Serafim Sarovsky: A Saint for the Deep People – Part II

Dear Readers:

Continuing my review of this piece about a popular and beloved Russian Saint.  Even more intriguing than Serafim’s modest life, is the notion of a “deep people” dwelling within Russian society.  These would be a type of “Silent Majority” people who never speak up, whose voices are never heard, they play no role as actors in history, nor are subjects of their own story.  They just keep on “keeping on”, basically.  Living their biological lives. But from time to time their influence is felt in the spiritual and even political realm.

Prokhor abandons the world.

Where we left off in our story, a man named Prokhor Mashin, son of a wealthy merchant, abandoned the world and gave up everything he had, including his own name.  He changed his name to Serafim.  This is what people do when they become holy men or women:  They change their name, as if to say:  “Hey, I’m a brand new person now!”

The Russian holy name Serafim (via the Greek) is, of course, of Hebrew/Biblical origin.  In the ancient Hebrew religion, elements of polytheism survived in the concept of angelic ranks, such as Cherubim and Serafim.  The “Seraph” was ranked #5 in the Angel army consisting of 10 ranks.  According to wiki, “Seraph” or “Saraph” in Hebrew means “the burning one” or possibly “serpent”.  Combining the two concepts, you get your typical flying fire-breathing dragon.  A Seraph has 6 wings, his job is to buzz around the Throne of God singing “Holy Holy Holy!” 24/7.  With such a boring job, one can easily understand why Lucifer would rebel and try to start his own company.

TV’s “Lucifer” is a Seraph who solves homicides in LA.

As for the second part of Saint Serafim’s new name, Saratovsky, that came from the name of a little river in Mordovia called Sarovka.  Which was apparently where Serafim and his bear took up cohabitation and became a crime-fighting duo.  [Not really.]

According to author of the piece, Konstantin Kudryashov, Saint Serafim Saratovsky is one of the best known and most beloved of all the Russian Saints.  On the Respect-o-meter the Russian people give him more points than they do most of the standardized Church-approved Saints.  Serafim is so popular, that his only real competition is Father Sergiy Radonezhsky.  Who lived from 1314-1392.  Which would put him at the ripe age of 78 when he died.  Serafim lived to be 79.  These are big numbers for that time and that place.  There must, indeed, be something to say for the Saintly life style, that it conferred such longevity!

It Bears Comparison

Kudryashov goes on to say that, despite Orthodox Church attempts to unite these two Saints in the public mind, there could not actually be two more different holy men possible.  The only thing these two guys had in common, was that they both lived with bears.  And not just lived with them, but taught them, instructed them, held long conversations with them, even preached to them.  And the bears listened to them.  Other than that, these two Saints had nothing in common.

Sergey Prisekin, The Battle of Kulikovo, 1980, oil on canvas

Take Sergiy Radonezhsky.  Please.  The whole history of Russia in the late 14th century, is basically Radonezhsky’s story.  The guy was like an octopus:  he was everywhere and involved in everything.  He walked among the political elites and even attained the summit of power and influence.  He acts as his Prince’s Consigliere and helps him beat down the non-submission of the Suzdal and Nizhegorod princes.  He helps prepare the Russian army for the Battle of Kulikovo Field, in which Prince Dmitry Donskoy defeats Khan Mamai’s Golden Horde.  Thus giving birth to an independent Russian state, with Radonezhsky as the midwife!  On the religious front, Saint Sergius colonizes the Russian North by peppering it with monasteries.

Compared to that, Saint Serafim is a completely different animal.  A reminder, once again, of his biological dates: 1754-1833.  Did anything important happen in Russia during those years?  Oh, just a couple of things:

  • The amazing achievements of Empress Catherine II
  • The uprising of Yemelyan Pugachov
  • A little thing called the War of 1812
  • The Decembrist Revolution of 1825
  • and the list goes on…

Did Serafim take part in any of these important events?  No.  Did he have any interest in them?  No.  Did he write or say anything about any of this?  No.  As the writer Dmitry Merezhkovsky noted:  “Serafim did not react in any way to any of these events.  They all blew past him like shadows of summertime clouds.”

One even has the impression, that Serafim Saratovsky lived in a different Russia from everybody else.  An Alternative Russia.  Everything that happened, the current events and breaking news stories that everybody else got so involved with – they were of zero interest to him.  And one also has the impression, that it was precisely his complete indifference to the political life of the country he lived in, which served as an obstacle to his canonization.

[to be continued]

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