Moments of the Cross

The week of the Cross marks an essential change in Lent. This is the moment when we turn from descriptors of faith to faith itself; when we move from things which are about our faith to things which can only exist through faith.

Faith is a tool for life eternal, and to use it for anything else is a deadly waste. We are Christians for this reason only: so that we may survive death. All else is secondary and of no importance by comparison. The Cross – in Lent and in our lives – marks the moment when we see our faith for what it really is: either a Divine tool for life eternal, or a human tool to create nice, moral citizens of this world. There is nothing wrong with being nice and moral, but history has known billions of nice and moral citizens whom death has eaten alive. It is a deadly corruption of a Divine gift to reduce our faith in Christ to anything else except a sure hope in the Resurrection. It is deadly, because it corrupts the only chance we have to survive death.

A moment of crisis, a death, a disease, abandonment – when these come, life is cut in half: life as it used to be before them, and life as it is revealed to us now. Facing the Cross has this effect on us because we train ourselves well to reduce our faith to things which are not of the faith. When we reduce our faith to a set of customs, those customs will not carry us through a moment of the Cross. When we reduce our faith to any human value – social, political or moral; a philosophy or idea; anything created by our brain – when our faith is diluted to things of this world, the Cross will crush everything in its way.

And thank God that it is so! Thank God for the gift of the Cross, for this chance to see how we corrupt our own faith, so that we may start anew while we still can, and approach faith as a means to walk on water, not on the pavement. This is no longer about us looking at Christ walking on water – this has now become about us stepping outside the boat and walking alongside Him. The Cross marks this moment in Lent, just as it marks it in our lives – those moments when we can no longer function on logic, on the things we have been taught; those moments when things get real and the theory of it all is no longer sufficient to help us survive.

Small explosions of life

There is a sense of great freedom in understanding that one does not represent anything and anyone else except oneself. One can easily be crushed by the sense of responsibility that comes from feeling that we stand for anything else except for who we are. When you go through life thinking you represent anything else except yourself, when you allow the world around you to reduce you to a symbol rather than the person God created you to be – that can have devastating spiritual effects.

We are human beings, made of flesh and bones, not symbols of anything else, be that a symbol of our family, of our job, our gender, our race, or even of our faith. We are real human beings. We have real, personal feelings. At some point in our lives, each of us has experienced both the pain of sin and the joy of Christ’s forgiveness. We are only who we are, each of us representing nothing and no-one else except ourselves and our personal story of salvation.

I am not an institution. I am not a system of believes. I cannot be reduced to my gender, my age and my race. Both Peter and Judas were men. Both men crucified with Christ were thieves. The Mother of God and Eve were both women. Nothing, no logical criterion, no external sign can express our personhood, who we are in our personal relation to our Creator.

I travel constantly these months, and the temptation to reduce people to categories is always present. The opposite is valid, too – many people meet me during these travels, and I also sense their temptation to reduce me to my faith, because that makes it easier for them to interact with me. As a rule, it is easier to interact with ‘categories’ of people, with the generalities (that is, the prejudices and already formed opinions) concerning a category, than it is to risk meeting a real human being.

I pray both myself and the people I meet will find the courage to take this risk. I pray to remain simple and focused on just being myself. I pray to simply witness to nothing else except my personal experience. I pray we all remain open to love each other, open to enter a real relationship with our true selves – as human beings, as persons created in the image of God; not as impersonal categories, not as symbols of anything or anyone else.

Small explosions of life. Small miracles. This is what meeting each other should be like. The image of God meeting the image of God: a life-giving sacrament.

At home in the desert

I’ll try to write a few lines, just to keep my heart open and my mouth ready to speak. This always happens when I travel for a long time and I meet many people. A need to be quiet, a temptation to lock myself in a room and not come out takes over and I find myself in a bubble of silence that is very difficult to burst. This cannot be of Christ – the very purpose of my travels is to be here, to serve the Monastery, to meet you face to face, to speak to you, to ask you questions and learn from you.

