Background: The following article is taken from PCM Online, Spring 2001, Volume 37, No. 2. The original title was Lives of a Saint. The new title in use was inspired by one of the many Greek blogs that have translated this article. Other curious titles on Greek blogs are Fr. Seraphim Rose: The White Man’s Hour (or Time).
As a layman, Eugene Rose had homosexual relationships before his conversion to Orthodoxy. This has sometimes been a problematic issue for his biographers because homosexuality is condemned by the Orthodox Church (essentially, the only sex act blessed by God in Orthodoxy is vaginal penetration by a penis between a heterosexual couple married in a canonical orthodox church; i.e., no masturbation, oral, anal, fingering, premarital sex, etc.). Thus, Fr. Seraphim Rose’s pre-orthodox homosexual lifestyle is often not mentioned in his “official” biographies.
Over the years, editors would include Eugene’s homosexual inclinations on Fr. Seraphim’s Wikipedia page, as well as his Orthodox Wiki page. On these pages are claims that other biographers and scholars have questioned the authenticity of these sources, however, the editors haven’t cited any of these authors.
When Elder Ephraim first started building monasteries in America, some of the monastics spoke very freely about their low opinions concerning Fr. Seraphim Rose and the Platina Monastery. There were numerous reasons given. Some of the Philotheou monks did not like Fr. Seraphim’s style of writing. One of the theologians at Philotheou found numerous issues with the theology in a series of articles on Genesis and Creation that appeared in the periodical The Orthodox Word. These later were compiled and published as a book, Genesis, Creation and Early Man: The Orthodox Christian Vision, and was sold in many of Geronda Ephraim’s monastery bookstores.
Some of Geronda Ephraim’s spiritual children visited the various monasteries in America before they left the world to become monks on Mount Athos. One or two of these individuals who ended up at Philotheou and then in America, have said on more than one occasion that there was an underlying homosexual vibe and weirdness there (i.e. compared to how a “normal” monastery should function). Over the years, there have been accusations of homosexuality and molestation against Fr. Herman Podmoshensky who co-founded the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina. As well, there have been some “in defense of“ Fr. Seraphim Rose articles attempting to dismiss the claims that he was a practising homosexual before he was chrismated.
But the biggest issue that Geronda Ephraim’s monastics had (have) with Fr. Seraphim Rose is the fact that he wasn’t received into the Orthodox Church via baptism but rather chrismation. According to Elder Ephraim, and the Patristic books sold at monasteries, only Orthodox baptism washes one’s sins away because “Latins and heretics are unbaptized“; i.e., there are no mysteries and Grace in non-orthodox churches so all their sacraments are invalid. Without baptism, the spiritual eyes remain closed. If an Orthodox Christian who was only received with chrismation enters Paradise, they will be blind because their spiritual eyes were never opened through Baptism (Geronda has said this more than once in relation to converts who were only received with chrismation and died without being baptized. So, there was always a dismissive and disdainful tone from the abbots of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries whenever Fr. Seraphim’s name came up. Of course, with laypeople they’d speak more tactfully because, after all, the bookstores still sold Fr. Seraphim’s books.
In 2000, Fr. Seraphim Rose’s monastery joined the Western American Diocese of the Church of Serbia. This meant that they were now in communion with the GOA which is the diocese Elder Ephraim’s monasteries are under. From this point on, the hard line opinions against Fr. Seraphim Rose weren’t expressed as freely in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries and have become more “PC” over the years so as not to offend others. There is no longer open talk about the impossibility of him being canonically recognized as a saint due to his lack of baptism. Some have even theorized that St. John Maximovitch must have secretly baptized him like they do with adult converts in Elder Ephraim’s monasteries but there is no hint of this in any of his biographies.
LIVES OF A SAINT
Just south of Red Bluff on Interstate 5, there is a grisly sight: a detached, bleeding arm by the side of the highway, the white fingers reaching out toward the lanes of passing traffic.
It is riveting, even though it is just a painting. The arm, perhaps 30 feet long, is outlined in red on a semi-trailer set in a field. Painted above it, in big red letters, are the words, “This Blood Poured Out for Your Sins.” Then, as suddenly as it appears, the bleeding arm is past.
