“The Zealot of Athos and Moscow”: The Life of Schema-Archimandrite Ilarion (Udodov). Part I: Childhood and Youth: The Holy Mountain of Athos
Today being the 61st anniversary of the blessed repose of Schema-Archimandrite Ilarion (Udodov; 1862-1951), Bogoslov.Ru is publishing his life, compiled by Fr Vladislav Michin, a priest of the Church of the Deposition of the Venerable Robe of the Theotokos at Blachernae in Leonovo, and translated from the Russian by Yana Larionova. The account of his life will continue in two further parts.

The book “The Zealot of Athos and Moscow” was quite recently published in Russian and has just been translated into English. It is devoted to the life of the Spirit-bearing elder Schema-Archimandrite Ilarion (Udodov; 1862-1951), the keeper of the head of Saint Sergey of Radonezh during the years of the Great Patriotic war.

Schema-Archimandrite Ilarion, from his very youth, strove for the Living God at the Holy Mountain of Athos, having taken monastic vows in the Saint Panteleimon monastery there.

On returning to Russia, he then served his monastic duty in the Moscow monastery of the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon of the Theotokos. When the monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Solyanka was closed by the Soviet government, he became spiritual father to its sisters, celebrating liturgies in the old cloister farmstead in the village of Chernetzovo. Since 1935 and up to his blessed demise he was father superior of the church of the Vladimir Icon in the village of Vinogradovo, where he was eventually buried at the church’s northern entrance.

The hardships and sorrows of the great generation of the Russian new martyrs and confessors of faith are all reflected in his fate and his deep silent prayer. Among the spiritual disciples of the elder were his brother, Protopriest Piotr Udodov, Archbishop Sergius (Golubtzov), and the former father confessor of the Moscow diocese Father Vladimir Zhavoronkov, to name only a few.

“The Zealot of Athos and Moscow”

The Life of Schema-Archimandrite Ilarion (Udodov), the Keeper of the Head of Saint Sergey.

Compiled by Priest Vladislav Mishin, a member of the clergy of the Moscow church of the Deposition of the Venerable Robe of the Theotokos at Blachernae, in Leonovo.

Childhood and youth

The Holy Mountain of Athos

“He who does them [God’s commandments] and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:19). These words of our Lord surely relate to Schema-Archimandrite Ilarion (Udodov), a humble and meek chosen one of God, described by Protopriest Konstantin Speransky[1] as “constantly having prayer on his lips and work in his hands.”

Schema-Archimandrite Ilarion, baptized Joachim, was born on September 20, 1862, to a simple peasant family in the village of Buylovka, in the Voronezh region of Russia. His father’s name was Chrisanph (died on June 16, 1906) and his mother’s name Agrippina (died December 11, 1908).

There were three sons in the family: Joachim was the oldest, then came Piotr, and the youngest was Feodor. Labour and diligence were highly esteemed within the family and Joachim was taught blacksmith’s work when still a youth. The devout parents also succeeded well in passing their Christian piety to their children.

Very early on Joachim made his choice once and forever: he decided to become a monk and, at the age of twenty, left home for the Holy Mountain of Athos, - the place, he believed, that was honoured repeatedly with the bodily presence of the Theotokos Herself.

Athos, the “Promised Land of Christian asceticism”, had since ancient times been the cherished place of pious dreams for Russians, and the spiritual links between the famous Greek monastic peninsula and Russia were strong. Many wealthy Russian people were benefactors to its monasteries and churches and numerous Russian saintly elders shone forth among its monks.

On coming to the Holy Mountain, Joachim took his time choosing from the scores of monasteries there, all wide open for him thanks to his high competence at the blacksmith’s craft.[2] One fine morning, after assiduous prayer, he saw the Mother of God in a dream, walking accompanied by the Great Martyr Panteleimon to whom She was saying: “Accept this one to your abode”. He took it as a clear sign of the Theotokos’ blessing for him to enter the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon.

The Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon

The time when Joachim came to the Russian Saint Panteleimon monastery (around 1882) was the epoch of its unprecedented flowering. This spiritual golden age of the abode was due to the names of the two outstanding zealots of the Russian Athos – the father confessor of the brotherhood, schema-hieromonk Hieronymus[3] and his closest disciple, Schema-Archimandrite Makarios[4], the abbot of the monastery since 1875. These elders were truly filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit and saw their main task as providing good spiritual education to the new generation of Russian monks. Their tireless energies extended day and night to spiritual shepherding turned the Panteleimon monastery, during the years of 1875 – 1885, into a flourishing place of all-round ascetic growth of the brotherhood. Even the perilous calamity, the 1877-78 Russian-Turkish war, was turned by the Lord into a tool for its moral growth, bestowing His miracles upon the monastery and sparing it the dreads of wartime.

“Staying inside the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon, I relished the unforgettable ambience of the Old Russian piety and ardent devotion,”  wrote M.A. Khitrovo, the consul general in Macedonia, in a diplomatic message on May 1880. “My heart rejoiced when I found in a faraway foreign land such a well organized and finely managed monumental hearth of Russian Orthodox piety! Thanks to the continuous efforts of the reverend Fathers Macarios and Hieronymus, the monastery has nowadays been placed on a steady foundation. It has its buildings on its own lands and is represented in Protatos[5] by a Russian monk. The father superior is Russian, as well as the overwhelming majority in the brotherhood”.

Further on, the consul depicts the prosperity and perfect inner organization of the abode: “There are a number of finely adorned and rich churches in addition to the main cathedral. Several new, excellently made residential constructions have been recently erected. All the monastery buildings have been improved and reconstructed to their appropriate state. The spacious refectory easily caters for the entire brotherhood and the pilgrims. All the monastery services are in perfect order. The precious monastery vestries strike one both with the richness of their treasures and with their thorough orderliness. There are also various schools of icon painting, photography, lithography and all kinds of crafts in the monastery. The two cloistral infirmaries – one for the brothers and the other for pilgrims – are kept perfectly clean and tidy.

“Outside the cloister walls the monastery owns, on the Holy Mount Athos, the well-organized skete (small secluded abode) of the Theotokos, and numberless beautifully made hermitages buried in most elaborate gardens. A convenient and useful mill is situated in the vicinity. A large vegetable garden provides the monastery with garden-stuff in plenty. The vineyards have been brought to good order. The forests in the monastery’s possession are being cut and exploited in a proper way.

“The Athonite rule of coenobitic monasticism is observed in the Panteleimon monastery in all its strictness, which can well serve as an object lesson, though maybe not such a pleasant one, for the Greek regular monasteries. As for the liturgical services, I should say that never in all my life had I found even in Russian churches such ecclesiastical discipline, beauty and, dare I say, splendour, as I happen to see in this monastery. Several times a day, in all cloister churches at once, prayers are sung and litanies are pronounced for Russia, for the sovereign monarch and for his house. In the two main churches the service is most usually performed by a whole assembly of priests, in our native language and with the most harmonious chanting from two choirs. Everybody, including foreigners of all kinds, cannot help being overwhelmed with the magnificent harmony of the Russian Athonite liturgy, significant both in general and in all its details.

“All are no less impressed by the Russian hospitable welcome in the monastery. To say nothing of the high-ranking visitors coming here in plenty, the cloister is very often overcrowded with common pilgrims, mostly on their way from Jerusalem, quite penniless after their long journey. In addition to these, the monastery provides daily sustenance for up to a thousand workpeople throughout the whole year. Uncounted numbers of hermits also live only at the monastery’s expense. A daily handout of enormous amounts of bread and money takes place at the monastery gates. Pilgrims, monks of other monasteries and simple travelers live sometimes for several days in a special building outside the monastery walls waiting for their ships, taking, in the meanwhile, their livelihood from the monastery”.[6]

Thanks to Father Hieronymus’ resoluteness and wisdom, the significance of the Russian monastery in Athos grew rapidly and his decisive actions and opinions were becoming of greater import than those of the abbots of other monasteries, both for the Kinot’s decisions and for life on the Holy Mountain in general. The cases of patronage and assistance of the two Russian elders, fathers Hieronymus and Makarios, were really uncountable throughout Athos.

Thus, for example, when the Georgian monks excluded by the Greeks from the Iberian monastery decided to restore the long-abandoned coenobial abode of Saint John the Theologian and the Greeks refused to sell them the needed construction materials, Father Hieronymus enjoined the father-steward of the monastery Pavel to buy wood wherever possible and make it available for the building works.

The Reverends Hieronymus and Macarios showed greatest sympathy for the life of the surrounding monasteries as well, doing their best to support peace and restore brotherly love where needed. They might have received lots of troubles due to this, being often opposed or even denounced, which, however, could never compel them to renounce their attempts to bring peace and defend the oppressed. Never had they refused those who asked them for support and advice – and their advice proved truly helpful, as with the misunderstanding that happened to the Russian monks in the hermitages of St Andrew and St Elias. All this speaks of their great authority in the world of Athos.

Thus, first the Saint Panteleimon monastery and then all the other Russian abodes and hermitages at Athos, as well as all Russian monks throughout the Holy Mountain, gradually acquired steady position and weight in the place. This led to a great rise in the number of Russian monks there. Whereas in previous times their total number had never risen over two or three hundred, during the blessed period of the 1890s, the Russian monks comprised nearly half of the whole population of Athos, their number reaching five thousand!

To the Panteleimon monastery alone there had come, by the end of Father Hieronymus’s life, more than eight hundred people to become monks, and one of them, father Panteleimon, witnessed in 1885 that it was not possible for everybody to know one another by name, so that only when somebody died the others came to know his name: to pray for his soul.

Such were the fruits of the elders’ incessant fatherly care and love.

Father Hieronymus always tried to grasp the mood and spirit of those coming, entrusting experienced elders with guiding them in their first period of monastic life. He realized the importance of being assisted in spiritual guidance of the ever-growing fraternity by well-prepared father-confessors, whom he also could have relied upon when dying.

“It is the abbot himself who must be spiritual father to every one of his monks in a coenobium, as he is the one fully responsible for their spiritual growth,” Father Hieronymus says, reminding us of the ancient patristic rule. “But if the number of monks becomes great and he is no longer able to hear all confessions himself, then he should summon the monastery synod and elect one or two experienced elders who are to hear the confession of some of the monks, appointed for each of them by the abbot, and forgive their sins and transgressions, though not mortal sins which are to be confessed anyway to the abbot, their common father and confessor. Such is the conciliar decree of the Holy Fathers of our Catholic and Apostolic Church. Such, also, was the rule set for Athos by Saint Savva the Serbian.

“The position of father confessor is inseparable from the position of spiritual leader and mentor. A father confessor serves to fulfill the Sacrament of Repentance, whereas as spiritual mentor of those willing to take the monastic angel-like habit he guides them to an appropriate way of life by frequent and useful admonitions according to the rules described in the book of Saint Basil the Great about true and God-pleasing asceticism. However, it is not forbidden, with the abbot’s special blessing, to choose for the spiritual father’s assistance another elder, even from simple monks, provided he is experienced in prayer, who would listen to the young brother confessing to him his inner troubles and know how to advise him, encouraging him to stand firm against the enemy’s contrivances and to be steadfast in confessing his sins, having true faith in his spiritual father and the mystery of repentance”.[7]

Father Hieronymus was both the spiritual guide and father confessor to father Macarios and the whole fraternity. After his death, father Macarios succeeded him as the main elder and spiritual father.

In the strict coenobium of the Russian monastery father Hieronymus managed to carry into life the patristic principles he believed in and followed himself. There was no need for a written monastic charter while he was alive, for he himself could well serve as a living statute and example in following all the ascetic rules. In case he dies, father Hieronymus compiled, together with father Macarios, “The Monastic Charter of the Russian Coenobial Monastery of the Holy Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon on Athos”., based “upon the word of God and the patristic teaching” and conveying general rules of coenobitic life, the order of ecclesiastical services, the duties of brothers busy in different ministrations and the like. The charter was compiled in 1881 and signed by the hands of both elders, the abbot and the spiritual father.

The daily order of liturgical, private and interpersonal life in the monastery during Father Hieronymus’ lifespan and fixed by the charter was as follows.

The accepted monastic private rule of prayer consisted, for schema-monks, of twelve kombologions[8] (prayer ropes) with bows from the waist and a hundred metanias (prostrations); the latter were omitted on feast-days and Sundays. For simple monks it was lesser: six kombologions with bows from the waist and fifty metanies, for novices – three kombologions and thirty three metanias. In addition to this, all the brothers were obliged to make a hundred more bows from the waist for the monastery sponsors. Several bell strokes woke everybody each morning for this private prayer, at five o’clock[9] during summertime and at six o’clock in winter. An hour later the bell rang calling for Matins. This was followed by early Liturgies arranged especially so that there was time to recite the names of all the sponsors and benefactors of the monastery at the offertory service, as well as for those who were busy at various labours in the monastery. The late Liturgies were celebrated in a couple of hours after Matins. Vespers started about two and a half hours before sunset, and was recited also at places of labours, not only in churches. Compline was recited separately, always at sunset, except during the period of Great Lent when the very long Great Compline started an hour earlier. After Compline it was not allowed to take any food or even water, and if anybody had some acute need to drink he had to make after that fifty more bows or read Compline one more time. No less strict was the prohibition of any conversation after Compline. No coming together in cells was allowed, except for those specially blessed to do so. On the eves of Sundays and Feast days devoted to the Lord, the Theotokos and the great Saints, there were great Vigils, starting at sunset and lasting no less than nine hours (and on the Feasts of Saint Panteleimon and the Intercession of the Mother of God, it was even longer, about fourteen hours and up to seventeen hours together with the Divine Liturgy). The spiritual father paid much attention to the monks’ state of mind and behaviour during the long night services.

A meal was prepared twice a day, except on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and the weekdays of the Great Lent when there was only one meal a day and with no oil. No food was to be stored in cells except for those being ill and those with the special approval of the abbot.

When in cells, monks were to be ever busy praying or reading and never to stay out more than it was necessary for doing their usual work, neither should they have gone visiting one another for idle talking. Going to sleep at night they were to remain girdled, and at daytime sleep was only allowed during long summer days.

However, the strictest rules concerned the monks’ attitude to possession of any kind: not a slightest inclination to have anything of their own was considered justified, nor any initiative to have a will of their own. Such absolute rejection of selfishness on both the material and spiritual levels was considered the main virtue of a coenobitic monk and comprised the main concern of the elders’ watchful guidance. At the moment of entering the brotherhood, the future monk left all he used to possess behind and was never to return to it, not even in his thoughts.

Father Hieronymus wanted his monks to adhere fully to the spiritual principles of monastic elders, viewing it as the very foundation of their salvation.

But the axis of their prayer and joy was, of course, the great Sacrament of Christ’s Holy Body and Blood – and thanks to the elder’s solicitous care, the ancient tradition of the first Christians to come to the Holy Communion as often as possible was being restored and confirmed in the monastery. During the period  of Great Lent the monks received the Communion three times a week, the novices twice. Many of the monks were eager to fast and prepare themselves for the Holy Communion that often even outside the fasting periods, to come to the confession at least each Friday and to the Holy Communion each Saturday was the common tradition among the entire fraternity. In addition to this, any ecclesiastical Feast day or the day of a monk’s patron saint were also a good occasion for coming to the Holy Sacrament.

Such was the atmosphere of the Old Russian piety that surrounded young Joachim as soon as he entered that school of ascetic life tutored and nourished in his soul by experienced elders.

Soon after entering the monastery, Joachim was given the monastic habit with the name of Ilarion, Saint Ilarion the Great (commemorated on October 21 according to the Julian calendar) becoming his patron saint. Monk Ilarion did the work of a monastery blacksmith. He was outstandingly strong and the blows of his sledge-hammer drew everybody’s attention by their unusual might – “That’s no one but Ilarion!” the monks used to say, smiling.

