October 29 – Abraham of Rostov

Abraham of Rostov (d. ca. 1037–1077), through no fault of his own, was born Russian, pagan, and named “Averkii.” A miraculous cure of some unnamed but severe illness led to his conversion to Christianity, and he became “Abraham” upon monkification, but the Russian thing he never shook off. After said monkification he moved to Rostov (on the shores of beautiful Lake Nero) and began converting the local pagans, of whom there was no lack.

One night, John the Theologian appeared in a miraculous vision and handed Abraham a staff topped with a cross. Taking this as both a sign and a battering ram, Abraham headed for the local pagan temple and smashed the idol of Veles (or Volos, depending on your transliteration), which had been causing consternation and downright fear in the neighborhood. After some initial anger, the local pagans realized (a) ding-dong, the idol’s dead, and (b) this Christian God must be one tough dude. (Actually it is unlikely they used surfer language; Lake Nero isn’t big enough for that kind of waves.) Abraham, of course, baptized them. He especially had a special spot in his heart for children, and vice versa. He taught them to read and write, instructed them in the Christian faith, and made monastics out of them. (Well, some of them.) He also founded charitable organization(s) to care for the poor.

He also also tore down the now idol-free temple, erected a monastery, named it after Holy Theophany, and settled in as abbot. He also also also built a church and dedicated it to John the Theologian, for obvious reasons. The monastery was a loving and welcoming place, and all who came felt welcome and loved. Abraham was no dictator, nosiree. He toiled alongside his fellow monks, chopping wood, carrying water, and even washing their clothes. If I’m not mistaken, monks in clean clothes were something of a novelty in those days, and that may have contributed to the welcome the visitors felt.

One day, the devil entered Abraham’s washbowl just before his morning ablution. Seeing this, Abraham took his cross (the one from the staff or some other one) and laid it across the bowl. The devil was trapped inside, burning in torment. He was finally released some days later when a visiting nobleman, not finding Abraham in his cell, picked up the cross to look at it. The evil one (I mean Satan, not the nobleman) rose up in a black cloud, saying to Abraham on his way off the monastery grounds, “You jerk. I’ll get you for this.” He immediately went into town and in the guise of a soldier told the Prince that Abraham was a wicked sorcerer. The gullible Prince gave him permission to seize Abraham, which he did, leading him on a scabrous ass (whose name is not recorded) to the Great Prince in Vladimir (his neither). There, Abraham lifted his hands in prayer, and the false soldier vanished. The Great Prince asked and obtained Abraham’s forgiveness, and went on to bestow great riches on the monastery. Abraham died at a ripe old age, and was buried in the monastery church.

Speaking of dictators, years later (in 1551), Ivan the Terrible passed through on a tour of monasteries to pray for victory in the coming fight with Safa Giray and the Kazan Khanate (there’s a band name, dude) (sorry). He was shown and subsequently borrowed the staff that Abraham had used to destroy the idol, although the monks unscrewed the cross from the top and retained it for safekeeping. That apparently didn’t matter, as Ivan & Co. won the battle without it. He returned to the monastery after the fight, although my sources don’t say if he returned the staff, or where it might be now. He did, however, build (or rather rebuild) the Church of the Theophany in stone, and bought it a bunch of books and icons. Which wasn’t bad at all, let alone terrible.