Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt: Part I. Children’s Faith, Chapter 3

Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt
Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov)
Part I. Children’s Faith. Chapter 3

* * *

Everyone knows to what extent children actually live in quite another world. And if I do not remember much about myself, I will write down something from the lives of other children.

One child of three, whose grandmother wrote me, was suffering with whooping cough for a long time. Before going to bed, he said to his grandmother:

“Babushka! If you see angels in your dream, ask them that my coughing would stop, I’m very tired!”

Another grandmother who came to visit her daughter who was dying of tuberculosis in Paris told me about her grandson Alexei.

“My daughter married a commissar. He did not even allow the mention of God. I, however, had a cross on my necklace and little Alexei saw it.

‘Babushka! What is that you have?’

I said, ‘A watch, my dear!’

He listened to it: there was no ticking, and he did not believe it.

And yet, bells were still rung on holidays. I do not know how but he somehow learned about God. And once told me,

‘Granny! Carry me to the church; I’ll one time, just once look at God and won’t any more.'”

Often, in the earliest years, they confuse the priest with God. In Bulgaria, I met a 4-year-old child who ran to his father in the shop and shouted: “God, God is coming!” I gave him some money for a treat.

In New York, a Negro boy (in 1933) asked me in English:

“Are you God?”

“No.”

“Who are you? The Mother of God?”

“No, I’m a bishop.”

He didn’t understand… He probably hadn’t heard that word.

“Svyashchenik, priest, priest!” I said [Footnote 1].

[Footnote 1 (of translator): In Russian text, the word priest is printed in Russian the first time and in English the last two times.]

A very tiny child was brought to the church. When he came home, he was asked: “Well, what did you see in the church?”

“God came, let loose smoke on us (from the censer), and left. And that was the whole service.”

There was a 7-year-old girl, Sonia, whose mother fell ill. They said that death was near. But her daughter was completely calm. When the mother especially complained of pain and was afraid of death, Sonia went to her and asked:

“Mama, why are you afraid of death? After all, you tell me that it is very good with God in paradise. And do you not want to go there?”

…I do not know what her mother answered.

Sonia often received communion, and she loved it.

In New York, one mother often communed her little ones: Peter and Paul, little pale kids. How I loved to commune them! And they, too, loved it. Simply angels.

I also remember about older “angels” of the Don Cadet Corps (in Bileća, Yugoslavia) [Footnote 2]. They fasted in groups (2-3 “companies” of a class).

[Footnote 2 (of editor of Russian text): In 1924-1925, Bishop Benjamin was an instructor for the Law of God in two cadet corps: Russian and Don of General Kaledin.]

One day, after Communion, two young men, 16-17 years old already, came to me… Pure, handsome. They knocked. I let them in.

“What do you come for?” I ask.

“So-o!”

They sat down. Everyone was silent… They sit quietly…

“Well, how do you feel?” I ask.

“Good-oh!” One of them answers.

The other added:

“As though it were Easter!”

We were silent again. And I was happy to sit in silence with them. Then one says thoughtfully:

“And to think: why did God gave us this joy? Just because we have confessed (i.e., revealed our sins).

We sat a little and they left. And I was left with the impression that real angels had been with me… Even now it is joyful to remember them.

Another cadet from the same corps, a clever young man, the first student in the company, said to me after Communion that he suddenly felt so physically “light that I have less weight in me.” This deserves attention: a person is enlivened when he unites himself to Christ. After His resurrection, Christ received a spiritual body, which did not have any weight or density; because of this, He appeared and disappeared through doors…and ascended. And the custom of the Church to read (by the clergy in the altar, secretly) after Communion “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ,” “Shine, shine, new (future, spiritual, about which is written in Revelation 21 and 22) Jerusalem” is full of meaning. A spiritual, divine city, in which “they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light” (Revelation 22:5), “Having the Glory of God (Revelation 21:11); “new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). And then they read “O Great and most sacred Pascha, Christ!… Grant that we partake of Thee fully in the unwaning day of Thy Kingdom” (Paschal Canon, canticle 9).

I remembered about another extraordinary action of Holy Communion. But not about infants in the flesh…

In Paris, a young, 25-year-old girl came to me in the Sergiev Podvorye [Footnote 3]. She was a writer. It was the first time I had seen her.

