! For more details (bellow is the link to the frightening letter sent by priest Paul Sebbelov, from Constantinople, under archbishop Gabriel, the one who gave the Holy Chrismation to Serafim)
Fragment of a telephone interview with Serafim Larsen, a Danish Lutheran confessional, who came to know Orthodoxy through the divine miracle. Wanting to be baptized, he was struck by the prejudices of the ecumenical priests who only gave the Holy Chrismation to him. God did not leave him, so he arrived in Romania, where he was baptized at a hermitage in Arges.
Pr. Matei Vulcanescu: Mr. Serafim Larsen, how did you feel when you were excomunicated by the bishop Gabriel de Comane (from the Patriarchate of Constantinople) because you dared to violate the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to come to Orthodoxy only through Holy Chrismation, without Baptism?
Seraphim Larsen: In the water of baptism, I saw Christ who embraced me! Do you think I’m interested in the misery of people as long as Christ took me in his arms in the most real way during the Baptism officiated by Father hieromonk from the Romanian hermitage?
Father Matei Vulcanescu: Could you still go to your Church after you were cursed for baptism?
Serafim Larsen: I was no longer received in the Church that belonged to Metropolitan Gabriel de Comane but I went to the Church which belongs to the Patriarchate of Moscow, where I found a good spiritual father and since then I have been in this Church and I have fought with my sins.
Pr. Matei Vulcanescu: Thank you, Mr. Larsen!
I am going to answer three regarding my spiritual life as an orthodox christian:
- How did I become an orthodox christian believer?
- Why was I baptised as an orthodox christian?
- What was the significance of the orthodox baptism on my spiritual life ?
1. How did I become an orthodox christian believer?
Late spring 2004 I was going to decide where to spend my summer holiday, it was a tradition in my familiy, that we use to spend our summerholidays abroad somewhere in Europe. I was a litte bit indecisive on where to go that year, and I mentioned it to a friend and he said: I think that you are a person who is able to feel this, and when he said so I knew that I should go to Crete, I felt as a impulse in my body, that told me it would be the right choice.
My life situation overall in 2004 was at that time very difficult. I felt I was trapped. For more than 5 years I had not been able to enjoy my life, not even momentarily. I had lost my life even I was alive. For many years I had been playing a game, that little by little took control of me, and I was not aware of its seriousness until one day I realized it was too late. I felt I had been possesed and I knew it was very serious, not something I could go to the doctor and to ask him to remove. Since then the only aim of my life became to find back to the life I felt I had lost.
In the years that passed afterwards I was seeking for ways that could help me to get out of this situation, most important I meet with a clairvoiant healer, who worked with body mind /psychosomatic tools. The purpose working with her, was to learn to regain the sense of natural psychological borders which she explained had been spoilt since my very early childhood. I gained a lot of experience from this work, and It became an eye opener and made me aware about certain aspects in my life, I would not have known about otherwise. However I decided to end it after about 2 years, because I was not able to progress further with myself . The very moment I felt I was recovering, I would fall back to my old passions and I would be trapped again. My situation overall had become more serious, I was no more able to receive comfort, from another human being. I felt I was totally on my own.
I mentioned to my friend about my situation, having left my last ”anchor”, I told him that it was my feeling that the only thing or person I imagined could help me out of my situation, would be from a person who had more than human powers or supernatural powers.
Before going to Crete I read about the Island and it´s long history and I became fascinated about the time during the Venetian Occupation in the 16`th century. I always adored the Italian kind of life style, I felt I could connect to it very much, I liked the language, the expressiveness of the people and the beautiful country. At that time there was a broadcast series about people who were hypnotized, describing past life experiences in detail, where they had been living, the name of city,- street and so on. It all appeared very truthful on the television. I believed also in the reincarnation of the soul and It made me think I could possibly have lived on Crete in a past life, it could explain the feeling and the impulse in the body of mine.
