Serafim Slobodskoy

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Fr. Serafim Alexivich Slobodskoy was born on September 11th, 1912 in Chernstovka in the Penzen oblast where his father served as rector of the parish church. Growing up in the Church, Serafim served as an altar boy as well as becoming an expert in the art of bell rining With the advent of Bolshevek rule, the family experienced persecution. Father Alexi, Seraphim’s father, was forced to go into hiding, serving the spiritual needs of his parishioners from the homes of the peasants who his him. Eventually Father Alexi moved to the town of Petushka in the Vladimirska provoince until he was exiled without right of correspondence. He is believed to have died in the Gulags, one of the many neo-martyrs under the communist regime.

Because his father was a priest and he himself was faithful to the Orthodox faith, Serafim was denied the privilege of a higher education. Nevertheless, upon graduating from middle school he was allowed to train as an artist (painter). With the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in 1939 he entered the military. Sent to the front, he was captured and sent to a German P.O.W. camp where he spent the rest of the war. It was while in this P.O.W. camp that Seraphim began to dream of building a church should God preserve him. Although he was supposed to be repatriated to the Soviet Union, he managed to avoid returning to Russia and ended up living in Munich. There he met Princess Elena Alexeevna Lopukhina, who became his wife. While in Munich he organized a youth group devoted to discussing religion and philosophy from an Orthodox perspective. The popularity of this group led to Archbishop Benedict (Bobkovsky) of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia to encourage him to consider ordination. After prayerful thought, Father Serafim was ordained by the Archbishop on April 22nd, 1951.

Shortly after his ordination, Father Seraphim was sent to the United States to serve as the second priest at Holy Fathers Church in New York City. A short while later he was transferred to Holy Protection Community in Nyack, a suburb of New York.

It was here that Father Seraphim was to fulfill his wartime dream of building a church both physically and spiritually. Physically, Fr Seraphim joined his parishioners in working on the construction, laying cement blocks, hauling wheelbarrows, etc. More importantly, he devoted his time and energy to nurturing the spiritual needs of his parishioners and the community, especially among the youth.

A zealous pastor, Fr Seraphim rarely took a vacation and when he did, he was not idle but worked towards educating youth as the spiritual father of Camp NORR. As the parish grew, he and Matuska Elena developed a parochial school to educate the children and youth as Orthodox Christians and Russian Americans. Probably the most significant of his endeavors, however, was the writing of his catechetical work Zakon Bozhij (Закон Божий = The Law of God). Working late at night, he described the faith of the Orthodox Church with simple and profoundly lucid explanations. Published in 1966, this was, and remains, an influential catechetical text for Russians both abroad and in the Soviet Union where numerous copies were smuggled and copied by hand. Intended originally for youth and children, it became a respected work among adults as well, and was finally translated into English in 1992. According to Patriarch Alexi II of Moscow, “the legacy created in the Diaspora was republished in Russia in enormous editions—Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy's "Law of God" alone, for instance, is used by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children in Sunday schools, while teenagers use this book to prepare for seminary.” Many believe that it is one of the finest simple overviews of the Orthodox faith written in modern times. For his work in producing this book, Father Serafim was awarded a gold pectoral cross. Elevated to the rank of protopriest, he also received the kamilavka for his pastoral work, a palitsa for 20 years service as a priest.

Constant exertion in the service of his parishioners undercut the strength of Father Serafim, and in 1971, at the age of 59, he reposed.

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