Schema Monk John of Moldavia
V29 #6 Schemamonk John of Molavia
Reprinted from Orthodox Life - Vol.29, No. 6 November - December 1979
Schema Monk John of Moldavia
Schema Monk John of Moldavia
† November 16, 1843
The monk Parthenius, in his description of his travels, relates the following of the disciples of the great Elder Paisius Velichkovsky: The hermitage in which the Elder John dwelt is located about an hour's walk, or about five versts, from the Voronets Monastery in an impossible place where a dark forest grows between two great mountains, near a spring of water. The Elder schema-monk Onuphrius, a desert dweller, ran the course of monastic struggles in that hermitage for more than forty years, and there he ended his life, his grave exuding a sweet fragrance. The Elder Onuphrius was a friend and a companion of the great Elder Paisius Velichkovsky and of his elder, Basil, the founder of the Merlopolyany Monastery in the Wallachian princedom.
The Elder John related the following things to the monk Parthenius about himself: "I am Great Russian by birth, from the very heart of Russia; but from what family it is not needful for thee to know. From my youth I have loved my Lord Jesus Christ, and having considered the vanity and inconstancy of this world, the brevity of this present life, and the eternity of the future, and mindful that he who serves and labors for the Lord God in this world shall save his soul and inherit eternal blessedness, but that he that sins and angers the Lord must receive eternal torment, I resolved to labor for my Lord unhindered by the vanity of this world; and, having abandoned all, I have followed Christ from my earliest years. At first I went about the monasteries of Russia as a pilgrim, and in many of them I heard of the great Elder Paisius, of his great ascetic struggles, of his divinely-assembled flock, and of the other fathers of Moldavia, and of the Elder Onuphrius, who spent his life in this hermitage and reposed here. Therefore, I undertook the journey to Moldavia and reached the great Monastery of Niamets.
Here I beheld the great Elder Paisius, radiantly arrayed in gray hair, and his large company assembled by God. He had about one thousand disciples. I fell at his feet and entreated him to accept me into his holy monastery and to number me among his flock, and he received me with love, and having added me to the brotherhood, he gave me a cell, assigned me an obedience, and entrusted me to a confessor. He received all who came and desired to live with him, though some of the elder brethren were grieved by this, for they were in want. Yet he would ever say unto them: 'Him that cometh unto me I shall in no wise drive away. If a brother arrive, prayer also doth arrive. God shall send food for him as well!' And thus I, sinner that I am, began to live in that divinely- gathered flock, and to delight in the elder's divinely-wise instructions, and to be comforted by the sight of his noble gray hairs.
'The Elder Paisius instructed all, comforted all, exhorted a' with fatherly ove not to violate the common life, to have perfect obedience and humility, to sever one's own will; and he urged all to submit themselves one to another and to honor one another with a full prostration. He directed that each brother walk meekly, his hands folded upon his breast, with head bowed, eyes downcast, his heart on high with God, his mind occupied with the unceasing Jesus Prayer, and that unfeigned love be in all. But most of alt he endeavored to sow and implant in each of the brethren the divine seed, the activity of the heart, the unceasing, mental Prayer of Jesus. In those days the Niamets Monastery was like a paradise planted by God: all labored for their Lord in oneness of mind and in love; there was perfect common life and love in all things; it was as if there were but one soul in all the brethren; every brother performed his obedience in humility without complaint; all, beholding their shepherd, were comforted by the sight of his face, his discourse, and his sacred gray hairs. By his life he was a model and example for all.
