St. Sergius of Radonezh (1314 – 1392)
Serving the Bear
A bear was in the habit of visiting St. Sergius’ hut in the forest, especially during spring and fall. St. Sergius regularly shared his food so that he could feed the bear. Often St. Sergius did not have much food as there were times when the wilderness did not offer much, especially after the long cold of the Russian winter. Usually he had only dried greens and herbs, some bread and water from a nearby spring, but at times even these were scarce. Many times there was no bread at all. When this happened, both he and the bear went hungry. Sometimes, when there was only one piece of bread, the Blessed Sergius did not please himself, but rather gave the entire piece to the bear, and would be pleased not to eat that day. “Better he be hungry,” he said, “than to offend the bear by dismissing him without eating.” To the reproaches of his brother monks, he replied, “the bear does not understand fasting.”
~ The Life of Saint Sergius, translated by M. Klimenko, pp. 109-110.
Perspective on Saints and Wild Animals
St. Sergius’ disciple, Epiphanius, who chronicled his life, explains a meaning in the relationship of saints to the animals. [This relationship] “…should astonish no one, for it should be known with certainty that when God dwells in a man and the Holy Spirit rests in him, all is subject to him, as all was subject in the beginning to Adam before the transgression of God’s commandment.
~ Vladimir Lossky, The Meaning of Icons, “St. Sergius of Radonezh,” 1952, reprinted by SVS Press, 1989, p. 128.
St. Sergius is one of the most popular of the Russian saints. He is the founder of Russian monasticism. His spiritual influence shaped the mind of Christian Russia and continues through to the present. In his time the greater part of the saints of the 14th and 15th century were his disciples, friends or correspondents. The monastery which grew up around him, now called Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius monastery, has continued as the spiritual heart of Russia. He taught that the unity within the Holy Trinity was the prototype of the unity which the monastery should realize in the contemporary world. This unity, this perfect inner peace, was attained by the saint, not only with his brother monks, but also with the wild animals. He sought to reaquire and reestablish in practice that normal order of the universe where the whole of nature, united around man, obeys God. The most exceptional feature of the life of St. Sergius is his humility. To relieve his brethren, he undertook the most lowly tasks in his monastery. He wore threadbare, patched garments so that people who met him failed to recognize him as the renowned abbot of Radonezh.