Uncovering of the relics of the Venerable Sergius of Radonezh

Commemorated on July 5/18

The Uncovering of the Venerable Relics of Saint Sergius of Radonezh: The relics of the St Sergius (September 25) were uncovered on July 5, 1422 when St Nikon (November 17) was igumen. In the year 1408, when Moscow and its environs was invaded by the Tatar horde of Edigei, the Trinity monastery was devastated and burned, and the monks led by St Nikon hid themselves in the forests. They saved the icons, sacred vessels, books and other holy things connected with the memory of St Sergius.

In a vision on the eve of the Tatar incursion St Sergius informed his disciple and successor about the coming tribulations. He also said that the vexation would not be prolonged but that the monastery, arising from the ashes, would flourish and grow even more. Metropolitan Philaret wrote about this in his Life of St Sergius: “Just as it suited Christ to suffer, and through the Cross and death to enter into the glory of the Resurrection, so it also becomes everyone who would be blessed by Christ with length of days in glory, to be tested by one’s own cross and death.” Going through its own fiery cleansing, the monastery of the Life-Creating Trinity was resurrected unto length of days, and St Sergius himself rose up, so that his holy relics should dwell within it forevermore.

Before the beginning of construction of the new temple of the Life-Creating Trinity on the site of the former wooden one (which was consecrated on September 25, 1412), St Sergius appeared to a certain pious layman and bid him inform the igumen and the brethren: “Why do you leave me so long in the grave, covered by earth and in the water, constraining my body?” During the construction of the cathedral, when they dug the ditches for the foundations, the incorrupt relics of St Sergius were uncovered and brought up. All were astonished that not only his body, but also his clothing was undamaged, although there was water around the grave. Amidst a large throng of the devout and the clergy, in the presence of the son of Demetrius of the Don , the prince of Zvenigorod Yurii Dimitrievich (+ 1425), the holy relics were removed from the ground and placed temporarily in the wooden Trinity church (at this spot now stands the church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit). With the consecration of the stone Trinity cathedral in 1426, the relics were transferred into it, where they remain.

All the threads of the spiritual life of the Russian Church converge towards the great saint and wonderworker of Radonezh, and through all of Orthodox Rus the grace-filled, life-creating currents radiate outwards from the Trinity monastery he founded.

Naming a church for the Holy Trinity within the Russian land began with holy Equal of the Apostles Olga (July 11), who built the first Trinity temple at Pskov. Afterwards, similar churches were built in Great Novgorod and other cities.

The spiritual contribution of St Sergius in teaching the theology of the Holy Trinity is quite significant. The monk had profound insight into the secret mysteries of theology with the “spiritual eyes” of the ascetic, in prayerful ascent to the Tri-Hypostatic (i.e. in Three-Persons) God, and in the spiritual experience of communion with God and God-likeness.

“Coheirs of the perfect light and contemplation of the Most Holy and All-Sovereign Trinity,” explained St Gregory the Theologian, “are those which become perfectly co-united in the perfection of the Spirit.” St Sergius knew from personal experience the mystery of the Life-Creating Trinity, since in his life he became co-united with God, he became a communicant of the very life of the Divine Trinity, i.e. he attained as much as is possible on earth to the measure of “theosis” [“divinization”], becoming a “partaker of the Divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). “If a man loves Me,” says the Lord, “he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).

Abba Sergius, in everything observing the commands of Christ, belongs to the rank of holy saints in the souls of whom the Holy Trinity “has made abode.” He fashioned himself into “an abode of the Holy Trinity,” and everyone with whom St Sergius associated, he elevated and brought into communion with the Holy Trinity.

The Radonezh ascetic, with his disciples and conversants, enriched the Russian and the universal Church with a new knowledge and vision of the Life-Creating Trinity, the Beginning and Source of life, manifesting Itself unto the world and to mankind in the “Sobornost’” [“Communality”] of the Church, with brotherly unity and the sacrificial redemptive love of its pastors and children.

In the spiritually symbolic gathering together of Rus in unity and love, the historical effort of the nation became a temple of the Life-Creating Trinity, built by St Sergius, “so that by constant attention to It would be conquered the fright of the hateful discord of this world.”

The worship of the Holy Trinity, in forms created and bequeathed by the holy Igumen Sergius of Radonezh, became one of the most profound and original of features of Russian ecclesiality. With St Sergius, in the Life-Creating Trinity there was posited not only the holy perfection of life eternal, but also a model for human life, a spiritual ideal toward which mankind ought to strive, since that in the Trinity as “Indivisible” (Greek “Adiairetos”) discord is condemned and “Sobornost’” [“Communality”] is blessed, and in the Trinity as “Inseparable” [“Akhoristos” -- per the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in year 451] coercion is condemned and freedom blessed. In the teaching of St Sergius about the Most Holy Trinity the Russian nation sensed profoundly its own catholic and ecumenical vocation, and comprehending the universal significance of the Feast, the people embellished it with all the variety and richness of the ancient national custom and people’s verse. All the spiritual experience and spiritual striving of the Russian Church was embodied in the liturgical creativity of the Feast of the Holy Trinity, of trinitarian church rituals, icons of the Holy Trinity, and churches and monasteries of this name.

