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  The Fathers of Russian Monasticism


St. Anthony of the Kiev Caves (July 10)

St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves (May 3)


     After the seeds of Divine grace had been planted through the Mystery of Baptism, it was the early growth of a native monasticism with its intense cultivation of spiritual life which most effectively encouraged the Gospel teaching to take root among the peoples of Rus', The first of these native monasteries, the Kiev Caves Lavra, has been called "the cradle of Russian Christianity," and its founders, Sts. Anthony and Theodosius, are appropriately venerated as the father s of Russian monasticism. Together with their disciples, they shone forth upon the Russian land as spiritual luminaries, dispelling the darkness of paganism and calling people, by example, into Christ's marvelous light.

 

St. Anthony of the Kiev Caves

Commemorated July 10

      At the time of the Baptism of Rus' in 988, there lived in the town of Liubech a young boy by the name of Antip. He was educated by his parents in Christian piety, and upon coming of age he set out for the Holy Mountain of Athos to observe for himself the life of the monks whose ascetic struggles were extolled by Greek missionaries at work among the peoples of the Kieran princedom, Inspired by the monastic ideal, the youth chose to follow this angelic path himself and was soon tonsured with the name Anthony. He settled not far from the monastery of Esphigmenou in a small cave overlooking the sea.

    The zealous young ascetic had been there only a few years when the abbot, prompted by Divine revelation, sent him back to his native land in order that his example might serve to draw others from among the recently enlightened people to embrace the monastic life.

     Arriving in Kiev, Anthony made the rounds of the various Greek monasteries there, but finding none of them to his liking --for he was accustomed to the more austere, Athonite tradition--he discovered a small cave not far from the city and there resumed his life of solitary struggle.

    His peace, however, was interrupted by the fratricidal turmoil which followed upon the death of Great Prince Vladimir in 1015 and the seizure of the throne by his ruthlessly ambitious son Svyatopolk, and Anthony decided to return to Athos, But as soon as this time of troubles passed, the abbot sent him back once again to Kiev with the blessing of the Holy Mountain, encouraging him with the prophecy that many monks would join him.

    On his return, Anthony discovered another cave where the ascetic priest Hilarion had been wont to retire for prayer before his appointment as first Metropolitan of Rus'. Enlarging it just enough to make it habitable, Anthony settled there as a hermit. Some kind people, on learning of his presence there, supplied him with the scant provisions he would accept. He subsisted almost exclusively on bread and water.

     The Saint's life of solitude was short lived, as people began coming to ask his blessing and counsel. Soon, there came also those who desired to share his way of life. One of the first to join the Saint was the priest Nikon (March 23) who later tonsured another newcomer and Anthony's closest disciple, Theodosius.

    From the beginning, the emerging monastic community enjoyed the favor of the royal household, although it was not always a smooth relationship. When the son of a wealthy boyar gave up his worldly goods for a monastic life of voluntary poverty, his father complained to the Prince. Soon thereafter a favorite among the Prince's retinue followed suit and was likewise tonsured by Nikon. Prince Izyaslav angrily demanded that Nikon persuade the two to abandon their new way of life, threatening Nikon with his wrath. "Do with me as you will," replied Nikon calmly, "but I cannot take soldiers away from the King of Heaven." The Prince's anger unabated, St. Anthony decided it would be expedient for him to depart for a season which he did until the Prince, assuaged by his wife, the pious Maria Casimirovna, requested his return.

    When the number of brothers reached twelve, Anthony expressed his desire to retire into solitude. "God has gathered you and there rests upon you His blessing and the blessing of the Holy Mountain. Now live in peace; I am appointing for you an abbot, for I wish to live alone as before." And he began digging for himself a new cave, some 200 yards from the old one, which later came to be known as the "Far Caves."

    The first abbot, Barlaam (Nov. 14), was soon called by Prince Izyaslav to head the monastery of St. Demetrios which he had newly established at the gates to the city. When the brethren asked St. Anthony to designate a new abbot, the choice fell upon Theodosius whom he particularly loved for his meekness and obedience.

    As more new brethren joined the community and conditions became crowded, Anthony requested from the Prince the hill in which the caves were located. When this was granted, the monks built there a wooden church and some cells, and encircled the area with a fence.

    But even with Theodosius as abbot, St. Anthony continued to guide the community. In his humility Theodosius did nothing without going first to St. Anthony's cave to ask his advice and his blessing. And others came, for St. Anthony was widely recognized as a holy man rich with the gifts of healing, of clairvoyance and spiritual discernment.

    Once, as Prince Izyaslav and his brothers were preparing to fight the Kumans, they came to ask Anthony's blessing. The Saint foretold that because of their sins they would suffer defeat, but that the Viking prince Shimon, who had taken refuge with the princes of Rus' after having been expelled from his native Scandinavia, would survive and return to Kiev where he would live for many more years, "and you will be buried in a church that you will build." Both these prophecies were precisely fulfilled.

    It was not long after this ill-fated campaign that Kiev became the stage of a rebellion which forced Izyaslav into exile. He suspected Anthony of sympathizing with his opposition and intended, on his return, to banish him. But before he could act on this design, his brother Svyatoslav, Prince of Chernigov, arranged for the Saint to be brought secretly to Chernigov. There St. Anthony dug for himself a cave, and thus laid the foundation, as it were, of the Yeletsk Monastery which was later established on that site.

      Finally Izyaslav was persuaded of the Saint' s innocence and asked that he return to Kiev. Shortly thereafter Izyaslav's reign came to an end; he was overthrown by his brothers and Svyatoslav became Grand Prince.

        In view of the steadily increasing number of monks, Sts. Anthony and Theodosius purposed to build a large stone church. Certain miraculous signs confirmed God's blessing upon this undertaking. Many people saw a bright light at night over the proposed site of the new church. And when the Viking Prince Shimon returned from fighting the Kumans, he related that as he lay wounded on the field of battle, he saw a vision of a magnificent church set in the midst of the Caves Lavra. He had had a similar vision before setting sail from his native land. He was praying before an image of the Crucified Lord when the Saviour Himself appeared and told him that in that far away land which would receive him, a church would be built. He instructed Shimon to take from the crucifix the gold crown and gold belt with which it was adorned; the crown was to be hung above the altar of the new church, and the belt was to be used in fixing the dimensions of its foundation--30 times its measurement in length and 20 times in breadth. As he sailed away, Shimon saw in the night sky a church set in a blaze of light. St. Anthony reverently accepted the gold crown and belt, and the church was built according to the measurements so wondrously revealed to the Viking prince.

    The venerable Anthony, however, did not live to see the church completed. In 1073, soon after blessing its foundation, he peacefully gave his soul to God, having spent 90 years on this earth in fruitful spiritual labors. Before his departure he called his monks together and comforted them with the promise that he would always remain with them in spirit and would pray the Lord to bless and protect the community. He also promised that all those who stayed in the monastery in repentance and obedience to the abbot would find salvation. The Saint asked that his remains be forever hidden from the eyes of men. His desire was fulfilled. He is said to have been buried in the cave where he reposed, but his relics have never been found. However, multitudes came to pray in his cave, and there, many who were sick found healing.

     The Life of St. Theodosius, St. Anthonyís closest disciple and co-founder of the Kiev Caves Lavra, forms a valuable chapter in early Russian hagiography. Preserved in the Kiev Caves Patericon, it was written by the chronicler Nestor about ten years after the Saintís repose in 1074, and is based on accounts of contemporaries; the description of his youth comes from the Saintís own mother.

 

St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves

Commemorated May 8

    Theodosius, whose name means "gift of God," grew up in the small cities of Vasilkov and Kursk where his father was a judge. Although his parents were Christian and gave him an education directed primarily at the study of Scripture, they were astonished to see his heart so completely overtaken by love for God.

    His father died when I heodosius was 13, and this caused the boy to retreat still further from the world common to one of his age and social rank. He gave away his good clothes, preferring to dress like the poor, and found pleasure in helping the peasants with their work. He often went to church, and when he learned that Divine Liturgy was sometimes not celebrated due to a lack of prosphora, he undertook to bake them himself. His mother loved him dearly, but she did not share her son's life-encompassing Christian outlook; she was very conscious of her social standing and felt that by engaging in such lowly occupations Theodosius brought shame upon the family. She tried cajoling, then threatening and even physically beating him to make him change his ways, but Theodosius stood firmly on the path of the Gospel commandments.

    His zeal for the things of God inspired Theodosius to slip away with a band of pilgrims bound for the Holy Land. Three days later his mother tracked him down, berated the pilgrims for having taken the boy along, and dragged Theodosius home where she kept him in chains until the youth promised not to leave her again.

    The humility of the youth and the sufferings he endured at the hands of his mother came to the attention of the governor who requested that the youth attend him in church. This served to calm the domestic drama, but Theodosius' heart yearned for a more concentrated spiritual atmosphere, for monastic life. Standing in church one day, he was struck by the words of the Gospel: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me." With fixed resolve, he took advantage of his mother's departure into the country for a few days to set out for Kiev, taking with him nothing but some bread for the road. The monks in the established monasteries, however, turned him away because he had no money. Then he heard about the righteous Anthony. Coming to his cave, Theodosius fell to his knees and begged the holy ascetic to accept him.

    "My son ," said Anthony, "you see my cave; it is cramped and dismal, and I fear you will not endure the difficulties of life here." "Know, O blessed father," replied Theodosius. "that God Himself has led me to your holiness that I might find salvation. I shall do all that you enjoin." Foreseeing his future greatness, the blessed Anthony accepted the determined aspirant and bade the priest monk Nikon tonsure him. Theodosius was 23 years old.

   It was a few years before his distraught mother finally discovered her sonís whereabouts. With great reluctance Theodosius went out to her. At first she vowed that she would die if he did not come home with her. But gradually God softened her heart and she came to see the wisdom of her son's patient admonitions. Following his advice she entered the St. Nicholas convent there in Kiev where she ended her days in peace.

     When Theodosius became abbot, he saw need for a common rule to unite the growing community--which by that time was living above the ground; only a few hermits were left in the caves--and he sent one of his monks to Constantinople to copy out the rule of the Studite Monastery. The rule governed the daily life of the monk: it set the hours of prayer and work; monks were forbidden to have any personal possessions, everything was held in common; all monks were together for common meals: time, apart from prayer, was to be spent in working; all activity was begun with a blessing from an elder and with prayer. The monks were to reveal their thoughts to the abbot, a practice which roused them to constant spiritual vigilance and helped to check manifestations of the passions before they took root in the heart.

Above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves.    (I Peter 4:8)

      It was St, Theodosius' choice of the Studite Rule, with its emphasis on the duty of charity and the common good, which served to revive the ancient ideal of strict cenobitism and gave Russian monasticism its characteristic warmth. "What is principally necessary," taught Theodosius, "is that the youngest should love their neighbor and listen to their elders with humility and obedience. The elders should lavish on the young love and instruction; they should teach them and comfort them." This attitude created an atmosphere eminently suitable for missionary work, and it was thanks to the monasteries that Christianity was so successfully propagated in Russia.

    Of a strong constitution, Theodosius was a model of industriousness. Even as abbot, he felled trees, carried water, and ground wheat, often helping the other brethren with their obediences. Once, the cook came to ask if he would assign a monk to cut firewood, as the kitchen supply was depleted. "I am idle," replied the Saint, and he set to chopping wood himself. He worked through the dinner hour and the brethren, when they came out and saw their abbot hard at work, were inspired to do likewise.

    Knowing the great benefit of good books upon the soul, Theodosius instituted the reading of spiritually profitable texts during meals, and sought to augment the number of such books in the monastery. Books were still a rarity at that time, and one of the valued occupations of the monastery was the copying and binding of manuscripts. Theodosius himself helped in this work.

    At first, life in the Caves Monastery was very austere indeed. The monks lived principally on rye bread and water with the addition of a few vegetables which they cultivated themselves; they wove their own cloth and sewed their own garments. When the brethren murmured about some deficiency, Theodosius exhorted them to place their trust in the Lord Who knew their needs. And his faith was often miraculously rewarded.

     The reputation of the monks as 'angels on earth' began attracting pilgrims; princes and peasants ca me for spiritual counsel and left donations. Grand Prince Izyaslav, who became very attached to St. Theodosius and frequently came to visit him, was a great benefactor of the monastery, as also was the Viking Prince Shimon who was baptized into the Orthodox Church together with his entire household, numbering some 3,000 members.

    With increased mean s, Theodosius was able to build a guest house for pilgrims where the poor and sick also found refuge. No beggar was ever turned away from the monastery without being given a meal. Weekly a cart was sent from the monastery laden with bread to be distributed among those in prison.

     The Saint's compassion was boundless. Once there were brought to him some robbers who had been apprehended in the act of stealing monastery property. With tears the Saint entreated them to mend their ways. Then, having fed them, he let them go. The robbers were so moved by the Saint's mercy that they repented and became honest, God-fearing men.

    Like St. Anthony, Theodosius also endured the effects of the princes' quarrels. At the same time he maintained his independence and did not fear risking the displeasure of his royal benefactors if he felt called as a spiritual father to admonish them. When, for example, Svyatoslav unjustly took the throne from Izyaslav, the Saint wrote a strong letter to Svyatoslav, reproving his action and urging him to restore power to his older brother. This angered Svyatoslav, and Theodosius was warned of possible consequences, but he calmly replied: "Nothing could be better for me in this life than to suffer for the sake of the truth." Mindful of the Saint' s popularity, Svyatoslav took no action against him and even went to visit him. He was surprised when Theodosius received him with the respect due to one of authority. "I was afraid you'd be angry with me," said the Prince. "Our duty," replied the Saint, "is to say what is beneficial for the soul's salvation; and you would do well to listen." Although Svyatoslav could not be persuaded to give up the throne and Theodosius continued to commemorate the pious Izyaslav as the lawful ruler, their relationship was peaceful and it was Svyatoslav who gave land for the building of the new stone church.

     Work had just begun on this church when St. Anthony reposed. Neither did St. Theodosius live to see its completion. It was his custom to retire to a cave for the course of Great Lent, and it was during this time, in 1074, that the Lord revealed to him his imminent departure from this world. On Bright Week, having joyfully celebrated the radiant feast of Pascha in the monastery, he fell ill. Summoning the brethren, he informed them that his time had come, and foretold the very day and hour of his repose. By common consent of the brotherhood, he blessed his disciple Stefan to take his place as abbot, exhorting him not to change the tradition s of the monastery, "but follow in all things the law and our monastic rifle."

     May 3,1074. The divinely appointed hour arrived and the bright soul of the Saint took leave of its earthly tabernacle. As he had willed, his body was laid to rest in the cave which alone with the angels had witnessed his ascetic labors.

    Eighteen years after the Saint's blessed repose, the monastery brethren decided to transfer his relics to the new cathedral church. The abbot, together with monk Nestor the chronicler, went to the cave to dig up the relics and discovered them to be incorrupt. Accompanied by a large crowd of people, the relics were solemnly transferred to the Dormition Cathedral on August 14, 1092. And in 1106 Saint Theodosius was added to the list of canonized saints. 


    True to their promise, the holy founders of the Caves Monastery continued to watch over its existence even after their repose. There is, for example, the story--written by Bishop Simon (+1226), a former monk of that monastery and principal author of the Kiev Caves Patericorn of how the stone church was completed.

    Sts. Anthony and Theodosius had been gone from this world some ten years when a group of Greek iconographers came to the Caves Lavra demanding to see the two monks who had hired them to adorn the new church with frescoes. They were rather angry inasmuch as the church standing before them was considerably larger than they had been led to believe and would consequently require more work than was covered by the sum of gold they had received there in Constantinople upon signing the agreement. Abbot Nikon, confessing his ignorance of the matter, asked who it was that had hired them. "Their names were Anthony and Theodosius," "Truly," said the abbot, "I cannot summon them, for they departed this life ten years ago. But as you yourselves testify, they continue to care for this monastery even now."

    The Greeks, scarcely believing this possible, called some merchants traveling with them, who had been present at the signing of the agreement, and asked that they be shown an image of the deceased. When this was done the Greeks bowed low, for they recognized in the saints the exact likeness of the two men who had commissioned them to paint the frescoes and given them the gold. Acknowledging the supernatural power of the saints, they decided not to cancel the agreement after all, and set about with heightened inspiration to embellish the church. The iconographers never returned to Constantinople; they became monks and ended their days there in the Caves Monastery.

     The Dormition Church, rebuilt in l470, was destroyed in 1941 by an explosion which the Soviets attribute to the Germans. Witnesses, however, state that it was the communists themselves who set delayed action explosives just before the German occupation of the city.

 


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