Archimandrite Seraphim (secular name, Stoyan Gheorghiev Alexiev) was born on the 25th February 1912 (Old Style) in the village of Gorno Brodi (Serres region). He was the youngest son of poor and pious parents. Under the pressure of the tragic events of the Second Balkan War (June 16, 1913— July 18, 1913, O.S.) they forsook their native land and emigrated, together with their numerous offspring, to Sofia. The father, Gheorghi Alexiev, was a hereditary bell-moulder and subsequently bequeathed his craftsmanship to his two elder sons, Dimiter and Atanas. The youngest son, little Stoyan, grew as a boy of fragile health and gentle, sensitive soul. His earnest faith in God and love for His Church he inherited from his mother Nedelya, a woman of profound religious spirit. Encouraged in his spiritual aspirations by both parents and kinsfolk, Stoyan finishes the course of the Orthodox Theological Seminary of Sofia as one of its best pupils and in 1934 becomes a student in the Faculty of Theology in the University of Sofia. Here he becomes a scholarship student and continues his education in the prominent theological faculty of the Bern University in Switzerland. Education in a non-Orthodox institution could be detrimental to a young man; however, Stoyan’s faith, love of Truth and humility were a good soil which, in the future, yielded rich fruit— the knowledge of heterodoxy there acquired, Stoyan Alexiev would later put to use in the composition of his critical works in confutation of the Protestant and Romano-Catholic false teachings. His life in the foreign land was penurious, his grant sufficed only for the university taxes, while his resources for food and lodgings were scanty. The permanent poverty and the strenuous mental efforts wore him out and Stoyan became ill of tuberculosis. When, by God’s mercy, he recuperated, his health was to remain frail until his last breath. In spite of the grave ordeal the gifted student graduated with success from the Bern University and was conferred the academic degree of Doctor of Theology, having successfully defended his thesis, entitled The Meaning of Jesus Christ’s Commandments in His Sermon On the Mount.1 The gained knowledge and the command of several languages, however, did not fill with conceit the young and promising theologian. He ingeniously aspired to fulfil the evangelic virtues and behaves with modesty, humility, gentleness and purity of heart.
In 1937 Stoyan Alexiev returned to Bulgaria with excellent attestation, but with rather disorderly theological notions. However, God’s Providence watched over him. Soon after his return to his homeland he visited the Holy Monastery of Rila, in order to offer prayers to St. Ivan, in quest of his further path in life. Here the great hermit of Rila and intercessor of the entire land of Bulgaria arranged that he meet with Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev), a hierarch richly endowed by God with various gifts of the Divine Grace, for his admirable humility and ascetic labours. The Archbishop, who was then the ruling hierarch of the Orthodox communities of the Russian immigrants in Bulgaria, was also visiting the monastery as a pilgrim to the man of God whom he also venerated deeply. This meeting was indeed momentous for Stoyan Alexiev. He has been yearning for long to meet a living Saint and to entrust his soul to him. There, then, in a sermon from the ambo in the monastery church the righteous hierarch offered perspicacious answers to various spiritual issues that had been anxiously kept in the pious youth’s bosom. The words, full of Grace, the brightened face and the clairvoyance of Archbishop Seraphim won Stoyan’s trust in an instant. He felt that this encounter with the man of God was the response to his innermost wish. The ensuing colloquies with the holy Hierarch strengthened in the young theologian his aspiration of long standing, to follow the monastic path, and roused his resolution to acquire in fullness the spirit of the Orthodoxy of the Holy Fathers. Subsequently Archbishop Seraphim became his tutor and irreplaceable spiritual father.
Probably from his earliest meetings with the Hierarch, Stoyan, the future Father Seraphim, preserved one of the Archbishop’s photographs which he would thereafter always carry with himself. On its back he had diligently written what might be the first spiritual instructions of his righteous Abba—the brief but rich in their profound sense words: “Better death than sin”, the spiritual testament of fidelity toward Christ, along with the Archangel’s greeting to the Holy Virgin at the Annunciation: “Theotokos Virgin, rejoice…”, which the Archbishop ardently recommended to his spiritual children for entreating for heavenly help in misfortune and danger.
