Russians have long appreciated Fr. Seraphim Rose, the beloved Orthodox monk who started a monastery in northern California. This documentary was produced in Russian, and is available here for the first time with English subtitles.
He was a Protestant in California, an atheist genius at Berkeley, a practicing Buddhist, and finally — a Russian Orthodox Monk in the American wilderness. Fr. Seraphim Rose became a legend in Russia, where many now recognize him as a Saint.
This fascinating film was produced by NEOFIT.TV, a quality production company that creates numerous documentaries about Orthodox Christian saints, apostles, prophets, well known preachers, and Church history. Many excellent films are available on their website. We hope you enjoy this film about Fr. Seraphim Rose:
Fr. Seraphim Rose documentary on the "Russian Culture" TV Channel
English translation crowdfunded by readers of Russian-Faith.com
The primary characteristic of the spirit of the age is a Mickey Mouse atmosphere. They say, "Relax, take it easy . . . Whatever happens, don’t take it seriously."
- Hieromonk Seraphim Rose
In the late 1960s, in California, near the small town of Platina, where gold miners had formerly worked, an American named Eugene Rose founded an Orthodox monastery.
From collapsed huts left by pioneers, the monastic cells of pioneering monks have been built. The monastery is still flourishing here.
Here are all the monastic cells. Each cell has its own name. Fr. Seraphim's cell is called "Optina".
Here in this roughly built cell, using a typewriter by candlelight, Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote books that made him famous throughout the world and especially well-known in far-away Russia.
This table is where he wrote his books. He had a little typewriter here. He prayed in this corner. And here is his suitcase, on which is written, "Eugene Rose - San Francisco".
This man intentionally converted to Orthodoxy. He was very critical of the world around us, and he rejected it, at a time when many of our compatriots viewed it almost like an earthly paradise.
This gentleman from San Francisco, Eugene Rose, who became an Orthodox monk and priest, was able to live his short life according to the canons of ancient Russian monasticism and he revealed the beauty of Orthodoxy to many thousands of Americans.
Eugene Rose was born in San Diego, California, at the height of the Great Depression, in the family of a bankrupt shopkeeper. He graduated from school as valedictorian, and then went to college.
He was a striking young man, blue eyed and six feet tall, but even then he was very modest, as he devoted himself to the search for truth.
His long journey began with a denial of Christianity.
As he related, he had rebelled against something he considered weak and ineffective: Protestant Christianity in the heart of America.
At the same time, he had the feeling that "No one will change me!"
Enrolling at the Academy of Oriental Studies in San Francisco, Eugene Rose quickly became friends with the main intellectuals and upper crust of the city.
Then in the late fifties, the hippie movement was born, rejecting Christian and bourgeois values, and promoting permissiveness. All this was attractive to Eugene.
When he moved to San Francisco to study, people were calling it "Sin City", like Sodom and Gomorrah. It was like this even when he began to teach.
He got there in the late 1950s, before the end of the decade, when it was at the height of everything sinful in the city of San Francisco.
I think they all probably believed they could remake everything.
With nihilism having cast out all moral principles, Rose was fascinated with oriental philosophy and Zen Buddhism. Combining these interests, he began studying ancient Chinese Buddhist philosophy texts.
In these books, he searched for answers but could not find them, so he entered a season of great despair. He began to tempt God. He was ready to curse Him.
He was very passionate about searching for truth. He wanted to perfectly master Chinese philosophy.
After learning German and French, Rose easily learned ancient Chinese.
When he got involved with something, he did so fully, immersing himself in the East without accent.
Fantasy was not enough for him, just to read and give a river of commentary. To him, it was necessary to learn ancient Chinese.
He believed that if you were going to study Buddhism, then it is not enough to consider only the sources in English, since is possible to learn the ancient Chinese language itself.
With his growing interest in the East, a friend said, "You need to get acquainted with Eastern Christianity," and brought him to the Russian church in San Francisco.
