DIOCESE OF EASTERN AMERICA AND NEW YORK: November 6, 2006
The Parish He Founded Marks the 35th Anniversary of the Death of Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy
From the Editors: On Sunday, November 5, Holy Virgin Protection Church marked the 35th anniversary of the repose of Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, author of the renowned Law of God for the Family and School , a good and loving pastor. We offer photographs of this service along with an article on his legacy written in Russia:
THE LEGACY OF FATHER SERAPHIM SLOBODSKOY
(Towards the 35th Anniversary of His Repose)
Father Seraphim was born to the family of a priest on September 11, 1912, in the town of Cherntsovka, near Penza. His father died in a concentration camp, and the orphaned son could not receive a proper education; still, he studied painting, attending free classes. During World War II, he found himself in a refugee battalion but managed to survive. He was taken prisoner by the Germans and after many wanderings and dangers, settled in America. He was ordained to the priesthood in the early 1950's.
The pastoral labors of Fr Seraphim were multi-faceted. Over the 20 years of his service, in addition to the usual care for human souls, Fr Seraphim built a splendid church in honor of the Protection of the Holy Virgin, in Nyack (a suburb of New York City), and established an exemplary parish school. Fr Seraphim loved children and youth, and was also the spiritual father of a children's summer camp.
Seeing the spiritual poverty of the Russian emigration, especially within the young generation which had grown up under the Soviet regime without religious instruction, Fr Seraphim assumed the task of writing a textbook called the Law of God , which is now widely distributed not only in the emigration but throughout the great Russian expanse as well. According to Protopriest Andre Papkov (ROCOR), Fr Seraphim would write this book at night, sacrificing sleep and relaxation, since during the day he was too busy with parish work, including the construction of the church. For his Law of God, Fr Seraphim was awarded the kamilavka and pectoral cross sooner than was customary. For building the church, during its consecration in 1964, Fr Seraphim was elevated to the rank of protopriest.
Fr Seraphim's contemporaries note that this was a genuine pastor who was ready to lay down his life "for his sheep." His entire life was directed towards serving the Church. He conducted divine services without fail, despite his ailments. During a Great Lenten service, as the reading was being done on the kliros, Fr Seraphim would breathe laboriously in the altar from his debilitating asthma. He would be sitting down, and as the time came for an intonement, he would gather up all his strength just to rise to his feet to speak the words into a microphone. But as the Holy Forty-day Lenten period comes to a close, as Pascha approaches, a miracle happens. Fr Seraphim's sickness is transformed to strength and confidence. Paschal night becomes a veritable feast of faith. One must note that for many years, Fr Seraphim served in Nyack alone, without a deacon. The long lines for confession seemed too much for him, but during Paschal service, Batiushka would emerge joyful, crossing everyone with the three candles and boldly pronouncing: "Christ is Risen!"
Divine assistance was clearly present in the preparation of the Law of God . We hope that eyewitnesses and church historians will write more about this. It is remarkable that all the seminarians of Russia, everyone studying in theological schools, of course, all priests and monastics, clergymen of the Church, we and many other Orthodox Christians have read the book of this humble priest from Nyack. The book was published to the glory of God! This is not only a book for the family and school, but should be read by college students. It is written in plain language and is a true encyclopedia of theology.
The fact that Fr Seraphim was humble, meek, a priest of humility we can see from one specific document. This is the "Spiritual Legacy of Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy," published at the time in Jordanville's Pravoslavnaya Rus . His testament includes nine points, equal to the number of angelic ranks. They reflect the desires of this Russian priest and contain the purpose of the Christian life.
"With all my heart, I ask that you forgive me and genuinely admit that I am the greatest sinner in the world," we read in the beginning of Batiushka's testament to his "kinsfolk and acquaintances." How many times did Fr Seraphim utter the words as he brought out the Chalice "…a sinner, of whom I am chief!" This earnest self-condemnation was profoundly marked upon his heart. In the second point of his testament, Fr Seraphim thanked the Lord for his wonderful parents and kind wife: "And may our spiritual leaders know how great, indeed, how crucial, a matushka is in the life and labors of a batiushka." Further, Fr Seraphim gives guidance to his children, Tatiana, Alexei and Vera, to remain righteous and honest, and absolutely faithful Russian Orthodox Christians. He reminded his children: "Then, the Lord will grant to you His abundant mercies and will preserve you from all evil."
Once again, Batiushka asks forgiveness for everything. In his testament, he repeats the words of one pious priest: "Maybe I expressed more love to one, less to another. Maybe through my failings I did not pay attention… maybe I was late with help. Maybe I did not come in time. Maybe I neglected you altogether and never came. Forgive me." Fr Seraphim made a special appeal to his clerical leaders to forgive him for unwilling sorrows by word or by deed, "I always did what I could, acted by my feelings and by my conscience I defended Divine truth." Batiushka thanked with all his heart all those relatives, friends, acquaintances and parishioners for their patience and condescension to him "for his countless failings and sins." Batiushka again repeated: "Let us always remember the Divine law: 'Forgive and ye shall be forgiven.'" In his eighth paragraph, Fr Seraphim asked that no eulogies be written for him. Point nine stated: "It would be better to have fewer flowers, but instead, to have acts of mercy in memory of the repose of my soul."
The will, written a year and a half before his death, reveals the burning desire of Fr Seraphim's soul. Materially, he had a humble life, and Batiushka was available to all. Sensing his sinfulness, he hoped that before he died he would receive the mercy of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Victor over hell and death, of His Most-Pure Mother and all the saints. Apparently the heavenly hosts were very close to him in his clerical service, because by their prayers, the Law of God , intended only for the Church Abroad, is now available throughout all of Russia. The final lines of his testament breathe with the true eternal life of the words "Christ is Risen!" One believes that even now, from the distant abode of Fr Seraphim, he greets us with the words "'as the Lord lives and my soul lives" and "Christ is risen, and life is liberated!"
Fr Seraphim died on the night of November 6, 1971, on the eve of the feast day of the Icon of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow." Although Batiushka had been ill for some time, the Lord yet allowed him this Christian-like end: with a good conscience and in peace. Fr Seraphim's funeral service, which lasted for four hours, was performed at Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack by Archbishop Averky (Taushev). Eighteen priests from all over concelebrated with him. It was a Sunday, and for that reason, 500 people were able to be there to make their last farewells, Russian emigres from various cities and states. Protection Church was built to hold 250 persons, but the tightly-crammed worshipers almost did not move, standing through the entire funeral service, bound together by a feeling of their loss of the good pastor. The parishioners and spiritual children remembered that Fr Seraphim always helped them, even in difficult times, when, for example, in the 1960's in San Francisco, Archbishop John (Maximovich) was slandered, and the Church Abroad suffered great troubles because of this. And yet they believed that the good priest's words would prove true: " 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."
Fr Seraphim is buried in Novo-Diveevo Convent Cemetery, in this cozy, beautiful corner of Holy Russia in Spring Valley, NY, where other Orthodox Christians for whom Fr Seraphim labored now lie, too.
Professor A. Kornilov
Nizhny Novgorod, Russia