Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ten Christians Who Changed My Spiritual Life, Pt. 3: Fr. Seraphim Rose

Few Christians in the last year or so have proven to be as much of an influence on me, nor have been as impacting as Fr. Seraphim Rose, a hieromonk of the Orthodox Church.  Encountering Fr. Seraphim has been like encountering a blast from the past, what some almost hyperbolically refer to as a Church Father of our times.  A dear friend of mine often jokes that if Fr. Seraphim looked like Pat Robertson, he might not be as popular as he is.  But for me, reading Fr. Seraphim was a wake-up call that cut through all the comfortable decay that modern Christianity often finds itself in.

To be sure, Rose's appearance is striking - especially for those of us used to the age of a religious identifying themselves with a lapel pin. Without a doubt, he is controversial even amongst Orthodox Christians for his work The Soul After Death, and honestly, I haven't read it.  What interests me about his writing is not his more speculative side or interpretations of the Fathers, but his tremendous insight into the modern age in which we find ourselves.

His writing on this age of relativistic spirituality and hopeless skepticism is so incredibly relevant and insightful that it is a crying shame that he is not more read in the West than he is.  My first encounter with his writings occurred around a year ago, when I nervously ordered a copy of a short book entitled God's Revelation to the Human Heart; at the time, I felt like a traitor for doing so.

But what I met with was a brief yet in-depth analysis and answer to the questions of why we study religion, why we search for truth, and how we know when we have found it.  So much has stuck with me through my own journey, just from this book alone.  Especially noteworthy is when he writes that "...for all the 'mysticism' of our Orthodox Church that is found in the Lives of the Saints and the writings of the Holy Fathers, the truly Orthodox person always has both feet firmly on the ground, facing whatever situation is right in front of him.  It is in accepting given situations, which requires a loving heart, that one encounters God.  This loving heart is why anyone comes to a knowledge of the truth, even though God has to break down and humble a heart to make it receptive..."1

These words, and others like it that permeate his writings, ring loud and true in my soul.  The emphasis on the earnest search for Truth in a world full of "truths", the hard-hitting thoughts that eliminate all romanticizing about Christianity (something I fell into often in my early conversion days) and present it in all its stark reality and ultimately glory - this is what I love so much about Fr. Seraphim's writing.  And if one reads his superb analysis of the post-Nietzschean age we live in, Nihilism, one will encounter one of the greatest writings on the mindsets within modern secular culture ever written.

Yes, he is controversial - so were Thomas Merton and Fr. Matta El-Meskeen in their own day too.  I care little for that element, as most great Christians had some element of controversy in their lives or stirred the pot a little, and one is always free to take or leave what they disagree with.  What I do care about is Truth, and Fr. Seraphim has proven to be a lamp on the Way.

1 - God's Revelation to the Human Heart, 28


  1. I'd say my issues with Fr. Seraphim are less with his writings on the soul after death and more with his pushing for the idea that a Christianity true to patristic sources should include Young Earth Creationism - it perpetuates the Eastern Christian ignoring of people like Augustine, it's made him a strange bedfellow indeed for several Fundamentalist Protestant Creationist websites -- and it seems to constitute precisely a rejection of truth in favor of idiosyncratic personal conviction.

    But it's overall not even that issue in itself that bothers me - it's more that it points to the prospect of a worldview whose only solution to modernity is to reject anything "tainted" by it, to bury one's head in the sand and pretend to have never heard it, instead of seriously grappling with the issues presented by modernity.

    Which is not to say Seraphim Rose has nothing to say to us - quite the contrary, just as countless Saints who may be mistaken on certain points do. He was certainly a spiritual giant of the Orthodox Church in our time. But there is that huge caveat which makes me tread lightly whenever Fr. Seraphim talks about what "modernity" means.

  2. Orthodoxy does not require that one believe in Young Earth Creationism. Many do not. All one must believe is that the universe exists and is sustained because God's creative provident love. The rest is argument about time scales.