May 15, 2018

Saint Euphrosynus the Wonderworker of Pskov (+ 1481)

St. Euphrosynus of Pskov (Feast Day - May 15)

Saint Euphrosynus of Pskov, in the world Eleazar, was born in about the year 1386 in the village of Videlebo, near Pskov, the same village where Saint Nicander of Pskov (Sept. 24) had also been born. His parents wanted Eleazar to marry, but secretly he withdrew to the Snetogorsk Monastery (on the Snyatni hill, now in Pskov itself) and there accepted tonsure.

At that time the theologians at Pskov argued how many times – two or three – they should sing the word “Alleluia” in the prayer: “Alleluia, Alleluia, glory to Thee, O God!” The liturgical books sent by Metropolitan Cyprian in the late 14th century prescribed to sing “Alleluia” three times but the monks sang it twice. Saint Euphrosynus was a proponent of it being sung twice, while the Priest Job was a proponent of it being sung three times. To resolve this dispute, Saint Ephrosynus made a heavy trip to Constantinople some historians believe to have happened in the 1420s. In Constantinople the Saint got a blessing from the Patriarch Joseph II to stick to the old version and sing “Alleluia” twice. However, the Church of Constantinople recognized both practices thus leaving the theological dispute unresolved.

Upon his return from Constantinople, around the year 1425, searching for a place where he might devote himself to more intense prayer, Saint Euphrosynus with the blessing of the abbot moved to a solitary cell at the River Tolva, not far from Pskov. But concern for the salvation of his neighbor impelled the Saint to abandon his wilderness dwelling, and he began to receive everyone who was in need of an experienced Elder and guide. Saint Euphrosynus blessed those coming to him to live according to a skete rule, compiled by himself. One of the first disciples of Euphrosinus was the venerable Serapion of Pskov who led an austere ascetic life – he acquired the Great Schema and spent 55 years in silence.

The Rule of Saint Euphrosynus presents a rather generalized advice for monks about proceeding on the monastic path, “how it befits monks to dwell.” He does not address the strict regulation of all aspects of monastic life, as did, for example, the Rule of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk; there is nothing at all in it concerning the order of divine services.

In 1447 at the request of the brethren, Saint Euphrosynus built a church in honor of the Holy Three Hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, who appeared to him, and also in honor of Saint Onouphrios the Great (June 12). The monastery later received the name Spaso-Eleazarov. Out of humility and his love for the solitary life, the Saint did not wish to be abbot, but instead nominated his disciple Ignatius for this office. He then went to live in the forest near a lake.

Saint Euphrosynus died at the advanced age of ninety-five, on May 15, 1481. At his crypt, by order of Archbishop Gennadius of Novgorod, was placed an icon painted by his disciple Ignatius while the Saint was still alive. Also included was the last testament of the saint to the brethren on a piece of parchment, stamped with the lead seal of Archbishop Theophilus of Novgorod. This is one of very few surviving wills written by an ascetic in his own hand.

Saint Euphrosynus, the originator of Pskov wilderness life, taught many famed disciples, who also established monasteries, and planted the seeds of monasticism throughout the lands of Pskov. Among the disciples of Saint Euphrosynus were the Elders Sava of Krypetsk (Aug. 28; Saint Dositheus of Verkhneostrov (Oct. 8); Saint Onuphrius of Malsk (June 12); Saint Joachim of Opochsk (Sept. 9); Saint Hilarion of Gdovsk (Oct. 21); Saint Chariton of Kudinsk, founder and abbot of a monastery at Lake Kudina near Toroptsa; and the locally venerated brothers from Pskov Ignatius, Charalampos and Pamphilius, buried at the Spaso-Eleazar Monastery.

Saint Euphrosynus was officially glorified by the Church as a saint in 1549, for his contributions to monasticism in Pskov, his holy way of life, and his numerous miracles before and after his repose. Euphrosynus’s monastic rule and his legacy have survived to this day. The only source of his life is his hagiography dated not later than 1510. It is in fact dedicated to the debates between Euphrosynus and the Pskovian priest Job on the singing of Alleluia. One of the earliest surviving depictions of Saint Euphrosynus is embroidered on a cloth dating back to the second half of the 16th century. The cloth, formerly housed at the Church of Mid-Pentecost in the courtyard of Saint Eliazar Monastery in Pskov, is now located at the Pskov State United Museum of History, Architecture and Art.