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8949Saint Seraphim and Russia

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    Aug 3, 2003
      Peter S. LOPUKHIN

      Saint Seraphim and Russia

      Two hundred twenty-five years ago, on November 20th, 1778, Prokhor Moshnin,
      a tall, blue-eyed, light red-haired youth, the son of a Kursk
      builder-contractor, entered the Monastery of Sarov. He was leaving the
      worldly life because he wished to live constantly and wholly in God. He
      "loved Christ from his youth" and when yet a boy ten years of age was
      touched by the grace of the Lord: he was healed by the Mother of God,
      through her miraculous Icon of the Sign. This icon is now with us, in the
      Russian Diaspora.

      Years passed. The youth Prokhor passed through all the monastic obediences,
      and eight years later was tonsured a monk with the name Seraphim; later, he
      was ordained to the rank of hierodeacon, and finally, when he had reached
      the age of 34, he was elevated to the rank of hieromonk, on the very day,
      the 20th of November, when he had entered the monastery. He withdrew to a
      cell in the forest wilderness and began the great, mystical life of a
      hermit, a man of silence, a stylite. But seventeen years after this, he
      returned to the monastery and began the new, even more difficult struggle
      of a recluse, which he bore for ten years. In 1820, he opened the door of
      his recluse's cell, but lived for several more years in silence, after
      which, finally, he began his ultimate struggle of elder, teacher and
      comforter of the Russian people.

      But on January 2nd, 1833, he left Sarov and the people entirely and
      departed to the Lord God. He serenely, blessedly, fell asleep during
      prayer, kneeling before the image of the Mother of God. Peacefully did
      "wretched Seraphim," as that humble hieromonk of the Monastery of Sarov
      called himself, leave us, in bast sandals or leather stockings, in a
      sackcloth cassock, with a leather mantle on his shoulders, a brass cross on
      his breast, bent over, leaning on a hatchet. Seventy years after his
      repose, on July 19th, 1903, around his grave gathered, perhaps for the last
      time, Holy Russia, with its pious Tsar. It gathered there reverently to bow
      down and kiss the holy relics of "wretched Seraphim." In ecstasy, Holy
      Russia chanted "Christ is risen!" and glorified the venerable Seraphim, the
      beloved chosen one of the Mother of God, who had acquired the love of
      Christ, the great ascetic and prophet, wonder-worker and theologian,
      comforter and healer, man of prayer who wept for the Russian people.

      Many times did people come to him, and we would teach them attentively and
      carefully, like a mother, about the kingdom of God, life in God, the
      meaning of life on earth, and through those with whom he conversed with
      such love he now tells us that we should live in continual fellowship with
      God, the Holy Spirit. Faith in God is faith in what He is, and that He is
      love; and also that there exists an invisible, divine world, eternal and
      more real than the visible world, and in assuming its nature man prepares
      himself for life everlasting: "he will not come to judgment, but will pass
      from death to life." Man must come to know this world, to become aware of
      it every time he is touched by it. This touching comes like a good gift,
      and the venerable Seraphim called this touch "grace."

      The meaning of life, in his words, consists of the acquisition of grace, so
      that, more and more frequently, and finally as an exalted attainment, we
      may be ever with God the Holy Spirit, abiding in Him always, becoming His
      child, a fellow heir with our Lord Jesus Christ. "But how can I know if the
      divine world has touched me? How can I learn to recognize the grace of the
      Holy Spirit?," they would ask the venerable one; and he would point
      directly at the person he was conversing with and say: "We are in the midst
      of grace right now," and he taught them and us that it is recognized by
      spiritual peace, because the heart is warmed by perfect love, by peaceful,
      humble, spiritual compunction. "They always said to you, reverend sir, that
      the meaning of life consists of doing good deeds, keeping the fasts, going
      to church; but this is not how they taught you," said the venerable one;
      and he explained that "these works are only the means for living life in
      God; these works are merely the oil in the lamp which the flame burns, only
      the wares we trade in; to amass the capital of grace we must perfect those
      virtues from which the fire of love will burn more brightly."

      This is the meaning of life, and this is what guided the venerable one. The
      peace of God, the fire of divine love, the venerable one loved with all his
      soul, and to live in it and only in it the saint departed for the
      monastery, for the wilderness hut, for the recluse's cell; and while he was
      thus making himself steadfast in spirit, he did not wish either to see or
      speak with men, avoiding all contact with them. We can conjecture that he
      so carefully and humbly approached his final struggle as elder, consoler
      and healer of the people because he had tested himself as to whether he
      could live with men and among men without breaking his fellowship with God.

      When the venerable one ended his reclusion, the faithful, Holy Russia,
      began to descend upon him from all the ends of the land. He stood before it
      as a living witness to the peace of God, one who shared therein, a living
      bearer of the fire of grace and the light of divine love. He received the
      people with a kiss, blessing them and saying, "Christ is risen!," and
      calling them "my joy, my treasure." In the bright light of love, tender,
      burning love for the people, his image stands forth in our heart. But while
      rejoicing in this his love, we must remember that in this feeling there
      lurks the danger that we will oversimplify his image and liken it more
      closely to ourselves, to our shallow, short-sighted understanding. Do we
      not, in rejoicing in his love, begin to forget that this was the love of

      Yes, the last years of his life he lived with us and among us; but let us
      not forget that for thirty years before this he was not only not with us,
      but with all his loving closeness to us did not want to be speak or even to
      see us. He is not only "ours," because he was not raised in our midst. He
      came to us not because he had any need of us: he came to us for the sake of
      Christ. In the vision he received during his illness, the Mother of God
      came to him and aid, "This man is one of us."

      We ought never to forget this. On the day when the doors of his cell were
      opened, there stood before us both a man and a denizen of heaven, because
      he lived in the divine world, and from thence he brought his own greetings,
      his own love and care for sick, weeping and loving hearts. His love,
      compassion and joy are in noway similar to the analogous moods of ordinary
      men who are good, yet of the soul, not the spirit. Such men easily fall
      into sentimentality. In the saint there was not the slightest trace of this
      feeling. He imposed upon people such struggles, the fulfillment of which,
      as for example the struggle of voluntary poverty on Manturov, for many long
      years elicited tears and sufferings from those close to him.

      Yet the venerable one was not troubled by such tears. Hearing tell of the
      sufferings of the fool-for-Christ's-sake Pelagia Ivanovna, how neither
      beatings, nor torments of which it is difficult to hear, were able to break
      her resolve to be a fool-for-Christ's-sake, he rejoiced in her strength,
      but did not embitter her with afflictions. The venerable one not only did
      not approach life like an ordinary man. He lived as though the laws of
      natural life had lost their power over him. At a distance of seven miles,
      he saw how a girl was giving alms, and he prayed, falling prostrate on the
      ground. This is revealed to us by a witness to this miracle, and we are
      determined to believe that it was given by the Lord to teach us to glorify
      the saint in a fitting manner.

      Yet this picture of the venerable one will not be complete if we do not
      consider his encounter with a young officer, traditionally held to be one
      of the Decembrists, when the saint angrily pushed his hands away: "You
      plotted such a thing, and now you come to me for a blessing? Get away from
      me!," he said to him. This meeting is an encounter between revolution and
      Holy Russia more than a hundred years ago. And how wrathful Saint Seraphim
      was, seeing the beginning of that villainy! This was a collision of two
      world views. "One thing is needful: seek ye first the kingdom of God an His
      righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you," says the icon
      of the venerable one. "Nay," the face of the officer replies to him, "what
      is secondary to you is what is most important for us. What you must hold
      to, we fashion ourselves, in our own way. You submit yourself and your life
      to God; we do not submit ourselves to anything or anyone."
      This movement prevailed in Russia for a hundred years. The Tsar was slain;
      the Patriarch was tortured; the people enslaved. But why did this have to
      be so? Where was the Holy Russia which so loved the venerable one? Its
      history and life were pushed into the background by secular Russia. This
      was also Russia, but not profoundly so: a Russia of the soul, not the
      spirit; of the secular world, not the Church. The venerable Seraphim was a
      contemporary of Pushkin, Lermontov, Tiutchev, and others. Studying their
      lives, one would never know that the venerable Seraphim lived at that time,
      and that Holy Russia, many millions strong, knew him and journeyed
      thousands of miles to meet him. The writers and poets did not know him as a
      living man; but seventy years passed, and all of Holy Russia came together
      with the pious Tsar to kiss his bones and chant in ecstasy, "Christ is

      This secular, soulful Russia, is not alien to the Church. In the writings
      of Pushkin and Lermontov there are moments of religious inspiration; but
      all of these are lacking in depth. The Lord Jesus Christ said: "He who is
      not against you, is for you." Who will say that this Russia was against?
      Nay, but on another occasion the Lord also said: "He who is not with you,
      is against you." This means that if at the moment when the confession of
      the Faith is required, a man or society or nation does not have the
      strength to say, "Yes, I am with you, Lord!," they have apostasized from
      Him, they are against Him. Soulful, shallow Russia, spiritually indolent,
      lukewarm, and not fiery, was unable to say this "Yes."

      The venerable one foresaw the great storm and trials of Russia, and said
      that the Lord would save Russia. He said that, in the eyes of the Lord,
      there is no better national life than that which is governed by a pious,
      Orthodox king, that for such a Russia do all the martyrs, righteous ones
      and saints pray. Of such a Russia did the venerable one speak in spiritual
      ecstasy, leaping about and clapping his hands, as King David did before the
      Ark of the Covenant. Such a Russia does not now exist. Or have these men of
      prayer turned away from us? But what do they want from us? They want what
      the venerable Seraphim desired and taught. He expected faith from us; he
      wanted, first and foremost, that we seek the divine world, the kingdom of
      God and His righteousness, as Christ said in the Gospel (Mt. 6: 33). He
      wants us to submit to this goal ourselves, our thoughts and desires, so
      that in our life we are not guided by our senses, by our passions and
      sympathies, but on the contrary, that we eradicate or recast them according
      to the voice of the righteousness of God. He expects struggle from us,
      expects commitment to God, expects that we will be fiery, and not lukewarm,
      spiritual, and not merely soulful. The Lord God has need of men! The
      righteous pray for us; the venerable Seraphim prays for Russia, and the
      Lord wishes to save it; but He has need of men, and all the more of
      Orthodox men, because without them Orthodox Holy Russia cannot be

      The venerable one calls us to the straight path which is faithful and
      without compromise. Let us follow him. And when questioned, "Are you with
      the Church? Are you on the side of righteousness?," let us answer
      steadfastly in the affirmative, "Yes!" This is the first and only thing
      needful, and everything else "will be added unto us," says Christ.

      The content, in brief, of a speech delivered in Belgrade at the solemn
      assembly of the Brotherhood of Saint Seraphim, on January 15th, 1933.