Saint Seraphim of Sarov

Saint Seraphim of Sarov was born on July 19, 1759, in the city of Kursk, to God-loving parents. Even since childhood, when he was cured in a wonderful way by the Mother of God, he had a great love for holy things.

At 17 years old, with his mother’s blessing, he left for Sarov monastery. There he dedicated himself to God with all his zeal, strengthening himself in the spiritual battle especially through the Jesus Prayer. After a while, he became gravely ill. Despite this, he refused help from doctors, receiving only Holy Communion. When it was believed that he was going to die, he was brought Holy Communion. In that moment, the Mother of God appeared to him in a bright light together with the Holy Apostles Peter and John the Theologian. Pointing towards St. Seraphim, the Mother of God said to the two apostles: “This one belongs to our family!” Shortly after this, Saint Seraphim will regain his health and will build on that site a charitable institution.

He was tonsured a monk after 8 years of obedience as a novice in the monastery, receiving the name of Seraphim, which means “burning” or “ardent,” increasingly following the heavenly powers whose name he bore. A while later he is ordained a deacon. Thus, his zeal for holy things grew more and more, increasing therefore his asceticism and humility. 

After his spiritual father reposed in the Lord, he received a blessing to withdraw to the wilderness, 6-7 km away from the monastery. There he built a hut and a small garden on a hill named the Holy Mountain, in reference to Mount Athos. There he spent the entire week in prayer and fasting, returning to the monastery on Sunday and on feast days. He was in a state of constant prayer and carried a heavy Gospel on his back, which he named “Jesus’s burden.” He chose a few places in the forest which he named after places in the Gospel: Bethlehem, Jordan, Tabor, Golgotha. Thus, every day he read the corresponding Gospel passage to every holy place, thus living the life of the Savior.

He fed himself with bread from the monastery and with vegetables from his own garden. Many times, he shared his meals with wild animals, especially with a kind bear from nearby. He was tempted multiple times by the devil, through thoughts of vainglory, apparitions, and noises of all kinds which he managed to eliminate through prayer. But intensifying in the battle with the enemy, he spent 1,000 days and nights kneeling on a rock, saying the publican’s prayer: “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). In this way, he was able to overcome the temptation. Then, he was brutally beaten by three thieves that wanted to rob him and because they found nothing, they beat him with great cruelty. Saint Seraphim, although he could have defended himself because he was robust, did not do so, because he thought that he would thereby partake in the passion of the Savior. After recovering, he returned to the wilderness. Between 1807-1810, he did not speak at all. After the repose of the abbot of the monastery, at the commandment of some of the monks from the monastery, he returned and began a new stage of his monastic life, shutting himself in his cell. There he continued his ascetic life for 5 years, his spirit often being lifted up to heaven. After these 5 years, in 1826, the Mother of God told him that the moment had come for him to share his ascetical experiences with his neighbor. Because of this, he opened the door to his cell, becoming a sought-after guide both for monks and for laypeople. The door to his cell was open to anyone until late at night. He greeted his visitors with joy telling them: “My joy, Christ is Risen!” His kindness and humility were so great that it touched the heart of each person who stepped into his cell. He did not judge anyone, and his greatest joy was when someone with many sins came for confession. He acquired the gift of prophecy, which is why he predicted the War of Crimea, as well as the famine and terrible trial which devastated the Church and Russian people a century later. 

Motovilov, a great Russian landlord who was healed by the Saint and thus became his closest disciple, asked him what the purpose of the Christian life is. The Saint replied that the purpose of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit and that this is obtained through a good spiritual life. But because Motovilov wanted a clearer answer, the Saint grabbed him tightly in his arms, looked him straight in the eyes, his face suddenly becoming very bright, and he told him: “Look at me, friend of God, do not be afraid! I asked God, from the bottom of my heart, to make you worthy to see with your own bodily eyes the descent of the Holy Spirit; and now you yourself have become as bright as I am. And you are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself, because otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am. What do you feel?” Motovilov responded: “I feel such calmness and peace in my soul that no words can express it.” “And what else?” “A warmth and a fragrance which I have never felt before.” “This fragrance is a great smell of the Holy Spirit, replied the Saint, and this warmth is not from the outside since we are in the middle of winter and the forest around us is covered with snow; it is in us, according to God’s word: The Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17, 21).” At the abbot’s prompting, Motovilov recorded this incident, but the manuscript was found only in 1903, right before the Saint’s canonization.

When he was a deacon, he was entrusted with the spiritual leadership of the sisterhood from the Diveyevo Monastery. Thus, with great love and wisdom he led his spiritual daughters to always have their hands occupied with work, and their lips with prayer.

His repose in the Lord was announced by the Mother of God, this being the 12th vision he had of her. At 70 years old, on January 1, 1833, he said goodbye to the monks: “Work for your salvation; be watchful! Your crowns are ready for you.” And he gave his spirit in the hands of the Lord. On July 19, 1903, he was canonized and there was a procession with his relics which worked many miracles. In 1991, Saint Seraphim’s relics were rediscovered after being hidden by the Bolsheviks in an atheist museum for 70 years. 

Saint Seraphim of Sarov left us some words of wisdom to strengthen and guide us on the path to salvation:

Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.

We need to strive with all our power to keep our inner peace and to not be upset when others reproach us. Therefore, it is proper for us to abstain from any anger and to guard our mind and heart from any reckless movement.  

To keep peace in our soul, we also need to avoid condemning others at all costs. Inner peace is kept through the virtues of non-judgement and silence.  

If it is not possible to obey, it would be good in the least to hold your tongue.  

Whoever conquers the passions will also conquer sadness. But the one conquered by passions will not be bypassed by the shackles of grief either.  

Whoever loves peace will find it almost impossible to be sad, but the one who hates peace is always sad.  

Inner peace is obtained through pain. The sign of the spiritual life is the deepening of man within himself and the mystical work in his heart.  

Where there are sorrows, there is salvation.  

Virtue is not a pear to be eaten in one bite. Because it is not easy for someone to overcome the futility of this world. A man becomes humble, sure and tried only after, with the help of prayer, he supports numerous temptations that come against his will. Patience is the diligence of the soul in his work.

We need to be understanding against our spiritual impotence and imperfection and to be patient towards our defects, like we have towards the defects of others. We should not be idle, but we should force ourselves to strive to improve our nature.  

Any good deed done in Christ brings us the grace of the Holy Spirit, but prayer more than any other deed, because prayer is somewhat accessible to us as a weapon to acquire the Holy Spirit.

The Mother of God is named “wound of the devils” for the reason that Satan cannot hurt man if man does not stop running to the Mother of God for help.