Saint Seraphim of Sarov

(By Valentine Zander)

St Vladimir’s Seminary Press

19 July 1759 – 2 January 1833

 

Reviewed by Emmanuel N. Stamatiou

   

1. Brief Biography

St Seraphim was born on the 19 July 1759 at Prochor Moshnin in Kursk, Russia.

At the age of 10 years he was miraculously healed by the Panagia through the Kursk icon (now in USA).

In 1778, at the age of 19 years he went to the Monastery of Sarov and immersed himself in the spiritual world.

In 1786, at the age of 27 years he was tonsured a monk and the following year a deacon.

In 1793 at the age of 34 years he was ordained a priest and in 1794 his Elder, Abbot Pachomius entrusted him to the spiritual guidance of Diveyevo Convent.

In 1795 the new abbot gave him his blessing to live in the Sarov forest at Herne.

In 1804 he was attacked by robbers and beaten.

In 1807 he went into absolute seclusion.

In 1815 after 8 years of total seclusion he opened his cell to the public.

In 1820 the Panagia, St Onuphrius and St Peter appeared to him and persuaded him to accept pilgrims to his cell.

In 1825 the Panagia appeared again and gave him Her blessing to return to his forest cell.

For the last 8 years of his life he lived in the forest of Sarov and received thousands of pilgrims.

The Mother of God appeared to him 12 times in all.

He died kneeling before the icon of the Mother of God – “Tender Feeling” on the 2 January 1833 at the age of 74 years.

 

2. Who is this great Saint?

St Seraphim of Sarov is among the best known and most beloved Saints of the Orthodox Church.

During his lifetime thousands of pilgrims thronged to the Sarov Monastery in Russia to see him and receive his spiritual guidance and blessing.

The great Saint radiated the love of God to all who came to him, peasants and nobles, lay men and women, monks and nuns. Several of his spiritual children were blessed to see a further radiance. They relate how his face was so luminous, that it was even impossible to look upon it.

One of his greatest gifts to mankind was his teaching that the goal of Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. “Acquire the Holy Spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.”

The famous sayings of St Seraphim sums up not only his spiritual teaching, but also the great accomplishment of his life. Through fasting and struggle and self-abasement, he acquired the spirit of peace as few others before him had. During his lifetime, he shone like an earthly angel and a heavenly man.

 

3. Instructions and Teachings

(i) “God is fire” – the fire that Jesus spoke when He said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled.” God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. When we feel a chill in our hearts coming from the devil, let us call on the Lord. He will come and warm our heart with perfect love and from the presence of this warmth the coldness of Satan will vanish.

(ii) On the Knowledge of God – Elder Seraphim says, “If you have not yet come to know God it is impossible to love Him. If you cannot love Him it is because you have not seen (contemplated) Him. It is the knowledge of God which enables us to see Him, because contemplation comes only with knowledge. When man purifies his heart and keeps the commandments, God will reveal His face to him, even in this world.”

(iii) On the Love of God – he says, “Whoever knows Perfect love for God lives in this world as though he were not in it and regards himself as a stranger or sojourner on earth because he sees nothing but God alone. When the moment comes to leave the body the soul who is filled with Divine love has no fear of the prince of this world but flies as it were from a foreign land to her native country, escorted by angels.”

(iv) On Prayer – he says that “It is through prayer that God unites Himself with our souls and dwells in us. When mind and heart are united in prayer and the soul is wholly concentrated in a single desire for God, then the heart grows warm and the light of Christ begins to shine and fills the inward man with peace and joy.”

(v) On Despondency – he says that, “despondency is a worm gnawing at the heart. Anyone resolved to fight his passions must also contend with despondency. Just as a pale complexion betrays sickness, so despondency reveals someone still involved with his passions. He who has renounced earthly things is always happy.”

(vi) On Temporal Life – he says, “Oh if only you could know what joy, what sweetness await the souls of the righteous in heaven, then you would be determined in this temporal life to endure any sorrow, persecution or calumny with gratitude. If this very cell of ours were full of worms, and if the worms were to eat our flesh throughout our whole temporal life, then with utmost desire we would consent to it, only not to be deprived of that heavenly joy which God has prepared for those who love Him. There is no sickness, no sorrow, no lamentation; there is sweetness and rejoicing unutterable; there the righteous will shine like the sun.”

(vii) On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit – he says that “prayers, fasting, works of mercy represent only the means, not the end of Christian life. No good works can bring us the fruits of the Holy Spirit unless they are done for love of Christ. These win us the grace of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit every soul is exalted in purity and illumined by the Triune Unity in mystic holiness – the Holy Spirit takes up His abode in us and prepares in our souls and bodies a dwelling place for the Father, according to the Word of God.” “I will live in them and move among them and I will be their God and they shall be my people. (2Cor6:16)”

The Holy Spirit manifests itself in the Saints as an ineffable dazzling light. They shine. They feel a great calm in their souls, a peace which no words can express. This is the peace which the Lord promised to His disciples – the peace which surpasses all understanding. They feel a strange unknown delight, an amazing happiness fills their hearts. These are the first fruits of joy and the soul is filled with glad sweetness. They feel an amazing warmth. The Spirit kindles in us the fire to warm us. “The Kingdom of God is within you,” says St Luke the Evangelist. This Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, living within us, warming us, enlightening us, filling the air with His fragrance and rejoicing our hearts with an ineffable gladness, not tasting death before we see the Kingdom of God in power.”

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