Innocent of Komel
Our father among the saints Innocent of Komel is one of a number of saints of the fifteenth century whose life and works was centered around the Vologotsk region of Russia. He was a disciple and companion of St. Nilus of Sora and an ascetic who lived in the wilderness of the River Nurma. His feast is celebrated on March 19.
The date and place of his birth as well as the early life of St. Innocent are unknown. He is believed to have come from the Okhlyabin boyar family. He became a monk in the Monastery of St. Cyril of the White Lake and was placed under the spiritual guidance of St. Nilus of Sora, an ascetic. Of like minds, St Innocent endeavored to imitate his teacher and the two became friends. Together the two monks set out from St. Cyril Monastery on a pilgrimage to the holy places in the eastern Mediterranean Sea area. During their pilgrimage they visited Palestine and stayed for a number of years on Mount Athos as well as in Constantinople. Through their travels they learned about the differences in life at the many monasteries that they visited. Particularly at Mount Athos the two pilgrims spent much of their time studying the writings of the Holy Fathers.
The two returned to Russia, and to the monastery from which they started, inspired by the asceticism of the monks who dwelled in the deserts and were enriched with the spiritual wisdom from their experiences. In the time that they were away, St. Cyril Monastery had grown in numbers of monks and on return Ss. Innocent and Nilus chose then to settle in secluded cells outside the monastery walls.
Soon, the ascetics decided to move to the virgin forests. They chose a secluded area in the marshy lands on the River Sora where they erected a cross and built two cells. Here they continued to study the Holy Scriptures and the writing of the Holy Fathers. Other monks looking for seclusion began to join Ss. Innocent and Nilus. With the increase in the number of monks the saints formed a new cloister that consisted of a hieromonk, hierodeacon and twelve elders, each working and praying in his own cell, but joining together on Sundays and feast days for services in the little church they built.
St. Innocent zealously following the precepts of his saintly teacher and reached in time a level of spiritual maturity that, according to St. Nilus' will, he had to become a teacher for the others. St. Nilus approached his disciple and after blessing him directed that he "Go to the river Nurma: God will glorify you there and your monastery will be a community". St. Innocent having never supposed that some day he would leave the Sora hermitage humbly followed his teacher's direction, with Nilus’ instructions to follow the Lord's Commandments, pray tirelessly, imitate the lives of the saints, keep their traditions and pass these teachings to the brethren.
About 1491, Innocent journeyed to the southern part of the Vologodsk region which was covered with impenetrable forests. This was an area where already Russian ascetics had settled since the fourteenth century. There, following in the path of such saints as Dimitry of Prilutsk, Sylvester of Obnorsk, Sergius of Nuromsk, and Paul of Obnorsk, Innocent established his new home in the swampy area among the rivers Komela, Nurma, and Eda. Innocent built his secluded cell on the River Eda at a place that was about seventy miles from Vologda and ten miles from the River Nurma.
Soon, people seeking their salvation began to come to St. Innocent seeking his counsel. These people he received with great love and compassion.
Initially, St. Innocent used the same monastic rules as those used at Nilus’ monastery. As the number of ascetics increased Innocent introduced a very strict coenobitic rule for his community. With an increasing number of monks, the brethren built a church, under Innocent’s guidance, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Following in the steps of his teacher, Innocent edified the monks of the community with words from the writings of the Holy Fathers, especially the Ss. John Chrysostom, Simeon the New Theologian, and Anthony the Great.
St. Innocent remained the superior of the monastery for thirty years. When he felt his death approaching, St. Innocent wrote his spiritual will to serve as the guide for the brethren of his hermitage after his death. "It is I, poor monk Innocent, who has written this precept, to whomever God commands to live in our hermitage. First of all I pray you for God's sake to mention me, a sinner, in your holy prayers. I bow to you greatly, our fathers and brothers. I leave this, that there should not be any discord between you, but love in Christ and spiritual peace among you. And for prayer to be in our hermitage forever and how to eat and when it becomes everyone to go to labor in blessed time and about other things, all the essence is in the writings of my teacher, Father Nilus, and in this book. For this sake I came soon and so you will find there everything that is pleasing to God".
The year that Innocent of Komel reposed is not known. While there is some agreement of the day he died, March 19, sources differ greatly concerning the year of his death, some proposing a year as late as 1522, while many consider 1511 as the most probable year.
In 1538, the hermitage was overrun by Tatars who burned the church and cells and killed the monastics. The monastery was rebuilt and continued to exist until the eighteenth century after which the monastery church was turned into a parish church.