26 August 2009

'The Chrysostom of the Russian Church'—St Tikhon of Zadonsk


Today, 13 August on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Tikhon (1724-1783), Bishop of Voronezh and Wonderworker of Zadonsk and All Russia. For his writings and ‘excellent rhetoric’, St Tikhon is referred to as the ‘Chrysostom of the Russian Church’ (The Paraclete Brotherhood, ‘Preface to the Greek Edition’, Journey to Heaven: Counsels on the Particular Duties of Every Christian, by St Tikhon of Zadonsk, trans. Fr George Lardas [Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1994], p. xxiii). Here is the account of his life in the Prologue (St Nicholas [Velimirović], The Prologue from Ochrid: Vol. 3, trans. Mother Maria [Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986], pp. 190-1):

Born in 1724 in the village of Korotsk, in the Novgorod region, into a simple, peasant family, he received the monastic habit at the age of thirty-four and very soon, because of his ascesis and spiritual wisdom, was given higher and higher service until he was consecrated Bishop of Voronezh. He served as bishop for a little under seven years and then, because of ill-health, retired to the monastery of Zadonsk and entered into rest there in 1783. His wonderworking relics are kept there to this day. A great ascetic of the Russian Church, he was a rare shepherd, a man of prayer and the writer of beautiful spiritual works. In his wisdom, his holiness and asceticism, he could be counted an equal of the great Fathers of the Orthodox Church of former times. Because of the many witnessed miracles that were performed over his relics, he was first proclaimed a saint by the people, and then officially by the Church in 1861.

Fr Georges Florovsky discusses St Tikhon at some length in his monumental Ways of Russian Theology. Fr Florovsky tells us (Ways of Russian Theology, Pt. 1, trans. Robert L. Nichols, Vol. 5 in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky [Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1979], p. 157):

He had a great gift for words—he was artistic and simple at the same time. His writing is always surprisingly limpid. This limpidity is his most unexpected quality. His grace and lucidity, his freedom—and not merely freedom from the world but also in the world—is the most striking quality in St Tikhon’s personality. He has the easy grace of a pilgrim or traveller neither deflected nor restrained by this world. ‘Every living being on earth is a wayfarer.’ However, this conquering grace was achieved through painful trial and ascetic effort.

Fr Florovsky quotes from the memoirs of St Tikhon’s cell attendant, Ivan Yefimov, the following passage, which I take from Helen Iswolsky’s translations of material on St Tikhon (G.P. Fedotov, ed., A Treasury of Russian Spirituality [Vaduz: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1988], pp. 123-4):

Concerning his writings: as I heard from his own account, and also inasmuch as I observed these things myself when I took his dictation, his words flowed so rapidly from his lips that I scarcely had time to write them down. When the Holy Spirit became less active in him and he became lost in thought, he would send me away to my cell; kneeling, sometimes lying, with his arms extended in the form of a cross, he would implore with tears that God should send him the All-Activating One. Then, calling me back once more, he would begin to utter words in such abundance that I could scarcely follow him with my pen.

Yefimov also tells us the following story:

One day the saint hear of a squire who mistreated his serfs. His Grace intervened and betook himself to the lord of that estate in order to remonstrate with him. The hot-blooded nobleman started a dispute. The Bishop answered him gently but firmly. The anger of the nobleman grew, and finally he forgot himself so far as to strike the Bishop on the cheek. His Grace then left the nobleman’s house. But on his way, true to the evangelical precept, he resolve to return to the man who had thus insulted him and to beg forgiveness for ‘having led him into such a temptation’. So, going back, he fell at the feet of his host. The story goes on to say that this unexpected act of the pastor who knew no anger so deeply impressed the nobleman that he himself fell on his knees at the Bishop’s feet, imploring forgiveness. From that day on his behavior towards his serfs was completely altered. (Fedotov, p. 127)

Another incident from St Tikhon’s life that I should certainly relate is taken from the memoirs of Chebotarev. It seems there was a ‘Father Aaron’ at the Zadonsk Monastery, who, in Archbishop Philaret’s quotation from Chebotarev, is referred to as ‘the elder Aaron’ (Archbishop Philaret [Gumilevsky], ‘The Life of St Tikhon’, St Tikhon, p. 208):

He often wished to leave the Zadonsk monastery and to settle in the diocese of Novgorod, and on one occasion he wrote a request to this effect. That day I went for a walk outside the monastery grounds, and the monk Aaron joined me. I said to him that His Grace had firmly resolved to live in the diocese of Novgorod. Father Aaron exclaimed, ‘Are you mad? Our Lady forbids him to leave the monastery.’

Now the Bishop [St Tikhon] had a great respect for Father Aaron because of the latter’s austere life. Afterwards I reported to him what Father Aaron had said to me, and he asked, ‘Did the monk truly speak these words?’ I insisted that he had. ‘In that case, I shall not leave this place,’ His Grace declared, and he tore up his letter of request. (Fedotov, p. 122)

