Commemorated on February 20
Kornilii of Pskovo-Pechersk was born in the year 1501 at Pskov into the
boyar-noble family of Stefan and Maria. In order to give their son an
education, his parents sent him to the Pskov Mirozh monastery, where he worked
under the guidance of an elder: he made candles, chopped wood, studied his
letters, transcription and adornment of books, and also iconography. Having
finished his studies, Kornilii returned to his parental home with the resolve
to become a monk.
One time the
government clerk Misiur Munekhin took Kornilii with him to the Pskovo-Pechersk
monastery set amidst the woods, and which then was in more miserable a
condition than any other Pskov churchyard. The beauty of nature there, and the
calm of services in the cave church produced so very strong an impression on
Kornilii, that he left his parental home forever and accepted monastic tonsure
at the Pskovo-Pechersk monastery.
In 1529, at age 28,
the Monk Kornilii was elevated to hegumen and became head of the monastery.
While he was hegumen, the Pskovo-Pechersk monastery reached the height of its
prime. The number of brethren increased from 15 to 200 men. This number of
residents was not exceeded under any other subsequent head of the monastery.
The activity of the
Monk Kornilii extended far beyond the bounds of the monastery: he disseminated
Orthodoxy amongst the Esti (Aesti) and Saeti people living around the
monastery, he built churches, hospices, homes for orphans and those in need.
During the time of a terrible plague in the Pskov region the Monk Kornilii
walked through the plague-infested villages to give communion to the living and
to sing burial-service at the circular pits with the dead.
During the time of
the Livonian war the Monk Kornilii preached Christianity in the occupied
cities, built churches there, by hand distributed generous aid from the
monastery storerooms to the Esti and Livonians suffering during the time of
war; at the monastery he selflessly doctored and fed the injured and the
maimed, preserved the killed within the caves and inscribed their names in the
monastery synodikon-record for eternal remembrance.
In the year 1560, on
the feast of the Uspenie (Dormition) of the Mother of God, the Monk Kornilii
sent by way of blessing for the Russian armies, besieging the city of Thellin,
a prosphora and holy water. On that very day the Germans surrendered the city.
In 1570 at the establishing of a cathedra-see in Livonian Yur'ev, there was
appointed as bishop of Yur'ev and Vel'yansk (i.e. Thellin) a certain hegumen
Kornilii. Some have identified him with the Monk Kornilii, but this does not correspond
with actual events. The Monk Kornilii was a great expert and lover of books –
at the monastery was gathered quite solid a collection of books. In 1531 came
out his work entitled, "An Account Concerning the Origin of the Pechersk
Monastery". In the mid-XVI Century the Pskovo-Pechersk monastery took over
from the Spaso-Eleaszarov monastery the tradition of chronicle-keeping. At the
start of the chronicles was put accounts of the first two Pskov chronicles in
rough-draft continuation from 1547 to 1567. Besides this, Hegumen Kornilii left
behind a great monastery Synodikon for remembrance of deceased brothers and
benefactors of the monastery, and he began to maintain the "Stern-side
Book" ["Kormovaya kniga", i.e. the ship-stern is the back-side
(sic) the sense of "looking back in remembrance"] from the year 1588;
he compiled also a "Description of the Monastery" and a
"Description of the Miracles of the Pechersk Icon of the Mother of
The Monk Kornilii
expanded and beautified the monastery, he dug out further the monastery caves,
he transported the wooden church named for the Forty Martyrs of Sebasteia
beyond the monastery enclosure to the entryway monastery gate, and on its site
in the year 1541 he built a church in the name of the Annunciation of the
MostHoly Mother of God, and in 1559 he constructed a church in honour of the
Protection-Pokrov of the MostHoly Mother of God.
monastery, risen up on the frontier of the Russian state, was not only a
luminary of Orthodoxy, but also a bulwark against the external enemies of
In the years
1558-1565 the Monk Kornilii erected round about the monastery a massive stone
wall, and over the holy gates in accord with his plan he built a stone church
in the name of Saint Nicholas, entrusting to him the guarding of the monastery.
Within the temple was set a wooden sculpted image of "Nikola the
In the chronicle,
compiled by the monk-deacon Pitirim, was thus recorded about the martyr's death
of the Monk Kornilii: "This worthy-blest hegumen Kornilii... was as
hegumen 41 years and 2 months; by his fast-keeping and holy life not only as a
monk was he an image unto salvation... in these times being then in the Russian
land evil sufferance of much unrest, and finally, from this perishable life the
earthly tsar did dispatch him unto the Heavenly Tsar unto eternal habitation,
in the year 1570 on the 20th day of February, in his 69th year from
birth". (This information is on the ceramic plate – from the ceramics
covering the mouth of the tomb of the Monk Kornilii).
In the ancient
manuscripts of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra it was written, that when Hegumen
Kornilii came out the monastery gates with a cross to meet the tsar, tsar Ivan
the Terrible, angered by a false slander, with his own hand cut off his head,
but then immediately repented of his deed and, taking up the body, in his own
hands he carried it into the monastery. The pathway made scarlet by the blood
of the Monk Kornilii, along which the tsar carried his body to the
Uspenie-Dormition church, became called the "Bloody Path". Evidence
of the tsar's repenting his deed was the generous recompense to the
Pskovo-Pechersk monastery, made by him after the death of the Monk Kornilii.
The name of the Hegumen Kornilii was inscribed in the tsar's
The body of the Monk
Kornilii was set into the wall of "the cave formed by God", wherein
it passed 120 years without corruption. In the year 1690 Markell, metropolitan
of Pskov and Izborsk, had the relics transferred from the cave to the
Uspenie-Dormition cathedral church and placed in a new crypt in the wall.
On 17 December 1872
the relics of the Monk Kornilii were transferred from the former tomb into a
copper-silver reliquary, and in 1892 – into a new reliquary. It is presumed,
that the service to the monk-martyr was compiled for the day of the Uncovering of
the Relics, in the year 1690.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.