Saint of the Day – 21 August – Saint Abraham of Smolensk (Died c 1222) Monk, Abbot, Priest, apostle of the poor, Preacher, Biblical scholar and spiritual adviser – born in the 12th century at Smolensk, Russia and died in c 1222 at Smolensk, Russia of natural causes. Patronage – Smolensk. He is venerated as a saint in both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Paul III Canonised him as a saint in 1549.
Abraham was born in Smolensk, Russia during the mid twelfth century to a wealthy family, a son after twelve daughters. From childhood he grew up in the fear of God. He often was in church and had the opportunity to read books. As an only son, his parents hoped he would marry and continue their illustrious lineage. However, he sought a different life.
After the death of his parents, he gave away all his wealth to monasteries, churches and the destitute. He walked through the city in rags, asking God to show him the way to salvation. Abraham entered the Monastery of the Most Holy Mother of God (Bogoroditskaya Monastery), near Smolensk and accepted tonsure as a monk. He accepted various obediences at the monastery and fervently occupied himself with the copying books and culling spiritual riches from them.
Prince Roman Rostislavich of Smolensk established a school in the city, at which not only Slavonic but also Greek and Latin books were used to teach. The prince also had a large collection of books, which the Monk Abraham use. He became very popular among the laity as he worked for the sick and troubled. He also became a noted biblical scholar in pre-Mongol Russia. He lived austerely and preached on the Last Judgement, while developing a genuine apostolate for the sick and poor of the region.
He lived as an ascetic for more than 30 years at the monastery, when in the year 1198 Bishop Ignatius of Smolensk persuaded him to accept the dignity of priest. From his ordination Fr Abraham celebrated daily the Holy Mass and fulfilled the obedience of clergy not only for the brethren but also for the laypeople.
Fr Abraham had been characterised as being a man of stern and militant character, who kept the idea of the Last Judgement in the minds of himself and others. While very popular among the laity, he was less popular among many of the local clergy, who came to view him with enmity and jealousy. This animosity among the brethren in time reached Bishop Ignastius and after five years he was compelled to transfer to the Cross-Exaltation Monastery in the city of Smolensk.
At the poor monastery, Fr Abraham began a program to improve it. From the offerings by the faithful, he embellished the cathedral church with icons, curtains and candle-stands. On two icons that he himself inscribed were themes that most of all concerned him. One depicted the dreaded Last Judgement and, on the other, the suffering of the trials of life. He was strict both towards himself and towards his spiritual children. He preached constantly in church and to those who came to him in his cell, conversing with rich and poor alike. An ascetic, lean and pale from extreme toil, in priestly garb he resembled in appearance St Basil the Great.
His unpopularity among the city notables and the clergy remained and they soon demanded of Bishop Ignatius that he bring Fr Abraham to trial, with accusations of the seduction of women and the tempting of his spiritual children. But even more terrible were the accusations of heresy and reading of forbidden books, for which his enemies proposed to drown or burn him. At the trial before the prince and the bishop, Fr Abraham rebutted all the false accusations. But despite his defence, he was suspended as a priest and returned to his former monastery of the Most Holy Mother of God.
However, the city soon faced a terrible drought and the citizens of Smolensk demanded that Fr Abraham be restored. This clamour for reinstatement led to a second investigation by Bishop Ignatius, one that cleared his name. Only after Bishop Ignatius acquitted Fr Abraham, lifting his suspension and permitting him to serve and preach again, did the rain again fall on the Smolensk lands, ending the drought.
Bishop Ignatius built a new monastery, in honour of the Placing of the Robe of the Most Holy Mother of God to which he entrusted its guidance to Fr Abraham. It was to this monastery that Bishop Ignatius, now the spiritual friend of Fr Abraham, himself retired because of his advanced age. Many brethren desired to enter under the guidance of Fr Abraham but he examined them very intensely and only accepted those after great investigation, so that at his monastery there were but seventeen brethren. Fr Abraham, after the death of Bishop Ignatius even more so than before, urged the brethren to reminisce about death and to pray day and night, that they be not condemned in the Judgement by God.
St Abraham died about the year 1222, having spent 50 years as a Monk. Already at the end of the thirteenth century a service to him had been compiled by his student and disciple, the Monk Ephrem. The Mongol/Tatar invasion, seen as the wrath of God for sin, not only did not stifle the memory of St Abraham of Smolensk but rather, was a reminder to people of his calling to repentance and recollection of the dreaded Last Judgement.