The Life and Works of
of Sihăstria Monastery (1859-1944),
as told by his disciples Archimandrite Cleopas (Ilie) and Protosingelos Joel (Gheorgiu) of the Monastery of Sihăstria.
Translated by V. Călin
This righteous father was one of the most renowned elders of this century. Born in the city of Zarnestzi-Braszov, he was first married and had two children. Later, having the desire to follow the Lord, he, together with his wife and children entered the monastic life. Between the years 1890 -1900 he lived in a Romanian skete on Mount Athos. He then returned to his native land and spent nine years at the Neamtz Monastery In 1909, he was named abbot of the Sihăstria monastery, an obedience which he fulfilled with dignity for 35 years. After completely reorganizing the entire life of the monks in this hermitage, and gathering around him 40 monks and disciples, Protosingelos Ioanichie Moroi moved into eternity , reposing in the early autumn of the year 1944.
1. Wishing to take on the yoke of the monastic struggle against the will, the young Ioan Moroi sought the advice of the great pilgrim George Lazar, of whom he was a disciple. This is what he was told: "Stay for a period of one year under obedience at the Skete of the Caves at Ialomicioarei and read the Psalter every day. If you are able to endure the temptations of the evil one, only then will you become a monk." And so he spent many days and months in obedience, and the evenings were spent in vigils and reading the Psalter.
One evening, while he was praying, in his cell in the middle of the thick forest, an unknown monk came to him and said:
--What are you doing here, Brother Ioane, and why are you humiliating yourself so?
--Father, I wish to become a monk.
--You have fooled yourself. You cannot remain in the monastery .Even now, your wife is living with other men and has spent all of your fortune.
--From where have your learned of this? asked the young monk, very upset.
--I lived for forty years in the desert of the Jordan, and received from the Lord the gift of clairvoyance, and in this way I learned of it.
--What am I to do now, father?
--Return to your home and be the head of your wife and possessions.
After this, the strange monk approached the fire and disappeared in the flames. He was a demon.
Many thoughts were running through the young Ioan Moroi's mind when he did finally leave the monastery and return home, and many were the trials to come along the way. Later, he again saw George Lazar, and he said: "You can no longer continue in the ways of the monk. Remain for some time now with your family."
2. In 1890, the young Ioan Moroi made a pilgrimage to venerate the Tomb of the Lord in Jerusalem. He then went to the cave of the righteous monk Xenofont, and the holy hermit said to him:
"Brother Ioan, did you come here to find a holy man? Never in your life should you follow any man, no matter how holy you believe him to be. For today he will use you to his profit, and the next day you will go mad. You wish to become a monk? Read the Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Holy Fathers and follow the counsel of their words, for from this you will never be lead to delusion. Know that you will become a monk of the Holy Mountain of Athos, and after a few years you will return to your native land and become a priest and the organizer of a community of monks, but at the end of your life you will have much suffering. If you have patience and forbearance, with the help of Christ, all will turn out well and you will receive your reward."
3. In 1909, having been granted the precious gift of the Priesthood, Father Ioanichie was appointed the hegumen of the Sihăstria Skete, which was like an untilled field. His disciples would tell about 35 years suffering all kinds of trials, impoverishment, assaults from the devil, mistreatment from the people, and other hardships. Because of the faith and long suffering they endured, through the intercession of the Mother of God, this isolated skete became one of the most well-known hermitages in the Romanian land.
4. The fathers tell that from the very first day the celebration of the Divine Liturgy was introduced into the daily rule of prayer, as well as the other seven services, according to the typikon of the Neamtz Monastery. He never gave the blessing to begin a service until all of the brethren were gathered together.
5. It is said regarding him, that he only served the divine services with the utmost piety and while fasting, with great faith and with tears. Especially during the Great Fast, he never took any nourishment except on Saturdays and Sundays. During the other days he subsisted on only the Most Pure and Life-Creating Mysteries (Holy Communion).
7. The following was the Typikon for the Sihăstria Monastery under the guidance of the Elder Ioanichie Moroi:
- Daily participation in the services of Matins and Divine Liturgy. Anyone who was absent due to fatigue was given a penance of two days of fasting until sunset;
- General confession of sins for the monks every Friday;
- Reception of Holy Communion one day per week, on Saturday, for Schemamonks and for those who are ill, and every three weeks for all others;
- Life was held completely in common. No one dared to have any personal possessions. Clothing, a cell and anything else necessary was provided by the monastery;
- Meals were served once a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at 3:00 p.m., on all other days two meals were served following the typikon of St. Sabbas Monastery in Palestine. No one ever had food in their cells, except for those who were ill;
- All were under this obedience, together with the monastery's hegumen, and each had a particular obedience to work in silence and to continually offer the prayer of Jesus in his heart.
- The cell rule of prayer included the reading of the Psalter, the Lives and Works of the Saints, and the seven praises.
8. In 1925, when the New Calendar was introduced, Protosingelos Ioanichie was much afflicted with grief. He did not know if it was right to switch to the New Style calendar. He then locked himself in his cell and began to fast and pray until he would receive an Indication from the Lord what he should do. After 20 days of this fast, the old man was found in his cell, very weakened. Then, having partaken of the Holy Eucharist, and been given a little food, after two days he said to his brethren and spiritual children:
"Many trials did I endure during those twenty days from the devil. I even had the thought to kill myself, and I beat myself with burning twigs. Then I saw before me a legion of demons who said: 'Come, let us cut down the old man who wants to be holy.' Then they cried out against me saying : 'Who told you that you could become holy?'
"'But who told you that man cannot become holy?' I responded.
"On another day they said to me: 'It matters little that you fast, for your life is still firmly in our hands!'
"Then I said to them: 'I place my hope in the mercy of God to deliver me from your hands!'
"After many more days of fasting, I saw above me in the air three saints dressed as hierarchs and recognized them as the Three Holy Hierarchs (Ss. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom). From the midst of them, as in one loud voice, they said: 'Ioanichie, why do you struggle so and not submit to obedience? Do you not understand that obedience is far greater than sacrifice? Therefore be obedient to those placed over you, and do not any longer question the revised calendar.' Then, after imparting to me their blessing, the three ascended heavenward, and I never saw them again."
9. One summer the well ran dry and the hegumen announced in the church: "Fathers, because of our sinfulness the Lord does not give us water for our well. Therefore, we will fast and pray for three days and three nights until the Lord again gives us water for our well."
All in the monastery were obedient to this penance. In truth, as a result of the holy prayers of the Fathers, on the third day the well was half full of water. From that day forward, with the blessing of the elder, there was never again a shortage of water in the well.
10. His disciples who desired to enter the monastic life were first put on trial, to test them [as to whether] they would be good monks fully devoted to Christ. Some were not allowed into the monastery and kept at the gates for three days and nights in fasting and prayer. Others were given canons to read and told to make prostrations to the ground in order to learn humility. All were charged to collect funds for the upkeep of the monastery, and were not permitted to leave the monastery grounds, and to constantly repeat the Prayer of Jesus to themselves.
11. While speaking to his disciples, he would sometimes say:
--Brothers. these two works keep always in your life: the cutting off of the will and blessed watchfulness. For he who does not follow these ways will never be a monk and will never come to any good. For we must be the doers of good, not of iniquity.
12. The Fathers also tell us that anyone who does not follow the advice of the righteous elder will meet with many temptations. Everything must always be done with his blessing. Once two brothers tried to fast and pray in the cellar without anyone knowing where they were. After one week they came to the elder and said:
--Father Starets. we beg you confess us for tomorrow we desire to receive Holy Communion.
--And where have you been until now? asked the elder .
--We have been fasting and praying in the cellar
--And who gave you a blessing to begin this fast?
--Do we need a blessing to fast and pray?
--I will not commune you until you have cut your disobedient willfulness, said the elder . For two days the brothers were both very ill. The elder charged the entire community to fast and pray for them, and he celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Unction and they were made well. This was the means that the two brothers were freed from their disobedience.
13. Another time, a novice of the monastery asked to be tonsured a monk. But the elder Ioanichie, knowing his heart, frequently postponed this tonsure. One day the brother said to the elder:
--I am gong to Neamtz to purchase pencils and paper because some of the monks have asked me to.
--You will not go now, for it is the Great Fast and we do not walk among the people now.
The brother left anyway and began to walk. After only about one mile he was accosted by seven spirits in the form of robbers, who began to beat him with boards and say: "Come, let us catch this one who has left the monastery without the blessing of his elder." Out of fear the novice ran into the woods. After, he returned to the monastery , crying:
--Do not abandon me; seven thieves are chasing me!
The Fathers, seeing him so upset and possessed of an unclean spirit, took him to his cell and went and told the elder what had happened. The elder read a prayer of intercession to St. Basil the great and said:
--Release him and let him go.
--What if he should run again?
--The Lord has released him and is master over the enemy.
14. Once during the winter a brother left the cellar door open and all the potatoes froze. Two days later in the trapeza the elder asked: "Who left the cellar opened? I ask him to confess now, in public." No one stepped forward. Then the elder said: "If the guilty one does not step forward, the Lord will requite him." At that very moment the guilty brother fell down and confessed. They all went to the church where the service of Holy Unction was served as an offering to the Lord for banishing the unclean spirit from the man.
15. One day the old man was suffering great temptation from the evil one. Then, after much internal struggle, he forced himself to confess in the church, saving:
--Fathers and brethren, from now on I can no longer remain hegumen and confessor due to my great sinfulness before the Lord. You must find another worthy to take mv place.
Then the Fathers said tearfully:
--Father elder, do not abandon us poor ones and leave us without guidance. Let your sin be upon us, we will bear it for you, only do not leave us bereft of your guidance.
--I will remain the elder, said the old man, but you must promise to obey and follow mv words.
--We will do anvthing you tell us, Father.
Then the elder prostrated and said:
--You have no part with Christ if you do not walk and step over me.
16. Due to his humility and deeds, Protosingelos Ioanichie became a well-known hermit and confessor in that region. Many came to him for confession and spiritual counsel: elders from other monasteries, priests, bishops and laymen. He was severe in his penances, and for all he found soothing words of wise counsel. The most important rules for him were long fasting, prayer, reading of the psalter , and complete obedience. Many who were sick came to him for Holy Unction, and returned home well again.
17. When a brother who was provoked by anger came to him, he said: "You do not show any desire to progress in the monastic life when you are angry. A mind darkened by anger can never judge and have the ability to follow the way of the Lord."
18. To his brothers and spiritual children. he would always say: "Fathers, never forget the three great struggles: to have fear of the lord, to keep your mind clear . and to never cease to pray the prayer of Jesus."
19. Beginning in 1941, many evils and troubles beset the Monastery of Sihăstria .First the main church was burnt and everything inside was lost. Then the hired arsonists returned to the holy place and beat and blinded the elder. Then Fr. Ioanichie remembered the words of the great elder George Lazar , spoken to him 30 years earlier: "I will not bless you for coming here, for at the end of your life you will suffer greatly."
20. The elder told his disciples that one night, while he was lying in his bed of illness, a woman entered his cell and approaching him, spoke these good words: "Do not mourn, Fr. Ioanichie, from now on I will take care of this holy place!" It was the Mother of God, the protectress of this humble abode of monks. Truly, from 1942, everything was placed under the protection and blessing of the Mother of God.
21. At that time, all of the monastery possessions -- books, vestments, and sacred vessels -- were gathered and brought to the elder's cell. Then the elder said to all: "Fathers, do not be discouraged because the monastery burned. For this was due to our sins and to rebuild our support. Dearly beloved, suffer all indignities and do not abandon this holy place, blessed and sanctified by the prayers and tears of all who have come here before us. Keep the rule of this monastery firmly. Ruin will befall him who tries to change the way of life here. In 1909, when I was ordained a priest, a old monk from Neamtz Monastery approached me and said: 'Understand well, Fr. Ioanichie, that I only stay here at the Sihăstria, because the full typikon is kept, without the changes found elsewhere.' That typikon is, as I have taught: no one may own personal belongings, everything is communal; do not ever give into the passions of the flesh; and never allow meat to be eaten here. If one cannot follow this rule then he must leave this monastery .For this place has never changed its rule since it was founded by seven monks from the Monastery of Neamtz in the year 1655."
22. Toward the
end the elder added these words: "Hold fast to the monastic way of life, and never
neglect, not even one day, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and the seven daily
services. If you do this, and strive for purity of life, you will have love among
you, and be assured that the Mother of God will raise this holy place from the
ashes and cause peace and love to flow into the whole region. Yet if you serve
this blessed place, through work, prayer and fasting as befits monks, then it
will again become a refuge for those who desire to live the monastic life of silence.
For the Lord loves a clean and silent monastery, not a place where there are unworthy
monks." 23. After two years of suffering, the Elder Ioanichie spoke
to his disciple Joel one night, saying: "On Tuesday I will go to the Father!"
Indeed, on Tuesday, September 5, 1944, the Protosingelos Ioanichie Moroi gave
his soul into the hands of the Lord, leaving behind a community of 40 monks. Such
were the life and sufferings of one of the greatest Elders of Romanian monasticism.
Venerable Elder Ioanichie, pray to God for us! Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servants the archimandrite Ioanichie,
the Protosingelos Joel, and the hieromonk Christopher; and upon the translator.
23. After two years of suffering, the Elder Ioanichie spoke to his disciple Joel one night, saying: "On Tuesday I will go to the Father!"
Indeed, on Tuesday, September 5, 1944, the Protosingelos Ioanichie Moroi gave his soul into the hands of the Lord, leaving behind a community of 40 monks.
Such were the life and sufferings of one of the greatest Elders of Romanian monasticism.
Venerable Elder Ioanichie, pray to God for us!
Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servants the archimandrite Ioanichie, the Protosingelos Joel, and the hieromonk Christopher; and upon the translator.
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