Way of the Orthodox - Archbishop Theophan Of Poltava New Recluse
Archbishop Theophan Of Poltava, New Recluse
Here is the next spiritual portrait in our serial - " WAY OF THE ORTHODOX". Truly great Spirit bearing hierarch and cave dweller of last times. Beside his spiritual profile I included also a few of his letters and prophecies regarding Russia and the world. Collection of his letters could be obtained from St. John of Kronstdt press, highly recommended material to all sincere seekers of the heavenly Jerusalem.
A Crowned Wrestler - Archbishop Theophan of Poltava
From the lives of the desert-fathers, we see tangible evidence of the existing reality of the aerial realm. Armed with long hours of prayer and rigorous fasting, these saints manfully withstood the onslaughts of the demonic powers who often appeared to them in visible, hideous forms. As Christians slackened in their pursuit of the heavenly kingdom, the battle became less apparent; the material world only contributed to the weakness of Christian struggle; it saturated the soul with earthly impressions, weighing it down and obstructing its passage heavenward. Those rare individuals who developed the spiritual stamina of the ancient desert-dwellers, unleashed upon themselves the fury of the demonic powers no less cruel than that of centuries ago. This is evident from the life of Archbishop Theophan of Poltava, an outstanding hierarch and pillar of the Church in our own day, who was like unto the early desert-fathers in his resolute struggle against the prince of darkness. May this make us more conscious of the spiritual warfare which we too must wage if we wish to join the company of the saints.
We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against...the rulers of the darkness of this world. (Eph. 6:121
Born in 1873, the son of a village priest, Archbishup Theophan excelled in his studies at the ?St. Petersburg Theological Academy, where he remained to teach after graduating. Two years later he became a hieromonk, and in 1910 was raised to the rank of archimandrite and given the positional temporary inspector. Four years later he was appointed director of the Academy.
Interiorly he was of a highly spiritual cast of soul and a great man of prayer, for which he became widely known preeminently in the capital society. Not only did he unfailingly Fulfill his monastic rule, often spending entire nights in prayer; he also attended all of the divine services which took place in the nearby cathedral. If for some reason he was unable to do this, he would read the daily cycle of services standing at the analogion in the icon corner of his cell. This he did even while traveling, always carrying about with himself the necessary service books.
At one time he became the spiritual advisor to the Imperial Family. Later, he would recall with emotion how he often celebrated the Liturgy at the Court church on weekdays and how the Empress herself and all four Grand duchesses sang on the cliros.
Regarding the height of his spiritual life one may see from the memoirs of E.Y. Kontzevich: "I was told that in his student years he had labored in asceticism, slept on the floor and the like, and ruined his health; he had tuberculosis and poor digestion. Therefore in his mature years he was an opponent of excessive physical asceticism. His voice always remained very weak. He was of small stature, thin, and there was something special in him that evoked a feeling of reverent awe. Jokes or laughter in his presence were impossible, he was a very learned man...a great expert in patrology and patristics. He himself being a practicer of mental prayer and having attained a high state in this practice, he knew as no one else the teaching of the Holy Fathers concerning this 'science of sciences.'"
So thoroughly was he steeped in the Patristic sources that when anyone came to him with a question ,-he tried to avoid saying anything of his own but always went straight to his bookshelves, to the writings of the Holy Fathers. There he invariably found a precise and fully satisfying answer. He was himself a walking encyclopedia of all the various branches of theology and in general, of whatever pertained to the inner spiritual life. His profound theological understanding was reflected in his sermons which spoke clearly of his close affinity with the Holy Fathers. The students loved and respected him greatly and it was a great loss when he was relieved of his post at the Academy to assume the duties of a ruling archpastor.
The intensity of his spiritual endeavors was certain to excite the wrath of the evil one. This Vladika Theophan knew from experience, as he himself testified in his address on the eve of his consecration as bishop: "...Ever since 1 came. into being, I observe in myself an unceasing battle of life and death in the realm of existence, both natural and spiritual. O, how heavy this battle has been at times in me; but may there be thanks to the Lord for it! It has deeply implanted in my heart the saving truth that I in myself am nothing, and that the Lord for me is everything!"
Vladika Theophan suffered many severe assaults by t he demonic powers who tried to frighten the man of prayer into ceasing his labors. Several of his cell attendants were witnesses to these attacks. Yet another witness was Bishop Seraphim, at that time in charge of the Russian church communities in Bulgaria. Once, he and Vladika Theophan were traveling together in the same compartment of an overnight train. Bishop Seraphim suddenly woke up and saw an enormous black cat with flareing eyes in the middle of the compartment, he heard the loud voice of Vladika Theophan: "In the name of Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God, t adjure you: get away from me unclean spirit[" The cat hissed, sending a shower of sparks, and then vanished. This so terrified Bishop Seraphim that he refused to ride again in the same compartment with Vladika Theophan.
The Revolution overtook Vladika as Archbishop of Poltava, from whence he emigrated with the White Army through Constantinople to Bulgaria, where he lived for many years.
