By Bishop Nikodim (Kononov) of Belgorod
Hieromonk Ioanikkios (in the world Trophimos N. Averkiev) was born in 1823 and was named Trophimos in Holy Baptism. His parents were Government-owned peasants in Orlov Province, and they had a large family. Trophimos was one of the younger children. The boy was quite bright and also very pious. He loved to be in church, and if his mother went to church for the Feast Days he always begged to go along. This, however, was not easy. The village where they lived was not near the church. They had to cross a stream on the way, and the bridge was so old and rotten that once Trophimos fell in and caused his mother to be delayed. Therefore, she did not always take him with her. Most of the time, she left him at home. When he stayed at home, Trophimos wept bitterly because she would not bring him to church. He felt drawn there by some “overpowering force,” as he expressed himself later in life.
One Sunday his father and mother went to church for the Divine Liturgy and took his older brothers, but they left him at home. After crying for some time, Trophimos went out into the yard, before which there was a field covered with grass. Then he noticed a beautiful stone church on a hillock. He was surprised to see it and wondered how it got there, so he started walking toward it in order to take a closer look at it. For a while he walked around the church, admiring its beauty. He tried to enter, but the door was locked. When his hand touched the door knob, it vanished, and there he was, standing in the middle of an empty field! This astonished him even more, and he could not understand anything for a while. When his parents came home, he hastened to tell them what had happened.
At first, they paid no attention to him, but later, when his father mentioned this at a meeting of all the peasants in the village, an old man stated that he had also had seen a church on that very spot at dawn. The peasants asked to see Trophimos and to hear the story from his own lips. When Trophimos was brought to the meeting, he told them in detail where he had seen the church in the field, and described what sort of church it was. He showed them the exact spot, and the men marked the spot with four stakes. They decided to collect money and to build a stone church there. Indeed, a church was needed because the parish church was far away. In addition, there was the stream to be crossed. In the spring, when the stream was full, it became difficult and dangerous to cross.
Since the peasants were wealthy, the required funds were soon collected, and they began to build a church in honor of the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos (July 8, Oct. 22). In a few years the church was completed and consecrated, and on the outside it closely resembled the church that Trophimos had seen in a vision. When the boy was sixteen years old, he wanted to enter a monastery, so he begged his parents to give their blessing for him to go to Tolshev’s Savior-Transfiguration Monastery. His parents were very unhappy about this, especially his father. The young man became very sad and did not know what to do.
One night he had a dream wherein he saw a group of monks in a church in their mantiyas and klobuks. All of them went to the middle of the church and sang a divine hymn. Taking Trophimos by the hand they said, “Come with us, and do not be afraid of grieving your parents. It is God’s will that you be with us.”
Awakening from his dream, he decided to run off to the monastery in secret. He got ready, placing a piece of bread in a shepherd’s sack. Dressed in an old peasant’s coat, and without shoes, he left for the Tolshev Monastery. The road was not easy for him, but he arrived at the gates of the Monastery in the afternoon, and he saw a few monks standing there. Seeing the barefoot boy, they asked him why he had come. Trophimos replied that he had come in order to be a monk. One monk, an Elder with a grey beard, volunteered to take him to the Superior’s cells. This was Hieromonk Jacob from Sarov Hermitage, where he had been known and loved by Batushka Seraphim. Father Jacob led an ascetical life, and was respected by the brethren. Trophimos now sat in the waiting room, fearfully awaiting the Superior’s decision concerning him.
The Superior, a short, grey-headed old man, was surprised at the young man’s appearance because he was dressed in rags. He thought that Trophimos was a beggar seeking alms. When Father Jacob started to tell him that the young man wanted to be a monk, the Superior said that he was much too young, and he would never be able to endure the labors and the sorrows of the monastic life. So he advised him to go back home. When this did not work, and the young man remained unshaken, the Superior pretended to be angry and ordered a bundle of rods to be brought over, saying; “Now I will teach you not to wander needlessly and leave home in order to avoid work. Take off your shirt and I will punish you so that you will remember our monastery.”
The young man immediately removed his shirt and lay on the ground before the Superior to receive his punishment. Seeing his readiness and weakness, the Superior and Father Jacob looked at each other and changed their tone. The Superior told Trophimos to get up and to tell him in detail where he was from, and why he had come. Had he perhaps committed some crime and thought to hide in the monastery? After telling him everything in detail, Trophimos fell down on the floor, tearfully begging the Superior not to chase him away and to make him a monk.
The Superior ordered Father Jacob to take him to his cell and teach him the monastic Rule for novices. Father Jacob fed him and got him some clothes, making him his cell attendant. His cell was the very cell which the wonderworker Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk (August 13) had occupied when he lived at Tolshev Monastery in retirement. Here the holy bishop’s belongings were preserved. His chair stood in the corner, covered up. Elder Jacob never dared to sit in the chair himself, but Trophimos, who did not know the value of the chair, once tried to sit in it when the Elder was out of the cell, but he was pushed away by some force he did not understand. When Father Jacob returned Trophimos told him what had occurred. Father Jacob explained the chair’s significance to him and strictly forbade him to sit in it.
By his humility, obedience, and meekness, Trophimos soon won Father Jacob’s paternal love. Trophimos loved the order and customs of the monastery and had no time to become bored. He could only thank God and be happy that he lived in such a holy place. In particular he loved being in church when the monks all came to the center in their mantiyas and klobuks. He always wondered how he had been able to see all this in such detail in his dream. He was especially attracted to the mantiya, and when Father Jacob was not in the cell he would put it on and walk around the cell with measured footsteps. His greatest wish was to receive the mantiya and to be able to wear it to church. One day Father Jacob caught him in the cell wearing his mantiya. He forbade him to do this, explaining the spiritual meaning of the mantiya. He told him to pray to God, asking Him for His mercy, so that perhaps he might receive a mantiya in due time.
Trophimos was not destined to remain at Tolshev Hermitage, since his father did not wish it. He came to the monastery and bound his son’s legs so he could not get away. He brought him home that way and punished him severely for running away. The poor young man had to submit to his parents’ wishes for the time being, waiting for the time to come when he might fulfill his heartfelt desire. He had lived at Tolshev Monastery only three months, but in that short time it left its mark on the future course of his life.
His father’s death released Trophimos from his burdensome situation. Now the family’s finances were controlledby his mother and older brothers. His mother no longer tried to hold him there against his will, but blessed him to be a monk. She even gave him an icon of the Great Martyr George (April 23). He kept this icon as a great treasure and revered Saint George until the end of his life. After obtaining his identification papers, Trophimos went to Kiev to venerate the holy places. From there, he went to the Holy Mountain Hermitage in Kharkhov Province with the intention of remaining there for the rest of his life. He arrived on October 10, 1845 and went to see Igumen (later Archimandrite) Arsenios. The latter asked him detailed questions concerning the events of his past life. Then he accepted him into the monastery and assigned him to the kitchen for his obedience.
At first, Trophimos lived in the attic with his knapsack for two weeks, until the cold forced him to move elsewhere. Hieromonk Theodosios, the Father Confessor of the monks, who had come from Glinsk Hermitage with Father Arsenios, took him into his cell as his cell attendant. Trophimos lived behind a thin wall in the narrow entryway.
In the beginning, Father Theodosios treated him sternly, testing his character and intentions. He would leave money lying around in the cell, or he would leave some tea or sugar, as though he had forgotten to put them away, or perhaps he would leave some honey on the table and go out. After seeing that nothing was ever touched, he stopped doing this and began to trust Trophimos. Hieromonk Theodosios, who had received his spiritual formation under the guidance of the well-known Igumen of Glina Hermitage, Saint Philaretos (March 31, 1841) of holy life, was himself a strict ascetic. He often went into the woods with his prayer rope, walking about with his mind focused on the Jesus Prayer. When he returned from the forest his face was always radiant. So much so that at first his novice Trophimos feared this radiance, and he was afraid to approach him or talk to him.
Since Trophimos was illiterate, Father Theodosios saw to it that he learned to read. His instructor was Father Philotheos, who worked in the monastery office. He was not yet old, but he led a life of strict asceticism. Trophimos learned to read and write under his guidance. At the same time, he continued his careful study of the monastic Rule, taught by his Elder. After the evening Prayer Rule, Father Theodosios would dismiss the monk who came to him for Confession. Handing Trophimos a prayer rope, he made him repeat the Jesus Prayer slowly and in a loud voice. At first it was frightening for him to repeat the prayer under the watchful eye of his Elder, and his voice would tremble. The Elder noticed this and ordered him to be brave. In this fear, Father Theodosios saw in this the work of the Enemy, who especially hated the Jesus Prayer. As it happened, his fear soon disappeared and was replaced by a tender, compunctionate feeling, which produced abundant tears in him. Sometimes, because of these tears, he could scarcely say the words of the prayer.
This was a time of strict judgment for Trophimos under the Elder’s watchfulness. He would forget all the sins he had committed during the day, but all the details would come back to his mind during prayer. This brought about sincere repentance in him. After prayer, he would confess to his Elder and receive absolution. After this, Trophimos would feel an unusual lightness and joy in his soul. He went through all the trials of his novitiate before the eyes of his experienced Elder without concealing any of his transgressions from him. Almost unnoticed, he raised himself up.
The Psalter, the Holy Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles became his favorite books. He always read a certain amount from each of them every day. He tried to do this without fail, often cutting short his night’s rest if he had no time to read during the day. Seeing his zeal, simplicity, and loyalty, his Elder sometimes told him some of the things that happened to him. Once, for example, he came back from the woods with his riasson and prayer rope badly torn. As he sewed up the sleeves of the riasson, Trophimos was amazed and wondered how the Elder could have torn them so much.
