Seraphim of Sarov - One of the Greatest Orthodox Christian Saints
Blessed Saint Seraphim of Sarov is undoubtedly one of the most revered Orthodox Christian saints and wonderworkers. His path to God was lying through asceticism and prayers. Saint Seraphim was born on July 19th, 1754 in Kursk, Russia as Prokhor Moshnin in his worldly name. When he was 10 he fell seriously ill, but soon in his sleep he saw the Mother of God, who promised to heal him. Several days later there was a religious procession in Kursk venerating the local miracle-working icon of Mother of God. Due to bad weather conditions procession with the holy icon took a shorter route past the house where Moshnin family was living. When his mother was showing the miracle-working icon through the window to small Prokhor, he recovered very rapidly. While a kid, Seraphim loved to read about lives of saints, attend the church and often pray in seclusion.
At age of 19 Prokhor Moshnin entered the monastery of Sarov Desert as a novice. His mother gave him blessing with a large copper crucifix, which he was wearing over his clothing all his life. From his early years as a novice he stood out among others, even more experienced novices. Boredom he considered his main enemy and was defending from it with tireless work, prayer, reading and seclusion. Seraphim was trying to avoid cowardice, carelessness and idle talk. He used to eat once a day and not much. On Wednesdays and Fridays he ate nothing. With blessing of his spiritual elder (Starets), he used to go to the forest for prayers and spiritual contemplation.
On the third year of his novitiate he became sick with dropsy. The first months, overpowering the pain, he was continuing his daily tasks with usual diligence. But a year and a half later he could not leave the bed anymore. His body was swollen. But Seraphim was suffering his disease humbly, never complained to anybody and even refused help of doctors and didn’t relax his fasting.
His trials continued for three years and finally the Mother of God healed him. Virgin Mary appeared to Seraphim, accompanied by several other saints and, as he later told: “She put Her right hand on my forehead and in Her left she had a wand. And with this wand She touched poor Seraphim; in this place on right thigh a hollow was made and all water drained into it.”
After eight years of probation Prokhor received full ordination as a monk with name Seraphim (which means “fiery” in Hebrew). A few months later he became a hierodeacon and for the next seven years diligently performed his duties. At the same time he continued to live a secluded lifestyle. More and more often during nights he retired to his cell, arranged six kilometres from the monastery, to pray.
During this period Seraphim of Sarov became worthy to see Angels singing and serving in the church, and once, on the Holy Thursday he saw the lord Jesus Christ coming through the air in the church and giving blessings. Seraphim of Sarov was struck by this vision and stood motionless for three hours and was not able to say a word. After this occasion he became even stricter towards himself in his practice.
After the death of his Hegumen (abbot) Pachomius, who was one of the spiritual instructors of the monk Seraphim, he retired to his secluded cell in the forest and started there a new heroic act – solitary retreat. The fame about the hermit was spreading around and many people were visiting him and animals from the forest too. Many visitors had seen that Seraphim was feeding a large bear. St. Seraphim was feeding with bread also other animals and birds of the forest. And he himself was not eating anything else except bread and vegetables. Gradually he made his fast stricter: first he refused the bread and later vegetables, for three and a half years eating only grass and herbs. During the first week of the Great Lent he was not eating anything at all.
Once, knowing that rich people use to visit father Seraphim for an advice, bandits decided to rob him. They attacked the blessed man and severely beat him with a handle of an axe, despite the fact he was not defending. Blood poured out of his mouth and ears and he fell unconscious. Robbers didn’t find big treasures in Seraphim’s cell, except of an icon of Mother of God, and run away. Miraculously hermit made his way to monastery and doctors were surprised the blessed Seraphim has survived with all his wounds.
While Father St. Seraphim was living in his secluded cell, the devil was trying to tempt and frighten him in many ways: for example, suddenly brought wild animals to his cell, who were terribly howling, other times cast down huge logs of wood at the feet of St. Seraphim and showed him a coffin with a corpse. Finally he sent him blasphemous thoughts and depression. For 1000 nights was Seraphim kneeling on a granite stone and praying “God, be merciful to me, sinner!”, until he had a large wounds on his knees.
After the attack of robbers, father Seraphim recovered, but remained with hunched back for the rest of his life. Now St. Seraphim chose a new practice – silence. Not only he was not talking with anybody, but was trying even in his thoughts to move away from worldly affairs and concentrate completely to the God. For two years he was living in his solitary hut in the forest observing the vow of silence. If he met a man, he fell down and was waiting until the passer would move away.
When St. Seraphim was 55 years old, the new abbot of monastery urged him to return from the forest and dwell in monastery. Humble monk obeyed his Hegumen, returned to monastery and went into retreat. Next five years he was living in a small,2.5 m2 wide, cell. His only food was an oatmeal and cabbage. Nobody else was permitted in his cell, even the highest priests of the church.
Seraphim of Sarov had a different sort of visitors. Once, after a prayer five days long, he had a vision of glory of the saints. “If only you would know” – said blessed Seraphim – “what sweetness is expecting the righteous one in the Heaven, you would learn to bear all trouble, persecution, slander of the transient world with gratitude.”
After 15 years of solitude, Seraphim of Sarov had a vision of Mother of God together with Apostles. After that Seraphim concluded his secluded life and came out again to people. Seraphim started the final period of his life as a Starets – a spiritual guide to others. He kindly met with numerous visitors who wanted to see him and seek his advice. In some days their number reached five thousand people. "My father, my mother, my sweetheart" – Seraphim turned to everyone, shining in a silent light like an angel. “Who love themselves cannot love God. Who don’t love themselves for the love to God, they love God”, the blessed Seraphim was teaching.
A year and nine months before his depart, father Seraphim saw his last – the twelfth – vision in his life. Mother of God, accompanied by John the Forerunner and John the Theologian arrived to him and they were talking about something for four hours. On January 15th, 1833, during a kneeling prayer in front of icon of Mother of God, Seraphim of Sarov passed away.
The first and most important thing to remember is that we do not bring anyone into the Church – its not our job. We do not attract people to the faith, we do not convince people of the Truth, we don’t do any of that. God is the One Who attracts people, Who brings them in the door, Who convicts their hearts, Who brings them to repentance, Who convinces them of the Truth!
Seraphim of Sarov.