Orthodox America

  St. Poemen the Much-Ailing

August 7


      As a child St. Poemen was physically weak and often sickly, but his soul was strong and healthy; while still young he showed himself to be patient, thoughtful and wise beyond his years. He begged his parents to allow him to enter a monastery, but they, loving him dearly and fearing for his health, raised all kinds of objections. Such a holy yearning was, however, pleasing to God Who made possible the fulfillment of the youth's heartfelt desire. The boy became deathly ill. His grief-stricken parents took him to the Kiev-Caves Monastery where they asked the monks to pray for their son's recovery. Knowing that if he got well his parents would take him home, St. Poemen prayed that his sickness not leave him and that God would allow him to become a monk.

One night when all was quiet in the monastery and the parents were fast asleep, angels appeared to the sick boy who supposed them to be the abbot and some brethren. "Do you wish to be tonsured?" the angels asked. St. Poemen was overjoyed: "Oh, yes!" he answered. "God has sent you to fulfill my heart’s desire. The rite of tonsure took place then and there; the sick youth was clothed in the monastic habit and given a lighted candle which, he was told, would burn continuously for 40 days and 40 nights. The angels also told him that for the rest of his life he would suffer from extreme ill health and that he would recover only shortly before his death. They took pieces of hair cut during the rite of tonsure and told him that these would be wrapped in linen and placed in the church.

A number of monks who occupied nearby cells heard the singing of the angels. Puzzled, they awoke the Saint's parents and together they went to St. Poemen's cell. They found him dressed as a monk and radiant with an unearthly joy. When questioned, Poemen related what had happened, although he was still under the impression that it was the abbot and various brothers who had tonsured him. "They gave me this candle and they placed my hair, wrapped in linen, on the tomb of St. Theodosius ."

The monk s hurried to the church. Finding it locked, they awoke the door-keeper who raid them that no one had entered the church after Vespers when it was locked. Inside the church the monks found the hair wrapped in linen just as St. Poemen had said. The abbot was in- '~ formed and, after discussing this extraordinary incident with the brethren, decided to accept the tonsure as genuine in view of the undisputed evidence. Even the Saint's parents had to admit that God had answered their son's prayers, and they returned home.

        As the angels had foretold, St. Poemen became afflicted by a horrible illness; it caused such a foul smell that the monks in charge of the sick could not bear to take care of the Saint, and he was often left without food or water for days on end, But he suffered patiently, knowing that this cross was given to him to cure his soul of any traces of pride and other passions which can cause much greater harm to us than any bodily afflictions.

       The years went by and another monk similarly diseased was placed in the cell together with St. Poemen. One day they were both parched from lack of anything to drink. Turning to his fellow sufferer St. Poemen said: "The brothers seem to have forgotten us.

   Perhaps they can no longer tolerate the smell that afflicts us both. If God makes you well, would you be willing to take upon yourself their obedience?" The young monk eagerly agreed, promising to care for the Saint until his dying day. St. Poemen entreated the Lord to grant healing to his companion and the young monk was healed at once.

                For a time the monk looked after the needs of the blessed sufferer, but then, like the others, he found the smell so repulsive that he became altogether negligent and the Saint was left to hunger and thirst as before. Soon the monk was chastened for breaking his promise; he was struck by an agonizing malady from which it seemed that only death could offer deliverance. When St. Poemen heard that his former cell-mate was dying, he said: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap" (Gal, 6:7). At the same time his heart was moved with compassion and he called for the sick one to come to him. The young monk immediately felt his health return and, without any assistance, he went to the cell of the blessed one. St. Poemen gave him some stern but loving advice, and from then on the young monk took good care of the Saint who lay on his sickbed for yet another 20 years.

               When the time came for St. Poemen to leave this world, he suddenly recovered in fulfillment of the prophecy he was given at his tonsure. He went around to all the brethren, asking each one's forgiveness. To those who were sick he said, "Beloved brothers, arise and come and bid me farewell," At these words of the Saint, they all felt better and followed him to the church where he received the Holy Mysteries. Then, with much joy, St. Poemen exclaimed: "Here come the Ones who tonsured me to take my soul." And so he departed to the Lord on February 11, in the year 1110, having endured great suffering for the sake of his souls eternal salvation.

(Translated and condensed from the Menologian of St. Dimitry of Rostov, by Vera Pronenko)