On August 1st, the Belarussian Orthodox Church commemorates one of the most well-known Russian saints - Venerable Seraphim of Sarov. Many people all around the world consider him to be their Patron Saint and learn from his exceptional wisdom and faith.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov was born on July 19, 1754, in Kursk. The boy was baptized as an infant and received his Christian name, Prochor (after Prochorus, one of the Seven Deacons of the Early Church).
The tradition believes that, as a young child, Prochor was miraculously healed from a terrible illness after venerating the icon of the Mother of God named ‘Our Lady of Kursk’.
From a young age, Prochor was interested in spirituality and reading the Scriptures.
When he was 17 years old, Prochor visited the elder Dorothea of Kiev. She told him that he could become a great monk and serve God and people this way. Prochor decided to follow the monastic path and joined the Monastery of Sarov as a novice at the age of 19.
It is known that he was not officially tonsured until 1786 when he was 47 years old. That is when he received his new name, Seraphim (meaning ‘burning’ in Hebrew). Seven years later, monk Seraphim was ordained as a hieromonk and became the spiritual father of the Diveevo Convent.
The sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent singing about St Seraphim of Sarov
At some point, monk Seraphim settled in a tiny log cabin in the woods and led a solitary and ascetic lifestyle for many years. Even though he had serious health issues, he did everything by himself. He grew vegetables in his garden and took care of a beehive near his cabin.
Being completely isolated from the world and seeing only God’s pure creation - nature, he became friendly with the animals that lived in the forest. Animals always sense what type of a person is in front of them. The animals must have felt that they could trust monk Seraphim, so they often came to him to be fed.
One day, Saint Seraphim was attacked by thieves. They were looking for money and treasures but found nothing in the monk’s cabin. However, they beat the monk with his own axe and ran away. Saint Seraphim was severely injured and had to go back to the Monastery for a few months to recover before returning back.
The thieves were eventually caught, but it was monk Seraphim’s wish to have mercy on them and set them free.
In 1815, Saint Seraphim had a vision of the Theotokos who told him that it was time for him to serve people. This is when people from all over Russia began to visit his cabin, asking him for advice and prayers.
All those who have ever met monk Seraphim in person reported that he was exceptionally kind and gentle. He always called his visitors ‘My joy’ and seemed to know what they came for before even listening to them.
Up to this day, people repeat a simple but powerful phrase that Saint Seraphim used to say:
"Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved."
The very last moments of St Seraphim’s earthly life were spent in prayer. He was found dead, kneeling before one of his favorite icons, the Umilenie icon of the Mother of God.
Saint Seraphim was glorified as a saint because of Nicholas the Second and his family. According to sources, it is by Saint Seraphim’s prayers that Tsaritsa Alexandra finally gave birth to a boy. The canonization took place on July 19 (August 1) and was attended by the Romanovs.
Here at Saint Elisabeth Convent the clergy, the sisters and the parishioners love and venerate Saint Seraphim of Sarov.
On the eve of the Feast, we serve an All-Night Vigil service and begin to commemorate the saint by singing special hymns:
“Thou didst love Christ from thy youth, O blessed one, and longing to work for Him alone thou didst struggle in the wilderness with constant prayer and labor. With penitent heart and great love for Christ thou wast favored by the Mother of God. Wherefore we cry to thee: Save us by thy prayers, O Seraphim our righteous Father.” (Troparion of Saint Seraphim of Sarov)
On August 1, we start the day with a festive Divine Liturgy. We continue glorifying God and offer Him the prayers of thanksgiving for the gift that is Saint Seraphim to us. We continue to sing glorifying hymns:
“Having left the beauty of the world and what is corrupt in it, O saint, thou didst settle in Sarov Monastery. And having lived there an angelic life, thou wast for many the way to salvation. Wherefore Christ has glorified thee, O Father Seraphim, and has enriched thee with the gift of healing and miracles. And so we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Seraphim, our righteous Father.” (Kontakion of Saint Seraphim of Sarov)
In 1828, 5 years before the saint’s death, an artist by the name of Serebriakov created the only lifetime portrait of Saint Seraphim. Later, iconographers used the portrait to paint the saint’s icon.
There are multiple icons of the saint in our Convent’s churches, and people always come to pray to Saint Seraphim and to ask for his intercession before God, just like they did during the time of his earthly life many decades ago.
The school year in Belarus begins on the first of September. This date is an important one for our ministry, as St Elisabeth Convent has established the first and the only Christian school in Belarus, the Ichthys Christian Orthodox School.