April 17, 2021

Saint Zosimas of Solovki (+ 1478)

St. Zosimas of Solovki (Feast Day - April 17)

Saint Zosimas, the Abbot of Solovki Monastery and great luminary of the Russian North, was the founder of cenobitic monasticism on Solovki Island. He was born in the Novgorod diocese, in the village of Tolvui near Lake Onega. From his early years he was raised in piety, and after the death of his parents Gabriel and Barbara, he gave away his possessions and received the monastic tonsure.

In search of a solitary place, he journeyed to the shores of the White Sea, and at the mouth of the Suma he met Saint Herman (July 30), who told him of a desolate sea island, where he had spent six years with Saint Sabbatius (September 27).

About the year 1436, the ascetics crossed the sea and, providentially, they arrived at the Solovki islands. There Saint Zosimas beheld a vision of a beautiful church in the sky. With their own hands the monks built cells and an enclosure, and they began to cultivate the land and to plant seeds.

Once, in late autumn, Saint Herman had to go to the mainland for provisions. Because of the autumn weather he was unable to return. Saint Zosimas remained alone on the island all winter, enduring many temptations in his struggles with the demons. Death by starvation threatened him, but miraculously two strangers appeared and left him a supply of bread, flour and oil. In the spring Saint Herman returned to Solovki with a fisherman named Mark, and he brought supplies of food and some materials to make fishing nets.

When several hermits had gathered on the island, Saint Zosimas built a small wooden church in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord, and a trapeza. At Saint Zosimas's request, an abbot was sent from Novgorod to the newly-formed monastery with an antimension for the church. Thus the renowned Solovki Monastery had its beginning. In the severe conditions of the remote island the monks knew how to economize. But the abbots who were sent from Novgorod to Solovki could not endure life under such harsh conditions, and so the brethren chose Saint Zosimas as their abbot.

Saint Zosimas occupied himself with building up the inner life of the monastery, and he introduced a strict cenobitic Rule. In 1465 he transferred the relics of Saint Sabbatius to Solovki from the River Vyg. The monastery suffered from the nobles of Novgorod, who confiscated the fish caught by the monks. The Saint was obliged to go to Novgorod in order to seek the Archbishop's protection.

Following the Archbishop's advice, he visited the homes of the nobles and asked them not to allow the monastery to suffer harm. The influential and wealthy Martha Boretskaya impiously ordered Saint Zosimas to be thrown out, but then she repented and invited him to a meal. At this meal he suddenly saw that six of the illustrious nobles sat there without their heads. Saint Zosimas told his disciple Daniel about this vision, and predicted the impending death of the nobles. His prediction came to pass in the year 1478, when the six boyars were executed during the capture of Novgorod by Ivan III (1462-1505).

The Monk Zosima, having attained a venerable old age and anticipating the approach of death, began to prepare for the passage into eternity. He made a coffin for himself and often looked at it with tears, remembering his death. Shortly before his repose, he raised his dying eyes upward, and said: "Master, who loves mankind, grant me to stand at Your right hand when You come in glory to judge the living and the dead and reward each according to his deeds."  After this he reposed on April 17, 1478 and was buried beyond the altar of the Transfiguration Church. Later on, a chapel was built over his relics. His relics and those of Saint Sabbatius were moved to the chapel which was dedicated to them at the Transfiguration Cathedral on August 8, 1566. Already during his tenure, Solovki Monastery obtained big investments from the Novgorod Republic and established itself as one of the richest monasteries in Russia.

Many miracles took place when Saint Zosimas and Saint Sabbatius appeared to fishermen who were perishing in the depths of the sea. Saint Zosimas is also considered a patron of bee-keeping and a guardian of beehives; and he is even known as "The Bee-keeper.” Those who are sick often hasten to Saint Zosimas, asking to be healed. The many hospital churches dedicated to him attest to the great healing power of his prayers to God.

Saint Zosimas is commemorated on April 17 and on August 8 for the First (1566) and Second (1992) transfers of the relics of Saints Zosimas and Sabbatius.