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September 21, 2019

Saint Joseph of Zaonikiev (+ 1612)

St. Joseph of Zaonikiev (Feast Day - September 21)

Venerable Joseph of Zaonikiev, was named Hilarion in the world, and was a pious peasant from the village of Obukhovo Kubensk in the region of the Vologda gubernia. At the age of fifty he suffered a disease of the eyes, and without falling into despair, he frequently attended church services in the churches nearby, and fervently prayed for the help of the Lord, the Most Holy Theotokos, and the Saints, in particular the Holy Unmercenaries Kosmas and Damian.

His prayer was heard, and Saint Kosmas appeared to him and had Hilarion follow him into the forest to a swampy place. There Saint Kosmas told him to go home and return to the smae spot the next day. Arriving the next day, he heard heavenly voices singing hymns to the Mother of God, and two men, the Holy Unmercenaries, presented to him an icon of the Mother of God, from which he received healing after venerating it. The appearance of the miraculous icon of the Mother of God took place on June 23, 1588. In gratitude the monk cleared a forest thicket with the help of the local villagers at the place of the appearance of the wonderworking icon, erected a cross, and built a chapel, in which he placed the icon. He himself settled close by, taking the monastic schema with the name of Joseph.

Afterwards, with the blessing of Saint Anthony, Bishop of Vologda, on the place of Joseph’s ascetic exploits the Zaonikiev Monastery emerged, so named from the brigand Anikios who once dwelt in this forest. When the monastery expanded and the number of monks grew, upon the advice of Saint Joseph, Anthony was chosen as abbot. Joseph did not accept the leadership himself out of humility. Since he concealed his own strict exploits from the others, he was perceived as a fool for Christ. He always stood on his feet at prayer in his chapel praying before the icon of the Mother of God, and he went about barefoot in the fierce cold. Secretly from the brotherhood, he put on a hair shirt over his naked body and wore it without taking off. The hair shirt was rude and cruel; like a needle, it pricked the body of the Saint, and blood was constantly flowing over his legs. The abbot and the brethren saw this, but did not know what it was coming from.

The Saint endured much grief and grievances from the locals. Residents of the village of Lusnikova, nearest to the monastery, were afraid that the monastery would take possession of their meadows and fields, and therefore sought to drive the monks out of their neighborhood, and they did everything possible to harm them; for example, they did not allow the monks themselves or the monastery cattle to pass their land and even threatened them with death. The peasants boasted: "Monks should not live here nor visit." The abbot was forced to ask the emperor himself for protection from them. It was hard for the Saint to see such anger at his monastery, but he patiently endured all resentments, answering them with meekness and forgiveness, and only prayed for the offenders.

Saint Joseph reposed in peace on September 21, 1612 at age 83. On the day he reposed, he called one of the brethren and sent him to the abbot Theodosius (1605-1612) with a request to bury his body at the site of the manifestation of the glory of God and his healing – in the chapel built by him. Having expressed this cherished desire, after the brother left the cell, the elderly ascetic peacefully and quietly departed to the Lord. Memorial services were sung over the grave of the Saint, and the sick were healed.

This went on for more than fifty years after the death of Saint Joseph. But during the reign of the Bishop Simon of Vologda (1664–1684), apparently, by his order, the the Saint's chapel was dismantled, his grave was deprived of jewelry and grandeur, and for a long time the burial place of the Saint was desolate. Many of the admirers of Saint Joseph grieved about this. There was one monk who, out of respect for his memory, assembled and restored the chapel, but, fearing slander and reproach, left it without a roof and doors and did not even dare to decorate the Saint’s coffin. Soon an obvious miracle happened. A fire occurred in the monastery: temples with utensils burned down, and the chapel, which was not preserved by anyone, was preserved unharmed and was not charred, although a fire engulfed it. After the fire, a wonderworking icon of the Mother of God was found in the chapel, before which stood in one of the monastery churches, now burnt down. But this miracle did not serve as the beginning of the celebration of the Saint. Initially, it was not even recorded.

As the years went by, disrespect for the chapel and grave of the Saint continued. At one time, the treasurer of the monastery, Pachomius, zealously restored the chapel to its former glory, but when a conflict arose among the brethren of the monastery, the chapel was destroyed again in a fire. Some time passed, the chapel was restored for the third time, but in a worse form, without windows and doors, and it did not look like a house of worship, but like indecent barn. The grave of the Saint was still in complete desolation. And again a miracle happened. When during a feast day a lot of people gathered in the monastery, some pilgrims spent the night in the chapel for lack of space in the monastery. It happened that one woman sleeping on the very grave of a Saint suddenly cried out frantically: "Leave me, father, do not hit me, because in ignorance I lay on your foot." The sleeping pilgrims jumped up and began to ask the woman what had happened to her, and she answered: "This monk beat me with a rod, since I lay on his feet." Those who heard were perplexed, for they had not seen anyone. Despite this miracle, it still did not inspire reverence for the holy place.

Finally, Bishop Paul of Vologda (1716–1725), a native of Vologda, who was a priest in Vologda before, heard a lot about miracles from the holy icon and about the charitable life of Saint Joseph, and established for him a local celebration. He blessed to compose a service for him, which was written on the model of the service of Saint Galaction of Vologda. In 1717, Bishop Paul sent to the Zaonikiev Monastery the builder Hieromonk Anastasius. Anastasius placed a new and good chapel over the tomb of the Saint, and decorated his grave; they also found the hair shirt of the Saint, which became a great source of miracles. Believers rushed to the Zaonikiev Monastery to the grave of the newly glorified Saint of God. Thus the Lord magnified and glorified His saint.