One day before flying to Crete ,and for a very short moment I had the feeling that the earth and sky became one, everything was in harmony and peaceful, I took this as a sign that a change for the better would soon appear.
From the windows of the plane just before landing on Crete, I watched the cretan landscapes and tears came to my eyes, I felt I was comming home. As soon I was able to I went into the Capital town of the Island . I became touched in my heart, by the city´s atmospere and it`s well kept middleage town, and started walking around the city to look for past life experiences.
For some reason, I felt attracted also to go and visit the many and various churches , monasteries and caves where people had spend a life in solitary. When entering the Churches, I felt protected emotionally, a comfort I could not receive from a human being, and often I spend my time practicing a Buddhist Meditation practise ;Vipassana means to learn to see things as they truly appear. I recall an experience when sitting in a cave, with my eyes closed, I suddenly begin to see Christian crosses appear in my mind, the one cross after the other, simple crosses, detailed crosses, each of them different but of them were beautiful. Upon leaving the cave, I discover a stone, where people have been making the sign of the cross upon it. I began to think about the sign as a universal sign, and what was the symbolic meaning of the sign of the cross?
And I had other such unusual experiences.
One afternoon when lying down in the sand on the beach and just before falling asleep, a very beautiful golden bracelet with dark red pearls appeared in my mind, it looked like an antique treasure, laying hidden somewhere on the Island, and possible to be found. I always had this day dream to find a treasure, that would make me economic independent. From the outlook of the landscape, it was hidden, in a area where the landscape was barren and and with hills in succession.
Some days before the end of the holiday, I went to visit an older Monastery Called Moni Gonia, not far situated from here is the Center of Chania. The monastery dates back to the 16`century. It´s architecture is very simple that witnesses on the venetian occupation time, it is very beautiful situated on a hill near to the coast, and where the landscape barren!. I was touched by the atmosphere at this place and I recall from sitting doing meditation in one of the side rooms to the church, now I see more clearly the outlook of the landscape where the tresure is hidden, I see a coast line, sand and dark blue water. Before my exit I passed by a small shop, selling church ”souvenirs”, and I decided to buy one small church souvenir, an icon with a stamp on its backside written on it:” Holy icon. Copy of authentic byzantine art”. The icon picture The mother of God with the child. I later found out that the Icon is called:”Hope of the dispaired”. The colours on the Icon is almost similar to the colours on the golden bracelet, the treasure that had appeared to me.
I returned to the Hotel later on that afternoon and placed the icon next to my bed, then in the evening at about 12 pm I was taking up my Meditation . I had sat down on the floor for about 5 minutes, when something unexpected happened, the smell of incense came into the room, like the one from the church, and I felt there was a presence from the other world, it seemed far away but it also seemed very close. I got a feeling of the most beautiful place one can imagine, a place I had longed for always, and my first thought was; someone is watching me,- knows me and wants do me good, and after I thought, this means that Christianity is the truth, something I had never considered or believed to be true before, now within a few seconds, I was absolutely convinced that Christianity is the truth. From that day on a new perspective came to my life, and it gave me belief , that It would be possible to get out of my misery. How and in which way, I did not know and I did not think about either but I allowed myself instead to enjoy the rest of my holiday with hope for the future.
A small leaflet from the Monastery Moni Gonia tells about the guide called ” Lady of Gonia”. Although I have never been investigating it, I am convinced that the Lady of Gonia it refers to the Mother of God, that somehow confirms my experience of her presence at this Monastery.
When I returned home, I began to searched the internet for the meaning of the two words”Holy and Icons” which lead me to Orthodox Christianity. At that time I knew just a little about Roman catholicism, and Protestantism I knew from the school classes, but I had never heard about Orthodoxy. I started to read different topics on orthodoxy;- Church History, the apostolic succesion in the Orthodox Church, the division of the One Holy and Apostolic Church in 1084 an article about the healing of the body and soul through living and the practise of the orthodox faith.
Often I had the experience I was guided by words or through pictures in my mind that made me take further steps, I would not otherwise have considered. I began to read the orthodox prayers. The kind of submissiveness it was something I had to get used to, also it took me time to see that Jesus Christ is God, I had always understood He was the son of God, but like a human being , not as God himself in a humans body . I began to take up practicing fasting also, on Wednesday and Fridays, not strictly but with a dedication to follow it the best I could. I got to know about a local orthodox perish dedicated to the Mother of God and I called up the priest, told him about my experience on Crete, and he invited me to visit the Church on a Sunday morning , he also let me understand that orthodoxy is not about a romantic dream, that one could get from having a summer holiday experience! Some time passed until I took the decision to visit the church
The Church was situated some 150 km distance away from my home, for the same reason I did not succeed to frequent it as often as I would have liked to, but from the beginning I felt well received in the perish and the Priest recommended me to read the The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware, as an introduction to the faith.
In the spring 2005 I was thinking about summer holidays , but I decided not to give it more thoughts, until one friday evening, before going to sleep the word Rumania appeared to me. I decided to visit Rumania that Summer. It was my first visit to the Eastern part of Europe. I planned for a 2 two weeks stay.
My first impression after landing in the rural situated airport, was that I had comed to another world. I felt an remarkable peace, everything seemed so quiet .The material condition of life on the opposite, I almost could not believe, in the village the people seemed to be living from keeping a small garden in the backyard or having some few animals. On the roads one would see horse wagons and in the fields people would still be working with their hand tools. Houses along the streets were worn out and falling apart, streets seemed empty except for children playing . Everything reminded me of what could have been a scenery from a western European village in the 19´th century .
On the Sunday morning I decided to find the local Orthodox Church, only a few participators there, the priest was a young man but very dedicated to his service impressed, he acted like an adult and it impressed me .Later on that week, I got to meet with he and his wife, in all their poverty, it seemed as if Jesus Christ was present in their lives , in a hidden way.
For the second week I decided to hire a car, I had planned for a weeks stay in Moldavia, and more than one time I had experienced how impossible it was to get around in the country. Moldavia I had read about, and I knew this was the place where Orthodox Monasticism flourished. On my way, I passed through the beautiful Carpathian Mountains. It was a Sunday morning and I stopped by for the Sunday Liturgy another time. I recall when the Priest he was reading from the Gospel, pronouncing each of the words, I felt it as if God was speaking through him.
Later on the afternoon, I came to visit the Monastery; the Monastery of Pangarati and I was greeted by an enormous peace and stillness even before entering the Monastic area. I spend my entire holiday, going from one Monastery to the next, and I could feel each of the time this peace and stillness nurturing my body and soul. My trip ended in Bucovina, the upper part of Moladavia, which is reknown for its richly painted Monasteries. peace and stillness nurturing mym
I became one of conclusion after end of the trip to Moldavia, that Europe had its own Tibet, hidden, and with the Christian sign of the cross.
Back home I continued to participate in the local perish. I told about my experiences in Romania about the Monastic life and the peace I had felt and the whole tradition that seemed so alive up to this day.
In the beginning of 2006 our priest told me to get ready for my orthodox christening. I had a meeting with him at his home, talking about different topics related to the Church; the differences between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic. He described the Church as the body of Christ, with Christ as the head of the body and we members of the Church as parts of his body. At that time I did not really comprehend the true meaning behind these explanations . My intellectual understanding of the orthodox faith, was limited, I knew the Way by Kallistos Ware and had also bought the Orthodox Church by John Meyendorff. But I prefered to read from the descriptions of the Lives of the Saints , I simply found it more interesting and inspiring to read, and it was more easy to relate it to the experiences I had on Crete and in Romania. This was about living the faith
After this meeting, I took the final step to leave the Lutheran Church. I also had to choose a new name that would connect me to the Orthodox Church, the Father advised to chose the name John (Saint John Chrysostom) which was already my name in my native language. However it happend some few weeks before my christening, one morning the name Serafim came to me, I started to read about the Russian, Saint Serafim of Sarov and and when reading about him, how he was saved by the Mother of God in his Childhood, I took it as a message and decided to take my name from him.
