Saint Serafim Sarovsky
|Dimensions||45 × 54 cm|
Saint Serafim Sarovsky
Large Russian wooden icon
Saint Seraphim of Sarov (Russian: Серафим Саровский) (1 August [O.S. 19 July] 1754 (or 1759) – 14 January [O.S. 2 January] 1833), born Prokhor Moshnin (Прохор Мошнин), is one of the most renowned Russian saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is generally considered the greatest of the 19th-century startsy (elders). Seraphim extended the monastic teachings of contemplation, theoria and self-denial to the layperson. He taught that the purpose of the Christian life was to acquire the Holy Spirit. Perhaps his most popular quotation amongst Orthodox believers is “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.”
Seraphim was glorified (canonized) by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1903. Pope John Paul II referred to him as a saint.
Born 19 July (new style 1 Aug) 1754, the future saint 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 was a merchant, but business did not interest the devout boy. According to Orthodox Church tradition, a wonderworkingicon of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary), Our Lady of Kursk healed the young boy. Seraphim later experienced a number of visions.
In 1775, at the age of 17, he visited Saint Dorothea in Kiev.
In 1777, at the age of 19, he joined the Sarov monastery as a novice (poslushnik). In 1786 he was officially tonsured (took his monastic vows) and given the religious name of Seraphim (which means “fiery” or “burning” in Hebrew). Shortly afterwards, he was ordained a hierodeacon (monastic deacon). In 1793 he was ordained 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, Seraphim retreated to a log cabin in the woods outside Sarov monastery and led a solitary lifestyle as a hermit for 25 years. During this time his feet became swollen to the point that he had trouble walking.
One day, while chopping wood, Seraphim was attacked by a gang of thieves who beat him mercilessly with the handle of his own axe. He never resisted, and was left for dead. The robbers never found the money they sought, only an icon of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) in his hut. Seraphim had 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 1,000 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 from his injuries.
In 1815, in obedience to a reputed spiritual experience that he attributed to the Virgin Mary, Seraphim began admitting pilgrims to his hermitage as a confessor. He soon became immensely popular due to his reputation for healing powers and gift of prophecy. Hundreds of pilgrims per day visited him, drawn as well by his ability to answer his guests’ questions before they could ask.
As extraordinarily harsh as Seraphim 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!”, and calling everyone “My joy.” He died while kneeling before an Umilenie icon of the Theotokos which he called “Joy of all Joys”. This icon is kept currently in the chapel of the residence of the Patriarch of Moscow.