Exceptional humility

Daily Reading for September 25 • Sergius, Abbot of Holy Trinity, Moscow, 1392

St. Sergius of Radonej (1314-1392) is one of the most popular Russian saints. The monastery of the Holy Trinity founded by him, at present the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, is now the spiritual centre of Russia. The exceptional influence of the saint, which began during his life and never ceased, can be seen above all in the inner, spiritual life of the country, in its monastic life. St. Sergius had a multitude of followers, and the majority of monasteries founded after his death were directly or indirectly influenced by him. He was the head and the teacher of Russian hermits. The greater part of the saints in the XIVth and XVth centuries, intercessors for the land of Russia at that difficult time, were his disciples, friends or correspondents. It is worthy of note that the monastery which grew up round him is dedicated to the Holy Trinity—the prototype of that unity of which a monastery should be a concrete realization in the world. This unity, this perfect inner peace, was attained by the saint not only with men but also with wild animals. In him was re-established in practice that normal order of the universe where the whole of nature, united round man, obeys God. The monastery of St. Sergius which became the home of Russian sainthood at that period of its flowering, was also the home of iconography. The greatest iconographer, St. Andrew (Rublev) seems to have studied his art there and painted for it his famous icon of the Trinity. . . .

The most striking feature of St. Sergius’ life is his exceptional humility. To relieve his brethren he undertook the most lowly tasks in his monastery, wore threadbare, patched clothes, so that people who met him failed to recognize in him the renowned abbot of Radonej, whose fame spread throughout the land. He shared his meager portion of bread, which was his only food, with a wild bear which came to him from the forest; if there was not enough bread for the two of them, he used to give his share to the bear. To the reproaches of the brethren he answered that “the beast does not understand about fasting.”

From The Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspenskky and Vladimir Lossky (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1952).

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