Kiev, March 4, 2020
While the holy Orthodox Church reveres many ancient ascetics—men of prayer and fasting—we shouldn’t think that such people belong only to the early centuries of the Church’s existence, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine explained in a sermon given on the second day of Lent.
While visiting the Holy Protection Monastery, the Ukrainian primate told about a monk he had personally known who subsisted on nothing but cabbage for 30 years.
“When we talk about fasting, we imagine some ancient times—ascetics in the desert, in caves, and other places… and we think that such people do not exist in our day,” His Beatitude began his story, “But I would like to say that this is not quite so. I have seen many men of fasting in my life, and I will tell you about one of them with whom I served. He is a priest.”
His Beatitude explains that he was appointed abbot of the Moscow representation monastery in the village of Lukino outside of Moscow in the mid-1980s, where 5 monks served.
“Desiring to regularize the life there, I decided to arrange one common meal for all the brothers. They spent the whole day at their obediences, in different places, and I decided we needed to gather all together at least once a day,” Met. Onuphry explained.
“There was one hieromonk there. We came to lunch, and I saw him carrying a plate of sour cabbage. This was in Great Lent. I asked him: ‘Don’t you eat what everyone is eating?’ (we had cooked some simple soup). ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘I have my own diet…’”
“And so until Pascha he would eat only a plate of cabbage and a piece of bread,” His Beatitude noted.
“The day of Pascha arrived. We tried: we had gotten more fish, eggs… And I saw this brother again bringing his plate of cabbage, and on top, three small chunks of bread. I said: ‘Fr. Vasily, what is this?’ and he responded: ‘I have some consolation today—it’s Pascha.’”
“Then the brothers told me that for 10 years he had eaten nothing but cabbage and bread,” the Ukrainian primate said, noting that the monk was thin but always lively and good natured—filled with spiritual optimism, never despondent, and never fighting with anyone. He was a modest monk and worked harder than all the rest, Met. Onuphry explained.
One time, Fr. Vasily even got pneumonia, and no matter how much the doctors tried to convince him that he needed to eat meat, he replied simply: “I won’t.”
He also refused to eat fish and caviar, despite the doctors’ attempts.
“And so, he didn’t eat anything else—cabbage, bread… For 30 years he ate only cabbage and bread. Thus he lived for many years. I remember him always be good-humored. Only in old age did he have some problems with his feet—he couldn’t walk well.”
“A man lived his whole life this way, and most people didn’t even know it,” His Beatitude commented.
Met. Onuphry stressed that there are not many such people, but the world leans on them. They are an example to us that nothing bad will happen if we go without something for a while. “You just have to be brave,” he said.
“May the Lord helps us, dear brothers and sisters, to at least somewhat force ourselves to have restraint in the fast, and that the spirit of repentance would come to us in this fast, that we might be able to amend our lives and worthily meet the great and bright feast of the Resurrection of Christ,” His Beatitude concluded.