Eglantyne Jebb vs. Seraphim of Sarov

What's in a name? Eglantyne Jebb and Seraphim of Sarov might just have some theories on this question. The twelfth battle of the first round pits a 20th century English laywoman against an 18th century Russian monk.

In yesterday's action, Dymphna played cat and mouse with Gertrude of Nivelles before prevailing 58% to 42%. She'll face the winner of John of Beverley vs. Martin of Porres in the Saintly Sixteen.

For those of you who filled out brackets in advance, how are you doing? Anyone still have a perfect bracket? Anyone 0 for 11 (which, frankly, would be equally impressive). We know it's about learning rather than winning. But still. We know there are some competitive Christians out there...

Eglantyne Jebb

Eglantyne JebbEglantyne Jebb didn’t care much for children. This is ironic, as Jebb founded Save the Children, an international non-governmental organization that promotes children’s rights, provides relief during crises like natural disasters and armed conflicts, and helps children have a healthy start in life in 120 countries, according to its website.

“It is a judgment on me for not caring about children that I talk all day long about the universal love of humanity toward them,” she said. But Eglantyne’s story goes to show God can use us in unexpected ways. God can call us to join in the work God is doing all around us, to respond to needs unique to our time and place.

In 1918, while others were celebrating the end of World War I, Eglantyne was protesting the impact of the Allied blockade after seeing newspaper photos of starving children in Germany and other European countries. She was born into a well-to-do British family of strong women who worked to meet the needs they saw in society. Originally, she studied to become a teacher, but she called it quits after a year because of that not-caring-much-for-kids thing. She became involved in the Charity Organisation Society and later traveled to Macedonia to report on refugees. Those experiences revealed to Eglantyne the difficulties faced by children in poverty and in crisis around the world.

Eglantyne was arrested for protesting—for handing out pamphlets in London with moving images of those children. Her trial made her famous, and while she was found guilty, the judge publicly gave her the money to pay the fine. That money became the first donation to Save the Children.

The organization was the first to take out full-page newspaper advertisements to promote its work and the first to enlist celebrities to promote its cause, according to Jebb’s biographer Clare Mulley. That’s something you can thank her for the next time you hear Sarah McLachlan’s voice with pictures of Precious Moments-eyed puppies.

Save the Children campaigned for the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which later was adopted by the United Nations, and the organization continues Eglantyne’s unlikely work today. The Church of England remembers her life and service each year on December 17.

Collect for Eglantyne Jebb
Almighty God, you appeared before Moses as a burning bush and in the heart of your servant Eglantyne Jebb as a white-hot flame: Encourage us with the same fierce and fiery spirit to defend the least, the lost, the lonely, and especially children in distress, that we may ease their burdens and live into your love and will with childlike faith; through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

-Emily McFarlan Miller

Seraphim of Sarov

Seraphim of SarovOne of the most well-known saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Seraphim of Sarov embraced the Holy Spirit and expounded upon monastic practices of contemplation and self-denial. Born Prokhor Moshnin on August 1, 1759, Seraphim became quite ill at age ten and saw in a vision a promise from the Virgin Mary that she would heal him. A few days later, he was brought to an icon of Mary that was known to have healing power. Shortly after touching the icon, he became well.

His interest in the church continued to grow, and in 1777, he joined the Sarov monastery. His mother supported his entry into the monastery and gave him a copper crucifix that he wore his whole life. In 1786, he became a monk, and seven years later he became a monastic priest.

Seraphim is known for his asceticism. He only ate one meal a day and fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. One of his notable feats was praying for 1,000 nights with his arms outstretched.

Shortly after becoming a priest, he moved to a log cabin in the woods and lived as a hermit for twenty-five years. When wild animals came to the hermitage, he would care for them. One time, he was seen feeding a bear from his hand.

At one point Seraphim was attacked in the woods by robbers. They beat him but he did not resist. They left him for dead. They found nothing but his icon of the Mother of God of Deep Devotion. Although he recovered from the assault, Seraphim walked with a hunched back for the rest of his life. When the robbers were caught and being tried, Seraphim asked the judge for mercy on them. He later would say, “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.

He returned to his cabin in the woods, and many people made pilgrimages to him for healing and to hear his prophetic words. Seraphim would often answer their questions before they were even asked.

Seraphim of Sarov died kneeling before an icon of the Theotokos—Mary, the God-bearer—on January 14, 1833.

Collect for Seraphim of Sarov
Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant Seraphim of Sarov, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-David Creech

Eglantyne Jebb vs. Seraphim of Sarov

  • Eglantyne Jebb (73%, 5,444 Votes)
  • Seraphim of Sarov (27%, 1,992 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,436

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Eglantyne Jebb: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Seraphim of Sarov: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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223 comments on “Eglantyne Jebb vs. Seraphim of Sarov”

  1. Being a not-so-crazy-about-kids person, but for all the work she did for them I went with Eglangtyne. Also, I totally agree with Jane (8:20 am) - she went out to do the work of God, not camping out as a hermit for 25 years!

  2. I'm a layperson, but I know a lot of priests (and monks, for that matter). So it really cracked me up that Seraphim became a priest, and then became a hermit. Having worked in several churches, I kinda get it!

  3. While I’m in awe of Seraphim’s devotion and don’t consider the active life necessarily superior to the contemplative, Sreaphim’s life just doesn’t much move me, while Eglantyne’s moves me greatly. Today my emotional response will guide my vote.

  4. As I was reading Seraphim's bio I was overwhelmed with a Valley Girl feeling of, "Gag me! Really? OMG! Give me a break!" Perhaps it was because I had just read Jebb's bio, so very inspirational.

    But then, I wondered how his choices formed his spirit to be at one with beasts and robbers. That is truly transformational.

    "Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved." My kind of evangalization

    1. Thanks, Amy,
      When I read about Jebb I thought she's be my choice no matter what. But when I read the "Acquire a peaceful spirit..." quote, it lept out at me--hightlighter-like--and I knew that was what needed to be spoken again, especially in our time. So, the ascetic hermit wins for me today. May thousands upon thousands be granted the Spirit of peace, and keep on spreading it. My kind of evangelization, too!

      1. I voted for the Seraphim too. Perhaps it was because I recently finished the book Godric by Buechner. The book made me laugh and cry but mostly cultivated a new respect for the aspirations and devotion of a hermit. Certainly quite commendable that Seraphim's spirit drew the public to him.

  5. This seems like a gender versus gender year and the women keep winning. I'm a little disappointed in the seeding.

  6. Eglantyne Jebb because even though she was a character on The Beverly Hillbillies show, she put her best effort where her heart wasn't.

  7. Seraphim: the original Throeau vs. Jebb: Crusader for Children
    Gotta go w/the kids benefactor.

  8. After reading all 64 Saint bios, I had pinned my hopes on one of Lent Madness' stellar nominees, Peter Claver, to go all the way. That he lost in the first round left me reeling, not that his opponent was undeserving. But is this an America first contest?

    Here we have the estimable lives one British and one Russian saint. Of course both have merit. I am attracted to the more complex case of Eglantyne. She was no goody-goody, but Save the Children is a great legacy: she really worked to make the world a better place.

  9. What a tough choice! On the one hand, the White Flame and her work for the least of these ("for in this world they have no voice/they have no choice").

    On the other hand, Seraphim for his commitment to nonviolence. Certainly his asceticism is unappealing to us now, but consider the time and place he lived. For us to know about him today, his life must have had a huge impact on those folks back in the day. Nice to see a brother from the Orthodox tradition on the bracket!

    Oh, great lamentations in the Hauser haus today! How shall I decide?

  10. God has a sense of humor and chose Eglantyne to care for those she didn't care much about. Good for her for watching and listening to God's call.

  11. Voted for Eglantyne partly because of current events. Save the Children is now under scrutiny for its handling of "inappropriate behaviour" on the part of two male executives, and debates as to whether the UK should continue its financial support for Save the Children is happening in the Westminster Parliament week after week. Loss of funding for this charity would be tragic. Voted for Eglantine, donated to Save the Children. As for Seraphim, my devotion to Orthodox faith and spirituality would normally have carried the day; this is a rich tradition to which Episcopalians owe a great deal. My partiality may owe something to my visit to Russia (then part of the Soviet Union) and observed the church there under state persecution, but devotion to Russia has run deep in my family for several generations, so there's that.

