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September 24, 2020

The Birthplace of Saint Silouan the Athonite

Simeon Ivanovich Antonov was born on January 17, 1866 in the village of Sovskin in the Tambov province of Russia. There he lived as one of seven children in a rural family, working from a young age in the fields, and receiving little formal schooling - two winter terms at the village primary school - which is why his spiritual child Saint Sophrony referred to him as being "illiterate" or "semi-literate". Despite this, he was still very smart and quick to grasp ideas and information.
At four years of age the word of a peddler - "Where is this God of yours, then?" - had troubled his previously undoubting faith in God. Though his father insisted the peddler was speaking as a fool, it took fifteen years before again he felt wholeheartedly that God exists and is alive. When he was nineteen and a carpenter, a pilgrim was telling the estate workers about Saint John Sezenov, whose tomb she had venerated. Hearing about the Saint's miracles and wonderworking relics made Simeon reflect: "If he was a holy man, then it means that God is here with us, so there is no point in me going off to search for him." This indicates that Simeon all those years was wondering where he could find God. With his new found reassurance, prayer was ignited in him and he began to feel drawn towards monasticism.

Three months later, Simeon's divine zeal began to wane, and he drifted back to living a life of a young village lad, who was popular with his contemporaries and admired by many of the village girls. He fell into fornication and nearly murdered someone during a brawl. It was then that a miracle happened. In a dream he heard a voice reproach him as being ugly to look upon. Simeon knew beyond doubt that this gentle voice belonged to the Mother of God. This revelation of his sins moved him to repentance, and, after serving in the army at his father's request, in 1892 he went to Mount Athos, where he was tonsured in 1911 with the name Silouan, and where he lived as a grace-filled and virtuous monk till his death on September 24, 1938.
Even before Silouan was tonsured, he returned to his homeland again. During the Russian-Japanese war (1904-1905) he, as a natural-born Russian subject, was called from the Holy Mountain to Russia. Because of his age, he wasn't called into war and Silouan stayed nearly a year at home. The brightest memories about him are connected with this time from his fellow countrymen. In the family home where he lived with a large family, it was difficult for a monk to live and pray. So he constructed a small mud hut behind the house in the kitchen garden to serve as his monastic cell. There he prayed and fellow villagers came to ask about the far off and mysterious Holy Mountain and to ask counsel of him. Living in the midst of the temptations of the world, he strengthened himself and began to carry chains and made a pilgrimage to the surrounding monasteries in the cities of Zadonsk, Troyekurovo and Sezyonovo.
Silouan liked to converse with children very much. When they became older, in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, they told their children and grandchildren: "There on Bolshak lived a Saint". Of course, at that time, Silouan was a simple monk, but the purity of the children's souls remembered him as a Saint. He took them into a field and, showing them the sun, compared its beams to the Lord's "rays" of Omniscience. He inspired into these children not to sin and to respect their parents, to love God and His Church.
At the place where the cell of Saint Silouan stood, in 1995 a Cross was erected and consecrated. There the faithful pray and read the akathist, and often in summer near the Cross it is possible to see cars of pilgrims with registration plates of the most various and distant regions. The house where Saint Silouan was born and raised also still stands, though some believe this was actually his uncle's house. And the Church of the Nativity of Christ was the parish church of the village where Saint Silouan worshiped, though during Soviet times it was destroyed and used as a warehouse. Only two frescoes survived - the Nativity of Christ above the entrance and a full length Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk.
Church of the Nativity in the 1890's

Church of the Nativity in the 1990's