Letters From Father Seraphim Rose is a compilation of letters that Father Seraphim wrote to one of his spiritual children, Father Alexey, a man who started a nearby mission and eventually went on to become a priest. Unlike other works of Father Seraphim that I have reviewed, this book offers more of an intimate look into his personality, daily concerns, and strains of thought that help you come to know him on a more personal level. You realize that this holy man, who is likely to be canonized as a saint in the future, had struggles just like us. If you’re familiar with his work, you can identify ideas in germ form that later became codified in his articles, books, and lectures.
Modern culture is plastic and self-centered
It is no exaggeration to say that from the perspective of a normal life viewed even fifty years ago, life today has become abnormal. Fundamental values and concepts of behavior have been turned upside-down. The spoiled and pampered generations know no law except the fulfillment of personal happiness now. Parents bow down before their children’s whims, and these same children grow to adulthood merely substituting their childhood toys and games for grown-up amusement. Life becomes a constant search for “fun,” which is so empty of any serious meaning that a visitor from any 19th-century country, looking at our popular television programs, amusement parks, advertisements, movies, music—at almost any aspect of our popular culture—would think he had stumbled across a land of imbeciles who had lost all contact with normal reality.
This “plastic” culture, which has been spawned by the “me generation,” cannot support the development of normal human life, much less inspire a genuine search for truth. When this “me generation” turns to religion—which has been happening very frequently in the past several decades—it is usually to a “plastic,” self-centered form of religion, filled with all the fantasy of a television program. In only a few short years this country has been inundated with a shocking variety of brainwashing and mind-bending cults, deified gurus, swamis, and other self-made “holy men.” And these are not the only ones who vie for the total allegiance of souls. The secular world today presents a constant state of temptation which makes equally totalitarian demands on the soul. We are constantly confronted by it—whether in the background music heard everywhere in markets and businesses, in the public signs and billboards, and in the home itself, where television often becomes the secret ruler of the household, dictating modern values, opinions, and tastes.
My current mission is to identify thought patterns, habits, and inclinations that are worldly in nature and target them for elimination. If I cannot eliminate them due to my weakness and desire for what is not God, I aim for moderation. One example is secular music, which is pleasing to my ears because it makes no demands on me and helps me entirely forget about following God and His commandments. I hope to completely cease listening to such music besides when I’m exposed to it while shopping in a supermarket or retail store. After a long period of partial abstainment, I can tell you that my ears cry out in pain when it is subjected to new music that everyone else seems to enjoy.
What to do in the face of spiritual obstacles
…we would advise you to go right ahead with your plans, doing all that you can yourself and leaving the outcome in God’s hands. That you may experience difficulties ahead is to be expected, for the devil doesn’t sleep; but unless the difficulties make your efforts absolutely fruitless and impossible to fulfill, don’t fall in spirit but go right ahead according to your knowledge and with the counsel of others.
In my secular days, I used to believe that if something happened easily, it was “fate” or “destiny.” For example, if I arrived in a new European city, and quickly found a cozy apartment and a cool nightclub where meeting women was easy, I thought fate was smiling down on me to enjoy unbridled pleasure. This trained me to avoid hardships and take the easy path, eroding my masculinity and making me something of a spoiled child who couldn’t bother putting in any type of labor without the immediate expectation of carnal rewards that damaged my soul.
What is the state of the Orthodox Church?
We still believe in the Orthodoxy of most of the basic jurisdictions in America, but view them as being in different stages of falling away from Orthodoxy, and different priests and laymen in each jurisdiction trying more or less hard (or not at all) to remain Orthodox.
Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky: “…God’s mercy does not leave us, and even today one may say that there is a movement of genuine Orthodoxy which consciously… hungers for more than the ‘customary’ Orthodoxy which is powerless before the onslaughts of a world refined in destroying souls… It cannot be that the flame of truly orthodox zeal will die out before the Second Coming of Christ; nor that if this flame exists, Christ our God will not show His zealots, even now, how to lead a true and inspired Orthodox life…”
Fr. Alexey: “Fr. Seraphim constantly warned that Orthodoxy in the free world faced the dangerous temptation of becoming what Fr. Dimitri Dudko spoke of as ‘spirituality with comfort’…
It is unlikely that all the current Churches that are “Eastern Orthodox” today will remain so, but there will always be at least one visible Church in the Last Days that remained true to Lord Jesus Christ.
Common temptations for converts to the Orthodox faith
Fr. Alexey: “The spiritual pitfalls Fr. Seraphim mentioned here concerned the temptation almost all converts experience: to jump directly from the ABC’s of Orthodox spirituality and teaching—those found in classic texts such as Unseen Warfare and The Way of the Pilgrim, for example—to what he called the ‘graduate level’ of the Philokalia and other very profound and exalted worked. The danger of pride and prelest for beginners was, Fr. Seraphim said, very great. Orthodoxy not being a mere intellectual exercise, he felt that newcomers to the Faith should start with what he called ‘baby milk’ before going on to a ‘strong wine.’
In the case of our converts, it’s obvious that those who insist or are talking into receiving baptism after already being members of the Church are trying, out of a feeling of insecurity, to receive something which the Sacrament does not give: psychological security, a making up for their past failures while already Orthodox, a belonging to the “club” of those who are “right,” an automatic spiritual “correctness.”
We can do nothing without God
Last week, after our truck caught fire (!), I was about ready to sink into a rather gloomy mood; but we did get the issue worked out (we pushed the truck to the road and then coasted down—the postmaster asked no questions, as he’s already used to our strange arrivals, a la the Lone Ranger!) and it looks as though the damage isn’t much after all. And thus does God faithfully teach us patience and to trust in Him and not our own powers, which after all can’t do a thing!
The end times
In the middle of the apocalyptic chapter of Matthew (24:32; also Mark 13:28), the Saviour takes a parable from the fig tree and says: “Even so ye also, when ye see all these things, know ye that it is nigh.” In other words, we must watch for the signs of the times so we will not be deceived. Therefore it is not precisely true that, “the King of Glory may arrive at any moment”—it is only those who have not discerned the signs of the times who will be totally taken by surprise; but watchful Christians will know ahead of time “this it is nigh,” having recognized the signs and seen through the deception of Antichrist, with whose coming the end is but a few years away—the exact day is not known until it comes, but its approach becomes ever more obvious—just in the way we see the fig tree leafing out.
“The Holy Fathers of the Skete (of Egypt) prophesied about the last generation, saying: What did we do? And one of the, great in life, Ischyrion by name, said: We fulfilled the commandments of God. They asked again: Those who come after us, will they do anything? He said: They will achieve half of what we did. And then after them, what? And Ischyrion said: The men of that generation will have no deeds whatever; but there will come upon them temptation, and those who are worthy in this temptation will be higher than us and our fathers.”
Other Fathers have said: The 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.
Discerning God’s will
On numerous occasions we ourselves went to [Saint John Maximovitch] to ask his blessing for various things—for example, to buy a new piece of printing equipment—and his reply was always the same: “I don’t know anything about printing. Judge yourself what you need, buy it if you can, and God will bless your labors. If what you do is pleasing to God, it will prosper; if not, God will place such obstacles in your way that you can’t go on.”
In secular life, God leaves you alone to fall in the way you desire, but when you are striving for Him, he may put up impassable walls to block you from hurting yourself spiritually out of ignorance. This even concerns basic achievements, like finding a new apartment. In the past, I had no trouble living in dozens of different apartments around the world, but when I began spiritual life, God kept me living with my mother longer than I prefer, not to punish me but to help me advance my faith in a way I could not foresee.
Modern ideas that are false
“Scientific” knowledge by its nature is the least reliable form of human knowledge, very subject to revision and deception, not to mention the very real possibility of demonic counterfeits.
