An Extraordinary Peace: St. Seraphim, Flame of Sarov
Friday Book Pick: An Extraordinary Peace: St. Seraphim, Flame of Sarov
By Archimandrite Lazarus (Moore)
The Christmas Octave is reason enough for celebration—liturgically and otherwise. But, these Christmas days are bursting with grace as we celebrate layers of glorious feasts. I write this on December 28th, Feast of the Holy Innocents, when we solemnly remember the hundreds of baby boys whose lives were taken by Herod’s jealous hatred of Jesus of Nazareth. Yesterday, December 27th, was the Feast of John the Evangelist, also known as John the Theologian, perhaps best known as John the Beloved, as he knew himself to be “the one whom Jesus loved.” The day before that, December 26th, as you know, was the Feast of St. Stephen, the protomartyr of our Faith.
It strikes me that in the midst of Christmas, when we find ourselves kneeling before the manger offering our faith and our love to the Divine Babe, Holy Mother Church is holding out for us examples of the various roads that we may be called to travel as we follow our Divine Savior, Jesus Christ. Like the mothers and fathers of the “Holy Innocents,” our paths may pass through unforeseen suffering—even tragedy—as we follow Jesus through life. Or, like St. Stephen, we may get the opportunity to choose death rather than renounce our faith in Jesus Christ—who knows? Or, like St. John the Beloved, our path may be one that ends in old age after a long road of discipleship and of ever-growing identification with Jesus.
The lives of the saints show us the various pathways of following Jesus, which in truth, are one way—the way of obedience to the will of the Father. This is the way Jesus Himself showed us.
The great Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov is celebrated in the Russian Orthodox Church on January 2nd , and like the saints mentioned above, St. Seraphim holds out for us the example of yet another way, monasticism—which is another facet of the one way of following Jesus in unwavering obedience to the will of the Father out of love.
This foundational understanding of the one way to holiness being obedience to the Father’s will is an essential starting point for introducing St. Seraphim, because some of the events, penances and ascetical characteristics of Seraphim’s holy and glorious life could be dismissed as extreme, foreign, and incomprehensible without seeing them through the lens of a great love and a great passion for union with God through obedience to His will.
A man (or woman) in love has been known to do strange, difficult and even odd things in the course of a courtship, and it is no less true in the greatest courtship of all between a soul and God. You can read the book for yourself to get a glimpse of the strange and difficult austerities I speak of.
What draws me personally to this 18th-century Russian saint is not the bizarre aspects of his remarkable life but his dedication from a young age, his clear-sightedness, his abundant and consistent joy, and his generous availability to help ordinary people grow in holiness. Actually, the first thing that drew me to St. Seraphim was the knowledge that he was a favorite saint—truly a close friend—of †Fr. Robert Stanion, CFR (1947-2009), one of the “founders” of the CFR Community, who was greatly loved, and is greatly missed. (I felt close to Fr. Robert with each page of this marvelous book; such is the communion of saints!)
One of St. Seraphim’s most famous sayings was, “I implore you, acquire a peaceful spirit, and then thousands of souls will be saved around you.” The idea that your inner state, the sincerity of your repentance, your conformity to Christ, your pursuit of holiness, etc. has a far-reaching effect—a ripple effect in grace—is an important one.
The other idea that captivated me from the teaching of our Saint is the succinct way he encapsulates the aim of the Christian life. If I were to ask you to put in one sentence the aim of the Christian life, how would you do it?
Perhaps you’d answer: “The aim of the Christian life is to follow Jesus.” Or, “The aim of the Christian life is to get to heaven.” Or, “The aim of the Christian life is repentance and faith.” Or, “The aim of the Christian life is to introduce as many people to Jesus and the Gospel as possible.”
Saint Seraphim answered this way: “The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.” The more I ponder this, the more I see the crystal-clear truth of it. The Holy Spirit is the gift of God, as Jesus Himself explained to the woman at the well (Jn. 4:10). And if we knew Who it was Who is offering us this gift at all times, and that He does not ration the gift of the Spirit (Jn. 3: 31-36), we would ask all the more! And isn’t the Holy Spirit the living divine gift of grace within us that enables us to follow Jesus, get to heaven, repent, exercise faith, and draw others onward?
Saint Seraphims’ earthly journey came to a gentle end on January 2, 1833 in the hermitage in Sarov where he had spent decades in prayer and in acts of loving self-denial for the good of others. He was found in peaceful repose, kneeling before the icon of Our Lady of Tenderness through which countless hours of his life had spent in loving communion with heaven.
Yes, Saint Seraphim, the Flame of Sarov, is a great Russian Orthodox Saint, but it is surely his joy to befriend us all alike and to assist us on our way, just as he assisted our beloved Fr. Robert. Let us seek his intercession from heaven in our own pilgrimage of the Christian life as we seek to live more and more with, in, and through the Holy Spirit of God.
Slideshow of Fr. Robert Stanion, CFR