Life of Hieroschemamonk Feofil Part 2

The life of, Fool-for-Christ's sake, blessed Hieroschemamonk, Feofil (Theophilus). Chapter 2.

Chapter 2

An excellent student

Foma was an excellent student at the academy but he had no inclination to continue his higher academic studies. He could not accept them as a true means of acquiring that knowledge which leads to the truth of God and His grandeur. Foma chose the Church as his highest school. He dedicated himself to reading and singing and disciplined his mind to constant spiritual thought and prayer. From this time, thoughts about monkhood never left him for a moment and he aimed his goals towards that end.

Foma's good uncle died after a short time and left his nephew with no means of livelihood and without a true shelter. There was no longer any thought of continuing his studies. He left the academy and began to earn his own livelihood. In 1810 he went to the town of Chigirin as a reader but, because his voice was quite poor, he was sent to the village of Obukhov as a sacristan.

The Kiev Bratsky Monastery

Foma did not remain there long. The world, which had not liked him since his birth, oppressed him with its rules and laws, and turned his soul away from itself. "My soul longeth, yea,” Foma said, "even fainteth for the courts of the Lord" (Ps. 84:2). Conceiving a deep dislike for the mass of evil intended and dishonourable people, Foma entered the Kiev Bratsky Monastery in 1812, in the very heat of the "Patriotic War."

What unrelatable joy filled the young ascetic. He once more had entered the holy place of the quiet cloister which he had left two years earlier. This time not for study but for prayer, patience, toil, and fasting. He was dead to the world and the world died for him forever.

In the Bratsky Monastery, Foma fulfilled various obediences. He mixed dough and baked bread in the bakery but at that time, prosphora were not baked at the Bratsky Monastery and Foma used to go for them to the Florovsky Monastery for women. Later, he was assigned to the kitchen to make borshch. Then he was appointed assistant in the hospital and finally sacristan and bell-ringer. He especially liked this latter task. At the break of dawn he would rise, go up into the belfry and give himself up to deep contemplation and secret prayer. No one bothered him here. The vain world lay at his feet and in front of his gaze, in all its splendour, he could see only the azure heaven where the Creator of all things visible and invisible dwelt.

In this way several years passed. Redoubling his prayerful podvigs, Foma appeared to everyone as an example of meekness, obedience, humility, and chastity. With all his soul he desired a rank equal to the angels. He constantly repeated, 'I have longed for Thy salvation O Lord and Thy law is my delight" (Ps. 119:174).

The Tonsure

Foma did not press the matter of his tonsure, which was his heart's desire, wishing first to teach himself the strict implementation of the rules of monastic living. Nevertheless, the head of the monastery noticed in him a fervour towards spiritual podvigs, and honoured Foma with his tonsure on 11 December, 1821. At the time of his tonsure, Foma was renamed Feodorit.

Soon after this Feodorit was appointed keeper of the vestments and on 30 September, 1822, because of his dedication to work in that position and because of his exemplary, strictly monastic life, he was elevated to the rank of hierodeacon.

The new position gave a new thrust to his podvigs. Now able to stand closer to the altar of the King of Glory, Feodorit, with all his strength, tried to imitate the angelic lives of those who had already pleased God and now faced the heavenly throne of the Lamb, Who took on Himself the sins of the entire world. According to his position, Feodorit received a small income but remained a stern faster and had nothing personal in his cell. On the contrary, he was a stranger to acquiring things and even found in this income the means to be charitable to his near ones. Remaining without food for two or three days at a time, he gave away his share of food and money to wanderers, the poor, and to beggars.

"What is it to me, this flesh and blood, which one day will turn to dust," Feodorit would say and then redouble his fasting.

He showed a God-imitating love for those near him and willingly fulfilled obediences to those in the lowest order, often taking upon himself the work of others, serving like a bought slave. In this way he followed in the footsteps of the Saviour Himself Who came ... not to be served but to serve (Matt. 20:28).

Ordained Hieromonk

On 6 February, 1827, Feodorit was ordained hieromonk and at the same time appointed steward of the Bratsky Monastery. This rank was bestowed as an honour at the monastery and was greatly desired by many. The position was very solicitious and did not at all correspond to the sincere inclinations of Hieromonk Feodorit. In order to avoid meeting people and preferring to remain in complete isolation he promptly requested to be released from the stewardship and refused all obediences. He asked for permission to retire to the caves which had been dug by Saint Feodosy in the village of Lesniky. Having been refused this, Feodorit took the path of special asceticism and took upon himself the great podvig of "fool-for-Christ's-sake." In his feigned eccentricity he concealed the high valour of his character.

He continued to rise from strength to strength in the difficult matter of his spiritual improvement. Thus, Feodorit followed the words of the apostle who said, If any man among you supposes that he is wise in the world... let him brcome a fool so that he may become truly wise (I Cor. 3:18).

The schema

Now he had less striving for spiritual improvement because the Lord had already tried his heart and knew his thoughts (Ps. 139:23). From his childhood Feodorit was gifted with humility and spiritual purity. He had a strong faith in the help of God Who extracted him from the path of the sand and marsh and set his feet upon solid rock, strengthening his steps Feodorit could say, in truth, "My heart is ready O Lord, my heart is ready!" Having set his feet upon the highest podvig of the monastic life Feodorit, on 9 December, 1834, took the schema (monastic habit) and was re-named Feofil.

For the ordinary monk the schema is an image of bodily death and a struggling upward to ascend into eternity. For the Blessed Feofil, who had prepared himself for the service of God from the first days of his life, it became a sign of the complete repudiation of the world and a spiritual transference to heaven. Death, judgment, and the kingdom — this is what now occupied his thoughts and all the hours of his contemplation.

It was with joy that the Blessed Feofil set out on this narrow and sorrowful path so that, by travelling on it, he could reach the serene state of freedom from the passions of the flesh. Now he was a true warrior of Christ, invested with all of God's weapons against all of mankind's weaknesses and temptations. A stranger to all that is worldly vanity, he disregarded all the conditions of daily life. Feofil did not develop close relationships with anyone and completely closed the temple of his soul from the world which did not like him even from his infancy. Only prayer opened his lips and praises to the Creator moved his tongue.

With lowered eyes he always walked peacefully, deep in thought along the usual path from his cell to the church, never missing a single service. Stopping either at the entrance or near the church doors, which were often closed, he stood motionless to the end of the service. Near him there was always a basket filled with various provisions to be given to those who needed them. He always carried a bucket, bowl; or jug and a small Psalter.

Having increased his podvig of: foolishness even more, the Blessed One placed an old coffin in his cell but did not lie in it at night as did many of the ancient ascetics of piety but he kept various provisions and dishes in it. Moreover, on the day of his tonsuring to the schema, Feofil sewed pieces of old rags around his cowl and wore it that way until his death. When these shreds were ripped off on the day of his death, the cowl appeared new and fit for burial.

The Dniepr

Every morning the Starets would set out for the Dniepr where he went to get water. At times he would get into one of the boats moored nearby and row to the opposite shore of the Dniepr where, entering into the depths of the woods, he gave himself up to the contemplation of God. He never sought ferry-men but took any boat he happened to see and rowed himself across the river. The owners knew of Feofil's habits and never worried about their missing boats. They never prevented him from doing what he wanted; to the contrary, they even rejoiced if he took their boat.

A zealous carrier of Divine Grace

As a zealous carrier of Divine Grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Feofil did not conceal himself from the attention and reverence of the people. They used to step back from him in a circle and followed him everywhere in the hope of hearing even a single word from him. Thus the Lord places the lowly on the heights. But the academy authorities had no special sympathy for "the dirty, ragged monk Feofil" and complained constantly about him to the Vladika, pointing out that crowds of curious people searched for Feofil and blocked off the academy, even entering the buildings, destroying. silence, and disrupting-the pupils' studies. Because of these complaints, the Blessed One received strong reproof and, in order to avoid more difficulty, he found it necessary to hide in the woods from his followerss, returning: home only after sunset. But even then the crowds of people found him and- waited for him on the shore of the Dnienr following him all the way to his cell.

