December 18, 2014

Saint Daniel the Hesychast, Father of the Moldavian Hesychasts

St. Daniel the Hesychast (Feast Day - December 18)

Saint Daniel the Hesychast, the great wonderworker and instructor of monastics, was born in Moldavia at the beginning of the fifteenth century. He was baptized with the name Dumitru. When he was sixteen, he became a monk of the monastery of St Nicholas at Radauti and received the name David. His spiritual Father was Saint Leontius of Radauti (July 1). After many years of ascetical struggles, he became a chosen vessel of the Spirit and was ordained to the holy priesthood.

He lived for some years at the Monastery of Saint Lawrence in the Vicoul de Sus district. There he fulfilled his obediences during the day, and at night he kept vigil, prayed, and wove baskets. He received the Great Schema and the new name Daniel. He obtained the abbot's blessing to live in the wilderness in solitude, where he devoted himself to spiritual struggles. Around 1450, he lived near the Neamts Monastery by Secu Creek for fourteen years. In time, people discovered where he lived and came to visit him. Longing for solitude, he moved to northern Moldavia and chiseled out a cell for himself in the face of a cliff near Putna Creek. Next to it, he carved out a small chapel for prayer.

After his spiritual child Saint Stephen the Great (July 2) built the Putna Monastery, which was consecrated in 1470, Saint Daniel moved near the Voronets Monastery. Here too, he carved a small cell out of the rock under Soim (Falcon) Cliff and lived a God-pleasing life for the next twenty years. He guided many disciples in the principles of the spiritual life, and he also had the gift of healing the sick of their physical infirmities.

In 1488, when he was over eighty years old, Saint Daniel went to live at the Voronets Monastery, where he was chosen to be the abbot.

Saint Daniel was a great ascetic and wonderworker, wise and clairvoyant. People from near and far visited him seeking his spiritual advice, or to confess their sins. He died in 1496 and was buried at the Voronet Monastery, where people continue to venerate his tomb.

Saint Daniel was glorified by the Romanian Orthodox Church on 20 July 1992.

According to Archimandrite Ioanichie (Bălan):

"By the holiness of his life, Saint Daniel the Hesychast showed himself to be a Christ-bearer and a great teacher of silence and the Jesus Prayer or even from his youth. During his lifetime there was no hesychast and spiritual father in Moldavia more renowned than he, nor any doer and teacher of prayer more skilled. For this reason all the abbots and spiritual fathers of northern Moldavia, as well as the high officials of the National Council (the Sfat), had him as their spiritual father."

As a monk Saint Daniel "loved silence, fasting, and prayer most of all.... In his cell he slept a little on a small stool, keeping vigil often and meditating on divine things. He loved the Psalter greatly, knew it by heart, and repeated it daily."

Fr Ioanichie refers to Saint Daniel’s life in a cliffside cell in the valley of Viteu Brook:

"The asceticism practiced by our holy Father Daniel the Hesychast in his cell was this: Day and night he kept vigil in unceasing prayer and meditation on divine things, fasting until sunset. He didn’t leave his cell all week. His food was dried bread, roots, and herbs, and for handiwork he wove baskets of withes. On Sunday he celebrated the Divine Liturgy and communed the Body and Blood of Christ. Afterwards he received those who came to him for healing and for a profitable word. During the fasts he would fast for as much as three and sometimes five days. He had the gift of prayer and tears."

Fr. John McGuckin refers to Saint Daniel’s counsel to Saint Stephen during his battles with the Turks as an example of the ambivalent attitude to war and violence in the Eastern Church. Fr. McGuckin writes:

"The saint commanded the prince to erect monasteries on the site of the great battles, to ensure mourning and prayer for the lost souls whose blood had been shed. This was an act that was seen as a necessary expiation of Petru’s ‘equally necessary’ violence. Both he and his spiritual mentor were heavily burdened by their perceived duty of defending the borders of Christendom. To this day Romania’s most ancient and beautiful churches stand as mute witnesses to a bloody history where Islam and Christianity’s tectonic plates collided (as often they did in the history of the Christian East)."

Fr. Ioanichie concludes: "His soul was wounded by the love of Christ and he desired to glorify Him unceasingly with the angels and with the hesychasts who lived in the Carpathian forests."

The image at the top of the post represents the first depiction of Saint Daniel "as a Saint with a halo". It was painted by his disciple, Metropolitan Gregory (Roşca) "in 1547 on the southern wall of Voroneţ Monastery, to the left of the entrance to the pridvor as can still be seen today. He is holding in his hand an open scroll on which is written, 'Come, brothers, hearken unto me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Who is the man...' (Ps. 33)."