After experiencing visions and miraculous healing as both a child and a young monk, Seraphim began to withdraw into his “farther hermitage”—the forest wilderness about five km from Sarov Monastery. Wild animals—bears, rabbits, wolves, foxes and others—came to the hut of the ascetic. The elder of the Diveevo monastery, Matrona Plescheeva, witnessed how St. Seraphim fed a bear that had come to him out of his hand: “Seraphim’s face was particularly miraculous. It was joyous and bright, as that of an angel,” she described. While living in this little hermitage of his, Seraphim once suffered greatly at the hands of robbers. Although he was physically very strong and was holding an axe at the time, St. Seraphim did not resist them. In answer to their threats and their demands for money, he lay his axe down on the ground, crossed his arms on his chest and obediently gave himself up to them. They began to beat him on the head with the handle of his own axe. Blood began to pour out of his mouth and ears, and he fell unconscious. After that they began to hit him with a log, trampled him under foot, and dragged him along the ground. They stopped beating him only when they had decided that he had died. The only treasure which the robbers found in his cell was the icon of the Mother of God of Deep Emotion (Ymileniye), before which he always prayed. When, after some time, the robbers were caught and brought to justice, the holy monk interceded on their behalf before the judge. After the beating, Seraphim remained hunched over for the rest of his life.
Soon after this began the “pillar” period of the life of Seraphim, when he spent his days on a rock near his little hermitage, and nights in the thick of the forest. He prayed with his arms raised to heaven, almost without respite. This feat of his continued for a thousand days.
Because of a special vision of the Mother of God he was given toward the end of his life, St. Seraphim took upon himself the feat of becoming an elder. He began to admit everyone who came to him for advice and direction. Many thousands of people from all walks of life and conditions began to visit the elder now, who enriched them from his spiritual treasures, which he had acquired by many years of efforts. Everyone saw Seraphim as meek, joyful, pensively sincere. He greeted all with the words: “My joy! Christ is risen” To many he advised:
“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”
No matter who came to him, Seraphim bowed to the ground before all, and, in blessing, kissed their hands. He did not need the visitors to tell him about themselves, as he could see what each had on their soul.
One winters day, an follower of Seraphim, called Motovilov, was sitting on a stump in the woods. Seraphim was squatting across from him and telling his pupil the meaning of a Christian life, explaining for what we Christians live on earth.
“It is necessary that the Holy Spirit enter our heart. Everything good that we do, that we do for Christ, is given to us by the Holy Spirit, but prayer most of all, which is always available to us,” he said.
“Father,” answered Motovilov, “how can I see the grace of the Holy Spirit? How can I know if He is with me or not?”
St. Seraphim began to give him examples from the lives of the saints and apostles, but Motovilov still did not understand. The elder then firmly took him by the shoulder and said to him, “We are both now, my dear fellow, in the Holy Spirit.” It was as if Motovilov’s eyes had been opened, for he saw that the face of the elder was brighter than the sun. In his heart Motovilov felt joy and peace, in his body a warmth as if it were summer, and a fragrance began to spread around them. Motovilov was terrified by the unusual change, but especially by the fact that Seraphim’s face shone like the sun. But St. Seraphim said to him, “Do not fear, dear fellow. You would not even be able to see me if you yourself were not in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Thank the Lord for His mercy toward us.”
On this day, lift before God:
- all who seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
- All who seek to live peaceably.
- All who pray for healing.
- All who have compassion.
- All who lead others into the Christian life.