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Category: Father Seraphim Rose

A softer view of Blessed Augustine

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m almost 3/4 through The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church, and I’m very impressed with the circumspection and depth of research that Fr. Seraphim Rose put into this study towards the end of his life on this earth. This is the first book I’ve read directly by him as my other acquaintance with his thought is from Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene. As I recall of that work, Father Seraphim’s personal attitudes and opinions were detailed. In this book on Blessed Augustine, I am seeing Fr. Seraphim practice what he preached. Namely, a submission to the Patristic witness permeated by the savor of Orthodoxy.

Fr. Seraphim does not gloss over the Church Father’s errors, but instead gives perspective of them through what other Church Fathers said about him. It seems that despite the errors, which are the only things explained so far, he was greatly loved and respected. It is interesting to me to see how fondly and delicately St. John Cassian, St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Photius, St. Mark of Ephesus and others talked about him amidst disagreement. Blessed Augustine was not denounced as a heretic, but was instead characterized as having certain “imprecise” views of grace, free will, predestination and purgatory.

Even the greatest thinker does not exert influence in an intellectual vacuum; the reason why extreme predestinarianism broke out at different times in the West (and not in the East) was due first of all, not to Augustine’s teaching (which was only a pretext and a seeming justificaton), but rather to the overly-logical mentality which has always been present in the peoples of the West: in Augustine’s case it produced exaggerations in a basically Orthodox thinker, while in the case of Calvin (for example) it produced an abominable heresy in someone who was far indeed from Orthodoxy in thought and feeling. If Augustine had taught his doctrine in the East and in Greek, there would have been no heresy of predestinarianism there, or at least none with the widespread consequences of the Western heresies; the non-rationalistic character of the Eastern mind would not have drawn any consequences from Augustine’s exaggerations, and in general would have paid less attention to him than the West did, seeing in him what the Orthodox Church today continues to see in him: a venerable Father of the Church, not without his errors, who ranks rather behind the greatest Fathers of the East and West. (p. 50)

Father Seraphim characterizes condemnations of Blessed Augustine as a heretic by modern Orthodox as being “western” in nature.

Then St. Photius presents an objection typical of the all-too-often narrowly-logical Latin mentality: “If they taught well, then everyone who considers them as Fathers should accept their idea; but if they have not spoken piously, they should be cast out together with the heretics.” [Fr. Seraphim later brings this out as leading to the doctrine of Papal Infallability.] The answer of St. Photius to this rationalistic view is a model of the depth, sensitivity, and compassion with which true Orthodoxy looks on those who have erred in good faith: “Have there not been complicated conditions which have forced many Fathers in part to express themselves imprecisely, in part to speak with adaptation to circumstances under the attacks of enemies, and at times out of human ignorance to which they also were subject?… If some have spoken imprecisely, or for some reason not known to us, even deviated from the right path, but no question was put to them nor did anyone challenge them to learn the truth – we admit them to the list of Fathers, just as if they had not said it, because of their righteousness of life and distinguished virtue and their faith, faultless in other respects. We do not, however, follow their teaching in which they stray from the path of truth…. […] but we embrace the men. (p. 66)

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The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church

by Andrea Elizabeth

I myself fear the cold hearts of the “intellectually correct” much more than any errors you might find in Augustine…. I feel in Augustine the love of Christ. – Fr. Seraphim Rose, from a letter of 1981.

O Truth Who art Eternity! and Love Who art Truth! and Eternity Who art Love! Thou art my God, to Thee do I sigh night and day. – Blessed Augustine, from the Confessions

The above quotes are opposite the title page of The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church by Father Seraphim Rose. I feel a bit distanced from my Calvinist-influenced aversion to Blessed Augustine at present, so I’m willing to take a look at this book. Defensiveness really colors how we read someone. Even in the above quote, I’m noticing abstract concepts instead of personal words about Christ, but I’ll allow that the “Who” makes up for it and that it corresponds closely enough with Christ describing Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life”.

