The Early Lives of St Serafim of Sarov, 1840-49
: the Making of a Modern Saint

  • Peter M Flew

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


This dissertation is a study of the early Lives of Serafim of Sarov (1754–1833), published in the 1840s by three monastic contemporaries, the Hieromonks Sergii (1841), Georgii (1844) and Ioasaf (1849). It analyses their form, content and publication history to understand how Serafim came to be constructed as a saint and what personal, cultural, political and religious factors shaped the narratives that were eventually accepted for publication. It examines the modernity of these early Lives, through which Serafim was elevated to sainthood. The reign of Nicholas I (r. 1825–55) was characterised by the relationship between faith and nationalism, which was reflected by the authors (and editors) in the early Lives. Russia experienced a religious revival at the turn of the nineteenth century, which was reflective of a modern phenomenon of religious de-privatisation, rather than evidence of a reactionary tendency. During the Nicholaevan era, nationalism was expressed through both cultural and political variants. On the one hand, church and secular intellectuals sought to renew Russia by harnessing the revived ascetic spirituality. On the other, it was a political project to maintain the autocratic rule of Nicholas I, buttressed by a traditional conception of Orthodoxy. By reflecting both forms of nationalism, the early Lives produced an image of Serafim that was emblematic of Russia’s modernity and worthy of veneration. This dissertation is split into three chapters: Chapter One presents the form and content of the early Lives, alongside their publication history, to reveal the use of an archaic form in the contests of authority of those involved in their publication; Chapter Two shows how the symbiotic relationship between faith and cultural nationalism represented a modern dynamic that found expression in Serafim’s early Lives. Chapter Three examines how the early Lives reflected political nationalism as encapsulated by the ideology of Official Nationality.
Date of Award23 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRuth A Coates (Supervisor) & Claire Knight (Supervisor)


  • Russian Orthodoxy
  • Russian Literature
  • Russian History

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