[Footnote 3 (of editor of Russian text): Sergiev Podvorye in Paris was founded in the mid-1920s by Metropolitan Evlogy (Georgievskii), who oversaw the Russian parishes in Western Europe, Prince G.N. Trubetskoy, M.M. Osorgin, and other Russian exiles. At the podvorye, a theological institute was established, at which taught Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, G.V. Florovsky, B.P. Vysheslavtsev, A.V. Kartashev, and V.N. Il’in. Bishop Benjamin was a professor and served as dean of students of the institute. According to contemporaries, the theological institute was largely obliged to Bishop Benjamin for the particular spiritual atmosphere, almost monastic way of life, that prevailed within its walls.]

“How can I serve you?”

“I came to you to for confession.”

“Good: I do not dare refuse. And why exactly did you come to me?”

“I was sent to you by R.”

This was a baptized Jew, a girl known to me.

After a few more phrases, I wanted to proceed to the Sacrament of Confession. Suddenly she resolutely declares:

“No! I will not confess before you.”

“What is it? Why is that?”

“Well, I want to confess before such a priest who does not know me at all and that I do not know. And I have only spoken with you 5 minutes here, and I feel like I’ve known you for 20 years. No, I will not, I will not! I would be ashamed!”

And she was about to leave.

I earnestly tried to persuade her to drop this temptation of the devil. But she stood her ground: “I will not, I will not!”

Then I decided upon an innocent ploy.

“Listen,” I say, “well, you will not say anything; only stand on your knees, and I will speak for you: if my words are true, then you remain silent, but if they are wrong, tell me only: no. Now this is no longer difficult.”

Vacillating a little more, she agreed. I read the prayers. We knelt. I spoke… Confession, thank God, was accomplished. It was Great and Holy Thursday, after Divine Liturgy. Liturgy and Communion does not take place the following day. And the Plashchanitsa is brought out only at Vespers. The sacrifice of Calvary is made.

The girl from confession was at the service. After Vespers, she ran to my room and said in horror:

“And once again I have chaos in my soul. Everything in my head is mixed up again. That’s all very nice, but what if all this is only a creation of my own heart and mind? And what if all of this is in actual fact not real?” (I’ll write specifically about doubts later.)

“Why do you think this?”

“I myself do not know why!” She says in grieving horror. “Those thoughts came into my head from somewhere, against my will. And I’ve fallen to pieces again. This is terrible!”

“Wait, wait!” I said. And suddenly the thought came to me to read her something from the Gospels. She stopped.

“I am not going to prove existence and truth to the world right now… But just look at it… We will see with our own eyes.”

“How?” Surprisingly she asks with a secret, joyful hope to get out of the horror of doubt that has seized her.

“Here is the Gospel. Just what is it? We say, Divine “Revelation,” “the Word of God.” If it is “revelation,” it does not prove but simply shows, “opens” to us the other world and its undoubted reality and truth. Well, I will open it at random and we will read and see that world.”

I opened the Gospel of Mark by chance, and my fingers fell upon the end of the fifth chapter. I read to her about the resurrection of the daughter of a ruler of the synagogue:

“And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat” (Mark 5:41-43).

“Well, look,” I say, “Is it not obvious to you that all this was written by credible witnesses?!” Tell me, why would they write about a young girl who, after being resurrected, “began to walk” around the room?! Does it really matter if Tabitha, who had been resurrected by the Apostle Peter, walked or if she sat? She “opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up” (Acts 9:40-41). And yet, witnesses saw and recorded this detail. As is known, the Holy Apostle Mark wrote this according to the words of his teacher, the Apostle Peter, who was present at this miracle along with John and James (Mark 5:37). And they themselves were surprised by this walking: she was just dead and now is healthily walking. We know, of course, that children do not like to sit and love to move, to do something. And the Apostle explains particularly this: she was then still only “about 12 years old”… Still a girl… And then: “Give her something to eat”… Another great detail; although she was walking around the room, yet was still weakened by illness, and the Savior also took care of that. Now,” I say, “tell me yourself (you are an honest and intelligent woman); is it not obvious to every unprejudiced mind and heart that all of this really happened? Well, has it really not been “revealed” even to us that all of this is the truth? And if these two or three verses are true, then is not everything above and below written of Christ and of His Father and the Holy Spirit and, in general, all that is revealed in the Gospel about that world true?! Say for yourself.”

“Yes, it is true!” Quietly confirmed the troubled writer. “It’s true.”