At the age of about twenty-three, he happened to work on a system of scaffolding, fell from a height of around thirty meters and was badly injured. In a hopeless state he was, according to the Athos tradition, given the schema-habit. After the rite was over, he suddenly felt better, soon recovered and eventually could even return to his usual work. He considered it a divine miracle and never discussed it to the very old age.

Archbishop Sergey says that Father Ilarion was endowed with an unusual engineering gift, some kind of creative insights enabling him to solve very difficult tasks usually requiring special education. Thus he remembers an incident when after a serious earthquake (not at all uncommon in that part of Greece) the drum of a monastery church with the inside part of the cupola cracked. Hierodeacon Ilarion was offered to fix it if he could think of a way so to do. His inexplicable moments of inspiration were known to the elders, who even punished him sometimes by debarring him from his regular liturgical ministration. At such a moment of intellectual inspiration he got the decision for fixing the cracked drum.

His idea was successfully implemented, and after some time some engineers from Salonika came to the monastery. Having examined the drum they wished to be introduced to the master who had done such an excellent piece of work. Father Ilarion was called. Asked about the engineering drawings and calculations, he answered by smiling and hitting himself on the forehead: “Here are all my drawings and calculations, whatever they be!”

The specialists were astonished at the fact that a very rational decision had been found for such a complicated task by a simple blacksmith having no special education – only through his intuitive vision, supported by prayer.

“The elder’s best reminiscences," Archbishop Sergey writes,[10] "were about the Old Athos where his monastic start had taken place. He talked of the Athonite life as of an angel-like existence and always repeated that he had never seen any quarrels in the fraternity”. After the ten-hour vigils (the opening psalm alone could be chanted, line by line, by the entire fraternity standing with candles in their hands, for about an hour!) everybody used to leave the church slowly, without haste, “making way for one another in genuine joy of heart”.

Father Ilarion was very fond of the old Athonite traditions presupposing a very careful and individual approach to each newcomer. Thus, when a new man came to the abode wishing to become a novice, he was entrusted by the abbot to one of the elders, who took him for a walk along the Holy Mountain and in the meanwhile, just talking of what they met on their way, came to know his moods and dispositions, according to which the novice was to be given appropriate occupations.

Archbishop Sergey writes elsewhere: “Father Ilarion told us about himself, that as a young monk he had been eager to try all kinds of asceticism. Thus, for three years or so he slept only sitting on a chair, never allowing himself to lie down. One night, after having such a short nap, he looked up and saw a dreadful-looking devil approaching him; very slowly he started to make the sign of the cross and the apparition at once disappeared. The monk couldn’t help exclaiming triumphantly: “Come, there is nothing you can really do!”

The hermitage of the Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom

There is a photograph in Archbishop Sergey’s archive with the inscription: “The young monk Ilarion and his father with the Holy Mountain of Athos in the background, where he lived in the Russian hermitage of St John Chrysostom since the year 1888”. This allows us to assume that, after six years of primary monastic schooling in the St Panteleimon monastery, Father Ilarion went to live in the Russian hermitage[11] of the Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom, where schema-hieromonk Kirill (Abramov) was father superior at those times.

That was the known idea of father Hieronymus, the Elder of the Panteleimon monastery, that “the long-abandoned, dilapidated Greek hermitages should be re-inhabited by Russian hermits, able to restore them and bring their churches-paracletes back to life”.[12] With his blessing and material support, some willing monks of the Russikon monastery moved into hermitages bought from the Greek monasteries. During the period of 1860–80, about seventy formerly Greek hermitages thus became Russian.

The head and elder of the Russian hermitage of St John Chrysostom was Schema-Hieromonk Kirill (Abramov) whose more than forty-year long activity in Athos was devoted mostly to championing the right of Russian monks to live on the Holy Mountain. This ardent zealot was born on February 26, 1845, to the family of a Cossack sergeant in the Melekhovskaya village of the Don Region. He was educated in the Novocherkassk district college, which did not lessen the pious mood he had adopted at home. His favourite reading remained the Lives of Saints and other ecclesiastical books, as from his childhood he dreamt of becoming a monk and serving God without distraction. When his father left the world and went, by foot, to Athos seeking spiritual life, the young Kapiton (such was his lay name) joined him without hesitation.

