You cannot be too gentle, too kind.
Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other.
Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.
All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other…
Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace.
Keep silent, refrain from judgment.
This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage
and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.
St. Seraphim of Sarov
On October 19, 2006, I launched this blog. It came out of some writing I had posted on a friend’s blog, and at his suggestion. That first day, I posted three short articles, one of which had as its theme, “This Blog Doesn’t Matter.” That remains true (I’ve reprinted that article a number of times over the years). The next day, I published these words from St. Seraphim under the heading, “Words for the heart.” They sound a theme that was, and has remained, within my mind for these last 16 years. It is the simple understanding that who and what we are (as well as what we do) flow from the abundance of the heart. Only by attending to the heart will we attend to the truth of ourselves and find union with God.
I first met St. Seraphim of Sarov through Valentine Zander’s small biography of him. It was given to me by an Anglican monk back in 1976 when I was making a retreat at a monastery. It was a window into a world that sank deep into my heart. The echoes of that encounter continued for years, playing an abiding role in my life, culminating in my reception into the Orthodox Church in 1998. St. Seraphim’s words (and others similar to them) are touchstones of deep Orthodoxy for me. They are the voice of authentic Orthodoxy, in which I hear the voice of Jesus, our true Shepherd, resounding.
I have found it to be the case that when something sounds different from this, regardless of how well-reasoned or argued, alarms go off in my heart. I know that over the years, I have sounded different from time-to-time. The temptations to control and manage the world around me, to find the right leverage that will persuade all adversaries, never leaves me. And then, there is the voice of St. Seraphim:
Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.
St. Seraphim lived an obscure life: a hermit in the wilderness of Tsarist Russia. He became famous in his lifetime as he never wrote a word. One hundred and forty-three years after his death, lying in bed, awake all night, reading about his life in a night of anxious insomnia, I became aware of the Spirit of Peace. I did not acquire it (I don’t think I have yet). I was one of the many thousands (millions?) of souls that were being saved in the penumbra of the light of that great saint.
There is an Orthodox monastic “folk-saying” (I’m told it comes from a letter by St. Barsanuphios) that holds that at any given time, there are three or four hidden saints by whose prayers God sustains the world.1 I believe this to be true. I believe that St. Seraphim was one of those in his own generation. We have no idea who stands in that place of intercession for us at present. But, I notice that the world around us is being sustained and I give thanks for the hidden prayers that make it so.
When I write about “modernity” (in such constant fashion that many must be tired of even hearing the word), it is this same word of St. Seraphim that lies behind it. The secular world tells us that by voting, by politics, by engineering and technology, by science, by violence and war, the future will be saved. I believe this to be a lie. I believe it to be a very seductive lie – one that seems obvious to many – such that questioning it makes many people think that I must be making some mistake.
There is no mistake. My mistake has, from time to time, been not to keep St. Seraphim’s words firmly in my mind and heart. You cannot be too kind, too gentle. Acquire the Spirit of Peace. Strive to reach inner peace. God, raise us above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage.
St. Seraphim pray for us!