Icon with relics of venerable Fathers of the Kiev Caves

While in the Ukraine in October 2018, Fr Stephen met and concelebrated the Liturgy with
Archbishop Jonah Cherepenov of Obukhov, the Abbot of the Trinity Ioninsky Monas-
tery, Kiev
. Archbishop Jonah generously presented Fr Stephen with six relics from incorrupt saints of the Kiev Caves Monastery, some dating from the eleventh century, nearly 1000 years
ago.

These relics have recently been set into an icon painted by Aidan Hart. This icon of St Isaac
the Recluse and Fool for Christ, St Titus the Presbyter, St Agapitos the Unmercenary Heal-
er, St Prokhoros the Orach Eater, St Mark the Grave-digger and St Efstratios the Faster
and Martyr, is now in church and hangs on the north wall where they can be venerated.

Some members of the Community kindly offered to pay towards this icon and we are
now collecting their contributions. If anyone else would like to help cover the cost
(£3,300) they are most welcome. You may do so via our Donations Page. We are very grateful to Aidan for a splendid icon.

Synaxis of the Venerable Fathers of the Kiev Caves Lavra is celebrated each year on 28 September. Now that we have the relics this feast will be elevated to a major feast for our community.

The founding of the Kiev Caves Monastery

The Kiev caves are a wonderful and inspiring witness to our great God
who changes the ‘normality’ of life when there is faith, humility, repen-
tance and love.

Nearly 1000 years ago, St Anthony founder of the Monastery of the Kiev caves,
travelled to Constantinople and Mt Athos in search of a monastery in which to de
vote his life to God. After some time of living in obedience to his abbot, he was sent
back to Rus to be a support and example to the people there with the “Blessing of Mt
Athos”.

He visited several monasteries but then arrived at the desolate place of Berestovo where he lived an ascetic life in a cave previously dug by Varangians (Vikings). St Anthony returned to Mt Athos after the death of Prince Vladimir and the region was under Svyalopolk’s violent rule. (Boris and Gleb were among those martyred during this period). However his abbot sent him back after Prince Yaroslav defeated Svyalopolk. By the time St Anthony died on 10th July 1073 at the age of 90, the cave monastery was established with about 100 monks with St Theodosios as the abbot. Under St Theodosios’ guidance the monastic rule of the Studite Monastery in Constantinople was adopted. A stone church above the caves was built in a field given to the monks by Prince Svyatoslav. Stonemasons and Iconographers miraculously arrived from Constantinople to build and decorate the church after St Anthony and St Theodosios appeared to them in visions. The Monastery functions to this day, where the many incorrupt or myrrh-streaming saints can be venerated in the caves.

We have the incorrupt relics of the following saints.

St Isaac the Fool for Christ †14th February 1090.

St Isaac was a rich merchant of the city of Toropets before selling everything and joining St Anthony as a young man. He subjected himself to extreme asceticism walling himself up in a cave and only eating prosphora and drinking a little water.

He spent seven years shut in the cave two square meters in area, never lying down with only a hole big enough to put a hand through. However he was deluded by demons, venerating them and dancing to their music until he collapsed. When St Anthony had no response from the tiny
cave the monks assumed he was dead. They broke open the cave and brought him into the light of day only to discover he was alive. St Isaac remained in bed unable to hear or speak for two years, but then gradually recovered. He became a fool for Christ wearing peasant clothes and worn out shoes, tormented and ridiculed and abused by others. St Isaac bore this with
humility, but amazed people with his miracles. On one occasion as he was working in the kitchens, the cook pointed to an empty space, telling Isaac to catch the raven that was there. Isaac duly returned with a raven after which the brothers showed him some respect. Isaac fearing worldly glory behaved even more foolishly, but endured the reprimands meekly. His relics remain open for veneration in St. Antony’s Cave.

St Agapitos the Unmercenary Healer †1st February 1095.

St Agapitos was tonsured by St Anthony and being inspired by his ability to heal the sick brothers careful observed his selfless prayer, use of herbs and care. In time Agapitos began to heal the sick with his own prayers and herbs so that many ill people came to his cell.

In Kiev at that time there was an Armenian doctor who became very jealous of St Agapitos, and sought to do him harm even resorting to poison. St Agapitos was asked to go to minister to the Prince Vladimir in Chernigov who was extremely ill. Refusing to leave the monastery he was eventually persuaded to send herbs with prayers after which the Prince recovered completely. Any payment and gifts for his services were refused, the saint suggesting that they should rather be given to the poor. When the Armenian doctor heard that St Agapitos was ill he came to discuss which herbs should be used to treat his sickness. St Agapitos told him that it would be the ones indicated by the Lord, the doctor of souls and bodies. The Armenian was scornful, predicting that he would die in three days. If this didn’t happen the doctor said he would change his life and become a monk. Agapitos knew that he would live another three months.
Meanwhile a man suffering from the same illness as St Agapitos was brought to the saint for a blessing. St Agapitos rose from his sickbed to minister to the dying man whom he gave plain green vegetables and healed him with his prayers. When St Agapitos discovered the doctor was not of the Orthodox faith he sent him away. Some time after the death of St Agapitos the Armenian returned to the Caves Monastery and asked to be received into the Orthodox Faith and be tonsured as a monk. St Agapitos had appeared to him reminding him of his promise. He recognized his errors and wanted to live the rest of his life for Christ. The abbot accepted
him and encouraged him to attend to the sick, and also his own soul.

