13TH WEDNESDAY AFTER PENTECOST
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
The Forefeast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, Sozon the Martyr, Kassiani the Hymnographer, John and Sergios, Bishops of Lerna, Daniel Katounakiotis of Smyrna, Euodos and Onesiphoros, Apostles of the 70, John the Wonderworker of Novgorod
ST. PAUL’S SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 9:12-15; 10:1-7
Brethren, the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others; while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold to you when I am away! – I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of acting in worldly fashion. For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
Look at what is before your eyes. If any one is confident that he is Christ's, let him remind himself that as he is Christ's, so are we.
At that time, Jesus came to a home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, "He is beside himself." And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.
The first lesson at Great Vespers (Genesis 28:10-17) describes Jacob’s dream of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, and the angels ascending and descending upon it. The second lesson (Ezekiel 43:27-44:4) speaks of the gate of the sanctuary which faces east. God enters through this gate, which is shut so that no one else can enter by it. The third reading (Proverbs 9:1-11) talks about the house that Wisdom has built.
These readings are interpreted as prefiguring the Mother of God.
Saint Sozon lived in the late III century. He was from Lykaonia in Cilicia, and originally his name was Tarasios. When he became a Christian, he was baptized and received the name Sozon. A shepherd by profession, he tried to imitate the meekness of the sheep, at which he marveled. “I am ashamed,” he said, “that I am inferior to sheep.”
He studied the Holy Scriptures attentively, and he also guided Christ‘s rational sheep to good pastures. One day, while watering his flock at a spring, Sozon fell asleep under an oak tree, where he had a vision which foretold his impending martyrdom for Christ. He was also informed that the spring would become a source of blessing and of healing for many, since it would be sanctified by God‘s grace. When he awakened, he entrusted his flock to another shepherd and journeyed to Pompeiopolis in Cilicia. Seeing what impiety there was in that city, his heart was profoundly grieved.
Entering one of the temples of the idolaters, he beheld a golden statue representing a pagan “god.” Then, with great courage, he broke off the statue‘s right hand with his shepherd‘s crook and smashed it into tiny pieces, which he distributed to the poor. This caused a great uproar in the city. Maximian, the governor of Cilicia, became very angry, and a search was made to find the culprit. Many innocent people were arrested and tortured in an attempt to force a confession from them.
When Saint Sozon heard about this, he could not permit others to suffer for something he had done. Therefore, he presented himself before the governor and responded to his threats in a calm manner, saying that the statue was not doing anyone much good inside the temple, and so he used the gold for the benefit of the poor.
Maximian asked the Saint how he dared to dishonor their “god” in such a way. Sozon replied, “I did this so that you might know that your ‘god’ is powerless. When I struck off his hand, he did not protest or make any attempt to stop me, nor did he cry out with pain. How could he? Your idol is deaf and dumb and without breath. It cannot see, hear, speak, or defend itself. If your ‘god’ was real, I would not have been permitted to break it.”
When Maximian heard these words, he ordered that Saint Sozon be tortured without mercy. He was suspended and his body was raked with iron claws. Then iron boots were nailed to the soles of his feet, and he was paraded through the city. Throughout his torments, he never ceased to glorify the Savior Christ. Once again he was suspended from a tree and beaten with iron rods, so that his body was mangled and his bones were broken. Amid such torture, the Saint surrendered his soul to God in the year 304.
Seeing that he was dead, the soldiers took him down from the tree and built a large fire to burn his body so that the Christians would not be able to claim it and venerate it. Suddenly, there was thunder and lightning, rain and hail, which put out the fire. The pagans fled in fear, and the holy relics were not damaged. The faithful came at midnight, when it was very dark. They were troubled because they could not find the relics, but a light from Heaven shone upon Christ‘s holy martyr to guide them. Gathering the Saint‘s relics, the Christians gave them an honorable burial.
Many miracles took place at the tomb, and also at the spring where the Saint had his vision under the oak tree. Later, a church was built by the spring, and was dedicated to Saint Sozon. In that holy place praise was offered to the one true God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to Whom be glory throughout all the ages. Amen.
Saint John, Archbishop of Novgorod, was born at Novgorod of the pious parents Nicholas and Christina. He passed his childhood in quiet and peaceful surroundings.
After the death of their parents, John and his brother Gabriel decided to establish a small monastery in honor of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos with their inheritance.
At first they built a wooden church, but a short time later they also built a stone church. Their good intentions were not without difficulties. Before they finished construction on the stone temple, the brothers totally exhausted their means. Only their steadfast and living faith inspired them to continue what they had started. They turned for help with it to the Queen of Heaven, on Whose account this God-pleasing matter was begun.
Because of their unflagging faith and zeal, She manifested Her mercy to them. She told them in a dream that everything necessary for the completion of the temple would be provided. On the following morning, the brothers saw a splendid horse loaded with two sacks of gold. No one came for it, and when the brothers removed the sacks, the horse vanished. Thus did the Mother of God provide for the monastery.
Upon completion of the monastery construction, under the protection of the Mother of God, the brothers were clothed in the monastic schema. Saint John took the name of Elias, and Saint Gabriel took the name Gregory.
The chronicles speak of Saint John being made bishop under the entries for the year 1162. His first archpastoral letter was addressed to the clergy of his diocese. It was filled with an endearing concern about his flock, written in a spirit of fatherly guidance: “It has pleased God and the Most Holy Theotokos, through your prayers, that I, a mere man, should not refuse this high office, of which I am unworthy. Since you yourselves have encouraged me to this service, now listen to me …”
The saint spoke about the vocation of the pastor. He is concerned about his sheep, he not only chastizes, but also heals those who lead a sinful life. “At the beginning of my discourse I ask you not to be too much attached to this world, but rather be instructive to people. Look first of all, that they not give themselves over to drunkenness. You yourselves know, that through this vice most of all, not only do the simple people perish, but we also. When your spiritual children come to you in repentance, then question them with mildness. It is not seemly to impose harsh penances.Do not scorn the reading of books, since if we do not start doing this, then what will distinguish us from the simple unschooled people? … Do not impose penances upon orphans…. Let everything be seemly, for the yoke of Christ ought to be light.”
In the year 1165 Saint John was elevated to archbishop (from that time the Novgorod cathedra became an archbishopric).
The winter of 1170 was a very difficult time for Novgorod. Suzdal forces with their allies laid siege to the city for two days, since the Novgorod people would not accept Prince Svyatoslav. They also took the tribute-tax of the Dvina district which was not subject to them.
In grief the people of Novgorod prayed to God and the Most Holy Theotokos for the salvation of the city. On the third night, while he was praying before an icon of the Savior, Saint John heard a voice ordering him to go to the church of the Savior on Il’ina street, to take the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos and carry it out to the walls of the city.
In the morning the saint told the people about the command and sent his deacon with clergy to the church of the Savior for the icon. Going into the church, the archdeacon bowed down before the icon and wanted to take it, but the icon would not budge. The archdeacon returned to the archbishop and told him what had happened.
Then the saint with all the assembly went to the Il’ina church and on their knees began to pray before the icon. They began to sing a Molieben, and after the Sixth Ode at the kontakion “Protectress of Christians,” the icon itself moved from the place. The people with tears cried out: “Lord, have mercy!”
Then Saint John took the icon and together with two deacons carried it to the city walls. The Novgorodian people saw their doom, for the Suzdal forces and their allies were ready for pillage. In the sixth hour the assault began, and the arrows fell like rain. Then the icon turned its visage towards the city, and tears trickled down from the eyes of the Most Holy Theotokos, which the saint gathered on his phelonion.
A darkness covered the Suzdal forces, they became unable to see and they fell back in terror. This occurred on February 25, 1170. Saint John established a solemn feastday for Novgorod, the Sign of the Most Holy Theotokos (November 27).
The Suzdal army inflicted great harm on the Novgorod region. Here also the archpastor did not remain on the sidelines. He showed fatherly concern for devastated households suffering hunger, and he distributed aid to orphans. Just like other Russian hierarchs, he calmed and soothed the internecine strife in much-suffering Rus by his prayers and his virtue. In 1172, the archpastor journeyed to Vladimir to reconcile Prince Andrew Bogoliubsky with the Novgorod people.
The saint not only shared in the adversity of his people, but most of all he concerned himself with their spiritual enlightenment. Saint John devoted much attention to spiritual conversations, which often occurred in the circle of the clergy and the laypeople. There are preserved about 30 of his instructions concerning Baptism, Confession, the Holy Eucharist.
His Guidance for Monks is filled with spiritual grandeur: “Once having followed after Christ, monks as actualisers of spiritual life by the Cross ought to live in solitary places, separate from worldly folk. Let them steal nothing for themselves, and let them be wholly dedicated to God. A monk ought always to be a monk, at every time and at every place, both in asleep and awake he should preserve the memory of death, and be fleshless in the flesh.”
“Not for everyone does the monastery serve as a therapy for sensual love, just as silence is for anger, and non-acquisitiveness is for money, and the tomb is for avarice. Monastic life and worldly life are incompatible, just as one would not harness a camel and horse together. The monk bends his neck beneath the yoke of the Creator and ought to pull the plow in the valley of humility, in order to multiply the fine wheat by the warmth of the Life-giving Spirit and to sow the seeds of the reason of God. The black-robed is not his own master; being like gods, take care not to rot in likeness to people, nor fall from the heights like Lucifer… for haughty pride comes from human glory.”
The saint’s spiritual powers of grace were unusual. For his simplicity of soul and purity of heart God gave him power against demons. Once, when the saint prayed by night, as was his custom, he heard something splashing the water in the washbasin. Seeing that there was no one beside him, the saint realized that this was a demon trying to scare him.
The saint made the Sign of the Cross over the washbasin and restrained the devil. Soon the evil spirit could no longer bear the prayer of the saint, which scorched it like fire, and it began to beg to be released from the washbasin. The saint was agreeable, but ordered the demon to carry him from Novgorod to Jerusalem to the Sepulchre of the Lord and back, all in one night. The demon fulfilled the saint’s command, but asked him to tell no one about his shame.
In one of his conversations, the saint told his flock that he knew a man who visited the Holy Land in one night. The revenge of the evil spirit was not slow in coming. It began to scatter women’s things in his cell. Once, when people had gathered in Saint John’s cell, the devil transformed himself into a woman who ran in front of them as if fleeing from the cell.
The saint heard the racket and gently asked, “What has happened, my children, what is the noise all about?” The unruly crowd, shouting various charges of perverse life against the saint, dragged him to the River Volkhov. They put the saint on a raft and released it down along the current of the river. But the raft, contrary to expectation, sailed against the current straight to the Saint George men’s monastery, three versts from Novgorod.
Seeing this, people were ashamed and with weeping and shouts they went along the riverbank after the raft, beseeching the saint to forgive them and to return to the city. The heart of the simple archpastor was filled with joy, not only for himself, but for his flock: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” he prayed, and granted pardon to all.
This happened not long before the death of the saint. Sensing its approach, he put off the hierarch’s omophor and took the schema with the name John, the same name he had in his youth. He appointed his brother, Saint Gregory (May 24) as his successor. The saint died on September 7, 1186 and was buried in the church of Holy Wisdom.
In 1439, repairs were being made at the cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) through the zeal of Saint Euthymius; in the portico chapel of Saint John the Forerunner, a stone suddenly came loose and cracked the lid of the tomb standing there. Saint Euthymius gave orders to lift off the boards broken by the stone, and the temple was filled with fragrance.
In the tomb they beheld the incorrupt relics of the saint, but no one was able to identify who this archpastor was. In his cell, Saint Euthymius fervently began to pray for God to reveal to him the name of this saint.
That night a man appeared before him, clothed in the vestments of a hierarch, and said that he was Archbishop John, who was found worthy to serve the miracle of the Most Holy Theotokos in honor of Her Sign.
“I proclaim to you the will of God,” continued the saint, “to celebrate the memory of the archbishops and princes lying here, on October 4, and I shall pray Christ for all Christians.” His memory is also celebrated at the Synaxis of Novgorod hierarchs on February 10. In 1630, a feastday was also established for December 1.
Saint Serapion of Pskov was born at Yuriev (now Tartu), which then was under the rule of Germans, who sought to stamp out Orthodoxy. His parents were parishioners of a Russian church in the name of Saint Nicholas.
Saint Serapion was well versed in the Holy Scripture, and more than once he entered into the defense of Orthodoxy. When they wanted to convert him by force to the foreign faith, he departed to the Tolvsk wilderness, not far from Pskov, where the Pskov ascetic monk Euphrosynus (May 15) began his prayerful work.
Under his nurturing, Saint Serapion began to acquire the wisdom of wilderness life. But soon he happened to undergo temptations. Without a blessing, he wanted to leave his guide and to live an ascetic life in complete solitude. But the Lord brought the inexperienced novice to his senses: after he seriously hurt his leg, he repented of his self-will and disobedience and returned to the Elder.
After he received the Great Schema, he dwelt constantly with Saint Euphrosynus for 55 years, strictly keeping the vow of silence. Brethren began gradually to gather around Saint Euphrosynus, for which the Elder built a temple in the name of the Three Hierarchs and gave a skete rule.
Saint Serapion zealously fulfilled everything commanded of him and was a role model for the monks. The monk so strictly fulfilled the monastic vow of uncovetousness, that a copyist of his life called him “an unburied corpse.” He bore every insult with extraordinary humility, always blaming himself alone, and he himself asked forgiveness of his insulter. The monk deeply sensed the power of communal prayers and he said that “the order of the twelve Psalms” sung alone in the cell cannot equal one “Lord, have mercy” sung in church.
Saint Serapion died on September 8, 1480, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. Since the day of repose of Saint Serapion coincides with one of the twelve Great Feasts, his commemoration is on September 7. A Troparion and Kontakion were composed for the saint.
Saint Euphrosynus himself committed the body of his disciple to the earth. By his fervent deeds he had transformed himself into mere “bones, covered by skin.” Saint Serapion was not separated from his spiritual Father even after death: their holy relics were placed beside each other. A common service was composed to Saints Euphrosynus and Serapion (15 May), wherein Saint Serapion is glorified as the first co-ascetic, “companion and friend” of Saint Euphrosynus.
The Hieromartyr Macarius of Kanev lived in the seventeenth century. This was a most terrible time for Orthodox Christians in western Rus. The constant struggles of the Hieromartyr, were an attempt to defend the Orthodox Faith under difficult conditions, when it was possible only to defend the future of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was preserved from the brusque passing of the hurricane of the Unia, endured together with Tatar incursions.
The holy Hieromartyr Macarius was born in 1605 in the city of Ovruch in Volhynia into the illustrious Tokarevsky family, renowned adherents of Orthodoxy. In the years between 1614-1620 the saint studied at the Ovruch Dormition monastery, and upon the death of his parents he became a monk at this monastery, having begun his service as a novice.
In 1625 Saint Macarius, with the blessing of the archimandrite, left the Dormition monastery and was sent to the Pinsk bishop, Avramii, who assigned him to the Pinsk Kupyatichsk monastery. In 1630 he was ordained as hierodeacon, and in 1632 as hieromonk.
Fame about the excellence of the monastic life of the hieromonk Macarius spread beyond the bounds of the Kupyatichsk monastery, and in 1637 the brethren of the Bretsk Symonov monastery turned with a request to the igumen of the Kupyatichsk monastery, Hilarion (Denisevich), to send them Saint Macarius to be their head. But the Kupyatichsk igumen also had need of the hieromonk Macarius.
In 1637 the head of the Kupyatichsk monastery sent him to Metropolitan Peter Moghila of Kiev to hand over money collected by the brethren for the rebuilding of Kiev’s church of the Holy Wisdom, and for the solicitation of help for the construction and repair of damaged monastery churches. Seeing in the hieromonk Macarius a talented son of God’s Church, the Metropolitan issued him a certificate to collect offerings, and in 1638 appointed him head of the Kamenetsk Resurrection monastery (in Grodnensk district).
Until the pillaging and seizing of the monastery by the Uniates in 1642, Saint Macarius guided the brethren of the Resurrection monastery. In these harsh times the brethren of the Kupyatichsk monastery elected Saint Macarius as igumen, who led the monastery until 1656. From 1656 through 1659, Saint Macarius headed the Pinsk monastery, and from 1660 as archimandrite Saint Macarius guided the brethren of his original Ovruch Dormition monastery.
More than ten years passed in constant struggle with the Latin Poles in Ovruch. Nothing could compel the brethren to quit the monastery, neither the seizure of the farm lands belonging to the monastery by the Dominicans, nor the rapacious pillaging of moveable property, nor beatings. Only in the year 1671, after the devastation of Ovruch by the Tatars, did the holy archimandrite Macarius leave the monastery, in which there remained not a single monk, and he went to the Kiev Caves Lavra.
But the defenders of Orthodoxy, like Saint Macarius, were needed not only at Kiev, but even more outside of Kiev. Metropolitan Joseph (Neliubovich-Tukal’sky) assigned Archimandrite Macarius as head of the Kanev monastery. Thus, after thirty years of struggle with the Uniates, Saint Macarius was again on the front lines of battle for the Orthodox Faith.
In 1672 Yuri, the son of Bogdan Khmel’nitsky, sought shelter at the Kanev monastery. The hetman Doroshenko, petitioned Metropolitan Joseph for the assignment of Saint Macarius, and repeatedly visited Kanev monastery. In 1675, he switched his allegiance to Russia, after he renounced allegiance to the Turks, evidently, not without counsel from Saint Macarius.
In response the Turkish powers dispatched an army to Little Russia. On September 4, 1678, the aggressors rushed on the monastery. Saint Macarius met the enemy with cross in hand at the entrance to the church. The Turks demanded that the monk hand over to them the monastery treasury. Hearing the answer of the monk, that his treasure was in Heaven, the furious robbers hung the saint hand and foot between two posts.
After two days they beheaded the Hieromartyr on September 7, 1678. Witnesses to the martyric death of Archimandrite Macarius carried his body to the monastery church, in which they were hidden for safety. But the returning Turks placed firewood around the church and burned everything in the temple. When the surviving citizens of Kanev began removing the bodies of those who perished, then only one body was found whole and as though alive. This was the body of the Hieromartyr Macarius, attired in hairshirt, with a cross on his breast and another cross in his hand. The holy body was buried in this temple beneath the altar on September 8, 1678.
The holy Hieromartyr Macarius was a man of highly righteous and spiritual life, glorified while still alive by miracles and the gift of clairvoyance. At Kanev, he healed the blind and the dying.
In 1688, during renovation of the temple, the grave of the Hieromartyr was opened, and the incorrupt body of the saint was found. In connection with the danger of invasion for the Kanev monastery, on May 13, 1688 the holy relics were solemnly transferred to the Pereyaslavl regimental Resurrection church. There also they transferred the beloved book of the Hieromartyr, “Discourse of John Chrysostom on the 14 Epistles of the holy Apostle Paul” (Kiev edition 1621-23) with his signature on one of the pageleafs. Under Bishop Zachariah (Cornelovich) the relics were transferred in 1713 to a new-built temple of the Pereyaslavl Mikhailovsk monastery, and after its closing the relics rested at the Pereyaslavl Resurrection monastery from August 4, 1786.
In 1942, the relics were transferred to the Trinity church in the city of Cherkassa, and from 1965 they have been in the church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in that same city.
The commemoration of the Hieromartyr Macarius is made twice: September 7, the day of his repose, and on May 13, the transfer of his holy relics.
The Holy Apostle Evodius of the Seventy was, after the holy Apostle Peter, the first bishop in Syrian Antioch. His successor, the Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer (December 20), disciple of the holy Apostle John the Theologian, mentions him in his Letter to the Antiochians: “Remember your blessed father Evodus, who was made your first pastor by the Apostles.”
Saint Evodius served as bishop for 27 years and died as a martyr under the emperor Nero (54-68). Saint Evodus wrote several compositions. In one of them he writes that the Most Holy Virgin Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world at the age of fifteen.
Other writings of the saint have not survived. A book entitled THE STAR is mentioned by the fourteenth century church historian Nikēphóros Callistus. Saint Evodus received the crown of martyrdom in the year 66.
The Holy Apostle Onesiphorus of the Seventy Saint Paul writes of him: “God grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my bonds. When he was at Rome, he searched for me with great diligence, and found me. May the Lord grant him to find the mercy of the Lord on that day; and you know how much he served me at Ephesus.” (2 Tim 1:16-18).
Saint Onesiphorus was bishop at Colophon (Asia Minor), and later at Corinth. He died a martyr in the city of Parium (not far from Ephesus) on the shores of the Hellespont, where he had gone to proclaim Christ among the local pagans.
The Holy Martyr Eupsychius was born in Caesaria, Cappadocia. In one of the Synaxaria he is called the son of a senator Dionysius. During a time of a persecution against Christians under Hadrian, he was arrested and tortured. After the torture they threw him into prison, where he was healed of his wounds by an angel.
When they set the martyr free, he distributed all his property to the poor. He gave away a certain portion even to his enemies, who had reported him and given him over to torture. Under a new governor, Saint Eupsychius was again arrested. They hung him up and cut his body with iron hooks, and then they cut off his head with a sword. The martyr died under the emperor Hadrian (117-138).
Saint Luke was a monk at the Deep Stream (Βαθέος Ρύακος) Monastery near Triglia, Lykaonia (in Asia Minor), and later became its third Igoumen, He reposed there in peace at the end of the X century.
The Monastery, dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ. was famed for the strictness of the ascetic life of its monks. The first Igoumen and founder of the monastery was Saint Basil (July 1), and the second was Saint Ignatius (+ September 27, 970).1
According to the Hagiologion of Metropolitan Sophronios Eustratiadou, Saint Luke is commemorated on September 7. Only Saint Νikόdēmos of the Holy Mountain (July 14) lists his commemoration on December 27.
1 Some sources list Saint Peter (September 7) as the second Igoumen.
Saint Cloud was born in 520. When his father was killed in battle in 524 he and his brothers were brought up by their grandmother Saint Clotilde (June 3). His brothers were murdered by their uncles Childebert and Clotaire to prevent them from succeeding to the Frankish throne. Saint Cloud escaped and lived as a hermit, renouncing any claim to the throne.
