How Vladika Seraphim received his monastic name

An excerpt from The Life and Miracles from Kratkoye Zhizneopisaniye Arkhiepiskopa Serafima (Soboleva), (A Brief Life of Archbishop Seraphim Sobolev), published as A Gift of Orthodox Christians of Greece to their brothers in Christ of Russia; Thessalonika 1991; translated by Mary Crockwell.

When Nicholay was in the fourth year at the Academy, the inspector, Archimandrite Theophan, asked him point-blank if he intended to become a monk. Nicholay, in his humility considering himself unworthy of the monastic podvig, was tormented by this question, not knowing God’s will regarding him. To solve his perplexity, he wrote a letter to Fr. John of Kronstadt, but he received no reply. He also asked Elder Anatole (Potapov) of Optina, but the Elder wrote that he could not answer his question without seeing Nicholay in person. When Nicholay received the letter from Fr. Anatole, he began to grieve even more; nowhere could he get a direct answer indicating God’s will for him.

At this time he was reading the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov-the book lay open on his table. Weighed down by his quandary, Nicholay began pacing the room, when suddenly it dawned on him, “What little faith I have! Why, St. Seraphim of Sarov is alive right now. He is at the throne of the Holy Trinity. Right now he can resolve all problems and questions, if with faith we turn to him in our prayers. I will go this very moment to the table where St. Seraphim’s biography is lying. I will turn to him as to a living person, I will fall on my knees and beg him to resolve my dilemma: Should I marry and become a priest, or should I become a monk?”

And Nicholay did just this. Making a prostration, with a prayer he opened the book and read: “A certain novice from the Glinsk Hermitage, wavering exceedingly concerning his vocation, came purposely to Sarov to ask the advice of Fr. Seraphim. Falling at the feet of the saint, he entreated him to resolve his tormenting life’s question: Is it God’s will for him and his brother, Nicholas to enter a monastery? The holy elder answered the novice, ‘Save yourself and save your brother.’ ” Nicholay took these words of St. Seraphim as a divine revelation from God that he should become a monk, which was, in fact, his heart’s desire. From this time he regarded monasticism not only as his life’s path, commanded him by God, but also as the path of his brother Misha (who subsequently became the Archimandrite Sergius.)

When the time drew near for his tonsure, Nicholay was asked what name he would like to receive. He said that, inasmuch as a monk should renounce his own will from the very onset, he was willing to accept whatever name he was given. “Well, take care,” said inspector Archimandrite Theophan, “that you not are not upset if you receive an ugly name.” It later came out that they had decided to give Nicholay the name Dositheus. But it turned out otherwise. On the eve of the tonsure, the rector of the Academy, Bishop Sergius, who was supposed to tonsure him, went to have dinner with the merchant Rubakhin. Rubakhin’s two young daughters began asking the rector what name he was going to give the new monk. On hearing that it was to be Dosi-theus, they pleaded that it be changed not only to another but to the very nicest name.

Returning home in the carriage, Bishop Sergius suddenly remembered that when he was present at the opening of St. Seraphim’s relics, he had made a vow to this God-pleaser that if he became rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, the first student he tonsured he would name Seraphim. And he decided to call Nicholas by this name, in honor of the great Sarov God-pleaser. During the tonsure, when Nicholas heard, “Our brother Seraphim tonsures the hair of his head,” he gave a start from amazement and was filled with great love and thankfulness to St Seraphim, thinking, “He not only revealed to me God’s will to become a monk, but he was pleased to take me under his grace-filled guidance.”

Accepting monasticism, the newly-tonsured Seraphim gave himself over to strict fasting and unceasing prayer. Thus, from the day of his tonsure to his very death, Vladika did not eat meat. For many years he ate food only once a day.