Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fr Seraphim Rose on Islam

Today (September 2, 2012) marks the thirtieth anniversary of the repose of Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) of Platina. While many articles have been written to mark this significant anniversary (see here and here) it seemed appropriate for this blog to look at what Fr Seraphim had to say about Islam.

Actually, Father Seraphim wrote very little on the subject of Islam. His book, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, treats Islam along with Judaism in the chapter on The Monotheistic Religions. Fr. Seraphim is clear in his position that the "god" of Islam is not the True God, and in citing the essay by Fr. Basile Stakkas, implicitly refutes Islam's doctrine of tawhid (the oneness of Allah), in large measure by explicitly refuting its claim to be an Abrahamic faith. Abraham worshipped the One God in Trinity, as is clear from the Old Testament account (And the LORD appeared unto him at the Oaks of Mamre... Three men were standing by him, and he bowed himself toward the ground... Gen. 18:1-2), as is seen in the icon called The Hospitality of Abraham, the quintessential depiction of the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament.

In my correspondence with two of Fr Seraphim's spiritual children, we have wrestled with the question of "why" Fr Seraphim did not write more about Islam, and why he did not expend more energy and ink refuting Islam's theological jihad against Orthodox Christianity. After all, Fr Seraphim is certainly something of a prophetic figure in modern Orthodoxy; how could he not see the ascendency of Islam?

Simply put, perhaps that was not the message or vision granted to him. Fr Seraphim came of age in a vastly different time. Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Meditation techniques, the New Age movement, Eastern mystical traditions and other occult phenomena were very much in the air, and had been gathering momentum for quite some time, waging a serious assault against Christianity since the late 19th century. Those were some of the signs of his time of the Age of Apostasy into which we were then entering.

By contrast, the Muslim world was highly westernized in the 1950s through 1979 (the year of the Islamic revolution in Iran). The Ottoman Empire had been dismantled after World War I; Kemal Ataturk reestablished Turkey as a modern, secular republic, and abolished the Islamic caliphate in 1924, effectively neutering the pan-Muslim movement for nearly the next eighty years. Although the Muslim Brotherhood was born in the 1920s as a response to the apostasy of secularism, Western culture and mores were widespread throughout Egypt, Lebanon, and the Middle East in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood itself was outlawed. To take but one example, one cannot find a woman wearing a hijab in college class photos from Cairo in the 1950s and 1960s.

As a result, Islam was not especially on Fr Seraphim's radar screen. Or rather, it was eclipsed by the Eastern religious movements.

So then, what might Fr Seraphim have to say about Islam now, as we approach the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks?

Without presuming too much, I think it's safe to say Fr Seraphim would have urged us to see the 9/11 attacks as a sign, and a call to repentance for Orthodox Christians. Are we not all guilty of living an easy life in this modern world, a world Fr Seraphim characterized as a "fool's paradise," marked by convenience, entertainment, unseriousness, and a "Disneyland" approach to life? Might not Fr Seraphim have seen 9/11 as yet further confirmation of the forces of evil being unleashed upon a world that has rejected God? He certainly would have seen the spirit of antichrist active in the sad trend of Christians committing apostasy and converting to Islam since 9/11.

But what about Islam specifically? Mother Abbess Theadelphi of the Entrance of the Theotokos Skete has astutely observed, "Fr Seraphim gave us all the best tools to be able to figure these things out ourselves."

Indeed he has. And those tools include being in step with the fathers of the Church, and the continuity of their teaching and witness, right up to our own day. Fr Seraphim would have recapitulated the writings of St John of Damascus on Islam, likely using that as a foundation for an expanded critique of his own. He would have employed the Orthodox patristic writings on the spiritual life, and on Moses and the other Old Testament Prophets, contrasting those with the example of Muhammad, to show how the latter was a false prophet and a willing victim of satanic delusion. Stemming from these sources, and from the divine services of the Church, Fr Seraphim would certainly also have strongly refuted Orthodox academic theologians, hierarchs and clergy who teach that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

In looking at the spread of Islam in our contemporary world, and how it impacts Christianity, Fr Seraphim would have been in correspondence with recent and current fathers such as New Priest-Martyr Fr Daniil Sysoev of Moscow (†2009), who was a powerful missionary to Muslims. Fr Seraphim would have rejoiced in the Indonesian Orthodox Mission and Fr Daniel Byantoro, as well as in Coptic priest Fr Zakaria Botros, and held these brave strugglers up as examples of fervent and authentic Orthodox witness. He would have lamented the horrendous and bloody Muslim persecutions of Christians in Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and elsewhere, urging us to pray for our harassed and threatened brethren in these lands. He would have extolled the heroic faith of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (imprisoned under a death sentence for over a thousand days for refusing to renounce his faith in Christ and convert to Islam). Fr Seraphim would also have been in contact with Dcn George Maximov, friend and co-laborer of Fr Daniil Sysoev, and a highly regarded Russian Orthodox theologian who has been writing on Islam for a decade now. Fr Seraphim would have affirmed the work of Anglican pastor and author Dr Mark Durie, and the prodigious resources unearthed by historians Bat Ye'or and Andrew Bostom in documenting Islamic jihad and treatment of non-Muslims over the past fourteen centuries. And Fr Seraphim would have held up as examples for us the Holy Neomartyrs under the Ottoman Muslim yoke and the Orthodox Genocide, just as forty years ago he held up the New Martyrs and Catacomb Saints under the Soviet Atheists.

I think it safe to say that Hieromonk Seraphim would have warned and exhorted us, urging us to live our Orthodox Faith to the fullest, with warm and fervent hearts, and not merely correct head-knowledge. Fr Seraphim would have continued to preach the Gospel to this weary world, reminding us of the Lord's words, "By your patience possess ye your souls," for the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church.  He would have exhorted us to "Lift up our heads, for our redemption draws nigh!"

May we have his blessing and his intercessions!

O Holy Father Seraphim, pray to God for us!