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.

13 Thoughts.

    • Dear Mrs Buhler, I find it difficult to speak about these things and, in all honestly, my hope is that I shall not have to. The only reason I brought it up is that I know people will ask me these things when we have an open discussion, at the end of my talks. I needed to know how much of this feeling of anger is real, and how much is a media story. I am sorry (so so sorry) to have learnt that things are even worse than I feared.

      Let us pray for each other. All can be overcome with love and patience. Thank you for your support – I very much appreciate it.

    • Dear father, thank you for writing. I find it difficult to see the reactions people have – they do nothing but confirm my worst fears. But then, one can just pray, and try not to allow this poison to settle inside oneself. I cannot even imagine what it must feel for you.

      We may be able to organise something – I’ll be leading the Retreat at the Monastery (Friday and Saturday before the 5th Sunday in Lent), and we could meet either on the Sunday before (I am free at the moment) or at some point during the week.

      I would very (very) much like to see your parish again – it is amazing how close I feel to some of the people there, only one year after we’ve met.

      Keep me in your prayers. You are always in mine.

  1. Dear Father Seraphim,

    I have never met or written to you before, but I consider you a friend and light in my world. I have taken so much from your podcasts and writings. Thank you for giving so much to us. As an American and someone who respects you a great deal I would dearly hope you do not prepare too much. I think the reason I love you so much is because of your honesty. Everything you said about America is true. I love my country, but it needs to do much better. Please be honest and a light and a leader. What makes you special is that you speak directly from your heart and it touches other people’s hearts and makes them see things they hadn’t seen before. I know this is true because you touched and opened my heart in many ways. Please always hold on to that and lead with your heart and Christ’s love in truth.

    Respectfully yours in Christ,

    Arianne

    • Dear Arianne,

      Thank you for your kindness – I know who I am, I know how limited my prayer and my mind are. If there is any good coming from anything I do, it is all Christ’s mercy. Christ has a strange way of taking anything (even bad, limited resources) and turning it into good.

      As for the US… My very simple struggle is that I find it difficult to manifest my love (which is real) for a country that is so split and filled with anger. That is all I wanted to say. Unfortunately, the reactions I received showed me that the reality is much worse than I imagined, and that the anger is much deeper. I shall pray. We shall all pray. What else is there to do? We must do the good we can, and try our best not to internalise the anger, not to make it our own, as well.

      Thank you, again, for your kind words. Please keep me and the Monastery in your prayers.

  2. Dear Fr. Seraphim,

    America has its dark side, deeply ingrained by definition, but at the end of the day sin is sin and weakness is weakness.

    The value you bring (as noted above) is your honesty, but it is honesty that shines through without your effort. In this you exemplify St. Francis’ saying: Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.

    If you are questioned about these dark sides I suggest giving your opinion but without drawing conclusions and making judgments. Speak from the fallen state of your soul and Christ will shine through you.

  3. Dear Father,

    It is hard for us who are Americans to love one another and care for one another at this moment – in generalities much of the time, in ideas about who other people are. We are afraid so much of the time. When it comes to specific persons in front of us, sometimes we are able to show love, as in the communities in northern California who have suffered from the fires. As a country, we have always been kind of mixed up about this, in various ways.

    May Christ help us all! Very much looking forward to seeing you if St Seraphim in Santa Rosa is on your itinerary.

    Dana

  4. Your inner conflict is proof positive as to why the world needs monastics, Father, and why some of us who know violence and hatred in this fallen world draw near to you as we seek Christ so imperfectly.

  5. Dear Father Seraphim,
    Thank you for sharing your struggle. You asked if it is just a media problem, but concluded that it is not, since you received unsettling responses. I live in the U.S., and find that both are true for a very interesting reason. The people that watch/follow what the media are saying are indeed angry, bitter, and being incited to violent speech, if not actions. That is because they believe what they are seeing. I found myself going down the same path, and was pulled into this whole hateful narrative. When I stopped all media (what can we do about this stuff anyway? We must pray for everyone anyway!), I was not angry anymore. Local interactions at the store, pharmacy, etc. are pleasant, and we are all surrounded by people who are living life the best they can. We are being incited on purpose, I believe, and I pray that God in His mercy will pull the plug on this false prophet, who is creating fear and hatred between people who have nothing to fear or hate. We are under a spell. Please pray for us, that the spell will be broken! Thank you so much for your insights and prayers!

  6. Fr. Seraphim,
    Thank you for sharing you heart and your honesty. It is always very humbling to read your words and listen to your podcasts because of the truth in your heart. You are so right about America. It is very sad, the things that are talked about even within our own church walls. Today is November 6th. Yesterday we had 26 people killed at a church here in South Texas. What is it going take for this gun violence to stop?! In my former church, several members carry a gun on Sunday mornings. It’s all madness in my mind! I believe the real answer is in what you have written in that the only real way to change the world is in showing the love of Christ to others, especially to those who are so unlike ourselves..

  7. Dear Father Seraphim,
    From the bottom of my heart you have my love and gratitude. Your podcast and booklets have touched me and helped me more than you will know. If I can give anything back to you in this situation, I pray to our Lord Jesus Christ that I will.

    I listened to your Podcast on the terror attack in France. Reading this blog post it reminds me of your podcast following that one. I know you got rebuked by many for that and you were not expecting that.

    As am American child (I was raised Protestant but am now Orthodox) I was taught to love God meant to love family and country, which meant defending all with your life. That was ingrained in me from a very young age. I went to a Protestant Christian school and they taught patriotism was right up there with piety. The constitution was taught to be given to us by God, and in that constitution we have the right to bear arms. For many Americans the constitution is only second the Bible.

    I think racism is something most Americans hate and slavery is something we regret. The racial struggles have made those on both sides feel like they are looking and being used, and they are. Political parties keep this strife going for their own gain.

    Islam is a deep threat to Americans, we know how it destroyed once Christian countries, and those who follow it promise to do the same to America. We have seen them gaining ground and it is frightening to many.

    I myself struggle when it comes to loving and serving God. Does love not defend family even as it does love its enemies? Which do you choose when you have to? I myself see in scripture both. On one hand turn the other cheek and give your enemy your cloak, and yet do not throw pearls before swine. We don’t know the difference in any given situation. I don’t think there is a black and white answer. I think all situations call for us to call on Christ for his will. The solider and the martyr have done his will at given times. Just as you spoke of Christ and his judgment and love, Christ Pantocrator of Mt. Sinai.

    I am linking an article about Fr. Alexander Webster. He was once a general and is now an Orthodox Priest and he sees value in both the pacifist and the soldier. His work is worth looking into for clarity I hope.
    https://incommunion.org/tag/alexander-webster/

    I have a dysfunctional, destructive family. I become stressed when I have to visit them because I know they are expecting things and I feel I must preform. Despite that I do love them and want so much for them to just see Christ in me when I am with them so they might turn to him and be healed. I have to rely very much on Christ when I visit them, it has caused be to empty myself. I get the feeling that is what you are describing about visiting America.

    America is at a turning point, I think what becomes of her has everything to do with whether America turns to God or not. There has been no time in our history that I know of where we needed people like you who bring us Christ. Please do not feel rejected, the country is split and confused, we need the light of Christ now more than ever. This may be just the time when hearts can change. This may not help you, I am sorry if it doesn’t. I will continue to pray for you and the monastery and that the Lord gives you peace and clarity in this situation.

  8. Dear Father, I just wanted to add to the above, please pray for us. I am hoping we all do find as you said of the Fathers, love is stronger than our differences.

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