of desert-dwelling he and Abbot Herman were able to celebrate the
Father Seraphim was an inspiration for thousands of people.
He gave some of the most inspiring sermons ever uttered in the English language.
His constant counsel was: Censure yourself. Never excuse yourself. If you must,
or think you must, give way to a weakness, then be certain that you recognize it
as a weakness, and a sin. But see your own faults and condemn not your brother!
During the latter portion of his life, Father Seraphim continually emphasized
the need for spiritual attentiveness in preparation for struggles to come. He
seemed to have an awareness, a foreknowledge, of apocalyptic times ahead. His
message was conveyed in the well-known phrase: It is later than you think.
Writing both in Russian and English, Fr. Seraphim was able
to produce a torrent of articles and books in a relatively short span of
timeonly 17 yearscovering every conceivable subject of interest and importance
to the Orthodox reader, including lives of saints, Divine services, contemporary
problems, and theology. He also translated many works, making them available in
English for the first timeincomparable service to English-speaking Orthodox
Father Seraphim accomplished more for the glory of God and
the spread of true Orthodox Christianity than any other person born on the
American continent. May God grant him rest with His saints, where the light of
His countenance shall visit him. And may his memory be eternal!
Rassophore-monk, Reader Laurence
(Fr. Seraphims first godchild)
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The following letter was written by Hieromonk Seraphim in
response to a question concerning spiritual guidance.
Dear brother in Christ:
Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ! Thank you for your
letter. I appreciate the seriousness of what you have written, and I will reply
with the same seriousness.
I must tell you first of all that, to the best of our
knowledge, there are no startsi todaythat is, truly God-bearing elders (in
the spirit of the Optina elders) who could guide you not by their own wisdom and
understanding of the Holy Fathers, but by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
This kind of guidance is not given to our timesand frankly, we in our weakness
and corruption and sins do not deserve it.
To our times is given a more humble kind of spiritual life,
which Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov in his excellent book The Arena (do you have
it?) calls life by counselthat is, life according to the commandments of God
as learned in the Holy Scriptures and Holy Fathers and helped by those who are
elder and more experienced. A starets can give commands; but a counsellor
gives advice, which you must test in experience.
We do not know of anyone in particular who would be
especially able to counsel you in the English language. If this is really
needful for you, God will send it to you in His time, according to your faith
and need, and without your making too deliberate a search for it.
Since you have written me, I will venture to give you a
word or two of general advice, based upon what you have said in your letters, as
derived from the experience of our small monastic community and our reading of
the Holy Fathers.
1) Learn first of all to be at peace with the spiritual
situation which has been given you, and to make the most of it. If your
situation is spiritually barren, do not let this discourage you, but work all
the harder at what you yourself can do for your spiritual life. It is already
something very important to have access to the Sacraments and regular church
services. Beyond this you should have regular morning and evening prayers with
your family, and spiritual readingall according to your strength and the
possibilities afforded by your circumstances.
2) Among spiritual writings you should read especially
those addressed to people living in the world, or which give the ABCs of
spiritual lifesuch as St. John of Kronstadts My Life in Christ, St. Nikodemos
Unseen Warfare, the Lives of Saints in general, and Bishop Ignatius
Brianchaninovs The Arena (this book, while addressed to novices, is suitable
for laymen insofar as it gives in general the ABCs of spiritual life as
applied to modern times).
3) To help your spiritual growth and remind you of
spiritual truths, it would be good to keep a journal (the hardbound record
books sold in stationery stores are good), which would include excerpts from the
writings of spiritual books which you find especially valuable or applicable to
you, and perhaps comments of your own inspired by reading and reflection,
including brief comments on your own shortcomings which you need to correct.
St. John of Kronstadt found this especially valuable, as can be seen in his My
Life in Christ.
4) Dont criticize or judge other peopleregard everyone
else as an angel, justify their mistakes and weaknesses, and condemn only
yourself as the worst sinner. This is step one in any kind of spiritual life.
I offer this for whatever help it may be to you. I would
be glad to try to answer any specific questions you might have, especially on
the teaching of the Holy Fathers, almost all of which we have access to in
Asking your prayers,
With love in Christ,
From Living Orthodoxy, Jan.-Feb., 1984.
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The life of self-centeredness and self-satisfaction lived
by most of todays Christians is so all-pervading that it effectively seals
them off from any understanding at all of spiritual life; and when such people
do undertake spiritual life, it is only as another form of self-satisfaction.
This can be seen quite clearly in the totally false religious ideal both of the
charismatic movement and the various forms of Christian meditation: all of
them promise (and give very quickly) an experience of contentment and peace. But
this is not the Christian ideal at all, which, if anything, may be summed up as
a fierce battle and struggle.
Orthodox Christians! Hold fast to the grace which you
have; never let it become a matter of habit; never measure it by merely human
standards or expect it to be logical or comprehensible to those who understand
nothing higher than what is human Let all true Orthodox Christians strengthen
themselves for the battle ahead, never forgetting that in Christ the victory is
Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1979.
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...Orthodox Christians of these latter times are indeed
spiritually sleeping and desperately need to be awakened by a trumpet of the
Spirit like Saint Symeon [the New Theologian]. Those who are Orthodox by birth
and habit are not those who will inherit the eternal Kingdom of Heaven; they
must be awakened to the conscious fulfillment of Christs commandments and a
conscious reception of God's Holy Spirit, as Saint Symeon so eloquently taught.
...For Saint Symeon, as for all true Orthodox Christians,
theology is life; the true words of God which speak to the Christian heart,
raise it from its sloth and negligence, and inspire it to struggle for the
eternal Kingdom, which may be tasted in advance even now in the life of grace
which God sends down upon His faithful through His sanctifying Holy Spirit.
Preface to The Sin of Adam and our Redemption: Seven
Homilies by Saint Symeon the New Theologian; St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood,
Platina, CA, 1979.
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We must not deceive ourselves: the life of the
desert-dwellers of the Northern Thebaid is far beyond us in our time of
unparalleled spiritual emptiness. In any epoch the monastic life is limited by
the kind of life which is being led in the world. At a time when daily Orthodox
life in Russia was both extremely difficult and very sober, monasticism could
flourish; but in our time when ordinary life has become abnormally comfortable
and the world-view of even the best religious and intellectual leaders is
shockingly frivolous, what more is to be expected than that luke-warm
spirituality with comfort with which bold voices from inside Soviet Russia
even now are reproaching the free West?
Everywhere today the disease of disbelief has entered
deeply into the minds, and most of all the hearts, of men. Our Orthodoxy, even
when it is outwardly still correct, is the poorest, the feeblest Christianity
there has ever been And still the voice of the Northern Thebaid calls usnot,
it may be, to go to the desertbut at least to keep alive the fragrance of the
desert in our hearts: to dwell in mind and heart with these angel-like men and
women and have them as our truest friends, conversing with them in prayer; to
be always aloof from the attachments and passions of this life, even when they
center about some institution or leader of the church organization; to be first
of all a citizen of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City on high towards which all
our Christian labors are directed, and only secondarily a member of this world
below which perishes.
Epilogue to The Northern Thebaid, St Herman of
Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1975.
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The time of the end, though it seems to be near, we do
not know. However close, it is still future, and in the present we have only the
same age-old fight against the unseen powers, against the world, and against our
own passions, upon the outcome of which our eternal fate will be decided. Let us
then struggle while it is still day, with the time and the weapons which our
All-merciful God has given us!
Truly, we are far more in need today of a return to the
sources of genuine Orthodoxy than Blessed Paisius was! Our situation is
hopeless! And yet God's mercy does not leave us, and even today one may say that
there is a movement of genuine Orthodoxy, which consciously rejects the
indifference, renovationism, and outright apostasy which are preached by the
world-famous Orthodox theologians and hierarchs, and also hungers for more
than the customary Orthodoxy which is powerless before the onslaughts of a
world refined in destroying souls.
Many young people today are seeking gurus and are ready
to enslave themselves to any likely candidate; but woe to those who take
advantage of this climate of the times to proclaim themselves God-bearing
elders in the ancient traditionthey only deceive themselves and others.
Our times, above all, call for humble and quiet labors,
with love and sympathy for other strugglers on the path of the Orthodox
spiritual life and a deep resolve that does not become discouraged because the
atmosphere is unfavorable. We Christians of the latter times are still called to
work persistently on ourselves, to be obedient to spiritual fathers and
authorities, to lead an orderly life with at least a minimum of spiritual
discipline and with regular reading of the Orthodox spiritual literature which
Blessed Paisius was chiefly responsible for handing down to our times, to watch
over our own sins and failings and not judge others. If we do this, even in our
terrible times, we may have hopein God's mercyof the salvation of our souls.
Introduction to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, by
Schema-monk Metrophanes; St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1976.
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As to the fatalism of those who believe that man must be
a slave to the spirit of the age, it is disproved by the experience of every
Christian worthy of the name, for the Christian life is nothing if it is not a
struggle against the spirit of every age for the sake of eternity.
man's freedom has been given him to choose between the
true God and himself, between the true path to deification whereon the self is
humbled and crucified in this life to be resurrected and exalted in God and
eternity, and the false path of self-deification which promises exaltation in
this life but ends in the Abyss. These are the only two choices, ultimately,
open to the freedom of man; and upon them have been founded the two Kingdoms,
the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, which may be discriminated only by
the eye of faith in this life, but which shall be separated in the future life
as Heaven and Hell. It is clear to which of them modern civilization belongsThe
old commandment of Thou shalt, says [Nietzsches] Zarathustra, has become
outmoded; the new commandment is I will.
In the Christian life, the old self with its constant
I will must be done away with and a new self, centered in Christ and His will,
Christian compromise in thought and word and negligence
in deed have opened the way to the triumph of the forces of the absurd, of
Satan, of Antichrist. The present age of absurdity is the just reward of
Christians who have failed to be Christians.
It is futile, in fact it is precisely absurd, to speak of
reforming society, of changing the path of history, of emerging into an age
beyond absurdity, if we have not Christ in our hearts; and if we do have Christ
in our hearts, nothing else matters.
"Subhumanity: The Philosophy of the Absurd" in The
Orthodox Word, Platina, Sept.-Oct. 1982.
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Looking at Orthodoxy, at its present state and its
prospects in the period before us, we may see two opposed aspects. First of all,
there is the spirit of worldliness which is so present in the Orthodox Churches
today, leading to a watering-down of Orthodoxy, a loss of the difference between
Orthodoxy and heterodoxy. This worldliness has produced the Ecumenical movement,
which is leading to the approaching Unia with Rome and the Western
confessionssomething that may well occur in the 1980s. In itself, this will
probably not be a spectacular event: most Orthodox people have become so unaware
of their faith, and so indifferent to it, that they will only welcome the
opportunity to receive communion in a Roman or Anglican church. This spirit of
worldliness is what is in the air and seems natural today; it is the religious
equivalent of the atheist-agnostic atmosphere that prevails in the world.
What should be our response to this worldly ecumenical
movement? Fortunately, our bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia have
given us a sound policy to follow: we do not participate in the Ecumenical
Movement, and our Metropolitan [Philaret] has warned other Orthodox Christians
of the disastrous results of their ecumenical course if they continue; but at
the same time our bishops have refused to cut off all contact and communion with
Orthodox Churches involved in the Ecumenical Movement, recognizing that it is
still a tendency that has not yet come to its conclusion (the Unia with Rome)
and that (at least in the case of the Moscow Patriarchate and other churches
behind the Iron Curtain) it is a political policy forced upon the Church by
secular authorities. But because of this policy, our Church suffers attacks both
from the left side (from ecumenists who accuse us of being uncharitable,
behind the times,and the like) and from the right side (by groups in Greece
that demand that we break communion with all Orthodox Churches and declare them
to be without grace).
Indeed, if one looks at the state of the Orthodox Church
in Greece, we can see that the Ecumenical Movement has produced a reaction that
has often become excessive, and sometimes is almost as bad as the disease it
seeks to cure. The more moderate of the Old Calendarist groups in Greece has a
position similar to that of our Russian Church Abroad; but schism after schism
has occurred among the Old Calendarists over the question of strictness. A few
years ago one of these groups cut off communion with our Russian Church Abroad
because our bishops refused to declare that all other Orthodox Churches are
without grace; this group now declares that it alone has grace, only it is
Orthodox. Recently this group has attracted some converts from our Russian
Church Abroad, and we should be aware that this attitude is a danger to some of
our American and European converts: with our calculating, rationalistic minds it
is very easy to think we are being zealous and strict, when actually we are
chiefly indulging our passion for self-righteousness.
One Old Calendarist bishop in Greece has written to us
that incalculable harm has been done to the Orthodox Church in Greece by what he
calls the correctness disease, when people quote canons, Fathers, the typicon
in order to prove they are correct and everyone else is wrong. Correctness can
truly become a disease when it is administered without love and tolerance and
awareness of ones own imperfect understanding. Such a correctness only
produces continual schisms, and in the end only helps the Ecumenical Movement by
reducing the witness of sound Orthodoxy.
Conspicuous among Orthodox todaycertain to be with
us into the 1980sis the worldly spirit by which Orthodoxy is losing its savor,
expressed in the Ecumenical Movement, together with the reaction against it,
which is often excessive precisely because the same worldly spirit is present in
There will undoubtedly be an increasing number of
Orthodox converts in America and Europe in the coming decade, and we must strive
that our missionary witness to them will help to produce, not cold, calculating,
correct experts in the letter of the law, but warm, loving, simple
Christiansat least as far as our haughty Western temperament will allow.
Once Fr. Dimitri [Dudko] was asked about how much better
off religion was in the free world than in Russia, and he answered: Yes, they
have freedom and many churches, but theirs is a spirituality with comfort. We
in Russia have a different path, a path of suffering that can produce real
We should remember this phrase when we look at our own
feeble Orthodoxy in the free world: are we content to have beautiful churches
and chanting; do we perhaps boast that we keep the fasts and the church
calendar, have good icons and congregational singing, that we give to the poor
and perhaps tithe to the Church? Do we delight in exalted patristic teachings
and theological conferences without having the simplicity of Christ in our
hearts? Then ours is a spirituality with comfort, and we will not have the
spiritual fruits that will be exhibited by those without all these comforts,
who deeply suffer and struggle for Christ. In this sense we should take our tone
from the suffering Church in Russia and place the externals of the Churchs
worship in their proper place.
Our most important task, perhaps, is the Christian
enlightenment of ourselves and others. We must go deeper into our faithnot by
studying the canons of Ecumenical Councils or the typicon (although they also
have their place), but by knowing how God acts in our lives; by reading the
lives of God-pleasers in the Old and New Testaments (we read the Old Testament
far too little; it is very instructive); by reading the lives of Saints and the
writings of the Holy Fathers on practical spiritual life; by reading about the
suffering of Christians today and in recent years. In all of this learning our
eyes must be on heaven above, the goal we strive for, not on the problems and
disasters of earth below.
Our Christian life and learning must be such that it will
enable us to know the true Christ and to recognize the false Christ (Antichrist)
when he comes. It is not theoretical knowledge or correctness that will give
this knowledge to us. Vladimir Soloviev in his parable of Antichrist has a
valuable insight when he notes that Antichrist will build a museum of all
possible Byzantine antiquities for the Orthodox, if only they accept him. So,
too, mere correctness in Orthodoxy without a loving Christian heart will not
be able to resist Antichrist; one will recognize him and be firm to stand
against him chiefly by the heart and not the head. We must develop in ourselves
the right Christian feelings and instincts, and put off all fascination with the
spiritual comforts of the Orthodox way of life, or else we will beas one
discerning observer of present-day converts has observedOrthodox but not
"Orthodox Christians Facing the 1980s", A lecture given
at the St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage, Platina, CA, August 9, 1979.
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The significance of the Catacomb Church does not lie in
its correctness; it lies in its preservation of the true spirit of Orthodoxy,
the spirit of freedom in Christ. Sergianism was not merely wrong in its choice
of church policy, it was something far worse: it was a betrayal of Christ based
on agreement with the spirit of this world. It is the inevitable result when
church policy is guided by earthly logic and not by the mind of Christ.
Introduction to Russias Catacomb Saints, by I.M.
Andreyev, Platina, 1982.
