“Fr Kyprian Died, and We Suddenly Got Gifts From Him!”
An unusual story from the life of the main icon-painter of the Russian diaspora.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Archimandrite Kyprian (Pyzhov). The main icon-painter of the Russian diaspora, he was a spiritual pillar of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. As His Grace Bishop Luke (Murianka), the current Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery in New York State, tells me, Fr Kyprian was a “second leader” of the community after Vladyka Laurus (Shkurla), and possessed so much authority that practically all the local seminarians chose him as their spiritual father.
Fr Kyprian, born Kirill Dmitrievich Pyzhov in the early 19th century in Imperial Russia, traveled a long path—literally, geographically and spiritually—and in an artistic sense: he worked through half of Europe and America, from painting beer halls to creating church frescoes.
As a young man, he joined the Volunteer (White) Army in Russia and went with it to Constantinople and later Bulgaria. He then moved to France, where the future archimandrite began to paint, decorating restaurants and even worked on a cinematic production of Don Quixoteñ with Feodor Chaliapine as the leading role. In Nice, France, he became the spiritual son of Fr Alexander Yelchaninov and studied icon-painting under his wife, Tamara Vladimiriovna.
Fr Kyprian’s tonsure took place in the renowned St Job of Pochaev Monastery in the Czechoslovakian town of Ladomirovo, where he began to paint church frescoes. After World War II, he and most of the brethren moved through Germany to Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville.
People who knew Fr Kyprian well would tell me that he was a man of profound faith, strong character, great austerity and yet tender love. Father could sternly rebuke his spiritual child for a sin, but always supported a person with a kind work or even a gift, explaining how he should have behaved in one situation or another.
For Reader Ilya Jarostchuk of Epiphany of the Lord Russian Orthodox Church in Boston, Fr Kyprian was like a family member. He baptized him as an infant, was the spiritual guide him, his parents and brothers. He even allowed him to help paint the Church of St John of Kronstadt in Ilya’s hometown of Utica, near Jordanville.
When Fr Kyprian departed to the other world, almost the entire Jarostchuk family traveled to the monastery for the burial. Ilya is convinced that they received mementos from him. One could consider it a coincidence, but in the lives of the faithful there are no coincidences.
“The day of Fr Kyprian’s funeral was special for all of us,” said Ilya. “My father, Protodeacon Joseph Jarostchuk, had been renovating the Utica church beforehand, and fell from a great height onto concrete, causing a severe spinal injury. For six months he was bedridden, and we didn’t know if he’d ever walk again. Fortunately, Papa recovered, and Fr Kyprian’s funeral was his first service since the fall.”
Ilya’s younger brother, Alexander, had not long before been ordained a deacon, and for him this was the first service as such in the main monastery of the Russian diaspora.
Ilya himself remembers thinking before the funeral which icon would be buried along with the most famous iconographer of the Russian emigration. Entering Holy Trinity Cathedral, he saw in Fr Kyprian’s hands an icon of a young woman saint whom he didn’t recognize. Peering closer, he read the inscription, realizing it was an icon of the Royal Passion-bearer Tatiana, daughter of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II.
Not long before this, Ilya had a daughter whom he named after the martyred Grand Duchess. “When I saw the icon, I felt that he had just given me a present, that he would support my daughter,” remembers Ilya.
It remained to be seen, of course, why this specific Royal Martyr was chosen, who was not at the time as venerated as today. One of the closest students of Fr Kyprian, Archbishop Alypy (Gamanovich), provided the answer during his eulogy. From the ambo, he recounted how the priest had resisted the idea of canonizing the Royal Family, and so could not bring himself to paint their icon. According to him, St Tatiana once appeared to Fr Kyprian and asked “Why do you doubt, and don’t recognize us? Do not fear, take upon yourself the painting of this icon.” After that, the iconographer changed his opinion towards the Royal Passion-Bearers and painted the requested icon.
Soon after Vladyka Alypy’s sermon, the procession of the cross began, and the open casket was taken outside.
“Then I thought,” said Ilya, “my father, my brother and I got gifts. What about Mama?”
Literally within seconds, a paper fell at the feet of Ilya and his mother—it was the prayer ribbon that was blown off of Fr Kyprian’s forehead. Ilya’s mother picked it up and asked what to do with it.
“Mama was upset, she thought to return the prayer ribbon to the priests, but I immediately realized what had just happened and said: ‘This is Fr Kyprian’s gift to you.’ No one bothered to look for it,” said Ilya. “When Fr Kyprian would come over for dinner, Mama would spend a lot of time with him and helped him a great deal. Maybe this sounds brazen, but I think that he wished to give her something personal, and right then, at the funeral, my thoughts were answered.”
Ilya later told his father about it, and the prayer ribbon is now kept among other heirlooms.
“I often think that Fr Kyprian is like our family’s guardian angel. You know, you reveal your sins to someone, and you feel ashamed,” admitted Ilya. “This feeling gave strength not to commit another sin again. Yes, he punished us for our sins, but he was always very loving.”