Saint Seraphim came into the world as Prokhor Moshnin on 19 July 1754, in Kursk (Russia). His parents, Isidore and Agathia Moshnin were known to be pious Orthodox Christians. When Prokhor was a young child of ten years old, he had become seriously ill. It is told that he encountered the Theotokos in a dream, where she promised to heal him…mere days later, the procession of the wonder-working Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God wended its way past his home. Agathia presented him to the icon, and he was miraculously healed shortly after.
Following the example of his parents, Prokhor was a devout Christian. As he grew, he studied the lives of the saints and began to seek out solitude for prayer. By the age of 18 or 19, he made the decision to enter the monastic life and began his novitiate in the Sarov monastery. As a novice, he lived a particularly aesthetic life, eating and sleeping very little (when at all). When Prokhor again fell severely ill, the Theotokos again appeared to him, and he was again healed.
Prokhor was tonsured in 1786, at the age of 27. At this time, he received the name by which he is remembered: Seraphim. Not long after, he was made hierodeacon, and his devotion was of such intensity that he saw not only angels, but the Lord Himself during the Divine Liturgy on Holy Thursday.
St. Seraphim was ordained a hieromonk in 1793, and was assigned to be the spiritual guide of the Diveyevo monastery for women. He was also granted permission to withdraw into the wilderness, where it is said he achieved such a state that wild animals would endeavour to visit the monk at his hut -Matrona Plescheyeva of the Diveyevo monastery herself witnessed St. Seraphim feeding a bear out of his own hands!
In 1804, St. Seraphim was attacked at his hermitage by a band of robbers. Even though the saint was said to be quite strong and able (and also armed with an axe), he did not resist their assault and nearly lost his life in the process. His injuries made it so that he was thereafter bent in shape, needing a staff to walk. It was after this event that the saint brought himself to a rock near his hut, where he knelt down and spent a thousand days and nights in nearly incessant prayer.
St. Seraphim had a vision of the Theotokos, who instructed him to end his seclusion in service of teaching others. He then began to welcome anyone who sought him for his knowledge or advice, greeting all with the salutation, “my joy! Christ is Risen!” (he would give this Paschal greeting no matter what time of year it was). It was in 1831 that the saint finally met Nicholas Motovilov, a devotee who witnessed the miracle of the transfiguration of St. Seraphim’s face while receiving his revelation. Motovilov recorded the event, which was later published by Sergius Nilus. This was preserved as the text entitled, “On The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit”, which Nilus introduced:
“This revelation is undoubtedly of worldwide significance. True, there is nothing essentially new in it, for the full revelation was given to the Apostles from the very day of Pentecost. But now that people have forgotten the fundamental truths of Christian life and are immersed in the darkness of materialism or the exterior and routine performance of “ascetic labors”, St. Seraphim’s revelation is truly extraordinary, as indeed he himself regarded it.
“It is not given to you alone to understand this,” said St. Seraphim towards the end of the revelation, “but through you it is for the whole world!” Like a flash of lightning this wonderful conversation illumined the whole world which was already immersed in spiritual lethargy and death less than a century before the struggle against Christianity in Russia and at a time when Christian faith was at a low ebb in the West. Here God’s Saint appears before us in no way inferior to the prophets through whom the Holy Spirit Himself spoke.
We record everything word for word without any interpretations of our own.”
St. Seraphim died on 2 January, 1833, while kneeling before the icon of the Theotokos.