American Apostle to the Russian People

No sarcasm is involved in the headline

Nothing to do with sleek businessmen, fast food chains or investment schemes. And many Russian Christians will recognize him right away: few Christian stores or church book counters would not carry translations from Fr. Seraphim Rose.

It should be noted, however, that his apostleship ─ to Russia or to any other nation into whose languages his works are translated ─ did not emerge until he finished his earthly sojourn: he died in September, 1982 at the age of 48, and the twentieth anniversary of his untimely death is solemnly observed these days all over the globe. And here on earth he lived in a tiny Orthodox monastic community in the mountains of North California, constantly immersed into the church service cycle, into research, writing, editing and publishing work, translating treasures of Christian heritage into English, responding to letters from readers and inquirers, attending to the daily needs like gardening, firewood, truck engine and printing equipment, and praying in silence.

Who was he, that humble, reticent priest-monk? Eugene Rose before monasticism, younger son of a janitor, born in San Diego, CA, in his school and college years he had little involvement with, or interest for Christianity. But he had a bright, inquisitive mind and an honest heart, yearning for the truth ─ and that has made all the difference.

He studied Buddhism under Alan Watts in San Francisco and Chinese philosophy in the University of California, Berkeley, excelling in any field he touched and realizing at the same time that the full truth had to be found elsewhere… As he later recalled, “…a new idea began to enter my awareness: that Truth was not just an abstract idea, sought and known by the mind, but rather something personal ─ even a Person ─ sought and loved by the heart. And that is how I met Christ”.

A number of outer circumstances furthered his conversion. Eugene had connections to the Russian immigrant community in San Francisco with very strong Orthodox Christian roots. In 1962 it was headed by Archbishop John Maximovich, known by some of his followers in China and Western Europe as a saint even during his lifetime (and indeed, he was canonized in 1994 in San Francisco). He took spiritual charge over the young American inquirer, and Fr. Seraphim throughout his life kept the deepest devotion to Archbishop John.

But there is more to it. A throng of faithful flocked around the saintly Archbishop ─ yet no one else was to become like Fr. Seraphim. Much later a person who had known him quite well summarized it as follows:

“He was very intelligent ─ such a genius that few people saw him for what he was. But at the same time he was very simple, not complicated at all, rather like his father and mother. He could see things exactly the way they were ─ a down-to-earth, warm, honest man”. Fr. Seraphim’s heritage, both tangible and intangible, is truly immense, and even today, twenty years after his death, it keeps unfolding, opening new riches. A new volume of his correspondence, Letters from Fr. Seraphim, has just been published. Before that, a vast collection Genesis, Creation and Early Man has appeared, devoted mostly to the evolution vs. creation controversy. His most widely known work, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, reprinted many times in the US and abroad, should be credited for exposing numerous modern-day spiritual deceptions and rescuing countless souls from the New Age and Occult sects. The Soul After Death spells out the traditional Christian view and explains otherwise mysterious “near-death” and “after-death experiences”. The Orthodox Word bi-monthly, published by Fr. Seraphim since 1965, at times single-handedly, is still serving the English-speaking Christians.

And that’s just a small portion of what he has done. His disciples, both clergy and laity, are found in Orthodox communities all over the US and, in fact, all over the world; his articles, sermons and lectures provide an ever-fresh source of knowledge and inspiration. And his gravesite in Platina, CA has become a popular place of pilgrimage for those who loved him here on earth as well as those who never met him personally.

