Life of Hieroschemamonk Feofil Part 7

The life of, fool for Christ's sake, blessed Hieroschemamonk, Feofil (Theophilus). Chapter 7.

Chapter 7

The high respect and esteem in which Feofil was held by his admirers was bound to arouse some covetousness and jealousy.

Hieroschemamonk Iov

Hieroschemamonk Iov, the superior of the hermitage, was especially embittered against the Starets. Having decided that all the Blessed One did was the result of bigotry and superstition, he proceeded to cause him all the difficulty and annoyance he possibly could. The superior made Vladika weary with his constant reports and complaints. When he would see a crowd of worshippers surrounding Feofil, he would hurry outside and reproach them for their superstition and drive them away. When that did not help matters, the superior would order the monastery gates to be locked after dinner so that the curious crowd could not go up to Feofil's cell. Iov even went so far as to rush into the Blessed One's cell to take away his linen so that it would not be given to laundry women. To all this harassment the Starets would meekly make a reply from the Gospels. Often Feofil would have his cell-mate, Panteleimon, bolt the door when he knew Iov was coming to harass him

Finally, Iov, in order to glory in his power and demonstrate his authority, moved the Starets to the bottom of a large building, nearer to himself. The new accommodation was very comfortable, consisting of four large rooms. Nevertheless, the new living place was very unsatisfactory to the Starets because it interfered with the work which God had called him to.

When the Lavra sent Hierodeacon Feodosy Tupitsin to the hermitage because he was mentally ill and required special attention, he was placed in the same cell with the Blessed Feofil. But the Starets promptly drove him away. Irritated by this act of self-will. the superior, Iov, personally led Feodosy back to the cell of the Blessed One.

"Father Feodosy! With a saint you will be a saint, with a chosen one, you will be chosen."

But Feofil ran out of the back room and again drove Feodosy away. Turning to the superior he shouted:

"Do you know how to read and write?"

"If I didn't know," Iov smirked, "I would not have become a superior."

"And you've read the books of the Bible? Well?"

"Not only read them, but memorized many of them."

"Then tell me, for what reason did Cain kill his brother Abel? Tell me, for what reason?"

And with that he led Iov out of the door and slammed it behind him. Outraged to the depths of his soul, the superior promptly reported all this to Metropolitan Filaret and asked that Feofil be sent away from the hermitage.

Little understood

From all the complaints about the Blessed One which appear in the archives of the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, it is easy to see how little understood Feofil was by those close to him. But he who does not know his own soul could hardly understand the soul of his brother. For when the world with all its earthly wisdom failed to know God... (I Cor. 1:21) then one could hardly expect the world to recognize a true servant of the Lord. But pride, vanity, and jealousy blinded many eyes to the fact that Feofil was a great servant of the Lord, chosen from his mother's womb to be a lamp of the faith.

It is not so amazing, then, that the world lies in evil. It refuses to see in the piety of these ascetics truly active sons of God. Instead, the world despises and hates those who have given themselves to praying for the world. We are surrounded with inexhaustible sorrows, uncountable troubles, and endless grief. The enemy struggles constantly against us. Yet, those who struggle hardest against the enemy and seek to save man from the wrath of God are universally condemned, despised, and persecuted. Never the less, these ascetics patiently remember the words of the Gospel, If you were of the world, the world would love its own, but because you are not of the world the world hates you (John 15:19).

So even his fellow monk, the superior, Iov, failed to recognize Feofil and instead persecuted him out of jealousy. Finally realizing that abuse and pejorative would accomplish nothing, Iov conceived a new idea for ridding himself of the Blessed One. He began to gather various slanders against him, hoping to have the Starets at least removed from the hermitage.

As the Scripture warns, the oppressor says, "Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life... Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking, the very sight of him weighs our spirit down; his way of life is not like other men's, the paths he treads are unfamiliar. In his opinion we are counterfeit..." (Wis. 2, 12-16).

