St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox SoborSt. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Sobor
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Book Review
by Brian Lehr
"Not of This World: The Life and Teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose" by Monk Damascene Christensen
(© 1993, Fr. Seraphim Rose Foundation, P.O. Box 1656, Forestville, CA. 95436)

What is the purpose of life? Does it really have any meaning? If it does, what form does that meaning take for a young, twentieth century, American man? Such are the questions which confront Eugene Rose in the book I've recently read, entitled Not of This World: The Life and Teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose by Monk Damascene Christensen.

When I first bought the book, I was a little overwhelmed by the size of it: 1040 pages! However, as I read it, I realized that even in a book that size, only a small portion of the man's life is captured.

Eugene Rose was a very determined youth. He had an idea of what he wanted from life, but he didn't know where or how to get it. Being one who read a lot, he was very intellectually and philosophically inclined. One day, when he was seventeen, his mother said to him, "Eugene, if you keep reading like this, some day you'll be very smart." Eugene replied, "I don't want to be smart; I want to be wise." When I read that comment, I thought to myself, "What greater reason can one have for reading and learning?"

In his search for wisdom, and for what he called his "path in life," he soon discovered that the road contained many forks. One of the most prominent roads that he traveled down was his quest for Eastern spirituality, especially in the form of Zen Buddhism. In journeying in this direction, he spent several years in taking courses, and personally getting to know the instructors, at the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco.

Within a few short years of his deep involvement in Buddhism, he soon became disillusioned with it all. As a great thinker himself, he had read the works of all the great philosophers. However, when he began to read Rene Guenon and Nietzsche, along with other like-minded philosophers, he began to wonder if life really was empty, and whether or not it might be more profitable to simply have a nihilistic worldview.

Such an attitude, however, was not to prevail. One Sunday, just out of curiosity, he found himself entering a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco. It was during that worship experience that he first got a real glimpse of that "otherworldly" existence for which he had so longed. After a long period of soul-searching and inner struggling, Eugene came to realize that life did indeed have meaning, and that true significance and wisdom could only be found within the confines of Eastern Christianity.

Well, Eugene thought through the issues, and over a period of ten years realized that his "path in life" meant becoming a Russian Orthodox Priest, and a monk in the mountains of Platina, California. In doing so, Eugene was given a new name, that of Seraphim. Today, the name of Fr. Seraphim Rose is recognized in many parts of Russia as one of the greatest spiritual writers of our time.

The large portion of the book chronicles Fr. Seraphim's interior and exterior struggles as he seeks to build a monastery with a friend of his, Fr. Herman. Through much laboring and intense suffering, they not only produced a monthly magazine, The Orthodox Word, but also translated into English many French and Russian writings which are of great profit to the English-speaking Orthodox.

Shortly after becoming Orthodox, Fr. Seraphim was diagnosed with a fatal stomach disease. Throughout his remaining years, he sought to help others who were in a disillusioned state as he himself once was. In doing so, he not only personally helped thousands of people find a renewed purpose in life, but through his writings he also helped millions of others do likewise. He was truly a spiritual Father. In the Spring of 1982, through much suffering and pain, the life of Father Seraphim Rose came to an end. Yet, while hooked up to machines and tubes in a California hospital, he was still able to give a blessing to all who visited, a blessing of love and peace from a life that was never really "of this world."

The book, Not of This World did an excellent job of showing us a man who genuinely practiced what he preached. Father Seraphim never ceased pointing out that nothing of eternal significance is ever really birthed, except through the experiences of suffering and pain. I've often wondered how many other North Americans, including Canadians like myself, really struggle through the great questions of life, like Eugene Rose did. Perhaps we're too busy buying into the nihilistic philosophy that this world has bought into. The result is that we too often end up with a fatalistic attitude that no matter what happens, nothing we think, do, or say can ever change it. Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. The life of Father Seraphim Rose shows us that this does not have to be the case.

 
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The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he who praises Christ amid the congregation of men
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