Postcards from Greece:
One of the goals and purposes of this program, Postcards from Greece, is to communicate to you, our brothers and sisters in America and abroad in the English-speaking world, the experiences, insights, and spiritual lessons that we’ve been witness to and blessed with over our ten years here in Greece. One of those developments that certainly has been of great benefit to me personally, but also is of great interest to our Church in America and North America, is the rise in the veneration of one of our own Holy Men here in Greece.
Over the last ten years, we’ve seen a great interest in the writings and life of Fr. Seraphim Rose here in Greece. When I first came to Greece in 1998, it was hard to find a person who knew of Fr. Seraphim Rose. It was a rare occasion to find someone who had been exposed to the writings and life of Fr. Seraphim. But over the last six or seven years, since the book The Soul After Death was first translated and then Fr. Seraphim: His Life and Works was translated in full and circulated, but also his other books, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future and Revelation of God to the Human Heart, and books such as Man of God: St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, and others which I will tell you about, we have been inundated with questions and supplications of simple faithful here in Greece.
We tell them something about the life of Fr. Seraphim, the monastery of St. Herman or other aspects of the Church in America. And there are many stories that we can relate to you, because we have been blessed to be a part of the translation, distribution and publication of Fr. Seraphim and his writings, as well as a part of the publicity surrounding the books that have been published here in Greece.
We had the blessing to be one of the organizers of a speaking tour of Fr. Damascene when he came to Athens and Thessaloniki and spoke about the first volume of the life of Fr. Seraphim. Since that time, we have also been blessed to give talks on the life of Fr. Seraphim here in Greece. It is amazing to witness the joy and interest of the Greek faithful in the life of Fr. Seraphim and especially his writings, beginning with the book The Soul After Death. I will tell you some of the stories we’ve been witness to and been told firsthand.
Back in 2002 and 2003, I was approached by a young Greek man here in Thessaloniki who, of his own volition, decided to translate, together with many other young students at the university, Man of God: St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, published by Nikodemos Publications. Because they had reached an impasse in the publication of the book, they gave me the book and asked me to bring it to publication.
I came in contact with a young man, a new zealot in the faith, who had in his later years, his 20s, had became an Orthodox Christian in Athens, Nicholas Carellos. He had previously opened a bookstore, not unlike Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Herman in San Francisco, and was very zealous in distributing the lives of the saints and the writings of contemporary saints. He told me the following story about the publication, his Mirolas Publications.
The bookstore hadn’t been open too long in Athens, and a man came into the store and showed him, in English, the book The Soul After Death. For about half an hour, he pleaded with Nicholas (although Nicholas hadn’t published any books up to that point), “You must publish this book. You must translate and print this book in Greece. It is imperative that this happen.” The man left the store and left the book with Nicholas and never showed up again.
That was the last time Nicholas saw the man. It left a great impression on Nicholas, and he approached some spiritual fathers that he knew in Athens and asked them about the book. Others said, “Yes, it’s a fine book. You should definitely publish this.” Another man said, “Yes, I will translate the book.” And little by little, a very fine publication went to press.
Since then, about 2002 or 2003, it’s gone into ten printings in Greece. I think about 25,000 books have been printed, sold and distributed all over Greece. Although the book Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future had already been translated, it really did not see a wide distribution. This book was the first that saw tremendous distribution in Greece. People became very interested in Fr. Seraphim after that.
When I met Nicholas, I approached him about publishing the life of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. At the same time, he had a great desire to translate and publish other books by Fr. Seraphim, and I suggested that he start with the life of Fr. Seraphim. Thanks be to God, after several years and much struggle and good work on the part of many, including some monks on Mt. Athos, the whole life of Fr. Seraphim has been printed in three volumes. It has been well received in Greece and is in second and third printings.
It was on the occasion of Fr. Damascene’s arrival in Greece that we had the opportunity to travel to Athens and present the first volume of the book to the Greek Ecclesiastical Press and again here in Thessaloniki on two or three different occasions and other parts of northern Greece where it was very well received. Since that time, there have been others who have taken interest in the writings of Fr. Seraphim, and now the book The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church is about to be published and printed, as well as Fr. Seraphim’s books on Genesis and early man.
In a very small amount of time, in just a few years, the veneration and the love of Fr. Seraphim Rose has spread through Greece. People are really showing great interest in what he has to say. I have been made privy to and become friends with people in other parts of the Balkans, in Serbia and Romania, where they have told me as well that the same phenomenon is happening and has happened perhaps even earlier in Serbia with the rise of Fr. Seraphim. So much so, that when I was in Serbia just a few years ago, I was impressed to see that Fr. Seraphim was, especially by many young people, really considered to be a saint. They had icons made of him, and they considered that he was a holy saint, a holy man, of the Church.
The words of the Lord came to my mind, “A prophet has no honor in his own country.” In America, Fr. Seraphim, although venerated by many and with many miracles associated with his life after his repose, is sometimes seen as controversial because of his writings, especially on the soul after death. He is seen as controversial or just plain wrong. Whereas here in Greece, a traditional Orthodox country, we see that this book, The Soul After Death, has been the most positively received of all the books Fr. Seraphim has written.
Really, there is, no controversy surrounding him as far as I am aware in Greece. In fact, in our own diocese, a new book on the soul after death has just been published by the Protosingulos (the second after the Bishop), and he extensively cites Fr. Seraphim’s writings and appeals to his authority on the subject of the soul after death, which is quite remarkable. This young American convert has now become an authority for Greek Archimandrites and clergy here in this Orthodox country of 2,000 years.
There are many stories one could tell about the spread of the veneration of Fr. Seraphim here in Greece. I was just contacted a few days ago by a very zealous couple here who have done a number of translations in English. She is a Greek-speaking woman who grew up in New York, and he is a teacher of English here in Thessaloniki. They’ve done translations of publications. They have contacted me and asked that I pass on a number of names of their family to be prayed for by the monks in Platina. They told me how much love they have for Fr. Seraphim and that they have read Fr. Seraphim: His Life and Works a number of times, so much so that they feel like they have come to know Fr. Seraphim personally.
Such stories are many here in northern Greece, at least in my experience. There is no second thought. When they encounter Fr. Seraphim, they encounter his life, his writings, his teachings, and they immediately accept him as an authority, as a conveyor of the Holy Tradition, as an intercessor before God. They are tremendously moved by his conversion, by his ascetic life, and by his dedication to Christ and the Church.
And it should be, for us in America, a source of great joy, encouragement and also a great lesson, because Fr. Seraphim chose the version of Orthodoxy which is most true to the Tradition and most akin to the Orthodox faith and life that one encounters here in the old country. This is shown in his decision, his life and his way of living the Orthodox faith which have proven to be authentic and accepted by the faithful and the clergy of many, many Orthodox places and countries—first of all Russia, but also now in Serbia, Romania, in Georgia, and all around the Orthodox world.
It should be a great source of joy and encouragement for us as Orthodox Christians in America and a great example for us that one of our own has reached the heights of spirituality and has shown to be a Holy Father in our own day, in spite of those who might disagree in America or who might point to aspects of Fr. Seraphim’s teachings that they consider to be problematic or erroneous.
At the end of the day, the Church, the faithful, the people of God, will have their say. It is apparent, at least here in Greece, that they are accepting and rejoicing in the life of Fr. Seraphim, his witness, and his teachings. And, to the glory of God, the Church continues to produce saints, even in far off California which is not known for its holy places. But we do in fact have in our own day two holy men from California—St. John and Fr. Seraphim—who are intercessors before God and examples for us all. Amen.