THIS massive and wonderful book is a treasure from many points of view. Before opening it, you have to take it out of its slip case. Then you realise at once that you have in your possession something extraordinary: a volume printed with care and beauty in China, weighing no less than one and a half kilos, and comprising more than 1000 pages, if you add together a separate preface, introduction, 138 photos, and 817 pages of main text.
The last tells the story, from original documents of the 19th century, of the life of St Seraphim and his founding of a remarkable monastery. Far from being the hagiography of a saint who knew no sin, this is the portrait of a man whose emotions underline his humanity.
In creating this multifaceted portrait, those several hands at work on the book in the UK, both Anglican and Orthodox, have broadened the scope of Russian literary classics, albeit in translation. No such book has ever before been produced in honour of a Russian saint, and it expands the portrait of the faith as depicted in the pages of Russian fiction.
© The Revd Georgi Pavlovich etc. (see book). All rights reserved 2007Sisters hay-making at Diviyevo in a photo from 1908 reproduced in Chronicles of Seraphim-Diviyevo Monastery
No reader is likely to forget the passage in which Fr Seraphim foretells the building of the cathedral in the monastery and its subsequent desecration by the Communist regime: “‘When we have a cathedral, the Ivan the Great bell itself will come to us from Moscow. When they hang the bell and strike it for the first time and it rings’ — and Batiushka imitated the sound with his voice — ‘then we will awake! . . . They will sing Easter hymns in midsummer! . . . But this joy will last for a very, very short time; what will happen afterwards . . . such grief as has never been known from the beginning of the world.’”
These Chronicles lead us deep into the spirituality of Russian Christianity and will be a monument for generations to come. In 1927, the monastery was closed down by the atheist authorities, but its spirit lived on and it is regaining its former glory, as witnessed by Archbishop Rowan Williams when he visited it for a retreat in 2003 at the outset of his time in office.
The Introduction by Metropolitan Kallistos, a “summation” of the saint of more than 40 pages, would be worth reprinting as a booklet on its own, but it was Jeanne Knights who initiated this project in Cambridge when she started a doctorate in 1996 and saw it through, with the help of Ann Shukman’s inspired translations.
Canon Michael Bourdeaux is the President of the Keston Institute, Oxford.
Chronicles of Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery
Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), editor
Ann Shukman, translator
Saints Alive Press £75
Church Times Bookshop £67.50