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Rev. Theodore and Vasilios The Monk Martyrs (+1098)


Memorial day on August the 24th

The enemy of mankind, satan, teaches people to love money, to hoard it and not to give any of it to the poor. Devil inspires them to have the passion of greed. Satan tempts holy people with money, trying to cheat them out of the heavenly treasures granted by the merciful Lord to charitable and unmercenaries. He also tries to convince righteous people to become attached to earthly thing, to gold and silver. Let us tell you how the cunning enemy, satan, almost destroyed the recluse of the Kiev Cave Monastery, Theodore, and how the man-loving Lord saved His sinning servant.

The blessed Theodore had been a very rich man in the world but once while reading Holy Gospel, he was struck by the words of the Saviour, Whoever does not forsake his possessions cannot be my disciple (Lk. 14, 33).

Theodore decided that he could not follow Christ, could not be His disciple because of his wealth. He hurried to give away all his property to the poor and went to the Cave Monastery to get tonsured into a monastic life. He became a true monk, obedient in every way, and the abbot seeing his righteous life, allowed Theodore to enter the path of the anchorite in a small cave outside the monastery.

It is a difficult struggle to live in a dark, damp and cold cave as the devil tries hard to attack recluses. St Theodore led a very strict life; he fasted and prayed fervently day and night in the ‘Varangian Cave’ (the Varangians had used the cave as a hiding place and headquarters during their raids on Rus’).

The demon was filled with malice toward St. Theodore because of his righteous life and he began to subtly tempt the blessed man. Satan taught the recluse to long for his former wealth and to desire the riches and possessions he had given to the poor and to churches. The enemy whispered to the saint, ‘You will still live for a long time. You will become old and weak and the monastery will be too poor to take care of you and feed you!’ The blessed Theodore was not experienced enough in warfare with the devil. He fell prey to his cruel temptations and forgot that our Saviour tells us not to worry about tomorrow. The Creator of the universe is able to care for His servants. Clever demon darkened the saint’s mind so that he became despondent. St. Theodore was, however, wise enough to turn to the elders for advice. He went to the monastery and told the brethren about his temptation and his despair.

2408At that time, there was an experienced monk Vasilios at the Cave Monastery. St. Theodore told him of his temptations.

The elder, wishing to comfort St. Theodore, told him, ‘Brother Theodore, I beg you not to lose your reward. If you regret having given away your possessions to the poor, I shall try to give you back as much money as you have given to the poor. Only pray, that the Lord will account your alms to my soul. Only be fearful that the Lord might do as you ask. Once, in Constantinople there lived a man, just like you, who began to regret that he had given his possessions to the poor. Another man agreed to return an equal amount of money to him on the condition that the first man announces in church, “It was not me, Oh Lord, who gave alms, but this man.” As soon as he pronounced the words, he immediately fell dead. Thus, the man deprived himself of both gold and his life.’

The story impressed St. Theodore. He understood his great sin and began to weep with tears of repentance. He thanked St. Vasilios who had healed him from his spiritual illness. From that time on, St. Theodore and the holy elder Vasilios became close friends. St. Vasilios had always strengthened Theodore with sound spiritual guidance.

St. Theodore returned to the cave and began to struggle even more zealously, no longer keeping worldly things in his mind but aiming his soul toward his Creator. The saint rejoiced in the Lord, but the evil-one was moved to have still more malice because of his failure. The more a man draws near to God, the more strongly satan attacks that man. So, from that time on, he attacked St Theodore with even greater deceitfulness and fierceness.

It happened that the abbot sent the holy elder Vasilios from the monastery on obedience and the monk was away for three months. The demon made use of this time and, while Theodore’s friend was away, satan attacked the latter viciously. Now satan came to the former man of wealth and appeared to him in the image of the elder Vasilios. In this deceiving appearance, satan asked Theodore whether the demons still tempted him about the money he had given away. The monk replied, ‘Thanks to your holy prayers, father, I am doing well. Thanks to you, I drive away thoughts about possessions I gave away. Now, I shall do all that you order me, because your instructions have delivered me from the sinful thoughts.’

‘Ask God for your gold and silver back,’ the false Vasilios told him. ’God will give you back everything that you gave to the poor. But do not let anyone enter your cave and do not leave the cave either.’

24082Theodore promised to obey his false friend without being wise enough to suspect these instructions. He began, in a fit of madness, to beseech the Lord to give him gold and silver promising to give it away to the poor. With a clouded mind, the recluse fell asleep after this unworthy prayer and, in a dream, the demon appeared to him in the guise of a bright, beautiful angel, who showed him the location of a treasure buried in the cave by the Varangians. After several similar visions, Theodore decided to dig up in the indicated place. And, truly, he did find a large treasure of gold and silver and precious vessels.

Soon after that, the evil-one again appeared to Theodore in the image of St. Vasilios and asked, ‘Where is the treasure which you have discovered? The angel who appeared to you told me of the large quantity of gold and silver given to you because of your prayer.’

Again, Theodore did not cross himself or call upon the name of the Saviour. Seized by greed, he did not want to show his treasure even to this pretended friend. The cunning demon incited Theodore with the thought of fleeing to other lands with his treasure. ‘There I shall give away the money to the poor,’ the deluded ascetic thought. But the evil-one, in the image of St Vasilios, advised him not to give away his treasure because later he would regret again being deprived of his wealth. ‘It would be better to buy yourself a good estate. Before you die you will still be able to give alms to the poor’.

The deluded ascetic believed the demon thinking that he was speaking to his friend St. Vasilios. Theodore began preparations for his journey. First, he had to obtain wagons in order to transport the huge quantity of gold and silver. The Lord, Who loves mankind, beheld His perishing servant and sent help to him. Just at the time when St. Theodore was completing his plans to run away from the Cave Monastery, St Vasilios returned and came to the cave to see the recluse. The saint walked in with the greeting, ‘Theodore, my friend, how are you saving yourself in the Lord? I have not seen you for a long time.’

The greeting startled Theodore. ‘What do you mean? Why do you say you have not seen me for a long time? You were here no later than yesterday and you visited me often before. You have been with me teaching me. Now, I am leaving the monastery as you ordered me,’ the recluse said in his condition of spiritual delusion.

St. Vasilios was astounded by the strange words. ‘How could you see me yesterday? How could I visit you? I have just returned from a journey today! I see that there is some sort of demonic activity here. Do not think of leaving from here? I beg you to conceal nothing from me. Tell me everything openly, for God’s sake!’

Theodore became angry and exclaimed, ‘Why are you tempting me! Now you say one thing, then another! How can I believe you?’

He who was charmed by the evil spirit, could not understand that it was not the saint who had appeared to him before, but the tempter and destroyer of souls. In anger, the recluse drove his true friend away from the cave.

St. Vasilios returned to the monastery. But the cunning demon once more assumed the saint’s image and again appeared to Theodore. He said to him,

‘My brother, I completely lost my head advising you not to go from here. I am not angry with you that you drove me out of the cave. But I tell you again that you must hurry and leave here in the coming night taking the treasure with you.’

At this, the evil spirit left the cave. But the true friend of Theodore being concerned about the soul of the deluded ascetic, invited several elders to go with him to Theodore’s cell. Pointing to the respected elders, known for the righteous lives, he said, ‘Here are witnesses that I have not seen you for three months. The abbot sent me away from the monastery on business, and I have been back here for three days only. I suspect that this is a demonic matter, for you tried to convince me that it was not long since you saw me, that I was with you frequently. Therefore, I advise you let no visitors in until they pronounce, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.’ And, if someone comes and does not want to say this prayer, then do not let him in.’ Having given this simple and wise advice, St. Vasilios read a special prayer over his friend after which the demons did not dare approach him. The blessed Vasilios called upon all the saints for help and immediately Theodore’s mind became clear. He understood that the demon had deceived him coming to him in the image of St. Vasilios, and he had nearly destroyed his soul.

St. Vasilios gave his friend some more beneficial advice. From that time on, no one dared to enter Theodore’s cell without saying the great prayer from which evil spirits tremble. Thus, with God’s help, St Theodore defeated the demons. The more a man struggles for the Lord’s sake, the more Satan tries to tempt him. The evil-one directs himself with rage at ascetics, at those living alone in the wilderness, at recluses.

St. Theodore dug a deep hole and threw the evil treasure into it. He prayed that he might forget the very place where he buried the treasure and never again desire wealth. The merciful Saviour heard His servant and St Theodore completely forgot where the treasure had been buried. From that moment, by God’s mercy, he stopped loving gold and silver altogether. For him, they were no more than dust. Peace reigned in the ascetic’s soul and he became fearless, quiet and joyous. Everything earthly was obliterated and destroyed in his soul. He continued to fast more strictly, pray more fervently and work humbly for the monastery brethren. St Theodore brought a hand operated millstone to his cave, so he could grind rye grain for the monastery. That was a difficult task and the saint worked day and night. God’s morning would barely begin to dawn and the saint would already carry a large sack of flour on his shoulders to the monastery. The monks would fill a sack with grain for him and he would carry it back to the cave. Thus, by humble, simple labour the blessed defeated the enemy of mankind. At length, the cellarer was deeply moved by the saint’s patience and decided to ease his burden by sending several cartloads of grain to his cell, so he would no longer have to carry the full sacks on his back. The blessed one poured the grain into vessels and diligently began to grind it while chanting the Psalms of King David. When the saint became tired from his work, he took a little rest. Suddenly, he heard someone’s loud, penetrating voice, like a peal of thunder and the millstones began to work by themselves. The saint was not frightened or alarmed at either the terrible voice or the noise of the moving millstones. He understood very well what was the reason for the sounds. He peacefully and diligently began to pray and then in a loud commanding voice he proclaimed, ‘The Lord forbids you, the evil demon!’

The unclean spirit did not, however, heed the order of the blessed one but continued to grind the grain, St. Theodore gave himself over to yet more fervent prayer and then, with great audacity, he said to the evil spirit, ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Who cast you down from heaven and gave His saints the power to defeat you, I, a sinner, order you not to stop working until you grind all the grain. You must work for the holy brethren.’

The saint continued his fervent prayer and the unclean spirit was compelled to obey the saint. He ground grain the entire night. In the morning, St. Theodore asked the cellarer to send carts for the flour — the demon had ground all five cartloads of grain. The cellarer was amazed that the whole quantity of grain had been ground, and went to get the flour himself in order to see such a miracle.

The holy fathers Theodore and Vasilios always revealed their thoughts to each other. Once, they decided that St Vasilios would go into the Varangian Cave and give himself up to hesychasm. St Theodore, who had become old and weak by that time, planned to move to the monastery. However, the old monastery buildings burned down and the brethren was planning to rebuild them. The timber for the construction was logged down on the bank of the Dnieper River. The logs had to be dragged uphill. Special carriers were hired for the hard work. The holy elder Theodore, however, dragged the logs for his own cell up the hill by himself with God’s help. The next morning, all the logs were found down on the riverside again. The saint understood immediately that that was a result of a demonic action. St Theodore boldly commanded the demons, by God’s name, to carry all the logs up the hill so that the brethren could rebuild the monastery and a church of the Most Holy Theotokos. The demons had to submit to the holy elder and that very night all the logs were carried from the bank of the Dnieper River to the top of the hill.

At length, the demons resolved to destroy both of these great ascetics, and Merciful Lord, Who had prepared special crowns for them in heaven, allowed that to happen. Satan in the image of the holy Vasilios appeared to one of the prince’s advisors, a cruel and violent boyar. Satan lied to the boyar, who had met the saints before, ‘When Theodore lived in the Varangian Caves he found a huge treasure there. He decided to flee to other lands with the treasure though I tried to restrain him. Now, he plays the fool and enters into a union with the demons. He orders them to grind grain and drag logs, and they obey him. But he carefully guards his treasure until favourable time. He plans to leave secretly with the treasure so that the prince receives nothing of this precious hoard.’

The boyar sent false Vasilios to Prince Mstislav and the demon repeated all his lies. He also added that the prince should hurry to seize the treasure before Theodore fled with it.

Mstislav sent his retainers to bring St. Theodore to him. When they arrived with the captive, the prince addressed him in a gentle manner, ‘Father, you found treasure as I have heard?’ The saint in his simplicity replied, ‘Yes, I found it and now it is hidden in the cave.’

The prince asked, ‘And do you know who was the first to bury that treasure in the cave?’

‘They say that during the life of our holy father Anthony, the Varangians once buried their treasures in this cave and that is why, even now, it is called the Varangian Cave. ’ In his innocence the elder added, ‘I saw a countless quantity of gold and silver. And all the vessels were Latin.’

At the last words of the elder, a fierce, unquenchable greed seized the prince’s heart. He asked Theodore to at least share the treasure with him. However, the ingenuous elder answered the prince that he would have happily given him all of it but he had completely forgotten the place where the treasure was hidden.

The prince did not believe him and he ordered that St. Theodosius be beaten and starved until he revealed the location of the treasure. The elder was beaten so cruelly, that his hair shirt was soaked with blood. In a fury, Prince Mstislav had Theodore hung over a bonfire to be burned and choked with the smoke. However, the saint survived miraculously amidst the flames. The miracle did not move the cruel prince’s heart, though, and he inquired again, ‘Where is this treasure? Where have you hidden it?’

St. Theodore replied, ‘Thanks to prayers of the holy elder Vasilios, I’m delivered from my former love for gold, silver and precious things. Later, the Lord even purged me from the memory of the place where I buried the treasure.’ When the prince heard St. Vasilios’s name, he immediately sent for the saint and asked him to witness against St Theodore.

St. Vasilios was astounded when the prince summarized the story for him.

‘Prince, the demon has deceived you!’ exclaimed the saint. ‘How could you have seen me, if I have not left the cave for years?’

At this, the prince fell into an unspeakable rage and seizing a bow and arrow, he shot the defenceless Vasilios. The saint pulled the arrow out of his body, threw it back to the prince and said, ‘By such an arrow will you be killed!’

The prince ordered that the saints who were scarcely alive, be locked up in prison so that he could resume the tortures next morning.

During the night, however, the two saints gave up their holy souls into the hands of God.

Not long after (on October 11, 1098), Prince Mstislav Svyatopolkovich was shot with an arrow in the city of Vladimir in a battle with Prince David Igorievich. Then he remembered his great sin and said, ‘Here, I am dying now for the reverend Theodore and Vasilios.’

By prayers of our holy fathers, Sts Vasilios and Theodore, may we be delivered from all greed and lust for the vain things of this world, and store our treasures in the heavenly kingdom ever glorifying One God in Trinity, to Who be all honour and glory, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!