The week before my Christening, I prepared by fasting and by writing down my first confession. I was looking forward with great excitement and also hoping for a bigger change to occur in regard to the emotional and bodily distress I suffered from.
Everything related to my Christening all went quite smooth. I did not feel a bigger change, as the one I had been looking forward to. How I was content that now I could consider myself to be an orthodox christian because it made me able to receive the Holy Communion, as I could understand from the members in the perish, here was all the difference between now and before, that I had become a member of the Church that allowed me to receive the Holy Communion
Why was I baptised as a orthodox christian?
My Christmation took place just before the beginning of the summer holidays and I was planning for another trip to Rumania, with the wish to stay at a Monastery for a longer duration of time. I talked to a member of the Perish, who knew about a father in Bucharest, a very good friend of his, whom he would ask if he could help to arrange for a stay. I also got a letter from my father in the perish, which in english and french confirmed my orthodoxy in case I would need it to be able to receive the Holy Communion.
Before leaving I felt a little insecure, going to another place, not knowing anybody, but it was the same feeling I had esperienced in the last two years before leaving, so actually I could look upon this as something good was about to happen.
I arrived in Bucharest on a Saturday afternoon and stayed overnight before I was meeting a sister who would take me to the Sunday Lithurgy to the father who had offered his help. The Lithurgy was going to be celebrated at a Military Hospital in the middle of Bucharest.
It happend that we arrived early before the Lithurgy started. The father told me that I was late on time, but he assured me that by our prayers to God we would receive the help and find the solution that we needed. It was the first time, I had experienced such a steadfast belief in God. After the homily, he told the perish about my wish to stay at a monastery, and we started praying. The time passed and I was told that a stay could be arranged at a Monastery in Moldavia. However it was my feeling that this would not be the right choice, I tried to communicate to him about Valachia and the city of Arges, because these were words that came repeting itself in my mind before taking off to Bucharest. Quite soon after a solution appeared, two younger couples were planning a trip to a small village near Arges. They knew a Hieromonk and two younger munks living together in a Skete, and they offered me to take me up there by car.
Overnight we stayed in a small hut in the village, where the Skete was situated on a top of the hill. Before climbing the hill in the morning, I began to feel nervousness and almost regretting that I had taken my decision so far, however it soon passed, and having climbed the hill we entered the Skete and went to the church, where two monks were sitting reading from the Psalms by King David. I had fortune, because one of the two monks was able to communicate very well in english, in the meantime we spend some hours speaking together waiting for the Father Igumen to show up. My impression when I first saw him, was his human dignity respect, and he seemed to have a love towards the people in generel. It made me feel like I was a at home. He told that I could stay at the Monastery as I wished under the condition that I followed some few basic rules ; one of which was to participate during the morning and evening prayers in the Church. Alse he offered me to stay the guest house, so that I had a place for my privacy.
A few days passed, I was attending the Church services, communicating with the fathers , telling about my country at home and they were telling me about Rumania, we were sharing lunch and dinner together and little by little getting to know each other better. One afternoon I began to tell, about my inner motives for choosing to spend my time at a monastery in Rumania, I told them also about the words I had received ”Valachia” and ”Arges” leading me to their Skete, in such a way that the Hieromonk began to listen. I felt a great need to be able to open my heart to somebody I knew would listen and would be able to understand.
The father hereafter received my complete confession, it lasted for several hours, I felt comfort and he assured me, there was absolutely nothing for me to worry about ”God loves you very much” he said, it was a kind of comfort and understanding I had been serching after in in a long time. It was like being treated by a doctor for the soul. Connected to my confession the father he also asked me questions about my Christening at home, how did it pass? I was not able to explain to him in detail but he asked he if I had been baptised, to which I could say no, so by our mutual explanations, he realised that I had been receiving the Holy anoitment.
A few more days passed, until one evening I was told by the munk that the Father had decided he was going to baptise me as an orthodox christian on the first comming Sunday. Even I did not fully understand what this actually would meant, I trusted completely that it would be for my own good, I felt safe in their hands.
On the Friday we went together the three of us, to one of the neighbouring towns, to buy a large basin for the purpose of the baptise. The fathers showed such a dedication and love towards all the things connected hereto that I could not otherwise but feel that I was in the best hands!
However the very night before the baptise, on the Saturday evening, thoughts started to occur in my mind: You don´t need this baptise ,you know already very well how you to cure your own life, it is really no big deal , you might as well leave tomorrow and just go to enjoy the remaining days of your holiday.
It was now Sunday, and the weather was bright with sunshine, a whole community was gathered and I was feeling a bit intimadated by this whole situation, as the only foreigner among local rumanians with the attention from this entire community. The preparation prayers for the baptise took on, in english I was also asked to read aloud from the prayers, everything had been prepared and organised in detail by the fathers. The time had come to enter the water basin and to be put three times under the water. After the first time I did not notice any difference, but during the second time within an instant of time everything changed. While under the water, an Icon of Jesus Christ appeared for my inner eyes like a reflection in the water, and when standing upraised again my feeling in body and soul was that of being the son of a King, a feeling of the Christ resurrected. ” I felt new life, vital, confident and powerful and cleansed like a baby in contrast to all the weaknes sI had been feeling some few moments before. Within these seconds of time I also experieinced how Jesus Christ manifested himself as the ruler of the entire universe, showing me his power not of this world but from beyond of this world. Many of the participants who had been watching this change, afterwards came came to me with their congratulations , taking photoes and just sharing the joy that had embraced the whole community.
After the baptise I stayed another couple of days with the fathers, receiving instructions on how to get accustomed to live my new life as an orthodox christian, I received litteratures in english for my home studies , Cd´s with lithurgies to listen to and beside they showed their love by helping to organise the remaining days of my holiday.
When I came home, I was meeting a brother from the perish, a foreigner with whom I had a good connection, when he first saw me he said to me; ” you really look nice rested and peaceful” . We decided to go together to the perish for the Saturdays vespers later in the afternoon, where I also told about my experience to my God father from the anoitment, how I had perceived the change and miracle after my baptise and I how felt the difference compared to the Holy anoitment. Even though he seemed curious, he advised me to tell it to our father and and also he let me km now that could bring me into troubles.
I gave him my entire explanation when he finanlly asked me whether I had been re-baptised, confirming to him , he then got furious and told me because of this for the time, he could no longer allow me to enter his Church to receive the Holy Communion .
Some days later I received an email from him, explaining in details, the reason for his decision to dismiss me from his Perish. He stated that by my decision I had ignored and dumped the three Holy acts by his receivement: the Holy confession, the Holy anoitment and the Holy communion. He explained furher that it was important that I understood the implication of my act, and that a great part of it was to be blaimed the Priest in Rumania who had committed a serious sinn, ingoring the Holy Mysteries by a lawful ordinated orthodox Priest. Therefore he had decided to put my case in front of the dean and the archbishop of our diocese for their further evaluation.
Some months later the Fathers wrote me an email that they had been asked by their bishop in Arges to give him their explanation for the decision to rebaptise me, and they asked me to make a short explanation of how I had felt the change before and after the baptise?.It was serious because they had demanded him removed in his ministy.
My Churhc life after the dismissal meant I now had to seek for a new perish, my decision was clear, although I could understand that my father in the Christmation could have had feelings of injured pride, not being part of the decision to re baptise me , I knew with my self that my Father of the baptise with his decision, had been acting by the will of God, nothing else could not explain the miracle I had encountered . I had tried to communicate it to him, but it did not seem to interest him, he mostly seemed interessted in following the Church rules as he understood and how he had been taught, my personal experience he did not listen to, therefore I saw no meaning in trying to stay at his at his perish, even I it was a sad outcome.
