Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina Speaks
- Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina Speaks
Excerpts from His Writings
Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), co-founder and co-editor of The Orthodox Word
and co-founder of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood and Monastery at
Platina, California, reposed in the Lord on September 2, 1982 n.s. Born
in 1934 in California, he was raised in a typical American Protestant
family. He graduated from Pomona College in the Los Angeles area, and
later received his M.A. in Chinese (Mandarin) from the University of
California at Berkeley.
He first encountered true Orthodoxy as a result of the lecture of
newly-graduated Jordanville seminarian Gleb (Abbot Herman) Podmoshensky
in 1961. By 1963 the establishment of the St. Herman of Alaska
Brotherhood, as a missionary endeavor toward the conversion of
English-speaking people, under the aegis of Blessed Archbishop John
(Maximovitch) (+1966) had been decided upon. The Brotherhood began with
headquarters on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco next door to the
Cathedral, which was then in process of construction. The Orthodox Word
began publication with the January-February issue of 1965. The first
issues were handset and printed on hand-operated and hand-powered press.
In addition to the publication of the magazine, an icon and book store
was operated. Father Seraphim, with his modest smile and meek manner,
was there to greet customers and answer questions, and let his light shine.
By 1967, in pursuance of long-range and long-standing plans, search
began for a suitable location for a skete, so that full-fledged
monasticism could be undertaken. Vladika John having reposed in 1966,
the Brotherhood now had a heavenly patron to assist them in all their
righteous endeavors. After considerable searching throughout northern
California, the present location of the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery
was decided upon. Living quarters and the printing shop were made ready
so that the two-hundred and-fifty-mile move northward from San Francisco
was accomplished by Dormition of 1969. For one year the two members of
the brotherhood labored in solitude and silence before they received
tonsure to the Small Schema in October of l970. In the previous August
of 1970, St. Herman of Alaska had been glorified in the Cathedral of the
Holy Virgin the Joy of All Who Sorrow, in San Francisco. The Brotherhood
had labored long and tirelessly to bring this about, and to make known
the wonders worked by St. Herman, and his importance for the Orthodox
Church, especially in America.
Father Seraphim belonged to that rare species, the ascetics. His labors,
who can tell? Perhaps only Abbot Herman. But others have been witnesses.
Many were the nights when his attention could be had only with
difficulty, because he was so enrapt in the Jesus Prayer even while at
table. He demonstrated the virtues as few people in our time are capable
of doing. He believed implicitly in the teaching of the Fathers that
obedience to ones spiritual father and director must be given without
question. He seldom ever allowed himself to become aroused enough for
one to call it anger.
He built a small hut, approximately 6 x 10 feet, on the mountainside, so
that he had a refuge from ever-increasing numbers of visitors. For seven
years he was blessed to enjoy this refuge, where he prepared many
articles for publication, where he prayed and prepared himself to leave
this world, where he was indeed a stranger and a pilgrim, and to enter
his heavenly homeland. He was ordained hierodeacon in January 1977 and
was raised to the rank of hieromonk on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers
the same year, so that after eight years of desert-dwelling he and Abbot
Herman were able to celebrate the Holy Mysteries.
Father 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: Censure yourself. Never excuse yourself. If you
must, or think you must, give way to a weakness, then be certain that
you 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, Father
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
the well-known phrase: It is later than you think.
Writing both in Russian and English, Fr. Seraphim was able to produce a
torrent of articles and books in a relatively short span of timeâ€”only
17 yearsâ€”covering every conceivable subject of interest and importance
to the Orthodox reader, including lives of saints, Divine services,
contemporary problems, and theology. He also translated many works,
making them available in English for the first timeâ€”incomparable
service to English-speaking Orthodox Christians.
Father Seraphim accomplished more for the glory of God and the spread of
true Orthodox Christianity than any other person born on the American
continent. May God grant him rest with His saints, where the light of
His countenance shall visit him. And may his memory be eternal!
