Saint Seraphim of Sarov as a Model for our Lives

The Orthodox Church, as we confess in the Symbol of Faith (Creed), is Catholic because it holds all of uncovered truth, but also because it encompasses the whole world. It is not restricted to a narrow geographic context, nor does it discriminate between sexes, races and nations. It prays for the whole world and its Divine Liturgy is offered for the universe. The Agiologion includes saints from the entire world. The venerable Seraphim was Russian in origin and yet when we study his life we feel him near us, and consider him one of our own, because we have the same faith and the same tradition.

Fatherless at three years old, he grew up with his mother, who taught him to love prayer and the Divine Liturgy. At seventeen he left for Sarov Monastery and at thirty-five he withdrew into the wilderness, where "winged with divine eros" he lived the blessed life of the desert. He loved prayer and asceticism, obedience, silence and humility, and he gained the Grace of the Holy Spirit. He would say that the purpose of our life was the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and that the foolish virgins of the parable were left out of the bridal chamber because they did not have the Holy Spirit.

In the wilderness we encounter him associating with a bear, which sat near him like a lamb and he would feed it to the mouth. This is testified by a nun who visited him in order to be advised about a certain problem that occupied her and, as she says, when she saw it she almost had a heart attack. But then she was persuaded to feed the bear and felt great joy.

When someone becomes a true person, that is, when they acquire humility and are filled with the Holy Spirit, then they become as innocent and harmless as a little child and the wild beasts are subdued before them and they obey. Creation before the fall of the first Adam was subject to man. After the fall, however, it rebelled against the apostate. The air did not want to breathe in his nostrils, the wells did not want to gush out their water, and the earth did not want to give its fruit. The beasts changed and their tameness became wildness. However, when a person is sanctified and reaches the state of Adam before the fall, creation is subordinate to him and the wild beasts serve him.

The Apostle Paul says that joy and peace are fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whoever has within them the Grace of the Holy Spirit has peace and joy. We see this verified in the person of the venerable Seraphim in a most unequivocal manner. He was a man with a joyful disposition. He tried and exceeded all of his problems, because he believed that others were not obligated to see him sullen and sulky. He truly rejoiced for the gifts of God, for the conquering of life over death, for the presence of visitors at his "little desert" whom he received with the beloved greeting: "Christ is Risen, my joy!" Certainly he felt sorrow and pain for the sins and sorrows of the people, because he had love, but true joy is something deeper. It doesn't abandon a person even during their greatest trials.

He said about inner peace: "Acquire peace in your soul and thousands of people around you will find peace."

Inside the Church we are struggling as individuals to become persons or, to use another expression, we are trying to become persons so we don't become "sulky". The peace of the soul, a smile and a joyful disposition are directly related to internal regeneration and the Holy Spirit.

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas
Translated by John Sanidopoulos

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