In one of the last sermons I heard him give, Hieromonk Seraphim said quietly and simply, as he had said so many times before: "Be kind to one another. Smile, and be cheerful. Carry one another's burdens for the sake of Christ."
The death of Fr. Seraphim on August 20/September 2 has removed from the midst of this small, struggling mission of St. Herman of Alaska a faithful servant of God who, while able to grasp deep theological principles, never once strayed from the path of Gospel simplicity, fulfilling the Scriptural description of a righteous man, who "bringeth forth wisdom" (Wis. 4:ll).What was Fr. Seraphim to us?
As our readers know, he was a contributing editor: in addition to editorials and signed articles, he also produced many translations (for which he never took credit) and unsigned articles. More importantly, he was the constant conscience of our. staff, encouraging us and urging us on, but also gently reminding us when we had (in one of his favorite expressions) "missed the point." And what was the point? To bring basic Orthodox Christianity to as many Americans as will listen. Nothing more: an apparently simple task; but also, nothing less: a labor of gigantic proportions. He believed in us, stubborn and stupid as we usually were, and more than that, he believed in the importance and value of this work and had great expectations for it.
I write these words, now, with tears, for Fr. Seraphim was my co-worker and collaborator as well as my conscience. I never sat down at the typewriter without Fr. Seraphim figuratively looking over my shoulder; I knew that I would never have to trust myself. Now, my heart breaks, and only Christ can console.
Many may not know that Fr. Seraphim was also the co-editor of the scholarly-theological publication, "The Orthodox Word," and cofounder of the, Brotherhood of St. Herman of Alaska, as well as the author of many book. Of these equally important aspects of his life it must be for others to write. For · myself, I would like to reveal to our readers a little of what Fr. Seraphim, the priest, the pastor, was.
The essence of this priest-monk 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), and show us what Christ expects of us. I remember the first time he came to our Etna Mission to serve Divine Liturgy. For some reason now forgotten, the Liturgy was in the middle of the night. As he turned from the Holy Table to read the Gospel, a candle in one hand illuminating both the Sacred Scriptures and his pale face, I thought to myself: This is what it was like in the catacombs; and this is what it is like in the persecuted underground Church of Russia today! 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 bit more," he would urge us, "Carry your crosses 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." The words of Christ. Indeed, Fr. Seraphim showed forth Christ to us in both word and example.
In conversation he was the proverbial "man of few words ." He had no interest in idle chatter, seldom expressed a personal preference for anything, and disliked fakery of all kinds, often speaking of the "Disneyland" mentality of America, which was making it impossible for people to seek and find the truth. He worried about the fact that most of us are "unconscious": we are so abysmally ignorant of the great truths of our Faith that we do not share Orthodoxy with others. "Be awake, aware, informed!" he would plead. "Don't leave it to others to understand and 'digest' Orthodoxy for you; and don't keep Orthodoxy to yourselves as though it were some private treasure: share it."
In Church life, Fr. Seraphim represented a particular view (which is also the dominant position of our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad); he called it the "Royal Path" of moderation and balance in all things. This was not a popular view, however: some, whose concept of Orthodoxy had been reduced to an ecumenist position, thought him a dangerous fanatic; others, suffering from "zeal without understanding," accused him of betraying Orthodoxy. All this he suffered, being maligned both in person, by letter, and in the press.
Still others, who could not understand either his writings or his sermons, and judged him primarily by his appearance, saw his dusty and tattered robes and long, matted beard, and disdained him. He did not fit their "image" of a priest or a monk. Behind his back he was more than once called a "dirty monk." The fact is, he was a true monk, an angel in the flesh, dead to this world but alive to the next, and more concerned about purifying his soul than adorning his body. His example was a reproach to us all.
Of course, while he lived we did not fully appreciate him. We took him for granted, just as we always do with those we love. We thought that in spite of his fragile health he would nonetheless always "be there." He had only just turned 48--still a young man--with so much work unfinished; his course as an Orthodox Christian only lasted just over twenty short years. And then, after a brief but terrifyingly intense illness, he was gone, so that, "having been a little chastised he shall be greatly rewarded, for God proved him and found him worthy of Himself" (Wis. 3:4).
In the Praktikos there is found this passage: "The death of his father was announced to a certain monk. He turned to the messenger who had brought him the news and replied: 'Stop your blasphemies. My father is immortal!'" That was how I felt when I received the news of Fr. Seraphim's repose: he is not dead; he is now truly alive, in Christ! He has gone to the next world to be with his beloved Archbishop John, St. Paisius, and the saints of Gaul and the Northern Thebaid, whose lives he had translated and printed.
What a man was this! Brothers and sisters-our dear Readers--we shall not soon see his like again! I am filled with gratitude to God for having given him to us, even for such a brief time. And I believe with all my heart and soul that he has now heard the blessed voice of the Master speak these precious words:
Fr: Alexey Young
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