Inside View of The Royal Path
A behind-the-scenes look at the writing of the Fr. Seraphim's 1976 article, "The Royal Path: True Orthodoxy in an Age of Apostasy"
"Super-correctness" is a "disease" second only in its spiritual harm to the apostasy of ecumenism.
This subject is timely and urgent. It is the same story today as it was 33 years ago, only the cast has changed. Today the Royal Path is still misunderstood by both the "right" and the "left." We are dismissed as fanatics by the "left" and we are deridingly called "Cyprianites" by the "right." -jh
From Not Of This World, Chapter 82, "Abandonment":
...And in these days of that great sorrow, of which it is said that no flesh would be saved unless, for the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short -- in those days the remnant of the faithful are to experience in themselves something like that which was experienced once by the Lord Himself when He, hanging on the Cross, being perfect God and perfect Man, felt Himself so forsaken by His Divinity that He cried out to Him: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" The last Christians also will experience in themselves a similar abandonment of humanity by the grace of God, but only for a short time, after the passing of which the Lord will not delay to appear immediately in all His glory, and all the holy angels with Him...
--St. Seraphim of Sarov
During Fr. Seraphim's lifetime, the most difficult year the Brotherhood experienced was 1976. This was the year of their "abandonment," when the old underlying question of "what's the use?" was felt more keenly than ever.
A week after the repose of Archbishop Averky, the fathers were left virtually alone at their hermitage. The last remaining novice left for Jordanville at this time, leaving only the 13-year-old Theophil to stay with the fathers. When Pascha arrived four days later, Fr. Seraphim wrote in his Chronicle: "Thoughts arise: we are abandoned by everyone. But it is obvious that God has given us this opportunity of solitude to do something which is not so easy to do in the world with its conflicting opinions and fashions: perhaps we are here as the first-fruits of the desert to which the last Christians will have to go. In any case, we must remain independent and Patristic in our outlook, handing down the true Orthodoxy which the Holy Fathers and our own fathers have given to us."
The fathers' physical abandonment, which was actually a blessing, would not have bothered them at all had it not been accompanied by a deeper feeling of abandonment: the feeling that, with the death of Archbishop Averky, they were now much more alone in taking a stand for sober, sound, Patristic Orthodoxy. As we have seen, the Church had no great prophet, no more outspoken confessor, than Archbishop Averky, whom even the miracle-working Archbishop John had looked to as a source of ideological and theological authority. Such a confessor was badly needed now, for it was a time of some distressing developments in the Church. The super-correct group seemed now to be at the height of its influence, and had begun to promote its ecclesiastical views by rebaptizing people from other Orthodox Churches, beginning in England. 1976 was the year when many -- including the dying Archbishop Averky -- feared that the super-correct faction might eventually form the Russian Church Abroad to its own brand of sectarian church politics. After Archbishop Averky's death, however, it seemed that no one else dared take up the fight against this, at least in print.
Father Seraphim was frankly bored with these juvenile, "college-boy" politics. They were so much of this world, and he wanted heaven. He would have rather just forgotten about them and revelled in his desert solitude. But, in view of the people to whom his mission of true Orthodoxy was directed, could he afford that?
One bright June day, the fathers sought to literally "rise above" these problems and get a better perspective, to God for an answer. It was the day after Pentecost, the Day of the Holy Spirit, the main feast day of Archbishop Averky's Holy Trinity Monastery. The fathers decided to leave early in the morning with Theophil on a trip to Mount Shasta. On the way they read the morning services in the truck, and when they arrived they joyfully sang the service of Typica. They sprinkled several places on the mountain with holy water, singing more hymns as they went.
"During the weeks preceding this," Fr. Seraphim recorded in his Chronicle, "the fathers have been troubled at the words and actions of the 'zealot' faction in our Church, who are tying to promote a stifling uniform 'correctness' which is clearly a product of human logic rather than of the Church's living tradition. Our great Russian bishops and theologians are being looked down upon because they are not always 'correct' in this party sense, and our very labors here in the wilderness seem now to be called into question: we speak about 'zealotry,' but this seems to aid the formation of an extremist 'party' in the Church; and our ideal of getting away from worldly and party interests and being inspired by the wilderness and its saints does not seem to be understood by many; and also we do not fit into the ordinary 'Russian' picture of people useful to the 'organization,' willing to fill the Church and parish 'vacancies.' We feel spiritually somewhat alone, even though there are those who look to us for guidance: Even this trip to Mt. Shasta -- does it make sense in an 'up-to-date' missionary activity?
"With such thoughts we read the Epistle of the day in the forest, in the midst of snow at 7,500 feet with the white peak towering above us: 'And be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.' And then the Gospel: 'If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father Who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them' [Matt. 18:20]. The fathers were struck by such a message which spoke directly to their hearts and answered their perplexity: indeed, it is where two or three are gathered together in oneness of mind and soul that the work of God can be done. Let us not then be weighed down by doubts and party-strife, but continue on the path which Vladyka John has blessed, knowing also that there are others who look to us for encouragement and inspiration."
As this passage shows, the memory of Archbishop John was especially close to the fathers during this period of uncertainty. On June 19, when they had just published Bishop Sava's book on Blessed John, Fr. Seraphim noted: "We have been downcast in the last few weeks and especially asking Archbishop John's help now: what to do? How to help our feeble missionary movement to stay genuine and not be lost on the path of outward success, to the detriment of true Orthodoxy?
A week later, shortly before the tenth anniversary of Blessed John's repose, the fathers were sent a sobering warning which renewed their determination to continue. On Sunday, June 27, a fire broke out southeast of the monastery. By Tuesday it had come within two miles, endangering the mountain. The towns people told the fathers that if they were to see flames through the smoke on the other side of the gulch, they were to evacuate. Vladimir Anderson and his family were visiting the monastery at the time. They departed on Tuesday afternoon, volunteering to return to help the fathers for evacuation if necessary, and leaving their boy Thomas to help the fathers for a few days.
"By late afternoon," Fr. Seraphim recorded in his Chronicle, "preparations are begun to remove out most precious books and manuscripts to Redding, to Mrs. Harvey's. Then the fathers with the two boys, Thomas and Theophil, walked over the whole mountain sprinking holy water and carrying the relics of St. Herman and icons of Archbishop John and the Mother of God 'The Unburnt Bush,' leaving the latter at Split Rock at the eastern edge of the mountain, facing the fire. The two boys, in the excitement of the moment, are heard to say: 'I want to burn with you.'"
When everyone reached a vantage point on top of Noble Ridge, Thomas was heard to exclaim: "I see it! I see the fire!" All began to pray fervently, with a feeling of great danger in the air. Suddenly they noticed that a wind had sprung up from the west, and soon the wall of smoke to the east was blown away and the danger greatly lessened.
After everyone returned to the monastery and gathered in the church, Fr. Herman suggested that they make a vow to build a shrine for all their relics of saints This reliquary was completed within a few days, by which time the fire had completely burned out.
Thankful to God and the monastery's patrons for the averting of this disaster, Fr. Seraphim reflected on it in his Chronicle:
"We accepted this experience 'mystically': there is a 'fire' in the Church, great danger, and it is coming close to our Brotherhood. We had felt tense for weeks before the coming celebration of the tenth anniversary of Vladika John's repose, and had even asked a number of people to pray especially for us in these days. In the midst of the danger we felt a firm resolve to continue our labors no matter what, and all the more did we beg Vladika John to help us in what we feel are crucial days for us, to show us how to continue."
