Seraphim of Sarov, Hieromonk, Starets and Hermit

On January 2 is celebrated the Feast of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Hieromonk, Starets and Hermit.
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“Our venerable and God-bearing father Seraphim of Sarov was a Russian ascetic who lived at the Sarov Monastery in the 18th century, and is considered a wonder-worker. The Church commemorates St. Seraphim on January 2, and the opening of his relics on July 19.
St. Seraphim was born Prokhor Moshnin on July 19, 1754. At the age of 18, Prokhor firmly decided to become a monk. His mother blessed him with a large copper crucifix, which he wore over his clothing all his life. After this, he entered the Sarov monastery as a novice. From day one in the monastery, exceptional abstinence from food and slumber were the distinguishing features of his life. He ate once a day, and little. On Wednesdays and Fridays he ate nothing. After asking the blessing of his starets (a spiritual elder) he began to withdraw often into the forest for prayer and religious contemplation. He became severely ill again soon after, and was forced to spend most of the course of the next three years lying down.
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In 1793, St. Seraphim was ordained a hieromonk, after which he served every day and received Eucharist for a year. St. Seraphim then began to withdraw into his “farther hermitage”—the forest wilderness about five km from Sarov Monastery. He achieved great perfection at this time. Wild animals—bears, rabbits, wolves, foxes and others—came to the hut of the ascetic. The staritsa, i.e., eldress, of the Diveevo monastery, Matrona Plescheeva, witnessed how St. Seraphim fed a bear that had come to him out of his hand: “The face of the great starets was particularly miraculous. It was joyous and bright, as that of an angel,” she described. While living in this little hermitage of his, St. Seraphim once suffered greatly at the hands of robbers. Although he was physically very strong and was holding an axe at the time, St. Seraphim did not resist them. In answer to their threats and their demands for money, he lay his axe down on the ground, crossed his arms on his chest and obediently gave himself up to them. They began to beat him on the head with the handle of his own axe. Blood began to pour out of his mouth and ears, and he fell unconscious. After that they began to hit him with a log, trampled him under foot, and dragged him along the ground. They stopped beating him only when they had decided that he had died. The only treasure which the robbers found in his cell was the icon of the Mother of God of Deep Emotion (Ymileniye), before which he always prayed. When, after some time, the robbers were caught and brought to justice, the holy monk interceded on their behalf before the judge. After the beating, St. Seraphim remained hunched over for the rest of his life.
Soon after this began the “pillar” period of the life of St. Seraphim, when he spent his days on a rock near his little hermitage, and nights in the thick of the forest. He prayed with his arms raised to heaven, almost without respite. This feat of his continued for a thousand days. “
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“Thus it came about that on 20 November 1794, sixteen years to the day after he had first passed in through the gates of the Sarov “Desert” bell tower, St. Seraphim passed through the gates into a deeper “desert” and the life of a solitary. The monastery’s “summer house” (later known as the far hermitage) into which he settled was located some five versts (5.3 km or 3.3 miles) away along the Sarovka River. The hermitage was a small, one-room log cabin with a porch, anteroom, and celler. It was furnished only with stove, a wooden chopping block which served as a chair and table, and a sack of stones for a bed.
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In the corner opposite the stove, St. Seraphim hung an “Umilienie” icon of the Theotokos—an icon he was to keep with him throughout his life (he died before it while kneeling in prayer)—and to who he dedicated the hermitage. Outside of the cabin St. Seraphim maintained a vegetable garden which, other than bread from the monastery, provided all his food. He named his new home “Mount Athos” and gave Biblical names to the surroundings. In hermitage, St. Seraphim’s life consisted chiefly of prayer. He usually said the Divine Office in the customary order. He arose about midnight and recited the Midnight Service, the Orthros, and read the First Hour. Before ten in the morning he began his reading of the Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours, and the Typical Psalms. The afternoon was followed by recitation of Vespers, and after his evening meal, the Prayers after Supper (Compline). Before retiring he said the Prayers before Sleep. St. Seraphim also intoned the Psalms appointed by the Rule of St. Pachomius, and read the Scriptures—especially the Gospels. “Holy writings,” he said later, “should be read in order to free the soul to rise to the heavenly realms and partake of the sweetest discourse with the Lord.” At all other times he continuously repeated the hesychast silent Prayer of the Heart. His daily work consisted of tasks such as gathering moss for fertilizer and tending his garden, chopping wood, and strengthening the banks of the river. Later he began to carry a heavy sack filled with earth and stones, and in which lay the Holy Gospel; St. Seraphim said that he did this, using the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian, in order to “oppress him who oppressed me.” While he was generally separated from people during his stay in the hermitage—only occasionally receiving visitors such as other nearby hermits—the animals of the forest became his friends. Father Joseph related, as an eye-witness, that rabbits, foxes, lynx, lizards, bears, and even wolves would gather at midnight at the door of the cabin and wait for St. Seraphim to finish his prayers and come out to feed them with bread. It has also been related by several people that a bear would take bread from his hands, as well as obey his orders by, for example, fetching honey when there was a visitor.
