The Biographical Icon depicting significant events in the Life of St. Seraphim of Sarov
Excerpt of lower left corner of Biographical Icon: St. Seraphim giving Spiritual Counsel to a young Monk
Dear Friends of the OCMP,
The event that I am about to relate in today’s post humbles me, and encourages me to continue in all earnestness composing the cantata ‘The Life of St. Seraphim’, of which I have been dedicated for nearly the past two years.
As can be seen on the circumference of the full length icon of our beloved Elder, there are 20 unique life scenes depicting noteworthy events in the life of this great Saint. I have been musically setting each scene, often with a uniquely composed text of original hymnography that include essential details that are conveyed by the music, and are not found in the service texts.
For the past two weeks, I have been reevaluating my research on the scene in the lower left corner, not being convinced that I had accurately portrayed the event. I reached out to many an iconographer, composer, and Orthodox Christian church musician seeking to identify who was in that scene, and what event was taking place. Unfortunately, the old Slavonic writing at the top of each icon scene is illegible, and this has thwarted the best efforts to decipher it. Other versions of this biographical icon show a different scene in that position, and we could not rely on those for reference. Many volunteers sympathetic to my cause had offered valid suggestions based on position, and other clues in the image.
Last week, I visited Holy Cross Monastery in Setauket, NY, and inquired of Hierodeacon Parthenios Miller, who has been a dear friend and Liturgics mentor for many years. He is intimately connected to this project because it was through his ministry that I was introduced to St. Seraphim nearly 10 years ago. I posed the dilemma to him, and we sat for nearly an hour going through different resources that he had on hand. Not being satisfied with the lack of findings, he recommended that I read ‘St. Seraphim of Sarov’ by Valentine Zander (SVS Press). Admittedly, I do not own every biography on St. Seraphim, and I jumped at the chance to acquire another source text. ‘Ironically’, Fr. Parthenios just happened to have that book on order to restock the monastery bookstore, and as a courtesy he changed the shipping address to my home. He said to me, you will have great joy when you discover the answer to your quest. The book arrived at my home on two days ago (Aug 20th), and I began reading it immediately.
Today, August 22, 2014, I discovered the meaning of the event in question, and Fr. Parthenios’ words that ‘I will have great joy’ were fulfilled doubly: the second way which I could have never imagined. The meaning of the scene is simply depicting the time when St. Seraphim ended his 5 year monastic seclusion, opened his door, and began to welcome visitors, many of whom were monks. Had this been all I learned I would have been been satisfied and contented that my research yielded a solution to the mystery, and I could continue with my composition.
However, after reading the passage beginning on page 22, and continuing on to page 23, something very striking manifested itself to me. Zander chronicles that on 15 August 1815, the Bishop of Tambov was denied and audience with St. Seraphim, but “a week later” St. Seraphim opened his door for the first time in 5 years and blessed the Governor of Tambov and his wife. The next paragraph goes on to describe how the ‘time of enclosure had come to an end’, and that he was then heard singing services, teaching, and blessing visitors with an opened door.
Here is what made me shudder in my core: St. Seraphim opened his door to the world “a week later”… August 22, 1815! 199 years ago TODAY!
I hope that you are edified by this story, and may we always remember that we are NOT spiritually alone in our holy works, and that all things happen in God’s time for his greater purpose. I ask you to continue to pray for the success of this project, that through it, the biography of St. Seraphim and the intercessor we have in him, may be presented to the world in an unprecedented way.
May St. Seraphim bless us and help us to acquire the spirit of peace.
Robert Sirico ,
Founder: Orthodox Christian Music Project