Who/What is a Seraphim?

Orthodox icons of the six winged seraphim´╗┐.

 

 

The Hebrew seraphim is the plural form of seraph, meaning fiery or burning. The first known use of the word comes in the Biblical Old Testament once in Isaiah 6:2, 6 –

v2 – Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

v3 – And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

In his work Celestial Hierarchy St. Psudeo-Dionysius the Areopagite envisions the seraphim as being the rank of angels closest to God.

 

“The name Seraphim clearly indicates their ceaseless and eternal revolution about Divine Principles, their heat and keenness, the exuberance of their intense, perpetual, tireless activity, and their elevative and energetic assimilation of those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all- consuming flame; and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness” vii

 

Fresco from the Holy Monastery of Dionisiou, Mt. Athos. Ca. 1545

 

 

Seraphim as a name was used only rarely in Christian history. The first well known saint of the Orthodox Church by that name was the Russian St. Seraphim the Wonderworker of Sarov , who was born on July 19, 1754. As a child, St. Seraphim became seriously ill. St. Seraphim entered the monastery as a novice at age 18 and began a life of asceticism, eating little and spending hours in the forest in prayer. After being tonsured a monk he spent almost all his time in church praying, giving little time to sleep. Because of his prayer and devotion he lived in the spiritual world as much as he did in the physical. While in church he could see the angels singing. During the Liturgy on Holy Thursday he saw the Lord Jesus Himself, together with the heavenly host, blessing those in the church. After seeing this vision he was unable to speak for a long time.

In 1793, at the age of 39, St. Seraphim withdrew further into the forest. He had such a presence of holiness about him that even wild animals were not afraid of him. He was known to be ‘friends’ with a large bear who would eat from his hand. Toward the end of his life St. Seraphim became an elder, allowing visitors to come for advice and direction. He greeted all with the words: “My joy!” To many he advised: “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.” No matter who came to him, the starets bowed to the ground before all, and, in blessing, kissed their hands. He did not need the visitors to tell about themselves, as he could see what each had on their soul. St. Seraphim reposed in the Lord on January 2, 1833 after having prophesied his own death.

 

Troparion and Kontakion to St. Seraphim

Troparion (Tone 4)

Thou didst love Christ from thy youth, O blessed one,

and longing to work for Him alone thou didst struggle in the wilderness with constant prayer and labor.

With penitent heart and great love for Christ thou wast favored by the Mother of God.

Wherefore we cry to thee:

Save us by thy prayers, O Seraphim our righteous Father.

Kontakion (Tone 2)

Having left the beauty of the world and what is corrupt in it, O saint,

thou didst settle in Sarov Monastery.

And having lived there an angelic life,

thou wast for many the way to salvation.

Wherefore Christ has glorified thee, O Father Seraphim,

and has enriched thee with the gift of healing and miracles.

And so we cry to thee:

Rejoice, O Seraphim, our righteous Father.

I chose St. Seraphim as my patron saint when I was baptized into the Orthodox Church. I did so because his feast day is the same as my birthday and still being new to Orthodoxy he was one of the few saints I was familiar with. I also wanted to choose a saint who was close to the present time.

I was an English teacher in Taiwan, born in the USA. I’m currently a seminary student at Holy Cross in Boston. When I finish school I plan to return to Taiwan and eventually become a priest and a missionary. My Chinese name is Shao le fen, the Chinese characters are on the banner at the top of this page. I chose those characters because they phonetically sound as close to Seraphim as I could get in Chinese. Also, the characters shao and fen both mean ‘to burn.’ The le is a common character in names, meaning ‘joy.’ I chose the name of this web site based on the translation of my Chinese name.

Note: The central icon of a seraphim was taken from the icon Dormition of the Theotokos by 15th Century Cretan iconographer Andreas Ritzos. The other icons used are from unknown sources.

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