"But I, sinner that I am, was not accounted worthy to be tonsured by him into the full monastic habit; I received from him only the riassa, and lived with him for but two years. Yet insofar as he was humble and meek, so also was he strict: for the slightest disorder he meted out strict punishment. Once a certain novice walked about the monastery, waving his arms in an unseemly manner and looking about from side to side. At that moment the elder saw him from a window and asked those who were about: 'Who is that novices's spiritual father?' They told him. The Elder Paisius then summoned the spiritual father and reprimanded him sternly, saying: 'Is it thus that thou guidest thy disciples? They are disorderly and scandalize the brethren. A monk must be a monk in all things: meek of step, hands upon the breast, eyes lowered to the ground, head bowed, making a prostration to everyone he meeteth - to a monk or hieromonk, and to a brother equal to himself, a bow from the waist. Thou sayest that he is not yet a monk, but whosoever liveth in the monastery, tonsured or untonsured, must keep the rules of monasticism and take example from the elder brethren. Wherefore, I am giving thee and thy disciple a penance to make prostrations in the refectory for three days, that the rest may learn not to behave in an unseemly manner.' Furthermore, he took careful note that the brethren crossed themselves correctly: if someone was not devout, or made the sign of the cross carelessly, he would punish him with great severity, always saying: 'If someone maketh the sign of the cross without proper devotion, the demons rejoice over such a motion of the hand.' Also, he kept strict order in church, himself going about the brethren to see that all stood in an orderly manner, with fear and trembling; he watched carefully all the prostrations, and especially that those who stood in the choir stalls and the readers did not omit a single bow during 'Holy God,' 'Come, let us worship,' and 'Alleluia.' All the order in church, the typicon and the chants were entirely from Holy Mount Athos. He sternly forbade the use of tobacco, and whoever did not correct himself in this matter he expelled from the monastery.
"The great Elder Paisius was so wary of all heresies and schisms that he baptized all converts, both from among schismatics and those from the heresies of the Latin West, which practice is kept even unto this day in the Church of Moldavia. He displayed his manifest zeal for piety when he lived with his brethren in the Dragomir Monastery: after a certain period of war his monastery together with Bukovina passed under the sovereignty of the Austrians. He abandoned his monastery and all its possessions, movable and immovable, and went to Moldavia, saying to his brethren, 'Fathers and brethren! Whosoever desireth to obey and follow his elder, the sinful Paisius, let him come with me; I do not give my blessing for anyone to remain in Dragomir, for it is impossible to live in a courtyard of heretics and escape their heresy. The Pope of Rome roareth like a lion in other kingdoms as well, seeking whom he might devour; even the Turkish empire he leaveth not in peace, but ever troubleth and grieveth the Holy Eastern Church; and therefore all the more will he swallow up those who live in the Austrian kingdom.' And thus he departed for Moldavia with all his flock. The Moldavian suzereign, seeing his zeal for piety, bestowed upon him two monasteries instead of one: Sekoul, dedicated to St. John the Forerunner, and afterwards Niamets, dedicated to the Ascension of the Lord. The Elder Paisius always taught the brethren to guard themselves from heresies and schisms, to submit them selves in all things to the most holy Ecumenical Patriarchs, and to honor the zealots of piety: the most holy Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and the blessed Mark, Metropolitan of Ephesus, who both struggled against the Pope of Rome. However, I took pleasure in his sweet teachings but for a short time, only two years.
"After that time all the brethren became suddenly despondent and grieved on learning that the elder was ill; everything became sad and gloomy. Soon all were given notice to come to liturgy, and we all flew thither like eagles so that the church could not contain us. And then the elder came, supported by two of the confessors. All the brethren rejoiced, seeing his holy gray hairs, and prostrated themselves before him. He went directly into the sanctuary and partook of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ during the liturgy. After the liturgy he stood in the abbot's throne and ordered that all the brethren come to him for a blessing; he asked forgiveness of all and departed for his cell, and thereafter no longer received anyone. Several days later we heard the mournful news that the elder had reposed; weeping and lamentation was heard, because we were deprived of our elder, father and guide. When three days had passed, we buried him in the great church of the Ascension of the Lord and were left orphaned. Then, with the agreement of all the brethren, another abbot was chosen, by the name of Sophronius, a confessor and one of Paisius' disciples, who tonsured me into the little schema. After two years they began to alter the coenobitic rules and typicon of Father Paisius, and, because of this, turmoil arose in the monastery and seventy of the Russian fathers departed for Russia; among them was the notable elder, Father Theodore.
