St Seraphim (Sobolev): Instructions and Real-life Stories

St Seraphim, Archbishop of Bogucharsk , whose memory we celebrate on February 26, left behind many invaluable works and instructions, born from personal experience, which makes them both inspiring and enlightening.  Here are only a few wonderful stories that illustrate the words of the saint and show that since birth he was set by God to become a great shepherd.

“Do not Consent to Demons!”

The devil began to fight St Seraphim before his birth. Facing birth complications, the doctors wanted to kill the baby in the womb to save the mother’s life. But the pious woman, not succumbing to temptation, forbade them and with prayers soon happily gave birth to a son, Nicholas. Looking at her son for the first time, she exclaimed, “Oh, what a serious-looking mukhtar *!” Later, “Mukhtar” became Nicholas’s family nickname, which the saint did not like being called until he learned one day that, translated from Arabic, it means “a chosen one.”

“The Lord is Near And Will Immediately Respond If You Call Him!”

After the seminary, Nicholas, obeying his mother, began to look for a bride to become a priest, although he was secretly considering monasticism. His mother believed that the young man’s health was too poor for studying in the theological academy. When all attempts to arrange a marriage turned out to be in vain, the will of God was revealed to Nicholas through his old friend. 

“You need to go to the Academy,” a friend told him at a chance meeting. Despite Nikolai’s objections about the entrance exams which were soon about to begin, and for which he was not at all ready, he replied: “Trust in God! The Savior Himself will help you. Go without preparation.” That encounter influenced the saint’s decision to study in the Academy. 

Nikolai spent the nights before his first two oral exams sitting over his textbooks and realizing that he knew answers to only one of the hundreds of examination cards. He prayed with tears to God that he would receive that particular card. The Lord heard his prayers and helped him.  Nikolai was asked precisely the questions to which he knew the answers. Having more time left to prepare for the other exams, he successfully passed them and entered the academy.

“A Person Striving for Monasticism Should not Be Troubled by Anything, but Put All His Hope in God.”

In the 4th year of the academy, the deputy principal asked Nikolai if he would become a monk. The saint considered himself unworthy of such a feat and was suffering, not knowing the will of God. He wrote letters to St John of Kronstadt and the Optina Elder Anatoly (Potapov) but did not receive a direct answer to his question. Once, reading the life of St Seraphim of Sarov, he suddenly thought, “How can I have so little faith? Isn’t St Seraphim alive before God? Isn’t he standing before the Holy Trinity? I will immediately turn to him as a living person, fall on my knees and beg him to resolve my dilemma: should I marry and become a priest or should I become a monk?”

Having bowed to the ground, Nicholas prayerfully opened the Venerable’s life in a random place and read: “A certain novice from the Glinsk Hermitage, greatly hesitating about his calling, deliberately came to Sarov to ask for advice from Fr Seraphim. Falling at the feet of the saint, he begged him to resolve the troublesome issue of his life: is it God’s will for him and his brother Nicholas to enter the monastery. The holy elder answered the novice, “Save yourself and save your brother.”

Nicholas took these words as a divine revelation and soon accepted the tonsure. Later, his brother also became a monk.

“Love Must be Opposed to Evil. A True Believer is Marked by Love”

In 1912, Hieromonk Seraphim was appointed rector of the seminary in Voronezh. At the time, the discipline in the seminary was truly lax. The students ventured to mock the new rector without fear of punishment. The deputy head drew up a list of violators for and proposed the future saint to exclude them, but Fr Seraphim decided to deal with the situation in his own way. In his free time, he invited them to his office where he talked affectionately with them, asking about their life and personal problems. In the course of such conversations, he led the young scholars to tearful repentance and correction. A year later, Vladyka transformed the seminary to the point of it being recognized as the best in the country.

“Occultism or Spiritualism Is Not Merely Quackery, but a Matter-of-Fact Communication with Demons, Leading to Destruction.”

Before World War II, St Seraphim’s acquaintance Archpriest Vsevolod Shpiller was friends with an Englishman, whose wife was very fond of spiritualism and succeeded in it. Eventually she entered into a contract with a society of Bulgarian spiritualists, according to which her spirit had to visit London and convey a message to local spiritualists, while her body was to remain in Sofia. The woman succeeded in that affair although it was with great difficulty that she was later put out of her hypnotic sleep. 

When Father Vsevolod told this story to Vladyka Seraphim, the archpastor said, “Tell her that if she does this again, she will die.” The priest conveyed this warning to his friend, but his wife did not want to lose money and repeated her experience. Shortly after this session, she died with a hemorrhage.

The spiritual counsels of St Seraphim are full of wisdom, and the examples from his life are truly instructive. The Holy Fathers help us make fewer mistakes on our way, seeing more clearly the devil’s temptations and resisting them. It is important for us to trust their advice, trying to seek and fulfil the Will of God and hoping for His good Providence.

The full life and more of St Seraphim’s instructions can be found here.

* In Russia this word is most often used as a dog’s nickname, but it may have a different meaning in the dialect. 

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