From Red Bluff, California 36 snakes westerly for 49 miles through sparsely populated foothills to the mountain hamlet of Platina, population 60, at the edge of the Trinity National Forest. Nearly trackless timberland stretches more than 100 miles to the north and to the south. To the west, tiny settlements with names such as Peanut and Mad River dot the state road as it wends toward the distant Pacific.
Here, on the broad shoulder of a mountain ridge high above Platina, is where Eugene Rose, a 1956 Pomona graduate, chose to leave the world.
For the first two days after death, the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on Earth that were dear to it. On or about the third day, the soul passes through legions of evil spirits that obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins. The soul must pass these tests to avoid being immediately cast into Gehenna. If it successfully passes through, the soul for the next 37 days visits the abysses of heaven and hell, not knowing where it will remain. On the 40th day, its place is appointed. It will remain there until the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment.
This interpretation of ancient teachings of the Orthodox Church is summarized in a book, “The Soul After Death,” which is described by its publishers as Russia’s most popular work on the afterlife, although some Orthodox Christians strongly disagree with aspects of it. In Russia, despite the decades of Soviet suppression, Orthodoxy is, in effect, the national religion. Recent polls show that half to two-thirds of Russian citizens consider themselves Orthodox. Typewritten installments of “The Soul After Death” were distributed through the samizdat, the underground press, before the fall of communism.
Other works by the same reclusive Orthodox cleric, known as Fr. Seraphim, have also gained a following among the Russian faithful, and his ascetic life in the wilderness has assumed almost mythic proportions. Among some pious Russians, Fr. Seraphim is the object of veneration. In the dark hours when desperate people pray for miracles, some direct their prayers to him.
Before he became Fr. Seraphim, his name was Eugene Rose.
“You know, Father Seraphim is really for us Russians; he speaks to us in a special way,” a young Orthodox Russian told a recent visitor from America. Rose, however, visited Russia only in his heart; except for brief out-of-state travels, he spent his life in California. Born in 1934, he grew up in San Diego, where his father was a caretaker at Balboa Stadium. His mother was an ardent Protestant who sang in church choirs and frequently consulted the Bible.
“I think a large part of who Eugene was, was because of my grandmother,” says Rose’s niece Cathy Scott, author of a biography called Seraphim Rose: The True Story and Private Letters. Rose’s mother could be stern to an extreme, Scott says. After Eugene’s older brother, Franklin, accidentally set the garage on fire while playing with matches at age 4, his mother took Franklin inside and held his hand to a lighted stove to show him that fire hurt.
Rose’s mother had high expectations for her children, relatives say. Eugene excelled at school and received a scholarship to attend Pomona. During college, he immersed himself in philosophy, classical music and literature, theatre and languages. He moved within a circle of friends inclined toward intellectual and artistic pursuits.
“We were outsiders, and not unhappy about it,” says Laurence McGilvery ’54, an antiquarian. “We didn’t conform. We didn’t join fraternities, we didn’t drink beer; we were a more open and tolerant group in a time of heightened intolerance.” Rose, somewhat shy, was tall, slender and darkly handsome, with eyes that burned steadily, like blue flames. “He had an acute understanding of music, literature and philosophy,” McGilvery says.
“He was the most talented person I’ve known,” says Dirk van Nouhuys ’56, a writer. “He was always caring and thoughtful, and extremely intelligent and able. He was brilliant with languages and very talented at sports. I thought of him as a person with a broadly inquiring character and mind. He was someone who chose to make his own way in life to an unusual degree.”
It is a life both famous and obscure.
“We were the closest of friends, but there was this huge area of himself that he didn’t disclose to anybody,” says McGilvery. “And it’s clear now that it was the most important part.”
In the parlance of traditional Orthodox monasticism, a newly tonsured monk dies to the world and to his former life in order to find a new life in God. He forgets himself and leaves the world to seek true spiritual wisdom. Physical isolation helps the soul reject the worldly way of life.