…the whole purpose and intent of the theory of physical evolution is to find an explanation of the world without God; i.e., physical evolution is by its nature atheistic, and it’s only ridiculous when “theologians” run after the latest “scientific” theory in order not to be left behind by the times.
…evolution is not at all “scientific,” but rather a kind of science-fiction theology, the product of faith (an atheistic faith, but nonetheless faith). That it is still so widely accepted surely shows how long not only theology, but just plain common-sense thinking have fallen today.
Like most of my peers, I fell for the science trap, believing that anything with the “science” tag was true, but this is far from the case. Most of what passes for science today are mere theories that originated in the minds of atheistic men with no corresponding proof. I have a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, but the theory of evolution to my mind is not even a theory but a philosophy, and I wonder if viruses really are contagious, because the germ theory explanation of infection is also a mere theory that has not been definitively proven, especially for more recent diseases like coronavirus. Modern science is more like institutionalized, expensive magic to aid in the agenda of those with world power.
Fr. Alexey: “Often Fr. Seraphim spoke of the need to “suffer through” some particular problem or difficulty. By this he meant that one should endure, again without complaining—which is one of the best tools for spiritual growth.
Pray for us. The devil wants to tempt us into thinking “what’s the use?” when the times are so bad, and even those who are one’s brothers in Faith seem somehow so unkind.
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 and life—or one is not really Orthodox at all. For this reason we must develop an Orthodox world-view and live it.
…please try to remember that all real Christian work is local—right here and now, between myself and God and my neighbors. Whatever more than that is possible—on the general church level—is something added to the main thing.
Fr. Alexey: “…[Fr. Seraphim] believed and taught that spiritual work on oneself—the path to salvation—is hard work: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt. 11:12) In a society that demands quick and superficial fixes and easy solutions to all problems—even spiritual ones—he maintained (as have all the Holy Fathers) that spiritual struggle is neither easy nor quick, but requires a lifetime of daily commitment and concentration. Since the aim of spiritual life is wholeness in Christ, one must be ruthless about rooting out distractions and temptations.”
Father Alexey Young: “‘Only struggle a little bit more,’ he would urge us. ‘Carry your crosses without complaining. Don’t think you’re anything special, don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are; and, especially, love one another.'”
…we must become informed. We must be informed of the sources of our Orthodox faith. We must be constantly reading spiritual books—the Holy Scripture, Lives of Saints, Holy Fathers—and all of this not for abstract knowledge, but to help our daily Christian life. When an atheistic government comes, we may be entirely deprived of books and have no contact with Orthodox clergy for long periods—we will have to live then on what we have acquired in freedom: not merely what we have read or been told, but what we have absorbed and lived of Christian teaching. We will be required also to say a word to others—and it must be not just something memorized, but a living word that is part of us… The reality of Communism… must make us all the more aware of why we believe as we do. Why do we believe in God? Why do we accept Jesus Christ as God and Saviour? Why do we belong to the Church and receive the Holy Mysteries? These questions become very real under Communism, and if our belief and commitment to Orthodoxy are not deep, they will fall away under persecution…
Is parish life too casual?
Fr. Alexey: “[Fr. Seraphim] felt that the idealism and enthusiasm of too many young priests was extinguished by the “worldly side” of parish life: fund-raising, endless meetings, social activities, organizational concerns, lay people quarreling among themselves, etc. He believed that priests, while fulfilling their external responsibilities, should concentrate their energies on those few in each parish that really want something deeper.”
I have noticed that if a parish does not have resident monks, there can be a strong worldly component.
Overall, Letters From Father Seraphim Rose painted a personal portrait of Father Seraphim that cannot be found in his other works. The writing is obviously casual but nonetheless I received value from seeing how he put into spiritual context the daily human problems that we all have to face, even the mundane like dealing with a broken-down automobile. If you have been edified by Father Seraphim’s other works, you will enjoy this book.