September 18 – Hilarion of Optina; John Macias

Hilarion of Optina (1805–1873) was born on Pascha night, as was our salvation. He was apparently mocked for being a clumsy lad, although our source only mentions this embarrassing fact to explain his lifelong quiet thoughtfulness (kof). Young Rodion (for that was his name) followed his father into the tailory, in spite of the fact that both he and his mother knew he would wind up as a monk someday. Nevertheless, he applied himself to mastering his father’s craft, knowing it would be useful when he joined a monastery. (There is nothing in the sources to indicate he ever sewed a stitch in the monastery. Ain’t that the way?)

When not tailoring, he took to evangelizing members of the Skoptsy sect, a strange group which taught that the path to perfection involved undergoing certain, um, surgical procedures. (Let’s just say Origen would be right at home there.) One hopes he convinced a good number of Skoptsy aspirants to embrace Orthodoxy before they made the final cut. So to speak.

Finally at age 34 he entered the monastery of Optina, taking the name Hilarion and the discipline of the Jesus Prayer. Later he was made cell attendant for (St.) Macarios, as well as gardener, baker, apiarist, and kvassist (or whatever the word for kvass-maker is). He was always cheerful and eager to help others, which stood him in good stead when Macarios died and he became the monastery’s confessor. He was not particularly indulgent (“Be prepared to accept disgrace for your sins,” he counseled), but he was nevertheless sought out as a confessor by monks, nuns, and laity alike.

In his final years he developed a lung disease which prevented him from lying down. He prayed not for healing, though, but for strength to accept his condition. As his days drew to an end, Macarios appeared to him frequently in his dreams, which was a comfort. (Much more comforting than appearing as a ghost, for example.) Finally Hilarion died, prayer rope in hand, and was buried next to his beloved master.

John Macias (1585–1645) (né Juan de Arcas y Sánchez) was born in Spain, which I have heard highly recommended. When his parents died, he and his sister Agnes were adopted by their uncle, taking his surname. Juan (why do they always Anglicize names in these stories? I doubt anybody ever called him “John”) met a Dominican friar at Mass one day, which lead him to seek God’s will, as well it might. About this time he began having visions of the Mother of God and of Juan—erm, Iωάννης—the Evangelist.

At 25 Juan traveled with his employer (a wealthy businessman) to the New World, winding up in Lima, Perú (as one does). At 38 he joined the Dominican friary there as a lay brother. (That means he didn’t have to preach, as regular Dominicans do; you will recall that “OP” means “Order of Preachers” (or something in Latin that translates to that).) Juan was devoted to the rosary, and would have liked to stay in his cell all day praying it, but his rule was obedience and his job was doorkeeper. Many came to seek his advice as he sat in the gate, rich and poor, as he was apparently a wise counselor. Just not a preacher.

Juan also had a heart for the poor, and provided meals to 200 every day, which he financed in a unique way. He obtained a donkey, fitted it with coffers to collect alms, and trained it to walk a certain route through the city. Every day it would tread its route, stopping in certain places and braying until people came and donated. When it returned to the monastery, Juan distributed the money to the poor.

He died of natural causes (rosary in hand, one presumes), and was canonized in 1975 by Pope Paul VI.