February 4 Saints of the Day – Cyril of New Lake and Theophilus the Penitent

Cyril of New LakeOn this day in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. Years before a wise relative had advised him, “Find out what people like,” and it clicked.

Easterners today praise Cyril of New Lake (d. 1532), who, according to our sources, had devout parents. Presumably there’s devout and there’s glad-to-have-a-monk-as-a-son devout, though, and at age 15 he ran away to the Monastery of the Pskov Caves. At first he couldn’t find them (their being underground and all), but he was helped by a mysterious elder. When he turned around to thank him, the elder had turned into an urban legend and vanished. Cyril shrugged and joined the monastery. His parents gave him up for dead, but years later they rejoiced to learn that he was alive and in Pskov, both of which are better than being dead. His mother immediately joined a monastery, and his father hurried to Pskov to see him. Cyril was reluctant, but the igumen insisted, and the two were reconciled. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Dad joined the monastery.

Cyril yearned to live as a hermit, and after obtaining permission he left the monastery and wandered western Russia for 20 years, eating roots and berries and looking for a likely site. (Picky lad.) He spent his days walking, his nights praying, and presumably both getting a wicked case of sleep deprivation. Finally, after a couple of heavenly visions, he came upon a lake in which an island was shooting forth a pillar of fire. Nothing says “home” quite like that. He built himself a hut, and, knowing the fate of hermits everywhere, built another one for the inevitable followers. Sure enough, word of his saintly way of life spread abroad (how? bears?), and in no time he had a monastery. He became known for clairvoyance, wonderworking, and healing, and especially for restoring sight to the blind.

One night a pair of thieves came to the monastery, intending to steal the bells. They wandered in circles until dawn, when they were apprehended and brought before the abbot. He lectured them about making an honest living, had them fed, and sent them on their way. At one divine service his assistant saw an unknown deacon serving with him at the altar. When the service ended, the deacon disappeared. Cyril told the assistant not to mention it while he (Cyril) lived. Finally, knowing he was dying, he gathered his monks about him and preached at them until his voice gave out. (Haven’t we all sat through a sermon or two wishing that would happen.) After kissing the brothers and receiving communion, with his last breath he said, “Glory to God for all things!”

Theophilus the PenitentWesterners today praise Theophilus the Penitent (d. ca. 538), an archdeacon in Adana (southern Turkey) who found himself elected bishop, but turned the post down out of humility. When the new bishop relieved him of his archdiaconate, he swore revenge. (Then, as now, humility is capricious in her favors.) Letting his fingers do the walking, he found a local wizard who had Satan on speed dial, and soon was signing — in his own blood, mind — an agreement to renounce Jesus and Mary in return for the episcopacy.

Within a couple of years, though, the thrill was gone. Being a bishop without a soul palled, and he repented and fasted for forty days. The Mother of God then appeared to him and gave him an earful. He begged for forgiveness, and she said she’d see what she could do. He fasted another thirty days, and she returned and pronounced absolution. Satan still had the contract, though, and a deal’s a deal. Thankfully, Theophilus awoke from sleep three days later with the contract lying on his chest. He took it to the rightful bishop and confessed what he had done, whereupon the bishop burned the document and Theophilus died, happy to be free. Our sources say this was the original “pact with the devil” story on which later ones (Goethe, Marlowe, etc.) were modeled.

February 4 (Wikipedia)
Venerable Cyril the Abbot and Wonderworker of Novoezersk, Novgorod (OCA) — Main source
Orthodox Saints commemorated in February
St. Theophilus the Penitent (Catholic Online)
Theophilus of Adana (Wikipedia) — Main source

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

2 comments on “February 4 Saints of the Day – Cyril of New Lake and Theophilus the Penitent

  1. I am a Roman Catholic and I felt very left out and a stranger since this site was only dealing with orthodox saints and issues. Now that Catholic saints are in the picture, I feel much at home.
    I love your funny take on these holy personalities. it is good to think of them as funny also and not just frozen pictures and statues.

    My humble request – you can make fun [ in good humor ] even the Pope himself. Please be very sensitive about anything regarding Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and the Great Mother of God. I am a big fan of your site.
    – pio

    • I take very special care not to ridicule or make fun of our Lord or the Theotokos. I consider them off-limits. Indeed I try not to ridicule the saints, either, but to lovingly portray them, and have some gentle fun. All of the saints are God’s blessing to us, to show us His love for us and how we should love our fellow humans.

      I wouldn’t have opportunity to say much about the current Pope in this series, as he’s still alive and as far as I know the RCC doesn’t glorify people as saints who are still alive.

      Thanks for writing, pio! I’m glad you’re enjoying these.


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