Holy Hieromartyr Seraphim (Chichagov)

Hierarch Seraphim was born Leonid Mikhailovich Chichagov on January 9, 1856, in St. Petersburg to the family of artillery Colonel Mikhail Nikiforovich Chichagov and his wife Maria Nikolaevna. The hierarch belonged to one of the most regaled nobility in the Kostroma Province, whose members included Admiral V.YA. Chichagov, the North Arctic Ocean’s renowned explorer, and Russian Naval Minister Admiral P.V. Chichagov.

Upon graduation from the Imperial Page Corps, Leonid Mikhailovich took part in the Balkan War (1876-1877). An active participant of almost every major military campaign of that bloody war, he was raised to the rank of lieutenant of the Guards directly on the battlefield and received several military honors. More than once, L.M. Chichagov displayed personal heroism. By God’s Providence, he was saved from death and war injuries. Upon his return to St. Petersburg in 1878, he met with the glorious pastor of the Orthodox Church, Righteous John of Kronstadt. From that time on, the future hierarch would make life-changing decisions only with St. John’s blessing.

On April 8, 1879, L.M. Chichagov married Natalia Nikolayevna Dochturov, daughter of the Court Chamberlain. Keeping in mind that Christian marriage is, above all, the domestic Church, L.M. Chichagov took pains to build his young family on the traditional Orthodox principles of piety and virtue.

L.M.Chichagov succeeded in his military career even during peaceful times. An acclaimed military professional in the field of artillery, he was assigned to oversee the maneuvers of the French army. Upon his return to Russia, he published a research paper on the military theory called “French Artillery in 1882” that turned out to be critical for the ongoing refitting of the Russian army.

L.M. Chichagov’s war experiences taught him to genuinely sympathize to the physical sufferings of wounded servicemen. As a result, he set out to learn medical skills in order to be of assistance to others. His long-term medical experiments led to a well developed, proven system of treatment using herbal remedies that was later published in two volumes of “Medical Discussions.”

God’s Providence steadily guided him towards his future priestly ministry. Soon after he retired from military service in 1891, he and his family moved to Moscow. Here, in the shadow of Moscow’s holy places, he prayerfully prepared for his ordination. A year and a half of contemplation eclipsed on February 26, 1893 when he was ordained a deacon. The ceremony took place at Moscow’s Synodal Church of the Twelve Apostles. Two days later, L.M. Chichagov was ordained a priest at the same location and in the presence of a large gathering of the faithful.

The trials of Father Leonid’s first year of priestly service were exacerbated by his wife’s sudden and severe illness. In 1895, she died before her time. Father Leonid buried her in Diveyevo in the monastery’s cemetery.

Father Leonid regarded the compilation of the “Chronicle of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery” as one of his life’s most important obediences. This work allowed him to delve into the history of one of the most prominent monastic communities of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as monastic endeavors of one of Holy Rus’ greatest ascetics, Venerable Seraphim of Sarov.

Here is Father Leonid’s description how the concept of the chronicle’s compilation was conceived: “After many years of being in the civil service, I became a priest in a small church located behind the Rumyantsev Museum. I decided to visit the Sarov monastery, the place of Venerable Seraphim’s spiritual struggles. I spent a few days in prayer and, while staying there, visited all of the memorable sites related to Venerable Seraphim’s life. From there, I moved to the Diveyevo monastery, which I liked a lot and where Venerable Seraphim, who cared so much about its nuns, was deeply loved. The Hegumenia received me warmly; we had lengthy conversations and she mentioned in passing that there were three monastics still alive who remembered the venerable father. They were two nun elders and nun Pelagia (born Paraskevi, Pasha). I was escorted to Pasha’s dwelling. As soon as I entered, Pasha, who was resting on her bed (she was really old and ailing by then), exclaimed: “It is so good you came, I have been waiting for you: Venerable Seraphim asked me to tell you that you have to report to the Emperor that the time has come to uncover his relics and announce his glorification.” I retorted that I have no social status to be accepted by the Emperor and relay to him in person what she has just told me. To that, Pasha responded: “I do not know anything as I am just the messenger delivering the Venerable one’s words.” Soon afterwards, I left the Diveyevo monastery. On my way back to Moscow, I kept coming back to what Pasha had told me. All of a sudden, a thought pierced my mind: I could write down all the nuns’ memories of Venerable Seraphim. I could also find other contemporaries and let them share their stories about him, or delve into the Sarov and Diveyevo monastery archives to find everything relating to his life and events that happened after his death. I could systematize all the memoirs, factual data and archival documents and materials chronologically, presenting a complete picture of the venerable father’s life and ascetic endeavors and their meaning for the religious life of the people. This work could then be printed and gifted to the Emperor thus fulfilling the venerable father’s will that Pasha so expressly delivered to me. My resolve was further cemented by the fact that the Tsar’s family, over their evening tea, would customarily share spiritual readings. I therefore hoped my book would be one of them. That is how an idea of writing the “Chronicle” was conceived.