Traveling is hard because it reveals to me the extent to which I have grown roots somewhere else in the world, when – in fact – I should be able to feel both at home and ‘in the desert’ everywhere. We belong everywhere, for there are no physical boundaries in Christ; and we belong nowhere, for we are not created for this fallen world, but for Christ’s Kingdom.

When I travel, I always think of St Brendan and his absolute freedom from the idols of this world, the way in which he refused to allow anything in this ‘valley of death’ to define him – always sailing further, always looking for Christ’s Kingdom, to the Resurrection: his real home, his real roots.

There must be a way in which we can interact with the world which is neither indifference, nor idolatry. There must be a way in which we can still get involved with the world, without getting trapped by it. Among all the saints I know, St Brendan is the one whose central quest seems to be precisely this: to love the world with a love that has its source in Christ – not in myself, nor in the virtues of the ones I love. To live in this valley of death in a way that does not suffocate the life in me, but brings new life into this valley.


Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming and we are all going home. But what if home is not that towards which we run, but precisely that from which we run away? What if home is not that which is familiar to us, but precisely that which is unfamiliar? Christ’s Incarnation is the ultimate act of inclusion, when God so humbles Himself out of His love for us that He puts on the flesh of His Creation, so that we may all become One.

What if home is actually this very Oneness in Him, this enlargement of our selves, this letting go of what is familiar in search of what we lack in our humanity? What if home is actually Christ Himself? Isn’t this the time to let go of these crumbling ‘selves’ we built ourselves, and embrace His Being as ours?

What wondrous beings would we become if we opened our caves for Him, with everything that Christ is? What would our humanity feel like if His Divine humanity entered our caves? If His meekness took over our hearts? If His forgiveness and sacrificial love invaded the darkest corners of our caves and inundated them with His Divine Light? What wondrous beings would we become in Him?

Christmas is coming and we leave the world as we gather our earthly tribes and shut the doors behind. Christ travels at Christmas too, but He does the exact opposite journey. He descends from the Throne of His Divinity to embrace the world, while we leave the world to hide within the walls of familiarity. We reject all that is not part of our identity, while Christ embraces the unfamiliarity of our created flesh and makes it part of His Divine Identity.

When you look at what Christ is doing by becoming Incarnate, and how we celebrate His Incarnation – we seem to be going in opposite directions. He is so enlarged by love that He overcomes the ontological difference of natures between God and Man, while we are so absorbed by our tribalism that we cannot overcome the imaginary differences of blood (and blood is dust), wealth (and wealth is illusion) or status (what status will ever overcome death?) within the human nature we all share.

How is it that we celebrate Christ’s ultimate Act of openness and inclusion, by marking our familiar territories and cutting ourselves from the rest of the world? Christ came into the world and the world rejected Him because He was a stranger to all. We closed the gates to our hearts, and we kept outside the Saviour Himself. Two thousand years later, have we not learnt that our salvation comes from opening ourselves to the world, from enlarging our being through love and the pain it brings?

Christmas is coming, and it brings us once again face to face with our Creator. May this be the Christmas when we hear His call and we open the gates of our caves to Him. May this be the Christmas when we let Him enter our being, so that all that He is becomes ours, and we may find our true selves, our true home and our salvation in Him.

The day when we all say Thank You

Day by day, week by week, you have supported the Monastery through the most difficult year in its young life. You have been generous, you have been kind, you have believed in this Dream and have encouraged me to trust God’s will and keep working.

Today, I feel the need to thank you for it all. Thank you and may God bless you.

By God’s grace and through the many ways in which you have supported me, this year we have achieved three vital things for the future of the Monastery:

  • We have finished the complete repairs to the roof of Kilninian, our 1755 church of Sts Ninian and Cuthbert. The building works to make the church wind- and rainproof again lasted for one full year, but we saved this national heritage building for one more next generation.
  • We bought a house on the island, which means that I can move to Mull permanently in April next year and restart monastic life on the Island. The house is very close to Iona, St Columba’s holy island, and we shall use it as a Pilgrimage House after we build the Monastery at Kilninian.
  • We bought the land surrounding Kilninian. These five acres of land are essential for the Monastery, as this is where we hope to build the future monastic cells.

For all these things and for the countless ways in which you have made them possible, please accept my gratitude and my love in Christ.

Yours in Him,

fr seraphim


Christmas Kindness Icon

Every year, the weeks before Christmas you pour your love and kindness towards the Monastery. Your support for the vision of this Monastery is always so humbling, your generosity so inspiring – I always struggle to find a blessed and meaningful way to thank you all.

I want to encourage you to keep believing in this dream and to keep helping me in my work on Mull, but I also want to offer you something in return, as a sign of my gratitude. You already have my prayer (weak as it is) and you already have the blessing of the Celtic Saints.

This Advent, I want to also offer you something more tangible, so we have commissioned two Icons of the Mother of God which will enter and bless the homes of two of our Friends.

Out of all the donations over 60 pounds we shall receive between NOW and CHRISTMAS (Old Calendar, to accommodate all of us), we shall randomly select the names of two Friends. Each of these two will receive an icon of the Mother of God, blessed by me at the Monastery of All Celtic Saints on the Isle of Mull, with water from the ancient Well of St Ninian.

60 pounds is only half of the Deposit for a commissioned icon, and a sixth of the full price of an icon. I wish I could send you all an icon, but the fact that I cannot afford to do that should not stop me from doing the little that we can afford. It is not as much as I would like, but the little we offer comes of love and with deep prayer that these icons will truly bless your homes and your lives.

To make a standard 60 pounds donation, simply purchase a ‘Christmas Kindness Icon’ from our online bookstore.

Mother of God 2

Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel

This is just a thought about the Holy Archangels that came to me a few days ago, as I was praying for something to write to you on their Feast Day. I remembered something that happened in my first year in my Monastery in Moldavia, and that memory triggered this thought.

In our monastery, among other things, a novice was expected to do one hundred prostrations and three hundred bows (crossing oneself, then bowing down to the ground) each day. I soon realised that I am a physically weak young man, and that I am very easily prone to cut short the number of my daily prostrations and bows. I asked my Abbot about it, and he advised me to do them in church, rather than in my own cell. His thought was that since I was both lazy and proud, I should fight one temptation through the other. He was perfectly right, and I soon discovered that I could push through my pain and finish my prostrations just because I didn’t want the other brothers to see me giving up. I later found the same advice in St John’s Ladder.

In a corner of the church, I found an icon of Christ that spoke to me in a personal way, and I did all my prostrations and bows before that icon. Day by day, month after month, for at least one year, I poured my heart before Christ in front of that icon. About a year later, a team of restorers came to our Monastery to clean the walls of our church and uncover the original frescoes. One day, I asked them if they could also clean the soot that had almost covered the Face of Christ. They did, and this is how I found out that – for over one year – I had been prostrating, bowing and praying to Christ before an icon of the Holy Archangel Michael.

There is a connection between the Holy Archangels and Christ. There is a connection between Christ’s Person, and the unity of St Michael’s sword and St Gabriel’s lily. There is a balance, a spiritual oneness between what the sword symbolises and the joy of St Gabriel’s good-news.

Perhaps that is best expressed in the image of the Christ of Sinai – the oldest version of the icon of Christ Pantocrator, kept in the Monastery of St Catherine since the sixth century. One eye of the icon expresses Christ’s Judgement, while the other overflows with His Love. That unity, that balance between Christ-the-Judge and Christ-the-Saviour is also expressed through the Holy Archangels and their different ‘works’: one calls us to fight for the salvation of our soul, while the other confirms that our salvation is of the Lord. One speaks about our responsibility for our salvation, the other speaks about Him Who made our salvation possible.

One reminds us that we need to act, we need to change, we need to DO something (inside and outside) to become Christ-like, while the other takes away our fears by re-inforcing the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation. This is the balance to which we must hold on, this is the Truth of Christ – our salvation depends on us, as much as it depends on Christ. We are not automatically saved because of His Sacrifice, just as we cannot be saved exclusively through our acts, without His Sacrifice.

