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A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

To Be Different: St. Sergius of Radonezh

Today, on October 8, the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of St. Sergius of Radonezh, probably the greatest Russian saint of all time. On the occasion of this date, Sergei Lukianenko, a Russian sci-fi and fantasy author, talks about his relationship with the "Abbot of all Russia."

I was baptised in 2002, in honor of St. Sergius of Radonezh. Naturally, I read a lot about him even before baptism, since, beside the religious aspect, he is one of the pivotal figures in Russian history. The foundation of the Trinity monastery, the blessing for the battle with the Tatars by Grand Duke Dmitry Donskoy - those are widely known things.

But if we are not talking about things on a historical scale, but about the personal perception of the saint - for me, his decisiveness is most significant in his life. This is now, looking from the 21st century, we see in the Monk Sergius a great saint, a wise old man, to whom crowds of people flocked, to whom the mighty of this world listened. But all this is the result of his life, and at first he, a boyar's youngest son, was just one of many, and could have safely gone with the flow.

When Sergius (or rather, not yet Sergius, but Bartholomew, that was his name in the world before the monastic vows) was a boy who struggled with reading, he did not really have to be too bothered by that trouble. Was he the only one? A lot of great people of that time were illiterate, so what? There was someone who could write for them. Still, the boy tried to overcome his disability over and over again, he consistently struggled. I think that's exactly why the angel appeared to him and gave him the gift of literary wisdom, as we know from his hagiography. "Under a recumbent stone neither water will flow nor God will send an angel."

And then, already as a young man, he decided to radically change his seemingly comfortable life, to devote it to God. I doubt that everyone around him was delighted with his decision. Then - the desert, that is, a deaf forest, and there are no servants, you need to cut down trees with your own hands, build housing, and initial enthusiasm generally has a tendency to exhaust itself (as with his older brother, Stefan). But Bartholomew, I think, did not have a youthful enthusiasm, but a calm confidence that all difficulties are normal. Yes, it's hard, but we need to perceive them as a given, to remain true to our decision.

And then, after the tonsure, more of the same. Difficulties continue, not only on the material-everyday level. And there are no guarantees that everything would be wonderful in the end. And you can, having becoming a monk, also swim down the current, also be like everyone else. But this was not enough for Sergius, because for him to be like everyone else would be like stepping on brakes on the way to Christ. I have here an obvious literary association - Alyosha from The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, to whom it seemed somehow petty to give two rubles instead of giving everything away, and to go to mass instead of following Christ.

But as soon as a person breaks out of the general flow - he immediately has problems, and a great determination is needed to continue doing what you are doing. Decisiveness, not supported by any external guarantees, but only by a deep inner conviction that it should be done.

I sometimes catch myself not having such iron determination, that it's hard for me to swim against the current, and at times even terrifying. The easiest way to reassure yourself is to think that this is universal, that everyone around is the same, that "a step forward - two steps back" is the norm. But when I remember my heavenly patron, Saint Sergius, I understand that it is possible to live differently. To be different. Calmly, without a break, without exaltation, to move toward the most important thing for you, accepting obstacles without anger and fear - and to pass through them. With God, everything is possible.

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