Although persecutions against the clergy, monastics, and faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church began almost immediately after the atheistic revolution in 1917, the monasteries of Sarov and Diveyevo were not forcibly closed by the communists until 1927. From St. Seraphim’s canonization in 1905 up to the communist desecration, pilgrims came in a never-ending stream to their beloved Fr. Seraphim, to venerate his relics and receive healing at his spring. We have as a testimony to this memoirs of such pilgrimages, several of which we offer in part here.1 It is clear that St. Seraphim not only calls people to himself but helps them get there in mysterious ways.
The reliquary in Sarov, before the monastery was closed by the Bolsheviks. Anatoly Pavlovich Timofievich (†1976) was a doctor in Kiev, and the spiritual son of Fr. Adrian Rymarenko (1893–1978), later Archbishop Adrian of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Anatoly Pavlovich emigrated to the U.S. during World War II, and lived in New Diveyevo Convent.
St. Seraphim! How much this name means to the Russian heart. I don’t know if you’ll find an Orthodox person in Rus’ on whom at the mere mention of this name you won’t see the furrows disappear from the brow, the bent gait straightened, and the eyes liven up with inner light and warmth. What is the secret to this all-encompassing veneration of this God-pleaser?
I think that there are two main reasons here.
First of all, it is the justification and triumph of our Orthodox faith, manifesting itself in full measure in this chosen vessel of God’s mercy; and secondly, the powerful, inexhaustible, all-strengthening—both during his life and even more so afterwards—flow of love that envelopes everyone who runs to him for help...
Rare is the family that has not either experienced this grace-fill help or witnessed it in others.
From an early age I had received the God-pleaser’s miraculous intercession, and from that time on I was strengthened in a deep faith in the power of his prayers and speedy intercessions before the Throne of the Most High.
Naturally, I tried in anyway I could to give thanks for that great benefaction to me, a sinner, if only by visiting the place of the saint’s ascetic labors and his holy relics, in order to prayerfully show my love for him.
However, time passed. The fierce whirlwind of revolution turned everything upside down, and life took on the most ugly forms; a struggle in every sense of the word for a half-starved existence began, and my trip was put on the shelf. The years went by...
But then came the year 1926—a year that was amazing in a certain sense. A longing for the saint seized the faithful as in no other year before it. Both young and old rose up and hastened to Sarov. I recall how an entire pilgrimage came from our city, headed by the foremost leaders of the clergy, now hieromartyrs... and many laypeople followed after them. An inexplicable but strong urge of the soul made everyone feel the need to spend some time with the saint. Some returned and related what they had seen and experienced, and were quickly followed by others in turn. And this was happening everywhere. Only a year later did it become clear why, when Sarov and Diveyevo were closed.
The saint was invisibly but imperiously calling all to himself, those who loved him, in whom an even small flame of faith flickered, as if giving them a final opportunity to delight in the great joy of direct communion with him before they were to take up a new and enormous podvig—to endure the terrible and blasphemous defilement of his remains and all the holy sites that would soon be profusely poured over Sarov and Diveyevo.
Only one thing is without a doubt, that the mystery of this podvig was part of the plan of divine economy, and its meaning would only be revealed on the day of the final triumph of Light over darkness...
A pilgrimage is a journey made for God’s sake and guided by God; and so many stories of pilgrimages are filled with mysterious events. Professor Ivan Mikhailovich Andreyevsky, (1894–1976), also known by the pseudonym I. M. Andreyev, born in Petersburg, is the author of the well known book, Orthodox Apologetic Theology. He was imprisoned in the Solovki concentration camp for his Orthodox faith, and emigrated first to Germany and then to the U.S. during World War II. We cite here an excerpt from his “Travels to Sarov and Diveyevo in 1926”.
Even from my earliest years I had heard very much about Sarov monastery and wondrous Diveyevo, where St. Seraphim the wonderworker of Sarov and all Russia labored in asceticism.
I often dreamt of going there, but it took a long time to make it happen.
One summer day in 1926, in July, I had an opportunity to be in Kiev. I was siting on the banks of the Dniepr and admiring the Kiev Caves Lavra. A wanderer came up to me and started talking. He told me about himself that he was travelling around to holy places, and now from Kiev he was getting ready to go to Sarov, to the relics of St. Seraphim.
“How fortunate you are,” I said to him. “You will be in such a holy place. And I have been dreaming of going there for a long time, but I am never able to go!”
Then the pilgrim stood up, looked at me attentively and said, “Slave of God Ioann [the Church Slavonic name for Ivan (John)]! You will be there before me.” After this he blessed me and left.
