The Monks Barsonophios the Great and John the Prophet

Commemorated on February 6

      The Monks Barsonophios the Great and John the Prophet lived during the VI Century during the reign of the emperor Justinian I (483-565). They pursued asceticism at the monastery of Abba Serid in Palestine, near the city of Gaza.
      The Monk Barsonophios was born in Egypt (the year of his birth is unknown). From his youthful years he began to lead an ascetic life. It is known, that having arrived at the monastery of Abba Serid, he constructed himself a small cell aside the monastery (cells in the East frequently were dug out in the form of a cave).
      Later on in this cell the Monk John, disciple of the Monk Barsonophios, lived for 18 years until his death. The Monk John imitated his teacher in silence, ascetic deeds and acquired virtues. For his gift of perspicacity he received the appelation "Prophet".
      The Monk Barsonophios after a certain while passed on to another cell, also near the monastery. For complete solitude he withdrew himself from people, seeing no one, eating only bread and water, and he dwelt for 50 years in work and ascetic deeds. When the Patriarch of Jerusalem Eustokhios heard about the ascetic, the manner of life of the Monk Barsonophios appeared to him unbelievable. He decided to see for himself. For this he arranged to enter the cell of the monk unexpectedly. But those attempting to make the climb into the narrow quarters of the saint were singed by flames spewing forth. In his hermitage the Monk Barsonophios gave himself over entirely to prayer, and he attained an high degree of spiritual perfection. Accounts are preserved in manuscripts about the life, the deeds and graced talents of Saints Barsonophios and John. During the lifetime of the Elder Paisii, they were translated into the Moldavian and Slavonic languages. The publication of these manuscripts, and also their translation into the Russian language, was realised during the XIX Century by the startsi-elders of the Vvedenie-Visitation Optina Monastery. The precepts of the Monks Barsonophios and John show clearly the degree of their moral perfection, their love towards people, but it holds scant facts about their lives. We do not know exactly when the Monk Barsonophios died: some sources say the year of his death was 563, others say more cautiously before the year 600. Having spent a long time in seclusion, the Monk Barsonophios thereafter and until the death of the Monk John the Prophet, about which Abba Dorotheos (Comm. 5 June) testifies, began to serve people by instructing on the path to salvation. It is known, that Saint Barsonophios transmitted his answers to questioners through the Monk John, sometimes instructing him to give the answers, or even through the hegumen Abba Serid, who wrote down the answers of the saint. In the answers of the Monks Barsonophios and John the Prophet, having become guides for the spiritual life not only for their contemporaries, but also for succeeding generations, it is clearly possible to see a gradual spiritual ascent "from power to power" of the monks. By deeds of fasting, silence, guarding the heart, and unceasing prayer, the Monk Barsonophios attained the heights of humility, reasoning and fiery love. The Lord gave him the gifts of perspicacity, foresight and wonderworking, and even the power by prayer to purify from sins the souls of people. Sometimes he took the sins of another upon himself. The monk knew the dispositions of hearts, wherefore he instructed in accord with the trend of thought of each person. By the Name of the Lord he resuscitated the dead, he cast out demons, he healed the hopelessly sick; things blessed by him bestowed help (for example, kukol' or furrow-weed took away the headache of a monk). Through the prayer of the Monk Barsonophios God sent rain upon the earth, withdrawing His wrath from the multitudes of the people, and predictions of the monk always happened. Thus, he predicted of a silent one from that monastery the Elder Euthymios, that he would be placed with him in a single grave, which indeed happened, and many other things. All these great talents the Monk Barsonophios acquired after many years of patiently enduring great temptations and illness. (Besides Barsonophios the Great, the Orthodox ascetic, there lived almost at the same time another Barsonophios an heretic and Monophysite. Sophronias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, spoke about him in his "Confession of Faith", sent to the Sixth OEcumenical Council).
      When it was that he arrived at the monastery of Abba Serid, and also from whence was the Monk John the Prophet, remains unknown. Having followed the instructions of the Monk Barsonophios, John attained the heights of perfection, having become like his teacher in all things. But, through his humility, those turning directly to him with questions he dispatched to Abba Barsonophios. The Monk John foresaw and predicted much, thus even his own death, following after the death of Abba Serid. The young hegumen of this monastery Elian besought the monk to live on even though it be two weeks, to teach him the ustav-rule and the running of the monastery. The Monk John fulfilled his request and actually died after the two weeks. The Monk Barsonophios the Great survived his disciple and friend. We know about these two ascetics from the book, "Guidance towards the Spiritual Life of the Monastics Fathers Barsonophios the Great and John in Answers to the Questionings of Disciples". This book was known to many of the saints, living later in time, as evidenced by the wrings of the Monk Theodore the Studite (Comm. 11 November and 26 January), the priestmonk Nikon Chernogorets (+ 1060), the Monk Simeon the New Theologian (Comm. 12 March), and other Orthodox ascetics and writers (Euagrios).

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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