Michael Prokurat, Alexander Golitzin, Michael D. Peterson
The A to Z of the Orthodox Church


SERAPHIM OF SAROV, monk, ascetic, St. (1759–13 January 1833). Born in Kursk into a family engaged in business, Prokhor Mochin suffered a few childhood calamities from which he was delivered into a life that prepared him for monasticism (q.v.). At age eighteen, he investigated the Pechersk Monastery of the Caves, received the blessing of Hegumen Dositheus, and entered the Monastery of Sarov two years later. Although he was fervent in his monastic life, he soon fell ill (1780), and remained so for three years. On recovering he built a church for the infirmary.

He was tonsured monk on 13 August 1786, and ordained deacon (1788) and priest (1793). In 1794 after the death of his abbot, he went into seclusion for two years to a spot about two hours’ walk from the Monastery. He was attacked by brigands (1804) and left for dead, but on miraculously recovering at the Monastery, returned to his seclusion, now as a stylite of sorts. In 1807 he was offered governance of the Monastery after the new abbot’s death, but went back into his skete to live in silence for three years. He returned to the Monastery in 1810 due to physical weakness and broke his silence, but shut himself in his cell for the next fifteen years.

In 1825 Seraphim began the fourth and last phase of his life when he opened the door of his cell to the world. His fame spread quickly, and soon he was sought out by thousands of people who wanted advice, asked for healing (q.v.) and comfort, and repented of their sins (q.v.). His teaching contained nothing novel, the age-old creed of the ascetic: the real purpose of human existence is to acquire the Holy Spirit (q.v.). The quality of Seraphim’s spiritual gifts was memorialized in literature by one of his favorite admirers, Nicholas Motovilov-a beautiful conversation found in almost every lengthy description of Seraphim’s life. His last years were also spent giving direction to the nuns at the convent of Diveyevo, who continued a special veneration of their spiritual father (q.v.) after his death. In spite of caustic opposition to his canonization by Russian intellectuals and the Ober-Procurator Pobedonostsev, Seraphim was canonized in 1903, and remains one of the most venerated of saints in Russia and in the Russian emigration.

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