St. Martinian of Belozero. c.1397-1483
St. Martinian of Belozero (secular name Mikhail St0monakhov) was born around 1397 in a village of Berezniki near the St. Cyril Belozero Monastery. He was brought up in a devout family and in his childhood showed interest for learning. Instructed by God, the wise parents took him to St. Cyril’s monastery which was 30 verts (32 km) from the village. It was around 1410.
Having taken monastic vows under the name of Martinian he assiduously imitated his teacher St. Cyril of Belozero, who guided him.
He learnt to read and write in the monastery and was blessed by St. Cyril to copy books. St. Cyril was pleased about the progress of his disciple and said, thanking God: “He will be a skillful monk”.
Later on, St. Cyril gave Martinian another obedience to work in the bakery and kitchen. There the humble youth did all hard work: carried water; cut down and fetched wood, asking his brothers to bless and pray for him. St. Cyril supervised the spiritual life of his disciple very closely. Once he saw Martinian going after the meal straight to his fellow monk’s cell, so he called him and asked: “Do you properly observe the monastic charter? Why could you not go to you cell first and pray, as it should be, and only then go to your brother if you had to?” Martinian answered with a smile: “If I had gone to my cell I would have stayed there”, to which St. Cyril remarked “Then always do it: first go to your cell and it will teach you everything”.
This episode of St. Martinian’s life is described in the sacred biography of St. Cyril of Belozero composed by Pakhomy Logofet. St. Martinian was grateful for the elder’s directions and followed them in his life.
Watching his fervour St. Cyril ordained him into holy orders, shortly afterward into hierodeacons and later into hieromonks.
Ordained, St. Martinian devoutly served the divine liturgy guided by the teacher’s example. St. Martinian was loved and esteemed by his fellow monks for his deeds and humility as well as the intimacy with St. Cyril. “Blessed is he, they would say, who was granted to be the disciple of such great person” and they would pray God for him.
Having spent in the monastery quite a long time and looking for new exploits, he sought silence and solitude and withdrew to an uninhabited wooded island on the lake of Vozha, 120 versts (128km) from the monastery, where he started the life of a hermit. However, it did not last long as his followers heard about his hermitage and joined him. By joint effort they made a church of the Transfiguration and worked out a coenobitic rule for the new community with whom St. Martinian shared labour for ten years.
During this time his cloister and community grew in size which convinced the saint that now he could leave the monastery with a clear conscience. Leaving it, he commanded to take special care of the church founded by him and set off with a prayer to the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery where he was welcomed with great honour and joy by the hegumen and brothers.
In the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery, thanks to his humility and reverence as well аs knowledge of the coenobitic charter he gained esteem of the monks who regarded him as their teacher. At the time the hegumen of the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery resigned and the community had to elect the new hegumen so they pleaded Martinian to accept the abbacy but the latter declined the offer saying that he was unworthy.
Once again the brethren gathered and implored St. Martinian and this time he gave in to their entreaties and accepted the rank. It took place in about 1435. Now he had to take care of the monastery, entrusted to him, let alone his personal spiritual perfection. Following the example of the charter and rituals of the St. Cyril Belozero Monastery, St. Martinian elevated and glorified the St. Ferapont Belozero cloister. He established order not only in church but also in the monks’ cells and in the refectory where he introduced communal meals “on equal terms and to be eaten in complete silence”. Martinian’s cloister under his guidance flourished.
However the quiet life of the cloister was disturbed in the troubled time: Vassily the Dark with his army set off for Moscow to recover the throne but prior to the fight with Shemyaka the pious prince visited first St. Cyril’s and then the St. Ferapont Belozero monasteries. St. Martinian consoled him and in return the prince promised to take care of the monastery and patronize the hegumen if he succeeded in his campaign “thanks to the divine mercy, prayers of the Holy Mother of God and great miracle-workers”.
Having ascended the throne, Vassily kept his promise and in 1448 appointed St. Martinian the hegumen of St. Sergius’s lavra and his own confessor.
The elevated rank did not change the saint who esteemed truth above all. Once, Vassily the Dark broke the word given to Martinian and arrested a boyar who resumed his service. When St. Martinian heard about the injustice he traveled to Moscow. He indignantly entered the princely chamber and addressed the prince with the following words: “That is how you, Sovereign Prince, learnt to judge justly. Why did you order to imprison the boyar I had vouched for? Why have you broken your word? I deprive you and your rule of my blessing”, turned round and went back to the Trinity Monastery.
Having repented, the prince set the boyar free bestowing him with favours and went to the St. Sergius Lavra. After the prayers St. Martinian gave him his forgiveness and asked for the prince’s forgiveness himself. Hence Vassily Vassilievich loved his confessor still more, obeyed and venerated him.
However, St. Martinian who sought silence and solitude, found the life in the monastery close to the capital trying. The more he advanced in years the more frequently he remembered the words of his teacher, St. Cyril: “a monk should not possess anything, should observe silence and avoid everything that disturbs his heart.” So in early 1455, he resigned, bid farewell to his brethren and went back to the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery.
The Ferapontov monks rejoiced at the return of their favourite hegumen and welcomed him as their own father asking St. Martinian to be their teacher and hegumen. “I left St. Sergius’s cloister in order to find peace and quiet and mourn over my sins at my old age”, Martinian refused humbly. Only after persistent entreaties from the hegumen and the monks he agreed to take on the burden. The monastic life was regulated by rules borrowed partly from the St. Cyril’s charter and partly from the Trinity St. Sergius Lavra’s regulations.
The ascetic reached the old age and feeling the death approach he gathered his brothers and asked to keep the tradition and charter: “Fathers and brothers! Do as I taught you to do. Let the divine love and grace of the Immaculate Mother of God be with you!”
Having received the holy communion, he peacefully died on Sunday, 12 January 1483 at the age of 86, after 70 years spent in monkhood. The hegumen and the monks solemnly buried the saint near the Church of the Holy Mather of God to the left of the altar where his relics repose now.