September 25, 2013

Father Innocent, the Beekeeper

Hierodeacon Innocent holding the trikiri-dikiri,
with honeybees swarming around

Many people have passed through the monastery apiary, but we will talk about one of them, about the beekeeper Father Innocent.

Father Innocent (Igor Petrov in the world) was born on May 15 (old style), 1915, in the Primorsk oblast, into the family of an Ussurian Cossack. Igor's mother was pious, and he himself had an inclination for prayer. His friends used to make fun of him, "Why do you keep praying all the time?" Many were surprised to see Igor constantly in church, alone among old women. In the days of Russia's upheaval, Igor's family left Russia at the same time as the White Army and ended up in Manchuria. There, Igor got married; there he also learned the apiary trade. From Manchuria, he moved to Australia together with his family. He became quite wealthy there, yet he always gave much to the poor. Riches could not hold back his pious soul in its aspiration to serve God.

In the second half of his life, Father Innocent decided to leave the vain world behind and to become a monk. Already at the monastery, in addition to serving as a Deacon, Father Innocent had two other monastic obediences: he worked at the apiary and also filled and lighted the icon lamps and the candles before the services.

At the apiary, Father Innocent worked without any protective netting. He was not scared of bees, and neither did they fear or sting him. He often said that bees were like his own children to him. When Father Innocent went to sing in the choir, the singers sometimes noticed a bee sitting on his cassock. He would gently pick up the bee, shake it off into his pocket, and then take it back to the apiary. This is what happened another time. On the second day of Pascha, the brothers were walking around the church in a procession. Suddenly, out of nowhere came a swarm of bees, and they all swooped down upon the lilac flowers that adorned the dikerion and the trikerion. The Subdeacons were afraid, so they quickly handed over the dikerion and the trikerion to Father Innocent, who was not in the least frightened, but was actually very pleased. He marched importantly along with the procession holding the dikerion and the trikerion, which were completely covered with bees.

While Father Innocent was alive, there was always plenty of honey in the monastery. He generously gave the honey away as a blessing from the monastery, and people gratefully made donations. Father Innocent received orders for honey from all the ends of the world: from Argentina, Australia, and other countries. Even though honey could be found anywhere, everyone wanted to get it specifically from Father Innocent, as a blessing. You could feel that his honey was produced with prayers.

And Father Innocent was a quite a man of prayer. The prayerful state was his natural condition. When at the apiary, Father Innocent worked in an unhurried, measured way, and he constantly prayed. To him, his monastic obedience was like the continuation of liturgy.

One time, the following instructive incident took place. Father Innocent had to go somewhere on business, and he said to his novice, "I will be right back, I just need to wash the lamp oil off my hands." So he left. Ten minutes went by, then half an hour, and he still did not come back. The novice went to see what had happened. He came and saw Father Innocent standing before the sink, holding his hands under water, in a state of semi-consciousness: he was immersed in prayerful contemplation.

Father Innocent practiced the prayer of Jesus and was able to see the spiritual world, both the Angelic and the demonic. For him, it was natural. Sometimes, he asked the people around him whether or not they sensed the presence of an unclean spirit. Obviously, nobody could see anything.

On several occasions, the demons beat Father Innocent up. The brothers of the monastery were bewildered by the marks of beating that sometimes appeared on his face. One time, Archimandrite Sergius (Romberg) whose cell was next to Father Innocent's, heard the sounds of bustle coming from his neighbor's room, and then everything was again quiet. In the morning, muffled moans sounded from Father Innocent's cell. Father Sergius went inside and saw that its owner had been shoved head first into a narrow opening between the bed head and the wall. At first, Father Sergius tried to pull Father Innocent out by himself, but he could not do it, so he called for two other brothers to help him. All three of them together barely managed to set Father Innocent free.

It is hard to say exactly how much Father Innocent slept. In the mornings, he got up before the other brothers to light the icon lamps in the church. In the evenings, coming back to his cell after Compline, Father Innocent began to read his monastic rule of prayer. He would become deeply immersed in prayer. He could stand in prayerful concentration before his icon corner for a long time afterwards. People often saw a light in his cell at night. They say that sometimes he stood like that until morning. And by then it was time for him to go back to church to light the icon lamps before the Midnight Office, which begins at five in the morning in Jordanville.

