The Christian Spiritual Life – St. Seraphim of Sarov.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. (Matt. 16:24)
The best known of the Orthodox saints of modern times, St. Seraphim of Sarov, has much to teach the Orthodox Christians of these last times. Unfortunately, the striking nature of some of his spiritual experiences – which indeed stand in glaring contrast to the ordinary Christian experience of our days – has led some to miss the whole point of his teaching.
St. Seraphim was born in 1759 in Kursk, in the heart of Holy Russia, to a pious merchant family. Raised in the fear of God and strict Orthodox life, he also knew very early the mercies of God at first hand; at the age of ten he was miraculously healed of a serious affliction by the Mother of God through her Kursk Icon (which now is in America and continues to work miracles).
Through the reading of Scripture and other basic Christian literature, a deep desire for spiritual things was kindled in him and he began to long to serve God in the monastic calling.
Upon the counsel of the holy recluse Dositheus of Kiev, he went to Sarov Monastery where, at the age of 27, he was tonsured a monk. By a life of constant prayer and unceasing spiritual warfare, he drew upon himself God’s grace and was granted the gifts of prophecy, discernment and healing. Thousands flocked to him for counsel and hegreeted all who came to him with the words “Christ is Risen!” No one who came to him left without consolation and an answer to his spiritual need. More than once he was seen in uncreated light, shining more brightly than the sun.
His Spiritual Instructions – like his teaching on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit – contain no new teaching, but simply repeat in modern times the age old teaching of the great Fathers based upon Holy Scripture. This teaching is not complex; but in our own days, when the love of many has grown cold and the salt is going out of Christianity, it is only with great humility on our part that we can hope to receive and apply this teaching of the true Christian spiritual life to our own poor Christian lives.
By the prayers of our holy Father Seraphim, may we understand his words and practice them, according to our strength, for the salvation of our souls!
God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. And so, if we feel in our hearts coldness, which is from the devil, – for the devil is cold – then let us call upon the Lord and He will come and warm our hearts with perfect love not only for Him, but for our neighbor as well. And from the presence of warmth the coldness of the hater of good ill be driven away.
A man becomes perfect in the sight of God to the extent that he follows in His footsteps; in the true age God will reveal His face to him. For the righteous, to the degree that they enter into contemplation of Him, behold His image as in a mirror; but there they will behold the revelation of Truth.
Before anything else one must believe in God, “that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Faith, according to the teaching of St. Antioch, is the beginning of our union with God. One who truly believes is a stone in the temple of God; he is prepared for the edifice of God the Father, raised to the heights by the power of Jesus Christ, that is, of the Cross, with the aid of ropes, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit.
FEAR OF GOD
A man who has taken upon himself to travel the path of internal mindfulness must have above all the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.
Reverent carefulness is necessary here because this sea – that is, the heart, with its thoughts and desires, which one must cleanse by means of mindfulness – is great and vast, “and there are numberless reptiles there” (Ps. 103:25), that is, numerous vain, unjust and impure thoughts generated by evil spirits.
Those who have truly decided to serve the Lord God should practice the remembrance of God and uninterrupted prayer to Jesus Christ, mentally saying: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.
When the mind and heart are united in prayer and the soul’s thoughts are not dispersed, the heart is warmed by spiritual warmth in which the light of Christ shines, making the whole inner man peaceful and joyous.
We should thank the Lord for everything and give ourselves up to His will; we should likewise offer Him all our thoughts and words, and strive to make everything serve only His good pleasure.
DO NOT JUDGE YOUR NEIGHBORS
For an offense, whatever kind may have been given, one must not only not avenge oneself, but on the contrary must all the more forgive from the heart, even though it may resist this, and must incline the heart by conviction of the word of God: “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15).
One should nourish the soul with the word of God: for the word of God, as St. Gregory the Theologian says, is angelic bread, by which are nourished souls who hunger for God. Most of all, one should occupy oneself with reading the New Testament and the Psalter, which one should do standing up. From this there occurs an enlightenment in the mind, which is in the mind, which is changed by a Divine change.
One should habituate oneself in this way so that the mind might as it were swim in the Lord’s law; it is under the guidance of this law that one should direct one’s life.
He who would be saved should ever have his heart disposed to repentance and broken, according to the Psalmist: “Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit: a broken and humbled heart God will not despise” (Ps. 50:17).
In such brokenness of spirit a man can easily pass securely through the artful snares of the proud devil, whose whole care consists in agitating the human spirit, and in agitation sowing his tares, in accordance with the words of the Gospel: “Lord, didst not Thou sow good seed in Thy field? From whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, “An enemy hath done this” (Matt. 13:27-28). 1. When, however, a man strives within himself to have his heart humble and his thought not agitated, but peaceful, then all the snares of the enemy are without effect; there resides the Lord God Himself – “His place is in peace” (Ps. 75:3).
The following contains portions of a new publication from the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery Press, The Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. I: St. Seraphim. (1980).