Saint Theophanes of the Roslavl Forests

The holy Schema-monk Theophanes (in the world, Theodore Talunin) was from Vladimir Province. He served in the Black Sea Cossack army until 1791. After his discharge, he lived at Sophroniev Hermitage for a time, and then he went to Moldavia, where he lived at Neamts Monastery under obedience to Saint Paisios Velichkovsky (Nov. 15) for three years. After the death of Elder Paisios, he returned to Russia and was accepted into the brotherhood of Optina Hermitage in 1800, and he was tonsured there in 1801.

Saint Moses of Optina has provided most of the information about Schema-monk Theophanes, and has related the following: “He zealously pursued the active virtues of fasting, prayer, and prostrations with extreme non-acquisitiveness and meekness of spirit. During the first and last weeks of Great Lent, he ate nothing at all; and during the other fasting periods he ate only every third day. This zeal for fasting made him take up the great measure of fasting beyond the bounds of nature.”

Saint Theophanes often went from Optina to the Roslavl Forest to see Fathers Athanasios and Moses. In 1819, when Fathers Moses and Anthony came to look over Optina Hermitage, he told them that he would come to visit them for the entire period of Great Lent. “You are most welcome, please come,” the hermits told him. He came to them before the beginning of Great Lent in 1819, and he announced that he intended to pass the entire Fast without eating. “I have faith that I will not die from fasting,” he said.

“Let it be according to your faith,” they answered, not daring to dissuade him. He moved in with them, and brought along his icon of the Crucifixion painted on linen, before which he prayed. Saint Theophanes decided not to eat, and not to lie down to sleep. In addition to his usual Prayer Rule, he also made 800 prostrations.

When he prayed, he wore special cuffs with cords which were tied to the hooks on the wall where the icon was hanging. In this way, he was able to stand at prayer all night without falling from exhaustion. In addition, he heated his own cell, helped to sing at Church services, and he appeared cheerful. He ate nothing during the entire Fast, and once a week he drank some water mixed with vinegar, because the dryness of his mouth. Once, seeing his thinness, Saint Moses said, “Father, you have worn yourself out.” Father Theophanes replied, “No. Christ my Savior has poured out all His blood to the last drop for my sake. There is plenty of blood left in me yet.”

After the Fast, which he endured until the end, he partook of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Later, he wanted to repeat this struggle, but because of the cold he fell ill with a terrible cough. He became very weak, and gradually wasted away, departing to the Lord on June 15, 1819.

A few moments before Father Theophanes died, Father Moses asked, “Is your soul at peace? Do you fear anything at this hour of death?” He replied, “With joy I desire to be released from this life.” At that moment, he passed away. He had just started to make the Sign of the Cross upon himself, and gave up his soul to God. He is buried in the wilderness.

Father Anthony, in whose arms Father Theophanes died, said that he forgot to ask him for his prayers at his death. On the fortieth day after death, the Elder appeared to him. “Batiushka,” said Father Anthony, “I wanted to ask you for your prayers for me when you come before the throne of God, and I did not do it.” Father Theophanes said, “I always pray to God for you. Saint Basil the Great says, ‘He who prays for others, prays for himself.’”

According to Father Anthony, this Elder had such a radiant face when he was still alive, that one could not look directly at it, but only small glances from the side. His grave is on the edge of a ravine by the Florovka creek, and is revered by pilgrims to this day.

Saint Theophanes was approved for local veneration in the Smolensk Diocese on August 31, 2017.