Tuesday, April 24, 2012

St. Seraphim and Renewal

     At times we can go astray when understanding the simple message of our Lord Jesus Christ. When this happens our spiritual lives become dull, cold and introverted. Not being able to recognize our weakness we tend to often find fault in others or in our churches to why we are not experiencing a fruitful spiritual life. We even go as far to make it our mission to fix these problems that we see by becoming masters of the religious rhetoric and finding approval from the like minded. In this mission we might become the most spiritual knowledgeable or the most traditionaly devout but in the mean time we continue on a path away from what St. Seraphim would call the " simplicity of the original Christian knowledge".
     It is only by the grace of God that we can recognize those times that we go astray. When we do it becomes a time of personal renewal and a return to those "first works"--Rev.2:5. St. Seraphim in his teachings understood that before any renewal can take place we need to be able to comprehend the goal of the Christian life, which is to develop intimacy with God or as he says, "acquiring the Holy Spirit". According to St. Seraphim all of our religious activities do not constitute the aim of our Christian life. In everything that we find in our rich Byzantine tradition the saint would say these are " the indispensable means of reaching this end".
     The true Christian life according to St Seraphim is not as complicated as we often make it. The same could be said for the spiritual renewal that we long to see in our churches. We can't always expect ideal conditions when it comes to the spiritual atmosphere that we find ourselves in. On the other hand, there is nothing stopping us from "acquiring the Spirit of God". In our Byzantine churches we may never see an end to abuse or problems (its been going on now for 2000 years). However, there is nothing stopping us from the spiritual renewal we desire. To this I believe the saint would add that if we want to see our churches change we first need to change. Spiritual renewal begins with the individual and never by a restructuring of the external realities that we have in our traditions.
     In St. Seraphim's teaching we can realize that nothing is stopping us from intimacy with Jesus Christ or renewal. The church might not always be there, corruption may abound, but we can have access to the riches to the kingdom of God at anytime through prayer. The saint states that access to the kingdom is simple for he says, "prayer gives us it most of all, for it is always at hand, so to speak, as an instrument for acquiring the grace of the Spirit". What the saint is saying is very challenging because that which might be keeping us from renewal might be the fact that we don't spend much time in prayer seeking more of the Holy Spirit.
     The simple things that lead us to the kingdom of God might never be good enough for some of us. Even the scriptures testify that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to some. Our loving heavenly Father has made access to the kingdom so simple that even little children can grow in holiness. It is a marvel at times when people ask for spiritual counsel only to get dismayed when their spiritual fathers tell them to spend more time reading the bible or in prayer. When such simplicity becomes strange to us St. Seraphim's teachings could lead us to believe that this might be a sign that "we have almost abandoned the true Christian life". In the saints teachings it's not in the abundance of religious activities, perfected liturgies, or grand byzantine architecture but in learning to acquire the "utmost profit" in the simplicity of the many "abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit" where we find true spiritual renewal.
     God is holding nothing back from us! It is up to us to be willing to discover all that we can of him in the simple things, such as spending more time in prayer. This simplicity that St. Seraphim taught continues to be a source of renewal for many today. To this day many people make a pilgrimage to where he spent his earthly life. By being faithful to the simplicity of the basics of Christianity St. Seraphim continues to lead countless people in the path of salvation. He even had a saying that testified to this truth, "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved". If we are willing I believe God can use each one of us to bring renewal into our churches by just following the simplicity that we find in Jesus Christ

The teachings that I used are from Saint Seraphim's conversation with Nicholas Motovilov (click) to read


  1. This gives me food for thought. I am a RC but certain aspects of the spirituality don't resonate for me. I'm beginning the journey of embracing a byzantine spiritual life while attending a RC church most of the time. Of course older RC spiritual disciplines mirror present day Orthodox disciplines, i.e. fasting guidelines during all of lent, etc
    I increased my prayer and scripture reading during Lent and felt like it bore much fruit.
    Need to focus more on those instead of poor liturgies on Sundays.

  2. Dear Dave
    I am an RC as well but attend a Byzantine rite church. My husband is Byzantine rite under canon law. I spent many years in the Novus Ordo dessert so I assume that is what you mean by bad liturgy. For many years I considered converting to the Orthodox church but I just couldn't do it in the end - the Bishop of Rome is the principle of unity in the Church (and I am quoting an Orthodox monk here!). I tried attending the occasional Byzantine rite liturgy every now and then but that didn't feel right to me either. I felt like a Catholic pretending to be an Orthodox and there was this weird East/West duality going on inside me. What eventually made the transition easy for me was attending a Tridentine rite Mass every Sunday for about a year. If you live near a parish which offers the old Latin Mass I would encourage you to start attending it. The discordance between Novus Ordo-ism, and ancient Christian expressions of faith, whether liturgical or personal, is just too great.

  3. The answer is not in a well perfected liturgy or mass. These are often spiritual luxuries that we believe will grant us some sense of being closer to God. Even in the weakest of liturgies the fullness of God is present. We are often the ones to blame when it comes to a lack of spiritual encounter in our churches. Jesus has yet to miss attending the Novus Ordo or RDL. Its sad that we miss him while we are there. Be careful, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Heb.13:8. There is no western or eastern Jesus. What we find in the various traditions are different expressions of loving Him. In fact, in the eastern churches these expressions are so diverse that it is unfair to categorize spirituality as an east/west. Often we think the grass is greener on the other side. The belief that our spirituality will improve if we take go east is a myth. Sometimes those who experience the east/west duality are often lacking in their relationship with God and are searching for ways to improve it by looking outside of themselves instead of within. The answer is in deep repentance and not by joining a different church or rite or by going east becasue west is not good enough.

  4. Dear Anon,
    I've tried the tridentine and just not for me -- for mnay reasons. I've attended some very well done Ordinary Form masses. I would attend an Eastern Catholic church full-time if: the one that had the English service was closer than an hour away, and the one that is only 30 minutes away had their liturgy in English.
    I've looked into the local Orthodox churches and found one the one in my suburb to have many polemical works against Catholics (where's the love?).
    I would say the Byzantine prayers and theology speak to me in a way that the RC doesn't.

  5. Dear Mr Ballard
    My point to Dave was not that one encounters Christ more in one liturgy than another. It was just a suggestion that perhaps, if he wished 'to move East' going to the Tridentine rite would ease the transition.
    Yes, I found Christ in the Novus Ordo. In fact, in some ways an appalling liturgy can work wonders in stripping off the layers of our spiritual pretensions to make us see that what is most important is our own personal encounter with Christ and not the external trappings of our faith, as beautiful as they may be. However, no one should be subject to the appalling abuses that can occur in some Novus Ordo liturgies. They are an abomination and have worked to destroy the faith of more than one sincere Catholic.
    I have not gone East to improve my spirituality or because I think it is somehow better - it is simply through the personal circumstances of my life that I have been brought to worship at an Eastern rite church. I could return to an RC parish tomorrow if I had to.

  6. I apologize for my statement of "poor liturgies" not really what I intended. I didn't mean to come across like I was taking a cheap shot.

  7. Real men (women) are honest. Thanks for being just that.