Life of Hieroschemamonk Feofil Part 1

The life of, Fool-for-Christ's sake, blessed Hieroschemamonk, Feofil (Theophilus). Preface and Chapter 1.


The Blessed Starets, Hieroschemamonk Feofil, is so popular amongst Kievans and many other Orthodox Christians that, although he demised long ago, his memory remains sacredly and reverently honoured.

It is true that none of his contemporaries who witnessed his monastic podvigs, his life as a fool-for-Christ's-sake, and spiritual glory are still alive. But, amongst the descendants of these people, many recollections of the God-pleasing life and gift of forevision of the Blessed One are passed down from one generation to another.

For more than thirty years' the Starets served as a bright lamp of Evangelical truth for all Orthodox Christians and he was the best example of monkhood at the Kiev-Pecherskaya Lavra for a decade.

As a great teacher of piety, he worked at the improvement of the morals of those nearest him ... warning and admonishing everyone and instructing everyone in all wisdom that we may present every person mature in Christ, the Anointed One (Col. 1:28).

By means of spiritual eyes which penetrated the innermost recesses of men's hearts, the Blessed Feofil saw much. He saw how pride, self-delusion, hatred and violence inhabited the darkness of our ignorance. He saw how, plunging into a chaos of passions not penetrated by a single ray of divine light, people forgot God and, being satiated with sins, became filled with material food but starved for spiritual nourishment — Christians in name only, but in deeds and life, far from it.

Starets Feofil saw much and secretly suffered for all souls. In order to support the failing spirit of faith in us, he, out of love, took upon himself the highest podvig of Christian piety being a fool-for-Christ's-sake. He dedicated his whole life to the doctoring of moral ailments. Using parables, he sternly revealed cruel and unjust people who had forgotten God. With meek reproof and with kindness he comforted and encouraged believing and God-fearing people. God in His wisdom was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believed (I Cor. 1:21).

Out of true piety and love of God, Feofil refused temporary blessings and led his entire life in humility, simplicity, and abasement. He experienced defamation, insult, evil, and hatred from people but, being humble of heart and meek in spirit, he did not even complain to the Lord about his critics, limiting himself only to the prayer uttered on the cross by the Great Sufferer: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

His memory will not depart and his name will live from generation to generation. People will know of his wisdom and the Church will proclaim his praise.

The descendants of people who knew the Blessed Starets have reverently preserved a multitude of remembrances about his wonderful forevision and the effectiveness of his prayers for those suffering and burdened with ailments of the body and the spirit.

We offer here to the reader only a few of them, collected during interviews with the elder residents of Kiev or given to us by the God-loving startsy of the Kiev-Pecherskaya Lavra.'

We will not hide these things, but will present them for all to see; may the light of the Blessed Starets Feofil appear as a beacon and may he illumine the world with his deeds which in his lifetime the world did not understand, seeing in the man of God nothing but foolishness.

Chapter 1.

In the town of Makhnovo, district of Kiev, at the Church of the Birth of the Virgin, there once lived a priest, Andrei Gorenkovsky. In October, 1788, his wife Evfrosiniya (nee Goshkovsky) gave birth to twins. At baptism the eldest was named Foma and the younger, Kalliniky. They were both notably beautiful and strong.

It was the custom at that time for mothers to breast-feed their own infants. Evfrosiniya abided by this rule even though it was quite difficult with two children involved. She refused all offers of assistance from wet nurses. To her great amazement, however, Evfrosiniya found that her eldest son, Foma, would not take to the breast, stubbornly averting his face from it. In order to save the child from starving to death, the distressed mother was forced to try every possible means of feeding him. Since he refused all forms of milk, his mother fed him with potato water, soft-boiled turnips and carrots.

Such a rejection from her child naturally settled a coldness in the mother's heart towards the baby. To make matters worse, superstitious neighborhood women began interpreting this phenomenon in their own way and dragging in absurd stories, considering Foma to be almost a bear-cub.

Evfrosiniya, because of her own simpleness and ignorance, believed from her soul all these superstitious tales. She became horrified and her bitterness towards Foma grew. "This is an exchange," she would say. "They did not want to baptise him and Kalliniky on the same day and so a witch substituted him."

Evfrosiniya tried for six months, by all possible means, to make Foma behave like a normal child. But all the while she saw in him the embryo of some sort of inclinations, incomprehensible to the simple woman. Deciding that Foma was some sort of moral freak, Evfrosiniya resolved to rid herself of him forever. One evening she called a servant and secretly confided in her:

"I can no longer look at this vampire; I cannot stand him in my own home. Tomorrow, at the very crack of dawn, take him to the river and throw him into it. But swear to me that no-one will know about this except us."

Miraculously saved

The servant begged and pleaded with the mother to have mercy on the innocent child. No matter how much she pleaded and wept, admonishing Evfrosiniya with God's wrath, the embittered mother was implacable. In the end, the servant had to submit to her. In the morning, when it was barely light, the servant took Foma in her arms, ran to the river and making a sign of the cross over the child, dropped him into the water. And then a wondrous thing happened. God chose to preserve the child. He came up to the surface of the water and peacefully floated to the opposite shore. There he was cast up onto the dry ground.

On seeing this, the servant became-terrified. Having already committed a crime and fearing the wrath of her mistress, she decided to bring the terrible matter to a swift end. She crossed the stream and picked up Foma in her arms. The child was asleep in a serene slumber. Then, avoiding thought, the servant quickly dropped the baby into the river once more. Again she witnessed God's power, the-waves carried Foma to a little island which had been formed upstream and gently cast him up on the fine sand.

Shaken by such an undeniable miracle, the woman' crossed a ford and took the child in her arms. Seeing that the baby was alive and unharmed, the servant was flooded with bitter tears of repentance. She took Foma to his mother and, in a voice choked with fear, related to her all that had happened.

"You can kill me, but I will not drown an innocent child! God-Himself, by a miracle, is saving his life and we shall suffer for our cruel murder!"

But the young mother, compelled by an inhuman bitterness, did not believe a word the servant said and began to reproach her. "Shame on you!" she said. "You are pitying this vampire. If we leave him alive, he will bring about much evil. Oh no! It may be better that I drown him with my own hands than to look at this freak which is hateful to my sight."

The water mill

With these words, Evfrosiniya maliciously seized Foma from the arms of the frightened servant woman and set out for the river. Not far from their home stood a water mill. Since it was early and no-one was around, Evfrosiniya approached it, found an appropriate spot and with a great swing, threw Foma under the wheel itself. Then, thinking that the child was dead, she left. Her conscience seemed peaceful. Then suddenly there was another miracle. The millstone stopped and the pressure of the water caused a tremendous roar.

The miller, startled by the strange phenomenon, ran outside to see what had happened. The wheels, restrained by an unknown power, trembled from the strong pressure of the water driving against them. The water raged ahead, foaming and boiling. Looking down, he heard an infant's wails and in the midst of the whirlpool he saw the child floating. Then the miller nimbly lowered himself down and, bending towards the stream, pulled Foma out of the water. Hardly had he removed the child than the wheels began to turn again.

The distraught servant who had followed the desperate mother, seeing this new miracle, began sobbing bitterly. She approached the miller and related all that she knew about the child and about the miraculous phenomena of God's power which had saved the child thrice.

"What shall we do now?" puzzled the miller. "If we return the babe to his mother, she will not hesitate to destroy him."

Fearing responsibility for the fate of the innocent child persecuted by his own mother, they decided to relate these incidents to his father.

Neither pleas nor prayers, nor even threats and coercion had any effect upon Evfrosiniya. In the constant saving of the child, she saw only the devil's work. The more that the husband tried to convince her, the more stubborn she became.

"I will not leave him alive. This is not a little child. This is an exchange, a freak. He definitely must be freed of life," repeated the superstitious Evfrosiniya and tried several more times to destroy Foma.

The nurse

The heart-broken father, seeing how strongly his wife hated her own son, decided to take Foma away from her for a long time. He secretly sought out an experienced wet-nurse and told her the details of the family secret, and gave her the innocent child to be brought up. The hired nurse fed Foma with soft bread soaked in fat and gave daily reports on her charge to the father.

Several months passed and the child developed normally and even strengthened. The wet- nurse proved to be a woman of good conscience. She raised and cared for Foma as she would her own son. But soon God found it pleasing to call Foma's father from temporary life to eternal. Feeling the approach of his death, the priest, filled with concern for the future of his son, called the good miller to himself and said:

"You were a witness to the miraculous saving of my child. In the name of God I entrust you to take Foma to yourself. Raise him, guard him, and do not offend him."

With joy the miller agreed, accepting his charge as a blessing from God.

The wealthy old peasant

Meanwhile, the story of these happenings had spread amongst the people of the district. A wealthy old peasant from the town of Makhnovo came to the miller and begged for the guardian-ship of the child.

"I have no children," he said, "and I want to make this child my son and after my death I will make him heir to all I possess. Let me have Foma."

The miller, seeing the sincerity of the old peasant, gave in to his persistent requests and, without any vacillation, handed Foma over to him. It was a happy time for the child, living under the shelter of the wealthy man. He was treated with tenderness and love. In time, Foma would become a son and also rich. So it would have been if human plans always agreed with the paths of God's providence. But the Lord moved otherwise. Not long after Foma was embraced into the family of the rich peasant, the benefactor and second father suddenly, without expectation, died.

And so the persecuted child, not yet three years of age, again became an orphan.

The Priest

The wife of the deceased peasant came into full possession of his estate. Having resolved to take a second husband, she hurriedly set about finding other quarters for Foma. The priest of her own village compassionately accepted the child.

"He is binding my hands," the widow justified herself, "and you, Batiushka, can easily lead him along that road which is more becoming to his position as son of a priest."

Agreement was made and little Foma found himself in a new refuge. Thus, from his earliest days, he became acquainted with the spirit of a wandering life. Being yet a new-comer to this life, Foma had already taken upon himself the cross of Him Who, during His life on earth, did not have a place to lay His head.

Foma lived with his guardian until the age of seven. There was no special attention shown him and the priest did not present him with any, deliberate instruction. Foma, left to himself, unwillingly took part in the noisy, games with children his own age. To the surprise of all, the young lad showed no desire for the usual entertainments of his age group. Foma preferred to go aside to an isolated place and give himself up to melancholy meditation.

Little Foma was accustomed to the wandering spirit. He experienced the sweetness of a child's first prayers to his very soul. Early in life he became used to lengthy fasting and frugality. Gradually he strengthened and became spiritually transformed. God's temple became the dearest refuge of this unusual child. The boy would not miss a single service and, with the first peel of the bell he hurried with great joy to the church where his soul found comfort and incomprehensible rest. Foma was often found before the closed doors of the village church, deep in prayer, as if severed from all his surroundings.

The young sufferer

The other children, seeing Foma's closed soul mocked him and made fun of him; he was often subjected to tricks and even beatings. Foma would go away into the woods, weeping, and remain there for twenty-four, or even forty-eight, hours at a time. Often he would be found by shepherds who would relate wonderful stories about him. The young sufferer understood that man is not born to joy and happiness but to suffering.

Having himself experienced all the bitterness of his young life, he could see that the world often does not behold sufferers; it does not see the tears of the eyes. From his early youth Foma discovered the joy of aiding those in poverty. He refused to keep things for himself and gave all that he possibly could to the poor. Once Foma saw another boy in the street wearing only old rags in place of a shirt. Without even a second thought, he removed his own shirt and gave it to the poor boy, returning home in only his outer garments. His benefactor looked at this differently and Foma received only punishment for his podvig of charity.

When Foma reached the age of seven, the priest began teaching him to read. But soon after, the priest died and so, with the demise of the good teacher, the young wanderer again became homeless. Foma wept bitterly arid inconsolably for his benefactor. He wept less for his loss of a home than for his loss of a wise teacher, who had barely begun to open the world of learning and wisdom to him.

Seriously wounded

After the death of the priest, it was necessary to find a new refuge for Foma. The elder of the church, assuming that after a seven year period the former hatred towards her son would have disappeared from Evfrosiniya. and that she would now feel a maternal tenderness for him, decided to take Foma back home. When the elder arrived at the home of Evfrosiniya, she was splitting wood. How great was the horror and astonishment of the old man when, instead of receiving her son with love, the mother threw her axe at him in a rage so that the blade of the axe cleaved into Foma's right shoulder.

The elder quickly seized the bleeding child from the grasp of his maddened mother, bound his wound, and took Foma back to his own home. While Foma's wound was healing the elder discovered that an uncle of the boy was a. widowed priest living as a starets at the Bratsky Monastery in Kiev. The kindly elder took the child, not yet healed, to, this monk. There, he related to the starets all that he knew about the unfortunate nephew and handed over the boy to be brought up.

There is an ecclesiastical academy at the Bratsky Monastery and at that time there were beginners' classes. The much suffering orphan was assigned to this academy and there began to acquire the wisdom of books.

Taking advantage of his uncle's hospitable refuge, Foma grew up in model behavior and studied hard. In his spare moments he devoted himself to the reading of theological books and solitary praying. He understood the psalms well and derived much comfort and joy from memorizing them.

The reconciliation

The pure, child's prayers of Foma were pleasing to God and He softened the heart of the cruel mother, and caused a reconciliation between Evfrosiniya and her repudiated son.

This wonderful event took place thus:

Evfrosiniya was stricken with an incurable illness. Seeing the punishment of the Lord upon her, she began tearfully to repent of her cruelties and persecutions of the innocent son. No matter how hard she tried she could not find peace with herself. During the day her ailment tortured her and at night she was tormented with nightmares. In this she saw God's justice. All the while her son wept and prayed for her. Finally, the mother understood her terrible error and began to beg God for His forgiveness. The Lord pitied her. Not long before her death Foma came home to his mother and each had the consolation of a reunion.

"Forgive me, my son," the repentant mother cried out to Foma. "Forgive me, cruel, foolish, terrible that I am. My mind was in darkness and I did not see the great evil created by me. May God's blessings be upon you. Do not curse me, an evil mother, and remember me, a sinner, in your constant prayers."

With these words Evfrosiniya pressed her son tightly against her maternal breast and, making the sign of the cross upon him, she quietly released her soul. The good Foma closed her lifeless eyes with his own hands and handed over the body of his mother for burial.

From: Hieroschemamonk Feofil, Fool-for-Christ's-Sake, Ascetic and Visionary of the Kiev-Caves Lavra. Compiled by Vladimir Znosko.