Abbot Isaiah of Sarov (Conclusion)
Abbot Isaiah, while caring to implant virtues in the temples of the souls of the brethren with his own example and fatherly admonitions, also diligently cared to improve the outward arrangement of the cloister. He diligently took care to see that the church services were conducted with humble reverence as in the past, and that all established rules of the desert life were followed strictly and correctly. The humble and reverential elder Isaiah was respected for his pious ascetic life by hierarch Nicephorus, Archbishop of Astrakhan, who at the time was famous for his gift of admonition as well as for the pious life. He respected the Sarov cloister for following strict monastic rules; he exchanged letters with the abbot, one of them is offered here.
Reverent Father Abbot Isaiah!
I embrace you with holy affection.
Your letter, which has confirmed your remembrance of me, filled my heart with joy. As far as your request is concerned, here is my answer. The holy fathers, in other words Basil the Great, Venerable Nilus the Faster, Ephraim the Syrian, Abba Dorotheus, Isaac the Syrian, John of the Ladder, Macarius of Egypt, and Theodore the Studite wrote this one and only instruction for the monastics of our days: whosoever aspires to admonish monks, he has to himself be well read in what they had written or be silent altogether for fear of falling into sin for preaching what is foreign to monasticism and not pleasing to God. You may add the Fathers of the Philokolia to the above mentioned, which, however, should be read with great discernment and reflection. I do not doubt that the books of the aforementioned writers are available at your famous monastery and are read often. So then, I do not undertake copying excerpts to send to you—that would be superfluous. However, I praise very much your holy zeal and wish wholeheartedly that you, as well as your brothers and novices, will benefit from reading the works of our Holy Fathers listed above and may become exalted in the perfection of monastic life. I beg God’s mercy on you and your monastery.
September 28, 1798.
The well-wishing intercessor for your pious life,
Archbishop Nikephorus (1)
Aside from personal virtues and an all-encompassing care for his brethren, Father Abbot Isaiah was compassionate to the poor and the suffering. He diligently observed the old tradition of Sarov to spend excess monastery revenue on them. There was a tradition started in the old days on the feast of the Protection of the Holy Theotokos, on October 1st, to give clothes to the poor; coats, kaftans (2), boots and gloves were prepared for that day. Many poor people would come on that day. After the liturgy they would all be gathered within the boundary on the central courtyard and would be given clothes according to the needs of each. This pious custom is observed to this day.
Having become ill partly due to old age, but more due to the labors undertaken to save his soul and to benefit the habitation, Abbot Isaiah asked the diocesan bishop to release him from the Igumen’s duties and was relieved according to the request. He chose for his place, with the support of the brotherhood, Hieromonk Niphont (3), who was the treasurer of the cloister. After one year of being ill the valiant Isaiah found rest of the righteous, he passed to the Lord for eternal rest having left a good memory. He passed away on December 4th, 1807 being 67 years old.
1. Archbishop Nicephorus (Theotokis) (1731-1800) was a Greek scholar and a theologian, who was an archbishop of the Southern part of Russia. He later was appointed the an abbot of Moscow’s Danilov Monastery.
2. An ankle-length long garment.
3. Igumen Niphont came to Sarov Monastery being twenty years old in 1787, he was from the town of Temnikov. The young novice drew the attention of the abbot by his devotion and obedience, he was tonsured a monk in 1792. In 1796 he was tonsured a hieromonk and was appointed a common confessor for the brethren. In 1805 he was appointed a Treasurer of the monastery and an Abbot a year later. Fr. Niphont was known to be an example humility, non-possessiveness, he was a man of fasting and prayer. He used to admonish brethren at the mealtime, “If a man, who does not do any good deeds in his life hopes to be saved only due to the absence of grievous sins, he deceives himself, since he who does not care to obtain the temporary blessings does not receive anything hereafter according to justice.” The monastery grew and prospered during his time. Fr. Niphont passed away in 1842.