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May 3, 2018

Saint Theodosius, Abbot of the Kiev Caves Monastery and Founder of Cenobitic Monasticism in Russia (+ 1074)

St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves (Feast Day - May 3)

Saint Theodosius of the Kiev Caves was the Father of cenobitic monasticism in Russia. He was born at Vasilevo, not far from Kiev. From his youth he felt an irresistible attraction for the ascetic life, and led an ascetic lifestyle while still in his parental home, wearing chains under his clothing. He disdained childish games and attractions, and constantly went to church. He asked his parents to let him study the holy books, and through his ability and rare zeal, he quickly learned to read the books, so that everyone was amazed at his intellect.

When he was fourteen, he lost his father and remained under the supervision of his mother, a strict and domineering woman who loved her son very much. Many times she chastised her son for his yearning for asceticism, but he remained firmly committed to his path.

At the age of twenty-four in 1032, he secretly left his parents’ home and Saint Anthony at the Kiev Caves Monastery blessed him to receive monastic tonsure with the name Theodosius. After four years his mother found him and tearfully begged him to return home, but the Saint persuaded her to remain in Kiev and to become a nun in the Monastery of Saint Nicholas at the Askold cemetery.

Saint Theodosius toiled at the monastery more than others, and he often took upon himself some of the work of the other brethren. He carried water, chopped wood, ground up the grain, and carried the flour to each monk. On cold nights he uncovered his body and let it serve as food for gnats and mosquitoes. His blood flowed, but the Saint occupied himself with handicrafts, and sang Psalms. He came to church before anyone else and, standing in one place, he did not leave it until the end of services. He also listened to the readings with particular attention.

In 1054 Saint Theodosius was ordained a hieromonk, and in 1057 he was chosen abbot. According to the Primary Chronicle:

"...the monastery was completed during the abbacy of Barlaam...When Barlaam had departed, the brethren...visited the aged Anthony [founder of the Monastery of the Caves, who was now living in deep seclusion] with the request that he should designate a new abbot for them. He inquired whom they desired. They replied that they required only the one designated by God and by his [Anthony's] own selection. Then he inquired of them: 'Who among you is more obedient, more modest, and more mild than Theodosius? Let him be your abbot.' The brethren rejoiced...and thus they appointed Theodosius to be their abbot."

The fame of his deeds attracted a number of monks to the monastery, at which he built a new church and cells, and he introduced the cenobitic rule of the Studion Monastery written by Saint Theodore the Studite, a copy of which he commissioned at Constantinople. This rule spread to all the monasteries of Russia. Again, according to the Primary Chronicle:

"When Theodosius took over in the monastery, he began to practice abstinence, fasting, and tearful prayer.... He also interested himself in searching out monastic rules. There was in Kiev at the time a monk from the Studion Monastery named Michael, who had come from Greece.... Theodosius inquired of him the practices of the Studite monks. He obtained their rule from him, copied it out, and established it in his own monastery to govern the chanting of monastic hymns, in making reverences, reading of the lessons, behavior in church, the whole ritual, conduct at the table, proper food for special days, and to regulate all else according to prescription. After obtaining all this information, Theodosius thus transmitted it to his monastery, and from the latter all others adopted the same instruction. Whereas the Monastery of the Caves is honored among the oldest of them all."

As abbot, Saint Theodosius continued his arduous duties at the monastery. He usually ate only dry bread and cooked greens without oil, and spent his nights in prayer without sleep. The brethren often noticed this, although the Saint tried to conceal his efforts from others. No one saw when Saint Theodosius dozed lightly, and usually he rested while sitting. During Great Lent the Saint withdrew into a cave near the monastery, where he struggled unseen by anyone. Shutting himself up in a cave, he took a little bread with him, and the door was covered with earth from the outside, and the monastery's brothers communicated with him only at extreme need through a small window, and then only on Saturday or Sunday. His attire was a coarse hairshirt worn against his body, which his disciple Nestor described as "appearing on him like a royal purple robe." He looked so much like a beggar that it was impossible to recognize in this old man the renowned abbot, deeply respected by all who knew him.

Once, Saint Theodosius was returning from visiting the Great Prince Izyaslav. The coachman, not recognizing him, said gruffly, “You, monk, are always on holiday, but I am constantly at work. Take my place, and let me ride in the carriage.” The holy elder meekly complied and drove the servant. Seeing how nobles along the way bowed to the monk driving the horses, the servant took fright, but the holy ascetic calmed him, and gave him a meal at the monastery. Trusting in God’s help, the Saint did not keep a large supply of food at the monastery, and therefore the brethren were in want of their daily bread. Through his prayers, however, unknown benefactors appeared at the monastery and furnished the necessities for the brethren.

The Great Princes, especially Izyaslav, loved to listen to the spiritual discourses of Saint Theodosius. The Saint was not afraid to denounce the mighty of this world. Those unjustly condemned always found a defender in him, and judges would review matters at the request of the abbot. He was particularly concerned for the destitute. He built a special courtyard for them at the monastery where anyone in need could receive food and drink.

Under Theodosius, the construction of the katholicon was started in honor of the Dormition of the Theotokos. He is also known as the founder and leader of one of the first ecclesiastical libraries in Russia - the Library of the Kiev Caves Lavra.

Sensing the approach of death, Saint Theodosius peacefully fell asleep in the Lord in the year 1074. He was buried in a cave which he dug, where he secluded himself during fasting periods.

The relics of the ascetic were found incorrupt by the brethren of the monastery, on August 14, 1091, and he was glorified as a saint in 1108. The relics were transferred to the main katholicon of the monastery, which had been consecrated in 1089 and being established by the Saint, and a second annual feast day was established in commemoration of this event.

Of the written works of Saint Theodosius six discourses, two letters to Great Prince Izyaslav, and a prayer for all Christians have survived to our time.

The Life of Saint Theodosius was written by Saint Nestor the Chronicler (Oct. 27), a disciple of the great Abba, only thirty years after his repose, and it was always one of the favorite readings of the Russian nation.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
From thy youth on wings of virtue thou didst speed on thy monastic way and attain to thy desire. Thou didst settle in a cave and live radiantly fasting, persevering in prayer like the Bodiless Ones. Thou didst illumine Russia as a shining lamp. O Father Theodosius, pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Today we venerate the star of Russia, blessed Theodosius, who has shone from the east to the west; he has enriched his whole land with miracles and blessings, and has established there the monastic life.