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January 2 Saints of the Day – Seraphim of Sarov and Basil the Great (reprise)

Seraphim of SarovIt is the Ninth Day of Christmas, also known as Nine Ladies Dancing Day. Yesterday these ladies sang, “Tomorrow Will Be My Dancing Day,” a popular Brismas carol sometimes mistaken for a Christmas carol. This is of course also the day after Jesus’ circumcision, known to some as “Keep the Bandages Clean Day.”

On this day in 1900, the infamous Chicago Canal opened, allowing Chicago’s treated sewage to flow into the drinking water of cities on the Mississippi, rather than that of cities on Lake Michigan, which latter group includes Chicago. Smooth move, Chicago. Smooth move.

Today the Russian Orthodox (and their many fans) celebrate St. Seraphim of Sarov (1754–1833), a well-loved Russian saint who is said to have fed bread to wild bears, who were tame to his hand. Witnesses report they weren’t particularly wild about the rest of him, either. Indeed, all sorts of wild birds and beasts loved to pester him when he was outside praying on his favorite rock, and he entertained them all.

He entered the Sarov Monastery as Prochor Moshnin of Kursk in his twentieth year, and after a whirlwind 9-year novitiate he was tonsured as Monk Seraphim. He went on to become a hierodeacon (monk-deacon), hieropriest (monk-priest), hermit (monk-recluse), and staretz (monk-kind-of-a-confessor-and-counselor-and-spiritual-father-all-rolled-into-one). It was during his tenure as staretz that pilgrims could come from all over Russia for his blessing and counsel, and he would dispense those along with a healthy dose of eminently quotable words from his apparently infinite well of aphorisms and uplifting sayings. He was perpetually cheerful, but seeing as he lived alone this didn’t get on anybody’s nerves. He was known to bow to every visitor, and greet them with the Paschal (Easter) greeting of, “Christ is risen!” no matter what time of year it was, which was at best profound and at worst charmingly eccentric.

Long after his death, bathing in a spring at his old stomping grounds is said to have stopped a hemophiliac episode for ill-fated Tsarevich Alexis Romanov, which led in short order to the good saint’s being recognized as such. This bath was suggested to the Empress by the mysterious Rasputin, some of whose other suggestions (one thinks of the dissolving of the Duma and the firing of various government ministers) did not have nearly as positive an outcome. Nor, come to think of it, did Rasputin have a terribly positive outcome, but that’s a story for another day and a very different kind of book.

Basil the GreatIn the Christian west, St. Basil (see January 1) finally gets his due, presumably having been shifted a day to make way for the Solemnity of the Mother of God, much as St. Stephen moves from December 26 to December 27 on the Orthodox calendar to make way for her Synaxis. St. Basil was of course the bishop of Ceasarea, and he loved to listen to that city’s cathedral choir, which, when it joined its voices to the Imperial choir in the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, was known as the Caesarean Section.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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