Father Innocent fasted rigorously, and so he was ascetically thin. Yet, he concealed his fast. In general, his behavior was modest and humble. If anyone was upset with him, he always tried to be the first to ask for forgiveness. He prostrated himself on the ground before the other person even when he was completely blameless himself. Whenever anyone asked Father Innocent for help, he tried to be of assistance. From all around the world people sent him letters of gratitude. They sent him donations, which he would then give away to the needy. He did not however accept money form anyone. Once, an Australian company sent the monastery a check for 10,000 dollars as payment for some services that Father Innocent had rendered them while still a layman. Yet, he flatly refused to cash the check and insisted that it was sent back.

Father Innocent deeply venerated the Royal Martyr Tsar Nicholas II and his family even before the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia were glorified in 1981. There was a portrait of the Royal Family in the seminary dormitory, and every morning Father Innocent came up to venerate it, and only afterwards would he set off on his obedience.

Towards the end of his life, Father Innocent had to give up his obedience at the apiary because of health problems, and to retire; nonetheless, he always wanted to know how his bee-children were doing. Soon, the doctors found that Father Innocent had cancer. The period of preparing for the passage to the other world began. Yet, the preparation was not too difficult for Father Innocent, because he had tried not to become too attached in his heart to anything worldly. It was not for nothing that his saying was, "summer - winter, summer - winter, and then we are gone."

One time, several of the brothers from the monastery went to the hospital to check on Father Innocent. He was unconscious when they arrived. They started discussing which Akathistos they should read as a prayer for his health. One of them said, "Why should we read any Akathistos - he cannot understand anything anyway?" Suddenly, to everyone's surprise, Father Innocent opened his eyes, turned to the brother who had spoken, and distinctly said, "You do not understand anything yourself!"

Father Innocent passed away on September 25 (old style), 1983. During the burial service, which took place on September 28 (old style), bees came out of nowhere and sat on Father Innocent's coffin, as though to see him off on his final journey. Thus, even dumb creatures can become obedient and loyal to a person who acquired the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

The brothers accidentally mixed up the date of Father Innocent's fortieth day. So, exactly on the fortieth day after his passing, one of the brothers who lived on the fourth floor of the monastery building suddenly heard a gentle, but insistent knocking on the window of his cell. He looked out of the window, but obviously could not see anyone. He then hid next to the window, and to his amazement saw bees flying up to it and colliding against the glass. The brother went to see Archimandrite Vladimir (Sukhobok). Upon consulting the calendar, they found out that they had made a mistake when calculating the fortieth day. They realized that day was actually the fortieth day, and that the Lord miraculously reminded them of it through bees. The mistake was taken care of, and the monastery brethren celebrated Father Hiero-Deacon Innocent's memory on time.

In conclusion, we shall quote from the letter of one of the brothers of the monastery written after Father Innocent's death, "…Today we have buried our beloved and loving Father Innocent. He died from liver cancer in the Cooperstown hospital around seven o'clock in the evening, on Sunday, September 12/25, on the last day of the After-feast of the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos. He took Holy Communion for the last time several days before his death. You could say that towards the end of his hospital stay, where he probably spent 5 or 6 weeks, he took Holy Communion weekly. It would of course have been better for him to die here, at home. By the way, Father Hermogene is now dying from the same disease here at home. He is conscious, but he does not eat anything. He has become really thin and suffers a lot. Yet, Father Hermogene is preparing to die just as Father Innocent did it, as a monk. Father Innocent was buried in the very corner of the brother's cemetery, next to Father Gerontius and Father Joseph (Ivan Kozlov, the accountant). Thus, the ranks slowly become filled.

Though the news of Father Innocent's death is sad, it is joyous at the same time. There is a festive feeling in the heart. This joy does not let the soul mourn. The feeling of love and tenderness can be expressed in the words of the Prokimenon, "Blessed is the way in which thou shalt walk today, Brother, for a place of repose is prepared for thee," and in the words of the last sticheron, "My spiritual brethren and friends in fasting, do not forget me when you pray, but when you see my tomb recall my love, and pray Christ that He may settle my soul with the righteous."