Rassophore-monk, Reader Laurence
(Fr. Seraphims first godchild)
+ + +
The following letter was written by Hieromonk Seraphim in response to a
question concerning spiritual guidance.
Dear brother in Christ:
Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ! Thank you for your letter. I
appreciate the seriousness of what you have written, and I will reply
with the same seriousness.
I must tell you first of all that, to the best of our knowledge, there
are no startsi todayâ€”that is, truly God-bearing elders (in the spirit
of the Optina elders) who could guide you not by their own wisdom and
understanding of the Holy Fathers, but by the enlightenment of the Holy
Spirit. This kind of guidance is not given to our timesâ€”and frankly,
we in our weakness and corruption and sins do not deserve it.
To our times is given a more humble kind of spiritual life, which Bishop
Ignatius Brianchaninov in his excellent book The Arena (do you have it?)
calls life by counselâ€”that is, life according to the commandments of
God as learned in the Holy Scriptures and Holy Fathers and helped by
those who are elder and more experienced. A starets can give commands;
but a counsellor gives advice, which you must test in experience.
We do not know of anyone in particular who would be especially able to
counsel you in the English language. If this is really needful for you,
God will send it to you in His time, according to your faith and need,
and without your making too deliberate a search for it.
Since you have written me, I will venture to give you a word or two of
general advice, based upon what you have said in your letters, as
derived from the experience of our small monastic community and our
reading of the Holy Fathers.
1) Learn first of all to be at peace with the spiritual situation which
has been given you, and to make the most of it. If your situation is
spiritually barren, do not let this discourage you, but work all the
harder at what you yourself can do for your spiritual life. It is
already something very important to have access to the Sacraments and
regular church services. Beyond this you should have regular morning
and evening prayers with your family, and spiritual readingâ€”all
according to your strength and the possibilities afforded by your
2) Among spiritual writings you should read especially those addressed
to people living in the world, or which give the ABCs of spiritual
lifeâ€”such as St. John of Kronstadts My Life in Christ, St. Nikodemos
Unseen Warfare, the Lives of Saints in general, and Bishop Ignatius
Brianchaninovs The Arena (this book, while addressed to novices, is
suitable for laymen insofar as it gives in general the ABCs of spiritual
life as applied to modern times).
3) To help your spiritual growth and remind you of spiritual truths, it
would be good to keep a journal (the hardbound record books sold in
stationery stores are good), which would include excerpts from the
writings of spiritual books which you find especially valuable or
applicable to you, and perhaps comments of your own inspired by reading
and reflection, including brief comments on your own shortcomings which
you need to correct. St. John of Kronstadt found this especially
valuable, as can be seen in his My Life in Christ.
4) Dont criticize or judge other peopleâ€”regard everyone else as an
angel, justify their mistakes and weaknesses, and condemn only yourself
as the worst sinner. This is step one in any kind of spiritual life.
I offer this for whatever help it may be to you. I would be glad to try
to answer any specific questions you might have, especially on the
teaching of the Holy Fathers, almost all of which we have access to in
Asking your prayers,
With love in Christ,
>From Living Orthodoxy, Jan.-Feb., 1984.+ + +
The life of self-centeredness and self-satisfaction lived by most of
todays Christians is so all-pervading that it effectively seals them off
from any understanding at all of spiritual life; and when such people do
undertake spiritual life, it is only as another form of
self-satisfaction. This can be seen quite clearly in the totally false
religious ideal both of the charismatic movement and the various forms
of Christian meditation: all of them promise (and give very quickly) an
experience of contentment and peace. But this is not the Christian ideal
at all, which, if anything, may be summed up as a fierce battle and
Orthodox Christians! Hold fast to the grace which you have; never let it
become a matter of habit; never measure it by merely human standards or
expect it to be logical or comprehensible to those who understand
nothing higher than what is human Let all true Orthodox Christians
strengthen themselves for the battle ahead, never forgetting that in
Christ the victory is already ours.
Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, St Herman of Alaska
Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1979.
+ + +
...Orthodox Christians of these latter times are indeed spiritually
sleeping and desperately need to be awakened by a trumpet of the Spirit
like Saint Symeon [the New Theologian]. Those who are Orthodox by birth
and habit are not those who will inherit the eternal Kingdom of Heaven;
they must be awakened to the conscious fulfillment of Christs
commandments and a conscious reception of God's Holy Spirit, as Saint
Symeon so eloquently taught.
...For Saint Symeon, as for all true Orthodox Christians, theology is
life; the true words of God which speak to the Christian heart, raise it
from its sloth and negligence, and inspire it to struggle for the
eternal Kingdom, which may be tasted in advance even now in the life of
grace which God sends down upon His faithful through His sanctifying
Preface to The Sin of Adam and our Redemption: Seven Homilies by Saint
Symeon the New Theologian; St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA,
+ + +
We must not deceive ourselves: the life of the desert-dwellers of the
Northern Thebaid is far beyond us in our time of unparalleled spiritual
emptiness. In any epoch the monastic life is limited by the kind of life
which is being led in the world. At a time when daily Orthodox life in
Russia was both extremely difficult and very sober, monasticism could
flourish; but in our time when ordinary life has become abnormally
comfortable and the world-view of even the best religious and
intellectual leaders is shockingly frivolous, what more is to be
expected than that luke-warm spirituality with comfort with which bold
voices from inside Soviet Russia even now are reproaching the free West?
Everywhere today the disease of disbelief has entered deeply into the
minds, and most of all the hearts, of men. Our Orthodoxy, even when it
is outwardly still correct, is the poorest, the feeblest Christianity
there has ever been And still the voice of the Northern Thebaid calls
usâ€”not, it may be, to go to the desertbut at least to keep alive the
fragrance of the desert in our hearts: to dwell in mind and heart with
these angel-like men and women and have them as our truest friends,
conversing with them in prayer; to be always aloof from the attachments
and passions of this life, even when they center about some institution
or leader of the church organization; to be first of all a citizen of
the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City on high towards which all our Christian
labors are directed, and only secondarily a member of this world below
Epilogue to The Northern Thebaid, St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood,
Platina, CA, 1975.
+ + +
The time of the end, though it seems to be near, we do not know. However
close, it is still future, and in the present we have only the same
age-old fight against the unseen powers, against the world, and against
our own passions, upon the outcome of which our eternal fate will be
decided. Let us then struggle while it is still day, with the time and
the weapons which our All-merciful God has given us!
Truly, we are far more in need today of a return to the sources of
genuine Orthodoxy than Blessed Paisius was! Our situation is hopeless!
And yet God's mercy does not leave us, and even today one may say that
there is a movement of genuine Orthodoxy, which consciously rejects the
indifference, renovationism, and outright apostasy which are preached by
the world-famous Orthodox theologians and hierarchs, and also hungers
for more than the customary Orthodoxy which is powerless before the
onslaughts of a world refined in destroying souls.
Many young people today are seeking gurus and are ready to enslave
themselves to any likely candidate; but woe to those who take advantage
of this climate of the times to proclaim themselves God-bearing elders
in the ancient traditionâ€”they only deceive themselves and others.
Our times, above all, call for humble and quiet labors, with love and
sympathy for other strugglers on the path of the Orthodox spiritual life
and a deep resolve that does not become discouraged because the
atmosphere is unfavorable. We Christians of the latter times are still
called to work persistently on ourselves, to be obedient to spiritual
fathers and authorities, to lead an orderly life with at least a minimum
of spiritual discipline and with regular reading of the Orthodox
spiritual literature which Blessed Paisius was chiefly responsible for
handing down to our times, to watch over our own sins and failings and
not judge others. If we do this, even in our terrible times, we may have
hopeâ€”in God's mercyâ€”of the salvation of our souls.
Introduction to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, by Schema-monk
Metrophanes; St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1976.
+ + +
As to the fatalism of those who believe that man must be a slave to the
spirit of the age, it is disproved by the experience of every Christian
worthy of the name, for the Christian life is nothing if it is not a
struggle against the spirit of every age for the sake of eternity.
man's freedom has been given him to choose between the true God and
himself, between the true path to deification whereon the self is
humbled and crucified in this life to be resurrected and exalted in God
and eternity, and the false path of self-deification which promises
exaltation in this life but ends in the Abyss. These are the only two
choices, ultimately, open to the freedom of man; and upon them have been
founded the two Kingdoms, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man,
which may be discriminated only by the eye of faith in this life, but
which shall be separated in the future life as Heaven and Hell. It is
clear to which of them modern civilization belongsThe old commandment of
Thou shalt, says [Nietzsches] Zarathustra, has become outmoded; the new
commandment is I will.
In the Christian life, the old self with its constant I will must be
done away with and a new self, centered in Christ and His will, be born.
Christian compromise in thought and word and negligence in deed have
opened the way to the triumph of the forces of the absurd, of Satan, of
Antichrist. The present age of absurdity is the just reward of
Christians who have failed to be Christians.
It is futile, in fact it is precisely absurd, to speak of reforming
society, of changing the path of history, of emerging into an age beyond
absurdity, if we have not Christ in our hearts; and if we do have Christ
in our hearts, nothing else matters.
"Subhumanity: The Philosophy of the Absurd" in The Orthodox Word,
Platina, Sept.-Oct. 1982.
+ + +
Looking at Orthodoxy, at its present state and its prospects in the
period before us, we may see two opposed aspects. First of all, there is
the spirit of worldliness which is so present in the Orthodox Churches
today, leading to a watering-down of Orthodoxy, a loss of the difference
between Orthodoxy and heterodoxy. This worldliness has produced the
Ecumenical movement, which is leading to the approaching Unia with Rome
and the Western confessionsâ€”something that may well occur in the
1980s. In itself, this will probably not be a spectacular event: most
Orthodox people have become so unaware of their faith, and so
indifferent to it, that they will only welcome the opportunity to
receive communion in a Roman or Anglican church. This spirit of
worldliness is what is in the air and seems natural today; it is the
religious equivalent of the atheist-agnostic atmosphere that prevails in
What should be our response to this worldly ecumenical movement?
Fortunately, our bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia have
given us a sound policy to follow: we do not participate in the
Ecumenical Movement, and our Metropolitan [Philaret] has warned other
Orthodox Christians of the disastrous results of their ecumenical course
if they continue; but at the same time our bishops have refused to cut
off all contact and communion with Orthodox Churches involved in the
Ecumenical Movement, recognizing that it is still a tendency that has
not yet come to its conclusion (the Unia with Rome) and that (at least
in the case of the Moscow Patriarchate and other churches behind the
Iron Curtain) it is a political policy forced upon the Church by secular
authorities. But because of this policy, our Church suffers attacks both
from the left side (from ecumenists who accuse us of being uncharitable,
behind the times,and the like) and from the right side (by groups in
Greece that demand that we break communion with all Orthodox Churches
and declare them to be without grace).
Indeed, if one looks at the state of the Orthodox Church in Greece, we
can see that the Ecumenical Movement has produced a reaction that has
often become excessive, and sometimes is almost as bad as the disease it
seeks to cure. The more moderate of the Old Calendarist groups in Greece
has a position similar to that of our Russian Church Abroad; but schism
after schism has occurred among the Old Calendarists over the question
of strictness. A few years ago one of these groups cut off communion
with our Russian Church Abroad because our bishops refused to declare
that all other Orthodox Churches are without grace; this group now
declares that it alone has grace, only it is Orthodox. Recently this
group has attracted some converts from our Russian Church Abroad, and we
should be aware that this attitude is a danger to some of our American
and European converts: with our calculating, rationalistic minds it is
very easy to think we are being zealous and strict, when actually we are
chiefly indulging our passion for self-righteousness.
One Old Calendarist bishop in Greece has written to us that incalculable
harm has been done to the Orthodox Church in Greece by what he calls the
correctness disease, when people quote canons, Fathers, the typicon in
order to prove they are correct and everyone else is wrong. Correctness
can truly become a disease when it is administered without love and
tolerance and awareness of ones own imperfect understanding. Such a
correctness only produces continual schisms, and in the end only helps
the Ecumenical Movement by reducing the witness of sound Orthodoxy.
Conspicuous among Orthodox todayâ€”certain to be with us into the
1980sâ€”is the worldly spirit by which Orthodoxy is losing its savor,
expressed in the Ecumenical Movement, together with the reaction against
it, which is often excessive precisely because the same worldly spirit
is present in it.
There will undoubtedly be an increasing number of Orthodox converts in
America and Europe in the coming decade, and we must strive that our
missionary witness to them will help to produce, not cold, calculating,
correct experts in the letter of the law, but warm, loving, simple
Christiansâ€”at least as far as our haughty Western temperament will allow.
Once Fr. Dimitri [Dudko] was asked about how much better off religion
was in the free world than in Russia, and he answered: Yes, they have
freedom and many churches, but theirs is a spirituality with comfort. We
in Russia have a different path, a path of suffering that can produce
We should remember this phrase when we look at our own feeble Orthodoxy
in the free world: are we content to have beautiful churches and
chanting; do we perhaps boast that we keep the fasts and the church
calendar, have good icons and congregational singing, that we give to
the poor and perhaps tithe to the Church? Do we delight in exalted
patristic teachings and theological conferences without having the
simplicity of Christ in our hearts? Then ours is a spirituality with
comfort, and we will not have the spiritual fruits that will be
exhibited by those without all these comforts, who deeply suffer and
struggle for Christ. In this sense we should take our tone from the
suffering Church in Russia and place the externals of the Churchs
worship in their proper place.
Our most important task, perhaps, is the Christian enlightenment of
ourselves and others. We must go deeper into our faithâ€”not by studying
the canons of Ecumenical Councils or the typicon (although they also
have their place), but by knowing how God acts in our lives; by reading
the lives of God-pleasers in the Old and New Testaments (we read the Old
Testament far too little; it is very instructive); by reading the lives
of Saints and the writings of the Holy Fathers on practical spiritual
life; by reading about the suffering of Christians today and in recent
years. In all of this learning our eyes must be on heaven above, the
goal we strive for, not on the problems and disasters of earth below.
Our Christian life and learning must be such that it will enable us to
know the true Christ and to recognize the false Christ (Antichrist) when
he comes. It is not theoretical knowledge or correctness that will give
this knowledge to us. Vladimir Soloviev in his parable of Antichrist has
a valuable insight when he notes that Antichrist will build a museum of
all possible Byzantine antiquities for the Orthodox, if only they accept
him. So, too, mere correctness in Orthodoxy without a loving Christian
heart will not be able to resist Antichrist; one will recognize him and
be firm to stand against him chiefly by the heart and not the head. We
must develop in ourselves the right Christian feelings and instincts,
and put off all fascination with the spiritual comforts of the Orthodox
way of life, or else we will beâ€”as one discerning observer of
present-day converts has observedâ€”Orthodox but not Christian.
"Orthodox Christians Facing the 1980s", A lecture given at the St.
Herman Summer Pilgrimage, Platina, CA, August 9, 1979.
+ + +
The significance of the Catacomb Church does not lie in its correctness;
it lies in its preservation of the true spirit of Orthodoxy, the spirit
of freedom in Christ. Sergianism was not merely wrong in its choice of
church policy, it was something far worse: it was a betrayal of Christ
based on agreement with the spirit of this world. It is the inevitable
result when church policy is guided by earthly logic and not by the mind
Introduction to Russias Catacomb Saints, by I.M. Andreyev, Platina, 1982.