The Slanders

We do not know if Iov recognized that the slanders he gathered against the Blessed One were false or not, but from his reports one thing is evident. He wanted to give these slanders the appearance of truth and so he interpreted the life of the Starets to suit his own ends. He wrote to Metropolitan Filaret that Hieroschetnamonk Feofil "abuses monasticism and, through his carelessness of rank, he completely separates himself from it.! He spreads superstition and bigotry. In concealing the inner part; of his life with insolence and even violence, he gives rise to doubts about the state of his religious beliefs and his mental health." Was it not in this very same way that false witnesses were gathered against Jesus Christ? But the souls of the righteous are in God's hands. As hard as his enemies strove against Feofil, they could never achieve their goals.

The Blessed One was not grieved by this vain slandering. To the contrary, he rejoiced, recalling the words of the Scripture:

It is a blessing for you when they insult you for bearing the name of Christ because it means that you have the Spirit of glory, the Spirit of God resting on you...On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified (1 Peter, 4:14)...Happy are you when people abuse you ant persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you on My account. Rejoice and be glad for your re-ward will be great in heaven: this is how they persecuted the prophets before you (Matt. 5:11-12).

Enduring sorrows and injustice

When the cell-mate, Ivan, came to him, moved with compassion for the Starets, and asked how he could face such sorrow with seeming indifference, the Blessed One replied:

"Ah, Ivan, Ivan. It is better to endure injustice than to commit it oneself."

"And what if these things are endured in vain, for nothing, Batiushka?"

"What about it? One cannot destroy an evil person. It is sinful to give up to sadness. We are exiles on earth. Exiles do not wonder at insult and injury. We are under God's penance and a penance consists of deprivations and difficulties. We are ill in soul and body and bitter medicine is useful for the ill."

In order to quench all hostility his heart might feel towards his offenders and to fulfill in reality the directions of the Scripture: Do not let the sun go town on your anger (Eph. 4:26), the Blessed One would react to Iov's attacks by composing a letter confessing that he was truly guilty in the bitter incident which had taken place. Never-the-less, he increased still more his podvig of foolishness.

In Church

His manners in church, however, raised many eyebrows besides those of the superior. The Blessed One would usually turn his back on the people and face the wall, never raising his eyes. When actually serving, he acted even more strangely. We will not go into great detail about this, but only relate the words of Iov, the superior of the hermitage in his report to Metropolitan Filaret.

"While preparing for a co-service," wrote Iov, “Feofill breaks the rule and order. Before the beginning of the great vespers or matins, he ignores my confirmation and never stands in the sanctuary. No one knows where he might read his prayers. He barely participates in the entity of the liturgy or the magnificat. During the Kathisma, he leaves or stands outside the south door and during the co-service, he does not stand straight but turns to the east. Evidently Feofil never washes his hands or face. During the liturgy he stands before the altar-table as if dumbfounded and requires constant directions. He is constantly arranging his braided plait. He holds his book before himself but apparently rarely reads the required prayers and seldom does he reverence. Having wiped his nose with his hand, he bends down and wipes it with the garments of the altar-table. During the exclaiming of 'Christ is amidst us,' he fails in every way to conform to the others who are serving. Feofil partakes of the Holy Mysteries very quickly and then goes to the sacristan's door, looking at the people (as if showing off) and reads the prayers of thanksgiving. On highly solemn days, although he does participate in the service, he does not come out for any special prayers but divests and leaves the church. He has often been deprived of meals for this. During the presentation of the gifts (proskomidia) he does not place the holy bread on the centre of the paten, but on the left side which can cause it to upset easily. He does not observe the proper order in distributing the particles over the rest of the paten. During the liturgy he turns towards the analoy and does not look at the service book, apparently turning away from the holy table. He requires prompting during the entrance from the altar and during the Great Entrance at the carrying over of the Holy Gifts. He does not hold the service book before himself and does not turn his eyes and heart to the holy table while making a proper rev-erence. Instead he glances at the book lying on the analoy. At the moment of the sacrifice of the gifts, it is difficult to stir him into making at least three reverences and piously blessing the sacrificed gifts. Breaking the aforementioned into pieces, he very slowly wipes the clinging crumbs from his hands with a sponge. His tempo in the service does not conform with anyone else. When the deacon proclaims "Fulfil the chalice, Vladika," he does not even look at the chalice but drops the separated part of the Holy Lamb into it so quickly that he cannot follow proper succession."

Metropolitan Filaret

Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev

Metropolitan Filaret could easily believe all this because he himself had concelebrated with Feofil and had witnessed his behaviour.

"Turn him around to his place,' he would say to his archdeacon when the Blessed One faced east while everyone else was turned to the west. The Metropolitan could not know that there was an enigmatic secret behind the peculiar behavior of the Starets, a secret known only to himself. He could only assume that Feofil was completely incompetent (Archives of the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra).

We should mention here that the most salient feature of Metropolitan Filaret's administration of the Lavra was his own humbleness. He did not rule as a powerful despot, but as a steadfast and zealous follower and a humble postulant of all the regulations and customs passed on by the monks from the saints of the caves. Both the inner and outer condition of his life served as a model to the Lavra Brotherhood. Vladika's conduct and instructions followed what "the original holy wonderworkers of the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, established and preserved. He was, therefore, not so much like a metropolitan or a rector to the brotherhood, but like a father or elder co-brother. In a word, he was an abba, as the fathers of ancient monastic asceticism were called. His addresses, talks, dlrections, even his remarks and warnings were given with meekness, patience, and indulgence. He did not bring fear to anyone or distrust to himself. To the contrary, everyone ran to him with joy and frankness."

Vladika conducted himself in this manner in the controversy over Feofil. It could be seen that, while Iov's complaints were directed towards maintaining the rules and regulations of the monastery, they were composed with personal hostility for the Blessed One. The fair minded and peace-loving Vladilsa called Feofil to him privately and questioned him.

"Feofil!" said the meek Archpastor to him. "Complaints about you have come to me again."

"The strong have risen against me and the mighty are seek-ing my soul," the Blessed One quietly answered, lowering his eyes to the ground.

"Still, what will you direct me to do with you?"

"Marvelous are Thy works, O Lord!" Feofil replied.

"They write that you are spreading superstition and tempting the brotherhood and the people."

"Deliver me from the slanders of men."

"Now then, don't go about 'delivering' but reason, brother. The superior is badgering me and asking for your punishment."

"The Lord is my Refuge and my Saviour, of whom shall I be afraid?"

"Will you tempt me?" finished Metropolitan Filaret, "I'm dismissing you, you mischievous one."

"In the Lord is my reward and my comfort is in the Most High."

With this the conversation came to an abrupt end and, having bowed to the Metropolitan, the Blessed One quickly left the chamber, leaving the venerable Archpastor in the same confusion concerning his innocence as he was in before.

Starets Parfeny

As much as the saintly Filaret did not like the Blessed Starets at first, so much did he respect Starets Parfeny. Every summer he left with Parfeny for the Goloseyevskaya Hermitage, returning to the Lavra only for the feast days and then hurrying back to the hermitage as soon as they were over. There, in the most solitary corner of the hermitage, in the midst of a dense thicket of a shabby orchard, stood Parfeny's cell.

Immediately upon completing the early liturgy in the Archpastor's house-chapel, Parfeny would go into the woods, completing his prayer rule as he walked and reading the entire Psalter along the road. The compiler of the biography of Starets Parfeny, briefly but profoundly and correctly depicted his spiritual relationship with the saintly Filaret, expressing it in the following edifying words:

"Great was the love of the Saintly One for the Starets but boundless was the dedication of the Starets for the Saintly One. And this spiritual union provided comfort for both in their ascetic wandering in this life. The Archpastor's soul, often wearied by the troublesome tasks of his rank, rested in the conversation of the spiritually enlightened Starets, and the soul of the Starets leaned upon the Archpastor's wisdom with absolute trust."

Why, then, you will ask, with Vladika Filaret's monastic love and with his truly brotherly, spiritual tie with the monks of the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, did he remain so cool to the Blessed Feofil, who was such a remarkable person? And why did he feel such a great love for Hieroschemamonk Parfeny, but remain almost indifferent to the ascetic Starets Feofil? Our reply is this:

Hieroschemamonk Parfeny demonstrated a model of life similar to the great ancient ascetics, a spiritual life which shone in his face. The entire development of his spiritual perfection took place almost before the eyes of Vlaika, who, comprehending in him a truly burning zealot of holy asceticism, invested him with the schema with his own hands in the caves of Saint Antony and named him Parfeny.

Subsequently, both of these persons so tightened their spiritual bonds that the venerable Archpastor decided to select Parfeny as his spiritual father.

Hieroschemamonk Parfeny

Starets Feofil, already a hieroschemamonk and attached to the Lavra, could have reflected a high state of spiritual attainment in his countenance, but in his podvig: of being a fool-for-Christ's-sake, he concealed the irreproachable purity and child-like innocence of his soul, seeking by all means to avoid spiritual inter-course with the saintly Metropolitan. He would not allow Vladika to see into the depths of his strange character and thus prevented Filaret from apprehending the grace which existed within him for, what man knows what is within another unless he comprehends the spirit living within him?

The meeting of the Superiors

For this reason, the disconcerted Archpastor, in his love of justice, called a meeting of the superiors and advisers under him, and heard testimony from others outside the Lavra, in an effort to gather all evidence either justifying or accusing the Starets The matter was soon explained, for one brother, with whom Feofil was more open with than others, approached him and asked him about his strange behavior during church services. The Starets answered:

"I liturgize according to the correct order, read all the required prayers, and I honour the celebrant as my leader. But when I go deep into contemplating the fulfilment of the Mystery, I forget myself and all that is around me. During the Divine Liturgy, I see a cross-shaped ray of light coming down from above and hovering over the celebrant and all those serving with him. Sometimes it hovers over everyone. I see a strange dew descending on the Holy Gifts and shining angels soaring above the altar-table, saying 'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!' Then my whole being is enraptured unspeakably and I am unable to tear myself away from the sweet vision. O brother, I am not justifying myself; I am only telling the absolute truth. Only I beg you, do not reveal what I have said or else I, a smelly sinner, will become a temptation to others."

Feofil's reply was immediately reported to Metropolitan Filaret. The Archpastor had already planned to transfer Feofil to the Moshnogorsky Monastery where he would no donger be numbered with the Lavra brotherhood. Upon hearing of this report, however, he called in the deputy of the Lavra, Archimandrite Ioann, and the ecclesiarch of the Lavra, Hieromonk Melety, for consultation.

The ecclesiarch Melety

The ecclesiarch, Melety, had always fought in Feofil's defence, and now he answered Vladika's question thus:

"Why disturb this righteous man? Let him enlighten us, for no one knows who has longer to live on earth — you or he."

Vladika looked sternly at the bold adviser, and, having thought for a while. he said:

"Yes! You are right, we are all walking under God."

And immediately he gave the order to the Ecclesiastical Sobor of the Lavra to suspend the previous restrictive orders concerning Feofil, pending further instructions.

And so the Starets remained, living in the same place as before.

The large watermelon

On the day following the consultation, Blessed Feofil sent his cell-mate with a large watermelon to Melety. What did he foresee for the ecclesiarch? On the next Sunday, without any preliminary announcement, without awaiting permission from the Holy Synod, through his own personal authority, Metropolitan Filaret placed a mitre on Hieromonk Melety and elevated him to the rank of archimandrite.

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