Monk signs copies of his book
Foreshadowings of Christ in the writing of a sixth century BC Chinese philosopher is the topic of Christ the Eternal Tao, authored by Father Damascene Christensen, an Eastern Orthodox monk, prolific writer and lecturer.
Father Damascene, who signed copies of his book at Monk’s rock after a lecture Tuesday evening, is part of the St. Herman Brotherhood which operates Monk’s Rock, St. Innocent’s Academy and monasteries on Spruce and Nelson Islands.
Tao (the pronunciation resembles the sound for ”Dow”) is an ancient Chinese name for the Creator of the universe. The concept of Tao was expounded in the Tao The Ching, written by Lao Tzu, who lived in China in the sixth century BC.
Lao Tzu conceived that the Tao ”was supremely humble; never seeking anything for Himself. He only gives, He doesn’t take,” Father Damascene said, explaining that Lao Tzu’s writings were a foreshadowing of Christ.
”When Christ came, He came in humility, as a child in a manger. He lived a life of humility and died on a cross,” which was the most humiliating type of execution that the Romans could devise, Fr. Damascene said.
The Tao The Ching is popular today, and many of its followers are ”people who were raised in Christian homes, but were turned off by organized religion,” Fr. Damascene said.
”There is something in Lao Tzu’s writings that is pure and primordial and at the same time it resonates with the truth they learned in their Christian upbringing.”
Lao Tzu was a man ”who sought to rise above … his emotions, thoughts and desires, to find the truth,” Father Damascene said.
”So he entered into himself, his spirit, and there he intuited this presence of God and who God is. But he speaks very tentatively in his writings. He did not have the fullness revealed to him; he didn’t have Divine revelation.”
Father Damascene said his book, Christ the Eternal Tao ”gives people a way to Christ so they can find the pristine image of Christ that was foreshadowed by Lao Tzu and manifested in its fullness in Orthodox Christianity, which is the most ancient and pure expression of the revelation of Christ.
I’m writing this book for people like I was,” he said.
While in high school and college, Fr. Damascene went through a spiritual search of many of the world’s religions, including philosophical taoism.
”I was raised in a nominal Christian home. My best experiences of Christianity were at a YMCA camp, during the days of the Jesus Movement. There were young men and women then who were on fire for Christ; they loved Christ and wanted to serve Him. They were really dedicated people. They had that youthful zeal that attracted me.
”Then I would go back to the churches, but I didn’t find spiritual nourishment there. I didn’t find a depth of spiritual life there, and that’s why I started looking elsewhere.”
Father Damascene said his search ended when he discovered Orthodoxy.
”I found it to be the most ancient, pure, profound and deep expression of Christianity, ” he said.
Father Damascene credits his spiritual father, the late Father Seraphim Rose, for opening his understanding of Orthodoxy.
He was a man ”that I could trust. Here was a man who had died to himself, who had given himself totally over to God.”
Father Seraphim was cofounder of St. Herman’s Brotherhood, which came to Alaska in 1983, a year after his death, and he authored several books including Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future.
”He’s significant because he’s an American convert who came out of a typical American middle-class, white Protestant background,” Fr. Damascene said.
”He went through the whole counterculture movement back in the 1950s; the Bohemian movement; and went through the whole spiritual search that began in the ’50s and mushroomed in the ’60s which involved Buddhism, eastern religions, and the nihilistic movement, which has become so popular in modern times.
”Nihilism means there in no truth, no God. It’s the darkness of our times. It was already beginning to show itself back in the ’50s.
”Father Seraphim penetrated the essence of his time, then broke out of his time and discovered Orthodox Christianity when very few people were becoming converts to Orthodoxy,” Fr. Damascene said.
”He went into the very heart of it … behind the externals and found the heart of ancient Christianity. He dedicated his whole life to it, to making it known and accessible and applying ancient Christianity to our modern issues,” Fr. Damascene said.
”Since his death, by far Fr. Seraphim is the most popular contemporary religious writer in Russia,” Fr. Damascene said. ….[text lost in transmission] ”them know about Seraphim Rose. He’s loved through his writings.”
He’s also known through his sprawling biography, Not of This World, written by Fr. Damascene. The book has been translated into Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Italian and Greek.
Like his spiritual father, Fr. Damascene was convinced that the best way to serve God was to become a monk.
”Over the course of years, it became clear to me that this is where God wanted me to be. He did not want me to be anywhere else. He wanted me to serve Him in that capacity, so I took those monastic vows, which basically means dedicating one’s entire life to god. It’s a marriage to God — and you can’t get divorced.”
Father Damascene is also following in his spiritual father’s footsteps by seeking to ignite the light of Orthodox Christianity during these ”dark times,” as he calls them.
”The main challenge is to go beyond the externals of Orthodoxy .. and to see the spirituality behind them.
”In Orthodoxy we see the very essence of Christianity, which is salvation through Jesus Christ, and bearing our cross and following Christ. It’s bound up with redemptive suffering, which means we’re willing to bear suffering in this life for Christ’s sake, and in that to be purified and redeemed, because Christ told us `If any one will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me,”’ Father Damascene said.
He is currently working on a commentary on Genesis, which was initiated by Fr. Rose who died before he completed the book.