"The more one is aware of the spirit of the times, the better one is able to face the problems of being a true Orthodox Christian in such times."
With these words Fr. Seraphim began his lecture "Orthodox Christians Facing the 1980's ," delivered at the St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage in 1979. The same basic theme-of developing an awareness of genuine Orthodoxy and preserving it in these last times-may be found in many of Fr. Seraphim's writings and particularly his lectures over the last 5 years. An American convert himself, Fr. Seraphim was aware not only of the difficulty in adopting the Orthodox way of life, but, more importantly, of developing a true understanding of Orthodoxy in a country lacking all traditional Orthodox roots. It was not a matter of culture, but of the essence of Christianity and the "one thing needful."
At the time of his conversion, Fr. Seraphim had just begun what promised to be a brilliant academic career; he knew several languages; he was a philosopher by nature and had begun to write a major book on his own philosophy of life. His hunger to "know" the truth had taken hem beyond the Protestantism of his childhood, through a brief but serious encounter with Zen Buddhism, to the European philosophers, and--Dostoevsky. In Dostoevsky he discovered both a profound philosopher and a deeply religious man whose faith was Orthodoxy. This satisfied not only the highest aspirations of his mind, but also the deepest yearnings of his heart. And with all his erudition, he never lost sight of the fact that Orthodoxy is first and foremost a matter of the heart.
It was not long before Fr. Seraphim gave himself wholeheartedly to the acquisition of this newly-discovered treasure and, like the man in the Gospel parable, he gave up all that he had for this "pearl of great price." With the formation of the Brotherhood, Fr. Seraphim's talents were used to make others aware of this treasure through the printed word.
The years that followed saw a great increase in the number of American converts. But, as Fr, Seraphim observed, the spirit of the times was so unfavorable to the development of an Orthodox soul, that many of these converts fell into one extreme or another, missing the point of true Orthodoxy altogether. Fr. Seraphim became very concerned with the problem of how to communicate the "feel" of genuine Orthodoxy to contemporary Americans--and to cradle-born Orthodox who are also floundering in the sea of life. "How," he asked, "does one distinguish and get in contact with the true Orthodoxy of the Holy Fathers and avoid the false opinions of religion and Orthodoxy which are so much in the air now?" The first step, he said, lay in becoming aware---aware of one's faith, and aware of the spirit of this world.
A significant number of Fr. Seraphim's articles and lectures are devoted precisely to making one aware of these things. They provide an invaluable key to the understanding of Orthodoxy and the means of acquiring that which is indeed, "the pearl of great price."
Below are excerpts* from some of Fr. Seraphim's lectures and writings on this very important subject of Orthodoxy and the contemporary world. Let us all think carefully upon his words, planting them firmly in our hearts, and pray that by acting upon them we might bear the fruit of his labors, unto the salvation of our souls.
After painting a rather bleak picture of the situation of mankind today, Fr. Seraphim gave an astute prognosis of what to expect in the '80's, how this will affect us spiritually, and what we should do about it. He emphasized three movements: the spread of communism in the free world, the increase of Eastern religious ideas and spiritual deception, and the religious awakening in Russia. The spread of communism, he said, we should understand from a spiritual point of view. He then addressed the question: How can we prepare ourselves to withstand the difficulties which lie ahead?
"First of all, we must realize that the freedom we have in America is a precious gift which half the world has lost and hardly anyone else possesses to the extent we do; we are responsible before God for the fruitful use of this freedom.
"Second, we must recognize the reality of Communism (that is to say, atheism), this plague of our times, and face the very real possibility that we may have to live under it or something very similar. Our spiritual preparation for this will at the same time deepen our own spiritual awareness and spiritual life.
"Third, we must become informed. We must be informed of the sources of our Orthodox faith. We must be constantly reading spiritual books--the Holy Scripture, Lives of Saints, Holy Fathers--and all of this not for abstract knowledge, but to help our daily Christian life. When an atheist government comes, we may be entirely deprived of books and have no contact with Orthodox clergy for long periods--we will have to live then on what we have read or been told, but what We have absorbed and lived of Christian teaching. We will be required also to say a word to others--and it must be not just something memorized, but a living word that is part of us.--- The reality Communism....must make us all the more aware of why we believe as we do. Why do we believe in God? Why do we accept Jesus Christ as God and Saviour? Why do we belong to the Church and receive the Holy Mysteries? These questions become very real under Communism, and if our belief and commitment to Orthodoxy are not deep, they will fall away under persecution..."
The religious awakening in Russia Fr. Seraphim saw as very positive:
"The recovery of faith in Russia is perhaps what is most alive in the Orthodox world today, and it can inspire us to treasure our own faith all the more and increase the talent which God has given us to speak the truth of Orthodoxy in freedom."
He constantly warned that Orthodoxy in the free world faced the dangerous temptation of becoming what Fr. Dimitri Dudko spoke of as "spirituality with comfort":
"We should remember this phrase when we look at our own feeble Orthodoxy in the free world: are we content to have beautiful churches and chanting; do we perhaps boast that we keep the fasts and the church calendar, have "good icons" and "congregational singing," that we give to the poor and perhaps tithe to the Church? Do we delight in exalted patristic teachings and theological conferences without having the simplicity of Christ in our hearts?--then ours is a "spirituality with comfort," and we will not have the spiritual fruits that will be exhibited by those without all these "comforts" who deeply suffer and struggle for Christ..."Finally, he said:
"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...
"Our Christian enlightenment should flower in a conscious Orthodox philosophy of life. This means that we know what we believe and what it means for our life. Our Orthodox Christian tradition contains the answers to all the searchings and legitimate questions of man's mind..."
The Religion of
Deeply penetrated by a precise understanding of patristic Orthodoxy, Fr. Seraphim was deeply aware of the myriad forms of spiritual deception and Christian counterfeits ready to ensnare those not firmly grounded in the true Faith. His own earlier attraction to Buddhism further enabled him to make some very keen observations concerning the spiritual climate of our times. These formed the basis of his book, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, excerpted here:
It is deeply indicative of the spiritual state of contemporary mankind that the "charismatic'' and "meditation" experiences are taking root among "Christians." An Eastern religious influence is undeniably at work in such "Christians," but it is only as a result of something much more fundamental: the loss of the very feeling and savor of Christianity ....
The life of self-centeredness and self' satisfaction lived by most of today's "Christians'' is so all-pervading that it effectively seals them off from any understanding at all of spiritual life; and when such people do undertake "spiritual life," it is only as another form of self-satisfaction. This can be seen quite clearly in the totally false religious ideal both of the "charismatic" movement and the various forms of "Christian meditation": all of them promise (and give very quickly) an experience of "contentment" and "peace." But this is not the Christian ideal at all, which if anything may be summed up as a fierce battle and struggle. The "contentment" and "peace" described in these contemporary "spiritual" movements are quite manifestly the product of spiritual deception, of spiritual self-satisfaction-which is the absolute death of the God-oriented spiritual life. All these forms of "Christian meditation" operate solely on the psychic level and have nothing whatever in common with Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is formed in the arduous struggle to acquire the eternal Kingdom, which fully begins only with the dissolution of this temporal world, and the true Christian struggler never finds repose even in the foretastes of eternal blessedness which might be vouchsafed to him in this life; but the Eastern religions, to which the Kingdom of Heaven has not been revealed, strive only to acquire psychic states which begin and end in this life.
In our age of apostasy preceding the manifestation of Antichrist, the devil has been loosed for a time (Apoc. 20:7) to work the false miracles which he could not work during the "thousand years" of grace in the Church of Christ (Apoc. 20:3), and to gather in his hellish harvest of those souls who "received not the love of the truth"(II Thes. 2:10). We can tell that the time of Antichrist is truly near by the very fact that this satanic harvest is now being reaped not merely among the pagan peoples, who have not heard of Christ, but even more among "Christians" who have lost the savor of Christianity. It is of the very nature of Antichrist to present the kingdom of the devil as if it mere of Christ. The present-day "charismatic" movement and "Christian meditation," and the "new religious consciousness" of which they are part, are forerunners of the religion of the future, the religion of 'the last humanity, the Religion of Antichrist, and their chief "spiritual" function is to make available to Christians the demonic initiation hitherto restricted to the pagan world ....
· What has brought humanity--and indeed Christendom--to this desperate state? Certainly it is not any overt worship of the devil which is limited always to a few people; rather; it is something much more subtle, and something fearful for a conscious Orthodox Christian to reflect on: it is the less of the grace of God, which follows on the loss of the savor of Christianity ....
How much, then, must Orthodox Christians walk in the fear of God, trembling lest they lose His grace, which by no means is given to everyone, but only to those who hold the true Faith, lead a life of Christian struggle, and treasure the grace of God which leads them heavenward. And how much more cautiously must Orthodox Christians walk today above all, when they are surrounded by a counterfeit Christianity that gives its own experiences of “grace” and the “Holy Spirit” and can abundantly quote the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers to "prove" it! Surely the last times are near, when there will come spiritual deception so persuasive as to deceive, if it were possible, even the very elect (Matt. 24,:24) ....
this powerful "religious experience'' true Orthodox Christians must now arm
themselves in earnest, becoming fully conscious of what Orthodox Christianity
is and how its goal is different from that of all other religions,
“Christian” or non-Christian.
Orthodox Christians! Hold fast to the grace which you have; never let it become a matter of habit; never measure it by merely human standards or expect it to be logical or comprehensible to those who understand nothing higher than what is human .... Let all true Orthodox Christians strengthen themselves for the battle ahead, never forgetting that in Christ the victory is already ours...
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