At the time Sergius was born, Russia was in considerable turmoil after the Mongol invasions of the previous century and the civil war in Russia that led to control of the country by the Tartars. In the turmoil, Sergius’ family was forced to leave Rostov. They took up farming at Radonezh near Moscow. The invasion and warfare had severely disrupted religious life, and many of the early monasteries had been destroyed. A revival of the monastic tradition in East-ern Europe began in the early 14th century, influenced by the practice of contemplative prayer associated with Gregory Palamas. In Russia this led a number of people to seek quiet in the forests north of Moscow.
Although an intelligent boy, Bartholomew had great difficulty learning to read. His biography states that a 'starets' (spiritual elder) met him one day and gave him a piece of prosphora (holy bread) to eat, and from that day forward he was able to read. Many believe this may have actu-ally been an angel. At 20 yrs. old, Sergius joined his brother Stephen and others in a commu-nity of hermit Christians in the forests. Following a simple life-style they lived close to nature. Over the course of time Sergius brought his fellow hermits into an ordered communal life and founded the great monastery of the Holy Trinity near Radonezh, 70 kilometres north of Moscow, in what is now Zagorsk. This was the first religious community to be established in Russia after the Tartar invasion. Through his influence many other monasteries were founded.
A man of peace, Sergius laboured to keep the peace amongst the quarrelling Russian princes. He did however rally support for Prince Dimitri Donshoi in his attempts to gain independence for the Russian people from the Tartars. The Tartars were finally defeated in 1380. Sergius was also concerned for peace in his monastery. His emphasis on community life rather than the solitary emphasis of some contemplatives was disliked by some of the monks, who would have preferred Stephen as abbot. Sergius withdrew and founded a separate monastery, but was later restored to Holy Trinity by the metropolitan Alexis. His influence was widespread, and by the end of his life he had founded about 40 monasteries. The constitution he adopted for Holy Trinity made it a model for all later Russian communities.
Sergius refused to be made bishop of Moscow when the position was offered to him in 1378. Sergius’ appeal was to the common people, from whom he had his own origins. He was honoured as a humble, simple, kind and godly monk. He emphasised the vocation of Christian service to any in need. The people saw true saintliness in his life and revered him for his mys-tical life of prayer and worship. He is regarded as Russia’s greatest saint.
BORN: 14 May 1314, Rostov, Russia.
DIED: 25 September 1392, Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius.