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July 8, 2019

Saint Procopius the Fool for Christ and Wonderworker of Ustiug (+ 1303)

Saint Procopius the Fool for Christ of Ustiug (Feast Day - July 8)

Saint Procopius was a German Catholic, and according to some sources his name was Jacob Potharst. After the death of his father, who died in one of the battles of the Prussians with the Germans, Procopius was forced to leave East Prussia. He loaded his wealth on ships and went to Novgorod. He was running a merchant business in Novgorod when in 1243 he became enraptured by the beauty of the Orthodox services. He converted into Orthodoxy, gave his wealth and possessions to the indigent and became a monk at the Monastery of the Venerable Barlaam of Khutinsk outside Novgorod. After some time, fleeing fame, he left for Ustiug where Procopius chose to accomplish the ordeal of foolishness for Christ, pretending to be a fool in order to attain utmost humility. Thus he became the first Fool for Christ in Russia.

He had to go through many afflictions accomplishing this difficult feat. Carrying three wooden staffs he walked barefoot and poorly dressed all year round. He slept on church porches or simply on the ground. He would take alms from the compassionate simple people, but he would never accept any charity from the rich, whom he considered to have obtained their possessions through unrighteous ways; even though this would cause him to go hungry for several days.

One fiercely cold day when even birds got frozen in flight, Procopius was looking for shelter, but no one let him in. He then wanted to warm himself up by lying next to some dogs, but they ran away. Procopius was freezing to death. Suddenly he felt a wave of heavenly warmth and a touch of an angel on his face. That gave the Blessed Fool warmth and strength. He related this miracle to a cathedral cleric named Simeon and asked him not to tell anyone about it before his death.

The gift of clairvoyance was endowed on God's fool for all his sufferings and feats. Once he bowed to a three-year-old girl and said to her mother, "This is a mother of a great saint." That girl became the mother of the prelate Stephen of Perm.

In the year 1290 Procopius was going about the town for a week appealing to the citizens to repent and pray to God for deliverance from the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nobody believed him. Suddenly a somber cloud appeared in the sky and was growing bigger and bigger, turning the day into night. A terrible storm with lightning and roaring thunder shook the walls of the buildings. It was so strong and loud that people could not hear each other. The premonition of doomsday overwhelmed people. They rushed to the cathedral where the Procopius was already praying before the icon of the Annunciation to the Theotokos. Then everybody witnessed a miracle: myrrh started flowing from the icon as a sign of mercy granted to the town by the Theotokos. The myrrh was so abundant that people could fill the cathedral's vessels. Those anointed got cured from various diseases. Then the stifling air turned fresh and the sun appeared in the sky. At the natural boundary of Kotovalski, 20 miles away from Ustiug, the dark clouds broke out with such hail and lightning that a century old forest was demolished, while neither people nor cattle were injured. To commemorate this wonder of deliverance from death, the holiday of the Ustiug icon of Theotokos was established.

Everything the Saint did and every word he said when talking to virtuous people was full of exhortations and admonitions. The righteous Procopius passed away at a very old age in 1303 at the gate of the Archangels Monastery, covered in snow. Many wonders were witnessed to occur over his grave, and there were accounts of his apparitions. The ecclesiastical glorification of the blessed Procopius was accomplished at the Moscow Council of 1547, and his commemoration was established for July 8th. The city of Prokopyevsk is named in honor of the Saint.