Part 3: True Athonite Elders Arsenius and Jerome
Orthodox Life magazine 1980 (6)
The Athonite Elders Arsenius and Jerome
At nine o'clock in the morning of 14 November 1885, in the Russian Monastery of the Holy and Greatmartyr Panteleimon on the Holy Mountain, the Elder Hieroschemamonk Jerome reposed. All Athos revered him: Russians and Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians, Moldavians and Georgians regarded him as a unique and experienced preceptor, one full of love, merciful and abounding in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, being deftly capable of healing every spiritual wound.
Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky of blessed memory writes: "A touch of regenerating grace does not destroy freedom but draws man to make a decisive choice between good and evil, between self-justification and self-condemnation." And, by way of example, he later adds: "Some thirty years ago there lived on Mount Athos a magnanimous monk named Jerome, who drew to the Monastery of St. Panteleimon more than a thousand other monks. His gentleness and charitable attitude towards human frailty were without limit, and many who were tempted by sin felt the spirit of Jerome barring their way; some repented and confessed to him; but there were also some whom the moral interference of the absent elder infuriated into reproach and even assault.
Hieroschemamonk Jerome was born on 28 June 1803, in the town of Old Oskola in the Kursk district. His parents were Orthodox and pious, being merchantmen by trade. His father, Pavel Grigorievich Solomentsev, and his mother Martha Athanasievna (afterwards schemanun Evvula) had great wealth. Besides Fr. Jerome, whom they named John at Holy Baptism, they had three other sons and a daughter. The eldest son was a monk, and the whole Solomentsev family was distinguished by their shared disposition towards spiritual asceticism; from among them nearly fifteen people, both men and women, undertook the struggles of the monastic discipline. From his earliest years John Solomentsev loved the Lord and yearned to serve Him in fasting and prayerful struggles. He was a natural monk. Merchantmen's concerns oppressed him, but because his older brother was in a monastery and his younger brothers were still growing up, whether he willed it or no, it fell to his lot to bear this burden as his yoke in order to assist his father with his business. So he lived in this manner until he was twenty-five, nursing within himself God's calling to the monastic life, the desire for which was more and more kindled in his heart. Privy to his desire was his sister, Eudocia Pavlovna, a maiden of rare beauty, meek and even-tempered, one who, like her brother, was full of yearning to betroth herself to the Incorruptible Bridegroom. Neither he, nor she, decided to tell their parents about their desire to go to a monastery. It was the lot of both of them to wait and forbear until such time as God showed to be favorable. And so one day they saw that their parents happened to be in a good spiritual disposition, and therefore, having talked amongst themselves, they resolved to approach them together with their requests to retire to a monastery. Firstly John Pavlovich approached his parents; kneeling before them, he begged them in tears not to insist that he languish in the world, but to bless him to go to a monastery. His parents were vexed by their son's request for they had hoped to see him as their staff and support in business. His father fell silent, his mother was silent too; both wept. In her turn, Eudocia Pavlovna came to her father and mother; she knelt in front of them and began to beseech them not to force her into marriage but also to bless her to retire to a convent. The parents could not bear this double assault of their children upon them, and they grew extremely angry with them. Their wrath fell primarily upon their son, John Pavlovich. The latter promised to stay with his parents for two more years on the condition that they did not insist that his sister marry, and thereupon they quickly gave her leave to enter a convent. Eudocia Pavlovna was placed by her parents in the convent at Orel where her aunt was already living as a nun. She later moved to the Borisovskaya Tilchvinskaya Women's Hermitage in the province of Kursk and the county of Grayvoronsk. Here, as Abbess Margaret, she was the superior. Abbess Margaret reposed on 14 September 1886.
When he and his sister had parted, John Pavlovich began to feel spiritually alone, but nonetheless he dwelt peacefully in the world amid all its temptations, making progress in his spiritual struggles. Thus he lived with his parents until he was twenty-seven years of age. Finally the Lord disposed the hearts of his parents not to detain him any longer in the world but to give him their blessing to take up the monastic life.
At this time, the Lord sent John Pavlovich a spiritual brother named Nicholas, who had himself bumed with the desire to become a monk and with whom he could talk openly and whom he could consult concerning how and where they might find a favorable haven ﬂor their salvation. At the beginning of 1831, both these zealots for spiritual asceticism, armed with pilgrims’ birch bark shoulder bags, left their native city and took to the road. They set off on a pilgrimage to the monasteries of Russia so that they might observe therein their rule and order of monastic life. At first they stayed for a time in the Divnogorsky Monastery in the Province Voronezh, and then at the Khotmizhsky Monastery in the Province of Kursk. However, the life in neither of these monasteries satisﬁed their longing, and so the two friends set off for Athos.
When they arrived in Constantinople, by chance the plague broke out and they were not permitted to dock and had to return to Russia. They went from Odessa to Voronezh in order to venerate the holy relics of the hierarch and Wonderworker Mitrophan and in this manner to alleviate their sorrow somewhat. Here, at that time, there lived a fool-for-the-sake-of-Christ who was renowned for his of clairvoyance. page 12 Therefore the two pilgrims desired to hear from him whether it was God's will that they go to the Holy Mountain Athos or whether they should stay there. When they came to the fool and asked him about this, fixedly staring at them, he said: "Go, my brethren, from Old Oskola, go to the Holy Mountain Athos, go! You, my brother Nicholas, will go there, live a while, receive the holy schema and will set yourself upon the way of no return. And you, my brother John, will go to Athos, and will set up your hive of bees and will loose your swarms. Go, God bless you!" However it happened that the brothers from Old Oskola must needs wait a little in Russia before the way to Athos was opened before them. They entered the Toshevsky Monastery in the Voronezh Province, and dwelt there almost two years. John fulfilled his obedience there in the choir and in the refectory and because of his gentle disposition he won the love of all the brothers.
In October 1836, they at last arrived on the Holy Mountain and before all else they were mindful to find themselves an experienced elder and spiritual father in whom they could wholly trust to their own spiritual profit. At that time, the Elder Arsenius was renowned on Athos for the sanctity of his life, his spiritual discernment and his profound experience in the way of asceticism. He had been born in Great Russia, a native of the Province of Nizhegorodsk from the city of Balachna. In his youth he had left the home of his parents, who were common merchant-folk, and had gone as a wandering pilgrim to the holy places, finally joining the brethren of the Nikolaevsky Peshoshsky Community Hermitage in the Province of Moscow where he dwelt three years. Having heard about the strict ascetic life of the monks in the Moldavian monasteries, he made his way there. He toured all the monasteries and, in the end, settled in the Balashevsky Skete near the city of Butashana where he found for himself an experienced spiritual father and elder to whom he fully committed himself in perfect obedience. The elder tonsured him as a monk with the name Abel and later constrained him to receive priestly ordination. At first this decision of the elders was very burdensome to him and he began to beg him not to impose this yoke upon him and not to raise him to the order of the priesthood for it exceeded his powers. However the elder explained to him that such was God's will for him and that it did not befit one who was truly obedient to hold an opinion of his own but that he should rather do what the elder wished for him without objecting. Abel bowed to the elder and said: "Forgive me, holy father, I have sinned before you; do with me as you please!" And thus he was made a priestmonk, but, regardless of this, he continued to live in complete obedience to his elder until his very end. He had a fellow-struggler who was of one mind with him, the monk Nicander, who was also of Russian descent; they had come to the Balashevsky Skete together and they lived with the elder. After the latter's repose, Fr. Nicander asked Fr. Abel to be his elder and spiritual father, but he did not agree to this, and they proposed between themselves to live in complete obedience to one another as brothers, and thus they passed their lives in a manner pleasing to God. Wherefore both received revelations from on high that they should leave Moldavia and settle on the Holy Mountain. The fathers of the Balashevsky Skete, although they were grieved at parting with these good strugglers, neither dissuaded them nor did they put them in fear of the difficulty of the journey and the savagery of the Turks.
It was not without difficulties, sorrows and privations that they reached Mount Athos, where they settled on the holdings of the lveron Monastery in the desert of the Skete of St. john the Forerunner. Both received the holy schema; Abel with the name of Arsenius, and Nicander with the name Nicholas. By cultivating the vegetable garden and by making wooden spoons, they earned their daily bread, living as strangers to every excess and to all worldly acquisitions. Fr. Arsenius was well read in the writings of the Holy Fathers and, having followed their strict school of obediences, he was filled with spiritual discernment and many other gifts of the Holy Spirit. Many came to him, desiring to have him as their elder and spiritual father and thus the tranquility which both the elders had enjoyed in the Skete of the Forerunner began to be destroyed, therefore they chose as their abode the ruined cell of St. John Chrysostom which was deep in the wilderness in the neighborhood of the Skete. They restored the cell and settled therein for the sake of quietness. Here, twenty years after coming to the Holy Mountain, schemamonk Nicholas reposed in sanctity, but hieroschemamonk Arsenius made so much progress in spiritual struggling that he became like unto the ancient Fathers: Anthony, Macarius, Euthymius and the others.
During the whole of his life on Mt. Athos, Fr. Arsenius ate neither fish nor cheese, neither oil nor wine. Each day he partook of his scanty fare in the afternoon before evening fell; however on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he ate nothing, yet he was of a healthy and fresh countenance. One of his spiritual children, the monk Parthenius, remembers him thus: "The elder (literally, spiritual father), Hieroschemamonk Arsenius, was moderately tall with blond hair, a beard of middling size but bushy and threaded with grey hairs. He always held his head tilted a little towards his right shoulder. His face was clean and always dry and always ruddy: and especially during the divine services one could scarcely look upon it. He was ever joyous, of pleasant countenance, his eyes brimming with tears, his words meek and quiet. He always spoke without fawning, always decidedly without repetition." He possessed the gift of tears to a high degree, and usually when he celebrated the holy liturgy in the hermitage chapel he could not refrain from weeping; he shed tears unrestrainedly. Fr. Parthenius describes one such liturgy: "After matins I confessed and disclosed to my spiritual physician and pastor (Fr. Arsenius) all my wounds and sicknesses, even those of my youth, all my actions and undertakings, my every desire and thought. He then applied a dressing to all my sores and maladies, treated them, and set me completely at rest. The elder celebrated the liturgy in linen vestments; I was altar-boy, and Father Nicholas sang in a quiet, tearful voice, and because of his tears his voice was scarcely audible. The elder stood in the altar before the Lord's Throne completely given over to weeping and he could hardly make the exclamations. And I, the ungodly and sinful one, being in the midst of such great fiery pillars was filled with fear and with dread, and did not know where to direct my hearing. Everywhere it roused me to weep, and while looking at them, I could not restrain my tears." Fr. Arsenius loved to celebrate the liturgy often. He lived in the utmost non-acquisitiveness and successfully guided those living around him to spiritual proficiency.
When, in 1836, there came to Athos from Russia the priestmonk Anicetas, Prince Shirinsky-Shichmatov in the world, himself a great ascetic, he chose Fr. Arsenius as his spiritual father and until the very end he remained in the closest spiritual relationship with him.
Many afflictions made trial of Fr. Arsenius during the course of his life on Mt. Athos; their cause was human folly, but, being completely submissive to the will of God, he suffered and endured everything. He happened to move from the desert skete of St. John Chrysostom to the Lacus Skete of the Holy Greatmartyr Demetrius, where it later proved impossible to stay and so, finally, be procured for himself the solitary cell of the Holy Trinity near the Monastery of Stavronikita. Here he dwelt until his repose, being honored in holiness and glorified by all the monks of Mount Athos, especially by the Russians who regarded him as their supreme spiritual leader and pastor. The Elder Arsenius exercised great authority on the Holy Mountain; no one could gainsay him for there were instances when those who contradicted him were punished by God, therefore in all the monasteries and sketes of the Holy Mountain his word was respected as that of a man of God. He himself was a practitioner of the mental prayer of Jesus and reached a high degree of proficiency in it, and thus he faithfully guided his disciples along this path, one not easy but of salutary monastic labor. He was distinguished by his of clairvoyance and was not lacking in the gift of wonderworking.
And so it chanced that God directed the brothers John and Nicholas from Old Oskcola to this elder, and they found him to be a true father and director to salvation. Perceiving in the Holy Spirit that they were capable of beiug spiritual strugglers, he received them with love and tonsured them as monks, naming John – Ioannikios and Nicholas – Nicetas. He settled them in the vicinity of his own cell, blessing Fr. loannikios to procure the desert cell of St. Elias the Prophet for himself, and Fr. Nicetas the cell of the Holy Archangels where, when he ahd dwelt there but two years and had been deemed worthy of the holy schema, taking the name Nikodemos, he peacefully reposed according to the prophecy oft he clairvoyant fool-for-Christ in Voronezh.
Fr. Ioannikios enjoyed the particular confidence and love of the Elder Arsenius. Quietly and calmly his life flowed by in the hermitage cell of the Holy Prophet Elias. With his elder's blessing he accepted several disciples to live in his cell as in a community; these he directed according to the elder's precepts in a spirit of meekness and humility. They worked with him in the garden and on the vegetable patch, and prayed with him in the house-chapel, whither the Elder Arsenius himself came on occasion. He used to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and administer the Holy Mysteries to them. Such days were great feasts for the humble fellow-strugglers. Fr. Ioannikios himself did not venture to consider the office of the priesthood; when he was yet in Russia he had acknowledged that he was not worthy of holy orders and on Athos he was of the same opinion concerning his own unworthiness. This feeling the Elder Arsenius fostered in him for the sake of his perfection in humility. Feeling that many people would be burdensome, Fr. loannikios never had more than three disciples with him. These disciples never saw him idle nor angered; he never offended any of them by so much as a word, nor even by a glance. He distinguished himself by his meekness and long-suffering. He instructed them and led them on the path of asceticism more by his example than by his words, for which reason they sincerely loved him and accounted every day that passed in his absence as an adverse one for themselves. Bearing witness to these things, Fr. Parthenius, who lived in obedience with Fr. Ioannikios, writes: "One found in him a great and learned man, accomplished in interior and spiritual wisdom, well-read and versed in the Divine Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers. Although I have read many books, compared with his reading it is like a drop in the ocean; and, in that I would no sooner ask him something but that he would give me the answer, every hour I profited from him. He was always meek and lenient; he bore all our infirmities, and throughout my whole life I have never seen a man so meek and patient. He was accomplished in every good work; he did not teach us by his words but by his very deeds he instructed us, and was in everything an example to us. When speaking he was mellifluous, sound and judicious, and had such power of speech that, although one might be stony of heart, he could prevail over such a one and bring him to tears. He was able to admonish everyone and set them upon the true path. All that was lacking was that he was not a priestmonk and he did not at all want to be ordained. For this reason, to flee ordination, he had left Russia. He was fairly tall in stature, with long, light blonde hair, and a long, broad and blond beard; his face was fair and pale and always joyous, his countenance most agreeable but ever wan and lean because of his great struggles and his poor health. Oftentimes he engaged us in spiritual conversation, and we often passed the whole night until morning without sleep. So happily did we spend the night when he gave such talks that we would forget its very existence and would forget sleep, too. And so greatly was my heart attached to him, so much did my soul love him, that I accounted it a great loss if for an hour I could not see him or hear a profitable word from him. When we saw his face we forgot ourselves! I purposed never to be separated from him even unto death. And when he fell ill, we wept that day, and begged God to restore his health. Living with such an elder, I rejoiced and gave thanks to the Lord God that He had vouchsafed me to be the disciple of two such great elders."
On his arrival on Mount Athos in 1836, priestmonk Anicetas made an attempt to settle those Russians with him in the partly desolate Rossikon and to build a church there in the name of the holy Hierarch and Wonderworker Mitrophan of Voronezh. However this attempt was not crowned with any lasting success and in a short while Fr. Anicetas was obliged to abandon the Rossikon and to settle with all his Russian brethren in the Little Russian Skete of the Holy Prophet Elias. But unfortunately even here the Russians were unable to find a permanent refuge. The Little Russians became indignant because of them and forced them to leave their skete. and they, the Russians, lived like homeless orphans, scattered about the various sketes and cells of Mount Athos, having as their only axis and principal the elder and spiritual father, Hieroschemamonk Arsenius.
Meanwhile, the condition of the ancient Rossikon (St. Panteleimon's Monastery, which had been granted to the Russians by the Byzantine emperors in the days of the Kievan Princes and which had, for various reasons, subsequently been abandoned by them), after the departure of Fr. Anicetas, became lamentable indeed. The community was burdened with debts which jeopardized its trading contracts. In everything it was subject to exiguity, and fell into ruin and desolation. There lay over it, as it were, the seal of God's chastisement which even the best of the Greek brethren living there could not recognize.
The centenarian elder, Hierodeacon Schemamonk Benedict, and his disciple, the igumen of the Rossikon, Gerasimos, were the first to notice and acknowledge that the only means of reestablishing the decaying and ancient community would be the return of the Russians. And so, in 1839, on their initiative, an invitation was composed in the name of all the brethren of the Rossikon asking that the Russian monks expelled from the Prophet Elias Skete by the Little Russians return to the Monastery of the Holy and Greatmartyr Panteleimon, which in ancient times had belonged to them. Here they were to settle and live together in community under the rule of the Abbot Gerasimos. This invitation had been predicted by Father Arsenius, and he entreated Hieroschemamonk Paul not to oppose the will of God, but, having gathered his Russian brethren, to go in peace with them to the Rossikon. He assured him that this time their stay there would be lasting and of great profit to the Russians on Mount Athos. Hieroschemamonlc Paul reluctantly consented to go and live at the Rossikon. He wished to delay a little in moving his brotherhood, but the Elder Arsenius forbade this. Thus, at the insistence of the elder, Fr. Arsenius, Fr. Paul moved with the whole of his Russian community into the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon on 20 November 1839, and in so doing he laid the foundation for its restoration, both interior and exterior. The Elder Benedict, who was a hundred and six years of age, had always told them that he would not die until the Russians returned to the monastery. When they were receiving the Russians in the guesthouse, he clearly bore witness to this. He came into the guesthouse with his staff, and having made three prostrations to the ground, with tears he recited the prayer "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master" unto the end. Then he went up to Fr. Paul, prostrated before him and took his blessing. Afterwards, having embraced him, he began as follows: "Now my heart is gladdened, and my spirit rejoices, for today I hold the Russians in my embrace, I hold the treasure that was lost; now once again the banished sheep has returned, she who formerly wandered over the mountains and in the forests, who had neither fold nor shelter for her own, nor where to lay her head. Now once again she has returned to her former fold, now I hold her in my embraces, I shall not banish her again, nor will I turn her away. Now I have cleansed my conscience, which had always accused and troubled me on account of the Russians that we had banished."
The Russian brotherhood was established within the Rossikon, on special Conditions; being under the overall rule of the Greek Abbot, Father Gerasimos, who governed the monastery, they were, nevertheless, separately under the spiritual care of their own confessor, Hieroschemamonk Paul. They were granted a church of their own so that they might celebrate the divine services in the Slavonic language, and generally they enjoyed a measure of independence within the community. Initially, it was diflicult for both Russians and Greeks to dwell together in one monastery, however, God helping Abbot Gerasimos and Fr. Paul, it proved possible to avoid conflicts and dissatisfaction, and the life of the Russians and that of the Greeks passed peaceably under the grace-bestowed protection of the Holy Greatmartyr and Healer Panteleimon. As it chanced, the Lord did not give Fr. Paul long to live and labor in the Rossikon. It fell to his lot only to clear the path to that powerful spiritual laborer, Fr. loannikios, and by his very bones, to lay the lasting foundation of the Russian sojourn in the Rossikon. On 2 August 1840, he fell asleep in the Lord; he had not yet lived there a year. The Russians and the Greeks mourned him bitterly, in him they had both lost much.
The orphaned Russian brethren decided that they could have no greater spiritual father and guide than the Elder Arsenius himself or his true disciple Fr. Ioannikios. They told their superior, Abbot Gerasimos, of this and with his blessing went to beg the Elder Arsenius to come and live with them in the monastery. However, on the way they came upon Fr. loannikios in his cell and they began to invite him to be their spiritual father, for they foresaw that the Elder Arsenius, being well advanced in years, would not agree to leave his solitude and go to dwell in the community. Fr. Ioannikios resolutely refused the position of spiritual father in the Rossikon. Thereupon the Russian monks made their way to the elder-confessor Arsenius and in tears besought him to come and live with them in the monastery. He met them with joy and explained that "it is the will of God that Father Ioannikios be the spiritual father of the Russians in the Rossikon." Therefore, through them he directed Abbot Gerasimos to work to this end. Having sent the Russian monks home, the Elder Arsenius sent Fr. Ioannikios a note inviting him and his disciples to visit him. When they arrived, the elder took them into his cell chapel, put on his epitrachelion, took the Cross in his hand and solemnly informed Fr. Ioannikios that the Lord had chosen him as the Rossikon's spiritual father. In his humility, Fr. Ioannikios protested that he had left the world to flee from the passions and to seek union with God and for this cause he had come to Mt. Athos desiring to live in the desert. He objected that he had left Russia to avoid ordination, and that he could scarcely guide his disciples yet alone a large community. Thereupon the elder said: "Everything is good in its own time; it is good to flee ordination, and for the glory of God it is good to accept it, if the Lord so chooses. As evil as it is to seek ordination, so also it is evil to oppose the will of God. And what of your poor health, the Lord knows better than you about this; our whole life is in His hands: He has chosen you and will grant you good health. And what is this that you are saying: that you want to escape the passions in the desert, and to attain to union with God? Yes, it is so, this can be attained in the desert, such being the will of God that one live there; but in a community one can attain to it the sooner because in the wilderness one only lulls the passions whereas in a community one mortifies them completely, and buries them in humility and obedience and in the cutting off of one's own will. And when the passions are mortified within us then we come to spiritual peace and we are united with God. Nowhere is it possible to find the monastic life in our day, except in a community. Further, you only want to save two people, go and save twenty, and in time fifty. You must be solicitous for all; it falls to your lot to set the Russian monastery in order, and through you it will be glorified. Now, go to Karyes and discuss what you will need to with the Greeks, then move to the monastery: the Lord blesses you." Without raising any further objection, Father Ioannikios fulfilled the wish of the Elder Arsenius. He disposed of his cell, came to an agreement with Abbot Gerasimos, who joyfully consented to all of his stipulations, he collected his belongings together, and with his disciple moved to the Rossikon.
It was on 20 October 1840 that Fr. Ioannikios settled in the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon, where henceforward he was, after the superior Abbot Gerasimos, the foremost laborer in the task of reviving and restoring that ancient and sacred community. In that same year, with the blessing of his elder and father confessor Arsenius, Fr. Ioannikios was ordained by Gregory the Metropolitan of Adrianopolis who had come to the Holy Mountain on a pilgrimage. On 21 November, the feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, he was ordained hierodeacon, and on 23 November hieromonk. Thereupon he was designated as the community spiritual father of the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon. His knowledge of Greek made this obedience somewhat easier for him, and Fr. Gerasimos found Fr. Ioannikios to be an assiduous and capable assistant in his government of the brethren who came from many diverse national backgrounds. At the time of Fr. Ioannikios's election to this exceedingly difficult obedience, the Lord consoled him by means of a certain wondrous occurrence, which clearly showed him that God's chosen ones do not labor in vain on the Holy Mountain, but that there they are deemed worthy of His particular mercy.
The aforementioned schemamonk Nikodemos, with whom Fr. Ioannikios had come from Russia to Mount Athos, his fellow countryman and beloved in the Lord, fell asleep when he had dwelt but two years on the Holy Mountain in the cell of the Holy Archangels. He was buried and thus it happened that on 7 November 1840 the time came for the opening of his grave. Fr. Ioannikios was invited for the ceremony. After small Vespers they opened Fr. Nikodemos's tomb, took his bones and bathed them; they were seen to be yellow and fragrant. They laid them in a basket and, according to the custom, took them into the church for the all-night vigil. Together with Fr. Ioannikios, the Elder Arsenius was gladdened with spiritual joy seeing that his child, who had reposed in the Lord, had been deemed worthy of God's mercy.
During the all-night vigil, the fragrance from the bones of the departed became so powerful that it stifled that of the church incense, and even in the altar it was noticed by the celebrants, indeed so much so that Fr. Ioannikios, taking a lighted candle, went up to the departed man's bones which were lying in the basket in the center of the church, and there he noticed that from the ears there flowed streams of fragrant myrrh, whose fragrance was filling the whole church. Thereupon he loudly cried out: "Come, fathers and brethren; behold this marvellous wonder and praise the Lord Who worketh wonders!" Everyone in the church gathered round to look, and seeing, they were made glad and gave thanks to God. Then Fr. Ioannikios said to the brethren: "Behold, my holy fathers, from dry bones there flows forth myrrh, and it streams not from any other place but from the ears alone, and this is because those ears were never satiated in hearing the Word of God and all the soul-saving scriptures. Fr. Nikodemos, who has reposed in God, was an accomplished reader and chanter, and he so loved to listen to the Holy Scriptures that he was prepared to listen to them day and night without ever growing weary. I know this well; both of us were natives of the same city, and from our youth we were brothers and loved each other in the Lord. We left the vain world and its delusions together; for several years we wandered, and together we came to the Holy Mountain Athos desiring to dwell here in one cell; however, because of my disciples, we were separated. It often used to happen that throughout the whole night I would read to him and he would diligently listen to the Word of God and say: 'So greatly do I love to listen to the Sacred Scriptures that were someone to read them unceasingly I would never grow tired of listening.' Now the Lord has clearly shown us how profitable it is for us to listen to the Divine Scriptures. These dry bones, which have been lying in the ground for three years, are gushing forth fragrant myrrh, and this is because Fr. Nikodemos was not only a hearer but a doer of that which he heard in the Scriptures. And now behold he has been vouchsafed a clear sign of the mercy of God that rests upon him." This miracle greatly consoled Fr. Ioannikios and encouraged him as he undertook the onerous obedience of being spiritual father of the monastery; it also demonstrated to him that his labors would be bountifully rewarded in eternal blessedness.
On the first Sunday of the Great Lent in 1841, Fr. loannikios, as he had long desired, received the holy schema and was named Jerome. Having been granted the angelic habit, he undertook a life equal to that of the angels. He constantly stood before God in prayerful fear, and he labored night and day for the spiritual well-being of the brethren. God aiding them, the acceptance of the Russians into the community had the very best consequences for it. Orthodox Russia directed her attention to the monastery once again, and many Russians gave alms for its maintenance and adornment. Fr. Jerome was able to attract the attention of benefactors from all corners of Russia and particularly from among the rich people of the merchant class into whose ranks he had been born. Knowing their customs and dispositions, he used this knowledge to the profit of the community. Several Russian merchants, themselves responsible people, having visited Mount Athos on pilgrimage, were impressed by the excellent interior organization of the Panteleimon Monastery, and more especially by the spiritually salutary discourses and the Godly-wise words of Fr. Jerome. Many made offerings to the community and even stayed there themselves to finish the course of their earthly lives in monastic endeavors.
Over and above this, Fr. Jerome undertook to correspond with many people in Russia, and this correspondence itself brought the monastery material aid. He humbly deferred to the superior, Fr. Gerasimos and did everything in his name; even the very letters were written in his name and Fr. Jerome signed them only after Fr. Gerasimos in the second place. However, Fr. Jerome was the soul of the correspondence with which he was able to,profit many in Russia spiritually, and thus he gained respect and love for his community. A number of educated brethren within the community helped him in this work of spiritual edification, and, although he was the master of a great stock of spiritual knowledge, God sent to his aid the well-known writer, Hieromonk Seraphim. This Svyatogorets, as he came to be known (i.e. monk of the Holy Mountain) who later received the holy schema and the name Sergius, has long since departed to a blessed eternity, but his work for the monastery did not die with him and, in the person of Fr. Jerome, a fitting successor was found to continue his work. Spiritually enlightened people were also found in Russia, who by their labors, helped Fr. Jerome. Among them, we might particularly mention His Grace Bishop Theophan who is so well known for his spiritual and ascetic essays. He graciously assisted in the commendable publishing activities of the monastery, providing a considerable part of his works and his translations, and therefore the community fittingly regards Bishop Theophan as one of the foremost of its benefactors. Many edifying books, brochures and pamphlets were published by St. Panteleimon's Monastery for the enjoyment of the Orthodox children of Russia.
Rather than being a desolate monastery falling into complete decay, the community became a model in outward appearance; its buildings and material resources externally, and internally its decorous order, the reverent celebration of the church services, the zeal with which they remembered their benefactors in prayer, and in general the well-ordered passing of the communal life therein were apparent to all and the wonder of everyone who lived on the Holy Mountain. It was preeminently Fr. Jerome who promoted all this, for in the course of his forty-five years as the spiritual father of this holy Community he kept a constant watch over its material and spiritual interests.
After the repose of the Elder Arsenius, the senior spiritual father of the Russians on Athos who fell asleep on 24 March 1846, [another source records 25 March 1846 http://remnantrocor.blogspot.com/2016/07/true-elder-arseny-of-mt-athos-1846.html] Fr. Jerome became his successor because of the spiritual authority that he exercised among the Russians on Mt. Athos, and not only among the Russians but among the Greeks, Bulgars, Serbs and the other peoples living there. Everyone saw in Fr. Jerome a clear manifestation of God's special grace and therefore the zealots of piety and asceticism hastened to him, knowing that through him they would truly learn God's will and would discover the right path to salvation. His word, as a spiritual father, was always effectual and spiritually profitable for many people.
Fr. Jerome did not enjoy good health, in fact he was almost always of poor health, and during his last years, it was even completely impossible for him to leave his cell. He suffered from an abdominal hernia which hindered his movements and caused him torturous pain. It prevented him from celebrating the divine services and hourly threatened him with the menace of a sudden end, but regardless of this, he bore his sufferings with exceptional patience and gave himself almost no rest. Furthermore, in the days of the abbacy of Fr. Gerasimos, who because of an infirmity that afflicted his feet spent his last years in bed, the difficult duty of serving the ailing elder fell to Fr. Jerome, as he was the instrument of this populous monastery's administration. So that they should not unduly disturb the abbot's peace and rest, everyone who required his blessing or agreement informed Fr. Jerome and explained their needs to him, and in this manner the community, which comprised so many different races, was not thrown into anarchy on account of Fr. Gerasimos's infirmity. The benefit given was entirely due to Fr. Jerome.
Fr. Jerome was the first in the Saint Panteleimon community to make provision for the charitable distribution of alms, and thus he aided the poor monks and desert-dwellers of the Holy Mountain. In addition to this, a new cenobitic community was founded in Russia itself; this monastery was built in the Caucasus Mountains at Pitsunda, the ancient site of the struggles and martyric witness of the Holy Apostle St. Simon the Canaanite. The land was granted to the Panteleimon Monastery under the trusteeship of Frs. Jerome and Macarius by the Russian Govemment, and the new community, which followed the order and rule of the Rossikon, was named the New Athonite Monastery of St. Simon the Canaanite. It would be impossible not to recount among the other attractive Characteristics of the Monastery of St. Panteleimon and of its ruling elders, Frs. Jerome and Macarius, the excellent hospitality which they extended not only to their own immediate visitors on Mt. Athos regardless of their social standing or calling, but even to visitors to the monastery's holdings in Odessa and in Constantinople, and in general to all Russians making their way on pilgrimage either to Athos or to Palestine. From his solitary Athonite refuge, Fr. Jerome tirelessly kept watch over all the charitable institutions of his community, and he was gladdened in spirit by their work. The very publication of the pamphlet "Spiritually Profitable Reflections" was the fruit of his initiative. He was a father to his disciples in the fullest sense of that word. It was marvellous to behold the grey-haired elder, suffering from such a merciless sickness, hardly able to move his legs, but surrounded day and night by those who thirsted to receive spiritual treatment at his hands, who poured out their souls before him and whose consciences were thus calmed by him.
He spent almost half a century as the spiritual father of the Rossikon, and so he manifestly began to approach the end of his days. From the autumn of 1885, he began to lose more strength. On 1 October, the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos, which was the dedication festival of the Russian Catholicon, with great difficulty he came to church for the divine liturgy, and having stood throughout the entire service, he partook of the Holy Mysteries in the altar. This was the last time that he visited the church that he had raised and adorned so magnificently. In the last months of his life he often said to his intimate disciples that he had not long to live, and he forbade them to pray that his life be prolonged. Through the bounties of the Russian sovereign, the elder was honored by a golden pectoral cross studded with precious stones; he did not wear it but reverently kept it as a sign of the monarchs kindness towards him. Now he commanded that this cross be given to the community's sacristy, wherein it was reverently set aside, having parted with him forever. It was noticeable to his cell-attendants that he had put everything in his cell in order, as if he were preparing for a long journey, putting everything in its place, and that he himself was recollected and reflective. On 11 November, he felt extremely ill in his stomach; the sickness had been greatly aggravated, and none of his usual medicaments were now of any use. He could not lie down, but he sat up all the time and took no food. On 13 November, during the night in the course of the all-night vigil for St. John Chrysostom, the mystery of Holy Unction was performed for him by Archimandrite Macarius with the assembly of the monastery's hieromonks. The elder prayed fervently during the celebration of this mystery, and then in turn asked forgiveness of Fr. Macarius and the other priestmonks. At the end of matins on 14 November, a Thursday, they brought to him in his cell the relics of the Greatmartyr and Healer Panteleimon and the wonder-working icon of the Theotokos of Jerusalem, which he kissed reverently. After the liturgy, at nine o'clock in the morning, the elder quietly departed to the Lord without any death pangs, and thus he reposed in peace.
The elder's funeral was on Saturday 16 November. On the eve, the all-night vigil for the departed was celebrated in the monastery's Protection Church where the body of the elder was lying. On the day of the burial, the holy liturgy was celebrated in the Cathedral of the Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon by His Grace Metropolitan Nilos with a large assembly of priests, and also in the Protection Catholicon where Archimandrite Macarius was also concelebrating with many other priests. When, during the sermon, the brotherhood began to bid farewell to their revered spiritual father and elder, the preachers words evoked tears and sobs, which witnessed to the esteem in which many held him. After the brethren had bidden the body of the elder farewell, those people from the world who were in the monastery as pilgrims came forward, and in their midst was one suffering from demonic possession. He began to shout and resist, so much so that he was forcibly brought up and made to touch the departed man's hand, after which he calmed down and began to pray fervently. At the end of the liturgy in the Protection Church, a litia was celebrated as the body was borne to the lower Church of St. Panteleimon; during this the possessed one again began to cry out in frenzy, calling to mind a certain Anastasia and reproaching her for bringing him and saying that she was afflicting him. Scarcely had he been brought close to the body again and made to touch the hand than he became peaceable once more, began to pray and cross himself and, as they took the elder's body into the lower church, he accompanied it clinging to the end of the shroud on which the priest-monks bore it. In the church of St. Panteleimon, His Eminence Metropolitan Nilos met the procession together with his concelebrants, and he began the funeral service. When the last kissing of the reposed began, the weeping and sobbing increased so much that it drowned the sound of the chanting. At this point, another possessed pilgrim screamed and began to be convulsed in a spasm, but on touching the hand of the reposed elder he became peaceable. Up to eighty hieromonks and twenty hierodeacons took part in the funeral which, together with the liturgy, lasted about seven hours. The elder's body was laid within the monastery, under the altar of the community's main church, that of the Martyr Panteleimon. It was laid in the very tomb where, sometime earlier, the remains of Archimandrite Gerasimos had been buried, and in this manner these two who had not been separated during their days on earth were united in death. They were the wardens, the renovators and the benefactors of the community of St. Panteleimon, for they had labored greatly for its prosperity and spiritual renewal.
Translated from the Russian by Holy Transfiguration Monastery from Biographies of Russian Strugglers for Piety of the 18th (7 19th Centuries, November volume, pp. 305-325 (Moscow: 1910)-