Uncovering Joy in Following the Rules

July 19/August 1, 2012, Uncovering of the Relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov

36759-bWe travel to our friends’ house today in the afternoon and evening to celebrate the Baptism of their son and my new godson. That’s right. I became a godfather of a child in Russia! Another reason to keep coming back: heavenly family added to my earthly family here.

I was talking with our friend at the Baptism on Sunday, and she pressed me for the answer to the question I posed earlier in the blog about why Russians love St. Seraphim so much. I confessed to her that I had been working on the answer and had come to some conclusions, but I was pretty sure they were not correct or merely one-sided. Then I asked her what she thought. Continue reading

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Arriving at Divyevo

Monday, July 3/16, 2012, M. Hyacinth

Today is our recovery day and a chance to catch up on emails and blog posts. Arrived early morning to Moscow and have been in the apartment ever since, just resting. The following is a first post of our trip to Divyevo:

Friday, June 30/July 13, 2012,  Synaxis of the 12 Apostles

We arrive early morning (5:30am) by overnight train and take a bus to Divyevo. On the way, we take a triple dip in one of the four holy springs surrounding St. Seraphim’s village of Divyevo. When we check in at our hotel at 8am, it feels already like the day has been spent.

Traveling as pilgrims with two young girls is a bit of an experiment for us. The hotel we are staying at for the next couple of nights is comfortable enough, but we travel all in one suitcase without the usual toys and games. One whole bag is dedicated to food and provisions for tea, as you never know on pilgrimage where and when to eat the next meal. So far our little pilgrims are doing well with an afternoon nap that we finally talked them into.

Almost finished with the St. Seraphim life, but I have not really been here long enough for a strong impression to form. We heard one general introduction to the monastery and its life, how St. Seraphim was invited by the Abbess Alexandra to be their father confessor and protector. Also, there is lots of talk about how Divyevo was chosen as the 4th place on earth especially dear to the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary (the other three are Iberia (Georgia), Mount Athos, and Kiev). It makes me wonder why Jerusalem was not included, but perhaps it is because the Holy Land is a given, in a category all its own.

Still, it seems significant that two of the four places are in Mother Rus (Ukraine was originally part of the ancient kingdom). Questions still linger for me about why she chose Divyevo and why St. Seraphim is so special especially for Russians. I have my ideas, but we will see how the pilgrimage unfolds.

Untamed Virgin Forest

St. Serpahim of Sarov Feeds a Wild BearJune 27/July 10, 2012

St. Sampson the Hospitable

When I first started teaching at St. Herman of Alaska Christian School in Boston, I remember the headmaster charging me with the duty to impart to the students a sense of untouched virgin forest as far as the eye could see; for this is what the first settlers to America witnessed upon arrival to those shores. They witnessed it and then quickly went about the process of taming this wild country. The English need for gardens, finished houses, and walls to guard them all would have none of this un-ploughed jungle. Later ideas of industrial progress turned domesticating nature into a right and almost a virtue.

While the Russian people have done their share over the centuries of clearing lands for farmhouses and villages, their attitude towards wild, untamed forest has been generally quite different from America. Part of this must have something to do with owning 1/6 of the world’s landmass. Trimming the verge or keeping the lawn mowed is a little overwhelming when one considers this immensity. Still, I think there is something else in the Russian relationship with the natural world which extends beyond the needs of practical stewardship.

I am rereading the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov in our preparation to travel to Divyevo on Thursday. Like many ascetics of the deserts of old, his struggle in the wilderness towards repentance brought him into intimate contact with bears and other wild creatures that usually fight or flee at the sight of a human being. But the reason for his popularity among Russians and many converts in America (who take on his name) has to do with something particularly Russian. When monks like Seraphim wanted to flee the world to pray and draw closer to God, they didn’t have the isolation of the Egyptian desert. Instead of sand, they invented a northern thebaid: the dense and impenetrable Russian forest. The Russian ascetic’s dream, it turns out, is similar to the American pioneer who was disenchanted with the drab, colorless life of industrial cities. Both wanted to find a home where wild things and the human spirit could roam.

We visited today one of the last undeveloped, deep forested  areas of Moscow called Bitsevsky Les. While it can hardly be called “untouched”, its proximity to public transportation makes it a great place for a chance encounter with one of St. Seraphim’s forest friends. And though our forest wasn’t quite virginal, it still testifies to the majesty of its Maker.