The first time Eugene Rose died was when he was made a monk on the mountainside above Platina in 1970, at age 36. He and another man committed to Orthodoxy, a Russian American named Gleb Podmoshensky, had by then been living ascetic on the mountain for two years. They had established a skete, or small brotherhood, not as large or formal as a monastery. They cooked their meals outside on a camp stove, sometimes in knee-deep snow, and hauled water up from the base of the mountain in an old pickup truck. They published a journal they called The Orthodox Word, using a hand press Rose had bought for $200. They later bought a used Linotype machine and a generator to run it, and their flow of publications grew to include calendars and books.
Rose grew vegetables, with mixed results, in the reddish soil. The monks ate no meat, but did eat fish. The monastic rules they followed permitted no unnecessary talking, or casual reclining, or crossing one’s legs when seated. The skete was established not as a place of retreat but of seclusion and struggle. “We must have a minimum of ‘conveniences,'” Rose had written while planning his departure from the world, “…and trust in God instead of devices.”
Rose was a philosophy major when he started at Pomona in 1952.
“He was an unusual student,” says Professor of Philosophy Frederick Sontag. “He was unusual in his demeanor and the way he talked and the kinds of questions he asked.” Just before graduation, Rose asked Sontag for a letter of recommendation.
“Without question, Mr. Rose is an individualist,” Sontag wrote, “but, just because of this single-minded tendency, he is quite likely to make a name for himself in his chosen field. He is completely serious about his work, and his native intellectual ability is undoubtedly of the first order. Since his background was limited economically and intellectually prior to his college years, he is still exploring and trying to find his place in the academic world, but I feel that he is now very close to the specific area in which he may be able to make a significant contribution. He still has trouble with communication, but this should straighten itself out as he settles into his own area of specialty.”
While at Pomona, Rose and some friends, including McGilvery, heard a lecture by a former Anglican priest, Alan Watts, who had become a celebrity convert to Zen Buddhism. Rose was captivated. He would go on to study under Watts, who was known as a “beatnik guru,” at the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. Rose eventually drifted from the influence of Watts, deriding him as an “armchair Buddhist.” But it was at the Academy that Rose met a Chinese Taoist scholar named Gi-ming Shien, who had an indelible effect on him. Shien’s work focused on the ancient Chinese approach to learning. He valued traditional Chinese viewpoints and original classical texts over modern interpretations. Rose learned to read ancient Chinese so he could plumb the early Taoist texts.
Shien’s viewpoint was similar to that of the French metaphysicist René Guénon, who had perhaps the greatest influence on Rose’s philosophical development. Rose devoured Guénon’s books, reading them in the original French when he could not find translations. Guénon decried the flagging of the spirit of ancient cultures in contemporary Western society. Equating newness with progress was wrong, he believed. The ultimate truth, he suggested, could be found in the wisdom of the ages.
“It was Rene Guénon who taught me to seek and love the Truth above all else and to be unsatisfied with anything else,” Rose once wrote.
“When we wish to call the passions by a common name,” said St. Isaac the Syrian, a seventh-century cleric and one of the Holy Fathers of Orthodoxy, “we call them the world. But when we wish to distinguish them by their special names, we call them passions. The passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure which comes from sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, there the world is dead … Someone has said of the Saints that while alive they were dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not live for the flesh.
“See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it.”
At Platina, Rose lived for years in an uninsulated shack without running water or electricity, with a tiny wood-burning stove for warmth. He built the cabin himself of salvaged lumber on land his parents helped him and Podmoshensky buy. In winter, the silent pine forest that pressed in on their outpost was often deep in snow. In summer, the heat could be stifling.
The cabin, called a cell in the monastic tradition, was about 8 feet by 10 feet. A tiny room attached to the main structure contained a small shelf of books that served as Rose’s library. Rose slept in a corner on a bed made of two boards.
From this shadowy cell, lit with candles and oil lamps, came a torrent of writings that exalt an ancient, literal, traditionalist view of the Orthodox faith, one that is considered extreme, even fanatical, by some clerics. Rose’s monastic brethren call it “suffering Orthodoxy.”
From here also came Rose’s most famous line, an oft-repeated apocalyptic warning: “It’s later than you think! Hasten, therefore, to do the work of God.”
Russian Orthodoxy is rent by a long-running feud between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to which Rose belonged, and the Church within Russia. Those loyal to the Church Abroad contend that it is the true, free Church, preserver of the piety that existed before the Bolsheviks. They say that the Church hierarchy within Russia has been corrupted by decades of subservience to the Soviet regime. The Church Abroad, on the other hand, is regarded by its critics in Orthodoxy as a separatist group mired in very old, obsolete doctrines.
Much of Rose’s work seemed to bypass Church hierarchy altogether, speaking directly to the Russian laity, as well as to American converts. His admiration for Russia’s people and their struggles was undisguised. Rose, fervently anti-communist, suggested that communism’s fall, and the resurrection of Holy Russia, would presage the end of the world.
“Russia, the first country to experience the Communist yoke, is also the first country to begin to wake up from it and survive it,” he said in a 1981 lecture. “Despite the continued reign of Communist tyranny, atheism has not captured the soul of Russia, and the religious awakening that can been seen now in Russia is undoubtedly only the beginning of something immense and elemental: the recovery of the soul of a whole nation.”
After Rose died to the world and became a monk, and later a hieromonk, or priest-monk, he would still come out of the mountains about once a year to visit his mother. They maintained a loving correspondence until shortly before his second, bodily death in 1982.
Once, while Rose was visiting his mother in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa, he walked to a shopping center a few miles from her home. It was August, according to Rose’s niece Cathy Scott, and the temperature was over 100 degrees. Rose strode through the suburban neighborhoods in his heavy wool cassock, a towering, mysterious figure, his graying beard curling in long tendrils over his chest. People stared.
His sister, worried about him in the heat, went to pick him up in her car. “You’d think they’d never seen a priest before,” Rose said jokingly to her. She asked him why he hadn’t just driven their mother’s car on the errand.
“She won’t let me use it,” he said. “I backed over her mailbox five years ago, and she’s never forgotten.”
On a cool late afternoon in June 1956, while waiting for a train in Los Angeles, Eugene Rose, who was just shy of 22, wrote a letter to Laurence McGilvery.
“My dear Larry,” it began, “I am slightly drunk, having drunk a bottle of chablis at Fred Harvey’s Railroad Restaurant (Taix’s had a long line; at Fred’s the waitress didn’t know what chablis was.) I am rather stupid for not having told you, to your face, certain things before. My slight drunkenness gives me an opportunity, though it’s about time I told you when sober. If we are friends at all, such things cannot be ‘hid.’
“Fact number one: my mother has discovered, rather illegitimately (I shall tell you of it later) that I am homosexual; if you have not surmised the fact already, it is time you know of it. I have not quite been kicked out of the house, but I probably shall not return after September. My mother was quite hysterical, but my father persuaded her that I am only ‘sick.’ I have agreed to go to my friend’s psychiatrist in S.F., which I was rather interested in doing for other reasons, at parental expense.
“I suppose you have also surmised by now that I shall live this summer, and sleep, with a young man I love, and who loves me.
“I have been very stupid in Claremont. I have hardly been a friend to you. Forgive me. It is perhaps not Claremont of which I was sick, but myself. I suppose I have not told you earlier of myself because I feared you would regard me a bug, a monster, or merely ‘sick,’ as my parents regard me. I am certainly ‘sick,’ as all men are sick who are ever absent from the love of God, but I regard my sexual inclinations as perfectly ‘normal,’ in a sense I do not as yet understand.
“I shall be happy to hear from you, and to see you sometime soon.”
McGilvery reassured Rose of their friendship. They remained close for years, even though McGilvery did not share Rose’s accelerating religious fervor. “He would have known that I would have scoffed at the idea of devils roaming around the Earth and holy oils that could cure something,” McGilvery says. “I could have argued about his beliefs to the end of my life.”
He never got the chance. After Rose became a monk, McGilvery never heard from him again. He sent Rose a Christmas card year after year, but there was never a response. Once, a mutual friend visited Rose at Platina and asked him whether he had gotten the cards. Rose said that he had, and the friend asked why he had not written McGilvery back. “What would I say to him?” Rose replied.
