St. Seraphim of Sarov the Wonderworker
Commemorated on January 2 and on July 19/August 1
Sermon by Saint John (Maximovich) of Shanghai and San Francisco
(18/31 May 1953)
Holiness is the fruit of a man’s efforts and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is reached by him who wears a cross and wages warfare in the name of Christ against the obstacles to holiness, to becoming akin to Christ. These obstacles are sins, sinful habits, firmly rooted in the soul. Struggle against them is the major work of a Christian, and in so far as he purifies his soul, so far will he receive of the Holy Spirit.
St. Seraphim taught the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and he genuinely acquired it, for the Most Holy Mother of God recognized him as being her own. And the faithful, sincere seekers of the Truth and the Light (as was Motovilov), saw how this great Godpleaser shone with the light of holiness because of their reverence.
How varied are the paths of saints! At the throne of God, in front of everyone is the Most Holy Mother of God, more glorious than the seraphim and all the angels and archangels who stood firm, remaining faithful to God through the fearful struggle that was raised against God by the most radiant of them all, Lucifer, which means Light-bearer, who is now the devil, in other words, the one cast down to the deepest darkness. In this struggle the bright angels came so close to God that it is already impossible for them to step back or become separated from Him.
All the pleasers of God are like the angels in their love and devotion. Just as the angels, they waged war against the dark forces, and became strengthened in the love of God. All of the prophets of the Old Testament lived in such a struggle. Godlessness prevailed; the Law of God was forgotten. The world persecuted them because they interfered with its sinful life. They hid in the “depths of the earth.” The world hated them. The prophet Isaiah was sawed in two by a wooden saw; the prophet Jeremiah was trampled in a swamp. And in such surroundings they stood fast in faith and devotion. All righteous ones were sorrowful in the world because they were strangers to the sinful world. All of the apostles suffered in one way or another. Righteous men left for the desert. What made them saints? Suffering? Not suffering alone makes saints, but striving towards God, the love of God, and the labor of overcoming obstacles to holiness, which is the fruit of man’s labor and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Troparion of St. Seraphim of Sarov, Tone 4
Thou didst love Christ from thy youth, O blessed one, and longing to work for Him alone thou didst struggle in the wilderness with constant prayer and labor. With penitent heart and great love for Christ thou wast favored by the Mother of God. Wherefore we cry to thee: Save us by thy prayers, O Seraphim our righteous Father.
If Saint Seraphim cannot provide the answers, which he can, then let the seeker turn to this elder’s own teachers: Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Isaac the Syrian, and Saint Simeon the New Theologian to name a few. Saint Seraphim taught nothing new, but only what he learned from his predecessors and what he himself practiced. Let us therefore proceed with humility and sincerity, as we bring praises to the monk who has kindly opened his door to us:
Rejoice, spiritual father who did the will of his Heavenly Father.
Rejoice, devoted priest who always proclaimed, “Christ is Risen.”
Rejoice, man of prayer who acquired the peace of the Holy Spirit.
Rejoice, model of charity who befriended both humans and animals.
Rejoice, faithful monk who worshipped God in both word and deed.
Rejoice, true disciple who learned from the great sources of holiness.
Rejoice, “poor Seraphim” who freely taught the ways of spirituality.
Rejoice, wonderworker who cheerfully gave of his gifts.
Rejoice, revered hermit who prayed on a rock for a thousand days.
Rejoice, venerable recluse who saved a thousand souls around him.
Rejoice, example of earnest commitment to the Mother of God.
Rejoice, humble recipient of aid from the blessed Theotokos.
Rejoice, Saint Seraphim, spiritual father of all the faithful.