In the Time of Troubles, in the Sts. Boris and Gleb Monastery near Rostov Veliky, there labored the most illustrious of its monks—St. Irinarkh the Recluse (1548-1616; commemorated January 13/26). Long before the invasion of the Poles, it was revealed to him that “the Lord will bring foreigners to our land” because of “lawless drunkenness.” It was St. Irinarkh who blessed first Prince Mikhail Skopin-Shuisky and then Prince Dimitry Pozharsky to do battle with the foreigners. St. Irinarkh was practically the last stylite in the history of the Russian Church: In winter he would go barefoot, and he spent the majority of his reclusive life in a cell that went unheated year-round, wearing chains with 142 copper crosses, seven shoulder shackles, and iron chains on his hands and feet. The saint’s relics now lay under cover at Sts. Boris and Gleb Monastery, where some of his smaller chains are also kept.
Every year, the brothers and pilgrims to the monastery go on a cross procession in memory of St. Irinarkh, from the walls of the Sts. Boris and Gleb Monastery to the saint’s home village of Kondakovo. The cross procession lasts one week, with a stop for the night at each of the churches encountered along the way, where molebens are also served. The 300-year tradition was interrupted with the closing of the monastery by the Bolsheviks. Nearly all of the churches on the path of the cross procession were destroyed. The spring in the saint’s home village was desecrated, littered with dirt and rocks, and filled with gasoline.
In 1994, the brothers returned to the Sts. Boris and Gleb Monastery, and the traditional Irinarkh cross procession was revived in 1997 by their efforts. Now the pilgrims go about 43 miles in the first four days of the procession, stopping for the night at the restored churches. Molebens and panikhidas are served in the destroyed churches and the rural churchyards. The fifth day ends with a moleben at the spring of St. Irinarkh in the village of Kondakovo.
Photos by Ekaterina Elizarova