In his Conversation with Nikolay Motovilov, c1830-31, Saint Seraphim of Sarov said that the true aim of Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God, and means to this end are good only if they are done for Christ’s sake and bring us the grace and fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that opens the heart to the glory of the Kingdom of God, which is the true aim of the Christian life. Saint Seraphim explains that he came from a merchant family in Kursk, so was familiar from childhood with the language and practice of business, nevertheless for Saint Seraphim, acquisition here refers to the grace of spiritually receiving rather than externally obtaining or possessing the Holy Spirit, for it is the grace of the Holy Spirit that transforms corruption into incorruption, darkness into light, worldliness into awakening to the veiled Bridal Chamber of the Holy of Holies. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that bestows prayer of the Holy Spirit in the heart, which is prayer that moves mountains, prayer which glorifies God, who glorifies saints. Whole-hearted prayer is the power and the glory that rightly glorifies God, renewing Holy Orthodoxy from within, transcending intercession but not glorification, when the Spirit comes to abide in the heart. Then, in silence and stillness, the Holy Spirit completes prayer with ineffable words of spiritual prophecy and the Spirit’s unceasing prayer in the heart.
The grace of the Holy Spirit was revealed to the prophets and apostles who saw God in glory, but for Saint Seraphim, inattention separates our materialistic age from wisdom, plunging us into confusion and incomprehension. But the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father to abide in the Son, breathing the Spirit’s wisdom of deifying life into the saints. The Spirit is a tree of life for wisdom, but when Adam and Eve fell from glory, they saw good and evil, which divided them from God. The divisive confusion of the tree of knowledge of good and evil deprived them of the grace of the Holy Spirit, leaving them bereft of glory, until Christ restored that glory in the Holy Spirit. Saint Seraphim explains to Motovilov that Christ returned to the Father to send the Holy Spirit to guide humanity into the Spirit of truth. At Pentecost, the grace of the Holy Spirit enlightens saints with the uncreated light of glory, which the Spirit imparts to them through Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion. Saint Seraphim then directly bears witness to the uncreated light of the Holy Spirit in the presence of Motovilov, filling him with reverent awe and palpable peace.
The rest of this conversation with Saint Seraphim describes the sweetness of this peace, its joy, warmth and ineffable fragrance, all fruits of the Spirit’s abundant mercy, inspiring faith that moves mountains and abundance of grace beyond all reckoning. Saint Seraphim’s Russian forest theophany has renewed Patristic Hesychasm ever since, generously extending the age of the fathers into our own time. Both Saint Silouan the Athonite and Saint Sophrony the Hesychast see with the same enlightened eye of the heart that Saint Seraphim of Sarov unveiled to Motovilov, bearing witness to the glory of the Holy Spirit for generations to come. The wisdom that unveils the glory of the Name in our day is the same grace of the Holy Spirit that was unveiled to Saint Seraphim, as to elders and saints in every age. Saint Seraphim called this wintry theophany a ‘practical demonstration,’ reminding us of the Apostle’s demonstrative word with power (1 Cor 2: 3-4). It is, indeed, wisdom, but not worldly wisdom, and it unveils glory that remains hidden until it is revealed in the Holy Spirit. It is participation in this wisdom of the Holy Spirit that, for Saint Seraphim, is the one true aim of Christian life.