St. Seraphim of Sarov icon

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Icon of Seraphim the Wonderworker of Sarov with scenes of his life.

Commemorated January 2nd.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov, born on July 19, 1754 in Kursk. From his childhood he loved to attend church services and to read both the Holy Scripture and the Lives of the Saints. At one point he fell critically ill. In a dream he saw the Mother of God promising to visit and heal him. Soon there came by his home a church procession with the Kursk Root Icon of the Sign. His mother carried him in her arms and he venerated the holy icon. Soon afterwards he recovered. Early on he desired to devote his life entirely to God and to go to a monastery.

One day he set off on foot with pilgrims going from Kursk to Kiev to venerate the Saints of the Caves. He went to the Sarov wilderness monastery, was accepted and put under the spiritual guidance of the Elder Joseph. He fulfilled all his obediences with zeal. He went into the forest, where in complete isolation he practiced the Jesus Prayer. Soon he became very ill. He asked that a prayer service be offered for his health. While the others were praying in church, Saint Seraphim had another vision of the Mother of God.

She appeared to him accompanied by the holy Apostles Peter and John the Theologian. The Most Holy Virgin said to St John, He is one of our kind. Then She touched the side of the sick man with Her staff, and immediately the fluid that had swelled up his body began to flow through the incision that She made. After the service, the brethren found that he had been healed, and only a scar remained as evidence of the miracle. After eight years as a novice at the Sarov monastery, He was tonsured and a year later Seraphim was ordained as hierodeacon. He served in the church each day.

He often saw holy angels serving with the priests. During the Divine Liturgy on Great and Holy Thursday, which was celebrated by the igumen Father Pachomius and by Father Joseph, St Seraphim had another vision. After the Little Entrance with the Gospel, the hierodeacon Seraphim pronounced the words Lord, save the God-fearing, and hear us. Then, he lifted his orarion saying, u And unto ages of ages. Suddenly, he was blinded by a bright ray of light. Looking up, St Seraphim saw the Lord Jesus Christ, coming through the western doors of the church. Reaching the ambo, the Lord blessed all those praying and entered into His Icon to the right of the royal doors.

St Seraphim, was in spiritual rapture and unable move or utter a word. He was led by the hand into the altar, where he stood for another three hours. In 1793, Hierodeacon Seraphim was ordained to the priesthood and served the Divine Liturgy daily. He was given permission to live alone in a remote part of the forest three and a half miles from the monastery where he devoted himself to solitary prayer. He came to the monastery only on Saturday before the all-night Vigil, and returned to his forest cell after Sunday's Liturgy. His solitude was often disturbed by visitors who sought his advice and blessing.

Through the prayers of the saint, the pathway to his wilderness cell was blocked by huge branches blown down from ancient pine trees so only the birds and the wild beasts could visit him. He would feed bears, lynxes, foxes, rabbits, and even wolves with bread from his hand. St Seraphim also had a bear which would obey him and run errands for him. One day some robbers attacked him in search of money. The robbers beat him severely and left him for dead. They tore the place apart, but found nothing but icons and a few potatoes, so they left. Regaining consciousness, he crawled to his cell and laid there all night. In the morning he reached the monastery with great difficulty.

For eight days he lay in bed suffering from his wounds. Again the Queen of Heaven appeared to him in a vision with the Apostles Peter and John. Touching the saint's head, the Most Holy Virgin healed him. However, he was unable to straighten up, and for the rest of his life he had to walk bent over with the aid of a stick or a small axe. St Seraphim spent about five months at the monastery and then returned to the forest. He forgave his abusers and asked that they not be punished. In 1807 the abbot, Father Isaiah, fell asleep in the Lord. St Seraphim was asked to take his place, but he refused. Seraphim lived in silence for three years, completely cut off from the world except for the monk who came once a week to bring him food. If the saint encountered a man in the forest, he fell face down and did not get up until the passerby had moved on.

He acquired peace of soul and joy in the Holy Spirit. The great ascetic once said, Acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand souls will be saved around you. In the spring of 1810, he returned to the monastery after fifteen years of living in the wilderness where he continued to live in silence. After five years of solitude, he opened his door and allowed the monks to enter. He continued his silence, however, teaching them only by example. On November 25, 1825 the Mother of God, accompanied by the two holy hierarchs commemorated on that day (Hieromartyr Clement of Rome, and St Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria), appeared to the Elder in a vision and told him to end his seclusion and to devote himself to others.

He received the igumen's blessing to divide his time between life in the forest, and at the monastery. he created a new place nearer to the monastery and opened the doors of his cell to pilgrims as well as his fellow-monks. Saint Seraphim with such a pure heart could see into the hearts of others and was able to heal their infirmities of soul and body through prayer. In the final period of his earthly life St Seraphim devoted much effort to the women's monastic community at Diveyevo. He himself said that he gave them no instructions of his own, but it was the Queen of Heaven who guided him in matters pertaining to the monastery. Nicholas Alexandrovich Motovilov, was also healed by the monk and wrote about the conversation he had with the saint.

This conversation is a very important contribution to the spiritual literature of the Orthodox Church. It grew out of Nicholas Motovilov's desire to know the aim of the Christian life. The holy Elder told him that the aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and went on to explain the great benefits of prayer and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. In the last year of St Seraphim's life St Seraphim became noticeably weaker and he spoke much about his approaching end. During this time the was frequently seen sitting by his coffin, which he had placed in the ante-room of his cell, and which he had prepared for himself.

The saint himself had marked the place where finally they would bury him, near the altar of the Dormition cathedral. On January 1, 1833 Father Seraphim came to the church of Sts Zosimas and Sabbatius for his last Liturgy and he received the Holy Mysteries, after which he blessed the brethren and bid them farewell, saying: Save your souls. Do not be despondent, but watchful. Today crowns are being prepared for us.

The next day he fell asleep in the Lord. St Seraphim was found kneeling before an icon of the Mother of God with his arms crossed on his chest. His pure soul was taken by the angels at the time of prayer, and had flown off to the Throne of the Almighty God, Whose faithful servant St Seraphim had been all his life. St Seraphim has promised to intercede for those who remember his parents, Isidore and Agathia.

Reference: O.C.A.

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