St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759 – 1833)
A Russian monk, nature mystic and “starets” (a Russian word for God-inspired elder), St. Seraphim is one of the most widely respected of modern Russian saints. He spent most of his adult life in his monastic hermitage where he lived close to the land and was often in close touch with a variety of wild animals. There, deep in the Russian forest, he practiced a rigorous form of prayer and detachment from worldly concerns. He taught that prayerful silence amidst the quiet of wilderness when coupled with holy detachment will draw the contemplative into proper concentration on the name of Jesus and that this will bring experience of the divine Light of Christ. He preached to the animals, shared his food with them, and is especially known for taming the bear and wolves in his area. His friendship with the animals of the forest was a source of wonder to visitors and even his fellow monks, and according to eyewitnesses, rabbits, foxes, lynx, lizards and even the bears and wolves gathered peacefully around his simple hut.
The Animals are a Joy
“The animals are a joy to me,” he said, and referring to the mosquitoes which infested the forest swamps where he gathered moss, he spoke of his joy in them, for “the passions are destroyed through suffering and afflictions.”
~ Joanne Stefanatos, Animals and Man: A State of Blessedness, Light and Life Publ., Minneapolis, MN 1992, pg. 280.
Adam’s Gifts from God in Paradise
Adam… (was) created superior to all the other creatures of God as the crown of creation on earth. He would have been just like all the other creatures, which, though they have a body, soul and spirit, each according to its kind, yet they have not the Holy Spirit within them.
Everything was subject to him… as the kind and lord of creation, and everything looked up to him as the perfect crown of God’s creatures….
Adam could see and understand the conversation of the holy angels, and the language of all the beasts, birds and reptiles and all that is now hidden from us fallen and sinful creatures, but was so clear to Adam before his fall. To Eve also the Lord God gave the same wisdom, strength and unlimited power, and all the other good and holy qualities.
~ Motovilov, The Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. 1, St. Herman’s Press, 1978, pg. 81-82.
The kingdom of heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Acquire inward peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation.
~Conversation with Nicholas Motovilov. Quoted in The Orthodox Way, Chapter 5, Kallistos Ware, SVS Press, 1995, p. 89.
The State of Adam in Paradise
Everything was subject to Adam as the beloved of God, as the king and lord of creation, and everything looked up to him, as the perfect crown of God’s creatures. Adam was made so wise by this breath of life which was breathed into his face from the creative lips of God, the Creator and Ruler of all, that there never has been a man on earth wiser or more intelligent than he, and it is hardly likely that there ever will be.
When the Lord commanded him to give names to all the creatures, he gave every creature a name which completely expressed all the qualities, powers and properties given it by God at its creation. Owing to this very gift of the supernatural grace of God which was infused into him by the breath of life, Adam could see and understand the Lord walking in Paradise, and comprehend His words, and the conversation of the holy angels, and the language of the beasts, birds and reptiles and all that is now hidden from us fallen and sinful creatures, but was so clear to Adam before his fall.
To Eve also the Lord God gave the same wisdom, strength and unlimited power, and all the other good and holy qualities.
~ Little Russian Philokalia, Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, second edition, 1983, pp 81-82.
Friendship with the Forest Creatures
Seraphim’s friendship with the forest animals was a continual source of wonder to his fellow monks. According to one of his fellow monks, Fr. Joseph, an eyewitness, rabbits, foxes, lynx, lizards, bears, even wolves would gather at the entrance to his small hut, waiting for St. Seraphim to finish his prayers and come out to feed them with bread crusts which he always seemed to have left over for them.
Several persons told of a bear which would always obey his requests and run errands for him, such as finding honey when there was a visitor. These acts of the bear always delighted the saint.
~ Adapted from Joanne Stefanatos, Animals and Man: A State of Blessedness, Light and Life Publ., Minneapolis, 1992, pp. 180-181.
Contemplating the Inward Light
When a man contemplates inwardly the eternal light, the mind is pure and has in it no sensuous images, but, being wholly immersed in the contemplation of uncreated beauty, forgets everything sensuous and does not wish to see even itself; but would rather hide in the heart of the earth than be deprived of his true good — which is of God.
~ Conversation with Motivilov. Quoted in Way of the Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality, G. P. Fedotov, Courier Corp., 2012, p. 258.