Notes on Salvation from an Athonite Elder

This Saturday I was blessed to meet and hear a talk by Fr Nikon of New Skete (Athos), during a lovely event organised by ‘The Life-Giving Spring Bookstore’ in Glendale, California.

Out of all the wonderful things Fr Nikon talked about, my heart rejoiced especially at his idea that salvation comes from within – salvation of all those around you, salvation of the whole world is founded on my own fight for my own salvation. Those of you who have met me during my fundraising travels will know that this is also one of the central and recurrent thoughts I have myself, but it meant so much for me to have it confirmed by a real ascetic.


Elder Nikon of the New Skete, Athos

I’ve seen this connection many times in confession – my own and of other people, as well. For most of us, the easiest ‘solution’ to one’s sins is to focus on the weakness of someone else. Rather than fight with my own self, rather than put myself through the spiritual pain of healing my own soul, it is so much easier to turn to someone else and judge them for not doing precisely the things I myself am refusing to do.

Fr Nikon had something else to say which is connected with this. While addressing a question asked by a parent, the Elder said: ‘if you want your children to be saints, be holy yourselves.’ Most parents suffer from a sort of spiritual laziness; they expect their children to do all the things they themselves find too difficult to do. In fact, it’s more that laziness – it’s also hypocrisy and even a touch of lack of love. The same principle applies here too: you can contribute to the salvation of your children by fighting your own sins. The salvation of your children begins with your own salvation.

Look at Christ – to grant US salvation, He didn’t come to crucify us; instead, He Himself got up on the Cross on our behalf. And His Sacrifice opened the doors of the Kingdom for all of us.

Forgive me and pray for me.

Sin: a hard lesson from experience

My frustration with sin (my own and of those around me) is rooted in my PERFECT awareness that sin has nothing to do with me, with the real me. Not that I know who or how the real me looks like – that is something I shall discover, through God’s grace, only standing face to Face with Him at the Last Judgement – but I have a perfect, unshakeable intuition that I shall not find this true self in sin.

Nistor Coita - fragment

Nistor Coita – fragment

I experience sin like abandonment, like turning away from myself. Sin is suspended time, a manner of suspended living, a bubble of non-being, non-involvement, not-participation into anything: God, myself, the world around. Like closing one’s eyes during a car crash and wanting to believe (yet never fully believing) that the whole world is suspended with me in this bubble of silence.

Because sin is silence. too. Sin is when I stop relating to God and I become silent. I look at Him and I have no more words to use. I look at Him and I then I look away, because I can no longer find myself in His Face. This silence, this turning away from God, this spiritual suicide has nothing to do with me. Or with you. Or with anyone else, any being created by God.

Sin is never creative. Sin suffocates, that’s all it does. Temptations are never creative, never original, never personal, because their source is not the Personal and Creative God. Temptations are always repetitive, boring and common to all of us. Only the fight against them shapes us, only the fight against sin (not sin itself) is creative, deeply related to who I truly am, and has the power to help me grow into this real self.

We are never original in the ways in which we sin. My father confessor told me once that there are only a few basic sins, but infinite ways in which to fight against them – one unique, personal fight for each unique, personal being. These ways, this fight is what makes us who we shall ultimately become, who we’ve always been in God’s eyes.

I am not my sin. It is my fight against sin that makes me who I am.

Pray for me and forgive me. I pray for you.

Killer prayer

Have you ever looked at your prayer book with the distinct feeling of ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you?’ Have you felt totally useless spiritually,  unable to move forward for one tiny step? Do you, in fact, feel that you are going backwards, rather than advancing in any way; that your prayer life is worse today than yesterday, and definitely worse than a year ago? Well, in that case, rejoice, for this is the sure sign that your prayer is working.

I’ve met so many people this weekend… each with their personal story, personal challenges, personal sources of happyness and pain. Everywhere though, questions and worries concerning prayer take over the conversation in a matter of minutes. The basic thing people seem not to understand is that the point of prayer is not happiness – the reason we pray is not so that we feel happy and fulfilled.

By prayer, our saints say, we get closer to God; unfortunately, getting closer to God means we have to get closer to ourselves first, closer to our own hearts, because that is where Christ reveals Himself – and getting to know one’s own heart is nasty business; getting to know who you really are is never fun, never a fulfilling or comforting experience.

