Orthodox River


February 10 2020 - January 28 2020

Monk Ephrem the Syrian (+ c. 373-379). Monk Theodosii of Totemsk (+ 1568).

Monk Ephrem of Novotorzhsk (+ 1053). Monk Ephrem of Pechersk, Bishop of Pereyaslavsk (+ c. 1098). Monk Palladios the Wilderness-Dweller (IV). Monk Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Ninevah (VII). Mother and Daughter Martyred by Beheading with the Sword. Martyress Charisa. Saint George (Georgii), Brother of the Monk Ephrem of Novotorzhsk. Martyr Plutodoros. Holy Empress Marciana.

Sumorin-Totemsk Icon of the Mother of God.

The Monk Ephrem the Syrian, a teacher of repentance, was born at the beginning of the IV Century (his precise year of birth is unknown) in the city of Ninevah (Mesopotamia) into the family of impoverished toilers of the soil. His parents raised their son in piety. But from the time of his childhood he was known for his quick temper and irascible character, and in his youth he often had fights, he acted thoughtlessly, and even doubted of God’s Providence, until he finally recovered his senses from the Lord’s doing, guiding him on the path of repentance and salvation. One time he was unjustly accused of the theft of a sheep and was thrown into prison. And there in a dream he heard a voice, calling him to repentance and rectifying his life. After this, he was acquitted of the charges and set free.

Within Ephrem there took place a deep repentance. The youth withdrew outside the city and became an hermit. This form of Christian asceticism had been introduced at Ninevah by a disciple of the Monk Anthony the Great, – the Egyptian Wilderness-Dweller Eugenios (Eugene).

Among the hermits especially prominent was the noted ascetic, a preacher of Christianity and denouncer of the Arians, the bishop of the Ninevah Church, Saint James (Comm. 13 January). The Monk Ephrem became one of his disciples. Under the graced guidance of the holy hierarch, the Monk Ephrem attained to Christian meekness, humility, submission to the Will of God, and the strength without murmur to undergo various temptations. Saint James knew the high qualities of his student and he used them for the good of the Ninevah Church – he entrusted him to read sermons, to instruct children in the school, and he took Ephrem along with him to the First OEcumenical Council at Nicea (in the year 325). The Monk Ephrem was in obedience to Saint James for 14 years, until the bishop’s death.

After the capture of Ninevah by the Persians in the year 363, the Monk Ephrem abandoned the wilderness and settled in a monastery near the city of Edessa. Here he saw many a great ascetic, passing their lives in prayer and psalmody. Their caves were solitary shelters, and they fed themselves off a certain plant. He became especially close with the ascetic Julian (Comm. 18 October), who was one with him in a spirit of repentance. The Monk Ephrem combined with his ascetic works an incessant study of the Word of God, gathering within it for his soul both solace and wisdom. The Lord gave him a gift of teaching, and people began to come to him, wanting to hear his guidances, which produced a particular effect upon the soul, since he began with self-accusation. The monk both verbally and in writing instructed everyone in repentance, faith and piety, and he denounced the Arian heresy, which during those times was disrupting Christian society. And pagans likewise, listening to the preaching of the monk, were converted to Christianity.

He also toiled no little at the interpretation of Holy Scripture – with an explication of the Pentateuch (i.e. “Five Books”) of Moses. He wrote many a prayer and church-song, thereby enriching the Church’s Divine-services. Famed prayers of Saint Ephrem are to the MostHoly Trinity, to the Son of God, and to the MostHoly Mother of God. He wrote for his Church song for the Twelve Great Feastdays of the Lord (the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism, the Resurrection), and funereal song. Saint Emphrem’s Prayer of Repentance, “O Lord and Master of my life…”, is said during Great Lent, and it summons Christians to spiritual renewal. The Church since times ancient valued highly the works of the Monk Ephrem: his works were read in certain churches, at gatherings of the faithful, after the Holy Scripture. And now at present in accord with the Church Ustav (Rule), certain of his instructions are prescribed to be read on the days of Lent. Amidst the prophets, Saint David is pre-eminently the psalmodist; amidst the holy fathers of the Church the Monk Ephrem the Syrian – is pre-eminently a man of prayer. His spiritual experience made him a guide to monks and an help to the pastors of Edessa. The Monk Ephrem wrote in Syrian, but his works were very early translated into the Greek and Armenian languages, and from the Greek – into the Latin and Slavonic languages.

In numerous of the works of the Monk Ephrem are encountered glimpses of the life of the Syrian ascetics, the centre of which involved prayer and with it thereupon the toiling for the common good of the brethren, in the obediences. The outlook of the meaning of life among all the Syrian ascetics was the same. The end purpose of their efforts was considered by the monks to be communality with God and the diffusion of Divine grace within the soul of the ascetic; the present life for them was a time of tears, fasting and toil.

“If the Son of God be within thee, then also His Kingdom is within thee. Here then is the Kingdom of God – within thee, a sinner. Go inwards into thine self, search diligently and without toil thou shalt find it. Outside of thee – is death, and the door to it – is sin. Go inwards into thine self, dwell within thine heart, for since there – is God”. Constant spiritual sobriety, the developing of good within the soul of man gives unto him the possibility to take upon himself a task like blessedness, and a self-constraint like sanctity. The requital is presupposed in the earthly life of man, it is an undertaking by degrees of its spiritual perfection. Whoso grows himself wings upon the earth, says the Monk Ephrem, is one who soars up into the heights; whoso down here purifies his mind – there glimpses the Glory of God; in what measure each one loveth God – is that measure wherein is satiated to fullness by the love of God. Man, cleansing himself and attaining the grace of the Holy Spirit while still here, down upon the earth, has a foretaste therein of the Kingdom of Heaven. To attain to life eternal, in the teachings of the Monk Ephrem, does not mean to pass over from one sphere of being into another, but means rather to discover “the Heavenly” spiritual condition of being. Eternal life is not bestown man as a one-sided working by God, but rather like a seed, it constantly grows within him through effort, toil and struggle.

The pledge within us of “theosis” (“obozhenie” or “deification”) – is the Baptism of Christ, and the primal propulsion for the Christian life – is repentance. The Monk Ephrem was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins in the sacramental-mystery of Repentance, according to his teaching, is not an external exoneration, not a forgetting of the sins, but rather their complete undoing, their annihilation. The tears of repentance wash away and burn away the sin. And moreover – they (i.e. the tears) vivify, they transfigure sinful nature, they give the strength “to walk in the way of the commandments of the Lord”, encouraging the hope on God. In the fiery font of Repentance, wrote the Monk, “thou dost sail thyself across, O sinner, thou dost resuscitate thyself from the dead”.

The Monk Ephrem, in his humility reckoning himself the least and worst of all, at the end of his life set out to Egypt, to see the efforts of the great ascetics. He was accepted there as a welcome guest and received for himself great solace in his associating with them. On the return journey he visited at Caesarea Cappadocia with Sainted Basil the Great (Comm. 1 January), who wanted to ordain him a priest, but the monk considered himself unworthy of priesthood, and at the insistence of Saint Basil, he accepted only the dignity of deacon, in which he remained until death. Even later on, Saint Basil the Great invited the Monk Ephrem to accept the cathedra-chair of a bishop, but the saint feigned folly to avoid for himself this honour, in humility reckoning himself unworthy of it.

Upon his return to his own Edessa wilderness, the Monk Ephrem intended to spend the rest of his life in solitude. But Divine Providence again summoned him to service of neighbour. The inhabitants of Edessa were suffering from a devastating famine. By the influence of his word, the monk induced the wealthy to render aid to those that lacked. From the offerings of believers he built a poor-house for the destitute and sick. The Monk Ephrem then withdrew to a cave nigh to Edessa, where he remained to the end of his days.

The Monk Theodosii (Feodosii) Sumorin of Totemsk was born at Vologda in about the year 1530. In his youth he was raised in a spirit of Christian piety and the fear of God. At the insistence of his parents he married, but family life did not sway him away from God. He went fervently to church and prayed much at home, particularly at night. After the death of both his parents and his spouse, he withdrew to the Prilutsk monastery not far from Vologda. At the monastery Theodosii passed through the various obediences: he carried water, chopped fire-wood, milled flour and baked bread. Having set out on business entrusted him by the hegumen to go to Tot’ma to search out a salt-works for the monastery, he sought the permission of tsar Ivan Vasilevich and the blessing of archbishop Nikandr to found at Tot’ma a monastery. Theodosii was appointed head of this newly-formed Totemsk monastery, which in the grammota-grant of 1554 was declared free of taxation. The monk therefore founded the Totemsk Ephremov wilderness monastery and brought brethren into it. And eventually the head of two monasteries, Theodosii continued to lead an ascetic life: he wore down his body with chains and hairshirt, and beneathe the schemamonk cowl he wore an iron cap. Fond of spiritual reading, he located for the monastery many a book. The monk reposed in the year 1568 and was buried in the monastery founded by him. At his grave miracles occurred. On 2 September 1796 at the time of a reconstruction of the Ascension church his relics were found undecayed, and their glorification was made on 28 January 1798, on the day of his repose.

The Monk Ephrem of Novotorzhsk, founder of the Borisoglebsk monastery in the city of Torzhok, was a native of Hungary. Together with his brothers, Saint Moses (Moisei) the Hungarian (Comm. 26 July) and Saint George (Slavic “Georgii”/“Yuri”, or in Hungarian “Sandor” pronounced “Shandor”), he quit his native land, possibly for reasons of being Orthodox. Having come to Rus’, all three brothers entered into the service of the Rostov prince Saint Boris, son of the Equal-to-the-Apostles Saint Vladimir. Saint Ephrem’s brother George also perished in the year 1015 at the River Al’ta, together with holy Prince Boris. The murderers cut off his head, to take the gold medallion which hung upon his neck. Moisei (Moses) managed to save himself by flight, and became a monk at the Kievo-Pechersk monastery. Saint Ephrem, evidently at this time at Rostov, and arriving at the place of the murder, found the head of his brother and took it with him. Forsaking service at the princely court, Saint Ephrem withdrew to the River Tvertsa so as to lead there a solitary monastic life. After several others settled alongside him to monasticise, in the year 1038 he founded a monastery in honour of the holy princely “Passion-Bearers” (“Strastoterptsi”) Boris and Gleb. The brethren chose him to head them. Near the monastery, situated not off afar from a merchant’s road to Novgorod, a wanderer’s home was built, where for free stayed the poor and wanderers. The Monk Ephrem died in old age. His body was buried at the monastery founded by him, and in the grave, in accord with his last wishes, was placed the head of his brother, Saint George. The relics of the Monk Ephrem were uncovered in the year 1572.

The Monk Ephrem of Pechersk, Bishop of Pereslavsk, before his tonsure into monasticism, was treasurer and manager of household affairs at the court of the Kiev Greatprince Izyaslav (Dimitrii) Yaroslavich (1054-1068). Weighed down by his noisy and bustling life and wanting to accept monasticism, he received the blessing of Saint Antonii of Pechersk and was monasticised by the hegumen Nikon. The enraged prince demanded that Ephrem return, threatening to lock him up in prison and to destroy the monastery caves. The Monk Antonii emerged with the brethren from the monastery and decided to go to another place. Izyaslav then however feared the wrath of God, he took the advice of his wife and in disgrace withdrew his forces from the monastery. The holy Monk Ephrem was however compelled to leave. He journeyed to Constantinople and settled there in one of the monasteries. Being at Constantinople, Saint Ephrem made a copy of the Studite monastic-rule (ustav), and dispatched it to Kiev at the request of the Monk Theodosii. Receiving the ustav, the Monk Theodosii implemented it in his monastery. After the year 1072 Ephrem was made bishop in Pereslavl’, and had the title of metropolitan. He adorned Pereslavl’ with many beautiful churches and public edifices, and in the Greek manner he erected stone walls around the city. He built free hospices for the poor and wanderers, and constructed several public bath-houses. In the year 1091 Saint Ephrem participated in the opening and solemn transfer of the relics of the Monk Theodosii. It is known, that in former times there existed a vita (life) of the Monk Ephrem, which has not survived down to the present. We find an account about him both in the vita of the Monk Theodosii, and in the Russian Chronicles. To Saint Ephrem is ascribed a tale and laudation of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. Saint Ephrem died in the year 1098. He was buried in the Antoniev Caves of the Kievo-Pechersk monastery. His memory is celebrated also both on 28 September and on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent.

The Monk Palladios the Wilderness Dweller asceticised in a certain mountain cave near Syrian Antioch. For his ascetic life, he received from the Lord a gift of wonderworking. One time near his cave was found a merchant murdered by robbers. People accused Saint Palladios of the murder, but through the prayer of the saint, the dead man rose up and named his murderers. The monk died at the end of the IV Century, leaving behind him several edifying works.

The Monk Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Ninevah, lived during the VII Century. Together with his brother he entered the monastery of Mar Matthew. His learning and lofty ascetic manner of life gained the notice of the brethren, and they proposed that he head the monastery. The Monk Issac, not wanting this and instead yearning for silence, withdrew from the monastery to an hermitage. His brother more than once urged him to return to the monastery, but the monk would not agree. However, when the fame of the holy life of the Monk Isaac had spread all around, he was elevated to the cathedra-chair of bishop of Ninevah. Seeing the crude manners of the inhabitants of the city, the monk sensed that it was beyond his ability to guide them, and moreover, he languished for the quest of the hermit’s life. All this was a burden for the holy man, and in resigning as bishop, he withdrew into a skete wilderness monastery. Here he lived until his death, attaining to high spiritual perfection.

After the death of the Monk Isaac of Syria, from the early VIII Century through the beginning XVIII Century, nothing was known about him in Europe except for his name and works. Only in the year 1719 at Rome was there published a biography of the monk, compiled by an anonymous Arab author. In 1896 the account about the Monk Isaac was enlarged upon. The learned French soteriologist Abbot Charbot published the works of the Syrian history of the VIII Century by Iezudena, bishop of Barsa, wherein was located the account about the Monk Isaac the Syrian.

The Sumorin Totemsk Icon of the Mother of God was glorified by numerous healings at the Spaso-Sumorinsk monastery of the city of Tot’ma. When the inhabitants of the city turned to tsar Ivan the Terrible for permission to build a monastery in their city, the Rostov archbishop Nikandr in the year 1554 bestowed upon the Monk Theodosii the grammota-grant for building. The hegumen of the Prilutsk monastery blessed the Monk Theodosii with an icon of the Mother of God for success at building the new monastery. The icon thereafter received the name Sumorinsk-Totemsk (“Sumorinsk” derives from the family name of the Monk Theodosii, and Totemsk from the placename Tot’ma). After the death of the monk, the wonderworking icon was situated in a kiosk-case in front of the crypt of the saint at the Ascension church of the monastery.

It is to be noted, that for many of the sick, the Monk Theodosii has appeared to them holding this icon in his hands.

© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos