By Blessed Seraphim Rose of Platina
Raising the Mind, Warming the Heart
1. Faith and Reason
The writings of the Russian philosopher Ivan Kireyevsky contain some basic ideas which are very apropos for us today. The usual argument between faith and reason, he wrote, is not correct. Reason is such a thing that it must be raised up to a higher level, and this is what the Orthodox Church tries to give. By itself, reason does not offer any more than an understanding of this two-dimensional, corporeal realm, with which most of the critics and scholars of the West are occupying themselves. There is something, however, above this. According to Western thinking, if you go “above” this, you usually have to deny reason and “jump into the dark.” In Orthodoxy this is not so, for the reason itself is so exposed to Truth that it begins to be elevated above itself. We will examine how this point relates to contemporary Orthodox Christians, and especially to missionary-minded converts.
2. Missionary Fervor
There is much discussion in the Orthodox world about the need for people in the West to be converted, for more services in English, for overcoming ethnicism in the Church. This positive missionary fervor is a very good sign (except, of course, when negative comments are made). In fact, as Archimandrite Constantine (of Jordanville) often said, the best time for missionary activity is right now, because the less Christian America becomes, the more the Orthodox mission increases. Our positive missionary fervor, however, must be guided by an awareness of the times in which we live, so that we will know how to save our souls and save others. It is natural for those who are in the Church of Christ, realizing what it means to be Orthodox, not to be satisfied with just having it for themselves. Knowing that Orthodoxy is the Truth for all peoples, they want it for others: for their own friends and relatives, and for whoever may have their heart open to it. Yet, as we look about us today, we see the Orthodox Church so hemmed in by Communist persecution in one place and by worldliness in another. The situation is, of course, worse in the West, which is occupied by worldliness. Under Communism, one can suffer for Christ and at least bring something good out of that; whereas, under the influence of worldliness, Orthodox Christianity loses its savor and the believers become just like anybody else. In the latter case, many Protestants put many Orthodox to shame, since they have fervor and love for Christ without even knowing what the Church of Christ is. These situations, however, should not cause the slightest difference in our missionary fervor. (And the same may be said for the situation, faced by many English-speaking converts, of having to attend services in a foreign language.) We must remember that Christ expects from us not missionary fervor, but a changed life and a warm heart. The missionary fervor is on a secondary level, on the external side. We see numerous examples of people with great missionary fervor who did not place first the internal side of changing themselves, warming their hearts and raising their minds to a higher level, as Kireyevsky describes. These people became “burnt out” and fruitless, and some of them even left the Church.
3. Setting Priorities
How does one begin to place first things first? We can learn from problems in contemporary Orthodoxy which show the results of setting wrong priorities. Our Brotherhood is in contact with many people in Greece, and we receive very heartfelt letters from them. They tell us important things about the present state of Grcece, where, since the 1920’s, there has been a division between the new calendar Church, which goes the way of the world, and the old calendar Church, which wants to he faithful to the Holy Fathers. Lately, the old calendar Church has been getting some influential converts, and they have a fervent missionary spirit similar to that of our young Americans who want to open up Orthodoxy to their fellow countrymen. Where can this fervor lead? In Greece, fervor for the canons and the Holy Fathers has produced some extremely unpleasant, bad results. Group after group begins to cut themselves off because they consider the others not fervent enough. Each one accuses the others of not emphasizing the right things, of not having the proper relationship with other Orthodox Churches, etc. There is one tragic case of a very sophisticated Greek theologian who left his jurisdiction because, in the altar of one of its churches, there was an icon of the Holy Trinity showing God the Father as the Ancient of Days. “Uncanonical, ” he said, “the canons are against it!” His action indicates that something was not being placed first. It is strange not only because this man was very learned, but also because he was living in a country that had been Orthodox for nearly two thousand years. What chance do we have in America, which is almost pagan and not enlightened by Orthodoxy, if advanced people in Greece are like that? *
4. Human Opinions
We have a friend on Mt. Athos who has been observing for many years the situation in Greek monasteries. He goes to places where, for example, someone has become a famous elder and has many disciples. Having observed these elders, he often concludes that the people are imagining and creating fantasies, just like anyone else. They have opinions which they put into the air and surround someone with them, and suddenly he becomes a “holy elder” and they all flock to him. Actually, there is no reason for this—there are many holier people that they pay no attention to. On Mt. Athos this can be seen in the case of an elder named Theodosius, a very holy man who wrote a diary about how he prayed the Jesus Prayer on a very advanced level. No one knows anything about him, while everyone knows about certain others because someone has “put them into the air” and everyone follows that particular opinion. Among us Western converts to Orthodoxy, this tendency—to find an opinion someone has put into the air and begin to run after it—is very strong. This, however, is not what we should be doing. We should be using our minds, trying to raise our hearts to a level where we can feel more deeply about Orthodoxy. It is required of us in these times to be extremely discerning.