He had real transformation when he met a graduate from Jordanville Orthodox Seminary: Gleb Podmoshensky
Then their loner, immigrant, Russian missionary traveled across America, presenting slide shows and giving lectures about Russian Orthodoxy.
At that time, he was eager to do missionary work with us, and not only with the Russians, but also with entire parishes. He presented slideshows and lectures for both Russians and Americans.
Once Eugene Rose arrived with a projector, and from the threshold he asked where the electrical outlet was. He then began to show slides with photos of holy places.
Thus these two future devotees of American Orthodoxy got acquainted.
Halls across America were filled with people watching slideshows depicting holy places.
It's easier to imagine this story now that it is about "Father Seraphim". It's quite another thing to consider that many were seeing Eugene Rose for the first time.
This demonstrates the correctness of his revelation. He opened a new world for people, connecting them with Russian Orthodoxy, including them as a part of its history.
It is dangerous for us to live in comfort, in conditions of peace and freedom. The treasure of holy Orthodoxy is all around us, but we have a sense of complete satisfaction, and thus we remain completely barren.
In 1962, in the week of the Prodigal Son (a week prior to Lent), in the Russian Cathedral in San Francisco, Eugene Rose became an Orthodox Christian. His spiritual mentor was St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco.
Having quickly learned the Church Slavonic language, Rose became the only reader in the cathedral, and he sang daily in the choir.
His readings in Slavonic were amazing, and very clean. He read well in Church Slavonic. In the cathedral, he both read and sang. It helped bring fullness to the services. Wherever he was, there was both the choir and the reader.
Now Eugene wanted to convert as many people as possible.
Together with Gleb Podmoshensky, they opened a little shop near the cathedral, where they began selling books about Orthodox Christianity, in English.
It was just a little bookstore. Someone once said, "Going there, I sensed a mixture of smells, ink and Russian borscht, and this brought in the Russian parishioners."
People came to put in orders, and every time they left the shop, Fr. Seraphim stood before the icon which hung over the exit, and he prayed for that person, believing that God would shed light on him.
It soon became clear that, in America, very little literature had been published about Eastern Christianity. So Eugene Rose decided to start his own missionary journal, "The Orthodox Word".
He found an old printing press somewhere, he bought it for $200, and he began printing texts with it, running the machine manually.
The first issues were printed with a machine that worked manually. Fr. Seraphim took each individual letter out of a box, and positioned it by hand. It was hard work which they performed with great zeal, for the sake of love.
The magazine helped Americans become familiar with original sources about the Orthodox Faith. About 500 copies of each issue were sold in the first year. Within a few years, the circulation increased to 3000.
It is important that the mission work was done for a wide audience. It was addressed to Americans, but it also made a significant impact in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which had a tradition of providing spiritual nourishment to Russian immigrants.
But it turned out that missionary work was not enough for these two Americans. They wanted to live as ascetics in the wilderness, according to the principles of ancient Holy Russia.
This is what Eugene Rose and Gleb Podmoshensky wanted.
They began to look for suitable, inexpensive land in California, and soon they found the perfect place. Near the town of Platina (which had a population of 60), on a wooded high mountain in the middle of nowhere, where only wild animals lived, these two friends started building a skete.
In the twentieth century, in America, two people founded a monastery, trying to live in a way that hadn't been done by anyone, anywhere, for a very long time, living in the wilderness like ancient monks, with no electricity, and no running water.
Doing without electricity, plumbing, telephones, and other benefits of civilization, these brothers decided to intentionally experience life in the wilderness. They built two houses from boards, one for themselves, and one for the printing press.
Here is the printing press itself. Unfortunately, it is no longer working. It is missing a few parts. This machine was blessed in San Francisco by St. John of Shanghai.
They built this cell around it. First they made the floor, then they put the printing press on it, and then they completed the whole house around it.
On October 27, 1970, Eugene was tonsured as a monk, and he received the name "Seraphim", in honor of St. Seraphim of Sarov. And his friend Gleb became the monk Herman, in honor of St. Herman of Alaska.
He absolutely left behind his past, and everything that was in the world. He never looked back. He said that what was real, was what he saw when looking ahead.
In the first years, there were two brothers. A man had to be very tough. One had to spend almost all of one's time just fighting for survival. On the monastery grounds, there was not even any water - no brook, no spring.
People in San Francisco collected money to give to the monastery, so that they could have water.
They started drilling, and it was a very expensive procedure. They continued to drill, and still nothing. Every additional foot in depth would require more money.
They finally became dismayed, ran into church, and performed a memorial service for St. John, who had not yet been canonized. Then suddenly they heard a cry, and water began pouring out of the ground.
When it was time to pay the workers for drilling, it turned out that they needed every bit of the money that had been collected.
The monk Nicholas has lived for more than a dozen years in the Platina monastery, and he remembers the titanic efforts involved in building the church here.
As my first act of obedience in this monastery, I worked as a carpenter. I built this church without electricity. I had to do everything by hand. We didn't have enough money to buy plaster.
We had to do everything ourselves. There wasn't a team of workers to help. We invested a huge amount of physical labor in the construction of the church.
Gradually, the number of monks increased, as new people joined the monastery. Cells for the monks were built from collapsed temporary huts that had been left behind by gold miners in a nearby town.
A few yards away from his cell, Fr. Seraphim nailed a bell to a tree. When people came to visit him, they rang the bell, and they read a prayer to Christ, very loudly. If he responded with an "Amen", then you could go inside. It was kind of a border.
This is Fr. Seraphim's cell. These modern rails and steps were not originally here. We built the steps and rails because pilgrims, especially women, would often slip here.
He built the original cell himself. They had no money, so they helped dismantle old houses in the town of Platina; they took these boards and built cells from them.
Made from old, unplaned planks, Fr. Seraphim's cell looks more like a dacha barn, than a dwelling.
I remember one time, during a very cold winter, I stayed in this cell and lit the stove. It became warm. When I woke up in the morning, a cup of holy water had turned to ice. And he lived like this for 14 years!
If you look, you will see cracks everywhere, and the wind would come through. It is very cold here in the winter.
In this drafty shack, Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote books which have been read by thousands of people, and which have been translated into many languages throughout the world.
His book, "Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future", is a unique study of the spiritual currents of the 20th century, with an analysis provided from the perspective of the patristic tradition.
At the time, many people were seeking experiences through drugs. Some tried to get acquainted with other ways of thinking, via LSD or something similar. It's just how it was. This was his time. It was a time to try it all.
But he just wanted to write. For instance, he wrote this book.
During Fr. Seraphim's life, the brotherhood published 40 books, in both English and Russian. And out of these books, "Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future" was the most widely read. In the Soviet Union, behind the iron curtain, this book was translated, and illegally reprinted.
Another popular book by Rose is "The Soul After Death".
Here in Russia in the 1990s, everything was open, and many completely different sorts of things poured into the country. It doesn't necessarily follow that someone similar would have appeared here.
Of course, we needed such a person to arise somewhere, to take a stand, to inspire us all to become Christian. And in that sense, Fr. Seraphim Rose's books were just what we needed. This is an important point we need to understand, to properly address the topic.
Other than working on books and articles, Fr. Seraphim also did translations for the magazine, and he often translated right from the page, instantly.
During meals at a monastery, while the monks are eating, it is customary for a monk to read aloud various lives of the Saints.
When Fr. Seraphim did it, he would take a Russian book, and read it aloud in English. He would outright translate a Russian text into English, on the fly. He did the same with Russian texts in special church services.
Fr. Seraphim led an ascetic life. Until his last days, he continued to reduce his needs to the minimum. Even the word "pleasure" was not to his liking.
When Fr. Seraphim had to go somewhere to give a lecture, he might wash up a little bit. But as far as actually taking a shower, he didn't do that for 14 years. As soon as he came here, he stopped doing it.
He didn't care what he had. — One day they even played a joke on him. There was a big feast, and someone brought ice cream. They put it on everyone's plates, except on his plate they put potatoes.
He saw what happened, and he ate potatoes just as if he was eating ice cream. It made no difference to him.
Various Christian communities started talking about the monastery in Platina. Pilgrims and tourists came there, and some even accepted Orthodoxy, including Caroline Rees, who is now a nun, Cornelia.
And they just lectured all day. This was my first encounter with this maelstrom of lectures. At the time, I didn't want to invite anyone else to the lecture. But then after the lecture, I decided to get baptized too, because everything was in English, and had been very well explained.
In the final years, Fr. Seraphim preached the importance of having an Orthodox heart. He no longer argued and entered into polemics like before. He focused not on modernists, but on churches that become base and stony-hearted. He said it is extremely important not to let our love grow cold.
In Orthodoxy, he attributed special importance to the heart. Fr. Seraphim said that we should marinate in Orthodoxy. He said that the heart is what needs to be developed.
Even though he was the same age as his associate, Fr. Gleb Podmoshensky, Fr. Seraphim looked almost twice his age. By this time he was in poor health. Only one kidney was functioning. But he continued working, in the garden and at the printing press, not knowing fatigue, and always repeating, "It is later than you think. Hasten, therefore, to do the work of God."
Fr. Seraphim had such a depth of integrity and purposefulness, that he always went 100% along the path of serving the Lord. He wanted to do everything possible, to help all people find their way towards God.
Russia was the spiritual homeland for Fr. Seraphim, even though he had never been to this side of the iron curtain.
Of course the attitude was exalted and most reverent, and that has passed on to those who formed the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, as well as to those who were part of it later.
I remember in the 1990s I ended up there and I met with members of this community, and I felt, you know - I came from Russia - and it was like looking upon someone who was almost a direct heir of the Reverend Seraphim, who always seemed to be somewhere nearby.
He understood that Russia was experiencing a sort of crucifixion. He perceived it as being very authentic. According to his understanding, what people experienced in Russia is genuine religion - real Christianity.
But in America, it seemed most people were looking for "Disneyland" & "fun". Americans loved comfort, and they believed that Christianity should be comfortable.
In theory, yes, we know that the cross is the path to life. But to bear a cross yourself would be a difficult task, wouldn't it?
The earthly path of hieromonk Seraphim Rose was interrupted very early and unexpectedly, when he was only 48 years old, in 1982.
He was laid to rest on the grounds of the monastery that he himself had founded. Christians from all over the world continue coming to his grave in Platina, to pay their respects.
And the extraordinary life of Fr. Seraphim continues to inspire spiritual feats by young Americans, such as this monk, Moses.
I had been driving drunk. The police arrested me, and I was in jail. I did not want to meet anyone else there, so I started reading the Bible.
My cellmate turned out to be an Orthodox Christian named Greg. He helped me understand the Bible. He also gave me other books. Among them was a book by Fr. Seraphim Rose, "Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future".
I was struck by Fr. Seraphim's love, and his amazing mind, which is a combination rarely seen in ordinary people.
For Fr. Seraphim, the purpose of his work meant always keeping the fragrance of Orthodoxy present.
Ultimately, he received honor as one of the brightest spiritual writers of the twentieth century. His ministry and mission became a unique example of uncompromising asceticism in the modern world.
This is the amazing path of an American, not typical for Americans of that time.
The path of Orthodoxy is the path to Christ. Of course this is a very serious demonstration of the Christian life.
And the mission - both what it was in America, and what it may be in the future - is a mission that needs to be taken to the whole world.
English translation crowdfunded by readers of Russian-Faith.com