Saint Alexander of Svir was born on July 15, 1448, on the feastday of the Prophet Amos, and was named for him in Baptism. St Alexander was a beacon of monasticism in the deep forests of the Russian North, living in asceticism, and he was granted the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.
His parents, Stephen and Vassa (Vasilisa) were peasants of the near Lake Ladoga village of Mandera near Lake Ladoga, at the bank of the River Oyata, a tributary of the River Svira. They had sons and daughters who were already grown and lived away from their parents. Stephen and Vassa wanted to have another son. They prayed fervently and heard a voice from above: "Rejoice, good man and wife, you shall bear a son, in whose birth God will give comfort to His Church."
Amos grew up to be a special child. He was always obedient and gentle, he shunned games, jokes and foul talk, he wore poor clothes and so weakened himself with fasting, that it caused his mother anxiety. Upon coming of age, he once met some Valaam monks who had come to the Oyata to purchase necessities, and for other monastery business.
By this time Valaam was already known as a monastery of deep piety and strict ascetic life. After speaking with the monks, the young man was fascinated by their account of the skete life (with two or three monks together) and the solitary life of the hermit. Knowing that his parents had arranged a marriage for him, the youth went secretly to Valaam when he was nineteen. In the guise of a traveler, an angel of God appeared to him, showing him the way to the island.
Amos lived for seven years at the monastery as a novice, leading an austere life. He spent his days at work, and his nights in vigilance and prayer. Sometimes he prayed in the forest bare-chested, all covered by mosquitoes and gnats, to the morning song of the birds.
In the year 1474, Amos received monastic tonsure with the name Alexander. After several years, his parents eventually learned from Karelians arriving in Mandera where their son had gone. Following the example of their son, the parents also went to the monastery and were tonsured with the names Sergius and Barbara. After their death, St Alexander, with the blessing of the igumen of the monastery, settled on a solitary island, where he built a cell in the crevice of a cliff and continued his spiritual exploits.
The fame of his asceticism spread far. Then in 1485 St Alexander departed from Valaam and, upon a command from above, chose a place in the forest on the shore of a beautiful lake, which was afterwards named Holy. Here the monk built himself a hut and dwelt in solitude for seven years, eating only what he gathered in the forest (Later at this place, Holy Lake, 36 versts from the future city of Olonets and 6 versts from the River Svira, St Alexander founded the monastery of the Life-Creating Trinity, and 130 sazhen (i.e. 910 feet) off from it, at Lake Roschina, he built himself a hut on the future site of the St Alexander of Svir monastery).
During this time the saint experienced fierce sufferings from hunger, frost, sickness and demonic temptations. But the Lord continually sustained the spiritual and bodily strength of the righteous one. Once when suffering with terrible infirmities, he not only was unable to get up from the ground, but was unable to even lift his head. He just lay there and sang Psalms. Then a glorious man appeared to him. Placing his hand on the sore spot, he made the Sign of the Cross over the saint and healed him.
In 1493 while hunting for deer, the adjoining land-owner Andrew Zavalishin happened to come upon the saint's hut. Andrew spoke to him of a light he had seen at this place, and he entreated the monk to tell him about his life. From that point Andrew started to visit St Alexander often, and finally through the monk's guidance, he went to Valaam, where he was tonsured with the name Adrian. Later, he founded the Ondrusov monastery, and led a saintly life (August 26 and May 17).
Andrew Zavalishin was not able to keep silent about the ascetic, in spite of the promise he had given. News of the righteous one began to spread widely, and monks started to gather around him. Therefore, St Alexander withdrew from the brethren and built himself a dwelling place 130 sazhen from the monastery. There he encountered a multitude of temptations. The demons took on beastly shapes, they hissed like snakes, urging him to flee. However, the saint's prayer scorched and dispersed the devils like a fiery flame.