The Elder said, “I was battling with the devils in the forest. They jumped me, a whole bunch of them, and they wanted to tear the prayer ropes from my hands, screaming that I must not say the Jesus Prayer. God helped me, however. I held on to the prayer ropes, even though they were torn in many places, but the riasson really got it from them.” Father Theodosios strictly forbade him to mention this to any of the monks.
Father Theodosios did not have a bed, but slept on the floor. Noticing that there were bedbugs on the floor where the Elder slept, Trophimos brought a kettle of hot water, and wanted to pour it on them. The Elder would not allow this saying, “Their bites remind me of the never-resting worm which is ready for the sinners who have angered God. In this way they bring me to repentance. Do not deprive me of these insects so that I will not feel sorry later.”
Trophimos lived for about two and a half years in his obedience as cell attendant to Father Theodosios. In 1850, he was listed officially as a novice of the Holy Mountain Hermitage. On March 24, he was tonsured as a riassophore monk by Father Arsenios and was named Timon. At that time he was appointed as overseer of the caves.
On October 21, 1850 Hieromonk Theodosios, the Monastery’s Father Confessor, reposed. His death was a severe blow to his loyal spiritual son Timon, who shed bitter tears at the loss of his father, instructor, and benefactor. Father Arsenios gave him a wooden cross which belonged to Father Theodosios. He accepted it as a treasure in memory of his Elder. Later, Timon gave the cross to the Skete church, where it is a reminder of the labors and prayers of the great ascetic, Father Theodosios.
Following the repose of Father Theodosios, he received a certain comfort when he was appointed to serve the recluse Hieromonk John in his cave. Timon was quite attached to the recluse. He did everything he could for him, watching over him, and fulfilling all of his requests, even the smallest. Later, when others replaced Timon, the recluse often remembered how Timon always pleased him and was always sincerely predisposed toward him.
On April 2, 1854, Timon was tonsured into the mantiya and renamed Ioannikios. After this he was appointed as the sacristan (ризничий). This was not an easy obedience, for it required a lot of work. After a while he was appointed to the caves, and once again he served Hieromonk John, who lived there.
After he was ordained to the diaconate, he became even more diligent toward the church services, while continuing his labors of fasting and prayer in his cell. He acquired a fair number of spiritual books and read them with fervor, increasing his knowledge, and using them as guides in his life. In his spare time he liked to go into the woods and converse with God in seclusion. He practiced the Jesus Prayer with attentiveness (π ρο σοχή), and it became more and more a part of his soul. During one of his walks he ventured deep into the forest, and was taken by its seclusion and beauty as he sat down beside the roots of a large spruce tree. As soon as he touched the moss with his hand, he felt heat coming from it, as if from a stove. He was amazed by this, so he began to inspect the place carefully, and discovered that the moss had been placed there skillfully to conceal the entrance of a cave. Inside he saw a a small stove, and a table, upon which was a Psalter. A lampada was burning before an icon, but the occupant of the cave was not at home, giving Father Ioannikios a chance to examine the cave. Except for some old dried bread, some dried fruit, and a pitcher of water, there was nothing in the cave that indicated the hermit’s life of strict fasting. For some time he had been hearing rumors in the Holy Mountain Hermitage about solitaries who lived nearby in the forest, unknown to the world. It was said that they were living there even before the monastery was rebuilt.1 Archimandrite Arsenios, the Superior, was very uneasy about this because he feared that the secular authorities might regard these unknown persons as vagabonds without identification papers, and this could cause trouble for the newly reopened monastery. Father Arsenios discovered two of these hermits, and so he sent them away from the monastery in a peaceful manner. These two happened to be aged Elders, and soon afterward they completed the course of their lives in nearby villages.
With their departure Father Arsenios felt somewhat more at ease and stopped searching for the others. The brethren of the monastery continued to wonder if there were more hermits were living in the forest, because they saw thin, blackened people at the church services who were dressed like peasants. They avoided all contact with the monks and left quickly after the service, heading in the direction of the nearest farm.
Father Ioannikios realized that the cave he found must belong to one of these hermits, so he decided to wait for him to return. Soon a tall, very thin man of middle age arrived dressed in a white peasant’s shirt and carrying an armload of firewood from another part of the forest. The hermit was rather disturbed to find a guest waiting for him. He sighed deeply and said, “Apparently, it is God’s will that I leave here. I know you. You are the servant of God, Father Ioannikios. Perhaps you will not tell the Archimandrite about me, but I do not wish to place you in such a position. So tomorrow I shall leave here and go elsewhere.”
Then he invited Father Ioannikios to sit down and offered to let him taste some of his cooked dried pears. The hermit told him that his name was Leontios, and he was a soldier who had deserted. He had been living in that vicinity for about twenty years. Here he found an Elder, who was also a hermit, and who taught him to fast, to pray and to sing Psalms. When the Elder was dying he left him this cave. Father Ioannikios loved the hermit and, in his simplicity, he tried to persuade him to stay in the monastery with them. Not understanding, he offered to go to Father Arsenios with him, saying that he would probably be accepted into the monastery.
Sadly, the hermit shook his head and said, “I am a runaway soldier and have no identification whatsoever. Your Superior will not take me in without papers, so it is useless to ask him to do what is impossible. I thank you, Father, for your love, for which the Lord will reward you in Heaven. But now demonstrate your love and do not say anything to anyone in the monastery until tomorrow about finding my cave and seeing me here until I can move to a place farther away from the monastery. Also bow down before the Father Confessor Epiphanios and say to him that by God’s will Leontios left here and went farther away from those who would pursue him.”
After leaving the hermit, Father Ioannikios did as he requested, and said nothing to anyone about seeing him. About two days later, he went into the woods again, to the cave, thinking that he might find the hermit still there. However, the entrance to the cave was filled in with dirt, and there was no sign that anyone had lived there. When Father Ioannikios described to Father Epiphanios how he had found the hermit, the Confessor felt sorry for him. He said that he had known him for a long time, and that he was his Spiritual Father. He called him a true servant of God, and an ascetic of lofty spiritual life.
Several years later, a peasant came to Father Ioannikios from a nearby village, bringing him several pounds of beeswax. He said, “Leontios orders you to live a long life, and wishes you to know of his repose. The wax is given to you to make candles to be used in the services offered for the repose of his soul.” The hermit had lived beside the peasant’s beehives. He had lived a very strict ascetical life, and had departed to the Lord after a brief illness. Before his death, he had received the Holy Mysteries from the local priest.
Archimandrite Arsenios organized a Skete on the Holy Mountain with a church dedicated to Saint Arsenios the Great (May 8). He wanted to place a few monks from his monastery there, monks who loved ascetical struggles and who would lay a firm foundation for this place of seclusion and prayer. Father Ioannikios was also assigned to the Skete as a deacon. This was very much to his liking, since he had an inclination for solitude.
In 1859, Archimandrite Arsenios passed away after a lengthy illness. Father Germanus (later Archimandrite) was chosen by the brethren to succeed him, and he completed the work of establishing the Skete.
The life of Father Ioannikios was peaceful and quiet, and he served in the church in his capacity as a deacon. He labored in fasting and prayer, not sparing himself, and so he grew weaker in body. He began to spit up blood; he lost weight, and became thin and pale. Finally, he was put to bed in the monastery’s infirmary where he remained for about six months. Several times he was so close to death that the doctor lost all hope for his recovery.
More than once during his illness he saw before him the icon of the Holy Napkin (Aug. 16) and the image of the Lord’s face was life-sized. A beautiful fragrance came forth from it, which brought him untold joy and made him forget his illness. Once, when he was especially ill, those around him awaited his death. He saw the holy icon again, and it came so close to him that it touched his face. He heard a soft voice say, “Get up! Be half-healthy, and benefit the souls of your neighbors.”
From that moment, he felt that the terrible pain in his chest and side had vanished; some of his strength began to return, and he started to get better, which bewildered the doctor who said long ago that he would die. Truly, he never became completely healthy, but only “half-healthy,“ thin, weak, and bent over. Frequently, he spat up blood, but he got out of bed and was able to walk around, praying and serving in order to benefit the souls of his neighbors.
On August 24, 1864, he was ordained as a priest. Though weak and sickly, Father Ioannikios labored along with other priests who were healthy, young, and strong. He often did more than they did, and soon he was appointed as the Father Confessor for the pilgrims to the monastery. He performed this duty without any respite or laziness. He frequently confessed the pilgrims who came to the Holy Mountain Hermitage for the better part of the day, especially during the summer. On Feast Days it was often the case that between 2000 and 5000 pilgrims received Holy Communion.
The Lord gave him a special gift to be a Father Confessor: he knew how to obtain people’s love and trust. He knew at once, from his experience, the spiritual illnesses of those who came to him, and he also knew how to apply the right spiritual medicine for them. There were times, however, when he sought the advice of the very experienced and knowledgeable Elder Kyprianos, who was also his Father Confessor.
At first, Father Ioannikios admitted that “many women, pilgrims and nuns, would bother me with their tales of the supposed visions and miracles they had seen. They did not say what needs to be said in Confession, but wasted time flaunting their alleged holiness before me. So, I asked Batushka Kyprianos how to deal with such penitents.
“He advised me: ‘Order them to make prostrations for every vision or miracle that they disclose to you in a boastful way, and without need for it. Believe me; they will soon leave you in peace.’
“I began to follow his advice, and the women didn’t like it. They stopped coming to me for Confession, and went to other priests. They said I was rude. I was happy though, because they only caused difficulties without any benefit to anyone. Some would waste an hour telling of her visions, while others were waiting for Confession.”
Father Ioannikios disliked hypocrisy and self-proclaimed holiness. He scolded to their face those who tried to conceal their sinfulness under the guise of false virtue and holiness. For those who repented sincerely, however, he avoided making harsh demands, and did not impose severe penances. He said that one might vex the soul of a sinner and thereby cause more harm than good.
“It is not beneficial to deprive a penitent of Communion,” said Father Ioannikios. “Christianity is so weak now, especially among the learned, that even without depriving them, they seldom receive Communion. To deprive them would not be a punishment for them, but would only serve to make them weaker.”
He often substituted other means of penance, and even then with great care, according to each person’s strength and circumstances.
In addition to his duties as Father Confessor for the Monastery, Father Ioannikios was often sent to nearby villages to give Holy Communion, or to minister to those who were sick or dying. Here are some of the other things that Father Ioannikios related about his experience as a Father Confessor:
“Once, a peasant came to me late at night and asked me to go with him at once to give Holy Communion to his brother who was dying. I said to him, ‘Can this wait until morning? It will be easier to make the trip then, and it is better to give Communion before a person has any food. ’
“The peasant insisted that we must go immediately; saying that his brother had told him that he would not live through the night. So we went! We travelled through forests and over fields, and we saw wolves whose eyes shone like candles in the dark. At long last, we arrived at a small secluded village and his brother’s home. I went in and saw that the house had been tidied up. The table was covered with a cloth, and on it were lighted candles. I did not see the sick man anywhere, however.
“I was met by a thin and pale peasant, who was dressed decently in clean clothes. As it turned out, he was the one who wished to receive Holy Communion. I was amazed and said, ‘Since you are strong enough to be up, you could have waited to receive Communion in the morning, because only those who are dying may receive after eating food.’
“The man said that he was dying, and had very little time to live. He asked me to confess him right away and then give him Communion. He said, ‘I waited for you, Father. Glory be to God that I was able to wait this long. Please give me the Holy Mysteries now, for those who are sent for my soul are here, and are waiting until you do so.’
“After sending his family from the house, I started to confess him. I must admit that seldom have I heard such a Confession. His life was righteous, his feelings and his mind were so elevated and spiritual, his faith was so sincere, and his love for the Savior was so ardent that I was amazed how such an illiterate family man could acquire such virtues. He partook of the Holy Mysteries with great tenderness and heard the Prayers of Thanksgiving while sitting on a bench. He kissed the cross and my hand, and then peacefully gave his soul into God’s hands.
“Later, after questioning his family and his grieving wife, I learned that he had been ill for just a few days. He was not confined to bed, but sat up most of the time. From the start of his illness he ate no food. He told his wife that his time was up and he would die. He asked for a priest to come and give him Communion. Seeing that he was sitting up, his family was in no hurry to do so. Only in the evening of the day before he reposed, they heeded his request and believed him when he said he wouldn’t live until morning. He led an abstinent life; he was kind and ready to help anyone with his last piece of bread. He was most fervent in prayer, and the Lord manifested His grace in him, which was revealed clearly by his righteous death.”
“On another occasion, I was called to visit a sick woman. I entered the house and saw a woman, who was still young, standing before a mirror and putting a kerchief on her head. She was the sick person! I was quite upset and I reproached her sternly because she appeared to be healthy, but she wanted to receive the Holy Mysteries before she died. She listened to me meekly and said, ‘I asked you to come because I feel that my death is near. Do not think that you have been deceived because you found me by the mirror. I did not want to come to the holy chalice with my hair uncombed, so I did the best I could.’
“She asked me to confess her and give her Holy Communion. I began unwillingly, because I did not believe what she said, and she seemed to be completely healthy. She confessed and received Holy Communion with great reverence, as a true Christian ought to do. I didn’t even have time to put the holy chalice away and begin the Prayers of Thanksgiving. When I looked, she lay down and closed her eyes. I bent over her, but she had already departed to the Lord. She became sick after giving birth and had passed away, leaving an orphaned child.”
Near the Holy Mountain Monastery lived a landowner, a family man, of advanced years. He had cancer, which covered his face in one large wound. He suffered very much, and had to be fed with a spoon. The local priest refused to give him Holy Communion because of the stench which came from the open wound. The family turned to Father Ioannikios for help because the man wanted very much to receive Holy Communion. He looked at the sick man and decided that he could place the Holy Communion right into his mouth with a long-handled spoon, since it had not been eaten away by the cancer. He made such a spoon, confessed the man, and gave him Holy Communion. This made the man very happy.
