April 20, 2019

Saint Alexander of Oshevensk (+ 1479)

St. Alexander of Oshevensk (Feast Day - April 20)

Venerable Alexander was born on 17 March 1427, 80 versts from Belozersk in the Vysheozersk region, several months before the death of the Venerable Cyril of Belozersk (+ 9 July 1427) – with whom he was bound together by later spiritual connections for his whole life.

Alexios (the name of Alexander in the world) was the fifth son of the rich landowner Nikephoros Osheven and his spouse Photini; he was a long-awaited child and was born through the fervent prayers of Photini. The Mother of God Herself together with the Venerable Cyril of Belozersk appeared to her and promised the birth of a son through the intercession of the Venerable Cyril. Although Alexios was the youngest son, his parents hoped to see in him their successor and someone to care for them in their old age. In childhood they taught the boy his letters and spoke of him as an enterprising landowner. At 18 years of age they sought to marry off the youth. With the permission of his parents, he went off to pray at the Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery and remained there.

The abbot Cyril loved the youth for his humility and soon suggested to him to take monastic vows. But Alexios refused, having decided to test himself. Having studied Holy Scripture, he served the brethren as a novice for six years and only then did he accept monastic vows, taking the name Alexander.

During this time his parents settled in the village of Volosovo – 30 versts from Kargopol near the River Onega. Soon Nikephoros sought of the Novgorod boyar Ioann a place for settling near the River Churiuga, which received the town-name Oshevensk.

Alexander asked of the abbot permission to receive from his parents their final blessing and forgiveness, so that afterwards he might go into a solitary life. Not at once did the abbot give permission to the young monk. He warned him about the dangers of wilderness life. But the Monk Alexander feared the ascetic fame that he had among the brethren, and he requested a second time to be released from the monastery. Finally, the abbot gave his blessing.

Greeting him with joy, the father suggested to the son that he settle at the River Churiuga and promised to assist in the building of a monastery. The Monk Alexander took a liking to the place. He set up a cross as foundation of the future monastery and gave a vow to dwell there until the end of his life. After this Alexander returned to the Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery and for some time he did obedience in the choir, in the kitchen and in the bakery. They ordained him to the office of deacon. Finally, when Alexander went to the abbot for the third time and told him, how a miraculous voice had called him to organize a monastery, and how he had vowed to dwell at that place, the abbot released him – blessing him with the icons of the Hodegetria Mother of God and Sainted Nicholas the Wonderworker.

Alexander dedicated the chosen spot with the icons, and received from his father supervision for building a church, and he himself set off to the Archbishop of Novgorod Jonah (1459-1470). Archbishop Jonah ordained him to the dignity of presbyter and appointed him abbot of the monastery. The boyarina Anastasia and her son Yurii were prepared to offer the monastery the whole district, but Alexander accepted the gramota (deed) for only the necessary ground. The constructed church was dedicated in the name of Saint Nicholas. With determination and energy the monk began to work at organizing the monastery. An elder, who had accompanied him from the Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery, was not able to endure the harsh wilderness life and went back. By little by little brethren gathered. The monk enacted a strict ustav (rule) of common life, which required complete silence in the temple and at refectory when saint lives were read, in monk cells there was to be no idleness, and at the time of fulfilling obediences it was necessary to do the Noetic Prayer or recite Psalms. "Brethren," said the Alexander, "let us not shirk work nor the way of sorrow. You know, that the way of sorrow leads to the Heavenly Kingdom. Live in mutual love and humility. God is love, and He loves the humble."

Many even from the layfolk came to the monk and put themselves under his spiritual guidance. Two nephews of the Saint accepted monastic orders at his monastery, who offended one of the brethren, the monk Ambrose. Alexander gently calmed the pious brother, but the nephews cooled in their zeal for asceticism and they left the monastery. Grief over the salvation of his spiritual children wrecked the health of the monk. He lay down and was not able to lift up his hand nor his head, nor even to utter a word. In such a state of exhaustion Alexander prayed to the Venerable Cyril, his spiritual father. Cyril appeared in a white robe and, signing the sick man with the sign of the cross, he said: "Grieve not, brother! I intercede and you shall be well. Only forget not your vow, nor leave this place. I shall assist you." Having fallen asleep, the monk regained his strength and in the morning went to church. To encourage the brethren he told about the visit of the Venerable Cyril. The monk labored for 27 years in the monastery founded by him, and died peacefully on 20 April 1479.

After the death of Alexander, the monastery began quickly to go into decline. But the monk did not cease to care for it. One time, the monastic attendant Mark had a vision in a dream: the monastery was full of people; a grey-haired elder in bishop's garb signed with a cross those working on the building. Another elder, with a long beard, sprinkled with holy water; and a third, of moderate stature and blond hair, censed. A fourth one, a youth, followed after them at a distance. The third elder – this was Alexander of Oshevensk – explained that Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker and the Venerable Cyril of Belozersk assisted him, and the youth standing at the distance was the chanter Matfei, who was soon vowed under the name Maxim and chosen abbot of the monastery, as predicted in the vision of Alexander. The monk Maxim was established as abbot by the Archbishop of Novgorod Sergei (1483-1485), and he restored the monastery. He was the monastic head until 1525.

At the time of building of a new temple in the name of Saint Nicholas, during an appearance of Venerable Alexander and at his command – his relics were found incorrupt. His image was then painted in accord with how he appeared as a monk and in accord with the accounts of those who knew the elder: Venerable Alexander of Oshevensk was of moderate stature, with parched face and sunken cheeks, with a small thin beard, grizzled with blond hairs. He is thus depicted on icons.

Saint Alexander appeared to Saint Diodorus of George Hill (Nov. 27) in the seventeenth century when his Holy Trinity Monastery ran out of supplies, and the brethren complained because there was nowhere to buy food in the wilderness. Saint Alexander reminded Diodorus of how the Lord had fed the five thousand in the wilderness, and ordered him to go fishing. Saint Diodorus, fearing that the vision was a demonic delusion, ignored it. When Saint Alexander appeared a third time, Diodorus, wishing to test him, asked him to say a prayer. Saint Alexander recited “It is Truly Meet,” and his face shone with a radiant light. The Saint revealed himself as Alexander, the abbot of Oshevensk Dormition Monastery, and repeated his order to go fishing. Obeying this command, the monks went out and caught many fish.