Holy Hieromartyr Seraphim (Zvezdinsky)
Holy Hieromartyr Seraphim (born Nikolai Ivanovich Zvezdinsky) was born on April 7, 1883 into the family of “Edinoverets” (an Old Believer Church which is part of the canonical Russian Church) priest John Zvezdinsky. In 1902, Seraphim became ill with an incurable disease but he was miraculously healed after a prayer vigil in front of the icon of a not yet glorified elder Seraphim. The meek image of the elder has since become a family relic that accompanied His Grace Seraphim throughout his life. A year later, Kolya participated at the ceremony of Venerable Seraphim of Sarov’s glorification. Feeling gratitude for his son’s healing, Father John wrote a prayer service to Venerable Seraphim.
Nikolai Zvesdinsky finished seminary in 1905 as one of its stellar students and entered the Moscow Theological Academy. On September 26, 1908, he was tonsured a monk with the name of Seraphim after Venerable Seraphim of Sarov. Upon graduation from the academy, he worked at the Moscow region’s theological institutions. He was later appointed an abbot of the Chudov monastery inside Moscow’s Kremlin.
After the October revolution, representatives of the new authorities closed Kremlin off. In the spring of 1918, the monastery was ordered to begin ousting its monastics. On July 26, 1918, Bishop Arseniy (Zhadanovsky) and Archimandrite Seraphim left Chudov monastery. After a stay at the Zosima hermitage, they traveled to Seraphim-Snameniye (Lady of the Sign) skete in August of 1918. Schema Hegumenia Famar, His Grace Arseniy’s spiritual daughter, set up a cell for them in the woods not far from the skete. Staying there in complete isolation, they prayed and worked, digging garden beds and chopping wood. Father Seraphim would read Holy Scriptures according to Venerable Seraphim’s rule: the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, all read in a week.
On January 3, 1920, His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon consecrated Archimandrite Seraphim a bishop of Dimitrov at the Trinity Lavra Metochion’s church. Wishing Bishop Seraphim well in his future work as an archpastor, Patriarch Tikhon said: “Follow the Apostles’ path; wherever you need to walk by foot – walk. Never be confused by anything. Do not fear hardships, but endure all. What do you think: is it all for naught that the archpastors get censored around three times three? No, it is not without reason. It is because of their labor, deeds, and great suffering, as they profess the Orthodox faith and protect it till the last drop of their blood.”
On January 25, 1920, bishop Seraphim arrived at Dmitrov. His archpastoral service put in practice his ardent love of Christ, Christian love of neighbor and faithfulness to the Orthodox Church.
On December 12, 1922, His Grace was arrested. After his interrogation, he was transferred to Butyrka jail. Care packages flowed in. His Grace Seraphim would share them with other inmates, consoling the desperate and supporting others with prayers and love. While at Butyrka jail, he served Divine Liturgy, heard confessions from those who had never before confessed and offered support. A letter he sent to his spiritual kin from jail in 1923 shows the dispensation of his heart at the time: “Peace and joy from the Source of joy, Christ the Lord, be with all of you, my dear children, who I remember in my prayers in this jail. May the Lord bless you; glory to God for everything. Glory to God for this jail time, that He did not slight me of His mercy. I give thanks for all the love you share with me. May the mercy of the Lord and the Protective Veil of the Queen of Heaven be always over you. Your hard at prayer B. Seraphim.” During his time at Butyrka jail, Bishop Seraphim wrote an Akathist to the Suffering Christ the Savior: “To carry the life-saving cross You laid on me by Thy hand, strengthen me, for I am utterly exhausted.”
On March 30, 1923, Bishop Seraphim’s sentence was pronounced: “Two years of exile at Ziryan District.” His Grace served Divine Liturgy every day while in exile. During the day, he would go deep in the woods to pray. He had a little cell there and a rounded hill nearby that served as his lectern. On feast days, hierarchical Divine Liturgy was concelebrated with the bishop presiding and four serving protopresbyters, hegumen and a priest serving. During Vigil services, His Grace would customarily read the canon.
