‘Silence is the mystery of the Life to come’, St Seraphim used to say. Silence is a mystery, a sacrament of the Life to come (in the sense in which Confession and Baptism are sacraments of this life) for many of the holy men and women of Christianity. At the end of a lifetime of ascetical struggles, at the end of a lifetime of prayer, fasting and vigil, at the end of an interrupted line of temptations collapsing over them from all sides, these holy people speak of silence.
I was recently blessed to spend two days at St Seraphim’s Monastery in Diveyevo, Russia. Diveyevo literally means ‘of the virgins’, as this is a monastery for women founded by St Seraphim while he lived in the monastery for men in Sarov. Everything in this monastery was built according to St Seraphim’s personal instructions, as he received them from the Mother of God. The number of churches, their feast days, their position within the monastery, the great ditch which surrounds the monastery (the kanafka) – every detail was determined by St Seraphim’s visions. Every day, all the nuns still walk around the monastery, following the kanafka and praying with a rule of prayer passed down to us from the Mother of God Herself.
It is an extraordinary feeling to stand at the centre of the Monastery and to think that you are surrounded by earthly churches built strictly according to a heavenly vision. These are silent buildings. They have nothing to do with the world around. They belong somewhere else. They speak a different language, one that does not distract one from prayer. Despite their size, they possess a sort of transparence which encourages one to pray and remain silent. There are people everywhere, at all times. I was in the Monastery at 5 am, I was in the Monastery at midday, I was in the Monastery at midnight. There are always services somewhere, there is always someone praying in a corner, someone with their arms up towards the sky, someone silently using their prayer rope by a wall. And yet, there is constant, deep silence.
Then, there are the sisters. Most of them live the common life of the Monastery; they work together, they pray and eat together. Yet in Diveyevo there still are recluse nuns, living alone in the houses nearby; there still are fools for Christ, roaming the place dressed like mad women; there still are hermits, living a life of complete solitude and silence in the forests around. St Seraphim himself experienced most of these monastic ways of life, and his spirit lives on; his grace still protects and inspires the Monastery.
I spent most of my time in Diveyevo simply standing in front of St Seraphim’s relics. At times, I prayed. At other times, I just looked on. I watched as other people approached his relics. I watched as they prayed, as they cried, as they rejoiced to be there, so close to his gentle giant of Christ’s Kingdom. It was a humbling experience to just stand and wait. I waited until all my prayer dried out, until all the discussions in my head dried out, until all my feelings got tired, until I saw all I could see. I waited until all the noise in my head and my eyes and my heart was consumed, and then I felt a spark of silence of a different kind.
From time to time, when there were fewer people around, the sisters invited me to approach the relics. They waited for me to prostrate three times, then quickly uncovered the relics so I could venerate them. Then, just as quickly as I’d approached, I went back to my corner and waited some more: for yet another spark of that silence, and another invitation to approach. One can spend a whole life doing just that. Silence is addictive; at least, this sort of silence is addictive. Once you taste it, everything else seems wasteful and bitter.
I attach a few photos for you. I prayed for everyone there – I prayed for those who pray for us, for those who support us financially, for those who help us with advice. Nothing, absolutely nothing we have done so far would be possible without you. I prayed for those who love this Monastery and for those who hate it. I did my best (which was not much) to pray for everyone. We all need prayer these days. The entire world needs prayer these days. May St Seraphim pour his grace and deep joy upon all of us.