St. Seraphim of Sarov

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Since tonight with the Great Vespers service we begin the commemoration of St. Seraphim on the Old Calendar I am posting a few excerpts from the book “In the Footsteps of a Saint” (St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2006). This is a translation of a short life and instructions of St. Seraphim from a book on elders of Sarov. The first excerpt is a description of the saints from this life; the second is from his instructions.

His memory was solid, his mind bright, and his gift of speaking abundant. His conversation was so effective and comforting that everyone hearing him found benefit for his soul. Some of those gathered acknowledged that the conversation warmed their hearts, as if a veil has been removed from their inner eye. If illumined their minds with the light of spiritual enlightenment. It aroused in the soul resolution to change and strength to improve for the better. All his words and reasonings he based on the Word of God and the tradition of the Fathers, and he confirmed most of it with excerpts from the New Testament.

Through the purity of his spirit he had the gift of discernment. He gave instruction to some before they explained their circumstances, touching directly upon the inner feelings and thoughts of their hearts.

The special qualities of his conversation and conduct were love and wisdom that proceeds from humility. Whosoever it might be that came to him—a poor man in rags, or a rich man in fine apparel, and regardless of the sins they were burdened with—he embraced all with love. He bowed to the ground before all, gave blessings, and kissed the hands of many who were not ordained. He never admonished anyone with severe reprimand of a harsh reproach, nor did he lay a heavy burden on anyone. He himself bore the Cross of Christ with all its afflictions.

In speaking he convicted some—but gently, softening his words with humility and love. He strove to awaken the conscience through his counsel, indicating the way of salvation in such a manner that the listener at first would not even understand that the matter concerned his own soul. Afterwards, the power of his words, full of grace, inevitably produced results. None departed from him without direction—neither the rich, not the poor, nor the simple, nor the learned, nor the dignified, nor the ordinary folk. There was enough living water for all, flowing from the mouth of the humble and poor Elder. All felt his affable love, and its power. Floods of tears broke forth that times even from those with hard and stony hearts. He went to great lengths to take care of those in whom he saw a disposition for good… He fortified them with counsels and instructions, indicating the way of salvation and rousing them to love through his own love. ( In the Footsteps of a Saint, pp. 19-20)

Concerning peace of soul

If a man does not abandon worldly concerns he cannot have peace of soul. Peace of soul is obtained through afflictions. The Scriptures say, “We have gone through fire and water and Thou hast led us to rest” (Psa. 65:12). He who desires to be pleasing to God must pass through many afflictions. How can we extol the holy martyrs for the suffering they endured for the sake of God if we are not able to endure a little fever?
Nothing is so helpful in the acquisition of interior peace as silence, and to keep conversations with others as short as possible; but one should converse with oneself unceasingly.

Nothing is better than peace in Christ, for in it every warfare of the spirits of the air and earth is destroyed. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12)

The sign of a wise soul if when a man has his mind descend within himself and has activity in his heart. Then the grace of God envelops him and he abides in a peaceful state and through it in a most peaceful state. In a peaceful state, that is, with a good conscience. In a most peaceful state since the mind contemplates within itself the grace of the most Holy Spirit, in accordance with the word of God: His place is in peace” (Psa. 75:3). (ibid. pp. 26-7)

Through the prayers of our venerable Father Seraphim, may our Lord Jesus Christ grant us His peace and great mercy!

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St. Amvrossy of Optina on the Nativity

On the Old Calendar the Nativity of our Lord according to the flesh was celebrated yesterday.  I apologize for being a day late as the following is a festal greeting of St. Amvrossy of Optina written to a monastic community under his direction. This is Letter 2 taken from the book: Collections of Letters to Monastics, by our Holy Father–Elder Amvrossy of the Optina Hermitage, Optina Hermitage 1995 (2nd edition).

To those who are wise in the Lord!

By the mercy and the long-suffering of God once again we have reached the time of the yearly feast of Christ’s Nativity. In place of the usual simple congratulations I want to say a few words about the great mystery of this holy feast. The holy Church in her hymns already calls the faithful to contemplate with uplifted minds the travels of the master, and with purified hearts to be mysteriously delighted with the immortal supper in the lowly cave. How has the Omnipresent One bowed the heavens and come down to earth without leaving the Father’s bosom! How the Invisible was seen! How the co-eternal Word and consubstantial Son of God became the Son of a Virgin! How He Who is pre-eternal and incomprehensible beyond everything is born from a virgin today as an infant! How He who is inaccessible to all, as an infant is today embraced by the motherly virginal arms! How the One Who covers the heavens with clouds, is today as an infant wrapped in swaddled bands! How the One who created everything in wisdom is today, as a swaddled infant, put into the manger so that He will free mankind from irrationality! How the One who feeds everything as an infant is nourished with a mother’s milk! O, the awesome mystery! O the incomprehensible thing! Now God indisputably became man so that He would make man into god, which was foretold by the prophet: “I said that ye are gods and all of you are sons of the most High”—but, what of our mortality —“and we, like men, shall die”! (Psa. 81:6) What vanity is ours, which causes us to neglect the divine adoption as sons! (cf. Rom. 8:15, 23; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5)

We have more love for the slavery of passions, and because of our evil will, we voluntarily and involuntarily bend our necks before the adversary! What blindness and distortion is ours! Blessed are the ears of those shepherds who heard the angels in the air sing “Glory to God in the highest”, and the announcement of “peace on earth and God’s good will among men”. (Luke 2:14) Blessed are their eyes which saw, like a blameless lamb, Him Who was pastured in Mary’s womb. Blessed are those who are deemed worthy of God’s good will and peace which surpasses all understanding. Blessed are the wise men who came from afar to worship the One Who was born from the Virgin, and who brought to Him worthy gifts: gold as to a King, incense as to God, and myrrh as to the Immortal dead man. Blessed are also all those who worship Him in the spirit and truth, bringing Him gifts, each according to his own
capacity: one the righteous coins of mercifulness—as though gold, another as though incense and the good-smelling censor—the glorification and the many prayers of repentance and of confession, another yet, like the fine perfumed myrrh—the grateful memory of sufferings and the reverend worship to the life-giving wounds of the one Who became incarnate and Who was crucified in the flesh for our
salvation.

But what can we do, we who are depressed and insensitive – among whom I am first – who cannot take delighted in that immortal supper in the lowly cave, not having a mind elevated from earth, nor a cleansed heart? Humbling and reproaching ourselves, let us pay attention with reverence to the reading and singing in the Church. And let us receive from them, as from a source of life and of immortality, the comfort and instruction and salvation by the mercifulness and unutterable love for men of the One who was incarnate for us—the Son of God. To Whom is due all glory and power, honor and worship together with His eternal Father and the most-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever
and unto the ages of ages. Amen.