Hieromonk Ioan of Sarov

Although, the pious hermit, Father Isaak, attempted to conceal himself in the desert, he was unable to conceal his virtues. He spent several years in deep solitude, leading a God-pleasing life; but –like a candle burning in a candleholder, or a city standing at the top of the mountain –his virtuous deeds could not be hidden. His fame started to spread everywhere and attract visitors, who wished to learn about the holy life from the hermit. Many, having met the ascetic, chose to remain in that desert; and so a kind of a monastery began to form in the Sarov desert. However the monastery lacked that which would truly unify them because the hermits did not have a holy temple. Clearly, those who came later felt this lack, and so their most ardent desire was to have a holy church in this place. Furthermore, there was a need to have one since it had been ordered by the government to recognize all those who lived in the forests where there were no churches, as schismatics and to turn them over to the court. However, there were many obstacles standing in the way of this noble wish of the humble hermits to have a church. They had neither the means to pay for the church construction, nor did they own a piece of land upon which to build it, and most importantly, they had no lawful right for the communal habitation in that place. The desert loving Father Isaak came to live in that desert like one of the poor in Christ, having no external means either for the construction of a church, or for the acquisition of the smallest lot of land for the monastery. However, he was convinced that his thought to erect a church in that desert place was truly pious and spiritual. He believed it would give a start to a monastery not only for himself, and his small spiritual troop, but also for the monks who would come after them. So with firm trust in the all-powerful God he decided to take upon himself the labor to overcome all these obstacles and to make their noble desire a reality. In this way, the words of the Great schema monk of the Kiev Caves1 regarding the firmness of the monasteries—that they are founded not with gold and silver, but with sweat and tears of the desert dwellers—came true for the founder of the Sarov cloister. Having learned that the land between the streams of Satis and Sarov (where the monastery is located now) belonged to Count Kugushev, who lived near the city of Kаdom2, Fr. Isaak came to him with a petition asking him to donate it for the future temple and a monastery. The count gave his consent for this purpose and also the deed for the land. This was presented to the locum tenens of the Patriarch, the Metropolitan of Ryazan and Murom, with a petition requesting that they be allowed to build a church in the Sarov desert (on the place of an old settlement); and the bishop consented to Fr. Isaak’s request.

At the start of the construction of a church, Father Isaak met with strong resistance from the inhabitants of the nearby villages. This arose from envy since these locals previously had unrestricted access to the woods and fields for hunting and beekeeping. Once again, the wise, humble and spiritual admonition of the elder quieted the unruly and instead of obstructing the work, they started to help with the construction. Thus, through many the labors and care of the valiant elder the first wooden church, dedicated to the Life Giving Spring of the Mother of God, was erected in the midst of a thick forest and consecrated in on June 16th, 1706. This may be considered as an act of the special foreknowledge of God and the intercession of the Heavenly Queen for this holy habitation; especially since it seemed quite difficult to start it in such a deserted place, distant from the dwellings of man, desolate, covered with thick forest, and not having any funds for the construction. Yet, with the help of God this first church—through the personal labors of the founder and all of the brothers—was prepared for consecration in fifty days. The news of this event had barley spread, when thousands of God-loving people began to arrive from everywhere, bringing with them all that was needed. They brought things not only for the church, but even the bells and food that was needed for the populous gathering, since the dwellers of the desert had neither liturgical items for the church, nor food for the visitors. Thus, with the help of good-natured people the church was decorated splendidly and the cloister of the monks was founded near it. “And the monastics gathered there”, says the Founder in the Chronicles of the Sarov Desert, “for the benefit of their souls, the life of asceticism, and glorifying the name of God with the established hymns of the Church of the Lord.” The virtuous founder and builder, Father Isaak, while edifying and strengthening the souls encouraged the brethren to lead their life according to the instructions of the holy fathers and for the sake of the love of God. “All you, who want to be here and lead a virtuous monastic life, do please God in all kinds of ways, reside in the purity of soul and body, having chosen a chaste life, become enflamed with the spirit of God, to Whom direct unceasing prayer. Fast sincerely, retain kindheartedness in poverty, abstain in everything with discretion, contemplate the Queen of virtue, be obedient to the commandments of God, the true teachings of the Church and the Church herself without your own reasoning; and send thanksgiving to the Lord day and night. Reject those, who separate themselves from the Church, her true Orthodoxy, and her true teaching and the established canonical celebration of mysteries. Establish your life in this manner and include it in the charter to sing hymns unceasingly in the day and night time on the first week of the Holy great fast according to the rite of the wakeful, as is written in the lives of St. Theodore the Studite3 and Markellus from the cloister of the wakeful”. This is observed unfailingly in Sarov to this day; and, thus during the first week of Great Lent women are not allowed until Saturday. This communal charter composed in accordance with the Holy Scripture, the Holy Apostles and the Holy Fathers was submitted to his Eminence Stephen, Metropolitan of Ryazan and Murom for approval; and he, after reviewing it, issued the following decree: “May they work for the Lord God ardently and rejoice with trembling, always working on their salvation as the Psalmist David sings and the Holy Apostle Paul teaches and others. May they follow in everything, whatever the Holy Apostles and the Holy Fathers set and gave to the Church, for which may they be granted eternal life from Christ God.” A special address was attached to the decree in a poetic form, which, as an abbreviated list of monastic communal life rules, deserves a special attention, and therefore is attached for the pious readers of this book.

Through the Mercy of God
Humble Stephen
Metropolitan of Ryazan and Murom
To igumen of the Sarov Hermitage and his brothers in Christ

Brethren, be watchful wearing black riasa, be humble, lowering your eyes. Run quickly away from pride and evil vanity, they will destroy heavenly delight in anyone. Put aside the envy, wrath, vainglory; chase them away with prayer and strict fast. Struggle to rid yourselves of laziness and hypocrisy, in fasting be humble, and in prayer labor hard. May this be common rule for all, waiver not, for God will not forget you. The brother who is superior, must not look down on the brother who is inferior, but think of him as equal to yourself. For Christ Himself has shown us example He said, “He who is first, let him be the last”; thus grace and peace shall abide in you, may meekness and temperance enter and dwell within you. Always have love amidst yourselves, sincere love, devoid of flattery with a good conscience; this will present you to heaven’s throne, and you will receive the crown of everlasting joy. At the end of my bequeathal I leave you peace and my blessing.” (to be continued)

1 No reference is given but it probably St. Anthony the Founder of the Kiev Caves Monastery.
2 A city in the Ryazan region, located 245 kilometers from the Ryazan city.
3 St. Theodore the Studite, 759 AD – 826 AD, was a Byzantine Greek monk, Abbot of the Stoudios Monastery in Constantinopole.