Commemorated on January 2 and on July 19 (The translation of the Saint’s holy relics)
My joy, I beg you, acquire the Spirit of Peace.
“Oh, if you only knew what joy, what sweetness awaits a righteous soul in Heaven!
It is necessary always to be patient and to accept everything that happens, no matter what, with gratitude for God’s sake. Our life — is a minute compared to eternity. And for this reason “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
Bear the insults of your enemy in silence, and open your heart only to the Lord. Try in any way possible to forgive those who humiliate you or take away your honor, by the words of the Gospel: “Of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again” (Lk. 6:30).
Nothing so aids the acquiring of internal peace as silence, and as much as is possible, continual discussion with oneself and rarely with others.
A sign of spiritual life is the immersion of a person within himself and the hidden workings within his heart.
One should condescend to one’s soul in its infirmities and imperfections, endure one’s deficiencies as we bear the failings of others, not become lazy, and continually urge oneself to be better.
All those having firm hope in God are raised to Him and enlightened with the radiance of eternal light.
If a person does not have superfluous care for himself, out of his love for God and for virtuous deeds, and knows that God will take care of him, then this hope is true and wise. But if a person places all his hope in his works, and turns to God in prayer only when unforeseen misfortunes befall him, then he, seeing that he lacks the means of averting them in his own abilities, begins to hope for help from God — but such a hope is trivial and false. True hope seeks the one Kingdom of God and is sure that everything necessary for this mortal life will surely be given. The heart cannot have peace until it acquires this hope. This hope pacifies it fully and brings joy to it. The most holy lips of the Saviour spoke about this very hope: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).
St. Seraphim of Sarov
by Anthony (Bloom) Metropolitan of Sourozh
June 4, 1970
In him we see the life of a man who has gone all the way which we are called to go, a man who discovered God in the purity of his heart, but who knew and who had to conquer him by a long ruthless struggle, a man who never ceased to love his neighbours, who never turned away from them because they were sinners or unworthy of God, who knew how to respect and love them. We are told that so often when people came he received them kneeling – peasants came and he kissed their hands. He gave them his seat. He looked after them, because he had this vision of the dignity of man, the sanctity of man. And yet for a long time he struggled to become himself a man, i.e. all that a man is called to be, partaker of the divine nature, the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit, a living revelation of Christ. In a very daring way, speaking of prayer, he says to someone: `We must pray for the Holy Spirit to come and dwell in us. But when He has come, don’t continue to pray “Come and abide in us” – that would mean that you doubt that the gift you have received is true. Let then the Holy Spirit pray and act in you.’
Before his death he said to someone, `My body is almost dead, and yet I feel in my soul as if I was just born now.’ Life, the life of God, united with the life of man. A true vision of a true man. And this is why so many people came, so many people saw him, and so many people felt they were in no need of speech. Centuries before that, an ascetic of the Egyptian desert who was asked to make a welcome speech for a visiting bishop said `I will say nothing.’ And when they insisted, he said to his brothers, `If this man cannot understand my silence, he can never understand my words.’
And the thousands who came to see him were in no need of words. His silence, the vision of this man, was enough. Isn’t this an inspiration for our times in a variety of ways? First of all, we are so passionately aware that the world which surrounds us is our world, that we do not want to turn away from it. We do not want to reject it. And indeed God so loved the world that he gave his Only-begotten Son for it. This St Seraphim also knew. But what he knew, what we forget easily, is that in order to bring into this world an action which is our vocation, an action which is God’s act through us, we must struggle without any mercy for ourselves, ruthlessly, joyfully, in order to become alive in a world which is not quite alive, to become a light in the twilight, to become warmth where there is cold. We see then Christ in action in his saints. I have had no time to speak of the outer events of his life, of his meetings, of the people he met, of the circumstances of healing and of conversions. What I wanted to show if I could, was this man and his way and his final return fulfilled both for the sake of himself and for the sake of others.
I think we could keep quiet for a few minutes, and then if anyone wishes to make a contribution or to ask a question I will try to answer. So let us be quiet.
Questions and Answers
Can you give an example of his healing?
Examples are very many but there is one example that comes to my mind, partly because the man involved afterwards played an important role in the activities of St Seraphim. It was a man called Manturov. He had been ill for years, crippled, and he was in the end brought to Sarov with the hope that something might happen. To begin with, St. Seraphim for 2 days had long conversations with him. We know nothing about what the conversations were about. But on the second or third day St Seraphim was then by a little hut that he had in his older age nearer the monastery. And 4 men brought this Manturov while a 5th one was holding his head. And St Seraphim came, sat on the grass next to him and said, `Do you believe that as of old Christ could heal people, so can he do it now?’ And Manturov said, `Yes, I do,’ `Do you truly believe that he is the Son of God?’ `Do you truly believe that the blessed Virgin, his Mother, prays for us and do you confess the faith of the Church about her?’ He said yes. And then he added again, `Do you believe that Christ can heal instantaneously if he wants to?’ And the man acquiesced. And then St Seraphim said, `Well, if you do believe, you are healed.’ And so Manturov, who believed and yet had his misgivings said, `But, how am I healed? Here am I lying flat. Four men are holding me.’ And he said, `Yes, but you get up.’ And he took him by the shoulders, put him on his feet, and as Manturov says, `Holding me by one hand and pushing me in the back by the shoulders, he said, `Come on, come on, you move. Look, you see how nicely you walk.’ Then Manturov said, `Yes, I walk, but you are holding me’. `No, no’ he said. And then he let him go and Manturov started walking.
