Venerable St. Seraphim of Vyritsa

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21 March / 3 April

It is not given to parents to know of what life holds for their new-born child. When, on April 13, 1866 their son Vasily was born, the Muravievs of Vakhromeyevo Village in Yaroslavl did not know what awaited him. In early childhood, he was already distinguished from other children of his age by his remarkable faculties of quick-wittedness, memory, and patience Not only did he teach himself to read, but he also grasped the fundamentals of mathematics.

When Vasily was ten years of age, his father unexpectedly died. It is hard to imagine how the village child would have turned out later in life but for a fortuitous circumstance. A pious and kind resident of the village who worked as the head of sales in a shop in St. Petersburg took Vasily into the capital to earn his living. Vasily became a shipping clerk at a store at the shopping arcade. He showed such dedication that he soon enjoyed the manager’s complete trust, and was assigned ever more complex tasks.

At the age of 14, he was seized with a passionate desire to be tonsured a monk. He went to the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra, and met a schema-monk/elder. He knelt before the elder, and tearfully told him of his goal. He heard what turned out to be a prophetic reply: that for now he was to remain in the world, do God-pleasing work, build a pious family, bring up children, and later, with the consent of his spouse, become a monastic. Thus was the will of God revealed to Vasily.

Two years later, the proprietor of the shop appointed the youth to be a salesman, and one year later, head of sales. At that time, such advancement was unheard of; the process usually took a period of no less than ten years..

In 1890, Vasily Nikolaevitch Muraviev married 18-year-old Olga Ivanovna, who despite her youth had a firm and decisive character. Later, she was to greatly help her husband in his work, and in his absence successfully managed the family business.

Five years later, the Muravievs had a son, whom they named Nikolai, and later they had a daughter, named Olga, who died in infancy. After this sorrowful event, and by mutual consent, Vasily and Olga began to live as brother and sister; they took their daughter’s death as a sign from above, that henceforth they were to dedicate themselves entirely to the service of the Lord. Jumping ahead, we should note that their son Nikolai was also to meet a tragic fate. During World War I, he graduated from flight school, and served as an army pilot. After the revolution of 1917, he was arrested on four separate occasions, endured periods of incarceration and exile, and in January 1941 was again arrested and executed soon thereafter. He was posthumously “rehabilitated,” declared to have been a victim of political repression.

In 1892, Muraviev opened his own business, finishing and selling furs, largely abroad – in Germany, Austria-Hungary, England, and France. Vasily Nikolaevitch often traveled abroad to further his business contacts, and he was highly prized as a “Russian wholesaler of the new [business] model.” He truly was a “new Russian” in the best sense of that term. He completed advanced business courses and was a member of the Society to Disseminate Commercial Education in Russia, an organization whose goal was to develop in every way possible their nation’s commerce and industry.

Vasily Nikolaevitch had the God-given gift of a remarkable capacity to combine secular affairs with attention to the spiritual. For example, the Muravievs often visited hospitals, workhouses and alms houses/shelters, and made substantial donations toward their upkeep. More than once, they took into their home sick patients from prison hospitals; to everyone’s amazement, those patients quickly recovered.

In 1917, many of the Muravievs’ acquaintances hurried to transfer their capital abroad, and to leave Russia. In response to their appeals that he follow their example, Vasily Nikolaevitch would invariably respond that he had decided to share in whatever trials faced his fervently-beloved Native Land and its people. Deprived of its business after the October Revolution, the Muraviev family lived at a dacha outside the city, in the picturesque little village of Tyarlevo, not far from Tsarskoe Selo. In September 1920, V.N. Muraviev applied to the Spiritual Council of the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra for admission into the monastic brotherhood. His petition was granted, and he was given the name Varnava.

At the same time, Olga Ivanovna was tonsured a nun, with the name Christina, at Petrograd’s Novodevichy Monastery of Nativity. The couple donated all of their remaining possessions to their monasteries.

For six years, the new monk went through the many steps of monastic obedience: from ponomar [who takes care of the Altar] to spiritual director, i.e. spiritual director of the Lavra. In late 1926, Fr. Varnava was tonsured into the Great Schema, the highest degree of monasticism, a rank that demands complete asceticism, and received the name Seraphim, in honor of St. Seraphim of Sarov, the Wonderworker, whom he strove with all his might to emulate.

Multitudes of people would attend Liturgies in which he took part. Not only the common faithful, but also eminent hierarchs of the Church would come to him for advice and spiritual consolation. In this time of troubles, Fr. Seraphim was sent from above the gift of seeing what ordinary human intellect cannot grasp — the gift of prophecy.

Word of him spread far beyond the borders of the former Northern capital city and the surrounding regions. From early morning until late at night, people would go to his cell for blessing, prayerful consolation in times of sorrow, and for advice in dealing with difficult circumstances.

For almost three years, he was spiritual director of the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra. During the many hours of daily Confessions, he had to stand on the cold stone floor of the Cathedral, which remained practically unheated. Ultimately, the constant chill and incredible physical and spiritual burdens adversely affected Fr. Seraphim’s health. For a long time, he would not tell anyone of his sicknesses, but the pain in his legs increased, and the day came when the Elder could no longer rise from his bed.

Medical personnel insisted that he should move away from the city, to the town of Vyritsa, which was in a dry area and was surrounded by an old forest. However, the Elder, already in his 64th year, absolutely refused, for he had foreseen a new wave of persecutions against the Church and the destruction of the Lavra, and wanted to share in the suffering of the brethren of the Monastery. Yet, everything turned out differently. Metropolitan Seraphim of Petrograd, who had been known in the world as the physician Chichagov, reviewed the medical conclusions and immediately blessed Fr. Seraphim to move. Thus, he had to meekly accept this new obedience, and in the summer of 1930, he moved to Vyritsa, where he was to spend the next 15 years. His wife and his granddaughter Margarita, who had taken upon themselves the work of caring for the Elder, went with him.

They settled down in several rooms in a private home. Fr. Seraphim’s illnesses caused him unbearable suffering. Already, the Holy Elder was almost never able to get out of bed, but he bravely endured these trials, and his capacity to work miracles increased: to the gifts of prophecy and healing was added the gift of clairvoyance, something that more than once astonished those around him.

After a short break, an endless flow of people came to visit the schema-monk. On some days, there would be hundreds of visitors, thirsting to see the Holy Elder. Fr. Seraphim himself would summon those who were most in need of seeing him. After spending but a little while with him, they would leave healed and enlightened. How the great schema-monk learned of them remains a mystery. Usually, a cell attendant would come out to the porch and, identifying someone by name and place of origin, would invite him inside.

Many times in the 1930s, agents of the Committee Extraordinary (”CheKa” in Russian), as conducted searches, often by night. On one occasion, the following transpired: Agents of the NKVD came to take the Elder away. Lying in bed, he asked the senior agent to approach. Touching the officer’s hand, he then stroked it, and, placing his right hand on the officer’s head, said, “May thy sins be forgiven thee, O servant of God...” and accurately pronounced his name. According to those close to Fr. Seraphim, “The senior CheKa agent then said, ‘If there were more such elders, we would all be believers.’ And he burst into tears. With a smile, batiushka whispered, ‘Serve them some tea.’”

Neither the individual fates of men nor the fate of Russia itself were hidden from the great Elder. He knew of the coming great war, and openly warned of the dangers approaching the Fatherland. With the beginning of the Great Patriotic War [i.e. World War II], Fr. Seraphim took on a new great ascetic struggle, many days of prayer upon a rock, like unto that of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Here is what his relatives tell of this: “In 1941, Grandfather was already almost 76, and could barely get around unassisted. In the garden behind the house, there was a granite boulder behind a small apple tree. On that rock, Fr. Seraphim would offer up his prayers to the Lord. Supporting his arms, or often simply carrying him, people would bring him out there. An icon was affixed to the little apple tree, and Grandfather would stand on his hurt knees on the rock and raise his arms toward Heaven. How difficult that was for him! It was impossible to look upon it all without crying... Fr. Seraphim prayed for as long as he had the strength – sometimes an hour, sometimes two, and sometimes several hours at a time. And he did so day in and day out, throughout the long and exhausting years of war.”

In Vyritsa itself, and as the Elder had prophesied, not one house was destroyed, and not one single person was killed.

The hour of the Elder’s departure into eternity was revealed to him. One day before his repose, he blessed his friends and relatives with little icons of St. Seraphim of Sarov, and said to the nun/cell-attendant, “During my burial, take care to protect your ribs.” This turned out to have been a prophetic warning. So many people came to the funeral that, in the crush of the crowd, she sustained two rib fractures.

Early in the morning, Fr. Seraphim saw a woman of unearthly beauty, who for a moment appeared with blinding radiance in a window, and with her right hand, pointed to Heaven. Batiushka told his friends about this, and announced, “Today I will be unable to receive anyone, as I will be praying.” Toward evening, he asked to be put in the chair near the window, and then immersed himself in prayer; occasionally, he inquired as to the time. About 2:00 AM, Fr. Seraphim blessed the reading of the prayers for the departure of the soul, and signing himself with the Sign of the Cross, he said, “Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon the whole world!” With that, he departed into eternity. This was on April 23, 1949, the day of celebration of the resurrection of the Righteous Lazarus, the day before the Feast of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem.

Address of our Cathedral

  • 4001 17th St. N.W.,
  • Washington, D.C., 20011

Phone  (202) 726-3000




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