THE HOLY FATHERS - Hieromonk Seraphim Rose of Blessed Memory
- THE HOLY FATHERS
SURE GUIDE TO TRUE CHRISTIANITY
Hieromonk Seraphim Rose of Blaessed Memory
Remember your instructors, who have spoken
the word of God to you; whose faith follow,
considering the end of their life? Be not led
away with various and strange doctrines.
Hebrews 13:7, 9
NEVER HAS THERE BEEN such an age of false teachers as this pitiful 20th
century, so rich in material gadgets and so poor in mind and soul. Every
conceivable opinion, even the most absurd, even those hitherto rejected by
the universal consent of all civilized peoples?now has its platform and its
own "teacher." A few of these teachers come with demonstration or promise
of "spiritual power" and false miracles, as do some occultists and
"charismatics;" but most of the contemporary teachers offer no more than a
weak concoction of undigested ideas which they received "out of the air,"
is it were, or from some modern self-appointed "wise man" (or woman) who
knows more than all the ancients merely by living in our "enlightened"
modern times. As a result, philosophy has a thousand schools, and
"Christianity" a thousand sects. Where is the truth to be found in all
this, if indeed it is to be found at all in our most misguided times?
In only one pla! ce is there to be found the fount of true teaching,
coming from God Himself, not diminished over the centuries but ever fresh,
being one and the same in all those who truly teach it, leading those who
follow it to eternal salvation. This place is the Orthodox Church of
Christ, the fount is the grace of the All-Holy Spirit, and the true
teachers of the Divine doctrine that issues forth from this fount are the
Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.
Alas! How few Orthodox Christians know this, and know enough to drink
from this fount! How many contemporary hierarchs lead their flocks, not on
the true pastures of the soul, the Holy Fathers, but along the ruinous
paths of modern wise men who promise something "new" and strive only to
make Christians forget the true teaching of the Holy Fathers, a teaching
which?it is quite true?is entirely out of harmony with the false ideas
which govern modern times.
The Orthodox teaching of the Holy Fathe! rs is not something of one
age, whether "ancient" or "modern." It has been transmitted in unbroken
succession from the time of Christ and His Apostles to the present day, and
there has never been a time when it was necessary to discover a "lost"
patristic teaching. Even when many Orthodox Christians have neglected this
teaching (as is the case, for example, in our own day), its true
representatives were still handing it down to those who hungered to receive
it.. There have been great patristic ages, such as the dazzling epoch of
the fourth century, and there have been periods of decline in patristic
awareness among Orthodox Christians; but there has been no period since the
very foundation of Christ's Church on earth when the patristic tradition
was not guiding the Church; there has been no century without Holy Fathers
of its own. St. Nicetas Stethatos, disciple and biographer of St. Simeon
the New Theologian, has written; "It has been granted by God that from
generation t! o generation there should not cease the preparation by the
Holy Spirit of His prophets and friends for the order of His Church."
Most instructive it is for us, the last Christians, to take guidance
and inspiration from the Holy Fathers of our own and recent times, those
who lived in condition similar to our own and yet kept undamaged and
unchanged the same ever-fresh teaching, which is not for one time or race,
but for all times to the end of the world, and for the whole race of
Before looking at two of the recent Holy Fathers, however, let us make
clear that for us, Orthodox Christians, the study of the Holy Fathers is
not an idle academic exercise. Much of what passes for a "patristic
revival" in our times is scarcely more than a plaything of heterodox
scholars and their "Orthodox" imitators, not one of whom has ever
"discovered" a patristic truth for which he was ready to sacrifice his
life. Such "patrolo! gy" is only rationalist scholarship which happens to
take patristic teaching for its subject, without ever understanding that
"spokesmen for Orthodoxy," and their rationalistic pronouncements to be
part of an "authentically patristic" outlook, thus deceiving many Orthodox
Christians. Father Alexander Schmemann, for example, while pretending to
set himself free from the "Western captivity" which, in his ignorance of
the true patristic tradition of recent centuries (which is to be found more
in the monasteries than in the academies), he fancies to have completely
dominated Orthodox theology in modern times, has himself become the captive
of Protestant rationalistic ideas concerning liturgical theology, as has
been well pointed out by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, a genuine
patristic theologian of today.(superscript: 1) Unfortunately, such a clear
unmasking has yet to be made of the pseudo-scholar of Russian Saints and
Holy Fathers, G. P. Fedotov, who imagines that St. Sergius "was the first
Russian saint who can be termed a mystic" (thereby ignoring t! he four
centuries of equally "mystical" Russian Fathers who preceded him), looks
pointlessly for "originality" in the "literary work" of St. Nilus of Sora
(thus showing that he does not even understand the meaning of tradition in
Orthodoxy), slanders the great Orthodox Saint, Tikhon of Zadonsk, as "the
son of the Western Baroque rather than the heir of Eastern spirituality,"
(superscript: 2) and with great artificiality tries to make St. Seraphim
(who is actually so stunningly in the patristic tradition that he is
scarcely to be distinguished from the great Fathers of the Egyptian desert)
into some "uniquely Russian" phenomenon who was "the first known
representative of this class of spiritual elders (startsi) in Russia,"
whose "approach to the world is unprecedented in the Eastern tradition,"
and who was "the forerunner of the new form of spirituality which should
succeed merely ascetical monasticism."(superscript: 3)
Lamentably, the consequences of such pseudo-s! cholarship often appear
in real life; gullible souls who take these false conclusions for genuine
begin to work for a "liturgical revival" on Protestant foundations,
transform St. Seraphim (ignoring his "inconvenient" teachings regarding
heretics, which he shares with the whole patristic tradition) into a Hindu
yogin or a "charismatic," and in general approach the Holy Fathers just as
do most contemporary scholars?without reverence and awe, as though they
were on the same level, as an exercise is esotericism or as some kind of
intellectual game, instead of as a guide to true life and salvation.
NOT SO ARE TRUE Orthodox scholars; not so is the true Orthodox patristic
tradition, where the genuine, unchanging teaching of true Christianity is
handed down in unbroken succession both orally and by the written and
printed word, from spiritual father to spiritual son, from teacher to
In the 20th century one Orthodox hierarch stands out especially for his
patristic orientation?Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava (? 1943, February
19), one of the founders of the free Russian Church Outside of Russia, and
perhaps the chief architect of her uncompromising and traditionalist
ideology. In the years when he was vice-chairman of the Synod of Bishops of
this Church (1920's), he was widely acknowledged as the most
patristically-minded of all the Russian theologians abroad. In the 1930's
he retired into total seclusion to become a second Theophanes the Recluse;
and since then he has been, sadly, very largely forgotten. F! ortunately,
his memory has been sacredly kept by his disciples and followers, and in
recent months one of his leading disciples, Archbishop Averky of Holy
Trinity Monastery at Jordanville, New York, has published his biography
together with a number of his sermons.(superscript: 4) In these sermons may
be clearly seen the hierarch's awe and reverence before the Holy Fathers,
his discipleship toward them, and his surpassing humility which will be
content only when he is transmitting nothing of his own but only the ideas
and the very words of the Holy Fathers. Thus, in a sermon on Pentecost
Sunday he says: "The teaching of the Holy Trinity is the pinnacle of
Christian theology. Therefore I do not presume to set forth this teaching
in my own words, but I set it forth in the words of the holy and
God-bearing theologians and great Fathers of the Church: Athanasius the
Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Basil the Great. Mine only are the lips,
but theirs the words and thoughts. They pres! ent the Divine meal, and I am
only the servant of their Divine banquet."
In another sermon, Archbishop Theophanes gives the reasons for his
self-effacement before the Holy Fathers?a characteristic so typical of the
great transmitters of patristic teaching, even great theologians in their
own right such as Archbishop Theophanes, but which is so glaringly
misinterpreted by worldly scholars as a "lack of originality." In his
sermon on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council,
given in 1928 in Varna, Bulgaria, he offers to the faithful "a word on the
significance of the Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church for us
Christians. In what does their greatness consist, and on what does their
special significance for us depend? The Church, brethren, is the house of
the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (I Timothy 3:15).
Christian truth is preserved in the Church in Holy Scripture and Holy
Tradition; but it requires a corre! ct preservation and a correct
interpretation. The significance of the Holy Fathers is to be found
precisely in this: that they are the most capable preservers and
interpreters of this truth by virtue of the sanctity of their lives, their
profound knowledge of the word of God, and the abundance of the grace of
the Holy Spirit which dwells in them." The rest of this sermon is composed
of nothing but quotes from the Holy Fathers themselves (Sts. Athanasius the
Great, Basil the Great, Simeon the New Theologian, Nicetas Stethatos) to
support this view.
The final Holy Father whom Archbishop Theophanes quotes, at great
length, in his sermon, is one close to him in time, a predecessor of his in
the transmission of the authentic patristic tradition in Russia?Bishop
Ignatius Brianchaninov. He has a double significance for us today: not only
is he a Holy Father of almost our own times, but also his search for truth
is very similar to that of sincere truth-seekers to! day, and he thus shows
us how it is possible for the "enlightened modern man" to enter once again
the pure atmosphere of patristic?
Yet we must go to the Holy Fathers not merely to "learn about them;" if
we do no more than this we are in no better state than the idle disputants
of the dead academies of this perishing modern civilization, even when
these academies are "Orthodox" and the learned theologians in them neatly
define and explain all about "sanctity" and "spirituality" and "theosis,"
but have not the experience needed to speak straight to the heart of
thirsting souls and wound them into desiring the path of spiritual
struggle, nor the knowledge to detect the fatal error of the academic
"theologians" who speak of God with cigarette or wineglass in hand, nor the
courage to accuse the apostate "canonical" hierarchs of their betrayal of
We must go to the Holy Fathers, rather, in order to become their
disciples, to receive the teaching of true life, the soul's salvation, even
while knowing that by doing this we shall lose the favor of this world and
become outcasts from it.
If we do this we shall find the way out of the confused swamp of modern
thought, which is based precisely upon abandonment of the sacred teaching
of the Fathers. We shall find that the Holy Fathers are most "contemporary"
in that they speak directly to the struggle of the Orthodox Christian
today, giving answers to the crucial questions of life and death which mere
academic scholarship is usually afraid even to ask?and when it does ask
them, gives a harmless answer which "explains" these questions to those who
are merely curious about them, but are not thirsting for answers. We shall
find true guidance from the Fathers, learning humility and distrust of our
own vain worldly wisdom, which we have sucked in with the air of the
pestilential times, by means of trusting those who have pleased God and not
the world. We shall find in them true fathers, so lacking in our own day
when the love of many has grown cold (Matthew 24:12)?fa! thers whose only
aim is to lead us their children to God and His Heavenly Kingdom, where we
shall walk and converse with these angelic men in unutterable joy forever.
There is no problem of our own confused times which cannot find its
solution by a careful and reverent reading of the Holy Fathers: whether the
problem of the sects and heresies that abound today, or the schisms and
"jurisdictions;" whether the pretense of spiritual life put forth by the
charismatic revival," or the subtle temptations of modern comfort and
conveniences; whether complex philosophical questions such as "evolution,"
or the straightforward moral questions of abortion, euthanasia, and "birth
control;" whether the refined apostasy of "Sergianism," which offers a
church organization in place of the Body of Christ, or the crudeness of the
"renovationism," which begins by "revising the calendar" and ends in
"Eastern-rite Protestantism." In all these questions the Holy Fathers, and
our living Fathers who follow them, are our only sure guide.
Bishop Ignatius and other recent Fathers have indicated for us last
Christians which Holy Fathers are the most important for us to read, and in
what order. May this be an inspiration to us all to place the patristic
teaching as the foundation stone of the building of our own souls, unto the
inheritance of everlasting life!
1. "The Liturgical Theology of Fr. A. Schmemann," in The Orthodox Word,
1970, No. 6, Pp. 260-280.
2. A thesis thoroughly refuted by Nadejda Gorodetsky in Saint Tikhon
Zadonsky, Inspirer of Dostoyevsky, SPCK, London, 1951.
3. See Fedotov's introductions to the writings of these Saints in A
Treasury of Russian Spirituality, Sheed & Ward, New York, 1948.
4. A brief life of him in English may be read in The Orthodox Word, 1969,
5. From Volume I of Bishop Ignatius' Collected Works in Russian, pp.