Saint Macarius of Kalyazin (in the world Matthew) was born in 1400 in the village of Gribkovo (Kozhino), near the city of Kashin, into the family of the boyar Basil Kozha. From youth he yearned for monasticism, but he married at the insistence of his parents.
After a year his parents died, and after three more years his wife Elena also reposed. Having nothing to bind him to his former life, Matthew became a monk at the Nikolaev Klobukov monastery. Desiring solitude, he left the city monastery with the abbot’s blessing, and he found a suitable place between two lakes, eighteen versts from Kashin. Here the monk raised a cross and founded a solitary wilderness monastery.
The boyar Ivan Kolyaga, to whom the nearby lands belonged, began to fear that a monastery would grow up there, and that monks would begin to cultivate the wastelands. The Enemy of our salvation planted such spite and enmity in the boyar, that he decided to kill the saint. Suddenly, he was stricken with a grievous illness. Fear of death awakened repentance in the boyar. Ivan Kolyaga was carried to the saint and told him of his evil intent, asking forgiveness.
“God forgive you”, the humble ascetic replied. Wishing to expiate his sin and to help the saint, the boyar gave his lands to the growing monastery. The monks built a temple dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. Word of the boyar Kolyaga’s conversion brought many people to the monk, seeking salvation. St Macarius tonsured Kolyaga and named the monastery Kalyazin for him.
It became necessary to choose an igumen. St Macarius was then fifty-three years of age, but he considered himself unworthy of this dignity and he asked each of the older men coming to him to become the monastery’s priest and igumen. Yielding to the common will, the saint was made igumen by Bishop Moses of Tver.* The new igumen prepared for his first service at the altar of God with long solitary prayer, and then communed all the brethren with the Holy Mysteries.
In the rank of igumen, St Macarius labored to guide the brethren. The monastery had two chalices, a diskos and two plates fashioned by St Macarius on a lathe. He guided not only the monks, but also laypeople coming to the monastery, dealing with both the educated and the simple.
Despite his noble origin and his position of igumen, the saint wore ragged, frayed and patched clothing. In his conduct and his way of life St Macarius was so simple that the haughty heretic Vassian, sneeringly called him the “peasant of Kalyazin.” The saint preferred to hear himself mocked rather than praised. He went to solitary places, delighted to be alone with nature. Wild animals, sensing his holiness, walked with him like sheep, they submitted to him, and sometimes took food from him.
The spiritual stature of St Macarius was close to the spiritual stature of St Paphnutius of Borov (May 1, 1477). Not by chance did St Paphnutius’ disciple, St Joseph of Volokolamsk (September 9, 1515), visit St Macarius in 1478 and write down his impressions of him: “When I arrived at this place,” said St Macarius, “seven Elders came with me from the monastery of Klobukov. They were so excellent in virtues, fasting and monastic life, that all the brethren came to them to receive instruction and benefit. They enlightened all and taught them for their benefit. They affirmed the virtuous life, and censured those inclined to misconduct, and neither did they seek to do their own will.”
Though the humble igumen was silent about his own efforts, they were not hidden from St Joseph. Perceiving the holiness of the igumen, he accounted him blessed and spoke about the life of the monastery: “Such piety and decorum were in that monastery, where everything was done in harmony with the patristic and communal traditions, that even the great Elder Metrophanes Byvaltsev was amazed. He had just come from Mount Athos, where he spent nine years, and said to the brethren: “My efforts and my journey to the Holy Mountain were in vain, because one can find salvation in the Kalyazin monastery. Life here is similar to life in the cenobitic monasteries of the Holy Mountain.”
From the moment St Macarius settled in the wilderness, he did not abandon his strict Rule because of old age. Even during his lifetime the saint repeatedly healed the paralyzed and the demon-possessed.
The saint reposed on March 17, 1483. At the time of his death they found heavy chains on him, about which no one knew. The incorrupt relics of St Macarius were uncovered on May 26, 1521 when ditches were dug for a new church. A Council of 1547 established his local festal celebration.
* The successor of Bishop Moses was St Macarius’ brother, Bishop Gennadius (Kozhin) (1460-1477). The nephew of St Macarius, St Paisius of Uglich (January 8 and June 6) was also famed for his sanctity. The Kalyazin monastery had a collection of the sermons of St Gregory the Theologian, which St Macarius had copied in his own hand.