Topic: Russian Church
St. Sergius of Radonezh
October 8 marks the anniversary of the death of the St. Sergius of Radonezh, a spiritual leader and monastic reformer of medieval Russia and one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most highly venerated saints. Today Patriarch Kirill will preside over a service in honor of the saint at the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius.
According to the saint’s life tale, he was born to a boyar family near Rostov Velikiy, where Varnitsy Monastery now stands. He was originally baptized with the name Bartholomew. His parents Kirill and Maria became impoverished and moved to Radonezh together with their three sons: Stefan, Bartholomew and Peter.
In 1334, after the death of his parents, Bartholomew moved to to Khotkovo near Moscow, joining his widowed older brother Stefan. In 1337, he was tonsured a monk with the name Sergius and was ordained to the priesthood. In seeking a more secluded place, he and his brother found such a place in the deep forest near the Marovets hill and built a small cell and a simple chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity in 1340.
The brothers lived a secluded life in the forest, and in time Stephen found the life of seclusion difficult and left Sergius to live in Epiphany monastery in Moscow. With the departure of his brother Sergius lived alone for a number of years. The wild animals seemed to recognize him, as packs of wolves and bears would come to his hut but would not harm him. According to legend, one bear came to his hut to share Sergius' last piece of bread with him.
Gradually people learned of Sergius and approach him for spiritual guidance. Soon, the cell grew to a small hermitage of twelve monks. The hermitage of the Holy Trinity soon became the spiritual center that eventually became the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius.
Sergius of Radonezh blessing Dmitri Donskoi before the Battle of Kulikovo. Artist: Ernst Lissner
As Holy Trinity monastery grew, Sergius began to send his disciples to spread the Gospel to the natives across central and northern Russia during the reign of Dmitry Donskoy. The number of monasteries founded by these disciples approached 400, some of which were established in the most difficult places. These included the monasteries of Borisoglebsky near Rostov, Ferapontov, Kyrillo-Belozersky, Golutvin in Kolomna, and Pokrovsky near Borovsk. All these monasteries formed links of a new country centered around Moscow. As the commerce centering on Holy Trinity monastery increased a settlement was formed at the monastery gates that grew into the town of Sergiev Posad.
The news of his life and works of wonder spread far and wide. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Philotheus sent him a charter confirming the new rules of community cloister life established by Sergius at the Holy Trinity Monastery. Metropolitan Alexis of Moscow honored Sergius as a friend and entrusted him in the tasks of reconciling differences among the princes of Moscow and Russia.
In the Russian struggles with the Tatar Khan Mamai, Sergius blessed the Prince Dimitry Donskoi as he departed for battle in 1380 with the words, "Go fearless prince and believe in God's help". Dimitri's victory at the Battle of Kulikovo was a momentous one in the history of Russia.
There are churches and cathedrals throughout the world built in honor of St. Sergius. The Roman Catholic Church officially recognizes Sergius as a saint, listing him in the Martyrologium Romanum. He is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on September 25, the date of his death according to the Old Style calendar.
Sergius died 1392 and was glorified (canonized) in 1452. His incorrupt relics were found in 1422 and placed in the new Trinity Cathedral of the Lavra. The church commemorates him on the day of his death, and on July 5, the day his relics were uncovered. Among the many affectionate titles given him, he has been referred to as the "Abbot of Russia" and "valiant voevod" of the Russian land.
In 2014 Russia will mark the 700th anniversary of the birth of St. Sergius. A working group has been established by the president of Russia to organize the festivities.
© Russkiy Mir. 08 October, 2013