Seraphim of Sarov
Seraphim of Sarov
|Saint Seraphim of Sarov|
Saint Seraphim feeding his bear outside of his hermitage (from lithograph The Way to Sarov, 1903)
|Born||July 19, 1759, Kursk, Russian Empire|
|Died||January 2, 1833, Sarov|
|Venerated in||Eastern Orthodoxy|
|Canonized||July 19, 1903, Sarov Monastery by Holy Governing Synod, Russian Orthodox Church|
|Major shrine||Diveyevo Convent|
|Feast||January 2/15 (Repose)
July 19/August 1 (Opening of relics)
|Attributes||Wearing peasant clothing, often kneeling with his hands upraised in prayer|
Saint Seraphim of Sarov (Russian: Серафим Саровский) (July 19, 1759 - January 2 (N.S. January 14), 1833), born Prokhor Moshnin (Прохор Мошнин), is one of the most renowned Russian monks and mystics in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is generally considered the greatest of the nineteenth century Startsy (Elders), and arguably the first. He is remembered for extending the monastic teachings of contemplation, theoria and self-denial to the layperson, and taught that the purpose of the Christian life was to acquire the Holy Spirit.
Seraphim was glorified (canonized) by the Russian Orthodox church in 1903, and is commemorated on July 19 (August 1 on the modern Gregorian Calendar) and January 2 (January 15), which are the dates of his birth and death, respectively. The date of his death is his major feast day. His canonization has something of an ecumenical character; Pope John Paul II referred to him as a saint in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope.
One of his "spiritual children," Nicholas Motovilov, wrote most of what we know about him today.
Perhaps the Saint's most popular quote amongst Orthodox believers is "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved."
Born July 19, 1759, he was baptized with the name of Prochor, after Saint Prochorus, one of the first Seven Deacons of the Early Church and the disciple of John the Evangelist. His parents, Isidore and Agathia Moshnin lived in Kursk, Russia. His father Isidore was a merchant, but Seraphim had little interest in business. Instead, he began a life that was very devout to the Orthodox Church at a young age. According to Orthodox tradition, as a small boy he was healed by a Wonderworking Icon of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary), Our Lady of Kursk. During his life he experienced a number of visions.
In 1777, at the age of nineteen, he joined Sarov Monastery as a novice (poslushnik). In 1786 he was officially tonsured (took his monastic vows) and was given the religious name of Seraphim, which means "fiery" or "burning" in Hebrew. Shortly afterwards, he was ordained a hierodeacon (monastic deacon). He was ordained again in 1793 as a hieromonk (monastic priest), and became the spiritual leader of the Diveyevo convent, which has since come to be known as the Seraphim-Diveyevo Convent. Soon after this, he retreated to a log cabin in the woods outside Sarov monastery and led a solitary lifestyle as a hermit for twenty-five years. During this time his feet became swollen to the point that he had trouble walking.
One day, while chopping wood, he was attacked by a gang of thieves who beat him mercilessly until they thought he was dead. Seraphim never resisted and was beaten with the handle of his own axe. The thieves were looking for money, but all they found in his hut was an icon of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary). The incident left Seraphim with a hunched back for the rest of his life. However, at the thieves' trial he pleaded to the judge for mercy on their behalf.
After this incident Seraphim spent a thousand successive nights on a rock in continuous prayer with his arms raised to the sky, an almost super-human feat of asceticism, especially considering the pain he was already in from his injuries.
In 1815, in obedience to a spiritual experience that he attributed to the Virgin Mary, he began admitting pilgrims to his hermitage as a Confessor. Seraphim soon became immensely popular due to his apparent healing powers and clairvoyance. He was often visited by hundreds of pilgrims per day, and was reputed to have the ability to answer his guests' questions before they could ask.
As extraordinarily harsh as the Saint often was to himself, he was kind and gentle toward others—always greeting his guests with a prostration, a kiss, and exclaiming, "Christ is risen!" He died while kneeling before an icon of the Theotokos at the age of seventy-three.