Our own Father Nicodemus from Mount Athos wrote in the prayer diary of Father Theodosius of Carulla (I have read it recently), "Not long after the elder's death, I ran across a saying he used to have in the book by Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov). 'If on the day of someone's passing there is joy in your heart, it is a sign that his soul has been accepted by God."

Several months before Father Innocent's death, I visited him (which I did quite often in order to see how he was doing, or to help him in some way, or to chat, etc.) and found him in awful terror. I asked him, "Father Innocent, what is wrong?" He spoke nervously and quickly through his tears, "Death… I felt such a fear of death. I will be dead soon…" The rest of his words were almost incoherent, but he repeated the last sentence twice. Not long afterwards he became ill, yet, everyone thought that he had grown weak from fasting too rigorously, which in part was true. The brothers tried to fatten him up, but he refused everything, so the others and I often scolded him for it. His condition became worse; we turned to the doctors, but they could not tell what was wrong with him. In the end, they realized that he had cancer and that he was beyond cure. His daughter came from Australia. During his illness, he suffered greatly from attacks of the dark spirits; yet, the Lord "succored him" as the psalms say. He was told to fight and not to give in. Thank God, he came out of the fight as the winner, as was attested by the fact that both before and after his burial service he appeared to people, as he often said, "Glory be to God! Glory be to God for everything!"

Three different people saw Father Innocent in dreams. He first appeared to Father Methodius, his brother Hiero-Deacon. Father Methodius told me later, "I saw him in the refectory, I think, and I asked him, 'So, how are you over there?' He said, 'Good, very good… Now everything is fine…' and he was all glowing and so joyful."

This happened three days before Father Innocent's death. Afterwards, I heard that he had also appeared in a dream to a seminarian. The seminarian saw Father Innocent in church, already in his coffin, dressed in white. Yet, for some reason, the coffin was turned towards the people (that is backwards), and Father Innocent was moving inside the coffin. Father Vladimir (Sukhobok) commented on it, "He fought a lot against the demons here, and so he still fights against them over there, but not for himself anymore, but for us."

The third time, Father Innocent appeared to a woman pilgrim who deeply respected and loved him. He was glowing and joyous.

When he was brought in from the hospital and we were dressing him, I noticed that his face was very serene. For two nights, they read the Psalter over him, and during the second night in particular, I noticed how pleasant it was to read and how comfortable the church felt.

Archbishop Laurus officiated the burial service together with several of the Archimandrites and Hiero-Monks. There were not too many people present; yet, you could say that the church was full. All through the service, I thought of the many ordeals, temptations, ascetic feats, and hardships that he had undergone, and how he had endured everything. He did not judge others, forgave those who had offended him, was always friendly; people hardly ever saw him unhappy. And, as everyone knew, he loved a lot.

When they were already letting down his coffin into the grave, a thought flashed across my mind, "Will God show that his soul has been accepted?" When I answered this thought with, "May everything be according to God's Will," a beautiful autumn leaf fell off a tree right in the middle of the cross on top of the cover of the coffin. The others might not have paid attention to it, but I noticed for sure that at that very moment a bird started singing. After twelve prostrations, I went to walk back His Grace, because I was subdeaconing. But people said that afterwards there came a swarm of bees. They circled around the grave and rested on the coffin. Father Innocent's workers came to bid farewell to their loving master.

In the evening, after the Vespers and the Matins and right before dinner, I went to Father Innocent's grave thinking and praying. Suddenly I saw a cat, which was slowly approaching the grave. The cat sniffed it, dug the mound with its paw, and then started running around it as if playing with someone. Then another cat came, and then a third one, and a fourth one! They were all playing joyfully completely unabashed by my presence. I was touched and thanked God for allowing me to see such a miracle.

'Blessed are they whom Thou hast chosen and hast taken to Thyself, O Lord.'

Rest, dear Father Innocent, from your many labors and pray to God that He may save our souls."

Source: From The Jordanville Paterikon, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY.