The following article represents a chapter from the book “Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works” by Hieromonk Damascene. Based on Fr Seraphim’s letters to Fr Alexis Young and others, it describes Fr Seraphim’s spiritual confrontation with Boston Transfiguration Monastery: “orthodoxy of the heart” vs. “orthodoxy of the mind”.
Of all the modern philosophies which Alexey Young, as a school teacher and later as a principal, was confronted with, perhaps the most powerful was that of evolution. He could see that most parents were ignorant of the very formidable scientific evidence against evolution, and also of the fact that evolution was being used (often quite deliberately) to undermine the very foundations of the Christian worldview. He decided to write an article for the sake of these parents, to make them more aware of what their children were being fed intellectually. Sending it to Fr. Seraphim for review, he received it back with a few suggestions and encouragement to print it in Nikodemos.
Sometime thereafter, Fathers Herman and Seraphim were surprised to receive a letter expressing displeasure over the article, written by a priest of the Russian Church Abroad who was under the spiritual direction of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston. According to the fathers of the Boston monastery, evolution was a “forbidden subject”; and it hurt this priest to see that Alexey was not agreeing with these authorities. Amazed to read in Nikodemos an article against such an established “fact” as evolution, the priest wrote that Alexey, as a convert who had retained his “Roman perspective,” should not be allowed the “privilege of publication,” and he stated that he was “withdrawing all support from Nikodemos.”While working on The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God, Fr. Seraphim had made an investigation into the social, philosophical, and spiritual roots of evolutionism. Later, when attending the theological courses instituted by Archbishop John, he had studied the teaching of the Orthodox Church regarding the creation of the universe, as passed on through the Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers.* Thus, having understood for a long time that evolutionism was antithetical to the Orthodox worldview, he concluded that the Orthodox critics of Alexey’s article were “just not aware of the whole issue of evolution, whether in its scientific side or in its religious-theological implications.” To Alexey he wrote: “Obviously your article has touched something very deep (frankly we are astonished that people so keen on ecclesiastical matters, ecumenism, etc., should seem never to have given much thought to such an important thing as evolution; apparently it is because it seems to be outside the Church sphere).”3
Fr. Seraphim counseled Alexey not to consider his critics so much “in error” as simply unaware. He said he should not argue at all, but that together they should “prepare a more thorough presentation of the whole subject.” “Your article,” he wrote, “beyond any doubt is going to make you ‘unpopular’ in places. Do not let this discourage you, or force you into a ‘defensive’ posture.”4
But there was more to come. Alexey wanted to print an article he had been given on the Shroud of Turin. When he sent it for Fr. Seraphim to check, Fr. Seraphim wrote back suggesting that it not be printed in its present form since it was full of Roman Catholic expressions which would immediately close the minds of some Orthodox. Unfortunately, this reply came too late: before Alexey could communicate Fr. Seraphim’s objections to the author of the article, the latter had the article printed and sent it out to everyone on the mailing list of Nikodemos. “When I discovered this I was distraught,” Alexey noted later, “for Fr. Seraphim’s objections were good and thoughtful ones, and could have been incorporated into the article without difficulty.”5
The Shroud article made Alexey’s critics even more convinced that he was an unrepentant Catholic. As Fr. Seraphim recalled: “We sent two long letters to Fr. ——— in defense of Alexey (while admitting his mistakes) and begging him to apply Vladika John’s principle of trusting and encouraging missionary laborers and not trying to make them fit into a preconceived pattern or forcing them to submit to some standard ‘authority.’ To our grief Fr. ——— replied that on this point Vladika John was wrong, and converts must at times be ‘stomped on.'”6
Fr. Seraphim had noticed other signs of this same mentality. “We were frankly horrified,” he wrote, “when we heard that Fr. ——— had suggested a year or so ago that Vladika Vitaly [of Canada] be somehow placed ‘in charge’ of converts or convert priests, to avoid the ‘mistakes’ of the past. Well, yes, that might mean the end of the ‘mistakes’ of the past (but somehow we doubt even that), but it would also mean the end of the Orthodox missionary movement in the Church Abroad, period. (And it wouldn’t help to have someone better in charge—the principle itself is the dangerous thing.)”7
Alexey soon received a 21-page “Open Letter” from the Boston monastery against the articles he printed. “Its author,” wrote Fr. Seraphim to Alexey, “has obviously taken unfair advantage of you in order thoroughly to discredit you, based on the reputation of the monastery as against you, a ‘nobody.’ He is riding on a current of intellectual fashion, and this will pass, and it will not be for the good of the monastery that it has allowed itself to do this and not faced the real intellectual problems of the day. Pray to Vladika John for guidance. Know that not everything depends on what some people ‘think’ of you, and also that at a proper time others will speak up for you.”8
The “Open Letter” was published in a newsletter and sent all over the country. Years later, recalling this and other actions of the Boston monastery and its followers, Fr. Seraphim wrote: “The fact itself that they objected to the articles did not upset us … it was rather the way in which they objected. Through our extensive correspondence with [them]**, it became clear that they believed that on such subjects it is not possible to have different opinions or interpretations: the ‘Orthodox view’ must be one in favor of evolution (!) and against the Shroud. We had thought that Orthodox Christians could at least discuss these subjects together in a friendly way, but according to them one cannot discuss these questions, but must accept the opinion of the ‘Orthodox experts’ on them…. After this, they began to tell people to ‘stay away from Etna’ because Alexey Young was ‘just a Roman Catholic,’ and we know people who followed this advice….
“Thus, our first cause to be upset with them was our discovery that they had formed a political party within our Church, and those who do not agree with the ‘party line’ are dismissed and regarded as non-existent, and people are even warned about the ‘dangers’ of having contact with such ones…. In the Russian tradition of ‘longsuffering,’ we said little about this to anyone for a long time and did not have a similar feeling towards them, hoping that this was somehow a ‘misunderstanding’ that would improve with time.”9
By 1973 Fathers Seraphim and Herman began to discover that, not only had a “political party” been formed, but it also used political techniques to achieve its aims. For example, in 1972 one of the priests in the group suggested to Alexey Young that he ‘merge’ his Nikodemos with their own newsletter and that they would be happy to print the combined periodical to make it “easier” for Alexey. “We thought this a very strange thing at the time,” Fr. Seraphim recalled, “and simply advised Alexey to continue his own independent publishing; only later did we realize that by this means they intended to ‘take over’ Nikodemos and ensure that it would never print anything not in accordance with the ‘party line.’ Later they told Andrew Bond in England that they would distribute his publication, The Old Calendarist, in America, but only on condition that no articles be printed without their censorship. In 1973, when we had asked them if they could help with the distribution of our proposed Russian-language periodical (which we were never able to begin), they insisted that we let them print it also—and we began to realize that even our Russian-language work was to be ‘censored in Boston’—and not even by Russian-speaking people, but by converts who had learned some Russian.
“Other ‘political techniques’ include ‘spreading the word’ that some particular publication or person is ‘outside the party line.’ For example, after the publication of the ‘Shroud’ article, Alexey received a number of letters from [the group], all canceling their subscriptions to Nikodemos and offering, instead of the friendly criticism one would expect from fellow Orthodox Christians, a cold cutting him off. Alexey was so depressed and hurt by the treatment they gave him at that time that he would have given up printing altogether if we had not supported him and told him that the attitude of other people in our Church was not at all cold like that.”10
Thus, on many occasions, the fathers received clear indications that the new party intended to make their “party line” prevail at least over the convert wing of the Russian Church Abroad, and if possible over the Russians also. “This whole attempt,” Fr. Seraphim wrote, “is so foreign to the Orthodox spirit that we have found it to be extremely distasteful, and a kind of ‘Jesuitism’ that has crept into our Church.”11
Fr. Seraphim noted how the new party had begun to practice the “Jesuit” principle of “the end justifies the means.” “When I went to their conference in 1973,” Fr. Seraphim recalled, “[one of their priests] told me something that I did not fully appreciate then, but which I now see as a part of the ‘problem’ which they have become for us: He told me that if one is working for a good church cause, it is permissible for one to lie, cheat, etc., for the sake of the ‘good cause.’ Sadly, we’ve seen this ‘Jesuit’ principle in operation among them in the way they spread tales about people they do not like, misrepresent the position of people they wish to criticize, etc.”12 At one point the fraction began quoting letters against Alexey which the latter knew for certain he had never written! “The fact that you are having quoted against you letters that don’t exist,” Fr. Seraphim advised Alexey, “should make you sober and realize that against that kind of attack you can’t fight if you are an honest man. Therefore, don’t. Let them do and say what they will.”13
More than anything else, it was the “open letters” coming from the faction that led the fathers to conclude that something had gone wrong. Beginning in 1973, these letters were directed to people within the Russian Church Abroad whom the party wished to criticize and correct, including its chief hierarch and several bishops. “Almost without exception,” Fr. Seraphim noted, “these letters have made a bad impression on us. In most of their individual points they are ‘correct,’ but in their tone, they are filled with self-justification, subtle mockery of others, and a tone of cold superiority.”14
Many of these letters were actually lengthy essays, filled with long theological passages which were, at best, only loosely related to the issues at hand. One young convert in England, on receiving such a letter about himself, was very disheartened; but Fr. Seraphim identified for him what was behind it. It was, he said, “a cold and calculating vehicle for their self-esteem, behind a mask of absolutely fake humility and ‘spirituality’ (the Russians would call it ‘oily’)… Father Herman, who has a thoroughly Russian approach to such things, said after reading this letter: ‘The man who wrote this does not believe in God,’ which is to say: everything holy, spiritual, and canonical in it is used for some ulterior motive, and the letter is devoid of Orthodox heart and feeling…. The letter itself does not deserve an answer. They are experts in this tactic and would tear any reply of yours to shreds, knowing how to make it appear that whatever you say is wrong.”15
Fr. Seraphim called the attitude that produced these letters “being spiritual while looking in a mirror.”16 He noticed that all the letters coming from people in the party “breathe the same spirit as if written by the same person—even though some of the writers we know personally to be not like that at all…. Just recently I came across some letters to us from Boston twelve years ago—and what a difference! They were just strugglers then and too bogged down in daily labors to be writing such long-winded epistles. What has happened?”17
In order to have its own views prevail in the Russian Church Abroad, the new faction did not stop at “open letters,” but began to systematically undermine the authority of the most respected Orthodox teachers of recent centuries. Its chief weapon in this, noted Fr. Seraphim, “is the recent academic fashion of looking everywhere for ‘Western influence’ in our theological texts.”18 Most of the recent teachers, from St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain down to Archbishop Averky, were accused of being under this influence, of being “scholastics.” The theologians of the party were giving people to believe that they knew more about Orthodox theology than St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, St. John of Kronstadt (who talked about the “merits” of Christ), Archbishop John (who commissioned a service to be written to the Western Holy Father, Blessed Augustine), and the Optina Elders. “Such presumption,” wrote Fr. Seraphim, “can only do harm to the real cause of renewing Orthodox life by drawing from the fresh springs of Orthodox tradition.”19
As Fr. Seraphim realized, the alarm over “Western influence” was based upon a half-truth. “Fr. Michael Pomazansky,” he wrote, “and other good theologians will readily admit that there were such ‘Western influences’ in the theological texts of the latter period of the Russian (and Greek) history—but they also emphasize that these influences were external ones which never touched the heart of Orthodox doctrine. To say otherwise is to admit that Orthodoxy was lost (!) in these last centuries, and only now are young ‘theologians’ … ‘finding’ again the Orthodoxy of the Fathers…. If such theological giants as Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow,*** Bishop Theophan the Recluse, Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, Archbishop Averky of Jordanville, Fr. Michael Pomazansky, and in general the theology taught in our seminaries for the last century and more, are not really ‘Orthodox’ at all—then we are in a very dangerous condition, and where are we to find our theological authority by which to stand firm against all the errors and temptations of these times? [The theologians of the new party] teach: We will teach you what is right, we will read the Holy Fathers for you and teach you the correct doctrine, we have excellent translators and interpreters who are more Orthodox than Bishop Theophan, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, Archbishop Averky, and all the rest. This is a terribly dangerous game that they are playing; they are unwittingly undermining the Orthodox ground under their feet.”20
Fr. Seraphim believed that what these apparent traditionalists and zealots were doing was precisely what the so-called liberals of the Parisian school were doing: severing the link, cutting off the recent roots to the ancient Fathers, in order that they themselves might be the authorities. The new theologians of the “traditionalist” school now claimed that they had been “able to sift through the Scholastic attritions to our theology, and return to the Faith of the Fathers.” This was the claim of the Parisian school, also. As Fr. Seraphim wrote to one priest: “This points you in the direction of a kind of Protestantism, by placing a gap in the Orthodox theological tradition which only your group manages to span by skipping the interval of the ‘Latin captivity’ and getting back to the ‘original sources.’… The very notion of ‘Latin captivity’ is played up by Fr. Alexander Schmemann and his colleagues precisely with the aim of destroying the idea of the continuity of Orthodox tradition throughout the centuries. DO NOT FALL INTO THAT TRAP! There are great theologians of the past several centuries who used expressions one might like to see improved; but that does not mean that they are in ‘Latin captivity’ or should be discredited. They just do not use these expressions in the same context as the Latins, and therefore the issue is not a very important one.”21
“A well-balanced Orthodoxy,” Fr. Seraphim wrote elsewhere, “can easily take any foreign influences that come and straighten them out, make them Orthodox; but a one-sided ‘party-line’ cuts itself off from the mainstream of Orthodoxy.”22
In the end, Fr. Seraphim identified this neo-traditionalism as a kind of “renovationism from the right.” “‘Boston Orthodoxy,'” he wrote, “is actually a kind of right wing of ‘Parisian Orthodoxy’—a ‘reformed’ Orthodoxy which happens to be mostly ‘correct,’ but is actually just as much outside the tradition of Orthodoxy as Paris, just as much the creation of human logic. A terrible temptation for our times.”23
Concerning this lack of roots in the neo-traditionalists, Fr. Seraphim wrote: “They have to ‘do it themselves,’ with no one and no stable tradition to correct them. Their ‘roots’ are rather in twentieth-century America, which accounts for the ‘modern’ tone of their epistles [and] their failure to understand the whole significance, religious origin and context of ‘evolution.’ … We’ve already seen several examples (particularly when they try to get into the Russian sphere, in which they are totally lost) of how they jump on some points purely on the basis of impression and whim, owing precisely to their lack of a thorough theological background. They do not trust their Russian elders (and we rather doubt that they have any Greek elders to take counsel of either)…. They virtually boast that they alone are ‘great theologians’ who have just now rediscovered a lost theological tradition; but actually their theology is remarkably crude and simplistic, especially when put beside the writings of a truly great theologian in the unbroken Orthodox tradition—our own Fr. Michael Pomazansky of Jordanville, who is subtle, refined, deep—and totally overlooked by the ‘bright young theologians.’ … We ourselves, not being ‘theologians,’… frequently take counsel from Fr. Michael and others, whose judgment we trust and respect, knowing that thus we are in a good tradition and do not have to trust our own faulty judgment for all the answers.”24
One point that the neo-traditionalists took issue with was the use of the nineteenth-century Orthodox Catechism of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, which the later Catechism of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky had once been meant to replace. They called Metropolitan Philaret’s work “Roman Catholic” and “awful” even though, as we have seen, it had been this very catechism that Archbishop John had always recommended to converts.25
Another point concerned saints whom the neo-traditionalists said were “not Orthodox” or even heretics, and should be thrown out of the Calendar. Fr. Seraphim was deeply disappointed when their newsletter published a pointless attack on his beloved Blessed Augustine. The article called those who venerated Augustine “untrained theologically” and “Latin-leaning.” As Fr. Seraphim pointed out in a letter, however, this would include Archbishop John, St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, and the Greek and Russian theological tradition of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not to mention the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council. “The universal tradition of the Orthodox Church,” he wrote, “accepts Blessed Augustine as a Holy Father, albeit with a [theological] flaw—very much like St. Gregory of Nyssa in the East.”26
The attack on Blessed Augustine revealed to Fr. Seraphim that the neo-traditionalist theologians were outside the spirit of Orthodox theology: “not,” he said, “because they are not smart or well-read enough, but because they are too passionately involved in showing how right they always are.”27 In another letter he wrote: “The true Orthodox perspective is, first of all, to distrust one’s abstract ‘theological’ outlook and ask: what do our elders think; what did recent Fathers think? And taking these opinions respectfully, one then begins to put together the picture for oneself…. Anyone who has read Blessed Augustine’s Confessions with sympathy will not readily want to ‘throw him out of the Calendar’—for he will see in this book that fiery zeal and love which is precisely what is so lacking in our Church life today!… Perhaps Blessed Augustine’s very ‘Westernness’ makes him more relevant for us today who are submerged in the West and its way of thought.”28
Fr. Seraphim recalled how, when he had once asked Archbishop John about Metropolitan Anthony’s “dogma,” the latter had dismissed the subject and had instead begun to speak about Blessed Augustine, as if he associated Metropolitan Anthony and Blessed Augustine in his mind.**** Taking an example from this, Fr. Seraphim once said, “If one calls Blessed Augustine a heretic, one has to call Metropolitan Anthony one, also; but if one accepts Metropolitan Anthony as a great hierarch while forgiving him for his error, then one has to do the same with Blessed Augustine.”29 This view was in marked contrast to the logic of the neo-traditionalist theologians, who, while rejecting Blessed Augustine, asserted that Metropolitan Anthony was virtually the only teacher of recent times who was entirely free of “Western influence.”
As Fr. Seraphim once told Fr. Herman, the real “Western influence” was to be seen in those who placed the opinion of one man (in this case, the leader of their party) above the testimony of living tradition. It was just such a concept of authority, he said, that had caused the theological errors in the contemporary Roman Church. In one letter he lamented, “Has our Orthodoxy in America become so narrow that we must be under the dictation of a ‘pope-expert’ and we must accept a ‘party-line’ on every conceivable subject? This is against everything Vladika John taught us and did in missionary labors.”30
Father Seraphim gave this type of narrowness the term “super-correctness,” sometimes calling it “correctness disease.” He saw how it could have a strong pull on young people, both converts, and Western-born native Orthodox. The new “super-correct” authorities, he observed, “offer them some ‘simple’ answers to complex questions, and that is very attractive to those a little uncertain or shaky in their faith…. We know many converts who grasp at ‘correctness’ like a baby’s bottle, and I think they could save their souls better by being a little ‘incorrect’ but humbler.”31
With its modern, overly logical approach, the “super-correct” wing had set itself above the simple believing Greeks of the “old school”; and Fr. Seraphim perceived how their mentality was also foreign to that of long-suffering Russians. In a letter, he wrote: “One basic element seems lacking in all their ‘wisdom,’ one which the Holy Fathers emphasize is essential for genuine Orthodox life: suffering. The ‘wisdom’ born of leisure and idle disputes is not worth having, but the wisdom born of deep suffering (such as God has given above all to the Russians of our day) is alone truly balanced and sound, even if it cannot give a glib answer to every mocking question. Let us try to enter more deeply into this suffering, God giving us His grace to do so!”32
One of the “simple answers” provided by the super-correct contingent concerned the relations of the various Orthodox Churches. These people maintained that all Churches on the New Calendar or involved in ecumenical activities were “heretical” and “invalid,” that they were “no churches at all,” that their bishops were “pseudo bishops,” and that they had no grace in their sacraments.
Some of the leading priests of the new faction, before being received into the Russian Church Abroad, had been ordained by one of these New Calendar Churches, the Greek Archdiocese of America. These priests had a whole theory worked out whereby the Greek Archdiocese, due to ecumenical activities, had supposedly lost its grace sometime after they had been ordained.
Unfortunately, one of the priests had a brother who was still a priest in the Greek Archdiocese. During a visit to Platina, he told Fr. Herman, “I certainly don’t pray for my brother!”—meaning that he would not pray for him when the Orthodox are commemorated during the Divine Liturgy. Astounded, Fr. Herman went to tell Fr. Seraphim. “Can you imagine?” he asked. “He’s talking about his own blood brother, ordained by the same bishop as he!”
Fr. Seraphim blinked his eyes with astonishment. “Well, it certainly is ‘correct,'” he said with a sigh.
When The Orthodox Word published an appeal from the poverty-stricken Orthodox Church in Uganda33—which was in desperate need of food, clothing, spiritual books, icons, etc.—another of the super-correct priests wrote to the fathers inquiring whether these African Orthodox were “indeed brethren.” This priest maintained that if they belonged to a New Calendar, allegedly “graceless” jurisdiction (which in fact they did), they should not be helped. “I would rather donate whatever I can to some worthy Orthodox family or organization,” he concluded.
“How can we combat this cold-hearted elitism?”34 Fr. Seraphim asked on reading this letter.
The super-correct view of grace—or rather gracelessness—caused many problems for the Russian Church Abroad. The faction’s leaders were representing to people—especially impressionable converts—that the bishops of the Russian Church Abroad considered this Church virtually the only Orthodox body left in the world, most of the others being graceless. As Fr. Seraphim observed, however, “our bishops refuse to ‘define’ this matter and make everything ‘black and white’; and I am sure that, perhaps without exception, our bishops not only refuse to declare them without grace but positively believe (at least by giving them the benefit of any doubt) that they do have grace.”35 Many of these hierarchs had spoken powerfully against ecumenism, Sergianism, etc., but they had not formally broken communion with any Church save the Moscow Patriarchate—and even there they had not presumed to proclaim it “without grace.” As Fr. Seraphim wrote elsewhere, “The bishops [of the Russian Church Abroad], on various occasions, have specifically refused to make such a proclamation; and in their statement at the 1976 Sobor they specifically addressed the sincere and struggling priests of the Moscow Patriarchate in terms reserved only for priests who possess and dispense the grace of God.”36
Going to Greece, the super-correct faction tried to create political ties between the Russian Church Abroad and the most extreme of all Old Calendar groups: the “Matthewites,” who believed that not only were all the New Calendar Churches without grace, but any Church that had anything at all to do with them was also graceless. This plan later backfired, for the Matthewites learned that, contrary to what they had been led to believe, the Russian Church Abroad was far too “liberal” for them.
In 1976 the English-speaking Orthodox mission was also struck a blow when people (mostly insecure converts) who had been baptized in other canonical Orthodox Churches were directed by the super-correct contingent to get rebaptized in the Russian Church Abroad. “Recently,” Fr. Seraphim wrote, “some wished to see such a ‘rebaptism’ performed in our Western American diocese, but our Archbishop Anthony wisely refused to allow it, in which we gave him our full support—for indeed, it would have been tantamount to an open declaration of the absence of grace in the Greek Archdiocese.”37
Bishop Nektary was alarmed to hear of this unprecedented practice. “Perhaps the second baptism,” he remarked, “washes away the grace of the first one.”
At the height of the correctness mania in 1976, Fr. Seraphim explained to one convert why his path could not be with this type of “zealotry.” “Their ‘strictness,'” he wrote, “forces them to become so involved in church politics that spiritual questions become quite secondary. I know for myself that if I would have to sit down and think out for myself exactly which shade of ‘zealotry’ is the ‘correct’ one today—I will lose all peace of mind and be constantly preoccupied with questions of breaking communion, of how this will seem to others, of ‘what will the Greeks think’ (and which Greeks?), and ‘what will the Metropolitan think?’ And I will not have time or inclination to become inspired by the wilderness, by the Holy Fathers, by the marvelous saints of ancient and modern times who lived in a higher world. In our times especially, it is not possible to be entirely detached from these questions, but let us place first things first.”38
In another letter, he wrote: “We who wish to remain in the true tradition of Orthodoxy will have to be zealous and firm in our Orthodoxy without being fanatics, and without presuming to teach our bishops what they should do. Above all we must strive to preserve the true fragrance of Orthodoxy, being at least a little ‘not of this world,’ detached from all the cares and politics even of the Church, nourishing ourselves on the otherworldly food the Church gives us in such abundance.”39
There were times when Fr. Herman feared that the super-correct group was actually powerful enough to set the tone for all the converts coming to traditional Orthodoxy in America, and particularly to the Russian Church Abroad. But Fr. Seraphim, although it hurt him to watch people being captured by this extremism, was not convinced. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, he told Fr. Herman, “It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.”
Judging from the way things were going, Fr. Seraphim predicted that the super-correct group would eventually stage a schism and end up as a narrow, isolated sect of its own. In his letters over the years, he stated this many times:
June 15, 1976: “The ‘right wing’ of Orthodoxy will probably be divided into many small ‘jurisdictions’ in future, most of them anathematizing and fighting with the others…. We must keep up the living contact with the older Russian clergy, even if some of them may seem to us a little too ‘liberal’—otherwise we will be lost in the ‘zealot’ jungle which is growing up around us!”40
July 8, 1980: “We ourselves have felt for some time that Fr. ——— and others who share his attitude are heading straight for a schism, which now seems almost inevitable if he does not change his direction. Such a schism nobody needs; there are so many groups of ‘correct’ Orthodox in Greece now (none in communion with the others) that a new group will only prove the devil’s power to divide Orthodox Christians.”41October 27, 1980: “I look with pain and sadness on this whole situation; … but I am powerless to do anything about it…. The inevitable schism which they are now preparing (if they don’t change soon) will be the last step in a process which only they can change.”42
September 17, 1981: “Judging from the last outburst, the schism is close, and I’m afraid the ‘silent majority’ of our priests and laymen will only heave a sigh of relief when the troublemakers are gone—leaving behind them a bad harvest of ill will, and continuing their name-calling and hatred in a louder tone from their new ‘jurisdiction.’
“May God preserve us from all of this! Please forgive my frankness, but I feel the time is very late, and anyone who can do anything had better do it now. I know God will continue to preserve His Church and I believe He will prosper the true Orthodox mission which is just beginning in our Church…. But the tragedy of souls caught in a self-willed schism will be incalculable.”43
December 8, 1981: “How tragic that some are now leading their flocks (albeit still very small flocks) out of communion with the only people who can still teach them what Orthodoxy is and help them to wake up from their fantasies of a ‘super-correct’ Orthodoxy that exists nowhere in the world.”44
Not long after Fr. Seraphim’s repose, his prediction, unfortunately, came true just as he had written.
“All this will pass, like some horrible nightmare,”45 Fr. Seraphim remarked in a letter. Looking back at his support of the super-correct group in previous years, he wrote: “We feel ourselves badly betrayed…. All these years we trusted that they were of one mind and soul with us, giving everything they had for the cause of the English-speaking mission. But really, it seems that all this time they were only building for their own glory, cruelly abusing the trust of our simple Russian bishops, priests, and laymen….46 We fear that all our articles about ‘zealotry’ in the past years have helped to produce a monster!”47
Of course, there was disillusionment on both sides. The leaders of the new party, having been inspired to take up the zealot position in the first place largely thanks to the Platina fathers, assumed that the fathers would naturally join their movement and begin to take their directives from the Boston monastery. Some of them were truly disappointed when it became clear that the fathers were not going to follow their line. They had thought that Fr. Seraphim wanted absolute strictness just like they did, but in this they were wrong. Fr. Seraphim wanted Truth, which is on a deeper level altogether. “They have built a church career for themselves,” Fr. Seraphim wrote, “on a false but attractive premise: that the chief danger to the Church today is lack of strictness. No—the chief danger is something much deeper—the loss of the savor of Orthodoxy, a movement in which they themselves are participating, even in their ‘strictness.’… ‘Strictness’ will not save us if we don’t have anymore the feeling and taste of Orthodoxy.”48
During the last decade of his life, Fr. Seraphim poured an incredible amount of time and energy into the question of “super-correctness,” having to uphold the Orthodox consciousness handed down from his Fathers against the many idiosyncrasies of the neo-traditionalist “theology.” Not only were articles needed, but also carefully thought-out answers to the many who came to him wondering about the new tone that was being set in the Church.
Looking back on this, one might be inclined to regard it as a waste of time. These were, in Fr. Seraphim’s words, “college boys playing at Orthodoxy,”49 trying to prove they were tougher than everyone else. They were not sensitive thinkers like Fr. Seraphim and were not in the least interested in what he had to say if it did not accord with the party line.
Several considerations, however, lead one to conclude that his time was not wasted at all. First of all, as Fr. Seraphim was acutely aware, souls were at stake in this matter, for in leading people into schism from the Church, the super-correct faction was blocking off their means of salvation. “A number of people,” Fr. Seraphim wrote, “have already left our Church in anger, and I see others evidently preparing to go the same way. Our warnings on this subject in The Orthodox Word are meant to save as many people as possible from this suicidal step. Some dangerous signs: Just recently the priest of the ——— church in ——— told two of my spiritual children whom I had sent there, that our Russian bishops are ‘betraying’ him by their ‘ecumenism’; another Greek priest has told his flock that soon they will again be without bishops because they will have to leave the Russian Church Abroad; another clergyman openly calls some of our bishops ‘heretics.’ The perils about which we are warning are not imaginary, not at all.”50
Secondly, we should consider the effect that this matter had in rounding out Fr. Seraphim’s message to the modern world. As we have seen, super-correctness (and not always in the obvious forms mentioned above) is a big temptation for Orthodox people of these latter times, when “the love of many grows cold.”***** Indeed, correctness is built into the very word “Orthodox,” which means “right worship.” A key question for our days, which Fr. Seraphim had to face, was: How does one remain a right (Orthodox) believer without becoming self-righteous?
It was because of Fr. Seraphim had a head-on collision with “correct” extremism that he was able to help his contemporaries out of this ditch. If he had not had it, it is likely that his writings would have proved one-sided. Even if he had avoided this pitfall himself, his words would not have been able to prevent less balanced individuals from going off the deep end on the right side. As it stands now, however, his message to people of today is full of sobering warnings against renovationism on the right as well as on the left, against legalism and loveless externalism under the guise of “traditionalism.” “Anything outward,” he had said, “can become a counterfeit.”51
Finally, we should not neglect to mention the value of all this on the formation of Fr. Seraphim’s own soul. He himself had been a convert to “zealot Orthodoxy”; and it was necessary that he go deeper into the phenomenon of zealotry, which by itself was not the answer. By dealing with it, and even more by suffering over it throughout many years, he had been forced to eradicate vestiges of cold elitism from his Christian faith, even while maintaining his devotion to the cause of “true Orthodoxy.” As he wrote in a letter, “I think in all of this, despite appearances, God is helping us to a deeper, truer Christianity. So much of our Orthodoxy today is so self-righteous and smug, or at least lukewarm and comfortable, that we need to be shaken up a little. May God only grant that His sheep not be lost!”52 And in another letter: “Deep down I do hope that we will ‘suffer through’ this whole problem and that the deeper heart of our Church will make itself known in the end.”53
In this suffering Fr. Seraphim was able, as we shall see, to achieve that rare combination of an uncompromising stand for Truth and a warm, living Orthodoxy of the heart. Such is what makes all the difference between experts of dead “traditionalism” and true carriers of living tradition such as Archbishop John.
The following abbreviations have been used in these Notes:
FSR—Fr. Seraphim Rose
LER—Letter of Eugene Rose
LFSR—Letter of Fr. Seraphim Rose
JER—Philosophical Journal of Eugene Rose, 1960–62
OW—The Orthodox Word
SHB—St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California
CSHB—Chronicle of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, written by Eugene/Fr. Seraphim Rose
Letter, Journal, and Chronicle dates are according to the civil calendar, except where a Church feast day is indicated, in which case both the Church (Julian or “Old” Calendar) and civil (Gregorian or “New” Calendar) dates are given.
Most of the letters of Fr. Seraphim cited in this book were preserved in carbon copy by Fr. Seraphim himself; some were sent by their recipients to the author for publication in this book. In some of the references to letters the names of the recipients have been abbreviated, and in others, the names have been omitted altogether in order to protect the privacy of living persons.
The book Letters from Fr. Seraphim by Fr. Alexey Young includes many letters that were not preserved by Fr. Seraphim in carbon copy. When we have quoted these letters directly from this book, references to the book have been given.
* His instructor at that time had been Fr. Leonid Upshinsky, who had taught classes on the first few chapter of Genesis according to Patristic commentaries. ** In this and other passages from Fr. Seraphim’s letters quoted subsequently in this chapter, we have removed the names of individuals. *** On Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, see pp. 478, 508-9 above. **** See p. 509 above. *****
2. Fr. Leonid Kavelin, Elder Macarius of Optina (SHB, 1995), p. 47.
3. LFSR to Alexey Young, April 18, 1973.
5. Fr. Alexey Young, Letters from Fr. Seraphim, p. 81.
6. LFSR to Fr. Ioannikios, Transfiguration of the Lord, Aug. 6/19, 1973.
7. LFSR to Fr. N., Palm Sunday, April 9/22, 1973.
8. LFSR to Alexey Young, July 12, 1973.
9. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
13. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 17, 1975.
14. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
15. LFSR to A., June 4, 1976.
16. LFSR to Vanya (John), April 14, 1981.
17. LFSR to Fr. Hilarion (later Archbishop), Oct. 3, 1979.
18. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
19. LFSR to Alexey Young, week of Nov. 6, 1973.
20. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
21. LFSR to Fr. N., Sept. 1, 1973.
22. LFSR to Andrew Bond, Bright Saturday, April 18/May 1, 1976.
23. LFSR to Alexey Young, Third Day of Trinity, June 2/15, 1976.
24. LFSR to Alexey Young, week of Nov. 6, 1973; LFSR to Alexey Young, St. Thomas Sunday, April 23/May 6, 1973; LFSR to Andrew Bond, Bright Saturday, April 18/May 1, 1976; LFSR to Alexey Young, St. Thomas Sunday, 1973.
25. LFSR to Fr. Roman Lukianov, Nov. 14, 1979.
26. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 15, 1975.
28. LFSR to Nicholas, March 30, 1976.
29. FSR, as told to Fr. Herman Podmoshensky.
30. LFSR to Fr. Igor, Oct. 12, 1975.
31. LFSR to Andrew Bond, Bright Saturday, April 18/May 1, 1976; LFSR to Fr. Alexis, June 23, 1976.
32. LFSR to Alexey Young, July 12, 1973.
33. “Help the Orthodox in Uganda!” OW, no. 92 (1980), pp. 98, 151.
34. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Oct. 27, 1980.
35. LFSR to Andrew Bond, June 4, 1976.
36. LFSR to George and Margaret, Jan. 10, 1981.
37. LFSR to Andrew Bond, Bright Saturday, April 18/May 1, 1976.
38. LFSR to Daniel Olson, Apodosis of Ascension, May 29/June 11, 1976.
39. LFSR to Alexey Young, Third Day of Trinity, June 2/15, 1976.
41. LFSR to Fr. Michael, July 8, 1980.
42. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Oct. 27, 1980.
43. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Sept. 17, 1981.
44. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Dec. 8, 1981.
45. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 17, 1975.
46. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 15, 1975.
47. LFSR to Alexey Young, Third Day of Trinity, June 2/15, 1976.
48. LFSR to Andrew Bond, June 4, 1976; LFSR to Daniel Olson, Apodosis of Ascension, May 29/June 11, 1976.
49. LFSR to Alexey Young, Oct. 15, 1975.
50. LFSR to George and Margaret, Jan. 10, 1981.
51. [FSR], “Archbishop Andrew of New Diveyevo,” OW, no. 63 (1975), p. 137.
52. LFSR to Andrew Bond, April 4, 1978.
53. LFSR to Fr. Demetrios, Oct. 27, 1980.
From the book Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press), pp. 518-532. Copyright 2003 by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California.