“Well, go in peace, and take communion tomorrow. If you again find doubtful thoughts in yourself, do not pay them any attention. Be calm and firm: you see that all this ‘in fact’ was and is.”

She left completely calmed.

She received Communion on Holy Saturday. I had only returned from the church to my room and she comes in extremely joyful. I liked to invite the communicants to tea.

“Welcome, welcome! Come in.”

“No, I will not stay. I only ran in for one minute.”

“You should at least drink some tea!”

“No, no, no!” She said, all the while continuing to stand in the hallway. “I just came to tell you what happened to me during Communion…”

I am silent … She sighed for two or three seconds and said:

“During communion, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared to me.”

(And further I do not remember the details, for she said it only very briefly.)

“That’s what I ran in to tell you!” And having received a blessing, she joyfully, with radiant Paschal brightness quickly ran away…

I never met her again… Just where are you, child of God? I believe that whatever happened to you, Christ did not appear to you in vain in a particularly obvious way after Communion… He will not let you perish in the whirlpool of life nor in the callous lie of disbelief.

More about children.

In Simferopol, a 3-year-old favorite was dying in the family of R-kh. The parents are crying, but he is telling them, “Home, I’m going home.”

Count A-n [Footnote 4], in the presence of members of the Synod, in 1920, said the following about his girls (Martha and, it seems, Nadya) in Kherson monastery:

[Footnote 4 (of editor of Russian text): Probably Count Apraksin, a member of the so-called “Crimean Synod,” Provisional Supreme Church Administration (PSCA) dioceses of southeast Russia, of which Bishop Benjamin was also a member.]

“They were already in bed (in Yalta). I, as usual, came to them in the bedroom at night to make the sign of the cross over them. The doors opened silently, and I can hear their conversation:

‘What do you think: will they now come to us?’ Says one.

‘I think they will come…’

About whom are they talking? About their parents or what? I ask:

‘For whom are you waiting? Who will come?’

They answered simply, ‘angels.’

‘What angels?’

‘Fair, with wings.’

‘They come to you?’

‘Yes!’

I did not ask about anything else. I silently crossed them and with tears of joy came out.”

His wife too was holy, from the Baryatinsky family… Someone who knows her life should write about her. She was humble… And pure… And a believing soul…

She was deprived of everything, but she never grumbled not only about God but not even about the Bolsheviks … There were saints among the aristocrats and not only among ordinary people…

Concerning angels, I still remember the story of Bishop Tikhon (Tishchenko), at the time an archimandrite, the former rector of the Russian Church in Berlin. In 1923, I was invited to give a lecture at a congress of Christian youth in the town of Falkenberg, near Berlin. Archimandrite Tikhon was also there. He was a very learned theologian with a theological degree and dean of students of the Kiev Theological Academy. He came from a peasant family from the town of Belaya Tserkov. They had a large family with seven children. The youngest child, Maria, fell dangerously ill. After several sleepless nights, their mother laid the child beside her on the bed and fell asleep. And the boy, then still Timothy, was sitting at the window.

“I was seven years old. Suddenly I saw an angel with Manka in his hands and I shouted: ‘Mamo! Mamo! [Footnote 5] Manka was taken, Manka was taken!’ My mother woke up: ‘What are you shouting about?’ ‘Manko was taken!’ ‘Who took her?’ And she rushed to look at the sick child. ‘An angel took her. I saw it.’ Mother took up Maria but she was already dead.

[Footnote 5 (of translator): This is the vocative form of Mama.]

Archimandrite Tikhon told me that he had seen a white angel with wings.

Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt: Part I. Children’s Faith, Chapter 2

Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt
by Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov)
Part I. Children’s Faith.
Chapter 2

* * *

I also remember how my grandmother (Nadezhda who was holy and humble; may she be granted the Kingdom of Heaven!) took me to the church that stood on a hill, about two versts from our house, to receive the Holy Mysteries. I was dressed in a clean, colored shirt, I remember, and it was in summer, which also pleased me. I do not remember my impressions of Holy Communion in early childhood, but I do remember only a slight impression: peace and quiet, reverent, silent, triumphant: I was as though becoming a grown-up, serious…

One time, my grandmother and I arrived late for communion and it was upsetting… Why was I alone of the children taken (my brother, Michael, was older than me by 2 years, but he was not taken with me)? I do not know… Was it really already God’s Providence for me, the unworthy?

By the way, about my holy grandmother: My mother told me that my grandfather married grandmother not by choice but by the will of his parents, as was usually done in the old days in simple rural families and clergy. Here is how it happened. One winter evening, my great-grandfather, Deacon Basil (Orshevsky), came into the house, and my grandfather, Nicholas, then a young man (he for some reason did not finish studying in religious schools), was lying on the stove [Footnote 1].

[Footnote 1 (of translator): Traditional Russian stoves are quite large and have one or more places where someone could lie down.]

“Nicholas, hey Nicholas!” Said great-grandfather to grandfather.

“What, batushka? [Footnote 2]

[Footnote 2 (of translator): Batushka was not used exclusively in relation to clergy, but was used as a more intimate form for one’s own father.]

“I decided to marry you off.”

“To whom, batushka?” asked the groom.

“Well, I want to take Fr. Basil’s (in that village, Orshevka, there was another deacon, also named Basil) Nadezhda for you.”

“Batushka! That pock-marked thing?!” Objected the disgruntled and unwilling groom. Grandmother had smallpox as a child and she had a few large pockmarks, though they really didn’t mar her face.

“What?!” Fr. Deacon said angrily. “Well, what? Am I really your enemy and not your father? I know whom I choose. Come on, get off the stove!” Grandpa was in tears, and his father took a poker (what we used to put our pots and cast iron into the oven) and let it loose on his back—once, twice and he “taught him.”

“Forgive me, batushka,” pleaded grandfather. “Whether to a pockmarked or one-eyed woman, it’s your will!”

And they were married. It had been a wise choice: grandfather did not have an entirely peaceful nature, and later he drank a lot of wine. He had a big apiary, several hundred hives, bought and sold, mead and beer. And during parish office he constantly drank, and thus became an alcoholic. During the last 18 years of his life (he died at 71-72 years), he even lost his wits and lapsed into childhood. He lived with us and then with another daughter, Anna Sokolova (also a meek, holy woman who was married to a wealthy reader, Yakov Nikolaevich). He was very quiet and just joked and smiled. None of the children were afraid of him… He died at Anna’s; I was not there at the time.

It was particularly to such a restless groom that the Lord sent the most humble wife Nadezhda. And she never complained, never judged grandfather; she was always oh-so-calm, quiet, and gentle.

Yes, we can say that she was holy. The Apostle Paul often wrote about Christians in his letters: “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22); in another place, he writes simply: “All the brethren greet you (Corinthians)” (1 Cor. 16:20); “All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith” (Titus 3:15). The first Christians lived faithfully, remaining in families, with husbands, wives, children, or even as slaves. Grandmother was truly of this kind.

The Lord, therefore, granted her an unusually quiet repose, about which we pray: “a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful,” “let us ask of the Lord” [Footnote 3]. This I remember: I was probably 7 years old already, perhaps still just a little over 6. I slept with my little brother Sergei on the big bed, while the others slept on the floor. Grandma slept on the bench (an addition on the side to a large, Russian stove, for warmth while resting and sleeping)… Grandmother, as I remember, was never ill. She was about 71-72 years old probably, but she already was getting very weak. This must be why the lamp was dimly burning. Suddenly I heard (but maybe my mother later recalled?):

[Footnote 3 (of editor of Russian text): Christian ending to our life… – The words of the Litany of Supplication]

“Natasha!” (Grandmother calling to my mother). Sergei tossed about in his sleep (that is, threw off his blanket in his sleep): cover him up.

Evidently, she was already weak; she did not get up. My mother, who is very responsive and fast in general, instantly jumped up from the floor and covered my brother. By this time, I was not sleeping. Then my mother wanted to go to bed, but grandmother suddenly began to breathe with unusual difficulty. Mother heard it and was frightened. She went up to grandmother and said to father:

“Father, father!” Get up, there’s something not good with grandmother.

My mother was a nervous person, but my father was always calm: what could one worry about in this world? And Ukrainian (Fedchenko! [Footnote 4]) mildness was in his nature (Ukrainians rode on oxen: very “so-o-f-ftly”). Father stood up, looked at grandmother, and completely peacefully said:

[Footnote 4 (of translator): According to Metropolitan Benjamin’s biography, his father’s (or even earlier ancestor’s) last name, Fedchenko, was given a Russian ending.]

“Grandmother is dying.”

My mother immediately began to cry loudly … Everyone woke up… I do not remember, but think I was not worried. Father lit a beeswax candle and went up to grandmother:

“Grandmother, cross yourself!” (Perhaps she still had enough strength.) “Take the candle.”

