January 2 – Seraphim of Sarov; Gaspar del Bufalo

Tapestry of Seraphim of Sarov with a bearSeraphim of Sarov (1754–1833) started life as Prochor Moshnin of Kursk. His mother took over the family construction biz after her husband died, and was horrified one day to see little Prochor falling from the scaffolding around the seven-story belltower of the cathedral they were building. The boy miraculously survived the fall without a scratch. Or dent.

Prochor entered the Sarov Monastery as 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.

Seraphim is said to have fed bread to wild bears, who were tame to his hand (they weren’t 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.

Long after his death, bathing in a spring at his old stomping grounds is said to have stopped a hemophiliac episode for ill-fated (St.) Tsarevich Alexis Romanov[1], 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 website.

Painting of Gaspar del Bufalo from the Misioneros de la Preciosa SangreGaspar del Bufalo (1786–1837) was baptized Gaspar Melchior Balthazar, which some readers will recognize as the traditional names of the three wise men who visited our Lord after their stellar tutelage. Gaspar looked likely to go to permanently visit our Lord at the age of 18 months, so his pious mother had him confirmed “early” (to abuse a euphemism). We are told nothing about his father’s piety, but that he was a twice-failed businessman (in theatre and professional soccer, in case you were interested) (and seriously, why wouldn’t you be?) who had taken a job as a live-in cook in a nobleman’s house.

Gaspar suffered from an eye malady, and looked likely to go blind (pun intended). His mother, a devout devotee of St. Francis Xavier, prayed to Francis for her son’s healing. It worked, and Gaspar carried a live-long love of the Basque Jesuit, which as I’m sure you’ll agree, seems eminently reasonable. He also had a life-long love for the poor, and served them and preached to them the virtue of the Precious Blood. (Of Jesus, if you were wondering, but I hope to shout none of you were wondering.) Somewhere in this time he became a priest, but not a Jesuit, which two of my sources insist upon, so it must be important.

Gaspar’s next big adventure was a stint in prison-in-exile (one or the other not being good enough apparently) with other faithful priests who refused to swear fealty to Napoleon. Freed from both, he returned to Rome and began both a religious order (Missionaries of the Precious Blood) and a missionary program among the (who else?) poor. This latter included brigands and other bad dudes. Gaspar negotiated a peace with the banditi, which won him enemies among those in power who were profiting therefrom. These made trouble and tried to get the order shut down, but it didn’t work. Gaspar died tending to cholera victims in Rome, as is not at all to be wondered at (in either sense). He was sainted by Pius XII in 1954.

Throughout 2020 the Onion Dome is running a series of daily saints. In general we will meet one Orthodox saint and one Catholic saint per day, although many of course came before the churches split and thus are both. For an explanation of the whole thing, see the About page. Items with * are defined in the Glossary. Finally the † means “not really”.

[1] Your intrepid hagiographer’s patron.