When your prayer kills you on the inside, let it. And give thanks. When your prayer exposes the small person that you are in front of your own conscience, let it. And give thanks. These years of pain, these years of staring at one’s prayer book and wondering how did one get so low and miserable, so utterly unable to control one’s thoughts, one’s feelings, one’s attention, one’s passions, these years when you go down in your own personal hell and you discover that this is where you belong, that there is nothing alive in you, nothing holy in you – these years are the years your prayer IS working. This is the time you’re keeping yourself open for God to strat re-creating you, re-shaping you into who you really are.

These are painful years, when nothing good seems to live in us, but these years will teach you so many things about yourself, things you would never learn otherwise. You learn your limitations, you learn humility, you learn repentance, you learn obedience, you learn not to judge, not to condemn – for, how could you judge and condemn anyone, when you yourself are spiritually dead and surviving only out of God’s love and mercy?

These years are the foundation for all your future years. I think about these years as the foundation to a house – my life. Make sure, make absolutely sure that you have a strong, healthy foundation; otherwise, no matter what you build on top of it, it will crumble sooner or later.

This prayer is just a stage, of course. When God sees that the foundation is ready, you will break through, and things will be different. Don’t despair and don’t give up – for now, just rejoice because you know your prayer is working. You’re gradually learning the truth about yourself, you’re gradually leaving behind the idolatric images of your self that you or those around you have built for years. As you leave these fake images behind, you’re getting closer to your real self, you gain knowledge about who you really are and, in time, this self-knowledge will be the foundation for knowledge and love for God.

Let this prayer kill you. It’s not you who’s dying, not your real self, but the fake and prideful self you’ve learnt to mistake for who you really are. Let this prayer kill this fake self, let this prayer help you discover your real name, your real personhood. Don’t get down from the cross of this prayer. Remember that after the Cross – and only after – Christ’s Resurrection awaits you: You, the real one.

Trapped in time (about fifty years ago)

For the next three weeks, I shall have very limited access to the internet – I’m staying at the Kazan Skete in Santa Rosa as I visit parishes in Sacramento, Chico, Fairfield and Santa Rosa. I apologise for the lack of activity on the site and for all the unanswered emails. For those of you who find it difficult to believe that there are people in California today who do not have internet access (and I was one of the unbelievers), have a look at what I had to use in order to write a letter to His Eminence Gerasimos…


When I saw it, I wanted to put on my gloves before touching it – it looks so precious, like a museum piece from fifty years ago!

In the five minutes of internet access I’ve got left, I want thank all the monasteries that welcomed me during this trip – Protection Monastery in Lake George, St John’s in Goldendale, All-Merciful Saviour on Vashon Island, St John’s in Manton, Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in Santa Rosa. Everywhere I’ve been, the brothers and sisters received me with so much love and care, and they provided me with the time to rest and prepare for the long trip ahead. I felt very much like home, although home is so far away.

In many cases, they know perfectly well what I’m going through. Most of them have been on this journey before, as founders of their own monasteries – they know what it’s like from experience, they don’t need to imagine it. May God bless them for their help and compassion, and may He keep me safe and healthy, so we may complete the work He has entrusted us.

Finally, don’t forget about the ‘Ways YOU can help’ button above – I cannot visit all your parishes, but you all may still help us by making a Donation via PayPal or by cheque; you’ll find all the information needed above. If you need to know more, just email me (and forgive me for taking a few days before I am able to get back to you). In Christ, fr seraphim.

The beggar monk

Some time ago, I’ve been told that I’m basically a beggar – which is definitely true, of course. The thought remained with me, and evolved from slight horror (after all, I’m not a saint, so my pride is still kicking), to pure delight. I’ve realised again how beautiful and exciting one’s life becomes once you place it all in Christ’s hands. Without Christ, I couldn’t have met all the wonderful-beyond-reason people I’ve talked to this last year; without Christ, I could never have seen and prayed in so many holy places. Most importantly, without Christ and without having abandoned my life to Him, I would have missed all the great gifts He’s blessed me with ever since. Everything changed; all boundaries to love have fallen. I know now that Christ is present everywhere and in everyone. I know now, with a different sort of knowledge, that the Church is the Mother of all creation. I know now that Christ is not restricted to the material walls of my monastery and my cell, nor to the immaterial walls of a set of rules and regulations. There is so much beauty in this world, there is so much holiness in each person – I had forgotten that, and Christ reminded me of it.

Home, in the Celtic isles.

Home, in the Celtic isles.

I am a beggar indeed. I am Christ’s beggar, and I’m very proud of it! If anything, this is the only thing I take pride in: I belong to Christ, and I am His beggar. Funnily enough, I’m not alone in this: I belong to a long and great tradition of beggars, going all the way back to the Lord’s Apostles.

I am also a very similar to a snail; I carry my home on my back. I carry my home, my life, my Christ on my back all the time, from one place to another. I have no home, and yet I’m at home everywhere. I’ve never felt so exposed and fragile, so unsafe and so open to hurt. And yet, I’ve never been happier, more at peace or more loved as I have since I’ve placed everything in Christ’s hands and I’ve become His beggar.

May it all be blessed. May it be that, as I work for this monastery, I also find my salvation. And may we all look back one day (from this life or the next) and rejoice seeing all the people who are working their own salvation in this monastery we are founding together: step by step, little by little, soul by soul.

US Schedule until mid-December (and thank you, Washington State)

Well, the time has come to leave Washington State. The whole experience been such a pleasant surprise, I have no words to describe my gratitude for all the kind and loving people I’ve met. I expected to leave with a few donations for our small monastic house, and I feel I’m leaving with so much more than that: friends, people I really connected with, people I know will remain in touch and will continue to pray for me and the monastery through these difficult years. Someone said this is the time when the monastery gets born, and that pain is natural. At times, that is obvious to me, too – nothing truly beautiful and blessed comes without sacrifice. Perhaps that’s because nothing truly beautiful and blessed belongs to this world, it all comes from Christ, and only a fine, transparent soul (made fine and transparent through sacrifice alone) can go beyond this world and open up to receiving something of Christ’s beauty and blessedness. I pray our monastery will be transparent enough in God’s eyes, so it may bring true beauty and blessing over its community, its benefactors and the whole world.

I don’t know how to express this. All I know is the love I’ve been surrounded with these last few days: nothing has been forgotten, nothing has been taken for granted, every single kind word is remembered and much appreciated. I’ve been reminded again that the meeting of two people is a mystery in its own right. Simply being face to face, doing our best to have an open, honest conversation, fighting to let go of all our masks for a few minutes, this is a mystery we so easily forget. Two walking breathing beings, both created in the same image of God, trying to go beyond the heavy and confusing ways of the body and really connect, really embrace in the Spirit: when we succeed, it is a true mystery; when we succeed, as we have several times over these days, I worry about nothing. When we succeed, I’m always reminded in my heart of Christ’s words: when two or three gather in My Name, I am here with you.

So, thank you, Washington State. I pray one day we meet again – either back here, in this lovely, rainy state, or at the monastery, on our lovely, rainy island.

Several of you have also asked me about the rest of my schedule while in the US. I still don’t know all the details, and I get many invitations as I advance from one parish to another, especially for events during the week. However, the talks on Sundays are all confirmed, and here they are: Milwaukie (October 19th); Santa Rosa (October 26th); Sacramento (November 2nd); Fairfield (November 9th); Garden Grove (November 16th); Tarzana (November 23rd); Phoenix (November 30th and December 7th).

I’m leaving in less than two hours, and it may be a while before I have access to the internet again. As I receive and confirm more invitations for during the week (smaller retreats, talks, more private meetings in people’s homes etc) I shall try to announce them in due time. Please continue to pray for me and the monastery – this is a place founded on your love, your sacrifice and your prayers. I’m merely a tool in God’s hands; please pray this tool continues to be in good shape and health. I very often feel like under attack (and not always lovely attacks, like the one in the attached photograph).

Puffin Attack - the original photo

Puffin Attack – the original photo

Puffin attack (I did survive, yes...)

Puffin attack (I did survive, yes…)

This is how you helped

One of the questions that you keep asking me when we meet face to face is how to support the Monastery. The obvious answer is to consider making a donation (and you can find all about how to do that by clicking the ‘Ways you can help’ button above) – that is the most important and practical way to help, regardless of how much or little you can actually donate. This is an atypical monastery, which is founded greatly on online donations – most of these donations are small, but they can be of huge help, especially if there are many of them.

However, there are other ways you can help found this Monastery, and I would like to give you a few examples, hoping you will all be inspired :)

For instance, there are now three confirmed authors who will write articles on various aspects of Celtic Christianity, which they will donate to our Monastery for publication and sale. These people – Prof Andrew Louth, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and Frederica Matthews-Green (in the order I received their confirmations) – are great authors, people whose work is known and appreciated world-wide, so their sacrifice is significant.

Dr Avril Pyman-Sokolov donated the Monastery three wonderful works of her late husband, Russian painter Kirill Sokolov. When we shall have our monastic house (which is what I’m fundraising for), these paintings, which are inspired by his travels to Mount Athos, will be exhibited in the Monastery. I cannot express enough gratitude for Dr Pyman’s generosity.

Kirill Sokolov - Church of St Nicholas

Kirill Sokolov – Church of St Nicholas


Kirill Sokolov - Troitsa

Kirill Sokolov – Troitsa


Kirill Sokolov - Athos donkeys

Kirill Sokolov – Athos donkeys

Ben Anderson, one of the first friends of our Monastery, author of the McGunnegal Chronicles, will continue to donate 10% of sales of his books to our Monastery project at least through the end of the year, if not beyond.

Others have supported us by helping me travel, either by driving me from one place to another (some times for over 5 or 6 hours), or by buying me airplane tickets – this is especially easy for people who have extra flying miles, which can be used this way.

Nothing is useless; everyone can contribute. Some of you are helping me learn how to write HTML emails (yes, I’m slowly getting there!), a great man I’ve met in Denver is building up a new, better web-site for us, and so on.

Some of you talked to the local parish priest and arranged for me to give a talk or a presentation of the monastery in your parish. Others have convinced the parish council to make a donation to support the Monastery. Others have made for us the Thank-You cards I’m writing and sending you when you make a donation by cheque.

Everything counts. Everything helps. The most wonderful things is that it all comes from your love. Thank you all – that is, in fact, all I wanted to say. Thank you all, and let’s keep going.

Pilgrimage to Mull & Iona (should we?)

The idea of an Orthodox pilgrimage to Mull, Iona and the neighbouring isles has been suggested to me in practically every parish I visited this past year. I have been initially (and still remain) rather afraid to try organising any pilgrimage before we have built our small monastic house, but I confess I’m thinking more and more about it. It all changed after I was on the pilgrimage led by the Orthodox Friends of Iona this August (I should take this opportunity to thank His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos and Bruce Clark for inviting me to join them, and for their kindness and generosity towards me and our monastery).

Puffins, Isle of Lunga

Puffins, Isle of Lunga

There are so many beautiful places to see in the Hebrides, such powerful spiritual landscapes, such strong presence of the Saints, it would be a pity not to at least give the idea some serious thought. I’ve also been fortunate enough to see how the OFI organize their pilgrimages, and I’ve done my best to learn from their experience as much as possible. Perhaps it would be a good idea to start with a ‘trial’ pilgrimage next summer, for just a small group of people who are friendly and kind (that is, people who would not ask for my head if it all turns our badly).

Although, how could it turn our badly? The isles are so visibly blessed, the Saints are so overwhelmingly present, all we’d need to do is let ourselves melt in their grace. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting photos and notes I’ve taken during the OFI pilgrimage in August, as a taste of what awaits one in the isles; this week, I attach a few photos from the Isle of Lunga, the largest of the Treshnish Isles.

I’ll think about it very carefully; please let me know (at or in the comments section below) what you think of this idea and whether you would be interested to join me.

May it be God’s will.

Wild Flowers on Lunga

Wild Flowers on Lunga

View of the ocean, Lunga

View of the ocean, Lunga

Lunga, Treshnish Isles

Lunga, Treshnish Isles

Puffins on Lunga

(More) Puffins on Lunga

Back on the road

Not that it’s been any different this past year…

Dear friends, I’m back in the United States, after a very busy summer in the UK, and I thought I should bring all of you up to date with what we’ve achieved until now and what’s left to be done.

