St. Sergius of Radonezh
St. Sergius, the founder of the Holy Trinity Lavra, was born of wealthy Rostov boyars on May 3, 1314. On the fortieth day the local priest baptized the child, naming him Bartholomew. From his childhood he grew accustomed to solitude and sought his salvation through prayer, fasting and work. In 1337, at the age of 23, after his parents’ death, he decided to leave for the desert together with his elder brother Stephen. The brothers chose to found their hermitage in a clearing surrounded by thick forest on a low hill, later called Makovets (a term often used to indicate the top of a hill). They built for themselves a cell and a small church, which they dedicated to the Lifegiving Trinity. That was the birth of the monastery, which later served as a source of pride and inspiration to the people of Russia.
The life of a hermit was very difficult and required a good deal of perseverance and will. Stephen could not take the rigours of winter and the scarcity of food. He preferred life in an urban monastery and left Bartholomew for Moscow. For about two years Bartholomew remained alone in the desert, and in silence and prayer he prepared himself for his monastic vows. After taking them with the name of Sergius, he lived even more austere ascetic life in solitude, reading the Bible, working in his garden and unceasingly praying.
Despite the distance of his hermitage, word concerning the exemplary ascetic life of St. Sergius soon spread everywhere and pious monks began coming to him in search of guidance. Later farmers and city dwellers used to come from all over for St. Sergius` blessing and advice and the n settled in the area of the monastery. The Mongol yoke, which weighed heavily on the country, caused its ruin and forced people to leave the most exposed regions and seek refuge in the wilderness.
Having become abbot of the monastery, St. Sergius did not change anything in his life and continued to work for all. He remembered the words of Christ, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mt. 20:28 ). He was not only a father but also a servant to all those who came to him, giving an example of humility and work. Saint Sergius officiated every day, and he himself prepared alter bread, grinding wheat and making dough. He also prepared food, made boots and habits for the monks, carried water form the spring and left a bucket at each monk’s cell. He himself built 3 or 4 cells for other monks. He spent the night praying, eating only a little bread and water and never spent an hour without working.
Numerous miracles took place and many people were cured by St. Sergius` prayers. Gradually he became famous all over the country. Many pilgrims as well as suffering and poor people came to him for consolation. In his lifetime already he was revered as a saint.
For a long time the number of the monks was limited to twelve. Then new candidates arrived and the community began to grow. The saint refused no one the right to enter the monastery. Among his disciples and followers there are about 70 canonised saints. In central and north-eastern Russia they founded about 50 monasteries, which became centres of orthodox piety and spiritual enlightenment.
In 1380, Prince Dimitry Donskoy of Moscow came to seek St. Sergius` blessing before leading his army for the Orthodox faith and for the liberation of his native land from the Mongol yoke, which greatly oppressed Russia since 1237. Having received the saint’s blessing to go against the godless enemies, the Grand Prince won a great victory over the army of the Tartar Khan Mamai on the Kulikovo Field on the 8th of September. It was the first major Russian victory against the Tartars. After that, Moscow Princes became the patrons of the Trinity monastery. St. Sergius entrusted his holy and pure soul to God on September 25, 1392. His successor as abbot of the Trinity monastery was St. Nikon, first among his disciples.