Both monks and nuns came to Fr. Seraphim for counsel; among their number were abbots and abbesses. He expressed to them his thoughts concerning the obligations of a monastery superior.
”The superior of the monastery,” he said, ”should be perfect in all virtues, and the senses of his soul should be trained by long study in the discernment of good and evil (cf. Heb. 5:18).
”The superior should be experienced in the Holy Scriptures, he should study the Law of God day and night; thus by this exercise he might gain the gift of discernment of good and evil.
”The true knowledge of good and evil can be had only when the ascetic of piety comes to sympathise with the future judgment, and has a foretaste of eternal blessedness, which is formed in the souls of the pious even in this life, in a hidden and spiritual manner.
”Until a man has acquired discernment of good and evil he is not capable of shepherding rational sheep, only irrational ones, for without the knowledge of good and evil we cannot determine the activities of the evil one.
”Therefore the superior, as the pastor of rational sheep, must have the gift of discernment, so that in every situation he would be able to give useful advice to anyone who requests his instruction, for, as Peter the Damascene says (in the Philokalia, on the instruction of souls in the virtues, Part 3, page 52), not everyone can be trusted to counsel those who seek it—only those who have received the gift of discernment from God after long practice in asceticism, having acquired a keen mind.
”The superior should have the gift of penetrating thought, so that by understanding things past and present he might discern the enemy’s snares.
”One distinguishing characteristic of the superior should be his love for his inferiors: for the true pastor, according to the words of St John Climacus, is shown by his love for his flock. For it is out of love that the Chief Shepherd was crucified on the cross (from the chapter ”To the Shephard, paragraph. 5).”
Other abbots, concerned for the salvation of those entrusted to their leadership, asked St. Seraphim about how to lead the brethren. In answer to one of them, St. Seraphim gave the following instructions:
”Let every superior always be as a wise mother to his subordinates.”
”A loving mother does not live for herself, but rather for her children. She bears the infirmities of her ailing children with love; if they should fall into uncleanness she washes them, cleanses them quietly and peacefully, dresses them in a new white garments, warms them, feeds them, consoles them, and tries to surround them with care, so that she might never hear them cry at all; such children are well-disposed to their mother. So should every superior live not to please himself, but to please his subordinates; he should be condescending to their weaknesses, bear the infirm with love, doctor their wounds of sins with the compress of mercy, lift up the fallen with meekness. He should quietly cleanse those who are befouled with some impure vice by requiring fasting and prayer of them above the norm; he should clothe them with instruction and his own exemplary life in the garment of the virtues, be unceasingly vigilant over them, console them in every way, and guard their peace and well-being on all sides, so that he might never hear the slightest cry or murmuring from them. Then they will strive with zeal to provide the superior with peace and calm.”
From the book, St. Seraphim of Sarov, by Elena Kontsevitch