Several days later, after my breakfast with Amelia, I made an appointment to see Father Seraphim again. The first time we spoke, he had mentioned meeting Josh when he was in prison, and I hoped to learn more about that time in his life.
I pulled up to the old, beautiful church in the late afternoon. It was mid-week, and Father Seraphim had been hearing Confessions; the last one of the day was just wrapping up as I entered the building and stood waiting under the large dome of Christ. Near the front of the church, just in front of the iconostasis screen—which separates the sanctuary and the altar—two men stood before a small stand, upon which was an icon of Jesus. I watched as one man knelt and bowed his head; and it appeared then that Father Seraphim said a blessing over this man. After this was done the two stood talking for a few minutes before turning and walking towards me. Father Seraphim belted out a greeting as he approached, and I was startled to suddenly recognize Father Davidson as he passed me, on his way out of the church. It was strange that I hadn’t realized it was him who had been giving his confession, but the light was dim, and I hadn’t expected to see him here.
He smiled as he walked past; and I felt glad to see him but also sheepish, since I was here to talk about him. I felt as though I had been caught red-handed, and I began to reconsider my mission here, now that the object of my inquiry had just looked me square in the eyes, seeming to know my innermost thoughts and motives. I felt exposed, and I questioned myself: was it ethical to inquire about another person in this way, or in the end is it all simply gossip?
As Father Davidson left the church building, Father Seraphim assured me, seeming to have read my mind, “Your friend apparently anticipated your visit today; and he told me you’d have some questions about his past.”
“Oh?!” I responded, feeling embarrassed, and even more exposed now.
“Relax!” Father Seraphim laughed. “Be at peace. It’s fine…he wants you to know his past. It’s interesting actually…you may find this interesting, I did…he said, and I’m quoting, ‘that you need to know’…so, what is it that you need to know about him?”
This took me off guard, and I felt a little defensive. “I don’t think I need to know anything,” I replied peevishly, “It’s not a compulsion or anything. I can’t imagine what the need would be.”
“Ha!” Father Seraphim laughed heartily; and I became annoyed. “Maybe it isn’t you that need it, maybe he needs it…or maybe the universe needs it, as people like to say…or others need to know, those whom you will tell his story to in the future, maybe you need to know…for them.”
I felt my defenses lower as he said this, and my embarrassment subsided—replaced by a new sense of purpose and importance. I answered, “Well…I do think his story is worth telling.”
“There we have it then! Let’s talk! Shall we take a walk outside? I’ve been cooped up inside here and need some fresh air anyway…and I’d like to check in with the tenants!” Father Seraphim said jovially as he ushered me out a side door. We crossed the parking lot and entered the church cemetery as my eyes adjusted to the bright light.
As we made our way between two rows of headstones, Father Seraphim quipped, “They’re always late with the rent, but we let them stay…we don’t evict anyone! In fact, their rent’s already been paid…for eternity!…They’ve got a good deal!” After a short belly laugh, he turned more serious, and stated dryly, “…death was a big topic between Josh and I, when we first met…while he was in prison. He said he felt as though he had already died, in a sense…sitting in his cell alone, away from his family, and his friends. That was a big transition for him.”
“It must have been horrible.”
“Not sure. He has always had a way of rolling with the punches, Josh has. I don’t think he liked it…no, but he learned from it. And when he said he felt as though he had already died…he didn’t mean that necessarily in a bad way either. He was very insightful for his age…at first he felt sad, but then he felt liberated…that’s what he said…and isn’t that perfectly paradoxical?…that he found freedom, while locked away in a prison cell? When he told me that, I thought to myself…now, here is a young man made for the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox way…willing and able to recognize life’s paradoxes, and to live his life square in the midst of them…not over-simplifying in one direction or its opposite!”
“That’s not always easy to do,” I agreed.
“I believe that it takes humility! In an ultimate sense…great humility…to face the unexpected and the unknown…and to say with your entire being in that moment, as you realize…I didn’t know…I don’t know!…Yes, that’s when the real discoveries are made!” Father Seraphim declared triumphantly, before continuing, “Is there anything more shameful to the mind of man, than to admit that it doesn’t know?!…But Josh didn’t have to know, doesn’t have to know…and that has always been his glory…his perfection, I believe…he embraces this death in every moment…he allows himself to die, in a sense…he allows his pride, his vanity, his idea of himself to die in every moment…so that he can live!” Father Seraphim looked around himself, and gestured towards several of the tombs, and continued, “What secrets do they now know?! We don’t really know! But they gave themselves in death…they relinquished control and authority over themselves…we know that for certain…like Jesus Christ, they gave up their will to the will of God…when they died…and what a perfect death is the death to one’s own will, and the relinquishing of one’s life to the will of God! Some wait until the end of their life to do this…while others, like Josh, learn to do it along the way.”
* * *