Commemorated on March 29
Mark, Jona and Vassa are venerated as among the originating fathers of the
It is unknown
precisely, when the first hermit monks settled by the Kamenets stream in the
natural caves of the hill, which the local inhabitants called "the holy
hill". The monastery chronicle presents an account of eye-witnesses,
hunter-trappers from Izborsk by the nickname of Selishi: "Once by chance
we came with our father to the outlying hill, where now is the church of the
Mother of God, and heard what seemed church singing; they sang harmoniously and
reverently, but the singers could not be seen, and the air was filled with the
fragrance of incense".
Of the first elders
of the Pskovo-Pechersk monastery only Mark alone is known by name. About him it
testifies: "First at the beginning a certain elder was living at the
Kamenets floodage by the cave, of whom certain fishermen caught sight of at the
three rocks, lying over the cave of the Most Holy Mother of God church; but we
were not able to discover anything known about this one, – who the elder was
nor his lineage, nor how and from whence he came to this place, nor how long he
dwelt there nor how he died". The second hegumen of the Pechersk monastery
bore the name of Starets (elder) Mark in the monastery Synodikon. The Monk
Kornilii (Comm. 20 February) as hegumen doubted the veracity of this
inscription and he ordered that the name be erased from the Synodikon. Suddenly
he became grievously ill and had a revelation, that this was in punishment for
ordering to strike out the name of the Monk Mark from the monastery diptych.
Begging forgiveness with tearful prayer at the grave of the Starets Mark,
Hegumen Kornilii put back his holy name. When the cave church of the Uspenie
(Dormition) of the Most Holy Mother of God was dug out and the burial caves
expanded, the Hegumen Dorophei found the grave of the Monk Mark in decay, but
his relics and clothing undecayed.
In the year 1472 the
peasant Ivan Dement'ev cut down the forest on the steep hill. One of the felled
trees rolled downhill, tearing out of the ground by its roots another tree. The
slide opened up the entrance to a cave, over which was the inscription: "A
cave built by God". (There is a tradition about this, that a certain
fool-for-Christ the Monk Varlaam frequently came to the cave and wiped away
this inscription, but that it every time miraculously re-appeared).
To this holy spot,
prayed in by the first ascetics, there came from elsewhere the priest John
nicknamed "Shestnik". He was a native of "the Moscow lands"
and served as priest at Iur'ev (now Tartu) in "a right-believing church,
established by Pskov people" and named for Saint Nicholas and the
GreatMartyr George, and he together with the Priest Isidor spiritually
nourished the Russians living there. In 1470 Father John was compelled to flee
with his family to Pskov under persecution from the German-Catholics. Having
learned of the martyr's end of his comrade (the commemoration of PriestMartyr
Isidor is 8 January), John decided to withdraw into the newly-appeared
"cave built by God", so that there, on the very boundary with the
Livonians, he might found a monastery as an outpost of Orthodoxy.
Soon his wife fell
ill and, having taken monastic vows with the name Vassa, she died. Her
righteousness was evidenced immediately after her death. Her husband and her
spiritual father buried the Nun Vassa in the wall of "the cave built by
God", but by night her coffin was "removed from the ground by an
invisible power of God". Father John and the other priest confessor of the
Nun Vassa were upset, thinking that this had occurred, because they had not
made in full the order of farewell-song, and a second time they sang the
funeral service and again they buried the body, but in the morning it again was
"atop the ground". Then it became clear, that this – was a sign from
God. They made the grave of the Nun Vassa in the cave on the left side. Shaken
by the miracle, John took monastic vows with the name Jona and began to
asceticise even more fervently.
Having dug out by
hand the cave church and two cells on pillars, he began to petition the clergy
of the Pskovsk Trinity cathedral to consecrate it, but these decided not to do
so at the moment "because of the unusual location". Then the Monk Jona
besought the blessing of the Novgorod Archbishop Theophil.
On 15 August 1473 the
cave church was consecrated in honour of the Uspenie (Dormition) of the
Most Holy Mother of God. During the consecration there occurred a miracle from
an icon of the Uspenie of the Most Holy Mother of God – a blind woman received
her sight – "sent by the merciful God beginning His great gifts to His
All-Pure Mother". (This icon, which they call the "old", in
distinction from another wonderworking icon of the Uspenie of the Most Holy
Mother of God bordered with Her life, was written about the year 1421 by the
Pskov iconographer Aleksei Maly, and is preserved at present in the altar of
the Uspensk temple in the hill locale. The icon bordered with the life – is
the temple patron-icon of the cave church). The date of consecration of the
cave church is reckoned as the official date of the founding of the
Pskovo-Pechersk monastery. The Monk Jona asceticised at the cave monastery
until 1480 and peacefully expired to the Lord. Upon his death they discovered
on his body a chainmail coat of armour, which was hung over his grave in testimony
of the secret ascetic deeds of the monk, but during an incursion of the Germans
it was stolen.
The relics of the
Monk Jona rest in the caves alongside the relics of the monastic elder Mark and
the Nun Vassa. Once during an invasion of the monastery the Livonian knights,
jeering over the holy relics, wanted to open with a sword the cover of the coffin
of the Nun Vassa, but a flame from the holy ascetic flashed out from the
coffin. Traces of this punishing fire are seen to the present day on the coffin
of the Nun Vassa.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.