Life of Hieroschemamonk Feofil Part 5

The life of, Fool-for-Christ's sake, blessed Hieroschemamonk, Feofil (Theophilus). Chapter 5.

Chapter 5

The stove

Blessed Feofil's stove burned both winter and summer or, more correctly, it smoked away. He would place a thick, unsplit log into it and then have to relight it several times. It is understandable that from such heating in the cell, especially in winter, it could not be warm and the water in his cell often froze. But Starets Feofil did not pay any attention to it. He would put on his sheepskin coat and felt boots and turn to his prayers. His spirit was carried high above all the needs and wants of his emaciated body.

Once in summer, when the Starets was in the Kitayevskaya Hermitage and lived in a small wooden shed, the superior sent some stove-makers to repair the ancient stove in his cell. But Feofil bribed the stovemakers not to touch the stove. The superior, Hieroschemamonk Iov, was so outraged that he took the stove-damper away from the Starets with his own hands, and moved him into a stone building in order to watch him more closely. The Blessed One, not forsaking his podvig of foolishness, hired his own workmen and ordered them to break up his stove in order to rebuild it according to his own whims. His plans were intercepted, however, and put to a stop. In September of that year, at the conclusion of vespers, disregarding the absolute forbidding of the superior, the Starets decided to light his stove.

Having put earthenware pots on the stove, he went off into the woods, leaving the stove unattended. In his absence, the fire fell out onto the wooden floor which began to burn with much smoke. The monks ran in and, with difficulty, extinguished the fire. The culprit of this disaster was not quickly found but when he returned he began to comfort everyone.

"Don't grieve about what there wasn't; it is better to praise the Lord for His mercy, for He does wondrous works for His earthly sons," he said.

The food

The Starets received his food from the monks' refectory and he usually mixed it into one dish disregarding that there might be both bitter and sweet in it — both borshch and kasha, horse-radish and kvas.

"It is the same in life," he would say to anyone who was amazed by his strangeness, "both bitter and sour and salty mixed with sweet and all this must be digested."

The food which he prepared for strangers or the poor, he left in the same condition as when he received it from the refectory. For himself he sometimes prepared dumplings, semolina porridge or noodle soup. But he used neither salt nor oil and thus it all had an extremely repulsive taste.

In general, Feofil used very little food. On Wednesday and Friday he ate nothing at all except for half a small cup of honey mixed with cold water and ice. This also composed his food on Saturday and Sunday of the first week of the Great Lent and on Saturday of the Holy Week. On the other days of Holy Week, he did not even partake of water. The Starets did not use tea and instead he used to boil mint and would prepare up to two cups, but he always drank only half of each cup, pouring the rest into earthenware pots to treat strangers. The Blessed One did not eat the rich black bread but used only white or rush, and then he avoided the crust, pinching out bits from the centre.

The birds and animals.

But in addition to all these strange habits, the Blessed One had another original feature; love and sympathy for birds and animals.

There was a small square of land which ran from the fence of the Kitayevskaya Hermitage right up to the edge of the monastery pond. Seeing that the land was not being used, Feofil hired a peasant to plough up the land and seed it with hemp.

"Why do you need hemp, Batiushka?"

"Because the heavenly birds will come here and eat it."

The peasant did as he was told. The hemp grew and whole flocks of birds flew there to feed and nest.

Once a large number of mice invaded the Starets' cell because of the various provisions found in it. Feofil, exasperated by their nightly raids, decided to put an end to them. He called in a young reader and said, "Catch me the superior. Catch him and I'll give you money for a sweet bun."

"How can he be caught when he always sits in his cell? Go ahead and try it. He'll take a stick to you and you won't forget it as long as you live," the reader answered with a smile. He thought Feofil was talking about the superior, Hieroschemamonk Iov.

"No! Not that superior, you silly fellow."

"Well, which one, Batiushka?"

"One who catches mice. Catch an unfortunate tramp of a cat. He will be industrious in his work. A household cat will only put on airs and sleep an the stove-bed."

Soon a tom-cat was installed and the mice were suppressed. But now, alas, cockroaches and beetles began to pester him. Then the Blessed One called his cell-mate and said:

The rooster and the hen

"Here, take this money and buy me a little hen."