During this time, some admirers rented for him a small house in the country outside Varna where he would spend time in the summer months. The house had two rooms and a kitchen. Vladika occupied the first room which had an entrance from the veranda; the second room was left empty, while the kitchen was used by Vladika's cell attendants when they spent the night. They discontinued this habit after being frightened by a series of nocturnal visitations. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, in the adjoining empty room, they would distinctly hear footsteps, then the sound of someone throwing whole handfuls of sand or earth through the windows, or other mysterious noises. At such times they would hear Vladika' s voice unusually loud: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, I adjure you: be gone from me, unclean one!" Then everything would become quiet.
On still another occasion, following Vladika's return to Sofia, the cell-attendants came to the cottage to collect his things. They were surrounded by some of the neighboring summer residents who were bewildered by what they had witnessed there the previous night. "What went on at your bishop's place last night? .... Nothing," they replied. "Vladika left the day before and no one remained at the cottage." "That couldn't be," the Bulgarian exclaimed dumbfounded. "All night the windows were brightly lit and it could be seen that many people had gathered and were having some sort of party, dancing..." Later, one of the cell-attendants approached Vladika about this incident. The bishop smiled and said humbly, "Such things happen with monks." The ceil-attendant understood, however, that it did not happen with all monks, but only with those genuine monks such as Vladika Theophan. (One of these ceil-attendants was Alexander Taushey, the future Archbishop Averky, Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville.)
[IMAGE] Archbishop Theophan was uncompromising with regard to the teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church. He was deeply pained by the movements of the "renovationists" and "living church" adherents, which disrupted the Church in Russia in the years after the Revolution. Equally strong was his opposition to the teachings of liberal Church thinkers such as Soloviev and Bulgakov, popular among the Russian migr intelligentsia. He saw that any attempt to modernize or to make concessions to the spirit of the times could only result in undermining the faith, in robbing the "salt" of its savor. Even the modernists, however, could not but respect such a spiritual giant of Orthodoxy. During the Russian Councilor 1917-1918, some of them approached him respectfully: "...The waves of the times flow swiftly, changing everything, changing us; one must give in to them. You, too, must give in, Vladika, to the raging waves,... Otherwise with whom will you be left? You will be left alone." "With whom will I be left?" Vladika meekly answered them. "I will be with St. Vladimir the enlightener of Russia. With Sts. Anthony and Theodosius the Wonderworkers of Kiev Cave s Monastery, with the holy Hierarchs and Wonderworkers of Moscow. With Sts. Sergius and Seraphim and with all the holy martyrs, God-pleasing monks and wonderworkers who
have gloriously shone forth on Russian soil. But you, dear brothers, with whom will you be left if even with your great numbers you give over to the will of the waves of the times?"
Vladika's temperament was unsuited to administrative demands. Like Bishop Theophan the Recluse, he asked to relieved of his duties, and in 1931 he left for France to spend the rest of his life in solitude. There he settled as a hermit in some caves, where he could give himself over entirely to a life of prayer. Truly, here was a desert-father of recent times whose unceasing warfare for the sake of the kingdom of heaven drew upon him the grace of God, endowing him with gifts of prophecy and clairvoyance witnessed by his spiritual children. The memoirs of E. Y. Kontzevich leave no doubt that Archbishop Theophan received from the Lord a heavenly crown and now rests with the saints:
"..When I was informed of his death, an unexplainable torrent of bitterness seized me; I wept, knowing that a real saint had left this earth, leaving spiritual emptiness behind him and making this world Bray and dull. At that time I had a terrible and unceasing toothache which Rave me no peace. In agony, a flash of hope enlightened me: I turned mentally to Vladika as if he were alive right here and could hear me, and I prayed to him for help. Instantly the pain stopped ! Although I never doubted his sanctity, this miraculous intercession was to me a clear sign of his being indeed a saint of God!"
Letters of Archbishop Theophan of Poltava
On the Difference Between a Naturally Good Life and a Christian Life
You ask, what is the difference between a naturally good life and a Christian life?
The difference is great. Christian lives a life of grace, whereas a person who is just good by nature is without grace. We see how important this condition is by the fact that we are saved by God's grace, not by good deeds. Good deeds which are performed for the sake of Christ and in the spirit of His commandments make us able to receive the grace of God. Without God's grace, regardless of how good a person is, he cannot be saved. Cornelius the Centurion performed many good deeds, but it was revealed to him that he could be saved only when the Holy Spirit would descend upon him through the Apostle Peter. This concept is developed simply and in depth in St. Seraphim's well known dialogue with Motovilov: "On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit." In essence, without God' s grace there cannot be any truly good deeds. The same may be said in part about tears. While a person is imperfect his tears are imperfect. There are different types of tears. Sometimes they originate in sensitivity, Sometimes out of grief, some-times out of anger--these are not Christian tears True tears come about only when one is grieving over one's sins or out of gratitude to our Lord for His goodness towards us and His mercies. To live a life full of grace one must avoid distractions and pre serve peace of heart. It is therefore more beneficial for one desiring a life of grace to live a more secluded life, rather than to become absorbed in all sorts of worldly activities.
Concerning Fatigue During Prayer and the Purpose of an Epitimia
You ask: "What should I do so that extreme fatigue does not affect my concentration during prayer?" As you do not specify whether you are asking about private or common prayer, I will answer concerning both.
When fatigue begins to overcome you during a church service, you should mentally recite the Jesus Prayer. It will help you concentrate in prayer. If you feel yourself getting tired during prayer at home, then you should force yourself a bit. If the fatigue disappears, then it was a temptation from the evil one. If it remains, then you may shorten your prayer; it is better in such cases to pray a bit less but attentively and with feeling.
"At confession Fr. V,? told me to do a few prostrations when I notice that I am sinning or am un-attentive. I wanted to ask you about this previously and now ask for your direction."
This is beneficial with a proper understanding of the matter. An epitimia is not a punishment for a misdemeanor in the legalistic sense of the word. Iris a spiritual method of healing, having as its purpose a person's deliverance from a spiritual ailment.
November 21, 1929
Concerning Children's Games and Recreation in General
You ask: "Which common children's games are acceptable and what can be done so that children don't feel resentment when they are denied this fun?"
It is difficult for me to answer your question directly. I do not know what typifies "common children's games" in this day and age. As times change so do diversions. But to deny children innocent fun and games would be an unnecessary severity. Everything has its time. Adults have their recreational activities. Even monastics have their diversions. It is natural for children to be happy and have fun. St. Gregory the Theologian makes a remarkable observation concerning adults' a joyous mood is one of the signs of a chaste life (in body and soul). Gloominess and despondency depend to a great degree on the fact that the harmony of chastity is disrupted. To get rid of despondency, one must cleanse one's soul through confession and be united with Christ through the Mystery of Communion--be united with Him Who is our joy!
January 12, 1930
On How to Keep the Great Lent
The general order and spirit of this time are beautifully expressed in the services and the typicon. You have only to immerse yourself in it and to follow the external discipline as much as your strength allows; in this way you will fulfill all that is necessary. Your main concern should be to concentrate your life on God. In order to do this, you must, as far as possible, withdraw from worldly distractions, worldly occupations.
You must keep in mind that life in God has several stages. It begins with a suffering awareness of one's sinfulness; this is followed by a striving to rid oneself of this sinful state, until finally, one attains blessed communion with God. It is especially fitting to devote the first week of Great Lent to the realization of one's sinfulness, The feeling of blessed communion with God comes to us naturally in the days of holy Pascha--we cannot force this ourselves. The strength of this feeling depends on the intensity of the initial experience--that is, our awareness of our sinful state, The rest of Great Lent is a time of gradual ascent from the first stage to the last.
Sophia Jan. 21, 1931 ( taken from Orthodox America)
Two Prophecies, By Archbishop Teofan Of Poltava, Concerning Russia's
Oh, Russia, Russia! How terribly has she sinned before the loving-kindness of the Lord. The Lord God favoured Russia, and He gave her that which He had not given to a single other nation on earth. And this nation turned out to be so ungrateful. She left Him; she rejected Him; and it is therefore that the Lord has given her over to be tormented by devils. The devils took up their residence in the souls of men, and the nation of Russia became possessed; literally, devil-ridden. And all the terrible things that we hear about what went on -- and what continues to go on -- in Russia: all the sacrilege, all the militant atheism and theomachy, -- all of this stems from her being possessed by devils. But, through the inexpressible mercy of God, this possession will pass and the nation will be healed. The nation will turn to repentance; to faith. That will occur, which none expects. Russia will be resurrected from the dead, and the entire world will be astonished. Orthodoxy in her will be reborn and triumph. But that Orthodoxy which had existed formerly will be no more. The great startsy have said that Russia will be reborn; that the people themselves will restore the Orthodox Monarchy. A mighty Tsar' will be placed upon the Throne by God Himself. He will be a great reformer, and he will be strong in the Orthodox faith. He will cast down the unfaithful hierarchs of the Church. He himself will be an outstanding personality, with a pure and holy soul. He will possess a strong will. He will be of the Romanov Dynasty, through the maternal line. He will be God's Chosen One, obedient to the Lord in all things. He will transform Siberia. But this Russia will exist only for a very short time. Soon thereafter will come to pass that of which the Apostle John speaks in his "Apocalypse."
What I say, I do not say on my own authority. But, rather, it is that which I heard from divinely-inspired startsy; that is what I have conveyed. The Lord will show His mercy to Russia, for the sake of the small number of true believers remaining in her. In Russia, the startsy used to say, through the will of the people, the Monarchy and Autocratic rule will be restored. The Lord has forechosen the future Tsar'. He will be a man of burning faith, of brilliant mind and of iron will. First of all, he will bring about order in the Orthodox Church, by removing all the false, heresy-preaching and lukewarm hierarchs. And very many indeed -- almost all, with few exceptions -- will be those removed by him; while new ones, true and steadfast hierarchs, will take their place. Through the female line, he will be from the lineage of the Romanovs. Russia will be a mighty state, but only for "a short time."? After that, the antichrist will come into the world, with all the horrors of the end, as described in the Apocalypse.