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Pastoral Guidance - Chapter 84 from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works

by Hieromonk Damascene

Suffering is an indication of another Kingdom which we look to. If being Christian meant being “happy” in this life, we wouldn’t need the Kingdom of Heaven.

—Fr. Seraphim [1]

Orthodoxy can’t be comfortable unless it is fake.

—Fr. Seraphim [2]

Why do there seem to be so few miracles in our days? It is because, believed Fr. Seraphim, there is so little pain of heart.

In a little handwritten note, hidden away and discovered many years after his death, Fr. Seraphim crystallized into a few words the essence of a great truth for our times:

“Pain of heart is the condition for spiritual growth and the manifestation of God’s power. Healings, etc., occur to those in desperation, hearts pained but still trusting and hoping in God’s help. This is when God acts. The absence of miracles today (almost) indicates lack of this pain of heart in man and even most Orthodox Christians—bound up with the ‘growing cold’ of hearts in the last times.”

A proof of this statement can be seen in Fr. Seraphim’s own experience, out of which it of course came. Had it not been Eugene’s plea before that postcard rack in San Francisco, coming from deep pain of heart, and Gleb’s similar plea before the grave of St. Herman, that had led to the miracle of their meeting and all that they were subsequently able to achieve? All the miracles that Fr. Seraphim had witnessed in his own life, including those of the greatest miracle-worker Archbishop John, had resulted from the prayers of hearts which did not shrink from the pain of Golgotha.

When Fr. Seraphim was called upon to be a guide of souls, he would frequently remind his spiritual children not to despair in the midst of suffering, but, in the words of St. Mark the Ascetic, to “endure pain of heart in the spirit of devotion.”* Most of these counsels remain only in the minds and hearts of his spiritual children, but some have been preserved in writing: in the pastoral letters which Fr. Herman gave him the obedience of saving in carbon copies.

In 1973, after Vladimir and Sylvia Anderson’s daughter Maggie died and was buried on Noble Ridge, Fr. Seraphim wrote these words to Sylvia:

The aching thoughts of Maggie are natural—but that’s the side that belongs to earth. Her soul is with God, and the trial which you underwent with her was God’s visitation to you, and the proof that in everything that has been happening there is something deeper than human logic and feelings can fathom.

Some people seem to have an “easy” and uncomplicated path in life—or so it seems from outside; while for others like you everything seems complicated and difficult. Don’t let that bother you. Actually, from the spiritual point of view, those who really have an “easy” time are probably in danger!—precisely because without the element of suffering through whatever God sends, there is no spiritual profit or advancement. God knows each of us better than we know ourselves, and He sends what is needful for us, whatever we may think!

Maggie’s grave is a source of great joy for us. On the Tuesday after Pascha week, when the dead are commemorated again for the first time, we went there and sang, mingling the funeral hymns with Paschal hymns, then breaking and eating eggs, symbols of the Resurrection, over the grave. Truly, the living and the dead are one in Christ, and it’s only our blindness that makes us sometimes forget it! [3]

A few years later, in a letter to a spiritual son who was suffering over his experience of politics in the Church, Fr. Seraphim wrote:

About your trials: most of them are natural parts of life, and God allows several of them to pile up because you are capable of bearing them. The numbness, which comes chiefly from exposure to politics in a sacred place where they do not belong, will pass. You must learn to suffer and bear—but do not view this as something “endless and dreary,” here you are wrong: God sends many consolations, and you will know them again. You must learn to find joy in the midst of increasing doses of sorrow; thus you can save your soul and help others. [4]

To a man in England who was facing similar difficulties, Fr. Seraphim had these words of counsel:

About you personally, of course, I can’t give any definitive answer. However, I do know that in spiritual life it is often precisely in seemingly “impossible” conditions that one really begins to grow; then one has to become more sensitive, think less of getting one’s own will and ask what is God’s will, learn to see a little deeper into the reality around one—and all this through suffering, both one’s own and that of others. [5]

Fr. Seraphim had similar things to say to a young man who was experiencing loneliness in the world while at the same time yearning to serve God as a priest:

Fr. Dimitry Dudko has an answer for the new convert leading a lonely life in the world (I think we read this at trapeza after you left): Enter as much as possible into the Church’s spirit and way of thought and life…. Your loneliness, while difficult to bear, is good, because only out of suffering comes spiritual growth; it will pass as you get more and more into the Church spirit through continually nourishing yourself with it. Daily reading, even if little, is very important in this struggle.

About the priesthood: treasure the idea for now in your heart. The more experience you have in life, and in suffering (I know you don’t like that word—but even if you don’t go out and seek suffering, at least be prepared to accept what little God allows you, and accept it gladly)—the better prepared you will be for priesthood. [6]

To a young priest Fr. Seraphim wrote:

Do not be depressed that there are people rising up against you in your parish. If everyone loved you, then I would say there is some trouble there, because you are probably catering too much to people when giving pastoral advice. Christ was also hated, and was crucified. Why should we expect everyone to suddenly love us, if we are following in the steps of Christ? Just be careful that your pastoral conscience is pure, and fear not hatred from others, but hatred within yourself. [7]

Fr. Seraphim did not reserve his counsels on suffering for those who happened to be experiencing it. In 1979 he received a letter from a young man who was preparing for baptism and was already on fire with Orthodox zeal. This young catechumen had read a book which the Brotherhood had just printed and which Fr. Seraphim had sent to him: St. Symeon the New Theologian’s The Sin of Adam, homilies on the fall of man and his redemption through Jesus Christ. “Toward the end of the book,” the man wrote, “I found I was underlining nearly every sentence, and often tears would come to my eyes; but such tears are the very ones which we entreat the Mother of God to send us in our morning prayers. Such tears have a cleansing effect upon the soul.” This man was dreaming of gradually forming a small, semi-monastic community in the city, and expressed hopes that his present roommate, a former “street person” of Jewish background, would become an Orthodox Christian. His friend D., however, warned him against being carried away by such dreams.

Here is what Fr. Seraphim wrote to the young catechumen:

D. is right—don’t be too taken up by “fantasies.” But don’t entirely squash them, either—without dreams, we can’t live! May God grant your Reuben the grace to be baptized and find his place to be a fruitful Orthodox Christian.…

May God grant you to continue with such freshness towards Orthodoxy as you felt with reading St. Symeon’s Homilies! Be aware, however, that this will be possible only with sufferings; everything you need to deepen your faith will come with suffering—if you accept it with humility and submission to God’s will. It is not too difficult to become “exalted” by the richness and depth of our Orthodox Faith; but to temper this exaltation with humility and sobriety (which come through the right acceptance of sufferings) is not an easy thing. In so many of our Orthodox people today (especially converts) one can see a frightful thing: much talk about the exalted truths and experiences of true Orthodoxy, but mixed with pride and a sense of one’s own importance for being “in” on something which most people don’t see (from this comes also the criticism against which you’ve already been warned). May God keep your heart soft and filled with love for Christ and your fellow man. If you will be able to have a spiritual father with whom you can confide the feelings of your heart, and can trust his judgment, all this will be easier for you—but if it’s pleasing to God for you to have such a spiritual father, it will come “naturally,” as all things do in spiritual life—with time, patience, suffering, and coming better to know yourself. [8]

In another place Fr. Seraphim wrote: “Indeed, how we all must learn and relearn that our pretensions and ideas must be tested by reality and forged in suffering.” [9]

Fr. Seraphim was very concerned about those who used the riches of Orthodoxy, not to struggle for righteousness, but precisely as a means to escape struggle. He was acquainted with an unwed mother who, out of “religious zeal,” wanted to give up responsibility for her children, putting them in other people’s homes. About her Fr. Seraphim wrote:

If she is relieved of the “problem” of her children, her perdition is almost guaranteed…. She is making a bad mistake in thinking that once she is “rid” of her children she can then begin to think about a convent and real “spiritual life”—because if we do not recognize that our spiritual struggle begins right now with whatever God has given us (and all the more if we ourselves have gotten into a difficult situation!), we will not begin the “spiritual life” later, either. And so, if she only knew, her salvation could lie in her suffering through the raising of her own children; but if she doesn’t suffer this through, then later when she thinks to be starting real “spiritual life,” she’ll find she has nothing at all, and “spiritual life” which begins after we are rid of present problems is only an abstraction. I think all this is true—but the spiritual benefit of “suffering through” comes only if one voluntarily accepts it. [10]

To the mother herself Fr. Seraphim wrote:

We realize that raising your [children] is very difficult for you. But that is the cross God has given you, and I must tell you frankly that you can scarcely receive your salvation in any other way than by trying your best to raise them up well. Spiritual life begins when things seem absolutely “hopeless”—that is when one learns to turn to God and not to our own feeble efforts and ideas. [11]

 

Following the teaching of the Holy Fathers, Fr. Seraphim counseled people not to be quick to calculate and measure their own spiritual state. In 1975 he wrote to an Orthodox convert:

Don’t worry too much about how spiritually poor you are—God sees that, but for you it is expected to trust in God and pray to Him as best you can, never to fall into despair, and to struggle according to your strength. If you ever begin to think you are spiritually “well off”—then you can know for sure that you aren’t! True spiritual life, even on the most elementary level, is always accompanied by suffering and difficulties. Therefore you should rejoice in all your difficulties and sorrows. [12]

To another young man, who wanted to leave the Jordanville seminary because he felt he was making no spiritual progress there, Fr. Seraphim wrote:

We understand very well your situation as you describe it in your letter. Of course, what you say is “correct” as far as it goes. But you are allowing yourself to make one basic mistake: you are making yourself the judge of your own spiritual state. In your present state of knowledge and experience, you are not able to see whether you need an aspirin or an operation—so try to humble yourself a little to the extent of seeing that you don’t know what is best for you! But then what is the answer? To find a stricter place? Not now—if you do you will probably regret it; it is very doubtful that this will give you the spiritual growth that you need and are looking for. Neither “strictness” nor “freedom” is a guarantee of spiritual growth. Some people under “freedom” become spiritually loose and never grow; but we have also seen those trained under relative “strictness” who have also made no growth, but on the contrary have thought that they have grown while actually falling into the diseases of vainglory and pride, believing that their instructor was taking care of these problems for them. Under both forms of life one must walk in fear of God and with discernment.

Your answer—if I may be so bold as to tell you—is to be patient, enduring with good hope all the temptations that come your way, and withholding your judgment as to whether you need an aspirin or an operation—until you have acquired more knowledge and experience—which is why you went to Jordanville in the first place. Your opinion will be much more sound after several more years of seminary and experience in an Orthodox community. You are too young in Orthodoxy to be evaluating your spiritual growth—that is actually a sign of your pride. Be patient, endure, observe, learn—and when the time comes there will come ways of testing your real spiritual growth.

In a word, the temptation to leave Jordanville, after committing yourself to the seminary and the life of a novice, seems to come from the devil on the “right side”—to knock you off the path which will give you the best progress, for a seemingly good and plausible reason. Do you remember how today’s Saint, Cyril of White Lake, thought that he would be more spiritually profited by sitting in his quiet cell than by laboring in the noisy kitchen? And that it did not turn out at all as his inexperienced judgment thought it would?13 Take that as your example and warning when these thoughts come to you from the “right side.” The “noisy kitchen” can give you much valuable spiritual experience, even if it might not seem to at the time.

The feeling of emptiness, worldly vanity, helplessness against temptations—will pass; but you should accept all this now as your cross, struggling according to your strength, and not being so proud as to think that you should be above them. [14]

 

Over the years Fr. Seraphim received letters from Orthodox college students who were disillusioned by the lack of love of Truth in the modern academic world. Like the seminarian of the above letter, sometimes they wanted to abandon what they had begun. Fr. Seraphim, of course, could well sympathize with them, having once been painfully disillusioned with the modern academic world himself. But as in his other counsels, he encouraged the students to learn and grow from what was placed right in front of them. In general, he would advise that they finish their education, as he himself had done. To one student, who complained that having to study the works of Immanuel Kant and B. F. Skinner was taking its “spiritual toll” on him, Fr. Seraphim wrote:

I hope you will be able to force yourself to finish your courses—you will be surprised how later some of these things which now seem so useless will turn out to have a use after all (even Kant and Skinner!). [15]

To another college student he sent this guidance:

College life will doubtless give you many temptations. But remember that learning in itself is useful and can be used later in a Christian way. Try to avoid the idle activities and temptations you will meet that serve no useful purpose, so that even in a godless atmosphere you can “redeem the time,” as the Apostle Paul says, and make maximum use of the opportunities you are given for learning. [16]

Echoing Christ’s words to take no thought for the morrow (Matt. 6:34), Fr. Seraphim gave this advice to someone who was wondering what to do after he got his college degree:

Perhaps you do not know “what next”?… Get the degree first, and then trust to God to open up the way. The political-economic situation in the U.S., as evidently everywhere in the West, is rapidly deteriorating. Worse, the church situation becomes very bad (your situation is not unique!). In San Francisco suddenly some parishes are becoming empty, as the old priests die and there are no young ones to replace them; and it’s doubtful if more than a few see the cause: that Orthodoxy has too long been “taken for granted,” and it does not preserve itself “automatically”! But all of this only prepares us for catacomb times when our opportunities are perhaps greater than ever.

We can’t see the future—but know this, that if you love God and His Orthodox Church and your fellow man—God can and will use you.

Only stay in contact with fellow Orthodox strugglers (they do exist). [17]

 

In some of Fr. Seraphim’s pastoral letters we also find guidance on the struggle against fleshly sins. To one person he wrote:

About carnal warfare when bodily labors are impossible or difficult, St. Abba Barsanuphius says: “Flee quickly to the Prayer of Jesus, and you will find repose”; “pray ceaselessly, saying, Lord Jesus Christ, deliver me from shameful passions.”** [18]

To another person, who was lamenting over his own weakness and was ashamed to mention sexual falls to a parish priest in confession, Fr. Seraphim exhorted:

Do not be afraid to confess the fleshly sins. Do you think you are so holy? God allows you to fall in order to humble you. Get up and walk in fear and trembling. Struggle against them, but do not despair, no matter what happens. Strength in Orthodox firmness comes very gradually; what you do every day helps build it up; and if you fall, humility and self-awareness build it up. [19]

And to yet another person:

Your battle with “demonic fornication” is not as unusual as you may think. This passion has become very strong in our evil times—the air is saturated with it; and the demons take advantage of this to attack you in a very vulnerable spot. Every battle with passions also involves demons, who give almost unnoticeable “suggestions” to trigger the passions and otherwise cooperate in arousing them. But human imagination also enters in here, and it is unwise to distinguish exactly where our passions and imagination leave off and demonic activity begins—you should just continue fighting.

That the demons attack you in dreams is a sign of progress—it means they are retreating, seeing that you are resisting conscious sin. God allows this so that you will continue fighting. Often this demon goes away altogether for a while, and one can have a false sense of security that one is “above” this passion; but all the Holy Fathers warn that one cannot consider this passion conquered before the grave. Continue your struggle and take refuge in humility, seeing what base sins you are capable of and how you are lost without the constant help of God Who calls you to a life above these sins. [20]

It can be seen from these letters that Fr. Seraphim was gentle and encouraging with those of his spiritual children who were truly struggling with sexual sin. With those who were giving in to such sin and then justifying and rationalizing it, however, Fr. Seraphim took a different approach altogether. In the following letter, to a young man who was leading unwary souls into unnatural sexual sin while thinking to “evangelize” them, Fr. Seraphim did not mince words:

My child, you are deceiving yourself and going the way of perdition. I will not be falsely “kind” and hide this fact from you. You talk about helping others, but you are leading them to perdition.… Do you know that by “preaching the Faith” to ——— and then sinning with him, you have inoculated him against Christ? And now you think you are going to save ———?

Wake up, my child, if you still can. You have detected a “distance” between us that you do not understand. That is the distance you yourself have placed by choosing your own way and rejecting everyone who has tried to guide you. It is the same “distance” which later on, or even now, you will feel with Vladika Nektary and with all true Orthodox Christians, and then with Holy Orthodoxy itself. You justify yourself to yourself with the argument that you are somehow “special.” Your human problems are too much for you and must be allowed to develop themselves out before you can really choose Christ. No, my child, you are not “special”—a thousand “crazy converts” have already gone that way, and you are joining them.

Forgive my harsh words. I speak them because I really love you and do not wish you to be lost. I do not cease to pray for my erring child.… I will gladly suffer with you and for you, but it will do you no good unless you give up your own understanding of how to live.

This last weekend we were visited by a zealous priest from the East Coast. What a deep fellow-feeling between us, based on commitment and zeal and deep suffering—to all of which you will remain a stranger as long as you trust yourself.

May God save you from perdition.

I am praying for the unenlightened ———. Do not deceive him further. [21]

Fr. Seraphim’s Patristic understanding of the place of sex in the creation, which we have discussed earlier, enabled him to help others put sex in the proper perspective. To one of his spiritual children, who was married and had children, he wrote:

The widespread confusion on this whole issue seems to come from a failure to understand the real Orthodox teaching on sexuality—it is not “holy,” but neither is it evil. The Lives of Saints alone, without any Patristic treatises, should teach us the Orthodox position: that sexual union, while blessed by the Church and fulfilling a commandment of the Creator, is still a part of man’s animal nature and is, in fallen humanity, inevitably bound up with sin. This should not shock us if we stop to think that such a necessary thing as eating is also almost invariably bound up with sin—who of us is perfectly continent in food and drink, the thorough master of his belly? Sin is not a category of specific acts such that, if we refrain from them, we become “sinless”—but rather a kind of web which ensnares us and from which we can never really get free in this life. The more deeply one lives Orthodoxy, the more sinful he feels himself to be—because he sees more clearly this web with which his life is intertwined; the person, thus, who commits fewer sins feels himself to be more sinful than one who commits more!

The Fathers state specifically, by the way, that Adam and Eve did not have sexual union (nor, of course, eat meat) in Paradise. I believe Thomas Aquinas says that they did—which would accord with the Roman Catholic doctrine of human nature.

All of this should one day be written out and printed, with abundant illustrations from the Holy Fathers and Lives of Saints—together with the whole question of sexuality—abortion, natural and unnatural sins, pornography, homosexuality, etc. With Scriptural and Patristic sources, this could be done carefully and without offensiveness, but clearly.…

Enough on this subject; you are correct, by the way, that it is better for such things to be printed by laymen than monks! [22]

Again drawing from the Holy Fathers, Fr. Seraphim counseled his spiritual children not to trust in or get carried away by their imagination, especially in prayer. Fr. Alexey Young recalls how, when he was still a Roman Catholic preparing to become Orthodox, he was given an important lesson by Fr. Seraphim: “I asked Fr. Seraphim about meditation, which my wife and I, still under the influence of our Roman Catholic background, had made part of our regular routine of morning prayer. We did not yet realize that the Orthodox understanding of meditation is quite different from the Western Christian view. In conversation, Fr. Seraphim explained that the use of imagination in Western spiritual systems of meditation—viz., while saying the Rosary, reciting the Stations of the Cross, or doing the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, etc.—was not compatible with Orthodox spirituality and was forbidden because imagination came into use only after the fall of Adam and Eve; it is one of the lowest functions of the soul and the favorite playground of the devil, who can and does use human imagination in order to deceive and mislead even well-meaning people.” [23]

In a similar way, Fr. Seraphim warned against placing absolute trust in emotions. Fr. Alexey Young remembers when Fathers Seraphim and Herman visited the chapel in Etna for the first time: “The fathers, seeing how moved we were [by the service], cautioned us not to let our emotions get too caught up by the beauty of the service, explaining to us that emotions, like imagination, are a function of fallen human nature and must therefore be treated with great caution.” [24]....

 

We have seen how Fr. Seraphim, having grown in Orthodox Christianity until his Faith was the substance of his entire being, counseled people not to try to prove their Orthodoxy by “bashing” others. To an Orthodox catechumen he wrote:

As you prepare for Baptism, I would give you several words of advice:

1. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck on the outward aspect of Orthodoxy—whether the splendid Church services (the “high church” to which you were drawn as a child), the outward discipline (fasts, prostrations, etc.), being “correct” according to the canons, etc. All these things are good and helpful, but if one overemphasizes them one will enter into troubles and trials. You are coming to Orthodoxy to receive Christ, and this you should never forget.

2. Don’t have a hypercritical attitude. By this I don’t mean to give up your intellect and discernment, but rather to place them in obedience to a believing heart (“heart” meaning not mere “feeling,” but something much deeper—the organ that knows God). Some converts, alas, think they are very “smart,” and they use Orthodoxy as a means for feeling superior to the non-Orthodox and sometimes even to Orthodox of other jurisdictions. Orthodox theology, of course, is much deeper and makes much better sense than the erroneous theologies of the modern West—but our basic attitude towards it must be one of humility and not pride. Converts who pride themselves on “knowing better” than Catholics and Protestants often end by “knowing better” than their own parish priest, bishop, and finally the Fathers and the whole Church!

3. Remember that your survival as an Orthodox Christian will depend very much on your contact with the living tradition of Orthodoxy. This is something you won’t get in books and it can’t be defined for you. If your attitude is humble and without hypercriticism, if you place Christ first in your heart, and try to lead a normal life according to Orthodox discipline and practice—you will obtain this contact. Alas, most Orthodox jurisdictions today … are losing this contact out of simple worldliness. But there is also a temptation on the “right side” which proceeds from the same hypercriticism I just mentioned. The traditionalist (Old Calendar) Church in Greece today is in chaos because of this, one jurisdiction fighting and anathematizing another over “canonical correctness” and losing sight of the whole tradition over hyper-fine points.…

You yourself have had enough experience in life to avoid these temptations, which are actually those of the young and inexperienced; but it is good to keep them in mind. [26]

A few years before he died, Fr. Seraphim received a letter from an African-American woman who, as a catechumen learning about Orthodoxy, was struggling to understand the uncharitable attitude that some Orthodox Christians showed to those outside the Church, an attitude which reminded her of how her own people had been treated. “I am deeply troubled,” this woman wrote, “as to how Orthodoxy views what the world would call Western Christians, i.e., Protestants and Roman Catholics. I have read many articles by many Orthodox writers, and a few use words like ‘Papists,’ etc., which I find deeply disturbing and quite offensive. I find them offensive because as a person of a race which has been subjected to much name-calling I despise and do not wish to adopt the habit of name-calling myself. Even ‘heretic’ disturbs me….

“Where do I stand with my friends and relatives? They do not know about Orthodoxy or they do not understand it. Yet they believe in and worship Christ.… Am I to treat my friends and relatives as if they have no God, no Christ?… Or can I call them Christians, but just ones who do not know the true Church?

“When I ask this question, I cannot help but think of St. Innocent of Alaska as he visited the Franciscan monasteries in California. He remained thoroughly Orthodox yet he treated the priests he met there with kindness and charity and not name-calling. This, I hope, is what Orthodoxy says about how one should treat other Christians.”

This woman’s quandary was actually fairly common to people coming into the Orthodox Faith. Now nearing the end of his short life and having thrown off his youthful bitterness, Fr. Seraphim answered as follows:

I was happy to receive your letter—happy not because you are confused about the question that troubles you, but because your attitude reveals that in the truth of Orthodoxy to which you are drawn you wish to find room also for a loving, compassionate attitude to those outside the Orthodox Faith.

I firmly believe that this is indeed what Orthodoxy teaches….

I will set forth briefly what I believe to be the Orthodox attitude towards non-Orthodox Christians.

1. Orthodoxy is the Church founded by Christ for the salvation of mankind, and therefore we should guard with our life the purity of its teaching and our own faithfulness to it. In the Orthodox Church alone is grace given through the sacraments (most other churches don’t even claim to have sacraments in any serious sense). The Orthodox Church alone is the Body of Christ, and if salvation is difficult enough within the Orthodox Church, how much more difficult must it be outside the Church!

