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153. Monday of the Fourth Week of Great Lent 1974

Dear Sister in Christ, Nina,

Rejoice in the Lord! Will try to answer your questions one at a time.

Concerning particular questions like job, people problems — individually they aren’t important and they really can’t be solved one at a time. Instead, try to keep the whole picture in mind. Where is your heart? If it is in the desert, as it seems, then deep down make the resolve that you’re going to go to the desert, if it is pleasing to God and He will open the way, and let everything else fall into place around that resolve. When it comes to helping people, especially our poor converts, don’t turn down what God sends, but don’t go seeking for ways to get involved, either. If your desire for the desert is real and God-pleasing, you will be of much more help to people there than in their midst — not because you are anything or will become a wonderworking hermitess (if you thought that you’d better stop right now!), but because there is something very natural about the desert for Orthodox Christians, and God sees the heart of even the feeblest sinner in the desert and sends His help.

The second thing to keep clearly in mind is this: the world is your enemy, and that included the “church world, ” that is, the worldliness of church people. We don’t know any clergy in S. F. who, if they heard of your “desert desire,” wouldn’t begin immediately thinking and talking about “prelest,” “crazy converts,” and the like. In principle they are “correct,” of course, and it’s quite fine to talk like that in “normal” times when there are hundred of convents and sketes to go to in order to escape the pitfalls of trusting oneself (but the tapes we’ll send you are of “crazy” ones who ran away even from all that!). BUT IN OUR POOR DAYS THIS ATTITUDE HAS NO REAL FUNCTION EXCEPT TO EXTINGUISH SPIRITUAL ZEAL. And the church world is not only pretty much against the desert — any kind of spiritual life is in danger from this “correctness.” We are immensely relieved, for example, to hear from Alexey that the baptisms will be in S.F. after all — for to call special attention to his “secret” is just asking for danger. Do you know that some of our good priests think that a layman has no “right” to burn incense in his own home?

So: keep your “secret,” live in peace with everyone, help those who ask for it (and beware of “helping” when you’re not asked!), and BEG GOD AND VLADIKA JOHN TO SHOW YOU THE WAY OUT OF THE WORLD AS FAST AS POSSIBLE! About the last point, it isn’t essential yet to have a concrete “plan” in mind; it’s enough right now to nourish the desert seed in the heart, with which we’ll try to help. We’re sending shortly the first tapes of “Neonilla,” which you can start transcribing as soon as you get your machine. The next one, “Maria,” is still more inspiring. Send us the Xerox of her life (and all the other Xeroxes you have) as soon as possible — but not the books. We’ve been reading these lives at noon trapeza, and they are very inspiring.

From Boston we are getting just the daily troparia and kontakia. We haven’t received the Little Compline. We mentioned to Fr. Panteleimon several years ago that we would like to print a Horologion, but were not too certain right now. In case you didn’t realize it, printing (at least under our conditions) is not an easy thing even ordinarily, and besides that numerous additional difficulties constantly arise to tempt us. Of late the Linotype has given the most difficulty, and the last part of the last issue was completed with myself supplying complicated manual movements for each line of type to make up for a piece that broke in the back of the machine. You will therefore understand why your nonchalant request to “type up” your ad was met rather coolly in the printing dept. Consider yourself hit over the head, and remember: what comes easy does not help get one to or keep one in the desert. Your request has been tabled until we can get the new issue out, which we would very much like to do by Pascha, despite the long services. If it is very difficult to mimeograph it or otherwise do it “easy” yourself, then implore us to help you and we’ll try. We are struggling from first to last, and you should start thinking in those terms too. Recently our tank of gas for the Linotype was stuck with the truck in a ditch for a week; fortunately the old tank barely finished the issue, or we were prepared to take ropes and drag the tank up 1/2 mile through the snow.

Another question: the reading of the Sunday night Passion Gospels during Lent is a custom of many centuries in Western Russia. And don’t start thinking about “Latin influence” — the custom was good enough for Vladika John (which is perhaps why it is still continued in SF) and is also very moving.

In Berkeley: we need a Xerox of a book by St. Gregory of Tours; I think it’s called Historia Sanctorum, Histoire des Saints, with text in Latin and French on opposite pages (we’d like both), giving lives of Western Saints. If you know French, perhaps you could also check and see if St., Gregory has information on other Saints of the West in his other works, such as History of the Franks (which is in English), which is not in these Lives.

Also, if you have a little time (!) in Berkeley, you might look at art books of Medieval and pre- Medieval illustrations of Western Saints — Sts. Martin of Tours, Benedict, Paulinus of Nola, Ambrose, English Saints, etc. You probably won’t find many icons, but it would help just to have any illustration of how the Saints were pictured before 13th century or so.

Fr. Herman’s wrist is improving. Br. Laurence is in good spirits.

About your rule: what’s wrong with the one you’ve been using? Is it too difficult? If not, start it again and may God bless your labors.

Please get us a box of charcoal (enclosed label). Enclosed check for charcoal (which costs $10) and Xeroxing.

Spring is upon us, though no oak leaves have come out yet. Everything is bright, and one feels expansive and wonders why these whole mountains aren’t peopled with ascetics in caves. But God sends us just what we need, and it’s not for us to question the “state of humanity” too much, just to save our souls. Pray for us.

With love in Christ our Saviour,
Seraphim, monk

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