BASEES Annual Conference 2022

Serafim of Sarov and Educated Russia: Liudmila Alexandrovna Fon Nol’de’s Pilgrimage to Sarov Monastery

Fri8  Apr02:20pm(20 mins)
CWB Syndicate Room 2


Peter Flew


My paper will examine the work and letters of Liudmila Fon Nol’de (dates unknown), an educated woman who pseudonymously published her spiritual autobiography, The History of One Soul’s Spiritual Renewal, in 1905. Described as a ‘belletristic’ essay, it was published at a time of close contact between Russia’s Church and cultural elite. It details her psychological struggle and culminates in her pilgrimage to Sarov, where her submersion into the piety of the narod, and veneration of St. Serafim, leads to her spiritual transformation. My paper shall present her letters with Aleksei Suvorin (1834–1912), examined in RGALI in Moscow. A prominent figure in late-imperial Russia, Suvorin played a significant role in publishing and journalism, including as editor of Novoe vremia. These letters provide an extraordinary insight into her motivation to write the work, the reality of her religious experience and the challenges faced by a woman finding her place in a disintegrating society. Crucially, they show how she appropriated a saint, who at that time was a contested symbol of traditional asceticism for Russia’s clerics and intellectuals. In the context of these contemporary debates, this paper will argue that Nol’de mimicked intellectual attempts to lay claim to Serafim and produced a personal version of the saint and his spirituality. Nol’de’s work was another lay-religious attempt to accommodate the ascetic tradition in the world.