I came to Leningrad and learned that my new job would only begin in September. A friend of mine advised me to use my free time to go to Sarov.
I had a little money on hand, and moreover I had received a free ticket from my new job to go anywhere I wished.
On August 5 according to the new style I went to the city station to find out when I needed to stamp my ticket—on the day of departure or earlier.
I only regretted that St. Seraphim’s day, July 19 (August 1 N. S.) had already passed. My friend comforted me and said that in the latter half of August in Diveyevo they celebrate the “Tender Feeling” icon of the Mother of God, before which St. Seraphim had all his life Seraphim prayed and finally died.
I very much wanted to go to Diveyevo and Sarov on that very feast day, and I prayed to the Most Holy Theotokos and to St. Seraphim that they would bring me there on that day.
I decided to leave on August 7. At my request to stamp my ticket on August 7 the cashier for some reason said, “Why should you leave the day after tomorrow? Go tomorrow!” and stamped my ticket for August 6.
My spiritual father, Archpriest Sergei Tikhomirov, executed by the Bolsheviks in 1930, had told me that when travelling to St. Seraphim everything comes together by itself, and one mustn’t resist it. Recalling this advice, I submitted to the necessity of leaving a day earlier than I had intended—although I was a little frustrated.
On August 6, late in the evening, I came to the station but learned there that the train to Moscow leaves late at night, and I had two hours of free time.
I went to the church of the Mother of God of the Sign, later destroyed by the Bolsheviks after the death of Professor I. P. Pavlov, who was its parishioner. For some reason I knocked on the door of the closed church. Despite the late hour, the elderly watchman opened the door, and when he heard that I wanted to pray before my trip to Sarov, he amiably let me in, saying, “Pray, pray. After all, we have a side altar dedicated to St. Seraphim here.” I was very amazed at this and gladdened.
When I prayed before the full-length icon of St. Seraphim, I felt in my heart that he was blessing my travels.
After visiting the church I went to the home of a distant relative near the station. She served me some tea. My relative lived in one of the so-called “communal apartments”, where there were many rooms and many different people living. During our conversation over a cup of tea, an unfamiliar woman knocked at the door of the room and asked, “Is there a traveller here who’s going to Sarov?”
I was surprised and said, “Yes, I am going to Sarov.”
“Well, there is an aged, sick woman who lives in the last room, and she has asked that you pray for her at the relics of St. Seraphim, whom she greatly revers. And here are fifty kopecks for a prosphora. The woman’s name is Sophia. She asks that you pray for her, and also asks your name so that she can pray for you. Perhaps some one named Sophia will put you up for the night along your way!”
I took the fifty kopeks, told her my name, and promised to pray for handmaiden of God Sophia.
Late that night I left Leningrad for Moscow. I knew that from Moscow there are two trains to Arzamas—one departs in the morning and arrives in Arzamas at night, and the other leaves at night and arrives in the morning. Of course I decided to take the second, night train, in order not to have to worry about finding a place to spend the night and not have to spend extra money on it, since at the advice of my spiritual guides I had taken only five rubles. Besides, I had taken a small amount of medicines along. I am a doctor, and perhaps there might be someone along the road needing medical assistance. I assumed that I would have all day, till the departure of the night train, to be in Moscow where I hadn’t been for a long time, to see my relatives, friends and acquaintances.
But when I went to the window to stamp my ticket for the night train, here, just as in Leningrad, the cashier suddenly and inexplicably said to me, “You’ll still make the morning train, you only have to cross the square to the Kazan station, and the train to Arzamas departs from there in a half and hour.” And he gave me a ticket for the morning train. I was quite upset about this, but remembering that I have to submit myself without murmuring to whatever happens, I decided that perhaps thanks to the earlier departure I might meet someone I need to meet or avoid something unpleasant.
The train was overfilled with people. All around me was cursing, shouts, and bad music on the harmonium. The train moved slowly, making long stops at the stations. The passengers began to disembark from the car and when the train arrived at night to Arzamas, there was hardly anyone left.
Worried at the thought that is was night, dark, and raining, and I was in a strange city without any money, I closed my eyes with my hand and mentally prayed to St. Seraphim that he would help me find a place to spend the night.
Suddenly an elderly woman, clean and tidily dressed, came up and stared talking to me. Hearing that I was from Leningrad and going to Sarov to St. Seraphim, she was delighted and joyful.
“But where are you going to spend the night? Do you have any relatives or acquaintances here?”
I answered that I do not know anyone in Arzamas and that I had just prayed that St. Seraphim would help me find a place to stay.
“Well, then you’ll spend the night at my place, batiushka,” the woman exclaimed. “Sophia herself will take you in,” she added.
I started, remembering those words spoken to me that “perhaps some Sophia will give you a place to stay,” and was perplexed as to why this woman referred to “Sophia herself”.
“Are you named Sophia?” I asked her.
“No, I am Xenia Dimitrievna Kuznetsova, but I work as the watchwoman at the St. Sophia Cathedral and live under the very bell tower. That’s why I said that Sophia, the Wisdom of God, will take care of you!”
Xenia Dimitrievna led me in the darkness through the city of Arzamas and brought me to her room under the bell tower of the St. Sophia Cathedral.
“I’ll serve you some tea, feed you, and put you to sleep on my bed. I’ll sleep on the floor in the corner!” she said.
I protested, declaring that I will happily sleep on the floor, adding that unfortunately I have very little money.
“What are you saying batiushka!” You yourself need money and I’ll give you some, I won’t take a kopek from you. Where have you ever seen that a pilgrim to a holy place was charged for staying the night? And I won’t let you sleep on the floor; you’ll lie down on the bed... I don’t want to go to hell because of you!” the woman unexpectedly concluded.
Seeing my surprise, she said, “A pilgrim must be honored and respected, and have the best bed in the house, or the Lord will be angry!”
In the morning she again gave me tea and fed me, put a bread roll in my sack, gave me a large wooden staff with a cross, which she asked to return on the way back, and showing me the way to Diveyevo, located seventy kilometers away, advised me to walk the distance in two days.
“But before you go to St. Seraphim,” Xenia Dimitrievna said, “don’t be lazy and go off two kilometers to the side, and venerate the miracle-working icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in the St. Nicholas Convent.”
At first I thought to myself, why should I change my route to Diveyevo, but then I understood that by that thought I offended the wondrous St. Nicholas, whom along with St. Seraphim I had revered since my boyhood...
Prof. Nicholai Pestov. Nicholai Pestov (1892—1982) was a theologian, Orthodox Church Historian, and a chemistry professor specializing in mineral fertilizers. He wrote a number of well-known books on Orthodoxy, including on Orthodox praxis, the upbringing of children, and the Jesus prayer. He was married, with two children. The following recollections are from a manuscript.
Prof. Pestov was a spiritual son of the New Hieromartyr Sergei Mechev.
At the blessing of Fr. Sergei [Mechev], I and my friend, also his spiritual son—Kolya [short for Nicholai] Joffe, made a trip to Sarov and Diveyevo.
This was in 1926, in the summer. There were still monks and nuns in the monasteries and normal spiritual life was still going on. We walked sixty kilometers from the railway station to the town of Ardatov. We spent the night in the Ardatov Convent and on the next day, went to Sarov.
On our first day in Sarov, an interesting and edifying situation happened to us. We were taken together to the monastery guesthouse, and after a brief rest we went to the cathedral for services. Kolya Joffe had the typical appearance of someone of his nationality. We walked into the cathedral and stood not far from the entranceway. Unexpectedly, out of the narthex came a dirty and ragged pauper. She ran up to Kolya and punched him sharply in the back with the words:
“Get out of here, you Yid!”
Kolya was not expecting a punch and nearly fell down. A painful moan broke from his lips. He had a chronic illness of the spine, and his back was in constant pain.
The next second, without saying a word, he turned around and seeing before him a contorted, malicious female face, he bowed down to the ground before her. The pauper was as if seared with a splash of boiling water. She ran off, screeching like an animal.
On the next day, when we went in the morning to the cathedral for Divine Liturgy in order to receive Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, we again saw our “acquaintance”. Having only barely seen us she ran over to us, and crying, bowed to Kolya’s feet.
That same evening we went to ask for advice and spiritual counsel from a famous Sarov elder. The elder himself did not receive people, but answered them through his assistant monk. After waiting in a long line, I ascended to the porch, where the assistant stood—an elderly monk, about seventy...
“The Lord has accepted your repentance. Go and live in peace, and labor. The Lord will help you in everything,” the monk humbly pronounced and blessed me with a small icon of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, teachers of the Slavs.
In the far hermitage we were received by the elder and hieromonk Athanasius. We heard from his lips edifying stories from the life of St. Seraphim and from his own life. His entire countenance was penetrated with the spirit of love and meekness. After our conversation the elder set the table himself and invited us to trapeza: bread and onions with kvass. I do not know how to explain it, but I have never tasted anything more delicious in my life. Having taken the elder’s blessing, we set off for Diveyevo.
In Diveyevo we visited the holy sites and, spiritually renewed, set off on our return trip. There was a blessed youth2 in Diveyevo in those days, who prophesized about the future glory of Diveyevo and that in time, Diveyevo Monastery would receive the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov.3