‘”The basic question,” Father Seraphim said to me when he was studying Blessed Augustine, “is, what should be the Orthodox approach to controversies?” – for controversies do occur in Church life from time to time, allowed by God for our growth and understanding. As the reader will see for himself, Father Seraphim found the answer to this question and gave it clearly in the balanced and, above all, fair study of Blessed Augustine which follows. The Saints strengths and weaknesses are examined, the opinions of other Holy Fathers on Augustine are consulted and given, and, above all, the spirit of the man – whom Father Seraphim regarded as a true “Father of Orthodox piety… who had a single deeply Christian heart and soul” – is clearly portrayed, perhaps for the first time in the English language.

Father Seraphim titled this essay, “The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church.” He called it this because there are those today who wish to exclude Augustine altogether from the company of Church Fathers – a novel development, to say the least! Some writers boldly – and without justification (other than their own opinion) – call him a “heretic” and unfairly ascribe to him almost every subsequent error of Latin and Protestant Christendom. Father Seraphim, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to give a sense of Orthodox perspective to this issue, explaining to those who seemed not to know that Blessed Augustine does indeed have a proper “place” in the Church – not, to be sure, among the great Fathers, but none the less a position of well-deserved recognition by other Holy Fathers. (from the preface by Father Alexey Young, now Fr. Ambrose, italics not mine)

Phenomenological Impressions of the Church Calendar

by Andrea Elizabeth

of a personal nature: 13 days ago I forgot to commemorate my Patron, St. Elizabeth, on her New Calendar Feast Day. This was not intentional as I had intended to commemorate her that day. Today I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is her Saint day on the Old Calendar. I salute her today instead.

I’ve already talked about the Miracle of the Holy Fire that occurs every Holy Saturday in Jerusalem, and the miracle of the waters of the Jordan turning back on Old Calendar Theophany.

I’ve spoken elsewhere about how Fr. Seraphim Rose reposed on the afterfeast of the Dormition, OC, but that I read about it the night before the Feast of the Dormition NC. Before I started leaning towards the OC I took this as a sign that God can transpose the days, but that the connection with the Calendar and his repose was still significant.

Today after a long talk with my OCA Priest (who is fine with the New Calendar) regarding my recent studies on this issue, what sticks with me the most is that, after I told him about if we commemorate Father Seraphim Rose according to the New Calendar (he reposed on Sept 2 NC/ August 20 OC, 1982) he would be separated from the Dormition of the Theotokos, he said that Fr. Schmemann reposed on St. Herman’s Day, December 13th, 1983, NC, which wouldn’t be St. Herman Day on the Old Calendar.

So now I’m back to thinking that both Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Schmemann are important to Orthodoxy in America and that following either calendar will connect us with holy events and holy people. I don’t want to judge which one of them is the holiest, but my Priest, being an advocate for Fr. Schmemann, talked about the importance of his tireless dedication and efforts for the Church, what an impact he has had on revitalizing Orthodox towards the Eucharist, and how affective he was at reaching non-Orthodox, many of whom were brought into the Church. I have a hermit nature, so I identify with Fr. Seraphim more, but I am not closed off to more extroverted efforts. Orthodoxy has both contemplatives who withdraw from the world (reaching it through prayer), and those who are more open to redeeming secular society more visibly. I’m back to being glad for both.

However, sometimes when I am at home and unaware of what day it is, in the silence, and I accidentally become aware of what the Old Calendar is commemorating, I feel more in tune with it.

Development up to a point

by Andrea Elizabeth

The Typicon, in the form which it has taken down to our time in its two basic versions, is the realized idea of Christian worship; the worship of the first century was a kernel which has grown into maturity in its present state, when it has taken its finished form. We have in mind, of course, not the content of the services, not the hymns and prayers themselves, which often bear the stamp of the literary style of an era and are replaced one by another, but the very system of Divine services, their order, concord, harmony, consistency of principles and fullness of God’s glory and communion with the Heavenly Church on the one hand, and on the other the fullness of their expression of the human soul – from the Paschal hymns to the Great Lenten lamentation over moral falls. The present Rule of Divine services of the first Christians in the same way that in the seed of a plant are already contained the forms of the plant’s future growth up to the moment when it begins to bear mature fruits, or in the way that in the embryonic organism of a living creature its future form is already concealed. To the foreign eye, to the non-Orthodox West, the fact that our Rule has taken a static form is presented as a petrification, a fossilization; but for us this represents the finality of growth, the attainment of the possible fullness and finality; and such finality of the form of development we observe also in Eastern Church iconography, in church architecture, in the interior appearance of the best churches, in the traditional melodies of church singing: further attempts at development in these spheres so often lead to “decadence,” leading not up but down. One can make only one conclusion: we are nearer to the end of history than to the beginning… And of course, as in other spheres of the Church’s history, in this one also we should see a destiny established by God a providentialness, and not a single logic of causes and effects.

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, quoted in How to Read the Holy Fathers by Father Seraphim Rose, p. 41,42

To be or not to be

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m not sure of all the terms associated with types of free will except for what I’ve read on Wikipedia, but I think our employment of our will has to do with how we view person, action and nature. The area that is currently giving me pause for thought is in the area of desire. It seems that we do not have control, at least initially, over what we desire. Or at least when we are under the influence of Satanic deception. But before that, it seems that Adam and Eve innately desired good, though with an immature conception of what “good” is. They enjoyed their relationship with God and His creation, which was all good. Satan used this desire for good to deceive and manipulate them. It is, after all, good to be like God. It appears though that before her encounter with Satan, Eve did not battle a lust for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was only when Satan focused her attention on it and gave her the idea that it was attainable by warping God’s commandment. The Bible does not say that she considered the Tree when she accepted that it was not attainable through the commandment of God.  In rationalizing about disobedience, she developed a strong desire for the fruit of the Tree. It may have had alluring properties before this, but it had not yet reached the realm of possibility, and thus her relationship with the barrier around it was amicable. She was happy with it until this barrier of God’s commandment became the enemy through a sense of entitlement. She was convinced to presume that she deserved it, that God wrongly withheld it from her, and that taking a shortcut to Godliness was actually beneficial. To reject it at this point would bring about pain. She had now imagined and fantasized about attainment, and to not attain at this point would cause her to experience pain of loss. Pain of hunger, pain of deprivation. Lust.

Her lack of lust up to her encounter with Satan can be described as immaturity and inexperience. She was innocent but untested. She had not considered the content of the one object that had been withheld from her. I believe the Orthodox say that it was God’s intention to eventually share it with Adam and Eve, but not at that point in the story. They were commanded to leave it alone. There is also the taught typology that the tree represents the cross, and the fruit Christ’s sacrifice of His Body and Blood. Without dwelling on the necessity of sin to bring about Christ’s death on the cross, what else could the content of this tree be that they were to abstain from? At first it was simple, trusting obedience that kept them faithful. If Satan hadn’t tempted them, and Christ would have eventually joined with creation without the sinful element of procreation, then His Body and Blood could still have been the content of the tree. It would not have been the cross, but perhaps the tree could still have been the symbol (don’t make too much out of that word) of His joining with creation, albeit without death. A living tree instead of a cut down one.

But they were not ready for this. Perhaps it is because they had not yet been tested, and testing shows your maturity. If they had not eaten they would have had to be matured differently. Perhaps He would have revealed the nature of Good and Evil to them more incrementally than all at once. Having it revealed to them all at once at an immature point in their lives caused a disruption in their development. They were separated from themselves, each other, and God as a result. I can’t help but think of it as sexual revelation and intention to a child before they reach maturity. It is devastating.

Since we are born now with too much information about good and evil, I wonder how this affects our freedom of choice. But first let me continue with Eve’s introduction to lust. Was that her ruin, or was it the actual partaking? If she had abstained, but then felt like she was missing something, would that have ruined paradise for her? Trusting in God’s mercy, love, and providence makes me think He would have gently and satisfactorily guided her through it if she had confided in Him during their walk in the cool of the evening. Perhaps this is what Mary did differently while she was growing up.

I still haven’t dealt with the choosing of desires. Deep down, our desires are good. God intended and provided for us to be warmed and well-fed. When we feel lack, we develop strong desires for something we don’t have. It seems that the object of desire varies from person to person. Some lust for control, food, alcohol, sex, drugs, excitement, and possession of people and things. I don’t know if a person can change the object of their desire. But perhaps it is a shortsighted fulfilment. When we actually indulge in consuming our object of choice (?), after the initial enjoyment and fulfilment, the emptiness returns, along with guilt and a growing need for more of it to satisfy us. If we do not indulge, and ignore it, the desire may wane, but it probably then only goes into remission and remains a part of us, buried though it may be. We distract ourselves from it.

I want to explore the method of staying distracted, or of dealing with it more directly. We all know that we are to stay focused on God. The Church helps us do this by providing enough prayers to keep us distracted from anything else 24 hours a day. This is especially easier in a monastery. As I read in Fr. Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works, though, “psychological” problems still need to be dealt with. I believe the prayers will have a beneficial result, but in interacting with others especially, it seems our unmet needs will show themselves. If we are aware of our desire for other things, we can stifle them, and distract ourselves. But this doesn’t seem ideal. I wonder if instead we can pray that we feel a strong desire and do not believe that the root of this desire is wrong, such as love for God’s creation and his intention for things. That we think that stifling this desire may be stifling a vital part of our ability to love and desire God. The different objects of people’s desires may be sort of like icons of Christ, but we mistake them for the end of our desire. So instead of stifling this desire, we need to look through the object to Christ. This may take a violent refocus. Such as with those 3D computer pictures, where if you force yourself to focus beyond, you can see the object in the otherwise random color swatches. This may be what “plucking out your own eye” means. Not to deny the desire, but to suspend attainment long enough to think about God and submit it to Him. The psychologists call this delaying gratification.

Otherwise, I believe we are annihilating ourselves. One is denying ourselves temporarily, with hope of future fulfiment, the other is killing ourselves perhaps permanently. A genuinely joyful martyrship or a dramatic suicide. To be, or not to be.

Most people choose life, and this can take the form of living from an undisciplined heart. Some choose death, by denying their hearts and living in their heads. But choosing predestined life is learning wisdom, discernment, and what to do with our pain. These are options that we can employ through our free will, by the grace of God. Back again to the objects of desire themselves. It seems that we are pre-programmed somewhat as to the earthly form these will take. We can be genetically (this includes hormones that control many of our cravings) or experientially programmed through our nurture as small children, or other things we willingly subject ourselves to, or find their way to us throughout our lives. These don’t all have to be desires for “bad” things. As far as our desires for certain types of relationships with certain people, I think there are many variables that mold what we think are ideal qualities and what makes us connect with certain people, and them us. It can seem out of our control and will though. In this way it almost seems that “nature” instead of “person” is pre-eminent in controlling our preferences that we desire attachment to or union with. I suppose that Adam and Eve may have preferred different fruits than the other one preferred before the temptation. The Tree then took precedence. This may be a positive indication of an immature desire for physical union with Christ before His Incarnation. That all of us deep down desire this before all things. Our “natural” preference for other things can almost be dismissed scientifically as being constituted by different ratios of hormones, nurture, and other circumstances. But each object is good, and perhaps these differences in preference are providential to make sure that everything gets appreciated. God loves the whole world. It is we who have diminished capacity and only love certain parts of it. Laying aside personal preference I suppose is a step towards gaining an authentic appreciation for other things. I am wrong to selfishly desire and demand only this. I must trust God to ultimately and more satisfactorily fulfill my desires as I obey Him in loving other things. Hopefully He will give me the same desire that He has for other things. And He suffers no want. He is not stifled.

But then there are individual talents. Again, it seems that a person cannot choose their talent. It is a specific gift. I suppose there is an intended fulfillment in loving a craft expressed in a certain way. But the best artists have to chose the disciplined way. Their mind, their will, and their heart are all engaged by their personal faculties purposely employed to reach their individual and varied telos, in Christ, the predestined object of their desire.

Or maybe I’m rationalizing and justifying engagement when withdrawal and stifling are called for. Don’t look at the tree at all, only pray rote prayers, instead of entertaining how to have it and God too.

Spiritual and Academic

by Andrea Elizabeth

The present patrology will present the Fathers of Orthodox spirituality, therefore, its scope and aims are rather different from the ordinary seminary course in Patrology. Our aim in these pages will be twofold: (1) To present the Orthodox theological foundation of spiritual life – the nature and goal of spiritual struggle, the Patristic view of human nature, the character of the activity of Divine grace and human effort, etc.; and (2) to give the practical teaching on living this Orthodox spiritual life, with a characterization of the spiritual states, both good and bad, which one may encounter or pass through in the spiritual struggle. Thus, strictly dogmatic questions concerning the nature of God, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Procession of the Holy Spirit, and the like, will be touched on only as these are involved in questions of spiritual life; and many Holy Fathers whose writings deal principally with theses dogmatic questions and which touch on questions of spiritual life only  secondarily, as it were, will not be discussed at all. (How to Read the Holy Fathers by Fr. Seraphim Rose, p.13)

A 6th-century novice of Gaza once wrote to the great clairvoyant Elder, St. Barsanuphius, much in the spirit of the inexperienced Orthodox student of today: “I have dogmatic books and when reading them I feel that my mind is transferred from passionate thoughts to the contemplation of dogmas.” To this the holy Elder replied: “I would not want you to be occupied with these books, because they exalt the mind on high; but it is better to study the words of the Elders which humble the mind downward. I have said this not in order to belittle the dogmatic books, but I only give you counsel; for foods are different.” (Questions and Answers, no. 544) An important purpose of this Patrology will be precisely to indicate which Patrisitic books are more suitable for beginners, and which should be left until later. (p. 17)

He then writes on how to view ones-self and one’s experiences, and one’s grasp of dogma. Basically, to believe ones-self under the bottom rung.

Next is included an essay on “The Liturgical Theology of Fr. A. Schmemann” by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, which is a critique of Fr. Alexander’s Introduction of Liturgical Theology, written in 1961 and translated into English in 1966. There are many quotes from Fr. Alexander’s book which cast his teachings in a very ecumenical, compromising, Protestant way. I have only read the first half of Fr. Schmemann’s For the Life of the World, and found it a bit abstract in teaching about the Eucharist. This is also brought out in this critique, but it is also characterized as borrowing from modern philosophical and academic ideas. By contrast, Fr. Michael’s explanations are much more in line with the teaching that Orthodoxy is the consistent, mystical body of Christ throughout the ages. That development is as from a seed to maturity, not that innovations were grafted in. This lines up with what I was taught as a catechuman by my OCA Priest who went to St. Vladimir’s Seminary when Fr. Schmemann was still there and Fr. Thomas Hopko was still dean, and who still deeply respects them both. However, I think one can look at some of the concepts and vocabulary of the Fathers as having pre-Christian roots, but it is important to see how these have been transfigured by further revelation into consistent Christian teaching.

It seems to me that categorizing one group as black and the other as white, be they “academics”, “spiritualists”, “monastics”, “secularists”, “traditionalists”, or even “modernists” puts one in too much of a dialectical frame of mind.  It keeps one’s eyes on the enemy instead of on God. I believe in healthy critique that is meant to tweak us towards the right direction, not that more stern critiques are never called for, but these are for the purpose of reconstructing, not just tearing down.

I also tend to think that people can handle reading deep dogmatic theology and deep spiritual writings. There is a huge danger of prelest, but pride in thinking one is more advanced than they actually are can also exist among those who don’t read anything at all. To believe otherwise is romantic, noble savage thinking, or worse, an attempt to control simple-minded folks.

