St. Amvrosy was born in 1812 to the pious Grenkov family and entered the Tambov clerical school at the age of twelve, then continuing on to the Tambov seminary. For a while he was a teacher in the Lipetsk clerical school but fled later to Optina Monastery in Kaluga of Central Russia to become a monk in 1839 at the age of 26. He knew several of the great elders of Optina Skete who were masters of the deepest Orthodox spiritual life, and through St. Paisius Velichkovsky’s disciples, had brought this life of silence, or the Hesychast life in its fullness, to the Russian land.
Elder Leonid took him under his expert tutelage and later he was guided by Elder Macarius after Elder Leonid’s repose. These years at Optina Skete were a great flowering of holiness. Ultimately 14 elders, who guided thousands of the faithful and monastics, were declared later to be saints, all in one place and at one short time. Elder Amvrosy became the elder par excellence of the Skete in 1860 and remained so until his death in 1891. His clairvoyant discernment, humor and wit, and profound spiritual guidance affected the lives of many thousands of the faithful.