St Dionysius of Radonezh, in the world David Zobninovsky, was born about 1570 in the city of Rzhev. A novice, and then head of the Staritsky Dormition monastery, during the Time of Troubles he was the foremost helper of St Hermogenes, Patriarch of Moscow.
From 1611, St Dionysius was archimandrite of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra. Under his administration, a house and hospice for the injured and those left homeless during the Polish-Lithuanian incursion was opened near the monastery. During a famine, he told the brethren of the Lavra to eat oat bread and water, leaving the wheat and the rye bread for the sick. In 1611-1612, he and the steward of the Trinity-Sergiev monastery, the monk Abraham Palitsyn (+ 1625), wrote letters asking the people of Nizhni-Novgorod and other cities to send fighting men and money to liberate Moscow from the Poles. He also wrote to Prince Demetrius Pozharsky and to all the military people, urging them to hasten the campaign for Moscow.
His monastic training helped St Dionysius to maintain his own inner light undiminished during the terrible years of this evil time. The saint achieved a high degree of spiritual pefection through unceasing prayer, which gave him the gift of working miracles. He carefully concealed his spiritual life from other people, who might suffer harm from a superficial knowledge of it.
“Do not ask a monk about things concerning his monastic life,” said St Dionysius, “since for us monks, it is a great misfortune to reveal such secrets to laymen. It is written that what is done in secret should not be known, even by your own left hand. We must hide ourselves, so that what we do remains unknown, lest the devil lead us into all manner of negligence and indolence.”
We can only measure his spiritual development, and the knowledge of God which he attained, by those things which became apparent when circumstances compelled St Dionysius to take an active part in the life of the world around him.
One such circumstance was his involvement in the revision of the service books. In 1616 St Dionysius spoke of work on correction of the Book of Needs by comparing it with the ancient Slavonic manuscripts and various Greek editions.
During their work, investigators discovered discrepancies in other books edited in the period between patriarchs (1612-1619). People did not understand what the editors were doing, so they accused St Dionysius and the others of heresy at a Council of 1618.
Deposed from his priestly rank and excommunicated from the Church, he was imprisoned in the Novospassky (New Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior) monastery, where they wanted to kill him by starvation. The intervention of Patriarch Philaretos of Moscow and Patriarch Theophanes of Jerusalem (1619-1633) won his release in 1619, and he was cleared of the charges against him.
St Dionysius was known for his strict observance of the monastery Rule, for sharing in monastery tasks and in the rebuilding of the monastery after the siege of the Lavra. The Life and Canon to the saint was composed by the Trinity-Sergiev monastery steward Simon Azaryn and augmented by the priest John Nasedka, a coworker of St Dionysius when he was correcting the service books.
St Dionysius reposed on May 12, 1633 and was buried in the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra.