Translation of the relics of the Venerable Zosimas of Solovki

Two of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most important monastery founders are commemorated on August 8, Saints Zosimas and Sabbatius of Solovki.

Though not my patron saint (Abba Zosimas of Palestine, whom the Lord led to find St Mary of Egypt and bring her edifying life story to the Church), I have a special devotion to St Zosimas of Solovki; both share a brave yearning to seek God through the monastic way in the wilderness.

The Transfer of the Relics of Saints Zosimas and Sabbatius of Solovki took place on August 8, 1566, on the third day of the altar-feast of the Solovki monastery of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The relics of the saints were transferred into a chapel of the Transfiguration cathedral, built in their honor. Beekeepers pray to these saints for an increase of bees. (OCA)

Saint Zosimas is also commemorated on April 17, and is reproduced below; the Life of Saint Sabbatius may be found on September 27. You can read about them also in the classic book on the monastic movement in the Russian north, The Northern Thebaid (St Herman of Alaska Press, Platina CA).

Venerable Zosimas the Abbot of Solovki

Saints Zosimas & Sabbatius of Solovki, with scenes from their lives

(April 17, OCA) — Saint Zosimas, Igumen of Solovki a great luminary of the Russian North, was the founder of cenobitic monasticism on Solovki Island. He was born in Novgorod diocese, in the village of Tolvui near Lake Onega. From his early years he was raised in piety, and after the death of his parents Gabriel and Barbara, he gave away his possessions and received monastic tonsure.

In search of a solitary place, he journeyed to the shores of the White Sea, and at the mouth of the Suma he met Saint Herman (July 30), who told him of a desolate sea island, where he had spent six years with Saint Sabbatius (September 27).

Around the year 1436, the hermits crossed the sea and landed at the Solovki islands. There Saint Zosimas had a vision of a beautiful church in the sky. With their own hands the monks built cells and an enclosure, and they began to cultivate and sow the land.

Once, in late autumn, Saint Herman went to the mainland for provisions. Because of the autumn weather he was not able to return. Saint Zosimas remained alone on the island all winter. He suffered many temptations in struggles with the demons. Death by starvation threatened him, but miraculously two strangers appeared and left him a supply of bread, flour and oil. In spring Saint Herman returned to Solovki with the fisherman Mark, and he brought supplies of food and rigging for fishing nets.

When several hermits had gathered on the island, Saint Zosimas constructed a small wooden church in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord, and a trapeza. At the request of Saint Zosimas, an igumen was sent from Novgorod to the newly-formed monastery with an antimension for the church. Thus the renowned Solovki monastery had its start. In the severe conditions of the remote island the monks knew how to economize. But the igumens sent from Novgorod to Solovki could not stand life in such harsh conditions, and so the brethren chose Saint Zosimas as igumen.

Saint Zosimas occupied himself with building up the inner life of the monastery, and he introduced a strict cenobitic life. In 1465 he transferred the relics of Saint Sabbatius to Solovki from the River Vyg. The monastery suffered from the Novgorod nobles, who confiscated catches of fish from the monks. The saint was obliged to go to Novgorod and seek the protection of the archbishop.

On the advice of the archbishop, he visited the homes of the nobles and asked them not to permit the ruin of the monastery. The influential and rich Martha Boretskaya impiously gave orders to throw Saint Zosimas out, but then repented and invited him to a meal. At this meal he suddenly saw that six of the illustrious nobles sat without their heads. Saint Zosimas told about this vision to his disciple Daniel and predicted an imminent death for the nobles. The prediction was fulfilled in the year 1478, when the boyars were executed during the capture of Novgorod by Ivan III (1462-1505).

Shortly before death, the saint prepared his own grave, in which he was buried beyond the altar of the Transfiguration church (+ April 17, 1478). Later on, a chapel was built over his relics. His relics and the relics of Saint Sabbatius were transferred to the chapel dedicated to them at the Transfiguration cathedral on August 8, 1566.


2 thoughts on “Translation of the relics of the Venerable Zosimas of Solovki

    1. My apologies for the delay in replying! Somehow I missed your comment… I did a little research on Solovki and the relics of Saints Zosimas and Sabbatius (and Herman). According to a photo essay on a 2010 exhibit commemorating the 20th anniversary of the renewal of monastic life at Solovki, the founders’ relics have been restored to the monastery. If you scroll down, you’ll see a photo of the relics during a service:


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