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Fr Seraphim Rose's letter to Thomas Merton: Against non-violent protest?


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#1 Mary M.

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 05:30 AM

I happened to stumble across a letter that Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote to the Roman Catholic monkThomas Merton here-http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/merton.aspx, and he mentioned the following

"Brotherhood" is something that happens, right here and now, in whatever circumstances God places me, between me and my brother; but when I begin to preach the "ideal" of brotherhood and go out deliberately to practice it, I am in danger of losing it altogether. Even if—especially if—I make use of a seemingly Christian "non-violence" and "passive resistance" in this or any other cause, let me before I call it a Christian act—carefully ask myself whether its end is merely a lofty worldly ideal, or something greater. (St. Paul, to take a pretty clear example, did not tell slaves to revolt "non-violently;" he told them not to revolt at all, but to concern themselves with something much more important.), but it is the bolded part that made my hair stand on end.Is Fr. Seraphim Rose, a man I've much admired, but Orthodox monk or not, was a California resident who never visited the US South during segregation and was completely unaffected by it, and apparently completely uninterested in what was going on there judging by his writings , actually suggesting that Martin Luther King,Jr. was wrong and never should have attempted to end Jim Crow and segregation? Is this a common Orthodox perspective on Civil Rights?

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 12:32 PM

I happened to stumble across a letter that Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote to the Roman Catholic monkThomas Merton here-http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/merton.aspx, and he mentioned the following

"Brotherhood" is something that happens, right here and now, in whatever circumstances God places me, between me and my brother; but when I begin to preach the "ideal" of brotherhood and go out deliberately to practice it, I am in danger of losing it altogether. Even if—especially if—I make use of a seemingly Christian "non-violence" and "passive resistance" in this or any other cause, let me before I call it a Christian act—carefully ask myself whether its end is merely a lofty worldly ideal, or something greater. (St. Paul, to take a pretty clear example, did not tell slaves to revolt "non-violently;" he told them not to revolt at all, but to concern themselves with something much more important.), but it is the bolded part that made my hair stand on end.Is Fr. Seraphim Rose, a man I've much admired, but Orthodox monk or not, was a California resident who never visited the US South during segregation and was completely unaffected by it, and apparently completely uninterested in what was going on there judging by his writings , actually suggesting that Martin Luther King,Jr. was wrong and never should have attempted to end Jim Crow and segregation? Is this a common Orthodox perspective on Civil Rights?


Not so much, I think:

http://photos.goarch..._serialNumber=2
Metropolitan Iakovos (GOAA) marching with Dr. Martin Luther King



#3 Owen Jones

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 01:19 PM

Fr. Seraphim was making a spiritual point. The implication above is that he was politically unaware because he had not experienced the same injustices as Black people had, and therefore this somehow negates the spiritual point he is making. But the spiritual point is sound, was sound then, and remains sound now. Let's not forget that protestantism is based on protest. It is an iconoclastic movement. This is one reason why Protestantism has split up into so many factions. Also, you can trace modern secular revolution back to Protestant roots.

Orthodoxy suffered from an iconoclastic movement 600 years previous. That iconoclastic movement had legitimate grievances, but it was still spiritually unsound. Because it occurred relatively early in Christian history, the Church still had the spiritual substance to overcome it, although it took a hundred years. Anything that becomes a movement, a cause, is devoid of the Holy Spirit. It becomes strictly a humanly powered thing. This is the problem that Fr. Seraphim is pointing out. To therefore discount it because Fr. Seraphim is somehow unaware of injustice is a typical self-righteous argument, because it is predicated on the notion that because someone engages in protest he is more sensitive to injustice than a person who does not engage in protest, or civil disobedience. It must be also pointed out that there was a long-time split among American blacks on the right approach to gaining civil rights. The protest movement won that argument, but Christian leaders had long claimed that the best way to move forward was to live a responsible Christian life. That was it. Not to threaten. Not to engage in confrontational protests. The problem with the Christian argument was that it was not achieving the gains that all blacks wanted fast enough.