From the preface to the Heavenly Realm, a collection of essays by Eugene Rose, future Fr. Seraphim:

“The wonder of a soul of a modern young man who managed somehow to penetrate into the realm of the rich Christian tradition, then to saturate himself by its divine splendor, and finally to emerge as a living link with the Church Fathers ─ is indeed awesome! Who would suspect that our prosaic America could produce such a visionary?” Remembering Fr. Seraphim (Orthodox America, Aug.-Sep. 1982)

• In conversation he was the proverbial “man of few words”. He had no interest in idle chatter, seldom expressed a personal preference for anything, and disliked fakery of all kinds, often speaking of the “Disneyland mentality” of America which was making it impossible for people to seek and find the truth. (Such aversion to Disney, in those years ostensibly innocent, seemed strange to many ─ but soon the cat will be out of the bag, and in 1996 American Christians will begin boycotting Disney – ed.) He worried about the fact that most of us were “unconscious”: we were so abysmally ignorant of the great truths of our Faith… “Be awake, aware, informed!...” ─ he would plead, ─ “Don’t keep Orthodoxy to yourself as though it were some private treasure. Share it!”

• Fr. Seraphim was an inspiration for thousands of people. He gave some of the most inspiring sermons ever uttered in the English language. His constant counsel was: “Never excuse yourself. If you must, or think you must, give way to a weakness, then be certain to recognize it as a weakness and a sin. But see your own faults and condemn not your brother!”

During the latter portion of his life, Fr. Seraphim continually emphasized the need for spiritual attentiveness in preparation for struggles to come. He seemed to have an awareness, a foreknowledge of apocalyptic times ahead. His message was conveyed in a well-known phrase: “It is later than you think!”

• The death of Fr. Seraphim produced a spiritual phenomenon untold of in our times. Lying in state in a crude wooden coffin in the humble monastery church, not only did the body remain soft and life-like in the summer heat, but so comforting was his face that one could not bear to cover it, in the traditional monastic way. Even children could hardly move away from the coffin, since the body brought such internal peace and suggested such love. Everyone was aware that, in our times, among us, a holy man had left in his body a phenomenon that challenges science and our hearts.

From God’s Revelation to the Human Heart by Fr. Seraphim (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1987) …Is there a special organ for receiving revelation from God? Yes, in a certain sense there is such an organ, though usually we close it and do not let it open up: God’s revelation is given to something called a loving heart. We know from the Scriptures that God is love; Christianity is the religion of love (you may look at the failures, see people who call themselves Christians and are not, and say there is no love there; but Christianity is indeed the religion of love when it is successful and practiced in the right way)… If you ask anyone who knew Archbishop John what it was that drew people to him ─ and still draws people who never knew him ─ the answer is always the same: he was overflowing with love; he sacrificed himself for his fellow men out of absolutely unselfish love for God and for them. This is why things were revealed to him which could not get through to other people and which he never could have known by natural means. He himself taught that, for all “mysticism” of our Orthodox Church that is found in the Lives of the Saints and the writings of the Holy Fathers, the Orthodox faithful always has both feet firmly on the ground, facing whatever situation is right in front of him. It is in accepting given situations, which requires a loving heart, that man encounters God. This loving heart is why anyone comes to a knowledge of the truth…

The opposite of the loving heart that receives revelation from God is cold calculation, getting what you can out of people; in religious life, this produces fakery and charlatanism of all descriptions. If you look at the religious world today, you see that a great deal of this is going on: so much fakery, posing, calculation, so much taking advantage of the winds of fashion…

From the Letters from Father Seraphim (Nikodemos, Richfield Springs, NY, 2001)

• Good heavens! What is happening to people? How easily one gets dragged off the path of serving God into all kinds of factions and jealousies and attempts at revenge.

• I think about... that older generation that is now almost gone, and I want to weep for the young know-it-alls who have missed the point. But the understanding comes only through real suffering, and how many can do that?

• Christians, surrounded by and already swimming in a sea of humanist-worldly philosophy and practice, must do everything possible to create their own islands, in that sea, of other-worldly, God-oriented thought and practice.

• Try to remember that all real Christian work is local ─ right here and now, between myself and God and my neighbor.

• Do you have a notebook for taking down quotes from Holy Fathers in your reading? Do you always have a book of Holy Fathers that you are reading and can turn to in a moment of gloom? Start now ─ this is essential!

• Now one cannot be a half-hearted Christian, but only entirely or not at all.

Deacon-monk Makarios Ivanovo Russia

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