Life of Hieroschemamonk Feofil Part 4

The life of, Fool-for-Christ's sake, blessed Hieroschemamonk, Feofil (Theophilus). Chapter 4.

Chapter 4

The cell mates

In order to avoid similar occurrences and also to help eradicate evil which had arisen in people, the Blessed One began to accept cell-mates to live with him. They did not come from among the brothers but rather, he selected them directly from the laity. The Starets paid no attention to the selected person's behaviour, whether it was vicious or not, so long as he was possessed of a keen heart and an open soul and hoped for correction.

The wanderer Ivan

Once, a ragged wanderer called Ivan came to the Kitayevskaya Hermitage. He was a deserter from the military service who had committed a whole series of crimes since he had deserted several years earlier. The Starets met him in the monastery kitchen and, having revealed his secret sins, brought the heart of the wanderer to repentance. Seeing this extraordinary monk before him, Ivan was amazed and would not leave the side of the Starets. He began tearfully to repent of his crimes.

"Yes, there is great need for me to repent. I committed much evil on earth," Ivan concluded and sighed heavily.

Starets Feofil looked him over from head to toe, shook his head with pity and also sighed deeply.

Parable of the talents

"Do you know the parable of the talents?" he asked him.

"I know nothing, Batiushka. I was born a fool and I shall die a fool," Ivan replied with contrition.

The Starets told him of the parable of the talents and, having explained the contents, continued:

"And so our life is a time of investing. One must be quick to use it in order to acquire all that is possible. If you brought bast sandals to the bazaar and, instead of sitting with your arms folded, contrived to call buyers in, then, having sold everything, you can buy whatever you need for yourself."

"But, dear Batiushka, when and where am I to get these talents? I am illiterate, foolish, simple. I haven't got any."

"Not true! The Lord gave something to everyone who was born. It means that each person has something with which to invest and to make a gain."

"But where then! Where are they?"

"Well, just look at yourself carefully and you will discover what talent you have and how you can use it for gain. On that dreadful judgement day, everything will be asked about:

Did you have hands? What did you acquire with them? Did you have a head and tongue? What did you acquire with them? The reward will not be given for the fact that you acquired but for what it was that you acquired."

Seeking spiritual direction

For a whole day after this conversation, Ivan stood aside and observed the Starets, amazed at his simplicity, humility, and wisdom. Finally, towards evening, he was inflamed with a desire to live under the spiritual direction of the Blessed One. He approached Feofil and with cries fell at his feet.

"Batiushka! Take me unto you! Don't let my soul peish in sins and vice!"

"Very well, very well!" answered the Starets. "'Who comes unto me will never be turned away.' I see that your heart truly desires to work for the Lord. Come and live with me and save yourself but bear in mind that since I possess nothing, you can expect to experience cold, thirst, grief, and deprivation. And do not complain about this fate when you begin to endure it."

"My true father! Even if I had to give up my life for you, for the Saviour's sake, I am prepared to do so."

From that time on Ivan began to serve the Blessed One and became his first cell-mate. Starets Feofil was strict and, with a vigilant eye, followed the development of his spiritual improvement, intercepting each wave of evil which arose.

The large fillet

Once, the Blessed One was brought a large piece of cured fillet of sturgeon. Tempted by the gift, Ivan appropriated it for himself and ate it. But suddenly he felt a terrible pain in his stomach and he began crying out, begging for help.

"Suffer, suffer, brother. This fish is being digested in your stomach," the Starets said jokingly to him. And then he added, "Why did you listen to the enemy? Why did you become led into partaking of food which ought not to concern you?"

But he saw the open-hearted repentance of the guilty one and pitied him. The Starets prayed a while and the illness disappeared at once.

In this way he educated his cell-mate by means of various works and foolish orders which, although strange in essence, had in them a great benefit for the development of his mental purity. Mixing his speech with spiritual directions understandable to him, the Starets very soon succeeded in cleansing Ivan's heart from everything bad, all his vices and temptations.

The grateful cell-mate acknowledged his insignificance before the Starets. Seeing his unchanging fatherly love and care, Ivan paid the Blessed One for this with the most tender dedication and childlike obedience.

The "storm"

"Ivan!" the Starets said to him one day. "Take a basket and let's go gather some mushrooms."

They took what was required and set out into a very dense thicket of woods. The air was very hot. Starets Feofil gathered mushrooms but all the while he sighed:

"Ah, what a storm is approaching. What a storm!"

Ivan looked up. The sky was azure, limpid, and clear.

"There will be no storm, Batiushka. There is not a cloud to be seen."

"Oh, there will be one very soon. It's already approaching us. Here it is!"

At that very moment, three strappling young fellows with clubs lept out from bushes and angrily ran up to the Starets.

"Aha, we've caught a monk! Give us money!"

The Starets crossed himself, then peacefully rummaged in his basket and handed over the largest mushroom, saying, "Eat to your heart's content."

“What?” the robbers cried out. "You are even laughing at us?"

And they began to beat him all over.

"Ivan, go away!" the bloodied Starets whispered.

"No," replied the faithful servant. "Where the master is, his servant is also there." Seeing the blood on the Starets, he threw himself at the robbers in a frenzy. But they were twice as strong and, tying up the cell-mate, they also beat him unmercifully. Having enjoyed themselves over the defenceless sacrifices, the robbers disappeared.

Then Ivan understood what kind of a storm had been approaching them.

The retired soldier

The Starets' second cell-mate was a retired soldier named Kornily. He was an unusually obstinate and stubborn fellow and, moreover, had a very sharp tongue. Visitors to the Blessed One suffered various insults from Kornily and often complained to Feofil about the coarseness of his cell-mate.

"You don't know how to behave as an eremite," the Starets told Kornily sternly. "I'll send you to the Lavra. There they will soon drill you, you bear."

And he sent Kornily to the Lavra's guest hostel. As a consequence, when Igumen Agapit was appointed superior of the Lavra's guest hostel, he took Kornily as his cell-mate.

Starets Agapit

Agapit was a great starets and his name was long remembered by those who benefited from his charity. He used to buy whole pieces of broadcloth, sackeloth, and other material in order to sew clothing for men and women. All this he gave to poor pilgrims. Aside from the constant distributing of money, clothing, and bread, Father Agapit also gave monthly pensions to a sizable number of truly poor and burdened families in the city. He accepted single people into the Lavra almshouse, feeding, clothing, doctoring, and admonishing them into salvation.

It was with this Starets that Kornily found himself. True, it was not easy for Father Agapit to get along with Kornily. Still, eventually he tonsured him, named him Nestor, then buried him and remembered him with love. But it is necessary to pay a tribute to Kornily. He was irreplaceable in the secret charities of Father Agapit and, in general, he was dedicated to him with his soul. Father Agapit did not limit his charities to the Lavra. He liked to visit the city prison, refuges of extreme poverty, and generally, truly poor people. On such trips Kornily used to accompany him. They would load their driver with parcels of clothing and, taking baskets of white bread and money, they set out for the city as if to make purchases at the store. Actually, they were conducting spiritual business by visiting the needy. They would clothe some, give money and bread to others. After that they would fill their baskets with some goods for the sake of appearance and return home happy and content. After his transference to the Lavra, Kornily was truly transformed from and ignorant "bear" into a worthy pupil of his great starets-teacher.

The Blessed Feofil foretold this long beforehand. When Father Agapit (Timofey Milovanov "in the world") visited the Starets for the first tirne in the Kitayevskaya Hermitage, he was told:

"When you will become superior of the Lavra hostel, this crank Kornily will serve you. He argues with and scolds everyone but he will get along with you."

The third cell-mate Panteleimon

A certain Panteleimon was the Blessed Feofil's third cell-mate. After the death of the Starets, he lived at the Lavra hostel until old age. He told many of the elders of the various miracles of the Blessed One and of his wonderful forevision which he himself had witnessed many times.

Once, on the orders of his Starets, Panteleimon was carrying dinner from the refectory when he slipped and dropped the food near the threshold. In order to avoid chastisement, the confused cell-mate began to sweep up the food in the hope of refilling the dishes. But the Starets came up to him and said:

"You don't know to carry out an obedience, Panteleimon. You won't become a monk until you are dying." And so it happened. Panteleimon, who lived to a very old age, remained only a postulant until just before his death when he was tonsured a rasafor monk and given the name Feodosy.

Nevertheless, Panteleimon was absolutely obedient to his starets.

The journey to Voronezh

Blessed Feofil obtained permission to travel to Voronezh for the twentieth anniversary of the uncovering of the relics of Saint Mitrofan, Bishop of Voronezh. His postulant, Panteleimon, went with him on the long journey. Having arrived in Voronezh they spent their days in church and their nights in the courtyard near the belfry. When they had finished their podvig of reverence to the Saint, they set out on their return trip home. Having walked for a long way, they finally reached Kiev.

"It would be nice to make one last halt," said Blessed Feofil and sat down in the field to rest in the open air.

Having eaten a little food, he reached towards the bag to take out the water-gourd. But it was not there.

"Panteleimon, where is our tankard?" the Starets cried out in disappointment.

The cell-mate thought for a while and then remembered:

"Why it's in Voronezh, Batiushka. It was left where we ate last night, there at the foot of the belfry steps."

"How bad you are! Go back and get it before it disappears."

Panteleimon did not even pause for a second thought but set out for Voronezh, not even spending the night in his own cloister which was only half a verst from their position, as if the gourd constituted some sort of valuable rarity, or as if it were only a few steps between Kiev and Voronezh instead of a great distance.

He reached Voronezh safely and to his joy he found the gourd at the very place where it had been left. Taking it in his hands, he set out for home. The simple-hearted Panteleimon did not attach any significance to this podvig and was not conceited because of it, nor did he grumble against the Blessed One. He knew that the eremitical fathers of the East even ordered their postulants to drive oak stakes into tne ground and water them daily in order to avoid idleness.

The old boot tops

Once, during the Great Lent, when the Blessed One would not eat for days at a time and prayed to God in secret, he sent Panteleimon to the bazaar to buy some rather large tops from old boots. When the obedience was fulfilled the old boot tops were brought to the Starets who spread them out on a bench, side by side, and ordered Panteleimon to sew them together into several large sheets. Then he brought in a pot of wheel-tar and diligently began to smear these leather sheets.

"Why are you doing that, Batiushka?" Panteleimon asked with curiosity.

"God commands it; God commands it," the Starets quickly replied.

"And what does it mean?"

"It means, my dear friend that the evil ones write the works of sinful people on them. But today all this is smeared over and there are no more sins."

"By means of this action," Panteleimon later explained, "the Starets wanted to show that the sins of the spiritual children close to him, for whom he so fervently and constantly prayed in those days, were already forgiven by God and their conscience was cleansed before the face of God."

The apples

"There were times in the summer," Panteleimon related, "when the Starets would call me and say: 'Pick some fresh apples in the orchard tomorrow (and he would specify exactly how many). In the morning, at sunrise, go to the woods along the road. There you will meet a party of pilgrims. Give each one two apples.' I would carry out these orders, picking exactly the number of apples specified by the Starets. Then I would go to the appointed place and, lo and behold, I would give each pilgrim two apples and have precisely the required number. The Starets often gave me such orders and I marvelled at his forevision."

The fourth cell-mate Kozma

The fourth cell-mate of the Starets was a certain Kozma. He was an extraordinarily well read and religious servant, so that even Starets Feofil jokingly called him "theologian." For days at a time Kozma was occupied with the reading of the holy writings and books of the holy fathers. Moreover, he often forgot not only food and drink but even about direct obligations of his cell obedience. His absent-mindedness reached such a degree that when he once had to sign a paper on the occasion of receiving some documents, Rozma not only forgot his surname but his Christian name as well so that others had to remind him of it.

Of all the inanimate objects of this world, Kozma loved only books, and most of all, his old worn out Bible which he always carried with him on a belt. At night, he placed it under his head for a pillow. Kozma treated his starets with slavish respectfulness and was ready to rush, upon his word, into either fire or water. Of all the creatures of the earth, Kozma disliked women most. God forbid that he should happen to meet any oncoming female while going to the Dniepr for water in the morning. Kozma would then consider himself profaned for the entire day and, upon returning home, he would sprinkle himself with holy water. All of his thoughts and desires were directed towards the goal of retiring into the heart of a forest in his declining years, to dig a small cave there and move into it, beginning a soul-saving podvig.

Once, when he was contemplating such unattainable bliss and was building castles in the air, Starets Feofil came up from behind and unexpectedly asked:

“Kozma! Where will you live when I move on to that other world?"

"Where God commands," Kozma answered with amazement "I will join some monastery."

"No, you are not going to be a person of the monastery. You will live among women in your own town."

Kozma shuddered from such an unexpected thought. This prophecy was equal to a condemnation and brought him into great confusion and anxiety.

"To live outside of the monastery and with women yet! No! Deliver me, O Lord, from such a disaster!" Kozma thought to himself.

But soon the prophetic words of the Blessed Starets came true.

A year after this conversation, Feofil died and his cell-mate Kozma left for his home town of Bogodukhov where he settled in a little hut on the outskirts. There he led a purely ascetic life and was famous in the entire district as a batiushka experienced in spiritual direction and advice. It soon happened, however, that, due to the labours of a wealthy woman and several generous donors, the land next to Kozma's place was bought up for the building of a public almshouse out of which grew a monastery for women.

Kozma was not a witness to the final growth of this cloister, since he soon became ill and passed away, having lived for a long time as a neighbor of the original sisters of the almshouse. He had lived, thus, "with women," as it were.

After Kozma's death, his land was given over to the newly built cloister and the memory of this remarkable starets is even now reverently remembered.

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