Now, let us look at the legacy of the protest movement. It is a permanent condition. If you are not constantly protesting, then there is something wrong with you and your movement. It is tantamount to surrendering to injustice. So we have this environment of permanent protest, and the people who rise to the top of these movements are mostly ambitious, clever people bordering on thugs. This is true with every protest movement. The people who rise to the top are far from holy people. They have great expertise in lying and deceiving, because they have power now and want to hold onto that power, so they lie and deceive in order to keep people in a constant state of agitation. They must constantly manufacture injustices to keep the protest movement alive. They must constantly manufacture mass victimhood and mass guilt in order to maintain the prominence and keep the money flowing.

And are there not just as many new injustices that have cropped up? People are tired of paying reparations and those people are now protesting! So it gets to the point where the only way you can make your point is to protest and demonstrate. This all comes at a huge spiritual price. Fr. Seraphim was spiritually aware, and he is trying to share this spiritual awareness with us and we would do well to listen.

#4 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 03:35 PM

I should also add that Fr Seraphim's words were addressed at a time when Christianity was beginning its present drift towards increasing politicization. But the underlying context was an intense debate over whether Christianity had basically dropped the ball over lack of a social conscience and of social activism. In the exchange between Fr Seraphim & Fr Thomas Merton one can really see the contours of this discussion.

One thing to keep in mind though about Fr Seraphim is that his whole understanding of 'social effect' was being increasingly affected by an ascetic and Patristic understanding of this. When he first began to turn his life around in this sense his hesitancy about social engagement in the modern sense would have been mainly intuitive. But by the time he died in the 1980s there had already been ample enough proof of the dead end such social engagement leads to.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#5 Evan

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 06:49 PM

I think there's a big leap from "passive resistance is not optimally Christian conduct" to "no one should ever have tried to end segregation." One can reject the means, without rejecting the end.

Martin Luther King has become a secular saint. I don't think anyone can pretend to have knowledge of the state of his soul. But I think there's something to be said for the criticism of Christianity-as-a-social-movement. A lot. It cannot be denied that many involved in such movements regard Christianity as a useful tool for mobilization to attain earthly "progress." And yet Christ refused to succumb to Satan's temptation to "give the people bread."

To put it bluntly: What spiritual fruits have such movements produced? For the most part, I think they've fostered the unfortunate impression that Christianity is useless unless people are moved to vote for something because of it.

#6 Mary M.

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 07:25 PM

At least blacks were freed.Nothing's perfect but otherwise things would still be the same.

I think there's a big leap from "passive resistance is not optimally Christian conduct" to "no one should ever have tried to end segregation." One can reject the means, without rejecting the end.

Martin Luther King has become a secular saint. I don't think anyone can pretend to have knowledge of the state of his soul. But I think there's something to be said for the criticism of Christianity-as-a-social-movement. A lot. It cannot be denied that many involved in such movements regard Christianity as a useful tool for mobilization to attain earthly "progress." And yet Christ refused to succumb to Satan's temptation to "give the people bread."

To put it bluntly: What spiritual fruits have such movements produced? For the most part, I think they've fostered the unfortunate impression that Christianity is useless unless people are moved to vote for something because of it.



#7 Mary M.

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 07:30 PM

Fr. Raphael, thanks for searching out the photo.

I get the spiritual point but it isn't enough.The way the Patristic sources are used appear legalistic, bloodless and cold. I wonder if it is only converts who see this way?

Now, here me out, as the Orthodox in America deal with more mixed people,latinos blacks,and even poor white people these questions are going to surface.

There is something insulting in someone who's far removed from a problem opining on it.Doesn't mean they can't, but those suffering are not going to take kindly to them, and why should? Fr.Seraphim lived a very privileged live during a time of immense suffering,and had the luxury of a spiritual crisis. Yet, he appears to make no mention of these things, just America's moral crisis,which is an abstraction to the suffering.

This brings up another issue I've noticed while reading the saints; and again remember I'm not bashing,but questioning things that trouble me. I love reading about the saints, and yet like Fr. Seraphim, I've noticed two trends; female saints are either wealthy, not living in poverty or disposables that can't possibly return to their home town- prostitutes. The males are not living in poverty,wealthy and ocassionally disposables-St. Moses the Black was a runaway slave,so he couldn't return home and he must have been far away that no one knew his owners, or faced legal problems allowing him in their monastery. Father Serpahim fits this mold as an educated man who didn't suffer except spiritually. To someone suffering physically spiritual suffering is a luxury.