St Titus † 27th February circa 1190.

St Titus was a priest in the Caves Monastery. He and the deacon, Evagrios were an
inspiration to their brother monks who observed their great love and devotion for one another. However the evil one incited a rift between them which turned their love to hatred, anger and bitterness. Even in the holy Liturgy they demonstrated their hate and avoided being censed by the other. Despite the members of the community begging them to resolve their differences they flatly refused. When St Titus was dying he became repentant and asked that Evagrios be brought to him so that he could ask for his forgiveness. St Titus rose from his bed and prostrated before him asking for forgiveness and a blessing. Evagrios tore himself away declaring that he would never be reconciled in this world or in the next. He had hardly uttered his rejection before falling to the ground dead. On the other hand the illness completely left St Titus, who said that as he lay dying, he had seen angels shrinking back from him, but demons rejoicing. Responding to the monks questions as to what had happened, he replied that an angel with a fiery spear struck Evagrios because of his hard heartedness. Then the same angel took his hand and restored him to health. This event shocked the brothers and made them more vigilant especially against anger. Saint Titus himself found peace and continually guarded himself against anger, living the rest of his life in the repentance.

St Prokhor the Wonderworker or Orach Eater, 10th February

Prokhor from Smolensk requested tonsure from Abbot John of the Kiev Caves during the harsh internecine wars between princes at the end of the 11th century.  He was a great ascetic and instead of eating ordinary bread, he made his own from Pigweed (Aramanth family) or Orach.  Every summer he made enough flour from orach for himself for the whole winter.  In church he ate prosphora.  He drank only water.

Orach bread is normally very bitter but, baked by Prokhor, it was always sweet and tasty.  Once a terrible famine raged in Rus and many were threatened by starvation.  God glorified the ascetic and saved many from death by causing the orach grass to grow in abundance.  Prokhor gathered large amounts, made flour and baked bread, distributing it freely to the poor.  Anyone who stole it or tried to make it himself found that it was bitter and inedible, as was discovered by Abbot John.  He requested a monk to obtain one loaf from Prokhor with his blessing and to take another from him secretly.   The bread with the blessing was edible and even pure and light in appearance as if made from the finest wheat.  The other was dark and bitter as wormwood.

Another time there was a lack of salt and the people suffered greatly.  Prokhor collected as much ash as he could from the cells of the monks and prayed fervently.  He blessed the ash and it turned into pure salt.  He gave it freely to whoever needed it.  The more he gave, the more it increased.  But the salt merchants who wanted to profiteer from the shortage were furious and complained to Prince Svyatopolk who decided to put an end to their complaints and enrich himself.  He set a very high price for salt and impounded Prokhor’s which he determined to sell at court.  Upon arrival, Prokhor’s salt was found to be only ashes!  After three days the Prince threw it outside the court under a fence.  People came to the saint seeking salt but when they found it had been stolen they left empty-handed condemning the thief.  Prokhor comforted them by telling them where it had been thrown.  The people collected it and found that it had turned to salt again!

After the miracles of the bread and the salt, the fierce Prince repented and prayerfully begged forgiveness of the Most Holy Theotokos and Sts Anthony and Theodosius, showing deep reverence and respect for Prokhor.   He promised that if Prokhor died before him he would bury him with his own hands to show there was no enmity between them and so that his sins could be forgiven by God.  Prokhor agreed but when he was near death, the Prince was away fighting the Polovtsians.  Prokhor warned that if he delayed his return to carry out his promise, the campaign would not go well.  But when Prokhor’s last hour approached, the Prince left his army and carried the saint’s body into the cave and laid him in his grave.  Returning to his army, the Prince easily gained victory over the Polovtsians turning them to flight and annexing their territory to Rus.  Such was the great power of St Prokhor’s prayer.

St Mark the Grave Digger, 29th December

Mark the Grave Digger had such a powerful voice that dead brothers woke upon his word and obeyed his voice.  There are many instances where one hears that the dead respond to the words of a holy person even today.  In 2018 Fr Stephen, Presvytera Catherine and I venerated the incorrupt bodies of the saints in the Kiev Caves and were told how upon hearing the words at Pascha: ‘Christ is Risen’, they had responded ‘He is risen indeed’!  In 1979 St Philomenous, the murdered guardian of Jacob’s Well, already dead 5 days, a stiff corpse, and as yet unburied, obeyed the request of his friend to help prepare him for burial.  He bent his legs and his friend was able to dress him in his grave clothes.

Once Mark became too exhausted to finish digging out a burial cave.  At that time a brother died of a lengthy illness.  His brothers complained that there was nowhere to bury him except for the narrow cave being dug for him by Mark.  It was too narrow to take the coffin.  He was laid with difficulty in the cave.  The brethren reproached Mark and said they could neither bury their brother properly nor pour oil on him.  Mark turned to the reposed monk and said in complete simplicity, ‘Here brother, take the oil and pour it on yourself’.  The deceased stretched out his hand, took the oil and poured it upon himself in the form of the Cross and returned the vessel.  At the sight of this miracle everyone was seized with fear and trembling.

Another monk who died before Mark had finished digging his grave, was washed ready for burial by a friend.  The friend visited the place where he was to be buried and was told by Mark that as it wasn’t ready, he should tell his deceased brother to wait until morning when the cave would be ready and he could depart to eternal life.  The friend protested the impossibility of doing that as his friend was already dead.  Mark told him to tell his friend that Sinful Mark said to remain on earth for another day and in the morning to go to Christ as he desired.  The brother obeyed and, with the brethren already chanting the funeral service, told his friend to wait.  The reposed monk immediately opened his eyes and remained alive for the rest of the day and night although he did not say a word to anyone.  The grave was finished and the friend returned and told him from Mark that his cave was ready and he could leave this temporary life and go now to eternity.  The brother closed his eyes immediately and gave his soul into God’s hands and was buried with honour.

A third story relates how two brothers, John and Theophilus wanted to be buried together and so Mark dug two graves side by side.  Many years later the Theophilus (the older) was away on business when the younger brother having pleased God by a worthy life, fell ill and died.  Upon his return Theophilus heard that John had died and went to view the body.  Seeing that he had been laid at the higher place in their common grave he became indignant and reproached Mark, ‘Why did you put him in my place?  I am older than he is.’

Mark bowed humbly and asked forgiveness.  He then turned to the dead man and said, ‘Move, brother, and give this place to your older brother and you lie down in the other place.’  The dead man moved to the lower place.  Theophilus fell down at the saint’s feet and begged forgiveness.  Mark told him that God had allowed this to remove all enmity between them, and told him to see to his own salvation as he would soon join his brother. 

Theophilus became terrified knowing he would soon die.  He gave away everything he possessed and awaited his death with fasting and lamentation.  He even went blind from weeping.  St Mark foresaw the hour of his own death and told Theophilus he would soon depart.  Theophilus asked him either to take him with him or restore his sight.  St Mark told him not to desire death which would come in its own time even if he did not wish it.  He said a sign of his impending death would be the return of his sight three days before he died.  This indeed happened and he was buried beside his brother and near the relics of St Mark.

St Eustratius, Faster and Martyr, 28th March

A native of Kiev, St Eustratius felt a strong desire to imitate Christ in life and death.  He gave away all his possessions, he conquered his own body and the bodiless enemies with his humility and obedience copying Christ in diligent prayer and fasting.  When Polovtsian tribes overran Rus, God allowed Eustratius and several other monks of the Caves Monastery and citizens of Kiev to be captured and sold as slaves to a Jew from Korsun.  He tried to force the prisoners to renounce Christ, threatening to starve them in their chains if they refused.  Eustratius encouraged his fellow prisoners to endure hunger and thirst for Christ’s sake, repeating St Paul’s words, ‘If we live, we live to the Lord, or if we die, we die to the Lord’.  After 10 days one by one they died.  Eustratius himself accustomed to fasting and restraint from his early years was unharmed by the prolonged fast.

His Jewish captor blamed Eustratius for the loss of his slaves for whom he had paid much gold and determined to revenge himself.  As it was near Pascha he and his friends made a cross and nailed Eustratius to it.  The saint thanked God for the trial and remained alive until the fifteenth day.  Meanwhile the Jew and his friends mocked him telling him to eat of the ‘lawful Passover’ and avoid the curse of Moses who had said ‘accursed is anyone that is hanging on a tree’. (Deut. 21:23) Eustratius replied that it was a gift of grace that he had been allowed to suffer for Christ’s name on a cross and that he believed he would hear the words spoken to him as to the thief, ‘Today you will be in paradise with me’. (Lk 23:43) He then told the Jew that the Lord hated his Sabbath and would turn his feasting into lamentation.  At these words the Jew became furious and thrust a spear into Eustratius’s side.  As his radiant soul ascended to heaven a voice was heard from the sky saying in Greek, ‘Here is a worthy citizen of the heavenly city.’

Eustratius’s body was thrown into the sea from where his relics were washed ashore into a cave.  A stream of miracles began to pour forth from them and many Jews were converted.

Later a famous and wealthy Jew accepted baptism and was immediately appointed governor of a distant province by the king.  But he secretly apostatised from his faith and from Christ and permitted Jews in the region to enslave Christians.  The king discovered this and ordered his immediate execution and demanded all the slaveholders to be driven from the region.  It was at this time that the Jew who had slain Eustratius was hanged from a tree like Judas who had hanged himself.

However, many Jews turned to Christ and were saved witnessing the miracles and sufferings of St Eustratius and at their death followed him to heaven.

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