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Seraphim of Sarov

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Saint Seraphim of Sarov
Serafim and a bear.jpg
Saint Seraphim feeding his bear outside of his hermitage (from lithograph The Way to Sarov, 1903)
Born 19 July 1759, Kursk, Russian Empire
Died 2 January 1833, Sarov
Venerated in Eastern Orthodoxy
Canonized 19 July 1903, Sarov Monastery by Holy Governing Synod, Russian Orthodox Church
Major shrine Diveyevo Convent
Feast January 2/15 (Repose)
19 July/1 August (Opening of relics)
Attributes Wearing peasant clothing, often kneeling with his hands upraised in prayer; crucifix worn about his neck; hands crossed over chest

Saint Seraphim of Sarov (Russian: Серафим Саровский) (19 July 1759 - 2 January (N.S. 14 January), 1833), born Prokhor Moshnin (Прохор Мошнин), is one of the most renowned Russian monks and mystics in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is generally considered the greatest of the nineteenth century Startsy (Elders), and arguably the first. He is remembered for extending the monastic teachings of contemplation, theoria and self-denial to the layperson, and taught that the purpose of the Christian life was to acquire the Holy Spirit.

Seraphim was glorified (canonized) by the Russian Orthodox church in 1903. The date of his death is his major feast day. His canonization has something of an ecumenical character; Pope John Paul II referred to him as a saint in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope.[1][2]

One of his "spiritual children," Nicholas Motovilov, wrote most of what we know about him today.

Perhaps the Saint's most popular quote amongst Orthodox believers is "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved."


Serafim sarofckii

Statue portraying Saint Seraphim praying on the rock (Korennaya monastery, Kursk Oblast).

Born 19 July 1759, he was baptized with the name of Prochor, after Saint Prochorus, one of the first Seven Deacons of the Early Church and the disciple of John the Evangelist. His parents, Isidore and Agathia Moshnin lived in Kursk, Russia. His father Isidore was a merchant, but Seraphim had little interest in business. Instead, he began a life that was very devout to the Orthodox Church at a young age. According to Orthodox tradition, as a small boy he was healed by a Wonderworking Icon of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary), Our Lady of Kursk. During his life he experienced a number of visions.

In 1777, at the age of nineteen, he joined Sarov Monastery as a novice (poslushnik). In 1786 he was officially tonsured (took his monastic vows) and was given the religious name of Seraphim, which means "fiery" or "burning" in Hebrew. Shortly afterwards, he was ordained a hierodeacon (monastic deacon). He was ordained again in 1793 as a hieromonk (monastic priest), and became the spiritual leader of the Diveyevo convent, which has since come to be known as the Seraphim-Diveyevo Convent. Soon after this, he retreated to a log cabin in the woods outside Sarov monastery and led a solitary lifestyle as a hermit for twenty-five years. During this time his feet became swollen to the point that he had trouble walking.


Nicholas Motovilov, one of St. Seraphim's most well-known disciples.

One day, while chopping wood, he was attacked by a gang of thieves who beat him mercilessly until they thought he was dead. Seraphim never resisted and was beaten with the handle of his own axe. The thieves were looking for money, but all they found in his hut was an icon of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary). The incident left Seraphim with a hunched back for the rest of his life. However, at the thieves' trial he pleaded to the judge for mercy on their behalf.

After this incident Seraphim spent a thousand successive nights on a rock in continuous prayer with his arms raised to the sky, an almost super-human feat of asceticism, especially considering the pain he was already in from his injuries.

In 1815, in obedience to a spiritual experience that he attributed to the Virgin Mary, he began admitting pilgrims to his hermitage as a Confessor. Seraphim soon became immensely popular due to his apparent healing powers and clairvoyance. He was often visited by hundreds of pilgrims per day, and was reputed to have the ability to answer his guests' questions before they could ask.

As extraordinarily harsh as the Saint often was to himself, he was kind and gentle toward others—always greeting his guests with a prostration, a kiss, and exclaiming, "Christ is risen!" He died while kneeling before an icon of the Theotokos at the age of seventy-three.


In 1903, Venerable Seraphim of Sarov was glorified (canonized as a saint) by the Russian Orthodox Church. As part of this process, on 3 July 1903 the saint's relics were translated (removed) from their original burial place to the church of Ss. Zosimus and Sabbatius, where they had remained until the day of the glorification. Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra provided a new cypress coffin to receive the relics.

On 18 July Metropolitan Anthony officiated at the Last Pannikhida (Memorial Service) in the Dormition Cathedral at Sarov, with the royal family in attendace. These would be the last prayers offered for him as a departed servant of God; from that time forward, prayers would be addressed to him as a saint.

At 6:00 p.m. the bells rang for All-Night Vigil, the first service with hymns honoring Seraphim as a saint, and during which his relics would be exposed for public veneration. This occasion is celebrated to this day as the feast day of the Uncovering of the Relics of St. Seraphim. Since in Orthodox liturgical practice the day begins at sunset, the feast is celebrated on 19 July (the Russian Orthodox Church follows the traditional Julian Calendar, so 19 July corresponds to 1 August on the modern Gregorian Calendar). At the time of the Litia during Vespers, the saint's coffin was carried from the church of Sts Zosimus and Sabbatius and into the Dormition Cathedral. During Matins, as the Polyeleos "Praise ye the Name of the Lord..." was sung, the coffin was opened. After the Matins Gospel, Metropolitan Anthony and the other hierarchs venerated the relics. They were followed by the royal family, the officiating clergy, and all the people in the cathedral.

On 19 July, the saint's birthday, the late Liturgy began at 8 o'clock. At the Little Entrance, twelve Archimandrites lifted the coffin from the middle of the church, carried it around the Holy Table (altar), then placed it into a special shrine which had been constructed for them.

The festivities at Sarov came to an end with the consecration of the first two churches dedicated to St. Seraphim. The first such church had been constructed over his monastic cell in the wilderness of Sarov. The second church was consecrated on 22 July at the Diveyevo convent.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution the Soviet authorities severely persecuted all religious groups. As part of their persecution of Christians, they confiscated many relics of the saints, including St. Seraphim, and the whereabouts of his relics became forgotten. In 1991, St. Seraphim's relics were rediscovered after being hidden in a Soviet anti-religious museum for seventy years. This caused a sensation in post-Soviet Russia, and indeed throughout the Orthodox world. A crucession (religious procession) formed to escort the relics, on foot, all the way from Moscow to Diveyevo Convent, where they remain to this day.

See also


  1. Melkite Greek Catholic Church Information Center, "Saint Gregory Palamas" Pope John Paul II
  2. Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (Knopf, 1995), ISBN 978-0679765615, page 18.

External links

lt:Šv. Serafimas iš Sarovo ja:サロフのセラフィム no:Serafim av Sarovpt:Serafin de Sarov ro:Serafim de Sarov ru:Серафим Саровский sr:Серафим Саровски fi:Serafim Sarovilainen sv:Serafim av Sarov uk:Серафим Саровський

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