"But I, a sinner, went to the Holy Mount Athos, hoping there to increase that divine seed which the Elder Paisius had sown in me. Having successfully journeyed by sea, I took up my abode in a deserted cell in a place called "Lako" and lived there almost two years; I carved spoons in order to support myself. Then troubled times arose, wars drew nigh, thieves fell upon the Holy Mountain and wrought much harm. I, wretch that I am, could not endure this and again returned by sea to my monastery in Moldavia.
"However, having tasted of the silence of the desert, which is sweeter than honey, I asked for a cell outside the monastery. The archimandrite and my spiritual father wished to have me ordained hierodeacon, but I feared to receive this dignity, lest I be deprived of mental and silent prayer; I requested that I be left in a place of quiet, but they endeavored to force me. Seeing their intention, I severed a finger from my right hand, and after that they let me be, putting me under the category of 'one with impediment for ordination'. I began to live in a quiet cell and fulfill several obediences in the monastery, and often I would visit a certain hermit, the schema-monk Platon, a disciple of the Elder Paisius, taking pleasure in his spiritual discourse. I lived in that cell five years, but became weary of the tumult which accompanies obediences in the monastery, and the lamp of divine light began to gutter out within me. Then I asked the archimandrite to dismiss me and permit me to depart into the deepest wilderness to Father Platon of the Skete of the Protection. But he refused, saying, 'If I permit such young men as thee to go oft to the wilderness, there will be no one to fulfill the obediences.'
"I left him, weeping, and began to reflect: 'What riches I gathered on Holy Mount Athos - and here I have squandered them all! I shall go once again to the Holy Mountain and end my life there.' And I went to Father Platon and told him my thought, and he said to me: 'Go to the Holy Mountain and live there again for a while, and then return here, for they shall then leave thee in peace; then shall we live together, and thou shalt bury my sinful body. And even shouldst thou intend to remain there to the end of thy days, nonetheless against thy will shalt thou depart" I bowed down before him, went to the archimandrite, and requested that he permit me once again to go to Holy Mount Athos, saying that times had then become peaceful (since I had left because of the disturbances). And he dismissed me with love.
"Once again I journeyed across the sea to Constantinople and then to Holy Mount Athos; again I inhabited a deserted cell and began to carve spoons. I kept mental silence and greatly rejoiced, and was glad that I had been vouchsafed to reach that calm and storm-free haven, the Holy Mountain. Once, while working on my handicraft near the monastery of Iviron, I chanced to meet His Holiness, Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople, who was then living in retirement in the monastery of Iviron and was later martyred by the Turks and buried in the city of Odessa in Russia. When I saw him adorned with grey hairs and sitting at the gates of the monastery with two deacons, my soul trembled and my heart rejoiced when I realized that he was the patriarch. Quickly I put down my basket and cast myself at his feet. He blessed me; I kissed his hand, and he kissed my head and said: 'What dost thou desire, father?' I told him that I wished His Holiness to take some of my wretched handicraft. He ordered me to bring it forth, and I selected ten spoons and gave them to him. But he took only three and returned the rest. I besought him that he take all, but he replied: 'For the sake of the Holy Trinity three are sufficient.'
"I lived for three years on the Holy Mountain, and then troubles again arose and the brigands increased; everywhere there was fear and trembling. All the monasteries closed, and there was tribulation and woe in all the cells. I endured this for six months, thinking that all would quickly pass; yet it became worse by the hour, and I could endure it no longer: I wept and bade farewell to the Holy Mountain. From thence I travelled to Constantinople by ship. At the time there was another patriarch on the throne, and I was accounted worthy to receive his blessing also. From Constantinople I departed by boat and under went most frightful things on the Black Sea, coming nigh to being drowned. We were carried about the sea an entire month, and at almost every hour expected to die, for we had run out of food. Then we were carried to Anatolia and anchored near a certain mountain, and all gave thanks unto God.
"There the Greek sailors told me: 'Father, glory be to God, we have anchored near the venerable Gregory! Let us go and bow down before his holy relics!' And I asked: 'Which Gregory?' And they replied: 'The disciple of St. Basil the New, the one who received great revelations. After the repose of St. Basil, Gregory withdrew to this wilderness and reposed here, and here his body is buried.' I rejoiced greatly and asked them to take me with them. They took incense and oil, and we got into the ship's boat and reached the shore. Ascending the mountain, we found there a large cave; we walked some distance in the cave and then came to a church, in the midst of which there lay a sepulchre with a lamp over it. The Greeks told me that here St. Gregory worked out his salvation and that here his body lay. We poured oil into the lamp and lit it, censed the sepulchre with incense, prayed and venerated the sepulchre, and besought the saint that he direct our journey successfully. We returned to the ship and God granted a favorable wind. Then we anchored at a village and purchased food for ourselves, sailed further, and soon arrived in Moldavia.
"And once again I returned to my monastery, where they received me with love and gave me leave to go to the hesychastic Skete of the Protection. I settled near Father Platon and had him as my friend and counsellor; I began to imitate him in all things and was much profited by him. At that time he had already sailed across the sea of the passions and reached ihat most serene haven of sweetest mental silence. The Monastery of Niamets is not alone but has under it another monastery named Sekoul and many sketes; in all these the brethren are assigned from the Niamets Monastery, and it sends food to them all, but they each provide their own clothing, do various handicrafts, and give them to the monastery, for which they receive their necessities. Father Platon copied books for his entire life, and I carved spoons. Soon thereafter I was tonsured into the great schema, and was left in utter tranquility and quiet, and all my needs were provided for. I gave thanks unto my Lord that I had been accounted worthy to enjoy such quietude.
"And thus I lived with Father Platon for more than twenty years. From Monday to Friday we remained in our cells, working at our handicraft in silence and keeping mental prayer. Every Saturday we went to the great church of the monastery and partook of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ. Likewise every Sunday and on great feasts we attended the all-night vigil. We took simple food once a day, but on Wednesday and Friday we fasted. Every year we shut ourselves in our cells for the entire Great Fast; having collected bread crusts and water beforehand, we bolted our windows and doors and remained alone with the One God until Lazarus Saturday. However, during the Fast a confessor would come every Saturday with the Holy Mysteries and give us Communion.
"After twenty years the archimandrite besought the brethren and us to come closer to the monastery for the benefit of all. Although it seemed very difficult to detach ourselves from our beloved and quiet wilderness, yet it was the will of God. Once again they gave us quiet cells outside the monastery, and we began to live according to our former rule. It was peaceful for me, thank God, but all the brethren came to Father Platon; the doors of his cell were
never closed, but open to all that came. And wisdom was granted for the profit of all, and it flowed forth from his lips in an abundant stream. I also visited him often, but I could never enjoy his discourse to satiety. When the holy Great Fast came again, we closed ourselves up as before, and on Lazarus Saturday we went to the great church for liturgy. Father Platon walked in front by himself, and I walked behind with the brethren. At that time a white pillar appeared rising from the head of Father Platon and ascending to the heavens; all of us saw it and fell to the ground. When we stood up Father Platon had already passed through the gates of the monastery. We followed him into the church and prostrated ourselves before him. And he said, 'Brethren, why do you prostrate yourselves before me? God hath manifested this miracle not for my sake, but for yours. Behold, how the Lord God doth glorify them that labor for Him! Labor for the Lord with all your hearts, and the Lord shall also glorify you if not in this age, then in the one to come which shall have no end!'
"Father Platon taught all the brethren to conquer the passions, to have perfect obedience, to cut oft one's own will in all things, to be lower than all through humility, to have unfeigned love for all the brethren, and especially to cleanse the inner man and to practice unceasing mental prayer; and thus we lived for ten years. Then Father Platon forsook us and reposed, departing for eternal life with his desired and most sweet Lord Jesus, Whom he had loved from his youth and with Whom he ever conversed in his heart. But we were in great sorrow since we were left orphans in this world, having to wrestle alone with the passion and the enemy, the devil. We buried him with tears and lamentation and then I remained by myself.