The theological insight of St Sergius in transformation was rendered as the wonderworking icon of the Life-Creating Trinity painted by the St Andrew of Radonezh, surnamed Rublev (July 4), a monastic iconographer, lived in the Trinity-Sergiev monastery, and painted with the blessing of St Nikon in praised memory to holy Abba Sergius. (At the Stoglav Council of 1551 this icon was affirmed as proper model for all successive church iconographic depiction of the Most Holy Trinity).

“The hateful discord,” quarrels and commotions of worldly life were surmounted by the monastic cenobitic life, planted by St Sergius throughout all Rus. People would not have divisions, quarrels and war, if human nature, created by the Trinity in the image of the Divine Tri-Unity, were not distorted and impaired by ancestral sin. Overcoming by his own co-crucifixion with the Savior the sin of particularity and separation, repudiating the “my own” and the “myself,” and in accord with the teachings of St Basil the Great, the cenobitic monks restore the First-created unity and sanctity of human nature. The monastery of St Sergius became for the Russian Church the model for renewal and rebirth. In it were formed holy monks, bearing forth thereof features of the true path of Christ to remote regions. In all their works and actions St Sergius and his disciples gave a churchly character to life, giving the people a living example of its possibility. Not for renouncing the earth, but rather for transfiguring it, they proclaimed ascent and they themselves ascended unto the Heavenly.

The school of St Sergius, through the monasteries founded by him, his disciples and the disciples of his disciples, embraces all the vastness of the Russian land and threads its way through all the remotest history of the Russian Church. One fourth a portion of all Russian monasteries, the strongholds of faith, piety and enlightenment, was founded by Abba Sergius or his disciples. The “igumen of the Russian land” was what people called the founder of the Domicile of the Life-Originating Trinity. The Monks Nikon and Mikhei of Radonezh, Sylvester of Obnora, Stephen of Makhrisch and Abraham of Chukhlom, Athanasius of Serpukhov and Nikita of Borov, Theodore of Simonov and Therapon of Monzha (May 27), Andronicus of Moscow and Savva of Storozhevsk, Demetrius of Priluki and Cyril of White Lake -- they were all disciples and conversers of “the wondrous Elder”, Sergius. The holy hierarchs Alexis and Cyprian -- Metropolitans of Moscow, Dionysius Archbishop of Suzdal, and Stephen Bishop of Perm, were associated with him in spiritual closeness. The Patriarchs of Constantinople Callistus and Philotheus wrote letters to him and sent their blessings. Through Sts Nikita and Paphnutius of Borov threads a spiritual legacy to St Joseph of Volokolamsk and others of his disciples, and through Cyril of White Lake to Nil Sorsky, to Herman, Sabbatius and Zosima of Solovki.

The Church venerates also disciples and co-ascetics of St Sergius, whose memories are not specifically noted within the “Mesyatseslov” lists of saints under their separate day. We remember that the first to arrive for St Sergius at Makovets was the Elder Basil the Gaunt (“Sukhoi”), called such because of his incomparable fasting. Second was the monk Yakuta, i.e. Yakov (James), of simple peasant stock, who without a murmur spent long years at the monastery on errands of drudgery and difficult obedience.

Among the other disciples of St Sergius were his fellow countrymen from Radonezh the Deacon Onesimus and his son Elisha. When twelve monks had gathered and the constructed cells were fenced in by an high enclosure, the abba appointed Deacon Onesimus as gate-keeper, since his cell was farthest from the entrance to the monastery. Under the protective shadow of the Holy Trinity monastery the igumen Metrophanes spent his final years. It was he who had tonsured St Sergius into the angelic schema and guided him in monastic efforts. The grave of the blessed Elder Metrophanes became the first in the monastery cemetery.

In the year 1357 Archimandrite Simon arrived at the monastery from Smolensk. He had resigned his venerable position as head of one of the Smolensk monasteries, to become a simple obedient of the God-bearing Radonezh igumen. In recompense for his great humility, the Lord granted him to share in the miraculous vision of St Sergius about the future increase of his monastic flock. With the blessing of the abba, the Blessed Elder Isaac the Silent took upon himself the deed of prayerful silence; his silence was more instructive than any words for the monks and those outside. Only one time after a year of silence did the monk Isaac open his mouth -- to testify, how he had seen an angel of God serve together at the altar with St Sergius, during the Divine Liturgy.

An eyewitness of the grace of the Holy Spirit, co-effectualised for St Sergius, was also the ecclesiarch Simon, who once saw, how a heavenly fire came down upon the Holy Mysteries and that the saint of God “did commune the fire without being burned.” The Elder Epiphanius (+ 1420) was somewhat later, during the time of igumen Nikon, a priest of the Sergiev flock. The Church calls him Epiphanius the Wise for his deep learning and great spiritual talents. He is known as the compiler of the Life of St Sergius and of his conversant Saint Stephen of Perm in eulogy to them; he wrote also the “Account of the Life and Repose of Great Prince Demetrius of the Don “. The Life of St Sergius, compiled by Epiphanius 26 years after the death of the monk, i.e. in 1418, was later reworked by the hagiographer Pachomius the Serb, called the Logothete, who had come from Athos.

To St Sergius, as to an inexhaustible font of spiritual prayer and grace of the Lord, at all times came in veneration thousands of the people -- for edification and for prayers, for help and for healing. And each of those having recourse with faith to his wonderworking relics he heals and renews, fills with power and with faith, transforms and guides upwards with his light-bearing spirituality.

But it was not only spiritual gifts and grace-filled healings bestown to all, approaching with faith the relics of St Sergius; God also gave him the grace to defend the Russian land from its enemies. The monk by his prayers was with the army of Demetrius of the Don at the Battle of Kulikovo Pole (“Field”), -- he even blessed his own monks, Alexander Peresvet and Andrew Oslyab to serve in the army. He told Ivan the Terrible where to build the fortress of Sviyazhsk and helped in the victory over Kazan. During the Polish incursion St Sergius appeared in a dream to the Nizhni Novgorod citizen Cosmas Minin, ordering him to gather funds and equip an army for the liberation of Moscow and the Russian realm. And when in 1612 after a Molieben to the Holy Trinity the militia of Minin and Pozharsky moved towards Moscow, a propitious breeze fluttered the Orthodox standards, “as though from the grave of the Wonderworker Sergius himself.”

To the period of the Time of Troubles and the Polish incursion belongs the heroic “Trinity sitting-tight,” when many monks with the blessing of the igumen St Dionysius repeated the military holy deed of the Sergiev disciples Peresvyet and Oslyab. For one and a half years, from September 23, 1608 to January 12, 1610, the Polish laid siege to the monastery of the Life-Creating Trinity, hoping to plunder and destroy this sacred bulwark of Orthodoxy. But by the intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos, and through the prayers of St Sergius, “with much disgrace” they fled finally from the walls of the monastery, pursued by divine wrath, and soon even their leader Lisovsky perished in a cruel manner on the very day of St Sergius’s commemoration, September 25, 1617. In 1618 the son of the Polish king, Vladislav, came right up to the walls of the Holy Trinity monastery. But being powerless against the grace of the Lord guarding the monastery, he was compelled to conclude a peace treaty with Russia at the monastery village of Deulino. After this a church was built in the name of St Sergius.

In the year 1619, Patriarch Theophanes of Jerusalem visited the Lavra during his journey to Russia. He especially wanted to see those monks who in time of military danger made bold to put the chain-mail coat on over their monastic garb and with weapon in hand to go up onto the walls of the holy monastery, warding off the enemy. St Dionysius the igumen (May 12), in speaking about the defense, presented to the patriarch more than twenty monks.

The first of them was Athanasius (Oscherin), very up in years and with the yellowed greyness of an elder. The patriarch asked him: “Did you go to war and lead soldiers?” The Elder answered, “Yes, holy Master, it was made necessary by bloody tears.”

“What is most proper for a monk, prayerful solitude or military exploits before the people?”

Bowing low, St Athanasius replied: “Every thing and every deed has its own time. Here on my head is a Latin signature, from a weapon. There are six more memorials of lead in my body. Sitting in the cell at prayer, could I have found such inducements for moaning and groaning? I did all this not at my own pleasure, but for the blessing of the service of God sent us.” Touched by the wise answer of the humble monk, the Patriarch blessed and embraced him. He blessed also the other soldier-monks and expressed his admiration to all the brethren of the Lavra of St Sergius.

The deed of the monastery, during this grievous Time of Troubles for all the nation, was recorded by the steward Abraham (Palitsyn) in “An Account of the Events of the Time of Troubles,” and also by the steward Simon Azar’in in two hagiographic collections: “The Book of the Miracles of St Sergius,” and the Life of St Dionysius of Radonezh. In the year 1650 Simeon Shakhovsky wrote an Akathist to St Sergius, as “valiant voevod (military-leader)” of the Russian land, in memory of the deliverance of the Trinity monastery from the enemy siege. There is another Akathist to St Sergius composed in the eighteenth century, and its author is believed to be Metropolitan Platon (Levshin) of Moscow, who reposed in 1812.

In later times, the monastery continued to be an inextinguishable torch of spiritual life and church enlightenment. From its brethren many famed hierarchs of the Russian Church were chosen for service, one after another.

In the year 1744, for its service to the country and the Faith, the monastery was designated as a Lavra. In 1742 a religious seminary was established within its enclosure, and in the year 1814 the Moscow Spiritual Academy was transferred there.

And at present the Domicile of the Life-Creating Trinity serves as one of the primary centers of grace of the Russian Orthodox Church. Here at the promptings of the Holy Spirit the Local Councils of the Russian Church take place. At the monastery is a place of residence of His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus, which carries upon it the special blessing of St Sergius, in the established form, “Archimandrite of the Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra.”

The fifth of July, the day of the Uncovering of the relics of holy Abba Sergius, igumen of the Russian Land, is a crowded and solemn church feastday at the monastery.

The Orthodox Church in America

17 июля 2015 г.

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