The Transfer of the Relics of the Monks Zosima and Savvatii of Solovetsk

Commemorated on August 8

      The Transfer of the Relics of the Monks Zosima and Savvatii of Solovetsk occurred on 8 August 1566, on the third day of the altar-feast of the Solovetsk monastery of the Transfiguration (Preobrazhenie, Metamorphosis) of the Lord. The relics of the saints were transferred into a chapel of the Preobrazhensk cathedral, built in their honour.

      The Monk Zosima, Hegumen of Solovetsk, a great luminary of the Russian North, was the founder of monastic common-life on Solovetsk Island. He was born in Novgorod diocese, in the village of Tolvui near Lake Onega. From his early years he was raised in piety, and after the death of his parents Gavriil and Varvara he gave away his possessions and accepted monastic tonsure.
      In search of a solitary place the monk set off to the shores of the White Sea and at the mouth of the Suma he met the Monk German (Comm. 30 July), who told him about a desolate sea island, where formerly he had spent six years with the Monk Savvatii (Comm. 27 September).
      In about the year 1436 the hermits, felicitously having made the sea voyage, landed at the Solovetsk islands. God blessed the place of their settlement with a vision to the Monk Zosima of a beautiful church in the sky. The monks with their own hands built cells and an enclosure, and they began to cultivate and sow the land. One time in late Autumn the Monk German set off to the mainland for necessary provisions. Because of the Autumn weather he was not able to return. The Monk Zosima remained all Winter alone on the island. He suffered many a temptation in struggle with the devils. Death by starvation threatened him, but miraculously two strangers having appeared left him a supply of bread, flour and oil. In Spring the Monk German returned to Solovetsk together with the fisherman Mark, and he brought supplies of food and rigging-tackle for fish nets.
      When several hermits had gathered on the island, the Monk Zosima constructed for them a small wooden church in honour of the Transfiguration (Preobrazhenie) of the Lord, together with a refectory. At the request of the Monk Zosima, an hegumen was sent from Novgorod to the newly formed monastery with antimins for the church. Thus occurred the start of the reknown Solovetsk monastery. In the severe conditions of the remote island the monks knew how to arrange their economy. But the hegumens, sent from Novgorod to Solovetsk, could not withstand life in the unwontedly harsh conditions, and so the brethren chose as hegumen the Monk Zosima.
      The Monk Zosima concerned himself with the building up of the inner life of the monastery, and he introduced a strict life-in-common. In 1465 he transferred to Solovetsk from the River Vyg the relics of the Monk Savvatii. The monastery suffered vexation from the Novgorod boyars (nobles), who confiscated catches of fish from the monks. The monk was obliged to set off for Novgorod and seek the protection of the archbishop. On the advice of the archbishop, he made the rounds of homes of the boyars and requested them not to allow the ruin of the monastery. The influential and rich boyarina Martha Boretskaya impiously gave orders to throw out the Monk Zosima, but then repented her action and invited him to a meal, during the time of which he suddenly beheld, that six of the illustrious boyars sat without their heads. The Monk Zosima told about this vision to his disciple Daniel and predicted for the boyars an immanent death. The prediction was fulfilled in the year 1478, when during the taking of Novgorod by Ivan III (1462-1505) the boyars were executed.
      Shortly before death the monk prepared himself a grave, in which he was buried beyond the altar of the Transfiguration church (+ 17 April 1478). Later on, over his relics was built a chapel. His relics together with the relics of the Monk Savvatii were transferred on 8 August 1566 into a chapel consecrated in their memory at the Transfiguration cathedral.
      Many a miracle was witnessed to, when the Monk Zosima with the Monk Savvatii appeared to fishermen perishing in the depths of the sea. The Monk Zosima is likewise a patron of bee-keeping and preserver of bee-hives, and to him is even bestown the title "Bee-keeper" ("Pchel'nik"). To the Monk Zosima often hasten those in sickness. The many hospital churches dedicated to him testify to the great curative power of his prayer before God.

      The Monk Savvatii of Solovetsk came to the Kirillo-Beloezersk monastery in the year 1396, where he took monastic vows. He there pursued asceticism for a long time, unquestioningly fulfilling all obediences. His humility, gentle love towards the brethren and his strict life distinguished the monk Savvatii among his fellow ascetics. He soon became burdened by the attention and esteem of the brethren and laity coming to him, and having learned that on Lake Ladoga is the rocky island of Valaam, he decided to settle there. Quite sadly, the brethren of the Kirillo-Beloezersk monastery were parted from their starets (elder). At Valaam the worldly fame likewise began to disquiet the humble starets. Amidst this the monk learned, that in the North was the uninhabited island of Solovetsk, and he began to ask of the hegumen blessing to settle there in solitude. But the hegumen and the brethren did not want to be separated from their holy starets-elder. At the command of God the Monk Savvatii by night left the Valaam monastery and set off to the shores of the White Sea. When he learned from the local people that the island was situated at a two-day voyage, that on it were many lakes and that on the island no one lived, he all the more was embued with the desire to settle there. The astonished local people asked the ascetic, whitened with grey hair, how he would live there and what he would eat. "My Master is such, answered the monk, Who unto frailty giveth the fresh strength of youth, and nourisheth to fullness the hungry".
      For a certain while the Monk Savvatii remained at the chapel, set nearby the mouth of the Vyg River, in the environs of Soroka. There he encountered the Monk German pursuing asceticism as an hermit, and together they decided to settle upon the island. In a frail boat, praying to God, the elders set off upon the harsh sea and after three days they reached Solovetsk Island. The ascetics settled by the Sekirna hill, where they raised up a cross and made their cells. In the severe conditions of the North the startsi-elders over the course of several years by their exploits hallowed the unpopulated island. And here likewise the enemy of mankind the devil, tempted the holy elders. A certain fisherman with his wife, moved with a sense of envy, came somehow to the island and settled not far from the ascetics. But the Lord did not permit the laypeople to maintain themselves alongside the elders. Two youths in bright garb appeared to the wife of the fisherman and struck at her with rods. The fisherman took fright, quickly gathered his things and hastened to return to his former place of residence.
      Once, when the Monk German had gone for cell-necessities off along the Onega River, the Monk Savvatii remaining alone and sensing his impending end, with prayer turned to God, that He would grant him to commune the Holy Mysteries. The monk sailed for two days to the mainland and at ten versts from the Vyg River encountered the hegumen Nathanael, who had come to the distant settlement to commune a sick Christian. Hegumen Nathanael rejoiced at meeting the monk, fulfilled his wish and heard the account about his exploits on the island. In parting, they agreed to meet at the church along the Vyg River.
      Entering the temple, the holy elder prayerfully gave thanks to God for Communion. He then enclosed himself in a cell located nearby the church, and began to prepare himself for hermitage in the eternal habitation. During this time the Novgorod merchant John came to shore and, having venerated the holy icons in church, he went to the holy elder. Having received blessing and guidance, he offered the monk a portion of his wealth and was saddened, when he heard a refusal. To comfort the merchant, the Monk Savvatii offered him to stay over until morning and promised him prosperity on further journeying. But the merchant John hastened to disembark. Suddenly there began an earthquake and on the sea a storm picked up. Having taken fright, the merchant stayed, and in the morning when entering the cell for a blessing, he saw that the elder was already dead. Together with the just-arrived hegumen Nathanael, they buried the Monk Savvatii at the chapel and compiled a manuscript of his life. This occurred on 27 September 1435. After 30 years the relics of the Monk Savvatii were transferred by the Monk Zosima (+ 1478, Comm. 17 April) and the brethren of Solovetsk Island, placing them in the Transfiguration church. In 1566 the relics of the Monks Savvatii and Zosima were transferred into a church, named in their honour (combined Commemoration 8 August).

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

Close window

The Monks Zosima and Savvatii of Solovetsk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Close window