The fathers were further emboldened in their labors when, right after the fire danger had ended, they went to San Francisco to attend the annual Liturgy in Archbishop John's Sepulchre. Unlike their trip on the same occasion two years before, this trip was an inspiring one for the fathers, who ever received some support from Archbishop Anthony. Fr. Seraphim recorded:
"The Liturgy is splendid as usual, with both bishops, three priests, and a deacon. Earnest prayer is offered at Vladika's tomb, and long talks are had with both bishops afterward. Archbishop Anthony was very well disposed, giving for our church the material from the old iconostasis in the Cathedral and being encouraged to see that we are against 'zeal not according to knowledge' which seems to be troubling him also; Fr. Mitrophan, who gave us the newly printed portraits of Archbishop John with English text on the back,* [*this text had been written by the Platina fathers themselves] encouraged us to continue spreading the veneration of Archbishop John no matter what [his enthusiasm for this seems to be the most lively thing that is happening in the Russian-language part of our Church today]: and Vladika Nektary, after telling us that we alone are doing anything at all in today's stifling church atmosphere and alone are really free, counselled us only to place the spiritual side of things always first.
"We returned late at night from this feast day rather encouraged -- but still without the clear answers as to our future activity that we had hoped for. The answer seems to be that there is no answer, no formula, and we must simply place all our trust in God and continue in the same spirit.
"But the 'fire,' the danger, continues to rage in our Church, and we remain uneasy for the future. News of the 'rebaptism' controversy in England is upsetting many people, and one wonders, especially after the death of Archbishop Averky: who will set the tone of true zealotry for the future? We feel the need to express the ideal of sober and prudent zeal which our Church stands for, but it is already obvious that this will cause trouble with the [super-correct] faction."
By this time, then, the fathers had concluded that, if no one else was going to take up where Archbishop Averky had left off, they would have to do it themselves For the first time in the pages of their magazine, they would dare to confront directly the problem of super-correct zealotry -- and face whatever consequences this incurred. In an article on the current chief hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Philaret, Fr. Seraphim wrote how this prelate, while being wrongfully regarded as fanatic by ecumenists on the left side, had been equally misunderstood on the right side. Fr. Seraphim wrote:
"There are those who would wish to make everything absolutely 'simple' and 'black and white.' They would wish him and his Synod to declare invalid the Mysteries of the new calendarist or Communist-dominated Churches, not realizing that it is not the business of the Synod to make decrees on such a sensitive and complex question."
Fr. Seraphim wrote only one paragraph concerning such "zeal not according to knowledge," but that was enough to evoke quite a heated reaction. One priest wrote to the fathers that "the article has seriously damaged the integrity, clarity and position of The Orthodox Word as a traditional Orthodox publication. In your article you take the ecumenist position that there are three groups of Orthodox Christians: the right wing, the left wing, and the middle-of-the-road... From your point of view, as well as the ecumenists' viewpoint, we now have an Orthodox branch theory. This is what your article teaches. What else can it be saying to us? If all the other 'Orthodox' groups are part of the Church with Mysteries ... then I confess that we are worlds apart from them and have no share in their Mysteries ... These people have crossed the bridge and there is no return ... All the patriarchs have lapsed into heresy ... It is my prayer that you will offer some explanation to the many Orthodox who have been scandalized by it."
Another priest in the super-correct group wrote: "Now I, the least and most sinful of God's priests, declare that my soul is grieved and scandalized along with my flock." In the same letter, this priest maintained that is was "better for a millstone to be tied around one's neck and be cast into the sea" than for one to pray openly along side anyone who so much as commemorates the Patriarchs of Russia and Constantinople.
As Fr. Seraphim observed in a letter to Alexey, these priests "simply have no idea that there can be any such thing as a 'temptation on the right side.'"
Although the fathers had been free and bold enough to challenge the "super-correct" positions in print, it was not at all pleasant for them to have people upset with them, especially people in their own Church who shared their mission to the English-speaking world. As Fr. Seraphim concluded in a letter to one priest at this time: "Believe me, father, this letter was written in blood."
