Tuesday, January 28, 2014

St. Seraphim, second round

St. Seraphim needed a better picture than the last one, and he needed another post.

Regardless of how this picture looks, he was more than a guy who had a bear for a buddy. The reason for the bear's interest and lack of normal animal-human antipathy was that St. Seraphim had immersed himself in prayer to such an extent that his soul had lost its odor of corruption, if I may put it that way.  He seems to have purified his soul so that he was able to live as in Eden, in harmony with the natural world.  The famous passage in Isaiah says that "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,...the cow and the bear shall graze,...and the lion shall eat straw like the ox."  Fierce creatures will be gentle, and they and humans will not fear each other.  These prophecies seem to come to fruition in the lives of people who devote themselves entirely to prayer.  And St. Seraphim was one of those.
A quotation from St. Seraphim:
"You cannot be too gentle, too kind.  Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other.  Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.  All condemnation is of the devil.  Never condemn each other."

Ah, that is the kind of world I would like to live in.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

St. Seraphim

We spent last weekend on retreat up at the monastery that we love: St. Andrew's Abbey.  While we were there, I told someone about my plan for a book about saints and animals, and she said, "Well, there's Saint Seraphim and the bear..."  So when I got home I looked him up.
Saint Seraphim was a Russian monk who lived in a monastery, but in order to spend more time alone in prayer, took to staying in a small hut in the forest near his monastery.   He died in 1833, so he began going to the forest about the same time that Russia was at war with Napoleon.  Now Bob and I are reading WAR AND PEACE, and the War in this case is that war with Napoleon.  The Peace in the novel is a story of the social comings and goings, loves and trials of some fictional  Russian aristocrats.  For me there is something of a cognitive dissonance in the realization that this peaceable, prayerful man is the historical person, and the scheming, hoping, worrying, planning, good and bad motives and activities of the Bolkonskis, Rostovs, and Bezukhovs is fiction.   Tsar Alexander (who makes several appearances in the novel) was one of the people who visited St. Seraphim at his forest retreat.
The account of the bear is not really a story; it is just that while St. Seraphim lived in his hut in the forest, he was visited by many forest creatures whom he welcomed, as he welcomed all beings created by God.  An abbess from a nearby convent came to visit him one time and was terrified to see a huge bear with him.  But Seraphim told her not to worry, the bear wouldn't hurt her.  The bear was seen with him on various occasions.  He fed the bear with his bread, and was brought gifts of honey from the bear as well.

This little picture is a 5"x 7" card that I painted to send to Tofu, to tell him about this lovely, holy man.  His feast day, it turns out, is today, January 2.