|St. Feofil of the Kiev Caves (Feast Day - October 28)|
In October 1788, twin boys were born to Andrei and Evfrosiniya Gorenkovsky in the town of Makhnovo near Kyiv. The oldest of them was named Foma and the younger was named Kalliniky.
From his infancy, Foma began to display unusual characteristics and naturally his parents became concerned. He would regularly refuse to drink his mother’s milk and was distant when it came to playful interaction with her. Evfrosiniya began to take this rejection from her son personally and her heart hardened toward him. She thought that he was possessed by a demon and one day devised a plan to destroy him once and for all. Evfrosiniya called her servant and secretly confided in her, telling her to take Foma to the river at the crack of dawn, and throw him in it. The servant begged and pleaded with Evfrosiniya not to make her do such an unthinkable act, but Evfrosiniya’s heart was completely hard and the servant’s pleas fell on deaf ears. In the end, the servant submitted to her.
Early one morning, the servant took Foma in her arms and went down to the river. Making the sign of the cross, she dropped Foma in the water. She was not prepared for what would happen next. Foma came up to the surface of the water, floated peacefully to the opposite bank and was cast onto dry land. God had clearly saved the child from drowning. She couldn’t believe what she had just witnessed and quickly crossed the river picking Foma up in her arms. The child was sound asleep. Fearing the wrath of Evfrosiniya, she decided to quickly put an end to the task at hand and without thinking; she threw Foma in the river again. Again she witnessed God’s providence in the life of Foma as the waves carried the child to a small island in the river and cast him, once more, onto dry land.
Terrified by such an undeniable miracle, she took the child in her arms and returned to Evfrosiniya saying; “You can kill me if you want to, but I will not drown an innocent child! God Himself, by a miracle, is saving his life and we will suffer for our cruel murder!” Again her words fell on deaf ears and determined to rid herself of Foma for good; Evfrosiniya took the baby from the frightened servant girl and set out for the river.
On her way down to the river, she came to a mill that was near their house. Since it was still early with no one around, Evfrosiniya walked up to it, found a good place and threw Foma to crush him under the wheel itself. Thinking she had accomplished her mission, she began to walk away peacefully when suddenly the millstone stopped! The pressure of the water caused a tremendous roar and Evfrosiniya fled with fear. When the miller heard the uproar he ran outside to see what all the commotion was. The wheels shook violently from the tremendous amount of pressure of the water pouring into them. The miller came out and saw the baby floating in the whirlpool caused by the rushing water and as soon as he removed the child from the water, the wheels began to turn again.
The servant had followed Evfrosiniya to the mill and when she saw this third miracle, she began to weep bitterly. She came to the miller and told him everything she had seen. Fearing the fate of the child in the hands of such a cruel and heartless mother, the miller returned Foma to his father, Andrei. The heart broken father wanted the best for his son and decided to put Foma in the care of a wet nurse. The wet nurse proved to be a good woman. She cared for Foma as if he were her own son and gave daily reports to the father. Several months had passed and Foma’s father began to feel that his time on earth was drawing to a close. Concerned for the well-being of Foma, he spoke with the good miller and asked him to care for the child.
The miller was happy to care for Foma, seeing it as a blessing from God. When the story of these miracles spread across the region a wealthy peasant from the town of Makhnovo begged the miller to let him care for the child. “I have no children and I need an heir to all I posses” pleaded the wealthy peasant. The miller, wanting Foma to have the happiness of living under the shelter of a wealthy man, gave him over to the care of the peasant who cared for him and provided for his every need.
Foma grew up a foster child as he was moved from one place to another, never really able to get too comfortable in any one place. Foma was beginning to take up the cross of Him Who, during His life on earth, did not have a place to lay his head. Even as a child, he wasn’t interested in the same things as other children of his age group. Most of the time, instead of playing, he would go sit by himself somewhere as if in deep meditation. From an early age he began praying and fasting. He would pray for God to soften his mother’s heart toward him. He loved God’s Church dearly and would never miss a single service. People began to notice that Foma was definitely an extraordinary and special child.
One day Foma learned that his mother had been struck with a terminal illness and in pity for her he decided to visit her. Foma’s prayers for his mother were answered by God because her heart had become tender toward him and sobbing bitterly, she begged his forgiveness. She pressed him tightly against her maternal breast and making the sign of the cross upon him, she gave her spirit up to the Lord. Foma closed her eyes with his own hands and handed over the body of his mother for burial.
Foma learned to read and write and excelled in his studies, however, when the time came, he had no interest in continuing on in higher education. Foma spent more and more time at church choosing to gain a different type of wisdom than the world was offering. He began to think about the monastic life and sought to enter a monastery.
In 1812, Foma entered the Kyiv Bratsky Monastery as a novice. There he fulfilled various obediences including mixing dough and baking bread. He also cooked in the kitchen and helped out in the hospital as an assistant. He would eventually become the sacristan and bell-ringer. The Abbot of the monastery took notice that Foma had tremendous fervor for spiritual podvigs (struggles) and tonsured him a monk on December 11, 1821. At the time of his tonsure, Foma was re-named Feodorit.
Less than a year later on September 30, 1822 Feodorit was elevated to the rank of Hierodeacon (deacon-monk). According to his new position, he began to receive a small income, but he increased his fasting and gave all of his money to the needy. “What is it to me, this flesh and blood, which one day will turn to dust,” Feodorit would say and then would redouble his fasting. He became a servant to everyone around him, even fulfilling the obediences of those in the lowest order becoming like a bought slave.
On February 6, 1827 Feodorit was ordained Hieromonk (priest-monk) and simultaneously appointed steward of the Bratsky Monastery. This was a great honor and the position was desires by many. It was also a very solicitous position, however, and Feodorit immediately requested to be removed from the stewardship and refused all obediences. He asked to be moved to the caves so that he could focus only on prayer and fasting, but was denied his request. After this, he sought an even deeper asceticism and took upon himself the great podvig of “fool-for-Christ’s sake.” His spiritual strength increased daily and having achieved the highest podvig of monastic life, he was tonsured with the great schema on December 9, 1834 and was re-named Feofil. The great schema is an image of bodily death and a struggling upward to ascend into eternity.
Starets Feofil walked a very narrow and sorrowful path so that he could be free from the everyday passions of the world. He was always seen with his eyes lowered to the ground, walking peacefully from his cell to the Church. From the time he was young, he never missed a single service. Feofil was always seen with a basket full of provisions for the needy and a spiritual Psalter. He placed a coffin in his cell, but he didn’t lie in it as would the ancient ascetics of piety. Instead he filled it with various provisions and dishes to be given away to those in need.
Even though God saw his righteousness, Feofil was so dead to this world that even the monks in his Lavra thought his otherworldly behavior was odd. He never buttoned his monastic robe and always left it dirty and stained with dough and oil from cooking. He would sometimes run into the Church and push people aside, and falling to his knees he would pray very loudly, then get up and run out of the Church again. When it was Feofil’s turn to read the Psalter in the Church, he would read that so that nobody could hear him and the monks would remark to him, “Read more loudly Father.” Then the Starets would read even quieter, sometimes shutting the book and leaving the other monks at the kliros in confusion. Feofil would often go and kneel upon a large tree stump for whole days, constantly bewailing the corruption of the times and praying for the forgiveness of the sinful world. The more Feofil’s spirit was purified in his struggles, the more slovenly he was dressed. The more he became like an angel, the more dead to this world and even to his Lavra he became.
Feofil’s behavior was so set apart from the world that the monks who thought he was odd would even play jokes on him. Once while in the Church, the Saint left his beloved Psalter, which he had memorized, and went outside to pray and walk through the graveyard during the service. Seeing this, one of the monks decided to play a cruel trick on the Starets and hide his Psalter from him. When Feofil came back in the Church, he did not even walk back to where he had left the Psalter, but walked right up to the monk who had hidden it in his pocket and said to him, “Oh elder, elder. You must die tomorrow and you play evil tricks today. Woe unto you.” As the Saint had said, so it happened and the elderly monk died the next morning.
God saw Feofil’s heart and illumined him with heavenly wisdom and discernment. He was able to accurately predict events of the visible world as well as the secret things in people’s hearts. With this gift he was able to lead countless people to repentance and reconciliation with the Savior. In fact, at the hour of his death, when it was time to give his spirit up to the Lord, he called for a box to be placed in and sent one of his cell-mates to the Superior of the hermitage to inform him that “Feofil has demised; toll the bell.” At the moment of Blessed Feofil’s repose one of his cell mates named Dimitry witnessed the roof of the cell rise up and the blue sky reaching down as if to receive the holy soul of the dying Righteous One. Blessed Feofil yielded his spirit up to the Lord and instantly, the room returned to normal.
When the news of Blessed Feofil’s repose spread, it brought great crowds to the Kitayevskaya Hermitage. People just wanting to see or touch the blessed one one last time came from all over the region. The starets’ (elder’s) coffin was completely covered with candles on all sides by his numerous followers.
Blessed Feofil performed numerous miracles during his life and continues to perform miracles to this day. There are so many, in fact, that one could probably write a book just on the miracles performed by God through blessed Feofil.
Ivan Katkov (the butcher from Podol who had brought the horse to Feofil at the Bratsky Monastery) came to the Starets for confession and while telling the Blessed One about his affairs, he mentioned that he acquired a young bull of a very unstable nature.
“I bought a bullock, Batiushka. I had planned to keep it myself but I don’t know what to do with it. The brute has become stupid and gores at everyone with its horns. I suppose I shall have to butcher it, sorry as I am about it.”
“Then give it to me,” said the Starets (Elder).
“To you? God have mercy, why it’s impossible even to approach him! Several people have already been crippled by him.”
“Never mind, we will teach him humility.”
“But how can I…”
“Very simple. Go up to him and say, ‘Look here, little bull! From now on you are no longer mine, but Father Feofil’s. Prepare to visit him’.”
The butcher did exactly as he was told. Upon returning home, he walked up to the bullock and repeated the words of the Starets, and the bullock, which had been snorting and pawing the ground, became as meek as a lamb. It began to quietly caress and lick the man’s hands. Then a worker slipped a rope over his horns and by dusk the young bull had been settled with Father Feofil at the Kitayevskaya Hermitage.
Now that he had the little bull, the Blessed One built a small cart with a little sailcloth hood set up on hoops in the rear of it. The Starets would travel to the city in this contraption. He never sat in front of the cart, but always in the rear with his back to the bull. He had placed a small analoy under this hood and he would falI on his knees and read his beloved Psalter as he journeyed. But here is what was so astonishing. The bullock had neither harness nor reins, but only a yoke. The bull went precisely where its master wanted to go without any command, directions, guiding or prodding whatsoever, whether it was to Podol, the Lavra or the Bratsky Monastery. It is said that the bullock even went around stones, ruts, and ditches in order not to jog the Blessed One from his reading.
One of the Metropolitan’s singer’s, Nikolai, had such overwhelming passions of the flesh that he was considered possessed since they did not leave his mind day or night. One day in spring, while taking a stroll in the woods, he met Starets Feofil. Hoping to avoid any conversation that might lead to a discussion of his affliction, he tried to turn aside.
“Haloo, Nikolai, wait up,” the Blessed One called out to him.
“Where are you going? Come here to me. We will delight in lascivious thoughts together.”
Nikolai felt that he had been accused and wept sorrowfully before the Starets.
“Well, that’s nothing. The Lord is merciful,” the Starets said to him in consolation. “Let’s go and pray to Him.”
He knelt and began to pray. In- half an hour he rose and, with a tender face, turned to the sufferer saying:
“Well, go. Lascivious thoughts will no longer disturb you.”
Immediately after this the youth was healed of his ailment and his body was no longer consumed with lascivious passions.
The Blessed One was walking along the shore of the Dnieper to the Lavra. His cellmate, Panteleimon, was with him, and it was about two hours before the church bells begin to ring. Coming to the place where the Lavra caves dominate the hill, the Starets saw a boat tied on the shore of the Dnieper and said:
“Do you know what I’ve thought of, Panteleimon?”
“What is that, Batiushka?”
“Let us both go over to the other side of the Dnieper. No one over there is praying to God, so we’ll pray for everyone and then read the holy Psalter.”
“As you wish, Batiushka.”
The two came up to the shore and the Blessed One untied the boat which was without an oar, then told Panteleimon to sit down in it-
“But how will we go?” the cellmate asked him in bewilderment. “There is no oar, Batiushka. I will run for an oar; there is a guard house nearby.”
“No need. Sit down, I tell you.”
“But what about the oar? Or will we use our hands?’
“What do you, need an oar for, you simpleton?”
“To move ahead in the water. To steer the boat.”
“Sit down! Sit down! The Lord directs the whole world and He will direct our little shell.”
Panteleimon sat down and watched to see what would happen next. The Blessed One pushed the little boat away from the shore, seated himself in the stern and opened his Psalter.
“Bless, O Lord!” he said and immersed himself in his reading.
And what a miracle! The boat peacefully went ahead by itself. Panteleimon sat amazed and breathless. He could not utter a single word. The ripples of the river rocked the frail vessel. The sun was warmly shining and a gentle breeze was blowing. The distance to the opposite shore grew less.
Suddenly, something flashed before the eyes of the cell-mate. From the water leapt several gold fish and, landing in the bottom of the boat, they began to play about, their scales brightly sparkling in the sun. Panteleimon glanced at the Blessed Starets in utter bewilderment.
“Silence! Be quiet!” the Blessed One said. “These are God’s angels. The Lord has sent them for our consolation.”
Panteleimon entered an indescribable rapture and sat staring at the fish. As the boat began to near the shore, the fish leapt over the side and disappeared into the depths.
On the return trip, the very same thing occurred.
“Guard your lips,” said the Starets to his cell-mate as they left the banks of the Dnieper, “and place a barrier to your mouth. See that you do not tell anyone about what you saw until after I die.”
Panteleimon kept all this in great secret until the repose of the Blessed Starets and only after his repose did he begin to tell about this miracle to many of the Lavra brothers.
One day in May of 1853, about six months before his death, the Blessed One said to his cellmate:
“Panteleimon! Let us go into the woods and pray to God.”
As they walked, the Starets read the Gospel, sang the psalms, and knitted a stocking, while Panteleimon cut hay along the way and gathered it into a net in order to treat the bullock on their return home. They walked an exceptionally long way, and when evening came on and the sun began to set, the travelers turned homeward. Walking past the place where the Preobra-zhenskaya Hermitage now stands, the Starets stopped and said:
“How about resting on this hill for a while, Panteleimon, and feasting our eyes on the view of the Holy Lavra?”
The weary cellmate was just waiting for this and he spread out on the grass and began to doze off. Starets Feofil took out a piece of ice put it in water and added some honey and drank it in order to strengthen his exhausted body. Half an hour passed. Suddenly, the Blessed One cried:
“Panteleimon! Some strangers are approaching. Run out and call them here.”
The drowsy cellmate raised his head and saw a group of pilgrims coming down the road. He called them over to the Starets.
“May God help you!” the Blessed One greeted them.
“Thank you, Batiushka (Priest),” the men replied.
“Perhaps you haven’t had anything to eat yet?” asked Feofil.
“Hardly, Batiushka. We’ve chewed on some dried bread crusts in water but there has been no hot food on our tongue for a whole week.”
“Never mind. Sit down and chat for a while. The Mother of God will feed everyone at once.”
Then, having seated the travelers, the Blessed One took a small cast-iron tripod out of his basket, dug a small hole in the ground, and sent Panteleimon out to gather some twigs.
“Twigs?! What good will they do to you, Batiushka!” the bewildered cellmate responded, knowing that there was nothing to cook.
“Simpleton!” the Blessed One chided him. “We’ll boil gruel. You see, it is necessary to feed the pilgrims.”
The twigs were brought but there was still no fire.
“What trouble!” Panteleimon exclaimed with annoyance. “There is nothing to start a fire with, Batiushka.”
“And God?!” the Starets said impressively.
Then raising his eyes, he began to pray:
“O Lord! At Thy command, fire goes before Thee and lightning illumines the heavens. Hear, O Lord, the voice of my prayers when I call unto Thee, when I raise my hands to Thy holy temple. Hear my supplications; may the poor eat and be filled and praise Thy All-Blessed Name!”
With these words, he prostrated to the east and then blessed the little tri-pod saying, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. . . ”
But barely had he finished these words when, from under the tripod, a wisp of blue smoke appeared. The twigs began to smoke and soon burst into bright flames.
Upon seeing such a miracle, Panteleimon wanted to run but the Starets stopped him and, wagging his finger, he ordered him to throw some short grass into the pot while he himself dropped in several pebbles and a piece of ice taken from the basket. When all this began to boil, the Blessed One, not interrupting his mental prayer, blessed the tripod once more and mixed the contents of the pot.
“Well, taste it now,” he said, turning to his cellmate.
Panteleimon scooped out a bit of the gruel on the end of a spoon and carefully licked it with his tongue. Then he scooped up a whole spoonful and ate it.
“Batiushka!!” he cried out in astonishment. “Really and truly, it’s semolina (a type of porridge).”
“Hurry and pour it out for the guests, simpleton, before it gets cold.”
The cellmate, joyously and with fear, seized the pot and began to ladle out the gruel into the traveling cups of the dumbfounded pilgrims. But no matter how much he poured out, the amount of gruel in the pot did not lessen. Everyone had been provided for and had eaten his fill, but the pot remained full. Just as the loaves and fishes were multiplied in the wilderness to feed the multitude, so also was the gruel now multiplied in answer to the prayers of Starets Feofil.
“Well, God be with you,” said the Blessed One gently, turning to the travelers when they had finished eating. “Go to the Holy Lavra and pray for everyone.”
Completely staggered by the miracle they had just witnessed with their own eyes, the pilgrims set out for the Lavra and there began to tell everyone, with joy and fear of the miracle. For all that you ask in prayer, with true faith, you will receive.