Fedotov writes that St Tikhon ‘was for long the most beloved saint of modern Russia’ (p. 112), an observation borne out by perhaps the most famous reference to him in Russian letters. In an epistle of 25 March/6 April 1870 to his friend, the poet Apollon N. Maikov, Dostoevsky wrote, ‘I intend to make the main figure of my 2nd novella Tikhon Zadonsky, of course under another name, but also a bishop who has retired to a monastery. . . . It is true that I won’t be creating anything, I’ll only show the true Tikhon whom I accepted in my heart enthusiastically a long time ago’ (Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoevsky, trans. Andrew MacAndrew, ed. Joseph Frank and David I. Goldstein [New Brunswick, CT: Rutgers U, 1989], p. 332). While the ‘2nd novella’ as he describes it in this letter was never written, strictly speaking, one can see that the idea came out in a greatly altered form in two places: the striking conversation of Stavrogin with ‘Bishop Tikhon’ in Demons (destined to be removed by the censors), and the character of the Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. Of course, the latter figure has often come under criticism by various representatives of the Orthodox monastic tradition (Fr Seraphim, for instance, calls him ‘a false starets [who] will only lead people astray’ in Letters from Father Seraphim [Richfield Springs, NY: Nikodemos, 2001], p. 39; Fr Nicholas [Sakharov] says that he can 'hardly be counted as a part of the eastern ascetic tradition' in I Love therefore I Am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony [Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2002], p. 217), but it is true that, as Victor Terras notes, ‘In some instances outright echoes from the writings of St Tychon can be found in The Brothers Karamazov’ (A Karamazov Companion: Commentary on the Genesis, Language, and Style of Dostoevsky’s Novel [Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin, 1981], p. 22, n. 50). In her seminal study, St Tikhon of Zadonsk: Inspirer of Dostoevsky, Nadejda Gorodetzky writes, ‘There is the episode of Zossima’s humiliation before the man whom he had offended when he was an officer. (This idea of humiliation and Tikhon’s prostration before the landowner who struck him in the face haunted Dostoevsky. . . .)’ (Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk: Inspirer of Dostoevsky, rev. ed. [Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1997], p. 227).

Here is a brief quotation from St Tikhon on Scripture, and another posted 12 August (NS) at the same blog, Word from the Desert, on remembrance of eternity. Here is one on forgiveness at Salt of the Earth, and Milk & Honey has one on spiritual resurrection. Archimandrite Nektarios (Serfes) has posted some substantial excerpts from St Tikhon’s ‘Counsels on the Particular Duties of Every Christian’. Here is the interesting spectacle of (apparently) a Baptist minister blogging about St Tikhon.

Here, then, are my own excerpts from St Tikhon’s writings:

18 Love the Word of God, that is the Scriptures, handed down to us by the prophets and apostles, as God Himself. For the word of God is the word of God’s mouth. If you love God, then without fail you will love the word of God also. For the word of God is God’s epistle or letter to us unworthy ones, and is His supreme gift to us for the sake of our salvation. If you love the Sender, then also love the letter which is sent from Him to you. For the word of God is given by God to me, to you, and to everyone, so that everyone who desires to be saved may receive salvation through it.

You love it when an earthly king writes you a letter, and you read it with love and joy. How much more must we read the letter of the Heavenly King with love and joy.

19 The word of God was not given to you so that it should lay written only on paper, but so that we may use it spiritually, that we may be enlightened and guided in the true way and salvation, that our morals may be corrected, and that we may live according to its rule in this world, and that we may please God. If you wish, therefore, to be a true Christian, then without fail you must take care to live by its rule. For the word of God is a heavenly seed. It must, then, yield fruit in us after its kind, that is a holy and heavenly life, otherwise it will accuse us on the day of the fearful Judgement of Christ. Live, therefore, as the word of God teaches, and then correct yourself. Do not pry idly into the mysteries. (p. 18)

65 . . . Beloved Christians! Let us inscribe eternity in our memory, and without fail, ceaselessly, in true repentance, contrition of heart, and prayer, let us not be enticed by any vanity of this world, and let us shun every sin as a venomous serpent. All that seems beautiful, pleasant, and dear to the sons of this age is loathsome to us. Let us truly be content with a morsel of bread and a little shack and ragged clothing. Remembrance and consideration of eternity will work this contentment in us. (p. 182)

In conclusion, here is the ‘Hymn of Praise’ for St Tikhon from the Prologue:

The hut of a peasant, a saint nurtured,
Him, the Orthodox Church, with the spirit imbued:
Tikhon, the hierarch, as a star shone
And spiritual mysteries, to the world related:
Read Holy Scripture, God, it conceals,
It conceals God, and God it reveals.
The books of the entire world, do not tell more
About God, about you than what the Scripture writes.
Behold, without God, one can not know God
It is in vain to inquire about God, outside of God.
God gives Himself to us, as much as He fits in our mind
Into an egg, one can not pour the sea.
How to save the soul, Holy Scripture teaches
From sin and death and damnation eternal.
He who is drowning, about water, does not ask,
Neither what is it? Nor how? Nor from where does it flow?
Rather, about his salvation only, is concerned
And a secure rock, fearfully seeks.
And the sea of life, stormily agitates
The wise one on this sea, for himself, salvation seeks.
What is this life? Of what is it made?
When death comes upon us, is that so important to know?
On the earth, knowledge and possessions remain,
To the grave, the body and the clothing is given over
The soul, only the soul can still be saved,
Endeavor and pray: help me O God!

3 comments:

Isaac said...

I'm thinking of reviving regular posts on my blog basically going through the chapters of Journey to Heaven. Such profound Christian moral philosophy, such wonderful practical Christian advice, is to be found therein and it seems like I could expound on excerpts by chapter and talk about its application to my life.

I think in one of Fr. Theophan of Poltava's letters he says for laymen to focus upon reading the Ecumenical Teachers-- Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom-- and the writings of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. That's quite a compliment!

aaronandbrighid said...

Sounds like a great idea, brother! I really enjoyed that book myself. For one thing, the Life of St Tikhon mentions an Elder Aaron, one of the few that I've come across.

gautam said...

It would be an act of great love were you to post the soliloquy of St. Tikhon:

"Hearken my soul. God has visited us. Our Lord has come to us. For my sake, He was born of the Virgin Mary,......."