St.Theophan the Recluse, bishop of Tambov

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10 /23 January

Holy Hierarch Theophan - in the world, Georgi Vasilievitch Govorov - was born on January 10, 1815, in the village of Chernavskoye, Yeletsk District, Orel Province.

Georgi received his primary education at home. In 1823, he entered the Divno Religious School. The capable and well-prepared youth easily completed his course work, and, being one of the best students, in 1829 transferred to the Orel Seminary, whose director, Archimandrite Isidore, was later to become a famous hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1837, Georgi Govorov graduated from the Seminary with honors, and was assigned to the Kiev Theological Academy.

The Kiev-Caves Lavra, and other monuments of Kiev’s holy history, eloquent witnesses to the spiritual struggles of Russian monasticism, exerted a beneficial influence upon Georgi.

In his final year of studies, Georgi Govorov decided to dedicate himself entirely to serving the Holy Church as a monastic. On February 15, 1841, he was tonsured as Monk Theophan. In April 1841, Monk Theophan was ordained a hierodeacon, and on July 1, as a hieromonk.

In 1841 Hieromonk Theophan, ranked among the top graduates of the Academy, received his Master’s degree, and began his work as an educator.

On August 27, 1841, Hieromonk Theophan was assigned to be principal of the Kiev-Sophia Religious School, which was under the direct supervision of Metropolitan Philaret (Amphiteatrov) of Kiev. However, Fr. Theophan was not to spend much time at the Kiev School. On December 7, 1842, he was assigned to be inspector of the Novgorod Seminary. Hieromonk Theophan spent 3 years in Novgorod. In that short period of time, he demonstrated that he was a talented educator, and an excellent teacher of psychology and logic.

On December 13, 1844, he was transferred to the St. Petersburg Theological Academy as an instructor in the department of moral and pastoral theology.

Recognizing his great responsibility before God in the matter of religious education of youth, Fr. Theophan strove to have an influence on these future pastors through the exercise of great kindness, love, love and humility.

Hieromonk Theophan was profoundly dedicated to the work of Christian education, but was also attracted to the life of monastic solitude.

Soon the opportunity to satisfy Fr. Theophan’s spiritual aspirations presented itself. On August 21, 1847, at his own request, he was assigned to be part of the Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem.

The six years Hieromonk Theophan spent in the East was of enormous spiritual and moral importance to him. Visiting ancient monasteries, he tirelessly studied the writings of the holy fathers recorded in ancient manuscripts, familiarized himself with the ustav followed in monasteries in the East and on Holy Mt. Athos, and with the lives of the spiritual strugglers of antiquity in those monasteries. A close bond developed between the young ascetic and the Athonite elders, who exerted a good and productive influence on the direction his spiritual life took, and subsequently facilitated publication of his writings. There, in the East, Fr. Theophan attained a thorough mastery of Greek and French, and gained some acquaintance with Hebrew and Arabic.

In 1853 the Crimean War began. On May 3, 1854 the members of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission were recalled from Jerusalem to Russia. For his efforts in the Mission, Hieromonk Theophan was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite on April 4, 1855; on April 12, he was assigned to the St. Petersburg Theological Academy as an instructor in the department of canon law. One half year later, he was appointed rector of the Olonetsk Theological Seminary.

In 1856, Archimandrite Theophan was appointed rector of the Embassy Church in Constantinople, an appointment made possible by the fact that he was well acquainted with the Orthodox East and was completely prepared for such an assignment. At the time, the Church in Constantinople was suffering great difficulties in connection with strife between the Greeks and Bulgarians. The Russian Government and the Holy Synod, both eager for a quick resolution, directed Archimandrite Theophan to gather information about the Greek-Bulgarian question. On March 9, 1857 Fr. Theophan presented a report that was to prove very important in the deliberations by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church with respect to the question. Fr. Theophan’s sympathy for the Bulgarian people, his sympathy for their legitimate demands, and his sincere desire to help, earned him great love among the Bulgarians. Although concerned with the complex situation in the Bulgarian Church, Archimandrite Theophan did not forget about the good of the Church of Constantinople. He became quite familiar with the internal life of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the state of the Synod, the situation in which the Patriarch, the Episcopate and priests were, the makeup of the churches and clergy, and a disastrous picture emerged. Fr. Theophan wrote about all of this in his report, appealing for help from “magnanimous” Russia, “which should not abandon its mother in the faith in this helpless condition.”

During his time in Constantinople, Archimandrite Theophan both cared for the Russians living there, and proposed that the Russian Government establish in Constantinople a hospital for Russian sailors and pilgrims, and a “brotherhood and church.”

In a directive issued on June 13, 1857 the Holy Synod assigned Archimandrite Theophan to be rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. He served in that position for two years.

As rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, Fr. Theophan also engaged in a great deal of editorial and theological work. He published his writings primarily in the academic journal “Christian Readings,” which at the time was produced under his supervision.

On May 29, 1859, Fr. Theophan was called to the episcopate, to be Bishop of Tambov and Shatsk. His consecration took place on June 1 in the Holy Trinity Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra.

The Most-reverend Theophan served in the Tambov Diocese for only four years. However, in that short period of time, with exceptional meekness, unusual tact and active attention to the needs of his flock, he gained everyone’s quite sincere love. Holy Hierarch Theophan showed himself to be a dedicated servant in all areas of church life. In managing the Tambov Diocese, Vladyka was called upon to handle a multitude of concerns and difficulties.

In days of sorrow and days of peace, he was an abundantly-loving father to everyone. In the midst of the multitude of diverse activities and concerns involved in administering the Tambov Diocese, Holy Hierarch Theophan still found the time for scholarly literary pursuits. During this period he composed his theological work “Letters on the Christian Life,” which contains an entire system of Christian moral teaching.

On July 22, 1863 the Most-reverend Theophan was transferred to the cathedra of the Vladimir Diocese.

Bishop Theophan period of service in Vladimir was not lengthy either, but there as well he showed himself to be a zealous archpastor and earned everyone’s respect and love.

After 25 years of service to the Church in various assignments, Most-reverend Theophan considered it time to realize what had always been his aspiration. After consulting with Metropolitan Isidore, his long-time spiritual director, he petitioned the Holy Synod to grant him retirement with the right to remain at the Vyshna Hermitage in Tambov Diocese. Vladyka’s appeal was granted, and on July 17, 1866, he was released from his responsibilities as director of the Diocese, and was appointed rector of the Vyshna Hermitage, where he spent his days as a learned monk.

The responsibilities and fuss involved in being rector disturbed Vladyka Theophan’s internal peace, and he soon made a new appeal to be released from that position. The Holy Synod granted his request. Finally, by the grace of God, the long-awaited solitude toward which the Holy Hierarch had persistently striven came to him. The Holy Hierarch said of that time, “I would not trade my place for the St. Petersburg Metropolia, but not even for the Patriarchate, should it be restored and I were called to it.... It can be exchanged only for the Heavenly Kingdom.

In the first six years of his time in Vyshna Hermitage, Most-reverend Theophan did not go into complete seclusion. Together with the rest of the monks, he attended all of the church services, and on Sundays and Feast Days he and concelebrating brethren served the Liturgy. This external arrangement completely suited the hierarch/struggler’s spiritual needs. He eagerly received visitors, both relatives and admirers seeking his spiritual advice, teachings and instruction, and he would leave his cell to take walks.

In 1872, after Pascha, he began to live the life of a recluse. He ceased any association with others, stopped going to the monastery church for services, and secluded himself in a separate out-building. From then on, he would receive only the Hermitage rector, his confessor Abbot Tikhon, and Fr. Evlampy, his cell attendant. By this time, Bishop Theophan had built in his quarters a small church dedicated to the Lord’s Baptism. In it he served the Divine Liturgy on all Sundays and Feast Days, аand in his final 11 years, he served daily.

In seclusion, the archpastor spent the greater part of his day in divine services and prayer, in physical and spiritual struggles. During the times not spent on spiritual struggles he occupied himself with scholarly literary theological works; he wrote a great number of letters to various people with perplexing problems who sought his help and direction. Having left the world, and having almost no contact with other people, the bishop/recluse still took an interest in the life of the Church and of his homeland. He subscribed to a number of magazines. His office contained an extensive library. In writing his works, he utilized a wide range of Russian and foreign-language literary materials.

The subjects and content of the Recluse of Vyshna’s works were quite diverse. Hardly any detail of spiritual life escaped his profound close attention and observation. However, the main subject of all of his many works was salvation in Christ. The mere summarization of his works evokes profound respect.

In subject matter, his works may be divided into three categories: moral instruction, commentary, and translation. In the field of theological studies, the Holy Hierarch’s many works on the subject of Christian morality are especially treasured. In his works on moral instruction, the Most-reverend Theophan described the ideal of the true Christian life, and the paths leading to its accomplishment. In Holy Hierarch Theophan’s works, the fundamentals of patristic psychology are expounded.

Among the most important of the Most-reverend Theophan’s works in his life of spiritual struggle, valuable contributions to Russian biblical theology, are his remarkable works on explanation of God’s word

The most important of the Holy Hierarch’s translations is Philokalia, which consists largely of the writings by the founders and great teachers of Christian asceticism on the subject of the spiritual life. A special insight into the Most-reverend Theophan’s literary efforts can be afforded by his great volume of correspondence with the many people – ranging all the way from high officials to simple folk - seeking his advice, support and approval. The Holy Hierarch retained his sincerity and love for others until his blessed end.

At about 4:00 PM on January 6, 1894, the Feast Day of his cell church, the Church of the Baptism of the Lord, Bishop Theophan peacefully reposed.

Teachings of St.Theophan the Recluse

On development of spirituality in children:

St. Theophan recommends using this means (i.e. spirituality) as early as possible, while the children are still in the cradle. It was his deep conviction that the parents' piety and religiosity were the best and irreplaceable means to have influence upon a child. A child's frequent communion of the Holy Gifts, being brought to church, being touched to the Holy Cross, to the Gospel, to Icons, being sprinkled with Holy Water, being censed with incense, receiving the priest's blessing, etc., are all part of a salvific atmosphere that surrounds the child and in a marvelous manner warms and nurtures his grace-filled life. However, all of that spiritual atmosphere can seem weak and false if at the same time the parents themselves do not have a spirit of piety. With that spirit, parents can exert a beneficial influence on the spirit of the child, who, in the first months and even years of his life is not yet moving, so to speak.

Parents have a direct effect upon their child's soul through the heart. The Holy Hierarch states that the best external channel is the glance. While the soul remains hidden from the other senses, the eye opens it to another's glance - a point at which two souls meet. May the souls of the mother and father enter through that opening, into the soul of the little child with holy feelings. All of this together will have a beneficial and salvific influence on forming the child's character, raising up a Christian spirit.

Holy Hierarch Theophan the Recluse says moreover that, having begun such organizing from the cradle, we should continue it throughout the child's upbringing - in infancy and throughout his youth. The church, spirituality, and the Holy Mysteries, are like a tent for children, a tabernacle under which they should always be. Moreover, all other means of upbringing can be and are successfully replaced with this alone. In antiquity, this is largely how people were brought up. As the child grows, abilities of body, soul and spirit, beginning with the lowest and culminating with the higher ones, begin to appear and make themselves known. As a result, parents and educators assume the responsibility for watching over their development and direction. By the way, it is not simply observation, but also active involvement on their part. The awakening of abilities, together with their attendant needs, begins with the physical: nourishment, movement, and neural sensation or motor action. Holy Hierarch Theophan considered these needs not unimportant for life in general, and also for moral life, for the body, as a rule is the seat of the passions. The Holy Hierarch states that it follows that it is essential to set appropriate limits, and to establish and strengthen good habits, so that later fewer disturbances might ensue.

On the forgiving of offences:

Nothing is so powerful in the sight of the Lord as the forgiving of offenses, because it is the imitation of one of the actions closest to us of God's mercifulness; and we are not tempted by anything so easily as by irascibility and the desire for vengeance by a provoking word and, not infrequently, even a deed.

Why is it so, that we do not always forgive, but more often give ourselves up to outbursts of anger, annoyance and indignation? I think, it is from inattentiveness to the value of forgiving. In minutes of susceptibility to offense, one must restore in one's mind and heart the promise for forgiveness, which is undoubtedly more valuable than the greatest losses which an offense has the power to cause.

Let us forgive ­ and we shall be forgiven; let us forgive again ­ and we shall again be forgiven; and so on without end. He who forgives will himself walk under God's all­forgivingness, in the embrace of God's mercifulness and love. But let us hasten to forgive, in order to be forgiven, and this becomes easier, because that which we shall forgive is insignificant; while that which we shall be forgiven is so valuable that it cannot even be compared with it. In the Gospel parable, our sins against God are valued at ten thousand talents, while the sins of others against us are valued at a hundred denaria (Matthew 18:23­34). According to our reckoning, our sins are a thousand rubles, while the sins of others 8 against us are one kopek. To gain a thousand rubles for a kopek ­ for goodness' sake! if such an opportunity to make such a gain were to open up in everyday life, one would not even be able to force one's way through the crowd. But no gain on earth can be so sure as the Lord's promise is sure, and no appraisal of earthly things can be so exact as the comparative appraisal of our sins and the offenses caused us is exact, because it is determined by the God of righteousness Himself. Thus, remember the sins which thou hast been forgiven or seekest forgiveness of, and if not out of thankfulness for mercy received, then in undoubted hope of receiving it, forgive, forgive and forgive with a wide and open heart.

Of course, it is not possible suddenly to acquire such a pro­found and abundant peace that would swallow up every insulting blow. The first degree of insusceptibility to offences and, consequently, forgiveness is silence. When they offend thee ­ keep silent. Do so one time, and the next time thou wilt keep silent more easily; and the more often thou wilt keep silent, the more often thou wilt meet offenses with less disturbance. Lack of disturbance will bring rest, while rest will be reborn as peace. Then, in the face of offenses thou wilt be as a firm wall exposed to grains of sand flung up by the wind.

The frequent forgiving of offenses not only imparts ease and skill to this, but develops even a thirst for offenses, for the Lord's sake, during which he who is struck on the cheek turns the other, and he who is forced to go one mile goes two. This is a height which seems unattainable to us, but to which he who has begun to forgive as one ought ascends easily, naturally, without special efforts.

The forgiving of offenses is a most attractive virtue, often bringing into the heart a reward for itself.

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