In spring of 1898, having left his four daughters in the care of trusted caretakers, Father Leonid was relieved of his duties as a military and naval chaplain and was enrolled in the ranks of Trinity-Sergius Lavra’s monks. On August 14, 1898, he was tonsured a monk and given the name of Seraphim.

By decree of the Holy Synod dated August 14, 1899, he was appointed an abbot of Suzdal’s Saviour- St. Euphymius Monastery with the rank of Archimandrite. His tenure as abbot of this monastery was another glorious page of hierarch Seraphim’s church service, which was full of life’s great struggles. While there, he exercised both the skills of a steadfast church administrator and a sound stewardship and true and genuine love of a mentor. During his five years of being an abbot, Archimandrite Seraphim was able to transform both the material and spiritual life of the once imposing but now dilapidated monastery.

During this period of his life, he had a vision he later described as follows: “Upon completion of writing the “Chronicle,” I was sitting in my room in one of the Diveyevo’s residential quarters overjoyed at finally finishing this complex stage of compiling information and writing about Venerable Seraphim. At that moment, Venerable Seraphim stepped inside my room and I saw him as if he were alive. I never doubted the vision for a single moment, as it felt so simple and realistic. But how surprised I was when Father Seraphim bowed to his waist before me and said: “Thank you for the chronicle. Ask for everything you desire for your work.” With these words, he walked up close to me and put his hand on my shoulder. I clung to him and said: “Father, dear father, I rejoice so much now that I want nothing but to be always with you.” Father Seraphim smiled warmly in consent and then disappeared. Only then did I realize that it had been a vision. I experienced an immense feeling of joy.”

Feeling continually supported in spirit by the venerable father, Archimandrite Seraphim undertook a seemingly bold (at least, for some of his fellow clergy and monastics) step to raise a question at the Holy Synod about the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov’s glorification.

In August 1902, at His Majesty’s insistence, a commission headed by the Metropolitan of Moscow Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) had conducted a preliminary examination of Venerable Seraphim’s relics. According to the Imperial order, father Seraphim was appointed to “coordinate measures aimed at constructing the temporary housing for the masses of pilgrims expected to arrive at the place of glorification.” He was to take upon himself the greater part of the logistical and administrative activities associated with the Venerable Seraphim’s glorification.

A ceremonial uncovering of the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov’s relics took place on January 29, 1903. The Holy Synod issued an act canonizing Sarov’s elder Seraphim a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. On July 17-19, 1903, the festivities in connection with his canonization were held in Sarov.

By God’s Providence, father Seraphim was deemed worthy to start another ministry. On April 28, 1905, he was consecrated a bishop of Sukhumi at the Dormition Cathedral at Moscow’s Kremlin. From then on and until the end of his days, father Seraphim’s archpastoral service was inseparable from his courageous stand for the purity of Orthodoxy faith and the unity of the Russian Church. A worthy successor to the military glory of his gallant ancestors, a future hieromartyr Seraphim would later become a soldier for Christ on the spiritual battlefield.

On February 6 1906, His Grace Seraphim was sent to head the Orel see, where he became known as a dedicated builder of the diocesan life. This is where he came to the conclusion that later determined his fundamental stance as an archpastor: a viable diocesan life is possible if only based on the active growth of the local parishes.

After his service at the Orel see, the Holy Synod delegated Bishop Seraphim to head a diocese that was in even more troubled circumstances. On September 16 1908, an order was issued to assign him to the Kishinev see. His three years of effective service at the Kishinev see practically transformed the diocese and his efforts were highly esteemed at the Holy Synod as well as by His Majesty. In 1912, as Archbishop Seraphim’s service at the Kishinev see was coming to end, he received a new assignment, this time to the Tver see.

During the tumultuous days in 1917 following the Tsar’s abdication, the Holy Synod supported the Provisional Government as the only lawfully acting organ of supreme power at the time. His Grace Seraphim, still in obeisance to higher church and state authorities, could not suppress his disapproval of the transformations his country had just witnessed. On December 28, 1917, the confessional department of Tver’s regional executive Council of workers, peasant and soldier deputies, issued a warrant to exile Archbishop Seraphim away from the Tver Province. Wishing to protect him from repression by the Bolsheviks, His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon appointed His Grace to head the Warsaw and Privislensky see located on Polish territory still free from the Bolsheviks. However, the ever-expanding civil war and the beginning of the Soviet-Polish war made His Grace Seraphim’s departure to the new see impossible. In the spring of 1921, the “Cheka” secret police accused His Grace Seraphim of acting, upon his arrival to Poland, as an “emissary of the Russian Patriarchate.”  He was accused of conspiring to coordinate the creation of a foreign front (against the Russian working masses) in the name of the “Friends of Jesus’ militia” that consisted of overthrown Russian landlords and capitalists. On September 21, 1921, he was arrested and confined at the Taganskaya jail. A few months later, he was freed and exiled “as a civic exile until June 24, 1923, to have a permanent residence under the auspices of the Arkhangelsk regional department.”

Having spent about a year in Arkhangelsk exile, His Grace Seraphim returned to Moscow. By then, the church was going through internal strife, with His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon in custody and the church controls in the hands of the Renovationists. On April 16, 1924, he was arrested again and charged for organizing the canonization of the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov. The investigation lasted for about a month until His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon lodged a petition to free him in May of 1924. His Grace Seraphim was freed but he had to leave Moscow. Hegumenia Arsenia (Dobronravova) of Voskresensky Feodorovsky monastery, located near the town of Shuya, offered him a place to stay. For several years, this monastery was bound to become the last monastic retreat in life.

At the end of 1927, His Grace Seraphim left the hospitable monastery to participate in the meetings of the Temporary Patriarchal Holy Synod. Metropolitan Sergiy badly needed support from hierarch Seraphim who was well known for his universal authority and steadfast, uncompromising attitude. It was quite emblematic that the Leningrad Diocese, where His Grace Seraphim had been appointed to head a Metropolitan’s see, was known for its display of the fiercest criticism of Metropolitan Sergiy’s loyalty to the Soviet power.

During his tenure as head of the Leningrad Diocese, Metropolitan Seraphim stoically warded off obstacles and threats from public authorities, all the while meekly enduring defamation and slander that originated among Metropolitan Joseph’s supporters. Metropolitan Seraphim continually strove to preserve the spiritual and canonical unity of church life inside the Diocese entrusted to him by the Metropolitan Sergiy. By the end of his stay at the Leningrad see, only two “josephite” parish churches remained in the Diocese.

By 1933, his physical ailments and the ever-growing hatred and threats of Leningrad’s public authorities made Metropolitan Seraphim’s arrest imminent. Therefore, on October 14, 1933, Metropolitan Sergiy and the Temporary Patriarchal Holy Synod issued a decree that sent him to retirement. On October 24, upon serving last Divine Liturgy at the church of his youth, the Savior-Transfiguration Cathedral in Leningrad, His Grace Seraphim left his hometown forever. This is where he had grown up spiritually as a devout Orthodox believer and where he sacrificed all as an Orthodox hierarch during the most painful period in the life of the church.

He found his last refuge in a two-room countryside dacha house situated not far from the Udelnaya Station at the Kazanskaya Railways. His Grace Seraphim found a lucky break in the solitude of the backcountry where he could ponder the theological and ascetic writings that had accompanied him throughout his whole life. He now had enough time to keep prayerful vigils before his icons, reflecting on his life while readying himself to meet Christ the Savior.

In November 1937, a bed-ridden 82 year-old hierarch was carried out of his home on a stretcher and imprisoned at the Taganskaya jail. On December 11, 1937, he was executed by firing squad at the Butovo shooting range.

The Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church consecrated the Holy Hieromartyr Seraphim Chichagov a saint on February 18/23, 1997.

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