Vol. 2 No. 5 - Feast of St. Nicholas 2007
Father Seraphim Rose:
A Quarter Century Later
On September 2nd, 2007 - the twenty-fifth anniversary of the repose of Father Seraphim Rose - our family had the unique opportunity to be present at the St. Herman Brotherhood in Platina California, to join other faithful in prayers for the soul of Father Seraphim, and to ask his prayers for the Church in our times.
It was an uncommon blessing for me to stand before the grave of Father Seraphim and serve the Divine Liturgy, on the very ground where this contemporary father had spoken to Orthodox North Americans three decades ago, calling all of us to live the authentic Orthodoxy of the heart about which he so often wrote.
The day was a comfortably cool one for California in the summertime, and the hills around Platina suffered from their usual dryness: a forest fire warning had been issued, and buckets of water stood ready, in case any wind caught a stray spark. We served the Divine Liturgy with only one lit candle, on the altar table formed by Father Seraphim's grave.
In many ways, this anniversary was an analogy of the life of this holy man, who withdrew from the spiritual wastelands of North American life, and retreated into the hills of northern California, to live the monastic life, in the struggle to save his own soul, and in so doing, to offer the gift of salvation to others. He was like many of his era - and many more today - who knew all too well the false promises of the academics and social causes of his time. One of the things which made Father Seraphim unique was not his experiences, which many share, but rather his determination to respond to them in a way which was not of this world, but entirely of the Kingdom to Come - a life as Saint Nicolai Velimirovich describes as one in which everything that is of the flesh is transformed into that which is spiritual and holy.
It is this remarkable transformation of life, and the clarion call to others who would seek it, which drew hundreds of pilgrims to this remote wilderness, both on this anniversary, and throughout the two and a half decades since Father Seraphim's repose. Many of those present came to know Father Seraphim during his life, as converts and clergy, as seekers and pilgrims, and even as orphans who had come half way around the world in the care of Father Seraphim's own spiritual father, Saint John Maximovich.
It was easy to understand the common spirit of those who had made the journey to mark the passing of this twenty-five years: converts who found the fullness of their spiritual hopes in Orthodox Christianity, those who have discovered the emptiness of academia and "social" Christianity, and a new generation of youth who reject the middle class comfort of the world of their parents' generation - youth whose lives and experiences reflect Father Seraphim's own.
For those who had ears to hear, Father Seraphim offered the mind of the Church Fathers, confronting the mind of the modern world. It is this Patristic voice which rejects the spirit of the times and its idolization of "progress", and offers instead the timeless Faith, above all passing fads and celebrity culture.
Father Seraphim offered an authentic understanding of the unity of the Church, detailing authentic ecumenism as the proper relationship of Orthodox Christians among themselves within the Church, and meaningful evangelism to those outside it, with no confusion of the bounds of the historic Orthodox faith, however tempting it may be in order to fit in at heterodox events and institutions.
Father Seraphim's Orthodoxy was nothing more or less than that which he had inherited from the Tradition of the Church in all times and places: an ascetical, traditional Christianity, that was and still is a challenge to those who want to write their own tradition, and present it in an effort to fit the latest trend in society or religious circles. Father Seraphim would have none of it - which is the very reason so many find his words so refreshing.
In the last three decades, Father Seraphim's writings on the patristic understanding of the soul after death have become something of a flashpoint in certain circles. Sadly, those who would still hammer away on this question really miss the essence of Father Seraphim's life and works. Father Seraphim demonstrates to us how little North American gamesmanship really matters in the whole scheme of things within the Church across time and place, and underscores his conclusion about modern Church life in North America today: we are really quite weird.
A quarter century since his repose, those who look to Father Seraphim as a modern Orthodox hero - and quite possibly a saint - are not those who have known comfort, but those who have known real pain of heart, who have struggled with both the passions and the painful questions of heart, which we all must bear in the Christian life. In some ways, perhaps Father Seraphim's words continue to be threatening to those who do not really want to go deeper into their own repentance, following the way of the Cross to enjoy the fruits of repentance.
Like the dry brush of the California hills in summer, it is these same kind of souls who seek Orthodox Christianity in its fullness who continue to draw near to the tiny light that Father Seraphim offered us, which points the way to the refreshing waters of Heaven.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Feast of St. Nicholas, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.