5. Recent Fathers
The pitfalls mentioned thus far, which in Greece have led to schisms among people who have been Orthodox all their lives, are caused by an absence of that which Kireyevsky was writing about and trying to promote. The particular clergyman whom we know on Mt. Athos, after observing all kinds of factions, fights, “holy elders ” and so forth among the Greeks, says that there is something basic missing in them: they did not have, in the 19th century, Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov and Bishop Theophan the Recluse. [l] These two figures were living witnesses of what Kireyevsky was writing about. They were recent Orthodox Fathers in Russia who were thoroughly steeped in the spirit of the Holy Fathers. They spoke to people in the language of their times, a period very close to our 20th century. All the temptations of our times were known to them, especially to Bishop Ignatius, who read all the Western writers, was himself an engineer and knew all the latest theories of mathematics and calculus. Knowing the present situation and the whole of modern Western wisdom, they set forth the Orthodox teaching for these times and answered all kinds of arguments. Bishop Ignatius, for example, wrote a volume on hell and the state of the soul after death, elucidating Orthodox teaching in a way that can be understood by Western man. These Fathers, as well as others who have read them and followed them, hand down Orthodoxy to us in a very accessible way.
6. External Wisdom
If the authentic spirit of Orthodoxy is not transmitted to us like this, there is a temptation for us to be following “external wisdom,” the wisdom of this world. We will then, in coming to Orthodoxy, go after external things: good icons, beautiful Church services according to the Typicon, just the right kind of chanting, tithing, having beautiful churches…. All these things are wonderful and good, but we can approach them without placing first a warm, Christian heart and a struggle with ourselves whereby we are made humble. If we neglect this essential priority, then all these wonderful external things can, as the philosopher Vladimir Solovyev describes, be put in a museum of Orthodox antiquities—and the Antichrist will love this. The Antichrist must be understood as a spiritual phenomenon. Why will everyone in the world want to bow down to him? Obviously it is because there is something in him which responds to something in us—that something being a lack of Christ in us. If we will bow down to him (God forbid that we do so!), it will be because we will feel an attraction to some kind of external thing, which might even look like Christianity, since “Antichrist” means the one who is “in place of Christ” or looks like Christ. In such a way we will entirely lose our salvation, going after he who is in place of Christ, and who will lead us away. The Antichrist can come, of course, only after the whole world has heard of Christ; therefore, the final choice is made between Christ and the Imposter, and almost the whole world will follow after the Beast. How do we keep from doing this, from following “external wisdom”? We can be caught up in it, it should be noted, even if we become caught up in exalted ideas. It is in the fashion now to learn about the Jesus Prayer, to read the Philokalia, to go “back to the Fathers.” These kinds of things also will not save us—they are external. They may be helpful if they are used rightly, but if they become your passion, the first thing you are after, then they become externals which lead not to Christ, but to Antichrist. If you get all excited about having the right kind of icons and begin saying, “There’s an icon of the wrong style in your church! ” you must check yourself and be more careful, because you are again placing all your emphasis on something external. In fact, if there is a church with nothing but icons of the latest “approved” style, one might justifiably regard it with suspicion. There is a case (one of many) in which a church had old, original Russian icons—some good and some in rather poor taste, painted in a relatively new style—and a zealous person took them all out and put in new, “traditional” style paper icon prints. And what was the result? The people there lost contact with tradition, with the people who gave them Orthodoxy. I they removed the original icons which believers had prayed before for centuries. An icon is first of all something to be prayed before. This was once affirmed by Archbishop John (Maximovitch) [glorified as a Saint in 1994 by the Russian Church Abroad—webmaster], who was the president of a San Francisco icon society dedicated to the restoration of old icons. One member, who was very zealous for the old icon style, wanted the Archbishop to make a decree in the diocese that only old style icons are to be allowed, or at least to make a decision that this was the officially approved position. In a way, this man’s intention seemed good. Archbishop John, however, told him, “I can pray in front of one kind and I can pray in front of another kind of icon.” The important thing is that we pray, not that we pride ourselves on having good icons. So far we have been citing contemporary examples of “external wisdom” in Orthodoxy, but there are profitable illustrations of it in the past as well. One of these is found in the spiritual counsels of Abba Dorotheos, a 6th-century desert Father from Gaza. “I knew a man, ” writes Dorotheos, “who came to a miserable state. From the beginning, if one of his brethren said anything to him, he used to say, ‘Who is he? He is not Zosimas or one of his lot.’ Then he began to cheapen them and to say, ‘There is no one of any importance but Macarius,’ and after a little while, to say, ‘Who is Macarius, anyway? There is no one any good, except perhaps Basil or Gregory.’ And then in a short while he began to debunk them, saying, Who is Basil? Who is Gregory? There is no one who counts but Peter and Paul.’ And I said to him, ‘Really, brother, you are going to despise these soon.’ And believe me, after a short time he began saying, ‘Who is Paul? Who is Peter? There is no one but the Holy Trinity!’ And so at last he lifted himself up against God—and there he gave up!” This monk ended as he did because he began with self-love in his heart and did not really want to change himself; he wanted to follow after some kind of external thing. We see this same attitude nowadays, expressed something like this: “Everybody knows St. Symeon the New Theologian. Oh, yes! We’ll run after him. St. Gregory Palamas. Yes! Oh, he’s all the rage! Yes! And all the hesychast Fathers…. Hesychasm! and Jesus Prayer,” and other advanced subjects—all this is on an external level.
7. Being Linked with the Past
Such considerations should cause us to value even more the Fathers of recent centuries (not that we should make them a fashion, too!), who transmit Orthodoxy to us and teach us how to soberly approach the Fathers of earlier times. We have to look at ourselves: if we see that we have zeal for Orthodoxy and yet are not “linked” with the line that goes back to Ignatius Brianchaninov and Theophan the Recluse, there is a danger that we might not be linked to all the Fathers.  There should be a continuous line. We may still find “ordinary” parish priests, some of them from the Old World, who would never think of making schisms and factions, or of excommunicating someone over questions of strictness, who are extremely longsuffering, who often do not say much and are therefore criticized or overlooked. These criticisms are superficial: we ourselves must be looking deeper to find something in these pastors and in the Church, something that is not too obvious outwardly —this very “link” with the past. You will not find many people who will explain it in detail like this. You have to, wherever you might be, try to receive those things which cannot necessarily be communicated in words. These things are the very characteristics which come from a warm, loving heart: longsuffering, patience, fervor (but not of such a kind that it begins to be critical of others). As soon as you begin making such statements as, “These people aren’t doing this as they should,” you have to stop and warn yourself. Even if it is true—as is often the case to some degree—this critical attitude is a very negative thing which will not lead you anywhere. In the end, it may get you right outside the whole Church. Therefore, you have to remember not to judge or think yourself so wise that you “know better.” On the contrary, try to learn, perhaps without words, from some of those people whom you might be critical of. Our zeal and enthusiasm must be tempered by wisdom that comes down to us through Ignatius Brianchaninov and Theophan the Recluse, perhaps even through the simplest parish priest, in ways which we have to be subtle and refined enough to discern, even if we are not told.
8. Overcoming Hard-Heartedness
What Kireyevsky says is very important: we should start developing within ourselves an Orthodox philosophy of life. It is all there in the Holy Fathers, but we must have the right reason for turning to them. You can open the Holy Fathers and have the same problem you have with the Scriptures: you need someone to interpret them because you find something unclear, or you don’t have the whole context, or you don’t know how to understand what one Father said as opposed to another Father and you think they might disagree, and so on. There can be a whole realm of confusion in the Holy Fathers, and thus we have to approach them not with our ordinary rationalistic minds. We must be trying to raise our minds up to a higher level; and the way to do this is to soften the heart and make it more supple. There are many examples in the Protestant world where people have very soft hearts and are, out of love for Christ, kind to other people. We should not, as Orthodox, think that we can be hard and cold and correct and still be Christians. This is not basic Christianity. A pre-Christian philosopher in China named Lao Tzu taught that the weakest things conquer the strongest things. There is an example of this here at our monastery: the oak trees, which are very hard and unbending, are always falling down and breaking their limbs, while the pine trees, which are more supple, fall down much less often before they are actually dead. We can see the same thing in human life. The person who believes in something so passionately that he will “cut your head off” if you disagree with him, shows his weakness. He is so unsure of himself that he has to convert you to make sure that he himself believes. The contemporary forms of “super-zealotry” in the Church which are propagated by people who want so desperately to be on the right side, are in fact bowed up with weakness and insecurity. The need to be “right” is again on the external side of Chritianity. It is important, but not of primary importance. The first priority is the heart, which must be soft and warm. If we do not have this warm heart, we must ask God to give it, trying ourselves to do those things by which we can acquire it. Most of all, we have to see that we have not got it—that we are cold. We will thereby not trust our reason and the conclusions of our logical mind, with regard to which we must be somewhat “loose”. If we do this, entering into the sacramental life of the Church and receiving the grace of God, God Himself will begin to illumine us.
Although all the perils we have mentioned may sound frightful, they are actually not. The question is an extremely simple one. Because we are so complex, with our modern, cold minds, we think we have to find the answer some place and point it out with our fingers. Complexity enters in when we think of ourselves as, smart. The one thing that can save us is simplicity. It can be ours if in our hearts we pray to God to make us simple; if we just do not think ourselves so wise; if, when it comes to a question like, “Can we paint an icon of God the Father?” we do not come up with a quick answer and say, “Oh, of course it’s this way—such-and-such Council said so-and-so, canon number so-and-so.” And so either we, “knowing” that we must be right, have to excommunicate everyone else—in which case we have “gone off the deep end”—or else we have to stop and think, “Well, I guess I don’t know too much.” The more we have this second attitude, the more we will be protected from spiritual dangers. Accept simply the faith you receive from your fathers. If there is a simplehearted priest near you, give thanks to God. Consider that because you are so complex, “intellectual” and moody, you should be able to learn much from him. The more you grow in Orthodoxy by reading and exposure to Church and contact with Orthodox people, the more you will be able to “feel your way” in the whole realm of Orthodoxy. You will begin to see the wisdom behind things and people you had dismissed before. You will begin to see that even if the people who are the “links” to the past are not consciously “wise,” nevertheless, God is guiding the Church. We know that He is with the Church until the end; there is no reason to “go off the deep end,” to fall into apostasy and heresy. If we follow the simple path—distrusting our own wisdom, doing the best that we can, yet realizing that our mind, without warmth of heart, is a very weak tool—then what Kireyevsky talked about will begin to happen: an Orthodox philosophy of life will begin to be formed in us. We are confronted with the same obstacles Kireyevsky faced, only to an even greater degree. Living in the midst of Western culture, we have to try to assimilate a philosophy and theology which has come from almost 2,000 years ago and has become totally estranged and foreign to the world. Our Orthodox philosophy must not become part of some kind of cult or sect, but rather part of our daily life. By taking one small step at a time and not thinking that in one big leap we are going to get anywhere, we can walk straight into the Kingdom of Heaven—and there is no reason for any of us to fall away from that.
Editor’s Note: The following text was transcribed from a tape of a a “table-top discussion” at the St. Herman Monastery, Platina, California, in 1977. Since Fr. Seraphim’s talk was impromptu and informal, a transcription of it is of course more “colloquial” and less “polished” than his carefully composed writings. This talk also differs from the main body of his writings in that it was directed to a specific group of people: young American converts who wanted to dedicate their lives to serving God, some of them as Orthodox missionaries.
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