When the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God [August 15/28] arrived, Fr. Seraphim wrote in his Chronicle: "The two fathers with Br. Theophil spent the feast alone, celebrating the seventh anniversary of their move to the wilderness. The devil has attacked strongly in these days after the Divine Liturgy was celebrated* [*Archbishop Anthony, Bishop Nektary, and Deacon Andrew had been at the Hermitage five days earlier], and once more the thought occurs to the fathers: of what use are these labors in the wilderness? Is anyone really benefitted by them, so as to justify the labor necessary to continue them, as well as being 'out of fashion' and out of harmony with 'public opinion' which accompanies them? They resolve to go ahead with trust in God , following Vladika John's advice that if what we do is not pleasing to God, it will be met with insuperable obstacles. The threat of a fierce winter ahead makes this perhaps a crucial year for our wilderness ideal."
Fr. Seraphim felt he could not stop or back down. "Super-correctness," as respected members of the old calendar Church in Greece* informed the fathers, was a "disease" second only in its spiritual harm to the apostasy of ecumenism. [emphasis mine -jh] [*the old calendar Church in Greece here refers to the Synod In Resistance]
Fr. Seraphim wrote to Alexey, "Out of all this we see the necessity for the formulation of a sound 'moderate' stand that will emphasize true Orthodoxy, firmly oppose ecumenism and modernism, but not go overboard in 'defining' such things as the presence or absence of grace, or practicing 'rebaptism' on those already Orthodox. To explain this position, Fr. Seraphim realized, would require more than a paragraph or two. A whole article needed to be written, one that at the same time would not alienate people unnecessarily. "This will be extremely difficult to do," Fr. Seraphim said, "but with God's help and the prayers of our patron saints we will try our best to do our little bit."
... The article that Fr. Seraphim finally wrote and printed was entitled "The Royal Path: True Orthodoxy in an age of Apostasy." As he demonstrated at the onset, the teaching of the "Royal Path" is not part of some novel "Orthodox branch theory," but is the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Church. He began with a quote of St. John Cassian: "As the fathers say, the extremes from both sides are equally harmful... We must go on the royal path, avoiding the extremes on both sides.."
"Applying this teaching to our own situation," Fr. Seraphim wrote later in his article, "we may say that the 'royal path' of true Orthodoxy today is a mean that lies between the extremes of ecumenism and reformism on the one side, and a 'zeal not according to knowledge' [Rom 10:2] on the other... Perhaps no Orthodox teacher in our days provides such an example of sound and fervent Orthodox moderation as the late Archbishop Averky of Jordanville; his numerous articles and sermons breathe the refreshing spirit of true Orthodox Zealotry, without any deviation either to the 'right' or to the 'left,' and with emphasis constantly on the spiritual side of true Orthodoxy."
Having [in Fr. Seraphim's word's] "stuck their necks out" with the royal path position, the Platina fathers received a number of assurances that they were indeed not alone in it. Alexey Young, who was visiting England at the time of the infamous "rebaptisms" were taking place there, sent word that such fanaticism was the exception rather than the norm among English Orthodox Christians. "You should know," wrote Alexey to the fathers, "that they [many people in our Church in England] really are waiting on you to 'show the way' in these difficult matters, and so any advice, encouragement and direction you might send would be most gratefully received. They really do feel most terribly alone here, and fear for the future."
Another letter, this time from a believer in England, confirmed this: "The Brotherhood of St. Herman and The Orthodox Word ... are highly thought of here. You have a very great and grave responsibility even here 6,000 miles away, for many look to you for precisely the right tone and attitude."
On November 13, 1976, Fr. Seraphim wrote in his Chronicle: "Approaching the Nativity Lent, the uncertainties and forebodings of the spring and summer seem to be gradually dissipating for the Brotherhood, but a feeling of unsettledness remains. Very important for us have been the letters of recent months indicating that our labors are not entirely in vain, that despite 'crazy converts' and a very discouraging air of 'officialness' in many church circles, our 'message' is still getting through to some people ... "
-excerpts from pp. 701-708
related post: The Royal Path by Fr. Seraphim Rose