Abbot Sergius

Sergei Kirillov-Part 2 of the Triptych 'Holy Rus', St Sergius of Radonezh Giving a Blessing 1993

Our revered father and abbot Sergius returned to his monastery, to the abode dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and the brethren, coming out to meet him, bowed low to the ground before him. He blessed them and said, “Brethren, pray for me. I am altogether ignorant and I have received a talent from the Highest and I shall have to render an account of it, and of the flock committed to me.”

There were twelve brethren when he first became abbot, and he was the thirteenth. This number remained, neither increasing nor diminishing, until Simon, the archimandrite of Smolensk arrived among them. From that time on their numbers constantly increased. This wondrous man, Simon, was chief archimandrite, excellent, eminent, abounding in virtue. Having heard of our revered father, Sergius’ way of life, he laid aside honors, left the goodly city of Smolensk and arrived at the monastery where, greeting our revered father Sergius with the greatest humility, he entreated to be allowed to live under him and his rules in all submission and obedience: and he offered the estate he owned as a gift to the abbot for the benefit of the monastery. Blessed Sergius welcomed him with great joy. Simon lived many years, submissive and obedient, abounding in virtue and died in advanced old age.

Stephen, the saint’s brother, came with his younger son, Ivan, from Moscow and presenting him to Abbot Sergius, asked that he be tonsured. Abbot Sergius did so and gave him the name of Theodore; from his earliest years the boy had been taught abstinence, piety and chastity, following his uncle’s precepts; according to some accounts he was tonsured when he was ten years old, others say twelve.

St. Sergius of Radonezh c.1314-92 overseeing the construction of a cell and church at Zagorsk (Rublyev)

People from many parts, towns and countries, came to live with Abbot Sergius, and their names are written in the Book of Life. The monastery, bit by bit, grew in size. It is recorded in the Patericon – that is to say, in the book of the early Fathers of the Church – that the holy fathers in assembly prophesied about later generations, saying that the last generation would be weak. But of the later generations, God made Sergius strong as one of the early fathers. God made him a lover of hard work, and to be the head over a great number of monks. From the time he was appointed abbot, the Liturgy was sung everyday. He himself baked the holy bread, first he flayed and ground the wheat, sifted the flour, kneaded and fermented the dough; he entrusted the making of the holy bread to no one. He also cooked the grains for the “kutia,” and he also made the candles. Although occupying the chief place as abbot, he did not alter in any way his monastic rules. He was lowly and humble with all people, and was an example to all.

He never sent anyone away who came to him for the tonsure, neither young nor old, nor rich nor poor, he received them all with fervent joy; but he did not give them the tonsure at once. He who would be a monk was ordered first, to put on a long black garment and to live with the brethren until he became accustomed to all the monastic rules; then, later, he was given the full monk’s attire of cloak and hood. Finally, when he was deemed worthy, he was allowed the “schema,” the mark of the ascetic.

After Vespers and late at night, especially on long dark nights, the saint used to leave his cell and make a round of the monk’s cells. If he hear anyone saying his prayers, or making genuflections, or busy with his own handiwork, he was gratified and gave thanks to God. If, on the other hand, he heard two or three monks chatting or laughing, he was displeased and rapped on the door or window and then moved on. In the morning he would send for them and indirectly, quietly and gently, by means of some parable, reprove them. If he was a humble and submissive brother he would quickly admit his fault and, bowing low before St Sergius, he would beg forgiveness. If he was not a humble brother and stood erect thinking he was not the person being referred to, the saint, with patience would make it clear to him and order him to do a public penance. In this way they all learned to pray to God assiduously; not to chat with one another after Vespers, to do their own handiwork with all their might; and to have the Psalms of David continually on their lips.