In memory of Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov)
Protodeacon Joseph Jarostchuk

The beginning of this year marked the 120th anniversary of the birth of Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov), the famous iconographer of all the Russian diaspora. For one of the oldest protodeacons of ROCOR, Joseph Jarostchuk, he replaced his own father, who had passed away early, and for his sons, a grandfather. Fr Joseph shared his memories of this remarkable ascetic of the Russian Church.

Father Cyprian played a very important role in my life, and I am very grateful to him. He helped us raise our children. When someone tells me that my wife and I are good and well-mannered people, I don't feel my merit in this – it's all Father Kyprian. They went to him to confess, he received them, sometimes punished them, and always watched their upbringing very closely.

He replaced my father, who passed away early. He grew up in Belarus at a monastery, loved church singing very much, and was a believer. When we moved to Morocco after the war, he became a choir director in the church, but then he gave up his job to a man with a professional education, and he went to work in construction. Once, while working, he fell from a great height and injured his spine, after which he died soon after, at the age of only 39.

There were people who helped our family move from Morocco to America. My mother, two other brothers, and I moved into a small apartment in New York City because everything was expensive. My mother was hired to work in a garment factory, she had a small income. On the advice of a priest she knew, she sent me and another brother, Nicholas, to Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, so that we could attend an American school nearby.

So in 1958 I found myself in our “Lavra Abroad.” The first person my brother and I met there was Father Kyprian, who was doing his obedience in the kitchen at that time. The meal was already over, but he fed us and gave us a bowl of soup. Then he looked at us and said in a voice that seemed stern to me: "Rest for an hour, and then I will come to you."

When he came to our room, he warned: "We don't accept people being lazy here. You need to perform various obediences, provide help, there is a lot of work." Then we went into the woods with him. There were withered branches on the trees below, and he gave us hatchets and a saw and asked us to cut them off. And he left.

My brother and I worked. Then we hear the ringing of bells – vespers has already begun in the monastery, but we continue to cut branches. At about six o'clock in the evening, the bell rang again, when the prayer "More honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond comparison than the Seraphim..." It was autumn, at the end of September, and it was already getting dark. Suddenly, we heard footsteps and Father Cyprian's voice, a little grumpy: "Didn't you hear the bells ringing? But then the priest smiled: "I see that you are good guys, you have done a good job."

He took us to his cell and fried mushrooms, which he loved to pick, fed us and told us about the rules of monastic life. From then on, Father Cyprian became my spiritual father, gave me instructions, I came to him for conversations, confessed to him, and somehow became very attached to him, he became like a second father to me.

In a spiritual sense, Father Cyprian helped me a lot. My passions were raging, and he somehow understood it. A lot of people thought he was strict, but I felt a lot of love for him. One case was very striking. My brother Nikolai and I were going home to New York for the holidays, and Father Cyprian came to see us off and suddenly gave me $20: "This is for a treat for you, but not for cigarettes." Then I saw tears in his eyes: "Father Cyprian, have I offended you in any way?" I understand how difficult it is for mothers to send their children somewhere far away." I felt his great love then.

In fact, I am very grateful to him for his support, without which I might not have been able to stay in the monastery. I was a pretty rambunctious young man, I always wanted to go for a walk. Although I loved the church, I did not feel the desire to follow the spiritual path. He understood everything well and instilled many things in me. Over time, this attitude was transferred to my children, who confessed to him, and spiritual communication with him gave them a lot.

Father was also directly involved in the creation of my own family. At the beginning of my seminary studies, I met a beautiful girl named Irene, who came from Albany, New York. Of course, many in Jordanville knew her well and thought she would make a good mother. True, at that time I did not even think about following the spiritual line and somehow I was even afraid of it. I thought: "How am I, a sinner, going to become a priest?" I had my weaknesses, I still dabbled in tobacco and smoked furtively, for which Father Cyprian sometimes punished me.

Many seminarians were interested in Irina. But it helped that in the convent we shared a room with her brother. When I went home to New York for the holidays, he invited me to stay with him in Albany. His mom took a liking to me, even bought me a jacket and coat, because we lived poorly, and I wore my dad's old clothes, which were already out of fashion.

I had always dreamed of finding myself a beautiful Russian girl, like in fairy tales. Ira and I started talking. One day I asked, "You must be thinking of a seminarian, a future priest?" I took her to the movies, and after that, our love began to grow.

One day Father Cyprian came into my room while I was writing a letter. He asked whom. And I didn't write Russian well, because I didn't study Russian grammar at school, and I ended up with "Dear Iryna." Father Cyprian asked who she was, and I told him about the girl I loved. After my story, he understood me and took part in it.

When Father Cyprian went to paint icons, he sometimes took me with him to help, for example, by painting the background. We drove to Albany and picked up Irina. Her mother, of course, was embarrassed, and the priest told her: "Don't you trust me? She's coming with me, I'll keep an eye on her."

Her mother was a little afraid that Irina would marry me, because she knew that I was a little frivolous, a smoker. But Father Cyprian told Irina: "Don't interfere in this, God connects us." He told my mom the same thing.

Later, when he stayed at our home in Utica, he often talked with Irina. For example, he would flip through American magazines and say, "Well, what are you reading? Look at the cover." She answered: "Father Kyprian, don't judge by the cover, I read articles that can be useful, for example, about health or fashion." He consented.

When Irina and I had our first child, Ilya, Father Cyprian himself offered to baptize him. We arrived at the monastery, and during the baptism he immersed Ilya in the font completely. The first time he dipped it and picked him up – everything was fine. The second time, too. And on the third time he took his hands out of the water – and the child was not there! Of course, he caught it right away, but this episode left a certain imprint on Ilya: unlike our other children, he had a slight fear of the sea as a child. But then my son didn't even squeak, and we didn't have time to get scared, everything happened so quickly. In this way, he was completely immersed in the hot tub.

