Saint Pitirim, Bishop of Tambov, in the world Procopius, was born 27 February 1645 (or 1644) in the city of Vyazma. From his youth, the Lord prepared Procopius for high spiritual service. While still a child, he learned reading and writing, attended church services, and acquired the habit of prayer. Procopius loved to read the writings of the holy Fathers and the Lives of the Saints. This furthered the future hierarch’s spiritual growth. The boy was remarkable for his overall love of work, broad knowledge and mature judgment. He was endowed with artistic talent, and he successfully occupied himself with the painting of icons and church singing. A sublime spiritual disposition led Procopius onto the pathway of monastic life. Having resolved to dedicate himself completely to God, he entered into the Vyazma’s monastery of St John the Baptist, known for its strict rule. When he was twenty-one, he was tonsured with the name of Pitirim.
The young monk earned the respect of his brethren by his ascetic life, and was chosen igumen. In 1684 he was raised to the dignity of archimandrite. St Pitirim, following the decree of the Tsar and the Patriarch, was diligent in removing “poorly executed,” westernized icons from churches, and from private use. During a procession he confiscated such an icon painted by an unskilled iconographer. Those who had brought the icon grumbled and cursed, and many people were stirred up against the saint. The affair became known to Patriarch Joachim, who praised the courage and zeal of Archimandrite Pitirim and approved of his actions, and summoned him to Moscow for higher service to the Church.
On September 1, 1684 St Pitirim was nominated to be a bishop, and on February 15, 1685 Patriarch Joachim consecrated him Bishop of Tambov. St Pitirim did not leave immediately, but remained in Moscow for a year to prepare himself for his new responsibilities.
Organized in 1682, the Tambov diocese suffered from the frontier poverty and the illiteracy of its inhabitants. Pagans comprised the greater part of the settlers: the Mordovians, the Cheremysi, the Mereschi. On the territory of the diocese lived also many Moslem Tatars, bitter opponents of Christianity. Among the Christian settlers of the diocese were many schismatics, fugitives from justice, or banished criminals.
The saint zealously devoted himself to the tasks set before him. On the site of the old wooden church at Tambov he began to build a two-story stone cathedral in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord with a chapel named for St Nicholas. St Pitirim not only supervised the construction of the temple, but even participated in the building work himself. The saint devoted great effort to the spiritual enlightenment of his flock. He built a special school for clergy, where worthy Church pastors were trained under his guidance. In his home the saint had collected a library of spiritual literature (in the inventory of the Moscow’s Dormition cathedral there are mentioned “two books of Dionysius the Areopagite, leather bound, one in red, the other in black, with gilt edges,” belonging to St Pitirim). The saint continually instructed his flock, preaching the Word of God. He often made trips throughout the diocese, in order to familiarize himself with the needs of the communities.
The holy archpastor was constantly concerned with the return of schismatics and dissenters to the Orthodox Church. His deep piety, active compassion towards neighbor, and wise patience in conversations with the schismatics and dissenters disposed them to trust his word. By the fine example of his holy life and by the power of grace-filled discourse, the saint led many to the true Faith. The saint’s sister, Katherine, became the first abbess of the Ascension women’s monastery, which he founded in 1690.
Being a bold man of prayer and intercessor before God, St Pitirim never lost his Christian humility. Not relying on his own human strength, the archpastor shielded the city of Tambov entrusted him by God with icons of the Savior and the Kazan Mother of God, placing them at the two chief gates.
St Pitirim prayed much and taught his flock about prayer. He was present at divine services every day and often served them himself. On those days when the saint did not serve, he sang in the kliros (choir), teaching the choir proper church singing and reading. In his cell the saint very often prayed before icons of the Devpeteruv Mother of God (February 29) and St Nicholas.
St Pitirim loved the beauty of nature in his land, which roused in him a feeling of prayerful thanksgiving to the All-Holy Trinity for the visible world. In the forest, near the place where he went for solitary prayer, he built the Tregulaev monastery of St John the Baptist. He founded it together with his spiritual friend, St Metrophanes of Voronezh (November 23 and August 7). There the saint set up a large wooden cross with an image of the Savior.
Like the great ascetics, St Pitirim allotted much time to physical work. The wells he dug with his own hands at the Tregulaev Monastery of St John the Baptist, near the Tambov Cathedral, and in the forest thicket where he withdrew for silence and prayer, are evidence of this.
St Pitirim died in 1698 at age fifty-three. The body of the saint was buried in the lower level of the Tambov Savior-Transfiguration cathedral, at the south wall of the right side chapel dedicated to St Nicholas.
The death of St Pitirim did not dissolve his spiritual ties with his flock. People came to his tomb to seek his intercession, and soon obtained healing from God. With each year the number of pilgrims grew. On July 28, the anniversary of the saint’s blessed repose, they would attend services at the Tambov cathedral. Each new sign of God’s mercy, obtained by prayers to St Pitirim, inspired assurance for the people that the bishop they venerated was truly a man of God. From the year 1819 a record of miracles and personal testimonies began to be kept, and the veneration of St Pitirim extended far beyond the Tambov diocese. On July 28, 1914 the holy wonderworker Pitirim, Bishop of Tambov, was numbered among the saints.