30 January 2021

Righteous Petǎr, Tsar of Bulgaria

Saint Petǎr of Bulgaria

Today is the birthday of our nation’s greatest president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And in the Orthodox Church, it is also the Synaxis of the Three Holy Hierarchs, as well as the feast day of Tsar Saint Petǎr I of Bulgaria. Saint Petǎr was a mild-mannered, sweet-tempered, peace-loving man who enjoyed a long rule over Bulgaria; and even though it was not a period of military conquest and glory, Bulgaria still enjoyed a period of prolific church growth and general prosperity under his enlightened rule.

Saint Petǎr was born around the year 903, presumably in what was then the Bulgarian capital at Preslav. His father, Tsar Simeon I, was a fierce and warlike ruler who made war upon the Eastern Roman Empire as well as the Magyars and the Serbs. The Tsar married twice, and Petǎr was the Tsar’s son by his second marriage, to Maria the sister of Georgi Sursuvul. Petǎr was of a very different temperament than his father, and this was evident early on in his life. When he was perhaps ten years of age, he went on a pilgrimage to Constantinople together with his elder brother Mikhail. However, despite the differences between himself and his father, he evidently earned his father’s favor enough to be named heir instead of Mikhail, whom Simeon forced to become a monk.

Tsar Simeon died of a heart attack in 927, leaving the 24-year-old Petǎr as king over a great Bulgarian Tsardom at the height of its territorial expansion. At this time, Petǎr’s closest advisor, friend and regent was his uncle Georgi Sursuvul, who was of like temperament to the new Tsar. Petǎr had inherited several territorial wars from his father, including those in Croatia and Eastern Rome, which he desired to bring to an end. Therefore, in utmost secrecy, Georgi Sursuvul sought to forge a peace treaty and a dynastic alliance with Eastern Rome. Petǎr gladly agreed to this.

In 927, a delegation of Bulgarians including Georgi Sursuvul and several of the Bulgarian Tsar’s kinsmen arrived in the City and met with the Roman Emperor Rōmanos I Lakapēnos, where they hammered out a peace agreement that also entailed the young Petǎr’s marriage to the Emperor’s granddaughter, Maria Lakapēnē, who was renamed Eirēnē at the wedding to signify her importance to the new peace.

The new Bulgarian Tsar and his uncle forged peace with Eastern Rome on terms quite favorable to the Bulgarians, speaking to the military brilliance of Petǎr’s father. The Roman Empire formally recognised the ruler of Bulgaria as a ‘Tsar’, and the marches between Eastern Rome and Bulgaria were fixed according to the treaties of 897 and 904. The Roman Empire paid a yearly tribute to Bulgaria as well, something similar to the contemporary danegeld which England paid to the Norse rulers. More importantly, the Bulgarian Church won its autocephaly, with its primate being given dignity equal to the Patriarchs of the Five Ancient Churches.

Petǎr unfortunately faced several rebellions from his brothers Mikhail and Ivan in the following years, which he was forced to quell, as well as several invasions by the Bulgarians’ ancient and cruel tribal enemies the Magyars. However, it soon became clear to all that his natural preference followed his uncle’s desire for peace. He waged no offensive wars during his reign, but he kept the peace within his borders quite firmly. As a result, Bulgarian society not only prospered, it flourished.

Much of this prosperity flowed to the Church, and Tsar Petǎr himself was a particularly eager benefactor of the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria, giving funds for the construction and adornment of many grand cathedrals and churches throughout his Tsardom.

It was during Petǎr’s reign that the Gnostic-Manichæan hæresy of Bogomil first appeared in the Bulgarian realm. This was the result of a number of factors. The resettlement of the Paulician sect from Armenia under the Emperors of Eastern Rome was one such; as was the still low level of literacy (let alone knowledge of right doctrine!) among the Slavic Bulgarians. Another unwitting factor may have been Tsar Petǎr’s lavish gifts to the Church, which gave the appearance of corruption. Tsar Petǎr did combat the new hæresy as well as he was able, however the first documentation we have of it comes from after his reign, from the hands of the Orthodox priest Kosmas. He retired from his throne in 969 and reposed in the Lord, having sought the solace of the monastic tonsure, on the thirtieth of January 970.

Though modern sources have not necessarily been as kind to Saint Petǎr as they ought, in the period immediately following his reign, he was considered to have been a ‘good king’ who was peaceable and orderly and generous, of the same ‘type’ in this era of historiography as Éadgár the Frithsome and Saint Václav of Bohemia. May God see fit to have mercy upon our many sins and grant us (though we do not deserve) leaders such as these in our own time! Holy Tsar Petǎr, peaceable ruler and generous benefactor of the Orthodox faith, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!

Church of St George, Kyustendil, Bulgaria, possibly dating to the reign of Saint Petǎr

20 January 2021

Holy Hierarch Evtimii, Patriarch of Tărnovo and All Bulgaria

Saint Evtimii of Tărnovo

Today in the Orthodox Church is the feast-day of Saint Evtimii of Tărnovo, another of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s great mediæval luminaries. Saint Evtimii is perhaps the greatest of the Bulgarian saintly patriarchs of his time; like Saints Teodosii (his teacher) and Romil, he was also a firm and vocal (er, so to speak) supporter of the Hesychast movement in the Orthodox Church spearheaded by the great Saint Grēgorios of Sinai, who had settled and reposed in Bulgaria. Saint Evtimii was also an accomplished linguist and a formidable scholarly mind, and he did much to uplift the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in his time as Patriarch.

Saint Evtimii [Bg. Евтимий] was born around the year 1317 in Tărnovo. He was Bulgarian, and his parents likely belonged to the eminent Tsamblak family of that city. He received a fine education from the monastic schools in Tărnovo, and around the age of thirty he chose to become a monk himself. He was tonsured and accepted into the monastery at Kilifarevo, which had been founded by Saint Teodosii. By dint of his humble attitude and his steadfast obedience he earned the trust of Saint Teodosii, who appointed him his assistant in 1363. Together they travelled to Constantinople and stayed at the Studion Monastery which had been founded under the rule of Patriarch Saint Gennadios, which was renowned for its library. It was here, shortly afterward, that Saint Teodosii reposed in the Lord.

Saint Evtimii distinguished himself among the monks at Studion for his obedience, for his willingness to learn, and the rapidity with which he soaked up the wisdom of the holy place. At some point he moved from Studion to Athos, where he established himself at the Monastery of Saint Athanasios the Athonite. Here he was influenced by Saints Grēgorios of Sinai and Iōannēs Koukouzelēs. He was punished with exile by the Emperor Iōannēs V Palaiologos and sent to the isle of Lemnos, possibly for speaking out against the emperor’s submission to the Pope of Rome. At length he was permitted to return to Athos. When he did he entered the Bulgarian Monastery of Zographou and stayed there for a brief time.

He returned to his native Bulgaria in 1371. Here he founded a monastery with attached school dedicated to the Holy Trinity in Tărnovo, and applied himself to a great linguistic task of educating the people… continuing and deepening the work that had been begun by the Seven Holy Saints of the South Slavs. On Athos, he had been exposed to, and discussed, a number of sacred texts in the original Greek, and had found that the Bulgarian equivalents he had grown up with had been poorly transcribed in an irregular manner, such that they gave cause to confusion and rise to disputes. Saint Evtimii set to work reforming Church Slavonic orthography to render it more intelligible to ordinary people. He also committed himself to a massive amount of work in translating and redacting works into Church Slavonic from Greek. The texts transcribed and redacted by Saint Evtimii still serve as the basis of the great bulk of the Liturgical texts still in use in the Slavonic setting, in Russia and the South Slavic nations. For this reason, Gregory Tsamblak, his biographer, compared his work to that of Holy Prophet Moses and of the Ægyptian Pharaoh Ptolemy I.

Saint Evtimii succeeded Patriarch Ioanikii as the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church upon the latter’s repose in 1375. Keeping true to his teacher Saint Teodosii and to the præcepts of the Orthodox Church even in a time of widespread hæresy and disputes, Saint Evtimii became the foremost supporter of the Hesychast movement in Bulgaria. He applied his wisdom and his skill as Patriarch to the rectification of moral order in the Orthodox Church and to the proper division of the word of Truth.