In 1508, twenty-three years after he came to this secluded spot, the Life-Creating Trinity appeared to St Alexander. One night he was praying in his hut. Suddenly, an intense light shone, and the monk saw Three Men, robed in radiant white garb, approaching him. Radiant with heavenly Glory, They shone in a pure brightness greater than the sun. Each of Them held a staff in His hand.
The monk fell down in terror, and coming to his senses, prostrated himself on the ground. Taking him up by the hand, the Men said: "Have trust, blessed one, and fear not." The saint was ordered to build a church and a monastery. He fell to his knees, protesting his own unworthiness, but the Lord raised him up and ordered him to fulfill the commands. St Alexander asked in whose name the church ought to be dedicated. The Lord said: "Beloved, as you see Those speaking with you in Three Persons, so also construct the church in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity One-in-Essence. I leave you peace and My peace I give you." And immediately St Alexander beheld the Lord with out-stretched wings, going as though along the ground, and He became invisible.
In the history of the Russian Orthodox Church this appearance is acknowledged as unique. After this vision the monk began to think where to build the church. Once, while praying to God, he heard a voice from above. Gazing up to the heavens, he saw an angel of God in mantiya and klobuk, such as St Pachomius (May 15) had seen.
The angel, standing in the air with outstretched wings and upraised hands, proclaimed: "One is Holy, One is the Lord Jesus Christ, to the Glory of God the Father. Amen." Then he turned to St Alexander saying, "Build on this spot the church in the Name of the Lord Who has appeared to you in Three Persons, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, the Undivided Trinity." After making the Sign of the Cross over the place three times, the angel became invisible.
In that same year a wooden church of the Life-Creating Trinity was built (in 1526 a stone church was built here). And at the same time as the building of the church, the brethren began to urge St Alexander to accept the priesthood. For a long time he refused, considering himself unworthy. Then the brethren began to implore St Serapion, Archbishop of Novgorod (March 16), to convince him to accept the office. And so in that very year St Alexander journeyed to Novgorod and received ordination from the holy archbishop. Soon afterwards, the brethren also asked the saint to be their igumen.
As igumen, the monk became even more humble than before. His clothes were all in tatters, and he slept on the bare ground. He himself prepared food, kneaded dough and baked bread. One time there was not enough firewood and the steward asked the igumen to send any idle monks for firewood. "I am idle," said the saint, and he began to chop firewood. Another time, he carried water.
When all were asleep, the saint was often busy grinding wheat with hand-stones to make more bread. At night he made the round of the cells, and if he heard vain conversations, he lightly tapped on the door and departed, but in the morning he admonished the brother, imposing a penance on him.
Towards the end of his life, St Alexander decided to build a stone church of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos. One evening, after singing an Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos, he settled down to rest in the cell and suddenly said to his cell-attendant Athanasius, "Child, be sober and alert, because at this hour we will have a wondrous and astounding visit."
Then came a voice like thunder, "Behold the Lord and His Mother are coming." The monk hastened to the entrance to the cell, and a great light illumined it, shining over all the monastery brighter than the rays of the sun. The saint beheld the All-Pure Mother of God over the foundation of the Protection church sitting at the site of the altar, like an empress upon a throne. She held the Infant Christ in Her arms, and a multitude of angels stood before Her shining with indescribable brightness.
He fell down, unable to bear the great light. The Mother of God said, "Arise, chosen one of My Son and God. I have come here to visit you, My dear one, and to look upon the foundation of My church. I have made entreaty for your disciples and monastery. From this time on there will be an abundance; not only during your life, but also after your death. Everything your monastery requires will be granted in abundance. Behold and watch carefully how many monks are gathered into your flock. You must guide them on the way of salvation in the Name of the Holy Trinity."
The saint arose and saw a multitude of monks. Again the Mother of God said: "My dear one, if someone carries even one brick for the building of My church, in the Name of Jesus Christ, My Son and God, his treasure will not perish." Then She became invisible.
Before his death the saint displayed wondrous humility. He summoned the brethren and told them: "Bind my sinful body by the legs and drag it to a swampy thicket and, after covering it with skins, throw it in." The brethren answered: "No, Father, it is not possible to do this." Then the holy ascetic ordered that his body not be kept at the monastery, but in a place of seclusion, the church of the Transfiguration of the Lord. St Alexander departed to the heavenly Kingdom on August 30, 1533 at the age of 85.
St Alexander of Svir was glorified by wondrous miracles during his life and upon his death. In 1545, his disciple and successor, Igumen Herodion, compiled his Life. In 1547 the local celebration of the saint began and a service was composed for him. On April 17,1641, during the rebuilding of the Transfiguration church, the incorrupt relics of St Alexander of Svir were uncovered and his universal Church celebration was established on two dates: the day of his repose, August 30, and the day of glorification (and the uncovering of his relics), April 17.
St Alexander of Svir instructed and raised up a whole multitude of disciples, as the Mother of God had promised him. They are the Holy Monks: Ignatius of Ostrov, Leonid of Ostrov, Cornelius of Ostrov, Dionysius of Ostrov, Athanasius of Ostrov, Theodore of Ostrov, and Therapon of Ostrov.
Besides these saints, there are disciples and conversers with St Alexander of Svir, who have separate days of commemortation: St Athanasius of Syandem (January 18), St Gennadius of Vasheozersk (February 9), St Macarius of Orodezh (August 9), St Adrian of Ondrosov (May 17), St Nicephorus of Vasheozersk (February 9), St Gennadius of Kostroma and Liubimograd (January 23).
All these saints (except St Gennadius of Kostroma) are depicted on the Icon of the Monastic Fathers who shone forth in the land of Karelia (icon from the church at the Seminary in Kuopio, Finland). The festal celebration of the Synaxis of the Saints who shone forth in Karelia is celebrated by the Finnish Orthodox Church on the Saturday falling between October 31 and November 6.
The incorrupt relics of the saint were removed from the Svir Monastery by the Bolsheviks on December 20, 1918 after several unsuccessful attempts to confiscate them. There was an infamous campaign to liquidate the relics of the saints which continued from 1919 to 1922. Many relics of Russsian saints were stolen and subjected to "scientific examination" or displayed in antireligious museums. Some were completely destroyed.
Hoping to prove that the relics were fakes, the Soviets conducted many tests. However, the tests only confirmed that the relics were genuine. Finally, the holy relics were sent to Petrograd's Military Medical Academy. There they remained for nearly eighty years.
A second uncovering of St Alexander's relics took place in December 1997.
The relics were found to be incorrupt, just as they were when they were confiscated. The saint's appearance matched the description in the records from 1641. Once it was determined that these were in fact the relics of St Alexander, Metropolitan Vladimir of St Petersburg permitted them to be taken to the church of St Sophia and her three daughters Faith, Hope, and Love (September 17) for four months before their return to the Svir Monastery. As people venerated St Alexander's relics they noticed a fragrant myrrh flowing from them." (taken from: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=102423)
For another account of the Saint's life, along with the finding of his Holy Relics (with a few miracles of the Saint and the beginning of the Saint's Akathist), see: http://www.theorthodoxword.com/back%20articles/OW%20PDFs/236/A%20Brief%20Life%20of%20St%20Alexander%20of%20Svir.pdf and http://www.theorthodoxword.com/back%20articles/OW%20PDFs/236/The%20Second%20Uncovering%20of%20the%20Holy%20Relics%20of%20St%20Alexander.pdf.
A short account of the Monastic Martyrs of St. Alexander of Svir Monastery (taken from: http://www.synodinresistance.org/Theology_en/E3d5062ProskynenaAkexSvir.pdf)
"In this sanctified place, the Abbot Evgeny and five other monks received a martyric death in 1918.
The third day of Pascha, a group of Red Army soldiers entered the Monastery with blasphemies and curses. They peremptorily demanded that Abbot Evgeny, the sacristan, and the guestmaster hand over the keys to the Monastery sacristy, with the obvious intention of plundering whatever valuables they could find. The Fathers tried their best to reason with them, so as to dissuade them from their intention and to protect the Monastery property. Not only were the soldiers not persuaded, but they instead became even more enraged. Without any delay, and with summary procedures—something very typical of the time—they condemned them to death. First, they ordered the six Fathers to dig their own grave: a large pit in the middle of the Monastery courtyard, towards the right. When the Fathers had finished digging, the soldiers stood them next to the pit. The firing squad took position. At this tragic moment, the condemned Fathers asked for a favor: that they be allowed to chant "Christ is Risen." Possessing no such sentiments in their hearts, the "Red" soldiers refused. The Fathers then quickly began to chant "Christ is Risen," but the firing squad did not allow them to finish. Successive shots were heard and the Fathers fell dead into the pit. And something strange happened. The guestmaster had a long black beard, which instantly turned white when he was standing in front of the pit!
The soldiers did not stop there. They entered the Church where the Relics of St. Alexander, the founder of the Monastery, lay. Seizing them, they threw them into the fire. The fire, however, preserved the Relics and did not consume them. In this way, St. Alexander suffered martyrdom after his death, as if he, also, wished to share in the martyrdom of the modern-day New Martyrs of his Monastery.
A certain Karelian Novice, John, who was hiding in the attic, saw and related all of these things. The Monastery of St. Alexander shared the same fate as the rest of the Monasteries in Russia. It was closed and used for other purposes. At first, it was turned into a "pedagogical technical institution," in order to justify the seizure of its extensive library and other valuables, and then into a concentration camp. A rock crushing facility was also created, where the unfortunate prisoners were worked ruthlessly." (taken from: http://www.synodinresistance.org/Theology_en/E3d5062ProskynenaAkexSvir.pdf)
Another account of the uncovering of the Relics of St. Alexander of Svir, with pictures of his wondrously incorrupt Holy Relics (translated and summarized from: http://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.com/2009/02/blog-post_3046.html)
"The holy relics were taken to the St Alexander of Svir Monastery in November 1998, and miraculous healings continue to take place before them."
It is believed that God preserved the Relic of St. Alexander in such a wondrous condition because he was the only Saint after the Patriarch Abraham who was made worthy to be visited by the Holy Trinity in the form of three Angels. During this visit, the Holy Trinity touched him, and this contact obviously was that which made his body incorrupt. [Κατά την διάρκεια αυτής της επισκέψεως, ή Αγία Τριάς μέχρι που άγγιξε τον Άγιο, και αυτό το άγγιγμα προφανώς ήταν που έκανε το σώμα του απρόσβλητο στην φθορά.] Wondrous is the Triune God, Who is glorified in His Saints! St. Alexander left for the Heavenly Kingdom on the 30th of August 1533, at 85 years of age.
From then, the incorrupt holy Relic of St. Alexander has become a fountain of blessing, veneration and healing: the blind receive their sight, paralytics receive strength in their legs, and all those suffering from any disease receive their complete healing. The demons fled from the demon-possessed and barren women conceived…
Wondrous is the All-good God in His Saints, Who glorified His servant in this ephemeral life with miracles and signs which came about through his hands. And after his death, he was still made worthy to have his all-precious and holy Body in His Church, to shine from there, as a great lighthouse, with his all-glorious Miracles!...
The Second Uncovering of the Holy Relics of St. Alexander of Svir
July 30th 1998. The faithful of Russia gathered by the thousands to venerate the newly revealed holy Relic of St. Alexander of Svir in the Church of Sts. Sohpia, Faith, Hope and Love in St. Petersburg. After an unspeakable 80 years, one of the most beloved Saints of the Thebaid of the North was returned to the place of his monastic struggles. Eight decades earlier, on January 5th 1918, the Bolsheviks took the greatest portion of the Russian Thebaid of the North: in the area between Olonetz and Lonteinogie Polie. Immediately the following day the Bolsheviks appeared at the Monastery of Svir and the reliquary of St. Alexander. Such a treasury of holiness obviously created a hindrance to the devil and his servants, who had taken the Russian land. However, during that period were inexplicable peddlers who ordered the Saint's Relics to be damaged or to be brought to them. [Όμως, στην περίπτωση εκείνη ήταν ανεξήγητα ανίκανοι να προκαλέσουν κάποια βλάβη στο Λείψανο του Αγίου ή να το μετακινήσουν.] The Communists made additional attempts, and only on ther sixth try, on December 20th 1918, did they manage to remove the incorrupt Relic of St. Alexander. Thus began the terrible “campaign to seize the relics” [«εκστρατεία κατασχέσεως των λειψάνων»], in which they continued, from 1919 to 1922 to submit 63 Relics of Saints who shown forth in Russia to “scientific tests”, characterizing them as “mummies”, and also as "fakes", and placed them in anti-religious museums or destroyed them.
During this period, the whole northern region of Russia experienced an unprecedented military presence. The Thebaid of the North was desecrated and suffered, but at the same time was sanctified, becoming a Golgotha from many in Russia. The Monastery of St. Alexander of Svir was tried in the same ways as many of the other Monasteries in the area: it became a military barracks, known as Svirlag (“Barracks of Svir”). Later, it became a temporary house for those disabled in the war, a children’s home, a technical school and a military training center. Finally, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity became a psychiatric asylum, one portion of which remains to this day.
The Monastery suffered horrible desecrations with the passage of time. However, God did not allow the Relic of St. Alexander to be lost. After the downfall of the Bolsheviks, first it was brought to Lonteinogie Polie. The local return of the Tsekiston sought research into the authenticity of the Relic. Soviet scientists tested it in the hopes of proving it counterfeit - a fake of the Church for the bewilderment of the faithful. However, the Bolsheviks were unsettled by the results confirming that which was recorded at the first uncovering of the Saint’s Relic in 1641, that St. Alexander’s body was a inexplicably, greatly incorrupt. His skin was white and elastic. The features of his face were cleanly discerned and bore a resemblance to the icons of the Saint, which were pained between the 16th and 18th centuries. An academic, Peter Petrovitch Pokryskin, who did not fear that time of persecution, wrote a bold reply to the request of the Tsekiston. “Knowing that the Relic of St. Alexander of Svir fulfills the historical account unquestionably, its place should be in a church, we request to take measures to preserve It, this historical treasure of our nation.”
From Lonteinogie Polie the Relic was brought to St. Petersburg (then Petrokrant). In that time an order from the Commisary of Justice to place all the Relics in museums. The Relic of St. Alexander was brought to an anatomical museum of the city, which was centered in the Military Medical Academy. There the Relic was shown as an exhibit, but without a description—one attempt by those at the museum to keep it hidden. At the same time, attempts were made to prove the relics of the Saint false in public, which did not resemble its historical epigraph, as part of the Communists’ plan to strike the Church, but these attempts fell through. However, thanks to one of the scientists, B. N. Tonkov, who was not a “militant atheist” like his fellow brethren, they remained in the Military Medical Academy of St. Petersburg, exiled in forgetfulness. There they remained for around eight decades, awaiting the time at which Divine Providence returned them to the faithful.
On June 14th 1997, around six years after the collapse of Communism throughout all of Russia, the portion of the Monastery of the Divine Transfiguration of St. Alexander of Svir was returned whole to the church. [το τμήμα της θείας Μεταμορφώσεως της Μονής του Αγίου Αλεξάνδρου του Σβίρ επεστράφη ολόκληρο στην Εκκλησία.] The portion of the Holy Trinity, which had to forbear another third mile, was returned partly to the Church on September 22nd 1998 [Το τμήμα της Αγίας Τριάδος, το όποιο απέχει ένα τρίτο μιλίου από το έτερο τμήμα, επεστράφη μερικώς στην Εκκλησία στις 22 Σεπτεμβρίου 1998.]
The research into St. Alexander began in 1997 with the blessing of Metropolitan Vladimir of St. Petersburg. The remaining documents from the Soviet period were either lost or destroyed, however the prayerful research endeavors of the Nuns of the Convent of the Holy Protection, Tervinitski, under the guidance of their spiritual father, Abbot Loukianos (Koutsenko), the current head priest of the Monastery of St. Alexander Svir, in the end bore fruit [ανταμείφθηκαν τελικά]. The December of that year (1997), the Relic of the Saint had been found! When it was examined, it was roughly equivalent to the ancient description of the first uncovering of the Relic in 1641. It had the same incorruption as it had before it was confiscated. In agreement with anthropologists and ethnologists, the Relic was ascribed to a man of the tribe of Vebas - a small group of Finland descent, who inhabited the area where St. Alexander was born and where he later built his Monastery.
In the end, without any doubt of the Saint’s identity, the Metropolitan Vladimir gave his blessing for the Relic, full of divine Grace, to be transferred to the Church of the Holy Martyrs Sophia, Faith, Hope, and Love for four months, rather than overwhelm the Monastery with the great mass of pilgrims before its return to the Monastery [προκειμένου να τεθεί σε δημόσια προσκύνηση προ της επιστροφής του στην Μονή του Αγίου.] Before the transfer of the Relic to the Church, a supplication [δέηση] was performed in the testing hall of the Medical Academy. To the astonishment and spiritual exultation of those present, the hands and the feet of the Saint began to pour forth trickles [σταγόνες] of fragrant myrrh, as if the Saint were saying “Yes, I hear you, it is me!” This outpouring of Grace continued when the Relic was transferred to the Church. The fountain of fragrant myrrh was so strong that bees were attracted close to the feet of the Saint.
The cleric Alexios Yiangk (now Hieromonk Ambrosios) was in St. Petersburg when the Relic was found. He recorded his experiences as an American pilgrim:
“With astonishment I saw that the Saint was not only incorrupt, but his skin did not have any change [σκουρύνει] after the passage of around five centuries, but it was as white as someone who is living today. Embracing his uncovered feet, I could see the formation [σχηματισμό] of the miraculous myrrh, rivers rich in [μέλιτος] between his fingers.
Icons of the Saint, which blessed his reliquary, began also to put forth myrrh which was fragrant. Alexander, a novice from the Monastery of St. Alexander of Svir, stood continuously at the reliquary, keeping watch over not only the so much flowing myrrh, but the miraculous healings which took place at that place. People were healed with many illnesses: paralytics, cancer patients, those suffering from dermatologic illnesses and diseases of the bones, and demoniacs. After the transfer of the Relic to the Monastery of St. Alexander of Svir in November 1998, the healings continued to take place before him. The flow of myrrh also continued unstoppably[απαραμείωτα]. It was observed that this miracle occurs in instances when not only believing groups of people arrive at the Monastery, but those with doubts. [Παρατηρήθηκε, ότι αυτό το θαύμα αυξάνει σε ένταση όταν καταφθάνουν στην Μονή ομάδες ανθρώπων, στις όποιες δεν συμπεριλαμβάνονται μόνον πιστοί, άλλα και αμφισβητίες επίσης] Until today the Monastery records the miracles which take place at the Relic of this Saint of God."
(Αναρτήθηκε από PROSKINITIS στις 10:03 μμ Ετικέτες Βιβλία, http://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.com/2009/02/blog-post_3046.html)
Troparion of St. Alexander the Righteous of Svir - Tone 4
Thou didst settle in the wilderness from thy youth eager to follow Christ's footsteps, O Alexander. The Angels were amazed when they beheld thee struggling in the flesh and conquering onslaughts of passions. Dwelling on earth thou wast equal to the Angels. Pray to Christ our God to save our souls.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!