Thursday, July 12, 2018

St. Serapion of Vladimir on the Persecution of Witches

Serapion of Vladimir (+ 1275) was a Bishop of Vladimir. He was Archimandrite of the Monastery of the Kiev Caves from 1247 until 1274, and was Bishop of the Diocese of Vladimir, Suzdal and Nizhny Novgorod from 1274 until his death the following year.

Five sermons by Serapion have been preserved. His main theme is the disaster of the Mongol invasion, seen as divine punishment for Russia because of its people's sins. Four of the sermons appear to have been written in 1274/5, when he was bishop. The fifth is presumably older, and was most likely written shortly after the destruction of Kiev in 1240. In one of his late sermons, he denounces the persecution of witches.

Witches were executed at Novgorod in 1227, and after a severe famine in the years 1271-4. Bishop Serapion of Vladimir asked in a sermon: "You still cling to pagan customs and believe in witchcraft, burning innocent people and bringing down murder upon earth and the city. Out of what books or writings do you learn that famine on earth is brought about by witchcraft? You pray to them and ask for gifts as though they ruled the earth by permitting rain, sunshine, and the making of the land fertile." He argues that if witches have the power to affect the elements, causing famine, then the people should worship them. It is, however, God who permits famine, in order to punish the people for their sins.

In Serapion's view, God permits witches and demons to operate within the world, for they can harm only the gullible, those who are not firm in the Christian faith. Serapion castigates those who, because of their lack of faith in God, fear witches and act in "senseless" and "pagan" ways - judging people by casting them into water and then killing them. The gravity of this sin was seen when Christians were turning on their fellow Christians.