Saint Abramius of Smolensk, a preacher of repentance and the Dread Last Judgment, was born in the mid-twelfth century at Smolensk of rich parents, who had twelve daughters before him, and they begged God for a son.
From childhood he grew up in the fear of God, he was often in church and had the opportunity to read books. The parents hoped that their only son would enter into marriage and continue their illustrious lineage, but he sought a different life. After the death of his parents, having given away all his wealth to monasteries, to churches and to the destitute, the saint walked through the city in rags, asking God to show him the way to salvation.
He was tonsured in the monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos, five versts from Smolensk, at Selischa. Having passed through various obediences there, the monk fervently occupied himself with copying books, culling spiritual riches from them. The Smolensk prince Roman Rostislavich (+ 1170) started a school in the city, in which they taught not only in Slavonic, but also from Greek and Latin books. The Prince himself had a large collection of books, which St Abramius used. He had struggled for more than 30 years at the monastery, when in the year 1198 the igumen persuaded him to accept the dignity of presbyter. Every day he served the Divine Liturgy and fulfilled the obedience of clergy not only for the brethren, but also for the laity.
Soon the monk became widely known. This aroused the envy of the brethren, and then of the igumen also, and five years later, the monk was compelled to transfer to the Exaltation of the Cross monastery in Smolensk itself. With offerings from the devout, he embellished the cathedral church of the poor monastery with icons, and with curtains and candle-stands. He himself painted two icons on themes which most concerned him. On one he depicted the Dread Last judgment, and on the other the suffering of the trials of life. Lean and pale from extreme toil, in priestly garb the ascetic resembled St Basil the Great in appearance. The saint was strict both towards himself, and towards his spiritual children. He preached constantly in church and to those coming to him in his cell, conversing with rich and poor alike.
The city notables and the clergy demanded that Bishop Ignatius bring the monk to trial, accusing him of seducing women and tempting his spiritual children. But even more terrible were the accusations of heresy and the reading of forbidden books. For this they proposed to drown or burn the ascetic. At the trial by the Prince and the Bishop, the saint answered all the false accusations. Despite this, they forbade him to serve as a priest and returned him to his former monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos . A terrible drought occurred in consequence of God’s wrath over the unjust sentence, and only when St Ignatius pardoned St Abramius, permitting him to serve and preach, did the rain again fall on Smolensk.
The bishop St Ignatius built a new monastery, in honor of the Placing of the Robe of the Most Holy Theotokos, and he entrusted the guidance of it to St Abramius, and he himself settled into it, retiring from the diocese because of age. Many wished to enter under the guidance of St Abramius, but he examined them very intensely and only after great investigation, so at his monastery there were only seventeen brethren. St Abramius, after the death of St Ignatius, having become his spiritual friend, urged the brethren, more than before, to think about death and to pray day and night, that they be not condemned in the Judgment by God.
St Abramius died after the year 1224, having spent 50 years in monasticism. Already at the end of the thirteenth century a service had been compiled to him, together with his disciple St Ephraim. The terrible Mongol-Tatar invasion, seen as the wrath of God for the nation’s sins, not only did not stifle the memory of St Abramius of Smolensk, but rather was a reminder to people of his calling to repentance and recollection of the dread Last Judgment.