2. However, it is not for us to define the state of those who are outside the Orthodox Church. If God wishes to grant salvation to some who are Christians in the best way they know, but without ever knowing the Orthodox Church—that is up to Him, not us. But when He does this, it is outside the normal way that He established for salvation—which is in the Church, as a part of the Body of Christ. I myself can accept the experience of Protestants being ‘born-again’ in Christ; I have met people who have changed their lives entirely through meeting Christ, and I cannot deny their experience just because they are not Orthodox. I call these people “subjective” or “beginning” Christians. But until they are united to the Orthodox Church they cannot have the fullness of Christianity, they cannot be objectively Christian as belonging to the Body of Christ and receiving the grace of the sacraments. I think this is why there are so many sects among them—they begin the Christian life with a genuine conversion to Christ, but they cannot continue the Christian life in the right way until they are united to the Orthodox Church, and they therefore substitute their own opinions and subjective experiences for the Church’s teaching and sacraments.

About those Christians who are outside the Orthodox Church, therefore, I would say: they do not yet have the full truth—perhaps it just hasn’t been revealed to them yet, or perhaps it is our fault for not living and teaching the Orthodox Faith in a way they can understand. With such people we cannot be one in the Faith, but there is no reason why we should regard them as totally estranged or as equal to pagans (although we should not be hostile to pagans either—they also haven’t yet seen the truth!). It is true that many of the non-Orthodox hymns contain a teaching or at least an emphasis that is wrong—especially the idea that when one is “saved” he does not need to do anything more because Christ has done it all. This idea prevents people from seeing the truth of Orthodoxy which emphasizes the idea of struggling for one’s salvation even after Christ has given it to us, as St. Paul says: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [Phil. 2:12]. But almost all of the religious Christmas carols are all right, and they are sung by Orthodox Christians in America (some of them in even the strictest monasteries!).

The word “heretic” (as we say in our article on Fr. Dimitry Dudko) is indeed used too frequently nowadays. It has a definite meaning and function, to distinguish new teachings from the Orthodox teaching; but few of the non-Orthodox Christians today are consciously “heretics,” and it really does no good to call them that.

In the end, I think, Fr. Dimitry Dudko’s attitude is the correct one: We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families. St. Innocent’s attitude to the Roman Catholics in California is a good example for us. A harsh, polemical attitude is called for only when the non-Orthodox are trying to take away our flocks or change our teaching.…

As for prejudices—these belong to people, not the Church. Orthodoxy does not require you to accept any prejudices or opinions about other races, nations, etc. ***[27]

 

To those people who wrote to the St. Herman Monastery hoping to find God-bearing Elders who could guide them by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, Fr. Seraphim had to inform them that “this kind of guidance is not given to our times—and 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 calls ‘life by counsel’—that is, life according to the commandments of God as learned in the Holy Scripture and Holy Fathers and helped by those who are elder and more experienced. A ‘starets’ can give commands; but a ‘counselor’ gives advice, which you must test in experience.” [28]

Although, as some of the previous letters indicate, Fr. Seraphim could take a stern tone when he felt someone was in serious spiritual danger, he scrupulously avoided overstepping the bounds of his spiritual authority. One of his spiritual daughters, Agafia Prince, recalls that “he didn’t want to have control over people” and that under his guidance she “felt a wonderful freedom.” [29] Fr. Vladimir Anderson likewise recalls: “Fr. Seraphim was extremely humble, brilliant though he was.… He didn’t come out with guru-type advice. Those who asked him for advice were led more to find the solution to their problems themselves through his gentle guidance rather than to follow declarations or commands.” [30]

Fr. Alexey Young corroborates these observations: “One of the most striking aspects of Fr. Seraphim’s guidance was, first of all, his utter disinterest in controlling me or anyone else. Unlike some others, he did not play guru or give orders (he had spiritual children, not disciples). I asked for his opinion and he gave it—frankly—but always he left the final decision up to me. This meant that I was bound to make mistakes, but he knew that I would learn from the consequences of those mistakes. Also, whenever he felt the need to criticize something, he always balanced it with something positive, so that one did not feel somehow destroyed or discouraged about one’s work. This is an indication of spiritual health as opposed to the cult-like behavior of those who always think they know better.” [31]

Elsewhere Fr. Alexey writes that “Fr. Seraphim … warned against what he called ‘guru-ism,’ which is the temptation to treat certain people in authority as gurus or startsi (elders). This danger frightened him very much, for he saw a basic flaw in the American character: a flaw which leads some individuals—whether parish priests or monastics—to claim a spiritual authority that is not truly and authentically theirs because they themselves have not been purified and transformed by repentance, and which leads others to seek out false elders, giving their free will and control over even the most basic details of their lives to them. Fr. Seraphim repeatedly pointed out that real elders are extremely rare, that we do not deserve such spiritual guides and would not know how to treat them even if we did have them in our midst.”[32]

 

As a counselor or spiritual father, Fr. Seraphim relied on his experience in the monastery and on his reading of the Holy Fathers. Most importantly, he drew upon the grace he had acquired through his own “pain of heart endured in the spirit of devotion.” This may not have made him a “God-bearing Elder,” but it did make him able to inspire others to take up their interior crosses, beginning the lifelong good fight (I Tim. 6:12) of Christian struggle whose results will be seen by all at the General Resurrection.

Endnotes

The following abbreviations have been used in these Notes:

ER—Eugene Rose

FSR—Fr. Seraphim Rose

LER—Letter of Eugene Rose

LFSR—Letter of Fr. Seraphim Rose

JER—Philosophical Journal of Eugene Rose, 1960-62

OWThe Orthodox Word

SHB—St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California

CSHB—Chronicle 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.

* See full quote on p. 471 in the book.

** This is from the passages that Fr. Seraphim selected and translated from the book of Saints Barsanuphius adn John, published after Fr. Seraphim’s repose under the title Guidance Toward Spiritual Life.

In this article, Fr. Seraphim wrote: “Among Western converts to Orthodoxy ... there is indeed a temptation to speak too freely of ‘heresy’ and ‘heretics’, and to make the errors of the non-Orthodox an excuse for certain pharisaic smugness about our own ‘Orthodoxy’. Even when it is worded in a theologically correct manner, this attitude is spiritually wrong and helps to drive away from the Orthodox Church many who would otherwise be attracted to it.” (“In Defense of Fr. Dimitri Dudko”, The Orthodox Word, no. 2 [1980], p. 131.).

1. Notes of FSR, with the heading “Talk on Suffering Orthodoxy.”

2. Notes of FSR.

3. LFSR to Sylvia Anderson, May 21, 1973.

4. LFSR to ———, Oct. 21, 1975.

5. LFSR to Andrew Bond, April 4, 1978.

6. LFSR to Paul Bartlett, Dec. 10, 1975.

7. Priest Vladimir Derugin, Ieromonakh Serafim: ukhod pravednika (Hieromonk Seraphim: the passing away of a righteous one), p. 10 (in Russian).

8. LFSR to ———, May 25, 1979.

9. LFSR to Alexey Young, Jan. 20, 1975.

10. LFSR to ———, Sept. 16, 1974; LFSR to ———, Jan. 20, 1975.

11. LFSR to ———, March 1975.

12. LFSR to Phanourios Ingram, Nov. 20, 1975.

13. See The Northern Thebaid, p. 50; revised edition, p. 54.

14. LFSR to ———, June 22, 1976.

15. LFSR to Barry, May 25, 1979.

16. LFSR to Nicholas Eastman, Sept. 5, 1972.

17. LFSR to Luke Walmsley, July 7, 1974.

18. LFSR to ———, July 24, 1974.

19. LFSR to ———, June 23, 1976.

20. LFSR to ———, March 20, 1979.

21. LFSR to ———, Aug. 6, 1974.

22. LFSR to ———, March 25, 1975.

23. Fr. Alexey Young, Letters from Fr. Seraphim, pp. 12-13.

24. Ibid., p. 104.

25. LFSR to Fr. ———, June 6, 1979.

26. LFSR to Barry, May 3, 1979.

27. LFSR to ———, Nov. 27, 1980.

28. LFSR to Nicholas, Aug. 23, 1976.

29. Informal talk by Agafia Prince at the St. Herman Monastery on the 20th anniversary of Fr. Seraphim’s repose (Sept. 2, 2002).

30. Interview of Fr. Vladimir Anderson by Russkiy Pastyr’, 1999.

31. Fr. Alexey Young, Letters from Fr. Seraphim, p. 35.

32. Fr. Alexey Young, “The Royal Path of the Righteous Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina,” Orthodox America, no. 167 (2002), p. 12.

From Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press), pp. 843-852. Copyright 2003 by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California. Used with permission.