The casing for this icon has been executed in a shape characteristic for miniatures found on the metal covers of 14th-15th century icons and Gospels.
The front contains a waist-length image of the greatest Russian saint, St. Sergius of Radonezh. As is customary, he is shown in a monastic schema. He is holding a scroll in his left hand, while his right hand is folded in a gesture of two-digit blessing.
The reverse of our icon depicts a stylized church framed in an ornament of climbing vines, the symbol of Christ and His fruit-bearing Church. Inscribed in the center is the prayer to the saint: џтче нaшъ сeргіе моли2 хrта бг7а да сп7се1тъ дyшы на1шz. (“O Sergius, our father, pray to Christ our God that He may save our souls”).
The future saint and monk Sergius was born in 1314 in Rostov, in a pious family of boyars (Russian noblemen). At baptism, he was given the name Bartholomew. Even before his birth, the marvelous Divine Providence gave a sign that he was going to become a great servant of the Holy Trinity. From the first days of his life, the infant Bartholomew began a wondrous feat of abstinence: on Wednesdays and Fridays he would refuse to suckle any milk from his mother’s breast.
Another miracle happened to him in adolescence. Despite his diligence and tearful prayer, he found learning to read and write very difficult. One day, while walking through a field, the young Bartholomew met a mysterious elder-monk in a black robe and asked the latter to pray for him, so that he might comprehend the letters. The old man prayed and blessed the boy, saying that he was destined to be the abode of the Holy Trinity and was going to bring many people to an understanding of God’s commandments. Since then, Bartholomew became very adept at reading and writing and, from an early age, began to exhibit the fruits of the Gospel.
Shortly afterwards Bartholomew’s family, including his parents Cyril and Mary and his brothers Stephen and Peter, moved to Radonezh. There, the young Bartholomew continued the spiritual feat he had already begun, spending day and night in prayer and fasting. When his parents retired to a monastery shortly before their death, Bartholomew left his property to his younger brother Peter and moved to the deep forest 10 miles away from Radonezh, along with his older brother Stephen. All alone, the brothers cut down some trees and built a cell and a small church, which was consecrated in the honor of the Holy Trinity. This was the beginning of the famous monastery of St. Sergius.
Soon Stephen left his brother to become the prior of the Epiphany Monastery in Moscow and a confessor to the grand prince. Bartholomew, who was given the name Sergius when he took his vows, continued to live in the woods alone for about three years, struggling with the hardships of life in the wilderness. His feat soon attracted up to 12 disciples who saw him as an example of a genuine monastic life. In 1354, St. Sergius was ordained as a presbyter and abbot. Although appointed as a leader, St. Sergius did not abandon his habitual monastic labors, teaching the brethren by example rather than by spoken word. To the end of his days, he remained an embodiment of meekness and humility.
The life and works of St. Sergius occupy a particularly important place in the history of monasticism. By creating a monastery and monastic community outside the city, he laid the foundations for life in the great outdoors. Patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople sent St. Sergius his blessing along with a letter that approved the new system for establishing monastic communities in the wilderness. The numerous students and followers of the holy monk carried his message of love and self-denial and his experience of monastic life to the near and far reaches of Russia, founding new monasteries. St. Sergius was not only a teacher for monks, but a spiritual foundation for the whole of Russia. No wonder he is referred to as the Abbot of All Russia. He was able to reconcile the Russian princes with each other, blessed Dmitry Donskoy to fight the Tatar Khan Mamai and even gave him two of his monks as soldiers.
Even during his life, St. Sergius performed numerous miracles and was honored with great revelations. Once Our Lady appeared to him with the Apostles Peter and John and promised to protect and support his monastery. On another occasion, he saw an extraordinary light and a variety of different birds, whose harmonious singing filled the air, and received a revelation about many monks gathering in his monastery in the future.
The servant of God reposed in the Lord on 25 September (8 October) 1391, at age 77. 30 years after his burial the relics of the holy monk were revealed through a heavenly vision and remain an inexhaustible source of healing grace to this day.
For many centuries, Orthodox Christians have addressed their patron saint with prayers in their various needs. However, the most common practice is to resort to his patronage when seeking help in gaining wisdom and the ability to learn.
The saint is commemorated on 25 September (8 October) and 5 (18) July.