Soon after his meeting with Archbishop Seraphim, Stoyan Alexiev was appointed as teacher in the Theological Seminary in Plovdiv, and not long after that was transferred to the Sofia Seminary. On February 3 1940 he was tonsured a monk with the name of Seraphim. It was hardly a coincidence that Archbishop Seraphim’s heavenly patron, St. Seraphim of Sarov, should become his heavenly patron as well. Three years later, on the Feast of Annunciation, monk Seraphim was honoured with the priestly office which laid the beginning of his arduous pastoral work that lasted almost half a century.
The spiritual bond of the young Hieromonk with Archbishop Seraphim deepened thence. Commiserating with the hardships which the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had to suffer, being isolated as she was owing to the schism, Vladyka Seraphim endeavoured to aid the convalescence of her spiritual life. To his spiritual children—young Bulgarian clerics—he gave the blessing to take pains for overcoming the unsound mysticism and the chiliastic tendencies of the “Good Samaritan”-ism, for recovering the practice of the forgotten Mystery of Confession, for the restoration of her liturgical life. Father Seraphim absorbed with all his heart the Grace-filled lore of the Orthodox truths from the Spirit-bearing Hierarch, he acquired his love for the Holy Fathers, the ceaseless zeal for communing with God in prayer, as well as the subtle sense of spiritual life, which he later himself tried to instil in his spiritual children. Father Seraphim was to keep the patristic teachings and instructions of his righteous Abba in his heart throughout his whole life and, guided by them, he was to grow into a wise spiritual monitor, a dedicated confessor, a theologian champion of genuine Orthodoxy, and a Church writer and inspired poet.
As early as the 1940-s Father Seraphim laboriously evolved the literary talent he was granted by God, by writing a score of articles, touching upon subjects of poignant significance to the religious life of that time. Such was the origin of the following articles2: “Are the leaders of “The Good Samaritans” Orthodox?” (Sofia, 1942), “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy” (The Orthodox Missionary Journal [Bulgarian],—1943, Issue 3-4), “Are the Lives of the Saints Authoritative” (OMJ, 1943, 1-2), “The Conduct of a Heretic”3 (OMJ, 1943, 5-6), “The Meaning of Suffering” (OMJ, 1944, 1-2), “A Saint and Missionary” (OMJ, 1944, 1-2), “Pride and Humility” (OMJ, 1944, 3-6), “Will There Be Eternal Torments Beyond the Grave?”4 (OMJ, 1946, 1), “Saint John of Rila And His Significance for the Bulgarian People” (OMJ, 1946, 2), “Is Christ’s Doctrine of Saving Oneself Egotistic?” (OMJ, 1947, 2), “God’s Traces in Nature” (Spiritual Culture, 1947, 6), “Spiritism, Seeing Spirits and Telling Fortunes” (SC, 1949, 9-10) and so on. In these earliest and humble works of his Father Seraphim reveals in a way easy to understand, the basics of the Orthodox worldview and the evangelic morals, attracts toward the Holy Faith by the example of holiness, exposes the perniciousness of the heresies, and impels to contemplation the followers of materialism, unmasks the incorrect ideas of temporality of the infernal punishment.
Apart from the works mentioned above, Hieromonk Seraphim also composed lovely poems,5 which betrayed in him the innermost, concealed beauty of a soul both honest and tender, turned toward her God and her neighbour. The power of their impact is no less significant than that of his prosaic spiritual works: his poems speak out his heart’s immediate intimacy and capture the reader with their plain sincerity and warmth.
In 1945 Hieromonk Seraphim was sent to the town of Sliven, where he served for two years as Protosyngellos of the local metropolitan residence. His selfless and competent work was highly estimated by the ecclesiastical authorities. In January 1947 he was raised to the dignity of Archimandrite and appointed as head of the Department of Culture and Education in the Holy Synod, an office which he held until 1960. In the years of spiritual darkness that follow, the Lord places His faithful servant where his ebullient energy to work on God’s field would be the most beneficent for the salvation of the souls seeking after Him. One of the first commissions which Archimandrite Seraphim assumed in his new path was to write the vitally needed handbook of introduction to the Holy Orthodox Faith. Co-authoring his endeavour with Archimandrite Nikolai (Kozhukharov), he managed prepare the book in a very short term. Entitled “Our Faith”, it was printed in 1950 and remained the only extensive catechetical handbook for decades in Bulgaria, opening before the eyes of many the light of the Christian Faith.
However, Archimandrite Seraphim’s transfer to Sofia in 1947 was important for him personally, as well, since he was able again to be in permanent contact with Vladyka Seraphim, whose repose would ensue in three years. Archimandrite Seraphim often visited his humble quarters at 30, “Veliko Turnovo” Str., where he makes confessions to the Holy Hierarch and converses with him for long hours.
Apart from the dialogues concerning the innermost spiritual life, Archbishop Seraphim introduces him to diverse ecclesiastical matters, causing anxiety for the future of Orthodoxy, and bequeaths to him, that in his future theological and pastoral activities he should champion the purity of the Orthodox faith. Among the topics discussed of outstanding importance was the one of the fast developing ecumenical movement. Even in 1938, at the Second Pan-Diaspora Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Archbishop Seraphim called the ecclesiastical forum to reject on grounds of principle, the participation of the Orthodox in the inter-confessional movement. Ten years later, this time at the Pan-Orthodox Conference in Moscow, St. Seraphim again raises his authoritative voice in order to expose the antichristian essence of the ecumenical movement and to insist that the Orthodox should not participate in it. At the sunset of his life, already physically enfeebled by his numerous labours and grieves, he bequeathed to his spiritual children to have absolutely nothing in common with the heresy of ecumenism.
A little before the Holy Hierarch’s death, Archimandrite Seraphim assisted his beloved Abba in one of his last pastoral cares— the defence of the canonical buttress of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This took place in the following circumstances.
At the end of October 1949 in Sofia was organised a “congress” of Priests, in which a group of clerics of left-wing mentality attempted to lead the Church on the path of innovation. They insisted on restricting the role of the Holy Synod, second marriage for the lay clergy, and “democratic” changes in the government of the Church. Such a “modernization” of the Church was indeed tantamount to Her attrition and destruction—the very purpose of the communists. So the new power takes over the initiative of the rebellious priests and turns it into a real menace for the hierarchs of the Bulgarian Church. Archbishop Seraphim could not remain impassive toward the alarming events in the state, which became his second Motherland. While already bed-ridden with his last ailment, he yet found strength not only to support the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria through his prayers, but also to write an exposition in defence of Her canonical foundations. In this document he emphasized the significance of Episcopal authority and the inadmissibility of the second marriage for the clergymen, basing his arguments upon the God-revealed evidences from the Holy Scriptures as well as those of the Holy Canons.
Archimandrite Seraphim immediately translated the article into Bulgarian and it was printed as editorial in “Tsarkoven vestnik” [“The Church Press”]. Soon after its publication the vicar of the Holy Synod of that time, the Metropolitan of Vratsa Paisius openly confessed that Archbishop Seraphim’s support had been of crucial importance for the pacification of the controversy blazing within the Bulgarian Church.
In this his last address toward the Orthodox clerics, Archbishop Seraphim again painfully brings their attention to the peril, menacing Orthodoxy, and calls they to vigilance. “The Union of the Priests—wrote the Holy Hierarch,—cannot but be aware of the fearsome and dreadful force that is presently waging war against the Orthodox Church in the face of ecumenism. The pernicious flames of the latter have engulfed the entire world and have already drawn within its orbit several local Orthodox Churches… The Church of Bulgaria can combat ecumenism, this formidable anticanonical and antidogmatic evil, only by the purity of Her Faith, and by sternly guarding Her canonical and dogmatic treasure.”
To Archimandrite Seraphim, the touching pastoral care manifested by Archbishop Seraphim on his deathbed, as well as Vladyka’s unremitting sense of responsibility for the future of Orthodoxy, were his last lesson in love for the Church and a testament for sacred struggle in defence of the Faith. Archimandrite Seraphim embraced filially this testament and abided in it to his very last breath, as he was instructed by the Holy Hierarch: mildly, but firmly, at the cost of countless heartaches and labours.
Not long after, on the 13/26 of February 1950, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Saint Seraphim moved to eternity at the age of 68. His death plunged into profound grief his numerous Russian and Bulgarian spiritual children. On behalf of all of them Archimandrite Seraphim delivered a funeral sermon, whereby he unintentionally disclosed the enormous love and homage paid to the ever-memorable Archpastor by his flock:
“Bereaved brethren and sisters!—said Father Seraphim—We are depressed by the heavy weight of dolour. We weep not for Vladyka Seraphim, but for ourselves, for we are now left orphans. But may we be consoled by this, that now, in heaven, there is great mirth because a new earthly Angel has joined the host of Heavenly Angels and has thus increased the number of heavenly citizens.
May we be consoled by the dear memories of our beloved Abba Seraphim! May we be comforted with his priceless testaments! Let us fulfil the soul-saving instructions which he gave us in his wondrous sermons. Let us follow his soul-saving example! Then death, which physically separates him from us today, shall not be able to separate us from him in the spirit.
Finally, let us thank the All-Good God for having sent in our midst such a treasure, for having allowed us to enjoy his presence. And let us pray that God grant repose in His celestial abodes to His outstanding chosen and favourite servant, His Eminence Archbishop Seraphim.”
The comforting days, when anxieties are dispelled by but simply seeing the hallowed visage of his Abba, were now in the past for Father Seraphim. The times were becoming harder and harder. Having stabilised, the communist authorities now relinquished their double-faced ways and revealed their genuine atheistic ugliness. The burden of the shepherd’s service, which Father Seraphim would carry with self-denial for half a century was redoubled by the conditions of ideological tyranny in Bulgaria. However, notwithstanding the impediments and ordeals of every kind, which the reality “behind the Iron Curtain” presented daily to the Orthodox shepherd, Archimandrite Seraphim remained an indefatigable sower of the Gospel word. Meek and wise by nature, he saw that it was quite useless to argue with the blinded atheists, and he concentrated his efforts into serving Christ’s rational flock and preserving the light of the Holy Gospel in the hearts of the oppressed Orthodox Christians. And in those years, to defend one’s Faith was tantamount to a denial to climb the hierarchical ladder, readiness to suffer slander and denigration, readiness even to sacrifice one’s life. Fortified by God’s Grace, Archimandrite Seraphim took up this cross and, by his deep faith and love of righteousness, was able to achieve what few people could at that time—labouring in Christ’s cornfield in complicated conditions, he preserved the purity of his conscience before God and his neighbours.
As head of the Department of Culture and Education in the Holy Synod, Archimandrite Seraphim aided to be overcome the critically decreased number of Bulgarian priests, by taking active part in the organising of pastoral courses and himself, in word and writing, instructed and encouraged the volunteers to take the burden of the priestly service. In this period he wrote his articles: “The Pastor as Man of Prayer” (SC, 1954, 4-5), “The Preacher. Traits of the Graceful Preacher” (SC, 1957, 10). In these articles he endeavoured to reveal the ideal of the genuine minister and to encourage toward self-sacrifice and the exploit of prayer the Orthodox Pastors. In his concern for reviving the practice of the Mystery of Repentance, Father Seraphim wrote the wonderful brochure “The Forgotten Medicine” (SC, 1953, 1-2), and also compiled and published, co-authoring with Archimandrite Methodius (Zherev), a particularly valuable handbook for pastors: “The Handbook of the Confessor” (S. 1955).
In this hard period for the Faithful, Archimandrite Seraphim maintained spiritual relations with a number of honourable Bulgarian clergymen and supported them in their adversities. He was particularly fond of Father Evstatii Yankov from the village (now town) of Chepelare, with whom he was in spiritual communion. Later, in order to inspire the young priests, he put in writing his memoirs of Fr. Evstatii’s praiseworthy life. When compelled by the circumstances, Father Seraphim never hesitated openly to take sides with priests persecuted by the authorities, taking the risk to bring troubles on himself. Thus, in 1958, during the court proceedings against Father Mikhail Apostolov he made his appearance in the court-room in the town of Stanke Dimitrov (Dupnitsa) and spoke in defence of the accused. For understandable reasons his efforts were preliminarily doomed to failure, and yet he fulfilled the duty of his conscience, even though he had to suffer later the rebuke of some “prudent” fellow-clerics.
In spite of all the impediments, Archimandrite Seraphim took pains for the spiritual enlightenment of the faithful people, subjected to crass atheistic propaganda. Even today the aged Church-going people remember the tremor with which they had been listening to the series of his discourses delivered in various churches in the capital and the province in the 1950-s— a time of belligerent atheism. A hushed, half dark church and a number of persons thirsty for divine words, with their eyes fixed on the gentle visage of the preacher and his warm and luminous look. “Beloved!”—the inspired, almost youthful voice of father Seraphim as though hovers over the people. And all hearts can feel that in Christ’s name they are in reality beloved to him and that for the sake of them—Christ’s lambs—he is ready to lay down his life. His words pour out as a gushing stream—profound and full of truth and Grace, full of candour and patristic wisdom. On the basis of these oral discourses of his, Archimandrite Seraphim for quite a short time compiled several highly needed books for spiritual enlightenment—“Our Hope” (S. 1957) and “Our Love” (S., 1958), by which he enriched and comforted the faithful. In them, he profoundly and, at the same time, plainly described the foundations of spiritual life and Orthodox morality, revealing with captivating talent the sublime ideals of the Holy Gospel and God’s commandments.
When speaking or writing about the faith, the meek and amenable Archimandrite Seraphim exhibited firmness and courage. He allowed no compromises with his conscience in favour of the mighty and the powerful, or in tune with the ad hoc situation. A fitting illustration for this is the following example. A year or two after printing “Our Hope”, Father Seraphim was called to the then Committee of religious affairs. There he was reprimanded that in his book—when clarifying the bliss of the peacemakers—Archimandrite Seraphim pointedly distinguished the evangelical graceful peace from the mundane peace, which may be self-interested and even displeasing to God. To this theme he dedicated a separate chapter—“Peace with one’s neighbour, displeasing to God”. And in those times, from political considerations, the communist authorities continually involved in the church in their “peacemaking” initiatives. They insisted that Archimandrite Seraphim should publicly correct “his error” to the effect desired by the authorities. Father Seraphim, however, did not agree. Then the Committee turned to patriarch Kyrill, in order that he should command him “from high” to do that. The unbribable Father Seraphim however did not yield to the pressure, because he did not want to sin even a jota in the face of Evangelical truth, neither to distort it in order to please the ruling authorities. Things went so far that the Holy Synod published a declaration by which they differentiated themselves from Archimandrite Seraphim’s “private opinion”. This “private opinion”, however, was the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Church.
While still living, Archbishop Seraphim encouraged and blessed those of his spiritual children with theological education to labour over hagiographical works, by means of which the ideal of Orthodox sanctity would be deeply impressed in the hearts of the faithful. A fruit of this blessing was Archimandrite Seraphim’s book “Saint Seraphim of Sarov”, published in 1957. This book soon became the favourite of the Orthodox Bulgarians. Being of small total print, it was distributed for reading from one reader to another and was even copied by hand by Christians thirsting for graceful spirituality. Later Archimandrite Seraphim would continue his work with hagiography, in order to resurrect in the faithful souls the brilliant visages of the holy equal to the apostles brothers Cyrillus and Methodius, the holy equal to the apostles Prince and Baptiser of the Bulgarian nation Boris-Mikhail, the holy father Saint John of Rila— pillars of our national church. To them father Seraphim dedicated his studies: “Saint John of Rila and His Testament” (SC, 1958/11), “The Life of the Holy King Boris Mikhail, Baptiser of the Bulgarian Nation” (Sofia, 1965), “The Ecclesio-Missionary Acts of Constantine the Philosopher—Saint Cyrillus” (1969). Assiduous and conscientious, Archimandrite Seraphim could not be satisfied with a superficial narrative of the events in the lives of these Saints, but studied closely the available primary historic sources and, using the candle of faith, drew out of oblivion their holy legacy.
In 1960 Archimandrite Seraphim was appointed professor in the Sofia theological academy “Saint Clement of Ochrid”. Through this was fulfilled his heartfelt desire of longstanding to devote himself to theological work and through his teaching activities to sow in the minds and hearts of young theologians love and dedication to Holy Orthodoxy. On the basis of his extensive doctoral study—a critical exploration of the Roman Catholic dogma of the immaculate conception of the most holy Theotokos, Archimandrite Seraphim was confirmed as docent for the cathedra of dogmatic theology.
His academic lectures enjoyed great interest, fascinating with their profundity, vividness, and glaring examples from the ecclesiastical history and the lives of the Holy Fathers. Often his lectures would surpass the limits of the subject taught, and would transform into spontaneous spiritual conversations. With his humble behaviour and prolific theological lore Archimandrite Seraphim won over the affection and respect of the students, leaving in most of them indelible reminiscences.
During the period of his work as professor (1960—1969), Archimandrite Seraphim worked over various theological subjects. To approach several of these, as for example the subject of the primary sin and the redemption, he was inspired by the theological works of Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev); others Archimandrite Seraphim dealt with on the occasion of jubilee commemorations or in order to respond to concrete emergent needs for defence of the faith. Thus, he wrote a series of theological studies and articles, among which were: “Two Extreme Views In The Western Christian Denominations Respecting The Most Holy Mother Of God” (Annual of the Theological Academy [ATA], 1962/63), “The State Of Man Before And After The Fall According To The Orthodox, Roman Catholic And Protestant View” (ATA, 1962/63), “Redemption As The Act Of Divine Love And Divine Justice” (ATA, 1963/64), “Franz Von Baader—A Roman Catholic Philosopher And Theologian In Search Of Orthodoxy And Her Conciliarity” (ATA 1964/65), “Bogomilism From The Standpoint Of The Orthodox Dogmatic Foundations Of Presbyter Cosma And The Orthodox Dogmatics In General” (ATA, 1965/66), “The Unity Of The Christian Church According To Saint Apostle Paul” (SC, 1967/7-8) etc. In all these works of his, Father Seraphim elaborated on the considered theological subjects honestly and objectively, leaning exclusively on the patristic teachings. He rejected the fashionable obscuring of theological notions and lucidly delineated the boundary between truth and falsehood— between the Orthodox Christian Faith and heresy. Most of his studies were printed in the Annual of the Theological Academy [ATA]. The last of them—“The Ecclesio-Missionary Acts of Constantine the Philosopher—Saint Cyrillus”, was written on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the repose of this outstanding Slavic Apostle, celebrated in 1969. Having been typeset however, and prepared for publication, in the last instant its printing was cancelled due to the stand of confessor of the faith, which was assumed by its author against the church calendar reform implemented at that time.
During these years Archimandrite Seraphim enjoyed immense popularity among the faithful. His spiritual books exerted beneficial influence over not a few human souls. His books were sought and read by the churchly people. His poems were copied by hand and distributed manually, and were sent even abroad—to kith and kin in exile. Notwithstanding this general respects paid to his works by the faithful, father Seraphim’s spiritual attunement was not influenced neither changed in the least. Modest and humble by heart, he fled from glory in all possible ways. When hearing words of praise about himself, he would merely bend his head and with a sigh utter the words of his favourite Optina elder, Schema-Hieromonk Macarius: “Woe to him whose glory surpasses his deeds!”
But in spite of his sincere aspiration to remain concealed and unnoticed, the faithful sought him for confession, counsel and solace. As a good Christian pastor, Archimandrite Seraphim never turned away those who addressed him for spiritual support. He extended his paternal cares towards his own kinsfolk according to the flash—toil-worn people, who had experienced the drudging hardships of refugee life. Father Seraphim tried hard to direct them to the spiritual things. He would regularly visit his sister Mariika, and the other one—the eldest child of the family, Daphinka. Toward the latter he felt particular gratitude—it was precisely she who carried him in her arms as a one year-old infant, in those fearsome days of 1913, when their parents ran right from their cornfield to the north, to the free lands of Bulgaria, leaving at their back their native village, destroyed by the fires.
In his house and the street “Pordim” in Sofia, Father Seraphim’s brother Dimiter, consigned to him a separate room. Here, to the bland spiritual father, during his visiting hours, visitors filed in one after another. Here come old pious women, priests, students of theology, intelligentsia errant, sorrowful and hardship-ridden people… Merciful and loving, father Seraphim would be ready to respond to everybody’s pain—some would instruct, others would encourage, third he would reprimand and bring to their reason, to those in need he would give something from his indigent means. Often, in order to console the despondent, he would read one of his new poems and it would anoint, as with balm, the heart frosted by the daily greyness. Sometimes he would sit at the old harmonium and under its silent accompaniment he would sing in his clear voice a Psalm or a Stichera. This however, is but for a short respite. Otherwise his talks are always directed toward the and pith of spirituality—enduring one another in fulfilling Christ’s law, the struggle with thoughts and the passions, purifying one’s heart, the necessity for prayer, for constant aspiration of the thoughts of one’s heart towards god.
About these things father Seraphim speaks naturally and simply, without any pompousness or mannerism whatsoever. In him, one could never feel the duplicity tearing apart the spiritually weak person. Using his inborn wittiness, he ingeniously concealed his abundant spiritual lore—the fruit not so much of his outward erudition, as of his profoundly acquired orthodox faith, by which his entire being breathed and lived.
Here, having hardly waited until his visiting day, a bevy of young people make their entrance to him, and spiritually thirsty for his living worlds, at the very entrance they request:
“Father Seraphim, tell us please something about spiritual correction.”
Archimandrite Seraphim serenely smiles and without much preparation, commences:
“I can say nothing…,”—for a moment he would pause, sweeping his visitors with his tender look and then continued—“I can say nothing for my own justification!”
And then he starts, in simple words, speaking about self-reprimand, about the contrition of the heart, about how these things should be engrafted the soul through the short prayer of the publican: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”—time elapses imperceptibly. You wish that the river of spiritual milk should never stop flowing, and yet… Other sheep of Christ are waiting outside, no less thirsty than you. Father Seraphim sees off his audience at the threshold, and there smiling, concludes in rhymes:
Let he who seeks spiritual improvement,
Acquire a spirit of self-chastisement—
and he would utter this so simply and lucidly, that you could remember it forever.
* * *
The years, during which Archimandrite Seraphim taught in the Theological Academy, coincided with negative transitions in the spiritual life of Bulgaria. In 1961 a great part of the local Orthodox Churches, among which was also that of Bulgaria, joined the World Council of Churches. Holy Orthodoxy was once more converted into an exchange coin in the hands of unscrupulous politicians and the off-stage powers animating them.
Archimandrite Seraphim’s honest soul could not listlessly consent to the arising danger which menaces to divert from the path of salvation human souls, redeemed by Christ. Loyal to the testament of his Abba, Archimandrite Seraphim made all possible efforts to defend and guard the precepts of Faith from change, to inspire love for them in the hearts of the churchly people, of the theology students, and of his spiritual children.
The proecumenical ecclesiopolitical course of the Bulgarian Patriarchate soon affected her liturgical life as well. In December 1968 the church calendar sanctified by many centuries of prayerful usage, was uncanonically substituted for a new one—“corrected”. As was officially declared, the motives for implementing the reform were ecumenical. The orthodox church of Bulgaria suffered again a spiritual damage—on the one hand, she was forced down the way of apostasy, on the other—her connection with the people, which in spite of this was weakened by the yearlong atheist propaganda, was now even worse disrupted.
Father Seraphim refused to accept the calendar reform and the ecumenical spirit implanted by its means. To clergymen, who were his close acquaintances, and were occupying higher responsible positions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, he stated repeatedly his serious theological reasons in favour of his standpoint and solicited their support. Alas!—everywhere he met coolness and disinterest—incomprehensible for his honest heart—towards his concern for orthodoxy. He was admonished that the calendar reform was something insignificant and of little consequence, that one should “not burn the blanket because of the fleas”. Being experienced confessor, however, father Seraphim recognized all too well the vicious logics of sin. He knew that he who takes the first, however “insignificant” step on the road to apostasy, would be coerced to make another and another, because having once gone astray from the behest of his conscience, human reason by all means is capable of finding sufficiently “logical” arguments in favour of his sinful “rectitude”. Being possessed of evangelical love of neighbour and meekness, father Seraphim was downright shocked by the unprincipled position of his close brethren clergymen, among whom proved to be also some of those, who were once favoured by the love and the paternal cares of the holy Hierarch Seraphim.
In 1969 Archimandrite Seraphim retired from his professor activity in the theological academy and on the whole from the official ecclesiastical life because he did not want to become participant in the apostasy. Before leaving the academy, at the solemn meeting on the occasion of the patron feast of theologians, he delivered a noteworthy talk in which he once more called the professors and the theology students to follow the path of patristic orthodoxy.
In these hours, hard for Archimandrite Seraphim, he received spiritual succour and comfort from the full unanimity in faith, which he gained in the person of the nuns from the Convent of the holy protection of the Most Holy Theotokos, in Knyazhevo, founded by the holy hierarch Seraphim, as well as in the person of his spiritual brother, Archimandrite Panteleimon (Staritsky), the yearlong and faithful cell-attendant of the righteous Vladyka, and after his death, spiritual guide in the protection convent. In the Knyazhevo convent Archimandrite Seraphim found also his last harbour—after quitting the academy he moved to the convent, where more than two decades, until his very repose in 1993, he laboured in spiritual activities and the profession of ecclesiastical writer.
For his loyalty of a confessor to the immaculate church of Christ, the divine grace proliferated in him reach spiritual fruits. The time which he spent in grievous hardships for the sake of holy orthodoxy also marked the ripest period of his work as theologian, writer and poet. Exerting enormous industriousness and intense sense of duty before the people thirsty for spiritual enlightenment, Archimandrite Seraphim composed in those years a series of books with theological and spiritual-moral contents, in which he revealed a and defended the precepts of holy patristic orthodoxy. Printed on typewriter or cyclostyled, these works of his were distributed among the faithful even in those years, and were for many, and still are, the source of spiritual education and solace. His most significant works of that period are: “The Life After Life”, “The Optina Elders”, “Our Prayer”, “On The Lord’s Prayer”, “The Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian In The Light Of Patristic Doctrine”, “The Orthodox Viewpoint On The Old And New Calendar” and his capital theological study “Orthodoxy And Ecumenism”, composed in co-authorship with Archimandrite Serghii (Yazadzhiev). In all these works Archimandrite Seraphim proved to be an irreplaceable spiritual guide along the narrow and abrupt path toward salvation. Their numerous pages manifest his profound knowledge of the works of the Holy Fathers from the first centuries of Christianity to our days. His books abound with their wise instructions on spiritual life, which the author laboriously had collected from their priceless works. With his habitual humility Archimandrite Seraphim gladly allowed them, according to his own words, the honour of being the teachers themselves, where he joyfully aligned with their pupils. Nevertheless, father Seraphim shines with his proper light. his rich spiritual and practical experience is manifested both in his personal admonishing instructions, as well as in the many eloquent and easy to remember examples which he’s capable of conveying in his usual manner—unconstrainedly and intelligibly. Owing to these qualities, Archimandrite Seraphim’s works are to this day precious spiritual guidance for every orthodox Christian seeking the one thing needful (see Luke, x, 42) – the incessant connection with god, achieved through prayer and vigilance. However, the life and work of Archimandrite Seraphim indisputably testify for something else: for the living continuity which he had realized, adopting through his personal podvig the spiritual treasure of orthodoxy, bequeathed to him by the holy hierarch and miracle-worker Seraphim of Sofia –the life in spirit and truth.
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On the 13th / 26th of January, 1993, in his humble monastic cell, inherited from the ever-memorable father Panteleimon, Archimandrite Seraphim quietly departed to the lord. he had already been slowly declining for several years, his physical strength was gradually abandoning him, but his gaze continued to pour out graceful gentleness and warmth. The relentless pastoral labours had laid there imprints on his old and failing in power body, but they had not been in vain. The encounter of many deluded and suffering souls with the spiritual books he wrote was momentous. And how much more may this be said with regard to the personal meetings with him! Many people did he bring to the faith, to many did he teach the basics of the gospel truths and many did he prepare for holy baptism. Many did he drag out of the mire of sin and vice, many did he convert from all kinds of heresies and sects, in order to join them to orthodoxy. Others yet he directed onto the narrow monastic path, fortifying them by the spirit of repentance and humility –the most certain landmarks on the way toward salvation.
and at the harvest hour that came, father Seraphim’s soul –as abundant, pure and ripe wheat corn –was expecting the heavenly reaper. Yearning for the patience of the saints, and the love of those who keep the commandments of god and the faith in Jesus Christ, she –together with them –humbly bears in its bosom the pledge of hearing the him in the words:
On the 40th day of Archimandrite Seraphim’s repose, after the panikhida for the repose of his soul was served, started the all night vigil in honour of the forthcoming bright feast, which was especially dear to the newly reposed—the feast of orthodoxy, the day in which saint Seraphim of Sophia had passed to the Lord. in the incessant torrents of prayerful hymns, extolling the Incarnate incomprehensible god and his holy and blameless church, in our hearts naturally grows the hope that there, amidst the luminous choir of champions of orthodoxy, together with his righteous Abba, enters the celestial mirth also his faithful son and preserver of his spiritual testament, Archimandrite Seraphim (Alexiev).
Translated from the Bulgarian by R. Monk Euthymius
© 2008 - The (Old Calendar) Orthodox Church of Bulgaria