August 13: Tikhon of Zadonsk

Sainted Tikhon (born Timofei) of Zadonsk, Bishop of Voronezh, was born in the year 1724 in the village of Korotska in Novgorod diocese, into the family of the cantor Savelii Kirillov. (A new family name -- Sokolov -- was given him afterwards by the head of the Novgorod seminary).

After the death of his father in early childhood Tikhon lived in such poverty that his mother was just barely able to make ends meet, so she gave him over for raising to a neighbour, a coachman. Tikhon went to work for a rich gardener digging the vegetable beds.

At thirteen, Tikhon was sent to a clergy school near the Novgorod archbishop's home, and, in 1740, he was accepted under a state grant set up for the Novgorod seminary. Tikhon excelled at his studies, and, upon finishing seminary in 1754, he became a teacher there, at first teaching the Greek language, and later teaching rhetoric [see Definitions, right] and philosophy.

In the year 1758, Tikhon accepted monastic tonsure and received his monastic name. In the same year, her was appointed prefect of the seminary.

In 1759, he was transferred to Tver', becoming the archimandrite [see Definitions, right] of the Zheltikov monastery. Later, he became rector of the Tver' seminary and at the same time head of the Otrocha monastery.

At Pascha in 1760, Tikhon was about to be transferred to the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra, when his name was drawn three times out of eight drawings during the selectioin of a Novogorod vicar-bishop. So, on 13 May 1761, he was ordained bishop of Keksgol'ma and Ladoga (the Novgorod diocese).

Coincidentally, on this same day the Tver' bishop, Athanasii, without knowing that Tikhon was being ordained, mentioned Tikhon at the Cherubimic hymn commemorations as bishop.

In 1763, Tikhon was transferred to the Voronezh cathedra-seat. For the next four and an half years while he directed the Voronezh diocese, Tikhon was an example to the diocese through his life, his pastoral guidance, and his writings. For clergy who were pastors, he wrote a series of books:

  • About the Seven Holy Sacramental-Mysteries
  • A Supplement to the Priestly Office
  • Concerning the Sacrament of Repentance
  • An Instruction Concerning the Making of Marriage

Tikhon considered it especially essential that each pastor have a copy of the New Testament, and the pastors should read it daily. In his Circular Letter he called on pastors to celebrate the sacraments with reverence, and with thought on God and love towards everyone. (The Guidances concerning the Proper Duties of Every Christian was repeatedly republished in Moscow and Petersburg during the 18th Century).

At Voronezh, Tikhon eradicated the celebration in honour of Yarilo--originally a solar springtime pagan god connected with the fertility of grain and cattle.

In the outlying districts where military units of the Don Cossacks were dispersed, he formed a missionary commission to restore sectarians to the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1765, Tikhon transformed the Voronezh Slavic-Latin school into a clergy seminary, invited experienced instructors from Kiev and Khar'khov, and designed the seminary's curriculum.

He exerted much attention and effort to build up both the churches and the school, and to guide and make pastors understand and be persuaded of the need for education.

In administering the vast diocese, Tikhon was unflagging in his efforts, and he often spent nights without sleep. However, in 1767, due to poor health, Tikhon gave up the running of the diocese and withdrew for rest to the Tolshevsk monastery, 40 versts from Voronezh.

In 1769, Tikhon transferred to the Bogoroditsk monastery in the city of Zadonsk. Having settled into this monastery, Tikhon became a great teacher of the Christian life.

With deep wisdom he set forth the ideal of true monasticism -- in his Rule of Monastic Living and his Guidances to Turn from the Vanity of the World, and in his own life he fulfilled this ideal.

He kept strictly to the directives of the Church, zealously (almost daily) he visited the temple of God, often he himself sang and read in the choir, and with time, out of humility, he stopped leading services and, instead, stood in the altar, reverently making the sign of the cross over himself.

He read often from the Lives of the Saints and the works of the holy fathers. The Psalter he knew by heart, and on journeys he usually read or sang psalms.

Eventually, Tikhon recovered his health and thought about returning to the Novgorod diocese, where the metropolitan [see Definitions, right] Gavriil had invited him to head the Iversk Vallaisk monastery. But when his cell-attendant mentioned this to the starets-elder [see Definitions, right] Aaron, Aaron declared: "Art thou mad? The Mother of God doth not direct him to move away from here."

The cell-attendant conveyed this response to Tikhon.

"If that be so," -- said Tikhon -- "I shall not move away from here" -- and he tore up the invitation.

Sometimes he journeyed off to the village of Lipovka, where he celebrated Divine services at the Bekhteev house. He also journeyed to the Tolshevsk monastery, which he loved for its solitude.

The fruition of all his spiritual life was the works, which Tikhon wrote while in retirement: The Spiritual Treasury, Gathered from the World (1770), and likewise About True Christianity (1776).

One time a fool named Kamenev struck Tikhon on the cheek and said: "Be not so haughty." Tikhon responded by feeding Kamenev every day.

Strict towards himself, Tikhon was indulgent towards others. One time, on the Friday before the feast of Palm Sunday, he entered the cell of his friend the schema-monk Mitrophan, and he saw Mitrophan at table together with Kozma Ignat'evich, of whom Tikhon was also fond. Althought the day was a day for fasting, on the table was fish. His friends became upset. But Tikhon said: "Sit down, for I know you, and love is higher than fasting."

He especially loved the common folk, and interceded on their behalf with landowners. All his pension and gifts from admirers he gave away to the poor.

By his deeds of self-denial and love of soul, Tikhon advanced in contemplation of Heaven and foresight of the future. In 1778, in a vivid dream he had this vision: the Mother of God stood in the clouds and around Her were the Apostles Peter and Paul; Tikhon himself on bended knees besought the All-Pure Virgin to continue showing mercy unto the world. The Apostle Paul loudly exclaimed: "When they speak peace together in affirmation, then will befall them unexpected universal destruction." Tikhon fell asleep in trembling and in tears.

In the following year he again saw the Mother of God in the air and around Her several personages; Tikhon fell down on his knees, and around him at his knees fell four vestments of white attire.

Tikhon petitioned the Mother of God for someone in particular, that they not be taken away from him, and She answered: "So be it at your request."

Tikhon also predicted the victory of Russia in the Fatherland War of 1812 [and graphics, here].

More than once, he was seen in spiritual rapture, with a transformed and luminous face, but he forbade anyone to speak about this.

For three years before his end he each day prayed: "Tell me, O Lord, of my end." And a quiet voice in the morning dawn exclaimed: "On a Sunday."

In that same year, he saw in a dream a beautiful ray of light and upon it wondrous palaces. He wanted to go inside the doors, but a voice said to him: "In three years you can enter herein, but for now work on."After this Tikhon secluded himself in his cell and admitted only but a few friends.

For his death, Tikhon readied both clothing and grave. A year and three months before his death in a vivid dream he saw himself standing in the monastery chapel-church and a priest acquaintance was carrying from the altar to the royal doors an image of the Divine Infant beneath a veil. Tikhon approached and started to kiss the Infant on the right cheek when he felt himself stricken on the left. Awakening, Tikhon sensed a numbness in his left cheek, his left leg, and a trembling in his left hand. He accepted this illness with joy.

Shortly before his death, Tikhon saw in a dream a high and twisting ladder and he heard a command to climb up upon it. He told his close friend Kozma, "I was. at first, afraid because of weakness. But when I started to go up, the people standing around the ladder helped me to go higher and higher to the very clouds."

"The ladder," he explained to Kozma, "is the pathway to the Heavenly Kingdom." Then, he said with tears: "I myself do think that the end is nigh."

Tikhon died, as revealed to him, on Sunday 13 August 1783.

Notes for this article:




Novgorod diocese
in Russian, but click on the pictures even if you don't understand the language

Novgorod seminary


Trinity-Sergiev Lavra

Voronezh diocese
again, in Russian, but click on the pictures even if you don't understand the language

photo tour

photo tour




Don Cossacks


Greek language

monastic tonsure

monastic names

Cherubimic hymn

scroll down the page

Russian Orthodox Church

Fatherland War of 1812

War of 1812 graphics


the study of the technique of using language effectively.

the head of a monastery or a group of monasteries.

Eastern Churches--the head of an ecclesiastical province, ranking between archbishop and patriarch.
Church of England--an archbishop.
Roman Catholic Church--an archbishop or bishop having authority in specific matters over the dioceses in his province.

a spiritual adviser