Pascha in the Midst of Summer. Sermon by Saint John (Maximovich) for the Feast of St. Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
'They will sing Pascha in the summer', they once said in Sarov. Seventy years passed from the death of the man about whom these words were pronounced, and on July 19, 1903, all of Rus' resounded with hymns of praise, glorifying God and His saint. Truly, all of Rus' exalted then as on the Day of Holy Pascha-even more so.
Terrible days were to come for Russia, but the memory of St Seraphim neither died nor weakened. Russian people continue to appeal to him and glorify him, both in the suffering Homeland and throughout the ends of the world where they are scattered. Even other nations are becoming familiar with St Seraphim; his Life (biography) is being translated into various languages, evoking not only admiration, but also, in many, the striving to apply in their own lives the lessons given to us by his life. Thus, despite the changes that have taken place in the world, the memory of St Seraphim not only does not fade, but it remains a lamp that shines ever brighter to humanity.
It was the same during his earthly life. Cities were being destroyed, kingdoms were being established, Napoleon advanced upon Russia with twelve nations and then left in disgrace, Moscow burned and was again raised from the ashes, Decembrists organized revolts and were then sentenced; but was as if these events did not touch St Seraphim.
He was wholly occupied with the acquisition of "the one thing needful", worked on his "spiritual growth". He was called an "egoist, introverted", "ignorant, not interested in anything other than what concerned him personally" – that is what many thinkers would say who refused to see even the slightest benefit in the podvig [spiritual feat] of self-perfection. So finally, the monk Seraphim dies. It would seem that the image of this elder who so stubbornly fled the world should be erased from people's memory. But pilgrimages begin to made to his grave, people who come to him from all ends of Russia receive help, consolation, and edification; and the veneration of him begins to spread even among people of other nations.
In what lies the power of St Seraphim? What is his podvig? He strove to realize the commandment of Christ: "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). He labored to restore in himself the first-created image of man, corrupted as a consequence of sin.
St Seraphim reached his goal: he overcame sin and became a saint; he truly became the likeness of God. We cannot see the invisible God, but the Lord gave us to see Himself in those like unto Him, in His saints. And so, one of these likenesses was St Seraphim. In him we see restored human nature, freed from slavery to sin. He is the incarnate personification of eternal victory over the transitory, sanctity over sin, good over evil.
St Seraphim calls all by his example to follow the path shown by Christ. He calls us to struggle with sin and our inadequacies, being himself a beacon and lamp for all who seek salvation. St Seraphim calls us to seek the higher good, spiritual fruits, about which the Apostle Paul said, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:22-24).
The path to the Heavenly Kingdom is hard, for sin has taken over human nature and spoiled it. Each of us has our own personal sins. There are also societal sins of which an entire nation is guilty. Thus, the entire Russian nation is guilty of the sin of abandoning the pious life and customs of its ancestors and seeking what is alien to it, what is un-Orthodox; of believing the slander spread about God's anointed one, and allowing them to first tear off his crown, and then kill the pious Tsar along with his entire family-the Tsar who was the first to prostrate himself before the glorified relics of St Seraphim. St Seraphim calls all to repentance and correction of life, both personal and societal. Although this path is hard, the God-pleaser Seraphim will help us to walk it. St Seraphim is a beacon and lamp on this path; he is also our aid. By the prayers of Thy saint, our father Seraphim, Lord grant repentance and victory over sin to us sinners, and lead us to Thy Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.
On Saint Seraphim.
From Sermon on Holiness by St. John (Maximovitch) from 18/31 May 1953
Holiness is the fruit of a man's efforts and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is reached by him who wears a cross and wages warfare in the name of Christ against the obstacles to holiness, to becoming akin to Christ. These obstacles are sins, sinful habits, firmly rooted in the soul. Struggle against them is the major work of a Christian, and in so far as he purifies his soul, so far will he receive of the Holy Spirit.
St. Seraphim taught the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and he genuinely acquired it, for the Most Holy Mother of God recognized him as being her own. And the faithful, sincere seekers of the Truth and the Light (as was Motovilov), saw how this great Godpleaser shone with the light of holiness because of their reverence.
How varied are the paths of saints! At the throne of God, in front of everyone is the Most Holy Mother of God, more glorious than the seraphim and all the angels and archangels who stood firm, remaining faithful to God through the fearful struggle that was raised against God by the most radiant of them all, Lucifer, which means Light-bearer, who is now the devil, in other words, the one cast down to the deepest darkness. In this struggle the bright angels came so close to God that it is already impossible for them to step back or become separated from Him.
All the pleasers of God are like the angels in their love and devotion. Just as the angels, they waged war against the dark forces, and became strengthened in the love of God. All of the prophets of the Old Testament lived in such a struggle. Godlessness prevailed; the Law of God was forgotten. The world persecuted them because they interfered with its sinful life. They hid in the "depths of the earth." The world hated them. The prophet Isaiah was sawed in two by a wooden saw; the prophet Jeremiah was trampled in a swamp. And in such surroundings they stood fast in faith and devotion. All righteous ones were sorrowful in the world because they were strangers to the sinful world. All of the apostles suffered in one way or another. Righteous men left for the desert. What made them saints? Suffering? Not suffering alone makes saints, but striving towards God, the love of God, and the labor of overcoming obstacles to holiness, which is the fruit of man's labor and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Troparion of St. Seraphim of Sarov, Tone 4
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.