Later, Saint Cloud was ordained to the holy priesthood, and lived a life of virtue and good works. He died around 560.
The future Saint Macarius was born in 1788 into the noble Ivanov family, and was baptized with the name Michael in honor of Saint Michael of Tver (November 22). His parents Nicholas and Elizabeth had an estate in the village of Shepyatino in the Dimitrov district in the Orel province. They also owned property in other provinces, including the village of Zhelezniki in Orel Province where they lived. The Ivanovs moved to Moscow in 1794 so Elizabeth could receive medical treatment for tuberculosis.
Michael’s beloved mother died on January 21, 1797, and was buried in the Saint Andronicus monastery. The nine-year-old Michael moved to the village of Karachev to live with his sister Daria and her husband Simeon Peredelsky, who had been elected to the District Court of Karachev. Michael received his primary education there in the local parish school.
Around 1801, Michael and his two brothers moved into the house of his aunt Anna M. Verevkina, where they were educated along with her own son. In 1802, when he was fourteen, Michael and his brother Alexis were hired as assistant bookkeepers in the District Treasury of Lgov. Although the job was difficult, Michael carried out his duties with precision and care that he attracted the attention of the provincial authorities.
In 1805 Michael was appointed as head of the Financial Board (Treasury) in Kursk. When he was not working, he liked to spend his time reading or playing the violin. Michael’s father died on March 17, 1806 after a long illness, and was buried near the parish church at Turischev.
Michael visited the Ploschansk Hermitage, twenty-four miles from his family’s estate in Schepyatino, in October of 1810. From there he wrote to his brothers saying that he was leaving the estate to them, for he intended to remain at the hermitage. His only condition was that they donate 1000 rubles to build a stone church at Turischev where their father was buried.
Those closest to Michael never knew whether his visit to Ploschansk was accidental or premeditated. He did seem inclined to the monastic life, but perhaps he did not make a final decision to become a monk until he had observed the monastic life at Ploschansk.
Michael entered the Ploschansk Hermitage of the Theotokos at the age of twenty-two. It had no large buildings, no great wealth, and was far from populated areas. Perhaps he was attracted by the unpretentiously humble circumstances of the place. There were fifty monks at the Hermitage, led by Hieromonk Joannicus.
Michael was enrolled as a novice a month after arriving at Ploschansk, and was tonsured as a rassophore on December 24, 1810 with the name Melchizedek. He did not mind the privation and hard work at the Hermitage, but there were no Elders there capable of offering spiritual guidance.
Hearing that Elders of lofty spiritual life were living in the forests of Bryansk, and in the monasteries of the Orel and Kursk dioceses, Father Melchizedek longed to meet them and profit from their teaching. However, the opportunity did not arise for some time.
In 1814, he went on pilgrimage to Kiev, where he venerated the relics of various saints. On the way back, he met some experienced Elders and was able to converse with them.
Father Paul, who came from a family of Rostov merchants, and who was tonsured on Mount Athos, became the new Superior of Ploschansk in 1815. He noticed Father Melchizedek’s zeal for the monastic life, and for fulfilling his obediences. On March 7, 1815 Father Paul tonsured him as a monk with the new name Macarius. A few days later, on March 12, Bishop Dositheus of Orel and Sevsk ordained Father Macarius as a hierodeacon.
Schemamonk Athanasius (Zakharov), a disciple of Saint Paisius Velichkovsky (November 15) was visiting Ploschansk in 1815. He had lived at White Bluff Monastery and Florischev Hermitage in the Vladimir Province. While at Ploschansk, Father Athanasius fell off a bench and dislocated a joint in his leg. He went to Cholnsk Monastery in 1816 and partially recovered, but he could no longer walk without a crutch. In 1817 he returned to Ploschansk, and Father Macarius moved to his cell to take care of him.
Elder Athanasius had a great influence on the spiritual development of Father Macarius, who revered him as his Father and teacher. For seven years he had lived in the Neamts Monastery, where he was tonsured by Saint Paisius Velichkovsky. Father Athanasius finished the course of his earthly life on October 17, 1825, and died in the arms of Father Macarius. He had lived at Ploschansk for ten years, and Father Macarius derived much benefit from his Elder’s example.
Father Athanasius had copies of the translations of the ascetical Fathers made by Saint Paisius, and he himself had translated the Life of Saint Gregory of Sinai, the Catechetical Homilies of Saint Theodore the Studite, the homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas, and many other profitable writings. Not only did Father Macarius read and copy these translations and absorb the wisdom contained in them, he later published them for the benefit of others.
