On Earth As In Heaven

The Place Where Early Christianity Continues


The Story of St. Seraphim of Sarov


St. Seraphim of Sarov in prayer

The patron saint for this radio show, On Earth As In Heaven, is St. Seraphim of Sarov, who was chosen because of the quality of his spiritual message, as well as the intensity of its purport. St. Seraphim never wrote books, but some of his teachings were written down by his disciples as excellent examples of modern expressions of early Christianity. St. Seraphim's lessons were not only mystical and miraculous, but his words relate very well to the weakening spirituality of today's Christian world. His connection with our times is a result of a spiritual decline that was beginning to occur during his century, the 1700's, and which continued into the 1800's, as Russia became influenced by Protestant factions, Catholic infiltrations, and secular west European philosophies.

St. Seraphim of Sarov was born in Kursk, Russia in 1759. He joined the monastery at Sarov, Russia at 19 years old, thanks to the counsel of a holy female recluse at the Kiev Caves. This is where he stayed until he died in 1833.

St. Seraphim grew up as a religious person, and at 10 years old he was miraculously healed of a serious sickness by the Mother of God through her Kursk Icon, which is now in the USA and continues to work miracles. Before he became a monk he spent all his time reading Scripture, learning the liturgy, the lives of the saints, and so on. He spent as much time as he could in these studies and at church, listening to the ancient teachings of the priests. He could only think of God and the spiritual world. Eventually his deep desire for holy things made him long for the monastic life, the venue where Christianity's greatest spirituality has always been fostered.

After a long, arduous time of testing at the monastery of Sarov, St. Seraphim was tonsured a monk and a deacon when he was 27 years old. He entered deeply into the meaning of the church services and he often saw angels, which Eastern Orthodox believe are present during liturgical services. Once during liturgy he actually saw Christ in the air surrounded by angels. He was so inspired by this experience that he could not continue serving, so he was led out of church, where he stood for hours in spiritual ecstasy.

When he was 34 years old he was ordained a priest and he was also soon given the blessing by the abbot to live as a hermit in the forest. In his cabin he studied spiritual books and prayed constantly, as well as going to church at the monastery every week. In 1804 he was attacked by robbers and almost beaten to death. The Mother of God with the apostles St. Peter and St. John appeared to him in order to encourage him. Even though he survived the beating, the attack ruined his back, so that he had to walk the rest of his life bent over and using a staff.

St. Seraphim never wavered in his fervor for prayer, liturgy, and religious reading. He once undertook a spiritual devotion like that of the ancient pillar saints of Syria. For 1000 days and nights he spent most of his time kneeling on a stone near his cell, constantly saying the Jesus Prayer, which is the statement made by the publican in Christ's parable in Luke 18:13, "Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Demons often attacked him during this time but they did not affect him.

The many years of isolation provided the means for St. Seraphim to crucify all of his passions. When he was ready, the Mother of God with St. Onuphrius the Great and St. Peter of Mt. Athos appeared to him in a vision and told him to open up his cabin to all people, so they can hear how to become spiritually pure. For the last 8 years of his life, thousands of pilgrims came to his cabin for prayers and spiritual advice. God worked many miracles and signs through him, with St. Seraphim being especially clairvoyant. The Mother of God appeared to him 12 times in all, and he died while kneeling in front of an icon of her.

St. Seraphim was an inspiration and a bulwark of the ancient Faith. Within 100 years, his reiteration of the apostolic message was so powerful in Russia that he was canonized a saint. His most famous teaching is a record of a conversation he had with a certain nobleman, Nicholas Alexandrovich Motovilov. This record is titled "The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit", and it remains as one of the most profound writings in modern Orthodoxy. Mr. Motovilov wanted to learn as much as he could about how to acquire the Holy Spirit. St. Seraphim taught him many things, first explaining how modern Christianity has weakened so much, that miracles no longer occur as they used to, not by God's design, but by human laziness and forgetfulness. He went on to describe the meaning of grace and the divine light and holy peace and perfect love. During this conversation Motovilov could not understand how a person could know if or not he was in the Holy Spirit. St. Seraphim prayed to God that Motovilov would see with his physical eyes the spiritual message he was trying to convey about acquiring the Holy Spirit. It was then that St. Seraphim was surrounded by the divine light, which was so powerful that Motovilov could barely look at him. St. Seraphim then examined Motovilov's visual, intellectual, and emotional experiences to this vision and he successfully described to him how a person can have the correct knowledge of being in the Spirit of God.

"After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow blanket which covered the forest glade and the snowflakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!
'How do you feel now?' Fr. Seraphim asked me.
'Extraordinarily well,' I said.
'But in what way? How exactly do you feel well?'
I answered, 'I feel such calmness and peace in my soul that no words can express it.'
'This, your godliness,' said Fr. Seraphim, 'is that peace of which the Lord said to His disciples, "My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you (John 14:27)."'.....
'Christ the Saviour calls it a peace which comes from His own generosity and is not of this world, for no temporary earthly prosperity can give it to the human heart; it is granted from on High by the Lord God Himself, and that is why it is called the peace of God.'"
(Taken from the "Little Russian Philokalia, vol. I: St. Seraphim, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996, p. 100-101).

St. Seraphim's main message to the world is: Return to the peace of Jesus Christ, which surpasses all understanding. He also stated, repeating the early Christians, that to attain greater spirituality one must put much effort into it, in cooperation with God's grace. To this theme he adds elsewhere, "Only one thing is needful- a firm resolve." May the Lord open our hearts to taking on this firm resolve, to imitating the ancient saints to the fullest and acquiring the Holy Spirit in perfection.

On Earth As In Heaven prays to God that St. Seraphim may assist us in continuing the lessons he taught 200 years ago in Russia.