Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meditation: Sergius, Abbot of Russia


 (By Fred Vergara. Chapel of Christ the Lord, New York, 9.25. 2012)

In William Shakespeare’s play, Mark Anthony spoke at Julius Caesar’s funeral, saying“The evil that men do lives after them but the good is always buried with their bones.” 

Such is not true with the Christian community. We honor the men and women who in history have done good deeds and we remember their works for all eternity.  

Today, we honor St. Sergius, the abbot of Moscow who founded a monastery in 1345. This monastery has now become the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church and home to around 300 monks. St. Sergius is revered as a national hero in Russia.* His fame is spoken by Russians in like manner as William Tell by the Swiss, Joan of Arc by the French; or Francis of Assisi by Italians.
Sergius was born to a poor peasant family in Russia in the 12th century. He was originally baptized with the name Bartholomew. He was an intelligent child but had difficulty learning to read. One day, the legend say, an angel gave him a piece of consecrated leavened bread (prosphoron) and from that day onward, he was able to read very well. Devout Orthodox Christians interpreted the incident as an angelic visitation and sign of God’s favor.**

When his parents, Maria and Kirill, died, Bartholomew went to Khotkovo near Moscow, where his older brother, Stefan, was a monk. He and Stefan sought out a more secluded place, and withdrew deep into the forest at Makovets Hill, where they built a small cell and a wooden church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. It was there that Bartholomew took the monastic vows and assumed the religious name Sergius.**

Sergius then spent more than a year in the forest alone as a hermit. It is amazing that the light of Christ shines even in the remotest forest away from the maddening crowd. When you are filled with the spirit, people will gravitate even when you keep from the crowd. There will be people who would seek your wisdom, counsel or message. In the gospels, we learn of Jesus who sometimes withdrew from the crowd, and yet people will seek after him and find him. John the Baptist was preaching in the desert but people flocked to hear his message. In the same manner, monks from near and far, in Moscow began to seek the hermit Sergius. They begged him to be their hegumen (father superior) and to teach them the ways of a religious life.** Sergius accepted the challenge; he was ordained a priest and became an abbot of the monastery he and his brother founded.

The rest is history: the forested place became a religious settlement and developed into a town named after Sergius. The monks were required to live by their own labor. They later scattered all over Russia and founded around 400 other monasteries, with hundreds of monks devoting their lives to prayer and worship, interceding for our needs and the needs of the world.

We stand today because God’s hand is upon us. When God takes His hand from our lives, our knees  shall turn into clay. The monks and nuns who devote their lives for this kind of monastic prayer ministry are the reservoir of this spiritual energy, the prayers that cry out to God, so He may continue to hold us, and the whole world, in the palm of His hands. Let us thank God for them. Amen.

*From: Holy Men, Holy Women Blogsite.
**From: The Good Heart Blogsite.

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