What about serfs, the poor, slaves,or those who came from dysfucntional homes.These are people suffering in both body and soul; why are none of them saints? IS spiritual suffering the only kind that counts?

Here's the other problem. When does a preoccupation with the spiritual become unrealistic or unhealty; a cop out? After reading this I now understand why some people are virulently anti-monastic, and also why so many Orthodox churches are fiercly nationalistic. It is difficult for people suffering under the yolk of tyranny to completely retreat from the world and seek only God. You always care about your people and are part of them. Just as Christ cared about the Jewish people. After him, it seems that holy people,like Fr. Seraphim Rose, were able to turn their backs and not think twice about anyone else expect in the abstract.

Sure, they all eventually helped people spiritually, but that's not always enough, at least not to those who come from suffering people.

At the same time, it's hard for me to agree with making someone a saint simply because they never complained and opened schools for poor children in the outbacks of Australia. At least Saint John the Wonderworker spent as much time praying as he did relieving suffering.

In this society, most people are Protestant and not everything Protestant is bad, which I know is especially difficult for cradle Orthodox and Catholics to grasp,especially if they are immigrants or only a few generations removed. But that's the truth, and it is difficult to accept the idea of disappearing from the world, especially when your people are the sufferers or causing the suffering. How is that justified? Jesus did well with this, I'm not so sure anyone else since has. That's what troubles me, and I'm not Protestant,but I know that's what troubles members of my family, who are or were Protestant.

It's complicated, seems like the spiritual warriors have to abandon everything, and they're needed, but then it's hard to relate to them. Perhaps it is better if they don't opine on anything except spiritual matters, because since they had the luxury to leave the world for spiritual reasons, they really don't have the right to opine on it anymore. Reminds me of Pope John Paul II's visit to Bosnia after the wars. He told the women pregnant due to rape to keep their babies because it was a sin to abort them. Yes, he was correct, and technically he was in the right saying so, but as someone so far removed from the world, he wasn't the best person to reach these women,and I imagine some were rightly outraged.

Also, it seems that only a privileged class of people are only called to be spiritual warriors, or rather have the luxury of focusing only on the spiritual and that is deeply troubling.

With all due respect, as a mixed blood,I have no interest in , or patience for, discussing the fruits of the movement or about the state of blacks today, especially from outsiders.

#8 Evan

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 07:45 PM

At least blacks were freed.Nothing's perfect but otherwise things would still be the same.



Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm pretty sure Lenin would have said the same thing about the serfs and Che about Cuba. I don't think that's the appropriate way to evaluate the merits of the Civil Rights movement.

None of us are free because of social movements that gain us access to material privileges. We've been loosed from the bonds of sin and death, and we must struggle daily against those principalities and powers which would seek to return us to slavery.

What I think Father Seraphim Rose was getting at is that all of this is stuff and nonsense if we're not doing it for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and if it's not conducive to attaining that Kingdom, we shouldn't do it at all. You may disagree with his particular take on passive resistance, but the core insight --that the end doesn't sanctify the means, and we must reflect carefully on what that end is, lest we fall into the Devil's hands-- is a powerful one.

#9 Owen Jones

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 08:08 PM

I find it quite imperious, arrogant and insulting that somehow because I do not share the same "blood" with a selected class or race of people that somehow I must shut up. This is just the spirit of activism that Fr. Seraphim was trying to guard against. Activism is a spiritual problem, not a spiritual solution to a problem. It is a pathological spirit that gets in the way of true grace. The withdrawal from the world that is pursued by the Orthodox monastic is indeed scandalous and insulting to the world, because the world has all these problems that aren't getting SOLVED, don't you see! We are not busy fixing peoples' terrible, terrible problems if we have chosen to remove ourselves from the world, hence the monastic is being cold-hearted and selfish! My, my...And what about those Fathers who wasted all of that quality time debating theology and writing endless spiritual treatises when they could have actually been out there agitating for a more just society! What a bunch of bums!