After that, Father Cyprian no longer baptized young children, he decided to leave this to the more experienced parish priests. But my younger sons and daughter, as well as the eldest, all went to him for confession and spiritual guidance.

One day the boys did something wrong, and he imposed upon them a thousand prostrations. There they were, puffing, trying to do all of them at once, in one day.

I asked what was wrong, but the guys didn't tell me. Then I went up to Father Cyprian and said, "Do you understand what it means to make a thousand bows?" And he saw how the boys lifted weights during training, and he tried to do the same himself, but he could not even move this weight. And he answered me: "If they are able to lift such weights, then a thousand prostrations for the sin they have committed are nothing at all, it will be useful." And I still don't know what they did there.

When they began to build a church in Utica, Father Cyprian took it upon himself to paint it. My eldest son, Ilya, played a big role in this. He watched how one priest painted the cathedral in San Francisco, as well as the monastery in Jordanville, and now he asked him to do the same. Father Cyprian asked, "Do you know what kind of work this is?" We began to help him make ornaments and draw stars. The kids would come home every night after school, he would mix paints for them, and the kids would work. Everything was going well, and Father Cyprian, looking at them, was also inspired, and sometimes talked to them. This went on for about two months, and all that time he lived at our house, and then he often visited.

Father Cyprian never pushed me to spiritual service. For example, Vladyka Averky (Taushev) often said, "Joseph, it's time to serve God." They say the Lord gave me a voice, people liked the way I read and sang in the choir, but I wasn't going to do any of that myself. But it so happened that my wife's brother Vasily got into Vietnam during the war, and they were hit there very badly.

We even hid all this from Irina's mother so that she wouldn't worry. Finally, I went to Father Kyprian and said, "We are very worried about Vasya. Will I do the right thing if I take the diaconate, if God saves his life?" He immediately blessed me, and I was ordained.

Father Cyprian did not tell me much about his life, but showed me photographs, of which there were many. His family was quite large, not exactly rich, but they lived quite well.

At one time in France, he, like me, dabbled in tobacco in his youth and told how he suffered from it, saying that he understood me very well. But his confessor simply forbade him and said: "You no longer have the right to smoke." He held out for the duration of the fast, and then he couldn't stand it anymore and took the cigarette again. But then he started to feel nauseous, and he quit ever since.

Then I asked him: "Will you also tell me to give up smoking immediately?" – "No," he said, "you are weaker, I can't tell you that, you pray about it, and I will pray too." He understood that smoking was a sin and a weakness, but he didn't particularly insist that I quit, and he didn't even punish me in any way. Apparently, he felt my character and knew that it would not be so easy for me to do this.

On the other hand, he used to punish me if I was too lazy to go to church. He gave me the obedience to participate in the services. Sometimes he asked to clean his cell. In addition, I helped him paint our Utica church and the main temple in Jordanville. When he made an image of the Holy Trinity above the entrance, he instructed me to prepare the backgrounds and greatly appreciated my help, showing me what to do. For example, painted the brown background or drew the stones that are depicted on the icon.

I didn't feel any difficulty in helping Father Kyprian with the painting. I was interested, and I knew it was important to him, because I saw how much work it was tiring him, especially at his advanced age, when he had to run up and down the scaffolding.

One day, when he was no longer young, an interesting incident occurred. A parishioner who sometimes brought him cabbage pies once said, "Oh, Father Kyprian, you have the energy of a bunny." He answered, "Does a bunny run around on the scaffolding?"

What was his talent as an iconographer? He had his own special style, unlike the others. In his icons, for example, there was not such austerity as the Greeks, or any special beauty like that of other masters. But there was something unique that belonged only to him. I believe it is a gift from God.

Sometimes he made mistakes. I remember once he was painting the hand of a saint and accidentally gave him six fingers. I had to fix it. He did not delve into the details as deeply as, for example, one of his best students, Vladyka Alypy (Gamanovich). Everything was delicate and neat, while Father Cyprian did it with broad strokes. But his manner turned out to be unique, and many of those who studied with him adopted this style.

Fr Cyprian was very seriously ill for a long time, and we prayed that the Lord would ease his suffering and take him to Himself as soon as possible. In the end, he was left bereft of speech: he tried to say something, but only individual sounds came out. It was obvious that he was worried about it, sometimes even tears came to his eyes. Sometimes the priest looked at the ceiling and moved his right hand, as if he were painting something. I came to him, told him about his life, asked him for his blessing. He raised his hand, but he couldn't even make the sign of the cross over me, I just kissed it.

I am almost certain that Father Cyprian was vouchsafed the Kingdom of Heaven. He was a monk to the depths of his soul, he did not spare himself, he did not miss a single service, and he always said that God and the Church are the most important things. He helped keep us from sin.

Now I feel his prayerful presence all the time. When I came to the monastery, I always went to his grave and lit candles. I feel that he is still praying for us. I especially ask for the children: "Father Cyprian, you loved them, you confessed them, do not leave them, pray to God for them." Sometimes problems arise, but then everything comes together in some way, and I feel that it happens at his request. His prayers for us get through, and I pray for him every day.

A few times I dreamt about him, but it wasn't anything special. At one moment it was as if he was serving the Liturgy, at another he stood on the sidelines. And once, when I was offended by someone, Father Cyprian said to me in a dream: "You pray to God."

20 February 2024
Recorded by Dmitry Zlodorev



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