St. Pachomius lived in the Egyptian Thebaid, and is to cenobitic monasticism what St. Anthony the Great is to the eremitic (solitary) way, and what St. Nilus of Sora is to skete life in Russia. He is commemorated on May 15.
Saint Pachomius the Great was both a model of desert dwelling, and with Saints Anthony the Great (January 17), Macarius the Great (January 19), and Euthymius the Great (January 20), a founder of the cenobitic monastic life in Egypt.
Saint Pachomius was born in the third century in the Thebaid (Upper Egypt). His parents were pagans who gave him an excellent secular education. From his youth he had a good character, and he was prudent and sensible.
When Pachomius reached the age of twenty, he was called up to serve in the army of the emperor Constantine (apparently, in the year 315). They put the new conscripts in a city prison guarded by soldiers. The local Christians fed the soldiers and took care of them.
When the young man learned that these people acted this way because of their love for God, fulfilling His commandment to love their neighbor, this made a deep impression upon his pure soul. Pachomius vowed to become a Christian. Pachomius returned from the army after the victory, received holy Baptism, moved to the lonely settlement of Shenesit, and began to lead a strict ascetic life. Realizing the need for spiritual guidance, he turned to the desert-dweller Palamon. He was accepted by the Elder, and he began to follow the example of his instructor in monastic struggles.
Once, after ten years of asceticism, Saint Pachomius made his way through the desert, and halted at the ruins of the former village of Tabennisi. Here he heard a Voice ordering him to start a monastery at this place. Pachomius told the Elder Palamon of this, and they both regarded the words as a command from God.
I hope and trust we have all had a soul-profiting Lent and Holy Week, and a radiant Pascha and Easter…
What better way to return to blogging on the North American Thebaid than to share the life of St Nilus of Sora, whom we just commemorated on May 7.
In the Russian Northern Thebaid, Venerable Nilus established the way of skete life, which is often considered the ‘Royal Way’ between the solitary monastic life (eremitic) and communal (cenobitic). In skete life, anywhere from a few to several monks or nuns live in their own separate cells or huts, within shouting distance of one another (in case of emergency), and then join together for the divine services for the Lord’s Day and on major feasts and saints’ days. During the week, they keep their monastic prayer rule and work at their crafts and obediences to help sustain the Skete.
Skete life shows the wisdom of the monastic way, as not everyone is suited for close living in community, and only a very few are called to life as a hermit, in complete solitude. It may very well be that here in North America, where we all have become accustomed to living such individualized, idiosyncratic lives, that skete life will be a real option for many monastics as the North American Thebaid grows and matures (should the Lord not return first).
Saint Nilus of Sora, a great ascetic of the Russian Church, was descended from the Maikov nobility. He accepted monasticism at the monastery of Saint Cyril of White Lake (June 9). Here he made use of the counsels of the pious Elder Paisius Yaroslavov, who was afterwards igumen of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra.
Saint Nilus journeyed much through the East, studying the monastic life in Palestine and on Mt. Athos. Returning to Rus, he withdrew to the River Sora in the Vologda lands, and built a cell and a chapel, where there soon grew up a monastery with a new (for that time in Rus) skete Rule adopted by Saint Nilus from Mt. Athos. Following the command of Saint Nilus, the monks had to sustain themselves by the work of their own hands, to accept charity only in extreme need, and to shun the love of things and splendor even in church. Women were not permitted in the skete, monks was not allowed to leave the skete under any pretext, and the possession of lands or estates was forbidden. Continue reading “Repose of the Venerable Nilus, Abbot of Sora”→
Fr. Seraphim Rose and the call for a North American Thebaid
Two brief passages from Fr. Seraphim’s monastic life and writings make clear how he longed for an American Thebaid to flourish in his homeland, as it had in Orthodox lands in preceding centuries:
As at the beginning of his monastic path he had drawn inspiration from the phenomenon of desert-dwelling in northern Russia, so now was he to do so from an identical phenomenon in the land of his forefathers. The flight of God-seeking men and women into the Jura Mountains of ancient Gaul was in fact an exact precursor of the movement that began in Russia almost a millennium later. “The Jura monasteries,” wrote Fr. Seraphim in 1976 to a young monastic aspirant, “are especially interesting to us because they are a forested desert, very close to the spirit of the Northern Thebaid (or to the American Thebaid that could be if there were souls to match the mountains!).”
