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July 8, 2019

Saint Procopius the Fool for Christ and Wonderworker of Ustya

St. Procopius of Ustya (Feast Day - July 8)

The incorrupt and fragrant relics of Saint Procopius were discovered in the middle of the seventeenth century near the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Ustya (Vologda diocese) at the bank of the Ustya River. His body had been placed in a coffin of wicker rods and rose to the surface of the earth. None of the residents knew anything about him or when he was buried.

Because the relics were found to be incorrupt and fragrant, it was decided they be placed in the church, where for two hundred years they remained in open view, and became a source of numerous healings. No account of the origin and life of the holy man of God has been preserved. His name became known when he himself revealed it in a dream to a pious local inhabitant named Savela Ontropov (Antropov), and Saint Procopius also ordered him to have a new coffin built for his body, which Savela built himself.

At the request of the merchant Ivan Ermolaev, the icon painter Onisim Karamzin, in 1652, painted the first icon of Procopius. Ivan Ermolaev said that Procopius himself appeared to him and “gave permission” to paint his image. A service was also composed in his honor. In connection with an increase in the number of miraculous healings, the relics of Saint Procopius were examined in 1696 (or 1645) and in 1739. After this a chapel in honor of the Saint was consecrated in the church where his relics rest. The local commemoration of Procopius took place on July 8, and many of the local inhabitants fasted before this event for a week, during which time drinking and festivities were also prohibited.

The veneration of Procopius was discontinued by the Bishop of Vologda Arseny Todorsky (August 15, 1796 - June 15, 1802) at the end of 1801, on the grounds that during the re-examination the relics were not incorruptible. On December 16, 1801, the Holy Synod confirmed the order of Bishop Arseny. In 1818, the Bishop of Vologda Onisifor Borovik, tried to restore the celebration of Procopius and filed a petition, but the Holy Synod refused the petition, referring to its previous decree of 1801. Despite the decision of the Synod, Procopius continued to be revered as a saint among the locals.

Despite the Holy Synod’s prohibition to venerate Procopius as a saint, many Church writers and hagiologists included the name of Procopius of Ustya in the lists of saints. Archbishop Sergius Spassky of Vladimir and Suzdal (January 21, 1830 - November 20, 1904), an hagiologist, was the first to call him a Fool for Christ in 1876 (probably confusing him with Saint Procopius the Fool for Christ and Wonderworker of Ustiug who reposed in 1303 and is also commemorated on July 8). Until 1903 there was no official canonization of Procopius. After the Revolution, on March 6, 1919, during the opening of the relics, the coffin with Procopius was opened. According to the Report of the VIIIth Department of the People's Commissariat of Justice to the Congress of the Soviets, a mummified body was found in the shrine. In January of 1939 the relics of Procopius were destroyed by the Soviets. In 1994 the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos burned down.

The attempt of Bishop Onisifor of Vologda to canonize Procopius in 1818, though denied at the time, is seen today as enough to justify the official sainthood of Procopius. For this reason he is included today in the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church. There he is called a Fool for Christ, though there is no historical justification for such a title.