Simplicity - Chapter 87 from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works
by Hieromonk Damascene
Be humble, and you will remain whole.
Be bent, and you will remain straight.
Appear plainly, and hold to simplicity.
Lao Tzu 
In 1979, during an informal talk after the St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage, Fr.
Seraphim spoke to his brothers and sisters in Christ on the theme of simplicity.
Even before his conversion he had encountered this virtue in the writings of
the pre-Christian Chinese sages, who by observing and contemplating the created
order had understood simplicity and humility to be the Way of heaven.
In the God-man Jesus Christ he had found this Way incarnated, and
had heard the call: Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye
shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3).
A pagan philosopher in China named Lao Tzu, Fr. Seraphim told the
brothers and sisters, taught that the weakest things conquer the strongest
things. There is an example of this here at our monastery. The oak trees, which
are very hard and unbending, are always falling down, and their limbs are always
breaking off and falling; while the pine trees, which are more supple, fall
down much less often before they are actually dead.
That is, if you bend, it is a sign of strength. We can see the same thing
in human life. The person who believes in something to such an extent that hes
going to stand up and cut your head off if you dont agree
with himhe shows his weakness, because hes so unsure of himself
that he has to convert you to make sure that he himself believes.
Fr. Seraphim said that in order for us to bend like the pine trees,
our hearts must be transformed. The way, he said, is to soften
the heart, to make the heart more supple.
In the Protestant world, we have many examples of people with soft hearts,
who, for the love of Christ, are kind to other people. That is basic Christianity.
We should not, in living an Orthodox life, think that we can be cold and hard
and correct and still be Christians. Being correct is the external side of Christianity.
Its important, but not of first importance. Of primary importance is the
heart. The heart must be soft, the heart must be warm. If we do not have this
warm heart, we have to ask God to give it, and we have to try ourselves to do
those things by which we can acquire it. Most of all, we have to see that we
have not got itthat we are cold. Therefore, we will not trust our reason
and the conclusions of our logical minds, with regard to which we must be somewhat
loose. If we do this, entering into the sacramental life of the
Church and receiving the grace of God, then God Himself will begin to illumine
The one thing that can save us is simplicity. It can be ours if in our
hearts we pray to God to make us simple; if we just do not think ourselves so
wise; if, when it comes to a question like, Can we paint an icon of God
the Father? we do not come up with a quick answer and say, Oh, of
course its this wayit says so in such and such Sobor [Council],
number so and so. Either we, knowing that we are right, have to excommunicate
everyone, in which case we will go off the deep end, or else we have to stop
and think, Well, I guess I dont know too much. The more we
have this second attitude, the more we will be protected from spiritual dangers.
Accept simply the Faith you receive from your fathers. If there is a
very simple Russian priest you happen to be in connection with, give thanks
to God that you have someone like that. You can learn a great deal from him:
because youre so complex, intellectual, and moody, these simple priests
can give something very good to you.
As soon as you begin to hear or think to yourself critical statements
[about people in the Church], you have to stop and warn yourself that, even
if its truebecause often those statements are true to some degreethis
critical attitude is a very negative thing. It will not get you anywhere. In
the end it may get you right outside the whole Church. Therefore, you have to
stop at that point and remember not to judge, not to think youre so wise
that you know better. On the contrary, try to learn, perhaps without words,
from some of those people whom you might be critical of.
If we follow the simple pathdistrusting our own wisdom, doing the
best we can with our mind, yet realizing that our mind, without warmth of heart,
is a very weak toolthen an Orthodox philosophy of life will begin to be
formed in us. 
As Fr. Seraphim taught simplicity, so also he lived it. Many people remember
how this brilliant man, whose intellectual abilities far surpassed their own,
provided them with a constant example of how to be simple. In the words of the
biographer of St. John Climacus, Fr. Seraphim had renounced the conceit
of human wisdom.  Here is the account of a pilgrim to the St. Herman Monastery
When I first met Fr. Seraphim, I had almost finished my freshman year
in college. Already I considered myself somewhat of a deep thinker, one who
did battle with ultimate questions on the path of Truth. I noticed
that most of the people around me were not interested in this: either they were
too old, tired, and jaded to take up such battles, or, if they were young, they
were more interested in having fun or making money in business or computers
Seeing in Fr. Seraphim a kindred philosopher, I longed to have deep discussions
with him about those ultimate questions. He always listened patiently as I expounded
all my profound ideas, but he didnt expound himself: usually
he only made simple, succinct comments. I was a bit puzzled by this at the time,
but now it makes sense. Now, nearly a decade later, it seems that almost all
of those simple comments have remained imbedded in my memory forever.
I first became interested in Orthodoxy by studying its most exalted teachings.
The first Orthodox books I read were Mystical Theology by St. Dionysius the
Areopagite, and The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky.
I was attracted to ineffable concepts such as the Divine Darkness
of apophatic theology.
Fr. Seraphim, however, was always bringing me down to earth. After I
was made a catechumen at the monastery, I was expected to learn about the Faith
in preparation for baptism. I thought I already knew a lot, dealing as I was
with such lofty metaphysics. But when I went to Fr. Seraphims cell to
talk to him, one of the first questions he asked me was: Do you know about
the fasts of the Church?
I think so, I replied. Theres Lent, and another
fast before Christmas
Yes, he said. Do you know about the Apostles Peter
and Paul Fast?
I was ashamed to say I did not recall hearing that such a thing existed.
This is a very important fast of the Church, he said, and
went on to describe what it was and why it was done. Someone calculated,
he said at last, and it turns out that there are more fast days in the
Church Calendar than there are non-fast days.
This rather surprised me. I believe Fr. Seraphim was trying to tell me
that being baptized did not mean feeling important with exalted theology and
philosophy, but taking on a life of struggle, of labor and sacrifice for Jesus
Christ. In his own unobtrusive way, he was leading me out of the Divine
Darkness and to the foot of the Cross, the vehicle of our salvation.
During the year of my catechumenate, I took a university course on the
Philosophy of Religion, for which I wrote two highly rated papers I was rather
proud of. The first paper was called Reflections on Kants Purely
Rational Religion. I gave this to Fr. Seraphim for him to read.
I suppose I was anticipating a little praise. Later, I asked him if he had looked
at it, and he said he had.
What did you think of it? I asked.
It was a little over my head, he answered.
This left me speechless. Later I discovered, much as I suspected, that
Fr. Seraphim had made a thorough study, not only of Kant, but of many philosophers
I had never even heard of, and that he had a much more penetrating understanding
of Western philosophy than my university professors. Why, then, did he say that
my eleven-page sophomore paper was over his head? Clearly, to teach
me simplicity and its sister-virtue, humility.
My other paper was on Søren Kierkegaard, whose philosophy was
so full of paradox and intellectual challenge that one could spend days talking
What do you think of Kierkegaard? I asked Fr. Seraphim.
I always felt sorry for him. Those were the only words Fr.
Seraphim had to say to me on the subject. His statement had to do, not with
the mind, but with the heart. In thinking more about Kierkegaardhis struggle
to maintain Christian zeal amidst the general lukewarmness of his Church, to
uphold Christian faith against a barrage of Hegelian philosophy, and to overcome
the contradictions in his own personalityI realized later that nothing
more precise could be said of him than those few words of Fr. Seraphim. 
Another pilgrim, Paul, recalls his futile attempts to enter into intellectual
debates with Fr. Seraphim. As a pastor of a Protestant church, Paul was convicted
in his heart by the spiritual depth of Orthodoxy. In order to prove that Orthodoxy
was not the true way after all, he wanted to win an argument with Fr. Seraphim.
Fr. Seraphim would ask if he had questions, but Paul would try to start arguments
instead. As he later confessed, I came to Fr. Seraphim not with questions
but with opinions.
At one point Paul worked out an elaborate polemic against Orthodoxy based on
the fact that pogroms against Jews had occurred in pre-Revolutionary Russia.
When he approached Fr. Seraphim and began setting forth his points about the
pogroms, the latter replied, I dont have to defend something that
is obviously not Christian. As Paul recalled later, That reply shred
all my pre-planned arguments to pieces!
On another occasion, when Paul challenged Fr. Seraphim with the question of
whether he, a Protestant, would go to heaven or hell, Fr. Seraphim replied,
Who am I to say whether youre going to heaven or hell?
Fr. Seraphim would just not enter the Protestant dialectic, Paul
later observed. He would just say, The Holy Fathers said
At other times, when Paul would speak to Fr. Seraphim in a contentious tone,
trying to provoke him to debate, Fr. Seraphim would say nothing at all, but
would simply stand up and walk away. This taught me a profound lesson,
Paul now says. From his silentness and his unwillingness to argue, Fr.
Seraphim taught me that faith is something you receive not otherwise than as
a little child. 
After Fr. Seraphims repose, Paul regretted that his competitive approach
robbed him of precious opportunities to receive wisdom from someone he remembered
as a true man of God. He was eventually baptized as an Orthodox Christian, and
today he is an active and dedicated member of the Church.
A young monk who joined the hermitage from another monastery remembers well
his first meeting with Fr. Seraphim. Unlike the pilgrims in the above accounts,
this monk did not regard himself as an intellectual. He felt somewhat intimidated
about meeting Fr. Seraphim, whom he already knew to be a profound and intense
When told by Fr. Herman to go talk to Fr. Seraphim in his cell, the monk did
so nervously. Fr. Seraphim invited him in and he sat down, wondering what in
the world a simpleton like himself was going to say to this wise
and deep man with a long gray beard and penetrating eyes.
Suddenly Fr. Seraphim asked him: Do you know anything about picking mushrooms?
the new brother answered.
A veteran mushroom picker, Fr. Seraphim was able to tell, with openhearted
enthusiasm, about all the edible mushrooms found in the area. The brother felt
instantly more at ease. It was just what he needed: to hear about the simple
joys of monastic life.
In seeking simplicity, Fr. Seraphim fled from what he called spiritual
pretense and affectation.  He had none of the pride of monastic
life that makes some love to go in long clothing, and love salutations
in the marketplaces (Mark 12:38). One woman convert to Orthodoxy recalls:
I was still a Protestant when I met Fr. Seraphim. Icons, relics, monasteries,
the idea of ongoing repentanceall this was still foreign to me.
While visiting an Orthodox friend, I was told that Fr. Seraphim would
be coming. I tried to mentally prepare myself. When he walked in, he looked
so different, with his long beard, long hair, and long robe. I told myself that
this was not really him, but just an external appearance, and that I had to
see beyond it. I tried to separate the person from the outward impression, since
with so many people the latter has very little to do with the former. But with
Fr. Seraphim I just couldnt do it. I found that what I saw was Fr. Seraphim;
that is, his Orthodox Faith, his monasticism, the black he wore as a symbol
of repentancethis was part of what he really was inside. They were inextricably
bound together. 
Fr. Seraphim also fled from praise and glory as from a flame. Once, during
a question-and-answer session after one of his Summer Pilgrimage lectures, a
man raised his hand and began praising Fr. Seraphim as a holy man of prayer.
Fr. Seraphim cut the man off sharply. Get to the point, he said.
Whats your question?
At the same pilgrimage Fr. Seraphim was approached by a young spiritual seeker
who worshipped the very ground he walked on. Not yet knowing Orthodox etiquette,
the young man spontaneously crossed himself and bowed before Fr. Seraphim when
asking for a blessing. Youre supposed to cross yourself before icons,
Fr. Seraphim told him, not people.
Taking example from Bishop Nektary and, through him, from the Optina Elders,
Fr. Seraphim sometimes used humor as a pastoral tool. We have seen that he did
not like too much levity in the monastery, how he disliked to see brothers standing
around giggling. At the same time, he knew that too much seriousness would not
be good for weak Americans, especially young ones. As a spiritual father, he
had to take into consideration how the boys and young men at the monastery had
been raised. These young people needed a little consolation, a little joke now
and then to lighten the atmosphere. Otherwise, they would begin to take themselves
too seriously, thereby becoming the criterion by which everything else is judged;
or else they would sink into a pit of despondency out of which it would be very
difficult to emerge.
Those who knew Fr. Seraphim recall that he had a wonderful sense of humor,
though one which, like everything else about his personality, was understated.
One story has been told by the same young monk whom Fr. Seraphim had talked
to about mushrooms:
Once in the refectory, Fr. Herman was expatiating on the futility of modern
technological civilization. They build skyscrapers high into the air,
he was saying. They compete to see who can build them higher. And they
keep on building, building, building. When will it all end? They can only build
so highand then what?
Why then, Fr. Seraphim said, King Kong comes.
Fr. Alexey Young notes that Fr. Seraphim had a fondness for practical
jokes which, unless you had been there, would have seemed very out of character.
Nothing low-minded or cruel, mind you, but once in a rare while he would play
a modest little practical joke on someone. 
One of Fr. Seraphims spiritual daughters provides an example: Sollie
[Solomonia] once told me a story which reflects Fr. Seraphims humor. It
was at the monastery after a rain and there were puddles around, and he told
Sollie to come and look at the duck that was in one of the puddles. He told
her to be very quiet so she wouldnt scare it, so she was. Then he began
to chuckle softly, and she realized that it was a fake duck
Another woman pilgrim, who had been introduced to the monastery only a year
before Fr. Seraphims death, remembers being surprised at seeing Fr. Seraphim
engaged in a snowball fight with the boys at the monastery. At first she thought
that this looked out of place; but then, as she entered more deeply into Orthodox
life, she realized that yes, it did fit here.
Fr. Herman has said: When I first met Fr. Seraphim, he never would have
lowered his dignity enough to start a snowball fight. It was only in his
later years, when he had become a pastor and had to care for the needs of American
boys, that he could be seen doing this. Fr. Seraphim also played catch with
Another virtue of Fr. Seraphim, bound up with simplicity and humility, was
patience. If I possess any patience at all now, Fr. Herman says,
I learned it from Fr. Seraphim. I think thats the main thing he
In his counsels to his spiritual children, Fr. Seraphim often said that their
spiritual survival depended on having patience amidst trials. The devil
is walking about like a lion in our midst, he said, but by our patience
and endurance of trials we can get the best of him, with Gods help. 
Once, when Fr. Alexey Young wrote that he was beset with various difficulties,
Fr. Seraphim replied that the chief answer to your questions was
contained in the words of the Epistle of St. James: Count it all joy, my brethren,
when ye fall into manifold temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith
produces patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect
and entire, lacking nothing (James 1:24).  In another letter to Fr. Alexey,
Fr. Seraphim noted that It is much better to learn patience and humility
than it is to get everything as one wants and then discover
one is empty. May God grant us to trust Him as He guides our daily lives better
than we could. 
For Fr. Seraphim, patience was an indispensable virtue not only because it
kept one on the path to salvation in the midst of trials and temptations, but
also because it kept one from leaping off that path out of misdirected spiritual
zeal. By taking one small step at a time, he once said, and
by not thinking that in one big leap we are going to get any place, we can walk
straight to the Kingdom of Heavenand there is no reason for any of us
to fall away from that. Amen. 
The following abbreviations have been used in these Notes:
FSRFr. Seraphim Rose
LERLetter of Eugene Rose
LFSRLetter of Fr. Seraphim Rose
JERPhilosophical Journal of Eugene Rose, 1960'62
OWThe Orthodox Word
SHBSt. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California
CSHBChronicle of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, written by Eugene/Fr. Seraphim Rose
Letter, Journal and Chronicle dates are according to the civil calendar, except where a
Church feast day is indicated, in which case both the Church (Julian or "Old"
Calendar) and civil (Gregorian or "New" Calendar) dates are given.
Most of the letters of Fr. Seraphim cited in this book were preserved in carbon copy
by Fr. Seraphim himself; some were sent by their recipients to the author for
publication in this book. In some of the references to letters the names of the
recipients have been abbreviated, and in others the names have been omitted
altogether in order to protect the privacy of living persons.
The book Letters from Fr. Seraphim by Fr. Alexey
Young includes many letters that were not preserved by Fr. Seraphim in carbon
copy. When we have quoted these letters directly from this book, references to
the book have been given.
1. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, chapters 22, 19, trans. Ch'u Ta-kao (London, 1937), pp. 32, 29.
2. Informal talk by FSR during the New Valaam Theological Academy, which followed the St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage, August 1979. Published in part in FSR, "Raising the Mind, Warming the Heart," pp. 32'33.
3. St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), p. xxxv.
4. Reminiscences of the author.
5. Informal talk at the St. Herman Monastery on the 20th anniversary of Fr. Seraphim's repose (Sept. 2, 2002).
6. Manuscript of a short history of the St. Herman Brotherhood, written by Fr. Seraphim ca. 1975.
7. Reminiscences of Agafia Prince.
8. Interview of Fr. Alexey Young by Russkiy Pastyr', March 9, 1999.
9. LFSR to Fr. Mark, July 7, 1976.
10. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 31, 1972.
11. Ibid., Jan. 20, 1975.
12. FSR, "Raising the Mind, Warming the Heart," p. 34.
From Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press),
pp. 834-841. Copyright 2003 by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California. Used with permission.