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September 22, 2017

Saint Jonah the Abbot of Yashezersky (+ early 17th cent.)

St. Jonah of Yashezersky (Feast Day - September 22)

Saint Jonah of Yash Lake was born in the village of Shoksha, sixteen versts from the monastery later established by him. In his youth he heard of the exploits of Saint Alexander of Svir, and desired to imitate his way of life by becoming one of his last disciples at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity at the Svir River. Saint Alexander foresaw the great grace of God in Jonah and accepted him as one of his spiritual children. Shortly before Alexander's death in 1533, Jonah received from him the blessing to live an ascetic life in the forest near his homeland. There he found the remains of an ancient pagan temple, where he planted a cross and chose as the place of his abode.

A lot of sorrows and privations fell on the lot of Jonah, and he was constantly in need of the most necessary things, while overcome by forest insects in the summer, and in the winter by wild animals. After spending many years in perfect silence and away from the vain world, Jonah ascended to spiritual perfection. And as a lamp cannot hide in the night, so the exploits of God's saints could not long be hidden from people seeking salvation. The glory of the great ascetic of piety earned him comrades-in-arms. From the forest trails on all sides there began to flock to him desert lovers.

Now having become a spiritual father, Jonah decided to build a monastery. The foundation of the monastery he established took place in 1580, when a wooden church was built in honor of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, and eight monks joined together with the Saint Jonah to labor in asceticism.

Saint Jonah toiled with great concern over the building up of the monastery. Thus, for example, in order to ease the catching of fish, he himself dug a channel from Yash Lake to the nearby Lake Senno. He often rode horseback along the solitary paths of the forest in search of necessities for the monastery. Due to the poverty of the monastery, he petitioned the Metropolitan of Novgorod to be released from taxes, and it was granted on 1 June 1589. The released funds from the taxes went to the construction of a new church of the Transfiguration of the Lord, the construction of which was started in 1628 and completed in a year.

The ascetic made vessels from wood to be used for the divine services. In time the monk became known for his holy life far beyond the bounds of the monastery. Many pilgrims brought gifts, among which also were ecclesiastical service books. The boundaries of the monastery expanded, and the number of churches increased. Profound love and reverence for the ascetic were demonstrated by Metropolitan Isidore of Novgorod, by Abbot James of the Solovki Monastery, by Saint Irenarchus (July 17), and also by many other contemporaries in government and ecclesiastical life.

When the life of Saint Jonah was coming to an end, he retired to a cave that was 1.5 versts from the monastery. In it, he spent the last days of his life. The brotherhood did not leave their mentor and, visiting him, asked for advice and spiritual instruction. One day, when they came to Jonah and announced who they were by saying a prayer, the monks did not hear a salutatory response to it and, having entered the cave, found their blessed mentor, who always moved away from the vanities of the world, resettled in a world devoid of all fuss. This took place in the early seventeenth century. They then took his honorable relic and buried him in the Annunciation Monastery founded by him. Over the centuries his tomb became a vessel of divine grace that brought healings to many who approached it with faith.