The second excerpt comes from the Epilogue Fr. Seraphim wrote for The Northern Thebaid itself, and shows how his monastic inspiration was always connected with the real examples of earlier desert-dwelling men and women who serve as spiritual trailblazers, showing us the way:
“In these days of the feast of the Dormition of the holy Mother of God, we come here to this holy place to venerate and give honor to another dormition, of the ever-memorable hieromonk Seraphim Rose. The holy Mother of God bore for all of us her Son and God our Savior, and is blessed by all generations. Fr. Seraphim also contributed to my life and to all of ours here, and to those of many more people, and we come here to give due love and to receive his blessing…” —Bishop Daniil (Nikolov)
Presented at the retreat in honor of the thirtieth anniversary of his repose, 2012
For the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the repose of Fr. Seraphim Rose on Sept. 2, 2012, hundreds of faithful pilgrims convened upon St. Herman’s Monastery in Platina, CA to remember Fr. Seraphim and offer prayers both for him and to him. The faithful gathered were a microcosm of the greater Orthodox world, with pilgrims representing the Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Georgian Orthodox Traditions, among others. Several moving talks were offered throughout the weekend by those who had known Fr. Seraphim personally, and those whose life were impacted by the testimony of his life and works.
His Grace Bp. Daniil (Nikolov), Vicar of the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canadana and Australia spoke after the Saturday morning Liturgy on the eve of the anniversary of Fr. Seraphim’s repose, recalling how important and influential he was for young Bulgarians returning to the Church after the fall of Communism in the early 1990’s, and how much he appreciated Fr. Seraphim’s insightful critiques of the lie of our modern age. The following day a number of personal reminiscences of Fr. Seraphim were offered, before which Fr. Damascene (Christensen), who is now the abbot of St. Herman’s Monastery, offered a reflection on Fr. Seraphim’s recently-discovered spiritual journal, highlighting his relentlessness in combating sin, and his emphasis on nourishing himself with the writings of the Holy Fathers. Fr. Damascene was introduced by then-abbot Fr. Hilarion.
His Grace Bp. Daniil (Nikolov), Vicar of the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia:
In these days of the feast of the Dormition of the holy Mother of God, we come here to this holy place to venerate and give honor to another dormition, of the ever-memorable hieromonk Seraphim Rose. The holy Mother of God bore for all of us her Son and God our Savior, and is blessed by all generations. Fr. Seraphim also contributed to my life and to all of ours here, and to those of many more people, and we come here to give due love and to receive his blessing.
When I was making my first steps into the Church in the middle of the ’90’s of the previous century in the years after Communism, Fr. Seraphim was very popular among the new Bulgarian converts who were entering the Church for the first time. It was very unusual and surprising to hear from this place, where Western culture flourishes, someone who has a sober view, and who warns us of the dangers of this consumer society, and raising our children in such a way that they become small princes and kings, in whose hearts the passions are rooted from early childhood. And all this not from a psychological point of view, but the Orthodox point of view—that the modern world makes the Chrisitan life more difficult and is so dangerous for the salvation of our souls. He was the very presence of Christ.
Presented at the retreat in honor of the thirtieth anniversary of his repose, 2012
UPDATED: See also this companion article, also from Pravoslavie, featuring recollections of Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim by His Grace, Bishop Daniil, Vicar of the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia, and an especially insightful talk by Hieromonk Damascene (now Abbot of St Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina CA), who draws on excerpts from Fr. Seraphim’s monastic journal to show just how intense a spiritual struggler he was:
Hieromonk Seraphim Rose is known the Orthodox world over as an ascetic struggler of our modern times. His writings and the testimony of his life have inspired countless seekers of truth to find their way home to the Orthodox Church, and to deepen their spiritual life within the Church, not only in America, but in traditionally Orthodox countries like Russia, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Georgia, and so on. He gave himself wholly over to the Lord, in body and soul, in his monastic and priestly vocations, ultimately departing to the Lord in 1982 at the young age of forty-eight: He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time (Wisdom of Solomon 4:13).
In the thirty-four years since his repose he has continued to inspire and uplift Orthodox Christians, now with the added benefit of his Heavenly prayers. In this light, his monastery of St. Herman of Alaska in Platina, CA held a gathering in his honor over the weekend of Sept. 2, 2012, for the thirtieth anniversary of his repose. A host of pious, Fr. Seraphim-loving pilgrims came to pay their respects and to pray at his grave, including notably His Eminence Met. Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Grace Bp. Daniil of the Bulgarian Archdiocese of America, Canada, and Australia, Archimandrite Luka, abbot of two monasteries in Montenegro, Serbia, where he named a kellia in honor of Fr. Seraphim, and Abbot Sava (now bishop) of the Georgian Orthodox Monastery of St. Davit the Builder in Wilkes-Barre, PA.
Additionally, many who had personally known Fr. Seraphim returned to the monastery to offer both prayers, and personal reminiscences about him. These words of those who knew him are valuable in that they show us simply Fr. Seraphim the man and monk, always concerned first of all for cultivating the Truth, and a loving Orthodox heart both in himself and in all those he came into contact with. His more theological works can and should be read in the context of the picture we are presented here, of a man of great spiritual depth and calmness, striving to give his all to our Lord Jesus Christ.
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His Eminence, Met. Hilarion, First Hierarch of ROCOR
His Eminence met Fr. Seraphim twice in the days before his episcopacy, and also recalls how the brotherhood’s journal The Orthodox Word was so influential in guiding his life in the Church.
Your Grace Bp. Daniil, Fr. Abbot Hilarion, fathers and brethren of the monastery of St. Herman of Alaska, brothers and sisters, it’s a great privilege and joy to be here with you on this historical event when we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the repose of Fr. Seraphim of blessed memory. I thank Fr. Hilarion and the fathers for inviting me to take part in the service, and give thanks to Bp. Maxim for his blessing. It’s a wonderful feeling to be here with you, all of us who greatly respect and love Fr. Seraphim. I thank Fr. Damascene for your moving words and we thank God that He has healed many wounds and that His blessing is on the work of this monastery and may God always take care of us and the work which all of you are doing. As Fr. Damascene mentioned, in Australia where I’ve been the bishop for fifteen years or so, our hieromonk Joachim Ross, who has a great love for Fr. Seraphim, organized an annual seminar in which guest speakers were invited to talk about his life or an aspect thereof, which has taken place for a number of years. I was once asked to share my recollections of Fr. Seraphim, even though they are not that long. I met him just twice, but I’d like to read some of those reminiscences which I shared at that time.
Our Lord has a marvelous way of placing key people in the right place at the right time for their spiritual benefit. That’s the way it was in Old Testament times with prophets steering His often wayward chosen people along the path of righteousness, and in our New Testament Church, as St. Paul writes God has given the first place to apostles, then prophets, then teachers, and I believe that Fr. Seraphim was just such a teacher of Orthodoxy for others for our times. His great contribution and gift was that he was able to speak to the English-speaking world in a language which is clear, and not just to Americans, but to Russians too, because these same words were translated in a new way, and the people who had lived under Communism found this very refreshing and to be a very clear portrayal of Orthodox teaching on the way to salvation. When translated into Russia the writings of Fr. Seraphim instantly gained enormous popularity before the fall of Communism, and especially now that many of his books have been published in Russian, and in other languages as well. It was like manna sent down to the people in Russia who had been starving spiritually for so long, and to this day he remains one of the popular spiritual writers.
I was fortunate enough to have met and heard Fr. Seraphim speak on two different occasions. I first met him sometime in the 1970’s. I was passing through California from visiting my relatives in Canada, and having corresponded with Fr. Herman and Fr. Seraphim, they invited me to stop by and visit the monastery. That was my first opportunity. The monastery was much more humble and small with fewer monastics but it made a very great impression on me, especially in conversing with Fr. Seraphim who was very humble and one could immediately see what a spiritual person he was.
My second opportunity to meet him and associate with him at length was in December 1979 when Fr. Seraphim was invited to be the guest speaker at the annual St. Herman Youth Conference held that year at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. Fr. Seraphim was well-known by then and held in great esteem by the monks and seminarians. At that time he delivered an inspiring lecture on the topic of Orthodoxy in America and there was a lively discussion afterwards about how to live an Orthodox life in today’s world.
For the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, here is a classic text from our own times, on how the living tradition of the Orthodox Church is passed down. The monastic life plays a central role in this paradosis, this “traditioning” of the Faith.
In this case, the young convert, Eugene Rose (the future Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina) relates his encounters with a holy elder, Archbishop John of San Francisco & Shanghai, and with a holy monastic eldress, Abbess Ariadna, and how “[their] words… struck him to the heart, and he understood that there was something deeper to the reception and understanding of Orthodoxy than what our own mind and feelings tell us.”
Saint Herman of Alaska, America’s first canonized saint, was an Orthodox Christian monk of holy life who lived in Valaam Monastery in Russia.
In 1794, along with nine other monastics he was sent to Alaska to evangelize the natives there. In time St. Herman would become the sole survivor of the original missionaries.
Throughout his long life he cared for the natives of the Kodiak area, nursing them in their illnesses, educating them, and defending them from the abuse of the Russian fur-traders. By his meekness and firm faith he won the love and respect of all who came to know him, and inspired many to follow Christ. Eventually settling on nearby Spruce Island, he lived a mostly eremitic life, while also establishing an orphanage for the children of parents who had died during epidemics.
By the power of God, St. Herman was able to see into the hearts of others, as well as into the future. He worked miracles during his life, such as stopping a forest fire and a tsunami by his prayers. To this day he remains a wonderworker, healing the souls and bodies of those who ask for his intercessions before the throne of God.
The Importance of St Herman for Orthodox Christians in America Today
When we really stop to reflect upon what Blessed Father Herman accomplished in Alaska — and what his significance is for us today — we should be stunned by his humility, his selflessness, and his simple and pure dedication and obedience to his original mission to bring the Orthodox Faith to his new land.
The greater part of his forty-plus years in Alaska he lived alone, tirelessly caring for the native Alaskan peoples who, seeing the Love of Christ embodied in their beloved “Apa” (grandfather) became themselves pious and faithful Orthodox Christians. We should be similarly moved and converted in our hearts by Elder Herman’s witness. As one monastic writer in North America has put it:
The first saints God raises up in a country contain a special message about what Orthodoxy must be like for that nation. Thus, Sts. Boris and Gleb for Russia—the passion bearers. And it is not a coincidence that Holy Russia begins with passion bearers and ends with passion bearers (the royal martyrs) and a whole host of New Martyrs!
So what is the lesson the Lord wants American Orthodox like us to learn from St. Herman? He was a meek and humble monk, not even a priest, but a strong witness against injustice and a confessor of the true Faith. These are the qualities, I believe, that Orthodoxy in America must emulate. But so far, we aren’t. We are obsessed with jurisdictional administrative issues, while the inner life of the Church—which leads to repentance and deification through humility—is largely neglected at the official, organizational, level…
We need a ‘revival’ inspired by St. Herman!
— Schema-Hieromonk Ambrose (Young)
Therefore, let us persevere in our faith and in doing good, being inspired in the depths of our hearts by our beloved Elder and Wonderworker, St Herman of Alaska, that we may embody his teaching:
From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and strive to fulfill His holy will!