Let is look therefore at the life of Christ. He chose to voluntarily live and unworldly existence, and what was His temptation after His baptism? To take on the role of political/worldly savior, to use his great powers to fix the world's problems. Even his disciples, especially His disciples, saw His messiaship in these terms, because they were looking for liberation from the Romans. And ironically this was the excuse that the Jews used to have him crucified, that he was a political threat to the Romans. Is there nothing that we are to learn from this? Yes, there are millions of examples of how Christians ought to get involved in righting injustice. But this all comes at a spiritual price. And it assumes that we are actually good at righting injustice, whereas in fact there is not a whole lot of evidence for this, because for every injustice that we right we typically cause a couple more. Yes, the anti-slavery movement was a Christian movement. And yes, some of the civil rights protest movement started out as a Christian movement. But it quickly morphed from there. Many blacks I know complain that we have simply replaced the old plantation system with a new one, in which black people are constantly told that they cannot make it on their own without their political patrons helping them with cash and other benefits. Look at the disastrous consequences of that thinking. So one injustice is righted, and a new one takes its place. Christ says sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. He says, do not resist evil. What does he mean? Do we both to contemplate this? We get involved with an activist spirit to try to change the world and improve the lot of humanity at our peril. Endless meaningless pronouncements ensue, while we could be helping souls, beginning with our own. Does this mean we forsake almsgiving and charity? Of course not. But who am I to judge? Do I point the finger at others and say, you aren't doing enough? I have no right to do that. It is simply arrogance on my part, a kind of spiritual sickness that conveniently allows me to avoid looking at my own sins -- a lifetime job by the way.

I cannot permit myself to be angry about the sins of the world. Nor should you...

#10 Barbara J.

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 09:00 PM

I happened to stumble across a letter that Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote to the Roman Catholic monkThomas Merton here-http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/merton.aspx, and he mentioned the following

" (St. Paul, to take a pretty clear example, did not tell slaves to revolt "non-violently;" he told them not to revolt at all, but to concern themselves with something much more important.), but it is the bolded part that made my hair stand on end.Is Fr. Seraphim Rose, a man I've much admired, but Orthodox monk or not, was a California resident who never visited the US South during segregation and was completely unaffected by it, and apparently completely uninterested in what was going on there judging by his writings , actually suggesting that Martin Luther King,Jr. was wrong and never should have attempted to end Jim Crow and segregation? Is this a common Orthodox perspective on Civil Rights?


Just a quick thought...
Obviously, the 'one thing needful' is the "much more important". I dont think Fr. Seraphim had the civil rights movement in mind when he posited the above statement.
I don't know if anyone can answer your question effectively except Fr. Seraphim himself!

#11 Mary

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 10:02 PM

What about serfs, the poor, slaves,or those who came from dysfucntional homes.These are people suffering in both body and soul; why are none of them saints? IS spiritual suffering the only kind that counts?


Mary, have you read any stories of the martyrs? There were serfs, poor, rich, slave, free, male, female, married, monastic, royalty, regular nobodies....

Not just martyrs... those who didn't suffer physically are also saints... for reasons only known to the Church. Then there all the 'unknown' saints commemorated on saturday, because we know there are far more saints that we know about.

#12 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 10:36 PM

Mary, have you read any stories of the martyrs? There were serfs, poor, rich, slave, free, male, female, married, monastic, royalty, regular nobodies....

Not just martyrs... those who didn't suffer physically are also saints... for reasons only known to the Church. Then there all the 'unknown' saints commemorated on saturday, because we know there are far more saints that we know about.


Indeed, my first thought is that somebody must not have read many lives of many saints. The book The Word in the Desert is filled with the wisdom of some very not rich, not "educated" (in the worldly sense" and certainly not royal, and while they might be considered nobodies, I don't know if the word "regular" fits.

I would say that the more "educated" saints get more press because, well, they WROTE things that many people read. They shaped the Church in critical ways, so naturally they receive more "attention" in a certain way, but they are not the sum total of the sainted witness of the Church!!

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 05 November 2009 - 10:37 PM.
thought sculpting


#13 Mary M.

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 06:07 AM

Evean, I think we're gonna have to agree to disagree.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm pretty sure Lenin would have said the same thing about the serfs and Che about Cuba. I don't think that's the appropriate way to evaluate the merits of the Civil Rights movement.

None of us are free because of social movements that gain us access to material privileges. We've been loosed from the bonds of sin and death, and we must struggle daily against those principalities and powers which would seek to return us to slavery.

What I think Father Seraphim Rose was getting at is that all of this is stuff and nonsense if we're not doing it for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and if it's not conducive to attaining that Kingdom, we shouldn't do it at all. You may disagree with his particular take on passive resistance, but the core insight --that the end doesn't sanctify the means, and we must reflect carefully on what that end is, lest we fall into the Devil's hands-- is a powerful one.



#14 Mary M.

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 06:08 AM

Owen, we gotta agree to disagree.

I find it quite imperious, arrogant and insulting that somehow because I do not share the same "blood" with a selected class or race of people that somehow I must shut up. This is just the spirit of activism that Fr. Seraphim was trying to guard against. Activism is a spiritual problem, not a spiritual solution to a problem. It is a pathological spirit that gets in the way of true grace. The withdrawal from the world that is pursued by the Orthodox monastic is indeed scandalous and insulting to the world, because the world has all these problems that aren't getting SOLVED, don't you see! We are not busy fixing peoples' terrible, terrible problems if we have chosen to remove ourselves from the world, hence the monastic is being cold-hearted and selfish! My, my...And what about those Fathers who wasted all of that quality time debating theology and writing endless spiritual treatises when they could have actually been out there agitating for a more just society! What a bunch of bums!

Let is look therefore at the life of Christ. He chose to voluntarily live and unworldly existence, and what was His temptation after His baptism? To take on the role of political/worldly savior, to use his great powers to fix the world's problems. Even his disciples, especially His disciples, saw His messiaship in these terms, because they were looking for liberation from the Romans. And ironically this was the excuse that the Jews used to have him crucified, that he was a political threat to the Romans. Is there nothing that we are to learn from this? Yes, there are millions of examples of how Christians ought to get involved in righting injustice. But this all comes at a spiritual price. And it assumes that we are actually good at righting injustice, whereas in fact there is not a whole lot of evidence for this, because for every injustice that we right we typically cause a couple more. Yes, the anti-slavery movement was a Christian movement. And yes, some of the civil rights protest movement started out as a Christian movement. But it quickly morphed from there. Many blacks I know complain that we have simply replaced the old plantation system with a new one, in which black people are constantly told that they cannot make it on their own without their political patrons helping them with cash and other benefits. Look at the disastrous consequences of that thinking. So one injustice is righted, and a new one takes its place. Christ says sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. He says, do not resist evil. What does he mean? Do we both to contemplate this? We get involved with an activist spirit to try to change the world and improve the lot of humanity at our peril. Endless meaningless pronouncements ensue, while we could be helping souls, beginning with our own. Does this mean we forsake almsgiving and charity? Of course not. But who am I to judge? Do I point the finger at others and say, you aren't doing enough? I have no right to do that. It is simply arrogance on my part, a kind of spiritual sickness that conveniently allows me to avoid looking at my own sins -- a lifetime job by the way.

I cannot permit myself to be angry about the sins of the world. Nor should you...



#15 Mary M.

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 06:15 AM

Mary, hmm, that's a thought, but martyrs are really a bit different from monastics who live a life apart from the world. I'm referring not to monastics that were martyrs,but those who refuse to renounce Christ, or accept him because of other martyrs examples and are killed.
Someone else made a good point that of course the educated saints would make press.

Mary, have you read any stories of the martyrs? There were serfs, poor, rich, slave, free, male, female, married, monastic, royalty, regular nobodies....

Not just martyrs... those who didn't suffer physically are also saints... for reasons only known to the Church. Then there all the 'unknown' saints commemorated on saturday, because we know there are far more saints that we know about.



#16 Mary M.

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 07:07 AM

Ultimately,perhaps, the saints and holy people are to be respected for their spiritual works and actions, but not necessarily outside of that realm, because it isn't their realm, and they were/are humans and do err. I'm guessing that with time folks tend to remember only the spiritual gifts of the saints, but that they were probably controversial during their day because their warts were also clearly remembered, too.

#17 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 10:45 AM

Dear Mary M., Owen, Herman, Mary-the-other (!), and all,

I’ve read these posts with interest, and I have felt that beneath them there are some critical and revealing issues, already surfacing.

