03 May 2010

On Hieromonk Clement (Sederholm)

A recent comment on this post, by ‘a Lutheran (conservative Missouri Synod-type) with many years’ interest in Orthodoxy’, suggested the idea of a little post on Hieromonk Clement (Sederholm) (1830-1878), the 19th-c. Lutheran convert to Orthodoxy, monk of Optina, and biographer of the first two Optina Elders, Ss Leonid and Anthony. I don’t have a lot to offer, but I know of passages on Fr Clement in two of my books—Leonard Stanton’s The Optina Pustyn Monastery in the Russian Literary Imagination and Fr Sergius Chetverikov’s Life of the Optina Elder, St Ambrose. First, here is the passage from Fr Chetverikov:

As if to strengthen the physically infirm Elder, the Lord sent him right at that time several active and devoted assistants. In 1863 Constantine Karlovich Sederholm became numbered among the skete brethren. He was the son of the senior pastor of a Protestant [Lutheran] church in Moscow, a man with a university education and a friend of T.I. Philipov and the poet B.N. Almazov, a master of the Greek language and literature, who had at one time been an attache for the Over-Procurator of the Holy Synod, Count Alexei P. Tolstoy. He had travelled to the East and was well acquainted with the condition of the churches in the Middle East, and had been converted from Protestantism to Orthodoxy ten years before in that very Skete by Elder Macarius. He was a deeply religious man and devoted to Orthodoxy, which he had felt drawn to from his very childhood.

When he joined the Skete, Sederholm became one of Elder Ambrose’s closest disciples. He helped him with his voluminous correspondence, as well as the publication of books that continued during Fr Ambrose’s time as it had been in Fr Macarius’ time.

In monasticism Sederholm received the name Clement, and, having lived for fifteen years in the skete, he died of pneumonia in 1878. (His biography was written by Constantine N. Leontiev and entitled: Fr Clement Sederholm, a Hieromonk of Optina Monastery (Moscow, 1882), and published by the Kazan-Ambrose Shamordino Convent.) [1]

Here is what Stanton has to say about Fr Clement (it looks like he has confused the father’s name with that of his son):

The author [of the Life of Elder Leonid of Optina], Karl (later Father Kliment) Zedergol’m, died in 1878, before Dostoevsky’s last visit to Optina. Zedergol’m was a cantakerous man of great culture and learning. He was at home both in a monastic setting and in the inner circles of Russia’s literary beau monde. He graduated in classics from Moscow University in 1853, having written a master’s thesis on Cato the Elder that [Constantine] Leont’ev, his biographer, called both stimulating and controversial. In the same year, Zedergol’m converted from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy. (His father was the head Lutheran pastor in Moscow at the time.) Zedergol’m was at home in the brilliant Moscow salons, particularly Mrs Elagin’s with its erudite ferment of German Romantic thought and Slavophilism. He was a protégé of Ivan Vasil'evich Kireevskii, Russia’s first original philosopher, and counted among the friends of his youth some of the leading lights of the Moscow literary intelligentsia, including Tertii Filippov and the ‘young editors’ of The Muscovite. After a brief career as a layman working in the Holy Synod, Zedergol’m entered Optina Pustyn in 1862 and soon became a monk and a priest as well. He was never himself an elder, nor was he possessed of a sufficiently irenic disposition ever to have been considered for elderhood. He devoted himself to literary endeavors at Optina, as a translator of spiritual works from Latin and Greek into Russian, as the author of the elders’ biographies, and as secretary to Elder Amvrosii. [2]

In this post, Christopher Orr discusses a recent book on Fr Clement which contains Leontiev’s biography, eliciting in the comments an impromptu translation of the opening paragraphs, rendered by one John Hogg. Here is Hogg’s translation:

Father Clement Sederholm, Hieromonk of the Optina Hermitage

Constantine Leontyev


In the spring of 1878, in April, Hieromonk Clement, in the world Constantine Karlovich Sederholm, passed away from inflammation of the lungs. He was not yet fifty years old.

