The Monks Varsonophii and Savva of Tver'
Commemorated on March 2
Varsonophii and Savva of Tver' were hegumens of the Savvino Sretenie /
Visitation monastery, organised in the year 1397 not far from Tver'. The
Savvino monastery was known as such from the name of its founder or for the
church in the name of the Monk Savva the Sanctified, and Sretensk – for the
chief temple of the monastery – named for the Sretenie / Meeting of the Lord.
The monk Varsonophii, older brother of Blessed Savva, was made head of the monastery by the Monk-hegumen Savva of Vishersk (Comm. 1 October), who set off on pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain. After five years of monastic rule the monk Varsonophii set off into the wilderness, having transferred the hegumenate to his brother the monk Savva; – he commanded him to accept the priestly dignity, since "he was pure as from his mother's womb and worthy of such grace". The monk Varsonophii dwelt for forty years in solitude and "during all these years, – testifies the Monk Joseph of Volokolamsk, – he did nothing else than to pray, to sing and to read books. He took books about the love of Christ and after reading he returned them or took them to another place. The blessed one had nothing, not even coppers of money, since he loved poverty and non-covetousness. After long attentiveness to self, and by silence, prayer, and the reading of holy books – he was vouchsafed such grace, that he memorised all the Holy Scripture by heart and freely communicated it upon demand. There came to him from everywhere many monks and worldly people of noble birth, some for the good of their soul, others – needing an explanation from something in Scripture. Even the Metropolitan of All Russia Photii at times sent off to him a request to furnish explanation to some misunderstood saying of Holy Scripture, about which there was some dispute".
It happened, that when one of the brethren was seduced by the devil he decided to snatch books from the monk's cell, and he fell down dead on the pathway with the books on his bosom. Only by the grace of the prayers of Saint Varsonophii was the unfortunate one resuscitated, and afterwards until the end of his days he worthily pursued asceticism in the monastery.
Having attained to an extreme old age, the monk Varsonophii returned to the monastery and to his brother the monk Savva. The Monk Joseph of Volokolamsk (Comm. 9 September) witnesses to the spiritual strictness of the monk Savva: "We have beheld blessed Savva, who headed the Savvino monastery in the vicinity of Tver' for more than 50 years. He so concerned himself about his flock, that he stood always at the church doors with staff in hand. If some one of the brethren did not come to church for the beginning of the service, or left before the dismissal, or chatted during the time of singing, or flittered about from his own place to another, then the monk Savva would not remain silent about it, but rather prohibited it, such that he did not let the matter drop without concern even in the small short-comings... When it was necessary, he would be strict, and when there was need, he would be kindly". During the time of a terrible epidemic in these years it happened that at the monastery all the other priests died. The monk Savva made visits, heard confessions, communed the sick and himself buried the dead. Therein was manifest the great strength of grace of the holy ascetic. In the words of the monk Joseph, "when blessed Savva was visiting the sick and hearing confession, one of the brethren came and said, that someone was dying and needed to confess, the blessed one answered: go, brother, and tell the dying that he shall not die but rather wait for my visit. And just as the brother told this to the dying one, he stood up all better; when however Blessed Savva gave him the Holy Mysteries of Christ, then the brother died. And this happened not once or twice, but a number of times".
"When Blessed Savva and saint Varsonophii were alive, – relates the monk Joseph of Volotsk, – in the monastery under their guidance all was decorum, quiet and peaceful. If someone showed himself to be stubborn or ill-tempered, they would not permit him to have his way. When Blessed Savva died, Saint Varsonophii and the other fathers – zealous to preserve the traditions of the fathers – selected an hegumen from another monastery, and this one started to live not according to the ustav / rule of this monastery and not according to the tradition of these holy elders: their tradition was such, that no one either ate or drank differently from the common refectory, that no one would leave the monastery without blessing, that young lads would not live in cells or in the courtyard, and that women would not enter the monastery. And in general this was observed throughout the place according to the ustav. But the new hegumen, having come from elsewhere, made a mess of all this and passed it by without concern. Some while later Saint Savva appeared to him in a dream and said: "Wretch! Why art thou not in the least concerned about the monastery's welfare and piety, but rather neglectful and disregarding of this?" And his staff was enough, such that this one was not able to rise up from his bed. When he recovered and set straight the mess, then already he no longer smiled to govern the monastery, and soon he returned thither from whence he had come". Thus even after his death the monk Savva watched over his monastery. The monk Savva died in about the year 1467, somewhat earlier than his saintly brother.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.