8TH SUNDAY OF MATTHEW
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
8th Sunday of Matthew, Afterfeast of the Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, The Holy Righteous Martyr Dometius, Our Holy Father Nicanorus the Wonderworker, Theodosius the New, Joseph Gerontogiannis of Lithines Sitia, Sozon of Nicomedea, The Holy Ten Thousand Ascetics of Thebes, Narcissus the Hieromartyr of Jerusalem
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 1:10-17
Brethren, I appeal to you by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul, ” or “I belong to Apollos, ” or “I belong to Cephas, ” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispos and Gaius; lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
At that time, Jesus saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
Afterfeast of the Transfiguration of our Lord
On the first day of the Afterfeast of the Transfiguration, the hymns of Vespers speak of the amazement of the Apostles when they saw Christ transfigured before them. The Savior’s equality with the Father is also stressed, for He who covers Himself with light as with a garment is now transfigured before His disciples, “shining more brightly than the sun.”
Martyr Dometius of Persia and his two disciples
Saint Dometius lived in Persia during the fourth century. In his youth he was converted to the Faith by a Christian named Uaros. Forsaking Persia, he withdrew to the frontier city of Nisibis (in Mesopotamia), where he was baptized in one of the monasteries, and also received the monastic tonsure.
Fleeing the ill-will of some of the monks, Saint Dometius moved to the monastery of Saints Sergius and Bacchus in the city of Theodosiopolis. The monastery was under the guidance of an archimandrite named Urbelos, a strict ascetic, of whom it was said that for sixty years he did not taste cooked food, nor did he lay down for sleep, but rather took his rest standing up, supporting himself upon his staff.
In this monastery Saint Dometius was ordained a deacon, but when the archimandrite decided to have him made a presbyter, the saint, considering himself unworthy, hid himself on a desolate mountain in Syria, in the region of Cyrrhus.
Stories about him constantly spread among the local inhabitants. They began to come to him for healing and for help. Many pagans were brought to faith in Christ by Dometius. And one time, in the locality where Saint Dometius struggled with his disciples, the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363) arrived, traveling on his campaign against the Persians. By order of the emperor, soldiers found Saint Dometius praying with his disciples in a cave, and walled them up alive inside.
First finding of the relics of Saint Metrophanes, first Bishop of Voronezh
The Uncovering of the Relics of Saint Metrophanes, Bishop of Voronezh (1832): The memory of the deep piety and pastoral virtues of Saint Metrophanes (Macarius, in the schema) was revered at Voronezh from the time of his death (November 23, 1703). His successors, the Voronezh hierarchs, considered it their sacred duty to make annual remembrance of the first hierarch of their flock, together with his parents, the priest Basil and Maria.
The people of Voronezh and its environs came to the Annunciation cathedral, where memorial services were offered at his tomb. Contributing to the intense remembrance of Saint Metrophanes was also his dying request that prayers be said for him. For this purpose the saint, even during his lifetime, had built a chapel at the cathedral in honor of the holy Archangel Michael (his patron saint), and in it a special priest served the Liturgy. Although succeeding generations did not know the saint, they also revered his memory.
The veracity of the sainthood of the first hierarch of the Voronezh diocese was also confirmed by his incorrupt relics, attested during their repeated transfers from one temple to another. In the year 1718, Metropolitan Pachomius of Voronezh, about to begin the construction of a new cathedral, gave orders to demolish the old Annunciation cathedral. The body of Saint Metrophanes was temporarily transferred into the church of the Unburnt Bush. In 1735, the body of Saint Metrophanes was transferred into the new cathedral, during which time the incorrupt state of his relics was again observed. At the place of the burial of the saint, panikhidas were customarily served for him.
By 1820 it was noticed that the number of those venerating Saint Metrophanes and thronging to Voronezh, had extraordinarily increased. Grace-filled signs also increased. Archbishop Anthony II of Voronezh made repeated reports to the Holy Synod about the miracles, and he petitioned for a resolution for the glorification of the saint. The Holy Synod then prescribed that records be kept of miracles at the grave of Saint Metrophanes. In the year 1831, after seeing the incorrupt body of the saint, Archbishop Anthony together with commission members of the Holy Synod, Archbishop Eugenius of Yaroslavl and Archimandrite Hermogenes of the Moscow Savior-Androniev monastery, became convinced in the miraculous intercession of Saint Metrophanes before the Throne of God. The Holy Synod then issued its resolution adding Saint Metrophanes to the ranks of the Saints. Since then, the Russian Church celebrates the memory of the saint twice during the year: November 23, the day of his repose, and August 7, the day of his glorification.
Archbishop Anthony II (1827-1846) established in the Voronezh also the following feastdays in honor of Saint Metrophanes: June 4, the Feast of his namesake Saint Metrophanes, Patriarch of Constantinople; April 2, the saint’s day of consecration as bishop in 1682; and December 11, the day of the transfer of the relics of Saint Metrophanes in 1831.
Saint Metrophanes left behind a Spiritual Testament. Its original is preserved in the State Historical Museum. Upon the testament is the unique authoritative signature of the saint: “This spiritual dictate is attested to by me… Bishop Metrophanes of Voronezh.”
On the lower cover (inside) is an inscription from the eighteenth century: “This is the book of testament or last will of the Voronezh schemamonk Macarius, written in the God-saved city of Voronezh, in the house of His Grace the bishop and schemamonk Macarius, who reposed in the month of November on the 23rd day in the year 1703, and was buried on the 4th day of December.”
On the day preceding the Uncovering of the Relics of Saint Metrophanes, Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh went to church, so as to lay out the new vestments prepared for the relics. Suddenly, he felt so weak that he was barely able to go about his cell. Troubled by this, he sat and pondered and then he heard a quiet voice: “ Do not transgress my legacy.”
This he did not understand right away, and instead thinking about his own plans, he gathered up his strength and opened the closet where the vestments were, and there he caught sight of the monastic schema, brought shortly before this by an unknown monk who had entrusted it to him and said that it soon would be needed.
Seeing this monastic schema, the hierarch then realized that the words, “Do not transgress my legacy,” was actually the will of Saint Metrophanes, that they not place upon his relics bishop’s vestments, but rather to clothe them in the schema. By this and by his extreme humility, he indicated the deep spiritual connection with his patronal saint (in schema), Saint Macarius of Unzhensk.
Venerable Pimen the Much-Ailing of the Kiev Near Caves
Saint Pimen the Much-ailing attained the Kingdom of Heaven by enduring grievous illness. This Russian ascetic was both born and grew up sickly, but his illness preserved him from illness of the soul.
For a long time he besought his parents to send him to the Kiev Caves monastery. When they brought their son to the famed monastery, they then began to pray for him to be healthy. But the sufferer himself, conscious of the high value of suffering, instead asked the Lord both for the continuation of his sickness, and also his tonsuring into monasticism.
One night, radiant angels appeared in the guise of monks, and tonsured him. They told him that he would receive his health only on the day of his death. Several of the brethren heard the sound of singing, and coming to Saint Pimen, they found him attired in monastic garb. In his hand he held a lit candle, and his tonsured hair could be seen at the crypt of Saint Theodosius. Saint Pimen spent many years in sickness, so that those attending to him could not tolerate it. They often left him without food and water for two or three days at a time, but he endured everything with joy.
Compassionate towards the brethren, Saint Pimen healed a certain crippled brother, who promised to serve him until death if he were healed. But after a while the brother grew lax in his service, and his former ailment overtook him. Saint Pimen again healed him with the advice, that both the sick and those attending the sick receive equal reward.
Saint Pimen spent twenty years in grievous sufferings. One day, as the angels had predicted, he became healthy. In church, the monk took leave of all the brethren and partook of the Holy Mysteries. Then, having bowed down before the grave of Abba Anthony, Saint Pimen indicated the place for his burial, and he himself carried his bed there.
Pointing to those buried there, one after the other of the monks, he predicted that the brethren would find one buried in the schema to be without it, since this monk had led a life unworthy of it. Another monk, who had been buried without the schema, would be found clothed in it after death, since he had greatly desired it during his life, and he was worthy.
Then Saint Pimen lay down upon his bed and fell asleep in the Lord. The brethren buried him with great honor, glorifying God.
After the death of Saint Pimen, the brethren were persuaded of the truth of his words. On the day of Saint Pimen’s repose, three fiery columns appeared over the trapeza, and moved atop the church. A similar event was described in the chronicles under February 11, 1110 (See the August 5 commemoration of Saint Theoctistus of Chernigov), therefore the day of demise of Saint Pimen is surmised as also occurring on February 11, 1110.
The relics of Saint Pimen rest in the Antoniev Cave.
A second commemoration of the saint is made on September 28, the Synaxis of the Monks of the Near Caves.
Venerable Pimen the Faster of the Kiev Caves
Saint Pimen, Faster of the Caves, labored in the Far Caves. His abstinence was such that he ate food only once a day, and only in the most necessary quantity. His outward fasting corresponded to an inward abstemiousness from any actions, thoughts or feelings, displeasing to God. Saint Pimen was igumen of the Kiev Caves monastery from 1132 to 1141. A second commemoration of the saint occurs on August 28.
Saint Mercurius, Bishop of Smolensk, Kiev Near Caves
Saint Mercurius of Kiev Caves Lavra was an ascetic in the Far Caves of Saint Theodosios during the XIV century, and was a strict observer of the Church's fasts.
He probably succeeded Bishop Lazarus as the Bishop of Smolensk, and with his flock, he experienced the horrors of Batu's invasion in 1347, during which he was killed. As he was dying, he ordered that the coffin containing his body should be sent down the Dnieper River and carried wherever it happened to land. Miraculously, the coffin came to rest at the Kiev Caves Monastery, and the Saint was buried in the Near Caves of Saint Anthony.
During his lifetime, Saint Mercurius had a deep spiritual bond with Saint Paisios of the Far Caves (July 19). When they died, they were buried in the same grave, but now their holy relics are in separate reliquaries.
Saint Mercurius, who glorified God by his words and his actions while on earth, now glorifies Him before His heavenly Throne.
The Church remembers Saint Mercurius on November 24 because of his patron Saint, the holy Great Martyr Mercurius. He is also commemorated on August 28 (the Synaxis of the Saints of the Far Caves); and on the second Sunday of Great Lent (the Synaxis of all the monastic Fathers of the Kiev Caves).
Martyr Marinus the Soldier at Caesarea in Palestine
The Holy Martyr Marinus (December 16) was a soldier during the reign of the pagan emperors Valerian (253-259) and his son Gallienus (260-268).
When he was about to be promoted to centurion, Marinus refused to swear the customary oath invoking the pagan gods, or to offer sacrifice to idols. Saint Marinus was beheaded in Caesarea Philippi after cruel tortures.
Saint Asterius also happened to be present at the sufferings of the Martyr Marinus. When the execution was over, he took off his senatorial garb, spread it upon the ground and wrapped the head and body of Saint Marinus in it. On his own shoulders he carried the martyr’s relics to the grave and reverently consigned them to earth. For doing this, he was himself sentenced to death and beheaded in the year 260.
Martyr Asterius the Senator at Caesarea, in Palestine
The Holy Martyr Asterius the Senator lived during the reign of the pagan emperors Valerian (253-259) and his son Gallienus (260-268). Although he was a Roman senator, Asterius nonetheless held firmly to the Christian Faith, in spite of the persecutions occurring during those times.
Once, while in Palestine, he came to the city of Caesarea Philippi, where by custom a pagan feast was made with the offering of sacrifice to an idol. The demon residing in the idol made the sacrifice disappear, and this was looked upon as a great wonder. Saint Asterius expelled the demon by prayer. The sacrifice ceased to be invisible, and the pagans ceased to celebrate this impious festival.
Saint Asterius also happened to be present at the sufferings of the Martyr Marinus (December 16). When the execution was over, he took off his senatorial garb, spread it upon the ground and wrapped the head and body of Saint Marinus in it. On his own shoulders he carried the martyr’s relics to the grave and reverently consigned them to earth. For doing this, he was himself sentenced to death and beheaded in the year 260.
Venerable Horus of the Thebaid, Egypt
Saint Horus in his youth withdrew into the Thebaid desert and struggled in complete solitude for many years, leading the life of a strict hermit. Having advanced in years, Saint Horus was granted to see an angel, who announced that the Lord had destined him for the salvation of the many people who would seek his guidance.
After this, the monk began to accept everyone who came to him for advice and help. The Lord granted him a gift of reading the Holy Scriptures, despite the fact that the saint since childhood had not been taught reading and writing.
Gradually, a large monastery formed around Saint Horus, in which the holy Elder was the spiritual guide. The monk never entered the trapeza for food, nor did he eat on the day of partaking of the Holy Mysteries. He often taught the brethren by means of stories about the temptations which might beset a monk living in solitude. But he always told them in such a way that everyone would know that he was speaking of desert-dwellers personally known to him. The saint concealed his own ascetic exploits.
Once, when the saint still lived with only one disciple, he brought to the Elder’s attention the approach of Holy Pascha. Saint Horus immediately stood up at prayer, and raising his hands, he stood thus for three days under the open sky, in unceasing prayer. He then explained to his disciple that for a monk every feastday, and especially Pascha, is celebrated by removing oneself from everything mundane, and lifting up one’s mind to unity with God.
All the thoughts and deeds of his disciples was revealed to Saint Horus, and no one dared to lie to him. Having survived well into old age, Saint Horus founded several monasteries, comprising altogether as many as 1,000 monastics. He died at age 90 in about the year 390.
Virgin Martyr Potamia the Wonderworker
The Holy Martyr Potamia the Wonderworker died under the sword. Sometimes the saint is incorrectly listed as Saint Potamius the Wonderworker.
Venerable Dometius of Philotheou, Mount Athos
Saint Dometius was an Athonite Elder. He pursued silence at the Philotheou monastery together with the Hieromartyr Damian of Philotheou (February 23), who suffered under cruel tortures by the Turks in the year 1568.
Valaam Icon of the Mother of God
One of the greatest treasures in the possession of the Monastery of New Valamo in Heinävesi, Finland is the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God of Valaam. Painted on lime wood, the 132 x 79.5 cm icon depicts the Virgin Mary as a full-length figure standing on a cloud with lowered gaze, clothed in a bright red cloak and a dark turquoise undergarment. She is holding the Christ child, who is dressed in a thin, pale yellow smock, on her left arm. With her right hand, she points to Christ, in the style of the “Hodēgḗtria” icons of the Mother of God. Christ blesses with His right hand and holds an orb, surmounted by a cross, in His left hand, signifying that He is the Creator of the world and King of all.
According to the inscription, the icon was painted in 1878, “the work of the monks of Valaam.” It is customarily attributed, however, to Father Alipy, one of the leading iconographers at the original Valaam Monastery in Lake Ladoga in Russian Karelia. Father Alipy painted the icon only a few years after he arrived at the monastery, before he had become a novice there. He was tonsured to monastic orders in 1884 and ordained as priestmonk in 1893.
Following the conventions of the late 19th century, the icon was painted in a “naturalistic” style, employing a technique that combined the use of tempera and oils.
Originally, the icon was to have been placed in the Valaam Monastery’s Church of the Dormition. This never occurred, however, and subsequently the icon was misplaced. In 1897, the icon was rediscovered and gained its miracle-working reputation on the strength of a succession of visions of the Mother of God experienced by an elderly woman with serious rheumatoid arthritis, Natalia Andreyevna Andreyeva, who was cured of her illness.
Despite the Valaam Monastery’s long history, it had never had an icon of the Mother of God of its own design, although Father Alipy’s icon came to occupy such a position in subsequent years. In the turmoil of World War II, the icon was transported to safety in Finland, along with many other treasures from Valaam and the majority of the monks. It now occupies a prominent position in the Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord at the New Valaam Monastery.
In 1987, the bishops of the autonomous Orthodox Church of Finland established an annual feast in the Valaam Icon’s honor on August 7. The troparion and kontakion for the feast were written by the late Archbishop Paul of Finland.
On July 29, 2005, the Valaam Icon of the Mother of God was brought for the first time to North America by His Eminence, Archbishop Leo of Karelia and All Finland.
“Mother dear, is it true that you live at Valaam?”
The story of the icon of the Mother of God of Valaam, as recorded in 1897
In a corner behind the choir enclosure on the south side of the lower main church at the monastery of Valaam, where the miracle-working remains of the monastery’s founders, the Saints Sergei and Herman of Valaam, lie at rest interred in the rock, stands an icon of the All-Holy Mother of God. This full length image of the Queen of Heaven holding the divine child in her arms is known as the icon of the Mother of God of Valaam. It is a work of considerable artistic merit that was painted by a local artist-monk and later hieromonk, Father Alipi, in 1878. Nowadays this icon is one of the most cherished objects of reverence at Valaam.
As if by some divine providence, no suitable place could be found for the icon at first when it was finished, and it was placed in the entrance hall to the upper main church, where it remained until that church was demolished to make way for a new one. At that stage the majority of the icons, including this one, were taken to the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God, where the monastery held its regular services until the lower main church was completed. The icon was hung in a relatively high position on a pillar to the left of the entrance to the church.
When the lower main church was ready for consecration, all the icons that had been moved to the Church of the Dormition were returned to it, but again, for some inexplicable reason known only to God, no place could be found for this one. As scarcely any services were held in the Church of the Dormition any longer, this icon, along with some others, was placed in temporary storage in the Church of Saint Nicholas the Miracle-Worker. There it lay forgotten for many years, until it was moved to its present place in response to a vision experienced by a holy woman servant of God. The story of the indescribable act of grace bestowed upon this woman by the Queen of Heaven is recounted below in her own words.
‘I am a member of the peasant estate from the village of Zarino in the parish of Paskina, part of the district of Korchevski within the province of Tver. My name is Natalia Andreyevna Andreyeva. I am now sixty-four years of age and live in Saint Petersburg, in the Brusnitsyn old peoples’ home, at Kosaya Line no. 15 on Vasili Island. I was placed in this home, through the grace of God, by the lady in whose service I was a serf in former days.
In the year 1878 or 1879 I caught a bad cold on one occasion when washing clothes and developed rheumatism in my arms and legs. I began to seek treatment for this, but my health became worse year by year. I went to the Mariski Hospital for massage for a long time, but it didn’t help, and I went to the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna’s clinic opposite the Tauria gardens for as long as I could. I was more or less a cripple for most of the winter. All my money went on doctors’ fees and medicines, but the Lord God didn’t look kindly on my afflictions. In the end I was told that my illness had reached the stage of serious rheumatoid arthritis and that the only way of curing it was to go to a spa and take warm water baths.
What could I do? By that time I could scarcely afford to eat, so how could I find the money for treatment at a spa? And so, sinner that I am, I began to pray ardently to the Mother of God that in her mercy she would help me in my sufferings. I could walk only with great difficulty, leaning on a stick, and I had such pains in my hands and arms from time to time that I could no longer hold on to the stick. Sometimes I could make my way into the Church of the Sign only by crawling up the steps on all fours. I lived as a beggar, on food that people gave me as alms. This went on until 1887.
At that point my former mistress heard about my pitiful state and invited me to come and live with her at Käkisalmi in the province of Viipuri in Finland and look after her children as far as my health would permit. There was no other work that I could think of doing in the condition that I was in. The family was not a rich one, and so I was not to receive any wages for this – but, thank God, at least I was sure of food and a roof over my head.
While I was at Käkisalmi I heard many accounts of the miraculous cures that had taken place at the tomb of the Saints Sergei and Herman of Valaam, and this aroused a powerful desire in me to visit Valaam and prostrate myself before the tomb of these saints who had been acceptable unto the Lord and entreat their help in my serious state of illness. I had heard a lot about Valaam earlier, while I was living in Saint Petersburg, and I had often thought of visiting the monastery to pay reverence to its founder saints, but in all the vanities of life I had never got round to it. The main reason had been the cost of the journey, of course, but now the monastery was closer. Also, there was an inner voice speaking to me all the time, “Go to Valaam and be cured!”
I could no longer resist this desire, and I asked the lady of the house for leave to go there. As I had no money at all, I pawned my warm scarf for four roubles and started to make preparations for the journey.
As the day of departure approached I began to feel uneasy and distressed. I was an old woman who was utterly sick and lacking in strength. How could I travel alone? I had very little money, only just enough for the journey. How could I set out at all on such a journey? And if something were to happen, what would a poor creature like me do then? Thoughts like this began to haunt me until I was quite distraught.
The night before I set out I just lay on my bed and wept. What should I do? I wanted so much to make this journey, but still I was frightened for some reason. Then – I don’t know whether I was asleep or awake – I saw quite clearly a tall woman clad in pink velvet and with a child in her arms, surrounded by an amazing light. The thought immediately struck me, could this be the Mother of God? I didn’t dare to call out to her by that name, though. I wanted to go to her, but she stepped back and said, “Don’t weep. The Saviour is coming, and I am coming to you!”
Then I said to her, “Mother dear, how beautiful and good you are! Is it true that you live at Valaam?”
“Yes, I live there. You will see me at Valaam!” After that the vision disappeared, but now that the Mother of God had spoken to me it was as if a stone had been lifted from my heart. My mind was at ease and all my fears had been swept away.
The next day the ship came and I set out joyfully on my journey. The old ladies sitting beside me began to offer me food and drink, one bread, another tea and yet another coffee, so that I was not short of anything all the way. It was a happy journey. The only problem was that my legs were very painful because of the rocking of the ship. At Valaam they were celebrating not only the annual feast of the Saints Sergei and Herman but also the laying of the foundation stone for a new church. There were a huge number of pilgrims there, and also the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich and his wife the Duchess. There were throngs of people everywhere.
Once I had arrived and rested after the strenuous journey, I made my way to the tomb of the Saints Sergei and Herman and prayed there ardently so that the tears streamed from my eyes. I asked the saints who had been acceptable unto God to help me, to grant me, sinful as I was, relief from my illness. I spent the last coins that I had on a short service of prayer to them, so that I had nothing left but twenty kopecks and my return fare.
The evening service was held in the Church of the Dormition, and the crowd was so enormous that with my illness, I stood no chance of pushing my way into the church but had to stand, or rather sit, in the entrance.
The following day I had to return home. I would have liked to stay there longer to pray, but I couldn’t, as even a few days would have cost so much that I would not have had any money for the fare home.
Just before the ship was due to leave, some unseen force began to drive me back to the Church of the Dormition once more to pray. Although I was frightened of missing the ship, I didn’t dare to resist this inner voice which ordered me into the church, so I gathered up all my strength and practically ran back there.
As soon as I stepped into the church I involuntarily looked to the left – and stood rooted to the spot. My legs went weak beneath me, and I would certainly have fallen down if it hadn’t been for the railings beside the stairs leading to the upper church.
The reason for my surprise and bewilderment was something quite miraculous. Hanging on the pillar to the left of the door, in a golden frame, and looking at me was the Mother of God! And what was more, I recognised in Her the same figure who had appeared to me in a dream on the eve of my departure for Valaam and strengthened my failing spirit for the journey. I couldn’t take my eyes off the icon, and I became more and more convinced that this was the same dear mother who had been gracious enough to visit me in a dream. I recognised Her radiant face and Her merciful gaze. Even Her clothing was the same, and She held the Child in just the same way as I had seen in my dream.
As soon as I had recalled all this I wanted to have a service of prayer for the Mother of God and to kiss Her holy icon, but this was evidently not a suitable moment for Her, as our defender, to receive my unworthy prayers. The ship’s siren sounded in the distance, announcing its departure, and the icon was hung so high up that it was impossible for me to kiss it. I just had time to buy a candle with my last twenty kopecks and place it in front of the icon. Then, with tears in my eyes, I had to leave for the ship.
It was only during the voyage that I recovered my composure. I was delighted beyond words with this miracle that had been granted to me, a sinner, although I was also saddened by the fact that I had seen the icon of the All-Holy Mother of God only in the last few minutes before leaving Valaam. This had evidently been Her wish.
* * * * * * * *
A few days after I arrived back in Käkisalmi I began to feel much better. I could walk without a stick and do little jobs around the house. I resolved at once to go back to the monastery again at the first opportunity to thank God and the holy fathers and definitely to have a service of prayer said in front of the icon of the Mother of God. But the Lord determined otherwise.
The lady in whose house I was living decided to move into the country, and I had to go back to Saint Petersburg again and rely on assistance from the good people there. The years went by. My life was a hard one, and I was often facing hunger. My illness became worse, and I again had to walk with a stick. I prayed ardently to the Mother of God for help. Then, in 1896, nine years after my visit to Valaam, I came home from Vespers one Saturday evening, said my prayers and went to bed. Again I had a dream. The Mother of God appeared to me in exactly the same form as on the first occasion, and said, “So your enthusiasm has waned and you’ve forgotten your promise to return to Valaam. You were shown the way, but you didn’t follow it.”
“I am poor,” I answered, “I haven’t the money.”
“You find money for everything else, but not for this. Alas, this is a bitter disappointment for me,” the Mother of God complained.
I was horrified at this vision. I had evidently offended our dear mother. What was I to do now? Suddenly I heard that my former mistress had recently returned to Saint Petersburg, and so I went to her and told her the reason for my sorrow. She again came to my rescue – may God grant her all his goodness – and unexpectedly gave me five roubles. With these I was able to travel to Valaam at once.
As soon as I reached the monastery I went to the new church to pray at the tomb of the founder saints, and then to the Church of the Dormition to pray to the Mother of God. To my great sorrow, however, I couldn’t find Her icon where it had been on the first occasion. I began to ask the monks where it was, and the former treasurer Father Evgeni advised me to ask the master of the church furnishings, Father Pafnuti, who was responsible for all the icons. Even he couldn’t tell me exactly where the icon of the Mother of God that had been in the Church of the Dormition now was, and thought it might have been sent to the monastery’s chapel on Vasili Island in Saint Petersburg. I was very, very upset that I had not found my Queen of Heaven, and shed many bitter tears as I prayed to the Mother of God and the Saints Sergei and Herman that they would not abandon me in my sin.
I stayed at Valaam for two and a half weeks, looking everywhere for the icon, but I couldn’t find it. My health was poor, and my soul weighed heavy within me. Eventually I went back to Saint Petersburg and called at the Valaam chapel on Vasili Island, but the icon was not there, either. I was more grief-stricken than ever.
Another year passed, and my illness began to grow worse again, so that I could scarcely walk even with a stick. I had scrimped and saved all year and gradually collected the kopecks together for another journey to Valaam. I set out to spend the feast of Saint Peter at the monastery and to look for the icon of the Mother of God once again.
Although I was exhausted by the time I arrived, I prayed earnestly at the tomb of the founder saints and with tears in my eyes prayed to the Mother of God that she would show me where I could find Her blessed icon. And my prayer was answered.
That night I had another dream. I was walking through the yard of the monastery and past the now abandoned Church of Saint Nicholas. I was crying and praying to the Mother of God, “Oh mother dear, if only I could see you once more!” I was greatly surprised, but I went on praying.
Again I heard a voice, but this time it was someone else’s. “What are you so sad about? What are you looking for?” I turned round and there was a grey-bearded old monk in a blue biretta standing behind me.
“I am looking for the Mother of God,” I replied.
“Wait. We will find Her.”
“How can you find Her so quickly,” I asked, “when Father Pafnuti searched for three weeks without finding her?”
“He searched in the wrong places. He had forgotten where She is,” the old monk said.
I followed him to a door. “This door is closed,” I said.
He opened it. “She is in here.”