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The Orthodox Christian of today is overwhelmed to open
Saint Gregorys Book of Miracles and find there just what his soul is craving
in this soulless, mechanistic modern world; he finds that very Christian path of
salvation which he knows in the Orthodox services, Lives of the Saints, the
Patristic writings, but which is so absent today, even among the best of modern
Christians, that one begins to wonder whether one is not really insane, or
some literal fossil of history, for continuing to believe and feel as the Church
has always believed and felt. It is one thing to recognize the intellectual
truth of Orthodox Christianity; but how is one to live it when it is so out of
harmony with the times? And then one reads Saint Gregory and finds that all of
this Orthodox truth is also profoundly normal, that whole societies were once
based on it, that it is unbelief and renovated Christianity which are
profoundly abnormal and not Orthodox Christianity, that this is the heritage and
birthright of the West itself which it deserted so long ago when it separated
from the one and only Church of Christ, thereby losing the key to the secret
which so baffles the modern scholarthe secret of true Christianity, which
must be approached with a fervent, believing heart, and not with the cold
aloofness of modern unbelief, which is not natural to man but is an anomaly of
Introduction to Vita Patrum, by Saint Gregory of
Tours, Platina, 1988.
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We must not artificially isolate ourselves from the
reality of todays world; rather, we must learn to use the best things the world
has to offer, for everything good in the worldif we are only wise enough to see
itpoints to God, and we must make use of it. Too many people make the mistake
of limiting Orthodoxy to church services, set prayers, and the occasional
reading of a spiritual book. True Orthodoxy, however, requires a commitment that
involves every aspect of our lives. One is Orthodox all the time every day, in
every situation of lifeor one is not really Orthodox at all. For this reason we
must develop an Orthodox worldview and live it.
"Living an Orthodox World-View", a lecture given at the
St Herman Summer Pilgrimage, Platina, CA, August 1980; Orthodox America, Aug.-Sept. 1982.
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Do not trust your mind too much; thinking must be refined
by suffering, or it will not stand the test of these cruel times.
Of course, one can always act wrong even on a clear
conscience! But even that is not a fatal mistake as long as ones mind and heart
remain open and one keeps first things first.
How much our American Orthodoxy needs more heart and not
so much mind! I dont know any answer for it, except more prayer and basic
education in Orthodox sources.
Orthodox Christians, surrounded by and already swimming
in a sea of humanist-worldly philosophy and practice, must do everything
possible to create their own islands, in that sea, of other-worldly,
God-oriented thought and practice.
Above all, may we all grow in spiritual understanding,
not rational understandingwhich I fear is the constant plague of all us poor
the two sides quote canons back and forth, when what is
needed is love and understandingand that statement, I realize, could have come
straight from the lips of some ecumenist, which only shows how difficult the
path of true Orthodoxy has become in our days.
Good heavens! What is happening to people? How easily one
gets dragged off the path of serving God into all kinds of factions and
jealousies and attempts at revenge.
How much hope there is for those who do not trust in
themselves too much and are not overly-critical of others! And how little hope
for those whose orientation is the opposite!
psychological trials of dwellers in the last times will
equal the physical trials of the martyrs. But in order to face these trials we
must be living in a different world.
I think aboutthat older generation that is now almost
gone, and I want to weep for the young know-it-alls who have missed the point.
But the understanding comes only through real suffering, and how many can do
We must be open rather than closed with regard to the
Moscow Patriarchate. The whole question of ecumenism and apostasy cannot be
placed simply on the canonical-dogmatic-formal level, but must be viewed first
Its obvious that the zeal not according to knowledge
is becoming a matter of some concern to [Metropolitan Philaret] and for many of
our bishops, and Im afraid the solution to it, if any, wont be easy I think
the quality needed is a certain deep humility of mind that enables one to accept
other ways of looking at things, other emphases, as equally Orthodox with ones
Try to remember that all real Christian work is
localright here and now, between myself and God and my neighbor.
Do you have a notebook for taking down quotes from Holy
Fathers in your reading? Do you always have a book of Holy Fathers that you are
reading and can turn to in a moment of gloom? Start nowthis is essential!
Now one cannot be a half-hearted Christian, but only
entirely or not at all.
Letters from Father Seraphim,
Publication Society, Richfield Springs, NY, 2001.
Many thanks to Mary Mansur, editor of
for permission to post these excerpts.