On the Saturday before Theophany (Jan. 2nd) the Church remembers the repose of one of the greatest Russian saints of the 19th century, St. Seraphim of Sarov.
There are so many remarkable stories about the life of St. Seraphim that reveal not only the mercy of God, but more profoundly humanity`s vocation of being created in the image of God, according to His likeness (Gen. 1:26). St. Seraphim’s encounter with the bear is one that resonates at this time of year when we consider the wonder of the Theophany of our Lord in the waters of the Jordan River.
When humanity turned its back on God by refusing to trust their Creator, and chose the perishable and temporary over the everlasting and eternal , all creation was dragged from the free gift of life, down into a life lived in necessity. Whereas before the fall of humanity everything was offered in love, the fall stained creation with the necessity of survival, and of only the fittest. As a result, humanity was pitted against creation, and creation against humanity, in a endless cycle of fight or flight.
But our Lord and Creator, not willing to let humanity and all creation suffer eternally from this endless cycle, acted to save us. Taking the form of a servant, becoming a man like us, He entered the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John. This was not out of necessity, because He had to, but out of love, because He desired to.
With the Lord’s descent into the waters of the Jordan, the relationship between humanity and all creation was changed, sanctified, given the potential of being holy, and bearing witness of the harmony, peace and joy that our communion with God can provide, through Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
St. Seraphim’s life is a witness to this. His life of prayer, humility, and constant supplication manifested the fruit of peace, joy and mercy. As St. Seraphim’s life was totally identified with Christ, the Lords sanctification of creation came to be identified with St. Seraphim.
The encounter of St. Seraphim and the bear whom he fed, and kept company with, illustrates this so beautifuly. Although we see this kind of relationship as unnatural, in the eyes of God, it was what the relationship between humanity and creation was suppose to be. St. Seraphim sat down unafraid of the bear, and maybe more importantly, the bear unafraid of St. Seraphim.
Like St. Paul who proclaimed “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20), St. Seraphim’s life of repentance, love and prayer, also manifested the saving work of a God who reconciled all things in Himself, including the natural world, including a bear.
It isn’t that St. Seraphim, or any other saint, is somewhat different than you or me, or that he had a special relationship or connection with that bear, or the natural world. Rather he shows us humanity’s vocation as it was meant to be: a foretaste of a new creation, of the Kingdom.
As we prepare ourselves for the blessed Theophany of our Lord, let us meet the feast with the desire and thirst for a life beyond necessity and need, beyond fear of the passions and sin, even beyond the fear of a bear; a life that shows forth a life in Christ where all creation sings a new song.