Commemorated on August 13
Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, Bishop of Voronezh (in the world Timothy), was born in the year 1724 in the village of Korotsk in the Novgorod diocese, into the family of the cantor Sabellius Kirillov. (Afterward, a new family name, Sokolov, was given him by the head of the Novgorod Seminary). His father died when Timothy was a young child, leaving the family in such poverty that his mother was barely able to make ends meet. She wanted to give him to be raised by a neighbor, a coachman, since there was no other way to feed the family, but his brother Peter would not permit this. Timothy often worked a whole day with the peasants for a single piece of black bread.
As a thirteen-year-old boy, he was sent to a clergy school near the Archbishop of Novgorod’s residence, and earned his keep by working with the vegetable gardeners. In 1740, he was accepted under a state grant set up for the Novgorod Seminary. The youth excelled at his studies. Upon finishing seminary in 1754, he became a teacher there, first in Greek, and later in Rhetoric and Philosophy. In the year 1758, he was tonsured with the name Tikhon. That same year he was appointed as prefect of the Seminary.
In 1759, he was transferred to Tver, and was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite of Zheltikov Monastery. Later, he was appointed Rector of the Tver Seminary and, at the same time, Superior of Otroch Monastery.
His election as bishop was providential. Metropolitan Demetrios, the presiding member of the Holy Synod, had intended to transfer the young Archimandrite to the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra. On the day of Pascha, at Peterburg, Archimandrite Tikhon was one of eight candidates being considered for selection as vicar bishop for Novogorod. Metropolitan Demetrios thought he was too young for that position, but agreed to submit his name. The lot fell on Archimandrite Tikhon three times.
On the same day, during the Cherubic Hymn, Bishop Athanasios of Tver, without realizing it, commemorated him as a bishop while cutting particles from the prosphora at the Table of Oblation. On May 13, 1761 he was consecrated as Bishop of Keksgolma and Ladoga (i.e., vicar bishop of the Novgorod diocese).
In 1763, Saint Tikhon was transferred to the See of Voronezh. For the four and a half years that he administered the diocese of Voronezh, Vladyka provided constant edification, both by his life and by his numerous pastoral counsels and soul-profiting books. He also wrote a whole series of works for pastors:
• Concerning the Seven Holy Mysteries
• A Supplement to the Priestly Office
• Concerning the Mystery of Repentance
• An Instruction Concerning Marriage
The Hierarch considered it essential that each priest, deacon and monk have a New Testament, and that he should read it daily. In an Encyclical, he called on pastors to serve the Holy Mysteries with reverence, with the fear of God, and love for one’s neighbor. (An Explanation of Christian Duties was often republished in Moscow and Peterburg during the XVIII century).
At Voronezh the Saint abolished an ancient pagan custom: the celebration in honor of Yarila (a pagan god associated with the fertility of grain and cattle). In the outlying districts where military units of the Don Cossacks were dispersed, he formed a missionary commission to bring sectarians back to the Orthodox Church.
In 1765, Saint Tikhon transformed the Voronezh Slavic-Latin school into a seminary. He invited experienced instructors from Kiev and Kharkhov, and planned the curriculum. He devoted much attention and effort to building up both the churches and the school, and making pastors understand the need for education.
The Saint was unflagging in his efforts to administer his vast diocese, and he often spent nights without sleep. In 1767, poor health compelled him to give up running the diocese and withdraw for rest to the Tolshev Monastery, a distance 40 versts from Voronezh.
In 1769, Bishop Tikhon was transferred to the Monastery of the Theotokos in the city of Zadonsk. After settling into this Monastery, he became a great teacher of the Christian life. With profound wisdom he set forth the ideal of true monasticism in his Rule of Monastic Living and his Guidance to Turn from the Vanity of the World, and he fulfilled this ideal in his own life. He kept strictly to the Church’s precepts. He visited the church almost every day, and he often sang and read in the choir. In time, out of humility, he altogether ceased participating and serving, but merely stood in the altar, reverently making the Sign of the Cross upon himself. He loved to read the Lives of the Saints and the works of the Holy Fathers. He knew the Psalter by heart, and he usually read or sang the Psalms on his journeys.
Vladyka endured a great deal of tribulation because he had to leave his flock. When he recovered his health, he thought of returning to the Novgorod diocese, where Metropolitan Gabriel had invited him to head the Ivḗron Vallai Monastery. But when his cell attendant mentioned this to Elder Aaron, he declared: “Are you mad? The Mother of God does not direct him to move away from here.”
The cell attendant conveyed these words to His Grace. “If that is so,” he said, “I shall not move away from here,” and he tore up the invitation. Sometimes he journeyed to the village of Lipovka, where he celebrated Church Services at the Bekhteev house. The Saint also journeyed to Tolshev Monastery, which he loved for its solitude.
The fruition of all his spiritual life were the books that the Saint wrote while in retirement: A Spiritual Treasury, Gathered from the World(1770), and On True Christianity (1776).
Bishop Tikhon lived in very simple circumstances: he slept on straw, covered by a sheepskin coat. His humility was so great that he paid no attention to the workers who laughed at him as he walked about the Monastery, pretending that he did not hear them. He used to say, “It is pleasing to God that even the Monastery workers mock me, and I deserve it because of my sins.” He often said, “Forgiveness is better than revenge.”
Once, a Holy Fool named Kamenev struck the Hierarch on the cheek saying, “Don’t be so haughty.” He accepted this with gratitude, and gave the Fool three kopeks every day for the rest of his life.
All his life the Saint “endured troubles, sorrows, and insults joyfully, mindful that there can be no crown without victory, nor victory without effort, nor effort without struggle, nor struggle without enemies” (Ode 6 of the Canon).
Strict with himself, Vladyka was lenient toward others. On the Friday before Palm Sunday, he entered the cell of his friend Schema-monk Mētrophánēs, and he saw him at table together with Cosmas Ignatievich, of whom he was also fond. There was fish on the table, and his friends were upset (fish is not permitted during Lent, except for Feast days). The Saint said, “Sit down, for I know you. Love is higher than fasting.” He even ate some of their fish soup in order to calm them.
He especially loved the common folk, and comforted them in their grievous lot, interceding with the landowners, and moving them to compassion. He gave away his pension, as well as gifts from his admirers, to the poor.
By his deeds of self-denial and love of soul, the Saint advanced in contemplation of Heaven and foresaw the future. In 1778, he had a vision in his sleep: the Mother of God stood in the clouds, and near her were the Apostles Peter and Paul. On his knees, the Hierarch prayed to the Most Pure Virgin for the peace of the whole world. The Apostle Paul loudly exclaimed: “When they shall say, peace and safety; then sudden destruction will come upon them” (I Thessalonians 5:3). Bishop Tikhon fell asleep with trembling and with tears.
The following year, he saw the Mother of God in the air again and several people near her. The Saint knelt down, and near him four others in white garments also fell to their knees. The Hierarch entreated the Most Pure Virgin for someone, that she would not abandn him (he did not tell his cell attendant who the four people were, nor for whom the request was made). She replied, “Let it be as you ask.”
Saint Tikhon prophesied a great deal about the future, particularly Russia’s victory over the French in 1812. More than once they saw him in a state of spiritual rapture, with a transformed and radiant face, but he forbade them to speak about this.
For three years before his repose he prayed each day, “Tell me, O Lord, of my end.” And a quiet voice in the morning dawn said, “It shall be on a Sunday.” In that same year, he saw in a dream a beautiful meadow with wondrous palaces upon it. He wanted to go inside, but they said to him: “In three years, you may enter. For now, continue your labors.” After this the Saint shut himself in his cell and admitted just a few friends.
Both vestments and a grave were prepared for the time of his death. He often came to weep over his coffin, while standing hidden from people in a closet. A year and three months before his death, in a vivid dream, it seemed to him that he was standing in the Monastery church. A priest of his acquaintance was carrying the Divine Infant, covered with a veil, out of the altar through the Royal Doors. Vladyka approached and kissed the Infant on the right cheek, and he felt himself stricken on his left. Awakening, the Saint felt a numbness in his left cheek, his left leg, and a trembling in his left hand. He accepted this affliction with joy.
Shortly before his repose, Saint Tikhon saw a high and twisting ladder in a dream, and he was ordered to climb it. “At first, I was afraid because of my weakness,” he told his friend Cosmas. “But when I started to go climb, the people standing around the ladder lifted me higher and higher, up to the very clouds.”
“The ladder,” said Cosmas, “is the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. Those who helped were those whom you have helped by your advice, and so they remember you.” The Saint said with tears, “I thought so, too. I feel that my end is near.” He partook of the Holy Mysteries frequently during his final illness.
Vladyka reposed, as was revealed to him, on Sunday August 13, 1783, at the age of fifty-nine. The first uncovering of his relics occurred on May 14, 1846. Saint Tikhon was glorified on Sunday August 13, 1861.