05 March 2009
St. Prochor the Wonderworker
The Life of our Holy Father Prochor the Wonderworker
Very often the all-merciful and abundantly-loving Lord sends misfortunes to people for their reformation and instruction; chastising us and inflicting us with wounds. He hastily grants us treatment and healing. The life of St. Prochor illustrates this truth beautifully.
During the rule in Russia of Sviatopolk Isyaslavovich, well-known for his cruelty and injustice, the Kievans endured many calamities and sufferings. These sufferings were intensified even more by the constant raids upon the Kiev region by the Polovtsians and their neighboring nations. The constant wars with the neighboring nations, as well as the civil dissensions, pillagings, and disorders within the state, were the reasons for impoverishment and frequent famines in the Russian nation.
During this diffficult and sorrowful time, a certain man named Prochor came to the Caves Monastery from the city of Smolensk, and turned to the Abbot John with the request to tonsure him a monk and to receive him into the brotherhood. The abbot fulfilled his request, and Prochor, having received the monastic rank, began to labor with special diligence. The peculiarity of his ascetic life was that he deprived himself of ordinary bread, and instead gathered weeds -- pigweed, and having crushed it with his hands, made bread and nourished himself with it. During the summer time he prepared enough of this bread for the whole year, and did this each year so that during his whole life he was not in need of ordinary bread, but ate bread made from pigweed, and for this reason was called "the pigweed man." Besides this bread, only now and then did he partake of prosphora in the church; at home pigweed was his only food -- he did not even eat greens and vegetables -- and water his only drink.
God, seeing the patience of St. Prochor, transformed for him the usual bitterness of the pigweed into sweetness, and the bread which the ascetic prepared gave him pleasant nourishment. The ascetic rejoiced, and labored for God with thanksgiving. The raids of enemies were not frightening to the ascetic for he lived like a bird, owning nothing. With his life the saint fulfilled the words of the Savior: Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouses nor barn; and God feedeth them, and he, like a bird, easily and with convenience crossed over to where the pigweed grew, and from there carried it over to the monastery upon his back, as upon wings. And like a bird, he nourished himself in this way with food which was not sown, from the untilled earth. He was not able to say, like the rich man: Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry! But even for the weed which he stored for himself for the winter, he frequently reproached himself, saying, "Prochor, this night your soul shall be taken away from you, and all that you have stored up -- to whom shall it be left?"
In the days of these labors of the holy monk, a terrible famine befell Russia;starvation threatened many. The Lord, desiring to glorify His spiritual athlete and to save the people from starvation, increased the growth of pigweed at this time as never before; with special diligence blessed Prochor gathered the weed in great quantity, and, preparing bread from it, handed it out to the hungry and needy. Some wanted to imitate the saint themselves, and prepared bread from pigweed, but they could not eat it because of bitterness. And so, then, all who were in need turned to Prochor for bread; he refused no one. The bread which he prepared from the pigweed seemed to all who ate it to be sweet and pleasant to the taste, better than that baked from wheat.
But it is remarkable that only bread which was given by Prochor with his blessing was suitable for consumption, and even pure and light in appearance; but if someone prepared it himself or took some without the knowledge and blessing of the saint, the bread became black as earth and as bitter as absinth. 0ne of the brethren attempted to take bread from the saint secretly, but each time this bread turned out to be inedible. The monk was ashamed to reveal his sin to Prochor, but hunger and the threat of death from starvation forced him to relate this to Abbot John. The abbot, not believing the account, ordered another monk to take some bread from the saint secretly, but the bread which was brought by him indeed turned out to be inedible because of the unusual bitterness. Holding this bread in his hands, the abbot sent someone else to ask St. Prochor for some bread with his blessing, and with this he charged the messenger to "grab another loaf of bread secretly when leaving the saint." When these loaves of bread were brought, the first, which was taken from the hands of Prochor, was pure and sweet, but the second, taken secretly, was black as earth and bitter as absinth. After this the glory of the miracle spread everywhere, and the people glorified God Who granted His mercy and aid to the hungry through the holy monk.
At the time of the internecine struggles Sviatopolk with the princes of Vladimir and Peremysl, merchants could not reach Kiev as a result of the state's strifes and disorders, the lawlessness and lootings. There was thus no salt left in the Russian state. Great sorrow came upon the people.
Blessed Prochor, seeing this scarcity, gathered a great amount of ashes from all the cells, and bringing it to his own cell, began, following ardent prayer and his blessing, to give it out to those in need of salt, and the ashes became pure salt. With this, the more he gave out, the more it increased, so that there was a sufficient quantity of it not only for the monks but also for the lay people. The holy monk supplied everyone who was in need of it and did not take any payment for this; the people went to the monastery for salt, while the market place became desolate.
The merchants, intending to take advantage of the shortage of salt for their own personal enrichment and selling it at extremely high prices, became enraged at the saint, for the people receiving it from him free, ceased buying it from the merchants even at a cheap price. Assembling together, the salt merchants came to Prince Sviatopolk with the following complaint: "Prochor, a monk of the Caves Monastery, has taken great sums of money away from us: he has persistently attracted everyone to himself for salt, while we who pay taxes to you cannot sell our salt, and have been ruined by him." The prince, having heard them out, planned to achieve two goals at once -- to halt the complaints of the merchants and to acquire a great amount of money for himself.
At the advice of his intimates, he assigned a set, extremely high price for salt, and ordered that the salt be taken away from blessed Prochor and sold at the prince's court. Meanwhile, the prince said to the merchants, "For your sake I shall rob the monk"; his own gain he concealed from all. Following this, the envoys from the prince, having arrived at the monastery, took all the salt from the saint. When it was brought to the court the prince, everyone saw that this was only ashes. The prince ordered a few to try it, and in their mouths it proved to be ashes. All were perplexed. But in order to be more firmly convinced, the prince ordered to keep what was brought for three days; but after this having become convinced that this was ashes, he ordered it dumped outside the gates of his palace at night. Meanwhile, the people went to blessed Prochor as before in order to receive salt, but having learned that it was stolen, returned with empty hands, cursing the person responsible. Prochor, comforting the people, said, "When the prince shall pour the salt out, go and gather it for yourselves then."
And indeed the ashes thrown out behind the gate of the prince's palace became salt again, and the people gathered it for themselves with joy. Having learned of this, the prince became horrified and began to ask in more detail about blessed Prochor. Having learned of Prochor's ascetic life and of his miracles not only with the salt, but also with the bread of pigweed, Sviatopolk became ashamed of his deed, went to the Caves Monastery, and reconciled himself with Abbot John towards whom he had formerly harbored enmity for rebuking his unquenchable greediness and his outrages against the people. Sviatopolk repented after these miracles, prayerfully begged forgiveness from the Most Holy Mother of God and S.S. Anthony and Theodosius. He began deeply to revere and respect the blessed Prochor as a true and great God-pleaser, and gave Prochor a promise once that henceforth he would not commit any violence and outrages against anyone; to Prochor himself he said, "If, by the will of God, I leave this world before you, put me in the grave with your own hands in order to show that you bear no grudge against me. If, however, you depart this life before I do, I shall carry you into the cave with my own hands, so that for this the Lord will grant me pardon for my grave sin against you."
Following this conversation, Prochor lived for yet many years an unsullied life in severe labors, and then fell ill. Prince Sviatopolk at that time was waging a campaign against the Polovtsians. The blessed one sent word to him saying, "The hour of my departure from the body has already drawn near; if you want to fulfill your promise and to receive forgiveness of sins from God, come to receive absolution, and with your own hands lay me in the grave. I await your arrival. If, however, you tarry and I depart without you, it will then not be my fault, and the campaign will not end as it would have if you had come to me." Having received this message, Sviatopolk immediately left his army and hastened to the blessed Prochor. In his conversation with the prince on his death bed, the blessed one instructed him much about charity toward one's neighbors, about life beyond the grave, about the future judgment, about the eternal tortures of the sinners, granted him pardon and a blessing, and having bid farewell to him and his suite, raised his arms toward heaven and committed his spirit to the hands of God. [year 1107†]
The prince, having taken with the monks the body of the saint, carried him into the cave and with his own hands laid him in the grave. He then returned to his army again and, continuing the campaign, gained full victory over the enemies, conquered the region of the Polovtsians for himself, and brought many captives into his own land. This was the victory God granted to the Russian land through the prophecy and prayer of St. Prochor. From this time on, Prince Sviatopolk, setting off for a campaign or a hunt, first of all always came to the Monastery of the Caves for a blessing, and with special diligence prayed before the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God and at the graves of S.S. Anthony, Theodosius, and Prochor. And from this time on, the reign of Sviatopolk proceeded with complete chastisements, the blessing of God through the prayers of St. Prochor. Prince Sviatopolk himself openly confessed the miracles and signs of this great God-pleaser.
The holy saint of God Prochor following his death also unceasingly intercedes for the 0rthodox Russian nation before the Throne of God. Let us then pray that through the intercession of this God-pleaser and other saints, the Lord will protect the Russian people, delivering them from hunger and diverse calamities and deprivations, and aiding them in the struggles with the infidel enemies of the 0rthodox Church. To the Lord God, 0ne in the Holy Trinity, is due all glory, honor, and worship, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
-translated from Kiev-Caves Patericon. The Russian Church commemorates St. Prochor the Wonderworker on February 10. A portion of his relics is located in Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville.
-from 0rthodox Life, March 1969