Father Seraphim (Eugene) Rose is a beloved figure in Orthodox Christianity, a hieromonk of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia whose books have helped spread Orthodox Christianity in America and much of the West. As a Catechumen myself I would like to delve into more spiritual aspects of the faith, that Seraphim Rose calls “Orthodoxy of the Heart,” along with his advice for new converts. (For another spiritual post against fighting the passions check out this one as well).
Fr. Alexey stated about Fr. Seraphim, “The essence of this priest-monk (Seraphim) could be found in his sermons, which were always brief, to the point, intended to touch our hearts and ‘humble us down’ (as he liked to say), to show us what Christ expects of us. In these sermons we saw a heart as warm and loving as could be found anywhere in this cold world, and a mind uncluttered and penetrating, produced not by this dismal world, but by grace. “Only struggle a little more,” he would urge us. “Carry your cross 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. Fr. Seraphim showed forth Christ to us in both word and example.”
Orthodoxy Of The Heart
Fr. Seraphim was a man of the heart, who spoke on Orthodoxy of the Heart, from which true faith springs from. The knowledge of correct theology, church history, and apologetics is absolutely important in our understanding but that alone does not make us Christian, this is the contrast of Orthodoxy of the Heart, called Orthodoxy of the Mind. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk is quoted, “The knowledge of correct dogmas is in the mind, and it is often fruitless, arrogant, and proud. The true faith in Christ is in the heart, and it is fruitful, humble, patient, loving, merciful, compassionate, hungering and thirsting for righteousness; it withdraws from worldly lusts and clings to God alone, strives and seeks always for what is heavenly and eternal, struggles against every sin, and constantly seeks and begs help from God for this.” This is Orthodoxy of the Heart and what each of us must reach towards.
To be Orthodox but not Christian is a dangerous state where we become too enamored in the letter of the law that we lose the spirit of Christianity, and essentially become Pharisees. “External wisdom” is something Fr. Seraphim warned of, “it is the fashion now to learn the Jesus Prayer, read the Philokalia, to go back to the Fathers. They may be helpful if they are used rightly, but if they become your passion, the first thing you are after, then they become externals which lead not to Christ, but Antichrist.” All of the previous are of course beautiful and part of being an Orthodox Christian, but following Christ, the love of Christ being shown in us, and the struggle with Theosis should be our focus.
“The antichrist must be understood as a spiritual phenomenon. Why will everyone in the world want to bow down to him? Obviously, it is because there is something in him which responds to something in us – that something being a lack of Christ in us. If we will bow down to him (God forbid that we do so!), it will be because we will feel an attraction to some kind of external thing, which might even look like Christianity, since ‘antichrist’ means the one ‘who is in place of Christ.” What passions linger in our own hearts that struggle to stay there in place of Christ? Where is Christ in our heart? “And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loves God loves his brother also.” – 1 John 4:21
Advice For New Converts
Fr. Seraphim saw this issue of Orthodoxy of the Mind in some converts, as well as long baptized Christians. Our search and learning is never-ending, we have reached the end of the horizontal line in finding Orthodox Christianity, but the beginning of the vertical line towards heaven has only just begun. Fr. Herman asked Fr. Seraphim to compose a “Manual for Orthodox Converts,” to which he began but never finished as there are no universal formulas in all aspects of spiritual life. From what he did complete he gives common pitfalls, symptoms, and remedies:
- Pitfall: Trusting Oneself.
Remedy: Sobert distrust of oneself, taking counsel of others wiser, guidance from the Holy Fathers.
- Pitfall: Overly-Intellectual.
Remedy: Same as number one, focus on spiritual teachings and the heart.
- Pitfall: Not Keeping The Secret of the Kingdom, Publicity, Gossip, Focus on the Outward.
Remedy: Keep out of the limelight, avoid passionate disputes, concentrate on inner spiritual life.
- Pitfall: Wanting “Spiritual Experiences.”
Symptoms: Feverish excitement, something “tremendous” is always happening, inflated vocabulary, indicates puffed up instead of humble. Sources in Protestantism, and over-emphasis on one’s own opinions.
Remedy: Counsel of a spiritual father, sober distrust of oneself, humility, constant grounding in the texts of the Holy Fathers.
- Pitfall: “Quenched” Syndrome.
Symptoms: Discouragement, giving up, over-emphasis on the outward side and public opinion.
Remedy: Emphasis on the inward, embrace spiritual struggle, reject outward success.
Further advice that also pertains to the first 3 points is that of the spirit of criticism and people that think they know better than everyone else. He wrote, “My priest or parish does everything right – other priests or parishes don’t. My priest does everything wrong, others are better. My monastery does everything right according to the Holy Fathers – other monasteries don’t. My monastery is not according to the Holy Fathers, but that monastery over there is perfect, everything according to the Holy Fathers.’ Such attitudes are spiritually extremely dangerous. The person holding them is invariably in grave spiritual danger himself, and by uttering his mistaken, self-centered words he spreads the poison of rationalist criticism to others in the Church.” He mentions cradle Orthodox Christians have patience but lack zeal, and converts have zeal but lack patience. That there should be no “rivalry” between converts and cradles as both have something to inspire the other with, nor should there be any rivalry between the Russians and the Greeks because they are one in Christ. And that while each have something to learn from each other, both always have something to learn from Jesus Christ.
We must be warm, long-suffering, have patience, humble ourselves, pray without ceasing, separate ourselves from our passions, etc. But above all, we need to love, for when Christ is in our heart, we have Orthodoxy of the Heart.
Not Of This World, The Life and Teaching of Father Seraphim Rose 1993.