Commemorated on April 20
The Monk Alexander
of Oshevensk was born on 17 March 1427, 80 versts from Belozersk in the
Vysheozersk region, several months before the death of the Monk Kirill of
Belozersk (+ 9 July 1427), with whom he was bound together by later
spiritual connections for his whole life.
Alexei (worldly name
of the Monk Alexander of Oshevensk) was the fifth son of the rich landowner
Nikifor Osheven and his spouse Fotinia; he was a long-awaited child and was
born through the fervent prayers of Fotinia. The Mother of God Herself together
with the Monk Kirill of Belozersk appeared to her and promised the birth of a
son through the intercession of the Monk Kirill. Although Alexei was the
youngest son, his parents hoped to see in him their successor and someone to
care for them in their old age. In childhood they taught the boy his letters
and spoke of him as an enterprising landowner. At 18 years of age they sought
to marry off the youth. With the permission of his parents, he went off to pray
at the Kirillo-Belozersk monastery and remained there.
The hegumen loved the
youth for his humility and soon suggested to him to take monastic vows. But
Alexei refused, having decided to test himself. Having studied Holy Scripture,
he served the brethren as a novice for six years and only then did he accept monastic
During this time his
parents settled in the village of Volosovo, 30 versts from Kargopol near the
River Onega. Soon Nikifor sought of the Novgorod boyar Ioann a place for
settling near the River Churiuga, which received the town-name Oshevensk.
The Monk Alexander
asked of the hegumen permission to receive from his parents their final
blessing and forgiveness, so that afterwards he might go into a solitary life.
Not at once did the hegumen give permission to the young monk. He warned him
about the dangers of wilderness life. But the Monk Alexander feared the ascetic
fame that he had among the brethren, and he requested a second time to be
released from the monastery. Finally, the hegumen gave his blessing.
Greeting him with
joy, the father suggested to the son that he settle at the River Churiuga and
promised to assist in the building of a monastery. The Monk Alexander took a
liking to the place. He set up a cross as foundation of the future monastery
and gave a vow to dwell there until the end of his life. After this the Monk
Alexander returned to the Kirillo-Belozersk monastery and for some time he did
obedience in the choir, in the kitchen and in the bakery. They ordained him to
the dignity of deacon. Finally, when the Monk Alexander went to the hegumen for
the third time and told him, how a miraculous voice had called him to organise
a monastery, and how he had vowed to dwell at that place, the hegumen released
him, blessing him with the icons of the Hodegetria Mother of God and Sainted
Nicholas the Wonderworker.
The Monk Alexander
dedicated the chosen spot with the icons, and received from his father
supervision for building a church, and he himself set off to the Archbishop of
Novgorod Jona (1459-1470). Archbishop Jona ordained him to the dignity of
presbyter and appointed him hegumen of the monastery. The boyarina Anastasia
and her son Yurii were prepared to offer the monastery the whole district, but
the Monk Alexander accepted the gramota (deed) for only the necessary ground.
The constructed church was dedicated in the name of Sainted Nicholas. With
determination and energy the monk began to work at organising the monastery. An
elder, who had accompanied him from the Kirillo-Belozersk monastery, was not
able to endure the harsh wilderness life and went back. By little by little
brethren gathered. The monk enacted a strict ustav (rule) of common life, which
required complete silence in temple and at refectory, when saint-lives were
read, in monk cells there was to be no idleness, and at the time of fulfilling
obediences it was necessary to do the Jesus Prayer or read psalms.
"Brethren, said the monastic hegumen, let us not shirk work nor the
way of sorrow. Ye know, that the way of sorrow leads to the Heavenly Kingdom.
Live in mutual love and humility. God is love, and He loveth the humble".
Many even from the
layfolk came to the monk and put themselves under his spiritual guidance. Two
nephews of the saint accepted monastic orders at his monastery, who offended
one of the brethren, the monk Ambrosii. The Monk Alexander gently calmed the
religious brother, but the nephews cooled in their zeal for asceticism and they
left the monastery. Grief over the salvation of his spiritual children wrecked
the health of the monk. He lay down and was not able to life up his hand nor
his head, nor even to utter a word. In such a state of exhaustion the Monk
Alexander prayed to the Monk Kirill, his patron. The Monk Kirill appeared in a
white robe and, signing the sick man with the sign of the cross, he said:
"Grieve not, brother! I intercede and thou shalt be well. Only forget not
thy vow, nor leave this place. I shall assist thee". Having fallen asleep,
the monk regained his strength and in the morning went to church. To encourage
the brethren he told about the visit of the Monk Kirill. The monk laboured for
27 years in the monastery founded by him, and died peacefully on 20 April
After the death of
the hegumen, the monastery began quickly to go into decline. But the monk did
not cease to care for it. One time, the monastic attendant Mark had a vision in
a dream: the monastery was full of people; a grey-haired elder in bishop's garb
signed with a cross those working on the building. Another elder, with a long
beard, sprinkled with holy-water; and a third, of moderate stature and blond
hair, censed. A fourth one, a youth, followed after them at a distance. The
third elder, this was the Monk Alexander Oshevensk explained, that
Sainted Nicholas the Wonderworker and the Monk Kirill of Belozersk assisted
him, and the youth standing at the distance was the cantor Matfei, who was soon
vowed under the name Maxim and chosen hegumen of the monastery, as predicted in
the vision of the Monk Alexander. The monk Maxim was established as hegumen by
the Archbishop of Novgorod Sergei (1483-1485), and he restored the monastery.
He was the monastic head until 1525.
At the time of
building of a new temple in the name of Sainted Nicholas, during an appearance
of the Monk Alexander and at his command, his relics were found undecayed.
His image was then painted in accord with how he appeared as a monk and in
accord with the accounts of those who knew the elder: the Monk Alexander of
Oshevensk was of moderate stature, with parched face and sunken cheeks, with a
small thin beard, grizzled with blond hairs. He is thus depicted on icons.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.