What Unspeakable Joy

The Story of St. Seraphim of Sarov

What Unspeakable Joy

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In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II singles out five saints as exceptional models of prayer. Four are well known to most Catholics.

But following on the heels of Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Ignatius of Loyola comes a name that leaves many of us scratching our heads. Who is St. Seraphim of Sarov?

Our puzzlement might surprise Eastern Orthodox Christians, who count this monk among their greatest, most popular saints. In Russia, where Seraphim was born on July 19, 1759, his memory survived all efforts to obliterate it. The Communists destroyed the Sarov monastery and the nearby forest where he spent sixteen years as a hermit; they confiscated his relics. Nonetheless, says biographer Michael Plekon, people told “beautiful stories” about Seraphim’s continuing presence. “Soldiers were greeted by a smiling little man in a white smock, lost travelers guided in howling blizzards by a little old man in white.” Peasants brought fresh pine branches into the…

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