Fr Clement was neither an eloquent preacher nor did he have the exterior appearance of a bodily ascetic that would capture the imagination. He was also not one of the famous spiritual fathers or elders whose spiritual guidance and advice is sought not only by monks but also by laypeople of all conditions and ages. He didn’t live long enough to occupy an administrative position. He had only just been made the abbot of one of the monasteries of the Kaluga province when his days were cut short by an unexpected and early death.

Fr Clement wrote and printed but you could not really say either that his publications were numerous, nor especially influential nor did they contain anything particularly biting, uniquely characteristic, or really anything out of the ordinary.

In spite of all of these things that he was not, nevertheless, Fr Clement was a remarkable person and an even more remarkable monk.

His merits, his story, and his role were completely unique and to leave them in oblivion would be the greatest injustice.

Here is a short history of his previous life in the world. Instead [of] a dry and sequential listing of events, instead of the usual formulaic list of obituaries, I will give you what he himself told me in two or three chats about his earliest childhood.

Constantine Karlovich Sederholm’s father was the Reformed Superintendent of Moscow. He had a few other brothers. One of them was in the last campaign of the Caucus army as a general. He passed away a little bit earlier than Fr Clement. This is what he himself told me: ‘Our family was a good and well respected family, but you know, it was a dry, German family. Protestantism didn’t repulse me at all but nor did it attract me. I didn’t like our church service. I experienced a completely different feeling when I happened to be in an Orthodox Church. I had strong religious needs but everything that our pastors used to say wasn’t quite in accord with my heart and it didn’t satisfy me.’

Finally, in a series of posts here, Ручьёв of Incendiary—at Orr’s instigation—has translated ten letters of Fr Clement to his Father. Here is the tenth letter:

In your last letter you asked me how I, without an alphabet [the basics?], want to make a grammatical, historical exegesis in order to penetrate into the meaning of Scripture. Academic exegesis is, all the same, an invention of the mind, and the mind did not come from exegesis, therefore, even though it helps many, it is not such an urgent necessity. By the way, if there will be the possibility, I will try to acquire exegesis. Many have the correct understanding even without exegesis, and many others are mistaken in their exegesis as a few Swiss pastors, who consider it unnecessary to believe in the Holy Trinity, in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Name in which they were baptized. By the way, if you re-read my last letter you would see that I only asked what can be done without exegesis. I openly admit to you that in your letter I did not find any answer to my questions. So, for example, I asked you to explain the Apostolic words (Jude 1:19) that people, having separated themselves from the unity of faith, are natural (1 Cor. 2:14) and do not have the Spirit. You pass over that place in silence and say only that a Christian must strive for unity. Why does not the Apostle not say that about those who do not strive for unity, but only about those who separate themselves from it? You have not explained this. In place of this you object to opinions which I never said and against trends which our Church never had. For example, you speak about those who say that they already perfectly attained to the truth of everything holy and about those who want to cover up human errors in the Church with divine rules. What gave you cause for this I do not know. About the first, I never spoke and never even thought. The second has a bit of truth in relationship to the Roman church, against which you justly object to in many things, but that does not concern our Church, which you very often do not separate from the Roman Church. That which concerns the Church itself, I find contradictions in you. At first you, as it were, agree that it is from God, but then, as it were, reject its divine beginning and relate it to an institution. Well, no. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth [I Tim. 3:15], and the Lord said, I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [Matt. 16:18]. What kind of comparison can be made here with an institution? I don’t understand.

Well, I wrote to you what came to mind and what was passed to the pen.

January 25, 1864

[1] Fr Sergius Chetverikov, Elder Ambrose of Optina (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997), pp. 149-50.

[2] Leonard Stanton, The Optina Pustyn Monastery in the Russian Literary Imagination (NY: Peter Lang, 1995), p. 152.


Extollager said...

Thank you, Aaron!

