Fr. Seraphim (Aldea) – was tonsured as a monk in 2005 at Rasca monastery in Bucovine, North Moldavia. He has a PhD in Modern Theology from the University of Durham (UK) for a thesis on Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov’s Ecclesiology. He then became a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the School of Theology, Oxford University, while working to found the Mull Monastery of all Celtic Saints ( www.mullmonastery.com), the first Orthodox monastery in the Hebrides in over a millennium. This post was taken from a transcription of Fr. Seraphim’s podcast, “Through a Monk’s Eyes”, on Ancient Faith Ministries (www.ancientfaith.com), May 12, 2015.
“The most important first question I get when people meet me—and not only in America, but also in England, where I live – is: Why have I become a monk? So, I try to answer that today, just to get it out of the way. I have learned along the years to come up with a series of either very cold and distant answers or some smart ones, depending who’s asking me the question, but the reality, the very simple truth, is that the only honest answer is that I had no choice. You know when you read in the psalter how the prophet speaks that God chooses us from the wombs of our mothers, that’s how I’ve grown to see my own life. I had no choice but to become a monk, simply because, in some strange way, I was a monastic from the womb of my mother. It simply took me a while to recognize who I am.
It took me a while to put a name to what I am, but the values and the principles of a monastic life have always been part of me, even when I was living a life that went entirely against these values. I’m sure you all can identify with this. We all go through periods in our lives when what we do and how we behave has very little to do with the things we actually cherish and the values we actually hold. There are years in our lives when there are almost two people living in each of us, at least two people, but once those years have become history, once I’ve survived those years, it became very clear that what I am is a monastic, and that the values I believe in are those of a monastic.
To me, being a monk can be reduced to being alone. There are all sorts of other ways to understand monasticism, and I will probably get into them in the future, but the simplest, basic understanding, the one that I always get back to, is being alone, with God, for God, preparing to meet God. All those words in the Scripture about being alone, about going into the mountains to pray, about leaving one’s friends and disciples behind so Christ can pray by himself, all those tiny descriptions in St. Luke about the mother of God hearing things and just holding them, putting them into her heart but not saying anything on the outside—all these things have always spoken to me.
To be a monk is to be alone before anything else. To live a monastic life is to be dead and buried before anything else. I remember all those stories from the lives of the Desert Fathers, all that beautiful advice concerning living your life as if you were dead, and those were the things that spoke to me; those were the things that made the greatest impression on my life.
Being alone doesn’t always mean having no one around you, just as being silent doesn’t always mean not speaking. One can be alone, surrounded by a whole nation, and in the history of all Christian Orthodox countries, there are countless examples of elders who have lived surrounded by thousands and thousands of people every day of their lives, and yet they managed, through the grace of God, to preserve their aloneness, their silence.
I wouldn’t want to go too much into this now, in the first podcast, but I want you to keep this in mind as you listen to this series. I do not want to be surrounded by people, but Christ has called me to do it, and I do not want to speak to people, and yet, here I am, going every week in a different parish and meeting different people and truly praying for them and truly asking God to intercede for them and to have mercy on them.
And I’m sure you know that when you truly pray for someone, even when you’ve never met that person before and you shall never see him or her again, when you truly pray of love and mercy, then somehow that person becomes part of you. It’s almost as if your flesh opens up and your heart can just see the heart of the other person. There’s an intimacy which prayer imposes on you. I have to go through this despite my calling to live alone, because this is what Christ wants me to do. So, if I sometimes seem grumpy or not in the mood to speak, or well, unfriendly, please forgive me and remember that this is a deeply unnatural thing for me to be doing and that I am only doing it because Christ asks me to do it.”