June 26, 2018

Saint Dionysius, Archbishop of Suzdal (+ 1385)

St. Dionysius of Suzdal (Feast Days - October 15 & June 26)

Dionysius, Archbishop of Suzdal, in the world David, was a native of the Duchy of Kiev and tonsured at the Kiev Caves Lavra with the name Dionysius and made a Hieromonk. He arrived at the Volga with an icon of the Mother of God that he had received as a blessing from Saints Anthony and Theodosius. Saint Dionysius dug out a cave not far from Nizhni-Novgorod and struggled in total solitude. Brethren constantly thronged to the holy ascetic and in the year 1335 he founded a monastery in honor of the Ascension of the Lord known as the Pechersky Monastery.

Among the students of Saint Dionysius were Saints Euthymius of Suzdal (Apr. 1) and Macarius of Zheltovod and Unzha (July 25). In the year 1352 the holy Elder sent twelve of his brethren to “the upper cities and countryside, whom God would bless” for the spiritual enlightenment of the people and the organizing of new monasteries. The Monastery of Saint Dionysius exerted a deep charitable influence on the inhabitants of Nizhni-Novgorod. In the year 1371 the Saint tonsured into monasticism the forty-year-old widow of Prince Andrew Constantinovich, an example of how he accepted into monasticism “various dignitaries: women, widowers, and virgins.”

In 1374, he was consecrated the Bishop of Suzdal and won the love and respect on the part of the locals. His years of service as bishop occurred during a remarkable period, for Russia was rising to cast off the Mongol-Tatar Yoke. On March 31, 1375 the Tatar military-chief, having been shown to the bishop’s court by the enslaved inhabitants of Nizhni-Novgorod, shot an arrow at Saint Dionysius, but the Lord preserved his chosen one, and the arrow struck only the bishop’s mantle. In 1377, through the blessing of Saint Dionysius (who may have edited the document), the Lavrentian Chronicle was compiled by Saint Laurence, inspiring Russia in its struggle for freedom.

In 1378, Dionysius was recommended as Metropolitan of Kiev by Saint Sergius of Radonezh after the death of Metropolitan Alexius. However, Grand Prince Dmitri Donskoi had his own candidate – a priest by the name of Mikhail (Mityaya). Dionysius was one of a number of bishops at the synod who opposed Mikhail, who was suspected of the heresy of the Strigolniki. Active participants of the sect were tradespeople and low-ranking clergy. They renounced all ecclesiastic hierarchy and monasticism, sacraments of priesthood, communion, repentance, and baptism, which had been accompanied by large fees ("extortions", in their view) to the benefit of the clergy. Criticizing and exposing the venality, vices, and ignorance of the priests, the Strigolniki demanded the right to a religious sermon for laymen. Their sermons were full of social motifs: they reproached the rich for enslaving the free and the poor. If elected, Mikhail wanted to introduce a new way of enthroning the Metropolitan at home, in Russia, rather than traveling to Constantinople to be installed by the Ecumenical Patriarch (at the time, Russia was not yet an autocephalous Church).

Dionysius before Dimitri Donskoi

In 1379 Dionysius went to Constantinople carrying a protest against the choice of Mikhail addressed to the Ecumenical Patriarch. Mikhail was afraid that Dionysius would get the patriarch's blessing and followed him to Constantinople. However, Mikhail died on his way there and one of his accompanying clergymen, Archmandrite Pimen, reached Constantinople before Dionysius and was named Metropolitan of Moscow and All Rus' in place of Mikhail. Dionysius made a strong impression upon the Romans by his sublime spiritual frame of mind and his profound knowledge of Holy Scripture. Patriarch Neilos of Constantinople, having termed the Saint “a warrior of God and a spiritual man,” wrote that he himself saw him “in fasting and charity, and vigil, and prayers, and tears, and every other virtue.” From Constantinople Saint Dionysius sent two copies of the Hodigitria Icon of the Mother of God to a Synod at Suzdal. In 1382 the bishop received the title of archbishop from the patriarch. Returning to Russia, the Saint traveled to Pskov and Novgorod to struggle against the heresy of the Strigolniki, as well as his see in Suzdal.

Dionysius made Metropolitan of Kiev

Archbishop Dionysius also implored Dimitri Donskoi against Pimen, whom he viewed as a usurper, since no one in the Russian Church, not even the Great Prince himself, had been consulted before Pimen was appointed Metropolitan. In 1384, Dionysius was sent back to Constantinople to ask for Pimen's deposition and his own appointment as Metropolitan. Patriarch Neilos Kerameos was not sure whether he could trust Dionysius and sent two metropolitans to Moscow, who were supposed to depose Pimen and install Dionysius, who was made Metropolitan of Kiev by the Patriarch. On his way back to Moscow, Dionysius stopped in Kiev, where he was detained by the Kievan prince Vladimir Olgerdovich at the insistence of Cyprian, Archbishop of Kiev, who was to have succeeded as Metropolitan of Moscow in 1378 upon the death of Alexius, but who was not finally welcomed into Moscow until 1390. Dionysius died in prison on October 15, 1385.

The burial of the Saint was in the Kiev Cave of Saint Anthony. Saint Dionysius is commemorated on June 26 because it is the feast of his patron saint, Saint David of Thessaloniki, whose name he was given in Baptism. He is also commemorated on October 15. Saint Dionysius is listed as "Metropolitan of Suzdal", since he was never able to take possession of his Metropolitan See in Kiev. In the Synodikon of the 1552 Nizhni-Novgorod Caves Monastery, Saint Dionysius is called a “wonderworking monk”. From his second trip to Constantinople, Dionysius brought relics of the Passion of Christ, which were placed in a reliquery, and became a significant relic of the Moscow Grand Dukes.