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St. Paul of Obnora

St. Paul of Obnora by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist Narrative:

St. Paul was born into a noble family near Moscow. When his parents arranged a marriage for him, he secretly left his family home and entered a distant monastery. Some time later he moved to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity to become a disciple of St. Sergius of Radonezh. Under the direction of St. Sergius, he made great progress in unceasing prayer of the heart. The elder blessed him to retire to a hermitage near the monastery, and he lived there 15 years.

In time St. Sergius gave him permission to go deeper into the wilderness as a desert-dweller, and he disappeared into the forests across the Volga River, where he found an ancient hollow linden tree for a hermitage. Eating whatever plants he could find, he was soon surrounded by wild animals of all sorts who lived peacefully in his presence. It was as though the original peace of Eden surrounded the man of God.

Near the end of his life he was persuaded to found a cenobitic monastery near his hermitage. He appointed one of his disciples to be abbot of this monastery and he himself lived in solitude. He died at the age of 112 and was buried near the monastery church.

In the following century Kazan Tatars destroyed his monastery and killed many of the monks. It was rebuilt and became a popular pilgrimage site until the communists destroyed it in the last century.

His feast day is January 10.

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Saint Paul of Obnora, a famed disciple of St. Sergius of Radonezh, was born at Moscow in the year 1317. From his youth he distinguished himself by his piety and kindliness towards the poor and suffering. His rich parents prepared him for a secular life, but at twenty-two years of age he secretly left his parental home and received tonsure at the Nativity monastery on the Volga (in the Yaroslav diocese).

From there Paul transferred to the Holy Trinity monastery to St. Sergius of Radonezh, spending several years with him as his disciple, obeying the holy Elder in all things. With the blessing of St. Sergius, he settled a short distance from the monastery in a separate cell, where he spent fifteen years as a hermit. Having asked the blessing of St. Sergius to go off into the wilderness for a quiet and solitary life, St. Paul wandered about for a long while, seeking a place of solitude. He wandered a great deal in the wilderness. He spent time with St. Abraham of Chukhloma and finally, he remained in the Komel forest.

At the Gryazovitsa River, in the hollow of an old linden tree, the monk built a small cell and dwelt there for three years in complete silence, “not giving his body rest, that he might receive future rest.” Then he moved on to the River Nurma, where he built a hut and dug a well, spending his days in vigil and prayer.

Five days out of the week he went without food, and only on Saturday and Sunday did he partake of some bread and water. The news about the hermit spread abroad, and those wishing spiritual guidance began coming to him. Despite his love for the solitary life, St. Paul never refused anyone spiritual consolation and guidance. He was also visited by St. Sergius of Nurma, who sought solitude with the blessing of St. Sergius of Radonezh, and who also spent his ascetic life in these places.

With the blessing of St. Sergius and the agreement of Metropolitan Photius, St. Paul built the Holy Trinity church in 1414, around which a monastery sprang up (later called the Monastery of St. Paul of Obnora). Having written a strict monastic Rule for the brethren, St. Paul entrusted the guidance of the new monastery to his disciple Alexis, while he himself continued as before to live in a solitary cell on a hill. He remained a responsive and good counsellor for anyone needing his help. St. Paul died at 112 years of age. His final words were, “Brethren, have love one for another and keep to the rule of the monastic community.”

The Life of the saint was written in about the year 1546, and his glorification occurred in 1547.