Friday, January 23, 2015

Greek Miracles of St. Seraphim of Sarov

This story was told to us by a pious Greek Orthodox family who lives in England, but often visits its homeland. On one of their visits to the holy places of Greece, they were travelling on the Cassandra peninsula and stopped along the way at and unknown church. They went inside. It was an ordinary Greek church, but what surprised these visitors was the unusual veneration of St. Seraphim of Sarov, which could be seen from the church’s interior. Besides the usual large icon of the saint, there was also by the wall an original looking reliquary with an icon—an epitaphion (symbolical burial shroud), depicting the reposed God-pleaser, St. Seraphim.

As our Greek friends explained to us, very many people now know of Fr. Seraphim in Greece. Furthermore, the Russian Seraphim has become so dear to the hearts of simple believers that they take him to be their own Greek saint, and the less educated might even say that Sarov is somewhere in Greece. Nevertheless, it was not clear what made this particular church venerate him so, especially since it was located in “the boondocks”.

Soon a priest showed up and answered the visitors’ question, that this church was dedicated to St. Seraphim. Why and how this happened is a whole story, which he graciously offered to tell them over a cup of tea.

The story turned out to be quite extraordinary, even miraculous. Fr. Nectarios, as the church’s rector was named, once labored in obedience as a simple monk at the Lord’s Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It was his duty to arrange the schedule of services and molebens amongst the different Orthodox jurisdictions, as well as for the heterodox. There was a specific time set aside there for the Russian nuns of the Jerusalem convent who came there to chant and read akathists.

Well, one day it seemed to Fr. Nectarios that the time allotted to them was too long. So he decided to shorten it by nearly half. The nuns’ tearful pleading had no effect on the self-assured administrator. “The decision’s been made; kindly follow it—otherwise you will lose your right to pray here at all.”

The cell where Fr. Nectarios rested at night was located on the second floor of the church building itself. That night, no one remained in the church to pray, and all the doors were locked. Suddenly, a light rapping at the door of his room was heard. Fr. Nectarios was extremely amazed. Who could it be? At the second knock, he opened the door. He was not frightened, but he was puzzled. Perhaps someone had remained in the church by accident.

Before him stood an unfamiliar, gray-haired old man, who pointed a threatening finger at Fr. Nectarios and said, “Do not dare to offend my daughters!” It was said in perfect Greek, but the custodian could not make out what these words were referring to. After repeating them, the elder disappeared into the darkness of the church.

Walking around the church one more time, Fr. Nectarios did not find anyone, and went back to his cell to rest. In the morning he was almost sure that it had been just a dream. But when the Russian nuns came to the church and after setting up their little icons began to pray, the monk’s heart constricted from reverent fear. On one of the icons was depicted the very elder who had appeared to him the night before. The voice again sounded in the custodian’s ears as from someone present, saying: “Do not dare to offend my daughters!”

Falling down in prostration before the icon and kissing it reverently, Fr. Nectarios found out from the nuns the name of the saint about whom he previously knew nothing, and gave them back their time for prayer at the Lord’s Sepulcher.

Soon after that, yet another unusual event happened in the life of Fr. Nectarios. Long before the event described at the Lord’s Sepulcher, an elderly Russian bishop came and prayed so long and late there, that Fr. Nectarios invited him to rest in his cell. He gave the bishop his bed, and intended to rest on the trestle bed in the corner. But the elder-bishop did not close his eyes all night, only “pulled his prayer rope”, sitting in the armchair. Fr. Nectarios felt uncomfortable going to sleep, and so he also prayed all night with his prayer rope. Well, a couple of days after the appearance of St. Seraphim and the custodian’s subsequent repentance, Fr. Nectarios suddenly received a package from that same bishop. As it turned out, the elder-bishop had reposed in the Lord, and bequeathed the monk-custodian nothing other than a piece of the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov.

Fr. Nectarios’s compunction and gratefulness knew no bounds. What mercy the saint has shown him, how quickly he had forgiven him, and how wondrously blessed him! Then and there he made a vow, that at the end of his service at the Lord’s Sepulcher, after he returns to Greece, he would build a church in honor of St. Seraphim. He built the grave-covering by the wall so that after his death he could be buried on the other side of that wall, outside the church, but next to the Saint!

Hieromonk Kirill (Zinkovsky), Hieromonk Methodius (Zinkovsky)

Translation by