From that time on, the suffering man frequently sent for Father Ioannikios in order to receive the Holy Mysteries from him, for it was the one joy in his life. The effect on Father Ioannikios was not insignificant. Many of the monks at the monastery marveled at how he was able to bear the stench, or even the sight of this terrible wound. They even thought that he would become ill himself by visiting this man. Father Ioannikios, however, having complete hope in God, did not fear the stench or the possibility of becoming infected. He continued to bring the Holy Mysteries to the man until the very end.
The feeling of compassion for the sick and the suffering was especially strong in Father Ioannikios. Very many pilgrims came to Holy Mountain Monastery from everywhere in the summertime. People from all walks of life, from peasants to those who were educated; and many of these were afflicted or possessed, and were brought to the monastery by relatives in the hope of a cure from the wonderworking icon of Saint Nicholas. He saw the suffering of these unfortunates, who often screamed loudly with tumultuous voices, or went into convulsions, especially in church during the Divine Liturgy. Knowing that prayers of exorcism are to be read in such cases, Saint Ioannikios was motivated by faith, and he began to pray in this manner over the possessed, anointing them with holy oil in the name of the Lord.
Some of the monks did not approve of this, for they thought Father Ioannikios was too bold. However, Elder Kyprianos, the Father Confessor of the monastery, did not have enough nerve to pray over them himself, so he blessed the saint to do it with complete faith and humility of mind.
Father Kyprianos said that Father Ioannikios, as a faster and a man of prayer, was fully capable of dealing with such afflicted persons, because according to the Lord, “This kind is never expelled except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21, Mark 9:29). In truth, the prayers of Father Ioannikios over these people, said with firm faith before the Almighty Lord, often brought visible cures. Far from the monastery word spread that the Father Confessor was a healer and that he was able to cure the possessed by his prayers.
In the summertime, he was often seen after the services in front of the wonderworking icon of Saint Nicholas, praying over the possessed, whose ferocious screaming could be heard at that time. Some cursed him with the most horrible words; others blasphemed terribly, and some even tried to beat him. He did suffer from beatings more than once. He endured all of this meekly, however, attacking the evil demons through fasting and prayer, with which he prepared himself beforehand. Usually, he succeeded, and the sufferers would calm down. They would become humble and meek, and would start praying to God and weep, or they threw up a malodorous liquid on the floor, after which they were completely healed.
Once, an enormous man, a Cossack soldier from the vicinity of the Kuban River, was brought to him with a wild expression on his face. His relatives, two strong men, had dragged him there with great difficulty. The possessed man roared with an inhuman voice like a bear, or a wolf, or a pig. All of these were heard from the man at the same time, and his eyes glared with unspeakable hatred. In front of the cathedral of the Holy Mountain Monastery, which is on top of a hill, there is a wide stone stairway leading to the small square where the cathedral is situated. The two men dragged the possessed man to the stairs, but were unable to make him climb the stairs by any means. One of these men went into the cathedral to speak to Father Ioannikios. Fearlessly, the saint came out of the cathedral in his epitracheilion, ready to pray over the man, who was lying on the ground.
Suddenly, the man jumped up, seized Father Ioannikios, and threw him over his shoulder. He ran up the stairs and around the cathedral. Those who were present were terrified and did not know what to do. They ran after the man, and saw him on the ground by the cathedral’s western door. Father Ioannikios was all right and unharmed, and he sat on top of the man, holding him by his hair. His relatives ran up to bind the man’s hands and feet, but Father Ioannikios would not permit it. “Don’t touch him,” he said. “Leave him alone. He won’t run anymore. We’ve already had our battle, and you can see who won.” He pointed to the man, whose hair he held with a firm grip. Then he stood up and covered the man’s head with his epitracheilion, and began to read the prayers. The man lay quietly, breathing heavily, as though he were going to vomit. Finally, with a great effort, he threw up fetid, bloody foam so malodorous that those who stood nearby had to move away from him.
After this the man got up and began to make prostrations while facing the church and offering his heartfelt prayers. The next day he made his Confession to Father Ioannikios and partook of the Holy Mysteries, which he had avoided for the past five years. During Confession he explained that he had become possessed when he had dared to strike his mother.
From that moment, he experienced terrible suffering. He left the monastery, assured of his complete cure, and went home to Kuban. Later, he received instructions on how to conduct himself so that he would not become subjected to that same evil spirit again. Father Ioannikios said later that when the possessed man threw him over his shoulder and ran up the stairs, he suddenly felt a power within him which enabled him to overcome the man almost effortlessly, while calling upon the sweetest name of the Lord Jesus.
It was not only adults who were brought to Father Ioannikios, but even children who exhibited sure signs of possession. They spoke in foreign languages, foretold the future, and blasphemed so much that it was frightening. It was much easier to win them over than the adults, however. This was not simply because they were only children, but also because their innocent nature was much more receptive to God’s grace. There were cases where the possessed would relate in detail, and in a loud voice, whatever Father Ioannikios did or thought, or if he ate a little more than usual. They told him that all of his efforts to cast them out would be in vain. Therefore, he fasted even more, for he knew that prayer and fasting are the best weapons to use in healing those who are afflicted.
Not only were the saint’s prayers effective against evil spirits, but also in healing many other illnesses of people who came to him with sincere faith. Once, a young man, the son of a merchant from a nearby town, visited him in his cell. He told him of his sorrow at being a drunkard, because this caused his parents intense grief. He fell down at the feet of Father Ioannikios, begging to be released from this destructive passion, by his prayers. Father Ioannikios put on his epitracheilion and read the prayer for the sick, and then he anointed him with holy oil. He ordered him to drink a little holy water every morning before eating or drinking anything else.
After a while, the young man visited Father Ioannikios again and said that from the time that he prayed over him and anointed him with the holy oil, he felt such revulsion for wine that he could no longer endure the smell of it. He gave fervent thanks to Father Ioannikios for this. The saint advised him to continue to drink the holy water, ascribing his cure to the grace of God. Later, the young man became interested in monasticism and entered a monastery in Kursk province.
Feeling compassion for everyone, Saint Ioannikios was always ready to help a poor person in trouble and even went so far as to deny himself as much as possible.
A large throng of pilgrims usually visited the monastery on the Feast of the Transfer of the Relics of Saint Nicholas on May 9, and the church was very crowded during the services. Once, two well-dressed, still young women from Rostov on the Don River came for this Feast. One of them was pregnant and was so pressed by those in the church that she felt that her child was about to be born. The other woman got her out of the church with some difficulty, and her son was born in the monastery guesthouse. This created a disturbance and so the manager told Father Ioannikios what had happened, and asked him what to do. He wondered if he should ask the women to go to the nearby village.
“Why,” Father Ioannikios cried, “are we like animals to act in such a way?”
He went to the guesthouse himself and asked the other woman to come out and tell him right away about everything in detail. Then he sent other women pilgrims to the monastery to go and help them. He also sent for the parish priest to come and baptize the baby, because a Hieromonk is not permitted to do so, except in cases of great necessity. He himself became the child’s godfather2 and participated in this unforeseen event which befell these visitors so far from their home, for which they thanked him very much. The boy’s father, a wealthy merchant of Rostov, became a great benefactor of the Holy Mountain Hermitage and sincerely respected Father Ioannikios, keeping him informed about the child’s growth and accomplishments.
One of the saint’s extraordinary character traits was his love for children. Often, among the pilgrims, there were families with children, who received special attention from the Elder. He also had a child-like simplicity and trust, and he knew how to convey this to the youngsters so that they loved him and listened to him. He said, “The innocence of such children always evokes tenderness in me. One child looks like an angel of God, the purity of his soul just radiates from his face, especially at Holy Communion.”
Certain unfortunate persons, feeble-minded adults, may seem like children in their undeveloped minds. These also received the special love and protection of the kindly Father Ioannikios. We have already see how much he loved Theophilos, the blessed Fool for Christ (+ January 30, 1868), and how he cared for him during his illness, visiting him and gratifying all his wishes.
Theophilos was not the only one he befriended, however. Father Ioannikios always knew how to get along with those whose mental faculties were somewhat diminished. They always loved him and listened to him, and would frequently work along with the monks.
When Hieromonk Kyprianos, the monastery’s Father Confessor reposed, Father Ioannikios, in the humility and simplicity of his soul, did not wish to take his place. Some of the monks, however, desired this. Even Father Kyprianos himself pointed him out as a Confessor who was more experienced than anyone else. The Superior, Archimandrite Germanus, chose him as his own Father Confessor following the death of Father Kyprianos. This elevated him in the eyes of the entire monastery, but he always acted in such a way that he would not arouse anyone’s jealousy or give them cause to complain.
Frequently, he was sent out into the world by the Superior on the monastery’s business. Even though he was exposed to worldly turmoil, he preserved his spiritual tranquility by unceasing prayer. He also brought much benefit to those worldly people in whose company he happened to find himself. In particular, he loved to visit with his spiritual children who were living in the world. He completed his business quickly and in an expeditious manner. He did not like to sit around for very long. He performed his duties, and then went home to the monastery. His ill health also made such traveling and movement necessary for him. If he remained in his cell too long, the bleeding would start again. If he was traveling, it stopped right away. So it happened that he would leave the monastery feeling very weak, but when he returned he felt much stronger. Whether he was in a railroad car, at the train station, at an inn, or in the home of a peasant, he always tried to benefit his neighbor.
His cell was very simple. There were a few icons, a number of Church Service Books, some clothing, a poor man’s tea service, and a cheap clock. That was all. He always had books all over his cell. Some were opened, others had page markers. It was apparent that the Elder spent all his spare time in reading. A lampada always burned in his cell before the holy icons. He always advised people to prepare for, and to partake of, the Holy Mysteries of Christ as often as possible. He would say, “Someone who often prepares himself for receiving Holy Communion will improve in his inward being unconsciously, and even that is a great accomplishment. Our union with Christ through partaking of His Mysteries makes even our poor and insufficient preparation better by His grace. It renews us and recreates us, transforming us from carnal creatures to spiritual beings. Every person who partakes of the Holy Mysteries frequently will soon discover this and feel it within himself. Do not tell me that you are not prepared, or are unworthy to partake often. You are not prepared because of laziness, and in this way you do what the Enemy likes. He cannot endure anyone who prepares himself and receives Communion often, because this person is frightening and inaccessible to him. You are not worthy! Who among us can claim to be worthy of receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord? All of us are unworthy of this gift of God’s mercy! If we deprive ourselves of this gift by saying that we are unworthy, then we sin grievously, because we are pushing God away from ourselves. If we acknowledge our unworthiness, if we repent, and if we thirst to partake of the Holy Mysteries, then we receive help from above, and this becomes the means by which we partake of the Holy Mysteries uncondemned.”
Since he himself was cautious about manifestations from the spiritual world, Father Ioannikios always warned his Spiritual Children about believing in dreams or visions.
His simplicity was extraordinary, and often it was like that of a child. Since he was non-acquisitive, he always declined expensive gifts. If he was forced to accept, he would give all of it to the monastery, according to the strict cenobitic Rule. It was easy to make him happy with a small inexpensive gift. He preferred small sizes of books, such as the Psalter, the Holy Gospels, or the book of Canons. He had them in the smallest sizes one could obtain. His tea service was also quite small, almost like those made for children. Nothing made him happier than to be presented with a small drinking glass, or a tiny tea cup, or a small comb.
Several events occurred to make his poor health even worse. Once, while passing through the monastery yard, he saw that the crank on the water well was not working properly, and that the novice who was sent to repair it was unable to do so. The Elder came, and without stopping to think about it, he started to help. He climbed to the top of the structure and fell down into the well, where he might have drowned if the pulley hadn’t kept his head above the water. He bruised his shoulder, arm, and side very seriously on the wooden sides of the well. The monks came running and pulled him out of the well nearly unconscious, and he was ill for a long time afterward. This fall made his health even worse and, as he said himself, it was the precursor of his approaching death.
He found himself in danger once again, on one of his trips by train. He was rushing, as quickly as ever, to get into the coach. He missed his step, however, and fell between the car and the station platform. He was saved by his slender build, which allowed the train to pass over him, brushing him slightly with the wheels.
Even after this, he was sick for some time, and his side turned black and hard to the touch. As he lay beneath the train expecting to be killed, he prayed to the Mother of God asking her to deliver him from such a terrible death. Suddenly, he felt as if someone were pulling him toward the platform to a narrow space where he lay on his side and waited for the entire train to pass over him.
“Yes, my time is near, perceptibly near,” he said. He began to ask his friends not to forget him after his death, and to remember his parents Niketas and Martha as well. “If you love me,” he said, “do not forget my parents. In this way you will show your love for me.”
On February 1, 1882 he was visited by the Superior, Father Germanus after Vespers, who found the Elder very ill. They sent for a doctor, who diagnosed him with acute pneumonia, and stated that his condition was grave. His Confessor, Hieromonk Arkadios, brought him the Holy Mysteries every day, and visited him often. His neighbor in the next cell, Hieromonk Dometios, was with him almost all the time and looked after him with rare love and devotion.
On February 8, he received the Mystery of Holy Unction. Toward evening on February 10, he became much worse. Now his death was very near, indeed. His Confessor read the Prayer for the dying over him. Father Germanus came to visit and stayed until the end, which was not long in coming. At 7:00 P.M. he passed peacefully and quietly away.
The crowds in the monastery were very large. Memorial Services were sung over him, and everyone wanted to bid him farewell in his cell. It was very stuffy because of the crowds, but his body remained incorrupt. There was no odor of death, but he was so thin that his body on the table looked like bones covered with skin.
On February 11, his body was taken from his cell to the church of the Protecting Veil by Hieromonk Paisios the Confessor for the monks. On February 12, in the same church, the Superior, Archimandrite Germanus, solemnly served the Liturgy with other priests, and the Funeral Service took place afterward. The coffin was taken to the underground church in the caves and was buried there.
Saint Ioannikios was glorified on July 12, 2008.
1. The monastery was rebuilt after it was destroyed by the French in 1812.
2. According to Canon 4 of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, a monk may not intrude upon or meddle in ecclesiastical affairs. See The Pedalion p. 248. The Interpretation of this Canon says that “monks must not become godfathers to children being baptized (except in cases of urgent necessity...”) Pedalion page 249.
Source: National Ascetics of Piety of the XVIII-XIX Centuries, February Volume (Жизнеописания Отечественных подвижников благочестия 18 и 19 веков, февраль).