"After the repose of Father Platon all the brethren turned to me, each with his sorrows and weaknesses: one was dissatisfied with the food, another overburdened by his obedience, another troubled by something else. And from whence did this arise? From the fact that all love had dried up and the common life had been destroyed. I began to tell those in charge to pacify all the brethren and love them all equally. They listened to all my words but did nothing. The brethren wept, always bothered me, and even utterly destroyed my quiet. I began to consider what to do: 'If I live here, it will be necessary to love the brethren to the utmost and lay down my soul for them; it will be necessary to suffer, but to correct the situation is already impossible. But if I depart, how shall I not anger God by seeking quiet for myself alone and leaving the brethren to grieve without any comfort whatever; and there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for his brother. They have grief because they have destroyed the common life, and to re-establish it once again is already difficult; they have destroyed it quickly, but there are many difficulties in establishing it once more!
"Metropolitan Benjamin came thrice in order to establish the common life, and he summoned me to him, but I could do nothing because the elder brethren did not wish it. I besought the metropolitan to transfer me from the Niamets Monastery to the Voronets Monastery, to the cell of the great elder and hermit Onuphrius, that I might spend the rest of my days in quiet and end my life there. He wept and said to me: 'I had wished, Father John, that thou mightest live here and support the brethren, comfort those in sorrow, and benefit the weak, but I fear to restrain thee and thereby grieve thee. May the Lord bless thee in this matter; go, and pray for me also, the sinful Benjamin. I, too, greatly desire to abandon my see and spend the rest of my days in retirement, in quiet and repentance. I have been metropolitan for more than forty years; I govern the diocese of Moldavia, and have undergone many great temptations, for my cares are very great. Many times it has happened that no prince was ruling Moldavia, and I had to govern the whole of it myself. Who can live and not sin against God and his neighbor? Long have I had the wish to forsake all things and weep over my sins, but circumstances prevent me. How many years I have labored in building a cathedral and I cannot complete it! I would have liked to consecrate it myself, but it is already evident that I shall not be found worthy of this, for my powers have already grown weak.' And I said to him: 'Holy Master! It is already too late to consecrate a cathedral, but rather let us take care for our inner cathedral in order to build it well. Thou shalt have peace for but a short time.' And thus I bade him farewell. And having escorted the metropolitan, I set off for the Voronets Monastery. There the Archimandrite Raphael received me with love, gave me leave to go to this hermitage, and provided me with food. May the Lord save him! And now I have been living here for the four years as though it were paradise, in utter tranquility and quiet, alone with the One God. Every Saturday, I go to the monastery to partake of the Holy Mysteries, and again hasten back to my hermitage."
"And I," relates the monk Parthenius, "fell at his feet in tears and said to him: 'Holy Father, forgive me a sinner; relate to me, concealing nought, the mysteries of thy life of mental silence, what sort of fruit it hath yielded thee, and with what gifts the Lord hath rewarded thee.' His eyes filled with tears and he said: 'What dost thou ask of me, child? It is too great for me. Desist now asking this, and depart with the Lord's blessing to Holy Mount Athos, and strive to cleanse the inner man by prayer. When thy heart shall be wounded with the love of Christ, thou shalt thyself know how good it is to be with God.' But I wept, entreating him to relate to me something edifying.
