Cyril of White Lake

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The Venerable Cyril of White Lake, also Cyril of Belozersk (Russian: Кирилл Белозерский - Kirill Belozersky), was a monastic of the Russian Orthodox Church of the fifteenth century, a disciple of Sergius of Radonezh, and the founder and abbot of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. A saint, his feast day is June 9.

Life

Born Cosmas in Moscow, Russia into an aristocratic family in 1337, he was left an orphan in the care of his boyar kinsman, Timothy Vasilevich Velyaminov, in the surroundings of the court of Prince Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy. Bored with the life of the court, Cosmas, with the support of St. Stephen of Makhra, was admitted to the Simonov Monastery where he took vows under Theodore of Rostov with the name Cyril and embarked on a life of asceticism.

Cyril fulfilled his monastic obediences under the guidance of the Elder Michael, later Bishop of Smolensk. Cyril carried out his obedience in the bakery, carrying water, chopping firewood, and distributing bread. When St. Sergius of Radonezh visited Simonov monastery to see his nephew Theodore he would first seek out Cyril in the bakery to converse with him about spiritual matters before seeing anyone else. After Cyril was transferred to the kitchen, he found himself gazing into the blazing fire which caused him to react and tell himself, "Beware, Cyril, lest you fall into fire eternal". Cyril worked in the kitchen for nine years, and God granted him such tender emotion that he was unable to eat the bread he baked without tears, blessing the Lord.

In an attempt to flee the glory of man, Cyril began to act as a fool-for-Christ. As punishment for transgressing against propriety, the Superior of the monastery placed him on bread and water for forty days. Cyril underwent this punishment with happiness. However, he could not conceal his spirituality. The experienced elders of the monastery understood his true soul. Against his objection they forced him to accept ordination to the priesthood. When he was not serving in church, Cyril continued to occupy himself with heavy work.

When Theodore became Archbishop of Rostov in 1388, the brethren of Simonov Monastery chose Cyril as abbot of the monastery. As more and more people came to seek his guidance his desire to maintain a humble, ascetically, and spiritually centered life was disturbed leading him to yearn for solitude. In time he decided he would no longer remain an abbot and secluded himself in his cell. Even remaining in his cell did not end the arrival of frequent visitors. His soul continued to yearn for solitude.

One night as he was reading an Akathist in his cell before the Hodigitria icon of the Mother of God, and had just reached the eighth Kontakion, reading "Seeing the strange Nativity, let us become strangers to the world and transport our minds to heaven" when, he heard a voice say, "Go to White Lake (Belozersk), where I have prepared a place for you."

With his companion St. Therapon of White Lake and Mozhaisk, he departed Simonov and set out to the isolated lake where they raised a cross and dug a cell in the ground near Mount Myaura at Siversk Lake. Soon, Therapon departed for another place.

Soon two monks, Zebediah and Dionysius, came to him from Simonov monastery, followed by Nathanael. As others followed seeking to be tonsured by him, Cyril perceived that his time of silence was ended, and he began to expand his monastery. In 1397, he began to build a church dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God.

As the monastery expanded, Cyril established a cenobitic Rule of silence for the community for which by his own actions he provided an example for the brethren. No one could talk in church and must remain to the end of the services. In the trapeze, brethren sat at their own place and remained silent during the meal and then returned to his own cell afterward which were kept unlocked. No one had any personal possessions and all money was kept in the monastery treasury.

Cyril was rewarded by the Lord with the gift of clairvoyance and healing. One time when the priest told Cyril that there was no wine for the Divine Liturgy, Cyril asked a monk to bring to him the empty wine vessel, which upon his opening proved to be full of wine. During a period of famine Cyril distributed bread to all the needy. He did not stop, even though normally the reserves were not sufficient for the brethren. Regardless, as more bread was distributed, the more it increased. The monks then realized that God would provide for their needs, through the prayers of Cyril.

Cyril served his last Divine Liturgy on the day of Pentecost. After giving final instructions to the brethren to preserve love among themselves, Cyril reposed in the ninetieth year of his life on June 9, 1427, the Feast day of his namesake Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria.

Cyril had predicted that none of the brethren would die until after his death, despite a plague that would rage. Then, many would follow after him. Within a year after his repose, more than thirty of the fifty-three brethren died. The monk Cyril often appeared to the survivors in dreams to offer advice and guidance.

Legacy

Cyril loved spiritual enlightenment and he instilled this love in his disciples. In 1635, there were more than two thousand books in the monastery library, including sixteen "of the Wonderworker Cyril." Three letters of his to Russian princes have survived to our time. They are remarkable specimens of his spiritual instruction and guidance, love, love of peace and consolation.

The veneration of the ascetic Cyril began about 1448. A Life of Saint Cyril was commissioned by Metropolitan Theodosius and Great Prince Basil the Dark. The Life was written by the Athonite monk Pachomius the Logothete, who had dwelled at the St. Cyril-Belozersk Monastery in 1462. There he met with many eyewitnesses and disciples of Cyril. It was from Martinian, who had lived with the Cyril from his youth, that he learned the most.

Sources

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