I'm sure that I oversimplify, but it appears to me that by the 19th century, much of what was called "Lutheran" was really version of the Reformed approach; authorities wanted a state church (in places like Prussia) that would unite all Protestants (over against Roman Catholics), and authentic Lutheran doctrine and spirituality suffered greatly. In response to this situation, there was an "ad fontes" movement of some Lutherans to reconnect with our heritage. It is a little like the Tractarian movement in England, a turning from rationalism towards renewal of sacramental life, etc. Names associated with this movement, such as the American Charles Porterfield Krauth, are unknown outside Lutheran circles.

This blog is, of course, not the appropriate venue for discussion of such things in depth, I realize (nor would I be capable of undertaking that). I do suspect that "Clement Sederholm" knew "Lutheranism" in that "Prussian union" form, which is doubtfully Lutheran.

Early Lutheran references to Orthodoxy, by the way (usually as "the Greek Church" or "the Greeks") tend to be favorable. There was some contact between Wittenburg and Constantinople way back in the late 1500s, I believe, but for various reasons it broke down.

Thanks again!

aaronandbrighid said...

No problem. I don't know much about the history of Lutheranism, so I'll take your word for it.

I HAVE read in one or two places about the Orthodox-Lutheran dialogue in the 16th century. I looked for some info online to post for you, and found this
(which looks like it contains links to a couple of primary sources) and a couple of student papers here and here.

orrologion said...

Since there wasn't a single Germany at that time, it is hard to guess as to whether Fr. Clement's father was a Lutheran pastor of a Prussian Union church or not - though Leontiev's seemingly mistaken reference to the elder Zedergol'm being "Reformed Superintendent of Moscow" might point in that direction.

However, I don't think Fr. Clement's conversion can be written off simply as displeasure with 'watered-down' Lutheranism rather than confessional, 'real' Lutheranism.

Of course, "real Lutheran" (like "real Orthodox") is most often in the eye of the beholder. I know both 'good' and 'bad' Lutherans that have converted to 'good' and 'bad' Orthodoxy. Regardless of where Fr. Clement came from, I think we can all agree he converted among the best of Russian Orthodoxy, the Optina Elders.

Extollager said...

There was a Yahoo Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogue discussion list, of which I was for a time an onlooker, but it may be inactive now.

There are some resources (very little of which I have read myself!) about these matters here:


Again, I thank you, Aaron, and also commenters, for the information and thoughts. By the way, it is my impression that most of the Lutheran-Orthodox traffic is one way: that is, that you have Lutherans converting to Orthodoxy, but not Orthodox converting either to the faith of the Lutheran Confessions, or to the nominal Lutheranism of the mainline denomination (ELCA) that now approves active homosexuals for pastors among other horrors.

aaronandbrighid said...

Orr> Thank you for your input. You are quite right about the felicity of Fr Clement's having had Optina to facilitate his conversion.

Extollager> I don't know about Lutheranism, but I HAVE heard of Orthodox leaving for the Episcopal Church so they can freely practice a homosexual lifestyle.

orrologion said...

There are only two active Orthodox I know of that have converted to Lutheranism: layman Christopher Jones and Pastor Gene Smith, PhD (currently an LCMS pastor in Hemet, CA, formerly clergy in the RC and Orthodox churches - though I believe he was in HOCNA, a schismatic Greek jurisdiction based in MA). I'm sure there are any number of formerly nominal Orthodox laity that are now Lutheran (e.g., I went to WELS schools in Milwaukee with the son of Greek immigrants).

Torsten Kälvemark said...

A late comment to this post:

Father Kliment Sederholm was indeed a son of a Lutheran pastor. But his father was from a Swedish-speaking family in Finland and had graduated from the University of Turku (Åbo) in Finland. He was ordained in Vyborg in Finland in 1811 and was subsequently sent as a preacher to various Lutheran parishes in Russia. He was dismissed from the priesthood in 1820 due to "heretic" teachings but was reinstated as a pastor in 1823.

It's a bit inaccurate to call Father Kliment "an Orthodox German" although his father was indeed working among German Lutherans. It would have been more correct to call him "an Orthodox Swedish-speaking Finn".

Aaron Taylor said...

Sorry I haven't been keeping up with comments here, Torsten. Thank you however for pointing out this inaccuracy. I will have to edit the post.