First in a new series of blog posts featuring reflections on monasticism by 20th century Orthodox monks and nuns.
In working on the design for the North American Thebaid coffee table book — the publishing goal of my two-year photographic pilgrimage to Orthodox Christian monasteries of the USA & Canada — I am going back through favorite books for pithy sayings on monasticism and the spiritual life. Some of these may make it into the finished Thebaid book, providing prose glimpses into the monastic way to complement the photographs.
Some are lofty, some are challenging (a ‘hard word’), but in every case, it is a joy to rediscover these pearls, and I wanted to share some of them with you.
“The spiritual life has great joys. You fly away and leave this world and don’t take anything else into consideration. You become a child and God lives in your heart.”
“Love Christ, have humility, prayer, and patience. These are the four points of your spiritual compass. May the magnetic needle be your youthful Christian heart.”
This serious article is a valuable resource for those of us seeking to live the Life in Christ in these last days, and may be read and re-read profitably.
Fr. Seraphim Rose (†1982) is a saint for our time, a trustworthy guide and example for us as we struggle against the deluge of apostasy, madness, and demonic activity which has been unleashed on the world.
The life of Fr. Seraphim Rose shows us that the way to recover our souls as Westerners is to return to the roots of the real culture of the West—Patristic Christianity, to form our souls, not of the pablum and poison of contemporary culture, but on apostolic faith, catacomb spirituality, Orthodox piety, and the mind of the fathers.
The American Acquisition of the Patristic Mind
The Significance of Fr. Seraphim Rose for the Christian of Today
In the back of the St. Herman Calendar published by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, there is a page entitled Remember Your Instructors, on which we find among others the name of Hieromonk Seraphim Rose of Platina.
Why do we need to remember our instructors? The purpose of remembering our instructors is, it seems to me, threefold:
first, to reverence their memory as holy, wise, and beloved counselors and teachers (as St. Paulinus of Nola said, “Only if the sky can forego its stars, earth its grass, honeycombs their honey, streams their water, and breasts their milk will our tongues be able to renounce their praise of the saints, in whom God is the strength of life and the fame of death”);
second, to pray for the repose of their souls and to seek their intercession on behalf of our continuing spiritual warfare here on earth (“Give rest to our fathers and brethren who have departed this life before us, and through the prayers of them all have mercy on my unhappy self in my depravity,” says St. Peter of Damascus in the prayer at the end of Compline);
and third, to imitate their example (as St. Basil the Great points out, “The righteous themselves do not want glory, but we who are as yet in this life need remembering them, so as to imitate them”).
In a sense, this third purpose for remembering our instructors, to imitate their example, implies the other two, and is the really important reason for us to keep fresh in our memories the lives of those who handed down the Orthodox faith and tradition to us.
I believe the example of Fr. Seraphim Rose, both in his life and in his work, contains a key that is of universal Orthodox significance in these last days, and is especially important for all those seeking to find and struggling to preserve true Orthodoxy in the West.
I believe the example of Fr. Seraphim Rose, both in his life and in his work, contains a key that is of universal Orthodox significance in these last days, and is especially important for all those seeking to find and struggling to preserve true Orthodoxy in the West. For Fr. Seraphim is our contemporary, a man who lived and breathed the same deadly modern atmosphere of godless humanism, atheistic hedonism, and soulless ecumenism that is the common experience of all modern children of the West.
“There is nothing here, at the Cell – no golden domes, no beautiful lakes, no trees to shelter and soothe. Bare earth, bare sea, bare sky – the skeleton of God’s creation, the naked bones against which all else seem un-necesary details…”
When I stumbled onto this blog post by Fr Seraphim Aldea it reminded me that I hope to find such places even here in the North American Thebaid. Perhaps in Alberta, or Nova Scotia? We shall see!
The Solovetsky Archipelago is less than 200 miles from the North Circle. To the North-East of the main Solovetsky island, silent and beaten by rabid winds, is Anzer – the isle of the Solovets hermits. Here, on a small peninsula, merely a few metres narrow and completely open to the sea is the small Cell of St Kirill of the New Lake. The storms have wiped all trees from this strip of land – nothing survives here, except small tundra bushes, mushrooms and wild berries. And one hermit, who is not even a monk, because he does not think himself worthy to wear the monastic habit.
A warm and inspiring first-person account of the author’s journey to the Holy Mountain as a young man, his experiences with different monasteries, counsels received from various monks and elders, and how the Lord directed his steps and helped him grow in his early days as a monk.
Published in the early years of St Gregory Palamas Monastery (Hayesville, Ohio) under the direction of Bishop Maximos and the sponsorship of the GOA Diocese of Pittsburgh, this beautiful memoir exudes the fragrance and savor of Holy Orthodoxy, and may be of special help to monastic seekers in discerning the Lord’s will for their lives, and in helping them live it to the fullest, as they heed the call to the narrow way to the Kingdom of God.
Rather than being a didactic book of instruction like The Arena and Letters To A Beginner, Recollections of Mount Athos weaves monastic counsels through a charming narrative of unforgettable ascetics, strugglers, abbots and elders, all seen through the wide, perceptive eyes and warm, faithful heart of young George, the future Archimandrite Cherubim, and all overshadowed by the grace of God.
