NEW YORK: November 3, 2006
On Sunday, the Russian Church Abroad Will Mark the 35 th Anniversary of the Repose of Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, Renowned Author of the Law of God
From the Editors: In connection with the approaching anniversary of the repose of Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, we offer an article written by Protodeacon (now Protopriest, Senior Priest of Holy Protection Cathedral in Chicago) Andre Papkov, written on the 20 th anniversary of the death of his spiritual father.
On November 5 of this year, on the day of St James, Brother of the Lord, we mark the 20 th anniversary of the death of our batiushka of blessed memory, Father Seraphim Slobodskoy. Twenty years is a good period of time, and a whole new generation of people has grown up who never knew batiushka . Still, his image stands brightly before those who were fortunate enough to know him. But as time passes, the fruits of his labor continue to grow.
The parish he founded is one of the most exemplary of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and his creation, the parish school, is the best of all such schools outside of Russia.
It is thanks to his organizational talents that the foundation was laid for all aspects of parish life, and his successors can now easily continue his work.
It is worth noting that during his rectorship, Fr Seraphim's parish grew and flourished, but there was also a complete absence of any commerciality. Batiushka , a bessrebrennik [one disinterested in money] by nature, personally inspired his flock to self-sacrifice, and the church was built with the efforts of the parish itself, without the hiring of outside help. Divine blessing manifested itself in the fact that the bank gave the parish a loan without any conditions. The group of Russian immigrants, headed by their rector, were so well-respected by the local population, that the bank officials provided a loan on their word, with no guarantees.
The parish school, established by Fr Seraphim together with his matushka , grew and blossomed thanks to his unrivaled pedagogic talent, which was equaled only by his exceptional love for children; and this love was requited by them.
One result of his work with children was the text book the Law of God , which has now gained significance throughout the Russian world. It has gone through four editions abroad, and is now printed in Russia in the millions. Most Russian people one meets today either have this book or have heard of it, and it should be a standard book in all Russian Orthodox homes. (Incidentally, because of time limitations, Fr Seraphim often worked on his book at night.)
The pastoral work of Fr Seraphim was moved by his love for God and for his neighbor. Batiushka often said that the Gospel teachings on love for God and for ones neighbor are the cornerstone for every Christian, and loved to stress that it is upon this legacy that “the law and the prophets depend.” In connection with this, batiushka did not approve of those brother pastors who, as he said, “suffer from legalism.” “Yes, he is a good man, but the poor fellow is a zakonnik [slave of the law],” he would say sadly.
Fr Seraphim himself was a zealous observer of church order and a champion of the truth. The 1960's were very troublesome in the internal life of the Church Abroad, and Fr Seraphim sensed with pain the sins against Divine Truth which he witnessed.
As a devotee of Archbishop John (Maximovich, +1966), he grieved over the slander aimed against this righteous man, and himself endured accusations and slander for speaking the truth fearlessly to those who did not wish to hear it. Earnest, and by nature incapable of accepting falsehood, he always courageously defended justice wherever he deemed necessary. The passage of time shows who was right and who was in error in those troublesome times.
When it came to his flock, Fr Seraphim fulfilled the words of Apostle Paul: “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Relentlessly performing all required divine services and services of need, he always found time to visit and spiritually nourish the elderly, the sick and lonely people at home and in hospitals, which attracted everyone who knew him. Batiushka had a rare gift: empathetic love for people, disregard for himself, he tried to help everyone in sorrow and need in every possible way. One remembers the words of one elderly woman in his parish, who remembered with tears, “Yes, Father Seraphim knew us well, his stragglers.”
It could be said that batiushka had no personal life. The doors to his home were always open to all, at any time, day or night, not only in an abstract but a literal sense: he never locked his doors. Bishops, society figures, parishioners of all cultural levels and all ages—Fr Seraphim found a common tongue with all of them, and he had understanding and good counsel for all.
Fr Seraphim's life began in the town of Cherntsovka, in the Penzen guberniya , where his father, Priest Alexei, was a parish rector. When the Bolsheviks came to power, difficult times began for the Slobodskoy family. Fr Alexei was often saved from arrest by peasant parishioners, who hid him in their homes. In his final years, Fr Alexei served in the town of Petushka in Vladimirskaya guberniya , whence he exiled without the right of correspondence, and, apparently, died in the concentration camps.
Fr Seraphim grew up in the church, served as an altar boy and was an expert in bell ringing. After completing middle school, he received art training and worked as an artist in Moscow. Then, World War II struck, he was sent to the front, was captured and then found himself an emigre.
After the War, Seraphim Alexeevich ended up in Munich, where he soon married Elena Alexeevna Lopukhina, who became his lifelong assistant. There he organized a youth group for religious philosophy.
On April 22, 1951, Archbishop Benedict (Bobkovsky) ordained Seraphim Alexeevich to the priesthood. Soon after his ordination, Fr Seraphim arrived in America and was appointed to be the second priest at Holy Fathers Church in New York City. A short while later he was transferred to Holy Protection Community in Nyack, a suburb of New York.
During the War, the notion came to Seraphim Alexeevich to build a church if only God saw fit to preserve him through the war. The church in Nyack became the manifestation of this dream. Fr Seraphim did not rest as he worked on the construction, not only as an administrator, but as a simple laborer, laying cement blocks, hauling wheelbarrows, etc. Fr Seraphim rarely took a vacation and when he did, he was not idle but worked towards educating youth as the spiritual father of Camp NORR.
Fr Seraphim was awarded for his zealous pastoral work with a kamilavka , and a gold pectoral cross for his Law of God; he was elevated to the rank of protopriest for building the church; and given a palitsa for his 20 years of service as a priest.
The constant exertion, both spiritual and physical, undercut the great strength of the good pastor, and in 1971, at the age of 59, Fr Seraphim departed from this world. Archbishop Averky (Taushev, +1976), seriously ill at the time, arose from his sick bed and came to escort him "along the path destined for the whole world." In his eulogy, Vladyka gave a clear description of the persona of the reposed priest, as he now remains in our memories: a pastor, a bessrebrennik , a laborer, a lover of truth.
The priest's legacy was read, which is best understood by those who remember the unearthly joy with which Fr Seraphim served on Paschal night.
"I beseech you, I beseech you all to pray for me, a sinner, for the repose of my soul, and on my part, if I am permitted through the mercy of God, I will fervently pray for all of you, so that we all, upon the resurrection of the dead, meet once again in the future life and abide with God.
"Our desire… is expressed in two words, with which I greet you all: Khristos Voskrese [Christ is Risen]! For 'as the Lord lives and my soul lives,' and 'Christ is risen, and life is liberated!'"