Fr. Seraphim (Rose)
Fr. Seraphim Rose
(July 31, 1934 – August 20, 1982)
These brief, hagiographical accounts of the Elders of Optina are concluded with the life of Hieromonk Seraphim Rose. He did not consider himself a hesychast or an Elder and said that he did not have any experience of such things. Nonetheless, he desired to learn the life of the Church – life that has been in existence since the beginning of Christianity and in our modern times can be seen through the lineage of St. Paisius (Velichkovsky). This was carried to Optina and eventually passed on to Fr. Seraphim through spiritual children of the Optina Elders that he knew. In his journal entitled “Chronicles,” he writes, in 1970, that one of the aims of the St. Herman of Alaska monastic brotherhood was “to live a monastic life as much as possible in the tradition and spirit of the Orthodox desert-dwellers of all centuries, and in particular of those nearest to us in time: the desert-dwellers of the Russian Thebaid of the north, the Blessed Elder Paisius Velichkovsky and his disciples, the Elders of Optina and Valaam Monasteries, the dwellers of the sketes and wildernesses of Sarov, Sanaxar, Briansk, and others of the same spirit…” Fr. Seraphim desired this to such an extent that the first publication by St. Herman Press was the Life of St. Paisius Velichkovsky, which was also the first publication of Optina works under the guidance of Elder Macarius.
So if Fr. Seraphim is not an Elder, what is the relevance of placing him at the end of the lives of these Elders of Optina? Because he communicate and transmits the same truths about the Christian life that has been handed down to us from St. Paisius Velichkovsky and truly from the entire ascetic tradition. In these truths, the entire life and Tradition of the Church is contained. Fr. Seraphim has sought to embody these truths within his own life in his monastery in the wilds of Platina, and to transmit these to the contemporary, largely non-Orthodox, population. This is the relevance of placing him at the end of this work.
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Fr. Seraphim Rose was born Eugene Dennis Rose on August 13, 1934 (according to the new calendar dating). He was one of three children. His father did not go to church and his mother brought the children to various Protestant churches – Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian. As a young Boy, Eugene attended a Presbyterian church and developed a good knowledge of the Scriptures from which he used to quote many things to his parents. His mother described him as having strong religious inclinations.
Following high school, and possessing a brilliant mind, Eugene went on to university. Here he struggled to understand reality in its highest form. He studied the Western philosophical tradition, but also, after attending a lecture by Dr. Alan W. Watts, turned his attention to the study of Zen Buddhism. He went on to attend the American Academy of Asian Studies, all the while perfecting his knowledge of German, French and now Cantonese (later he would learn Russian). Feeling dissatisfied with his studies, Eugene continued pursuing the truth until one day he ventured into an Orthodox church. Writing about this experience he said, “…when I entered an Orthodox church for the first time (a Russian church in San Francisco) something happened to me that I had not experienced in any Buddhist or other Eastern temple; something in my heart said that this was ‘home,’ that all my search was over. I didn’t really know what this meant, because this service was quite strange to me, and in a foreign language. I began to attend Orthodox services more frequently, gradually learning its language and customs…”
In 1962, Eugene was received into the Orthodox Church and shortly thereafter became a disciple of the Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch, a hierarch known the world over as a miracle-worker and ascetic. From this time Eugene dedicated his whole life to bringing Orthodoxy to his contemporaries. He began with a small bookstore next to the cathedral in San Francisco and started to publish a magazine called The Orthodox Word. After his spiritual father, Archbishop John, died in 1966, Eugene along with a close friend of similar spiritual desires began to look for land in the wilderness where they could continue their publishing, but also live the ascetic, “desert-dwelling” life. In 1969, they found a plot of land in northern California and they moved there. After a year, they were both tonsured monks and Eugene took the name Seraphim, after St. Seraphim of Sarov. From here, Fr. Seraphim continued his publishing endeavors and also other writings and translations that were soon sent all over the world. The point of this publishing, as he said, was, “To bring basic Orthodox Christianity to as many Americans as will listen.”
Fr. Seraphim is described as a man of few words who had no interest in idle chatter and seldom expressed any personal preferences. He was sick often but people never knew how much because he never complained.
In 1976, he was ordained a deacon at the San Francisco Cathedral and in 1977 he was ordained a priest at the monastery chapel by Bishop Nektary (Kontzevitch) of Seattle. From this time, he slowly increased his pastoral responsibilities as people made the trek up the mountain to ask questions and seek consolation.
In his last homily out on “Noble Ridge,” Fr. Seraphim said, “Our home is in heaven. Never forget that for which we are created.” The next morning he served Liturgy for the last time. Soon afterwards, he was taken to the hospital due to pains in his stomach. On September 2, 1982, after a brief illness, Fr. Seraphim reposed at the age of forty-eight. Before his death several of his spiritual children had dreams concerning this as well as dreams of consolation for their imminent loss.
While Fr. Seraphim’s body was being washed and prepared by two Abbots they noted that “his face naturally fell into a quiet smile of unmistakable heavenly joy. His body never stiffened, nor did decay of any kind set in.” Even when lying in his coffin, his unembalmed body remained soft without smell in the California sun during his funeral. It is a Russian tradition to cover the face for the funeral, but Fr. Seraphim’s face was so comforting that they left it uncovered and even children stayed close to his coffin.
Sayings of Fr. Seraphim
The Development of the Soul
In our own day, the chief ingredient missing from this ideal harmony of human life is something one might call the emotional development of the soul. It is something that is not directly spiritual, but that very often hinders spiritual development. It is the state of someone who, while he may think he thirsts for spiritual struggles and an elevated life of prayer, is poorly able to respond to normal human love and friendship; for “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God Whom he hath not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
Our most important task, perhaps, is the Christian enlightenment of ourselves and others. We must go deeper into our faith-not by studying the canons of Ecumenical Councils or the typicon (although they also have their place), but by knowing how God acts in our lives; by reading the lives of God pleasers in the Old and New Testaments (we read the Old Testament far too little–it is very instructive); Lives of Saints; writings of the Holy Fathers on practical spiritual life; the sufferings of Christians today and in recent years. In all of this learning our eyes must be on heaven above, the goal we strive for, not the problems and disasters of earth below…
- Subdeacon Matthew Long
Damascene, Hieromonk, Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2003).
Rose, Fr. Seraphim, The Soul After Death (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1993).
Young, Fr. Alexey, “For His Soul Pleased the Lord” in Orthodox America at http://www.roca.org/OA/22/22a.htm accessed on January 1, 2014.
Rassophore-monk Reader Laurence, “A Man Not of this World” in Orthodox America at http://www.roca.org/OA/22/22b.htm accessed on January 1, 2014.
“With the Saints Give Rest, O Christ, To the Soul of Thy Servant” in Orthodox America at http://www.roca.org/OA/22/22f.htm accessed on January 1, 2014.
“It’s Later Than You Think!” in Orthodox America at http://www.roca.org/OA/22/22d.htm accessed on January 1, 2014.