Orthodoxy of the Heart - Chapter 86 from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works

by Hieromonk Damascene

And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. —I John 4:21

As Fr. Seraphim developed into a man of the heart, the thrust of his mission developed accordingly. When he had begun his missionary work, he had placed emphasis on upholding true Orthodoxy, on taking a stand against modernism, renovationism, ecumenism. This may have been fine at a beginning stage. As he himself said, “The more one finds out about Christian doctrine and practice, the more one discovers how many ‘mistakes’ one has been making up to now, and one’s natural desire is to be ‘correct.’ [1] But all this is only on the external level, as Fr. Seraphim came to see more clearly as the years went by. He never changed his basic, original philosophy; he was no closer to becoming an ecumenist, modernist, or a New Calendarist at the end of his life than he had been when he had first started printing The Orthodox Word. It was just that now, especially after witnessing the bitter fruits of “correctness disease” in the Church, he saw that there was something much more essential that he should be preaching in these last times, when “the love of many grows cold.”*

Above all, Fr. Seraphim became a preacher of Orthodoxy of the heart. Besides the resurrection of Holy Russia (of which more will be said later), this was his main theme during the last part of his life.

“True Christianity,” he stated in a lecture, “does not mean just having the right opinions about Christianity—this is not enough to save one’s soul. St. Tikhon (of Zadonsk) says: ‘If someone should say that true faith is the correct holding and confession of correct dogmas, he would be telling the truth, for a believer absolutely needs the Orthodox holding and confession of dogmas. But this knowledge and confession by itself does not make a man a faithful and true Christian. The keeping and confession of Orthodox dogmas is always to be found in true faith in Christ, but the true faith of Christ is not always to be found in the confession of Orthodoxy.... The knowledge of correct dogmas is in the mind, and it is often fruitless, arrogant, and proud.... The true faith in Christ is in the heart, and it is fruitful, humble, patient, loving, merciful, compassionate, hungering and thirsting for righteousness; it withdraws from worldly lusts and clings to God alone, strives and seeks always for what is heavenly and eternal, struggles against every sin, and constantly seeks and begs help from God for this.’ And he then quotes Blessed Augustine, who teaches: ‘The faith of a Christian is with love; faith without love is that of the devil.’ [2] St. James in his Epistle tells us that the demons also believe and tremble (James 2:19).

“St. Tikhon, therefore, gives us a start in understanding what Orthodoxy is: it is something first of all of the heart, not just the mind, something living and warm, not abstract and cold, something that is learned and practiced in life, not just in school.” [3]

To give his fellow Orthodox a deeper sense of heartfelt Christianity, Fr. Seraphim brought up the example of Gospel Outreach, the Protestant group out of which Mary, Solomonia, and others had come. While rejecting Protestant errors just as he had ever done, he was able to go beyond the perspective of his early period of negation, to see beneath the externals to the heart of these people’s strivings.

“These Protestants,” he said, “have a simple and warm Christian faith without much of the sectarian narrowness that characterizes many Protestant groups. They don’t believe, like some Protestants, that they are ‘saved’ and don’t need to do any more; they believe in the idea of spiritual struggle and training the soul. They force themselves to forgive each other and not to hold grudges. They take in bums and hippies off the streets and have a special farm for rehabilitating them and teaching them a sense of responsibility. In other words, they take Christianity seriously as the most important thing in life; it’s not the fullness of Christianity that we Orthodox have, but it’s good as far as it goes, and these people are warm, loving people who obviously love Christ. In this way they are an example of what we should be, only more so....

“Some of our Orthodox young people are converted to groups like this, but it works the other way around also—some of these Protestants are being converted to Orthodoxy. And why not? If we have the true Christianity, there should be something in our midst that someone who sincerely loves the truth will see and want. We’ve baptized several people from this Protestant group in our monastery; they are drawn to Orthodoxy by the grace and the sacraments whose presence they feel in Orthodoxy, but which are absent in their group. And once they become Orthodox, they find their Protestant experience, which seemed so real to them at the time, to be quite shallow and superficial. Their leaders give very practical teachings based on the Gospel, but after a while the teachings are exhausted and they repeat themselves. Coming to Orthodoxy, these converts find a wealth of teaching that is inexhaustible and leads them into a depth of Christian experience that is totally beyond even the best of non-Orthodox Christians. We who are already Orthodox have this treasure and this depth right in front of us, and we must use it more fully than we usually do.”[4]

Fr. Seraphim spoke along similar lines about those who were converting to Orthodoxy in Africa. Since the 1960s he had followed the Orthodox mission in Africa with great interest, writing and publishing articles about African converts to Orthodoxy, corresponding with them, and sending them clothes, supplies, Bibles, and The Orthodox Word.[5] He was deeply moved by the letters he received from Africa, seeing in them a simple piety and a warm love for Jesus Christ and the Church that he felt could be instructive to over-complicated people of the West. In one talk he said: “During the last

fifty years there has been a tremendous movement of conversion of people to Orthodoxy in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and now the Congo and other countries. They often write to us at The Orthodox Word the simplest kind of letters, very evangelical, about rejoicing in the Lord. They are very, very pious and faithful to Orthodoxy. It is just such simple-hearted people that Christ wants, and it is such people who are coming into the Orthodox Church now.”[6]

In another talk Fr. Seraphim spoke more about some of the letters he received: “They are very touching letters from African boys who are converted to Orthodoxy. They have the utmost respect for their bishop. They go to seminary. It is obvious that a very Orthodox feeling is being given to these people in Africa. If simple people are preached the Orthodox Gospel, they respond now in the same way that they have always responded in the past. The problem is, rather, with complicated people.”[7]

In preaching inward Orthodoxy of the heart, Fr. Seraphim warned against being calculating and critical. He identified this as the temptation of following “external wisdom.” “Sometimes,” he said, “one’s zeal for ‘Orthodoxy’ (in quotes) can be so excessive that it produces a situation similar to that which caused an old Russian woman** to remark about an enthusiastic American convert: ‘Well, he’s certainly Orthodox, all right—but is he a Christian?’ To be ‘Orthodox but not Christian’ is a state that has a particular name in Christian language: it means to be a pharisee, to be so bogged down in the letter of the Church’s laws that one loses the spirit that gives them life, the spirit of true Christianity.”[8]

Fr. Seraphim pointed out how we can get carried away with “correctness” even in small ways: “We can like well-done Byzantine icons (which is a good thing), but we go too far if we are disdainful of the more modern-style icons which are still in many of our churches. The same goes for church singing, architecture, the following of correct rules of fasting, of kneeling in church, etc....[9]

“If you get all excited about having the right kind of icons and begin saying, ‘There’s an icon of the wrong style in our church!’ you have to be very careful, because you’re placing all your emphasis on something external. In fact, if there is a church with nothing but good-style icons, I’m suspicious of it, because maybe [the people there] are just following the fashion. There is a case (one of many) in which a church had old, original Russian icons—some good and some in rather poor taste, painted in a relatively new style—and a zealous person took them all out and put in new, paper icon prints in perfect Byzantine style. And what was the result? The people there lost contact with tradition, with the people who gave them Orthodoxy. They removed the original icons which believers had prayed before for centuries.”[10]

Fr. Herman recalls how, when he and Fr. Seraphim were first honoring the memory of Fr. Gerasim in The Orthodox Word in the early 1970s, he had expressed his reservations to his co-laborer. “How can we present Fr. Gerasim as a modern giant of traditional Orthodoxy,” Fr. Herman asked, “when he had those nineteenth-century Western-style icons in his church?”

“Those very icons,” Fr. Seraphim replied, ”prove that he was in the tradition, because he accepted simply and lovingly what was handed down to him from his righteous fathers in the Faith.”

Fr. Seraphim also observed how we can be following “external wisdom” when we get caught up in exalted ideas: “It is the fashion now to learn about the Jesus Prayer, to read the Philokalia, to go ‘back to the Fathers.’ These kinds of things also will not save us—they are external. They may be helpful if they are used rightly, but if they become your passion, the first thing you are after, then they become externals which lead not to Christ, but to Antichrist.”[11]

Fr. Seraphim was one with the nineteenth-century prophet St. Ignatius Brianchaninov in teaching that only those who feel the Kingdom of God in their own hearts will be able to recognize the true nature of Antichrist when he comes. By contrast, Fr. Seraphim stated that “the ‘super-Orthodox’ of today can very easily become the prey of Antichrist.” In a few places he told how this might happen: “Vladimir Soloviev, in his ‘Short Story of Antichrist,’ ingeniously suggests that Antichrist, in order to attract Orthodox conservatives, will open a museum of all Christian antiquities. Perhaps the very images of Antichrist himself (Apoc. 13:14) will be in good Byzantine style—this should be a sobering thought for us.

“The Antichrist must be understood as a spiritual phenomenon. Why will everyone in the world want to bow down to him? Obviously, it is because there is something in him which responds to something in us—that something being a lack of Christ in us. If we will bow down to him (God forbid that we do so!), it will be because we will feel an attraction to some kind of external thing, which might even look like Christianity, since ‘Antichrist’ means the one who is ‘in place of Christ’ or looks like Christ.”[12]

In particular, Fr. Seraphim saw in the unwarranted “Orthodox” attack on Blessed Augustine a sign of the externalism that will lead to acceptance of Antichrist. Augustine’s “overly logical” doctrines, of which Fr. Seraphim himself said he was “no great admirer,” were only the external, intellectual aspect of a man whose heart was clearly Orthodox. As Fr. Seraphim wrote in a letter, “The one main lovable and Orthodox thing about him is his Orthodox feeling, piety, love for Christ, which comes out so strongly in his non-dogmatic works like his Confessions (the Russian Fathers also love the Soliloquies). To destroy Augustine, as today’s critics are trying to do, is to help to destroy also this piety and love for Christ.... I myself fear the cold hearts of the ‘intellectually correct’ much more than any errors you might find in Augustine. I sense in these cold hearts a preparation for the work of Antichrist (whose imitation of Christ must also extend to ‘correct theology’!); I feel in Augustine the love of Christ.”[13]

Over and over again, Fr. Seraphim counseled his fellow Orthodox Christians to have love and compassion for the suffering. “There are the daily opportunities for expressing Christian love,” he said: “giving alms, visiting the sick, helping those in need.”

Frequently Fr. Seraphim commented on the danger of making Orthodoxy into a “style” while at the same time overlooking one’s most basic duties as a Christian. In one talk he said: “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 discussions without having in our hearts the simplicity of Christ and true compassion for the suffering?—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.”[14]

In 1979, when speaking about Archbishop Andrew (formerly Fr. Adrian) of New Diveyevo, who had reposed the year before, Fr. Seraphim said: “He hated the ‘hothouse’ Christianity of those who ‘enjoy’ being Orthodox but don’t live a life of struggling and deepening their Christianity. We converts can easily fall for this ‘hothouse’ Orthodoxy, too. We can live close to a church, have English services, a good priest, go frequently to church and receive the Sacraments, be in the ‘correct’ jurisdiction—and still be cold, unfeeling, arrogant and proud, as St. Tikhon of Zadonsk has said.”

In the same talk, Fr. Seraphim spoke on how one can try to be “spiritual” while neglecting basic Christian love: “Our spiritual life is not something bookish or that follows formulas. Everything we learn has to become part of our life and something natural to us. We can be reading about hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer, for example, and begin to say it ourselves—and still be blind to our own passions and unresponsive to a person in need right in front of us, not seeing that this is a test of our Christianity that comes at a more basic level than saying the Jesus Prayer.”[15]

“Wherever you are in your spiritual life,” Fr. Seraphim counseled, “you are to begin right there to take part in the life of the Church, to offer struggles to God, to love each other, to become aware of the people around you, to see that you are responsible for them, for being at least kind and cheerful, trying to do good deeds. You are to be aware of the unhappiness of others, to cheer them up and help them out. All of these things promote the life of grace in the Church.”[16]

Such was Fr. Seraphim’s counsel on showing Christian love through outward actions—counsel which, as we have seen, he first put into practice himself. But he also spoke about giving love to others in a way that was not shown outwardly, that is, through praying for them. Here again his counsel was born out of his own experience, as he prayed daily for people in the silence of his heart and the solitude of his cell. He prayed not only for those close to him, but also for people throughout the world whom he knew about, especially those he knew were suffering.

In 1981, when an Orthodox priest asked Fr. Seraphim about the role of prayer in the life of a monk, Fr. Seraphim emphasized the monk’s duty to pray for others, and ultimately for the whole world. “A monk,” he said, “is free to pray more than the ordinary layman is able to, because the whole monastic life is centered around the Church services, which we have in the morning, in the evening, and at various other times of the day. Therefore, he prays with the cycle of the Church’s services. And a special part of his prayer is the prayer, both in church and in his own cell, for others. In the world, people are not usually so free to devote time to praying for others; but the monastic has the opportunity to devote himself to this kind of prayer. In his prayer in the desert, away from the ways of the world, he can call to mind those who are in various conditions of suffering, sorrows, or struggles. Often those people in the world have no one to have sympathy on them in their struggles. The monastic is one who can do this. We receive mail from people all over the world telling about their needs and their struggles, and therefore we take this obligation upon ourselves of praying for them, asking God’s mercy upon all those who are in conditions of need throughout the world.”[17]

In the Orthodox understanding of monastic life, a monk on leaving the world does not at all cease having love and concern for the world, nor does he cease to labor for it. His love and his labor for the world are expressed in his prayer for it. He actually helps to sustain the world through his prayers.

Fr. Seraphim took seriously his monastic duty of praying for the world. With this in mind, he made it a point to keep abreast with the plight of suffering people all over the world, especially those who live under Communist and totalitarian Muslim regimes. In his talk at the 1979 St. Herman Pilgrimage, “Orthodox Christians Facing the 1980s,” he tried to make people aware of the tremendous suffering that was occurring in the world around them, from the drowning of thousands of Southeast Asian “boat people” to the extermination of one-quarter of the population of Cambodia under the Communist dictator Pol Pot. During the same lecture he read a moving letter which he had received from an Orthodox Christian in Degeya, Uganda, where the people had just come out from under the regime of the Muslim dictator Idi Amin.*** As the letter made clear, Idi Amin’s regime had been ruthlessly persecuting Christians, killing priests and believers, closing or bombing their churches, and changing Sunday services to Friday (the Muslim holy day). Fr. Seraphim did not neglect to draw a comparison between this Muslim dictatorship and Communist totalitarianism. “It’s frightful,” he remarked. “There are pictures of Idi Amin’s torture chambers, just like under Communism. But Idi Amin did this in his own name in order to make Islam the religion of Uganda.”****

Even though monastics have a greater responsibility to pray for the world because of their greater opportunity, Fr. Seraphim made clear that this duty is common to all Christians. In his talks he counseled monastics and laypeople alike to go throughout the world in their minds, praying for those who were struggling and suffering. He especially asked them to pray for Christians who were being persecuted for their faith.

There can be no doubt that Fr. Seraphim’s preaching of Orthodoxy of the heart came out of a deepening of his prayer life, and out of a corresponding deepening of what he called “the essential experience of pain of heart.”[18] Elder Paisios, a revered spiritual father who reposed recently on Mount Athos, has well described the experience of prayer with pain for other people which Fr. Seraphim entered into, and to which he called others. “Prayer which is not from the heart,” said Elder Paisios, “but is made only by the mind, doesn’t go any further. To pray with the heart, we must hurt. Just as when we hit our hand or some other part of our body our nous (spirit) is gathered to the point we are hurting, so also for the nous to gather in the heart, the heart must hurt.

“We should make the other’s pain our own! We must love the other, must hurt for him, so that we can pray for him. We must come out, little by little, from our own self and begin to love, to hurt for other people as well, for our family first and then for the large family of Adam, of God.”[19]

Fr. Seraphim’s love for others, expressed in his outward deeds and in his inward prayer, was both the means and the evidence of his going deeper into the Orthodox Christian Faith. As our Lord Jesus Christ has said, By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples: if ye have love one to another (John 13:35). Fr. Seraphim had truly been granted the prayer he had brought before the Mother of God in 1961, when he had asked her to let him enter “the heart of hearts” of the saving Faith of Christ. At the heart of true Christianity, he had found that on which hang all the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:40): love for God, and love for one’s neighbor. It was the first and second commandment of the incarnate God—of Him Who made of Love a law.


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.

* Cf. Matthew 24:12.

** This Russian woman was Fr. Herman’s mother, Nina.

*** Fr. Seraphim later printed this letter in The Orthodox Word, no. 87 (1979), pp. 146, 177. At the end of the letter the address of the parish in Degeya, Uganda was printed, along with indications of how Orthodox Christians in the West could help.

**** In the 1990s and up to today, the greatest persecution of Christians in Africa has been occurring under the totalitarian Muslim government of Sudan. For current information, see The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter.

1. From Fr. Seraphim’s lecture “Orthodoxy in the USA,” given at Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York, on Dec. 12/25, 1979 (see ch. 89 below). Text published in OW, no. 94 (1980), p. 226.

2. Translated by Fr. Seraphim from St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Ob Istinnom Khristianstve (On True Christianity), ch. 287, in Tvoreniya izhe vo svyatikh ottsa nashego Tikhona Zadonskago (The Works of our father among the saints, Tikhon of Zadonsk) (St. Petersburg, 1912), p. 469 (in Russian).

3. FSR, “Orthodoxy in the USA,” OW, no. 94 (1980), pp. 216-17.

4. Ibid., pp. 218-19.

5. See [ER], “The African Greek Orthodox Church,” OW, no. 21 (1968), pp. 163-180; and Fr. Theodorous Nankyama, “Missionary Correspondence: A Missionary Tour to Fort-Portal, Toro District, Uganda,” OW, no. 26 (1969), pp. 105-9.

6. FSR, “Contemporary Signs of the End of the World,” a talk given at the University of California, Santa Cruz, May 14, 1981.

7. FSR, “Watching for the Signs of the Times,” a talk given at the 1979 Women’s Conference, Redding, California, Jan. 21, 1979.

8. FSR, “Orthodoxy in the USA,” p. 227.

9. Ibid., p. 228.

10. FSR, “Raising the Mind, Warming the Heart,” p. 30.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. LFSR to Fr. Michael, June 26, 1981.

14. “Orthodox Christians Facing the 1980s,” a talk given at the 1979 St. Herman Pilgrimage. In “St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage, 1979,” p. 63.

15. FSR, “Orthodoxy in the USA,” OW, no. 94 (1980), pp. 230, 225-26.

16. Question-and-answer session following Fr. Seraphim’s talk, “Living the Orthodox Worldview,” St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage, 1982.

17. Transcribed from a radio interview of Fr. Seraphim by Fr. John Ocaña, Nov. 4, 1981. Published in OW, no. 220 (2001), pp. 226-27.

18. [FSR], “The Holy Fathers, III,” p. 239.

19. Athanasios Rakovalis, Talks with Father Paisios (Thessalonica, 2000), pp. 123-24.

From Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press), pp. 825-833. Copyright 2003 by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California. Used with permission.