When he was twenty years old he began to wander. In 1785, having traveled through Tula, Alexin, Serpukhov, Moscow, Novgorod and Olonets, he finally settled in Valaam Monastery, during the abbacy of Abbot Nazarius. There he was tonsured with the name Adam and lived for one year in the monastery proper. At this time he received a blessing to dwell alone in a deserted spot not far from the main monastery. There, adding labor to labor, he was tried like gold in a furnace, being subjected to a multitude of demonic temptations. However, the desert-dweller overcame them manfully, for which God gave him spiritual discernment and insight, as a result of which he began to prophesy.
To live alone in the desert was the ultimate dream of mystically inclined monks of Valaam. The monastic atmosphere while Abbot Nazarius was heading the newly revived monastic brotherhood was under the strong influence of the Sarov Elders, who were in turn in contact with such great mystics as Saints Tikhon of Zadonsk, Paisius Velichkovsky and Theodore of Sanaxar.
There were many desert-dwellers living on the desert islands of Valaam. These recluses practiced the mental Jesus Prayer under the guidance of experienced eldership of Athonite derivation. Some, like Schema-monk Cyriacus (†1798) and St. Herman (later of Alaska, †1836)—who was in Valaam until 1793—were men of deep mystical experience. In the adjacent Konevits Island Monastery there were other great men with desert experience, such as Elder Basilisk and his elder, Abbot Adrian (both of the Roslavl forests), as well as Hieromonk Sylvester. These were in fact renowned as genuine visionaries. This is where monk Adam, later Abel, received his basic spiritual formation, and we should not doubt its validity.
Historically, Russia was at that time under a severe attack which proceeded from Western culture, and monasteries were abhorred. This was due to an entirely unacceptable secularizing pressure that was then being instituted from high society. A war against this was waged by traditional ascetic monks who embraced the Paisian Patristic influence coming from Moldavia.
It is very understandable, therefore, that the righteous desert-dweller Abel, sitting in his solitary desert, states in his notes, "It was from above that I was ordered to speak and preach of God's mysteries and His Providence."
Without this historical view of events—of what Holy Russia was going through due to its forced westernization on the one side, and the stubbornness of militant adherents to the old ways (Old Believers) on the other—it is easy to dismiss Abel's "prophecies" as simply the ravings of a "madman" or a "self-proclaimed prophet." We must see the urgency of the situation and the price he and others had to pay for the preservation and defense of the Holy Tradition of a nation that recognized itself as the guardian of Orthodoxy, in accordance with the principle of "the Third Rome."
Furthermore, the fact that this westernization reached the higher levels of the clergy during the nineteenth century is the reason why a full, detailed Vita of Fr. Abel was not preserved on Valaam. This monastery was even used as a government fort for the northwestern border of the Russian Empire, and its monks were entrusted by the state with guarding its ways and activities.
After Abel's return from the desert to the main monastery of Valaam, he lived there for a short time more, then began to travel to various monasteries.
For nine years he traveled through many counties and cities, prophesying the will of God and His Dread Judgment. He finally came to the river Volga, where he settled in the Nikolo-Babaev Monastery. Here he fulfilled his obediences, reading in both the church and the refectory. It was here that he wrote his first prophetic book, although he was an unlettered man. And what he wrote about was the Royal family.
Hearing the day and hour of her death, Catherine II was in hysteria. As a result an ukase was issued, in which it was stated that the seriousness of what he had written, which could cause great confusion and civil disorder if it were made known, made Fr. Abel subject to the death penalty. However, Catherine commuted the sentence to imprisonment in the Schlüsselburg Fortress under strict guard without the right to communicate with anyone. He remained imprisoned for ten months and ten days—until the sudden death of Catherine II on a commode—and afterwards for another month and five days.
A word must be said about the pious Emperor Paul Petrovich. This was a man who truly loved his homeland, and who had a strong desire to set Russia on a proper course for the future. In marked contrast to his mother, who was far removed from the common folk and catered mostly to the interests of the nobility, Paul desired to be known as a Tsar for all Russian people, for all classes of society. On the day of his coronation he walked among his people without bodyguards, finding a kind word for each one he met. Soon after ascending the throne he released a royal manifest lightening the lot of the peasants, allowing them more time to work for themselves, cutting back the amount of time they were to work for the landowners, and giving them the Lord's day off. This, however, caused great dissatisfaction among the upper classes. Plots against him were not long in forming, and doubts were intentionally raised about his sanity. At another time, seeing that the Russian ruble was not entirely stable due to Catherine's excesses, the Emperor had the palace table silver melted down and minted into coins. He placed a box outside the Winter Palace into which anyone—from the highest dignitaries to the last commoner—could place grievances and requests for royal protection, mercy and aid. Paul would personally open it each evening and bring the piles of requests to his office where he would work late into the night, seeing how he could help his beloved subjects. And woe to him who offended the helpless and weak, orphans and widows! Living and ruling according to his conscience, he once said, "I prefer to be hated for a rightful cause than loved for a wrong one."
As it became evident that Emperor Paul's reign posed a serious threat to the continued activity of "Catherine's Eagles" (those of the nobility who were dedicated to her westernizing aims and who occupied high government posts), they began to seriously consider plots to remove him. When Paul tried to conclude a treaty with the powerful Napoleon in order to protect Russia, they decided to act. These traitors to their own country had strong financial ties to England, and as the sister of three of Paul's murderers openly stated, the interests of England were closer to them than those of Russia. Thus the noose began to tighten around the neck of this most noble Tsar…
But before all this took place, the meek Fr. Abel was ushered into the royal presence. Emperor Paul received the monk, and was immediately impressed with his humble, prayerful bearing. "Honorable father," said the Emperor, "it is said about you, and I can see for myself, that the Grace of God clearly rests upon you. What can you say about my reign and my fate? What do you see with your clairvoyant eyes concerning my family and the Russian realm over the course of the ages? Tell me the names of my successors on the Russian throne and foretell their destiny."
"Ah, Batiushka-Tsar!" Abel shook his head. "Why do you ask me to predict sorrow for you?"
"Say it! Say everything! Do not hide anything! I am not afraid; do not be afraid yourself."
"Your reign will be short and I, the sinner, see your cruel end. On the day of St. Sophronius of Jerusalem1 you shall receive a martyric death from unfaithful servants. You will be suffocated in your bedchamber by scoundrels whom you now warm at your royal breast. You will be buried on Great Saturday… These scoundrels will try to justify their great sin of regicide, proclaiming you to be insane, and they will defame your good name. But the upright soul of the Russian people will understand and appreciated you, and will bring all their sorrows to your grave, asking your protection and the softening of the hearts of the unrighteous and cruel…"
Fr. Abel went on to tell Emperor Paul about the whole future of Russia, naming each of his successors, and even predicting, in tears, the collapse of Holy Russia and the rise of the yoke of the Godless. The Emperor asked him to commit this last prophecy to writing. He then placed it in an envelope and set his royal seal upon it, writing on it, "To be opened by Our Descendant on the one hundredth anniversary of my repose." He then placed the envelope in a small chest in his palace at Gatchina.2
It was not a monastic cell that awaited the monk-prophet, however, but a dark prison cell in the Sts. Peter and Paul fortress. By order of the all-powerful military governor of St. Petersburg, Count Palen, the future ringleader of the regicides, who had wormed his way into the Emperor's trust, Fr. Abel was incarcerated for "disturbing the peace of soul of His Majesty." Emperor Paul Petrovich remained unaware of this to the end of his days.
Fr. Abel remained in prison until after the fulfillment of his tragic prophecy. On the night of March 11, 1801, after praying to the Lord, Whom he was soon to meet, and from Whom he was to receive his reward as a "good and faithful servant," Emperor Paul was brutally murdered by a group of assassins, most of whom were drunk. But their "triumph" was short-lived: Count Palen and the two other main traitors—the ones who had spread abroad the notion of Emperor Paul's supposed mental instability—themselves went insane. Within the next few years none of the other murderers were left among the living. Thus was God's righteous judgment accomplished.
Finally, Moscow was taken by Napoleon, and in September of 1812 Alexander I remembered Abel and commanded Prince A. N. Golitsyn to write an order to Solovki to release Abel. In the order were the following words: "If he is alive and well, we would have him come to us in St. Petersburg. We wish to see him and speak with him about something." The letter arrived at Solovki on October 1, but the Archimandrite of Solovki, fearing that Abel would tell the Tsar about his (the Archimandrite's) "foul activities," wrote that Abel was ill—although he was actually in good health. Only in 1813 could Fr. Abel leave Solovki and report to Golitsyn, who "was exceedingly glad to see him and began to question him about the judgments of God. And Abel told him everything, from the beginning of the ages to the end."
Orders were given to release Fr. Abel and supply him with a passport, money and clothing. Fr. Abel, having his passport and freedom of travel in all regions and provinces, began to travel from St. Petersburg to the South and to the East and to other countries and regions. And he passed through many places. He was in Constantinople and Jerusalem and on Mount Athos, from which he again returned to the Russian land. He settled in the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra and lived quietly—he did not like to converse. Ladies from Moscow wanted to start coming to see him with questions about their daughters and prospective bridegrooms, but Abel replied that he was not clairvoyant.
However, he did not abandon writing. In a letter to Countess Praskovia Potemkina he said that he had compiled several books for her, which would soon come out. However, these were not books of prophecies, for in another letter Abel complained, "I recently received two letters from you, and you write in them that I should tell you prophecies about this and that. I do not know whether you know what I am going to tell you: I am forbidden to prophesy by royal ukase. It is said therein that if Monk Abel begins to prophesy aloud to people or to write them, … such people and Monk Abel will be held under an oath of secrecy, and will be detained in prison or in stockades under strong guard. Do you see, Praskovia Andreyevna, how it is with our prophesying and clairvoyance? Whether it is better to be in prison or in freedom you can judge for yourself. I would agree now that it is better not to know anything and be in freedom, than to know and be in prison against my will. It is written: Be ye therefore wise a serpents, and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). That is, be wise, but mostly be silent. It is also written: The wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid (Isaiah 29:14), and other similar things. This is what my wisdom and understanding has let to. And so, I have now supposed it to be better to know nothing; but if to know, then to be silent."
His latest prophecies came true, just as his earlier ones had. In the spring of 1826 he was staying in Moscow. The coronation of Tsar Nicholas I was in preparation. Countess A. P. Kamenskaya asked Fr. Abel whether the coronation would be soon. As one of the senior ladies-in-waiting and the widow of a field marshal, she probably hoped to receive the Order of St. Catherine of the first class. Abel replied to her, "The coronation will not give you cause to rejoice." These words were spread throughout Moscow, and many interpreted them to mean that there would be no coronation at all.
But their meaning was entirely different. Countess Kamenskaya was subject to the anger of the Sovereign because at one of her estates the peasants had become unsubmissive, rebelling due to the cruelty of the manager of the estate. The Countess was forbidden to come to the coronation.
Meanwhile the prophet, probably sensing that the gossip concerning the coronation would have injurious consequences for him, left the Vysotsky Monastery in June of 1826. According to two letters left by him, it appears that Abel was in the Tula Province, near a straw mill in the village of Akulovka. At the order of Emperor Nicholas, by an ukase of the Holy Synod of August 27, 1826, Fr. Abel was taken from there and sent under surveillance to the penal section of the St. Euthymius Monastery of the Savior in Suzdal.
The fact that we do not possess the exact text of Blessed Abel's "books of prophecies" and his visionary predictions is obvious—the texts became a kind of "political" controversy, regardless of how spiritual they might have been. A fate similar to this fell to the lot of many visionaries—to be treated with suspicion and to spend many years behind bars—for these prophecies were viewed as meddling in politics. One holy protester against Catherine's monastic reforms—which in actuality amounted to the robbery of monastic property—was Metropolitan Arsenius Matsievitch (†1772, commemorated February 28), who was defrocked and died in prison as a layman, without even being given a monastic burial. At his unjust trial, he, too, uttered prophecies, all of which came true.
At the time of Blessed Abel's outspoken utterances there were other serious attempts to undermine the monastically based lifestyle of traditional Russian Orthodox society. Blessed Archimandrite Photius of Novgorod (†1838, commemorated February 26) was fighting against anti-Orthodox, Protestant attempts to infiltrate "ecumenical" ideas into the court.3 One victim of the anti-Orthodox trends was the righteous Hieroschema-monk Jerome (Lukin, †1847), an indirect disciple of St. Paisius Velichkovsky, who ended his days under the disciplinary restriction in Solovki. He was a man of high spiritual conviction, and has a prominent place in the Solovki Patericon.
To the present time, after all these years, no portrait of Elder Abel has been found. A contemporary artist drew the "iconographic" sketch at the beginning of this article to honor the righteous Abel. He deliberately placed a blank scroll in his hand, thus showing that we do not know the precise content of Abel's prophecies as he receive them from God. They remain shrouded in mystery—the mystery of a sacrificial life for our holy Orthodox Faith.
May the prayers of the righteous Confessor, the Valaam Elder and Prophet Abel, strengthen us last Christians to continue the fervent preaching of God's glory as long as the times are still favorable for this. And may a whole army of such God-called messengers carry this zeal for Christ's Truth!
Queens; * prophet of old, warning nations both old and new; *
thou wast banished and tried by fire for thy love for God. *
O righteous desert dweller of Valaam, * thou hast suffered as
a new Abel. * Pray to Christ God that our souls be saved.
defending the poor, the mistreated and those suffering grievous losses, *
O thou who art crowned by God, we cry to thee with thanksgiving: *
Rejoice, O Righteous Paul, Emperor and Passion-Bearer of Holy Russia.