THE ELDERS OF OPTINA MONASTERY
(January 15, 1782 – June 16, 1862)
Commemorated on June 16
First in the line of Optina Elders is Moses, born Timothy Putilov. He and two brothers became monks and later abbots at different monasteries. On their father’s gravestone was written: “He was the father of three abbots: Moses of Optina, Isaiah of Sarov, and Antony of St. Nicholas Monastery of Little Varoslavetz.” He was always an avid reader which nurtured in him the desire for the monastic life. As a young man he was influenced by Eldress Dosithea of the Moscow Ivanovsky Convent and under her encouragement he set out for the Novo-Spassky Monastery. Later he went to Sarov Monastery where St. Seraphim had been struggling for thirty-seven years already. Here, young Timothy had many occasions to talk with the experienced Elder. He left Sarov for the Svensk Monastery where he was made a novice and then in 1811 he was tonsured a monk in the Roslavl forests by the eldest of the anchorites there, Hiero-schemamonk Athanasy. He was given the name Moses after St. Moses, the Ethiopian. He would stay in these forests continuing under the tutelage of the disciples of the Moldavian Elder, Paisius Velichkovsky, who grew to greater influence amongst monastics in Russia and even further abroad. In the Roslavl forests, Fr. Moses’ main occupation, apart from his rigorous cell rule, was the reading and copying of many texts of the Church Fathers. He copied many translations from books which had been copied by Elder Paisius Velichkovsky, and he also compiled volumes of anthologies. Interestingly, he always stood when he read and wrote.
In 1821, at the invitation of Bishop Philaret of Kaluga he was invited to create a skete at Optina for those who wanted to devote themselves more completely to prayer, later to be known as the Skete of Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord. He arrived there with his younger brother, Fr. Anthony, and three other monks. Five years later, in 1826, he was appointed Abbot of the whole monastery and then shortly thereafter invited Fr. Leonid – another Paisian disciple whom he had met and lived with earlier in his life – to come and live in the Skete. In 1834, Hieromonk Macarius (Ivanov) accepted an invitation to settle in the Skete with Fr. Leonid. With these two elders began the establishment and growth of eldership.
The Optina skete and monastery were revived under the supervision of Elder Moses with the building of the St. Mary of Egypt refectory church, more cells, a library, apiary and various other buildings. More importantly, through, was the spiritual flowering of the monastery the preservation of the ancient wisdom of monasticism, fostered under his guidance. With the rise of eldership also came persecution from those who did not understand it. Despite the persecution, Elder Moses firmly supported Elders Leonid and Makary and did all he could to protect them. Elder Moses himself depended on them in the daily running of the monastery. He would not accept or tonsure anyone without their advice. From them he constantly sought direction and had Fr. Leonid as his confessor. The crowds of people seeking help from these Elders for their troubled souls grew steadily
In 1862, after reviving the life at the Optina Monastery and establishing Eldership in the Skete life of Optina, Elder Moses reposed. At the time of his repose was read, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works. Amen, I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His Kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28). His body was later found to be incorrupt.
Sayings of Elder Moses of Optina
On being grieved by others
We must bear one another’s spiritual infirmities cheerfully, without bitterness. After all, if someone is physically ill, not only are we not offended with him, but we even help him in any way we can. That is how we must treat spiritual illnesses also.
On nurturing the fear of God
And truly we need only ceaselessly keep watch and be prepared, as if mentally on the lookout, beholding God’s omnipresence with the eye of our intellect and reflecting that He dwells not outside us only, but also within us, in our heart, in our soul as in His temple. It is in this spiritual practice that the fear of God consists. For one who knows with exactness that God is everywhere present, that He sees all his thoughts and that he tries his heart and reins – such a one will fear not only to do evil, but even to think evil.
We must thank the Lord for everything, the labor which he imposes on us to teach us patience, which ennobles the soul and is more beneficial for us than comfort. Evidently, this is pleasing to the Lord. Sorrows cannot befall us except through God’s permission – for the sake of our sins. And these very sorrows protect us from other temptations.
- Subdeacon Matthew Long
Clare, Fr. Theodosius, Glinsk Patericon (Wildwood: St. Xenia Skete, 1984).
Holy Trinity Convent (trans.) The Elder Moses of Optina (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1996).
Kontzevitch, I.M. “Abbot Moses: the Builder of the Optina Tradition” in The Orthodox Word (May-June, 1985): 125-128.
“Life in the Forrest by Abbot Moses of Optina” in The Orthodox Word (May-June, 1985): 129-135.
Makarios, Hieromonk of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. Christopher Hookway, vol. 1 (Chalkidike: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia, 1998).
Optina’s Elders: “Instructor of Monks and Conversers with Angels” at http://www.roca.org/OA/97/97k.htm accessed on Dec. 17, 2013.
Schaefer, Archimandrite George (trans.) Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, 2009).