The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age
Fr. Seraphim Rose (Full chapter here
In a basement apartment near downtown San Francisco in the early 1960's,
Eugene Rose, the future Fr. Seraphim, sat at his desk covered with stacks
of books and piles of paper folders. The room was perpetually dark, for
little light could come in from the window. Some years before Eugene had
moved there, a murder had occurred in that room, and some said that an
ominous spirit still lingered there. But Eugene, as if in defiance of this
spirit and the ever-darkening spirit of the city around him, had one wall
covered with icons, before which red icon-lamp always flickered.
In this room Eugene undertook to write a monumental chronicle of modern
man's war against God: man's attempt to destroy the Old Order and raise up
a new one without Christ, to deny the existence of the Kingdom of God and
raise up his own earthly utopia in its stead. This projected work was
entitled The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom, of God.
Only a few years before this, Eugene himself had been ensnared in the
Kingdom of Man and had suffered in it; he too had been at war against God.
Having rejected the Protestant Christianity of his formative years as being
weak and ineffectual, he had taken part in the Bohemian counterculture of
the 1950's, and had delved into Eastern religions and philosophies which
taught that God is ultimately impersonal. Like the absurdist artists and
writers of his day, he had experimented with insanity, breaking down
logical thought processes as a way of "breaking on over to the other side."
He read the words of the mad "prophet" of Nihilism, Friedrich Nietzsche,
until those words resonated in his soul with an electric, infernal power.
Through all these means, he was seeking to attain to Truth or Reality with
his mind; but they all resulted in failure. He was reduced to such a state
of despair that, when later asked to describe it, he could only say, "I was
in Hell." He would get drunk, and would grapple with the God Whom he had
claimed was dead, pounding on the floor and screaming at Him to leave him
alone. Once while intoxicated, he wrote, "I am sick, as all men are sick
who are absent from the love of God."
"Atheism," Eugene wrote in later years, "true 'existential' atheism burning
with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God, is a spiritual state;
it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God Whose ways are so
inexplicable even to the most believing of men, and it has more than once
been known to end in a blinding vision of Him Whom the real atheist truly
seeks. It is Christ Who works in these souls. The Antichrist is not to be
found primarily in the great deniers, but in the small affirmers, whose
Christ is only on the lips. Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist,
proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ...."
It was in such a condition of intense hunger that Eugene found himself in
the late 1950's. And then, like a sudden gust of wind, there entered into
his life a reality that he never could have foreseen. Towards the end of
his life he recalled this moment:
"For years in my studies I was satisfied with being 'above all traditions'
but somehow faithful to them.... When I visited an Orthodox church, it was
only in order to view another 'tradition.' However, when I entered an
Orthodox church for the first time (a Russian church in San Francisco)
something happened to me that I had not experienced in any Buddhist or
other Eastern temple; something in my heart said that this was 'home,' that
all my search was over. I didn't really know what this meant, because the
service was quite strange to me, and in a foreign language. I began to
attend Orthodox services more frequently, gradually learning its language
and customs.... With my exposure to Orthodoxy and to Orthodox people, a new
idea began to enter my awareness: that Truth was not just an abstract idea,
sought and known by the mind, but was something personal--even a
Person--sought and loved by the heart. And that is how I met Christ."
While working on The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God in his basement
apartment, Eugene was still coming to grips with what he had found. He had
come upon the Truth in the Undistorted Image of Christ, as preserved in the
Eastern Orthodox Church, but he yearned to enter into what he called the
"heart of hearts" of that Church, its mystical dimension, not its boring,
worldly, organizational aspect. He wanted God, and wanted Him passionately.
His writings from this time were a kind of catharsis for him: a means of
emerging out of untruth, out of the underground darkness and into the
light. Although they are philosophical in tone, much more so than his later
works, these early writings were born of an intense suffering that was
still very fresh in his soul. It was only natural that he would write much
more about the Kingdom of Man, in which he had suffered all his life, than
about the Kingdom of God, of which he had as yet only caught a glimpse. It
was still through the prism of the Kingdom of Man that he viewed the
Kingdom of God.
Of all the fourteen chapters Eugene planned to write for his magnum opus,
only the seventh was typed in completed form; the rest remain in
handwritten notes. This seventh chapter, which we present here, was on the
philosophy of Nihilism.
Nihilism--the belief that there is no Absolute Truth, that all truth is
relative--is, Eugene affirmed, the basic philosophy of the 20th century:
"It has become, in our time, so widespread and pervasive, has entered so
thoroughly and so deeply into the minds and hearts of all men living today,
that there is no longer any 'front' on which it may be fought." The heart
of this philosophy, he said, was "expressed most clearly by Nietzsche and
by a character of Dostoyevsky in the phrase: 'God is dead, therefore man
becomes God and everything is possible."'
From his own experience, Eugene believed that modern man cannot come to
Christ fully until he is first aware of how far he and his society have
fallen away from Him, that is, until he has first faced the Nihilism in
himself "The Nihilism of our age exists in all," he wrote, " and those who
do not, with the aid of God, choose to combat it in the name of the
fullness of Being of the living God, are swallowed up in it already. We
have been brought to the edge of the abyss of nothingness and, whether we
recognize its nature or not, we will, through affinity for the ever-present
nothingness within us, be engulfed in it beyond all hope of
redemption-unless we cling in full and certain faith (which ' doubting,
does not doubt) to Christ, without Whom we are truly nothing."
As a writer, Eugene felt he must call his contemporaries back from the
abyss. He wrote not only out of his own desire for God, but out of his
concern for others who desired Him also--even those who, as he himself had
once done, rejected God or warred against Him out of their very desire for
Out of his pain of heart, out of the darkness of his former life, Eugene
speaks to contemporary humanity which finds itself in the same pain and
darkness. Now, three decades since he wrote this work, as the powers of
Nihilism and anti-Christianity enter more deeply into the fiber of our
society, his words are more needed than ever. Having faced and fought
against the Nihilism in himself, he is able to help prevent us from being
captured by its soul-destroying spirit, and to help us cling to Christ, the
Eternal Truth become flesh.
--Monk Damascene Christensen