Saints Anthony and Theodosius of the Kiev Caves lived in the 11th century. They are commonly regarded as the founders of monasticism in Ancient Rus’, the cradle of today's Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. The famous Holy Dormition Kievo-Pechersk Lavra now rises majestically on the bank of the Dnieper River thanks to these men's meeting, their hard work and their ardent love for God.
Saints Anthony and Theodosius were both born on the territory of present-day Ukraine. Anthony was originally from Lubech, a town about 200 kilometres north of Kiev. Theodosius was born in the town of Vasilev (Vasilkov), 35 kilometres southwest of Kiev and spent most of his childhood and youth in Kursk (modern Russia).
Holy Dormition Kiev-Pechersk Lavra
On September 15 (2) we celebrate the memory of both saints, but there are also days when each of them is commemorated separately. The feast of St. Anthony is July 23 (10), and St. Theodosius is remembered on May 16 (3) and August 27 (14).
Our Venerable and God-bearing father Anthony, the "chief" of all Russian monks and the one who laid the foundation of Russian monasticism was born according to some accounts around the year 983, and according to others — at the beginning of the eleventh century.
From a young age, Anthony (whose baptismal name was Antipas) felt drawn to spiritual life. This calling led the young ascetic to the Holy Mountain of Athos, where he took monastic vows. Although opinions are articulated claiming that Anthony was tonsured at the Esphigmenou monastery, according to the most credible version, his tonsure took place in the Xilourgou monastery, inhabited at that time by the Russian monks.
Monk Anthony began a solitary life in a cave not far from the monastery. When he reached spiritual maturity, his abbot blessed him to return to his homeland.
Venerable Anthony of the Kiev Caves
The young country, newly enlightened by the light of faith, needed a good example of Christian life. "Angels are a light for monks and the monastic life is a light for all men" (St. John Climacus). Therefore, the Lord sent His faithful servant Anthony to lay the foundation of monastic life in Rus’.
Returning to Kiev, the Saint discovered that there were already monasteries around the city, founded by the Greeks. However, he chose to settle not in them, but in a two-yard cave dug out by Metropolitan Hilarion of Kiev. These events took place in 1051.
The birth date of the Venerable Theodosius, a disciple of St. Anthony of the Caves, is also a matter of dispute: according to one version, Theodosius was born in 1008, while the other states that he was born in the year 1036.
The name Theodosius ("God-given" in Greek) was chosen for him by a priest when, according to tradition, his parents brought the baby to church for baptism on the eighth day of his birth.
From an early age, Theodosius strove for ascetic deeds. He avoided games with his peers, wore rough clothes, worked in the fields on a par with servants and visited church every day. Young Theodosius quickly learned to read and surprised everyone with his intelligence and obedience.
His mother loved him very much, but was opposed to her son's spiritual aspirations. She often punished him for "disgracing" his family. At the age of 13, Theodosius lost his father and was left in the care of his mother.
The boy’s desire for God was so strong that he ran away from home several times. One day the future Venerable Theodosius wanted to visit the holy city of Jerusalem and left with a group of pilgrims, but his mother brought him back, beat him and locked him in the house.
Over time, a desire arose in the young man's heart to devote his life entirely to God and to take monastic vows. When the opportunity presented itself, the 23-year-old Theodosius made another attempt to escape. This time he went to Kiev.
Theodosius went around all the monasteries, but he was not welcomed anywhere, because of his poverty-stricken appearance and pauper clothes. Besides, he was very young. However, such was the hidden Providence of God: together with Venerable Anthony, the young man was destined to later found the holy Lavra of Kiev.
Theodosius learned of the Venerable Anthony and came to his cave. The young man prostrated himself before the Elder, begging to stay with him.
Saint Anthony said, “Child, this place is sad and unattractive. Will you be able to bear all the hardships while living here?"
Theodosius answered, “Father, the Lord has led me to your holiness so that you can save me. Whatever you command me, I will do."
Venerable Theodosius of the Caves
The mother of St. Theodosius spent four years looking for her son. She had already resigned herself to his death and mourned for him when she heard that Theodosius was in Kiev. Immediately the woman made a journey there and, learning that her son was in the cave of the Venerable Anthony, rushed to meet the holy Elder in the guise of a pilgrim seeking spiritual edification.
Anthony came out of his cave to talk to her. “Your son is here. He is alive, do not cry for him,” said the Saint.
The woman wanted to see Theodosius, but the young ascetic refused to come out to her, despite the entreaties of Elder Anthony himself. Then the woman began to threaten St. Anthony that she would commit suicide right on the same spot if she did not see her son. Theodosius had no choice but to go out to her.
"If you wish to see me often, take monastic vows in one of the Kiev monasteries. Then you will be able to come here to see me and you will save your soul. Otherwise, I truly tell you that you will never see me again," said Venerable Theodosius.
His mother would not hear a word of it. Then the Saint began to earnestly pray that God would enlighten her heart.
After some time, the woman came back with the words: “Child, I will do as you wish. I will spend the rest of my days in a monastery. You have taught me, and I realised that this short-lived world is nothing.”
Anthony and Theodosius rejoiced. Elder Anthony came out of his cell and spiritually instructed the woman. The mother of Venerable Theodosius was tonsured in the monastery of St. Nicholas, where she spent the rest of her days in repentance and died peacefully.
When the number of the brethren reached twelve people, Venerable Anthony went to the neighbouring mountain. There he dug another cave and began living ascetically in seclusion. This is how the Near and Far Caves of the Kiev-Caves (Pechersk) monastery appeared.
The abbot of the monastery was Venerable Barlaam. Theodosius served as a priest. He surpassed others in diligence and asceticism. Father Theodosius was physically strong and helped provide water and firewood for the brethren. At night he prayed and secretly ground flour for the monastery. In the morning, he was in good spirits and performed services. Everyone loved this meek and humble monk.
Before long, at the command of prince Izyaslav, hegumen Barlaam left the Kiev Caves to serve in the monastery of St. Demetrius. The brethren asked Theodosius to become their abbot, and St. Anthony blessed his disciple for this ministry. A new page in the history of Russian monasticism began.
During the abbacy of Theodosius, the number of the monastery brethren greatly increased. The brethren lived in poverty and cramped conditions, but the Lord never left His children through the prayers of their holy hegumen Theodosius and Venerable Anthony. The Venerable consoled the brethren, saying, “Do not worry about earthly things, but seek the Kingdom of Heaven according to the word of the Lord, for the Heavenly Father knows your needs, and everything will be given to you.”
God revealed to Hegumen Theodosius a place not far from the cave, where the brethren lived. In 1062, the church in the name of the Most Holy Theotokos and monastic cells were built there. The buildings were surrounded by a wall. Soon the monastery brethren moved there. “Today, the glorious Pechersky monastery, founded by the Venerable Theodosius, still stands,” says the chronicle.
Assumption Cathedral of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra
The hegumen practised visiting the monastery cells at night, so that his spiritual children would not weaken in their zeal for spiritual labours. All conversations after the evening rule were forbidden in the monastery. Through his meekness, prayer, and love, Theodosius led the brethren to repentance and even returned those who had left the monastery.
The blessed elder was famous for miracles of healing and clairvoyance. He always defended the wrongfully disgraced. Even court decisions were sometimes reconsidered at his request. Venerable Theodosius built a house on the Monastery grounds where poor people suffering from diseases found shelter. One tenth of the monastery's income went to support them.
When the number of brethren reached one hundred, Theodosius became concerned about organizing the life of such a large community. He decided to adopt the community rules of the famous monastery of Stoudios in Constantinople.
The basic rules of life in a cenobitic monastery included common property and labour according to one's strength and with the blessing of the monastic authorities. It was also common for the brethren to reveal their thoughts to the abbot.
These rules were eventually adopted by other communities in Russia. This makes the Kiev-Caves monastery the first in the spiritual sense, although chronologically there were more ancient monasteries.
In 1069, Elder Anthony suffered severe persecution from the Kievan authorities. Prince Izyaslav supported the holy monastery financially and enjoyed having spiritual conversations with the elder, but he only wanted to listen to what was pleasing to him.
When Prince Izyaslav Yaroslavich of Kiev took captive his distant relative Prince Vseslav Bryachislavich of Polotsk, St. Anthony denounced him for inciting a civil strife. The prince, to his misfortune, did not heed the words of the elder.
Soon Izyaslav was expelled from Kiev after a revolt was organised against him. Returning back with the help of the Poles, the Prince's son Mstislav brutally disposed of the rebels. After being slandered and accused of supporting the enemies of Izyaslav, Anthony fell into disfavour and was persecuted.
Grand Prince Izyaslav Yaroslavich
After that the Venerable left for Chernigov. There he dug himself a new cave, which later served as the foundation of the St. Elias monastery.
The exile of the Venerable aggravated the hostility of the Kievan people towards Izyaslav. The prince repented and sent his messengers for Anthony. The meek and humble elder returned to the place of his previous ministries, to the joy of both the monastery brethren and the townspeople.
During the period of the second exile of the Kievan prince, Venerable Theodosius denounced his younger brother Svyatoslav, who unlawfully rebelled against Izyaslav and occupied his throne. At first, Svyatoslav was very angry with the abbot, but he did not dare to harm him in any way, for he deeply revered him as a righteous and holy man.
Venerable Anthony died in 1073. He knew in advance about his repose, said parting words to the brethren and commanded them not to search for his relics. Then he returned to his cave, and its vault crumbled. The relics of the saint have never been discovered. In cases when someone wanted to break the elder's covenant and began searching for them, a fire appeared, striking the disobedient with a disease.
Venerable Theodosius departed to the Lord a year after his spiritual father Anthony. He also knew the hour of his death, said goodbye to the brethren in advance and blessed the new abbot Stefan, whom they had chosen.
The saint addressed the grieving monks of his monastery with the following words: “I promise you, my children and brethren: although I leave you in body, I will always be with you in spirit. When one of you dies in our monastery or even outside the monastery (but with the blessing of the abbot) I will answer for his sins before God”.
Through the prayers of Sts. Anthony and Theodosius, the monastery has never been in need. There has always been food for the brethren and everything needed for worship.
Caves of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra
It is not known exactly when Venerable Anthony was officially canonised as a saint. It is quite evident however that he was already venerated at the end of the 11th century, that is, immediately after his blessed repose. A weighty argument in favour of this assumption is the hagiography of the saint, compiled during this .
The holy relics of the founder of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra are now hidden under its Near Caves. This place is marked with an icon of St. Anthony. The Near Caves are also called Anthony's Caves, in honour of the saint. The caves of the Chernigov Trinity-Ilyinsky Monastery also bear his name.
The relics of St. Theodosius were discovered in 1091. He was canonised as a saint in 1108, 44 years after his repose.
Six teachings of St. Theodosius and two of his epistles to the Grand Duke Izyaslav have come down to us. The Life of St. Theodosius was compiled by his disciple, Venerable Nestor the Chronicler, and has always been one of the favourite readings of the Russian people.
The icons of both saints are mentioned in the Kiev-Pechersk Patericon (Chapter 4) published as early as in the 12th century. On the ancient Pechersk (Svena) icon of the Mother of God (circa 1288), Anthony and Theodosius are depicted standing by the throne of the Most Pure Lady. This is one of the oldest images of the saints that have survived to this day.
Pechersk (Svena) Icon of the Mother of God
By God's providence, Venerable Anthony brought the blessing of Mount Athos to Russia and laid the foundation for monastic life here, founding the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra.
His faithful disciple, Saint Theodosius, “established a perfect monastic life in our lands, moved the brethren from the caves into monastic cells and introduced the rules of the Stoudios Monastery.” This set of rules eventually spread across Russia and gave rise to the cenobitic life in our monastic communities.
Let us honour with songs of joyful praise the stars of wisdom that have shone forth on the firmament of the Church, the foundation of Russian monasticism; rejoice, O blessed fathers, Anthony and Theodosius, ever praying for those who honour your blessed memory.
What words can properly sing the glory of the two great fathers setting high merits for the monastics and shining the light of wisdom, glorifying the Russian Church? Standing at the Throne of God, with boldness before the Holy Trinity, pray O, Blessed Anthony and ever-memorable Theodosius for those who offer you prayers and honour you with loving songs of praise.
We glorify you, O Venerable Fathers Anthony and Theodosius, and honour your holy memory, instructors of monastics and conversers with angels!
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