The cell-mate went out and, instead of a little hen, he brought a little rooster. The young rooster would walk about the cell, shaking his red comb, picking up insects in every corner. But towards morning, when the tired Starets would doze off after a night of prayerful podvigs, it would suddenly cry, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

"This is not monastery life," the Starets decided. "Take it away from here! Take it away!" he said to Ivan, his cell-mate.

"Where shall I take him?" the cell-mate asked, only half awake.

"Take it to the postulant, Nikifor. Give it to him from me."

The cell-mate obeyed without question and took the rooster to Nikifor.

Before entering the monastery, Nikifor had been a serf and served as a lackey for his master. Being inclined towards a religious life, he asked the master to release him. Then he came to Kiev and entered into the brotherhood at the Kitayevskaya Hermitage. He had been living there for three years but unclean thoughts were confusing him and driving him from the monastery.

Having received the rooster, Nikifor stood and thought, "Why did the Starets send a rooster? I don't eat meat, but people will see this rooster and convict me of it anyway." But because of his humility, he accepted the rooster into his cell.

The rooster being disposed of, Feofil now acquired a little hen. After about a month, the postulant Nikifor came to the Starets for advice. The Blessed One said not a word but gave him the little hen.

"For goodness sake! What is this for, Batiushka? I have more than enough with the rooster."

"Take it; take it, I tell you. This gives you a pair."

Several days later, Nikifor met a beautiful girl by accident and was carried away with passion for her. He secretly slipped away from the monastery and soon married her. Only then did he understand what the rooster signified and why he was given the hen for "a pair".

The bullock

It was a great distance to the Layra and the city and so the Starets had little chance to go there. As a result, the Blessed One acquired a bullock with which to ride to the Lavra and the Bratsky Monastery.

How he happened to acquire the little bull is an incident worth relating.

Ivan Katkov (the butcher from Podol who had brought the horse to Feofil at the Bratsky Monastery) came to the Starets for confession and while telling the Blessed One about his affairs, he mentioned that he acquired a young bull of a very unstable nature.

"I bought a bullock, Batiushka. I had planned to keep it myself but I don't know what to do with it. The brute has become stupid and gores at everyone with its horns. I suppose I shall have to butcher it, sorry as I am about it."

"Then give it to me," said the Starets.

"To you? God have mercy, why it's impossible even to approach him! Several people have already been crippled by him."

"Never mind. We will teach him humility."

"But how can I..."

"Very simple. Go up to him and say, 'Look here, little bull! From now on you are no longer mine, but Father Feofil's. Prepare to visit him'."

The butcher did exactly as he was told. Upon returning home, he walked up to the bullock and repeated the words of the Starets, and the bullock, who had been snorting and pawing the ground, became as meek as a lamb. It began to quietly caress and lick the man's hands. Then a worker slipped a rope over his horns and by dusk the young bull had been settled with Father Feofil at the Kitayevskaya Hermitage.

Now that he had the little bull, the Blessed One built a small cart with a little sailcoth hood set up on hoops in the rear of it. The Starets would travel to the city in this contraption. He never sat in front of the cart, but always in the rear with his back to the bull. He had placed a small analoy under this hood and he would fall on his knees and read his beloved Psalter as he journeyed. But here is what was so astonishing. The bullock had neither harness nor reins, but only a yoke. The bull went precisely where its master wanted to go without any command, directions, guiding or prodding whatsoever, whether it was to Podol, the Lavra or the Bratsky Monastery. It is said that the bullock even went around stones, ruts, and ditches in order not to Jog the Blessed One from his reading.

But we should not be at all astonished that this unreasoning creature obeyed him thus without a whip, that a formerly fierce animal became as tame and meek as a sheep before him. Wild animals have only become fierce because of the cruelty of human nature. Remember the state of our forbears in paradise. All living creatures saw the light of the image of God in their faces and even the most ferocious animals, sensing the wondrous fragrance of this image, peacefully bowed their heads before Adam. When man ceased his obedience to God's commandments, God's image in him darkened. The unreasoning creatures stopped recognizing and obeying him. The fragrance of God's image was exchanged for the stench of passions and man himself became similar to the unthinking beasts. His disobedience to God was punished by the disobedience to him of the earth's creatures and man himself now fears beasts which were once submissive to him. But God's holy ones, through obedience to God's commandments, restored the image of God in themselves and, taking unto themselves the gifts of the Lord's Grace, radiated the original purity and light. Therefore, the animals, again sensing in man the fragrance of original purity, become obedient to him. What power there is in love and virtue!

The merchants

In the City everyone knew the Starets. No sooner would he appear on one of the main streets than merchants would begin to run from their shops shouting, "Feofil is coming! Feofil is coming!" And each one hurried to drop something into his cart; one a piece of calico, a second a loaf, a third a handkerchief or a skein of threads. It was noticed that anyone who tried to give the Starets something from his own goods, without fail made good profits in his business that day. The Starets kept nothing of this for himself. All that was in his cart he passed out to poor people whom he met on the way. There were many of them and they would run behind the Blessed One in great crowds.

The Metropolitan's garden

Many stories are recorded of the odd events which took place on these trips. For example, being aware of Metropolitan Filaret's dislike for him, Feofil tried even more to annoy the venerable Archpastor with his foolishness. Once in summer, when Vladika was spending some time in a cottage in Goloseyevo, Feofil arrived in his cart and drove straight into the Metropolitan's garden. The gardener was amazed.

"God be with you Father Feofil! Where are you going?"

The Blessed One paid no attention to him and instead turned back towards the way he had come, only this time he travelled down a path lined with grapes on either side and so narrow that one hardly could even walk down it. The route lay right below the very window at which Metropolitan Filaret was standing. Vladika was furious. He dashed out onto the porch.

"What is this disgrace? Who dared to let Feofil into the garden? Why did he come here? Send him away immediately. He will ruin my grapes."

The Blessed One, who had gone up the alley almost to its end, met Vladika face to face and, hearing the Archpastor's anger, calmly turned his bullock around.

"If it is not pleasing, then it is not necessary."

And, instead of leaving the garden by a wider path, he turned and travelled back down the same alley, between the grape vines.

"It is a wonder," the terrified gardener later related, "that the Starets was able to travel between the grape bushes, but it is an even greater wonder how he contrived to turn the cart around in such a narrow space where it was hardly possible for a man to even walk through. A miracle! Truly a miracle!"

The Bullock is taken away

From that time on Feofil fell into disgrace. The bullock was taken away from him and sent to the pastures of the Lavra. The Blessed One was forbidden to appear at the Goloseyevskaya Hermitage, or to roam around. But on the day the bullock was placed in the monastery herd, such an unusual loss of cattle took place that the Lavra steward lost all self-control and absolutely did not know what to do. Veterinary doctors were called, and it was thought that sorne sort of epidemic had broken out in the herd. The doctors examined the cattle and could find nothing wrong with then Meanwhile, the livestock continued to fall and die. It was decided to report the situation to Metropolitan Filaret. Vladika summoned the Lavra steward and asked to know exactly what day the loss of cattle began. The steward replied that it was from the very day when Feofil's bullock was taken from hirn and put in with the herd.

"Is that so!" Vladika cried out and ordered that the bullock be quickly removed from the heard.

When this was done, to the general amazement of everyone, the loss of cattle ended at once. The bullock was led away to Kitayev and returned to his owner. Having received back his pet, the Blessed One gilded his horns and peacefully resumed his daily travels. In truth, the ox knows its owner (Is. 1:3).

The road is blocked

The road from Goloseyevo to Kitayev used to be unbelievably narrow. At the beginning of the Kitayev woods, the road rose up a steep hill. At this point, a narrow ravine crossed the road and it was necessary for travellers to descend into the ravine to cross it. It happened once that Metropolitan Filaret and Archimandrite Lavrenty, the Deputy Superior of the Lavra, were hurrying along this road to conduct business at the Kitayevskaya Hermitage. Just as Vladika's carriage reached the middle of the ravine, Father Feofil appeared with his "steed". The Metropolitan's coachman thought that this was an approaching peasant and he sternly cried out:

"Hey you! Turn back! Turn back, I tell you!"

The Metropolitan, on hearing these stern calls of the coachman, thrust his head out the window and asked, "What is it?" But, upon seeing Feofil approaching towards him, he at once guessed what it was.

"Ivan, stop!"

The coachman stopped the horses, and Vladika and the deputy superior stepped out of the carriage. Feofil was sitting in the cart, leaning his elbows on its rail, and pretending to be asleep.

"Feofil, get up! Misfortune has occurred!" Metropolitan Filaret said loudly and began to awaken the Blessed One.

"What? Ah! Is it you, holy Vladika?"

"It is. Why are you dozing, you mischievous person? Just take a look at the trouble you have caused us."

And the trouble was great. The meeting occurred at the narrowest place and it was impossible to turn around either the bullock or the carriage.

"Well, what will we do now?"

"We will do something," Feofil answered peacefully.

There was nothing to do but to unhitch the bullock. Vladika drove him back up the hill with a stick while the Deputy Superior and Feofil pulled the cart after him. The coachman did not participate in this “podvig" since he was holding the horses. After several efforts the road was freed and the Archpastor could finally continue his journey. Vladika was in good spirits and upon bidding farewell to Feofil, he laughed loudly.

"Just see, you mischievous: person, how much sweat you have rolled out of us," wiping large drops of perspiration from his forehead.

Soon after this the road was widened, but only slightly, and travellers still ran into difficulty in the ravine. Again the Blessed One and Metropolitan Filaret arrived at that very spot at the same moment. Although this time Feofil could have turned around, he refused to do so. It was as if he premeditatedly blocked the Metropolitan's way. An argument erupted between the coachman and Feofil. Father Feofil argued that it would be more difficult for his one bullock to draw his burden back up the hill than it would for Vladika's four horses to return up with theirs. But the coachman stood his ground.

"Feofil is right," said Vladika, observing the scene. "We should have made way for him. But since it is not possible for a team of four horses to turn around here, be kind enough to turn around with your bullock, Feofil."

But the Blessed One remained stubborn and did not wish to fulfil the request. The Archpastor began to become agitated.

"Well, what about it? Will you stop trying my patience?"

"No, I won't stop, because it is you and not I who must turn back."

"How so?"

"Just so."

At that very moment, a dispatch rider rode up to Vladika with a message from the Lavra. An artisan had fallen from the scaffolding around the belfry of the St. Sophia Cathedral and had been killed.

"He had hung in the air for a long time, holding on to a rail, but did not hold out and fell to the ground," the messenger said, and asked Vladika, in the name of the Lavra Superior, for immediate instructions.

The shaken Archpastor did not say a word in reply, but crossed himself and ordered the coachman to go to the top of the hill to turn around and return to the Lavra. Feofil was no longer there. At the arrival of the dispatch rider he drew back, having finished his mission.

The fast carriage

They met again for a third time. On this occasion the Blessed One was returning to Kitayev from the city when the Metropolitan's carriage overtook him and drew up alongside him on the Dyemiyev Bridge. Vladika called out:

"Feofil! Where are you off to?"

"Wherever God leads and necessity calls. Only there is trouble. The bullock has stopped listening to me. I have ordered a long whip to make him obey."

"And why do you want to ride with him at such a tortoise's pace?"

"The way to the Kingdom of Heaven is slow and steady."

"Here, climb into my carriage and I'll get you there as fast as a falcon."

"Thank you, I don't wish to. I will get there before you all the same."

Just as Feofil had foretold it, so it happened. Because of the overly fast pace of the carriage, a wheel slipped off Vladika's carriage and it required a whole hour to repair it. When the Metropolitan arrived at Kitayev, Feofil met him at the gate and, bowing low, he said:

"I wish you health, holy Vladika. I have been waiting for you here for a long time."

"You are right, Feofil," replied the Metropolitan. "The horned bullock overtook my well-fed team. It would seem that in the future I will have to travel in such a manner."

Many people remember this bullock which usually was not tied, but roamed freely around in the Starets' yard. It is said that the bullock possessed an almost supernatural instinct and could guess, without error, the character of the people who came to the Starets for his blessing. For that reason, he met some visitors in an unfriendly and bellicose manner, while others were treated gently, allowing them to pass unhindered into the Starets' cell.

