Sunday, December 18, 2011

Saint Daniil the Hermit

Saint Daniil the Hermit (in Romanian, Daniil Sihastrul = also, the hesychast) was a Romanian hermit and the confessor of the voivode (prince) of Moldova, St. Stephen the Great (1457-1504).

Daniil the Hermit was born at the beginning of the 15th century, in a village near Rădăuţi, an important town in Northern Moldova, and received at baptism the name of Demetrius (Dimitrie). About his youth there’s not very much known, but it seems that he came from a simple family, having a simple education, without attending the great schools of his time. At 10 years he became an apprentice of St. Leontie, bishop of Rădăuţi. He received the tonsure as monk at the age of 16, being named David, at the Monastery of St. Nicholas in Rădăuţi.

After a while he left the citadine monastery and lived at the monastery of St. Lawrence, near the village of Vicovu de Sus, in the monutains of Bucovina. Being a solitary character, he needed always more quiet, so that he took the vowes of the so-called “great Skima”, receiving the name of Daniel. The Monastical tradition of the East provides two states for the monks, “the little Skima” being the simple form of the congregational monasticies, during the “big Skima” is reserved to the solitaries, “spiritually high levelled” monks, who live after that alone in the forests, caves or deserts.

As a hermit, he retired to a wooded hardly accessible area, in the valley of theViţău River, near the actual village of ​​Putna. In that place he found a rock, in which is believed that he carved a small chapel. This place, today a seat of pilgrimage, consists in the small chapel, and below it a room, carved also in stone, which served him as a cell. The simplicity of this place was amazing since there, but especially for the visitors today.

St. Daniil remained here for a while, and after the tradition, the prince Stephen the Great came here in 1451, after the assasinate of his father Bogdan II. The hermit Daniil prophesied that soon he will become ruler of Moldavia, which happened in 1457. The visits of Stephen continued for the rest of the earthly years of the saint, who became not only the confessor, but also the counselor of the prince.

At the advice of Daniil, Stephen built the greatest Monastery from Moldova, at Putna, 2 km away from the cell. The monastery was important in the next century, being the burial place of the prince and in the meantime, the symbol of the Romanian resistance during the 2-century Austrian occupation. After the building of the monastery (1470) the hermit Daniil moved away, in order to find his bothered silence, at Voroneţ, about 30 kilometers to the south, under the Falcon’s Rock (Stânca Şoimului).

In 1477 the Metropolitan Teoctist of Moldova died, and the prince together with the council of the coutry elected him as Moldova’s pastor. He refused, because he wanted to remain solitary at his Falcon’s Rock.

The Prince Stephen visited further the hermit, after his defeat at Războieni against the Turks in 1476, asking for advice.

After letting him to wait at his door, because “he was in the middle of a prayer”, Daniil “ordered” to the prince not to leave or give the country to the Turks, something that seemed impossible, foreseeing that he will finally prevail, what it really happened. In memory of this victory, Stephen built in 1488 the monastery of Voroneţ, dedicated to St. George, which was painted during the reign of his son, Petru Rareş. The beauty of the painting here and the famous image of the Final Judgement on the western external wall, made the monastery famous, being called today “the Sixtine Chapel” of the East.

After the consecration of the monastery, Daniel moved from his cell in the monastery, being named abbot. Here he spent the last years of his life.

He died in 1496 and was buried in the church of the Voroneţ monastery. On the tombstone, made at the command of Stephen, it is written: “This is the tomb of our father David, hermit Daniil”. His relics were worshipped openly until 1775, when they were placed in the grave, where they were from the beginning. Today it is kept separately the index finger, which the Abbot Gideon from the Monastery of Putna locked in a silver box, in 1749.

The importance of the Saint

Daniil the Hermit was one of the founders of the Hesychast movement in northern Moldova, having many disciples in the forests around Voronet and in the hermitages and monasteries in the area. Also he is important, because he encouraged Stephen the Great to fight against the Turks and to defend the Christianity, and also to build places of worship after every battle, in the memory of the ones dead on the fighting field.

Such as Prince Stephen is not holy because he raised 44 churches and monasteries, but because he resisted against the Turks, avoiding the danger of extinction of an entire Christian nation, similarly, Daniil is not a holy man only for his asceticism and for the guidance he gave to the monastic communities of the time. Especially Daniils holiness is respected because he “trained” a ruler to be faithful. Through him, prince Stephen was named as “athleta Christi” (“athlete of Christ”) by the Pope Sixtus IV. Daniel is the holy coach, the “shadow man” beyond the athlete.

St. Daniil was considered holy already during life, healing the sick, casting out demons and giving advices suffering. He was already depicted with the golden Aura (nimbus) of the saints, on the wall of the church at Voroneţ, only about 20 years of his death (in 1547 the church was painted), together with the one who ascended the metropolitan seat, Gregory Roşca.

Being always considered a saint, he was though officially canonized by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1992 under the name “The Pious St. Daniil the Hermit”. His day of celebration is 18 December, after some other saints with the same name, the prophet Daniel (17 December) and St. Daniel the Stylite (11 December).


Pious Father, God-bearer, Saint Daniil, you left the world and lived in a stone cell at Putna. The arrogant mind you humbled by temperance, the temptations you overcame with the true poverty, and through these you were an example to the monks, you searcher of the angelic life and lover of the desert lands. Ask Christ the God to save our souls!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, also for the additional comments made on what holyness means. It is so fascinating to rethink their lives as human beings devoted entirely to Christ our Lord.