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Sep 2 Seraphim Rose - American Orthodox Ascetic

Today we we go back to year 1982 and travel to Redding in Northern California where Seraphim Rose an American priest-monk of the Russian Orthodox Church died at the young age of 48. He had translated many Orthodox Christian texts and authored several works. Living a hard ascetic life, and becoming obsessed by the apocalypse, his writings have been credited with helping to spread Eastern Orthodox Christianity throughout the West; his renown extended to Russia itself, where his works were secretly reproduced and distributed by samizdat during the Communist era.


Samizdat, Russian for self publishing, refers to literature that was secretly written, copied, and circulated in the former Soviet Union and usually critical of practices of the Soviet government. It began appearing following Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, largely as a revolt against official restrictions on the freedom of expression of major dissident Soviet authors. Because of the government’s strict monopoly on presses, photocopiers, and other such devices, samizdat publications typically took the form of carbon copies of typewritten sheets and were passed by hand from reader to reader. The most popular work on the afterlife, although some Orthodox Christians strongly disagree with aspects of it. Was “The Soul After Death,” written by Fr Seraphim, which interpretation and summary of ancient teachings of the Orthodox Church. Typewritten instalments of “The Soul After Death” were distributed through the samizdat, before the fall of communism.

Before he became Fr. Seraphim, his name was Eugene Rose, he excelled at school and received a scholarship to attend Pomona College to study Philosophy. During college, he immersed himself in philosophy, classical music and literature, theatre and languages. He moved within a circle of friends inclined toward intellectual and artistic pursuits. “We were outsiders, and not unhappy about it,” says Laurence McGilvery “We didn’t conform. We didn’t join fraternities, we didn’t drink beer; we were a more open and tolerant group in a time of heightened intolerance.” While at Pomona, Rose and some friends, including McGilvery, heard a lecture by a former Anglican priest, Alan Watts, who had become a convert to Zen Buddhism. Rose would go on to study under Watts, before becoming disillusioned and referring to him as an armchair Buddhists. He then became interested in a Chinese Taoist scholar named Gi-ming Shien, learning to read ancient Chinese so he could access the early Taoist texts. However, Rose's spiritual journey led him back to Christianity and into the Russian Orthodox Church, influenced by his gay partner in San Francisco Jon Gregerson. who introduced him to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. While Rose was immersing himself in the mystique of ancient Orthodoxy, his partner, who had written a book about the Church, was losing interest in it. Soon they split up and later, referring to his young adult years he once said: “I was in hell. I know what hell is.” The harshness of the ascetic life that followed indicated that he was dead to this world but alive to the next, and more concerned about purifying his soul than adorning his body.

He became a monk on the mountainside above Platina in 1970, at age of 36 with a Russian American named Gleb Podmoshensky. They established a skete, or small brotherhood, not as large or formal as a monastery. Fr Gleb became Abbot Herman and they cooked their meals outside on a camp stove, sometimes in knee-deep snow, and hauled water up from the base of the mountain in an old pickup truck. They published a journal they called The Orthodox Word, using a hand press Rose had bought for $200. They later bought a used Linotype machine and a generator to run it, and their flow of publications grew to include calendars and books. The monks ate no meat, but did eat fish. The monastic rules they followed permitted no unnecessary talking, or casual reclining, or crossing one’s legs when seated. The skete was established not as a place of retreat but of seclusion and struggle. “We must have a minimum of ‘conveniences and trust in God instead of devices.” Herman once said of him: “Above all, Father Seraphim knew how to suffer.”

At Platina, Rose lived for years in an uninsulated shack without running water or electricity, with a tiny wood-burning stove for warmth. He built the cabin himself of salvaged lumber on land his parents helped him buy. In winter, the silent pine forest that pressed in on their outpost was often deep in snow. In summer, the heat could be stifling. The cabin, called a cell in the monastic tradition, was about 8 feet by 10 feet. A tiny room attached to the main structure contained a small shelf of books that served as Rose’s library. Rose slept in a corner on a bed made of two boards. From this shadowy cell, lit with candles and oil lamps, came a torrent of writings that exalt an ancient, literal, traditionalist view of the Orthodox faith, one that is considered extreme, even fanatical, by some clerics. He had a fascination with the end times and would often say as an apocalyptic warning: “It’s later than you think! Hasten, therefore, to do the work of God.”

Russian Orthodoxy was divided by a long-running feud between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to which Rose belonged, and the Church within Russia. Those loyal to the Church Abroad contend that it is the true, free Church, preserver of the piety that existed before the Bolsheviks. They believed that the hierarchy within Russia had been corrupted by decades of subservience to the Soviet regime. The Church Abroad, on the other hand, is regarded as a separatist group mired in very old, obsolete doctrines. Much of Rose’s work seemed to bypass Church hierarchy altogether, speaking directly to the Russian laity, as well as to American converts. His admiration for Russia’s people and their struggles was undisguised. Rose, fervently anti-communist, suggested that communism’s fall, and the resurrection of Holy Russia, would presage the end of the world.

However in 1982 the harshness of his life caught up to him, for days he had endured agonizing stomach pain and had kept to his cell, resisting entreaties that he go to a doctor. When his condition worsened, monks drove him to the emergency room. It was found during surgery that a blood clot had blocked a vein leading from the intestines, parts of which had become grey and gangrenous. He lingered for a week in intensive care. Rose was pronounced dead Sept. 2, 1982, at a hospital in Redding. Almost immediately, there were reports of visions and miracles. A woman whose son had received spiritual guidance from Rose said that, the day before Rose died, she received a visitation. “I was working in the back room,” she said, “Suddenly, time stopped, and in front of me I saw Father Seraphim all shining, wearing glittering, silvery vestments—these are the closest words I can use to describe the light.

Fr. Herman, the monastery’s abbot, was suspended from priestly duties in 1985 and formally defrocked four years later after conflicts with the church hierarchy. The brotherhood he and Rose had founded in the 1960s was disassociated from the Russian Ortho­dox Church Outside of Russia, but Fr. Herman continued to serve as a cleric under a non-canonical bishop.


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