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. +