This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 25 -- Feast of Saint Sergius of Radonezh

Schemamonk Aleksandr Persvet at Kulikovo
If you had mentioned AD 1314, I would have first thought of the Battle of Bannockburn, when Robert the Bruce defeated the English army and secured the independence of Scotland.  Until now, I did not know that it was the year Saint Sergius, the most beloved saint in Russia (except maybe Alexander Nevski), was born.  Hell, I didn't even know who Saint Sergius was, though he is rightly canonized in both the Western and Eastern churches.  And if you mentioned AD 1380, I would have had nothing to offer, even though the Battle of Kulikovo was far more important than Bannockburn.  It is really on a par with the Battle of Tours or the Battle of Chalons in Western Europe, or perhaps the Battle of Lepanto in the Mediterranean, if you know what I mean. 

The fourteenth century was a rough time for the Russians.  They were fragmented, squeezed by the Tatar Golden Horde (Mongols, essentially) on their eastern flank and the Poles and Lithuanians from the West.  Of course they'd put the squeeze back on all these in subsequent centuries, but the fourteenth century was not kind to them.

Young Sergius and the Angel of Literacy
Into that century came Sergius (christened Bartholomew), the second son of Cyril and Maria, former nobles who had lost their status by picking the wrong side of a civil war.  [I told you those were tough times. They were lucky not to lose their heads.] As a child, he experienced a miracle.  He met an old man (perhaps a saint or an angel) and, perceiving the man's holiness, implored him to pray that one day Sergius would be able to read God's word.  The man gave young Sergius a piece of holy bread, and then accompanied him home.  At home, the boy astonished his parents by reading from the Scriptures. 

Following the death of his parents, he moved deep into the woods to build a cell and live as a hermit.  His brother accompanied him.  Their holiness inspired others to join them, so soon they relocated to an abandoned monastery and began to restore it.  He and his brother quarreled about the degree of asceticism required (or perhaps just who should be the boss); but the rift did not take the steam out of the monastic engine.  Under Sergius' leadership, forty new monasteries were founded throughout  Russia, often in painfully impractical places.  These outposts of Christianity were essential in forging the national, religious, and cultural identity of the land. 

Tatar Mamai of the Golden Horde at the feet of Dmitri Donskoi
And when the Mongols threatened war (and Dmitri Donskoi had exhausted all reasonable avenues of peace), Sergius advised him to fight.  Dmitri, uncertain whether the risks of war were greater than the demands that Tatar Mamai would have demanded for peace, had put the question to Sergius out of respect for his reputation rather than his position (Sergius had been offered the spot of Metropolitan but had declined it).  Sergius endorsed the battle, and assigned to schemamonks (high-ranking in the Eastern monastic system) to lead the armies.  When the battle of Kulikovo was won, he and Dmitri became national heroes, and later, saints. 

No comments:

Post a Comment