Venerable Jonah (John) of the Pskov Caves

Saints Jonah, Mark and Bassa are venerated as the founders of the Pskov Caves monastery.

The priest John (nicknamed “Shestnik”) came to this holy spot, where the first ascetics prayed. He was a native of “the Moscow lands” and served as priest at Iuriev (now Tartu) in “a right-believing church, established by people from Pskov” and dedicated to St Nicholas and the Great Martyr George. He and the priest Isidore spiritually nourished the Russians living there.

In 1470, Father John was compelled to flee to Pskov with his family because of persecution by the German Catholics. When he learned of the martyric death of St Isidore (January 8), Father John decided to settle in the newly-appeared “cave built by God,” so that there, on the very boundary with the Livonians, he might found a monastery as an outpost of Orthodoxy.

Soon his wife fell ill and died after receiving monastic tonsure with the name Bassa. Her righteousness was evidenced immediately after her death. Her husband and her spiritual Father buried St Bassa (March 19) in the wall of “the cave built by God,” but at night her coffin was “taken from the ground by an invisible power of God.”

Father John and St Bassa’s Father Confessor were upset, thinking that this had occurred because they had not done the complete Service for the Departed. So they sang the funeral service a second time, and they buried the body again. In the morning, however, it was found above ground. Then it was clear that this was a sign from God, so they dug St Bassa’s grave on the left side of the cave. Shaken by the miracle, John became a monk with the name Jonah and devoted himself even more fervently to spiritual struggles.

He dug out the cave church and built two cells on pillars, then petitioned the clergy of the Pskov Trinity cathedral to consecrate it, but they decided not to do so at the time “because of its unusual location.” Then St Jonah sought the blessing of Archbishop Theophilus of Novgorod.

On August 15, 1473 the cave church was consecrated in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. During the consecration there was a miracle from an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos: a blind woman “sent by the merciful God, beginning His great gifts to His All-Pure Mother” received her sight (This icon, which they call the “old” to distinguish it from another wonderworking icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos with scenes of Her life around the borders, was painted around 1421 by the Pskov iconographer Alexis Maly, and is now kept in the altar of the Dormition church. The icon with scenes around the border is the Cave church’s patronal icon).

The date of the consecration of the cave church is regarded as the official date of the founding of the Pskov Caves monastery. St Jonah labored at the Cave monastery until 1480, then peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. Upon his death they discovered a chain mail coat on his body. This was hung over his grave as a sign of his secret asceticism, but it was stolen during a German invasion.

The relics of St Jonah rest in the Caves beside the relics of the Elder Mark and St Bassa. Once, when the monastery was besieged, the Livonian knights wanted to open the lid of St Bassa’s coffin with a sword, but fire spurted forth from the coffin. Traces of this punishing fire may still be seen on the coffin of St Bassa.