Venerable Alexander, Abbot of Kushta, Vologda

Saint Alexander, Hegoumen of Kushta Monastery in Vologda, was born about the year 1371, and his name in the world was Alexei. He was tonsured at the Savior-Stone (Spaso-Kamen) monastery by Hegoumen Dionysios of the Holy Mountain, who brought the Athonite Rule to the monastery. Later, he became the Archbishop of Rostov. Here Saint Alexander went through all the phases of obedience and strict fasting, and was ordained as a Hieromonk. He was constantly at work or at prayer. The brethren looked upon him as upon an angel of God, and this troubled Saint Alexander. He left the monastery secretly by night and came to the River Syazhem, where there was a thick forest and lake. Here he built a cell and lived his life in prayer and austere abstinence. Little by little, people started coming to him.

Saint Alexander went from this place to the shore of Lake Kuben, at the mouth of the River Kushta. At that time Saint Euthymios (April 11) was living there. Saint Alexander offered to exchange cells with him, and Saint Euthymios agreed to this. When they parted, he gave Saint Alexander his cross as a blessing. The quiet wilderness was very dear to Saint Alexander. Going to the lake, he immersed the cross in the water and prayed to God, asking that he might gather in this place those who were zealous for the way of the Cross. After some time, a certain Elder came to Saint Alexander, with whom he dwelt for five years. When a third brother arrived, Saint Alexander decided to build a church in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. The saint journeyed to Rostov to see his former Hegoumen, Archbishop Dionysios (1418-1425), who blessed the construction of the temple.

One day, Tatars came when Prince Demetrios of Zaozersk was away, and five of them galloped up to the Kushta monastery. Saint Alexander met them calmly and he blessed them with the cross. The Tatars fell down as if they were dead; and they lay senseless for several hours, after which Saint Alexander roused them from their torpor in the name of the Life-creating Trinity.

When Prince Demetrios reposed, his widow, Princess Maria, who had great respect for Saint Alexander, offered a village for the support of the monastery in remembrance of her husband. Once she came to the monastery and went into the church, where Saint Alexander was reading the Psalter, while insects attacked his bare chest. The monk was distressed by her visit and said, “It is not necessary, O Princess, for you to observe our misery.” The princess humbly asked for pardon. The monk blessed her, but said, “Feed your poverty at home.” When she reached her home, the princess fell sick and asked him to pray for the recovery of her health. Saint Alexander foresaw her end and said, “Let her prepare for that life.” Princess Maria died twenty days later.

Wheat was gathered on the floor of the monastery; and a certain peasant decided to steal a sack, but he was not able to lift it. The saint happened upon him and said, “My son, it is in vain that you try to lift what is beyond your strength.” The astounded thief threw himself at the feet of the venerable one, asking his forgiveness, but Saint Alexander ordered him to add more wheat to the sack. After admonishing him not to steal from others in future, he blessed him to take the sack and to go with God. The peasant easily carried the burden which was blessed, and thanked the generous Elder.

Sensing that the time of his death was near, Saint Alexander said to those dwelling with him, “I am growing weak, but I urge you to endure in this place, preserving humility and mutual love.” On Sunday he served the Divine Liturgy, and partook of the Holy Mysteries. Then he prayed on his knees for himself and for his monastery, and at age of sixty-eight, he peacefully surrendered his soul to the Lord on June 9, 1439.

According to Saint Alexander’s last instructions in his will, his body was placed at the south side of the altar. A year afterward, a Rowen-berry tree grew up over his grave. Once, on the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, a peasant child broke off a branch from this tree and suddenly his hand began to hurt. His parents prayed and brought their son to the saint’s grave, and he was healed. From that time people began to pick berries from this tree for healing purposes. His disciples built a heated church in honor of Saint Nicholas over the saint’s grave and it was dedicated on the anniversary of his repose. Many of the sick who were brought to the church said that they saw Saint Alexander and Saint Nicholas praying together, or censing the temple. Many of the sick received healing at Saint Alexander’s grave.