I looked into the inside of the church, and in one corner, amidst a heap of furnishings and old icons, was the icon of the Mother of God, half wrapped in a linen cloth and sacking. I recognised it at once as the icon I was looking for. “Here She is!” I exclaimed in a loud voice. It was then that the other women in the same room woke me up.
The next day, a Wednesday, I went to the Liturgy early in the morning, after which Father Pafnuti conducted a service of prayer at the tomb of the founder saints. I told him about my dream. “In the name of God, forgive me,” he said. “I looked for the icon at first and then forgot all about it. I will go and search for it at once. Now I remember. I’m sure it’s in the Church of Saint Nicholas the Miracle-Worker.”
I intended to take Communion on the Saturday, and the night before I had another dream. It was as if I were standing alone in the lower church. There were just two monks beside the founders’ tomb, Father Seraphim and Father Nikolai. I was waiting impatiently for something and could not take my eyes off the outer door. Suddenly the door opened and the icon of the Mother of God was carried in by Father Pafnuti and a young monk in a short, grey cassock. “There She is, my dear mother!” I cried, and threw myself on the floor, thinking that the icon would be carried over me and I would be made well. But Father Pufnuti said, “There is nothing ready for you here. We have to hold a short service to bless the holy water before a sick person can be made well.” And at that I awoke.
In the morning I took Communion. I told Father Pafnuti of my dream and, sobbing, entreated him to go and look for the icon. Before the later Liturgy I was in a chapel when I suddenly saw a crowd of people hurrying from the hotel to the church. “What is happening?” I asked. They told me that the missing icon of the Mother of God had been found and that it was being taken to the lower church. I went into the church and saw the icon on the steps in front of the iconostasis.
“Is this the icon you meant?” Father Pafnuti asked me.
“Yes, this is the one,” I replied.
“Then be comforted and pray to the Holy Mother of God,” he said. I asked him to hold a service of prayer to the Mother of God, and he did so, with a blessing of water as well, and lit a lamp in front of the icon.
Hieromonk Alipi was reading a service of prayer at the tomb of the founder saints just then, and I was told that it was he who had painted the icon. I went to him and bowed down to the ground before him. My breath stuck in my throat and tears streamed down my cheeks from the sheer joy of finding at last the icon of the Mother of God who had appeared to me, and I gave thanks to the Lord with all my heart for the unspeakable mercy he had shown to me.
The holy water was poured into a bottle for me, and when I drank it I felt my strength return. I took some oil from the lamp and went to my room. There I spread it on my hands and feet. The pain abated, and for the first time for many years I was able to sleep peacefully. I week later I could walk without a stick.
After giving thanks with all my soul and from the bottom of my heart to the Mother of God for the miracle that She had worked on me in my unworthiness, I returned to Saint Petersburg. I began to gain in strength all the time without any medicine, and by Easter I had completely recovered. It was then that I decided that I would buy a lamp for the icon. By the grace of God I managed to gather together eight roubles from the little that I had, but a lamp cost ten roubles. Then a friend of mine who had bought a charity lottery ticket promised that if she won she would give me the two roubles I needed, and she did win a gold watch, so that I was able to buy the lamp and send it to the monastery. Many people asked me to give them a photograph of the icon. Now I am in perfect health. I can do washing and scrub floors, and I have even been helping with the haymaking at the Konevits Monastery. I have no pain at all in my legs. Altogether the illness lasted twelve years. At one time I couldn’t even get my arms into the sleeves of my clothes, and sometimes I could only climb steps by crawling on my hands and knees. I shed countless tears at such times and prayed to the Mother of God that I might be cured. Now I am healthy again and have everything that I need. There are even good people around me who have put me in an old people’s home. Glory be to the Queen of Heaven!’
Natalia Andreyevna’s story of the discovery of the icon in the abandoned Church of Saint Nicholas is thoroughly plausible. It would have been impossible for her to know anything about the contents of the church or about the objects stored there beforehand. The church is kept closed and no people other than the monastery staff are allowed into it. Everything really happened as she had seen in her dream. Following her instructions, Father Pafnuti went into the church, found the icon in a corner and brought it to the lower main church. There he placed it on the right-hand side of the church, on a pillar behind the right-hand choir enclosure, where it has been to this day. And by some miraculous means the person who helped Father Pufnuti carry the icon was indeed dressed in a short, grey cassock.
Natalia Andreyevna released this account of her visions on 7th August 1897, and it was written down in the present form on 26th July 1898.
Venerable Anthony of Optina
Saint Anthony (Putilov) was born on March 9, 1795 in the town of Romanov in the Yaroslavl province, and was baptized with the name Alexander. His siblings were called Timothy, Jonah, Basil, Cyril, and Anysia. John Putilov named all his children after the saint commemorated on the eighth day after their birth, so the future Saint Anthony was named for the holy hieromartyr Alexander the Bishop of Rome (March 16). The children were educated at home, since their parents feared they would be corrupted in some way if they were sent away to school.
From an early age, Alexander was quiet and modest, disdaining the noisy games of other children. It is not surprising that he should be inclined toward monasticism even as a child, because his great-grandfather Joel had been a hierodeacon at the Serpukhov Monastery, and his cousin Maximilla was a nun in the Annunciation women’s monastery in Moscow.
When Alexander was ten years old, his brothers Timothy and Jonah entered the Sarov Monastery. They wrote to him and sent him spiritual books, which he enjoyed reading. When he was only thirteen, he wrote to them expressing the wish to become a monk like them.
The young Alexander endured many trials and illnesses during his childhood, and on ten separate occasions he was in danger of losing his life. Once he nearly drowned, another time he fell and fractured his skull. He had several other close calls, yet God spared his life, forseeing something better for him (Hebrews 11:40).
After his father’s death in 1809, Alexander went to work for the merchant Karpishev in Moscow, for whom his older brothers had also worked. He lived in Moscow only three years, but he remembered the location of all the city’s holy places and wonderworking icons for the rest of his life.
On September 2, 1812, he tried to flee Moscow during Napoleon’s invasion, but it was too late to escape. A Pole on horseback pointed a pistol at Alexander and stole his money. Later, French soldiers robbed him of his watch and most of his clothing, and held him prisoner for ten days. During his captivity he consoled himself with the words of Saint John Chrysostom, who said that the worst sufferings on earth are nothing compared to the least sufferings in hell.
After learning that there were Russian soldiers outside of Moscow, Alexander escaped on September 12 while it was raining. He found a group of Russians, including some of his relatives. They walked through forests and swamps by night, and hid from the French by day. Eventually, Alexander arrived at the home of some relatives in Rostov. Not knowing what had become of his brothers, he took a job similar to the one he had in Moscow.
Alexander loved to visit the Saint James Monastery in Rostov, where the relics of Saint Demetrius of Rostov (October 28) were enshrined. By the end of 1815, circumstances finally permitted him to withdraw from the world. First, however, he arranged for his older brother Basil to marry, choosing a suitable and pious bride for him.
At the end of 1815, Alexander went to Moscow to visit the various churches and monasteries. He prayed to the Most Holy Theotokos and to all the saints, asking that his intention to become a monk might be blessed. From Moscow, he traveled to Kaluga, and then to the Roslavl forests in Smolensk province where his brother Father Moses had been living for about five years.
Alexander consulted with his brother about his desire to enter the monastery at Sarov, and decided to remain with Father Moses until spring. He was made a novice on January 15, 1816. In the spring, Alexander decided he would remain a while longer. Several months later, he went with Father Moses on pilgrimage to Kiev. On their return trip the brothers stopped at several monasteries, conversing with many Elders about the spiritual life. Alexander was not inclined to enter any of them, however.
Back in the Roslavl forests, Alexander realized that he did not want to leave his brother. He had come only for a brief visit, but ended up staying with Father Moses for the next twenty-four years.
Despite the many illnesses of his childhood, Alexander was blessed with great physical strength, and devoted himself to seemingly impossible ascetic labors. The brothers would get up at midnight and read through the cycle of services without omissions, and so Alexander became familiar with the church Typikon. He copied out patristic texts by hand, and helped his brother compile extracts from various sources in order to provide a system of rules for the Christian life. Out of reverence for these spiritual books, the brothers remained standing when they read or copied them. Alexander spent so much time standing on his feet that he damaged his legs, which caused him pain for the rest of his life.
As the youngest member of the community, Alexander had to get up before the others in order to wake them. He chopped wood, carried water, worked in the vegetable garden, and still fulfilled his daily rule of prayer.
After a trial period of four years, Alexander was tonsured by Father Athanasius on February 2, 1820 and was given the name Anthony. He was also placed under the spiritual guidance of Father Moses.
In 1821 Bishop Philaret of Kaluga (later Metropolitan of Kiev) decided to establish a skete at Optina Monastery for experienced ascetics who wished to live in silence. He had met Father Moses at Optina in 1820 where they were introduced by Igumen Daniel. The bishop offered him the opportunity to move to his diocese and establish a skete at Optina, and Father Moses accepted.
On June 3, 1821 Father Moses left the Roslavl forests with Father Anthony, and the monks Hilarion and Sabbatius. The Elders Athanasius and Dorotheus decided to remain behind until the skete was completely ready. For the rest of his life Father Anthony would always remember his five years in the Roslavl forests with a special joy.
On June 6 Saint Anthony arrived at Optina with the other monks. The site they selected for the skete was 400 yards from the monastery’s eastern side. They cleared the land of trees and built a cell and a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Saint Moses was appointed igumen, and on August 24, 1823 Anthony was ordained as a deacon.
Saint Anthony was placed in charge of the skete when his brother was made Superior of Optina Monastery in 1825. For the next fourteen years the skete flourished under Anthony. Wise Elders and experienced ascetics were attracted to the hesychast skete by the fame of Father Moses. Saint Leonid (October 11) came from the Saint Anthony of Svir monastery with five of his disciples in 1829. Saint Macarius (September 7) came from Ploschansk monastery in 1834 at the invitation of Father Moses.
With the help of Father Leonid and Father Macarius, Father Moses and Father Anthony introduced the ancient monastic tradition of eldership at the skete and monastery. Saint Anthony was an example of obedience to others. Though he was Superior of the skete, he never made any decisions or gave any orders without the blessing of his own Elder, Father Moses.
At first, life in the skete was very difficult. There were not enough monks to do all the work, so Father Anthony carried his own water and firewood. He also worked on the grounds, cleared paths, took his turn serving in church, and greeted visitors. The hard work made him appreciate the simple food served in the trapeza. Sometimes a benefactor would donate wheat loaves for the brethren, but most days they ate black bread.
Father Anthony suffered from various afflictions throughout his life. His legs pained him because of his continual standing. He also had eye trouble, and even lost his sight for a brief time. In 1836, while hurrying to the monastery along a forest path for the midnight paschal service, Father Anthony stubbed his right foot on a tree stump. His legs were already sore from years of standing, and now they developed open sores.The inflammation in his legs prevented him from leaving his cell for six months.
He bore all these trials with patience and humility, believing that illness is sometimes given to us by God in order to heal the infirmities of the soul. When anything unpleasant happened to him, he remained meek and calm. He offered thanks to God because his sickness gave him more time for reading spiritual books for the benefit of his soul.
On November 30, 1839 Bishop Nicholas of Kaluga summoned Father Anthony, and appointed him as igumen of the Maloyaroslavets Monastery. He had hoped to remain at the skete for the rest of his lfe, but in spite of his sorrow at leaving Optina, he went obediently to his new assignment.
By the mercy of God, three Putilov brothers were now serving as igumens of monasteries: Moses at Optina, Anthony at Maloyaroslavets, and Isaiah at Sarov. Father Moses seemed to have the least difficulty in bearing the sorrows and labors of his office. The others sometimes found it difficult to fulfill their duties and provide for the needs of the monastery.
After five years in the forest and eighteen years at the skete, Father Anthony found life at Maloyaroslavets monastery like living in the midst of a noisy city. The monks did not share the same oneness of mind as the Optina monks. Besides this, Father Anthony was so ill that he was not able to observe what was going on in the monastery, and he had to issue his orders through others. After only a few days he became depressed at his situation. One night Saint Metrophanes of Voronezh (November 23) appeared to him in a dream and blessed him. He said, “You have been in Paradise and you know it. Now work, pray, and don’t be lazy.” From that time, Father Anthony felt himself to be under the saint’s special care.
Father Anthony zealously devoted himself to improving the spiritual life of the monastery, but he was not happy there. More than once he wrote to the bishop and asked to be allowed to retire. The bishop, however, would not hear of it. Father Anthony also wrote to Father Moses to express his sorrow and his desire to be relieved of his duties. Father Moses told him that he could not abandon his responsibilities, for that would insult the monastery, and would also grieve the bishop and Father Moses himself. He chastised his brother, saying that in seeking deliverance from his sorrows, Anthony was placing his own will in opposition to the will of God.
Father Anthony accepted the rebuke of Father Moses and learned to bear his cross with meekness, and to place all his trust in God. Finally, in 1853, Bishop Gregory of Kaluga relieved Father Anthony of his duties, and permitted him to retire to Optina.
Father Anthony arrived back at his beloved Optina on February 12, 1853, and was given a cell near Father Moses. Although he continued to suffer from physical ailments, he bore them with exemplary patience. He went to church for all the services, and took his meals with the brethren. Since he continued his prolonged standing, his legs became covered with sores. The writer I.V. Kieryevsky told Father Anthony that he fulfilled the words of Scripture: “Whom the Lord loves, He chastises” (Hebrews 12:6). Father Anthony retorted, “Many are the scourges of the sinner” (Psalm 31/32:10).
He never complained about his sufferings, even though they prevented him from leaving his cell for weeks at a time. If he could not be at the church services, he would read his rule of prayer in his cell at the very time the services were taking place.
Only those experienced in the spiritual life themselves could understand what spiritual gifts God had granted Father Anthony, which he tried to conceal from everyone. There is reason to believe that he saw visions, and attained great spiritual heights. When he was serving the Liturgy, his face seemed to radiate such grace that those who merely looked at him felt that their souls were transformed.
After services in the church and prayers in his cell, Father Anthony devoted himself to his favorite occupation—reading. He loved the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, and also enjoyed other books of a spiritual or historical nature. He gave over 2,000 of his books to the monastery library, and he had read every single one. He made notes on what he read, and also copied excerpts from books and magazines for the benefit of his spiritual children.
The Elder was blessed with a remarkable memory. Not only could he remember everything he had read for many years afterward, he also remembered who had visited him on a particular day, and what their conversation had been about.
Saint Anthony knew how to balance strictness with a certain amount of compassion for human weakness. He would not bless anyone to depart from the Church’s norms, however. He was very strict concerning spiritual matters in general, and especially the teachings and canons of the Church. He himself believed in the Church’s teachings and kept its precepts, and he required the same faith and obedience from his spiritual children.
Father Anthony’s retirement at Optina lasted for twelve years. When Father Moses reposed in 1862, Father Anthony was stricken with grief. For the first forty days he secluded himself in his cell, constantly reading the Psalter for his newly-departed brother. For about a year, he avoided people as much as he could, and prayed for Father Moses. He refused to speak to anyone about the hidden spiritual life of Father Moses, but he did reveal to a few people that he remained in spiritual contact with his brother even after his death.
In 1863, Father Anthony went on a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of the newly-glorified Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk (August 13) and Saint Metrophanes of Voronezh. He also visited several other monasteries, and some families who loved him. Upon returning to Optina, Father Anthony began to prepare for his departure from this world, and on March 9, 1865, at the age of seventy, he received the Great Schema.
On June 24, 1865, the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist and the Skete’s Feast Day, Igumen Anthony attended Liturgy in the skete church for the last time. He was growing weaker day by day, and in July he began to suffer from typhoid fever. As a result, he was able to sleep only for brief periods.Still, he continued to receive visitors, giving advice and instructions, and revealing to some that he was about to die.
The Elder received Holy Unction on July 21 and received Holy Communion every day. In his last days he asked to be sprinkled with holy water from Theophany, and requested that his bed and his room also be sprinkled. This brought him great comfort. He said, “How necessary is this sprinkling. The grace of God is present.”
Saint Anthony was not afraid of death, but awaited it in a spirit of joy and peace, surrendering himself to the will of God. He asked that his schema and the other garments in which he wanted to be buried be laid out and ready. He also started distributing his belongings to others as a remembrance.
After Liturgy on August 6, some of the brethren came to his cell to sing the troparion and kontakion for the Transfiguration. The next day he asked to be clothed in the full garb of a schemamonk. Due to his weakness, however, this could not be done. They placed the schema over him, and that satisfied him.
That evening Saint Anthony asked to see the Superior, and sought his blessing for his final journey. Father Isaac blessed him and took leave of him. Then the Elder asked Father Isaac to ring the bell three times. In monasteries this is normally done after someone has died, so his request seemed rather unusual. However, in 1863 Saint Anthony had compiled a collection of prayers for those who were incurably ill, with prayers for the departed. In this collection he stipulated that the bell be rung three or more times “to announce to the brethren that the sick brother is departing” so that they might pray for him.
The Canon for the Departure of a Soul was read for him, and when it was completed he lay silent for a while. Suddenly he looked to the right and to the left in a threatening manner, and even raised his left fist. Those present became fearful, for they believed that he saw something which their eyes could not see. Perhaps they recalled that many of the saints had seen demons just before they died. One of the spiritual Fathers of the monastery blessed him three times with a hand cross. The holy Elder sighed three times, then departed to the Lord.
The funeral took place on August 10, and was attended by many people. Although Saint Anthony wanted to be buried in the new cemetery, the Archishop ordered that he be buried next to his brother Saint Moses in the side altar of the monastery’s Cathedral (katholikon).
The Moscow Patriarchate authorized local veneration of the Optina Elders on June 13,1996. The work of uncovering the relics of Saints Leonid, Macarius, Hilarion, Ambrose, Anatole I, Barsanuphius and Anatole II began on June 24/July 7, 1998 and was concluded the next day. However, because of the church Feasts (Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, etc.) associated with the actual dates of the uncovering of the relics, Patriarch Alexey II designated June 27/July 10 as the date for commemorating this event. The relics of the holy Elders now rest in the new church of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.
The Optina Elders were glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate for universal veneration on August 7, 2000.
Saint Theodora of Sihla
Saint Theodora of Sihla, who is one of the greatest of Romania’s women ascetics, was born in the village of Vânatori in Neamts County in the first half of the seventeenth century, and was one of the two daughters of Stephen Joldea and his wife.
In her youth, Saint Theodora experienced a great trial in her family. Her sister, Marghiolitsa, died in a tragic way. This event deeply affected the saint. At this time, the thought of abandoning the world blossomed in her heart. She wished to do penance for her parents, for her sister, and for herself. Her grieving parents, however, did not agree with her decision, because now Theodora was their only child. They pleaded with her, and, at the proper time, they married her to a young man who was working in their vicinity, and who went frequently to venerate the holy sites. After entering into a lawful marriage, they lived together in her husband’s house.
Since Saint Theodora and her husband did not have any children, they both decided to enter monasteries in the Buzau valley. Her husband went to the Skete of Poiana Mărului, where he was tonsured with the name Eleutherios. He was also found worthy of ordination to the holy priesthood. Saint Theodora also received the monastic tonsure in the Skete of Poiana Mărului. In just a few short years, she advanced in obedience, prayer, and asceticism, acquiring the grace of unceasing prayer of the heart. She also had to endure many temptations from the Enemy.
When the Buzau valley was invaded by the Turks, Saint Theodora fled to the mountains with her Spiritual Mother, Schema-nun Paisia. They lived for several years in fasting, vigil and prayer, enduring cold, hunger, and other trials from the devil. When her Spiritual Mother fell asleep in the Lord (sometime between 1670 – 1675), Saint Theodora was led by God to the mountains of Neamț. After venerating the wonderworking Neamts Icon of the Mother of God (June 26) at the monastery, she was told to seek the advice of Hieromonk Barsanuphios of Sihăstria Skete. Seeing her desire for the eremetical life, and recognizing her great virtues, he gave her Holy Communion and assigned Hieromonk Paul as her Father Confessor and spiritual guide.
Father Barsanuphios advised Mother Theodora to go and live alone in the wilderness for a year. “If, by the grace of Christ, you are able to endure the difficulties and trials of the wilderness, then remain there until you die. If you cannot endure, however, then go to a women’s monastery, and struggle there in humility for the salvation of your soul.”
Father Paul searched in vain for an abandoned hermitage where the saint might live. Then they met an old hermit living beneath the cliffs of Sihla. This clairvoyant Elder greeted them and said, “Mother Theodora, remain in my cell, because I am moving to another hermitage.”
Father Paul left the nun on Mount Sihla, blessing her before he returned to the Sihăstria Skete. Saint Theodora lived in that cell for thirty years, glorifying God. Strengthened with power from on high, she vanquished all the attacks of the Enemy through patience and humility. She never left the mountain, and never saw another person except for Father Paul, who visited her from time to time to bring her the Spotless Mysteries of Christ and the supplies she needed in order to survive.
Saint Theodora made such progress in asceticism that she was able to keep vigil all night long with her arms lifted up toward heaven. When the morning sun touched her face, she would eat some herbs and other vegetation to break her fast. She drank the rain water which she collected from a channel cut into the cliff, which is still known as Saint Theodora’s spring. After Father Paul’s repose, she remained solely in God’s care.
When Turks attacked the villages and monasteries around Neamts, the woods became filled with people from nearby villages and refugees from the monasteries. Some nuns discovered Saint Theodora’s cell and she told them, “Remain here in my cell, for I have another place of refuge.” Then she moved into a nearby cave, living there completely alone. At night she would rest a little on the flagstones, which still can be seen to this day. An army of Turks discovered the cave, and were about to kill the saint. Lifting up her hands, she cried out, “O Lord, deliver me from the hands of these murderers.” The wall of the cave opened up, and she was able to escape into the woods.
As Saint Theodora grew old, she was completely forgotten and there was no one to care for her. Placing all her hope in God, she continued her spiritual struggles, and reached great heights of perfection. When she prayed her mind was raised up to Heaven, and her body was lifted up off the ground. Like the great saints of earlier times, her face shone with a radiant light, and a flame came forth from her mouth when she prayed.
Eventually her clothes became mere rags, and when her food ran out, she was fed by birds just as the Prophet Elias (July 20) was. The bread that they brought to her came from the Sihăstria Skete. Seeing the birds come to the Skete and then fly away with pieces of bread in their beaks, the Hegumen sent two monks to follow them, thinking that some ascetic was living there and that God was providing food for him. Night fell as they walked toward Sihla, and they lost their way in the woods. They decided to wait for daylight, and so they began to pray. One of them climbed a tree and looked for a place where someone might be living. Suddenly, they saw a bright light rising up into the sky, and went to investigate. As they approached, they saw a woman shining with light and levitating above the ground while she prayed.
Sensing their presence, Saint Theodora said, “Brethren, do not be afraid, for I am a humble handmaiden of Christ. Throw me something to wear, for I am naked.’ The monks were amazed when she addressed them by name. Then she prayed: “I thank Thee, O Lord, that Thou hast heard me.” She said to the monks, “Brothers, I have lived for many years in these parts, and, behold, it has been forty days since I prayed for God to send me a Confessor to come and impart unto me the Holy Mysteries of our Lord Jesus Christ, because it is almost time for me to depart from this life. So, please, go straight to the Skete and ask Father Hegumen to send Father Anthony and Hierodeacon Laurence to me tomorrow morning with Holy Communion.”
They asked her how they could find their way to the Skete at night, for they did not know the way. She said that they would be guided to the Skete by a light which would go before them.
The next day at dawn, Father Anthony went to Sihla with the deacon and two other monks. When they found Saint Theodora, she was praying by a fir tree in front of her cave. She made a Confession of her entire life to Father Anthony, and then she received the Holy Mysteries of Christ and gave her soul to God. Her last words were, “Glory to God for all things.’ The monks buried Saint Theodora in her cave with great reverence sometime during the first decade of the eighteenth century.
News of her death spread quickly, and people came from all over to venerate her tomb. Her holy relics remained incorrupt, and many miracles took place before them. Some kissed the relics; others touched the reliquary, while others washed in her spring. All who entreated Saint Theodora’s intercession received healing and consolation.
Saint Theodore’s former husband, Hieromonk Eleutherios, heard that she had been living at Sihla, and decided to go there. He found her cave shortly after her death and burial. Grieving for his beloved wife, Eleutherios did not return to his monastery, but made a small cell for himself below the cliffs of Sihla. He remained close to her cave, fasting, praying, and serving the Divine Liturgy. He lived there for about ten years before his blessed repose. He was buried in the hermits’ cemetery and the Skete of Saint John the Baptist was built over his grave.
Saint Theodora’s relics were taken to the Kiev Caves Monastery between 1828 and 1834. There she is known as Saint Theodora of the Carpathians. Our Venerable Mother Theodora was glorified by the Romanian Orthodox Church on June 20, 1992.
The inscription of Saint Theodora’s scroll reads: “Life is blessed for those in the wilderness as they fly upon the wings of Divine love” (Sunday Matins, Hymn of Degrees, first Antiphon).
Saint Nicanor, Wonderworker of Mount Calistratus
No information available at this time.
Saint Theodosius the New, Healer of Peloponnesus
No information available at this time.
Holy Мartyr Mercurius of Smolensk
When the hordes of Batu Khan approached Smolensk in 1238, in the service of the Prince of Smolensk was a Roman soldier from a noble Orthodox family, who was Orthodox himself. His name was Mercurius. He was tall, courageous, and strong. It saddened him to see the destruction of so many churches, and he wished to lay down his life for Christ.
One day, during evening prayers in the temple before the wonderworking Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God, the sacristan of the Cathedral heard a voice say, "Go to my servant Mercurius at Podol and quietly say to him: 'Mercurius, the Sovereign Lady is calling you. Go and meet the enemy in your military armor.'
The sacristan went to his house and found Mercurius in the yard, praying in his armor. He had a miraculous premonition, and was waiting for him. The sacristan said, "Mercurius, go at once. The Sovereign Lady is calling you."
They entered the cathedral, and Mercurius made a prostration. Once again, a voice came from the Icon: "My servant, Mercurius, I am sending you to drive the enemy from this city, and to defend this temple. It is for this reason that I have called you from your country. Tonight the enemy has plotted in secret to attack the city, and to destroy it. However, I shall not leave this city; by my prayers, it shall not fall into the hands of its enemies. Go at once to the place called Dolgomoste. An armed host of evil enemies is waiting there. Do not worry; you shall defeat the enemy Voevod. I shall not abandon you. You shall defeat the enemy in battle and obtain a crown of victory from God, and eternal blessedness."
Dolgomoste was 14 versts from Smolensk. There was an enemy force, ready to attack the city in the morning. As he left the cathedral, Mercurius quietly and discreetly passed by the city guards, and with the words, "Most Holy Theotokos help me," he rushed at the enemy. The first soldier was a giant who was proud of his strength, and he was followed by others. The Tatars ran when they saw a radiant Woman, and lightning-fast warriors, who struck them, and so they retreated permanently from the boundaries of Smolensk. Saint Mercurius, however, died in battle, and his head had been cut off.
The next morning, the citizens were surprised to see that the entire field was littered with enemy corpses. They found the body of their protector and buried it in the cathedral church. They hung his armor above his coffin, in accordance with his final wishes, as expressed by the sacristan.
The relics of Saint Mercurius rest in the cathedral church, which is dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God.
Saint Mercurius is also commemorated on November 24, the day of his patron Saint, the Great Martyr Mercurius, and on the Sunday before July 15 (Synaxis of the Smolensk Saints).