Slowly, the monastery is coming to life. We now have Kilninian, our beautiful 1755 church (dedicated to Sts Cuthbert and Ninian), and we also have the money to purchase five acres of land surrounding it. All the legal actions have been done, it’s now only a matter of time before we own the land, as well. This allows me to focus on the last main step of founding our monastery: building a small monastic house for our nuns. We’ll apply for the smallest and most humble building Health and Safety will approve!

Metropolitan Kallistos visiting the Monastery

Metropolitan Kallistos visiting the Monastery

I must thank you all for all you support. We couldn’t have raised this money without your efforts and the love that hides behind and motivates your efforts. Similarly, I myself couldn’t have survived this year without your prayers and encouragement. It’s been a tough year, but blessed beyond reason. For the first time in my life, I feel God has taken over everything; I lost all control, it’s all in His hands now, and I’ve never felt more at home than during these months of homelessness. I understand now that I am at home only in Christ; home has nothing to do with my nationality, with my family or certain walls in some part of the world. Home is Christ, and I’ve never felt that as deeply as I do now. To receive Christ’s Holy Body and Blood is to really be at home.

It’s true, there are some ‘luxuries’ I miss, such as, for instance, being ill. When you’re always a guest, one cannot afford the luxury of illness; when you are a guest in someone’s home, you are supposed to be uplifting and spiritually strong; nobody welcomes me in order to have me sweating in their sheets. I also miss being alone, although – strangely – I’ve never had such silence and loneliness in my heart as I do now, surrounded by hundreds of new people every week.

This year you’ve supported founding this monastery, and I thank you for that with all my heart. Without your knowledge, though, you’ve also supported my own personal history of salvation. You’ve contributed to founding a physical monastery, but also the flesh monastery of my own being. I must thank you for that, too.

Please remain close by. Please continue to support this monastery and the return of Orthodox Christianity in the Hebrides. Please continue to love.

Yours in Christ,

fr seraphim

1714 – 2014. Love and Hate: Not Much Has Changed

Sfintii Brancoveni

In 1714, just before Easter, Constantin Brancoveanu – the Christian ruler of the Romanian Kingdom for 26 years – was taken to Istanbul and imprisoned. His four sons were imprisoned with him. In a typical gesture, the Muslim rulers of the Ottoman Empire gave them the well-known choice: convert to Islam or die. Because they refused to deny Christ, on August 15th (the Dormition Feast), they were all decapitated – first the Christian king’s councillor was beheaded, then all his sons (Matthew, the youngest of them, was 11 years old). The King, his wife and daughters, were forced to witness the public executions. Western diplomats were present; the official representatives of France, England and Russia (among others) felt they could not refuse the Muslim ruler’s invitation. In the end, after the killing of all his sons, the King himself was publicly executed – it was his 60th birthday. Their heads were carried and displayed through Istanbul; their bodies were thrown in the Bosphorus. Today, they are all commemorated as Martyrs.

We are now in 2014, three centuries later; we see Muslim children carrying the heads of the people their fundamentalist parents have murdered. We hear these children calling for more executions. The only difference is that, this time, Western journalists are also killed.


The West may be in shock, but Eastern Europe isn’t. For us, this is just the return of a very recent nightmare. Less than a century ago, the Ottoman Empire was still present here, in our countries. Think about that!

We all – West and East – have so much to learn from each other. The world needs to look at its past – its common past. The West needs to understand that what happens in other parts of the world will one day (very soon, it seems) happen at home, in its own back-yard.

When one visits the thousands of Orthodox monasteries in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, one must learn how to see beyond their exterior beauty and exoticism. All these places are built on harrowing pain and horror, yet they remain living prayers for the peace and salvation of the whole world; for centuries, they’ve held on to a holy stubbornness to not let go of hope, to not let go of love, to not allow hate to win and take over our hearts.

If that happened, if we let go of love and embraced the hatred, we’d be denying Christ; we’d be losing the real battle, the battle these old and new Christian martyrs died for.