St. Paul Of Obnorsk and Komelsk. Vologda miracle-worker. 1317–1429
St. Paul was born in 1317 in Moscow into a boyar family where he was raised in piety. From childhood he was noted for prayerful concentration, meekness and humility. Fast, vigil and prayer took root in his life. From childhood he was well-known for his charity, giving “lavish alms to beggars”. When he was twenty three, he declined his parents’ persistent entreaties to get married and secretly ran away from home.
The saint went to the Priluki Nativity Monastery and took monastic vows.
Vigil, prayer and unabated compliance with coenobitic rules nourished his spirit. The rest of the time was dedicated to monastic obediences. Striving for higher exploits the saint wanted to have an experienced teacher who would guide him on the path to virtue. At that time St. Sergius of Radonezh became famous for his deeds and miracles and Paul set off for the Trinity cloister.
St. Sergius of Radonezh received and thoroughly tested the monk. He grew fond of Paul and gently guided him. In the Radonezh cloister St. Paul diligently performed obediences in the kitchen and bakery abstaining from idle talk and self-indulgence in food. Through his exploits he received a gift of tender emotions and “abundant spring of tears”.
After the temptation of hard labour he asked St. Sergius of Radonezh to bless him for an anchoritic life and lived in solitude for 15 years.
The saint grew a blessed gift of words by reading Holy Writ instead of talking. Brothers came to the recluse for spiritual guidance to seek advice and confess their doubts, thus interrupting his seclusion. Believing that communication with people would confuse and divert him from his contemplations, St. Paul asked his teacher to give him a blessing for hermitage. “Run, keep silent and you will save yourself”. St. Sergius of Radonezh blessed him for his life in the wilderness.
Leaving the Trinity St. Sergius Monastery, St. Paul set off for the north to the far Komelsk forest where he found a hole in a linden tree and lived there for three years in complete isolation praying and fasting. Later on he moved deeper into the forest, built a cell on the bank of the Nurma River and dug a well. He spent five days a week fasting and only on Saturday and Sunday had a little bread and water. He defeated demons with the power of the cross. Animals ate from his hands. Birds sat on his head and shoulders. Here he met another monk from the Radonezh cloister, St. Sergius of Nurma. He saw St. Paul under a tree with a bear, a hare and a fox standing in front of him and birds sitting on his head and shoulders and eating from his hands. The two hermits became close spiritual friends and often visited each other and spent time in spiritual conversations.
The hermit’s deeds became known in the vicinity. People started coming to him to get some advice that was full of wisdom, sense and consolation. Many of them asked to settle down with him in the wilderness in order to be guided on their way to salvation.
At first the saint refused for a long time considering himself unworthy to be a teacher but then yielded to their persistent entreaties and started receiving brothers and establishing coenobitic rules.
First, the monastic community, which gathered around St. Paul, did not have their own church and its construction was accompanied by special signs. Once, on the Easter eve the saint heard bells ringing down the hill and saw “a light brighter than the sun”. He went to Moscow to Metropolitan Photius to ask to bless the foundation of the Church of the Holy Trinity. The Metropolitan received him with distrust but the same night had a revelation that he had wrongly offended the monk. The Metropolitan asked to find him, begged for forgiveness and dismissed him with a blessing and lavish donations.
Upon Paul’s return from Moscow, on the site of his settlement, the Church of the Holy Trinity and a monastery were built through assiduous efforts of monks that grew in numbers. The greatest advocate of silence which he called the mother of all virtues, St. Paul refused to be the hegumen and continued to abide five days in hermitage on a strict fast, while on Saturdays and Sundays he left his hermitage, took part in the church prayer and shared meals in the refectory with his brothers. Though he led such austere life, he retained a gentle disposition, pure soul, lucid mind and gaiety. His cell was open to his monks, whom he guided spiritually. His parting words were: “Assume good deed and God will let you do what is good” and “I wish you knew the strength of love!”
St. Paul lived to the old age and his body grew decrepit. Clear in mind, he patiently bore his illness and kept silent, cleansing his mind in prayer and contemplation.
On the Epiphany day, before the divine liturgy, the saint took a deep breath and shed a tear. When the brothers asked him why, the saint after a pause uttered: “this day and hour the impious Tatars conquered Kostroma and laid it waste with fire and sword, taking many citizens into captivity”. Only after the saint’s death, his prophecy was confirmed: indeed, the town was conquered by the Tatars on 6 January 1429.
Some days later, feeling his death approach St. Paul gathered his brethren and addressed them with farewell words: “Observe the charter and order even after my departure”. He commanded the monks to conduct church services without laziness but with awe and tenderness, to keep peace in the cloister and to exclude strong drinks that could provoke God’s wrath and ruin the monastic charter.
The saint passed away at the age of 112 on 10 January 1429. He blessed his community, made the sign of the cross, lay down and with a prayer gave up his spirit. When he died, a great many miracles streamed from his body.
The biographer of St. Paul of Obnorsk said, that he lived “cleansing his vision and gathering divine wisdom in his heart in contemplation of divine glory. He was chosen as a vessel for the Holy Spirit.”