Macarius of Optina

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Our venerable father Macarius (Ivanov) of Optina was a Hieroschemamonk among the group of monastiics of Optina Monastery in the nineteenth century who are known as the Optina Elders. The Elder Macarius is commemorated on September 7 and with all the Optina Elders on October 11.


Born Mikhail Nikolayevich Ivanov on November 20, 1788, the future hieromonk Macarius came from the noble family of Nicholas and Elizabeth Ivanov who were noted for their piety. The family lived near Kaluga. His mother was seriously ill, which resulted in the family moving frequently to obtain treatment. She died on January 21, 1797. With her death Michael moved to live with his sister Daria and her husband Simeon Peredelsky in the village of Karachev. It was in the local parish school that Michael received his primary education. In 1802, Michael and his two brothers moved to live with his aunt Anna M. Verevkina where he continued his education with her son.

In 1802, Michael and his brother Alexis began working as assistant bookkeepers with the District Treasury of Lgov. Having gained a reputation for accuracy he was appointed head of the Financial Board in Kursk in 1805. On March 17, 1806, his father died and was buried near the parish church of Turischev. In October 1810, Michael visited the Ploschansky Hermitage from which he wrote to his brothers that he was leaving the family estate to them as he intended to remain at the hermitage with the condition that they were to donate 1000 rubles to build a stone church at Turischev where their father was buried.

Within a month of entering the monastery, Michael had become a novice. His tonsure as a rassophore monk followed on December 24, 1810 with the name Melchizedek. In early 1815, Fr. Paul, who had received his tonsure at Mount Athos, became the Superior of Ploschansky. He soon noticed Melchizedek's zeal for the monastic life, and for fulfilling his obediences. On March 7, 1815, Fr. Paul tonsured him a monk with the new name Macarius. Then, on March 12, Bishop Dositheus of Orel and Sevsk ordained Fr. Macarius as a hierodeacon.

In 1817, Schemamonk Athanasius (Zakharov), a disciple of St. Paisius Velichkovsky, returned to Ploschansky Monastery, where he had previously injured himself, to further recuperate and live. Fr. Athanasius had lived for seven years in the Neamts Monastery, where he was tonsured by St. Paisius Velichkovsky. Fr. Macarius was assigned to his cell to take care of him. The Elder Athanasius had a great influence on the spiritual development of Fr. Macarius, who revered him as his father and teacher. Fr. Athanasius lived at Ploschansky for ten years, and Fr. Macarius derived much benefit from his Elder's example before he died in the arms of Fr. Macarius on October 17, 1825.

While he was the cell-attendant for Fr. Athanasius, Fr. Macarius had the opportunity to read and absorb the wisdom from the collection of copies of the translations of the ascetical Fathers made by St. Paisius that Fr. Athanasius himself had translated. These included the Life of St. Gregory of Sinai, the Catechetical Homilies of St. Theodore the Studite, the homilies of St. Gregory Palamas, as well as other profitable writings.

On May 27, 1817, Fr. Macarius was ordained to the holy priesthood by Bishop Dositheus of Orel and Sevsk. When Igumen Paul retired to the bishop's residence at Kaluga in 1818, his successor was Hieromonk Seraphim, a disciple of Fr. Basil (Kishkin), the Superior of White Bluff Hermitage.

With Fr. Seraphim's blessing, Fr. Macarius made a pilgrimage to Kiev in 1819. On his return to Ploschansky, he visited the Glinsk Hermitage where he met Hierodeacon Samuel, who was experienced in mental prayer. Having not heard of it before Fr. Macarius was glad to meet someone who could speak about it from personal experience. In 1824, Fr. Macarius visited Rostov to venerate the relics of St. Demetrius. During the trip he visited Optina Monastery and its new Skete for the first time.

Two of Fr. Macarius's spiritual guides, Elder Athanasius and Igumen Seraphim, passed away closely together, in 1825 and 1826 respectively. Fr. Macarius was appointed dean of the Hermitage on June 10, 1826. In January 1827, he was assigned confessor at the Holy Trinity Convent of Sevsk. His acceptance of these appointments, in obedience to the will of the bishop, began his period of spiritual direction and spiritual correspondence that lasted until his death.

The arrival of Fr. Leonid (Nagolkin), in 1828, at Ploschansky from the St. Alexander of Svir Monastery, with several disciples, was the answer to Fr. Macarius' prayers. Fr. Leonid was a man of great spiritual wisdom. This holy Elder, who had struggled against many visible and invisible foes, was able to give useful advice to those who were experiencing temptations. He understood from personal experience that those who wish to serve the Lord must prepare their souls for temptation. After repeated requests, he agreed to accept Fr. Macarius as a spiritual son and disciple. When Fr. Leonid moved to Optina in 1829, Fr. Macarius remained in touch with him through letters.

Fr. Macarius visited Fr. Leonid at Optina in 1831 on his way to St. Petersburg, where Bp. Nicodemus of Orel was serving his term in the Holy Synod. He had appointed Fr. Macarius treasurer and steward, much to the latter's chagrin. Fr. Macarius found the bustle of the city distasteful and longed to return to the quiet of the monastery, yet he persevered in his position out of obedience to the bishop. After he had completed his service in St. Petersburg, Fr. Macarius visited Fr. Leonid at Optina on his return to Ploschansky Hermitage. During his visit, he made a request to Fr. Moses to be admitted to the Skete at Optina as soon as this might be arranged. His transfer from Ploschansky to Optina, however, did not take place until January 14, 1834. Fr. Macarius finally arrived at Optina on February 5, 1834.

Now aged forty-six, Fr. Macarius placed himself at the feet of Fr. Leonid, humbling himself and demonstrating complete obedience. Initially, he helped Fr. Leonid with his correspondence, but later his responsibilities increased. In October 1836, Fr. Macarius was appointed confessor for the monastery. After Fr. Anthony was assigned as abbot to St. Nicholas Monastery in Maloyaroslavets, Fr. Macarius succeeded him as Superior of the Skete on December 1, 1839. Fr. Macarius' relationship with Fr. Leonid did not change because of his new position. He never did anything without consulting Fr. Leonid and always attributed any success he achieved to the blessing and prayers of his Elder.

Fr. Macarius remained humble and obedient to Fr. Leonid until the Elder's death on October 11, 1841. During his final illness, Fr. Leonid instructed his spiritual children to go to Fr. Macarius for spiritual counsel. Seeing in Fr. Macarius the same spiritual gifts possessed by Fr. Leonid, people recommended him to their friends and acquaintances. Fr. Macarius received visitors from morning until night and also kept up an extensive spiritual correspondence.

Fr. Macarius had always loved reading and studying patristic literature. At Ploschansky, he had copied many translations done by St. Paisius Velichkovsky that were in the possession of Schemamonk Athanasius. At Optina, his knowledge and understanding of the Fathers increased under the guidance of Fr. Leonid. Encouraged by Abbots Anthony and Moses, conditions were favorable for publication of the manuscripts possessed by Optina. In 1847, through arrangement with Ivan V. Kireyevsky, the editor of The Muscovite, publication, under the supervision of Fr. Macarius, began of sixteen books of patristic literature, including works by St. Nilus of Sora, Ss. Barsanuphius and John, St. Simeon the New Theologian, and St. Isaac of Syria.

On November 30, 1853, Fr. Macarius resigned as Superior of the Skete of St. John the Baptist and was succeeded by Fr. Paphnutius, exactly fourteen years from the time Fr. Macarius had first assumed the office.

On August 26, 1860, Fr. Macarius became ill with ischuria, a urinary ailment. His condition worsened over the next several days. As Fr. Macarius showed no improvement, he received Holy Unction and the life-giving Mysteries of Christ. On September 4, he received Holy Communion after Vespers. Visiting doctors could do nothing for him, and he received Holy Communion a second time on September 6. Then, on the morning of September 7, 1860, Fr. Macarius reposed to the Lord while the Ninth Ode of the Canon for the Departure of the Soul from the Body was being read.

Having been secretly tonsured into the Great Schema two years earlier, a schema which had been blessed on the Lord's Sepulchre was placed on his body. Fr. Macarius was buried on September 10 in a grave prepared for him opposite the altar of the St. Nicholas chapel in the main church of the monastery. He was buried to the right of the grave of Fr. Leonid, his friend and fellow ascetic.


Elder Macarius of Optina was glorified with all the Elders of Optina by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in 1990. The feast day for St. Macarius of Optina is September 7.

The local veneration of the Elders of Optina was authorized by the Patriarchate of Moscow on June 13, 1996. Glorification of the Elders of Optina for universal veneration occurred on August 7, 2000.


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