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Saint Seraphim the Wonder-worker of Sarov on the Old Believers

The experience of his own life and still more his knowledge of the word of God, of the works of the holy fathers and the lives of the saints gave Saint Seraphim an undoubting confidence in the truth of Orthodoxy. This was expressed very forcibly in his wonderful conversation with N. A. Motovilov. But he spoke of it also on other occasions.

Four Old Ritualists (also known as “Old Believers”) once came to him in order to ask him about the sign of the Cross made with two fingers, and wanting a miracle as evidence of the truth. They had hardly crossed the threshold of his cell when Fr. Seraphim read their thoughts, took the first man by the hand, folded his fingers in the Orthodox way and, crossing him, said: “This is the Christian sign of the Cross! Pray in this way and tell others to do so. This way of making the sign of the Cross has been handed down to us by the holy apostles; but the two-finger way is against holy tradition.”

And he added with power: “I beg and implore you to go to the Greek-Russian Church. In it is all the power and glory of God! Like a ship with many masts, sails, and a great helm, it is steered by the Holy Spirit. Its good helmsmen are the doctors of the Church. The archpastors are the successors of the apostles. But your chapel is like a small row-boat without rudder and oars....”

Another time an Old Ritualist asked him, “Tell me, elder of God, which faith is the best—the present faith of the Church or the old one?”

“Stop your nonsense,” replied Fr. Seraphim sharply, contrary to his custom. “Our life is a sea, the holy Orthodox Church is our ship, and the Helmsman is the Savior Himself. If with such a Helmsman, on account of their sinful weakness, people cross the sea of life with difficulty and are not all saved from drowning, where do you expect to get with your little dinghy? And how can you hope to be saved without the Helmsman?”

Once they brought him a woman whose limbs were so distorted that her knees were bent up to her breast. She had previously been Orthodox, but having married an Old Ritualist, she stopped going to church. St. Seraphim cured her in front of all the people by anointing her breast and hands with oil from his icon lamp, and then ordered her and her relations to pray in the Orthodox way. “Did some of your now-deceased relatives pray with the two-finger sign of the Cross?” he asked.

“To my great grief, everyone prayed like that in our family,” she replied.

Fr. Seraphim reflected a little and then remarked: “Even though they were virtuous people, they will be bound; the holy Orthodox Church does not accept this sign of the Cross.”

Then he asked, “Do you know their graves? Go, mother, to their graves, make three prostrations and pray to the Lord that He may release them in eternity.” Her living relatives afterwards obeyed Fr. Seraphim’s instructions.

Another edifying case was that of a woman who had been adopted as a three-year-old orphan by Old Ritualists. After their death she first joined their community, but then she started a life of pilgrimage and went from one elder to another. She writes:

“My whole object was to find someone who could teach me, a sinner, how to save my soul. I also had a misgiving. I was in doubt whether I could have benefactors prayed for in the Orthodox Church. At last I reached Sarov. Reports about Fr. Seraphim had already spread throughout Russia.

“I saw a crowd of people preparing to go somewhere. I inquired and was told that they were going to Fr. Seraphim’s hermitage. Though I was very tired from the journey, yet I forgot about rest and went with them. I wanted to see the Elder as soon as possible. Having passed the monastery, we went along a forest path. We had walked about two versts; those who were stronger were ahead, but I was lagging behind and following slowly in the rear. Suddenly I looked to one side and saw an old wizened man, with whitish-looking hair and a bent back, in a white cassock, gathering sticks. I went up to him and asked him whether it was far to Fr. Seraphim’s hermitage.

“The elder put down his faggot, gave me a serene look, and asked softly: ‘What do you want with poor Seraphim, my joy?’

“Only then did I realize that I was talking to the elder himself and threw myself at his feet and began to ask him to pray for me, unworthy as I was. ‘Rise, daughter Irene!’ said the ascetic, and he bent down to help me up himself. ‘I was just waiting for you. I did not want you to have come here for nothing, when you are so tired.’

“I was astonished to be called by my name when he had never seen me before, and I trembled all over with fear; neither could I say a word, but just gazed at his angelic face.

“Fr. Seraphim folded my fingers in the Orthodox way and crossed me himself with my hand. ‘Cross yourself like that,’ he repeated twice; ‘that is how God commands us.’”


Source: Archimandrite Lazarus (Moore), An Extraordinary Peace: St. Seraphim, Flame of Sarov (Port Townsend, WA: Anaphora Press, 2009), “On Orthodoxy,” pp. 154-156.


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