The 100th Anniversary of the the Glorification of St. Seraphim
- Priest Sergei SVESHNIKOV
The 100th Anniversary of the the Glorification of St.
Lecture Given at the Celebration in the Western American Diocese of the
Anniversary, 2 August 2003.
One of the organizers of the celebration of the glorification of St.
Seraphim of Sarov was a Russian patriot, General Vladimir Feodorovich von
der Launitz, governor of Tambov in 1903. The General devoted his whole life
to serving the Tsar and Fatherland, and was finally killed by a terrorist
revolutionary while leaving church. When he was asked how such a grand
ecclesiastical celebration is organized, Vladimir Feodorovich crossed
himself with a sweeping motion and responded, "St. Seraphim will help!"
These words of the Russian nobleman of an ancient boyar family were meant
to express that which united over three hundred thousand people gathered
from all corners of Russia in the Sarov monastery in July 1903: the hope
with which the faithful turn to the God-pleasing saint for almost two
centuries now, beseeching him for prayers and intercession before the Lord.
Even during the temporal life of the elder, a variety of people streamed to
see him: government figures and peasants, merchants and soldiers, the rich
and the poor, the old and the young: and every one of them was greeted by
St. Seraphim with the words "My joy, Christ is risen!" and each was
consoled, given guidance, teaching or healing of physical ailments and
spiritual ills. Every one of them took with them in their hearts a part of
his spiritual wisdom, passing on his words from mouth to mouth.
What was so special that these people found in the warm-hearted Seraphim?
Our contemporary, Valentina Dmitrievna Sologub, an Orthodox journalist,
wrote that every epoch "expresses its own holiness, the Lord reveals the
saint that is most needed by the people. Some saints are examples of
humility?others of prayer and serving the needy; some heal, others teach
the endurance of suffering..." Saint Seraphim, the great laborer-for-God
and example of spiritual struggle, shone brightly in the rays of Divine
light, and this light was seen by many.
St. Seraphim spent some forty years in fasting, seclusion, solitary living,
labors of silence and nocturnal prayer, piously studying the Word of God,
Scripture and the Lives of Saints before the doors of his poor cell were
opened to visitors. During this whole time, St. Seraphim strove to only one
goal?to acquire the Holy Spirit, which he attested to in words spoken to
the novice John Tikhonov: "My joy! I beseech you, acquire the spirit of
peace, then thousands around you will be saved!"
Prokhor Isidorovich Moshnin, later to become Saint Seraphim of Sarov, was
born in July 1759 in the city of Kursk. His parents were famed for their
care for God's temples and tending to the needy and misfortunate. The
special intercession of the Queen of Heaven on behalf of Prokhor was
expressed while he was still a child. Prokhor, in return, came to love the
reading of the Bible and other religious books at an early age.
Prokhor's elder brother, Aleksei, was a merchant and owned a store in
Kursk. The young Prokhor was also taught business in the shop. But his
heart lay far away from all earthly matters, and he gathered his treasure
where "no worm abides, no corruption decays, no thieves can steal." And so,
at the age of seventeen, after a pilgrimage to the relics of the first
Russian monastics, SS. Anthony and Feodosii of Kiev of the Caves, Prokhor
was accepted as a novice in Sarov Monastery.
Prokhor humbly and earnestly observed the monastic rules and obediences.
Prokhor spent seven years as a novice. After exhaustive examination, the
abbot of the monastery interceded before the Church authorities to tonsure
him as a monk. Prokhor was elevated to the angelic order with the name of
Seraphim, meaning "fervent," for they saw in him an earthly angel and a man
of heaven and saw in his heart a burning love for the Lord. This fire,
which was to warm thousands of souls, gave Fr. Seraphim the strength to
rise ever higher along the ladder of spiritual struggle, and the Lord
strengthened his zeal with visions.
The purity of heart, restraint, constant striving of his soul to God
created of Fr. Seraphim a man capable of seeing the invisible world.
Protecting himself with humility, he rose from one level of spiritual power
Only a few of Saint Seraphim's spiritual labors are known. Many were
performed in seclusion from the eyes of mankind, visible only to God. St.
Seraphim did not carelessly assume the most difficult labors, but acted
wisely and only with the blessing of the abbot, under whom he was in the
Spending his life in solitude, labor, reading and prayer, fasting and
restraint, Fr. Seraphim gradually added seclusion and silence. Only after
long struggles of the greatest self-denial, a burden no emulator of the
Saint could bear, the Lord opened the cell of the elder and showed the
world a lantern, the likes of which, when lit, is not hidden but placed in
full view for the multitudes. Even the face of the saint emanated a
wondrous light, impossible to behold, according to the same Novice John.
The Lord glorified His righteous one with the gift of miracle-working. As
during the life of the holy elder, through his prayers, the Lord opened the
eyes of the blind, healed the lame and sick, saved those in need, cast out
demons, so after his blessed repose, those who turn to him receive speedy
intercession and blessed aid.
No less is St. Seraphim known for the gift of perspicacity. Rising with his
spiritual gaze to the heavenly abodes, the vision of the saint pierced the
hidden fates of both individual persons and of Russia herself. "Preserve
yourself through silence!" warned Fr. Seraphim, and showed a peasant where
to find a lost cow. Preserving himself through silence, the saint wrote a
letter, from which, seventy years later, Royal Martyr Tsar Nicholas II
learned of the terrible fate awaiting Russia and the Dynasty.
The living link between Saint Seraphim and the Royal Family is instructive
for all for whom the fate of Russia is important. In accordance with some
witnesses, during the life of the saint, the Most August ancestor of the
Tsar-Martyr, Emperor Alexander I, visited the elder.
In 1903, through the initiative of His Imperial Highness, Emperor Nicholas
II, the life and works of the Saint were glorified, and his relics were
placed in a splendid crypt commissioned by the pious Tsar.
Father Seraphim was not alone in his reverence for the God-given royal
throne and the Anointed of God, but directed others to this saving path.
Often during discussions with the judge of Simbir, Nikolai Aleksandrovich
Motoviloff, the saint explained "how the Tsar must be served and how we
must treasure his life," recalling David's warrior chief, Abishai, who said
"Of us you have many, Master, but we have only you. If we are all slain,
yet you remain alive, then Israel is whole. If you are no more, what is to
become of Israel?" What happened to Russia, with no Tsar to lead is known
to all. Speaking of Christian deeds, St. Seraphim noted that "after
Orthodoxy, [the fervor and zeal of the subjects for the Tsar] is the first
duty of us Russians, and the main foundation of true Christian piety."
Fr. Seraphim wrote a letter to the Tsar which many years later would
glorify him; he enclosed the letter with soft bread and gave it to
Motoviloff for safekeeping with the words: "You will not live to see it,
but your wife will, when in Diveevo [Monastery] the whole Royal Family will
arrive, and the Tsary will come. Let her give this to him." Receiving this
letter in 1903 and reading it, "the Tsar wept inconsolably."
Saint Seraphim had foreseen the Russian revolution, and rivers of blood,
and the destruction and desecration of churches, and the moral decline of
bishops. But he saw also the renascence of a great Russia. "Not until the
end," said the saint, "will the Lord be wrathful and allow the complete
destruction of the Russian Land, for in her mostly is preserved Orthodoxy
and the remains of Christian piety." "We have the Orthodox Church, without
any stain. For these good deeds, Russia will always be famed and fearsome
and inconquerable to her enemies, having faith and piety?the gates of hell
shall not prevail."
As we see, the salvation and resurrection of Russia was seen by the saint
specifically in the Orthodox faith. Our obligation is not only to rejoice
to the stream of people who rushed in the late 80's and early 90's to the
churches of Russia; not only to support with all our might this blessed
process of renascence and healing of our Fatherland; but also to preserve
the purity of Orthodoxy ourselves and rear our children in its spirit. The
words of St. Seraphim apply not only to his contemporaries almost two
centuries ago, but to us as well: "We, living on earth, have strayed far
from the path of salvation; we incur the wrath of the Lord also with the
failure to observe the holy fasts; now Christians eat meat during the holy
Great Lent and other fasts, Wednesdays and Friday fasts are not observed;
but the Church has a law: those who do not observe the holy fasts and
Wednesdays and Fridays sin greatly." If we are not faithful to our Church
even in the small things, what more can we hope for?
Celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the glorification of St. Seraphim,
it is worth remembering that the procession of the cross in 1903 from
Diveevo to Sarov, in the prophecy of St. Seraphim, would return from Sarov
to Diveevo, and the wondrous elder, reposing now with the sleep of the
Seven Youths of Ephesus, will arise once more and preach repentance. "The
town of Diveevo, having become a world-wide home, will shine brighter than
all others, not only Russian, but all the cities of the world?for the light
of faith in Christ through this resurrection from the dead of the Great
Elder Seraphim will be established in the whole world. Then all will avidly
turn to all the well-springs of Orthodoxy to learn of the origin and path
of this wonder of history."
There is still some time, let us repent, let us struggle, let us convert
those around us to the holy faith of Orthodoxy through example. And how are
we to manage such a great task? Saint Seraphim will help!
Saint Seraphim, pray to God for us!