Chronicles of the Russian Land
Chronicles of the Russian Land
Part One: From Ancient Times to the Dawn of Russian Power under Yaroslav the Wise
by Alexander Nechvolodov
The Cave Monastery was founded in Kiev itself as a well-spring of light from which the rays of the Christian Faith, of true enlightenment, fervent love for one's neighbor, and glorious examples of the holy ascetic life flowed forth upon all of Russia at that time.
As regards the founding of this monastery, the chronicler says the following: "Many monasteries are established by tsars or nobles with rich endowments: not so these monasteries, which were established with tears, fasting, and vigils."
The founding of the Monastery of the Caves was blessed by Metropolitan Hilarion when he was still a simple priest in the Great Prince's village of Berestovo, which had a reputation for its gay and boisterous life, especially during the reign of Prince Vladimir.
In order to retire for a few hours from this boisterous life, Hilarion went into the dense forest which had grown up on the hills above the Dnieper, close to Kiev itself. Here he dug himself a small cave, about twelve feet deep, and secretly struggled ascetically in it, abiding in psalmody and prayer.
At the same time, there lived another remarkable Russian ascetic named Antippas. Antippas was born in Liubech, near Chemigov, and from childhood feared God and aspired toward monastic struggles. When he was still very young, he withdrew to a cave in Liubech, which exists to this day, and devoted himself to diligent fasting and prayer. There, the Lord put it into his mind to go to Greece, to Holy Mt. Athos.
Mt. Athos is one of the greatest holy places for every Orthodox person, since, according to tradition, it was chosen by the most holy Mother of God for herself in the very first days of Christianity, as her portion, and from that time to this, it has served as a place of retreat and great ascetism for a multitude of Orthodox bishops and monks.
This mountain is situated on a narrow peninsula washed by the sea on three sides, eighty versts in length and in places up to twenty versts across. Its peak is two versts above sea level. There is little vegetation on the mountain, few animals or birds, and everything conduces to solitude and contemplation. In heathen times, the principal temple of the Greek god Apollo was on Athos. But the light of the Gospel shone upon it soon after the Resurrection of the Lord.
This is how St. Demetrius of Rostov tells about this in his Lives of the Saints. When the holy apostles and the Mother of God drew lots in Jerusalem to see who would receive which country to preach the Gospel in, the Virgin won Iberia, otherwise known as Georgia, in the Caucasus; but an angel of God then announced to her that Iberia would be enlightened at another time. "But you," the angel told her, are expected to take care of another land, to which God Himself will lead you." Meanwhile, Lazarus, the friend of the Lord whom Jesus Christ resurrected after lying four days dead, was at that time bishop on the island of Cyprus, and ardently desired to see the Mother of God; however, he was afraid to travel to Jerusalem at that time because of the intense persecution of the Christians by the Jews, and therefore, with acquiescence, Lazarus sent a boat for her, on which she set sail for Cyprus.
During the journey, a mighty wind carried the boat away from Cyprus and anchored it by Mount Athos. There were a great many people there at that time who had come to worship the idols fashioned in honor of the god Apollo. Suddenly, as the ship carrying the Mother of God drew near, screams burst forth from the idols: "O ye people deluded by Apollo, go to the Clement pier and receive Mary the Mother of the great God Jesus!" Hearing these unusual cries, the astonished people streamed to the pier. Seeing the approaching boat, all who had arrived received the Mother of God with great respect, and asked her how she had given birth to God and what His name was. At this, the most holy Mary told the glad tidings about Jesus Christ; then all fell down and worshipped Him, and showed her all respect; then, having come to believe, they were baptized.
The Mother of God performed many miracles in those days on Athos. After the baptism of those newly enlightened, she appointed one of the men with her as teacher and, rejoicing in spirit, said, "Let this place be my portion, given me by my Son and God." Then, blessing the people, she continued: "May the grace of God abide in this place and rest upon those who with faith and reverence remain here and keep the commandments of my Son and God; may they have in abundance the necessities of life on earth with but little labor, and may the life of heaven be prepared for them; and may the mercy of my Son not diminish from this day to the end of time. I shall be the protectress of this place and the fervent intercessor for it before God."
Having said this, she again blessed the people and set out for the island of Cyprus to visit Lazarus.
From that time to this very day, regardless of the various terrible tribulations which have befallen the land of the Greeks, on Athos exalted Christian piety has not passed away, and Orthodox monks alone now occupy Athos today; and many patriarchs and other remarkable fathers of the Church continually retire there to end their lives in strict ascetic struggles.
Eight-hundred years after her first visit to Athos, the Mother of God appeared in a dream to one of the herrmits of Athos, St. Peter, again called the Holy Mountain her portion, and confirmed that her grace would be constant towards it.
The young Antippas arrived at this Holy Mountain, which at that time was especially renowned for the wondrous feats of St. Athanasius of Athos; there he began zealously to study under the guidance of the experienced elder Theoctistus, in the cave which still exists today near by the Greek monastery Esphigmenou in which he later received the monastic habit with the name Anthony.
After this, when Theoctistus saw that Anthony was firmly established in his life as a monk, he said to him, "Anthony, go to Russia; there thou wilt be the blessing of the Holy Mountain, since many monks will go from thee throughout Russia." Anthony obeyed, and on arriving in Kiev, settled on the almost inaccessible bank of the river, in a cave dug by the Varangians who were brigands along the Dnieper. This was in 1013. Soon afterward, Prince Vladimir, Equal of the Apostles, reposed, and the princely reign of Sviatopolk the Accursed began, who brought bloody turmoil upon Russia. Embittered and alarmed, Anthony departed again for Holy Athos. There he spent many years in strict ascetism and finally received a second blessing from the abbot to return to Russia a second time; this he did.