To lose this balance is to lose one’s way to the Kingdom. Christ asks us to get up and change our ways, He expects us to get better, He wants us to look at ourselves in the mirror of His commandments, and do what we can to become more like Him. In this world, and in a time when words have lost their depth and meaning, to say that Christ want us to love the world and sacrifice ourselves ‘for the life and salvation of the world’ can mean the exact opposite of what He asks us to do. In this world, to speak of love is dangerous, for love has either been romanticised to the point of losing all connection to Christ’s Death on the Cross, or has been openly transformed into another word for sex.

To remember that we are all brothers and that the only enemy is the devil, to forgive and turn the other cheek, to die for the world, to fight one’s demons so that we become sacrificial lambs and not sacrificing wolves, to let go of our idols (our culture, our heritage, our history, our logical arguments – anything that stays between us and Christ) – all of these things have become stumbling blocks for the vast majority of us, Christians.

These ideals are now seen as silly dreams of stupid people – not relevant to this world, not useful to this world, not of this world.

But then, I know One Who was also not of this world. And This One, hated by the world to His death, has prophesied that the time will come when His disciples will also be hated by the world, because they also are not of this world.

May the Holy Archangels protect us all – from the enemies outside, and from the enemy within. May they remind us the balance that is in Christ – the Good News of His Love goes hand in hand with the Judgement of His Cross. For this reason, Christ’s eyes Love and Judge from the beginning of the world to its end.

Happy Feast Day, everyone!

Beyond our Sin

The father of a young man who was (and still is, unfortunately) addicted to drug use once told me that the only way he could deal with his son’s situation was to look beyond the self-destructive human being in front of him. I know the young man personally. He lived with us for about a year in our monastery in Moldavia, trying to stay far away from the environment that had kept him paralysed in this addiction. Then, one day, without telling anyone, he left the monastery and went back to the city. He felt strong enough to face his old demons.

He wasn’t, and he ended up injecting again. After that, it all went downhill very fast. To hide the signs of his drug use from his family, he started to inject in his legs. Because he didn’t do that properly, his right leg got infected and he didn’t tell anyone until he ended up in hospital. They had to amputate his leg to save his life. He was then in his twenties.

I saw him in hospital a few days after the amputation, and I felt helpless and useless. It was after that meeting that his father told me that the only way he could hold on to his love and faith in his son was to look beyond his present self, to the boy he had once held in his arms. He had to learn to look through this self-destructive young man and focus on the beautiful being his son could have been, had he not been lost to drugs. This helped him carry on, it gave him the strength to care for this grown son as if he were a five-year old. This preserved his sanity, and kept his love burning.

If we are open, we can learn a lot from the people God sends our way. They may come radiating love or they may approach us in hatred. Regardless of that, if we keep ourselves open to them, we may lead each other to Christ. This family taught me how to look through the fallen person before me. They taught me not to focus on the anger of the world, on its bitterness and demonic need for violence. There is good in everyone. There is good in the world, no matter how deep it has fallen. Our calling as Christians is to look beyond the evil, to see through the darkness, to let go and not deposit this poison in our hearts, and to keep asking God to send us love for everyone.

Father Sophrony Sakharov writes somewhere that one cannot hope to live a Christian life; one can only learn how to die a Christian death. As I grow old, this idea, once foreign and strange to me, becomes self-evident, because one only becomes a Christian as one approaches the Cross. Each step, one is tempted with the choice to turn away and ‘live’. Each step we take forward, each step that takes us closer to the Cross is a step further from this life, but a step closer to Christ. Once we are finally on the Cross, we have lost our lives, but we have finally become Christians. A Christian knows only how to die, because to die for the life and salvation of the world is the Life of Christ, offered to us all in eternity.

I pray we may look beyond the fallenness of the world. I pray we may look beyond the fallenness of our neighbour. I pray we may also look beyond our own fallenness, so we may approach everyone – ourselves included – with hope, forgiveness and love. We are all one. We are lost or we are saved through one another.

