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.”