"And so, he said to me with tears: 'Hearken unto me a sinner, for I shall reveal a mystery; but as long as I am living, keep it secret. I shall disclose unto. thee a portion of my riches; but hide it not, and when the proper time shall come, relate it to others. Listen: after my entrance into the Monastery of Niamets, having heard of mental prayer from the Elder Paisius, I began to inquire of the elder how to begin, and what I should do; and by works I made trial thereof. It seemed so sweet to me, that I loved it more than the whole world; and hence I fled from the brethren, loved silence, often retreated into the wilderness, avoided all temptations and especially idle speech. In order to acquire unceasing mental prayer, I journeyed twice to the Holy Mountain, wore myself out in obedience, labors, fasting, prostrations and standing all night. For this I often shut myself up in my cell and exhausted all my strength, even unto utter debility. And when I had spent many years thus, my efforts were intensified somewhat within me. Later, when we lived in the Skete of the Protection, the Lord visited me through the prayers of Father Platon. Ineffable joy overshadowed my heart, and the prayer began to act within me. It gave me such sweetness that it would not even permit me to sleep. I would sleep but an hour a day, and that sitting; and again I would rise up as if I had never slept. And although I slept, yet my heart was vigilant. And fruit began to sprout forth from the prayer. In truth, my child, the Kingdom of Heaven is within us. Indescribable love for all and tears were born within me. If I wish, I could weep unceasingly. Divine Scripture, especially the Gospels and the Psalter, have become so sweet for me that I can never read enough of them, and every word causes me to marvel and obliges me to shed copious tears. 0 my God! The hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom hast Thou made manifest unto me. Often I rise up in the evening and begin to read the Psalter or to say the Jesus Prayer, and am caught up, outside myself, I know not where, in the body or without the body I know not, God knoweth. And when I begin to come to myself, dawn is already breaking. But a thorn of the flesh has been given unto me, which causes me grief, that I not become puffed up. I can in no way be among people, especially people of the world, and I cannot even speak with women. I have been here in Moldavia already more that forty years, and no woman has been in my cell, although many have wished to converse with me; I refuse them, saying that I am ill. And I have undergone many temptations and tribulations at the hands of our enemy, the devil, and until this moment he has not departed from me. Moreover, I tell you that it has been more than fifty years since I left Russia, but I cannot forget it; I love it very much, especially the pious Russian Tsars. Always in my prayers for them I shed tears, that the Lord God protect the dominion of their kingdom unto the ages of ages. And although vicious wolves from the West shall creep over Russia to rend in pieces the flock of Christ, yet the Lord shall save and protect it from them. And also I shall tell you that I have always loved and do love until now to read books, especially the Gospels, the Psalter, St. Isaac the Syrian, and the Philokalia, and I have a fair number of other books, but all are now in the monastery. I have never kept money for myself and never received anything from others except books. And now forgive me that thou hast forced me to say so much. Let us go to the monastery, and I shall spend the night there and tomorrow morning I shall accompany thee.' And we went to the monastery."
This elder reposed four years later, in 1843. He was of medium stature, his hair had grown gray, and his beard was small and white. He was so shrivelled that one did not notice either blood or flesh on him, but only skin and bones. His face was radiant and joyous, and his eyes were ever filled with tears; he could never say anything without shedding tears. His discourse was calm, gentle, meek and penetrating, so that he could move anyone to tears with but a few words. His walk was brisk; he ate little and never partook of dainties. Primarily, he taught and instructed patience, obedience, fasting, humility, and love towards all. To some he taught contemplative knowledge of God, but not to all; in general he suggested to all that they carefully guard their person with the sign of the cross. He forbade everyone to use tobacco, and those whom he had exhorted two or three times to give up this practice but who nevertheless continued, he would no longer receive. He wept and was grieved for those that did not keep the holy fast on Wednesday and Friday, and said: "The people who of their own will do not keep the holy fasts live in their bodies, but their souls have died, for they have drawn down upon themselves the proscription of the Councils and of all the Holy Fathers." He even forbade friendships with such people. He came to the monastery every Saturday, but never took anything back with him to his hermitage because he would leave so quickly; as soon as he had taken Communion, he fled while the brethren were still in church; he would never go to the refectory since he never remained in the monastery long enough. Amen.
Translated from: Biographies of Strugglers for Piety of Our Native Land of the 18th and 19th Centuries, (l2voIs, Moscow: 1910), November vol., pp.389-402.