Well, this is an example, but what is typical in all the healing actions of St Seraphim is the care he had for the spiritual health of the person who came. He always probed into their faith. He always made an absolute condition for his prayer that a man should confess his faith with purity and truth. And the people who came and were healed were launched into life not simply as people with a body that had been healed, but people who could begin in a new life with a renewed faith with clear convictions and with certainties. I think this is the scheme of practically every healing I am aware of.
You didn’t mention the conversation with Motovilov about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. St Seraphim apparently said that the aim of the life should be the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and he also said that it was through the fulfillment of one’s gifts. I wonder, if this is true, what sort of gifts?
I forgot to mention it. Motovilov was one of the closest to St Seraphim. He also had been healed and helped by him. The story to which Fr. Michael is referring is a long conversation he had with St Seraphim concerning the aim of the Christian life. You can find it in Lossky’s book the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. The substance of the conversation is this. When Motovilov was still a young man he had always longed to understand what the aim of the Christian life was and what is meant by the Scriptures when they speak of the action of the Holy Spirit, of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And no one had ever explained it in a way that satisfied not only the intelligence but the whole being of Motovilov. And St Seraphim proceeded to explain that the aim of the Christian life is to acquire, possess the Holy Spirit. In more familiar terms it would be to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to be the place of his presence and of his action. He goes on afterwards to insist on two things: on the one hand that prayer is the great way by which we can receive the Spirit, partly because in prayer we stand face to face with God; it is with Him that we are, into him that we are merged, as it were, partly because prayer is the only thing which no circumstances of life can prevent and which therefore is a universal means. He explains that there are other things which one could endeavour to do, but they are not always possible. You may wish, he says, to go to Church, but there may be no church, or you may be late for the service; you may wish to give something to the poor, but you may discover that there is no poor available or no money; you may wish to lead a life of continence, but you are not made that way. So that there are all sorts and all ways in which we can do the right things but there are limitations of circumstances. Prayer is not limited. But on the other hand, each of us has got characteristics of his own. There are things which help our spiritual life and things which don’t. There are people for whom, say, charity is a help, i.e. opens their heart, makes it possible for them to receive God. For others it is contemplative prayer. For others it will he something else. And each of us must find the peculiar quality of his soul which responds to God and which is an open door for the Lord to come. I think this is the essence of it.
How can one discover one’s gifts?
If I were wise, I would say, `Ask St Seraphim’, but being foolish I will say `Experiment’. The closeness of God is something which is unmistakable. If you attempt one way and another and another, and another way again, a moment will come when you will discover – as St Seraphim would put it, it `pays’ or it doesn’t pay. It is useless to spend a lot of energy trying to do the thing which is not congenial to you, while it is simply good tradesmanship to choose what gives good and easy results. There are people for whom isolation is a way, others for whom relationships are a way. Certain people are liturgical, other people are of another type – not to speak of all the ways in which, well, charity in the sense of concern for both God and man can be expressed, and they are very varied. So our business is to see whether by doing one thing or another, by living one way or another, we come closer or not. And there is no special way in which you can do It. We cannot choose one way because it is that we imagine to be the way of a saint.
You remember St Vincent of Paul said in his rule, `We must learn to abandon God for God.’ The phrase in French is ambiguous in the sense that it may mean both for God’s sake and `to meet God in another way’, because for God’s sake we can turn away from the kind of presence we were experiencing. But at the same time there is an old saying of the desert, `He who has seen his brother has seen his God’. So that’s another way in which you can abandon God in one way to meet him in another. And the whole problem of life is to know what you abandon in order to meet God. But if you take it this way, then it will never be a selfish search which is irrelevant to others, and it will never be a choice between God and charity, God and man in that sense, although it may be that for a while – in the case of St Seraphim it was 47 years – there is a kind of withdrawal. It’s a long conversation, and I think you better read it if you want to have it clear.
How does one guide a young person who has no instruction in this matter in recognising that what he or she does is the right thing?
For one thing, unless a person intuitively comes to some sort of certainty, there is no other way of grafting certainty on a person. No one will have certainty through your certainty, as it were. The other thing is that there is an old saying that one can’t guide a disciple farther than himself. It is to himself one must bring back a person. So there is a whole road to be followed before anything else is undertaken for the person to come to himself instead of being beside himself, to be more inward; unaware, to be more aware; dispersed to be more collected. And when something is done in that direction, then one can think what to do with the result of it. But already that is a result because it gives a sense of identity, a sense of being at all. It is only once you possess yourself, that you can give yourself. You can’t give what you haven’t got.
The young have got one thing that protects them against all our onslaughts: they don’t trust us immoderately, so we can do much less harm than we imagine, because very often we are listened to by people who say, ja ja, it’s enough to look at you to know that all that isn’t true – which I think is a sort of good immunity. For another thing, my impression is that God doesn’t allow us to harm people too much. Well, we wound one another enough, but ultimately He speaks and He acts also. He doesn’t rely on us to do all the work, and that is also a very encouraging thing. And thirdly, I think if we don’t try to make others into what we are, we are more or less on the safe side, i.e. if we try to encourage a person to be what he is and not anything else, and if we try to teach indeed what God says, God’s words, the experience of centuries of life in God etc., and not our particular brand of thinking, then we may contribute something rich.
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.
The Life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
Build our whole lives upon the example and words of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
A wonderful homily by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (+2003): St. Seraphim of Sarov