In a lecture titled “The Orthodox World-View,” delivered shortly before his death, Fr. Seraphim Rose said:
“Anyone who looks at our contemporary life from the perspective of the normal life lived by people in earlier times–say Russia, or America, or any country of Western Europe in the 19th century–cannot help but be struck by the fact of how abnormal life has become today. The whole concept of authority and obedience, of decency and politeness, of public and private behavior–all have changed drastically, have been turned upside down except in a few isolated pockets of people–usually Christians of some kind–who try to preserve the so-called ‘old-fashioned’ way of life…
“It is obvious to any Orthodox Christian who is aware of what is going on around him today, that the world is coming to its end. The signs of the times are so obvious that one might say that the world is crashing to its end.” Rose went on to list some of these signs, which included: “The abnormality of the world. Never have such weird and unnatural manifestations and behavior been accepted as a matter of course as in our days. Just look at the world around you: what is in the newspapers, what kind of movies are being shown, what is on television, what it is that people think is interesting and amusing, what they laugh at: it is absolutely weird…
“The wars and rumors of wars, each more cold and merciless than the preceding, and all overshadowed by the threat of the unthinkable universal nuclear war, which could be set off by the touch of a button.
“The increasing centralization of information on and power over the individual, represented in particular by [an] enormous new computer in Luxembourg, which has the capacity to keep a file of information on every man living; its code number is 666 and it is nicknamed ‘the beast’ by those who work on it…”
“I could go on with details like this, but my purpose is not to frighten you, but to make you aware of what is happening around us. It is truly later than we think; the Apocalypse is now.”
John Christensen was a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, when Fr. Seraphim Rose gave two lectures there in 1981.
“He was the real catalyst in my conversion to Orthodoxy,” says Christensen, now a hieromonk known as Fr. Damascene. “He changed my life. I felt that he was a very important, major figure for our times, someone who had found the answers to modern Western man’s search for God and the meaning in life. So, very soon after he reposed, I started gathering material about him and writing about him.”
About 10 years later, in 1993, Christensen published Not of This World: The Life and Teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose, Pathfinder to the Heart of Ancient Christianity. The 1,000-page biography is richly detailed, drawing on interviews with Rose’s friends, letters, information from relatives, Rose’s own writings, school and college records and other sources.
“I think it’s a nice work of fiction,” says Cathy Scott, Rose’s niece, who faults in particular its depictions of Rose’s early years and of his relationships with his family and friends. Her biography, published last fall, presents a distinctly different but no less striking portrait of Rose, especially of the life he led before he joined the Orthodox Church. Her book is filled with examples of Rose’s letters to his friends–scattershot musings on life, God, philosophy and culture–and the simple, homey notes he sent his mother about snowfalls or gardening at Platina. It was Scott’s book that, to the consternation of many Orthodox Christians, publicly revealed Rose’s homosexual activity before his conversion; Christensen, though aware of it, had chosen not to mention it.
The foreword to Scott’s book was written by a convert to Orthodoxy named Craig Young, now known as Fr. Alexey. Rose had been appointed Young’s spiritual father, and the two spent considerable time together, keeping in touch by letter when Young left the Platina area. In a review of Christensen’s book published in the journal Orthodox America, Young called it “a treasure and a disappointment, a joy and a sadness, an inspiration and a scandal.” He says that the biography was distorted by the influence of Podmoshensky, who had bitter differences with the church hierarchy after Rose’s death.
As a biographer of Rose and disseminator of his teachings, Christensen, a fluent writer, has been to a large degree the caretaker of Rose’s legacy as well. He says he is not interested in debating whose biography presents a truer picture of Rose. But he defends the accuracy of his work and says there is a reason for the approach he took.
“If you follow the general tenor of our society today,” he says, “there’s a belief you should just tell everything. But from an Orthodox Christian point of view, you don’t necessarily need to tell everything about a person. Orthodox Christians, like all Christians who truly respect the Holy Scriptures, regard homosexual relations as a sin. Father Seraphim died to that when he converted to the Orthodox faith. When I researched the material about his life, I wanted to respect what Father Seraphim would have wished to be presented in the book. And I know that he would not have wished that to be presented.”
It was Rose’s gay partner in San Francisco who introduced him to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. But while Rose was immersing himself in the mystique of ancient Orthodoxy, his partner, who had written a book about the Church, was losing interest in it. Soon the Church took Rose wholly, and he and his partner split up.
A social doctrine adopted by the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate last year describes homosexuality as “a sinful injury to human nature” to be “treated by sacraments, prayer, fasting, repentance and the reading of the Holy Scriptures.”
Referring to his young adult years before he became fully involved in the Orthodox Church, Rose once said: “I was in hell. I know what hell is.”
A narrow, arched doorway in a high white stucco wall opens into the courtyard at the mountainside skete Rose co-founded, now a full-fledged monastery with about a dozen priests, monks and brothers in residence. Shadows grow long in mid-afternoon as the sun creeps behind the treed ridge rising above the compound. The quietude is occasionally pierced by unearthly shrieks from the monastery’s peacocks.
At 5 p.m., before the Vespers service, the church bell is rung nine times, in reference to the ninth hour–when Christ died–and silent, bearded men in black cassocks and black cylindrical hats called klobuks emerge from the compound’s library and print shop and from cells in the pine-shrouded woods. Inside the darkened church, icons of saints and other holy ones cover the walls and crowd every shadowed recess. Many are painted–written, in Orthodox terminology–in muted egg tempera tones, using a process perfected in the Middle Ages. Oil lamps cast a pale yellow glow, and the smell of frankincense is strong.
Arriving clerics bow deeply and cross themselves before entering the main body of the church, which is open, with no pews. Some cross themselves and bow twice before certain icons, touching the right hand to the floor, before moving forward to kiss the icons. The lips may not touch the face depicted on the icon, only the feet or hands or clothing.
In the dark, quiet church, a young monk sings in a hushed monotone: “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy…” Although the prayerful chants are in English, they sound centuries old. In the December chill and the flickering light of the lampadas, the black-robed priests and monks sing of suffering and redemption and everlasting life. After the service, they gather at a long, thick wooden table in the nearby refectory, warmed by a wood-burning stove, for a supper of vegetable stew with bread, accompanied by the reading of a spiritual text. They will rise well before dawn for the Matins service.
Eugene Rose is buried on the slope that rises from the middle of the compound. Over his grave is a rectangular wooden platform with roughly hewn benches and handrails. In the center is an empty wooden sarcophagus adorned with an oil lamp and candle, with an Orthodox cross at the head. The boards of this cenotaph, beneath which Rose’s body lies buried in the ground, have been stained dark with oil and wax.
When some pious Orthodox visit the grave, they leave with a piece of wood from rotting boards or a handful of dirt or a few drops of oil from the lamp. In the Orthodox tradition, holy relics and remains of saints are objects of veneration.
Rose was pronounced dead Sept. 2, 1982, at a hospital in Redding. For days he had endured agonizing stomach pain and had kept to his cell, resisting entreaties that he go to a doctor. When his condition worsened, monks drove him to the emergency room. It was found during surgery that a blood clot had blocked a vein leading from the intestines, parts of which had become gray and gangrenous. He lingered for a week in intensive care.
Fr. Alexey Young was at his bedside near the end. “He was unable to speak at this point,” he says. “We began to softly sing his favorite church hymn, for Good Friday, in Russian chant. As we sang, we saw two tears come down his cheeks. And we wept also, knowing that soon he would hear this hymn sung not by mortal men and women, but by angels.”
Almost immediately, there were reports of visions and miracles. A woman whose son had received spiritual guidance from Rose said that, the day before Rose died, she received a visitation. “I was working in the back room,” she said, “and at the same time thinking how I wished I was at the hospital with all of you. Suddenly, time stopped, and in front of me I saw Father Seraphim all shining, wearing glittering, silvery vestments–these are the closest words I can use to describe the light. I caught my breath and said, ‘Oh, Father Seraphim!’ I was too astonished to say anything except ‘thanks.’ Time was not running–all was now. I will make no interpretation of this event, at this time or later. I felt comforted, and I hope that this event comforts you also. I am very unworthy, and I don’t know what more to say about this.”
