Father Seraphim Rose on the Formation of Moral Imagination

Father Seraphim Rose
Father Seraphim Rose

Last night my wife and I finished listening to a talk given by Father Seraphim Rose (1934-1982) on the topic of developing an Orthodox worldview. (The talk is available on Youtube while a transcription is available HERE.) He spoke about the challenges facing Christian parents in today’s world. He gave the talk in the early eighties so some of the end-times stuff towards the end is a bit dated, but if anything the general problems he diagnosed have become even more acute since then, making his message all the more relevant.

One of the things I appreciated the most was Father Seraphim’s observation that the most effective way to fortify a child against what is base, trivial and decadent is to cultivate in the child’s soul a taste for the good, true and beautiful. That is a theme I have recently been hammering away at but Father Seraphim expressed much better than I could. As much as I have written against the tendency to treat the liberal arts as merely tools for useful ends (see here and here), it remains true that the liberal arts are very useful, not least in their ability to inculcate in a child a precognitive bias towards what is truly beautiful and good.

Enough from me. Here is what Father Seraphim had to say in the middle of his talk:

“Still, it is not necessary to view the world around us as all bad. In fact, for our survival as Orthodox Christians we have to be smart enough to use whatever is positive in the world for our own benefit. Here I will go into a few points where we can use something in the world which seems to have nothing to do directly with Orthodoxy in order to formulate our Orthodox world-view.

The child who has been exposed from his earliest years to good classical music, and has seen his soul being developed by it, will not be nearly as tempted by the crude rhythm and message of rock and other contemporary forms of pseudo-music as someone who has grown up without a musical education. Such a musical education, as several of the Optina elders have said, refines the soul and prepares it for the reception of spiritual impressions.

The child who has been educated in good literature, drama, and poetry and has felt their effect in his own soul—that is, has really enjoyed them—, will not easily become an addict of the contemporary movies and television programs and cheap novels that devastate the soul and take it away from the Christian path.

“The child who has learned to see beauty in classical painting and sculpture will not easily be drawn into the perversity of contemporary art or be attracted by the garish products of modern advertising and pornography.

The child who knows something of the history of the world, especially in Christian times, and how other people have lived and thought, what mistakes and pitfalls people have fallen into by departing from God and His commandments, and what glorious and influential lives they have lived when they were faithful to Him—will be discerning about the life and philosophy of our own times and will not be inclined to follow the first new philosophy or way of life he encounters. One of the basic problems facing the education of children today is that in the schools they are no longer given a sense of history. It is a dangerous and fatal thing to deprive a child of a sense of history. It means that he has no ability to take examples from the people who lived in the past. And actually, history constantly repeats itself. Once you see that, it becomes interesting how people have answered problems, how there have been people who have gone against God and what results came from that, and how people changed their lives and became exceptions and gave an example which is lived down to our own times. This sense of history is a very important thing which should be communicated to children.

“In general, the person who is well acquainted with the best products of secular culture—which in the West almost always has definite religious and Christian overtones—has a much better chance of leading a normal, fruitful Orthodox life than someone who knows only the popular culture of today. One who is converted to Orthodoxy straight from “rock” culture, and in general anyone who thinks he can combine Orthodoxy with that kind of culture—has much suffering to go through and a difficult road in life before he can become a truly serious Orthodox Christian who is capable of handing on his faith to others. Without this suffering, without this awareness, Orthodox parents will raise their children to be devoured by the contemporary world. The world’s best culture, properly received, refines and develops the soul; today’s popular culture cripples and deforms the soul and hinders it from having a full and normal response to the message of Orthodoxy.

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“Therefore, in our battle against the spirit of this world, we can use the best things the world has to offer in order to go beyond them; everything good in the world, if we are only wise enough to see it, points to God, and to Orthodoxy, and we have to make use of it.

Read all of Father Seraphim’s talk by clicking on the link below:

Living the Orthodox World-View

Further Reading

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