+ + +
The Orthodox Christian of today is overwhelmed to open Saint Gregorys
Book of Miracles and find there just what his soul is craving in this
soulless, mechanistic modern world; he finds that very Christian path of
salvation which he knows in the Orthodox services, Lives of the Saints,
the Patristic writings, but which is so absent today, even among the
best of modern Christians, that one begins to wonder whether one is not
really insane, or some literal fossil of history, for continuing to
believe and feel as the Church has always believed and felt. It is one
thing to recognize the intellectual truth of Orthodox Christianity; but
how is one to live it when it is so out of harmony with the times? And
then one reads Saint Gregory and finds that all of this Orthodox truth
is also profoundly normal, that whole societies were once based on it,
that it is unbelief and renovated Christianity which are profoundly
abnormal and not Orthodox Christianity, that this is the heritage and
birthright of the West itself which it deserted so long ago when it
separated from the one and only Church of Christ, thereby losing the key
to the secret which so baffles the modern scholarâ€”the secret of true
Christianity, which must be approached with a fervent, believing heart,
and not with the cold aloofness of modern unbelief, which is not natural
to man but is an anomaly of history.
Introduction to Vita Patrum, by Saint Gregory of Tours, Platina, 1988.
+ + +
We must not artificially isolate ourselves from the reality of todays
world; rather, we must learn to use the best things the world has to
offer, for everything good in the worldâ€”if we are only wise enough to
see itâ€”points to God, and we must make use of it. Too many people make
the mistake of limiting Orthodoxy to church services, set prayers, and
the occasional reading of a spiritual book. True Orthodoxy, however,
requires a commitment that involves every aspect of our lives. One is
Orthodox all the time every day, in every situation of lifeâ€”or one is
not really Orthodox at all. For this reason we must develop an Orthodox
worldview and live it.
"Living an Orthodox World-View", a lecture given at the St Herman Summer
Pilgrimage, Platina, CA, August 1980; Orthodox America, Aug.-Sept. 1982.
+ + +
Do not trust your mind too much; thinking must be refined by suffering,
or it will not stand the test of these cruel times.
Of course, one can always act wrong even on a clear conscience! But even
that is not a fatal mistake as long as ones mind and heart remain open
and one keeps first things first.
How much our American Orthodoxy needs more heart and not so much mind! I
dont know any answer for it, except more prayer and basic education in
Orthodox 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.
Above all, may we all grow in spiritual understanding, not rational
understandingâ€”which I fear is the constant plague of all us poor converts!
the two sides quote canons back and forth, when what is needed is love
and understandingâ€”and that statement, I realize, could have come
straight from the lips of some ecumenist, which only shows how difficult
the path of true Orthodoxy has become in our days.
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.
How much hope there is for those who do not trust in themselves too much
and are not overly-critical of others! And how little hope for those
whose orientation is the opposite!
psychological trials of dwellers in the last times will equal the
physical trials of the martyrs. But in order to face these trials we
must be living in a different world.
I think aboutthat 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?
We must be open rather than closed with regard to the Moscow
Patriarchate. The whole question of ecumenism and apostasy cannot be
placed simply on the canonical-dogmatic-formal level, but must be viewed
Its obvious that the zeal not according to knowledge is becoming a
matter of some concern to [Metropolitan Philaret] and for many of our
bishops, and Im afraid the solution to it, if any, wont be easy I think
the quality needed is a certain deep humility of mind that enables one
to accept other ways of looking at things, other emphases, as equally
Orthodox with ones own.
Try to remember that all real Christian work is localright 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 nowâ€”this is essential!
Now one cannot be a half-hearted Christian, but only entirely or not at all.
Letters from Father Seraphim, Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society,
Richfield Springs, NY, 2001.
Many thanks to Mary Mansur, editor of Orthodox America, for permission
to post these excerpts.