Bartholomew becomes Sergius

Mikhail Nesterov’s The [sketch-to-a-picture] Vision of Adolescent Varfolomey (1889)

Our saint, Bartholomew, had not taken monastic vows at this time, for as yet, he had not enough experience of monasteries and of all that is required of a monk. After a while, however, he invited a spiritual elder, who held the dignity of priest and abbot, named Metrophan, to come and visit him in his solitude. In great humility he entreated, “Father, may the love of God be with us, and give me the tonsure of a monk. From childhood have I loved God and set my heart on Him these many years, but my parent’s needs withheld me. Now, my lord and father, I am free from all bonds, and I thirst, as the hart thirsteth for the springs of living water.”

The abbot, forthwith, went into the chapel with him and gave him the tonsure on the 7th day of October on the feast day of the blessed martyrs Sergius and Bacchus. And Sergius is the name he received as a monk. In those days it was the custom to give to the newly tonsured monk the name of the saint whose feast day it happened to be. Our saint was twenty-three years old when he joined the order of monks. Blessed Sergius, the newly tonsured, partook of the Holy Sacrament and received grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. From one whose witness is true and sure we are told that when Sergius partook of the Holy Sacrament, the chapel was filled with a sweet odor; and not only in the chapel, but all around was the same fragrant smell. The saint remained in the chapel seven days, touching no food other than one consecrated loaf given to him by the abbot, refusing all else and giving himself up to fasting and prayer, having on his lips the Psalms of David.

When Metrophan bade farewell, St Sergius in all humility said to him, “Give me your blessing and pray regarding my solitude; and instruct one living alone in the wilderness how to pray to the Lord God; how to remain unharmed; how to wrestle with the enemy and with his own temptations to pride, for I am but a novice and a newly tonsured monk.”

Mikhail Nesterov\'s St Sergius of Radonezh (1891-99)

Mikhail Nesterov’s St Sergius of Radonezh (1891-99)

The abbot was astonished and almost afraid. He replied, “You ask of me concerning that which you know no less well than we do, O noble father.” After discoursing with him for a while on spiritual matters, and commending him to God, Metrophan went away leaving St Sergius alone to silence and the wilderness.

Mikhail Nesterov- Youth Saint Sergius (1892-97)
Mikhail Nesterov’s Saint Sergija and the Bear (1892-1897)

Who can recount his labors? Who can number the trials he endured living alone in the wilderness? Under different forms and from time to time the devil wrestled with the saint, but the demons beset St Sergius in vain; no matter what visions they evoked, they failed to overcome the firm and fearless spirit of the ascetic. At one moment it was Satan who laid his snares, at another incursions of wild beasts took place, for many were the wild animals inhabiting the wilderness. Some of these remained at a distance, others came near the saint, surrounded him and even sniffed him. In particular a bear used to come to the holy man. Seeing the animal did not come to harm him, but in order to get some food, the saint brought a small slice of bread from his hut, and placed it on a log or stump, so the bear learned to come for the meal thus prepared for him, and having eaten it, went away again. If there was no bread, and the bear did not find his usual slice, he would wait and look about, rather like some money-lender waiting to receive payment of his debt. At this time Sergius had no variety of foods in the wilderness, only bread and water from the spring, and a great scarcity of these. Often bread was not to be found, then both he and the bear went hungry. Sometimes, although there was but one single slice of bread, the saint gave it to the bear, being unwilling to disappoint him of his food.