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Homily for 8/1/14 - St Seraphim of Sarov

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  • David Moser
    Matthew 14:22-34 Our Holy Father Seraphim is honored among the saints as a wonderworker. By his prayers, many miracles have been made manifest. Many people
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2004
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      Matthew 14:22-34

      Our Holy Father Seraphim is honored among the saints as a wonderworker. By
      his prayers, many miracles have been made manifest. Many people have been
      healed, miraculous springs that remain even today have burst forth from the
      earth, he saw the hearts of men with eyes of the soul and knew the condition
      of their soul. During his life, St Seraphim was granted visions of the
      Mother of God and of the saints and after his death, he himself was
      permitted to appear to many for their comfort and spiritual wellbeing.
      However, these wonders appeared only toward the end of his life, after much
      spiritual struggle and ascetic labor. In order to become such a vehicle of
      God's grace, he first had to trod the path of self denial and of the cross.
      The child Prochor (St Seraphim's name in the world) was born into a pious
      family where he learned to learned to read the Scripture and spiritual works
      and where he learned the necessity of both private and public prayer. It was
      obvious that the young Prochor was inclined towards a spiritual life and at
      the age of 19, with his mother's blessing, he entered the Sarov monastery as
      a novice and in due course was tonsured into monastic life and given the
      name of Seraphim. At the age of 35, St Seraphim was given a blessing to
      withdraw from the community life of the monastery and to live as a hermit in
      the forest near the monastery. After 16 years living as hermit undergoing
      all manner of voluntary self-denial for Christ's sake, St Seraphim returned
      to the monastery due to his failing health and there he retired to his cell,
      locked the door and continued the solitary life for another 15 years. At the
      age of 66, after 30 years of spiritual struggle and prayer, St Seraphim
      began to receive visitors and the sick received healing, the sorrowful
      received comfort and the glory of God was made manifest in his life.

      Today in the gospel we heard the account of another miracle. As the
      disciples were in a boat on the sea of Galilee, a storm arose and they were
      in danger of sinking. Crying out to their Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who
      they had left in prayer on the far shore, all of a sudden they beheld a man
      walking to them across the surface of the water. They saw that it was Jesus
      and Peter in a fit of zeal and pious joy cried out to Christ saying, "If it
      is really you, Lord, bid me to come to you across the water." Our Lord
      replied to him, "come" and Peter full of zeal and the love of God got out of
      the boat and began to walk to Him across the surface of the waves. But Peter
      was not yet matured in the things of the spirit and while he began with
      great fervor and faith, after a moment he looked around, saw the great
      waves, and was afraid. At that moment he began to sink and cried out, "Lord
      save me!" At that instant Jesus was there, took Peter by the hand, raised
      him up out of the water and returned him to the boat with the others.

      Was the Holy Apostle Peter less of a saint than St Seraphim - surely not.
      The reason that the Apostle was unable to maintain the grace of God where St
      Seraphim constantly worked wonders was simply one of spiritual maturity. At
      the time that Peter left the boat to walk on the water to Jesus, he was
      still spiritually immature. He was filled with what is called in the
      scripture, "zeal without knowledge"; in other words he had not yet acquired
      the ability and skill to consistently live in faith and in harmony with the
      will of God. He was still ruled by self will and by his own passions and
      fears. Like the seed of the parable which fell on stony ground, his faith
      did not yet have sufficient root and so although it would spring up rapidly,
      he was not yet able to withstand the intrusion of the world. St Seraphim did
      not even begin to manifest the wonderworking grace of God in his life until
      he had already spent years in spiritual labor, in self denial, in taking up
      his cross and in following Christ. When he opened his door, at the time
      determined by God and began to receive visitors, he was already spiritually
      mature, with the roots of his spiritual life deep and strong in the soil of
      self denial and ascetic labor by which he had died to the world that he
      might be alive to Christ.

      How often are we like the Apostle Peter. After only a little time of prayer
      and spiritual labor, we wish to take up the grace of God and begin to work
      miracles as though we were already spiritually mature. I recall, many years
      ago, speaking with a young man, a catechumen, who had the expectation that
      within just a couple of years he would be able to behold the Divine light
      and experience the deepest mysteries of the grace of God - and he wasn't
      even baptized yet. Many of us, especially those of us who are converts,
      harbor this secret expectation, that in just a short time of mediocre
      spiritual labor we too will be ready to walk on the water with our Lord. But
      like Peter, we are not ready and if we jump out of the boat, we will soon be
      overwhelmed by the cares and fears of the world and by our own passions and
      begin to sink. Patience, constancy, and endurance are important qualities to
      develop in our spiritual life, as well as humility and the absence of self
      will. These are the things that we observe in St Seraphim, and later on, in
      the Holy Apostle Peter as well.

      While it is uplifting and encouraging and spiritually beneficial to look at
      the latter part of St Seraphim's life and to draw hope and encouragement
      from the grace of God which flowed through him, it is no less important to
      look at his struggles, at his life of prayer and self denial, and at his
      constancy and persistence which formed the basis for such an exalted
      spiritual life. We cannot begin at the peak of the spiritual life and then
      hope that the foundation forms, rather we must work to lay the foundation
      and then the walls and supports of the building itself and finally the roof
      and climb to the peak of our spiritual life. Like St Seraphim, if we wish to
      live in the grace and presence of God, we have to begin in obedience, in
      humility and in spiritual struggle, there is no other way.

      First we see the obedience of St Seraphim. He did nothing out of his own
      self will, nothing without the blessing of those in Godly authority over
      him. As a child, he lived in obedience to his parents, in fact learned
      obedience from them. Although it was evident in his youth that he was chosen
      by God to live the spiritual life, St Seraphim did not presume to leave his
      family and his home to go to the monastery on his own. Rather he sought the
      blessing of his mother to leave her parental authority and to join himself
      to the monastic life. This blessing she gave him in the form of a cross
      which he kept with him and wore from that day forward for his whole life.
      His entire monastic life, his entire spiritual struggle is set in the basis
      of his obedience to his parents. After entering the monastery, St Seraphim
      struggled still in monastic obedience, performing all those things which
      were required of him. Even when he had been granted the honor of ordination
      to the holy priesthood and it was obvious that he was suited for the life of
      solitary prayer and contemplation, he did not venture out on his own, but
      only did so with the blessing of the superior of the monastery. Once in his
      life of seclusion, in the hermitage, he continued there without resting in
      his spiritual struggle and remained only as long as he had the blessing of
      his monastic superiors. Finally when the superior required that he return to
      the monastery, St Seraphim returned in obedience, leaving behind his beloved
      hermitage and returning again to his old cell. Again within the monastic
      brotherhood, but still living a life of ascetic labor, the saint did nothing
      without the blessing of his superiors. Obedience to the will of God as it is
      manifested within the order of the Church is at the root and core of St
      Seraphim's spiritual struggle. So also for us, we begin our struggle of self
      denial, planting the seeds of spiritual roots and of the foundation of our
      spiritual life in the setting aside of our will to follow that of another -
      that is obedience.

      In the Church we all live in a God ordained obedience; obedience to our
      parents, obedience to our spiritual father, obedience to the tradition of
      the Church, obedience to the Gospel. Obedience is the basis of the struggle
      against self will. No spiritual growth can be gained without the self denial
      of obedience.

      But obedience was only the beginning of the saint's spiritual struggle. He
      also "took up his cross" that is he methodically and systematically "died"
      to the world. In dying to the world, he became alive to Christ. This he
      accomplished by ascetic labor, by the voluntary suffering and deprivation
      that he took upon himself. During his years in the hermitage he ate only the
      herbs that grew in his garden and the bread he obtained from the monastery
      and that in small quantities. He undertook a discipline of silence, after a
      time, and he did not speak even to someone he would meet by chance in the
      forest, but would instead, upon meeting someone, bow upon his knees in
      silence waiting for the other to pass by. Even the monk who brought his
      bread and supplies from the monastery never heard a word from the lips of
      the saint in his silence. St Seraphim is known for his labor of prayer,
      kneeling on a rock in the forest for 300 days and on a rock in his cell for
      300 nights all the while saying the Jesus prayer with uplifted arms. (He did
      not undertake this labor as his own innovation, but rather in imitation of
      the stylites, the saints of Byzantium who labored as recluses in the midst
      of the city, living on top of a pillar, separated from the crowds and the
      people around them filling their lives with prayer). In all these ways and
      in many others, St Seraphim separated himself from the enslavement to
      worldly pleasures and comforts and from any attachment to the praises of
      men.

      One would think that such a life of deprivation and suffering would make a
      person to be hard or sad or unpleasant. But such was not the case. St
      Seraphim did not undertake these struggles of his own will, he did this for
      the glory of God. He never expected any earthly reward (not even the
      manifestations of grace in this life) but all he did, he did for the love of
      God. As a result, he was not hardened and soured by these struggles, but was
      instead filled with the joy of God, always smiling and greeting others with
      the joy of the Resurrection, saying throughout the year, "Christ is Risen".

      St Seraphim did not seek to be a wonderworker, he didn't do anything
      special, nor did he expect any supernatural occurrence - he simply did the
      task God placed before him to the best of his ability and trusted that God
      Himself would accomplish the task. Thus, in a rare look "inside" his
      clairvoyance, when St Seraphim was asked about how he could know the hearts
      of men, he replied, "The human heart is open to our Lord alone, and God
      alone sees the heart of man...(this pilgrim) came to me as all others do ...
      to visit the servant of God. I, Seraphim, am a sinful servant of God, and
      what the Lord orders me to say, in as much as I am his servant, *that* I say
      to the one who seeks counsel. The first thought arising in my mind I
      consider to be a sign from God, and I express it without knowing what there
      is in my visitor's soul; all I do is believe that God's will inspires me
      thus for that mans' benefit. When I submit (such a circumstance) to my own
      judgment, believing that one can find a solution without appealing to God,
      and that I can discover it in my mind ... mistakes are always made." See,
      the saint did not expect a miracle, he only trusted that God would provide
      what was needed. St Seraphim did not consciously work miracles, he only
      depended entirely on God. This my brothers and sisters is what we too must
      do - we must depend not on ourselves, but only and entirely on God Himself.

      The life of St Seraphim, as indeed the lives of all the saints, show us the
      clear path of our spiritual life. Our task is to struggle in self denial, to
      cut off our own will, our own desires, our own reasoning and to learn to
      live in obedience to the will of God. Our task is to make war on the
      passions that enslave us to this world that we might die to the world and
      live only to Christ. Our task is to trust, not ourselves, but God alone. Our
      faith is simple - and when we live in this simple faith and total reliance
      upon God, doing those things which he places before us to the best of our
      ability - then we will see the miracles and wonders of His grace. We will
      experience the love of God and live in the radiant joy of the Resurrection
      along with St Seraphim and all the saints.
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