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“Through the Cross Joy Hath Come Into All the World”: The Otherworldly Life of Fr. Seraphim (Rose)
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“Through the Cross Joy Hath Come Into All the World”: The Otherworldly Life of Fr. Seraphim (Rose)

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Do not worry about my philosophical nature. When I became Christian I voluntarily crucified my mind, and all the crosses that I bear have been only a source of joy for me. I have lost nothing and gained everything.”

Fr. Seraphim (Rose)

Back in our first piece on Orthodoxy in America, “Secularism and Saints: A Look at America’s Orthodox Holy People and Places,” we introduced the reader to Fr. Seraphim Rose, an Orthodox Christian monk and priest who reposed at the tender age of 48 in 1982. In the 36 years since then, the life and works of Fr. Seraphim Rose have spread throughout the Orthodox world, inspiring thousands and millions to take up the ascetic struggle of the Orthodox Christian life in service to the God Whom Fr. Seraphim himself served wholeheartedly.

Though not yet officially canonized as a saint, Fr. Seraphim is nevertheless recognized as a holy God-pleaser by many Orthodox Americans, as well as Orthodox Russians, Serbians, Bulgarians, Georgians, Greeks, Romanians, and so on.

Georgian, Serbian, Romanian, and Greek icons of Fr. Seraphim

That he, a 20th century American, is so venerated in lands that have been saturated with holy Orthodoxy for a thousand or even 2,000 years is truly remarkable. The liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church is filled with thousands of saints from Greece, for example, and yet, even there, the faithful are also looking to our homegrown American, Fr. Seraphim, for spiritual nourishment.

Back in the summer of 2012, I spent two months at the monastery that Fr. Seraphim founded in the forests of northern California, named in honor of St. Herman of Alaska (the first Orthodox missionary to America, who we also discussed in a previous article). During my time there, a sizable pilgrimage group came for a visit… from Russia! The group was even led by a Russian bishop. It really struck me — there are literally thousands of holy places and sacred objects in Russia—holy monasteries, wonderworking icons, incorrupt relics, etc. — and yet, these God-seekers traveled halfway around the world to visit the very humble abode of Fr. Seraphim and to venerate his relics.

This is why we spoke of Fr. Seraphim in our introductory article — whereas all of America’s official Orthodox saints came to us from Orthodox lands, or at least grew up in Orthodox families, Fr. Seraphim, on the other hand, is the first truly American saint — a convert from a Protestant-Catholic family who traveled down various philosophical and religious paths before finally finding his home in Orthodoxy.

Fr. Seraphim, born Eugene Rose in 1934, was in college during the beatnik era, and for a time he engaged in the frivolities of modern society — including drunkenness and sexual sins. But for whatever reason, while so many have completely drowned in these and similar sins, something within Eugene, in the depths of his soul, was screaming out in pain. He knew his life had no meaning unless he could find the truth — unless he knew whether God exists and Who He is. Everything he did, he did to the fullest, including his search for truth.

“Through the Cross Joy Hath Come Into All the World”: The Otherworldly Life of Fr. Seraphim (Rose)

What he found in holy Orthodoxy was the only true rebellion against the ways of the world that were killing him—Orthodoxy offers not just the chance and ability to turn away from the world, but to also turn to something, or rather, to Someone — Jesus Christ. He’d already tried Buddhism — he knew that turning from the world in order to simply be empty, to embrace nothingness, was ultimately unfulfilling — we must empty ourselves in order to then be filled with something, or again, Someone. In the first article we quoted Fr. Seraphim as saying, “Christ is the only exit from this world; all other exits — sexual rapture, political utopia, economic independence—are but blind alleys in which rot the corpses of the many who have tried them.”

This is why Orthodox Christians from around the world, and especially from those lands that suffered so terribly under godless communism, embrace Fr. Seraphim — he had known suffering, as had they, and come out on the other side with joy and the resolve to go deeper than the world can offer.

