September 25, 2021

Saint Dositheos the Recluse (+ 1776)

St. Dositheos the Recluse (Feast Day - September 25)

This is the story of how a young girl named Daria, became a serf named Dositheos, who lived for decades as a recluse, and gave the blessing to Saint Seraphim to go to Sarov.

Daria was born in 1721 to the noble Tiapkin family in the province of Riazan. Before she was born, her grandmother entered the Monastery of the Ascension at the Moscow Kremlin and took the name Porphyria. When Daria was two years old she visited her grandmother with her parents, and when her grandmother saw her she insisted Daria remain in the monastery with her to be dedicated to God and the patroness of the monastery, Saint Euphrosyne. The parents reluctantly allowed their child to remain with her grandmother in the monastery. With her grandmother, Daria was educated and learned to love the monastic way of life of asceticism and prayer.

In 1730, her parents came to the Monastery of the Ascension and announced that Daria would have to return home in order to be properly educated as befitted her noble origins. However, it was not possible for the illumined Daria to adapt to this worldly environment after being raised in an atmosphere of holiness. Daria, despite being nine years old, would continue to live a life of prayer and austere fasting and read spiritual books in her spare time, while at the same time focus her attention on cultivating a virtuous life that manifested her love for God and for her fellow human beings. She would go so far as to gather beggars in her home and feed them, and she would even dress like one herself.

This was all a major disappointment to her noble parents and sisters. They would complain that Daria refused to dress like a noble girl of high status, and secluded herself in her room or in the garden when her parents would have guests over for lavish parties. This lasted till she was fifteen years old, when her parents decided Daria was now old enough to be married. When Daria heard of this, she decided to secretly leave her family and go back to the Monastery of the Ascension in Moscow. When she arrived however and saw her aged grandmother, she realized her parents would soon come and snatch her away. For this reason she bought peasant clothing, cut off her hair, and called herself the serf Dositheos.

For three years, she struggled at the Saint Sergius Lavra, which was forty kilometers from the Monastery of the Ascension. Pretending she was a male, she performed all the duties of a young man, and her true identity was never revealed. Until one day when her mother and sister visited the monastery to pray. While praying in the church, the sister noticed the monk lighting the lamps looked exactly like Daria. She told her mother. Dositheos looked over and saw them, then immediately returned to her cell. The mother asked another monk to see the monk who was lighting the lamps, and when she was called she put all her belongings in a bundle and bid farewell to the monastery.

Dositheos now set upon a far away journey to the Kiev Caves Lavra. When she finally arrived, she was told by the abbot that due to the imperial decree that forbade a serf from entering a monastery without the proper documentation, she could not enter. Having no other options, she took up the hermit’s life in cave near Kitayev Skete, living only on bread, water and a few wild plants. The Heavenly Bridegroom had completely captivated her heart.

Soon she became known in the region as Dositheos the Recluse, and many came to her for counsel and consolation, which she offered through a small window in a cave, not wanting anyone to see her beardless face. In 1744 the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna visited her, and when she learned she was not yet a monk, at her wish she granted her to receive the monastic tonsure.

Once a young man went to Kiev as a pilgrim. His name was Prochoros Moshnin, and he came from a family of merchants in Kursk. He wanted to dedicate his life to God and become a monk. During his pilgrimage to the holy places of Kiev, someone advised him to visit the well-known hermit Dositheos, who lived as a recluse in Kitaev near Kiev, in order to seek his spiritual advice: he had a special gift from God.

The young Prochoros visited the recluse. He opened up his heart. The “answer” that he had been seeking from Heaven was finally given to him through the hermit Dositheos:

“Go, child of God, to the Monastery of Sarov and stay there. That place will be to you for salvation. With God’s help, there you will finish your human wanderings on earth. Only, struggle to acquire the unceasing remembrance of God. Continuously call upon His Name, saying: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!’ Let all of your attention and ascetic labor be turned towards this activity. While you are walking, when you are resting or are standing in Church, have this unceasing prayer on your lips and in your heart. You will find rest in it and will acquire spiritual and bodily purity. Then the Holy Spirit will abide in you. And you will lead your life in all piety and purity. In Sarov, the Superior, Pachomios, leads a God-pleasing life. He follows in the footsteps of our own Anthony and Theodosios.”

Many years later, when he himself had become a chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit, he would become known Saint Seraphim of Sarov.

Another time her sister according to the flesh came to ask "Staretz Dositheos the Recluse" what had become of her missing sister. Dositheos did not reveal her true identity but relied that she should not seek her out any longer, she she had gone into hiding to serve God.

In 1770 an imperial decree was issued that forbade any hermits to live by themselves in seclusion. For this reason Dositheos had to leave her life of seclusion after many decades and enter the Far Caves of the Kiev Caves Lavra. She remained there for four years, but found it difficult to live in silence due to the number of pilgrims. When she was chosen to be ordained a Deacon, thinking she was a man, she refused and feigned madness, going to the marketplace and chiding people like a fool for Christ. For this reason she again left for the Kitayev Skete shere she secluded herself in a cell. There the monk Theophan was her disciple and cell-attendant.

One day Dositheos sent Theophan to distribute incense among the faithful. She told him prophetically:

"Take this and cense your houses very thoroughly. A great misfortune is soon coming. People will fall dead in the streets like insects. But do not despair! Do not become disheartened! Pray! Pray!"

Not much time had passed when an epidemic of the plague  broke out in the country. Rapidly, it approached Kiev, and arrived on 3 September 1770. There were many casualties. But whoever had censed his house with Dositheos the Recluse’s incense remained immune!

On the eve of her repose, the Saint suddenly left her cell and began to go around the Kitaev Hermitage, leaning on her cane. The monks were astonished, seeing her. Dositheos made a full prostration to each one of them and said  with tears:

“Forgive me! In the Name of God, forgive me! I have offended you many times with my words, actions and thoughts.”

She then returned to her cell. During the course of the night, she chanted. She approached the gates of eternity in prayer.

In the morning, Theophan did not receive an answer when he asked her from outside about her needs. He ran and informed the monks. When they opened the cell, they found Dositheos kneeling
in a position of prayer before the icons. Her vigil lamp was lit. In her left hand, which was frozen, she was holding a piece of paper. The blessed soul of their beloved ascetic had departed to God. She was 56 years old. They took the paper and read:

“My body is ready for burial. I beseech you, my brothers, to bury it according to custom, but without tampering with it.”

Her request was obeyed: no one dared touch the recluse’s body, to clean it, or to change her clothes.

Many people gathered for the funeral service and the burial of the blessed Dositheos. Her much-suffering body was laid to rest at the Kitaev Hermitage, next to the Katholikon. The following simple facts are written on the tombstone’s plaque:

“In the year 1776, 25 September, Dositheos reposed.”

Portrait of St. Dositheos

A short while later, Dositheos’ sister once again came to Kiev on pilgrimage. When she learned that the ascetic who had strengthened and comforted her had already reposed, she asked to learn more about him. The particulars of his life that had become known and the features of his portrait led her to the definite conclusion that Dositheos the Hermit of Kiev was the very Daria who had disappeared from the noble Tiapkin family of the Riazan province!