The spring of 1925 marked the end of his exile. On the feast of the Annunciation, a release order came, followed by a telegram announcing Patriarch Tikhon’s passing. With the grace of God, His Grace was able to leave on May 9 and survive during that time. The NKVD secret police officers attempted to talk the horse-cab drivers into abandoning the bishop with his novices deep inside the woods. The local Ziryans were unmoved: “We are honest folk. We will not agree to throw them to the wolves and bears.”
Upon his arrival to Moscow, His Grace initially settled at the Danilov monastery. In July of 1925 he arrived at Boris and Gleb’s Anosin hermitage. While there, he served daily Liturgy at the church of the Great Martyr Anastasia. Before long, he endured the resurgent bouts of gallstone and liver pains at least twice a month. According to witnesses, “pain episodes caused fainting and at times continued for nine hours straight. In the morning of February 25, the day of remembrance of the hierarch Alexiy, his pain was especially agonizing. Everyone thought he was dying. He lay unconscious for a while yet later the pain eased off. His cell women left his room and listened to his breathing from behind the half-opened door. Suddenly, His Grace called out loudly: “Who just walked here to the home chapel behind the privacy screen?” “No one came in.” “Hierarch Alexiy visited me; remove the hot water bottle, for I will get up.” He got dressed and stepped behind the screen to Sava Storozhevsky’s chapel. To everyone’s surprise, an altar table oil lamp was burning on its own. His Grace put on a small omophorion and began serving a prayer service to Hierarch Alexiy. With the last exultation, the oil lamp self-extinguished; it had no oil.”
On July 13, 1926, His Grace was summoned to “Cheka’s” (secret police) Lubyanka offices. He returned with the news of his new exile, this time a six-month stay at either Diveyevo or Sarov. On July 17, 1926, he arrived at Diveyevo. After lengthy talks with the Hegumenia, the exiled bishop was allowed to serve an early Liturgy at the “Assuade My Sorrows” lower level (or a basement chapel) church inside the Tikhvin Church. Customarily, he would hurry to finish serving before the service began at the church above causing his service to begin as early as 4 am. After Liturgy, His Grace would walk around the Kanavka, just as Venerable Seraphim commanded, reading “Rejoice! O Virgin Mother of God!” 150 times. He would stop by Venerable Seraphim’s hermitage cell that had been moved to Diveyevo from the Sarov woods. Next, he would stop and pray by the Transfiguration church’s altar.
In winter, bishop Seraphim resided at Elena Motovilova’s lodgings located inside the Kanavka. On February 14, 1927, after the Meeting of the Lord‘s festal vigil service at a house church, he suddenly rushed from one window to another exclaiming prayerfully: “The Most Pure Mother of God walks along the Kanavka. I cannot take in Her splendid beauty and ineffable grace!”
In the fall of 1927 public authorities arrived at Diveyevo and announced the monastery’s closure. In the early hours of September 22, bishops Seraphim and Zinoviy with Hegumenia Alexandra as well as senior nuns and clergy were detained and taken into custody at Arzamas jail. On September 26, those in detention were transferred to Nizhny Novgorod. Shortly thereafter, news arrived that His Grace Seraphim had suffered another bout of lithiasis. On October 8, 1927, both bishops and Hegumenia Alexandra were freed, but in a few days both bishops were unexpectedly summoned to Moscow. While there, His Grace Seraphim applied to Metropolitan Sergiy for retirement as he overheard the authorities declare: “Ordain anyone we send you for ordination.”
He settled in the town of Melenki of Vladimir Province, but in April of 1932 he was detained again. On July 7, 1932, he was sentenced to three years of exile. His Grace served his term in Kazakhstan and was later transferred for forced residence at Uralsk and Omsk. In the summer of 1935, his period of exile term ended. However, he was not released immediately, for his release papers came only in the fall. Bishop Seraphim decided to settle in Ishim.
On June 24, 1937, he was arrested once more, signifying the last period of his earthly life. The martyr for his faith wrote in one of his last letters: “I feel serene, cheerful and upbeat. The Lord gives me strength and inspires me to feel right about my stand, despite grave circumstances.” On August 23, 1937, the NKVD “troika” tribunal court sentenced bishop Seraphim