Tikhon of Zadonsk

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TIKHON OF ZADONSK (Timofei Savelich Sokolov, or Sokolovskii; 17241783), Russian Orthodox bishop and saint. Son of a church reader in the Novgorod province of Russia, the young Sokolov spent his youth in poverty. After graduating from the Novgorod seminary in 1754, he taught Greek and rhetoric until his monastic tonsure and priestly ordination in 1758, when he received the name Tikhon. Having held several academic positions, Tikhon was consecrated suffragan bishop in the Novgorod diocese in 1761 and became bishop of Voronezh in 1763. He retired from episcopal service in 1767 and finally settled in 1769 in the Zadonsk Monastery (hence his popular appellation), where he lived until his death. He was canonized a saint of the Russian Orthodox church on August 13, 1860.

Tikhon surrendered his episcopal ministry for reasons of ill health, probably emotional as well as physical. He was a high-strung person, radically committed to his pastoral work and greatly frustrated in his activities by the ecclesiastical and secular conditions of the imperial Russia of his time. In monastic solitude Tikhon lived a life of continual prayer, reading the Bible (in particular the Gospels, Psalms, and Prophets, especially Isaiah ), as well as the Fathers and saints of the Orthodox church (particularly Chrysostom). He also read Western Christian literature and was particularly interested in the books of the Anglican bishop Joseph Hall and the German Pietist Johannes Arndt, in imitation of whom he wrote his most famous works, A Spiritual Treasure Collected from the World and On True Christianity. The collected works of Tikhon are in five volumes, including letters, sermons, and instructions of various sorts written mostly for seminarians, pastors, and monastics.

Tikhon regularly attended liturgical church services in the monastery and always participated in the sacraments, but he celebrated in his episcopal rank only at the matins of Christmas and Easter. In his everyday life he practiced great simplicity and poverty. He rarely met with people, particularly those of rank and wealth, and found communication generally very difficult. He did speak with peasants and beggars, however, giving them money, food, and counsel, and he frequently visited prisoners and criminals.

Tikhon was of melancholy spirit until the end of his life, frequently despondent and depressed. He was much given to prayerful lamentation and often wept over the state of the church and the world, particularly within the Russian empire. Even during church services he could be heard weeping and begging God for forgiveness and mercy. His main visual aids to devotion in his monastic cell were not classical Orthodox icons, but Western pictures portraying the passion of Christ in realistic form. Tikhon's life and works had great impact upon subsequent generations in the Russian church, particularly upon intellectuals such as Fedor Dostoevskii, who used Tikhon as a model for figures in his novels, and Bishop Feofan Govorov, known as Feofan the Recluse.


Numerous editions of Tikhon of Zadonsk's many writings, sermons, and letters were made in nineteenth-century Russia, mostly by the official synodal press in Saint Petersburg. None of Tikhon's major works exists in entirety in any other language but Russian. Extracts of his writings can be found in such works as G. P. Fedotov's A Treasury of Russian Spirituality (1950; reprint, Belmont, Mass., 1975). The definitive work on Tikhon in English is Nadejda Gorodetzky's Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, Inspirer of Dostoevsky (1951; reprint, Crestwood, N.Y., 1976). This work contains many long quotations from Tikhon's writings as well as an exhaustive bibliography of writings concerning the man, his life, times, and works.

Thomas Hopko (1987)