As a result of his zeal, diligence, and flaming love of the Crucified One, God illumined Feofil with the light of heavenly wisdom so that everything secret and incomprehensible in the moral- physical nature was natural, possible, and comprehensible for the Starets. The Blessed Feofil predicted with accuracy not only all the phenomena of the visible world but also all that was hidden in the depths of man's heart. It is said that the grace of God began to appear in Feofil in his very early days while he was still a postulant-sacristan.

The Cell keys

In Feofil's time, it was the custom of the sisters of the Florovsky Monastery to go to the Dniepr for water every day. The river water had a high iron content and was healthier and purer than well water. The shortest path to the Dniepr lay through the grounds of the Bratsky Monastery and this was the route taken by the sisters. It was a rule, however, that no postulant could leave the gates of the monastery without the blessing of her staritsa. All those who set out for the river for water were obliged to inform their nearest superior. In spite of this decree, it happened that one of the young postulants, taking advantage of the absence of the staritsa from her cell, went to the Dniepr for water without the required blessing. She came to the river and was just about to dip in her bucket when she lost her balance and dropped her cell key, which she had been holding in her hand, into the water. In her great con-fusion the poor soul began to sob and wring her hands. How could she present herself to her staritsa? She could not open her locked cell and she would have to explain the loss of the key. Suddenly, from somewhere or other, Blessed Feofil appeared.

"Why are you weeping?" he asked. The young girl told him her grief. "It serves you right, silly. The next time you won't go without a blessing. However, give me the bucket and I will help you."

The postulant handed him the bucket. The Blessed One stooped towards the river and, having made a sign of the cross on the vessel, he scooped up a full bucket.

"Here, take it and go home. Here you have both water and the lost key."

The postulant looked into the bucket and saw her lost key on the bottom. With a joyful cry of gratitude the young girl rushed after Feofil but his footsteps had already vanished.

And so, amazing everyone with the greatness of his spirit and life, the Blessed Feofil was a living testimony of the wonderful strength of the nature of mankind; what kind of power and might are confined in the soul and body of man, if only man will strive to be thoroughly penetrated by the strength and might of Christ's grace.

The naive peasant

A naive peasant who was curious to know why the Blessed One could foretell the future and penetrate the innermost parts of man's heart, stepped up to him and asked.

"Father, how is it that you know everything and can foretell the future of people's lives?"

"There is nothing difficult about it," the Blessed One replied.

"Could it really be so simple, Father?" the peasant asked.

"Very simple. Do you want to be able to do the same ?'

"Very much so, Father; teach me."

"Well then," instructed Feofil, "pull a small hair from your eyelash and tie two knots in it. When you do that you will be as wise as I am."

"Do you mean that you attained this by such means?"

"Indeed," replied Starets Feofil.

The naive peasant tried to make use of this advice but no matter how hard he tried, he could not even tie one knot in the eyelash.

"That is how difficult it was for me to attain my present condition," said the Blessed One and turned away from the peasant.

The Pupils of the academy

Many pupils of the academy, in order to tempt the Blessed One, tried to find him in his cell and converse with him on the subject of spiritual education. They were, however, struck by his simple and wise answers. They were amazed that such a sullen-appearing and untidy schemamonk could expose their thoughts by his sharp expressions. When the more impudent turned the conversation to make mockery, the Blessed One, desiring to end the useless visit, would sharply break them off:

"Go away from me! There was a time when I studied but now my mind has become dark. If I continue to talk to you, perhaps, for all I know, you might knock me off the true path. Go, go! For it is written in the Scriptures 'But refuse to have anythlng to do with trifllng controversies over ignorant questionings for you know that they foster strife and breed quarrels'." (2 Tim. 2:23).

Pyotr Gavrilovich Kryzhanovsky

But it cannot be said that all scoffed at the Blessed One. There were occasions then the example of the great ascetic was imitated. At the very beginning of his podvigs as a fool-for-Christ's-sake, there was a student of the academy, one Pyotr Gavrilovich Kryzhanovsky. Feofil was still a postulant when a brotherly friendship tied them together. The young friends spent whole hours in soul-saving talks, discussing the fate of mankind, worldly vanity, and fate beyond the grave. The Blessed Feofil saw good strivings and a sympathetic heart in his friend and tried by all means to strengthen and increase these good seeds of God's word in his soul.

"Acquaint now yourself with Him," Feofil would say to his friend, "and be at peace: thereby good shall come so you. Receive, I beseech you, the law from His mouth, and lay up His words in your heart! (Job 22, 21:22). And if you fulfill your vows the light shall shine on your ways (Job 22:28)."

These constant talks created a beneficial influence on the young Pyotr. Impressionable by nature, Pyotr began to meditate and vigilantly took measure of his friend. He could not live without him for a minute. Once they met on the shore of the Dniepr and, sitting down next to each other on the grass, they began to-talk.

"My brother! Help me to save my soul," cried Pyotr, turning to Feofil.

"You can do this alone," replied the Blessed One, "as long as there is the desire and the zeal."

"How can I do it? Teach me."

"Repudiate the world a all that is in it; close the innermost part of your soul to everyone; crucify your flesh together with passions and lust and, finding yourself in incessant prayer, select a narrow path which leads to eternal life."

"I swear to God," replied Pyotr, "I am prepared to do what you order me but due to my inexperience and simpleness it will be difficult for me to attain the desired success."

"Then walk in my footsteps and imitate my podvigs and you will be saved."

From that time, young Pyotr seemed to be completely transformed. He became silent and contemplative, no longer joking or laughing and he abruptly changed his way of living. He would spend entire days sitting over his books, or else spending all his time in God's temple and he began to fast zealously. The academy superiors noticed this sudden change in Pyotr and they began to observe him. They attempted to administer strict reproofs to him but nothing mattered. Disregarding worldly rules and customs, Pyotr seemed to be scolding the world. Eventually, Pyotr became disturbed by the authorities' constant watching of him so he chose the grounds of the Florovsky Monastery as a place for his solitary podvigs. There he spent many hours in solitude, seeking some empty corner so that he could sink into prayer. It once happened that Pyotr remained past the hour when the gates were locked and he was trapped within the cloister. In order to conceal himself, he went into the monastery cellar, lighted a candle and began to read the Holy Gospel. Some of the sisters came there for provisions and upon seeing such an unusual sight, they became frightened and raised a clamour. A whole throng came running. Abbess Serafima came to the place of the incident, but the matter was explained, settled, and ended with Pyotr being sent away from the monastery.

"Why do you do this?" Pyotr was asked on the following day by his uncle, Father Andrei Stefanovsky, a priest of the Florovsky Monastery. "Why don't you stay in the Bratsky Monastery and study or else you will discredit my name and harm yourself."

But Pyotr remained silent and did not respond. Only when he would lose courage and his soul would become seized by despondency, he would run for advice to his teacher and fall sobbing on Feofil's breast.

"Restrain yourself; restrain yourself," the Blessed One would console his faint-hearted friend. "Take your share of the hardships and suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3).... That enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring hungrily, looking for someone to seize upon and devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Don't be frightened by your podvig and lead it to its end. It is difficult but through it you will avoid the fire of Gehenna. If your hands are cramped from toil, just wash them with prayer to God and let your feet follow after prayer.... unless a grain of wheat falls onto the earth and dies, it remains just one grain, alive but by itself. But if it dies, it produces many others and yield a rich harvest (John 12:24). And so, if you want to be fruit-bearing, die in your present image so that you can carry in your heart the feeling that you have already died."

"But believe me, that it is difficult for me. My strength has run altogether low. My relatives do not understand me and with their cries they torment my heart and upset my mind."

"Do not listen to them; behave like a dead person who does not respond to anything surrounding him. If you are praised — be silent. If you are scolded — be silent. If you incur losses — be silent. If you receive profit — be silent. If you are satiated — be silent. If you are hungry — also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear –- and what energy!"

The mental hospital

Heeding the directions of his spiritual adviser, Pyotr would again revive in spirit and redouble his podvigs. Soon this young ascetic was excluded from the academy. His relatives, not comprehending the secret of his elevated spirit, committed Pyotr to the Kirillovskaya Mental Hospital. He remained there for nearly eight years but never once left his podvig of fool-for-Christ's sake. He reached such a high spiritual perfection that he even foretold his own death. Not long before, his demise, Pyotr left the hospital, clad only in a dressing gown, and went to the Florovsky Monastery to bid farewell to the sisters.

"Farewell, you who have become Christ's bride. Tomorrow we shall see each other no more."

Pyotr was soon seized by hospital attendants who had followed him to the monastery and returned to Kyrillovskaya. On the following day Pyotr died and thus remained an enigma to all who knew him well.

Pyotr's demise

On the day of Pyotr's death, Starets Feofil was at the Kitayevskaya Hermitage and he sent one of the sisters of the Florovsky Monastery to pay his last respects to his deceased friends He instructed her:

"Go, cast your eyes on him and lower your head to him who was patient and strong in spirit. That is how all who, believe in Him and love Him are saved. For truthful is the word of the Lord which says, . . . If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:11-12)."

The orchard in Glubochitsa

Feofil became tired of the noisy life of the Bratsky Monastery and began to think about finding a more suitable place for his solitary podvigs. For this purpose, he selected a large and shady orchard in Glubochitsa where the Pokrovsky Monastery now stands. The owner of this orchard, Iosif Nikiforovich Dikovsky, respected the Starets and always sought his advice and directions. Because he was under the influence of the Blessed One, Dikovsky led a truly ascetic life. He slept little, fasted, did not eat meat, prayed much, and occupied Himself with the reading of soul-saving books.

The baker woman

Nazar, the son of Iosif Dikovsky, who is today (1906) ninety years old, relates: "Starets Feofil used to come to our orchard and hurry to his bees. He had only a few beehives, three or four, but he used to look after them with fatherly attention. And how healthy they were! Not a single one of them ever died of illness. He was very fond of me. He would see me in the orchard and cry out, 'Nazar, come here!' I would go to him and ask for his blessings. 'God gives His blessings. Are you still catching fish? Catch some for me and the two of us will make some fish soup.' We had a pond in our orchard with huge carp in it. I would catch some for the Starets and he would place it, raw, into his basket. Whenever he came he would always reproach me, 'Why don't you marry, Nazar?' 'I am young, Father.' But I was over twenty-seven then. Take care, get married, or else you will have no one to lead you by your hand in your old age.' 'But whom shall I marry, Father? I don't love or even know anyone.' 'The baker woman, Nazar. She will go after you.' I, of course, would laugh, 'And which baker woman? I haven't even seen a bread basket since I was born.' Unfortunately, my father overheard our conversation and he, too, began to pressure me into marriage. There was no way out so I had to marry. And with whom do you think I joined my fate?

With a baker woman! Evfrosinya Kagarlitskaya was her name. Her mother was a poor woman who baked bread and sold it in the market. And I never saw her once before the wedding. It was just before the crowning that I found out everything. I asked my wife, 'What did you and your mother do?' 'We baked bread.' 'That's how you made your living?' 'Yes, with the prayers of Father Feofil we had quite good sales.' 'Do you mean to say that he knew you?' 'Of course he knew us. He used to send someone from the Bratsky Monastery to my mother, Ustina. He would have the messenger tell my mother, a widow, to send some rolls and if there were none, to give some raw dough. Only God knows why he needed the dough. It would seem that he gave it away with prophecies to his visitors. And what an income we would have that day! Mother would always sell every last roll at the market '

I have been paralyzed for thirteen years now. I can neither wash nor dress without someone's help. My wife looks after me like a little child. Only now did the words of the Blessed Visionary Feofil come to mind: 'Get married, Nazar, or else you will have no-one to lead you by the hand in your old age.'

The little horse

The Starets did not travel by carriage but on a little horse. At that time there was a merchant by the name of Ivan Katkov living in Podol. He very much honoured and feared the Blessed One and he made him a gift of a little horse. The Starets could not care for the animal in the monastery, so Katkov would send it to Father Feofil each day already fed and watered. The Starets would hitch the horse to a little wagon, seat himself in it, and read his Psalter along the way. The horse walked along unguided. As he went down the road, street urchins would seek to annoy him. Often a whole throng would run after him, crying, 'Feofil, Feofil, take us with you!' Sometimes one would even throw a stone at him. The Statets would only glance at the rude one, shake his finger at him sternly, and again lower his eyes to his Psalter."

Iosif Dikovsky was not the only one close to the heart of the Starets. Feofil loved his whole family. Dikovsky's eldest daughter was married to a cattle dealer, Ivan Grigorievich Rudkin. Reverently honouring the Blessed Starets, Rudkin did not take on: any matters without his advice and blessings. Even when preparing to set out for the fair, he first went to Kitayev for the Starets' blessings before setting out on his way.

The bridegroom

Once Evgeniya came to Father Feofil on some matter, and the Starets asked her, "Why, oh servant of God, do you not marry off your children?"

"I can't find any bridegrooms, Father."

"Can't find any bridegrooms? Well then, take care, it will be bad for your soul when it becomes necessary to cross the flaming river."

"But you will extend your cane, Father, and I will cross," she replied jokingly.

The Starets went into his cell, and brought out a piece of white bread spread with black fish roe.

"Here is something for you. Don't be afraid, take it. And as soon as you return home, give it to your, daughter. She will soon marry a famous person." After some time had passed, the Rudkins' daughter was betrothed and wed to Professor Konstantin Skvortsov.

A church and a monastery

On another occasion, Rudkina again came to the Starets on some matter. As she was preparing to leave, she said, "Father, how is it that you have completely forgotten my father? Come and visit him. See how nice our orchard is now?'

"I'll come, I'll come," the Starets replied tenderly.

And very soon he did arrive at their place in Glubochitsa. The Blessed One's meeting with Dikovsky was extremely touching. Iosif Nikiforovich had not seen the Starets for several years and, rejoicing like a child, began to show the Starets various improvements on his property.

"Nice, very nice," the Blessed One said. "It has blossomed beautifully."

Later, while strolling in the orchard with Dikovsky, they stopped under a large oak. The Starets raised his eyes and with inspiration said, "Pray, Iosif, servant of God. The spot on which we stand is holy."

"How could it be holy?" rejoined Dikovsky. "On holidays the town youth comes here to make orgies and you call it 'holy'."

"No, no!" said the Visionary Starets with confidence. Truly I say that here on this spot where we stand, God's grace will radiate. There will be a church built here. The oak will be hewn and this will be the place for the construction of the church altar and your entire orchard will be turned into a monastery for women by a regal wife who will be both builder and head of it."

The prediction of the Starets was precisely fulfilled.

The Grand Duchess

Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna of Russia

In 1888, the wife of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna, was living in Lipky, a suburb of Kiev. Nearby, there was a tiny monastery which she had built She now began to search in the neighborhood of Kiev for an appropriate place to build an entire cloister. Feodosiya Ponyrkina, a daughter of Dikovsky, heard of her intentions and suggested to the Grand Duchess that she acquire the piece of land belonging to Dikovsky for this purpose. Her Imperial Highness sent her deacon's wife to Dikovsky, ordering her to look over this orchard and to bring back a plan of the land. She was very pleased with the plan. Dikovsky's orchard was acquired and soon, through devout zeal and the Grand Duchess' means, the Pokrovsky Monastery for women was built.

When the Grand Duchess heard of the prophecy of Starets Feofil, the regal nun was completely amazed. "My God! Is it really true?" she exclaimed. "Why wasn't I told of this earlier?"

"It completely escaped my mind, Your Highness," replied Ponyrkina.

The Grand Duchess immediately sent a nun to the Kitayevskaya Hermitage with the order to have a panikhida sung at the grave of Starets Feofil. From then on she devoutly honoured the memory of the Blessed One, even ordering a portrait of him painted for herself.

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