Thursday, January 2, 2014

January 2 - Seraphim of Sarov, Hermit, Monk, Peaceful Spirit


Seraphim had traveled into the city to attend a very important trial. His presence had not been demanded or even requested but yet he had made the long and arduous journey in spite of his injured back and new physical deformities. Of course, his presence was received joyously because his reputation preceded him. The people were happy to see the Russian holy man who had grown up and experienced notable visions throughout his life. Seraphim had been the son of a loving merchant and wife who had raised him within the faith that would form him for the remainder of his life. He had become a novice monk at a young age and had devoted himself to hermetic and ascetic practices in the outlying regions of the Russian countryside. Yet in spite of his hermetic desires and tendencies, people were constantly traveling to visit and study under Seraphim in his hermitage. He had few opportunities to be alone but he was a spiritual mentor and confessor to many. He was known for one supreme teaching: "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved." Yet, they were still surprised to see him draw close to the court.

Hunched over his cane, he could barely walk and so the entrance into the courtroom was a long and protracted affair and every eye was upon him--especially the eyes of the defendants. The judge allowed Seraphim to draw close and offer testimony. After all, the defendants were charged with assaulting and beating Seraphim before attempting to rob him. They had crept into the clearing near his hermitage while remaining ignorant of who it was they were planning on taking advantage of. "My joys!" Seraphim exclaimed in greeting to the men as he left his hermitage, "Come now and join with me to eat." He gave the first surprised thief a kiss on one cheek before being bludgeoned in the back by a second thief. A painful shock coursed through his body as his legs collapsed beneath him. Once he had fallen, they began to savagely beat and abuse the old man. As he moaned in agony with a broken shoulder and bruised bones, they roughly looted his person before going to his hermitage to finish the job. In the hermitage they found a bowl and only one item of any value: an icon of the virgin Mary. In shame, they fled from the place but their flight was observed by a pilgrim who also found Seraphim beaten and slowly dying. They were turned over to the government to be judged but Seraphim insisted on being there--even if it tortured him to travel and be present but he had a compelling reason to be there: to plead for the mercy of the court for his attackers.

History doesn't record the fate of the men who assaulted and debilitated poor Seraphim but we do know that his earnest plea for mercy was received with surprise but also a delightful sense of expectation--the people knew that mercy and peace were the governing forces in Seraphim's life. He could not imagine seeking punishment for the men even though they had revealed their most savage aspects to him and the world expected him to seek vengeance. Instead, he returned love and grace for their blind hatred and rage. For the rest of his life he pushed himself to delve deeper into the spiritual life of renunciation and discipline. Even though he had been nearly crippled, he was devoted to physical disciplines that would have been taxing for anybody. The pilgrims never stopped coming and Seraphim never stopped greeting them with a kiss and open arms--this is what he had been called to and this is what he lived out.

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