Facing a new America

There is more to Orthodox Christianity than a set of dogmas and canons, and there is more to an Orthodox Christian than a simple believer in these dogmas. There must be a heart, and a certain quality of that heart. There must be love, and that love must be self-sacrificial. True Christianity always leads to the Cross – and that Cross must be ours, for the life and salvation of the world; not the other way around.

As I am preparing my next trip to the US, I struggle to find a place of balance in my heart. I never had this problem before – I instantly fell in love with the US, and that love communicated itself naturally to everyone I met. Never before have I felt this need to prepare beforehand for my talks and retreats. I used to simply withdraw to a silent room for an hour or so before each event and pray. I would always pray for the same thing – to be given love for the people I meet. My spiritual father told me once that all I need to do is love the people in front of me, and so I have always asked to be given this love. They may forget my words, they may not understand or not pay attention to them, but people will always feel straight into their hearts the love I have for them. And love is never forgotten.

This time, I struggle. My love for America, and my gratitude for its people is perhaps greater than ever before, and yet I struggle. I struggle to see the beauty that was once so bright, so clear to me. I struggle to perceive that openness and welcome that made me fall in love with this nation.

I struggle, because I see people – lay people and clergy alike – who think of themselves as Orthodox Christians, yet they accept, justify and even promote use of guns against other human beings. What do I do when I meet these people? Do I smile and keep silent in the name of love? Or do I tell them the Truth in the name of Love? I struggle, because I see people who honestly believe in their hearts that they are the disciples of Christ, yet they deny health care to other human beings, and feel comfortable with the knowledge that people die as a result. Do I keep silent in the name of love, or do I tell them the Truth in the name of Love?

I struggle, because I see abuse, I see lack of love, I see racism, I see selfishness, I see rejection, I see xenophobia, I see all the things Christ has taught us to overcome. And this nation is deep in my heart, and so I struggle. What shall I say? How do you talk about Love without losing their love? What does my prayer to be given love mean anymore? How do you love one who is spiritually self-destructing?

It has been over one year since I have stopped recording my podcasts precisely because of my inability to find this place of balance in my heart. I know what the Fathers would do. I am aware that my struggle would be foreign to them, because they knew that the Love of God is greater than the love of human beings. They also knew that to love means to heal, and that healing requires sometime the harshness of Truth. They knew that the ultimate act of love for one’s brother is to sacrifice his love for you in order to save his soul.

But I am endlessly far away from the spiritual strength of the Fathers. And – because of this – I struggle.

To speak out

It is important to speak out against abuse. It is important to stand up and overcome this monstrosity. But it is vital that you only do so when you feel safe and ready. I am posting this because I know people who have been abused and who feel deep shame right now for not gathering the strength to join the voices of those who are now speaking with such courage against this crime.

In an ideal world, we should all should speak out and fight, and the world should support us. But this is not an ideal world, as proven by the very experience of your abuse. If you feel weak, if you still feel vulnerable, if you are not ready to face the horror again, if the society around you or your personal context do not allow you to speak out right now, please do not feel any pressure. There is no timeline, no deadline for this. Please allow yourself to grow. Allow yourself to be safe. Allow yourself to grown out of the unfortunate context in which you are trapped.

We all know that some of you are caught in countries where to speak could mean to lose your family, your friends or your job. We all know and understand that some of you are caught in abusive situations and relationships which are difficult to break right now. We all trust your instinct, we all support your decision, and we are all waiting with you for the right time to speak out. This has to be the right time for you, not for anyone else.

For some, courage means to speak out and fight. For others, it takes courage merely to survive, to push through one’s depression and fears for one more day. Whatever you do, do so because it helps you, because it heals you, because it makes you a better person. There is no pressure, there is no guilt. You are not betraying anyone, you are not letting anyone down. When the time is right for you to speak, your experience will be just as relevant and useful because, unfortunately, what we see now is merely a crack in the foundation of this evil.

Please seek support, seek help, fight first for your safety – this is essential, and we all understand and support you in this.

I know abuse. I know there is no safe place once it happens. You have my love. You have my prayers.