She took it, and then she breathed infrequently a few times. And she died absolutely calmly… Mother sobbed… On the third day, she was buried. And they carried her along the same road by which we went to communion. In front of the coffin, I carried an icon… They buried her in the cemetery, to the left, almost next to the chapel. She was holy. This was, it seems, early autumn, maybe even in September (about 1886-87). Six months later, ailing grandfather died at their other daughter’s in the village.

To this day, I not only remember grandmother in my prayers, but when I have emotional difficulties, I ask her to pray for me there, before God; her prayer, humble and pure (of course, she lived a pure life), reaches to God.

…In connection, I recall how I fasted later. This was already 5 years after my grandmother’s death…

Fr. Vladimir heard confessions during the fast on the right kliros. And it seems that he confessed innocent children in groups of five… And, really, what kinds of sins did we have then? I afterward joyfully flew home on wings: my soul was so light! And after confession, we were not supposed to eat. My mother, also happy for us that we were cleansed (the people say, “you dealt with it and were fixed”), gently used to say:

“Well, you go, go quickly to bed already so as not to sin again. Tomorrow is communion!”

And we, truly afraid of soiling our conscience even in word and thought, went right to bed; and we fell asleep in untroubled sleep of innocence. On the next day, we were “made worthy” to receive communion, which was even more joy for both us and our parents. They were particularly affectionate to us at this time… Holy peace and love entered into the house with those who had communed: “the God of love and peace” came with us into the house (2 Cor. 13:11).

Everyone congratulated us, treated us to good things, and generously awarded us for the previous day’s fast.

Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt: Part I. Children’s Faith, Chapter 1

This is the beginning of the serial publication of the book Faith, Unbelief, and Doubt by Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov) (1880-1961), an extraordinary bishop who wrote a number of directly autobiographical memoirs and other books that include many interesting facts from his life (concerning not only his own life but also different aspects of Russian culture), which was lived, according to his aptly-named autobiography, At the Turn of Two Eras.

Part I. Children’s Faith

Chapter 1

I have been accumulating material on faith and unbelief already for a long time. You could even say that almost all of my life was intertwined with these issues in one way or another. And even now I live in the atmosphere of these issues: everything else is revolving around them or intersects with them. I read lectures about these topics at the St. Petersburg Academy, the Paris Theological Institute, and in various public addresses. I also have notes and sketches, and now during this free week I will write down what I am able.

* * *

This will certainly not be a “lecture” but rather “autobiographical” notes. Since I have experienced questions about faith in my life and what I thought about them, this is like a “confession of faith.”

And I want it to be lively, for I really lived through it all. These are notes or observations of the heart then shaped in the mind.

* * *

And it will prove useful for someone, for people are similar.

* * *

I will begin from the time that I remember having faith.

* * *

Of course I do not remember how and when the first words and the thought of faith were cast into my heart by my mother… My memory already found me a believer, as were my parents, just like everyone around us, “simple” people, almost village class. My father, who had been a serf as a boy, was a clerk in the estate of B’s and my mother was the daughter of a deacon from the village of Sofinki [Footnote 1]. My father as a boy had been a serf. I did not see any atheists in my childhood nor did I even hear about them. Everyone around me believed unequivocally, and God’s world, the supernatural, was as real as the earth. There was absolutely no difference. And I do not even remember when I first learned that there were atheists. I also do not remember the impressions of this new knowledge. But in any case, it evidently did not make any impression on me for the very reason that it did not remain in my memory as something peculiar… And thus, I always remember myself as a believer! And I can say that I have never been an unbeliever. However, I know about the states of doubt and unbelief; but I will write about that later.

[Footnote 1 (of editor of Russian text): After graduation from academy (1907-1908), Hieromonk Benjamin became a professorial fellow at the Department of Biblical History and then held the position of dean of students of the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary. Bishop Benjamin taught in 1925-1927 and 1929-1931 at the Paris Orthodox Theological Institute. Bishop Benjamin’s father, Afanasii Ivanovich Fedchenkov, came from serfs of Smolensk province; he was a servant for the Baratynskys, the descendants of the famous Russian poet E.A. Baratynsky. When he was 13-14 years old, he was sent as a clerk to the Tambov estate.]