From Chapter 1, First Impressions:
From the time I was fourteen years old, the vivid descriptions of two Hagiorite [i.e., Athonite] hieromonks who were rigorous in practicing the virtues, the Elders Paisios and Chrysanthos, had molded Mount Athos in my soul like a place that, though terrestrial, touches heaven. My burning desire for that place urged me toward the big decision: I was going to live there forever…
As soon as my foot stepped on land, my first concern was to kneel behind an old building an with emotion kiss that holy ground. I had vowed to do it. I used to say: “My Panagia [Greek for “All Holy”, a loving term for the Virgin May, the Theotokos], enable me one day to find myself on the Holy Mountain, and the first thing I will do will be to kiss its ground.”
My favorite quote:
“Talk like a monk, look like a monk, sit like a monk, walk like a monk, eat like a monk, sleep like a monk, think like a monk, pray like a monk.” ~ Papa Joachim, St Anne’s Skete, Mount Athos, p. 82.
Featuring an Introduction by Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh, ‘Monasticism in the Orthodox Church’, with a helpful glossary of terms.
“This book springs from the author’s own personal monastic experience on Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain. Archimandrite Cherubim Karambelas spent only four years on Mount Athos. He was eighteen years old when he went to the Holy Mountain with the intention of staying there forever. However, he was forced, due to ill health, to return to wartime Athens. He was not to return to the Mountain again until many years later, and then only to visit a dying monk, a friend, who wished to see him before he died. At that time he was the abbot of the Holy Monastery of the Paraclete which he established, located on the outskirts of Athens.” — From the Translator’s Preface
A classic manual on the Christian spiritual life, by Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, this is the second in this series of posts. See post 1 here.
The Arena: Guidelines for Spiritual and Monastic Life
By Ignatius (Brianchaninov) Translated by Lazarus (Moore) Foreword by Kallistos (Ware); Holy Trinity Publications, Jordanville NY.
From the publisher’s description:
This is one of the most important and accessible texts of Orthodox Christian teaching on the spiritual life, and and not unlike the better known “Philokalia.” The author, St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) describes this work as his legacy “of soul saving instruction.” He promises that “Those who carry out these instructions will enter into possession of spiritual riches.”
In an age even more alienated from spiritual culture and rooted in materialism, his words pose both a challenge and an invitation to all who ever say to themselves “There must be more to life than this.”
For anyone who desires to deepen their own spiritual journey based upon an encounter with Christ as God, this book is essential reading. Its contents may ultimately be accepted or rejected, but they will be very difficult to ignore.
For the first of a new series of blog posts, I would like to share a thin but extremely weighty and important book which was recommended to me several years ago when I was preparing to test the monastic life:
“The work of success in your monastic life—the work of your salvation, is, so to speak, in your own hands; and would it not be a shame, would it not be sad, to lose it from your hands irretrievably?”
—excerpt from LETTERS TO A BEGINNER
This book was so popular and beneficial for those leading a spiritual life in pre-Revolutionary Russia that it was reprinted several times and distributed to all monasteries, sketes, and many parishes. It was a key guidebook for women monastic aspirants, giving them a right understanding of how to dedicate their lives to God.
Here is a wonderful spiritual reflection on Elder Ephraim of Arizona and the significance of his establishing 17 monasteries in North America in the Athonite tradition.
You can learn more about St Anthony’s Monastery in Florence AZ here, which relates the story of Elder Ephraim’s monastic life and how he began establishing monasteries in America in 1995.
I have several of the Elder’s monasteries on my itinerary, and look forward very much to imbibing spiritual nectar from them, and, God willing, to making some compelling photographs of their hidden life.
The author of the below article, Igumen Gregory (Zaiens), is a monastic himself, and writes from the Hermitage of St Arsenius in Texas. Fr. Gregory describes the unique gift which Elder Ephraim has planted in America as follows,
For those in America who have chosen monasticism and have the thirst for an intense struggle in prayer, the Elder Ephraim has brought them the Athonite Hesychast tradition.
The Elder Ephraim of Arizona: His contribution to North America
The Elder Ephraim recently reached the age of ninety. He has not been functioning as an elder for more than a year because of health issues; and at his age and with his physical condition it is doubtful that he will again function in that capacity. As one who has become somewhat renowned, however, there has occasionally been controversy over him. Most of the spiritual children of his monasteries consider him to be a saint and one who has wrought a miraculous renewal among the Greek Orthodox in North America. This effect did not cease with the Greek faithful but spread elsewhere, as well.. Indeed, the lives of many have been touched and changed by the Elder. However, he has also been under attack at times, and negative opinions have been expressed concerning him—I do not want to approach this subject. But there is one aspect of the work he has accomplished that has been much on my mind recently and this is what I want to write about. I will introduce this topic with a question: What has Elder Ephraim done for monasticism in our land?
So, when I recently happened across Monk Martin’s website, Orthodox Music, which includes sheet music for the hymns on the CD, plus much, much more, I was doubly intrigued. Not only do I long to return to Archangel Michael Monastery in New Mexico, but now I am even more desirous of making my first pilgrimage to All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, from where Monk Martin hails.
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.