Orthodox America

  Fr. Seraphim of Northville

      Hieromonk Seraphim Filimonoff could well be considered a desert-dweller of modern times. His "desert"--the vast prairie land of the Canadian west--was, in so many ways, far removed from his native Russia, and in thirty years only a handful of monastic strugglers shared with him its wealth of solitude. Its long white winters and isolation kept the world at bay, allowing the desert dweller to cultivate an other-worldly atmosphere, transplanted, as it were, from Holy Rus', whose spirit was at home in his heart. Fr. Seraphim was, in fact, one of a dwindling number of living links with the genuine Orthodox Christianity of Ho1y Russia. And with his repose in this Millennial year, it is fitting to review and to reflect upon the life and legacy of this holy man of God.


      Father Seraphim was born in pre-Revolutionary Russia on January 30, 1908. He was baptized Gregory and was raised from birth in Christian piety. Like countless others, he suffered the evil and oppressive consequences of the Bolshevik Revolution, but while serving in the Russian army in World War II, he was delivered to freedom in the West, first to Germany, then England, where, like many D.P.'s, he was assigned to brutal work in the mines. It was in England that he met Archimandrite Vitaly (now Metropolitan of the Russian Church Abroad) and became interested in monastic life. His interest blossomed, and when in the early '50's the newly consecrated Bishop Vitaly set out for Brazil with his St. Job of Pochaev Brotherhood, Gregory followed. There in Brazil he was tonsured a monk and given the name Seraphim, "aflame for God," after St. Seraphim of Sarov. Shortly thereafter he was ordained to the priesthood.

      Within a few years the Brotherhood moved again, this time to Canada, where Bishop Vitaly was appointed ruling bishop of the western provinces. It was a difficult time for the Brotherhood-now numbering about 14 monks---until an abandoned sawmill and the surrounding 300 acres in the wilderness west of Edmonton became available. There they established a new monastic community dedicated to the Holy Dormition of the Mother of God. Unexpectedly, Bishop Vitaly was soon transferred to Montreal as Archbishop for all Canada. His Brotherhood pulled up stakes once again, leaving Fr. Seraphim behind in Northville as keeper and abbot of the now tiny Dormition Skete. At the same time Fr. Seraphim was assigned to serve as circuit priest for the area parishes of the Church Abroad. These demanding responsibilities he fulfilled faithfully and obediently right up until his repose.

      Fr. Seraphim was a lifeless worker; he had remarkable strength and endurance despite the poor health which plagued him for much of his life. He tended a sizeable garden, baked prosphora and himself sewed and mended his monastic garments. His life was quiet and unassuming; when a new house was built for him--modest though it was--he preferred to keep to his old quarters. The simplicity of his surroundings was appropriate to his childlike trust and innocence, and to the peace and joy which were invariably communicated by his presence. Indeed, like his Saint, his constant counsel was to strive for a quiet peace of soul in order to acquire the Holy Spirit; this he considered the whole aim of the Christian life.

      Despite his preferred isolation from the world, Fr. Seraphim was always accessible to those seeking the "other world". Although he spoke very little English, his desire to share about heavenly things was so strong that he would break out in a rich melange of Russian, English and German, combined with exuberant sign and body language, which effectively communicated to us non-Russian speaking converts his soul-saving counsel. "God want it! Thank you God!" What could more clearly express the truth that God intends everything that happens in our lives to be profitable for our salvation. Even in times of illness and other adversity Fr. Seraphim had the humility and faith to gratefully and gladly declare, "All from God!" Whenever any of us would be weak in this area, he would encourage us to pray, "God mercy me." Such a simple and boundless faith was a constant source of amazement and inspiration to the spiritually fainthearted to whom he ministered so generously.

      Fr. Seraphim's ceaseless labors for the Kingdom of God reached their end with one final trial-a serious and painful illness. His bodily strength faded fast, but God granted his wish to rejoice in one last Pascha. He reposed in peace on April 10/ 23, 1988, at the age of 80; his body was laid to rest in the cemetery at the Holy Protection of the Mother of God Convent (skete) near Bluffton, Alberta. In the last years of his life Fr. Seraphim had often made the long drive to Bluffton to serve Divine Liturgy for the nuns who were without a regular priest. Now it is the nuns who are serving Fr. Seraphim--lovingly tending his grave and praying for the eternal repose of his soul. Others, too, come to offer prayers, grateful for Fr. Seraphim's words of edification, for his love and consolation, and for the taste of that other-worldliness which he cultivated in his "wilderness" skete through long hours of prayer and constant remembrance of God.

       Alas, Fr. Seraphim left behind no monastic disciples. The skete now stands empty, uncertain of its future destiny. May God grant to some young men or women the desire and the determination to revive the flame of monastic life here in Northville, a flame to illumine the way into the Heavenly Kingdom, a flame which Fr. Seraphim faithfully kept burning for so many years. 

John Langston

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