  12. As a retired developmental pediatrician, I spent my career advocating for disabled children (and adults, too). Who knows what kind of children she taught? That wasn't discussed. She may have faced some very challenging children who would try a saint. Eglantyne, no contest.

    1. I suspect that few people actually like other people's children very much, but fortunately most people like and love their own.

  13. Seraphim because of this “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.”

  14. I knew even before I cast my vote that Eglantyne (such a great name!) was going to win. And there is much to admire in her. I doubt very much that she disliked children; rather, I think she was a woman "in the day" with strong managerial skills and no societal/economic outlet for them. Nevertheless, she persisted. She is a beautiful Eg in our Easter basket of saints.

    But this is a group (we have commented about this for years) that goes in a big way for modern organizers of NGO's. So I'm voting for Seraphim because the eastern church gets regularly neglected. Asceticism is not a popular form of spirituality these days. Yesterday a "church" group in Pennsylvania married their guns: Could there be any liturgical act more self-indulgent and fleshly than to bless an unholy alliance of religiosity and death-wielding capitalism? (Only $689 to outfit oneself with an AR-15 for the ceremony; white dress and crown extra.)

    So I am giving a nod to the hermit/prophet and to the theotokos icon he was devoted to. Seraphim recalls to us the fathers and mothers of the desert in the early church, who vied to be the most ascetic and who attempted to embody the sufferings of Christ in order to be saved. Again, this sort of "athletic" self-denial is alien to our way of thinking today. Also the veneration of icons. And yet I am thinking that we (as a society) are giving some very powerful images to the world and to our next generations of death. I would place the images of the women's march against the images of people running from shooters. We are all being asked to choose what we worship. Seraphim (named for the highest angelic order) chose to gaze on the mother of god and tackle the aggression in his own heart in order to sow a seed of love for an aggressive, violent culture. Both versions of sainthood are necessary, but today I want to support Seraphim and the spiritual resources of the eastern churches.

    1. Special shout-out with respect to the two collects today. Let's hear it for muscular alliteration: "Encourage us with the same fierce and fiery spirit to defend the least, the lost, the lonely." And Paul's heart would be warmed by the encouragement to "persevere in running the race that is set before us." Faithfulness is a form of exercise. As Milton wrote: "They also serve who only stand and wait."

      1. Thanks as always for your thoughts. That's where my heart is moving, too.
        So I'm wondering if you were an English, theology, or psychology major . . .

    2. I’m voting for Seraphim because the eastern church gets regularly neglected. Also, because of the gorgeous icon of Seraphim that we are treated to this morning. My daughter and I were both born with fiery spirits, which we find are both gifts and stumbling blocks in our lives with others. I am enjoying taking mental breaks while gazing at Seraphim and thinking, "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved." I doubt our spirits will ever be consistently peaceful, but to be able to summon peacefulness when needed would be a blessing.

  15. I am voting for Eglantyne but remain concerned over our faith. I vote for her because some force moved her to help. My concerns are simple, based upon Eglantyne’s elevation to Sainthood, when will we start accolades for Bill and Melinda Gates or Microsoft.

    1. Assume you're being ironic. I believe Jesus would say they have been well paid in public acknowledgement for their charity. Their left hands know very well what their right hands are doing. The poor widow's mite is worth more in God's eyes.

      1. Beautifully put, St Cecilia. It would also be a strange and tragic thing indeed if those who did good were all considered worthy of sainthood, as though doing good is something that we aren't all capable of and called to do. And why should those who have a great deal of money to do good be held up above those who have nothing and invisibly do good every day.

  16. I voted for Eglantyne. Her working with children even when she wasn't fond of them struck a chord with me. Also, giving credit to the Virgin Mary instead of God for healing is a theological issue for me.

    1. What a lonely world it must be for God never to be able to share credit with anybody for anything. We give credit to surgeons for healing us. Why should not theotokos be given credit for healing when the apostles were given credit for the same? Can we not allow any feminine element to God's nature at all?

      1. Every time I start to reply, “But that’s not a gender issue,” a small voice says, “Whoa.” So I’m making some progress, at least. It’s not easy for an old white male to get woke, I must say.

      2. I respectfully disagree that it's a gender issue. I can't speak for S.R. Niccolls, but I suspect it's a veneration of saints issue. Some are for it, some are against it. For many, giving the (male) apostles credit for healing after said apostles have already gone to their reward would also be a problem.

        1. S. R. Niccolls is not explicit about this, but I sense more than simply "gender" or the "veneration of saints." There seems to be a residual Protestant animadversion (which SRN might or might not share) against Mary in particular. It seems, for some, to be the Maginot line between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. I find the anti-marianism sad, because she is such a beautiful aspect of Christian iconography. I don't know that that is playing a role here, but I feel that if we could explore her role in Christian theology, we would find a richer version of the trinity. I am not troubled by the idea that many people, living and dead, are conduits to healing. I am troubled by a "unitary," restrictive notion of "healing" that places an impermeable barrier between human and divine. (Again, I am not saying that that is what is at issue here, only that I detect the "flavor" of that idea in any discomfort about Mary Theotokos.)

          1. A nice meditation, St. C.

            I’ve always imagined Mary as embarrassed by all the attention but putting up with it for the sake of the good it does.

          2. St. Celia, it's true that Mary has become a particular focus (or target, rather) of Protestants in their effort to distance themselves from Roman Catholicism. I see it as being a difference of the God-Bearer, she is the most invoked saint in the pantheon, and understandably so. This also makes her the most obvious target for those who don't agree with invocation of saints. I agree that this virulent anti-marianism is sad. However, I would hesitate to chalk it up to simple misogyny, or as you stated, an unwillingness to allow any feminine element to God’s nature. That could certainly be one aspect of it for some people, but it would be difficult to prove given Mary's unique position among the saints.

  17. I'm surprised this is so lopsided. Seraphim won me over, even though he lacks a cute theme song.

  18. Seraphim embodies so much of the folkloric traditions memorialized in Pushkins fairytales he is almost irresistible. Feeling very serious this morning (perhaps to much morning news), I feel I must make the more rationale choice of Eglentyne. I can't help but feel that if we gave Eglentyne some fairy godmother attributes, somebody might remember her very real
    accomplishments. TTFN!

  19. Seraphim's story made me think of Julian of Norwich, similarly a contemplative who helped many people who sought her wisdom and healing care. He may have been a hermit, but with his "peaceful spirit" brought healing to many. Incidentally, a pectoral cross is a symbol of devotion, not so much a "personal possession". He had been healed of serious illness in childhood. He forgave those who beat him and left him mangled for life, not an easy thing to do. He is a good model for this retired clergy woman. I cast my vote for him.

  20. Much needed asceticism versus much needed actionism. . . what to do? (Ah, DO is the operative for my choice today.) Sing with us ye Seraphim as we raise a toast to Eglentyne.

  21. This match is particularly hard for me. While the desire to recognize the value of "doing and lasting" bodes well for Eglantyne the witness of "being" won me over this time. There are many today who "be" as Seraphim lived out his faith. That we don't know them publicly as we know Save the Children doesn't diminish their impact that threads through many lives across the world. I go with Seraphim.

    1. I agree, Megan! It's not about who's more worthy, but who speaks to me today. Save the children of Syria, of Sudan, of all the places in the world where there is abuse of power.

  22. Ah Seraphim, the monastics get my vote today. Embracing the Holy Spirit did it for me. The life he lived is one I attempt to adapt to modern contingencies.

  23. So far I have only missed on one match-up which was between Peter and Paul. Unbelievable. Let’s see how long this streak lasts.

  24. I vote for E. Jebb....gotta love a lady who knows her dislike of children is about her and not the kids; and is open to God's calling to protect the most vulnerable, no matter how pesky they may be!

    1. I did too, Oliver. Forgiveness (renouncing revenge) is so very important to our spiritual life and our world today. I am only sorry that all the historic saints seem to be losing in the vote count this time. But it is important to vote anyway, make your voice heard and be gracious whether you win or lose.

    2. agree with another Jane! She came from "a family of strong women", she saw a need, she met it!