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On Saturdays and on the eve of feast days, St. Seraphim would walk to the monastery to take part in corporate worship, including Vespers, Orthros, and Divine Liturgy. (Although he always wore his vestments when he partook of the Eucharist, he no longer celebrated, considering himself unworthy.) He also spent the first week of the Great Fast at the monastery, joining his fellow monks in prayer and in abstaining from all food. After Communion on Sundays he would remain in the monastery until evening, receiving those who came to visit seeking advice or consolation. He would then return to his hermitage, bringing bread for the week.
On 09 September 1804, three men in search of money or other valuables attacked St. Seraphim. In their rage of not finding anything worthwhile, they beat him severely and left him for dead. While he could have defended himself—he was carrying an axe and was known at the time to have been a powerful man—he did not resist.
Over the course of the next day he managed to drag himself to the monastery, suffering from multiple injuries to his head, chest, ribs, and back. While doctors were called for, St. Seraphim refused treatment, and fell into a semi-coma. At some point he had another vision of the Theotokos, accompanied by the Apostles Peter and John. “What is the use of doctors?” she said. “He is of our family.” Eight days after the attack and a few hours after this vision, he was able to get up, walk a little, and take some nourishment. But only after five months had passed was St. Seraphim able to return to his hermitage (ca. February 1804), although physically he was to remain crippled and bent over throughout the rest of his life (as often seen in icons of the saint), which was taken as a sign of his humility.
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What can be said of this attack? The devil, in his inability to conquer the saint through the spiritual attacks and temptations that faced him in the preceding years, tried to overcome him in the physical realm. When St. Seraphim was asked if he had seen demons, he was silent and then simply said “they are despicable.” At another time St. Seraphim related that “He who has chosen the hermit life must feel himself constantly crucified… The hermit, tempted by the spirit of darkness, is like dead leaves chased by the wind, like clouds driven by the storm; the demon of the desert bears down on the hermit at about mid-day and sows restless worries in him, distressing desires as well. These temptations can only be overcome by prayer.”
In apparent response to the physical attack, however, at some point during the year after his return to the hermitage (ca. March 1804 to March 1805), St. Seraphim undertook what was to become his most challenging podvig: although it was only to become known at the end of his life, he chose to undertake a stylite-like contest, even as crippled as he was, by spending one-thousand days and nights in prayer on a granite rock (some say 1001), only interrupting the task for necessary care of the body (rest and food] by night he prayed on a bolder located in the forest about halfway between his cell and the monastery, and by day on another stone that he had dragged into his cell so as not to be seen by people. When this feat was revealed at the end of the saint’s life, one of the brethren said in astonishment: “This is above human strength.” St. Seraphim replied: “St. Simeon the Stylite stood for forty-seven years on a pillar. Are my labors comparable to this?” The brother responded that he must have been helped by grace. St. Seraphim agreed saying, “Yes, otherwise human strength would not have been sufficient. When there is contrition in the heart, then God is also with us.” St. Seraphim completed his work as a “stylite” at some point not too long before Abbot Isaiah died on 04 December 1807.
St. Seraphim next undertook another ascetical work: that of silence. He remained completely cutoff from the world except for the weekly visit of a monk who began to bring him some bread and boiled cabbage. This mode of life in the hermitage continued until the new abbot, Niphont, decided he would not continue to support St. Seraphim in his isolation, but rather demanded that he resume attending services on Sundays and feast days, or else return to the monastery. So it was that on 08 May 1810 St. Seraphim returned from the hermitage to the monastery. However, he continued his practice of silence and shut himself up, with permission, in his cell, only coming out at night for short walks, and he received no visitors. Holy Communion and food was brought to him in his cell, which he received on his knees with his face covered with a piece of linen. The furnishings of his cell were not unlike those of the hermitage, except for the addition of a coffin that the saint had made for himself. As before, St. Seraphim continued to occupy himself with internal (hesychast or Jesus) prayer and reading. To his silence he also added the additional podvig of wearing a heavy iron cross. He was not alone, however; the Theotokos was always present through her icon, and angels began to appear and converse with him.
Ca. 1813 St. Seraphim began to relax his reclusion by occasionally receiving some people whom he would hear and instruct; for example, on 13 September that year the Tambov Governor A.M. Bezobrazov and his wife came, and the Elder opened his door to them himself and silently blessed them. In 1815, St. Seraphim brought an end to his isolation; monks could now enter his cell to visit, and on occasion he would receive other visitors (although, in general, he continued to practice silence); he was even visited in 1825 by Tsar Alexander I…
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St. Seraphim had prophesied concerning the circumstances of his death. About six in the morning, January 2nd, 1833, Hieromonk Paul of the Sarov monastery, on his way to attend the early Liturgy, smelled smoke as he passed by the cell of St. Seraphim. As there was no response from his knock at the door—which was latched from the inside—he went outside and told some of the brethren who were passing by. The Novice Anikita was able to break the door from its hinges. On entering the cell the monks found that some coarse linen was smoldering, probably as a result of a fallen candle. St. Seraphim was found kneeling before the “Umilienie” icon, wearing his usual white smock, bare headed, with the brass crucifix his mother had given him hanging from his neck, and with his arms crossed.
The monks prepared St. Seraphim for burial according to monastic regulations, placed him in the oak coffin he had made, placed an enameled icon of St. Sergius with him according to his request, and carried him into the Cathedral where it remained for eight days and nights until all had had time to bid him farewell.”
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See also
seraphim of sarov relics
For the uncovering of the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov, see

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