His second return was in 1028, when a complete tranquility had already descended upon Russia. Anthony decided to remain a hermit and chose for himself the cave dug by pious Hilarion on the wooded hill above the River Dnieper, and there he settled. He began to pray to God with tears, saying: "O Lord, establish me in this place, and may the blessing of the Holy Mount and of my abbot who tonsured me be upon it!" Having settled in, Anthony ate only dry bread, and that every other day, spending all his time in vigils, prayer, and labors. To his consolation the cave was located far from inhabited places, since Benestov Hill was covered with a dense forest. However, the fame of his unusual feats spread throughout the whole land of Kiev, and then far beyond its borders; and soon he became known as the great Anthony, to whom people began to turn more and more for a blessing.
Meanwhile, Anthony began to gather around him people who, like himself, sought seclusion and great feats of ascetism. The first who expressed the desire to live with him and share his work was St. NIkon, who was already a priest-monk; and for a long time he carried out the duties of abbot of the emerging Monastery of the Caves, since Anthony, in his great humility, declined not only the abbacy, but even the priesthood.
In 1032 a young man came to Anthony, fell at his feet and begged to be tonsured. This was Theodosius.
The life of Theodosius is noteworthy from the first days of his youth. He was born near Kiev, in the city of Vasilev, but while still a child, he moved with his parents to Kursk. The pious inclination of his soul displayed itself from his very first years. He did not like children's games or pranks, but went to church every day and listened attentively to the reading of holy books. Then, he himself asked his parents to be assigned to a teacher for instruction. He learned quickly and distinguished himself the while by his unusual meekness: "He was obedient not only to his teacher, but also to all his fellow students." Possessing excellent abilities, Theodosius, of course, very quickly mastered all the lessons he was given, so that all were amazed by this child who was so unusual in his meekness and intelligence. At thirteen, he was deprived of his father. From that time, Theodosius began to learn of the bitterness of life. His soul strove wholly toward the Lord and feats performed in His name, but his mother was of a different inclination. She loved her son deeply, but prepared him for vainglorious secular life, and thus was profoundly troubled by his inclinations and, according to the hot temperament and the sharpness of her character, was often unjust and cruel to her son. But he, meanwhile, the heir to a sizable estate, wore the simplest and worst clothing, and loved more than anything else to help the household servants in their work. His mother, seeing this, showered blows upon him and continually reproached him for disgracing his family by not living as his peers should live.
Under such difficult circumstances, Theodosius became more and more convinced that, in order to save his soul, he would have to leave his home. One day, he chanced to see some pilgrims on their way to Palestine to worship at the Lord's tomb. He besought them to take him with them and secretly left home. His mother, however, overtook him and gave full vent to her rage; with great anger she launched herself at him and beat him severely; then she locked him in a garret and left him without food for two days: then, having fed him, she left him, his legs bound, for several more days, so that he would not leave. Then, going from anger to tenderness, she begged her son with all her might not to leave her. Theodosius obeyed, but, as before, continued to visit the church assiduously.
Having noticed that the liturgy could rarely be performed because of a lack of communion bread, he began to bake it himself. This occupation of her son did not please the mother, and she sweetly asked him to leave off baking the communion loaves. "Thou art bringing dishonor upon thy family," she said. ''I cannot bear to hear how all laugh at thee for this occupation of thine." Her bright kind son respectfully explained to her the exalted significance of the communion loaves, and she was pacified for a time. But the following year, seeing that Theodosius had grown swarthy from the oven and fire, she again began to forbid him to bake the communion bread, threatening him and sometimes beating him. Not knowing what to do Theodosius decided to leave his home secretly again and betook himself to the priest of the neighboring city, where he continued to bake the communion bread. His mother, of course, quickly found him, brought him home. and absolutely forbade him to bake the communion bread. Finally, a nobleman staying in Kursk learned of this and invited Theodosius to live with him, probably in order to serve in his domestic chapel.
Having become attached to meek and humble Theodosius, the nobleman often presented him with fine clothing, but Theodosius always gave it away to the poor and went about himself in rags. One day, the kind mayor of the city held a a great feast for the illustrious of the city. Theodosius was required to appear in a clean raiment to serve the guests. While he was changing his linen, his mother noticed blood on his shirt. Thus she realized that her son was wearing iron chains. She again flew into a great rage, tore the chains from his body and cruelly beat him. But all was in vain: Theodosius strove more and more to devote himself wholly to the service of God.
Standing one day in church, he heard the following words from the Gospel according to Matthew: "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me."
This time, these words had a strong effect on Theodosius, and he resolved to follow them. Soon his mother left the city for a time, and he hastened to leave for Kiev, where, he had heard, there were monasteries. Not knowing the way, he joined up with a string of carts headed for the capital city, which they reached in three weeks. Here, he went from monastery to monastery and asked that they take him in. But no one, seeing a simple youth, unknown to anyone, dressed in poor clothing, wanted to accept him. To his good fortune, Theodosius, during these visits to Kiev's monasteries, heard about the great Anthony the cave-dweller; his soul was borne aloft as on wings, and he hastened to him. Seeing the holy elder, Theodosius fell at his feet and begged him with tears to accept him. "My child," Anthony said to him, "Seest thou how gloomy and cramped the cave is? Thou art young and wilt have to endure many privations."
To this, Theodosius' answer was: "Thou knowest, honorable father, that All-Seeing God hath led me to thy holy place that I may be saved through thee. Therefore, I will fulfill all that thou wilt command." Then the blessed Anthony said, "Blessed is God, Who strengtheneth thee, my child, for such a podvig!" Later, Nikon tonsured Theodosius at the command of the holy elder. He was then twenty-three years old. Having received his long-standing desire to be tonsured, Theodosius gave himself up with all the ardor of his heart to the works of ascetism, fasting, prayer, obedience, and humility, so that St. Atnhony and Nikon could only marvel at him. However, Theodosius was forced to undergo yet another intensive testing. In 1036, four years after he had left Kursk, his mother, having searched everywhere for her vanished son in vain, found out from people arrived from Kiev that they had seen Theodosius there in one of the monasteries. She immediately set out for Kiev and began to visit all the monasteries, but did not find her son anywhere. Finally, she was directed to Anthony's cave. Theodosius' mother used a ruse to draw the elder out for conversation, saying she had come from afar to see him, having heard of his holiness. The elder, not suspecting anything, went out to her. She then began to ask about her son, saying: "I have grieved so about him, not knowing if he is alive or dead!" Anthony, being simple of soul and not suspecting her craftiness, said: "Thy son is here. Grieve no more over him. He is alive. If thou desirest to see him, go home today, and I will go and persuade him, for he otherwise desireth to see no one."
But the arguments of Anthony were in vain, and the next day the elder had to tell the mother: "I besought him long to come out to thee, but he doth not want to." Then Theodosius' mother began to speak angrily to Anthony and to scream at him: "Thou hast insulted me, elder! Thou hast taken my son, hidden him in a cave, and wilt not show him to me! Bring me my son, or I shall die of grief! I will kill myself before the doors of this cave if thou wilt not show him to me!"
Anthony, greatly troubled by this outbreak, again began to entreat Theodosius, and the latter finally went out to his mother. She, seeing her son in great exhaustion, his face so changed from labors and abstinence, embraced him and wept bitterly, then, regaining her composure somewhat, she begged him to come home, adding: "Do at home what thou wishest, but do not separate thyself from me!" To this Theodosius said firmly: "Mama, if thou desirest to see me every day, go and take the tonsure in one of the convents of Kiev. Then come here, and thou wilt see me. If thou dost not do this, thou wilt never see my face again."
For a long time, his mother would not agree, but finally, she decided to devote herself to God in the Convent of St. Nicholas, established at the site of the grave of Askold. Theodosius thanked God for his mother's decision and joyfully returned to his podvig.
In general, life in the cave was severe.
The hermits ate only rye bread; on Saturdays and Sundays they ate boiled peas or beans. In order to obtain this food, they made simple handicrafts which they sold; with the money thus received, they bought rye and, having divided it among themselves, ground it themselves on hand millstones. After Matins, they cultivated the ground in the garden: after liturgy, they labored in their underground cells. Theodosius worked more than both elders. Strong of body, he always took a part of their work upon himself; he carried water for them, chopped firewood, and ground the rye. Sometimes, on sultry nights, he would bare his shoulders and chest and give his body as food for the mosquitoes and midges; blood flowed on him, but he calmly concealed his discomfort and chanted psalms. He would appear before the others in the small church which had been built in the cave, and, standing in his place, would not leave before the end of the service.
At that time, in the words of the chronicler, three beacons shone in the cave: Anthony, Nikon, and Theodosius.
Soon, yet another ascetic joined them – St. Moses, a Hungarian by birth, the brother of St. George, the valiant servant of the blessed Prince Gleb, who perished with him on the Alta, when he tried to protect his lord with his own body; he was also the brother of St. Ephraim of Novotorzhk. Moses had also served with Prince Boris and was with him on the Alta; he alone of all the prince's servants survived and hid at the prince's sister's, Princess Predslava. Afterward, during Boleslav's siege of Kiev, he was captured by the Poles and spent five years in chains. Stately and comely of body, he unwittingly attracted the attention of a certain prominent and wealthy Polish woman, who yielded to a strong attraction towards him. Releasing him from the fetters, she declared her feelings for him and tried in every way to attract him to herself, announcing that she was ready to many him. But Moses, having already irrevocably resolved to dedicate himself to God, refused her.
The spurned Polish woman then went from tenderness to cruelty: she locked him in a dungeon and began to starve him with hunger. She even denounced him to King Boleslav but nothing availed. Even in the dungeon Moses remained resolute and soon received the chance to fulfill his promise to God: a monk of Mt. Athos came to him and secretly tonsured him.
Learning that her captive was already a monk, the furious Polish woman, in order to take revenge for the disregard he had shown to her beauty, ordered to have Moses so cruelly mutilated that the hapless sufferer, dripping blood, scarcely remained alive. Then, in her displeasure with the Athonite monk who had tonsured Moses, she persuaded Boleslav, on whom she had great influence, to drive all the monks out of Poland. Yet the judgment of God was not slow in punishing them: Boleslav died suddenly, and a revolt arose in Poland, during which this cruel, impious Polish woman, who had mutilated a righteous man, was slain. This took place in about the year 1027. A few years later, having regained his strength little by little, the long-suffering Moses arrived at the cave of St. Anthony. There he spent ten years in fasting and prayer, but was sick so nearly constantly that he could barely walk even with the help of a cane. St. Moses the Hungarian possessed a gift for healing various sicknesses and foresaw his own blessed end. He passed away on July 26, probably in the year 1043; his relics rest in St. Anthony's Cave.
In 1054 Great Prince Yaroslav died.
