Peter Flew (UCL) - 2019-20 Students

The Reception of Serafim of Sarov in Pre- and Post-Revolutionary Russia

My research examines the reception of the Russian mystic St. Serafim of Sarov (1754–1833) by members of the religious-philosophical societies, formed in Russia between 1901 and 1929. Serafim was an ascetic monk, hesychast and spiritual elder. With the support of the Imperial family, he was canonised in controversial circumstances in 1903 and was the subject of a cult that attracted leading members of the Russian intelligentsia. I will explore the role played by Serafim in the debates of the era and in the attempts to reconcile the intellectual and clerical classes. Russia in the early twentieth-century was undergoing political, religious and social upheaval, riven by the revolutionary events of 1905 and 1917. It was in this climate that religious-philosophical societies hosting lay intellectual and church figures were established. The societies provided a point of contact for figures from both groups to discuss urgent religious/spiritual matters, such as the developments and innovations in Orthodoxy concerning asceticism, eldership and sainthood. It was at these meetings that, as Berdiaev stated, the ‘quest for true Orthodoxy began’ and that the intellectuals ‘endeavoured to find[true Orthodoxy] in St. Seraphim Sarovsky’. I will critically evaluate representations of Serafim in the work and correspondence of members of the religious-philosophical societies from 1901, the date of the first meetings, to 1929 when Soviet repression intensified. I will also examine the theological journals and archives of the ecclesiastical academies and Holy Synod for academic and clerical responses. I aim to establish the role played by the image/figure of Serafim in the attempts to bring about a synthesis of lay and ecclesiastical culture and analyse the interaction between religion, creative and intellectual culture.

Back to the top