Many miracles were performed at the tomb of the Saint for those who approached him with faith.

In 1717, a drought occurred in the Vologda territory. Residents were threatened by hunger, disease, death, and ruin. However, by the intercession of Saint Joseph people were saved from this disaster. Bishop Paul, who arrived to pray at the grave of the Saint, stretched out his hands and prayed with tears: “Oh, Saint Joseph, if you have grace before God, ask him to let the rain fall, for the earth does not bear fruit, and men and cattle perish by thirst.” And immediately it began to rain, which watered the earth. After that, the bishop ordered to paint the image of the saint and laid it at the grave.

In Vologda there was a girl, Irina, who suffered from headaches and eye disease for thirteen years. No efforts and means could save her from a serious illness. Treatment by ignorant doctors only led to the fact that the girl was completely blind. When they brought the sick woman to the monastery on July 3, 1718 and she put the hair shirt of the wonderworker to her eyes, she felt something depart from her head. After that, she fell asleep. Having woken up, Irina began to see clearly: both the eye disease and the headaches disappeared.

In the chapel of the Saint, David received healing, who did not possess the ability to use either arms or legs. He was left at night at the grave of the Saint and, when he began to fall asleep, he suddenly heard a voice: "Get up, David, and pray for what you came for." He jumped to his feet and, when he came to his senses, he felt completely healthy. During the blessing of Matins, David, leaving the chapel, came to church and thereby amazed everyone who knew him. In gratitude for the healing, he made a promise to stay in the Zaonikiev Monastery forever.

Providing healings to everyone with faith coming to him, the monk severely punished those who, not believing in his miraculous help, tried to shake this faith from others.

A Vologda priest named Vasily doubted the sanctity of Saint Joseph, narrating about miracles he considered fiction and fairy tales; not only this, he forbade his parishioners to go to the grave of the Saint of God. Seeing that the people did not heed his words, the priest lost his temper and sometimes sharply, rudely and obscenely spoke about his miracles. For this he was punished. When Vasily once addressed his parishioners, who were going to the Zaonikiev Monastery, with ordinary sacrilegious words, he was suddenly struck by blindness. But the punished priest immediately came to his senses: he confessed to God his sins, asked for the forgiveness of the Saint, promising not to pronounce blasphemy against the Saint, and in turn he received healing.

Saint Joseph showed great condescension and love to the people. Not only the ones who turned to him with faith and prayer received quick healing from him, but even those who did not turn to him and did not hear about him at all, he sent healing.

A woman named Katherine had her husband taken away as a soldier and had a seriously ill son. The poor woman wept bitterly about her misfortunes. And then one night she saw in a dream a monk who told her: “Do not grieve, Katherine, your husband serves the Christian faith and the great sovereign, and your son John will soon be healthy. Go with him to the Zaonikiev Monastery to pray before the image of the Mother of God; I am a resident of that wilderness, Elder Joseph.” When Katherine woke from the dream, she found her son completely healthy.

For more than two years, the peasant woman Evdokia had no ability to use her arms nor her legs. One night, lying on her bed, she saw a tall monk with a long beard, and with a rod in his hand. The monk came to her, took her by the shoulder and said: "Get up and in faith call for help to the Mother of God and promise to go to the Zaonikiev Monastery to the miraculous icon and be healed." When Evdokia answered him that she cannot walk, and didn't know where the Zaonikiev Monastery was and how to find the image, the elder said: “The monastery is not far from the city of Vologda and I am well known for the miracles happening in it, and I am Monk Joseph of that wilderness. I advise you not to despair, but to have faith, and you will receive mercy.” Having said this, the elder became invisible. Evdokia was struck by fear from the vision and was able to move her hands. In the morning she was already perfectly healthy. Immediately she went to the Zaonikiev Wilderness, where she spoke of her miraculous healing.

The wife of a rural baker, Maria Zaitseva, was ill for three years. She could not help her husband and was subjected to his reproaches and abuse. Once she went to where her husband worked, wanting to help him in something, and at that time she saw the door open and a monk entered the room, holding the image of the Mother of God on his chest. Due to the strong radiance emanating from the icon, Mary could not see the monk's face; the latter, turning to her, said: "Woman, have faith and promise to come to this image of the Mother of God in the Zaonikiev Wilderness and you will be healed." After the vision disappeared, the ill woman immediately felt relief. When after that she went out to the field to help her husband in harvesting bread, and while resting was thinking about the wonderful vision, suddenly she found herself at a monastery full of people on the occasion of a feast day, as if she herself was in this monastery. Someone approached her and asked who she was looking for - was it not the one who brought the image and granted her relief from the disease? When she replied that she was looking for precisely this monk, he pointed with his finger, and said to her: "Look, there he is." And Maria saw a tall monk with a gray beard, with a cane, in a mantle and hood. He walked to the door of the chapel, where the relics of Saint Joseph are. As soon as she got up to bow to him, the vision disappeared. After this second vision, her illness was more relieved. Soon Maria came to the Zaonikiev Monastery, prayed before the image of the Mother of God, and at the grave of Saint Joseph, and completely regained her sight.

The memory of the Saint is celebrated locally twice a year: on the day of his death - September 21, and on the day of the appearance of the Mother of God of Zaonikiev - June 23.

It should be noted that it is believed the original icon of the Mother of God revealed to Saint Joseph was lost in the fire of 1637. In the present time the monastery buildings are occupied by a boarding school for children, the temple is in ruins, and the relics of Saint Joseph rest in it under a hood.