At the Walls of the Church
- At the Walls of the Church
Segei Iosifovitch Fudel (1900 - 1977)
For some reason, I would like to begin my memoirs with the monastery.
I read some of the truest words about the monastery in the writings of
Gregory Skovoroda, a little-known 18th Century Russian philosopher. In one
of his letters, he said: “A monk is Christ’s disciple, in all things like
his Teacher. You will say that an Apostle is greater than a monk. I agree.
Yet only a monk can become an Apostle. One who exercises control over
himself is a monk. One who wins over others, becomes an Apostle. While
living in solitude, Christ was a monk.”
True monasticism is the eternally living, never ceasing, Christianity of
the early Church.
* * *
Nature, the countryside here [in the Zosima Hermitage �C Ed.] is unlike that
in Optina. Here, in the North, a spruce forest surrounds the monastery. It
is amazing how nature reveals itself to people when it is at the walls of
the church. One row of windows in the guesthouse opened onto the forest,
and I remember how in winter, you would open the wide ventilation pane and
apprehend the smell of snows among the spruce trees, and surrounding
unfathomable and unimaginable quiet. Everything alive, fresh and incorrupt
filled with the aroma of purity.
Wherever there are monks, true disciples of Christ, near them blossom the
most precious flowers of the earth; the warmest joy on earth is near their
Deception has always existed, but those stronger people who opposed it
always sought out, and always found, the true Church. They went to isolated
monasteries and into the forests, to [seek out] elders and fools for
Christ, to Amvrossy of Optina or to John of Kronstadt, to people who
possessed not only correct faith, but righteous life. In fact it is they,
whether living in city or desert, who are the true Church. As Fr. Valentin
Sventsitsky said, all manner of evil done by men who only consider
themselves to be part of the Church is evil and sin not of the Church, but
against the Church.
* * *
The Church can be neither socialist, nor capitalist, nor feudal. It can
only be the Church of God, and as it ceases to be only of God, it either
ceases to be the Church or is transformed from the Church of Christ to the
state church, regardless of the system or court under which it exists. It
is precisely this that is the secularization of the Church �C whether
capitalist, socialist or feudal, cujus regio eius religio: whoever rules,
his is the religion (Latin.). Secularization may be to various depths or
degrees, but its essence remains the same: substituting lack of faith for
faith, and sin for purity.
Our being in the Church is not by right: it is always a Miracle and an
* * *
The Church is the mystery of surmounting loneliness. That should be felt
with absolute reality, so that, when you are standing in church, only then
do you truly approach the walls of the Church of God. When the ray of love
had barely, but perceptibly, begun to melt the ice of loneliness, and you
are already unaware of what just before had been erecting barbed wire
around you: You notice neither the priest’s lack of faith (whether real or
only imagined), nor the anger of “rubric (obsessed) old ladies,” nor the
wild curiosity of two fellows who had wandered in, not the commercial
transactions being discussed at the candle stand. Through all of that, you
move toward someone whose soul is yet blinded, toward someone who perhaps
in a moment will hear better and more clearly than you the voice of Man and
God, the voice of Jesus Christ.
* * *
Evil has always existed within the boundaries of the Church alongside the
never-dying life of Christ’s Church. One should look upon this with eyes
wide open; one must always know that “the hand of him that betrayeth Me is
with Me on the table.” St. John Chrysostom was not afraid to recognize that
fact, and spoke of the spiritual disease afflicting his local Church. [St.]
John of Kronstadt said: “Not having recognized the spirit which kills, you
will not recognize the Life-giving Spirit. It is only by seeing the direct
contradictions between Good and Evil, life and death, that we will be able
to clearly distinguish the one from the other.”
For the Church, the times are such that it is especially important for
Christians to see clearly, so that they might “recognize the one and the
* * *
Only the Holy Church is the Church, but the reality of the Holy Church is a
mystery not fully open to us: With our eyes, we cannot plainly see the Body
of Christ. One could assert that to be in the Church, one must also be in
the Truth, in the Holy Things of God. However, we do not know who
actually is, or is not, in any given moment. It was for this reason that
the Lord said not to gather up the tares “lest while ye gather up the
tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.” This must be understood first
of all in the sense that now you and I, or she, are tares, and in an hour,
both you and I, and she, might become the wheat, or as Irenaeus of Lyon
said, “man himself is the reason that he sometimes becomes the wheat, and
sometimes the straw.” (Against the Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 4.)
* * *
Two boys, one about 6 years old, the other younger, entered a church. It
was obvious that the younger one had never been there, before, and that the
older one was acting as a tour guide. At the Crucifix, the younger one
froze and with eyes opened wide, he asked, “And why did this happen?” The
older one answered confidently, “That was for [speaking] the truth.”
However, we need to recognize the fact that the world is isolated from the
Church: we have no right not to know that the world does not want the
Church, that it opposes the Church. The Lord’s valedictory speech, recorded
by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John, is a Last Will and Testament. It
speaks of the Church as remaining in the world and as surrounded by the
world’s hatred and lack of faith.
“Even the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth
him not, neither knoweth him, but ye know him… (John 14: 17) “Yet a little
while, and the world seeth me no more, but ye see Me…” (Jn. 14: 19) “If ye
were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of
the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world
hateth you.” (Jn. 15: 19). “…ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall
rejoice…" (Jn 16: 20). “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of
good cheer; I have overcome the world." (Jn. 16: 33). The Lord was
victorious on the Cross through His love for that same world.
* * *
Sanctity is the reality of communion with the Holy Spirit. For this reason,
the whole question of the Church comes down to its sanctity, its being
filled with the Holy Spirit, the individuals of whom the Church consists,
being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Once the Church is not holy, it is no longer either One, or
Conciliar/Catholic, or Apostolic.
As we can see, the Church as embodied by Its representatives, is losing its
sanctity; man therefore believes in It less and less and It has less and
less meaning for the world. You cannot fool people with international
religious conferences, with their calls for social reforms or actions. In
his bitter history, he has already seen and heard too many learned
conferences, together with their wonderful programs. Man knows that only
God can save him �C save him through His Blood and His Power, which in
answer to that Blood, all people should have apprehended and received with
love and spiritual struggle. That is why it is so frightening to see
holiness become so scarce in the world and in the Church. The world does
not desire after either spiritual struggle or love.
When things are coming to a close, there will remain but “two or three”
whose sanctity remains unconquered. They will be the Church of Christ,
and the light of their sanctity will be such that it cannot be contained by
this history. That will be the end. Those “two” undefeated ones will show
that the Kingdom of God and the Will of God are accomplished on earth as in
Heaven, and that all mankind could have become as they are.
There exists customary, habitual faith and faith that is felt. We always
find it easier to remain in the first, no matter what our custom, whether
it be of a social or a rational nature, as among the sectarians. Custom
does not require anything spiritually difficult of us. A sensed faith
requires a life of spiritual struggle, works of love and humility. And only
that gives a sensation of the Church, something of which we have so awfully
little, something of which we often had not even heard. “What this about
sensing the Church! Is this perhaps even some kind of new sectarianism?”
It was but to this sensing of the reality of the Holy Church, to the
sensing of Its holy presence in history, that years of imprisonment and
exile brought many of us.
I remember one November morning in a prison cell in 1922. Sometimes, if the
snows have not yet covered the ground, November mornings are even darker
than December mornings. It is the loneliest time of the year, a time of
boredom for nature and for the heart. And on such mornings it is especially
difficult to get up. You open your eyes, and there is that same dusty
lightbulb which, by regulation, is left burning all night. Except for the
sound of a door slamming somewhere down below, it is still quiet in the
corridor. But I see that Fr. Valentin and Fr. Vasily are already getting
up, and suddenly, like a beam of light, a warm, triumphant thought breaks
through the wall of inner cold: Yes, today they are going to serve the
Liturgy! Today, there on that little table at the window, the flame will
once again burn, and once again, through all of the walls and cold, the tin
prison cup will be lifted up for all men, for the entire suffering world.
“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee in behalf of all and for all.”
We have nothing but that; yet that is precisely what the world most needs.
Prayer before the icon
It is hard to pray without Icons. An Icon gathers and concentrates prayer,
just as a magnifying glass gathers the scattered rays into one burning
focal point. The Fathers taught that the Icon is the confirmation of the
reality of Christ’s human body, and that whoever spurns the Icon at the
same time fails to believe in the reality of the Divine Incarnation, i.e.
in the human nature of the Incarnate God.
On the one hand, Fr. Valentin Sventsitsky, seemed to be an ordinary married
priest with a family, but on the other, he was an experienced teacher of
unceasing prayer. It is amazing that, already in 1925, in parish churches
in the center of Moscow, he was someone fervently preaching great prayerful
podvig [spiritual struggle]. He did a great deal in the realm of advocacy
and explanation of the faith, but his main significance rests in his
challenge to everyone to pray without ceasing, to maintain an unceasing
burning of the spirit.
He said, “Prayer builds the walls around our monasteries in the world."
He, after all, expressed a brief formula to resolve all of the complexities
of the problem of evil within the church. He said, “Any sin within the
Church is a sin not of the Church, but against the church.” From this it
may be understood that a schism within the Church for reasons of a decline
in morality, much less a schism for other reasons, is first and foremost
religious nonsense, thoughtlessness. Everything we see within the
boundaries of the Church that is distorted, unclean, incorrect, is not the
Church, and one need not go outside [the Church’s] boundaries to avoid
having any association with such things; one need only not participate in
them. Then, the words, “…for one who is pure, all is pure…” will be
* * *
“Prayer is born of love.” Is that not the same as to say “Prayer is born of
tears?” I came to understand that after hearing a certain contemporary
maiden respond to a question someone posed to her in church: “How does one
learn to pray?” She was not frightened by such a difficult question, and
immediately replied: “Go and weep, and you will learn.” That maiden added
to the body of the Ancient Patericon.
* * *
You need to know the teachings of the fathers about the fact that while for
a person any virtue �C e.g. fasting �C can become one’s own as a habit,
prayer always remains as it were, not habitual. The fathers used to say
that prayer is angelic good work. How often do you become convinced of that
unique characteristic of prayer when you lead yourself with such difficulty
into your morning prayers, i.e. to step onto such an apparently well-worn
path. This is why, the fathers teach, any faltering, any interruption in
prayer is so dangerous, and why on the other hand, how grace-filled is
forcing oneself as if with a whip, to practice one’s “rule.” The Kingdom of
God is taken by force, by forcing oneself. It is likewise said that the
Kingdom of God is in the heart. You take your heart in your warm but firm
hand, and prayer begins to take root.
Fr. Valentin Sventsitsky taught that ceaseless prayer should not be
interrupted even during church services.
Meaning of Life
…the meaning of life is frighteningly simple: to strive always and in every
circumstance to preserve the warmth of the heart, knowing that it will be
yet needed by someone, that we are always yet needed by someone.
If one takes fasting to be first and foremost abstinence from dislike, and
not abstinence from butter, it will be a bright fast, and its duration will
be the “happy time of Lent” (Stichera on “Lord I have cried” Tuesday
Vespers for the 2nd Week of Great Lent.
"Grant unto my heart the most pure immaculate fear of Thee, in my soul
perfect love" (Stichera on “Lord I have cried” Thursday Vespers for the 3rd
week of Great Lent).
Dislike, lack of love, is the most awful intemperance, gluttony and
self-intoxication, the original affront to the Holy Spirit of God. The
Apostle writes, “I beseech you…for the love of the Spirit.” [Romans 15 :30]
Love opposes both pride and malice. According to St Irenaeus of Lyons
(Against the Heresies, Vol. 2, Chapter 30), in the evening prayer we ask
the Holy Spirit, “the Creator of the world,” to forgive especially those
sins which are against love: “If I have … blamed or reproached anyone, or
in my anger have detracted or slandered anyone, or grieved anyone, or I
have got angry about anything, or have told a lie…, or if a beggar has come
to me and I despised or neglected him, or if I have troubled my brother or
quarreled with him, or if I have condemned anyone, or have boasted or have
been proud… or made fun of my brother’s sin…”
Love and Prayer
The holy fathers, men of prayer, would also say “Love is higher than
prayer.” The very people who confirmed that love was the source of prayer
would say this.
I once lived in a secluded village. It was Great Saturday. There was no
service in the church, and as I was utterly alone, I was preparing to read
the Paschal Matins during the night. Suddenly a traveler knocked, and asked
to spend the night. I became greatly upset, almost indignant: “So I won’t
be able to pray!” And so, in my madness, I directed him to the neighbors.
Apparently, both the night and my intention to pray, left with him.
There are sins that are not forgiven for ages.
One must distinguish prayer from that certain, repulsive “prayerful
sensuality,” in which is no love and in which you keep in mind only
yourself, standing on the “heights of prayer.”
* * *
Sobornost’ [conciliarity] is the unity of a Christian with the Body of
Christ. “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in
the midst of them.” (Мatthew 18: 20). Sobornost’ is the Divine-human unity
of love, i.e. the Church. The Church is in fact Sobornost’, the sobor
[council] or sbor [assembly] of Christ’s disciples in the “Temple of His
“That the two might be one.” By not allowing the pilgrim to come in, by
refusing the “love feast,” I refused sobornost with him and with the entire
Church. On that Paschal night, having read through all of the appointed
texts, it appears that I was already completely outside the Church.
Love and humility
Here is why it is necessary to write about love and lack of love, about
sanctity and lack of sanctity: The heart of the religious way of life lies
But to write of love is first of all to write of humility, or to phrase it
more exactly, of the humility of love, for love does not seek after its
own, it forgets about “its own,” and give up its own in humility. Only
humility can forget about itself. Humility is that very nature of giving up
oneself, of sacrificing oneself for love. The military pilot Exupéry spoke
the following “patristic” words: “To lay down the foundation for love, one
has to begin with sacrifice.” Humility is in fact “sacrifice.” “The
sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O
God, Thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 50 Septuagint/Psalm 51 KJV)
In a letter written in 1937, Fr. Seraphim (Batyugov) said the following
about humility: “Humility is unceasing prayer, faith, hope and love of a
trembling soul which has dedicated its entire life to the Lord. Humility is
the door that opens up the heart and renders it capable of spiritual
Perhaps the most difficult form of humility is the humility not to demand
that others love you. Certainly, you can sigh after it (“O lord! I am
freezing!”), but you cannot demand it, even internally. After all, we were
given a commandment to love people, but we were never given any commandment
that we should demand that others love us. Love means not to demand
anything for oneself. And when we achieve that, God’s love, like a shiny
little bird, settles down into our hearts and fills everything to
* * *
Fr. Valentin Svenstitsky said to me, “We teach of love and humility, and
yet as soon as someone on the bus steps on our toes, we immediately hate
The Fathers taught that humility in words [alone] is an exercise in pride.
One who strives to achieve Christian thought without having to make any
great effort, sometimes with some great sense of enjoyment talks about
himself as a “great sinner,” or in response to a request for prayer,
responds with the tiresome formula, “My prayer is unworthy.” But just try
to sincerely say about yourself, “I am simply not a good person,” or “I am
an unclean person,” you will quickly understand how hard - or even
impossible - it is for you to say those words.
Prison is first and foremost a school of human interaction. Of course, it
is possible that for one in such a compulsory school to have it turn into a
complete fiasco. However, with God’s help, only sorrow for such a person �C
i.e. the beginning of love for him �C will abide in your heart. A
contemporary scientist once told me that in his entire life, but one act
seemed to him to have been truly significant: not his scientific
discoveries and studies, and not his endurance through several years of
difficult solitary confinement where he would freeze in the winter; it was
the mere fact that once, himself having nothing, he broke apart his
cherished prison ration of bread, and gave half to a hungry, complete
stranger. He was not boasting of it to me. Rather, he related it to me as a
scientist who, affirming some fact that was remarkable, but at the same
time absolutely clear to him.
Repentance, confession, fasting
When I read the following words of St. Ephraim of Syria regarding
confession, I remembered the force of habit:
“If it is only custom that draws you to the Physician, you will not gain
your health… The All-merciful demands love of those who want to come to
Him, and if the one who comes brings love and tears, he will receive the
gift (of forgiveness) for free.”
Purity and holiness are achieved through repentance. Fr. Alexander
Elchaninov would say “The state of being repentant is already a degree of
holiness.” To complete the Mystery of Confession, the priest covers the
head of the penitent with his epitrachilion, and pronounces the prayer
“Receive and unite him (the penitent) to Thy Holy Church.” Even if we
should confess daily, he will always pronounce that prayer of churching
over each of us. We sin daily, and therefore, on a daily basis, are in need
of cleansing and reconciliation to the Church through repentance.
Living without repentance, we live outside the Church.
Matushka Smaragda attended a church served by a priest who was not a
believer. Although Matushka Smaragda knew that, she had nowhere else to go.
Therefore, she would go to Confession to that priest in the following way:
First she would confess privately, alone in her cell before the icon of St.
Spiridon of Tremithus, whom she especially revered, and then would go to
church for public Confession. That public Confession was an essential,
open, podvig of humility and a lesson on the impermissibility of schism.
She once told a close friend that after one of these dual confessions she
had a dream in which she saw someone standing on the kliros and handing
each person a flower; to her he handed two, and said “This if for your two
Christian rejection of the world. Fasting.
It is very important to understand that Christian rejection of the world
not only is not rejection of love toward the world, but quite the contrary,
is its first true affirmation. I consciously said “toward the world,”
although I could have said “toward people, ” and then no one would have
been troubled, and no one would have cited to me the passage from the
Epistles “do not love the world.” They remember that passage without
understanding it, and they forget the other passage “God so loved the
world.” God loved the world, while we do not, and because we do not, we do
not want to participate in what is said farther on in that same passage.
“God so loved the world that He gave His […] Son” (John 3: 16).
We judge the world with full appreciation of our right to judge it,
although again in that passage it says that “God sent not His Son into the
world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
And how can we, possessing no love, give ourselves for people? Only the
sanctity of love can ascend to Golgotha.
To not love the world is first of all not to love oneself, one's darkness
and sin, it means first of all to recognize oneself as the world itself,
dark and unloving. Then upon the dislike a person has for the world will
dawn a ray of love toward people, a great compassion for the world.
* * *
Fasting can be understood only in this world. Fasting is the beginning to
overcoming “too much of the human,” the beginning of conquering organic
nature in order to take it into the boundless, to allow it to experience
the fragrance of Eternity.
Unfortunately, we pass on this inheritance from a disappearing religious
era to young Christians in some distorted or misunderstood form.
St. Maximos the Confessor taught: “any ascetic labor that is a stranger to
love is not pleasing to God.” And yet, this was a most well-known fact:
fasting was done in pride of ascetic struggle, i.e. without love, and
therefore often brought us not to a reduction of, but to even greater
increase in coldness and enmity toward the world.
Everything in Christianity is determined by and measured against love.
The holy fathers said a great deal about the fact that a man’s salvation
from sin, or to put it another way, his elevation toward God, comes through
his neighbor, through people. Likewise, it is through others that spiritual
death comes to him.
We can be ill disposed toward others, pridefully put on airs before them,
and pant with lust for them; in those three evils we die. We can also love
someone, humble ourselves before him, and look upon him with a pure, chaste
eye. It is when this happens within us that we suddenly recognize that
every person is an “image not made by hands,” an image behind which stands
Christ Himself. The practice of a Christian life therefore rests on always
having Christ stand between me and every other person... We should see
people only through Christ.
St. Barsonophius the Great, a 6th Century spiritual struggler and bearer of
Apostolic faith, spoke best about combining overall human knowledge, or the
“wisdom of the world,” and Divine Wisdom [Sophia].
“You must not pay attention only to worldly wisdom, for if a man should not
possess the spiritual wisdom [sophia] granted from on high, then the first
will be of no use to him. Blessed is he who possesses the one and the
other.” (Answer 822). How few in number are those “blessed ones” who have
been able to enter into the mystery of that harmony.
“Focused, unquenchable warmth” in the heart is the grace of God, who took
up His abode there, making the heart simple and sincere.
Fr. Nektary of Optina taught: “Ask grace of God… Simply pray,‘O Lord, grant
me Thy grace.’” One must not solicit, but rather simply ask, for in so
doing, we ask that the heart ever be simple, sincere, and warm. To ask for
grace is the same as one who is freezing asking for warmth. “Come then,…
let us clothe ourselves in Him, that we may warm ourselves….” (Ikos for
To live a married life, one needs to have a calling, just as for monastic
Reading for strengthening your faith
One often hears from those who have recently entered the Church the
question: “What should I read to strengthen my faith?” There is but one
book within Christianity �C the New Testament - that completely reveals it.
All of the others do so [only] to a greater or lesser degree; therefore,
the other books which speak positively about Christianity should not be
taken unconditionally. The words of St. Barsonuphius the Great bring us
into extremely close, intimate contact with the words of the Apostle Paul:
such is the power of the spirit of the holy fathers. However, there is also
a multitude of books with the most Orthodox of titles, and with the best of
intentions, that either cloud or even distort Christianity.
The Apostle said, “The word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than
any two-edged sword…” [Hebrews 4:12]. Only such a sword can cleave through
the darkness and tangle of theological and semi-religious literature, and
lay out for man a path that is as clear as a beam of light. However, to
read the Word of God already requires making a podvig, an effort.
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God”
You want to say to those young Christians who, out of the religious
immaturity of youth throw themselves into a search after the externals,
e.g. akathists, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” and then perhaps
akathists will be added unto you. While they find akathists and then calm
down, we are commanded to seek communion with the Lord, and communion with
St. Ephraim of Syria would say: Monasticism is not clothing, not (even!)
tonsure, but divine desire and living heavenly life.”
We may not even dream of living such a life, but we all should have that
“divine desire” a desire for the divine movement of the Holy Spirit. Only
that is Christianity’s goal, and St. Seraphim’s talk “on the goal of
Christian life” reveals this mystery to us. It calls us, sweeping us from
the path the deceptions of externals and cold withdrawal into ourselves, it
confirms our single, constant task, that of uniting with the Lord,
communing with God.
Life of Saints
One should read saints’ lives, but should not always limit one’s perception
of a given saint to the words of the text. One should desire to learn about
something that perhaps is not said therein. In “lives” [hagiography] of the
saints there is sometimes a certain clouding of the image, of the
individuality of the saint; i.e. the saint’s reality in the divine-human
sense sometimes hides in an unremitting, unchanging fog, a kind of pious
standardization thanks to which the great miracle of a person’s
transfiguration, that “breathing of Jesus” every saint carries within his
breath, is left unseen and unheard.
There is no fog in the accounts of the lives of St. Sergius and especially
of St. Seraphim, although they describe great miracles wrought by them.
This is why the image of St. Seraphim is so especially near and dear to us,
so all-powerful in relation to us. This is why it is such a joy to throw
back your head on a bright summer day, to gaze at the light little clouds
and suddenly realize that they, those very clouds, had moved across the sky
above Sarov in that same way while the Venerable One himself was walking
there. There is such a great revelation in that realization: I truly am
living with them under that same undying blue heaven of the Russian Church.
Prayer Rule in Contemporary life
Contemporary city life seems to crowd out a long-practiced prayer rule.
That is something that seems [to me] due not only to hostility between life
and prayer. Even for a family of believers, it is difficult to set aside an
hour of peace in today’s accelerated pace; even for such a family, it is
difficult to openly pray. It is precisely this prolonged isolation that
interferes with something more essential for the contemporary desert.
Therefore, anyone whose life is closely involved with those of others
should know the short prayer rule left [to us] by St. Seraphim, a teacher
of contemporary Christianity: Recite the “Our Father” and “O Theotokos”
three times, and “the Creed” once. Do so in the morning, and as instructed
in that rule, go forth about your business, while appealing to God by
silent repetition of a short prayer. Bishop Theophan the Recluse taught
that any prayer could serve as a short morning prayer �C e.g. “God attend to
my need” or “Lord have mercy.”
The point of this new prayer rule rests in that it is brief at home, but
ceaseless at work, among others. One should come out of one’s corner and
[interact with] others, but he should do so with prayer.
At the end of the war, 6 to 8 soldiers were on their way from the besieged
area to their homes in the East. They walked along roads and across
country, so as not to be caught by the Germans. One evening, totally
exhausted, up to their knees in snow, they walked out onto some field. One
of them said, “Truly, here’s where we freeze to death.” They set off toward
a little light they spied in the distance. It turned out to be an
absolutely tiny hut on a rise in the middle of the field. One of the
soldiers knocked and entered. There sat a little old man, making valenki
[felt boots]. Without being asked, the old man immediately told them to
come in and spend the night. They all entered and crashed to the floor,
immediately falling asleep in the warmth of the hut. Then somebody opened
his eyes. It was already morning. They all lay in a heap, lightly dusted
with snow, and not on the floor, but on the ground. Over them was not a
roof, but the sky, and somewhere nearby the blagovest’ (Gospel) ring was
sounding from a church bell. This happened in Western Ukraine. They jumped
up and went toward the sound. When they entered the church, one of them
loudly exclaimed, “There’s our host!” and pointed to an icon of St.
At the beginning of the war, the Germans were not far from Zagorsk (the
town in which the Trinity-Sergius Lavra is located �C ed.). After the night
shift at the factory, one of the town residents was on her way home. It
happened to be the day of St. Sergius. The sun, just coming up, illuminated
the grass and flowers. But in her great fear of the approaching front, the
woman did not notice either the flowers or the sun: there were little
children in her home. Suddenly, a woman she did not know came up to her,
and joined her in her walk. The stranger said, “Fear nothing. We are under
the protection of the Venerable One. He said that ‘his city would remain
whole unto the ages.’ I will explain, so that e Zosima [Hermitage] lived here. It was here that
he died in the late ’20s. The start of [the campaign] to uncover (and
desecrate) relics caused the elder much anguish; why had the Lord permitted
such things to happen? Once, as he began to pray, the Venerable Once stood
next to him and said, “Pray and fast for three days, and then I will tell
you what needs to be done.” The next two days, whenever Fr. Alexei would
stand up to pray, St. Sergius would again stand next to him. On those days,
Fr. Alexei subsisted on prosphora. On the third day, the Venerable One
said, “When living people are subjected to such torture, the remains of
those who have died must be subjected to them as well. I gave up my body
so that my city would remain whole unto the ages.” The narrator added, “at
that time they thought he was talking about the spotted fever (typhus) that
was rampant in those years; now they understand what he was talking about.”
After listening to the story, the woman came to her home, where everyone
was still asleep. Stunned and comforted, she sat down on the porch, and for
the first time that morning saw the flowers and the sun.
* * *
Venerable St. Sergius was a saint who lived the 14th Century, and Fr.
Aleksei Zosimovsky in the 20th Century. There are always saints in the
Khomiakov would say, “Each of us constantly seeks that which the Church
Sanctity in the Church is not allegorical, for it lives in actual people or
for actual people, no matter what their number, even if only “two or three
gathered in My Name.”
But are we included in those “two or three?” Do we seek, as Khomiakov
hoped, the grace of the Holy Spirit, which instructs and draws us to
church, illumines and enlightens us, i.e. turns us into saints? Do we at
the very least know that we should pray for the acquisition of the Holy
Spirit, i.e. of our own sanctity?
“O Comforter…having washed away the defilement of my mind, in that Thou art
good, show me forth as full of Thy holiness.” (Canon to the Holy Spirit,
Tone 1. Ode 1, Troparion 2.)
“O Holy Spirit...grant holiness unto all who believe on Thee." (Ode 8,
“Come Thou unto us, O Holy Spirit, causing us to partake of Thy holiness,
of never-waning light, divine life and most fragrant effusion; for Thou art
a River of divinity proceeding from the Father through the Son." (Ode 6,
People, for example Theosophists, who somehow believe in God but do not
believe in the Church ordinarily say, “Can it be that God is in need of
rituals? Where is the need for this formal aspect? You only need love,
beauty, and human compassion.”
When, on his way to see a girl, a man who is in love sees flowers, he picks
them, or he buys flowers, to take to her; in no way does he see it as
merely a formality. That is precisely the idea behind church ritual.
Love toward God naturally gives rise to beauty and humanity of ritual,
apprehended as flowers brought to the feet of God. Faith is love, and is
the essence of Christianity �C being in love with our God and Lord and also
sensing that His Body, the Church, remains and lives on earth. How could
those perceptions not find expression in the external actions we call rites
If only the external exists, i.e. if there is only an unloving mechanical
process, then not only for Christianity, but for all human spheres of
activity such as science, it is merely a barren self-deception and
deception of others. But to talk about that, is like trying to break down
doors that are already open wide; it is something clear to anyone.
Formalism, or even worse, sanctimoniousness, i.e. syrupy formalism, is not
Christianity, and each of us who already considers himself to be a
Christian must pass through this long and narrow path from
non-Chrisitianity to Christianity, from dead flowers to living ones.
We can best perceive and apprehend the heavenly realm through the prism of
ancient icons. We cannot touch the reality of the other side through
Raphael or Vasnetsov. In the realm of religious cognition their portraiture
is what in architecture is called “false windows,” windows that, while
created for purposes of symmetry, do not allow any light to penetrate. The
icon is an attempt to cast off the temptation to be pretty, and to
penetrate into the mystery of Divine beauty. The mystery is far loftier
than nature, and thus the path to it is revealed, in the words of the
Apostle, through the “foolishness of preaching.” This is why the preaching
of the ancient icon is “…not with enticing word’s of man’s wisdom, but in
demonstration of the Spirit and of power…” (I Corinthians 2: 4).
Of course, it is quite possible to pray before a new icon, but at some
point in our spiritual life, we begin to feel an attraction to perceiving a
different world, to approaching the narrow, patterned, window of the
ancient icon and peering through it into the world of the divine.
Before partaking of either lunch or dinner with us, Fr. Seraphim (Batyugov)
would ordinarily read a prayer himself. Upon completion of the meal, he
would likewise read, and not just one or two prayers, but sometimes many
different prayers, and with particular love, would frankly lead us there as
well; after we had consumed ordinary human food, we would be led to those
distant, superhuman places which are beyond man. Usually, that series of
prayers after meals would begin with something he repeated especially
often: “The poor shall eat, and be filled, and those who seek the Lord
shall praise Him. Their hearts shall live unto ages of ages.” In that
regard, Abba Siluan of Mt. Athos’ wise formula on the norm for food comes
to mind: “You should eat [only] so much that after eating you would want to
pray. That is to say, if the amount of food consumed does not disturb some
path of constant prayer, it is not excessive.”
“The ecumenical movement is by its very nature a journey into uncertainty.”
If there is [now] a “Council of Churches,” the Church has never before
existed at any time in our history; i.e. all that was established by the
early Christian Church, all of the subsequent patristic teachings about the
uninterrupted life of the one Apostolic Church, have been struck out.
In accordance with the Apostlic holding that “God is One, and the Church is
One,” we cannot help but consider blasphemous the idea of some kind of
church internationalism. To not believe in “one Church” is to not believe
in one single Pentecost. Contemporary ecumenism is not a universal
Christianity, but merely some kind of universal alliance of Lutherans and
those in sympathy with them - some kind of “pan-Lutheranism.”
“The Council of Churches” is a “Council of Disbelief in the Church,” or, as
Khomiakov said, “the illusion of unity.” He also said, “The Church is not a
state, for it cannot allow conditional union... The Church is not a
concordance of disagreements... In the tens of various Christianities
functioning together, mankind would fully consciously recognize conscious
impotence and camouflaged skepticism.”
The Russian Orthodox Archbishop Basil of Brussels, describing the essence
of the modernist movement developing in the Anglican Church, called it
“Christian atheism,” for in the words of the bishop, that renovationist
religion rejects “the very foundations of Christian teaching �C belief in
the person of God, the Creator and Provider, belief in the Divinity of
Christ, in His Resurrection and in the life to come.” (Izvestia [The News],
26 June 1969, № 114).
The basis of “Christian atheism” is lack of belief in Christianity as
miracle, in the replacement of its path to Eternity with the road to
earthly success. It is easiest of all to replace the path to Tabor, the
path to grace-filled transfiguration of man’s nature into the Divine Nature
with concerns over the earthly diseases of mankind, and [to replace]
Christ’s Golgotha with social or scientific work. However, that [path]
would already be not Christianity, but lack of belief in Christianity.
However, is this only a matter of Anglicanism? There, perhaps they are not
afraid to somewhat openly doubt in dogmas, but after all, one need not
openly doubt them in order to internally have no faith in them, to not live
according to them. The dogma of the Resurrection of the dead body of Christ
only becomes a dogma for a person when that person himself begins to
partake, through his Golgotha, in Christ’s Resurrection, when he himself
dies and he himself is resurrected. When internally there is no faith in
the dogmas, does not “Christian atheism” then begin, in the guise of
dogmatic externals? Is not Christian atheism merely the final stage of
secularization, accommodation to the world throughout the entire Church in
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
“We have no boldness because of the multitude of our sins…” (Hymn to the
Theotokos at the 6h Hour).
Fr. Nikolai Golubtsev was bravely facing his approaching death. He said to
his brother, “Sing me my favorite pokeimenon.” To the dying man, the
brother sang, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His
“Making as a funeral dirge the song”
I remember going with my father along Nikolsky Lane and saying to him that
I myself had heard Florensky’s explanation of the words of the Panikhida
“making as a funeral dirge the song”: we transform funereal mourning into a
hymn of triumphant victory.
“Everything is from, belongs to, and is for Him”
The closer one comes to the end of life, the stronger is his love for the
dead. Is this not a premonition of meeting them? You joyfully sense not
only them, but also the setting and things associated with them �C objects,
an old Gospel, a chair, a forest path, the smell of hay, the sound of
bells… Apparently, nothing ever dies of what a person somehow needed on
earth, of what somehow brought him toward God. Everything is from, belongs
to, and is for Him.” If, as Dionysios the Areopagite said, “all things
pre-exist in God,” it is impossible for anything good �C whether now, in the
past, or in the future �C to not exist in God. We will encounter everything
�C all the warmth of the earth, everything cleansed and holy; it will seize
and embrace us, and we will never more be separated from it. We are not
going to a Hindu Nirvana, but to the House of God, where we will use our
eyes to search for, and will find everyone whom we had come to love on
Prayers for stillborn.
A mother experiences great sorrow upon delivering a stillborn child. A
certain reverent priest gave me these two prayers about them:
1. “Remember, O man-loving Lord, the souls of Thy infants who have died in
their mother’s womb, and therefore did not receive Holy Baptism. Do Thou
Thyself baptize them, O Lord, in the sea of Thy generosity and save them by
Thy limitless grace. Amen.”
2. (A mother's prayer). “ O Lord, have mercy upon my child which hath died
in my womb. Through my faith and tears, and for the sake of Thy mercy,
deprive him not of Thy Divine Light.”
Prayer for suicides.
Here I will also write down a prayer for suicides, which was given to us by
the Optina Elders: “Recover, O Lord, the lost soul of Thy servant (N____),
and if possible, have mercy upon him. Do not count this my prayer for a
sin, but let Thy Holy Will be done. "