Russians are proud to be spiritual people, spirituality is a popular word in there and is being often misused even by politicians. After the communism-era, which I believe itself was in a way very spiritual (because people were motivated by high ideals), the traditional Russian values are back with even more power. Spirituality has been obviously a mass phenomenon in Russia unlike in many other parts of the world.
Despite this fact, I find it highly interesting that Russia is not famous for its spiritual leaders, the more so there has been not a single world-famous spiritual leader in Russia (let’s say of a great caliber of Zarathustra, Lao Tse, Moses, Mohammad). Apparently there have been several quite powerful saints, but none of them had a nation-wide impact. I wonder where od the roots of Russian spirituality are emerging from? What makes people so desperately seeking for the highest, go beyond materialism, being ready to sacrifice a lot for the truth?…
Whatever the reason is, Russia gave birth to quite a number of saints that are not well known but yet have been an enlightening example of spirituality. One of the most famous and loved one is Seraphim of Sarov.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov (Russian: Серафим Саровский) (1759 – 1833), is one of the most renowned Russian monks and mystics in the Orthodox Church. He is generally considered the greatest of the 19th century startsy (elders) and, arguably, the first. He is remembered for extending the monastic teachings of contemplation, theoria and self-denial to the layperson, and taught that the purpose of the Christian life was to acquire the Holy Spirit.
Seraphim (born Moshnin) was born in 1759 to a merchant family in Kursk. At the age of 10, he became seriously ill. During the course of his illness, he saw the Mother of God in his sleep, who promised to heal him. Several days later there was a religious procession in Kursk with the locally revered miracle-working icon of the Mother of God. Due to bad weather, the procession took an abbreviated route past the house of the Moshnin family. After his mother put Seraphim up to the miracle-working image, he recovered rapidly. While at a young age, he needed to help his parents with their shop, but business had little appeal for him. Young Seraphim loved to read the lives of the saints, to attend church and to withdraw into seclusion for prayer.
At the age of 18, Seraphim firmly decided to become a monk. His mother blessed him with a large copper crucifix, which he wore over his clothing all his life. After this, he entered the Sarov monastery as a novice. From day one in the monastery, exceptional abstinence from food and slumber were the distinguishing features of his life. He ate once a day, and little. On Wednesdays and Fridays he ate nothing. After asking the blessing of his starets (i.e., a spiritual elder), he began to withdraw often into the forest for prayer and religious contemplation. He became severely ill again soon after, and was forced to spend most of the course of the next three years lying down.
St. Seraphim was once again healed by the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Who appeared to him accompanied by several saints. Pointing to the venerable Seraphim, The Holy Virgin said to the apostle John the Theologian: “He is of our lineage.” Then, by touching his side with Her staff, She healed him.