Saint Serapion of Kozheozero: former muslim, based famous monastery
(Feast – June 27 / July 10)
Tatar Tursas was born and grew up in Kazan khanate, descended from a noble Tatar family and was brought up in the Islam. When in 1552 Kazan was taken he was captured and among other noble captives brought to Moscow and got under patronage of boyard Zacharia Ivanovich Plescheev. Plescheev’s wife was a relative of Tursas – Tatar princess Iliaksha (christened Juliania). In Moscow many eminent Tatars began to convert to the Orthodoxy: prince Utemysh-Gyrei was baptized with the name Alexander, the last khan of Kazan horde Ediger-Mohammed confessed the faith in Christ, our God, and after the holy baptism was named Simeon. Inspired with these examples and persuaded by Juliania, who had been Orthodox for quite a while by that time, Tursas took baptism with the name Sergius.
The years of Sergius’ churching fell on the time when the Russian Church was headed by St. Makarius of Moscow (+1563; feast – December 30). During Divine Services led by the Metropolitan saint blessed God’s fool Basilius (+1557; feast August 2) prayed in the Dormition Cathedral. No doubt, the future ascetic of Kozheozero also prayed during the Liturgies of St. Makarius, watched him and listened to his sermons. Here Sergius came to love our Lord Jesus Christ so sincerely, so deeply, so purely, that he decided to part from the world to observe the highest rules of the new faith.
At that time the Holy Trinity St. Sergius monastery became the main Russian monastery. The Tsar himself and many boyards with their kinsfolk came there for pilgrimage. No doubt, the new Tatar convert with his godfather boyard Plescheev also prayed here. It is quite possible that he was christened in honor of St. Sergius of Radonezh, who had been canonized over a hundred years before and was deeply revered. After getting acquainted with the monks in the Holy Trinity St. Sergius monastery, learning by the example of his patron saint the highness of these ascetic labors, Sergius guided by love of Christ makes up his mind to become monk.
But the cloister of St. Sergius was already very famous at that time, and he wanted to live as a hermit, so Sergius went far to the north in search of a spiritual guide. For several years he would go from one northern monastery to another, headed for the White Sea, till finally in the Oshevensky monastery he got to know about hermit Nifont who lived near the distant lake Kozheozero. This wonderful lake was hidden far from mundane settlements, behind impassable windfalls and swamps. Sergius immediately directed his steps there and found what he had been searching for – a good teacher of spiritual life.
Seeing sincerity of Sergius’ faith and how he stood the proper tests, St. Nifont tonsured him a monk under the name Serapion. About 18 years they lived together the life of ascetic labors, keeping a strict fast and eating only roots and berries.
“It was not long that they stayed alone, other people came who like them strived for salvation, and asked to accept them, and love did not let to refuse
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