[Note: I have, since 2002, read Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim's biography each year. Beginning sometime in the autumn, in September or October, I read a chapter or two most everyday. In 2002, my first exposure to Fr. Seraphim was through the first edition of his biography, authored by Hieromonk Damascene Christenson, Not of This World. In 2003, shortly after the release of the new edition of the biography and again in 2004, I have read Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works. Having read both, there is a clear difference between the two. Many of the controversial parts, involving largely the words, recollections and later behavior of Fr. Seraphim's monastic brother, Abbot Herman, have been excised in the new biography to be replaced by much fuller and richer accounts of Fr. Seraphim's own word and works. This year, however, I decided to go back and re-read the original edition of the biography. Rather than write a review of it myself, I decided to allow Fr. Seraphim's spiritual son Hieromonk Ambrose (Fr. Alexey) Young's words to measure the first edition of the biography, Not of This World.]
Hieromonk Ambrose (Alexey) Young’s review of Not of This World.
Without doubt, the late Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) was a most remarkable American convert. He was a contributing editor for Orthodox America and editor of The Orthodox Word; he was also the author of many books, and the translator and/or editor of many other works, in both English and Russian. In addition, he wrote scores of articles on a wide variety of church subjects, and composed services to four saints. His death in 1982, at the early age of forty-eight, brought this prolific career to an abrupt close. Those who were privileged to know Fr. Seraphim personally, as this writer did for more than twelve years, also saw something of Fr. Seraphim “the man”: the spiritual director, the monk, and-in his last few years-the priest and confessor. His brilliant and even splendid intellect was combined with a rare soul and a peaceful outward personality that was self-effacing, quiet, still-a personality that, frankly, loathed controversy and conflict. Especially would he have disliked the controversy generated by his biography.
Many of us-his spiritual children and his readers-had long wished for a biography of Fr. Seraphim. Some, assuming that such a work would be only a straightforward account of his remarkable life and thought, were asked to share our personal memories for such a study. Last summer [1993--cdh], Not of This World: The Life and Teachings of Fr. Seraphim Rose, was published. And, indeed, the biographer, Fr. Damascene (Christensen) has managed to integrate a massive amount of material. He narrates Fr. Seraphim’s life skillfully, and we learn many things about Fr. Seraphim-especially his pre-Orthodox life-that we did not know before. This, in spite of the fact that Fr. Damascene himself hardly knew Fr. Seraphim, and was only baptized at the time of Fr. Seraphim’s death. The book is also filled with photographs that help to make the man and his times come to life. Not of This World is, however, both a treasure and a disappointment, a joy and a sadness, an inspiration and a scandal. The purpose of this review is to examine these contradictions.