Rev. Seraphim Maj­mudar spoke about the crisis of lone­liness in America. ASHLEY KAITZ | COURTESY

On Thursday, Nov. 7, Rev. Seraphim Maj­mudar spoke to Hillsdale College stu­dents and faculty about the crisis of lone­liness in America — and how to solve it. 

The event was hosted by the Dogwood Society and the Orthodox Christian Fel­lowship. Isaac Kir­shner, pres­ident of the Dogwood Society, said that he first met Maj­mudar through his daughter Brigid, who is a student at Hillsdale. Their parish is in Tacoma, Wash­ington, only an hour away from Kirshner’s hometown. 

“I drove down one Sunday and cel­e­brated the Divine Liturgy at his church, St. Nicholas,” Kir­shner said. “It was pro­foundly moving, and I loved his homily, so I invited him to come and speak.”

Majmudar’s family emi­grated from India to America in the early 1960s. He was raised Hindu, but con­verted to Orthodox Chris­tianity while studying religion at UC Santa Barbara.

Maj­mudar started his talk by stating that America’s lone­liness epi­demic is the result of dis­or­dered souls.

“Ulti­mately, the point of tonight’s talk is the soul,” he said. “I want to present an Orthodox under­standing of the soul, and get into my asser­tions about the effect that our culture has on the souls of Amer­icans. Each culture is going to influence the soul proper to the things that char­ac­terize that culture.”

According to Maj­mudar, the soul has an anatomy and phys­i­ology like the heart or any other organ. Its parts include the logos, where thoughts come from; the nous, or “eye” of the soul; and the appet­itive aspect, which drives us to act. 

“The energy of the nous can become infected,” Maj­mudar said. “If you have a scuffed up lens, then you can’t per­ceive reality cor­rectly. The mech­anism that should lead to a cas­cading series of blessings reverses on itself and results in cor­ruption.”

Maj­mudar said that the American soul has turned inward as a result of the pre­vailing winds of our hyper-indi­vid­u­al­istic culture. 

“When indi­vid­u­alism is taken past a certain point, you get cap­i­tal­istic mate­ri­alism as its own end.” he said. “Pro­duc­tivity and material success are treated as virtues.”

He con­tinued, “As a pastor, I can guar­antee you that Amer­icans are working way, way too much, and it’s resulting in social frag­men­tation.”

Maj­mudar said he saw the debil­i­tating effects of worka­holism last year, when he and his friend were on their annual fishing trip in the Sierras. 

“I got in my tent, and he started shaking uncon­trol­lably,” Maj­mudar said. “I asked him why, and he said ‘at first I thought I was cold, but then I realized that I wasn’t cold — I was de-stressing. I was finally letting down.’ And I thought, well, this is insane.”

. Justin Jackson, pro­fessor of English at Hillsdale, said he agreed with Majmudar’s assessment. 

“If we don’t keep those pos­itive things like material success in check, we can take them to purely selfish ends,” he said. “That’s when they become wholly destructive. So, when you look at worka­holism, that’s actually a very indi­vid­u­al­istic gesture, because we isolate our­selves.”

According to Maj­mudar, extreme indi­vid­u­alism doesn’t just lead to social frag­men­tation: it results in spir­itual frag­men­tation as well. 

“People say, ‘I can pray any­where, I don’t need a par­ticular church, a church is just a building.’ A lot of church sanc­tu­aries resemble multi-use spaces more than con­se­crated spaces,” he said. “You feel like you’re walking into a music venue or a coffee shop, not a space that’s been sanc­tified by gen­er­a­tions of prayer.”

Maj­mudar said that the key to solving spir­itual frag­men­tation and lone­liness in America is to con­sis­tently receive the Eucharist in the same church, with the same people.

“You have to be in a spe­cific place at a spe­cific time to open your mouth and receive a spe­cific piece of bread and wine from the hand of a spe­cific min­ister,” he said. “That pre­sumes sta­bility, and the indi­vid­u­al­istic winds that are pushing against the soul are working against that very thing.”

According to Maj­mudar, the com­munal aspect of the Eucharist is so essential to Orthodox Chris­tians that Russian pris­oners risked their lives to perform it in Bol­shevik gulags. 

“They could have said ‘I’ll just pray in my heart,’ but they didn’t,” he said. “They would smuggle crumbs of bread and raisins out of the refectory somehow, and whisper the entirety of the Divine Liturgy. They risked their lives to cel­e­brate the Eucharist.”

Maj­mudar described the uni­fying effect that the liturgy has had in his own church. 

“We cel­e­brate the Divine Liturgy several times a week, and I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years now,” he said. “It’s what brings everyone together. I’ve seen my com­munity go from being quite frag­mented to much less frag­mented.”

For Maj­mudar, being part of a com­munity and loving the people around you is an essential part of being Christian.

“We are com­manded to love God and to love our neighbor, because they’re one and the same,” he said. “The closer you get to Christ, the closer you get to everybody else — so healing results in having everyone in your heart.”