The Loving God has given us elder brothers and sisters in Christ—the saints. We can always turn to them, asking for prayers and help. Sometimes God wills it so that a particular saint plays an important part in a person's life. Nun Lyubov (Nikolaeva) is sharing her story of a personal relationship between a Christian and a saint.
Venerable Seraphim of Sarov is like a father to me. His kindness and consideration are truly special. In his holy image, filled with tremendous, seraphic, ardent love for Christ, the Mother of God and people, I see the “Russian holiness” and the Holy Russia itself. St. Seraphim is one of the greatest saints whom I trust very much. When I was first introduced to him, I realised that there was no one closer to me except the Lord and the Mother of God.
I was fifteen then and I had just been baptised. Simultaneously with this event, a difficult and painful situation arose in my home.
Soon after, a woman in the church gave me an icon of St. Seraphim sanctified on his relics. She had recently brought it from Diveyevo. I think it was on the eve of Father Seraphim's Memorial Day. In the evening, it became extremely difficult at home. I went into my room, lit a candle in front of the icon and began to pray. In the morning, I woke up on the floor. The candle had burned to the end. It is a miracle that nothing else burned down. The house was quiet and calm. I myself was in a state of peace and love for Father Seraphim. From that moment, he was always there for me.
I knew that night there was an action of grace, but as much as I tried, I could not remember what I had been asking the Venerable in my prayers. I simply realised that from that moment my life had changed. Father Seraphim became my friend and mentor, always ready to support me and lend a helping hand in any situation.
In a short period of time, the difficult situation in my family was resolved in an unusual way. My parents, although with difficulty, allowed me to live with a woman who was a parishioner of the church that I attended. This is how my new life began: five happy, bright and pure years, filled entirely with church, study and home. That period was followed by many trials, in which Father Seraphim always visibly took part.
After I had become a nun, I saw a vision during a dream, in which I was singing the Paraklesis to the Mother of God* in front of the Tenderness icon in Diveyevo. I was standing on the solea in church when a nun drove up to me in a horse cart and handed me bast shoes, saying that Father Seraphim had ordered me not to be afraid of anything, and that he would not leave me. Then she asked me to take the bast shoes and prepare for a journey. A week later, I left the Convent to take care of my paralyzed mother. All the time while living outside the Convent, I felt the help of Father Seraphim.
After my mother's death, before I returned to the Convent, one cleric told me that since I had not taken monastic vows yet, I could still get married. I was extremely surprised, because it seemed wrong to me. Leaving the monastery to look after my mother, I firmly decided that I would not give up this path and would not betray my vocation. I had a dream that night, in which Father Seraphim told me very sternly that I should not even think about marriage. He said that he would never leave me if I obeyed him, and that he would punish me if I did not. This sternness however was filled with love, affection and paternal care. Every day I address Fr. Seraphim in prayer, as I read or sing his troparion.
Once, God influenced my life, and I began to follow the prayer rule of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Convent, which the Venerable Seraphim recommended to his spiritual children—the Convent sisters. It happened 19 years ago, while I was visiting the Intercession Monastery. We were in a car with the abbess of the Monastery when she suddenly began to tell me about the Diveyevo prayer Fr. Seraphim's words that those who read it would be forgiven at the Last Judgement. She gave me a little booklet with that prayer rule and said that it was her blessing for me to read it daily.
When I first read it on my own, I became filled with joy. I always experience the brightest feelings when I read this rule.
In my understanding, Father Seraphim blessed me with it through the Abbess and through my confessor, Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok. Truly, everyone has their own way, including different ways to pray. The grace of the Holy Spirit can be acquired in many different ways. Every day is a search for God.
Father Seraphim was a beloved servant of the Mother of God, and this connection between them is apparent to me. I was born on the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God. In my life, the Mother of God is the second most important Person after God, and I always feel Her love and her motherhood. The Most Holy Theotokos Herself has given this prayer rule to Father Seraphim. Maybe this is why She is so merciful to me.
This rule includes the singing of the Paraklesis to the Mother of God on Sunday before Her icon known as Tenderness. It is important to me that my father has blessed me with this icon when he gave me his permission to pursue monastic life from the Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery. I really enjoy reading or singing the Paraklesis on Sundays, because it contains the chastity, purity and light that are inherent in the Mother of God.
I have been to Diveyevo many times. It is the first monastery that I have visited. I was sixteen years old then, and my heart immediately responded. My first impression was the feeling of home. It was a kind of a mixed feeling: on the one hand, I really wanted to stay and begin my monastic life there, and on the other hand, I had a feeling that I had a different path. Many people ask me why I love St. Seraphim so much and yet I am not in Diveyevo. I feel that my vocation is different.
I began addressing St. Seraphim in prayers before I began to read the Diveyevo Rule. Besides reading the troparion and the akathist, I addressed him in my own words: “Father Seraphim, help me”, “Father Seraphim, enlighten me”, “Father Seraphim, I feel badly”, “Father Seraphim, what if…” It was a personal relationship. The Venerable is alive to me. At the same time, one needs to understand that this is not familiarity and that God's fear and a sense of one's unworthiness are essential in such a relationship. It also takes patience. Some of my prayers to St. Seraphim were answered only after years. However, I trust him and I wait for the Lord to answer me through his prayers. This does not mean that there are no other saints for me. I have many saints that I turn to. All of them have played an important role in my life. However, Father Seraphim is the beginning of my path to God, and he continues to lead me.
A strong flame of ardour of my love for the saint has been transformed into a natural warm inner state. Over time, it seems to have entered my life, where it flows like a quiet stream. Sometimes, I read or sing the troparion to the Venerable and the prayers to the Mother of God, as I go to fulfil my daily responsibilities, or in the midst of life's everyday worries.
There are times when I feel cold in my soul, as if there was a stone in my heart. This happens when I cling to something worldly, and it becomes difficult for me to ask from the depth of a pure heart. Then my prayer becomes distracted, but despite this, Father Seraphim begins to push me in some way. For example, someone comes from Diveyevo and brings me breadcrumbs from there. I understand that this is a call from Father Seraphim, who says, “Come on, get up, stop being lazy spiritually, stop being negligent.”
At times when I felt very bad, I was able to help myself by opening the Chronicle of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Convent and browsing through the icons of St. Seraphim and the Mother of God. I could just leaf through the book, reading random passages, and everything inside would calm down and recover. Everything associated with Father Seraphim is a lifesaver for me. It can be an icon, to which I can snuggle up and cry, or a simple appeal to him.
Father Seraphim once said, "Address to me as if I were alive."
From the age of five, I began to pose the most important question: what is the meaning of life? Father Seraphim answered it for me — the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. I was 15-16 years old when I read a book describing a conversation between St. Seraphim and Nicholas Motovilov, in which I found this answer.
I also realised that monastic life is possible in the modern world. The Venerable Seraphim sympathized with the Diveyevo sisters and said that in future times the monastics would not be capable of as many ascetic deeds. He treated his sisters considerately and did not impose strict limits on them, saying that there is nothing worse than despondency. St. Seraphim looked into a person's potential, as the Lord revealed it to him.
He spoke about dispensation of the rules: "Eat as much as you like—there is no worse sin than being despondent."
Father Seraphim is like family to me. I have never opened my soul to anyone like I did to him. I trust him entirely with everything. If I feel bad, I know that I can come to him. I can nestle against his icon and sob. I can share my feelings when I hurt, and the feeling of despondency and despair will go away, yielding to a paternal, Paschal and bright feeling of love.
When I want to go to confession and I understand that there is a stone in my heart or when I am very ashamed of sin, I sit down and say, “Father Seraphim, help me say it so that this remains a real confession. Help me confess my sins.”
He always helps, and my confession is always spiritually beneficial to me if I begin it with such a request.
Like a loving father, St. Seraphim does not "exclude" me from his heart even if I fall and make mistakes. He continues to help me, doing everything so that I may be saved. I see nothing but kindness from the Venerable, perhaps because I am still a weak person.
The most valuable thing to me is that even if I forget about my heavenly friend, Father Seraphim remains constant in his promise and never leaves me. This is the action of Christ! This is a great happiness and a great responsibility.
I ask God and Father Seraphim for forgiveness. Please forgive me as well.
Father Seraphim, do not leave us!
* The Paraklesis in the Diveyevo monastic prayer rule is a prayer chant based on the canon of the Mother of God and prayers to the Tenderness icon of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Convent.