Today the church honors the most popular Russian saint, 14th Century St. Segius of Radonezh, Abbot and Teacher.
St. Serigus was given the name Bartholomew upon his birth. Shortly after he came into the world, the family was forced to flee the perils of the civil war, eventually making a home in the farming community of Radonezh outside of Moscow. Bartholomew was a poor student who bored easily with his studies, until…
Until he was taken under the wing of a local monk. Reading scripture, books on liturgy, and the writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (as well as church historians of all kinds), while also visiting local monasteries, Bartholomew longed for a life in the church that provided sacred solitude.
After the death of his parents, Bartholomew went deep into the woods surrounding Radonezh and built a chapel to the Holy Trinity. He continued to practice simple piety there, and eventually a neighboring priest-monk gave him a tonsure (the humble hairstyle of a monk) and renamed him Sergius. He was ordained a priest at the age of 30, and grew his little chapel into a full-fledged functioning monastery.
Eventually the Patriarch of Constantinople (or is it Istanbul?) deemed the monastery in the woods a monastic retreat center, elevating it to some prominence.
Personally, St. Sergius was not one for prominence. He, like his spiritual cousin St. Francis of Assisi, was known to love animals and shun worldly goods. He never sought recognition, and lived a quite austere life…which, ironically, helped him generate recognition. His retreat center became the locus for Russian spirituality in his day. He was known to have visions, and it was even reported that he could perform miracles.
He accompanied Russian princes on missions of peace, hoping to unify the region for mutual care and cooperation.
In 1378 he refused to be appointed as Patriarch of Moscow, wanting a quieter life for himself.
As a saint who left no writings, his teachings surprisingly reached far and wide throughout the area, and he was named as the inspiration for a number of monastic communities. He died in 1392, and was buried in the church his monastery constructed. It remains a place of worship and a theological academy to this day.
St. Sergius is a reminder to me, and to the church, that even humble persons can leave a lasting mark. In a world that urges people to publish, to be over-educated, to “make a name,” to relentlessly pursue the next opportunity to be known, St. Sergius calls to us from the past with a different message.
The quiet life.
The simple life.
The life seeking to make peace.
The life that intentionally passes up positions of esteem and power so as not to get trapped in a cycle of political games…that’s a life worth living, Beloved.
-Historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations