“There is nothing here, at the Cell – no golden domes, no beautiful lakes, no trees to shelter and soothe. Bare earth, bare sea, bare sky – the skeleton of God’s creation, the naked bones against which all else seem un-necesary details…”
When I stumbled onto this blog post by Fr Seraphim Aldea it reminded me that I hope to find such places even here in the North American Thebaid. Perhaps in Alberta, or Nova Scotia? We shall see!
The Solovetsky Archipelago is less than 200 miles from the North Circle. To the North-East of the main Solovetsky island, silent and beaten by rabid winds, is Anzer – the isle of the Solovets hermits. Here, on a small peninsula, merely a few metres narrow and completely open to the sea is the small Cell of St Kirill of the New Lake. The storms have wiped all trees from this strip of land – nothing survives here, except small tundra bushes, mushrooms and wild berries. And one hermit, who is not even a monk, because he does not think himself worthy to wear the monastic habit.
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
(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.