Once Fr. Isaak had assigned to the brethren laborious ascetic endeavors, he then turned his attention to visitors. He set a rule to treat those who came by foot or by carriage with a common meal, —regarding neither their status nor how many of them there might be – never fearing scarcity. This rule is followed to this day at the Sarov monastery for the glory of God. As many as five thousand or even more eat without any pay or other compensation on the days of great feasts.
Aside from adopting a coenobitic charter, the Forefather of the Sarov Desert constantly cared to admonish the brothers verbally with the following soul-saving words of St. Basil the Great, which are offered here: “May you have spiritual purity, bodily dispassion, a gentle step, a moderate voice, a pious word, moderate partaking of food and drink, silence in the presence of seniors, attention in the presence of the wise, sincere love to those who are equal or lower in status. May you depart from those who are evil, passionate, and curious. Talk less, reflect more, do not be indiscreet in word, restrain yourself in a conversation, do not be eager to laugh, adorn yourself with humbleness; do not converse with immodest women. Keep your eyes lowered, be fervent in spirit, flee disputation, seek not to instruct others, place no value on the glory of this world; if one of you does good to others, he may expect recompense from God and the eternal compensation from Jesus Christ, Our Lord”.
Having established such a firm spiritual foundation for the existence of his “Desert”1 monastery, Fr. Isaak built a firm foundation for its further improvement and flowering. In his repeated travels to Moscow and other cities he gained benefactors for his monastery among the persons of the highest circle (Count V.V. Dolgoruki2, Earl [A.A.] Matveev3, A.V. Koshkarov, Count Odoevski and others) who donated much for the improvement of the monastery. The firmest provision for the monastery’s future, though, was the acquisition by Fr. Isaak of land, forests, and various properties, which – due to the special direct order of Empress Anna Ioannovna4- were granted by her Majesty to the Sarov Monastery on October 25th, 1730. In memory of this royal gift and of the special providential care of the Queen of Heaven for the monastery (which is dedicated to Her Most Pure Name) the serving an all-night vigil and a moleben as a thanksgiving to the Most Holy Theotokos each year on 25th of October was instituted. This has been observed without fail to this day.
Yet, the care to administer the monastery did not distract the valiant ascetic from the feats to save his soul. The heartfelt wish of Fr. Isaak was to experience all of the stages of monastic asceticism, and in time, an opportunity came for him to fulfill this holy wish. During a stay in Moscow in 1715 he was overtaken by a severe illness. Fr. Isaac received it as a sign that his end was near, and so he turned to the Igumen of Krasnogorsk4 Monastery, Hieromonk Macarius, who lived in Moscow, with a request to be tonsured a schemamonk. The Igumen fulfilled Fr. Isaak’s wish and tonsured him a schemamonk on March 13th, 1716 giving him the name of Ioann. The time of his convalescence and his absence from the monastery which schemamonk Ioann had founded was difficult for the brothers. They were accustomed to his administration and his guidance in the work of salvation. They were thus compelled to turn to The Most Reverend Stephen, Metropolitan of Ryazan and Murom with a request that he use his hierarchal authority, to compel Hieroschemamonk Ioann to resume leadership of the brothers and govern the monastery as he had previously in order to avoid mishaps in the its administration. The request was followed by a decree, issued the same year, which appointed Fr. Ioann to be the Igumen of the monastery and assume leadership of the brotherhood. It began with the words from the Gospel, “these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Mat 23:23]. However, over time his monastic feats and labors to oversee the monastery weakened the physical strength of the ascetic. Thus, in 1731, exhausted from his labors, Fr. Ioann chose a successor for himself from among the first of those he tonsured, Hieromonk Dorotheus. Having handed over the administration of the monastery, Fr. Ioann intended to devote himself to prayer in solitude.
However, according to the foreknowledge of God, it was necessary to subject his faith by one of the most difficult trials. Certainly this was to test him, just as gold is tested in a furnace, before the Highest Judge. In 1733, suspicion fell on the Sarov Monastery due to rumors that the monks were somehow connected someone by the name of Radishevsky;6 and thus the monastery fell into disfavor with the authorities. The terrible burden of this rumor fell on the seniors of the monastery, and primarily on its former Igumen and founder, Hieroschemamonk Ioann. He was arrested in 1734 by order of the dreaded of the Secret Office of that time, and was sent to St. Petersburg where he was imprisoned in a fortress. The founder was not at the monastery when an official of the Secret Office and soldiers came to arrest him– he left to the town of Temnikov for the monastery business. When he was returning, the military detachment met him along the way and took him to Sarov, but they allowed him neither to enter nor converse with the brothers. The brothers, led by the Igumen, Fr. Dorotheus, met Fr. Ioann outside the monastery gate. Fr. Ioann, surrounded by the soldiers, bid the brothers farewell, making three bows to the ground without saying anything. The tears and the sobs of the brethren saying good-bye to their Father testified of mutual love better than any words. In parting with their beloved Father they felt would not have an occasion to meet again in this life. Many lives were ruined by that royal prosecution, and the elderly Father Ioann could not bear the burden of imprisonment. At the end of December of 1737, he passed away in St. Petersburg being imprisoned in a fortress and was buried by the church of Transfiguration of the Lord, which is in Koltovskie7. He lived for sixty seven years in this short and burdensome life. The brothers of the Sarov desert, out of gratitude towards their Father—the ever-memorable founder of the monastery—remember him to this day and serve a panikhida for him on the 4th of July so that his soul may rest in the heavenly kingdom. (to be continued…)
1. The Russian term in Church vocabulary indicates a monastery that is out in the wilderness and secluded.
2. The author, apparently, refers to Count Dolgorukov, Vasili Vasilievich (1667-1746), who was a prominent military leader and a politician in the first part of the 18th century.
3. Earl Matveev, Andrei Artamonovich (1666-1728) was a prominent diplomat, politician, author, translator, and a close associate of Peter the Great.
4. Empress Anna Ioannovna Romanov (1693-1740) ruled Russia from 1730 till 1740.
5. A city in the Moscow region.
6. Bishop Markel of Korelia and Ladoga, an opponent of the reforms of Peter The Great, he accused a member of the Holy Synod Archbishop Theophan (Prokopovich) of being an adversary of Orhtodoxy and of Lutheran inclinations. This caused an investigation of many civil and religious figures by the authorities.
7. An old district of St. Petersburg.