As far as my contribution to the discussion might go, let me begin by offering a few thoughts on some problematic approaches I see in what’s been said so far. These will focus primarily on your comments, Mary M., since you’ve stated the most personal and therefore somewhat unusual opinions in this discussion; but please do note that I don’t offer my thoughts to be negative towards you or anyone else, but to identify what I think are serious issues—which are at the same time revealing in their own right, but also threaten to prevent one from approaching a right understanding.

Firstly, I think there is a very strong, and very wrong, division being suggested between ‘spiritual’ and ‘physical’ in terms of the Christian life. If I can take the last post first, you write:

Ultimately, perhaps, the saints and holy people are to be respected for their spiritual works and actions, but not necessarily outside of that realm, because it isn't their realm, and they were/are humans and do err.


This harks back to a series of comments you’ve made in earlier posts, such as your post #7. There, you wrote:

There is something insulting in someone who's far removed from a problem opining on it. Doesn't mean they can't, but those suffering are not going to take kindly to them, and why should? […]

Father Seraphim fits this mold as an educated man who didn't suffer except spiritually. To someone suffering physically spiritual suffering is a luxury. […]

Here's the other problem. When does a preoccupation with the spiritual become unrealistic or unhealthy; a cop out? […] It is difficult for people suffering under the yolk of tyranny to completely retreat from the world and seek only God. You always care about your people and are part of them. Just as Christ cared about the Jewish people. After him, it seems that holy people, like Fr. Seraphim Rose, were able to turn their backs and not think twice about anyone else expect in the abstract. […]


Perhaps it is better if they don't opine on anything except spiritual matters, because since they had the luxury to leave the world for spiritual reasons, they really don't have the right to opine on it anymore.


What I’d like to focus on here for the moment is the stark contrast you have drawn between ‘suffering spiritually’ and ‘suffering physically’. This is connected, in your words, to a sense of proximity, of closeness: since ‘suffering physically’ is an act so distinct from ‘suffering spiritually’, one who takes up ‘a preoccupation with the spiritual’, particularly in the form in retreat, is ‘copping out’ and ‘turning their backs’, ‘not thinking twice’ about ‘suffering physically’ and coming to have no ‘right to opine’ on it.

This division, between spiritual and physical suffering (and, concordantly, love), is deeply un-Christian—by which I mean, it is not at all rooted in the life of Christ Himself. If anything, Christ had time and again to remind His disciples that physical suffering is spiritual suffering, if understood and approached rightly (and so ‘blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you…’, ‘rejoice when you suffer for my sake…’); and similarly, His life shows again and again that spiritual, interior suffering is deeply interwoven with the physical pain and suffering of the world.

It is a (very old) heresy to divide the spiritual and the physical and appropriate one or the other as better or more applicable to the healing of the world, or any aspect of the world—for Christ shows that the one heals the other. It is possible for the wounded spirit to be healed by physical means; but it is also possible for the broken body to be healed by prayer. Christ restores sight with mud and spittle; but He also calms the seas with a word, heals the sick with the prayerful work of a loving heart.

So while it also has all sorts of problems of its own (some of which Owen has already mentioned), this false division cannot be helpfully used to critique or comment on the works of the saints, faithful or others (e.g. the comments on Hieromonk Seraphim, above), for the very reason that it is altogether un-Christian at its core, and so cannot be employed to criticise those who attempt to follow the life of Christ. If it is the criterion one wishes to use, then Christ Himself was a failure at truly loving the world or caring for the poor and suffering, for He never founded a protest movement (to the contrary, He actively opposed His disciples doing so); He never organised alms as the answer to suffering (He encouraged almsgiving as an act of love, but He never suggested it would remove suffering: to the contrary, He suggests that a life of almsgiving will in fact increase it—at least for the alms-giver); He never insisted that ‘doing things’, physical, ‘active’ things, was the way to attain righteousness, peace or the Kingdom. And so if the Lord Himself fails to live up to a life of righteousness, defined by this false division, then whether or not Fr Seraphim did so is really quite irrelevant.

This brings me to a second concern. There is a very segregationist attitude at work in some of your comments, Mary, to the end that ‘if you’re not one of us, you have no right to say anything’. This comes across, in your words, in two ways. The first relates to the above, and centres on a split between those who are focused on the ‘spiritual’, and those who suffer ‘physically’. To repeat a comment I’ve already quoted, you wrote concerning saints and others preoccupied with ‘spiritual’ matters:

Perhaps it is better if they don't opine on anything except spiritual matters, because since they had the luxury to leave the world for spiritual reasons, they really don't have the right to opine on it anymore.


This led to your more recent comment, which I’ve also already quoted (and won’t repeat in full here), that saints and others active in ‘suffering spiritually’ ought to be respected only in that ‘spiritual’ realm, and not elsewhere.

But your comments are also segregationist on deeper, more cultural lines. So, for example, in your post #7 from the ‘Saint Moses the Black’ thread, you write:

if you're not from here then you don't and can't understand the sensitivity to it


And then, at times, your division becomes almost racial. So, once again from your post #7 in this present thread, you write:

With all due respect, as a mixed blood, I have no interest in, or patience for, discussing the fruits of the movement or about the state of blacks today, especially from outsiders.


There are serious problems in these kinds of comments. The last category is the easiest to address, since Christ Himself explicitly chided His followers when they attempted to locate any special distinctiveness—in terms of understanding, privilege, relationship—in their ‘blood’ (in the Gospel this being the blood-line of Abraham); and St Paul effectively restates this in his own comments on any distinction—not only of race, but also sex, background, wealth, freedom, etc.—being irrelevant to one’s ability to attain to, speak to, understand the Kingdom and the struggle to attain it in this world.

It is the other segregationist comments that are more problematic; and again, the criterion of judgement always has its heart in the life of Christ Himself. If being ‘from here’ is a necessary criterion of understanding something, being sensitive to it, then you have bigger worries than whether or not members of an on-line community can understand your problems: Christ Himself cannot. Nor can you understand anything written in the Scriptures, for you are not ‘from there’. But then, Christ could also not understand the Romans, since He was not really ‘from there’; nor really the Jews of Jerusalem, since He was not ‘from there’ either (the Jews He knew from Galilee had a rather different life).

Christ’s message is, however, clear: none of us is allowed the self-indulgence to think that ‘my lot makes me more sensitive to the truth than yours’—whatever my ‘lot’, my experience, may be. The truth of the matter is that Christ knew more about the Romans than they did; He knew more about Jerusalem and the real suffering of the Jews there then they did. There have been monks and laypersons in Russia who know more about suffering than anyone in the American south; there have been faithful in America who know more about imperial holiness than anyone in Tsarist Russia. And there have been hermits who have lived lives in caves, encountering only rarely another human person in the flesh, who have known more of true suffering, true repression, true freedom, true sacrifice, true love, than any of us—whether we have been persecuted, hunted, oppressed, depressed, whether we have experienced war or segregation or slavery or torture.

But these are the kinds of truths that will remain ‘foolishness’ to the world, so long as we divide reality in a way Christ never did, and His disciples never have. If we are unwilling to see that the human heart contains within it all creation, and that the suffering truly borne there is a suffering that joins us to all the world—the message Christ taught again and again—then these comments are senseless. Monks are elitists, hermits abandon the world, saints pontificate abstractions without experience. And Christ, of course, is a liar and every bit as irrelevant as any of these.

But, of course, it is not so!

These are the serious underlying issues that I think must be addressed. I’ve not at all commented on the direct quotation that started this thread—Fr Seraphim’s comment to Merton on Paul’s words regarding slavery—because I think that the answer (Paul’s answer, as well as Fr Seraphim’s) cannot really be understood, even if explained, if one fails to grasp the deeper truths that lie beneath it.

I hope you'll not take offence at any thing I've written here, Mary M. My directness is only intended to call into rather stark relief some issues that might otherwise be harder to see.

INXC, Fr Dcn Matthew

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 06 November 2009 - 01:15 PM.
fixed link


#18 Mary

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 01:35 PM

Mary, hmm, that's a thought, but martyrs are really a bit different from monastics who live a life apart from the world. I'm referring not to monastics that were martyrs,but those who refuse to renounce Christ, or accept him because of other martyrs examples and are killed.
Someone else made a good point that of course the educated saints would make press.


The orthodox church recognizes various types of martyrdom. They are all voluntary. The one which we all understand without argument is the martyrdom of those who die while defending the faith.

Monastics are martyrs to the world. They willingly leave the world - thus 'dying' to the world.

Marriage is the third type of martyrdom - where two people, die to self, and choose to live for the other, and whatever children they may have.

The sacrifices made by some may not seem to be as great as that of others. But the truth is, we do not know what a person is truly sacrificing. For some, monasticism/or marriage, might be a wonderful thing, full of blessings and very little obvious struggles. For others, the blessings are harder to discover, and the struggles more obvious.

It is enough for us to know that we all suffer in some way, but never more than what we can bear, as Christ promised, and also, never alone. There is a purpose for suffering, which sometimes we understand, and sometimes we don't, but in the end, what matters is that we trust God, because there's no one else to hold on to.

I agree with you, that a person who has gone through a particular suffering is best equipped to understand another who is experiencing the same suffering. But not always. Because the way a person relates to his suffering greatly affects his understanding of it. One whose heart is full of hate and bitterness and anger, will hate the suffering and the one who inflicts it. But one whose heart is full of God's love, and is willing to forgive, has already stopped suffering, even if nothing changes on the outside. You'll see this in the life of the martyrs who were able to forgive and pray for their torturers, and who rejoice that they were counted worthy to die for Christ.

In Christ,
Mary.

#19 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 02:08 PM

The issue is indeed suffering. What is it? What is it for? There is a "modernist" presupposition that all suffering is evil. That it serves no useful, redemptive purpose. It is an outrage against anyone with any degree of sensitivity. And I think this is really the core problem in the world today. It is the cause of much mental illness in fact. (I'm not accusing anyone here of mental illness!!!!) But there is a kind of generic illness in every soul that is enlarged and expanded when we cannot, will not, accept suffering. Yes, accept suffering. Once suffering is accepted, not in a kind of fatalistic way, but actually embraced and engaged, the soul expands and thrives.

Now, the contraction of the soul is a contemporary phenomenon on a wide scale. It cannot hear or see those things that are spiritual in nature. And so when suffering is encountered there is a thought process that goes something like this: suffering is caused by mendacious people who misuse and abuse their freedom by exploiting, using and demeaning others. The answer? Freedom is evil too! So the answer to the problem of suffering is to restrict or eliminate freedom. This has been a compelling argument for intellectuals, and so we saw all kinds of theories manifesting themselves in the 20th century based on the elimination of freedom. The result was more suffering than the world had ever seen before.

We do not know what is in God's mind and I think that this is the underlying source of the problem. I refer to the opening lines of An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. God's Essence is unknowable. We do not really know why human beings suffer, other than deductively. We deduce theologically that God could not be the author of human suffering, that we bring suffering on ourselves. We are to blame for suffering, including death. (God can use logical deduction as a way of revealing Himself, by the way).

That these are unnatural states everyone can agree, but some blame God for suffering, and others blame themselves, and others wish to simply blame other people, not themselves. This blame game results in an enormous amount of agitation. Then agitation becomes a universal theory. Nothing can be improved in the world without agitation. It becomes a virtue. The supreme virtue in fact. Thank God for the Orthodox faith which generally refrains from this approach. I say generally because it is still a very tempting theory. But our faith is deeply rooted.

#20 Evan

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 08:07 PM

Evean, I think we're gonna have to agree to disagree.



I don't agree to that. What's the point of raising these issues if you don't intend to engage in dialogue about them and seek to come to an understanding about how a Christian ought to confront them, as Christ Himself did and instructed us to do likewise?

Again, the Scriptures say that Jesus retreated to the mountains when they tried to make Him king after He gave them bread. Is it hard for people to seek Truth when they're struggling to survive? Of course, and we should never neglect to give alms and provide for the needs of the poor, to the extent that we are able. But there is a dangerous tendency among "social justice" movements to turn bread into an end in and of itself. That can't be right --man does not live on bread alone-- and that's what Father Seraphim seems to be resisting, the way I understand him (Lord forgive me if I am wrong).

Much blood has been spilled over bread. I think of "The Grand Inquisitor" from Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov."

"Thank God for the Orthodox faith which generally refrains from this approach. I say generally because it is still a very tempting theory. But our faith is deeply rooted."


Owen: This is one of the principal reasons I've been drawn so strongly to Orthodoxy.




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