The Russian Orthodox Ascetic Tradition

“The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Russia” Series is an invaluable collection of works on the Russian Orthodox Ascetic Tradition as exemplified in the lives of five Hermits and Monks:
Vol 1: “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia”
Vol 2: “Salt of the Earth” (Hieromonk Isidore)
Vol 3: “One of the Ancients” (Elder Gabriel)
Vol 4: “Elder Melchizedek: Hermit of the Roslavl Forest”
Vol 5: “Father Gerasim of New Valaam”
Vol 6: “Elder Zosima: Hesychast of Siberia”

I.M. Kontzevitch “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia: Orthodox Ascetic Theology” (The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Russia Series, Vol. 1) [Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996]
Acquisition 2
“One of this century’s greatest students of Orthodox sanctity, Professor Kontzevitch combined careful honest scholarship with a first-hand knowledge of saints with whom he had been in contact while in Russia including the holy Elders of Optina Monastery. His magnum opus, this book is a priceless sourcebook of all that he felt important to say about spiritual prayer, communion with God, asceticism, and eldership.”

St. Paul Florensky “Salt of the Earth” (The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Russia Series, Vol. 2) [St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2nd revised edition, 1999]
Salt of the earth
“Salt of the Earth” is the heartwarming biography of Hieromonk Isidore (1814 1908), the great Elder of Gethsemane Hermitage in Russia.
Radiant with Christ-like love and childlike simplicity, Elder Isidore lived in another world, yet kept both feet firmly planted on the ground. He was one of those whom Christ called the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13) a repository of the rare otherworldly savor of ancient Christianity. In “Salt of the Earth”, both the life and personality of Elder Isidore have been captured with remarkable clarity by the Elder’s spiritual son, New Martyr Paul (Pavel) Florensky (1882-1937). He takes the reader directly into Fr. Isidore’s world, so that by the time the book is finished, the Elder is already a dear friend.
This revised second edition contains additional material on the Elder by Metropolitan Benjamin.”
“Elder Isidore (1814–1908) was a Russian Orthodox monastic of Gethsemane Hermitage in Russia. Elder Isidore was born with the name John in Lyskov in an unknown year (estimated to be 1814). While still in the womb, his mother was told to have visited St. Seraphim of Sarov, who called her from a crowd and bowed before her, prophesying that her son would a great Ascetic. In his youth he entered Gethsame Skete in Sarov and became a call attendant to Archimandrite Anthony. In 1860 he took his vows and began a life of asceticism at Gethsame. Of his spiritual children, one of the most notable was Pavel Florensky, who wrote a narrative of his life after his repose called “Salt of the Earth”. Elder Isidore died of natural causes in 1908.”

Simeon Kholmogorov “One of the Ancients: The Life and Struggles of a Russian Man of Prayer: Elder Gabriel of Pskov and Kazan” (The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia Series, Vol 3) [Saint Herman Press, 1988]
One of the ancients
“ “One of the Ancients” offers glimpses into the mystical life, telling of Elder Gabriel’s unceasing and burning prayer, spiritual experiences, wondrous visions, and acts of clairvoyance and healing. The Elder was a normal, down-to-earth human being who endured all of the common temptations. It was his deep longing for the other world, inborn in every person, that gave him courage to stand and fight as a free individual before God, and, without expecting anyone to do it for him, to take the kingdom of heaven by force (Matt 11:12). His victory over adversity and his own raging passions gives hope to those still in the arena of unseen warfare, striving for union with God as did he.
Through the holy Life of Elder Gabriel “One of the Ancients” portrays an undivided awareness of God, the vision of otherworldliness, perception of the future and even a partial penetration into the mysteries of death–to the life beyond.”
“Gavriil Fyodorovitch Zyryanov was born on March 14, 1844, in the Province of Perm, in the village of Frolovo, Irbitsk District.
The future Elder was given a religious education, but his parents had a hard time releasing him to go into a monastery. Upon arriving in Optina on August 13, 1864, Ganya was moved to tears. The Abbot said, “You see, you have broken into tears…. Never forget the day you entered, and remain as you are today. If you live like that, you will be saved.”
Gavriil carried out obediences in the bell tower, the bread bakery, the prosphora bakery, and managed the Abbot’s kitchen. He was spiritually nurtured by Ven. Amvrossy and Ven. Hilarion of Optina.
Gavriil was under obedience in Optina Hermitage for 10 years, but his tonsure was delayed, of course causing the young postulant to sorrow, for tonsure was not an award, but a form of repentance. Gavriil moved to the Vysokopetrovsky Monastery in Moscow. One year later, in 1875, he was tonsured and given the name Tikhon, in honor of Holy Hierarch St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, and was ordained a hierodeacon.
In 1881, Fr. Tikhon escaped the hubbub of life in the capital by going off to the Raitha Hermitage near Kazan. On January 24, 1883, Fr. Tikhon was ordained a hieromonk, and was appointed to be spiritual director for the brethren.
Soon Hieromonk Tikhon was transferred to the Sedmiyezernoye [Seven-lakes] Hermitage. It was there, 10 km from Kazan, that the future schema-elder spent 25 years of his life, and it was there that his gift of eldership fully manifested itself.
In 1892, Tikhon was tonsured into the Great Schema, with the name Gavriil, after the Archangel Gabriel. In 1902, he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite.
The fact that he enjoyed considerable spiritual authority, as well as his active participation in management, caused dissatisfaction among some of the monks and in certain lay circles. Among the complaints frequently lodged with the Synod was a denunciation to the effect that he had caused the ruin of the monastery and that he belonged to the Social-Democrat party. After being relieved of his responsibilities, “batiushka almost died of shock.” Later he was cleared of the charges.
At the end of June 1908, Schema-archimandrite Gavriil came to the St. Eleazar Monastery in Pskov. Archimandrite Gavriil combined an intense prayer life (repetition of the Jesus Prayer 12,000 times per day, the Midnight Office, kathismas, hours, vespers, and cell rule) with the service of eldership, and active correspondence with clergy and laity alike. In 1912, the elder grew noticeably weaker. In July 1914, the War began, and the elder was forced to move to Kazan. It was there that he reposed in the Lord on September 24, 1915. He was interred at the church in the Sedmiyezernoye Monastery.
After the Sedmiyezernoye Hermitage was dissolved in 1929, Ven. Gavriil’s relics as well as the Sedmiyezersk Smolensk Icon were in the keeping of Hieroschemamonk Seraphim Kashurin. Elder Gavriil was canonized on December 25, 1996.
Since the year 2000, his relics have been in the restored Sedmiyezersk Hermitage.”

Serge N. Bolshakoff “Elder Melchizedek: Hermit of the Roslavl Forest” (The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia Series, Vol 4) [Saint Herman Press, 1988]
Elder Melchizadek
“The Life of the pious man in “Elder Melchizedek” was very unusual, even unique–it was an extremely long life, lasting for 125 years, from 1715 to 1840. At 95 years of age, Elder Melchizedek left his monastery for the life of a solitary in the great White Forest. At this age, he had the vigor of a man in his fifties, mentally alert and courageous.
Elder Melchizedek was part of the whole phenomenon of the desert dwellers of Roslavl, which led to the formation of the Optina Skete. Similar to many others who pursued monastic love for the wilderness, he was a contemporary of outstanding men of prayer to whom mystical realities were opened.”

Monk Gerasim Eliel “Father Gerasim of New Valaam” (The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Russia Series, Vol. 5) [Saint Herman Press, 1986]
Father Gerasim
“In the 1800’s, on Alaska’s remote and forested Spruce Island, there lived a holy Russian monk and missionary named Herman, who was to become America’s first canonized Orthodox Saint. St. Herman prophesied that “a monk like me, fleeing the glory of men, will come and live on Spruce Island.” This prophecy was fulfilled 100 years later in the person of Archimandrite Gerasim (+1969), who lived a hermitic way of life on the island for 30 years, guarding the Saint’s relics and praying alone for the world. His solid spiritual formation in monasteries in Russia enabled him to withstand incredible obstacles, including concerted attempts to drive him off the island. His heroic witness is a beacon of ascetic Christianity in the 20th century. “Father Gerasim of New Valaam” includes a preliminary Life of this righteous confessor, together with selections from his letters and three of his articles, all of which are largely autobiographical. From his words there emerges a warm, loving and endearing man, close to God’s creation. At the same time, we see him as a mystic of the holy Optina tradition; a knower of God to who contact with the other world was a common reality. We can only marvel at how he was able to preserve the simplicity of his blessed childhood, with its fresh, guileless reactions to the joys and sorrows of life, and how he managed to preserve, on a wild island so far from his native land, a microcosm of Holy Russia.”
“Originally a monk of the Opntia tradition of St Tikhon of Kaluga Monastery, the young Fr Gerasim, after a trip to Mt Athos, wanted to go to Valaam But a missionary duty to go to America prevented him He was forced to remain in America due to the raging Russian Revolution, and eventually settled in New Valaam on Spruce Island in Alaska, where the basic monastic input had been made by Valaam monk St Herman a hundred years earlier St Herman had prophesied the arrival of Fr Gerasim, saying that “a monk like himself” would come and live in his hermitage The love for traditional monasticism had been passed on to him through his Elder Ioasaph, who laid his own monastic beginning on Valaam This made Fr
Gerasim the right man to install the fullness of Valaam mo-nasticism in the New World, but difficulties with church politics hindered him greatly Nevertheless he has an important place in the Valaam Patencon, especially because there are sufficient grounds for his canonization He possessed unquestionable literary talent, as is evident from the hundreds of pages of his correspondence with contemporary writers.”

Abbess V. Verkhovsky “Elder Zosima: Hesychast of Siberia” (The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Russia Series, Vol. 6) [Saint Herman Press, 2nd edition, 1990]
Elder Zozima
“Elder Zosima (1767-1833) was one of the many holy hermits and desert dwellers that lived in the vast and wild forests of the Russian North. His biography reveals how the grace of God works in one who is devoted to the labor of unceasing noetic activity–unseen warfare and interior silence. Hesychasm is the mental activity of the Jesus Prayer, in the depths of the human heart. Through it the whole man is enlightened and sanctified.
Written by the Elder’s niece and spiritual daughter, “Elder Zosima: Hesychast of Siberia” touchingly and expressively recounts the life of this holy contemporary of St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Herman of Alaska, as well as his loving spiritual relationship with his elder and co-mystic, Elder Basilisk, a great doer of the Jesus Prayer.”


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