The Smokers

Aside from his love and compassion for animals and birds, Starets Feofil had other customs and habits. To begin with, he disliked smokers and could not bear the smell of tobacco.

"You see, you've become intoxicated with the devil's poison," he would sternly reproach his visitors who smoked. "You've come to the cloister to spread the tobacco infection. Of what good is it for you to approach the Holy Mysteries tomorrow with that tobacco on your breath? Go away from me! You don't have my blessings!"

Once Feofil was walking along a lane of the monastery yard with a devotee from the city and was carrying a crock of grated winter-radish in kvas, when he was approached by Viktor Ignatievich Askochensky, the editor-publisher of the journal "Domestic Discussions". He was puffing away on a cigar.

As he opened his mouth to speak, he exhaled tobacco smoke right into Feofil's food. The Blessed One said nothing but dipped his finger into the crock and sprinkled the smoker with some of the liquid.

Upon returning home, Askochensky sat down to dinner, but the dish served had an overwhelming odour of winter-radish. Askochensky did not suspect the cause of this. He only sent the serving back and asked for another. It was brought, but again, the same odour prevailed. At this point Askochensky became angry and began chastising the cook and servants. But there was no explanation for the odour. The second course was served, and again, the dish set before Askochensky reeked of winter-radish. It was the same with the third course. Askochensky became very agitated. He stormed out of the house and went to the home of a friend. Upon being received by his friend, he was greeted with the comment that he smelled strongly of winter-radish. Nevertheless, he asked his friend for something to eat, explaining about the careless preparation of the food at home which rendered it inedible. How great was his amazement when even at his friend's table the food reeked with the odour of winter-radish. Utterly bewildered, he went to the bakery to buy some cookies. He returned home and sat down to tea and cookies, but, alas, they too bore the stench of winter-radish. For three days poor Askochensky was driven to utter despair. Everyone he met commented on how much he reeked of winter-radish.

The unfortunate man tried desperately to find the cause of this phenomenon and finally he remembered the encounter with Starets Feofil. Conscious of the impropriety of his act, he set out to Kitayev to the Blessed One. He begged forgiveness and straightway the unpleasant odour disappeared.

Another incident is related by a nun, Staritsa Magdalina.

"Once, a wealthy merchant and his wife arrived from Moscow and stopped over at the Florovsky Monastery. Having heard our stories about Starets Feofil, the merchant became excited with a desire to visit him. He begged me to accompany him and his wife since he was not familiar with the way to the Kitayevskaya Hermitage. I agreed and we all set out. While riding through the Goloseyevo woods, the merchant desired to smoke. He felt his pockets but there were no matches. What was he to do?

As luck would have it, he saw some wayfarers sitting beside the road maklng porridge in a trivit. He went over to them and began to light his cigarette. But no sooner had he touched the fire than the trivit turned over, spilling out the porridge and smothering the fire.

'How strange! I didn't even touch the trivit and yet I upset the porridge.'

We went on farther. The merchant again spotted some strangers cooking gruel by the side of the road. He ran to their fire for a light, but just as he stooped towards the fire, this trivit also upset.

'What a strange occurrence! Could this be some sort of witchcraft?' the merchant laughed.

'No,' I said to him, 'Father Feofil is arranging this for you. He dislikes with a passion those who smoke.'

At last we arrived at Kitayev and went to see Starets Feofil. He met us and spoke out directly to the merchant.

'Well, my little swallow, you wanted to smoke so badly? Due to your passion, you left the hungry without food.'

Then Feofil brought him a large onion from his cell, saying: 'Here, take a bite of onion, for you have befouled the entire monastery with tobacco.'

This was the kind of visionary he was.

Concerning spitting on the ground

Another rule which was peculiar to Starets Feofil was that he never spat on the ground and advised others not to do so either. He was particularly indignant with those who spat in God's temple on the floor of the church.

"Why do you spit in church?" he used to ask all those who did it. "God is invisibly present here and people kneel to Him in prayer. And why do you spit on the ground? Don't you know that you yourself are earth and ashes, so how can you dare to spit on your own mother? Is it not she who will take you into her bosom after death? Is it not she who will guard your body until the general resurrection?"

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