Did Saint Seraphim of Sarov predict the death and martyrdom of Russia’s last tsar?

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna were present at the canonization of Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833) on 1 August (O.S. 19 July) 1903

On 1st August, Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate the canonization of Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833), one of the most revered saints in the Russian Orthodox Church.

During his reign, the pious Emperor Nicholas II sanctioned the canonization of more saints than any previous sovereign. Among those glorified during his reign were: St. Theodosius of Chernigov (glorified in 1896), St. Isidore of Yuriev (1897), St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk (1909), St. Anna of Kashin (1910), St. Joasaph of Belgorod (1911), St. Hermogenes of Moscow (1913), St. Pitirim of Tambov (1914), St. John (Maximovich) of Tobolsk (1916) and St. Paul of Tobolsk (1917).

At the end of January (O.S.) 1903, the Most Holy Synod, having received approval from Emperor Nicholas II, announced Seraphim’s forthcoming glorification. In early July 1903, his relics were transferred from their original burial place to the Church of Saints Zosimus and Sabbatius in Sarov.

A beautiful marble shrine was arranged by Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna – “a luxurious work of art in the Russian style of Moscow,” said Metropolitan Veniamin (Fedchenkov). In addition, the August couple provided a new cypress coffin to receive the relics. The rug which covered the tomb was embroidered by the Empress’s own hands.

The solemn canonization festivities took place in Sarov on 1st August (O.S. 19th July) 1903 and were attended by Emperor Nicholas II, his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, his mother Empress Maria Feodorovna, and numerous grand dukes and grand duchesses of the Imperial Family. More than 100,000 faithful from across the Russian Empire arrived in Sarov to take part in the Cross Procession.

The events at Sarov marked a momentous occasion in the life of Nicholas II. It was during this visit that the Emperor received a letter written by the saint some 70 years earlier. Shortly before his death in 1833, the saint had written this letter, sealed it with five wax seals and addressed it “to the fourth sovereign who will arrive in Sarov, and as yet is not known”.

PHOTO: wall painting depicting Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna with Blessed Parasceva Fool-for-Christ, in the Church of Our Lady of Kazan of the Diveyevo Monastery

He then gave it to Elena Motovilova, whose husband is now well-known for recording his conversation with the saint about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. She kept that letter for seventy years and gave it to the Tsar at the glorification ceremony.

Although the Sovereign never revealed the letter’s contents, it is believed that it was a prophecy of the bloodshed that would engulf Russia in less than fifteen years. According to the recollections of eyewitnesses, after reading the letter the Emperor wept bitterly.

Seraphim of Sarov correctly predicted the inevitable death of the Emperor and his family. He said that after him there will be no more tsars in Russia. But he noted that Nicholas II would be elevated higher than all the tsars, apparently anticipating the canonization of the Imperial family.[1] The saint also predicted future trials for Russia: the plundering of monasteries and church property, the tragic death of a large number of people, troubled times and rebirth after.

Furthermore, on the return trip from Sarov, the Imperial Family visited St. Seraphim’s Diveyevo Convent where Blessed Parasceva Fool-for-Christ [2] spoke to them for several hours; it is said that she foretold to them their own martyrdom as well as that of Holy Russia.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution, as part of their persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Bolsheviks confiscated many relics of saints, including St. Seraphim. The fate of the letter remains unknown.

In 1991, St. Seraphim’s relics were rediscovered after being hidden in a Soviet anti-religious museum for seventy years. This caused a sensation in post-Soviet Russia and throughout the Orthodox world. A crucession (religious procession) escorted the relics, to her final resting place, near the altar of the Trinity Cathedral of the Seraphim-Diveevsky Monastery. [3]

PHOTO: Icon of Saint Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II holding an icon of Saint Seraphim of Sarov


[1] On 1st November 1981, Emperor Nicholas II and his family were canonized as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR), however, it was not until 20th August 2000, that they were canonized as passion bearers by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

[2] Praskovya Semyonovna Dybina was born in 1795. The famous nun confessor died on 5th October (O.S. 22nd September) 1915, at the age of 120.

On 31st July 2004, Blessed Paraskeva was numbered among the locally revered saints of the Nizhny Novgorod diocese, and on 6th October of the same year, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church established her church-wide veneration. The holy relics were uncovered on 20th September 2004 and now rest in the Church of Our Lady of Kazan of the Seraphim-Diveevsky Monastery. Her memory is celebrated on 5th October (O.S. 22nd) September.

[3] The Seraphim-Diveevsky Monastery is situated 12 km from Sarov, and 185 km from the city of Nizhny Novgorod.

© Paul Gilbert. 1 August 2021