… So as not to forget later, I will write down a conversation on this subject (in general, I will not concern myself with a “system” of notes, because it is not very important). One day I visited a friend in Moscow, Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kozhevnikov, that I esteem [Footnote 2]. He was a man of great erudition, an academic. His library contained thousands of books. He knew all the major European languages. He wrote several books on Buddhism (without finishing them)…

[Footnote 2 (of editor of Russian text): Vladimir Kozhevnikov (1852-1917) was the author of books and articles on the history of religion, theology, and moral issues and was a public figure. The following is a small list of his works on the subject of faith and unbelief: “The Philosophy of Feeling and Faith in Its Relationship to Literature and Rationalism of the 18th Century and to Critical Philosophy,” Moscow, 1897; “On Conscientiousness in Faith and Unbelief (For Young Students),” Moscow, 1908; “Confessions of an Atheist (On the Book of Le Dantec “Atheism”),” Moscow, 1911; “Modern Scientific Unbelief. Its Growth, Influence, and Changing Attitudes Towards it,” Moscow, 1912.]

Shortly before his death, he contracted a terrible type of fever that flung him around his bed like a feather… I went to see him. He completely peacefully carried on a conversation while he lay. And, by the way, he said, pointing to the thousands of books standing on the shelves (with irony, but innocently):

“I read all these fools, and yet I did not lose faith. I have always been a believer.”

He died peacefully. My your soul be granted the Kingdom of Heaven, servant of God Vladimir…

Among his books, he wrote several pamphlets on faith: they are simple in presentation, but very profound… I have now forgotten the exact contents. But I will look for them and write them down: they are worth reading for anyone interested in these issues; there would doubtlessly be use in reading them.

* * *

The first impression connected in my memory with faith was, perhaps, Pascha. All of our family was preparing for it, as everyone else, a still long way off. And this expectation grew and grew.

On Saturday evening, we were talking about the Matins of Pascha. I had still never been to it: I was too small… I was perhaps 4 years old at the time… And I really wanted to be at the service. And I began to ask my mother to take me also to the church… I was expecting something amazing. My small heart fluttered from the approaching joy. Mama (she was the mistress of the family) promised me, but she advised me to go to bed early. With hopefulness, I immediately fell asleep, but I woke up when it was already dawn. Our family had already come from the church (usually a horse was given from the estate for this occasion) …

It turned out that I was only comforted by the promise but was not taken. And my older brother, Michael, had already received this joy. It was painful, but I soon forgot about my sadness. Paschal joy took hold of me and carried me forward. Children’s grief, like the morning dew, is short-lived… But the next year I was together with all of our family… I do not remember everything, but the joy was extraordinary… And among other things, during the singing of “Christ is Risen” and the procession around the church, a cannon (with powder) preserved at the landlords, God knows from where, was fired [Footnote 3]. It was frightening but also breathtaking. Everything merged into total elation, and barrels of tar were even burned… which was beautiful at night… I remember how old women set “Pascha” (cheese), Kulich, and painted eggs in packages around the church, and penny candles were stuck in the Pascha cheese. “Batushki” (priest, deacon, and reader) walked, sang, and sprinkled them with holy water (after the liturgy); the old women immediately tied up their packages and hurried home… The fires became smaller and smaller. Bonfires were sleepily burning, as if exhausted by the night… Dawn was beginning to shine… We rode in the cart. Under the wheels and hooves of horses, ice crunched in places; it must have been an early Pascha. At home, father and mother sang Christ is Risen three times, and we began to joyously break the fast and with sweet Pascha cheese, kulich, and eggs… My little heart was filled with joy… Then we immediately went to sleep after an almost sleepless night. Around 11, we woke up for lunch. But already the same trembling joy was absent. Some kind of peaceful silence caressed my soul … Then there was a game of eggs on the street, where all the “gentlemen’s” [Footnote 4] servants gathered. There was, clearly, no thought about any “social” inequality: the heart was joyful, the food was delicious, the soul was pure, and everyone around was glad. What could be better? I was oblivious to the whole world! It was a happy time…

[Footnote 3 (of editor of Russian text): In Russia, there was a custom (of secular origin) to accompany the procession on Pascha night with fireworks, illumination, and a cannon or rifle salute. Immediately after completion of the procession, when Paschal Matins began, the fireworks and shooting stopped.]

[Footnote 4 (of translator): Here he’s referring to the landowner.]

* * *

Much later, I turned my attention to the visit of the clergy to even our hut at Pascha… After the service at the landowners, the priest walked down the “court” [Footnote 5] and we waited. A green votive burned in front of the icons. Everything was neat and clean… We children watched for when the “icons” [Footnote 6] would appear.

[Footnote 5 (of translator)]: Metropolitan Benjamin explains this word and concept in more detail in his autobiographical work At the Turn of Two Eras: “Everyone called us ‘servants,’ probably from the word ‘court,’ ‘courtiers.’ [Translator note: The word used for servants, ‘dvornya,’ is derived from the word for ‘court’: ‘dvor.’] The landowner’s house was like the tsar’s palace in the middle, while we who surrounded it made up his ‘court’ or ‘servants,’ to speak more humbly. Neither we ourselves nor even farmer-peasants highly respected us, so that the word ‘servants’ was probably pronounced with contempt, although we really were an intermediate layer between the highest, inaccessible class of lords and peasants, muzhiks.”]
[Footnote 6 (of translator)]: This procession of the clergy was apparently called “icons,” which does make sense as they would probably be carrying icons.]

…They’re coming, they’re coming!… Bending in through the low door, the “batushki” sang a minute-long moleben, we exchanged Paschal greetings, papa quietly put something (probably a silver five-kopek piece), embarrassedly, into the priest’s hand and invited them to have a seat. We offered treats: they declined… Two or three words, and everyone left…

And only then I felt that the feast had “reached” even to our home. Something was particularly still lacking until the “icons.” What it was, I do not know, and I will not even explain; but that recollection was etched in my memory forever… And after I thought: how foolishly people behave that they refuse to receive “batushki” on this day! What joy they deprive themselves… Batushki probably do not even suspect what joy it is that goes with them, they are used to it. But to me it was like God visiting…

Maybe even now when we clergy visit people with a moleben at feasts they also feel joy from us or via us from God!

On the Saints

The following are a few selections from Bozhii lyudi (Moi dukhovnye vstrechi) [God’s People (My Spiritual Encounters)] by Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov).

Of course they [remembrances] do not include every aspect of monastic life; they do not speak about the selfless struggle of monks, which only they themselves, their spiritual father, and God Himself knows. I will speak only about the more eminent personalities and  inspiring occurrences in Optina. It is understood that such a description will be one-sided. Correctly did a friend and fellow student at St. Petersburg Theological Academy, subsequently Archimandrite John (Raev), who would die early from consumption, one day remark that with such descriptions I am leading the reader, but foremost the listener, into some delusion. He then used the following comparison: If you look at a meadow or a flowerbed from above, then it will seem beautiful with its flowers and bright green color. But if you lower your eyes you will see a naked tube with shoots. Also here is not the source of life but lower, in the ground, where the rough and sinuous roots seek (in complete darkness) nourishment for the beautiful leaves and flowers. Here is nothing appealing for the eyes, but, on the contrary, it is ugly and dirty… And, what is more, various worms crawl around and even chew and kill the root and with it the leaves and flowers wither and die.

It is the same in monasticism, said Fr. John, which is only pretty on the outside (looking from above), but the very podvig of a monk is arduous, passes through uncleanness, and for the most part the monastic life is a battle of the cross with sinful passions. And this is what you, he said, do not show in your stories.

All of that is completely true, I said, but also in the lives of the saints more time is spent describing the inspiring moments of their lives and rare podvigs. But the battle with sin is usually remembered briefly and in passing; hardly ever is it recalled in detail. The only exception is the life of St. Mary of Egypt–from stinking sin to angel-like purity and perfection. But in this case, the writers comment that they tell of it as a necessity, so that with the example of such a change they could console and strengthen the weak and despairing strugglers in the world and in monasteries. So will we, generally, not dwell on the dark side–it is not instructive. And I do not even know about it in other people–what would I speak about? However, where it is necessary this also will be mentioned. For it is truly necessary and beneficial to remember that the height and holiness of God-pleasers is preceded and accompanied by a spiritual battle; sometimes it is not very easy or pretty.

By the way, the Fr. John mentioned should himself, in all justice, be counted among the ascetics. He lived for a short while and died while the inspector of the Poltava Seminary.

On Father Anatolii (St. Anatolii the Younger of Optina)

After two or three days, some news spread through the monastery: the Kaluga Icon of the Mother of God (September 2 [Church calendar]/ September 15 [secular calendar]). At the appointed time, many monks and pilgrims went out to meet the holy icon on the forest road and, taking it, started back for the monastery singing hymns. Suddenly I saw that several people were separating from the crowd and very hastily went to the right side. After a few moments a dense crowd had already gathered. They were surrounding someone or something in a compact circle. From simple curiosity I also headed over wondering what it was all about. To leave an icon of the Mother of God, there has to have been a good reason. Pushing a little bit to the center of the crowd I saw that everyone, with touching love and happy smiles, was looking at some small monk in a klobuk with a small unkempt gray beard. And he was also smiling at everyone a bit. The crowd was trying to receive a blessing from him. I saw how everyone around that small old man really did light up and rejoiced. It was just as darling children meet their own mother.

“Who is that?” I asked the one next to me. “It’s batushka Fr. Anatoly!” he affectionately answered, surprised, however, at my ignorance.

I had heard about him but had not happened to meet him yet, nor was there a particular need as I did not have any questions for him. But now the question about Fr. Anatoly himself appeared: what is this miracle? People even left an icon and rushed to a man. Why was this? And the answered just appeared: a holy man is also a miracle of God, just like an icon,  just a manifest miracle. A saint is an image of God, only personified in man. As in an icon, so in holy people, God Himself, by his grace, lives. Both by one and the other God Himself draws us to Himself with His gifts of joy, comfort, mercy, and spiritual light. It is like when the Savior, Moses, and Elias appeared on Mt. Tabor in the grace-filled, uncreated light to the disciples and Peter in delight exclaimed, “Lord! It is good for us to be here” (Luke 9:33). So also, through holy people, that transfiguring grace both shines and warms. Sometimes, as happened more than once with St. Seraphim of Sarov, it was apparent in a visible, although supernatural, light. It was the same in this case, through batushka (what a tender and respectful word!) shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God. And people warmed themselves and were comforted in that light.

I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul about Christians, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you…?” (I Cor. 6:19)

And another of of his sayings that every Christian must grow into a perfect image, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13)… This is the height given to the Christian: the God-Man Christ Himself!

And this is not boldness of robbing the unattainable (Phil. 2:6) but a command of the Savior given at his last conversation, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)

This is the aim and task of the Christian life: communion with God through the grace of the Holy Spirit. And then grace-filled people will begin to shine their light, that is, God’s light, also on others.

O Lord, how great in and of themselves and how extremely important for other people are these holy people! There is no one higher than them!

I also happened to meet my own so-called “great” people but I never felt their greatness: a man is just a man, ordinary. But when I happened to stand before saints their true greatness was clearly felt. These are extraordinary people! And sometimes it is even frightful to stand before them-as I vividly experienced while serving with Fr. John of Kronstadt.

Then it becomes understandable why we venerate saints, write icons of them, prostrate before them, and kiss them. They are truly worthy of this! It also becomes clear why in church we incense not only icons of the Savior, the Theotokos, and saints but also generally all Christians: in incensing, we render worship and veneration to God Himself, who is apparent in his images: both in icons and in people.

For every Christian must be an image of God. One day I happened to ask a certain elder: “Generally, how should we relate to man?” “With reverence,” he answered. I was surprised at his words, “Why?” “Man is the image of God,” he said.

And when that image is restored in man, even people honor him; in paradise, even beasts obeyed Adam. In the lives of Gerasim of the Jordan and Seraphim of Sarov this is written about; and demons even feared them. But residents of heaven rejoiced over them. When the Mother of God appeared with the Apostles Peter and John to St. Seraphim, she said to the Apostles, “This is one of our kind!”

Fr. Anatoly was also of the very same kind. So much joy, love, and tenderness flowed from his face on all that gazed upon him in a sunny glade in the Optina forest.

On Bishop Innocent (Solotchin) of Kherson

Vladyka ate the most simple food: potatoes, schshi, porridge. But if some “important” guest showed up, he gave directions to serve the hidden salted fish, eggs, and milk products. He, however, did not touch such “luxuries.” I will write a detailed list later.

“Vladyka, why don’t you eat that yourself?” “It doesn’t agree with my stom-m-mach,” he answered slowly while showing the place where that capricious stomach was located. And he looks at us again with child-like, naive eyes. We were sure that he was only covering up his fasting. He not only did not eat, of course, non-fasting foods, but of fasting foods he picked out the most simple: this also is not at all easy or ordinary.

“Potatoes,” and he amicably pointed at a couple of potatoes, “they agree with my stomach.”