Life of Hieroschemamonk Feofil Part 3

The life of, Fool-for-Christ's sake, blessed Hieroschemamonk, Feofil (Theophilus). Chapter 3.

Chapter 3

The Goloseyevskaya Hermitage

"Lo, then would I wonder far off and remain in the wilderness" (Psalm 55:7).

On 1 December, 1844, because of his age and weakening strength, Hieroschemamonk Feofil requested a transfer from the Kievo-Bratsky Monastery to the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra and to be appointed to the Bolnichny Monastery. Instead of this, Metropolitan Filaret assigned him to the Goloseyevskaya Hermitage near Kiev and he was given the cell of the late Hiero-deacon Evstafy. For some reason or other, the service record of Starets Feofil was not transferred with him and so, until his death, he was not enumerated in the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra.

Winter passed, spring and summer came. As talk about the Ascetic grew, it attracted large numbers of zealous people to the charming location of Goloseyevskaya Hermitage. A city set on a hill cannot be hid, said the Saviour (Matt. 5:14). It is even impossible to hide a sweet-smelling flower in wild grass for it will be found by its perfume and scent. In the same way the Blessed Feofil could not be concealed in the solitude of his hermitage. The fragrance of his holy life began to spread far and all those who sought spiritual advice and comfort became aware of this fragrance. And all those who came to Kiev to worship in its holy places also went to the Goloseyevskaya Hermitage in order to see and to talk with the Starets. But the Blessed One greatly increased his foolishness in order to avoid worldly glory and constant contact with people.

When Feofil entered the Lavra, the monastery's superior paid little attention to his "oddity." According to the lists of recommendations from the superior of the hermitage, Igumen Grigory, he is mentioned in 1845 as being "capable and careful in obedience, honest, meek, and humble in behaviour;" for 1846, "little capable, disrespectful, self-concerned, and self-willed." In 1847 he is described by Hieroschemamonk Moisey as being "little capable; he goes to church; he lives peacefully and quietly." But in 1848, when controversy arose over the strange behaviour of the Starets, he is recorded as "not capable for anything at all; he is without any obedience, stubborn and arbitrary; he is fifty-nine years old."

The report

In order to examine these references to Feofil and similar references from the Goloseyevskaya superiors, Metropolitan Filaret gave an oral order to the superior of the hermitage, Hieroschemamonk Kallist, "to test the capabilities of Feofil," As a consequence, a report was filed on 20 October, 1848, that Hieroschemamonk Feofil, "performed the whole week of services and in our judgment, cannot correctly and ceremonlously conduct a religious service." The Metropolitan agreed with this and he forbade the Biessed One to take part in services and only allowed him to commununicate the Holy Mysteries in his priestly vestments on Saturdays "for the saving of his soul."

Church services

A prophet is always without honour in his own land. After this decree, Feofil was removed from the hermitage and was transferred to the so-called Novopasyechny Orchard. The Starets enjoyed it there very much but it was an extraordinarily long way to walk to church. In spite of this, the Blessed Feofil never missed a single service and always appeared at God's temple before the ringing of the bells. He had been known from his youth for his zeal for church services.

"O Lord, I love the splendour of Your house and the place of Your glory. Only grant, O Lord, that I may live ln the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to see the beauty of the Lord and to visit His holy temple."

On entering the church, he usually prostrated himself three times in the centre of it. Then crossing himself at the icon before the ambo, he stood for a while over there or went over to the south door. If the women surrounded him there, he would go away to the western door and make signs of' the cross in the air, as if driving someone away through the power of the cross.

"Where did all of you gather from, dark powers? God will arise and His enemies will be scattered," the Starets would say aloud, irrately.

Then, before the beginning of the hexapsalmos, he would enter the kliros and begin reading the psalms. The actual reader, considering Feofil an unwanted accomplice, would try to stop him but, having received a rebuff from the Blessed One, he would present the book to the Starets. The Blessed One read with great inspiration but in an extraordinarily toneless voice. The singers who were dissatisfied with his reading would remark to him:

"Read more loudly, Father. Nothing can be heard."

But the Starets, to the contrary, would lower his voice and read even more quietly. After finishing the third psalm, he would hurriedly close the book and remove himself from the kliros to the centre of the church, leaving both the reader and the people in great bewilderment.

Sometimes the Blessed One would rush into the church during the Great Doxology or at the end of the service, at the time of the singing of "Under Thy Mercy" or, if the service was a liturgy, during the "Cherubic Hymn" and, pushing the people aside, he would kneel in front, raising his arms upwards with his gaze towards heaven, praying loudly. Then he would quickly leave the church, followed by a crowd of worshippers attracted by him.

Power of prayer

It is said that the Blessed One's power of prayer on those suffering afflictions and illness was unusual. By its action many of the ill and crippled were healed. An official, Maria Grigorievna N., was possessed with fits of raving. When she turned to the Blessed One for help, the Starets read the Gospel over her, then firmly hit the woman on the head with it. As she fell back from the pain, he loudly pronounced:

"In the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, I command you to leave!" and immediately the woman was healed.

"If you want to be well," the Starets said as he blessed her, "live at the Kitayevskaya Hermitage and do not venture out from there." Maria Grigorievna lived near the Kitayevskaya Hermitage until her death an daily attended church there.

Lascivious thoughts

One of the Metropolitan's singer's, Nikolai K---lov, had such overwhelming passions of the flesh that he was considered possessed since they did not leave his mind day or night. One day in spring, while taking a stroll in the woods, he met Starets Feofil. Hoping to avoid any conversation which might lead to a discussion of his affliction, he tried to turn aside.

"Haloo, Nikolai, wait up," the Blessed One called out to him. "Where are you going? Come here to me. We will delight in lascivious thoughts together."

K---lov felt that he had been accused and wept sorrowfully before the Starets.

"Well, that's nothing. The Lord is merciful," the Starets said to him in consolation. "Let's go and pray to Him."

He knelt and began to pray. In half an hour he rose and, with a tender face, turned to the sufferer saying:

"Well, go. Lascivious thoughts will no longer disturb you."

Immediately after this the youth was healed of his ailment and his body was no longer consumed with lascivious passions.

The Kitayevskaya Hermitage

The Blessed Feofil lived for more than half a year in the Novopasyechny Orchard but on 29 April, 1849, by an oral decree of Metropolitan Filaret, he was transferred to the Kitayevskaya Hermitage near Kiev.

Here Starets Feofil increased his podvig of foolishness-for-Christ's-sake. Although he found a new cross to bear in the form of various trials and persecutions from the superiors, he also received the consolation of solitude. The Kitayevskaya Hermitage was surrounded by high hills covered with thick woods. The Starets used to go deep into them, and there, in God-contemplating solitude, he poured out his soul in prayers to Him Whose eyes are ten thousand times as bright as the sun and shine upon all of man's doings and sees into his most secret places (Sirach 23:27: 28).

He often went and knelt upon the stump of a large hewn tree for whole days, endlessly bewailing the corruption of the times and praying for the forgiveness of the sinful world, blind to what it is doing.

Feofil was occupied constantly and exclusively with thoughts of God and with prayer and paid no attention whatever to his appearance. He was concerned with the beauty of the soul, not with the cleanliness of the body. His clothes were threadbare with many patches sewn on with white thread and spotted with dough and oil. Even when going to church, the Blessed One put his mantle over his shirt and with cowl widely spread, he walked along the street bare chested. On his feet he wore torn slippers or else a worn out high boot on one and a felt boot or a bast.-shoe on the other. His head was sometimes tied with an old, dirty towel.

Many mockers would notice the old bandage on the Starets' head and ask him with laughter:

"Father Feofil! What ails you today?"

"Are you a doctor?" the Blessed One would sternly reply and walk away from them.

The pillow

Another time, to the contrary, he wished to appear too healthy and thereby expose the corpulent, gluttons. He placed down pillow on his stomach and walked about the yard. Then he walked through the monastery gates towards the woods where he met some postulants chatting idly and he reproachfully shook his head at them.

"Why were the scribes and pharisees judged?"

But the cheerful young people had noticed the large artificial stomach on Feofil and replied with peals of uncontrolable laughter.

But even this untidiness, constantly seen and reproached by all, had a distinctive significance for Feofil. It was noticed that the more slovenly he was dressed, the more his spirit struggled, the more strengthened and ardent were his prayers and the more thoughtful his forehead became.

Secret prayerful works and podvigs

The Blessed One always prayed in secret. Before beginning his cell rules, he donned his mantle and when he read the Gospel and the akathist, he would light three votive lamps in memory of the three times he was saved from the water. He wore a metal belt with an icon of the Epiphany fixed permanently onto it. So that he would not be idle for a moment the, Blessed One spun wool, knitted socks and wove sackcloth which he usually gave to icon-painters for their work. During his work he would recite the Psalter which he knew from memory and other prayers. Each day he made countless prostrations before the icons and gave his weary body very little rest. For this he either leaned back against the wall or lay on the stove-bed across which he placed a log or sat in the middle of the cell on a short, extremely narrow bench so that if he should lose himself in sleep, he would fall off and, awaken, quickly returning to his prayers.

Nevertheless, the superior of the hermitage, Hieroschemamonk Iov, detested the Blessed One for his podvig of foolishness and constantly observed his living and behaviour. He could never find the Blessed One at prayer and soul-saving exercises. No matter when he visited the Starets in his cell, the Visionary always knew he was coming. Removing his outer garments, he would topple over onto his bench and feign sleep. In this way he followed the word of the Lord Himself Who said:

"But when you pray go into your most private room, and closing the door, pray to your Father in secret: and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you in the open" (Matt. 6:6).

By means of his secret, prayerful works and podvigs, he was building an eternal house in heaven and laying up the provisions which are for eternity. The Blessed Starets' cell was always unkempt, jammed and covered with layers of rubbish. When asked why he permitted his cell to be that way, he answered:

"So that everything surrounding me will constantly remind me of the disorder of my soul."

The Collection of provisions

Some elders of the Lavra had visited the cell of this man of God and they related that it was filled with rows of pots and crocks containing prepared foodstuff for visitors — groats, tea, oil, flour, sugar, bread, tarts, honey, roe, fruit, fish, grapes, tapers, and such.

Understandably, his collection of provisions aroused some envy in the monastery, particularly amongst the younger members. These youths wanted to get into the food and worked out one especially elaborate plan. Having noticed that the superior of the hermitage detested Feofil, they convinced his favourite sacristan, Polykarp, to petition Iov in favour of transferring the Starets to another cell. Polykarp was quite willing to do this since he hated the Blessed One as much as did the superior. It seems that Feofil had a habit of gathering up a whole pile of worms, beetles, cockroaches, and bugs into mattress ticking and then releasing them all in church where they would crawl away into every corner. Alas, Polykarp was then required to search for this crawling army and sweep all of its soldiers out the door. In a fit of anger, Polykarp would fall on the Blessed One with abuse and often beat him but the Starets would only stop before him, fold his hands and keep silent.

"The crafty one has destructive thoughts," said the Prophet Isaiah. "He contemplates bonds in order to ruin the poor man with words of falseness, even if the poor man is right." That was the source of Polykarp's hatred for Feofil. Having cast aspersions on the Blessed One before the superior, he would receive an order from him to move the "guilty one" to another cell. Polykarp then would go immediately to the Starets with a malicious smirk.

"Father Feofil! The superior has ordered you to move to another cell."

"Direct my steps according to Thy word," the Starets would humbly reply. And taking his mantle under his arm, an icon, and a Psalter, he would quickly go over to the cell indicated to him. And the postulants would just be waiting for this. Under the pretext of carrying over the "furniture" (the Blessed One had nothing in his cell but a lectern, a bench, and a crude table), they would get at the provisions. But Starets Feofil would not in the slightest be disturbed by the loss of the delicacies and, in the gentleness of his angelic heart, he would exclaim:

"Wondrous are Thy works. O Lord!"

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