Father Macarius was ordained to the holy priesthood by Bishop Dositheus of Orel and Sevsk on May 27, 1817. When Igumen Paul retired to the bishop’s residence at Kaluga in 1818, he was replaced by Hieromonk Seraphim, a disciple of Father Basil (Kishkin), the Superior of White Bluff Hermitage. Father Seraphim brought good order to Ploschansk, instructing the monks in the spiritual life.
With Father Seraphim’s blessing, Father Macarius made a pilgrimage to Kiev in 1819 with Hierodeacon Palladius. There they met Archimandrite Anthony, who later became Archbishop of Voronezh and Zadonsk. On the way back to Ploschansk, the two visited Glinsk Hermitage. Father Macarius became acquainted with Hierodeacon Samuel, who was experienced in mental prayer. Since Father Athanasius had never spoken to him of this activity, Father Macarius was gratified to meet someone who could speak about it from personal experience.
In 1824, Father Macarius went to Rostov to venerate the relics of Saint Demetrius (September 21 and October 28). On that same trip he visited Optina Monastery and its new Skete for the first time.
Two of Father Macarius’s spiritual guides passed away within a short time: Elder Athanasius in 1825, and Igumen Seraphim in 1826. Hieromonk Marcellinus was appointed as Superior of Ploschansk in addition to his duties as Bishop Gabriel’s steward. He continued to live at Orel for two years, while the Ploschansk Hermitage was administered by Father Anatole, the treasurer.
Father Macarius was made dean of the Hermitage on June 10, 1826. In January of 1827, he was assigned as confessor at the Holy Trinity Convent of Sevsk. This began his period of spiritual direction and spiritual correspondence which lasted until his death. He did not assume such a role on his own, but only in obedience to the will of the bishop.
In 1828 Father Leonid (Nagolkin) came to Ploschansk from the Saint Alexander of Svir Monastery with several disciples. Father Macarius thought that the arrival of Father Leonid was the answer to his prayers, for Father Leonid was a man of great spiritual wisdom. This holy Elder, who had struggled against many visible and invisible foes, was able to give useful advice to those who were experiencing temptations. He understood from personal experience that those who wish to serve the Lord must prepare their souls for temptation (Sirach 2:1). He agreed to Father Macarius’s repeated requests to accept him as a spiritual son and disciple. When Father Leonid moved to Optina in 1829, Father Macarius kept in touch with him through letters.
Father Macarius visited Optina and Father Leonid in 1831 on his way to Petersburg, where Bishop Νikόdēmos of Orel was serving his term in the Holy Synod. He appointed Father Macarius as treasurer and steward, much to the latter’s chagrin. Father Macarius did not care for the bustle of the city, and longed to return to the tranquility of the monastery, yet he remained in his position out of obedience to the bishop.
After serving for almost a year in Petersburg, Father Macarius returned to Ploschansk Hermitage. On the way back, he visited Father Leonid again at Optina. He also submitted a request to Father Moses to be admitted to the Skete at Optina as soon as this might be arranged. The desired transfer from Ploschansk to Optina did not take place until January 14, 1834.
Father Macarius had lived at Ploschansk for twenty-three years, and always retained a certain fondness for the place for the rest of his life. Father Macarius finally arrived at Optina on February 5, 1834.
At the age of forty-six, Father Macarius placed himself at the feet of Father Leonid, humbling himself and demonstrating complete obedience. At first, he helped the Elder with his correspondence, but later his responsibilities increased. In October of 1836 he was appointed as confessor for the monastery. After Father Anthony was assigned to Saint Nicholas Monastery in Maloyaroslavets as abbot, Father Macarius succeeded him as Superior of the Skete on December 1, 1839. Father Macarius’s relationship with Father Leonid did not change because of his new position. He never did anything without consulting Father Leonid, and always attributed any success he achieved to the blessing and prayers of his Elder.
Father Macarius remained humble and obedient to Father Leonid until the Elder’s death on October 11, 1841. Even when Father Leonid was transferred from the Skete to the Monastery in 1836, Father Macarius visited him every day to ask his advice on various matters.
During his final illness, Father Leonid told his spiritual children to go to Father Macarius for spiritual counsel. Seeing in Father Macarius the same spiritual gifts possessed by Father Leonid, people recommended him to their friends and acquaintances. As a result, the number of Father Macarius’s disciples grew larger every year. He was also assigned as instructor of the new novices, and of those who were about to be tonsured.
Father Macarius received visitors from morning until night, and also kept up an extensive spiritual correspondence. Sometimes he was exhausted by the crowds of people, and by the number of letters he had to write. His humility and love for people who were afflicted in body and in spirit would not permit him to curtail his activities, however.
