November 11, 2019

Saint Martyrius of Zelenets (+ 1603)

St. Martyrius of Zelenets (Feast Day - November 11 and March 1)

Venerable Martyrius was born in Veliki Luki (Great Meadows), a Russian town in Pskov Oblast, and at baptism was given the name Menas. When he was eight years old he began his education, but learning was difficult for him. By the age of ten, when he had learned the Psalter, he was orphaned of his parents. Often he would visit the Church of the Annunciation to pray, and was loved by the priest there named Boris.

A few years later the priest was widowed and he was tonsured a monk in the Monastery of Saint Kosmas and Damian with the name Bogolep, where Menas would often visit him. Later Bogolep would be placed to oversee the nearby Monastery of Saint Sergius, which had become desolate. Menas would also visit him there, and eventually he also decided to become a monk and settle in the same monastery, where he was tonsured with the name Martyrius, and he shared a cell with Elder Bogolep. These holy ascetics ate only once a day. After the services in church, they would fulfill the rule of prayer in their cell, then they would work during the night milling corn.

After living with Elder Bogolep for seven years in the same cell, a God-fearing noble from the city named Athanasius came to the monastery and sought to become a monk. Elder Bogolep received him and later tonsured him a monk with the name Abraham. Since Elder Bogolep considered Martyrius more spiritually advanced than himself in the virtues, he placed Abraham under his spiritual guidance and they lived in a separate cell together.

Once Abraham fell ill with a serious ailment, so that he was already near death, and during his illness he made many vows to the miraculous icon of the Most Holy Theotokos in Tikhvin, since he had heard from many that from this icon many miraculous healings of those suffering from various ailments could result in a resurrection from death. And soon after receiving his healing, Abraham with zeal went on a long journey. When he arrived at the miraculous icon and gave thanks for his healing. It was at this time, in the year 1560, that the Tikhvin Monastery was established by Tsar Ivan Vasilievich.

While Abraham was away on his pilgrimage, Martyrius remained in the monastery, where he received a revelation about the establishment of the Tikhvin Monastery. He once climbed up the bell tower, and suddenly dozing off, he saw in a dream a pillar of fire standing on the side where Tikhvin was. At the top of that pillar was the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, the size of this image was very large and was similar to the one that stands in Tikhvin in the cathedral church, as if it had appeared. The monk was awakened from the dream and was horrified at seeing this, touched his face and felt that it was also filled with warmth. From that time on, the fire of desire in the heart of the monk was kindled to receive what was seen in a dream as reality – to go and work diligently in the newly constructed monastery of the Mother of God that was miraculously revealed to him.

Soon after, a certain Holy Fool named Michael came to his cell and instructed him to go alone into the wilderness. Believing this message to be sent by God, Martyrius went to live in solitude in a deserted place around 60 miles away. He later wrote: "Near a stream, on the shore, in clay, we dug up a dugout for ourselves and covered it with fir branches. But I lived in the wilderness and ate by my handiwork: I wove bast shoes from a bast and with a visiting peasant sent them to the villages to the villagers, and they sent with him everything I needed. And I, the sinner, accepted with gratitude from them what was brought."

It was while in the wilderness that Martyrius realized he had never received the blessing of Elder Bogolep to live in solitude, so he wrote him asking for his blessing. Elder Bogolep replied with his blessing for him to go live in a communal monastery, and foretold that "you will receive a great fruit and not only you will save yourself, but you will bring many souls to salvation." So, having laid his hope on the Virgin, he went to the city of Smolensk, and there he zealously hastened to her miraculous Tikhvin Icon, where he reverenced it. The great wonderworkers Abraham and Ephraim appeared to him in a vision and said: "Martyrius, you should live in the wilderness, where the Lord favors and the Most Holy Theotokos instructs."

Martyrius remained in Tikhvin Monastery, where reunited with his disciple Abraham, and they lived in the same cell together. Again it was revealed to him through a vision to his disciple Abraham that he should live in the wilderness, so with the blessing of the abbot he took two icons with him, that of the Holy Trinity and the Hodegetria (Tikhvin), and set out for the swamps. At Zelenets (Green Island), he erected a church in the name of the Holy Trinity in the midst of the swamps. Again he was honored to see in a dream the icon of the Virgin, this time floating on the sea. To the right of the icon appeared the Archangel Gabriel and invited the monk to venerate the image. After hesitation, Martyrius entered the water, but the icon began to sink into the sea. Then the Saint prayed, and immediately the wave carried him with the image to the shore. Around 1570 he was ordained a priest. By 1582, he was already the abbot of a monastery called Trinity Zelenets, with a brotherhood, which had twelve monks.

Here is what the Saint recounts of the heavenly comfort that visited him one day: “I slept in my cell, and saw in a dream the Most Holy Mother of God in a girlish form; she was magnificent in appearance: I had not seen such a beautiful girl among people. On her head was a golden crown adorned with multi-colored stones. It is impossible for the human mind to comprehend its beauty, nor to express it in language. She, the Queen and the Virgin, looked at me. Her eyes were full of tears, almost dripping on her clean face."

In 1595, Martyrius stopped in Tver while traveling to Moscow. The son of Simeon Bekbulatov, who was then living in Tver, had a very sick son, and the king, learning about Martyrius, asked him to come to pray for his dying son. The monk laid on the chest of John the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God, and the sick boy was healed. After that, the acknowledged king was the most zealous benefactor of the monastery. In 1595, Tsar Theodore Ioannovich gave the monastery an honored letter, approving the monastery founded by the Saint.

In the last years of his life, the Saint loved the silence and longed for the highest attainments of the spiritual life, becoming more devoted to fasting and praying and nightly standing. He lived well and piously for many years and reached a very old age. He dug a deep ditch for himself and built a coffin there, and entered the ditch when he wanted, and liked to sit at the grave, crying with emotion, and spent a year and six months doing this, despising and chasing away from himself this temporary, rapidly disappearing life. So the blessed one prepared himself for death every day, raising the mind to the heights, from the perishable to the imperishable, from the temporary to the infinite.

After instructing his disciples for the final time, and communing of the Immaculate Mysteries, Saint Martyrius fell asleep in the Lord on March 1, 1603. He is commemorated on November 11 and March 1.