Saint Evtimii was in charge of commanding the Bulgarian forces at the disastrous Siege of Tărnovo in 1393, when the city was overthrown and razed by the rapacious Turks under the command of Süleyman Çelebi. Saint Evtimii had been left in command by Tsar Ivan Shishman, who was off with the main army defending Nikopol. For three months Saint Evtimii encouraged the Bulgarian forces to hold out against the Turkish foe, however – as Gregory Tsamblak suggests – Tărnovo may have been betrayed from the inside by members of one of the non-Christian neighbourhoods inside the city. The Turks entered and engaged in wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants, including 110 of the boyars and prominent citizens of the city, and desecration of the churches. Saint Evtimii was spared from this holocaust and sent into exile in Bachkovo Monastery in Thrace. Saint Evtimii reposed perhaps around the year 1402. Unfortunately, we do not know where he is buried. The death of Saint Evtimii and the destruction of Bulgaria by the Turks tragically spelled the end of the Tărnovo Patriarchate, which was subsequently subjugated to Constantinople. Only in 1870 were the historical rights of the Bulgarian Patriarchate restored. Holy hierarch Evtimii, holy hesychast and great teacher of piety to the Bulgarian people, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Evtimii of Tărnovo, Tone 4:

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
An image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
Your humility exalted you;
Your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Evtimii,
Entreat Christ our God
That our souls may be saved.

Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Tărnovo, Bulgaria

19 January 2021

Congress as ‘sacred ground’?

To listen to the New York Times and the Washington Post tell it, the events of 6 January were nothing less than an unforgivable act of sacrilege and blasphemy. ‘Inside the most sacred spaces of American democracy,’ went the New York Times report by Grynbaum, Koblin and Hsu, unfolded an abomination of desolation worthy of the breaking news format ‘reserved for foreign wars, natural disasters or terrorist attacks’.

Now, I am someone who likes public order and stability as public goods. Order and stability are valuable no matter where they happen to be. So yes, I was naturally upset by what was essentially a riot aimed at overturning an election result in contravention of the established law of the land. I firmly believe that the rioters in DC were in the wrong, for the same reasons I believe that the looters and shooters here in Minneapolis over the summer were in the wrong. I also believe it is a very bleak indicator of the direction that our country is, in general, headed. But is it not intriguing that these established organs of the national news media would be so insistent on the sacrality of the buildings of the national government, when they have shown so little respect to public monuments elsewhere in the country? Is not the New York Times in its insistence on this public sacrality not being monumentally hypocritical, after having given space to a project – to wit, the 1619 Project – that was meant specifically to axe the root of American civil religion in the first place?

Of course, one can look at this in a cynical way. The New York Times arrogates to itself the right to attack national institutions, national statuary and national history, which it then denies to those who are not in the clique. We can look at this as a simple demarcation on the New York Times’s part between ‘friends’ (woke liberals, whose attacks on American civil religion are humane and righteous) and ‘enemies’ (conservative deplorables, whose attacks on the same are treasonous and wicked). But I think the actual stakes run quite a bit deeper than that. The riots that happened last week in DC, and the heated language around them in the press, are indicative of what is essentially a religious conflict, a contest of political myths, that attempt to orient the body politic toward very different objects of public veneration.

The 1619 Project’s actual aim from the beginning was to ‘reframe’ American history to centre the narrative around the oppressed. Unfortunately Nikole Hannah-Jones has been remarkably coy about her overall purpose (not to mention her corporate sponsors). However, I think it is reasonable to say that it attempts to create and promote an alternative revisionist history of the United States from its roots in British colonialism. The objects of veneration that can be seen most clearly in the 1619 Project are the individuals in American history, who: (a) belonged to groups seen to be historically oppressed, and (b) are seen to have worked toward ends of political or sexual liberation for their oppressed group.

On the other hand, we now also have a 1776 Project, supported by – for example – The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, as well as a broad array of historical scholars from the (Trotskyist) left, the liberal centre and the conservative right. These scholars rightly point out that the 1619 Project is ideologically motivated. However, the aim of the 1776 Project goes further than simply debunking the factual or interpretive missteps of Hannah-Jones and her fellow contributors to the New York Times. Their aim is instead to preserve and expand an ideological reading of history that places the fundamentally deistic and nominalist ideas of the American experiment at the centre of the same world-historical struggle for liberation. The aim is to preserve the Founding Fathers, the ideological principles of the founding documents, and an abstract concept of liberty as the objects of public veneration.

As Orthodox Christians, the first thing we need to understand is that these duelling myths are not our myths. Both myths are grounded in a historical naïveté about human nature and the potential for human perfection apart from God’s grace. We do not and cannot recognise a salvation of the world through abstract ideas like representative government, or through pieces of paper like the Constitution of the United States. We do not hold any truth to be ‘self-evident’ other than the Living Truth, which is the truth of one Essence in three Persons that is rendered visible and intelligible to us in the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth. I stand in full agreement with Orthodox theologians like Christos Yannaras and Vigen Guroian – and, for that matter, non-Orthodox theologians like Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank – when they voice their doubts about the fundamental soundness of America’s founding ideology and its commensurability with the revealed truth of Christ’s Person.

However, we can and should recognise that governments – even governments that are held captive to wicked men or to erroneous ideas – are nevertheless given their authority and legitimacy by God. Christians in America should still give due gratitude and respect to the establishment of justice and the insurance of domestic tranquillity – to borrow the language of the Constitutional Preamble – that the American state has (at its best) been able to provide to most of its citizens, including us. These public goods are precious and desirable, and we recognise them in every Divine Liturgy – when we pray to the Lord ‘for our country, for the president, and for all in public service… For this city, and for every city and land, and for the faithful who live in them… For favorable weather, for an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful times’.

We are compelled to pray for the country, for our cities, and for those in public service. This means that we are also compelled to seek their good. It is therefore wrong to support an unlawful riot in our nation’s capital, which seeks to maintain the President in contravention of our established Constitutional order. On the other hand, however, we must be careful not to indulge in the sorts of sentimentality that the President’s most vocal critics indulge in, when they describe the halls of our government as ‘sacred’. This is a form of idolatry, and we must oppose this as well.

18 January 2021

Holy Hierarch Ioakim, Patriarch of Tărnovo and All Bulgaria

Saint Ioakim of Tărnovo

The eighteenth of January in the Orthodox Church is the feast-day and commemoration of another great mediæval South Slavic holy man, Patriarch Saint Ioakim I of Tărnovo. Saint Ioakim was a stalwart defender of the Orthodox faith in the Bulgarian lands during troublous times, as well as being a firm friend of the poor, the widows and the orphans. He was known in particular for his opposition to the death penalty and his intercessions with the Bulgarian Tsars on behalf of condemned prisoners.

Saint Ioakim [Bg. Иоаким] was born toward the tail end of the twelfth century, and was a ‘native Bulgarian’ according to the hagiographical account. Little appears to be known about his early life, but he committed himself to the monastic life of ascetic struggle, and spent much of his early life on the Holy Mountain of Athos. Stern towards himself but lenient toward others, Saint Ioakim became renowned for his rigorous rule of prayer, fasting and vigils – as well as for his selfless obedience to the Athonite fathers he served, and for the persistence and consistency in applying himself to the struggle against the passions. His humility and piety became renowned on Athos, and monks began to seek him out.

After ‘a long time’, according to the hagiography, Ioakim returned to his native Bulgaria. The hagiography itself gives no reason for this, but later Bulgarian commentators suggest that it may have come from a humble desire to flee vainglory and his own fame as a spiritual elder, or perhaps from a righteous desire to enlighten the land where he was born. He settled in a place called Krasen near the banks of the Danube – which is probably somewhere near Cherven at the source of the Rusenski Lom in northeastern Bulgaria. He established the Church of the Holy Transfiguration, and settled there with three disciples: Diomid, Atanasii and Teodosii.

He was approached by Tsar Ivan Asen II, who was desirous of the counsel of the holy man, and wished to speak with him on the topics of salvation. As a gift the Tsar brought with him a great deal of gold. The hermit Ioakim used this gold to hire workers, and they built a great rock-hewn monastic complex near Ivanovo, which is still standing today, and which is famous for the beautiful frescoes which adorn the inner walls. This monastery Ioakim built so that it could house all of the postulants and seekers who came to him seeking the word of Truth, and here he kept to the rules of prayer and fasting that he had observed his entire monastic life.

According to the Life of Saint Sava of Serbia, on December of the year 1234 the great Saint Sava of Serbia visited Tărnovo, and was greeted with hospitality and enthusiasm by both the Tsar and by Saint Ioakim. Together Saint Sava and Saint Ioakim concelebrated the Feast of Theophany. When Saint Sava fell ill and died some days later, Saint Ioakim himself cared for the saint on his deathbed, presided at the saint’s funeral, and had him interred with great honour in the Church of the Forty Martyrs.

The following pages of his hagiography are sadly no longer extant. These pages deal, perhaps, with the (re)establishment of the Bulgarian Patriarchate in 1235 with its primary see at Tărnovo. This happened at a Church council convoked in Lampsakos in Asia Minor. It was here, perhaps, that Saint Ioakim was proclaimed Patriarch of Bulgaria at Tsar Ivan Asen II’s express request, and with the blessing of ‘the bishops of the whole Bulgarian land’, and was confirmed and granted the omophorion by the Œcumenical Patriarch Germanos II of Constantinople.

As Patriarch, Saint Ioakim ‘blessed and enlightened the whole of the Bulgarian land’. His hagiography also lays particular stress on the fact that he showed ‘mercy to the orphans, gave to the needy and to the poor, visited those in prison; and he offered unceasing prayers at every hour; and saved many who were sentenced to death, and saved many who resorted to him from the wrath of the Tsar’. The hagiography of Saint Sava refers to the ‘honest and holy’ Patriarch Ioakim of Bulgaria. Saint Ioakim came to the end of his earthly life on the eighteenth of January 1246, probably when he was of a very advanced age. He was given to know in advance of his impending death; therefore he gathered his disciples and the clergy around them, exhorted them to uphold the Orthodox faith, begged their forgiveness for any wrong that he had done them, and forgave them all in turn. He reposed peaceably in the Lord. So fondly did his contemporaries remember him, that the thirteenth century had not ended before Ioakim was glorified in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as a saint. Holy hierarch Ioakim, friend to the poor and intercessor on behalf of the guilty and condemned, stand too before Christ our Lord on behalf of us sinners and beseech His great mercy!
Apolytikion for Saint Ioakim of Tărnovo, Tone 4:

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
An image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
Your humility exalted you;
Your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Ioakim,
Entreat Christ our God
That our souls may be saved.

Rock-hewn Churches of the Ivanovo, Bulgaria

16 January 2021

Venerable Romil the Hesychast of Ravanica

Saint Romil of Ravanica

Today in the Orthodox Church is the feast-day of another of the shining lights of mediæval hesychasm, Saint Romil of Ravanica. Saint Romil was one of several of the disciples of the great teacher of hesychasm Saint Grēgorios of Sinai, along with Saint Teodosii of Tărnovo, who shone forth in Southeastern Europe in what was a fairly dark time for the Orthodox Church as a whole. To him let us look as to a lodestar in our own dark times.

Saint Romil [Bg. Ромил, Srb. Ромило] was born by the name of Ruško in the city of Vidin in the year 1330. His parents were wealthy and well-born: his father was Greek and his mother was Bulgarian. They gave him a sound education, and Ruško impressed his teachers with his quickness and eagerness to learn. Ruško was not, however, like the other children his age. He did not play games or indulge in idle pursuits, being of a much more serious-minded bent. His parents worried for him, and began to arrange a marriage for him. Fearing to be trapped in such a scheme, Ruško fled his parents’ house at the age of fourteen and ventured from Vidin into Tărnovo, asking to be accepted as a novice at the Mother of God ‘Who Shows the Way’ Monastery in that city. He was admitted and took on the monastic name of Roman. He distinguished himself as a monk by his humility and his obedience to his abbot.

This happened at around the same time as Saint Grēgorios of Sinai arrived in Bulgaria, having been exiled there by Muslim persecutions and hostile governors. He was welcomed by the pious Tsar Ivan Aleksandăr, and was allowed to settle in the Strandža, and establish a monastery near Paroria – now a national park in Bulgaria. It was not long before the great father of the hesychasts began attracting followers to him from throughout southeastern Europe. One of them was the young monk Roman, who asked his abbot’s leave to journey to Paroria, to dwell there and to learn from the great Saint Grēgorios.

At first, his abbot was loath to let him go. Not only was Roman an exceptional monk whose loss would be keenly felt by the Mother of God Monastery, but the abbot also displayed that wise, loving and prudent caution regarding his spiritual sons that all men of advanced spiritual achievement would do. He feared for Roman’s soul, that he might be tempted into delusion. But it soon became apparent to the abbot that Roman’s spiritual thirst was a genuine and healthy one, and so at last the abbot gave his leave to the young man, and offered him provisions for the journey to Paroria.

At Paroria, Roman became one of Saint Grēgorios’s most devoted disciples. He had come to the monastery with a fellow-monk named Ilarion, who was of a weak constitution. Seeing this, Grēgorios assigned to Ilarion the lighter and easier tasks around the monastery, while to Roman he assigned the heavy and menial work: chopping wood, drawing water, hauling stones and earth, serving in the kitchens. He was also assigned to the infirmary to tend to the sick. But not one word of complaint passed Roman’s lips, and whatever he did he tended to it with great attention and love. Sick men became well under his ministrations. Very soon he came to be called ‘Roman the Good’ by his fellow monks.

Saint Grēgorios observed this, and approved. He began instructing Roman in the hesychast method of inner silence and the prayer of the heart. When the saint reposed, Roman grieved day and night for the elder. He was loath to remain at Paroria while not under the supervision of a spiritual elder. His fellow-traveller Ilarion had already subjected himself to another elder, and Roman soon joined him. Again Roman placed himself under obedience to him just as he had to Saint Grēgorios.

Paroria was, at that time, subject to attacks by brigands and by Muslim princes who were hostile to Bulgarians as a matter of course. Having robbed the three monks of food and shelter, Roman, Ilarion and their spiritual elder were forced to flee Paroria to Mokren. Here Roman parted from the company against the elder’s wishes, seeking a desert place where he could live by himself. However, soon after this the elder died, and Roman, penitent for his act of disobedience, returned to Ilarion and flung himself down at the other monk’s feet. In repentance, Roman demanded to be allowed to place himself under Ilarion’s obedience. At first Ilarion refused, knowing Roman to be his better in spiritual attainment, but after seeing Roman’s sincere and heartfelt remorse Ilarion agreed to Roman’s request.

Tsar Ivan Aleksandăr had gone in force to Paroria and cleared it of bandits, and for a short time Roman and Ilarion returned and lived there as master and disciple. Roman took on the Great Schema and the monastic name of Romil. However, the bandits returned and again Saint Romil was forced to flee. He set up a small hermitage in a remote place, but other monks who were jealous of Romil’s peace began to whisper against them, and rather than contend with them Romil went instead to Athos. Seeking deeper and deeper solitude he settled at last at Melana, and then to the spare, forbidding northern slopes of Athos. But even in these remote places, spiritual elders would send Saint Romil pupils and spiritual children of theirs whom they thought to be in need of correction. Romil advised them on ways to be loving and humble, and ways to love God in greater perfection. Keeping in mind his own sins, Romil humbly encouraged those who came to him always to be obedient, just as Christ obeyed His Father.

After the Serbian despot Uglješa Mrnjavčević fell in battle against the Turks at the disastrous Battle of the Marica River in September 1371, the impious Turks were emboldened to mount attacks on the Holy Mountain itself. Saint Romil was among those who were forced to flee the Turkish assaults on the island, and he wound up first in Vlorë on the Adriatic Sea coast in what is now Albania. Once again he sought solitude, and once again it eluded him. Many monks and laymen sought him out in his hermitage for spiritual advice and healing. However, the unjust governors in Vlorë and the poor catechesis among the priesthood there precipitated his move from there to Ravanica in Serbia.

In Ravanica there was a newly-built monastery which Prince Saint Lazar had dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos, and Saint Romil set himself up in a cell near to this monastery. Here he lived for the remainder of his days, before he reposed in the Lord on the sixteenth of January, 1385. When he was buried, it was said that his tomb gave off an ineffable sweet fragrance. Many wonders of healing and exorcism attended Saint Romil’s burial and took place over his relics. Holy and venerable Romil, humble hermit and luminous beacon of hesychasm, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Romil the Hesychast, Tone 8:

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,
And your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!
O our holy father Romil, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!

Ravanica Monastery, Serbia

15 January 2021

Venerable Gavriil, Hermit of Lesnovo

Saint Gavriil of Lesnovo

The fifteenth of January is also the feast-day of the great and venerable Saint Gavriil of Lesnovo, a contemporary and friend of the meek Serbian Saint Prohor of Pčinja, with whom he shares this day of veneration. Both of them were disciples of Saint Ivan of Rila. As with both Saint Ivan and Saint Prohor, his hagiography bears some resemblance to saints in the Celtic tradition.

Saint Gavriil [Bg. Гавриил] was born in the eleventh century to noble parents, in the town of Osiče near Kriva Palanka, in what is now North Macedonia – although at the time it was part of the Byzantine province of Bulgaria. His parents, who had been without children for much of their adulthood, had prayed to God for a son, and Gavriil was His gift to them. They arranged a marriage for him and left him all of their property. But Gavriil’s young wife soon died, and Gavriil fled his inherited estate in search of a life which would be well-pleasing to God.

He met a deacon named Thomas, whose love for Christ inflamed in his heart a desire for the ascetic life. Thereafter he had a vision of the Archangel Michael, whereupon he returned to Osiče and established a church there, in honour of the Nativity of the Theotokos. However, he was soon compelled to leave his home and seek a monastic vocation at the Monastery of Saint Michael in the village of Lesnovo – today located in the foothills of northeastern North Macedonia. Here he distinguished himself by his humility and meek obedience to the abbot, and the abbot, soon recognising his spiritual potential, granted him the privilege of living in a cell apart by himself to devote greater time to prayer and vigil.

The monk Gavriil lived in this way meekly for some time. However, he had great compassion on his brethren, and his prayers for them when they were injured or ill had great efficacy in healing them. Many sought out Gavriil on account of this grace he demonstrated. As the crowds grew larger, Gavriil moved out of the monastery to avoid them, and he ventured first northward toward the forested hills around Lukovo. There he met a shepherd whose flock had been infected with a certain incurable and deadly blight of the flesh. The shepherd asked Saint Gavriil to bless some water and sprinkle it on his sheep. The sheep were healed wondrously by this water. The shepherd spread the news around of the holy man, and soon again Gavriil was thronged about by crowds. Again the hermit withdrew to a high mountain peak – possibly Orlov Kamen on the border of Serbia and Bulgaria. Here he spent thirty years toiling in solitary struggle, unknown to men. Here he met his repose in the Lord.

Saint Gavriil appeared in a vision to a Bulgarian monk named Iosif, asking him to make a journey to uncover his relics. Iosif – fearing that the vision might be a delusion sent by the Evil One – went to consult with his abbot and with the Metropolitan about it. The Metropolitan believed the vision to have been genuine, and enjoined the monk Iosif to make the journey and follow the saint’s instructions. The monk Iosif took with him a party of fellow-monastics and set off for the peak, and being guided by a second vision they found there the relics of Saint Gavriil lying in his cell, incorrupt. The monk brought them with great reverence to Lesnovo Monastery, where they were interred with honour and became the site of many wondrous healings and spiritual prodigies. The Serbian voivode and despot Jovan Oliver, in the fourteenth century, visited the now run-down monastery and built a church to house the reliquary, as well as giving generously of his own funds to restore the monastic house to its former glory. Later in the fourteenth century, the relics of Saint Gavriil would be transferred to Veliko Tărnovo to keep them safe from the depredations of the Turkish Sultân Murad I. His relics today, however, rest at the Lesnovo Monastery – which today bears both the name of Archangel Michael and the name of Saint Gavriil. Holy and venerable Gavriil, steadfast athlete of Christ, ascetic and healer, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!

Apolytikion for Saint Gavriil of Lesnovo, Tone 8:

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,
And your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!
O our holy father Gavriil, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!

St Michael and St Gabriel Monastery, Lesnovo, North Macedonia

Venerable Prohor, Hermit of Pčinja

Saint Prohor of Pčinja

The fifteenth of January is the Orthodox feast-day of Saint Prohor of Pčinja, another of the great saints of the mediæval South Slavs. A ‘desert’ monastic of the Balkan Peninsula in the eleventh century, Saint Prohor was a disciple of Saint Ivan of Rila and a contemporary and friend of Saint Gavriil of Lesnovo, whose memory we also celebrate today. Many elements of Saint Prohor’s hagiography are shared by certain of the Celtic hermits of Britain and Ireland, which is not surprising given the common heritage of desert spirituality that they share.

Saint Prohor [Bg., Srb. Прохор] was born in the Ovče Pole in what is now North Macedonia around the year 1000. Not much of his early life is known except that he became a follower of Saint Ivan of Rila. Seeking solitude for himself, he found a deserted spot for himself near where the town of Vranje now is, in the Pčinja River Valley. Here Prohor spent his life in solitary struggle against the passions, praying, fasting and keeping lonely vigil in the wilderness. He was tempted by many devils in his struggle. He subsisted upon wild cabbage and root vegetables, which he harvested for his food once a week. He went without seeing another human soul for thirty-two years.

What follows in his hagiography will be familiar to the students of Celtic spirituality, and in particular those who have read the lives of Saint Illtud of Wales, Saint Pedrog of Padstow, Saint Melangell of Pennant, Saint Neot of Cornwall or Saint Wihtburg of Dereham. It so happened that a doe which was being hunted fled into Saint Prohor’s cell and hid behind him for protection from the hunter’s hounds. Soon enough the hunter, who happened to be the future Rōmanos IV Diogenēs, came upon the hermit’s cell. The hermit was standing outside the door of his cave, barring the hunter from entering it. Prohor made the Sign of the Cross and gently commanded the hunter not to kill the doe. However, young Rōmanos, seeing the unnatural way in which the timid doe was not frightened of this holy man, fled from Prohor as though from an unearthly apparition.

However, Prohor came out from his cell and began calling Rōmanos by name. It may well be that the young Eastern Roman nobleman’s curiosity overpowered his fear, because he responded to Saint Prohor, and went back to meet him. Saint Prohor engaged the young Greek hunter in conversation, and when it came time for Rōmanos to take his leave of the saint, he asked for his blessing. Saint Prohor blessed him, and foretold that in time he would take the laurels. In return, Saint Prohor asked that the young nobleman not forget him. After this encounter, Saint Prohor retreated further into the wilderness.

Years passed, and Rōmanos IV Diogenēs took the throne in Constantinople. He did not forget his promise to Saint Prohor, who returned to him in a vision. Rōmanos went back to the spot along the Pčinja where he had met Prohor, but the holy man was nowhere to be found. The saint, who had long since reposed in a remote cave deep in the wilderness, appeared once more to Rōmanos and told him where and how his relics might be found. Following the vision’s instructions exactly, Rōmanos and his entourage came to the holy man’s cave, and found his body inside… completely incorrupt, lying down peacefully as though he were merely sleeping.

Emperor Rōmanos had a reliquary wrought out of fine gold for the saint, and placed his precious remains inside. The emperor then tried to move the reliquary, but it was so heavy that even an entire team of horses could not get it to budge. In this way the saint made manifest his will not to be removed from the place of his repose. And so Emperor Rōmanos established the Pčinja Monastery in the same place where Saint Prohor’s cave was. Today Pčinja is the second-largest Serbian monastery which is still active, after the Hilandar Monastery on Athos. Holy and venerable hermit Prohor, wondrous athlete for Christ and friend to all creation, pray unto Christ our God to have mercy upon us sinners!
Apolytikion for Saint Prohor of Pčinja, Tone 8:

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,
And your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!
O our holy father Prohor, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!

Prohor of Pčinja Monastery, Serbia

14 January 2021

Holy Hierarch Ilarion of Măglen

Saint Ilarion of Măglen

The fourteenth of January is the feast-day of one of mediæval Bulgaria’s great episcopal patrons and defenders of Orthodox doctrine, Saint Ilarion of Măglen. The small village of Măglen seems to be distinguished by holiness, both on account of this bishop and on account of the God-fearing virgin-martyr Saint Zlata; however the bishop predates the girl by over six hundred years. Saint Ilarion is venerated both on the fourteenth of January and on the twenty-first of September.

Much of what we know about Saint Ilarion [Bg. Иларион] comes from the Prologue as well as from mediæval Bulgarian sources. He was of Greek origin, and was born at some point in the 1080s in the mountain village of Promachoi, which is in the remote northern Pellas region in Greece very close to the border with North Macedonia. His parents – who were of the peasant class – were said to have been particularly observant. Ilarion followed closely in their footsteps: by the age of three he was said to have been chanting ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabbaoth!’ in great reverence. At the age of eighteen he left home to become a monk.

His monastic career was notable for his crystal-clear honesty and his sterling devotion, and it was not long before he was selected by the brethren to become the igumen, or abbot, of his monastery. He loved his fellow-monks and looked after them like a mother hen looks after her chicks. In particular he sought to bring his monastic brothers toward a sober way of life, and strictly limited the amount of wine they were allowed to drink. Later he founded his own monastery, dedicated to the Apostles, which followed the cœnobitic Rule of Saint Pachomios of the Ægyptian Thebaïd.

The holy abbot came to the notice of the Archbishop of Ohrid, Eustathios, when Eustathios was granted a vision of the Most Holy Theotokos, directing him to appoint the abbot in the Pellas Mountains as overseer of the flock in Măglen. Archbishop Eustathios heeded the voice of the Queen of Heaven, and lay his hands upon the abbot. This was indeed to the great benefit of the Bulgarian Church.

At this time, the hæresy of Bogomil was widespread and gaining strength among the Bulgarian people. Bogomil had preached among his followers a Gnostic and dualistic belief, possibly imported from the Paulicians of Armenia, that matter is inherently evil and that the servants of light must live as though they are divorced from all material concerns. The Bogomils scoffed at honourable marriage, at the eating of meat and the drinking of wine. And they also rejected the Incarnation of Christ, and with the Incarnation also the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. No sooner was the holy abbot elected to his position than he found himself embattled against this militant hæretical sect. Saint Ilarion preached, in particular, one fiery homily against them, which went thus:
You are not Christians at all, since you are hostile to the Cross of Christ the Savior. You do not acknowledge the One God, you slander the teachings of the Old Testament venerated by Christians. You deceive people by hypocritical meekness while full of pride. True piety is not possible in those who do not see their own heart's corruption, but by those who ask God’s grace with prayer and humility. Evil thoughts, envy, vanity, greed, lies are not the deed of some evil thing within man to be conquered by mere fasting. These vices are the fruit of self-love which demands rooting out by spiritual efforts.
But he did not preach against Bogomilism merely in words. By his meek and ascetic example he also bore witness to the Truth of Christ. Saint Ilarion matched the fastidiousness of the Bogomils in his personal diet and in his abstentious way of living. But: he also honoured the Cross, he taught the veneration of icons, he gave great glory to the Mother of God who had called him out from his abbey. He taught the value of every one of the Sacraments by administering them with great love to the faithful, and by living an example of love and virtue in his dealing with all who met him. By Saint Ilarion’s personal example, many of Bogomil’s followers left him and again embraced the true Orthodox faith. For thirty years, from 1134 to 1164, he exhorted the faithful in the South Slavic lands, and toiled in the vineyard without rest. And on the twenty-first of October in the year 1164, Saint Ilarion reposed in the Lord, at peace with all of his monastic brethren and with his parishioners. He passed on the abbacy of his monastery to his trusted prior, Peter, before his passing. During his funeral procession, it was said that his eyes streamed tears of myrrh, and that he appeared in visions to his monks to strengthen them in their ascetic labours.

He was venerated as a saint very quickly upon his repose, and a careful investigation was made as to the genuine nature of the wonders of healing, visions and prodigies that occurred around his monastery when his name was invoked. Indeed, his relics were also uncovered sometime during the early thirteenth century (before 1207), and found to be incorrupt. This was when his remains were transferred from Măglen to Veliko Tărnovo by the great Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan, to brighten the glory of the Bulgarian capital. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church promptly glorified him and asked his intercessions in the diptychs ever since that time. His relics were again moved in 1393 when they were taken by the Sultân Bayezid I of the Turks and entrusted to one of his vassals, who moved them to the Church of Saint Michael in Sarandopor – now in North Macedonia. Holy hierarch Ilarion, meek monastic and fierce champion of the Orthodox belief, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Ilarion of Măglen, Tone 4:

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
An image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
Your humility exalted you;
Your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Ilarion,
Entreat Christ our God
That our souls may be saved.

10 January 2021

Venerable Antipa de la Calapodești, Schemamonk of Valaam

Saint Antipa de la Calapodești

Today is the feast-day in the Holy Orthodox Church of another of the great Romanian hesychasts – this time, one from the nineteenth century: Saint Antipa de la Calapodești, better-known as Saint Antipas of Valaam. Saint Antipa is much beloved on the Holy Mountain, and is well-known among the monks of Valaam Monastery in the oblast’ of Karelia in Russia. (He is also celebrated among the Orthodox believers in neighbouring Finland.) It is somewhat unfortunate that up until recently he had remained relatively unknown in his own native land, though this appears to be changing quickly.

Saint Antipa was born Alexandru Luchian, the son of deacon and choir director of the village church Gheorghe Constantin Luchian and his wife Ecaterina Manase, in the year 1816 in the village of Calapodești in Moldavia. His parents, who were both good decent working-class folks of peasant stock, struggled to conceive a child, and for many years God did not answer their prayers. When God saw fit to grant them Alexandru, his mother felt no pangs during the childbirth, and both parents were overjoyed with him.

Alexandru was not, however, the most ‘promising’ of children after the ways of the world. He was, so his hagiography says, slow and clumsy – and his marks in school were not particularly good. His teacher, who was frustrated with Alexandru’s poor performance, advised him to drop out of school and learn a trade. However, Alexandru was gifted with kindness and a meek and gentle heart. Animals did not fear him, and he was even able to pick up venomous snakes without risk of being bitten. He was also doggedly persistent, and with prayers to God and through hard work he continued to apply himself to reading and push himself through school. He particularly loved reading the lives of the saints, the Holy Fathers, the Gospels and the books of the Church. He had very nearly completed his course of study when he learned the news that his father Deacon Gheorghe had passed away, and his family was thrown into poverty.

To support himself and his widowed mother Ecaterina, Alexandru did learn a craft: the art of bookbinding. This trade gave him additional opportunity to learn wisdom and holiness from the Holy Fathers and the saints who loved Christ. His money problems were solved, but he was not satisfied with this life in a trade. At the age of twenty, however, while he was at prayer, he had a conversion experience and a sudden moment of clarity, being bathed in a miraculous divine light, and he left his home in secret to go to Neamț Monastery, and prayed before an icon of the Theotokos which was within the monastery chapel there. As he prayed, the Theotokos heard his prayers, and the curtains that shielded the icon from view drew themselves back although no one else but Alexandru was in the chapel. However, the abbot at Neamț Monastery refused to receive Alexandru as a postulant. His mother Ecaterina, at this time, also became a nun with the monastic name of Elisabeth.

Young Alexandru was therefore compelled to seek a monastic vocation elsewhere. He came to Vrancea, and he was admitted to a monastery nearby. Some sources say that this was Mănăsterea Căldărușani near Bucharest, but the more likely possibility appears to be that he entered the nearby Brazi Skete in Vrancea. (Some accounts have it that he spent some time first at one and then at the other.) At Brazi he witnessed the uncovering of the relics of the hieromartyr Saint Teodosie de la Brazi (22 Sep), and was ordained a novice (or rassaphore) by the Abbot Dimitrie with the name of Alimpie. He stayed in Vrancea for two years. At this time he became acquainted with an Athonite elder named Ghedeon, a recluse who lived close by the monastery, who taught him about the practice of hesychasm and instilled in the young monk Alimpie a desire for the life of inward prayer. He went to Abbot Dimitrie and made a request to visit Athos.

Normally the abbot, who was a monk of vast experience in spiritual striving and profound in his discernment, frowned upon such requests, seeing in them the seeds of spiritual vainglory. But in Alimpie’s case he astonished the brethren by allowing his request. Thus the rassaphore Alimpie departed for the Holy Mountain in Greece, seeking the wisdom of God in a foreign land but with his eyes ever on the homeland of all true Christians – the kingdom of God.

On Athos, at the Skete of Lacu, he met with two Romanian schemamonks named Nifon and Nectarie, but they would not allow him to join them in the wilderness, thinking it instead better for him to seek a cœnobitic community and live alongside other brethren of his own age and spiritual maturity and struggle against the passions together with them. He obeyed them readily, and he went to Esphigmanou Monastery, where he laboured in the kitchens preparing with his hands the brethren’s daily bread. Here he found himself struggling in particular against spiritual sloth and despondency, and found his inner prayer life to be dry and lifeless. Yet with trust in the Mother of God he endured.

Schemamonk Nifon took Alimpie as his spiritual son and entrusted him with the status of a full monk. As is customary for schemamonks, Alimpie was once more given a new name in Christ – Antipa. Nifon had long harboured a desire of building an Romanian monastery on Athos, and sought to enlist his new disciple Antipa in this worthy goal. However, Antipa was dedicated to living a hesychastic life in the desert, and he would not be deflected from his own purpose. Nifon, seeing that Antipa was insistent upon living a hermit’s life, gave his permission reluctantly. But he sent Antipa off with nothing to live on – no money, no food. Nevertheless, Antipa directed his prayers to the Mother of God and survived.

Saint Antipa took refuge in the ancient debris of another hermit’s hut, long since moved on, deep within the Holy Mountain. The walls were barely standing and there was no roof. There was nothing within of any value, except for one priceless thing. The hermit who had abandoned the hut had left, amid the rubble, a long-disused, blackened and weatherworn icon. Only a small undamaged portion of the face showed it to have been an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Saint Antipa took up this icon, and went and found a certain deacon named Paisie, who was well-versed in iconography. Paisie told him that the best he could do was to teach him how to clean it. Saint Antipa made an effort, but he soon found that the icon fairly began to clean itself, and soon all of its features were not only restored, but this icon of the Mother of God shone even brighter than one newly painted!

In this way the Most Holy Theotokos showed her favour upon her devoted servant Saint Antipa. It so happened that on the road back to the hut he met a stranger, who greeted him cheerfully in Christ’s name and dropped five gold coins into Antipa’s hand, telling him that they had come from some good people who had besought him to make a gift of them to the first hermit that he met – that perhaps they would be of some use to him. And so Antipa went and used them to hire a carpenter to repair the old hut. The carpenter set about his work, but soon slipped and injured himself so that he couldn’t stand or even speak. Fr Antipa was not able to lift the stout worker into the hut, and so he left his icon of the Theotokos near the carpenter’s head and went off by himself to pray. When he returned he found the carpenter well and fully recovered and hard at work. Saint Antipa asked him what had happened, and the carpenter cheerfully replied that the icon had healed the wounds upon his body and his head, and restored him to health. The hut was soon finished, and Saint Antipa was able to lead his solitary life of prayer and quietude for a time.

However, Father Nifon’s plans to build a Romanian skete on Athos began to bear fruit. He had obtained the rights to a metochion at Bucium (essentially a monastic holding for rent or directly providing income) in Iași, and set to work building a monastery – the Prodromou Skete – from the funds he obtained. Antipa was given charge, firstly, of the monastery cellars. Later, as the monastery grew and Nifon’s duties became greater, Antipa was given charge of acting as confessor and spiritual father to the new monks and novices. At length, Father Nifon sent Saint Antipa to Iași in person, to be steward over the metochion there.

Saint Antipa no longer had the solitude he had sought, but he was obedient to Father Nifon in all things. He returned home to his native Romania, to Iași. Despite being thrown into the tumult and the busy-ness of the city, Antipa did not alter one bit his way of life, but instead kept strict fasts and vigils, owned nothing, prayed constantly, and wherever he went greeted all who appeared before him with kindness and meekness and humility. He soon became known as a holy man, and his self-effacing manner, even temper and excellent patience drew many people to him for advice. He was trusted by both rich and poor within the city, both men and women, both Romanians and non-Romanians. Under his care, the metochion prospered, the monastery prospered, and many in Iași were enlightened and drew benefit from Saint Antipa’s great wisdom and love of God. He enjoyed a particularly close relationship and spiritual friendship with Metropolitan Sofronie of Moldavia.

Fr Nifon soon called once again on the services of his faithful disciple, and asked Antipa to accompany him on a voyage into Russia to collect funds for the Romanian skete. Again Saint Antipa dutifully did what he was bidden to do – but soon Nifon’s other duties caught up with him and he left Antipa alone in the midst of a country whose language and ways he did not know. Even so, with faith Antipa continued what he had come to do. He was kept at a small hut on the edge of an orchard where he could quietly pray during the day and the night, and he rarely left it.

He raised a large sum of money, with many great gifts from the generous Russians, and sent it by ship to Athos. However, the ship went down in a storm on the Black Sea, and the entire treasure was lost. Saint Antipa did not lose faith, but continued to pray to the Theotokos for aid. He raised another large sum of money, which had to be converted into gold before it could be shipped abroad, and he was told by a voice in a vision to seek the aid of the Metropolitan of Kiev. The Metropolitan, who had the ear of the Minister of Finance, was able to convert the sum into gold and have it shipped to Athos. At this success, the sunken ship was forgotten and again Saint Antipa was able to raise funds for Prodromou. During all this time, much to the amazement of the monks who came to his cell, Saint Antipa continued his prayers both in Greek and Romanian, such that he was never at rest but continually praying the entire day.

Saint Antipa again attracted others to him by his humble and holy way of life. He was revered in particular by Saint Filaret of Moscow, and by Saint Isidor of Petersburg. Indeed, the latter invited him personally to participate in the uncovering and translation of the relics of the great Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk.

However, Saint Antipa still desired solitude with his whole heart, that he might devote himself entirely to God. In 1865 he retired to Valaam, on the shores of Lake Ladoga in far northwestern Russia, near Finland. He lived in a lonely cell some ways removed from the Valaam Monastery, there to pursue his solitary life of prayer. His cell was entirely bare, having only a chair and a rough blanket on the floor, and of course the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos which he had brought with him from Athos. Here he prayed and wept for his sins constantly. However, he came to the monastery three times a year and, while there, conversed freely with the pilgrims and made himself available to all who would come for advice. When he was questioned about this by one of the postulants, who was not sure what to make of a hermit who could so freely and jovially converse with laymen, he answered with the words of St Paul: ‘I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Saint Antipa was given to know of the end of his earthly life several days before it happened. Several unknown monks came to the monastery while he was there, and their faces shone in a way he was not able to describe. When he went back to his cell, the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos came down from his wall and settled upon his chest, while the other icons all fell to the floor. He was also given to know of events that were happening in the monastery, even as he lay upon his deathbed. He reposed peacefully in the Lord on the tenth of January, 1882. Holy father Antipa, constant in prayer and constant in faith, through your prayers to Christ our God beseech Him to have mercy upon us!
Apolytikion for Saint Antipa de la Calapodești, Tone 8:

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,
And your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!
O our holy father Antipa, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!

08 January 2021

Holy New Hieromartyr Andrei, Bishop of Ufa

Saint Andrei of Ufa

The eighth of January – actually the twenty-sixth of December on the Old Calendar – is the feast-day of Saint Andrei of Ufa, the Russian catacomb saint I’ve mentioned before and also one of the earliest ‘pink priests’ in Russia during the Revolutionary period – in fact, one of the only hierarchical supporters of the moderate socialists in the government. At the same time, however, his understanding of the social question was fundamentally conservative, and much closer to that of the Slavophils than to the social-revolutionaries. He ultimately became dissatisfied with the ideology as it became more violent. Saint Andrei is well worth remembering alongside Fr Valentin Sventsitskii, with whom he shares much in common, and with Saint Tikhon of Moscow whose cause as Patriarch he championed. This is because he was, like them, considered ‘too red for the whites, and too white for the reds’. In the end, he was given a sham trial and executed by the NKVD, because he dared to criticise the ecclesiological hæresy of Sergianism and the so-called ‘Living Church’.

The following hagiographical treatment of Saint Andrei of Ufa draws heavily – both in structure and in content – upon the biographical works of him authored by Vladimir Moss (The Holy New Martyrs of Eastern Russia, 2010) and James White (Missionary, Reformer, and Old Believer in Revolutionary Russia, 2018). It also brings in the briefer treatments of his character and activities – Churchly, political and charitable – in the East by Charles Steinwedel (Threads of Empire, 2016) and Edward E Roslof (Red Priests, 2002). It is my hope that this treatment is an effective synthesis from the available English-language sources and helps to draw, in writing, as accurate an ‘icon’ of the Saint as possible.

Saint Andrei [Rus. Андрей] was born Aleksandr Alekseevich Ukhtomskii on the twenty-sixth of December in the year 1872. His family was from a village outside Rybinsk in Yaroslavl’ oblast’. The noble Ukhtomskii family could trace its roots back to the Rurikovich line of royal princes of Rus’, from which sprang many saints including Saint Olga, Saint Vladimir, Saints Boris and Gleb, Saint Andrei Bogolyubskii and Saint Aleksandr Nevskii, though he apparently also claimed some Tatar heritage. Aleksandr’s father, Aleksei, was a minor nobleman and bureaucrat who had a posting in the Russian Navy; and his mother Antonina was an ideal housewife. However, it was his governess, a former serf named Maria Pavlovna, who was most instrumental in his early development, inspiring in him both a love for God and the saints, but also a love for the Russian peasantry and their traditions. Aleksandr’s younger brother Aleksei Alekseevich Ukhtomskii would go on to become a famous psychologist; and the two brothers did not always get along with each other, but they did love each other quite deeply.

Aleksandr Ukhtomskii early on expressed an interest in the priesthood. He seems to have been inspired in this – as well as in his social activism – by the example of Saint John of Kronstadt, whose sermons he went in person to attend, and whose sweet words of encouragement directly to him regarding the awesome duties of the priesthood strengthened his desire for a life of service to the common people. However, when he announced his intentions to his family, their reaction was almost entirely negative. His uncle, also named Aleksandr, berated him harshly. His mother Antonina pleaded with him to give up his associations with priests. Out of deference to her, at first, he complied. But after his uncle Aleksandr died the following week, Antonina’s son Aleksandr took it as a sign that he must push forward with his priestly calling.

The choice to become a priest was – it cannot be emphasised enough – an act of class treason on Aleksandr’s part. His parents and uncle castigated him for his desire to join the priesthood largely out of noble pride. They didn’t want him to be associated with the ‘black clergy’, who were – very much unlike their Catholic counterparts in Western Europe – ill-compensated, ill-educated, lacking in social prestige, largely of working-class origins, and possessed of large families that they were often at pains to feed. They were very close to the peasantry they served – and in the eyes of a largely-Westernised Russian nobility this was a cause for a certain degree of revulsion. But Aleksandr, who kept in mind his governess Maria, not only did not share this revulsion, but he actively repudiated it.

At Moscow Theological Seminary he was taught first by the preeminent Bishop (later Metropolitan) Antonii (Khrapovitskii) of Kiev (who introduced the young seminarian Aleksandr to the writings of Aleksei Khomyakov and Ivan Kireevskii – the Slavophil philosophers), and subsequently by then-Archimandrite Saint Arsenii of Novgorod and Toshkent. His imagination was fired by the concept of sobornost’ and its clear resonance with the lived experience of the Russian peasantry. Aleksandr developed a ‘conservative radicalism’ that would characterise his entire career in the Church: he deeply valued the freedom of the Russian common people, but this freedom did not consist merely in legal rights and negative immunities – instead it consisted in the active giving and sharing in each other in the communal life of the rural mir or the urban artel’. The Slavophils imbued Aleksandr with a deep and abiding heartfelt faith in principles of œconomic and church organisation which may be termed as populist, consensus-based or radically-democratic. He was a lifelong opponent of both erastian tyrannies whether sæcular or confessional; as well as of clericalism, obscurantism and blind fideism in church matters.

The seminarian Aleksandr Ukhtomskii was not, however, a fan of liberal democracy and bourgeois parliamentarianism – although the arguments he marshalled against both were conservative and monarchist rather than socialist or anarcho-syndicalist in character. In Aleksandr’s thinking, Russian freedom is best preserved under a Tsar who embodies and marshals the religious energies of the people, and subsequently allows them to be directed toward their democratic-communal œconomic – though not necessarily political! – life. In Saint Andrei of Ufa’s career, we can therefore see the internal tensions of the early nineteenth-century Slavophil faith played out in a twentieth-century political context. He admired the Christian radicalism of early Kievan Rus’, and even the ‘concentrated’ holiness of the Tsardom of Moscow. But – unlike Dostoevskii, for example – he utterly detested Peter the Great and his transformation of the Church into a mere bureau of government. It was against the Synodal system inaugurated by Peter that he bent all of his energies during his clerical career until the appointment of Patriarch Saint Tikhon; and thereafter against the attempts by Stalin’s government to restore a similar arrangement under the ‘Living Church’ and Metropolitan Sergii.

Aleksandr Ukhtomskii became tonsured as a monk shortly after graduating from seminary, and took on the monastic name of Andrei. He had baulked at the idea of marriage, which would be expected of a ‘black priest’ prior to ordination, because he subconsciously held all women to the unreachably-high standard set by his favourite female saint, Nino of Georgia. Once he was tonsured as a monk he became vigorously active in promulgating the Gospel – in word and in deed. He had the utmost ceremonial reverence for the Holy Mysteries, and for the Scriptures. But he was equally beloved for his service to the poor and needy. Whenever he was given a gift by a rich admirer – fresh fruit, for example – he gave it at once to a hungry person or someone in need. He kept a strict ascetic routine, fasted and prayed constantly, and slept upon a hard bed without the benefit of blanket or pillow.

The new monk Andrei was sent out first as a missionary-inspector to Ossetia. The Ossetians, an Iranian-speaking people of the Caucasus descended from the Scythians, the Sauromatai and the Alans, were at that time divided between Orthodoxy, Islâm and the local rodnoverie. Andrei saw his work there being, not to spread Russian civilisation or to proselytise the Ossetians, but instead to develop Church materials and sæcular readers in the local Ossetian language, to promote education, and to love the people without ulterior motives. A major proponent of this model of Orthodox missiology, which had been first promoted by Saint Innocent of Irkutsk, was the lay professor and Turcologist Nikolai Il’minskii. Saint Andrei followed this model religiously – so to speak – even though it led him into conflicts with right-wing Russian nationalists. As he himself put it:
I am convinced that even if the Orthodox Chuvash, Mari, Udmurts and baptised Tatars do not know a word of Russian but are only loyal sons of the Church, then they will always love the Russian Orthodox tsar, serve their Orthodox fatherland, worship its holy saints, defend the Holy Church from insult, and so on. In a word, being enlightened by the light of Christianity through their [own] languages, the inorodtsy can be Russian patriots!
Saint Andrei was a fierce critic of trends in the society he deemed to be materialistic and selfish. In something of a throwback to Saint John Chrysostom’s tirade against circuses and hippodromes, he critiqued the Russian obsession with the theatre as a pagan idol which took the place of and distracted people from the Christian Liturgy. Also, like Saint Misail of Ryazan, he wedded a social witness against exploitation and violence to a moralistic witness against drunkenness. But he reserved some of his harshest invective for the spirit of capitalism which he saw descending upon Russia. He called capitalism an ‘egotistic order’ and a ‘deeply anti-cultural phenomenon’, parasitic on Christian history but antagonistic to Christian love.

He therefore welcomed some of the reforms that the 1905 constitutional crisis in Russia brought about, but by no means all. By this time he had been appointed as an abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in Kazan. By 1907 he would be consecrated to the new bishopric of Mamadysh. He had run-ins with revolutionary upheaval in Kazan, when he broke up a riot at a gunpowder factory that had turned violent and killed one man. He had grown to love and respect the Bashkir and Tatar people amongst whom he lived, and he welcomed the new law that allowed for freedom of conscience among the Russian people – seeing it as an opportunity for the Orthodox Church to reform itself and rededicate itself to a mission of love, without the hint of coercion behind it. He had a personal respect for the character of Konstantin Pobedonostsev, but he believed Pobedonostsev’s very office to be a Westernised abomination. And he hated the idea of intégrisme – a Church with the weapons of the state in its hand – as much as he hated the idea of Petrine erastianism. At the same time, though, he was intensely critical of the idea of a full church-state separation, seeing the public presence of the Orthodox Church being the sole bulwark against both the godless force of capitalism and against the pious reaction of Islâm as preached by Tatar and Bashkir imâms.

It is necessary to note that although Saint Andrei could be intensely critical of Islâm as a doctrine, he had a marked admiration and affection for Muslim people, similar to his mentor Saint John of Kronstadt. He admired the nobility and strength of spirit in Tatar and Bashkir men. And even his critiques of Islâm presented the faith of the ‘Hagarenes’ as a foil to a lukewarm and indifferent Orthodox Church that had lost its fire and its connexion to the hearts of the common people. As often as not, his diatribes against Islâm contained barely-veiled critiques aimed at the complacency and bureaucratic lethargy of the synodal structure of the Orthodox Church. However, his attitudes toward evangelisation of the inorodtsy led to confrontations and fights with the far-right Black Hundreds. The Black Hundreds supported ethnic Russification of the East – ‘Russia for the Russians’ – rather than the civic evangelism supported by the bishop. As a result, they hated Saint Andrei, and – though it was ill-suited for a bishop to do so, he himself citing ‘sinful thoughts’ – he returned the sentiment heartily. The clashes got to be so bad that Saint Andrei was compelled by the Church to leave Kazan for Mamadysh.
Saint Andrei kept busy. He was active in missionary work among the inorodtsy according to the Irkutsk / Il’minskii model, both in the Caucasus and in the Russian East. He was also a political activist, homilising in fiery terms against exploitation of the poor by the rich. And of course he was a steadfast advocate of Church reforms: in particular, the democratic organisation of the laity, the election of priests and bishops, and the restoration of the Russian Patriarchate.

He clashed hard with Rasputin and his toadies in the Imperial Court. From the start he had a certain distrust for this wild-eyed soi-disant ‘holy man’ with his erratic mannerisms and his mesmeric hold over the Tsarina in particular, but Saint Andrei’s personal dislike of Rasputin was cemented when the latter made a comment disparaging Saint John of Kronstadt’s personal life. From that point on, Saint Andrei became, together with Metropolitan Antonii (Khrapovitskii) a devoted opponent of the Rasputin clique in Petersburg. These clashes caused Saint Andrei to be relocated again – this time to the city of Ufa in what is now Bashkortostan.

In Ufa, Saint Andrei continued to push for Church reforms, including clerical election and the organisation of the laity. Bashkortostan was indeed a logical place for these sorts of reforms to occur, being the centre of one of the more successful coöperative movements in præ-revolutionary Russia and a long, proud history of left-wing political agitation going back to Pugachev’s Rebellion. And indeed, parish priests in Ufa were, for a short time, directly elected by their parishes under Saint Andrei’s rule. The First World War had a significant effect on Ufa as well. Although initially supportive of the causes of Russian entry into the Great War, Bishop Andrei soon came to realise that the human costs of the war far outweighed any good it might possibly bring, and his homiletics began to take on a strongly anti-war tone. Saint Andrei was actively involved in mobilising the Orthodox parishes in Ufa to care for the slow-rising flood of war orphans, refugees and wounded soldiers retreating from the Eastern Front.

Saint Andrei was active at this time in charitable and social work. He helped to found the East Russian Cultural Enlightenment Society («Восточнорусское Культурно-Просветительное Общество», VRKPO), which used its funding to sponsor schools, orphanages, libraries and hospitals throughout the Russian East from 1916 to 1919, when it was disbanded by the Soviet authorities. The VRKPO also promoted a cultural programme based on the Il’minskii system, which advocated for the cultural and linguistic rights of inorodtsy while at the same time propagating Orthodox Christianity within non-Russian speaking communities. It also promoted a moderate-left political agenda aimed at promoting financial self-sufficiency, communal credit and collective bargaining among both Russians and non-Russians living in the East. Several VRKPO members from Ufa were in fact elected to the Constitutive Assembly in 1917.

Saint Andrei’s relationship with Renovationism was complicated. He was, in fact, one of the founders – and the sole supporter and patron among the body of Orthodox bishops – of the proto-Renovationist ‘Union of Democratic Laity and Clergy’ («Союз демократического духовенства и мирян», SDDM) in Saint Petersburg in 1917. The SDDM, which was closely associated with the Socialist Revolutionary Party, sponsored and championed many of the reforms that Saint Andrei held dear: election of parish clergy, Liturgies in the vernacular, legal freedom of conscience, mobilisation of the laity in the life of the Church. It also shared Saint Andrei’s hostility to capitalism, and supported radical œconomic reforms meant to place control over Russia’s productive forces collectively in the hands of peasants and workers. In the press, Saint Andrei was called a ‘clerical Bolshevik’. It was meant as an insult, but Saint Andrei took it and wore it as a badge of honour, and supported it with reference to the Gospel of Saint Luke.

However, the SDDM was soon joined and later supplanted by several other Renovationist organisations with what today might be called accelerationist platforms. Saint Andrei perceived that these organisations, which came to coalesce into the hæretical ‘Living Church’, were aiming to attack and destroy the very sobornyi basis of the Church and subordinate it to the new Bolshevik party under a neo-Petrine, cæsaropapist political arrangement. This went against everything that Saint Andrei had lived, worked and fought for throughout his entire clerical career – and, more importantly, it went against the spirit of Christ. Saint Andrei also vehemently opposed Kerenskii’s attempts to sæcularise Russian society and break the Church away from many of the social organisations it fostered and supported – in particular the schools. He lambasted Kerenskii’s ‘atheism’ and ‘irreligion’ when he attempted to seize parish schools and convert them into state schools which would be officially neutral on questions of religion.

Similarly to Kang Youwei or Liang Shuming in China, Saint Andrei found himself out-of-step with the spirit of the times in two different ways. Prior to 1917 Saint Andrei had been a left-wing agitator, a narodnik, a champion of the rights of peasants and workers to determine their own œconomic livelihoods collectively for themselves. In the wake of 1917, Saint Andrei found himself a lonely voice for the religious conscience of the masses, for the humble piety of the same peasants and workers against a pernicious revolutionary doctrine of foreign provenance. Before, he had been a thorn in the side of the Synodal system, of the Black Hundreds, of Rasputin, of the obscurantist wings of the Tsarist clergy. Afterwards, he found himself a thorn in the side of the new and increasingly Bolshevik-dominated post-Revolutionary government… all without changing what he believed and what he stood for! He had always stood for Christ – alongside the widows, the orphans, the inorodtsy, the wounded and crippled casualties of war.

During the Civil War, in fact, Saint Andrei briefly worked for Admiral AV Kolchak of the White Navy who briefly set up a counterrevolutionary government in Siberia, helping to tend to White wounded and working to restore some semblance of order to the Church in Ufa after the Soviet takeover. Although Bishop Andrei’s personal relationship with Admiral Kolchak was good (the two sharing the same faith and many of the same convictions), the new Provisional All-Russian Government distrusted Andrei for the same reasons mentioned above: he had been a foe of the old order they were attempting to restore. As Vladimir Moss writes: ‘[Bishop Andrei] often appealed to Admiral Kolchak himself with his plan for organizing parishes throughout Eastern Russia. But he was rejected, and sometimes even persecuted. And this in spite of the fact that the supreme ruler himself greatly respected him.

In the wake of the Soviet reconquest of the East in 1920, Saint Andrei was placed under arrest on trumped-up charges of conspiracy, and put into prison under the most heinously-confining, inhumane and health-endangering conditions. Bishop Andrei was kept alive largely by donations of food from sympathetic Orthodox Christians, which had to be kept discrete and secret from the Soviet authorities to protect the identities of his benefactors. For the rest of his life, indeed, he was very rarely out of prison. His support for the saintly Patriarch Tikhon – who indeed shared many of Saint Andrei’s social views, given his support of organised labour and the rights of Alaska Natives in the United States! – led him to share in the Patriarch’s martyrdom.
Saint Andrei had long had a weak spot, a sympathy for the Old Belief in Russia. His heartfelt distaste and opposition to the Petrine reforms, indeed, made such a sympathy more likely. But his attitude toward the ecclesiastical reforms of Patriarch Nikon, and his belief that these reforms both alienated the common people from the Church and set the stage for the erastian arrangement of the Synodal government that followed, cemented this sympathy. But in the wake of his arrest in 1920 he began to have more and more significant contacts with Old Believer communities in the East.

His conflicts with Metropolitan Sergii became much more overt and hostile, the more he began to contact with Old Believer communities in Moscow, in Ufa and in his exile in Tashkent. At length, a concelebrated Liturgy he held with a certain Old Believer monk named Kliment and an Old Believer bishop named Rufinii, caused Metropolitan Sergii to suspend him from the Orthodox hierarchy – twice. As Sergii continued to persecute him he did so without the authority of the Church and on his own initiative, without giving the beleaguered Bishop the benefit of an ecclesial trial or the benefit of witnesses on his behalf. Saint Andrei remained immensely popular in Ufa, and his return was greeted with exuberant joy by many of the people who remembered his kindness and work on their behalf. A later clerical trial exonerated Bishop Andrei of any wrongdoing and reinstated him as an Orthodox bishop.

But Saint Andrei did not forget his treatment at the hands of Metropolitan Sergii. By the time that Sergii penned his infamous Declaration swearing the Church of Russia to the Soviet authorities in the most slavish possible way, and demanding all of the bishops of the Church do the same, Saint Andrei was ready with an answer. He openly flouted the Declaration. But it is intriguing that in his rejection of Sergii’s Declaration, he attacked first and foremost Sergii’s history of obscurantism, his closeness to Rasputin and his slavishness before Tsarist authority prior to the Soviet takeover. Even as late as 1930, Saint Andrei was critiquing the Soviet-accommodationist clergy from a ‘left’ position!

Subsequent to this, he was officially barred from travelling to Ufa, to Kazan or to Siberia – largely on account of his popularity there. He was kept either in prison (where he suffered so badly from malnourishment that most of his hair fell out), or under virtual house-arrest in Moscow, where he celebrated Liturgy at one of the vanishingly-few non-Sergianist churches remaining there, and then was deported to Almaty in Kazakhstan in 1932. He met and was reconciled with Metropolitan Iosif of Petrograd. He kept up correspondence with his well-wishers and old friends in Bashkortostan and Kazan, who sent him packages with expensive gifts that – true to his character – Saint Andrei at once distributed among the poor and needy in Kazakhstan.

He was arrested one final time and transported to Moscow, held in close confinement for three years between 1934 and 1937, possibly in a labour camp near Yaroslavl’. At a secret trial held in Rybinsk – not far from where Saint Andrei was born, in fact – the NKVD found him guilty of unidentified charges which are nowhere on record, and sentenced him to death by firing squad. The sentence was carried out on the fourth of September, 1937. Saint Andrei asked – and was given – a few minutes for prayer before his execution, and a schemamonk Epifanii who was imprisoned with Saint Andrei reported that while he prayed he was bathed in light from a radiant cloud and vanished from view for several minutes. This caused great fear and bewilderment among his executioners, who hastened to carry out the punishment afterward.

Saint Andrei was glorified by ROCOR in 1981 in the Synaxis of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, though there was a motion in 1993 to decanonise him based on his contacts and concelebration of the Liturgy with the Old Believers. He was posthumously pardoned and rehabilitated by the Soviet government under glasnost’ in 1989, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Moscow Patriarchate has been a bit slow to recognise Saint Andrei despite his immense popularity locally, in Ufa and Kazan, where he is celebrated as a local saint; however, he is listed on the Church calendar, though his feast-day commemorates the day of his birth rather than the day of his martyrdom. Holy hierarch and new martyr Andrei, steadfast friend of the poor and needy, champion of the inorodtsy and bold confessor of the truth before the godless, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!