Father Macarius had always loved reading and studying patristic literature. At Ploschansk, he had copied many translations done by Saint Paisius Velichkovsky which were in the possession of Schemamonk Athanasius. His knowledge and understanding of the Fathers increased at Optina under the guidance of Father Leonid, a disciple of Father Theodore of Svir, who was himself a disciple of Saint Paisius. Father Anthony, abbot of the Skete and Father Moses, abbot of the Monastery, both encouraged the study of patristic books. Conditions for the publication of these manuscripts, translated and corrected by Saint Paisius, were quite favorable, for Optina possessed the best copies of these writings.
In 1845, Ivan V. Kireyevsky, the editor of The Muscovite, asked Father Macarius to write a biography of Saint Paisius for his magazine. In 1846, Father Macarius was visiting the Kireyevskys at their estate, and the discussion turned to the lack of spiritual books offering instruction in the Christian life. Natalia Kireyevsky, the spiritual daughter of Father Macarius since 1838, happened to have some manuscripts of ascetical literature. They both asked Father Macarius, “What prevents us from offering these spiritual treasures to the world?”
At the beginning of 1847 a biography of Father Pasius Velichkovsky, with extracts from his writings, was published. Over the course of time, sixteen books of patristic literature were published under the Elder’s supervision, including works by Saint Nilus of Sora, Saints Barsanuphius and John, Saint Simeon the New Theologian, and Saint Isaac of Syria.
In 1853, Father Macarius resigned as Superior of the Skete of Saint John the Baptist, and was succeeded by Father Paphnutius. This took place on November 30, exactly fourteen years from the time Father Macarius had first assumed the office.
In 1859, one of Father Macarius’s spiritual daughters, was at the point of death. Maria asked Father Macarius to pray that God would spare her life so that she could see her son again. The Elder told her that she would recover, and that they would both die around the same time. The old woman told her friends of this prediction, saying, “Beware my death, for it is connected with the Elder’s death.” Maria died on August 23, 1860 in the presence of Father Macarius and Father Leonid Kavelin.
On August 26, the Elder became ill with ischuria. A doctor who happened to be at Optina saw him and treated him with drugs. Father Macarius felt worse that evening, and so they sent for a certain nobleman’s personal physician. That doctor was not available, so Father Kavelin went to another doctor to ask for advice. Father Macarius showed no improvement, so he received Holy Unction and the life-giving Mysteries of Christ. On September 2, he received two gifts which delighted him. One was an enamel icon of the Vladimir Mother of God from Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, which he wore on his breast. The other was a cross containing a relic of the Cross of Christ.
The Elder felt weaker on September 4, and received Holy Communion after Vespers. During his illness the brethren who cared for him read the daily rule of prayer for him at the proper times. He also asked them to read certain portions of the writings of the holy Fathers.
On September 5, Father Macarius was moved from his small bedroom into the larger reception room where the air was fresher. During the night the ninety-year-old Schemamonk Hilarion reposed, and the church bell was rung three times according to the custom of the Monastery, indicating that one of the brethren had departed. Many of Father Macarius’s disciples and some visitors in the guesthouse thought that the bell tolled for him. They became alarmed until it was announced that Father Hilarion had passed away.
The Elder experienced shortness of breath on September 6. He received Communion, and was visited by two doctors, but there was nothing they could do for him. Father Macarius felt worse that evening, and received Holy Communion a second time around 8:00 P.M. Around midnight he talked with his confessor for about half an hour, receiving absolution and forgiveness of his sins.
Father Macarius asked to have the prayer for the dying read, which he heard while sitting in a chair. The Canon and Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos were also read, and the Canon to the Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ was read during Matins. During these readings it appeared that the Elder’s sufferings were alleviated.
During the night Father Macarius asked to be moved several times from the bed to the chair. He was calm and peaceful, and thanked those around him for caring for him. At 6:00 the next morning he received Holy Communion for the last time.
At 7:00 on the morning of September 7, 1860, Father Macarius departed to the Lord while the Ninth Ode of the Canon for the Departure of the Soul from the Body was being read. Two years before his death, he was secretly tonsured into the Great Schema. Therefore, a schema which had been blessed on the Lord’s Sepulchre was placed on his body. Several Panikhidas were offered for his soul throughout the day.
Father Macarius was laid to rest on September 10, in a grave prepared for him opposite the altar of the Saint Nicholas chapel in the main church. He was buried to the right of the grave of Father Leonid, his friend and fellow ascetic.
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.