Born half-blind, Luke, the fifth child in the family of Mikhei and Vassa Polyakov, was endowed with a special gift of foresight and a kind heart since his childhood: he took upon himself all the transgressions of other village boys out of pity.
Luke was a simple village boy, a shepherd; he could not read but loved divine services. He would often leave his flock and go to church for prayer. People used to say that God himself was herding his flock – the herd never left the pasture, and when it was time to return, the cows would gather in groups and follow the shepherd.
Luke chooses Krypetsky Monastery, possibly because of the remoteness and the stringency of its charter, or maybe out of a special love for the Evangelist John the Theologian. It was located in the forests and swamps of Pskov land. The monastery was founded by St. Savva Krypetsky according to the model set by the monasteries of the Holy Mount Athos.
The future Monk Cornelius did not even have his own cell, so he had to sleep elsewhere. His obedience was familiar to him – he had to herd the monastery cattle, and he had plenty of time to pray and stay in seclusion.
There was a certain story worth mentioning in regard to this obedience: one day Luke took the cows out of the cowshed, and the route to the pasture was a narrow path that ran past the croplands. One would naturally expect the cows to be seduced by the crops and to scatter apart. The hegumen said, “Don’t do anything, let’s see what happens.” The cows went in a row on the narrow strip of land without touching the crops. It could only be explained by the grace of God resting on the shepherd.
A couple of years later, Luke was tonsured as a monk in honor of the Hieromartyr Cornelius the Centurion, and received an even more difficult obedience: raising funds for the monastery. The hegumen noted not only Father Cornelius’ gentleness and meekness, but also his exceptional honesty, so he sent him to collect donations. Indeed, each time he would collect more than all other monks who had the same obedience. His methods of fundraising were special, too. A woman who knew Father Cornelius recounted, “There were times when he would come to the Talab Islands, sit in some hut under the icons and start praying for the dead. He’d list all of them. How did he even know all those names? Well, the fishermen would bring him donations as a reward. He didn’t even have to walk around, they’d bring him everything themselves.”
This obedience was very difficult for the monk, but the entire life of people was opened to him in every detail, and his heart was filled with pity and compassion. The Orthodox people always respond to love with love. It was after Father Cornelius’ obedience in the world that many people who knew him began coming to the monastery.
People were also impressed by his unique integrity: he did not spend a penny on himself, even on bread, and patiently waited for someone to offer him food. He never disdained anybody; he was hospitable and patient with everybody.
The elder had the gift of courageous prayer to the Lord. One peasant woman told how the blessed monk healed a blind girl. “He took her by the hand and led her to the lake, washing her eyes with water from the lake. The blessed elder said, “This is holy water!” The next morning the girl was able to see again. She attended a moleben to St. Savva Krypetsky and returned home in good health.”
Hieromonk Julian told how through the prayers of Father Cornelius the Krypetsky Monastery was spared from a natural disaster. One day, the elder told him, still a novice, “Ivanushka, when you ring for the Vespers on a certain day (exactly two weeks later) and give the priest a censer on Lord I have cried, come to me immediately.”
After leaving the church on the appointed day and on his way to Father Cornelius, the novice saw that an immense storm cloud covered the monastery. Father Cornelius was standing up in prayer in full monastic attire and said:
– The Lord wants to punish us for our sins. Stand with me and pray that the Lord may pardon our monastery.
When they prayed, there was such a terrible crack of thunder that it seemed that everything in the monastery was destroyed. Father Cornelius stopped praying and said:
– Thank God! The Lord has pardoned our monastery. Ivanushka, go to the cattle yard. Look what happened there…
Five huge birch trees in the cattle yard were split into tiny chips by the lightning. The novice went back to Father Cornelius and told him what he had seen.
“This blow was directed at the monastery, but for the sake of our prayers the Lord took pity on our monastery,” the elder said quietly.
The holy elder also predicted his death (December 28, 1903). He predicted that he would not be buried immediately and that they would bury him incorrectly – facing north and not east, as is the rule, which would be followed by calamities for the country (indeed, there were two wars, a revolution and several other wars), and all the troubles of the country would end when the mistake was corrected. Several attempts were made to correct the mistake and re-bury the elder’s coffin in different years (in 1913, 1918, 1943), but, due to particular circumstances, it never happened.
It was not until the summer of 1997 that it became possible to open the elder’s grave, in which the blessed relics of the saint were found. His canonization took place on January 10, 2000. The record of miracles that take place through prayers to Saint Cornelius Krypetsky continues to this day, and the monastery itself has become a famous pilgrimage site for people from various countries.