Shortly after his death, Great Prince Iziaslav, having acceded to his father's throne, came with his entourage to visit Anthony and asked his prayers and blessing. After this, to Anthony came a youth, the son of Janna Vyshatich and grandson of the famous commander Vyshata who had been imprisoned and blinded by the Greeks because of his reluctance to abandon the Russian warriors in misfortune; this youth ardently begged to be accepted as a monk by Anthony. Seeing his extraordinary zeal, Anthony agreed and instructed Nikon to perform the tonsure, naming him Barlaam.
After Barlaam, the most trusted and beloved of Iziaslav's servants came to Anthony and was also, in accordance with his ardent importunity, tonsured, receiving the name Ephraim.
These two tonsures, of course resulted in Anthony's becoming even more intensely disliked.
The nobleman Janna Vyshatich came to him with a multitude of servants, drove out all the monks, dragged forth his son by force, and tearing his monastic habit from him, dressed him in his former splendid noble's raiment and sent him home.
Great Prince Isiaslav also became greatly enraged with Anthony on learning of the tonsure of his favorite servant. He ordered St. Nikon, who had performed the tonsure, seized and threatened to send him and Anthony and all the other brothers to prison and have the caves dug up himself. "Do whatever thou desirest," answered St. Nikon, "but I cannot take soldiers away from the Heavenly King." Seeing the anger of the prince, Anthony decided to leave the cave and go with the brethren to another country. However, lziaslav's consort, a Pole by birth, on learning what the saint intended to do, besought the prince not to drive such ascetics wrathfully from the country, and recounted to him the tribulation which had befallen Poland when Boleslav acted in a similar manner. She managed to allay lziaslav's ire, and he sent a messenger to beg Anthony to return to his former place. The messengers of the prince found Anthony only on the third day of their search and in the name of Iziaslav entreated him to return. The saint obeyed and returned to the cave, praying unceasingly. In time, the whole scattered flock returned. Young Barlaam, who had spent three days at home without eating or drinking, returned; he had finally softened his father, who took pity on him and permitted him to return to Anthony. Moreover, Janna Vyshatich, moved to the depths of his soul by the ascetism of his son, himself became an ardent visitor of the monastery, and came to respect Theodosius in particular.
Little by little the number of the brethren inceased to twelve; they excavated a large cave and established a church in it: they also dug cells for themselves. Then, several more brethren arrived, but several of the senior brethren left the caves to found monasteries in other places. Thus, St. Nikon departed, withdrawing to Tmutarakan, where he founded the Monastery of the Theotokos. Upon Nikon's departure, Theodosius was ordained to the priesthood and conducted the divine services in the cave church.
The number of the brethren had already grown to fifteen when, one day, St. Anthony said in the presence of them all: "God hath gathered you here, brethren, and on you doth rest the blessing of Holy Mt. Athos, given to me by the abbot who tonsured me, and which now passeth from me to you. I will appoint an abbot for you: but I myself am leaving for another place, to live in solitude, as hath been my custom for a long time." Then he appointed Barlaam abbot, and dug himself a new cave, which even to this day is known as Anthony's Cave, or the Near Cave, and is approximately 250 yards away from the former.
Having settled in this cave, Anthony lived in it forty years in strict asceticism. But even though he had devoted himself in this manner to the most exalted of monastic podvigs, the affairs of the Caves Monastery founded by him were always close to his heart; for this reason the monks enjoyed constant fellowship with him and always turned to him for his advice and blessing. His love for true ascetics was so great that he himself carried food every day to the recluse Isaac, and this continued for seven years.
When more and more brethren came to live in the cave, they turned to Anthony for his blessing to begin construction of a monastery on the hill. Anthony not only approved this desire, but sent a messenger to the Great Prince with this request: "My Prince! God has increased the brotherhood and our place hath become crowded; canst thou not grant us the hill, which lieth above the cave?" Iziaslav readily granted Anthony's request, and they built a small wooden church on the hill, dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos; but the brethren still continued to live in the caves. This was in 1057. At that time, Iziaslav founded a magnificent monastery in honor of his patron, St. Demetrius, and had Barlaam transferred there as abbot.
Then the Caves brotherhood chose Theodosius as their abbot. St. Anthony confirmed this choice, and thenceforth a new and exalted activity began for Theodosius.
Theodosius did not alter his humility and way of life when he accepted the leadership of the brotherhood: he was still the first to go out to work and to the church services.
Construction of a hillside monastery was his first project; next was construction of a more extensive wooden Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Having finally established the brotherhood, which had already increased significantly in number, Theodosius began to introduce a rule of cenobitic life following the model of that instituted by St. Theodore the Studite in Constantinople's monastery of that name. Theodosius also transplanted this rule from the Caves Monastery to all the other monasteries of Russia.
The brotherhood was divided into four levels: the first included those not yet tonsured who went about in secular clothing; the second, although still not tonsured, already wore monk's clothing; the third group was tonsured and wore the mantle: finally, the fourth was clothed in the Great Schema.
Everything in the monastery took place only with the blessing of the abbot and consecrated by prayer. The brethren were not allowed to keep any private possessions in their cells: no food, no superfluous clothing. Theodosius himself strictly supervised the observance of all these rules and meekly chastised offenders; afterwards, he forgave the penitent, but imposed penances on others.
He often delivered instructional talks with tears in his eyes, but for the most part, he influenced the brotherhood by the example of his personal life.
He ate nothing but dry bread and boiled greens, without oil, at his meals, and drank nothing but water; his clothing was old and worn, and underneath it he wore a prickly hair-shirt. He never lay down to sleep, but fell asleep after Compline in a sitting position. Often he passed the entire night without sleep, in prayer for himself and for the monastery, which those appointed to wake the brethren often noticed, hearing the sound of his weeping and the thump of his prostrations when they arrived for his blessing before Matins. When Great Lent began, he withdrew to a certain cave, known to the present day as Theodosius' Cave, or The Far Cave, and sometimes went from it to another cave, close to the monastery's village, returning to the monastery on the eve of Lazarus Saturday.
Theodosius worked every day alongside the brethren. "He frequently went to the bakery with the bakers and kneaded dough and baked bread with a joyful spirit."
Once, before a feast day, the cellarer told him that there was no one to carry water.
Theodosius immediately rose up and began to carry water from the well. Another time there was no one to chop firewood. "I am not occupied; I will go," said the abbot; he ordered the others to go to the refectory, since it was already time for dinner; but he himself remained to chop wood.
No less active was his life beyond monastery walls. He was always visiting those who were in need of his help and advice, and, moreover, went forth to teach Orthodoxy and defend it against the attacks of various harmful false teachings.
At night when the brothers were asleep, Theodosius often went to the city gates and debated heatedly with Jews, proving to them the superiority of the Christian Faith.
His humility was amazing. Once, when Theodosius was visiting with the Great Prince Iziaslav, who sincerely loved and highly respected him, the Prince ordered a servant to take Theodosius back to the monastery in a comfortable wagon because of the lateness of the hour. The servant appointed for this, seeing a monk in poor clothing, said to him: "Monk, thou art without work every day, while my life is full of toil and labor. Do thou mount the horse, and I will lie down in thy place and take a nap." Theodosius, not uttering a word, traded places with the servant. At dawn, nobles, meeting Theodosius on their way to the Prince, dismounted from their horses and paid him homage. Seeing this, the servant became quite frightened, but Theodosius merely suggested that he mount the horse. At the gates of the monastery, the monks met their abbot with the honor due him. and the poor servant was utterly abashed. Theodosius ordered that he be served the very best. So remarkable was the kindness of St. Theodosius, He was a true helper of the oppressed and the offended. He especially loved the poor; he had a special annex built to the monastery for the disabled, the blind, and the lame, and allocated for them a tithe of the monastery's revenues. Every Saturday, he sent cart-loads of bread to the prisons. One day, some thieves who had been caught in the monastery village were brought to him; seeing them bound, Theodosius wept and ordered them to be untied and fed; afterwards, having given instructions that no one offend them, and having seen to all their wants, he released them in peace.
The strength of Theodosius' faith was revealed in many instances. Having gathered together a considerable number of monks, he did not like to gather provisions for the monastery, but concerned himself above all with helping the poor and in everything placed his trust in God. When there was insufficient grain or other victuals with which to feed the brethren and the poor, or wine and oil for the church services, and the monks informed Theodosius of it, he always told them calmly not to worry, since God's providence would not desert them. And truly, every time, all would appear in due time. Either a rich noble, at the suggestion of God, would send cart-loads of bread, fish, vegetables, millet, and honey to the monastery; or the housekeeper of the Great Prince would send a cart-load of wine and oil. Finally, one day, there was an instance when an unknown donor appeared before Theodosius precisely at a time when the monastery had nothing with which to buy bread and no quarter from which to expect help. The donor, a young, stately soldier entered Theododius' cell, bowed silently, set a gold coin before him, and withdrew in silence, with a bow.
Then the blessed Theodosius summoned the steward to him and, handing him the golden coin, said: "Brother Anastasius! Now thou canst not say that there is nothing with which to buy bread! Go buy some!" And relating to the steward the manner in which the coin appeared, Theodosius added: "Never despair; be firm in thy faith; place thy burden on God. He taketh care of us. But now prepare a great holiday for the brethren."
We must needs tell how all the Kieven princes, nobles, warriors, and city-dwellers loved the humble and kindly ascetics who dwelt in the monastery, all the more so since they occupied themselves not only with fasting, prayer, and helping the poor, but also zealously spread enlightenment of the written word, preached sermons, and collected patriotic tales about the deeds of earlier times. The Kievans constantly visited the Caves Monastery to listen to these beacons of enlightenment, and, in their turn, counted the monks as their most valued guests when they came to their homes.
And the Caves Monastery loved the Kievan townsfolk as their own children. In the name of love and truth, it intervened in all their affairs, both domestic and public. Theodosius especially loved the family of the military commander Janna Vyshatich, the father of Barlaam. Jan lived in great love and harmony with his spouse and both were renowned for their extraordinary piety and philanthropy. One day, Theodosius visited them and explained to them at great length what would happen with them after their repose, and also the meaning of the ecclesiastical rite performed for the departed.
Hearing this, Jan's wife thoughtfully asked: "Who knoweth where they will lay me to rest?" Prophesying about her desire, the saint answered: "Truly, where I lie, there shalt thou also be laid to rest." And so it came to pass exactly eighteen years later. In 1091, when the relics of St. Theodosius were solemnly enshrined in the vestible, on the right side, two days later, in the same place, on the left side, the wife of Jan Vyshatich, who had just died, was buried.
In addressing princes and grandees, as in his dealings with simple folk, Theodosius showed the same meekness, simplicity, and love of truth, without any hypocrisy. Great Prince Iziaslav often visited him. Moreover, he never allowed himself to enter the monastery on horseback and never took a large retinue with him. One day, Iziaslav arrived at the monastery during the brothers' after-dinner rest period, when Theodosius forbade anyone to enter, no matter whom, so that the monks' rest not be interrupted; the porter, although he recognized the Prince, did not dare admit him without informing Theodosius. Iziaslav awaited the abbot at the gate and was not only not insulted by the strictness of the monastery's rule, but loved Theodosius all the more.
It was Theodosius' custom to invite the lay folk who had come to the monastery for the liturgy, to eat in the brothers' refectory after the divine services.
One day. during such it meal. Prince Iziaslav said to him: "Tell me, holy father, what doth this signify? My home is full of all the goods of the world, yet they never prepare food there as delicious as here!" "That," said Theodosius, "is because the brothers prepare everything here with prayer and blessings, whereas thy servants argue, curse one another, and receive beatings from the overseers when they prepare your meals." Being humble and meek, Theodosius knew how to be firm at the same time, when his conscience commanded. When internecine war arose between the sons of Yaroslav, in spite of their father's testament, and Sviatoslav, allying himself with Vsevolod, drove Iziaslav from Kiev and took his place himself, Theodosius refused to have any dealings with Sviatoslav, and in Church prayers commemorated only the name of Iziaslav. Furthermore, he never ceased to denounce Sviatoslav and even sent him a letter in which he likened him to Cain, who had slain his brother Abel.
Sviatoslav became greatly enraged and wanted to send Theodosius into exile.
"I would be very glad of it," answered Theodosius, "since it would be the best thing in my life. What have I to fear? Would I lose property and riches? Would I be deprived of children or villages? Naked came we into this world and naked we shall leave it!" Sviatoslav was greatly troubled in spirit when he heard Theodosius' answer, and with all his powers he began to seek a reconciliation with him.
Finally, at the urgent request of the brethren Theodosius agreed to commemorate Sviatoslav's name also during the church services, after the name of the legal prince, because of his truly great love for the Church. Sviatoslav, when he later came to the monastery and meekly listened to the denunciations of the holy elder, asked him to visit the princely palace for his editication. Theodosius agreed, and, coming one day to Sviatoslav, he came upon a joyful feast: songs were sung and music played. Theodosius sat off to one side, his eyes on the ground, and afterwards, looking at the Prince, he said, "Will it be thus in the next world?" Sviatoslav wept and ordered the playing to stop.
Afterwards, when Theodosius' arrival was announced, the playing always stopped in the palace of the prince. "If my father were to rise from the dead," Sviatoslav used to say to Theodosius, "I would not be as happy to see him as I am at thine arrival."
Anthony, who struggled in his cave, was also distinguished for his directness in his dealings with princes. After Iziaslav was banished, Anthony immediately entered into contact with Prince Vseslav of Polotsk, who, as we will see later, was kept in a dungeon by Iziaslav, unjustly, in Anthony's opinion. When Iziaslav returned to Kiev a few months later and regained his throne, he was exceedingly angry with Anthony for his fellowship with Vseslav. The righteous Anthony then moved away to the Eletsky Monastery in the city of Chemigov, and then went to the nearby Mount Boldina, which was covered with a dense forest, where he dug himself a new cave; and once again monks began gathering around him. Anthony, however, soon returned to his cave in Kiev, since Iziaslav admitted his guilt before the holy father and begged him to return.
Besides spreading the light of Christ's teaching, love toward one's neighbor, and book-learning, the Kiev Caves Monastery deserves praise for another extremely important thing: the compilation of the chronicles of events which took place in the land of Russia, the earliest such chronicle to survive to the present day. The author of the chronicles is usually considered to be St. Nestor, (1) who arrived at the monastery during the time of Theodosius, as we have said, as a seventeen-year-old youth, where his incorrupt relics rest to the present day in the Near Caves, known as Anthony's Caves.
As is well known, in addition to the the Christian Faith, the first Russian Christians brought us Slavonic grammar, which was devised by St. Cyril, Equal to the Apostles. They also laid the foundation for our chronicles. At first, these consisted of short notations made in church books about one or another event which it was considered desirable to remember in later years, such as: the blessed repose of some righteous man, the erection of a new church, or the most important events in the life of the Christian citizens. Such, among other events, were the deeds and death of the Kievan heroes, Askold and Dir. Finally, the dates for celebrating Holy Pascha and the movable holidays were introduced into these notes. In this manner the first chronicles and short notes took form.
Since the chroniclers were exclusively deeply believing Christians and frequently wrote in church books, they presented a single holy and exalted truth; in fact, among Russians in ancient times the word "book" itself signified the Sacred Scriptures alone.
Together with the growth of the Russian State and the baptism of Russia, of course, both the quantity of such individual chronicle notes and the number of important events in the life of Russia which were entered in them increased. Finally, there was a desire and necessity to have a general collection of these individual notes to obtain a full description of all the affairs of the Russian land from ancient times.
This undertaking, of course, could be accomplished best in the Kiev Caves Monastery, where intelligent, educated monks lived, and to which all the Kievans came to share their joys and sorrows, recounting all their deeds.
In this way the first collection of chronicles came to be, called "Tales of Years Past." There is no doubt that, during its composition, not only all the separate short handwritten notes at the disposal of the chronicler were collected, but the accounts of all the prominent people of Kiev were also included in it, tales of the mundane and civil affairs, in which they themselves had taken part, or of which they had reliable knowledge from people close to them.
There is also no doubt that the son of the above-mentioned Vyshaty, the military commander Jan Vyshatich, who lived to be ninety years old, related to the chronicler many events of which he had been an eyewitness, as well as those of which his father had told him.
This is why our earliest chronicles describe with extraordinary clarity all the secular and civil events, as well as the church events. which took place in Russia.
Thus, the beginning of chronicle writing was established. From then on, well-lettered monks in many monasteries continued the work of the first chronicler, transcribing the chronicle collection and augmenting or adding to it those events of which they knew personally.
Each of them customarily finished his work with the following words; "Lords, fathers, and brethren. if I have allowed my pen to slip, or erred in transcribing, or have incorrectly added anything, read and correct, for the sake of God, and curse not, for the books are old. but the mind is young and green."
One such transcriber and augmenter of the original anthology, a simple villager of the Rostov region, concluded his work with the following, touchingly humble appeal to the readers: "I beg you, brethren, who will read and listen to these books: if anyone find much inadequacy or incompleteness here, do not think poorly of me, for I am not a Kievan by birth, nor from Novgorod, nor from Vladimir, but am a villager of the Rostov region. As much as I found, so much have I copied. How can I supply what is beyond my power and what I do not see before me? I do not have a rich memory, I have not studied doctrinal arts: how then can I compose stories or embellish them with wise words? . ."
It was with such a pure heart that our chroniclers applied themselves to the work of recording accounts of the affairs of the Russian land. Our princes aided them, in that they dispassionately commanded that everything, both good and bad, he entered into the chronicle. This is why our chronicles, by their exceptional veracity and simplicity, surprise all the scholars of the West, who acknowledge that they do not have a similarly truthful account of their past affairs.
Here it should be noted that this pure regard for books and the written word survived throughout Russia, to our good fortune, for a very long time, and has governed all Russian written work until relatively recent times.
During the lifetime of Sts. Anthony and Theodosius. besides the beginning of the writing of chronicles, construction of the great stone church of the Kiev Caves Monastery was begun.
According to tradition, this took place as follows:
One of the descendants of the Varangian prince Africanus, Shimon by name, was banished from his native land by his kinfolk, and arrived in Russia while Yaroslav still reigned, who received him with honor and lodged him with his beloved son, Vsevolod. Vsevolod, in turn, soon came to love Shimon. During Iziaslav's reign a new predatory people, called the Polovtsy, arrived in the Southern Russian steppes, replacing the Pechenegs and began to attack our outlying regions. Three princes rose up against them: Iziaslav, Sviatoslav, and Vsevolod with Shimon.
Gathering for the campaign, Shimon went to St. Anthony for a blessing. The elder openly prophesied to him the ruin awaiting them. Then Shimon fell at his feet and begged to be saved. To this, St. Anthony replied, "My son, many of you will fall under the sword, and those put to flight by the enemy will be trampled down and wounded, will drown in the water; but thou shalt be saved and will be laid to rest in the church which will be built here."
The Russians then approached the Alta River; the Polovtsy attacked them at night, and our men were defeated after a cruel battle, during which many of the commanders and a multitude of their soldiers were killed, just as Anthony had foretold. Shimon lay wounded on the field. Looking at the sky, he suddenly saw a great church in the air and exclaimed, "O Lord, deliver me from bitter death through the intercessions of Thy most pure Mother and of Sts. Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves!" And his prayer was heard. He soon found enough strength in himself to leave the battlefield unnoticed; afterwards, healed of his wounds, he returned safely to Kiev. He went to St. Anthony and told him what had occurred, then added:
"My father, Africanus, fashioned a large cross, ten cubits high, bearing on it the image of the crucified large cross, ten cubits high, bearing on it the image of the crucified Saviour; and as a token of special respect for this holy object, he placed a cincture wrought of fifty gold coins about the waist of Christ and a golden crown upon His head. When, driven from my home by my kinsmen, I left for Russia, I took the belt and the crown from the cross with me. As I took them, I heard a voice: 'Man, do not place this crown on My head, but take it to the appointed place, where the church of My Mother shall be built by a saint; give it into his hands, so that he may hang it above Mine altar.' In fear I fell to the ground and lay as though dead. Then, during my journey by sea, such a great storm arose one day that we all prepared ourselves for death. Then, remembering the belt, which the mysterious voice had not mentioned, I cried out: 'Lord, forgive me! I shall perish because of the belt, which I took from Thy holy image on the cross!' Suddenly I saw a church high up in the sky, and I thought, 'What church can this be?' I heard a voice from above: 'The one which will be built by the saint in the name of the Mother of God, and its dimensions are to be determined by the same golden belt – 20 belts in width, 30 in length, and 50 in height; and thou shalt be buried therein.' Then the sea suddenly became calm."
Having related this, Shimon added, "Since that time, I have not known where that church shown to me was to be built; but thou hast told me that I will be buried in the church which shall be built here." Then Shimon gave Anthony the belt saying: "Here is the standard of measurement for the foundation of the church"; and then the crown, saying: "Let this crown be suspended above the altar." Anthony praised God and said: "My son, from this day forward let thy name be not Shimon, but Simon," and calling Theodosius, he told him about what had happened and gave the belt and crown to him. That was in the year 1068.
Simon became very attached to Theodosius and began to visit him frequently. One day he said to him: "Give me thy word, Father, that thy soul will bless me, not only in this life, but also after my death and thine."
"That is beyond my power," answered Theodosius. "But if, after my departure from this world, the church is built, if traditions and my rule are honored in it, then it will serve as a sign for thee that I have acquired boldness before God."
After this, Simon bowed down to the ground before him and said. "Father, I will not leave thee! Give me thy blessing in writing."
Then Theodosius gave him that prayer which today is placed in the hands of those deceased. From that time on, it has become the custom in Russia to place in the hands of the departed a copy of this prayer' which is read over the body during the funeral service.
After obtaining the prayer, Simon, preparing to build the church, asked Theodosius to remit the sins of his parents.
Theodosius, lifting up his hands. said, "May the Lord bless thee out of Sion, and may ye see the beauties of Jerusalem all the days of your life, unto the third, unto the fourth generation – onto the end."
Following this, Simon abandoned the Catholicism to which he had adhered, and converted to Orthodoxy.
In 1073, five years after Simon gave the belt and golden crown to St. Anthony, four very richly-clad church master-architects arrived from Constantinople; having presented themselves to Sts. Anthony and Theodosius, they asked them, "Where do ye want to build the church?" The saints answered, "In the place where God will indicate." To this the architects observed: "It is remarkable that ye know the time of your own deaths, but have yet to appoint a place for your church, having given us so much gold for the work!" Then the saints, in the presence of all the brethren, asked the Greeks to explain what their words meant. They related the following: "Early one day, before the rising of the sun, handsome youths came to each of us at our homes and said, 'The Queen summoneth you to Blachernae.' And assembling all our relatives and friends, we all arrived at Blachernae at the same time, and, upon questioning one another, we realized that the same youths had summoned each of us with the same words. Suddenly, we saw the Queen, surrounded by a multitude of warriors, and paid homage to her. And she said: 'I wish to erect for myself a church in Russia, in Kiev. I command you to take gold for three years, and go to build it.' Furthermore, she ordered us to go to the venerable Anthony and Theodosius, adding that Anthony, having blessed the beginning of the construction, would depart into eternity, and Theodosius would follow him the next year. Dismissing us, the Queen entrusted to us the relics of the holy martyrs, Artemius, Polyeuctus, Leontius, Acacius, Arethas, James, and Theodore, for us to set in the foundation of the church. Concerning the dimensions of the church, the Queen remarked: 'For a standard of measurement, I have sent the belt of my Son; in accordance with His command, go out into the open, and ye will see the church's dimensions.' Leaving the church, we beheld a church in the air, and returning, we bowed before the Queen and asked, 'O Lady, to whom will this church be dedicated?' She said, 'I want it to be named for me.' We did not dare to ask the Queen her name and were troubled, but she, noticing this, told us straightforwardly: 'The church is to be named for the Theotokos.' At this, she gave us a holy icon, adding, 'Let it be the patron.' Dismissing us, the Queen promised to reward us for this labor and to give us what 'eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart men.'"
Having listened to this tale, all the monks glorified God and the most pure Mother of God; then St. Anthony told the architects that "none of us ever went to you," to which the architects replied, "We received the Queen's gold from you in the presence of numerous witnesses, and a month after receiving it, we set out on our journey, and today is the tenth day since we left Constantinople."
Having finished their tale, the architects asked, "Where shall we build the church?" Anthony said, "Wait three days." Then he turned to God in ardent prayer and asked for a miraculous indication of the site for the church. In accordance with his prayer, the chosen place was dry one night, while all the surrounding area was drenched with dew; and the second night, that place alone was wet, while all around it was dry.
Blessing the place for the Great Church of the Caves was the last earthly task of wondrous Anthony. In the ninetieth year of his laborious life, on May 7, 1072, he peacefully committed his soul into the hands of the Lord. The relics of St. Anthony rest under a slab in the cave where he struggled in ascetism. The profound humility which he maintained throughout his earthly life preserves him from human praise even after death; hitherto, all attempts to uncover his relics have miraculously come to nought.
Soon after the repose of St. Anthony, the laying of the foundation for the new church began in the designated place. The land belonged to Prince Sviatoslav, who readily donated it to the monastery and was himself the first to began digging the trench for the church's foundation.
Its most important sacred object is the small icon, given, according to tradition, to the architects by the Mother of God, depicting her and the Apostles gathered for her Dormition. It is noteworthy that, despite all the invasions of enemies and frequent pillagings of the church, despite fire and other misfortunes, this icon has never been removed from the church. When they brought Peter the Great news of the terrible conflagration in the Kiev Caves Monastery, which occurred during his reign, his first question was: "Is the wonder-working icon safe?" "It is safe, Your Majesty," answered the grieving Archimandrite John, who personally informed the ruler of the misfortune. "If the icon is safe," said Peter, "then the monastery is safe." This icon hangs above the main royal gates in a silver-gilt halo of rays, as the crown of all the monastery's sacred objects. It was painted by an ancient Greek iconographer on a tablet of cypress wood 15% inches wide and 10% inches high. The Mother of God is depicted lying on a bier, before which stand the Gospels, covering an opening in the middle of the board where portions of the relics of the seven martyrs are preserved, placed there by her when she presented the icon to the architects. At the head of the Mother of God, six apostles are depicted, of whom Peter is shown with a censer; and at her feet are five. The Apostle Thomas is not depicted on the icon, since he, by the special design of God, was not present at the Dormition of the Theotokos, but arrived only three days later. In the middle of the icon, on the left side, stands the Saviour, who holds the enshrouded soul of the Mother of God: and above, on either side of Him, are two angels holding white cloths. The whole icon, except for the hands and faces, is covered with a golden covering and adorned with precious stones.
The foregoing narration of the Mother of God's wondrous part in the building of the Kiev Caves Monastery church shows us that the Queen of Heaven, from her temple in Blachernae, from which on two previous occasions she had rendered help to the Greeks against the heathen Russians who were attacking them, then extended her grace and blessing over the Russian nation dedicated to the Christian Faith.
Orthodox Life magazine 1986 (5)
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