Many who knew Rose, and some who have only read his works, say that he was a saint. Whether he will be approved for canonization in the Orthodox Church is another matter. The path to glorification begins with the faithful, when they turn from praying for the soul of the deceased to requesting his intercession before God. The extent of this veneration, including the writing of icons, is a factor, as are verified miracles before or after the righteous one’s death. Uncovering of the remains and transfer of the relics to a holy site have been a tradition of the glorification ritual since ancient times. If the remains are well preserved or the bones emit a sweet fragrance, it is often considered a sign the deceased has found favor with God.
Those who knew him saw very different sides of Eugene Rose.
“I wasn’t close to him,” says Cathy Scott, “but I don’t think anyone was. He wouldn’t let any of us in the family hug him, he was so disciplined. I think he was lonely. I think he was close to God.”
Dirk van Nouhuys says, “I thought of Eugene as a person who looks for answers to life’s problems. Most people keep on looking, but Eugene stopped. I think what we missed is the degree of suffering that was within him. His outward personality kind of obscured the inner desperation he must have felt to have embraced such a rigid system.”
Fr. Alexey Young said shortly after Rose’s death that some people, “who could not understand either his writings or his sermons, and judged him primarily by his appearance, saw his dusty and tattered robes and long, matted beard, and disdained him. Behind his back, he was more than once called a ‘dirty monk.’ The fact is, he was a true monk, an angel in the flesh, dead to this world but alive to the next, and more concerned about purifying his soul than adorning his body. His example was a reproach to us all.”
Gleb Podmoshensky, Rose’s monastic partner, once said of him: “Above all, Father Seraphim knew how to suffer.”
Fr. Damascene Christensen, who is working on the third edition of his biography of Rose, says, “The real Father Seraphim is the man that he became. He had been a lost but searching sinner, and in converting to Orthodox Christianity, he truly repented. He once wrote, ‘When I became a Christian I voluntarily crucified my mind, and all the suffering that I bear has only been a source of joy for me. I have lost nothing, but gained everything.’ He was able to cut through the deceptions of our times, the false philosophies, and go to the heart of the truth.”
Laurence McGilvery cherishes a different sort of memory. Well before Rose left the world to become an ascetic monk, he and McGilvery were lunching in San Francisco. “His sandwich came with a pickle and mine did not,” McGilvery says. “We both silently observed this, and finally he said, quietly, ‘Have a pickle,’ and I ate it. Years later, while he was walking with my wife, he told her: ‘Once Larry did the strangest thing when we were having lunch together. My plate had a pickle, and his did not. I said, ‘I have a pickle,’ and he inexplicably just picked it up and ate it.”
When his wife later told him what Rose had said, McGilvery, amused, wrote a note under the words “The Misunderstanding,” intending to hand it to Rose so he could watch his expression when he read it. The mystery’s resolution “was the kind of Zen moment he was so attracted to,” McGilvery says. More than 30 years later, McGilvery still has the note. “This was before he disappeared,” he says.
Although the daily rhythms of monastic life remained the same, there were changes at Platina in the years after Rose was buried there. Fr. Alexey described them in his Orthodox America article as “sad and, frankly, terrible events.” According to him, there was a falling out between Rose and Podmoshensky, known as Fr. Herman, shortly before Rose’s death.
Fr. Herman, the monastery’s abbot, was suspended from priestly duties in 1985 and formally defrocked four years later after conflicts with the church hierarchy. The brotherhood that he and Rose had co-founded in the 1960s was disassociated from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, but Fr. Herman continued to serve as a cleric under a non-canonical bishop. Last fall, he retired from active involvement in the brotherhood. He lives in seclusion not far from Platina.
In November, after existing for more than a decade outside ecclesiastically sanctioned Orthodoxy, the brotherhood was accepted into a diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Fr. Gerasim Eliel, a priest-monk who has lived at the monastery since 1981, was appointed by the Serbian Orthodox Church as the new abbot. The tiny cell that Rose constructed in the woods and named Optina, after a famous Russian hermitage bloodily suppressed under communism, is still in use. Fr. Damascene stays there now. –Michael Balchunas
Site about Seraphim Rose, including articles, icons, and even miracles:
Books about Rose:
Texts concerning Rose’s “anti-Catholic” beliefs:
Veneration of Rose: