Commemorated on March 30
Bishop of Irkutsk and WonderWorker of all Siberia, known under the
family-name Kristalevsky, was born in Malorussia in the Chernigov region in
1704. His father, Nazarii Fedorovich, was "a common man in his affairs,
and Sophronii they named Stefan", in honour of the first-martyr archdeacon
Stephen. He had two brothers and a sister Pelagia. The name of one brother was
Paul. The name of the other older brother is unknown, but there is an account,
that he was afterwards head of the Krasnogorsk Zolotonoshsk monastery.
The childhood years
of Stefan were spent in the settlement of Berezan' in the Pereyaslavl' district
of the Poltava governance, where the family settled after the father's
discharge from service. When he came of age, Stefan entered the Kiev
Theological Academy, where at the time studied two other future sainted-hierarchs
Joasaph, future bishop of Belgorod (Comm. 4 September and 10 December), and
Paul, future metropolitan of Tobol'sk.
Having received a
religious education, Stefan entered the Krasnogorsk Transfiguration monastery
(afterwards changed to Pokrov / Protection monastery, and in 1789 transformed
into a women's monastery), where his elder brother already pursued ascetic
life. On 23 April 1730 he took monastic vows with the name of Sophronii,
honour of Saint Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem (Comm. 11 March).
On the night after
his taking of monastic vows, the monk Sophronii heard a Voice in the Pokrov
church: "When thou shalt become bishop, raise up a church in the name of
All Saints", predicting of his future service. After two years, in 1732,
they summoned him to Kiev, in the Sophia cathedral of which they ordained him
to the dignity of monkdeacon, and then to priestmonk. Concerning the following
period of the life of Saint Sophronii, it says the following in his
service-form: "After having taken vows he was treasurer at that
Zolotonoshsk monastery for two years, and then he was taken by decree of His
Grace Arsenii Berlov of the Pereyaslavl' diocese into the house of his
archbishop, in which he was steward for 8 years subject to the Alexander Nevsky
monastery, from which during the course of those years he was sent to
Saint-Peterburg on hierarchical business, for which in advocacy he spent two
These facts testify
readily enough to the connections of the saint with his original Pokrovsk
monastery. During his obedience under the presiding hierarch at Pereyaslavl',
he often visited at his monastery, spending the day in quiet contemplation and
work, giving example in the making of a monastic brother.
During the time of
priestmonk Sophronii's sojourn on hierarchical business to the Synod, they
showed particular attention to him. And when it became necessary to increase
the brethren at the Alexander Nevsky monastery in Saint Peterburg, 29 monks
then in number having been summoned from various monasteries in Russia, in
January 1742 was summoned also the future saint. A year later they appointed
him treasurer of the monastery, and in 1746 he was appointed to the office of
head of the monastery, which he fulfilled for seven years more.
For helping him he
summoned his fellow countryman, a native of the city of Priluk, the
priestmonk Synesii, and made him the organiser of the Novo-Sergiev monastery,
which was associated with the Alexander Nevsky monastery. From this period of
time the friendship of the two ascetics, priestmonk Sophronii and priestmonk
Synesii was strengthened into a single pastoral effort, and they were
inseparable until their end in the Siberian land. During these years Saint
Sophronii laboured much at the managing of the monastery and improvement of
teaching at the seminary located near it. Together with Archbishop Theodosii he
concerned himself with the needs of adding to the monastic library.
A two-level church
was built by him: the top in the name of Saint Theodore Yaroslavich, older
brother of Saint Alexander Nevsky; and the lower in the name of Saint John
In 1747 the bishop of
Irkutsk, Innokentii II (Nerunovich) died. For six years afterwards the
territory of the Irkutsk diocese remained without a spiritual head.
Finally, the empress
Elizaveta Petrovichna (1741-1761) by decree on 23 February 1753 recommended to
the Holy Synod the pious head of the Alexander Nevsky monastery Sophronii, as
"a person, not only worthy of bishop's dignity, but also quite entirely
able to fulfill the wishes and the hopes of the state and the Synod to take
up the burden of episcopal service on the far frontier and satisfy the needs of
his flock in that harsh land, amidst wild primitives and lawless people".
On 18 April 1753,
Thomas Sunday, priestmonk Sophronii was ordained bishop of Irkutsk and
Nerchinsk in the Great Uspensky cathedral.
service on the distant Siberian frontier, the newly-established bishop did not
immediately set off to the Irkutsk eparchy, but rather began to gather up
educated and spiritually experienced co-workers. During this period Saint
Sophronii visited at his original Krasnogorsk monastery. Also at the holy
places of Kiev, he sought the blessings of the Kievo-Perchersk Saints for his
service. The constant companion of the saint, just as before, was the
priestmonk Synesii, ardently sharing in the life's work of his friend.
At Moscow, the
Archbishop of Moscow and Sevsk Platon, who participated in the ordination of
then priestmonk Sophronii, provided him further assistance. He taught him
fatherly precepts for his impending task, since he was quite familiar with the
peculiarities of the Siberian religious manner of life, he forewarned him about
the self-willed local authorities, and advised him to gather together
On 20 March 1754 the
saint arrived at Irkutsk. He went at first to the Ascension monastery the
place of residence of his predecessor, and prayed at the grave of bishop
Innokentii (Kul'chitz), imploring his blessing on his impending task.
himself with the state of affairs in the diocese, the saint set about the
re-organisation of the Spiritual consistory, monasteries and parishes, and
turned to the Holy Synod with an appeal to dispatch worthy people for priestly
service to the Irkutsk eparchy.
Before the arrival of
Sainted Sophronii, the Irkutsk monasteries had already a century-old history.
The founders of these monasteries were motivated by a fervent desire for
ascetic monastic life. The sagacious sainted-bishop appointed as heads of the
monastic communities people of piety, wisdom, virtue, and with great experience
both of life and things spiritual. In 1754 His Grace Sophronii raised up his
friend and companion priestmonk Synesii to be archimandrite of Ascension
monastery. This memorable monastic head served the monastery for thirty-three
years until his blessed end. In September 1754 the sainted-bishop issued an
ukaz (decree), in which concern was noted for the education and upbringing of
the children of clergy. By his ukaz to the clergy he considered as a duty the
education of their children in the Chasoslov, the Psalter, singing and letters,
and this instruction "ought to happen with all industriousness and extremest
diligence, so that the children might be able to accomplish the
responsibilities of sacristan and deacon according to their due ability".
Studying closely both
people and circumstances, the sainted-bishop in his sermons and conversations
incessantly exhorted all to an higher moral ideal. He devoted particular
attention to the reverent and correct doing of Divine-services and priestly
Sacraments, and he also watched after the moral purity of laymen; he was
concerned about the position of women in the family, and defended them against
their unjust inequality. The sainted-bishop attempted everywhere to set
straight the ustav (rule) of Divine-services, for which purpose he summoned to
himself priests, deacons, sub-deacons and sacristans, who during the time of
hierarchical Divine-services participated in the choir or sub-deacons.
Journeying about the
diocese, the saint noted that not everywhere was the proper attention given to
the ringing of bells and incensing, and therefore by means of ukaz he restored
the proper censing and ringing of bells.
Called to apostolic
service in this frontier region, Sainted Sophronii realised, that in addition
to the enlightening of believing christians, it availed him to bring to the
faith idol-worshippers, who were very numerous in Siberia.
To bring pagans to
the Church of Christ was difficult, especially since from time to time there
was no one to serve in churches, and to borrow for missionary activity made
matters all the worse. Knowing how that the hierarchical Divine-services would
have a salutary effect on non-Russians, the saint not only himself served with
reverence, but also required it of all his clergy.
concerned himself over the manner of life of the lesser nations and he
contributed to the developement of a stable culture among the local people. He
offered them monastic lands for settlements and in every way he endeavoured to
isolate them from the influence of paganism. A throng of visitors constantly
arrived and came from faraway places for a blessing.
But amidst his many
cares, he did not forget about his inner spiritual life and eternity he also
led an ascetic life. There is preserved an account about this from the
cell-attendant of Sainted Sophronii, which relates, that the saint "used
food simple and in small quantity, he served quite often, spent the greater
part of the night at prayer, slept on the floor under a sheepskin or if fur
a deerskin or bear hide, and a small simple pillow this was all his bedding
for a sleep of short duration".
The spirit of his
ascetic life fit in with the general uplift of the Christian spirit in Russia
following the glorification of Sainted Dimitrii of Rostov (Comm. 21 September),
Theodosii of Chernigov (Comm. 9 September), and in particular the uncovering of
the undecayed relics of his predecessor Sainted Innokentii of Irkutsk (Comm.
9 February). This event inspired Sainted Sophronii with greater strength and
encouraged his hope for the help of Sainted Innokentii in his task of building
up the diocese.
Until the end of his
days Sainted Sophronii kept his love for the Krasnogorsk Zolotonoshsk
monastery, which had nurtured him in the days of his youth. He constantly
contributed support for its upkeep, sending off the necessary means for this.
Having sensed a
deterioration in his health, Sainted Sophronii made a petition to the Synod to
discharge him for rest. But they tarried with an answer from Peterburg, since
it was difficult to immediately choose a worthy successor.
The final days in the
life of Sainted Sophronii were spent in prayerful asceticism.
The light, which
shone on the good deeds of Sainted Sophronii, continues to the present to
testify to the glory of the Heavenly Father, "mercifully having
strengthened His saints". And now not only in Siberia at the place of his
final deeds, but also at the place of his first deeds, there is reverently
preserved the holy memory of Sainted Sophronii.
commemoration of Sainted Sophronii is made on 30 June (glorification, 1918).
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.