Having reached the Holy Mountain and wandered along it for some time, the father and the son made their mind to enter the Russian Panteleimon monastery, where the saintly elder Hieronymus accepted them with love and joy. For about a year they worked in the abode, each according to his talents, young Kapiton being busy chanting in church, but then had to leave the monastery and move to the Russian hermitage of Basil the Great.[13] There the young novice was given the habit and the name of Kirill and, on July 30, 1865, was ordained a priest. After the death of the known spiritual elder Mitrophanios, his spiritual father and mentor, the monks of the hermitage elected Kirill as their abbot and elder.

As soon as father Kirill became the abbot, he had to encounter many hindrances and impediments to his ardent activities. In 1883, after a tiring and useless period of sad internecine strife with the Greeks, he moved, with quite a large number of monks, to the half-destroyed hermitage of the Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom,[14] which they bought from the Serbian Hilandar monastery to be their property.

These tireless enthusiasts proved able to overcome all hardships and transform the ruined hermitage into a flowering abode. With the blessing of the Hilandar Lavra, a new cathedral was built within a three-year period and devoted to the memory of the miraculous salvation of the Royal Family in the train crash at the Borki station on October 17, 1888. That beautiful church with the central altar dedicated to the Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom and the side chapels named in honour of the Holy and Righteous Prince Alexander Nevsky and Saint Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles, became a sign of the close unity between the Russian and Greek Athonite monks.

Up to the 1917 Russian revolution, the Chrysostom hermitage was one of the most significant Russian monastic establishments in Athos, with an average number of about a hundred monks. Schema-Hieromonk Kirill was the first Chairman of the newly established Fraternity of the Russian abodes on Athos – an association set up to assist Russian monks to live outside the Russian empire and a sort of Slavonic centre on Athos.[15]

We have no information concerning the reason for father Ilarion’s move into the Chrysostom hermitage in 1888. He could possibly have been seeking spiritual guidance, after father Hieronymus had died in 1885 in the Panteleimon monastery.

It is known that the Right Reverend Michael, the metropolitan of Serbia, was personally acquainted with Schema-Hieromonk Kirill and used to frequently visit his abode. During one of such visits, he suggested that the elder should take spiritual charge of the renowned Vysoko-Dechani Lavra, placed in the very heart of Old Serbia, right by the Albanian frontier. The metropolitan seemed to have understood that only the Russian Athos monasticism, living through its unprecedented rise, was able to revive the once famous Serbian spiritual centre. The latter was in a really desperate state. Because of the incessant raids of robbers it was nearly empty, having one or two steadfast old monks still living in it, and a large part of its lands used by local people who were inimical to the monks. Elder Kirill decided to accept the heavy burden of such a proposal, taking it as a good occasion to demonstrate the strength of Slavic unity.

It was decided to send Russian monks to live in the Serbian Lavra, establishing there the coenobitic monastic life according to the Athonite rules, similar to those accepted in the St Chrysostom hermitage. On January 14, 1903, Nikiforos, Metropolitan of Rash-Prizrensk, and Schema-Hieromonk Kirill, having received Constantinople’s permission to do this, started the moving of Russian monks to Serbia. Here is an extract from Father Kirill’s letter concerning this matter:

“With God’s blessing, we have been put in charge of the ancient Orthodox-Christian shrine – the Vysoko-Dechan Lavra, located amidst mountains and hills populated with savage Arnautians (Albanians) who have nearly destroyed it by their frequents raids. This once famous Laura enshrines the sacred incorrupt body[16] of its founder, the holy king Stephan of Dechan, lying openly in the church, and of his sister, too, the queen Elena, entombed; there are also numerous reliquaries there with incorruptible relics of other God-pleasing saints.

A difficult task has thus befallen me: to restore and arrange proper monasticism in this ancient holy place, whereunto I have so far sent twenty good monks from the number of tried and tested brothers of our Athonite community. Having for long had the St John Chrysostom abode in Athos in my charge and rendering it my home, now I am doing my best at arranging things in the Serbian Lavra. This is why we are humbly asking for help and assistance, in whatever way you could kindly afford it and God reveals to you.

“That mountainous spot, inhabited of old by Orthodox Christians, now has been invaded by the people called Arnautians, of Muslim faith, who have massacred with fire and sword nearly all Christians there. By restoring the Vysoko-Dechan Lavra and making it peopled with Russian true monks we hope to attract the poor Serbians and their neighbouring nationalities, threatened into apostasy by the terrible Muslim horrors, back to the holy Christian faith – when they see their spiritual support and the most cherished shrine once more free and strong.

“Remaining always your humble prayers, we call all the mercies and gracious benevolence of our Lord the Heavenly King and our Most-Holy Lady the Theotokos to be with you,

“Father Superior of the St Chrysostom abode and the Abbot of the Vysoko-Dechan Lavra, Schema-Hieromonk Kirill with brothers”.

In his memoirs about Father Ilarion, Archbishop Sergey (Golybtzov) says that the elder had travelled a lot, “having twice been to the Holy Land Jerusalem, having been even to China, maybe to Rome, whereas in Bulgaria and Serbia he had surely accomplished some serious toils and was given the award of the epigonation.”[17]

The gratitude and attention received by Archimandrite Ilarion from “the supreme members of the Serbian and Bulgarian government” is also mentioned by a certain M.Sh. – a parishioner of the church of the Vladimir Icon of the Theotokos in the village of Vinogradovo who preferred to remain incognito – in her reminiscences of the elder.

These details could easily be taken as circumstantial evidence for Father Ilarion having been among those “twenty good monks from the number of tried and tested brothers of the Athos community” sent by Kirill to Serbia. However, we should not forget about the “religious prudence that must really accompany our attempts to draw up the veil covering the life and deeds of Saints, declining all unfounded speculations however verisimilar these might seem to our mind”.[18] There are undoubtedly many a good deed and toil of a God-pleasing man that have to “remain unknown for one reason or another”.[19]

Translated from the Russian by Yana Larionova

[1] Protopriest Konstantin Speransky was the Father-Superior of the church of the Vladimir Icon of the Theotokos in the village of Vinogradovo from 1933 to 1936.

[2] The main source of information about the nearly twenty-year-long Athonite period in the elder’s life is still the memoirs of his spiritual son, Archbishop Sergey (Golubtzov). His written reminiscences about Elder Ilarion are extant in two versions. A manuscript of his memoirs was kindly given to us by his spiritual son, Abbot Andronik (Trubachiov).

[3] Schema-Hieromonk Hieronymus (Solomentzov; died November 14, 1885) was a restorer and donator of the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon on the Holy Mountain and from 1840 to 1885 its Father confessor. Through his care and concern, numerous town residences with conventual churches were built in Russia (the most important of these was in Moscow, with the chapel of St Panteleimon), as well as the great New Athos monastery in the Caucasus. Father Hieronymus used to compose special prayers, both thanksgiving and intercessory, adding them to each ecclesiastical or private prayer, for every important event both on Athos and in his faraway motherland.

He is therefore known as the author of the Akathist to St John the Baptist used till now in the liturgical practice of the Russian Orthodox Church.

He was also keen on collecting particles of saints’ relics for the monastery cathedral. In 1880, the right hand of the Holy Righteous John the Russian was brought with great honour to the monastery from the Isle of Euboea where his holy relic had been lying undivided up to then. The success of this enterprise was for him a clear sign of the Saint’s special benevolence towards his compatriots, the Russian monks, as it was the first case when those daring to take away some part of his sacred body were not forced by his threatening appearances to soon abandon their plans. Many of the holy relics of various saints collected by the elder Hieronymus can be venerated in the monastery until now. The elder was famous for his gifts of spiritual discernment, wisdom and prayer which always proved to have great power: there were numerous cases of miraculous healings and of amazing salvations at sea. He was granted several divine visitations from our Lord Jesus Christ, His Most Holy Mother and Saint John the Theologian.


[4] Schema-Archimandrite Makarios (Suchkin; died June 19, 1889) came to Athos in 1851 to become a monk in the Russian Saint Panteleimon Monastery. In 1875, he was elected by the brotherhood and, with the assistance of the Russian ambassador in Constantinople Count N.P. Ignatiev, was appointed abbot. On Schema-Hieromonk Hieronymus’ death he became also the father confessor of the brotherhood. “The entire spiritual life of Russian Athos”, wrote his contemporaries, “focused around and was founded upon the personal spiritual perfection of the two mentioned unforgettable elders”. Appendix 1 contains the memoirs of the well-known Russian thinker, writer and statesman K.N. Leontiev about the Reverend Hieronymus and Makarios.

[5] The Protat (or the Sacred Kinot) is the central elective governing body of all the Athos monasteries. It defines verdicts on all serious matters of the monasteries’ inner life, regulates their interrelations and helps in contacts with the outer world. The Protat’s members are elected from representatives of the twenty “ruling” monasteries of Athos. The Protat has its sessions in Karea, the only town in Athos, which was given the status of its capital in the year 882.

[6] The review of the Panteleimon monastery is given here and further on according to the book “The Great Guard: Lives and Deeds of the Blessed Elders Hieronymus and Macarios of Athos”, Moscow, 2001.

[7] “The Monastic Charter of the Russian Coenobial Monastery of the Holy Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon on Athos”.

[8] Praying with beads or kombologions to count the number of Jesus Prayers is an ancient monastic tradition. In this way the counting of the prayers and bows goes automatically, leaving the mind free to focus upon the name of Jesus.

[9] Time is counted in Athos in the Byzantine manner: 0 o’clock is the time of sunrise.

[10] Archbishop Sergey (Pavel Alexandrovich Golubtzov; 16/29.04.1906 – 16.06.1982) was a son of A.P. Golubtzov, a well-known professor of liturgical studies at the Moscow Theological Academy. In 1955, he was consecrated as a bishop of Staraya Russa, and since 1956 was the bishop of Novgorod and Staraya Russa. In 1963 he was granted the rank of archbishop. From 1967 to his death he lived retired in the Holy-Trinity Lavra of Saint Sergey, where he was buried behind the altar part of the church of the Holy Spirit. For more information about him see Appendix 2.

[11] In Athos, a hermitage is a serious monastic institution with its own church, though lower in its status than the twenty main monasteries and their numerous sketes.

[12] “The Great Guards: the Lives and Deeds of the Blessed Elders Hieronymus and Makarios of Athos”. Moscow, 2001, p. 175.

[13] In the St Panteleimon monastery the Greek and the Russian monks did not always get along smoothly, the Russian novices sometimes having to leave the abode.

[15] The Russian hermitage of St John Chrysostom was famous for its icon painters, the icons made there being known and admired all over Russia. The place was also greatly successful in making various kinds of oils. In 2002, after the desolation brought to most Russian religious sites by the communist regime, P.V. Troitsky visited the place to witness a sad picture: “The hermitage territory was covered all through with thick woods hiding from view even the three-storey building of the cathedral. The latter had neither doors nor windows and its bare walls, carrying no decoration whatever, sheltered only the skulls of the long-deceased monks laid upon the wooden shelves according to the local tradition. Heaps of half-decayed books reminded one of the wide publishing activity of the old days”.

[16] Unimpaired relics is such a case of incorruptible relics of saints when their bodies remain fully untouched by corruption, with their flesh on the bones; such are the relics, for example, of Saint Alexander of Svir.

[17] A diamond-shaped stiffened vestment used by certain ecclesiastical dignitaries in the Orthodox Church.

[18] The phrase taken from a composition by the brilliant spiritual mentor of our times Archimandrite Ioann (Krestyankin), then a third-year student of the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy; the title of his work was “Saint Seraphim the Wonderworker of Sarov and his place in the history of the Russian Church”.

[19] There is no service record of Archimandrite Ilarion in the archives of the Moscow Patriarchate or the Moscow diocese. In autumn 2009, we were told by father Makarios, the father confessor of the Russian St Panteleimon monastery in Athos, that a research group from Moscow was then working in the monastery archive. It is quite possible that some new evidence on the Athonite period of Father Ilarion’s life will become available in the near future. 

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