Fr. Seraphim Rose

by Andrea Elizabeth

As I expected, in Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works, Hieromonk Damascene did a masterful job recounting the death of Fr. Seraphim. Any doubts I had about the sainthood of Fr. Seraphim are now gone. One of the most amazing things to me is how Fr. Seraphim embodied a truly western-born background, criticized what he saw wrong with it, embraced what was right with it, but never sounded anything but American, while at the same time being fluent in Russian Orthodoxy. His native vocabulary sounded true to his time and place, while offering simple answers to very complicated questions. What he said was solely for the benefit of his hearers, not to prove how smart he was, nor a cathartic exercise of self-expression. Though he did back down from some of his rhetorical zealotry in his later years.

This extremely intelligent and well-educated man, more than anything, touched people’s hearts, putting their minds to rest, even after death. In pictures of him, both his stature and his bearing seem angelic. I don’t want to give away the tender story of his relationship with Allison, but it makes me tear up just writing her name. What a love story. It is a quandry to me to believe that he stayed true to himself, to God, and to her throughout his life. But I am now convinced he did. He is a man worthy of all the love he has been given. May we become worthy of his.

Needs, not passions, are supposed to be satisfied

by Andrea Elizabeth

“Such is something of the background, the ‘cultural baggage,’ which a person brings with him today when he becomes Orthodox. Many, of course, survive as Orthodox despite their background; some come to some spiritual disaster because of it; but a good number remain crippled or at lest spiritually underdeveloped because they are simply unprepared for and unaware of the real demands of spiritual life.

“As a beginning to the facing of this question (and hopefully, helping some of those troubled by it), let us look here briefly at the Orthodox teaching on human nature as set forth by a profound Orthodox writer of the nineteenth century, a true Holy Father of these latter times – Bishop Theophan the Recluse (+1894). In his book, What the Spiritual Life Is and How to Attune Ourself to It, he writes,

Human life is complex and many-sided…. Each side has its own faculties and needs, its own methods and their exercise and satisfaction. Only when all our faculties are in movement and all our needs are satisfied does a man live. But when only one little part of these faculties is in motion and one little part of our needs is satisfied – such a life is not life…. A man does not live in a human way unless everything in him is in motion…. One must live as God created us, and when one does not live this one can boldly say he is not living at all….

“From these words of Bishop Theophan one can already spot a common fault of today’s seekers after spiritual life: Not all sides of their nature are in movement; they are trying to satisfy religious needs … without having come to terms with some of their other (more specifically, psychological and emotional) needs. In such people religion is an artificial thing that has not yet touched the deepest part of them, and often some upsetting event in their life, or just the natural attraction of the world, is enough to destroy their plastic universe, and turn them away from religion. Sometimes such people, after bitter experience in life, return to religion; but too often they are lost, or at best crippled and unfruitful.”

[… Again from St. Theophan] A man’s needs are not all of equal value, but some are higher and others lower; and the balanced satisfaction of them gives a man peace. Spiritual needs are the highest of all, and when they are satisfied, then there is peace even if the others are not satisfied; but when spiritual needs are not satisfied, then even if the others are satisfied abundantly, there is no peace. Therefore, the satisfaction of them is called the one thing needful.

When spiritual needs are satisfied, they instruct a man to put into harmony with them the satisfaction of one’s other needs also, so that neither what satisfies the soul nor what satisfies the body contradicts spiritual life, but helps it; and then there is a full harmony in a man of all the movements and revelations of his life, a harmony of thoughts, feelings, desires, undertakings, relationships, pleasures. And this is paradise!

(Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works, p. 960 – 962)

New (to me) St. Herman Press Books

by Andrea Elizabeth

I looked for the 3 books I mentioned in the last post on the Saint Herman Press website, but I’ll have to look elsewhere for 2 of them. There is not a link for the book on Blessed Augustine, and no mention of Fr. Seraphim Rose’s work on Gallic Saints. Maybe I’m remembering the latter wrong. I found and ordered the book on the northern Russian Saints called The Northern Thebaid Monastic Saints of the Russian North and The Soul After Death.  Additionally, I ordered How to Read the Holy Fathers based on what was already mentioned in Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works and the last part of the description on the website,

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose (+1982) wrote on many subjects during his lifetime, always striving to bring the traditional wisdom of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church to contemporary seekers. Soon he discovered that an introduction was needed on how one should and should not approach this very wisdom contained in the Holy Fathers. And so, in the pages of the Orthodox Word he penned a series of articles devoted to this subject.

These articles have been collected in a little booklet together with an article by the renowned contemporary Church writer Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky’s [who I’m reading about now in FSRHLaW] commentary on “The Liturgical Theology of Fr. A Schmemann”.  Father Seraphim especially valued Father Michael’s traditional theology and his ability to appraise contemporary trends in theology from that very perspective, even translating Father Michael’s whole volume on Orthodox Dogmatic Theology into English.

62 pages, illustrated, paperback, $5.00

A Review of Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works

by Andrea Elizabeth

I would like to write a few general comments about Fr. Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene before I read any further. I have about 140 pages left in the 1050 odd pages. I guess “odd” is a good place to start. I haven’t read that many biographies, but this one seems unique. It is almost casual and conversational in style, yet it has a hard to define organization. It isn’t quite chronological, and not quite issue-driven, and not quite relationship-driven, though these are definite themes. It is very much about the man, Eugene, later Fr. Seraphim Rose. Some may not like that I would firstly categorize it as a psychological work. I’m sorry that’s such a controversial word, as it’s frequently associated with “pop-psychology” or Freudian mumbo-jumbo. However, I think motivations are important and I see them as driving forces to where one ends up. Fr. Seraphim is a complicated man, and life is complicated, but it seems he made a concerted effort towards simplicity, peace, and gentleness, and so does Fr. Damascene. At the same time, Fr. Seraphim’s intelligence and curiosity drove him to search out the answers to difficult questions, and thankfully he took great pains to articulate his answers, orally and through his publications and letters, which this book also is an introduction to. I want to read many of the works referenced, especially his piece on St. Augustine, the book on the soul after death, and his lives of the Siberian(?) hermits and Gallic Saints (I’ll have to look up the titles to these unless Aaron, or someone else, wants to provide them off the top of his/one’s head).

The only criticism I have (yet to make) is that the beginning probably two-thirds can sound a little gossippy about anyone who gave Frs. Seraphim and Herman a hard time. It’s a bit too dialectical and doesn’t take into account to the same extent the perpetrators’ motivations. It’s a little too black and white, though it’s hard to argue that Fr. Seraphim isn’t one of the brighter lights in America. However, I think he may have some of the same hesitations about being canonized a Saint as he did about becoming a priest. I do to some extent as well because of his lifestyle before he became Orthodox. There are also questions that have arisen about Fr. Herman that make me wonder if Fr. Seraphim was or should have been more aware. From what I gather though, he was genuinely repentant and humble about his sins, and did not justify himself at all (even if Fr. Damascene does to a small extent). But I’ll leave it to those who decide such things.

The reason I want to write this now is that I’m approaching the part where he dies. Through getting to know him so well through Fr. Damascene, I am already sad about what I am about to read, and the pictures that I have accidentally glanced at. There are tons of pictures by the way. I had only heard snippets about Fr. Seraphim’s ideas before reading this book, which were largely dismissive, and now I have a completely different view of him. The critics of him and of St. John Maximovich, who is an integral part of his life, were misguided. I am tempted to call them worse names, but then I’d be doing worse than the basis for my one criticism of the book. I think some were perhaps driven by dark forces, but sometimes God uses these, or at least opposite extremes, in our lives to balance us out and to make us better people. Fr. Seraphim and Vladika John are better people. So I’m writing this now because I don’t want to write any criticism about how some of the topics were handled in the book after I read about his death at such a young age. In fact, I think that is one of the things that is handled most masterfully, the poignant foreshadowing of his death. +