Saturday, March 19, 2016

On doubting the Holy Icons.

St. Seraphim of Sarov.

   In October 1830, “Ivan Yakovlevitch Karatayev” drove past Sarov on his way from “Kursk” on business in connection with his regiment. Having heard many reports of St. Seraphim's holiness, he had an ardent desire to see him; but he was scared by a thought common to sinners. Here is his account:
   It seemed to me that the Elder would solemnly convict me of all my sins, especially of my error concerning the veneration of the holy icons. I thought that an icon painted by the hand of a man, perhaps even a sinful man, could not be pleasing to God.
   And so the timid officer drove past. But the following year in March he was again returning with his men through Sarov on his way to a war with Poland. This time he went to the Elder's cell with a joy that even he himself had not expected. He found the Saint with a crowd of people. Blessing the pilgrims, Fr. Seraphim glanced at the officer and called him into his cell. His account continues:

   I obeyed his command with fear and love, prostrated at his feet and asked for his blessing for my journey and for the coming war, and that he should pray that my life should be spared. Fr. Seraphim blessed me with his copper cross which was hanging on his chest, and having kissed me, he began to confess me, telling me my sins himself, as if they had been committed in his presence. At the end of this comfort­ing confession he said to me: "You should not surrender to the fear which is sent to young men by the devil, but you should at that time be especially watchful in spirit and, rejecting cowardice, remember that though we are sinful, we are all in the grace of our Redeemer without Whose will not a single hair falls from our head."
   After this he began to speak about my error with regard to the ven­eration of the holy icons. "How bad and harmful for us is the wish to probe the mysteries of God, which are inaccessible to the human mind - for instance, how the grace of God works through the holy icons, how it heals sinners like you and me," he added, "and not only their body, - but the soul too, so that even sinners, according to their faith in the grace of Christ present in the icons, were saved and at­tained the Kingdom of Heaven."
   Then Father Seraphim mentioned instances of the veneration of icons: "Even in the Old Covenant, by the Ark of the Covenant, there were golden Cherubim; and in the Church of the New Covenant the Evangelist Luke painted the face of the Mother of God; and the Saviour Himself has left us His image Not-made-with-hands."
   At the end of the talk Father Seraphim said: "One must not pay attention to blasphemous thoughts of that kind for which eternal punishment awaits the spirit of Judas and his accomplices on the day of the awful judgment."
   On his departure the officer left three rubles on the table; but as he went out, he was disturbed by the diabolic thought: "Why should the holy Father want money?". The earthly soldier was still inexperienced in the spiritual warfare. But still he hurried back to the great Elder, and the latter met him with the words: "During a war with the Gauls a chief was to be deprived of his right hand; but this hand had given a hermit three coins for a holy temple. And by the prayers of our Holy Church the Lord saved it. Think it over well, and in future do not regret your good deeds. Your money will go towards the establishment of the Diveyev community, and they will pray for your health."
   Then Father Seraphim confessed him again and poured into his mouth some holy water, saying: "May the evil spirit which is besetting the servant of God, Ivan, be driven away by the grace of God!". On dismissing him, the Elder said: "Put your trust in God and ask for His help. And learn how to forgive your neighbour; and everything you ask for will be given you."
   Karatayev the soldier concludes:
   During the Polish campaign I took part in many battles, and the Lord always saved me through the prayers of His righteous servant. The soldiers who were returning with me to the regiment also received his blessing. He gave them some advice on this occasion and foretold that none of them would perish in battle. This actually came to pass; not a single one was even wounded.

   Archimandrite Lazarus (Moore) (2009), An Extraordinary Peace: St. Seraphim, Flame of Sarov, Anaphora Press, Port Townsend, U.S.A.