Fr. Seraphim Rose on the Canons

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

Concerning canons: This is a great stublimg block specifically for converts, for one thing because of the temptation to Phariseeism which we all have, and for another because the canons, representing the “law” of the Church, can only be understood and applied within the tradition of the Church and in the Spirit Who guides the Church. A large part of the Church’s tradition is “uncodified”, being contained in Lives of the Saints and patristic writings (to which there is no general index, thanks be to God — or else no convert would survive!), and part of the Church’s tradition is still unwritten. The canons are the most obvious part of the Church’s tradition, and therefore some converts experience shipwreck by jumping on them and trying to apply them without being aware of the whole tradition of which they are but one part.

The canons were made for man, and not man for the canons. Some canons simply cannot or should not, at certain times and circumstances, be applied with strictness; hence the Church’s “economy”. Also, as a rule, the application of the canons (and their “economy”) is the business of bishops, and they do as much as possible with mutual consultation. How much more, then, should the rest of us refrain from trusting our own judgment with regard to them? Some of them, to be sure, that concern us directly, we must know about and, if possible, being taught by or consulting with others wiser in the faith, must be prepared to defend — for example, the canons regarding common prayer with heretics, the trangressing of which involves a betrayal of the very idea of the Church of Christ. Other canons, such as the permissible age for ordination to diaconate or priesthood, do not involve any such betrayal and are none of our business, and if we were to start making bishops accountable (to ourselves!) for them it would be exactly the same as if the bishops were to start interfering in the home and job life of ordinary parishioners. In general, however, the canons are doubtless too much stressed in polemics, and if we are to remain in the Church in these difficult times it will be primarily because we are faithful to the Spirit of the Church, and not to the canons.

Concerning such subtler issues as obedience and authority in the Church: they are likewise “laws” that one must know how to apply within the Church’s tradition and Spirit. This really can’t be “argued”, as you attempt to do…(“Do we abandon the rules just because things get tough?” etc.); it can only be experienced and suffered through (if need be), with trust in God and consultation with elders in the Faith…

…Do not trust your mind too much; thinking must be refined by suffering, or it will not stand the test of these cruel times. I do not believe that the “logical” ones will be with Christ and His Church in the days coming upon us; there will be too many “reasons” against it, and those who trust in their own minds will talk themselves out of it. (Oct. 18/31, 1972 Letters From Father Seraphim)