My church life since then has been with the Russian Church belonging to Moscow as well as the Russian Church outside of Russia. Looking for a new perish I soon discovered that next to my door a Russian Monastery where a small community were organising Lithurgies. And by the time I also got in contact with a perish celebrating Lithurgies in my native language. So I am having two communites which I belong to, altough in a spiritual sense I feel connected mostly to the perish to where I am living. Here is the Father with whom I share most of my confessions, he knows me very well, and from the beginning I could see how serious he took everything connected to his ministry, although the language barriere means that I also miss some learnings and teachings that I wished I had been able to understand. Participating with the Russians has also brought me abroad to visit Russia, on summer travels, and I have been twice visiting and stayed for several days at the Monastery of Valaam as a pilgrim. Some unforgettable experiences both in terms of the naturel settings, the peace I encountered there as well the gains receiving spiritually, by attending these services from early on in the mornings. Also it has brought me to some understanding of the Russian people and its culture, a nation where it seems like the tradition of the orthodox faith and the sharing of love is key to a understand the soul of the russian nation.
What was the significance of the orthodox baptise on my spiritual life?
To finalise, I want to explain the significance on my spiritual life after I became re baptised? Since the time I learned the Truth about Christianity and got to know about orthodoxy, it became my goal to become an orthodox christian, this was what I wanted to become, even I did not know or understand what it meant. But my searching it stopped after I became orthodox baptised christian. The time in between I had been reading about the faith, attending church services regulary on a monthly basis as a catachumen , I had travelled in Rumania and experienced that smell of orthodoxy that had brought me to faith while on Crete, and I finally I had been received in the Orthodox Church by the Holy anointment, allowing me now to consider myself as an orthodox christian, in spite of that , the anoitment did not bring me a feeling and understanding that I had become an orthodox. The understanding and knowledge it first followed after I became re-baptised . Here are some short explanation how I feel this change in practising my spiritual life:
Spending my time as an orthodox as for an example when reading in the new testament I noticed right from the beginning a difference in the way I was now feeling life energy from reading in the Holy Scriptures. In fact I feel the presence of God in his Holy spirit and this feeling of renewel in body and soul from the moment I start reading, similar to the feeling of renewal after my re baptise, it is the feeling of being in communion with God and his Holy Spirit. Whenever I feel it is needed, if being tired after a days hard work, or if I am feeling negativity or am darkend in my mind by passions, I know I can always find ways of relief by reading in the Holy Scriptures.
Another example is the new understanding I gained through the baptise, when reading the new testament I am now able to understand passages that before didn´t make any sense to me, as if my spiritual eyes has been opened by the re baptise, as for example when St. Paul Ga. Kap 2: 20. ”I have been crucified by Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me”. Now I can understand the meaning behind these words by St. Pauls in relating to the experiences I get from my own life. Whenever I choose to spend my sparetime idle as for example when reading the sportsmagazines, surfing on the internet, listening to the radio, watching the television I am always left with the feeling of emptiness, the feeling of having wasted my time, with the result of exhaustion and lack of energy . As an orthodox Christian I experience, that I do not anymore have a place I can ”escape” where I can put my soul to find peace or relaxation, except when I seek my life in Christ. Whenever I choose to do otherwise my own ”drunkenness” is being disclosed.
I also realised the truth behind the words by Jesus Christ, where ever more than one of you are gathered I am with you. This spendingmy time together with brothers or sisters in Christ, I feel it brings me meaningfulness, it brings me the feeling of life and joy, of being build up on new in te body of Christ. On the opposite I also encountered how difficult it can be also to spend my time with people outside of the Church, even they are people that I love very much, it is the feeling of being divided compared to the feeling of oneness when I am with brothers and sister in the Church.
Serafim Jens Christian Larsen
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