And when Eugene met Jesus Christ and discovered His holy Orthodox Church, he gave himself entirely over to the teachings and life of the Church. This is what he meant when he said, “When I became Christian I voluntarily crucified my mind, and all the crosses that I bear have been only a source of joy for me. I have lost nothing and gained everything.”

Eugene possessed a great mind. He had a keen intellect, knew several languages, and could have had a brilliant academic career, but rather than following down this ultimately dead-end path (in the sense that intelligence does not lead to salvation), he gave his mind over to Christ and humbly submitted himself to the ancient and unwavering teachings of the Orthodox Church. Believing that Adam and Eve had fallen, and with them all of human nature, Eugene knew that even his intellect and reasoning ability needed to be healed by Christ in order to work correctly and lead him ever closer to Truth.

Eugene dedicated himself to this process of healing when he became Orthodox, and especially when he became a monk in 1970, when he took up the name of Fr. Seraphim. From that point, until his early death in 1982, he lived a life of asceticism — of prayer, fasting, obedience, constant warfare with his own thoughts and sinful inclinations — all in the name of Christ and for the sake of experiencing the grace of Christ. And Fr. Seraphim struggled not only for himself, but that he could share this grace with others — with spiritual children and visitors to the monastery — and more broadly with the entire Orthodox world, and beyond, through his spiritual writings and translations.

Having tasted of the dregs of secular society and turned his back on it, Fr. Seraphim thus wrote piercing articles and books that cut through the lies of our modern society and he as if became a new St. John the Baptist — a new “voice crying in the wilderness”—literally from the wilderness of his forested-mountain monastery.

I believe this is precisely why Fr. Seraphim is so important, especially for Americans. He shows us the way of humility; he shows us the path of fidelity to Christ in His Church and its teachings. Such a lifestyle is essentially anathema for modern Americans. We need increasingly higher degrees to get any kind of worthwhile and well-paying job; everything depends on our resumes and interviews — we have to sell ourselves, we have to put on brilliance and ingenuity on display. a

This may get us somewhere in the work world, but if that’s all our life is, then it’s ultimately a path of self-reliance, and self-reliance is ultimately the path of Adam and Eve (true, they were deceived by the serpent, but in the end, they made their own choice over and against the will of God). Obedience is the path of Christ — even obedience unto death. Of course, this is not necessarily literal for every Christian — not everyone will be a martyr — but everyone is called to put to death everything within themselves that is against God and that is “short of the glory of God.”

Fr. Seraphim exemplifies this life.

“Through the Cross Joy Hath Come Into All the World”: The Otherworldly Life of Fr. Seraphim (Rose)

Every Sunday, in celebration of Christ’s holy Resurrection, Orthodox Christians sing, “For though the Cross joy hath come into all the world,” meaning that by Christ’s Cross, sin is blotted out, death is destroyed, and man can again know His Creator — if he puts himself on the same path of Christ — the path of humility, obedience, and ultimately, crucifixion.

Fr. Seraphim reflected this deep truth when he said, “All the crosses that I bear have been only a source of joy for me. I have lost nothing and gained everything.”

This is the hope of every Orthodox Christian — a hope that the world, and certainly modern American society, simply cannot give us.

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“Through the Cross Joy Hath Come Into All the World”: The Otherworldly Life of Fr. Seraphim (Rose)

I have written on Fr. Seraphim several times before. For more information, see a homily I wrote for the Sunday of All Saints of America, which focused on Fr. Seraphim, my piece “Remembering Fr. Seraphim (Rose) at a Monastery in Bulgaria,” which I wrote just a few weeks ago during a vacation to Bulgaria, or my seminary thesis, “A Patristic Perspective On a Crucified Mind: Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and the Doctrine of Creation,” which greatly expands upon the idea of a crucified mind that we have touched upon here, focusing in particular on his teaching on the first several chapters of the book of Genesis.

Also see the website for St. Herman Press, where you can purchase books written by Fr. Seraphim, as well as his biography, masterfully written by one of his spiritual children, Fr. Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works.

Author: Jesse Dominick