WARNING

NOT EVERYTHING THAT

CALLS ITSELF ORTHODOX IS

TRULY ORTHODOX


The above warning was given to me when I first met Orthodoxy in 1986. Today [2009] it is even more perilous, even more difficult to find the Royal Path. For one thing there is a far greater abundance of misinformation. And many materials are missing, and other materials are being rapidly rewritten. For another thing there are fewer than ever guides remaining on the Royal Path, especially who speak English. Hopefully this website will be a place where Newcomers to the Faith can keep at least one foot on solid ground, while they are "exploring."


blog owner: Joanna Higginbotham

joannahigginbotham@gmail.com

jurisdiction: ROCA under Vladyka Agafangel

who did not submit to the RocorMP union in 2007

DISCLAIMER



19 June 2021

So, you want to be Orthodox?

Four years after encountering Orthodoxy, Craig Young, along with his wife Susan, decided they wanted to be Orthodox.  They had both been in the Roman Catholic church.  The year was 1970 and they were both in their mid-20s.  That year they attended Liturgy at the cathedral in San Francisco, and afterwards approached Archbishop Anthony and told him that they wanted to be Orthodox.   The Archbishop called for Fr. Seraphim (with Fr. Herman), who took the Youngs over to a bench and sat them down.  Craig Young reported later:

"The two men rained a barrage of questions on us:

'So, why do you want to be Orthodox?  Do you know what that means?  What's the difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism?  Why do you want to join our Russian Church Abroad instead of some other jurisdiction?  Don't you know we are a small, persecuted Church living in exile?  Everybody hates us and makes fun of us.  Why do you want to join a Church like this?  Do you understand what really happens in the Divine Liturgy?'


Frankly, it was daunting.  Somehow we had thought we would be immediately welcomed with open arms, as though the Church had been waiting for us all these centuries; instead we were being given the third degree!" 




Classic Introduction to Orthodoxy
Door to Paradise 
(original by former monk John Marler)


17 August 2020

Vita Prima Blessed John Maximovitch

This was approved for publication by Platina in 2009 and has not been checked against the original.  However, reading through it I find 2 parts that I would have expected Platina to change or delete:
1.  At the end of the war persuasion and pressure were brought to bear on the Russian clergy everywhere to submit to the newly elected ‘Patriarch’ of the Soviet Church. Of the six hierarchs of the Far East, five submitted; only Bishop John, resisting all persuasions and threats, remained loyal to the Russian Church Abroad. 
2 He staunchly defended the Church (Julian) Calendar against new calendar innovators. 
Because these parts are included, I'm inclined to believe the copy of true.  ~jh

Vita Prima of St John Maximovitch
1966
by Eugene Rose 


Introduction 

Barely six months ago there reposed in the Lord a hierarch of the Church of Christ whose life so extraordinarily radiated the Christian virtues and the grace of the Holy Spirit as to make him a pillar of true Orthodoxy and an example of Christian life that is of universal significance.  In Archbishop John there are united three kinds of highest Christian activity that are rarely found together: that of a bold and esteemed Prince of the Church; an ascetic in the tradition of the pillar saints, taking upon himself the severest self mortification; and a fool for Christ’s sake, instructing men by a "foolishness’ that was beyond the wisdom of this world. 

The following account cannot begin to be called a complete life of Archbishop John; it is only a selection of the material that is already available, presented in the form of a preliminary sketch of the life of this holy man.  It was compiled by the St Herman Brotherhood, which was organized with the blessing of Archbishop John (who wished to see Father Herman canonized after Father John of Krohnstadt) for the mission of the printed word.  Now, in fulfillment of this mission, it is our duty to speak the truth about this man, who was, in our dark times when genuine Christianity has almost vanished, an embodiment of the life of Christ. 

The account is based primarily upon personal acquaintance and upon the testimony of witnesses known to the compilers.  Archbishop John throughout is referred to by the term Russians use to speak of and address bishops: Vladika.  In English this is rendered "Master", but the Russian word, when used by itself, implies a familiarity and endearment that are wanting in the nearest English equivalent.  For those who knew him, Archbishop John will always be simply Vladika.


I Youth 

Archbishop John was born on the 4th June 1896 in the village of Adamovka in the province of Kharkov in southern Russia.  He was a member of the Little Russian noble family of Maximovitch , to which St John of Tobolsk had also belonged.  His father, Boris, was a marshal of nobility in one part of Kharkov province; and his uncle was rector of the Kiev University.  He received at baptism the name of Michael, his heavenly protector being the Archangel Michael.  He was a sickly child and ate little. 

He received his secondary education in the Poltava Military School, which he attended from 1907 to 1914.  He loved this school and remembered it fondly in later years.  Upon completing military school he entered Kharkov Imperial University in the faculty of law, from which he graduated in 1918, before it was seized by the Soviets.  He was then assigned to the Kharkov District Courts, where he served at the time Hetman Skoropadsky was ruling the Ukraine and while the Volunteer Army was there. 

Kharkov, where Vladika spent his formative years, was a true town of Holy Russia, and the young Michael, impressionable to revelations of holiness, acquired there the pattern of his future life.  There were two miraculous icons of the Mother of God, the Oseryanskaya and Eletskaya, which were carried in a religious procession twice a year from the monasteries where they were treasured to the Dormition Cathedral.  In the Protection Monastery, in a frescoed grotto underneath the altar, lay the remains of holy Archbishop Melety Leontovitch, who after his death in 1841 rendered miraculous help to those who served a panikhida for him at his coffin.  Even during his lifetime the Archbishop was venerated for his severe asceticism, especially for the ascetic feat of abstaining from sleep.  He was known to spend nights on end standing motionless, with lifted arms, deep in prayer.  He foreknew the day and the hour of his own death.  The young Maximovitch was known to have a veneration for this holy hierarch. 

Today Archbishop John may be seen to resemble the holy man of Kharkov in at least three respects: he was not known to have slept in a bed for forty years; he knew beforehand of his death; and he now rests under a cathedral in a special grave chapel where panikhidas are sung almost daily and the psalter is read over his coffin by those who ask for his help.  This is a unique case of the transplanting, as it were, of a part of Holy Russia to contemporary America. 

While at Kharkov university, Vladika spent more time reading the lives of the saints than attending classes; nonetheless he was an excellent student.  Evidently his emulation of the saints was apparent even at that age, since Archbishop Anthony of Kharkov, one of the great Church figures of that time (later Metropolitan, first candidate to the Patriarchal See of Moscow, and first Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad) took special pains to become acquainted with him, and then kept the youth close to him and guided his spiritual formation. 

In 1921, during the Russian Civil War, Vladika, together with his parents, his brothers, and his sister was evacuated to Belgrade, where he and his brothers entered the University of Belgrade.  One brother graduated in the technical faculty and became an engineer, the other graduated in law and served in the Yugoslav police.  Vladika himself graduated in 1925 in the faculty of theology.  While he was a student he worked for his living by selling newspapers. 

In 1924 Vladika was ordained reader in the Russian church in Belgrade by Metropolitan Anthony, who continued to exert great influence over him; and Vladika in his turn showed the utmost respect and devotion to his superior.  In 1926 Metropolitan Anthony tonsured him a monk and ordained him hierodeacon in the Milkov Monastery, giving him the name John, after Vladika’s own distant relative, Saint John Maximovitch of Tobolsk.  On the 21st of November of the same year, Vladika was ordained hiermonk by Bishop Gabriel of Chelyabinsk.  From 1925 to 1927, Vladika was an instructor of religion at the Serbian State High School, and from 10929 to 1934 he was a teacher and tutor at the Serbian Seminary of St John the Theologian at Bitol.  There he served Divine Liturgy in Greek for the local Greek and Macedonian communities, who had great esteem for him. 

The city of Bitol was in the diocese of Okhrida, and at that time the ruling bishop of this diocese was Nicholas Velimirovitch, a Serbian Chrysostom, a noted preacher poet, writer, and organizer and inspirer of the popular religious movement.  He, as much as Metropolitan Anthony, valued and loved the young Hiermonk John, and himself exerted an beneficial influence upon him.  More than once he was heard to say, "If you wish to see a living saint, go to Bitol to Father John." 

For, indeed, it began to become evident, that this was an entirely extraordinary man. It was his own students, who first discovered what was perhaps Vladika’s greatest feat of asceticism.  They noticed at first that he stayed up long after everyone else had gone to bed; he would go through the dormitories at night and pick up blankets that had fallen down and cover the unsuspecting sleepers, making the Sign of the Cross over them.  Finally it was discovered that he scarcely slept at all, and never in a bed, allowing himself only an hour or two each night of uncomfortable rest in a sitting position, or bent over on the floor, praying before icons.  Years afterward he himself admitted, that since taking the monastic vows he had not slept lying in a bed. Such an ascetic practice is a very rare one; and yet it is not unknown to Orthodox tradition. The fourth century founder of coenobitic monasticism, St Pachomius the Great, when receiving the Rule of monastic communal life from an angel, heard the following concerning sleep: "And they (the monks) shall not take their sleep lying down, but thou shalt make them seats so that when they are sitting down they shall be able to support their heads’ (Rule four). 

Archbishop Averky of the Jordanville Holy Trinity Monastery, then a young hiermonk in Carpatho-Russia, was a witness of the deep impression Hiermonk John made upon the seminary students.  When they returned home on vacations they would speak of their extraordinary instructor who prayed constantly, served Divine Liturgy or at least received Holy Communion every day, fasted strictly, never slept lying down and with true fatherly love inspired them with high ideals of Christianity and of Holy Russia. 

In 1934 it was decided to raise Hiermonk John to the rank of bishop.  As for Vladika himself, nothing was farther from his mind.  A lady who knew him relates how she met him at this time on a streetcar in Belgrade.  He told her that he was in town by mistake, having been sent for in place of some other Hiermonk John who was to be consecrated bishop!  When she saw him the next day he informed her that the situation was worse than he had thought: it was him they wished to make bishop!  When he had protested that this was out of the question since he had a speech defect and could not enunciate clearly, he had only been told that the prophet Moses had the same difficulty. 

The consecration occurred on the 28th May 1934, Vladika was the last bishop of the very many to be consecrated by Metropolitan Anthony, and the extraordiarily high esteem in which that venerable hierarch held the new bishop is indicated in a letter which he sent to Archbishop Dimitry in the Far East.  Himself declining an invitation to retire to China, he wrote: 

But in place of myself, as my soul, as my heart, I am sending you Vladika Bishop John. This little frail man, looking almost like a child, is actually a miracle of ascetic firmness and strictness in our time of total spiritual enfeeblement. 

Vladika was assigned to the diocese of Shanghai. 


II Shanghai 

Vladika arrived in Shanghai in late November, on the feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple, and found a large cathedral uncompleted and a jurisdictional conflict to resolve.  The first thing he did was to restore Church unity.  He established contact with Serbs, Greeks, Ukrainians.  He paid special attention to religious education and made it a rule to be present at the oral examinations of the Catechism classes in all the Orthodox schools in Shanghai.  He at once became a protector of various charitable and philanthropic societies and actively participated in their work, especially after seeing the needy circumstances in which the majority of his flock, refugees from the Soviet Union, were placed.  He never went visiting for tea to the rich, but he was to be seen wherever there was need, regardless of times and weather.  He organised a home for orphans and the children of needy parents, entrusting it to the heavenly protection of a Saint he highly venerated, St Tikhon of Zadonsk, who loved children.  Vladika himself gathered sick and starving children off the streets and dark alleys of Shanghai’s slums.  Beginning with eight children, the orphanage later housed up to a hundred children at one time, and some 3 500 in all.  When the Communists came, Vladika evacuated the whole orphanage, first to an island in the Philippines, and then to America. 

It soon became apparent to his new flock that Vladika was a great ascetic.  The core of his asceticism was prayer and fasting.  He ate once a day at 11pm.  During the first and last weeks of Great Lent he did not eat at all, and for the rest of this and the Christmas Lent he ate only bread from the altar.  His nights he spent usually in prayer, and when he finally became exhausted he would put his head on the floor and steal a few hours of sleep near dawn.  When the time would come to serve Matins, someone would knock on the door, to no avail; they would open the doort and find Vladika huddled on the floor in the icon corner overcome by sleep.  At a tap on the shoulder he wouuld jump up and in a few minutes he would be in church for services – cold water streaming down his beard, but quite awake. 

Vladika officiated in the cathedral every morning and evening, even when sick.  He celebrated Divine Liturgy daily, as he was to do for the rest of his life, and if for some reason he could not serve, he would still receive Holy Communion.  No matter where he was, he would not miss a service.  Once, according to a witness, Vladika’s leg was terribly swollen and the council of doctors, fearing gangrene, prescribed hospitalization, which Vladika categorically refused.  Then the Russian doctors informed the Parish Council that they released themselves of any responsibility for the health and even the life of the patient.  The members of the Parish Council, after long pleas for mercy and threats of taking him by force, compelled Vladika to agree, and he was sent to the Russian Hospital in the morning on the day before the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  By six o’clock, however, Vladika came limping into the cathedral on foot and served.  In a day all the swelling was gone. 

Vladika’s constant attention to self-mortification had its root in the fear of God, which he possessed in the tradition of the ancient Church and of Holy Russia.  The following incident, told by O. Skopichenko and confirmed by many from Shanghai, well illustrates his daring, unshakable faith in Christ. 

A Mrs. Menshikova was bitten by a mad dog.  The injections against rabies she either refused to take or took carelessly.... And then she came down with this terrible disease.  Bishop John found out about it and came to the dying woman.  He gave her Holy Communion, but just then she began having one of the fits of this disease; she began to foam at the mouth and at the same time she spat out the Holy Gifts which she had just received.  The Holy Sacrament cannot be thrown out.  And Vladika picked up and put in his mouth the Holy Gifts vomited by the sick woman.  Those who were with him exclaimed: "Vladika, what are you doing!  Rabies is terribly contageous!"  But Vladika peacefully answered: "Nothing will happen; these are the Holy Gifts."  And indeed nothing did happen. 

Vladika wore clothing of the cheapest Chinese fabric, and soft slippers or sandals, always without socks, no matter what the weather.  He often went barefoot, sometimes after having given his sandals away to some poor man.  He even served barefoot, for which he was severely criticized. 

By now it had become known that Vladika not only was a righteous man and an ascetic, but was also so close to God that he was endowed with the gift of clairvoyance and there were healings by his prayers.  A striking account told by an eyewitness, Lidia Liu, testifies to Vladika’s spiritual height. 

Vladika came to Hong Kong twice. It’s strange, but I, not knowing Vladika then, wrote him a letter asking him to help a widow with children, and I also asked him about some personal spiritual matter, but I never received an answer.  A year passed.  Vladika came to Hong Kong and I was in a crowd that was to meet him in church.  Vladika turned to me and said, "It is you who wrote me the letter!"  I was astonished since Vladika had never seen me before.  A moleben was sung, after which Vladika, standing before a lectern, was delivering a sermon.  I was standing next to my mother, and we both saw a light surrounding Vladika down to the lectern – a radiance around him a foot wide.  This lasted a rather long time.  When the sermon was over, I, struck by such an unusual phenomenon, told what we had seen to R.V.S., who told us: "Yes, many faithful saw it."  My husband, who was standing a little way off, also saw this light. 

Vladika loved to visit the sick and did so every single day, hearing confessions and giving Holy Communion.  If the condition of a patient should become critical, Vladika would go to him at any hour of the day or night to pray at his bedside.  Here is one undoubted miracle among the many worked by Vladika’s prayers; it was recorded and placed in the archives of the County Hospital in Shanghai (source N. Makovaya). 

L. D. Sadkovskaya was very much taken by the sport of horse racing.  Once she was thrown off her horse; she hit her head on a rock and lost consciousness.  She was brought to the hospital unconscious.  A council of doctors agreed that her condition was hopeless and it was not likely that she would live until morning.  The pulse was almost gone; the skull was fractured in places so that small pieces of the skull were pressing on the brain.  In such condition she would die on the operating table.  Even if her heart would tolerate surgery and the result were successful, she would still remain deaf, dumb, and blind.  Her sister, after hearing this, rushed to Bishop John in despair and begged him to save her sister.  Vladika agreed: he came to the hospital and asked everyone to leave the room and prayed there for about two hours.  Then he called the chief doctor and asked him to examine her again.  How surprised the doctor was to discover that her pulse was normal! He agreed to perform the operation immediately, but only in the presence of Bishop John.  The operation was successful, and the doctors were amazed when, after the operation, the patient regained consciousness and asked to drink.  She can see and hear perfectly.  She is still living and can talk, see and hear.  I have known her for thirty years. 

Vladika visited the prison also, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the convicts on a primitive little table.  But the most difficult task for a pastor is to visit the mentally ill and the possessed – and Vladika sharply distinguished between the two.  Outside Shanghai there was a mental hospital, and Vladika alone had the spiritual power to visit these terribly sick people.  He gave them Holy Communion, and they, surprisingly, received it peacefully and listened to him. They always looked forward to his visits and met him with joy. 

Vladika possessed great courage.  During the Japanese occupation the Japanese authorities tried in every way possible to bend the Russian colony to their will.  Pressure was directed through the heads of the Russian Emigrant Committee.  Two presidents of this Committee strove to maintain its independence, and as a result both were killed.  Confusion and terror seized the Russian colony, and at that moment Vladika John, in spite of warnings from the Russians who were collaborating with the Japanese, declared himself the temporary head of the Russian colony. 

During the Japanese occupation it was extremely dangerous to walk on the streets at night and most people took care to be home by dark.  Vladika, however, paying no heed to the danger, continued to visit the sick and needy at any hour of the night, and he was never touched. 

At the end of the war persuasion and pressure were brought to bear on the Russian clergy everywhere to submit to the newly elected "Patriarch" of the Soviet Church.  Of the six hierarchs of the Far East, five submitted; only Bishop John, resisting all persuasions and threats, remained loyal to the Russian Church Abroad.  In 1946 he was raised to the rank of Archbishop over all the Russian faithful in China. 

With the coming of the Communists, the Russians in China were forced, once again to flee, most of them through the Philippine Islands.  In 1949 approximately 5000 Refugees from the Chinese mainland were living in an International Refugee Organization camp on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines.  This island is located in the path of the seasonal typhoons which sweep through that part of the Pacific.  During the 27 months period of the camp’s occupancy, the island was threatened only once by a typhoon, and it changed its course and bypassed the island. 

When the fear of typhoons was mentioned by one Russian to the Filipinos, they replied that there was no reason to worry, because "your holy man blesses the camp from four directions every night."  They referred to Vladika John; for no typhoon struck the island while he was there.  After the camp had been almost totally evacuated and the people re-settled elsewhere (mainly in the U.S.A. and Australia), and only about 200 persons were left on the island, it was struck by a terrible typhoon, that totally destroyed the camp. 

Vladika himself went to Washington, DC, to get his people to America.  Legislation was changed and almost the whole camp came to the New World – thanks again to Vladika. 


III Europe 

The exodus of his flock from China accomplished, Archbishop John was given in 1951 a new field for his pastoral endeavour.  He was sent by the Synod of Bishops of the Archdiocese of Western Europe, with his see first in Paris and later in Brussels.  He was now one of the leading hierarchs of the Russian Church, and his attendance was frequently required at the sessions of the Synod in New York City. 

In Western Europe Vladika took a deep interest not only in the Russians in Diaspora, for whom he exerted himself tirelessly in labours similar to those for which he had been known in Shanghai, but also in the local inhabitants.  He received under his jurisdiction local Dutch and French Orthodox Churches, protecting them and encouraging their Orthodox development.  He celebrated the Divine Liturgy in Dutch and French, as before he had served in Greek and Chinese, and as later he was to serve in English. 

Vladika’s interest in and devotion to the Church’s Saints, of whom his knowledge was already seemingly limitless, was extended now to the Western European Saints dating from before the schism of the Latin Church, many of whom venerated only locally, were included in no Orthodox calendar of Saints.  He collected their Lives and images of them, and later submitted a long list of them to the Synod. 

In Western Europe as in China people learned to expect the unexpected of Vladika; for here he continued to base his life upon the law of God, thinking nothing of the inconvenience or surprise this might sometimes occasion in those who are governed chiefly by the standards of men.  Once Vladika chanced to be in Marseilles, and he decided to serve a pankhida on the site of the cruel assassination of King Alexander of Serbia.  None of his clergy, out of false shame, wished to serve with Vladika.  Indeed, what a thing to do – to serve in the middle of the street!  So Vladika went alone.  The citizens of Marseilles were amazed to see a clergyman in unusual dress, with long hair and beard, walking with a suitcase and a broom in the middle of the street.  News photographers caught sight of him and photographed him.  Finally he stopped, swept with the broom a small portion of the pavement, opened his suitcase and began taking out its contents.  On the swept spot he put a pontifical eagle rug, lit the censer, and began to serve a pankhida. 

Vladika’s reputation for holiness, too, spread among the non-Orthodox as well as the Orthodox population.  In one of the Catholic Churches of Paris, a priest strove to inspire his young people with these words:  "You demand proofs, you say that now there are neither miracles nor saints: Why should I give you the theoretical proofs, when today there walks in the streets of Paris a Saint – Saint Jean Nus Pieds (St. John the Barefoot)."

Many people testify to the miracles worked by the prayers of Archbishop John in Western Europe. 


IV San Francisco 

In San Francisco, whose cathedral parish is the largest in the Russian Church Abroad, a lifelong friend of Vladika, Archbishop Tikhon, retired because of ill health, and in his absence the construction of a great new cathedral came to a halt as a bitter dispute paralyzed the Russian community.  In response to the urgent request of thousands of Russians in San Francisco who had known him in Shanghai, Archbishop John was sent by the Synod in 1962 as the only hierarch likely to restore peace in the divided community.  He arrived at his last assignment as bishop twenty eight years to the day after his first arrival in Shanghai on the feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple, 21st November (4th December), 1962. 

Under Vladika’s guidance a measure of peace was restored, the paralysis of the community was ended, and the cathedral finished.  Yet even in the role of peacemaker Vladika was attacked, and accusations and slanders were heaped upon his head.  He was forced to appear in public court – in flagrant violation of church canons – to answer to preposterous charges of concealing financial dishonesty by the Parish Council.  All involved were completely exonerated; but thus Vladika’s last years were filled with the bitterness of slander and persecution, to which he unfailingly replied without complaint, without judging anyone, with undisturbed peacefulness. 

Vladika remained true to the end of his path of faithful service to the Church.  To those who knew him in his last years, perhaps two aspects of his character stood out.  First was his strictness in what regarded the Church and the law of God.  He insisted on the proper conduct of Church servers, allowing no levity, or even talking, in the altar.  Himself an expert in Divine services, he would correct errors and omissions in the order of service immediately.  With the congregation, too, he was strict, allowing no women to kiss the cross or icons while wearing lipstick, and requiring that the antidoron distributed at the end of the Liturgy be received fasting.  He spoke against the desecration of the eves of Sundays and feast days by the organization of balls and other entertainments on them.  He staunchly defended the Church (Julian) Calendar against new calendar innovators.  He forebade his clergy to participate in "Pan Orthodox" services because of the dubious canonicity of some participants; and the activities of Orthodox "ecumenists" caused him to shake his head in disbelief.  He was strictest of all with regard to the holy doctrine of Orthodoxy; while he was still a young bishop in Shanghai his critical essay on "Sophiology" of Archpriest S.N. Bulgakov was instrumental in the Synod’s condemnation of the latter’s heresy in 1936.  No one who has seen will soon forget Vladika’s fierce look while lowering the pontificial candlesticks at the proclamation of the Anathemas against heretics of the Sunday of Orthodoxy – here he was one with the church in excluding from her bosom all who reject the full and saving Orthodox faith.  All this was not from any narrow-minded literalness or "fanaticism." but from the same fear of God which Vladika preserved his whole life long, and which prohibits one from trespassing against God’s law at the peril of one’s salvation. 

A recent example of Vladika’s righteous severity invites comparison with an incident from the life of Vladika’s beloved St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, who rode into the midst of a pagan celebration held during the Apostles’ Fast and delivered a heated accusing sermon against the participants.  On the evening before, 19th October (1st November), 1964, the Russian Church Abroad celebrated the solemn canonization of Father John of Krohnstadt, whom Vladika greatly venerated, taking an active part in the compiling of the service to him.  The Latins celebrate on this day the feast of All Saints, and there is a tradition that during the preceding night the dark spirits celebrated their own festival of disorder.  In America this "Halloween" has become an occasion on which children make mischief dressed in costumes of witches, devils, ghosts, as if calling on the dark powers – a diabolic mockery of Christianity. 

A group of Russians organized on this night (which was also the eve of Sunday) a Halloween Ball.  In the San Francisco Cathedral at the time of the first All night Vigil celebrated to St John of Krohnstadt, a number of people were absent, to the great sorrow of Vladika.  After the service Vladika went to the place where the ball was still in progress.  He climbed the steps and entered the hall, to the absolute astonishment of the participants.  The music stopped and Vladika, in complete silence, glared at the dumbfounded people, slowly and deliberately making the round of the entire hall, staff in hand.  He spoke not a word and none was necessary; the mere sight of Vladika stung the conscience of all, as was evident from the great consternation.  Vladika left in silence and the next day in church he thundered his holy indignation and his flaming zeal calling all to the devout Christian life. 

Yet Vladika is not best remembered by his flock for his sternness but rather for his gentleness, his joyfulness, even for what is known as "foolishness for Christ’s sake."  The most popular photograph of him captures something of this aspect of his character.  It was especially noticeable in his conduct with children.  After services he would smile and joke with the boys who served with him, playfully knocking them on the head with his staff.  Occasional the Cathedral clergy would be disconcerted to see Vladika, in the middle of a service (though never in the altar), bend over to play with a small child!  And on feast days when blessing with holy water was called for, he would sprinkle the faithful, not on top of the head as is usual, but right in the face (which once led a small girl to exclaim, "he squirts you"), with a noticeable glint in his eye and total unconcern at the discomfiture of some of the more dignified.  Children were absolutely devoted to him despite his usual strictness with them. 

Vladika was sometimes criticized for upsetting the usual order of things.  He was often late for services (never on his own account, but because he had been visiting the sick or dying), and he would not allow them to begin without him; and when he celebrated the services would be quite long, as he followed few of the standard abbreviations.  He would appear at various places unannounced and at unexpected times; often he would visit hospitals late at night – and always be admitted.  At times his judgements would seem to clash with common sense, and his actions would seem strange; and often he would not explain them. 

No man is perfect; Vladika was sometimes wrong (and he did not hesitate to admit it when he found out).  But usually he was right, and the seeming strangeness of some of his actions and judgments could later be seen to fit into a different pattern of things.  Vladika’s life was governed by the standards of the spiritual life, and if this upset the routine order of things it was in order to jolt people out of their spiritual inertia and remind them that there is a higher judgement than the world’s. 

A remarkable incident from Vladika’s years in San Francisco (1963) illustrates several aspects of his holiness: his spiritual boldness based on absolute faith; his ability to see the future and to overcome by his spiritual sight the bounds of space; and the power of his prayer, which beyond all doubt worked miracles.  The incident is related by the woman who witnessed it, Mrs L. Liu; the exact words of Vladika were confirmed by the Mr T. who is mentioned. 

In San Francisco my husband was involved in an automobile accident and was seriously injured; he lost control of balance and suffered terribly.  At this time Vladika had many troubles.  Knowing the power of Vladika’s prayers, I thought: if I ask Vladika to come to my husband, my husband would recover; but I was afraid to do this, because Vladika was so busy then.  Two days passed, and suddenly Vladika came to us, accompanied by Mr. B. T., who had driven him.  Vladika stayed with us about five minutes, but believed that my husband would recover.  The state of his health was at its most serious point then, and after Vladika’s visit there was a sharp crisis and then he began to recover and lived four more years after this.  He was quite aged.  Afterwards I met Mr. T. at a Church meeting and he told me that he had been driving Vladika to the airport.  Suddenly Vladika had said to him: "Let’s go to the Lius’.  He had objected that they would be late for the plane and that he could not turn around at that moment.  Then Vladika had said: "Can you take the life of a man upon yourself?"  He could do nothing but drive Vladika to us.  Vladika, as it turned out, was not late for the plane, because they had held it up for him. 

With the announcement by Metropolitan Anastassy in 1964 of his retirement, Archbishop John became a leading candidate to succeed him as Metropolitan and Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad.  On the second ballot he was one of the two candidates, with the difference of a single vote between them.  To resolve thee equal division of the bishops, that night Vladika asked the youngest of the hierarchs, Bishop Philaret, to his quarters, and there he persuaded this unexpected candidate to accept the awesome responsibility of this office.  The next day he withdrew his own candidacy and recommended the election of Bishop Philaret, whom the bishops elected unanimously, seeing in this sudden turn of events the grace of the Holy Spirit. 

To such eminence among the hierarchs of the Russian Church was Vladika raised before the end of his earthly life.  It was an eminence based not on any external qualities, for Vladika was frail, bent, without ambition or guile, unable even to speak clearly.  It was an eminence based solely on those inner, spiritual qualities which made him unquestionably one of the great Orthodox hierarchs of this century, and a holy man.  In him righteousness shone. 



V Repose 

Among those who knew and loved Vladika, the first response to the news of his sudden death was: it cannot be! And this was more than a reaction to the suddenness of the event; for among those who were close to him there had unaccountably developed the notion that this pillar of the Church, this holy man who was always accessible to his flock, would never cease to be!  There would never be a time when one would not be able to turn to him for advice and consolation!  In one sense, in a spiritual sense, this has since turned out to be true.  But it is also one of the realities of this world that every man who lives must die. 

Vladika was prepared for this reality.  While others expected of him many more years of fruitful service to the Church of Christ – for he was a relatively young hierarch – he was readying himself for an end which he had foreseen at least for some months, and the very day of which he apparently knew in advance. 

To the manager of the orphanage where he lived, who had spoken in the spring of 1966 of a diocesan meeting to be held three years later, he indicated, "I will not be here then."   In May 1966, a woman who had known Vladika for twelve years – and whose testimony according to Metropolitan Philaret, is "worthy of complete confidence" – was amazed to hear him say, "I will die soon, at the end of June... not in San Francisco, but in Seattle..."  Metropolitan Philaret himself testifies of Vladika’s extraordinary final farewell to him when returning to San Francisco from the last session of the Synod which he attended in New York.  After the Metropolitan had served the customary moleben before travelling, Vladika, instead of sprinkling his own head with holy water, as is always done by hierarchs, bent low and asked the Metropolitan to sprinkle him; and after this, instead of the usual mutual kissing of hands, Vladika firmly took the Metropolitan’s hand and kissed it, withdrawing his own. 

Again, on the evening before his departure for Seattle, four days before his death, Vladika astonished a man for whom he had just served a moleben with the words, "you will not kiss my hand again."  And on the day of his death, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy which he celebrated, he spent three hours in the altar praying, emerging not long before his death, which occurred at 3:50 pm. on 2nd July 1066.  He died in his room in the parish building next to the church, without preparatory signs of illness or affliction.  He was heard to fall and having been placed in a chair by those who ran to help him, breathed his last peacefully and with little evident pain, in the presence of the miracle working Kursk Ikon of the Mother of God.  Thus was Vladika found worthy to imitate the blessed death of his patron, St John of Tobolsk. 

Today [1966] Archbishop John reposes in a chapel in the basement of the San Francisco cathedral; and there a new chapter has begun in the story of this holy man.  Just as St Seraphim of Sarov told his spiritual children to regard him as living after his death, and to come to his grave and tell him what was in their hearts, so our Vladika also has proved to be hearing those who revere his memory.  Soon after his death, a one-time student of his, Fr Amvrossy P., saw one night a dream (or a vision, he could not tell which): Vladika, clad in Easter vestments, full of of light and shining, was censing the cathedral and joyfully uttered to him just one word while blessing him: "happy." 

Later, before the end of the forty-day period, Fr. Constantine Z., long Vladika’s deacon and now a priest, who had lately been angry at Vladika and had begun to doubt his righteousness, saw Vladika in a dream all light, with rays of light shining around his head so brightly, that it was impossible to look at them.  Thus were Fr Constantine’s doubts of Vladika’s holiness dispelled. 

Many others have seen Archbishop John in unusual dreams that have a particular significance or message.  Some affirm that supernatural help has been granted them.  The modest grave chapel [1966], soon to be adorned with icons by Pimen Sofronov in remembrance of Vladika, is the witness already of how many tears, confessions, heartfelt requests... 

The manager of the St. Tikhon Zadonsky Home and long devoted servant of Vladika, M.A. Shakmatova, saw a remarkable dream.  A crowd of people carried Vladika in a coffin into St Tikhon’s Church; Vladika came to life and stood in the royal doors anointing the people and saying to her, "Tell the people: although I have died, I am alive!" 

It is yet too early to be able even to grasp the fact that we, cold and sinful, living in this evil age, have been witness of such a glorious phenomenon – the life and death of a saint!  It is as if the times of Holy Russia have returned to earth, as if to prove the fact that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).  Amen. 

Eugene Rose 1966 


16 July 2020

Optina Elder Nektary article


Normally I don't just copy-paste things off the internet, but there is some information in here that is not easily obtained because some of the sources are older, or in Russian.  The author of the article who compiled this information is unknown, but the sources are ideal.   
~Joanna

Hieroconfessor Nektary of Optina

The last of the famous elders of Optina, Nectarius, was born in the town of Yeltz of poor parents, Basil and Helena Tikhonov, in 1857 or 1858. He was baptized in the Yeltz church of St. Sergius and given the name Nicholas. His godparents were called Nicholas and Matrona. He always prayed for them and for his parents. His father worked in a mill and died when the boy was only seven. He was bright and loved to learn, but being poor was only able to attend the village school.

Once he was playing near his mother. Nearby was a cat whose eyes were shining brightly. The boy grabbed a needle and thought of stabbing the animal's eye to see what was making it shine, but his mother hit his hand:

"Naughty boy! If you dare to poke out the cat's eye, you yourself will later be without an eye!"

Many years later when already a monk, the elder remembered this incident. He came to the skete's well where there hung a ladle with a pointed ladle. Another monk, not noticing the elder, lifted the ladle in such a way that the pointed end came within inches of the elder's eye, and just in the nick of time the elder was able to push it aside.

"If I had poked out the cat's eye at that time, I would now be without an eye," he said. "Obviously, all this had to be to remind me, the unworthy one, that everything in life, from the cradle to the grave, is taken into serious account by God."

Nicholas was very close to his mother, who brought him up strictly but with love. She, too, died early, leaving him a complete orphan. When he was eleven she arranged for him to work in the shop of the merchant Khamov, and there until he was seventeen he worked up to the position of youngest steward. He grew up to be quiet, prayerful and lover of reading. He had a very handsome face with a rosy complexion and curly blond hair like a girl's - so said the oldest Optina monks who remembered him in his youth.

As soon as he turned eighteen, the oldest of Khamov's students thought of marrying off his daughter to him; and his employer supported this idea. The girl was very nice and Nicholas was drawn to her. Even ten years later, remembering his bride-to-be, he would smile; and to one nun whom he used to receive very kindly, he said:

"You remind me of my bride of long ago."

At that time there lived in Yeltz a righteous old woman already nearly 100 years old - Schema-Nun Theoctista, a spiritual daughter of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. The Yeltz inhabitants would go to her for advice. And the merchant counselled Nicholas to go to her for a blessing on his marriage. But when he came, the schema-nun said to him:

"Young man, go to Optina to Fr. Hilarion and he will tell you what to do."

She made the sign of the cross over him and gave him tea for the road. He kissed her hand and went to his employer.

"Matushka Theoctista is sending me to Optina."

The merchant said nothing and even gave him money for the journey. Nicholas said goodbye to his bride and left; they never saw one another again.

So in 1876 Nicholas arrived at Optina, carrying only a Gospel in his knapsack. The skete superior, Fr. Hilarion, sent him to Elder Ambrose, who saw Nicholas straight away and spoke to him for two hours. Elder Nectarius never revealed the content of this conversation, but afterwards he remained in the skete and never returned home even for a day.

Once he saw that a pilgrim had the book, The Life of Elder Hilarion, and he remarked:

"I am indebted to him for everything. He received me into the skete fifty years ago when I came not having a place to lay my head - a total orphan, penniless, and the whole brotherhood at that time was very educated. And so I was the very least among them."

His spiritual father was Elder Anatolius (Zertsalov), but he also went for advice to Elder Ambrose. These holy elders led Nectarius along the strict path of true monasticism.

His first obedience was to look after the flowers, which he loved. Then he was appointed sacristan. Nicholas had a cell which opened into the church. In this cell he lived for 25 years without speaking to any of the monks; he went only to Elder Anatolius or Elder Ambrose. In this obedience he was often late for church and walked with swollen, sleepy eyes. The brothers complained about him to Fr. Ambrose, but he replied:

"Wait, Nikolka will sleep it off and come in useful to everyone."

He attached great significance to obedience.

"The highest and first virtue is obedience. Christ came into the world for the sake of obedience, and the life of man on earth is obedience to God. But obedience must be understood; it must be properly valued, otherwise it can be destructive. Without obedience a man is impulsive and as if in a fever, but then comes a weakening, a cooling and stiffening, and the man cannot go on. Obedience is difficult at first - always semi-colons. But then all punctuation marks are smoothed away."

When citing some text or example from Holy Scripture, he would usually talk both about the direct, literal meaning, and about the allegorical meaning. For example: "Blessed is that man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly." From the external point of view, this means that blessed is the man who avoids ungodly meetings, taking no part in heretical or antiecclesiastical teachings. But the man also stands for the mind when it does not accept thoughts coming from the enemy. It is impossible to stop thoughts from coming, but it is possible not to enter into meetings or conversations with them, and instead say: "Lord, have mercy!" So the man is he who acts in this way.

Fr. Nectarius received the mantia in 1887. In 1894 he was ordained to the diaconate, and in 1898 Bishop Macarius of Kaluga made him a hieromonk. Now he almost never left his cell, and for eleven years he even covered the windows of his cell with blue paper. He used to say that for a monk there are only two exits from his cell - into the church and into the grave. But in these years he studied and read. He read not only the Holy Fathers and spiritual works, but also studied science, mathematics, history, geography and classical literature both Russian and foreign. He spoke to his visitors about Pushkin and Shakespeare, Milton and Krylov, Spingler and Rider Haggard, Blok, Dante, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. In his only hour of rest after dinner he asked to be read aloud Pushkin or some fairy-tales - either Russian or the Brothers Grimm. He studied Latin and French. He was close to Constantine Leontiev, who used to read to him his works in manuscript. He learned painting from the artist Bolotov, who became a monk and founded an icon-painting studio in Optina.

The elder said about art and literature: "One can practise art like anything else, but everything must be done as under God's gaze. There is great art and there is lesser art. One can define the lesser as follows: there exist sounds and lights. An artist is someone who is sensitive to these sounds and lights which others are unable to perceive. He takes them and puts them on canvas, on paper. They become colours, notes, words. It is as though the sounds and lights have dissolved. From light there remains colour. A book, a painting - these are the sarcophagi of light and sound. a reader or a beholder comes and, if he is able to creatively apprehend or read, a 'resurrection' of meaning takes place. And then the circle of art is completed. Light flashes in the soul of the beholder or reader, his hearing becomes awakened to sound. For this reason an artist or poet has no particular cause for pride. He is only doing his share of the work. In vain do they suppose themselves to be the creators of their works - there is one Creator, and men only dissolve the words and images of the Creator and then revive them by the power of the spirit given by Him.

"But there is also greater art - the word of life and death (the Psalms of David, for example), but the way to this art lies in the personal struggle of the artist. This is the path of sacrifice, and only one out of many thousands reach the goal.

"All the poetic verses in the world are not worth a line of Holy Scripture. Pushkin was the cleverest man in Russia, but he couldn't manage to live his own life!"

And he emphasized the need for writers to consider every word:

"Before beginning to write, dip the pen seven times into the ink well."

He once refused a blessing to a girl who was dreaming of going on stage. When asked why he replied:

"She will not overcome and will be corrupted. Here strength is necessary. Modesty in our day is a great virtue. This is nothing less than chastity. And to preserve chastity (and among you intelligentsia this is easiest to lose) is to preserve all."

Once one of his spiritual daughters was sorrowfully talking to her friend in his reception room:

"I don't know, perhaps education is altogether unnecessary and only brings harm. How can it be reconciled with Orthodoxy?"

The elder, coming out of his cell, rejoined: "Once a man came to me who simply couldn't believe that there had been a flood. Then I told him that on very high mountains in the sand are found shells and other remains from the ocean floor, and how geology testifies to the flood, and he came to believe. You see how necessary learning is at times."

And again he said: God not only permits, but demands of man that he grow in knowledge. However, it is necessary to live and learn so that not only does knowledge not ruing morality, but that morality not ruin knowledge."

About history he once said:

"It shows us how God rules the peoples and gives as it were moral lessons to the universe."

Speaking about mathematics, he loved to ask: can a triangle be equal to a circle? and often cited the patristic example:

"God is the centre of the circle, and people - the radii. As they come closer to the centre they come closer to each other."

At another time he said: "One prophet had a vision of God - not in a circle of light but in a triangle. This was a sign that man cannot approach and experience the impenetrable depth of the mystery of God. To man is given only to experience that which surrounds the Divinity; but if he makes bold to penetrate beyond these limits, he will perish from the sharp corners of the triangle."

On inner work he used to say: "The outer belongs to you, but the inner to the grace of God. So practise the outer and, when everything is in good order, the inner will be formed. One should not expect or seek miracles. We have one miracle: the Divine Liturgy. This is the greatest miracle, one should try to measure up to it."

During these years of study and spiritual growth, the elder began to take upon himself foolishness for Christ. He wore brightly coloured sweaters over his cassock; all his food he dumped together into one pot - the sour, the sweet and the salty. He walked about the skete with a boot on one foot and a slipper on the other. He bewildered the monks even more, even as an elder, with all his toys. He had toy automobiles, boats, trains and later even airplanes. He had music boxes and wound up a gramophone with religious records, but the skete administration put a stop to it.

In 1913 the Optina monks gathered to elect a new elder. At first they offered the eldership to Archimandrite Agapit, who was living in Optina in retirement, a widely educated and deeply spiritual man. But he refused. He was leading a soul-saving life surrounded by only a few of his close disciples, one of whom was Hieromonk Nectarius. When the brethren asked him to indicate a worthy candidate, he nominated Fr. Nectarius. The latter in his humility was not even present at the meeting. When he had been chosen, Fr. Abercius was sent to get him. Coming to him he said:
"Batiushka, your presence is requested at the meeting."

But Fr. Nectarius declined, saying:

"They can choose whomever is needed without me."

"The archimandrite sent me to get you and asks that you come!" said Fr. Abercius.

Then Batiushka immediately put on his riassa, and just as he was - one foot in a shoe, the other in a slipper - he went to the meeting.

"Batiushka," they greeted him, "you have been chosen as the spiritual father and elder of the brotherhood."

"No, fathers and brothers! I am stupid and cannot carry such a burden," said Batiushka, declining.

But the archimandrite said to him: "Fr. Nectarius, accept this obedience."
And then Batiushka agreed. He used to say:

"What kind of an elder am I? How can I be the heir of the earlier elders? I'm weak and feeble. Grace came to them in big loaves, but to me in little slices..."

"The story of Job," said the elder, "is a lesson for all men. When a man is rich, learned and happy, God does not answer. When a man is on a dung hill, abandoned by everyone, then God appears and Himself speaks to him. But the man only listens and cries out: 'Lord, have mercy!' Only the measure of abasement varies."

"The main thing is to guard oneself from judging one's neighbour. As soon as such a thought enters the mind, immediately and with attention turn to the Lord: 'Lord, make me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother.'"

The elder was clairvoyant and prophesied. He also worked miracles. Thus Fr. Basil Shustin wrote: "Batiushka told me:

"'Rinse out the samovar first, then pour in water. The water's standing there, in the corner, in the copper jug. Take it and pour in the water.'

"I went up to the jug, but it was very big, containing twenty-four litres, and massively built. I tried to move it, but no - I didn't have the strength. But batiushka told me:

"'Take the jug and pour the water into the samovar.'

"'But you know, batiushka, it's too heavy, I can't move it from its place.'

"Then batiushka went up to the jug, made the sign of the cross over it, and said:

"'Take it.'

"Then I lifted it, and it seemed very light to me."

In 1917 the elder prophesied: "A hard time is coming. The number six has passed in the world, and the number seven has begun. Now begins the age of silence. Be silent, silent," said batiushka, and tears flowed from his eyes. "And now his Majesty is not his own man, he is suffering such humiliation for his mistakes. 1918 will be still worse. His Majesty and all his family will be killed, tortured. And our tsar will stand before the throne of God wearing the crown of a great-martyr. Yes, this tsar will be a great-martyr.

"In the last days," he said, "the world will be encircled by paper and iron. Noah's time is a figure of our own. The flood was approaching. Noah knew about it and told the people, but they did not believe him. He hired workers to build the ark, and they, while building the ark, did not believe, and so they only received the agreed pay for their work, but were not saved. Those days are a prefiguring of ours. The ark is the Church, only those who are in it will be saved."

"We must pray. By prayer and the word of God every filth is cleansed. The soul cannot be reconciled with life and is consoled only through prayer. Without prayer the soul is dead to grace."

"Forcing oneself is necessary in everything. Suppose a dinner is served, and you want to eat and smell the delicious smell, nevertheless the spoon will not bring the food to you of itself. You have to force yourself, get up, go up and take the spoon and then eat. And no work is accomplished immediately - waiting and patience are required everywhere."

Concerning prayer, the elder said to one of his spiritual sons: "I will light your lamp, but you must take care of the wick yourself."

And about the Six Psalms: "The Six Psalms must not be read like kathismas, but like prayers. The meaning of the Six Psalms is very deep; it is the prayer of the Son to God the Father."

The elder said to one of his spiritual daughters, the secret nun Lydia: "Soon there will be a famine of books. Buy books, otherwise you will not be able to buy them for any money."

They asked the saint how to pray for those about whom it is not known whether they are alive. "You will not be erring if you pray for them as for the living, because everyone is alive with God. Everyone except heretics and apostates. They are dead. So, if you like, commemorate them as dead people."

"This is an order for you: when you prepare for holy Communion, less wordiness and more prayerfulness."

One woman said to the elder: "Batyushka, I'm very annoyed."

And he replied: "When irritation comes upon you, only repeat: 'Lord, have mercy!' Seek strength in prayer and consolation in work."

The old carter Timothy fell on his knees before batyushka. Timothy's face was all transfigured by faith, tender feeling and hope. "Batyushka, give me your elder's instruction, so that your warm ray my heat up my cold soul, so that it may flare up to the path on high." After this fine phrase he said simply: "Batyushka, I have no tears."

But the elder leaned towards him with a wonderful smile and said: "It doesn't matter, your soul weeps, and such tears are much more valuable than bodily ones."

The elder was strict, demanding and sometimes ironic with the intelligentsia, but exceptionally kind and approachable with simple people. In confession he was very strict, pointing to the significance of thoughts as well as deeds. But sometimes he was kind and even joked.

One woman who had not done confession since her youth and was far from the Church, accompanied her sick husband to the elder. He made a strong impression on her, and when he suggested that she do confession, she agreed. She entered, and he led her to the icons:

"Stand here and pray!"

Having placed her there, he himself went into his cell. She stood and looked at the icons. She didn't like them - they were not artistic and even the lampada seemed mediocre to her. It was quiet in the room. Only the saint was walking behind the wall and rustling something. And suddenly she began to feel sadness and compunction, and involuntarily and imperceptibly she began to weep. Tears dimmed her eyes, and she could no longer see the icons and lampada but only an iridescent cloud behind which there seemed to be the presence of God. When the saint entered, she was standing all in tears.

"Read 'Our Father'."

Somehow, stumblingly, she read it.

"Read the 'Symbol of Faith'."

"I don't remember it."

The elder himself began to read it, and after each article he asked:

"Do you believe this?"

To the first two she replied: "I believe."

When they reached the third article, she said that she understood nothing there and felt nothing for the Mother of God. Batyushka reproached her and ordered her to pray for enlightenment to the Heavenly Queen, so that she herself should teach her how to understand the Symbol of Faith. And with regard to the majority of the other articles of the Symbol of Faith the woman said that she did not understand them and had never thought about them. But she wept bitterly, and all the time felt that it was impossible to hide anything and it would be pointless to try and hide anything, and that this was for her like a prefiguring of the Terrible Judgement, while the saint asked her about her personal sins as if she were a child, so that she began to reply to him with a smile through her tears. Then he absolved her from her sins since childhood to the present day.

Once a spiritual daughter of his asked the elder: did he have to take upon himself all the sufferings and sins of those who came to him for relief and consolation? He replied:

"You yourself have understood, so I shall tell you - it is impossible to relieve them in any other way. And you sometimes feel as if literally a mountain of stones had fallen on you, so many sins and pain did they bring you, and you cannot bear it. Then grace comes to your weakness and clears away this mountain of stones as if it were a mountain of dry leaves..."

The clairvoyant elder often gave messages in an indirect way, through parables. Thus Bishop Theophanes of Kaluga did not believe in the holiness of the elder. When he visited Optina and went to him, the elder paid no attention to him and occupied himself with his dolls (they had been given to him by some children out of love for him). He ordered one to be put in prison, giving it a sentence; another he beat, and a third he punished. Bishop Theophanes decided that he was mad. But when Vladyka was taken by the Bolsheviks and put in prison, he understood everything and said:
"I am a sinner before God and the elder. Everything he said was about me, and I thought that he was mad."

During his exile Vladyka suffered much from his landlord, but did not complain. However, he later fell into the schism created by Metropolitan Sergius.

Elder Nectarius also said: "Russia will arise and will be materially poor, but in spirit she will be wealthy, and in Optina there will be seven more lights, seven pillars."

And he said: "You know that if you translate the apocalyptic number 666, you get free thinker."

When the heresy of renovationism arose, the elder took a firm stand against it. He said: "I fear the red hierarchs", and: "There is no grace there. Rebelling against the lawful patriarch Tikhon, the bishops and priests of the 'Living Church' deprived themselves of grace and lost, according to canonical ruling, their hierarchical office. Because of this the Liturgy performed by them is a mockery."

The elder forbade his spiritual children from entering the churches taken over by the renovationists. If there were wonderworking icons in such churches, the Iveron Mother of God, for example, he would instruct them on entering the church to go straight to the icon and neither by thought nor movement to participate in the service. Candles placed before the icon were to be brought from home or from an Orthodox church.

In 1923, just before Pascha, Optina was officially closed by the Bolsheviks. The churches were sealed, the graves of the elders desecrated and the skete turned into a resort for the Soviet upper class. Fr. Nectarius was arrested and put in a prison hospital in Kozelsk.

After his departure from Optina, the Bolsheviks put an occultist into his cell in order to discover, as they thought, the treasures that were hidden there. (It is well known that they made frequent use of occult powers to pursue their ends.) It was night, and a kerosene lamp burned in the cell. The magician-occultist began his spells and, although the lamp continued to burn, the room became dark. At this point a nun who was there took Fr. Nectarius' prayer-rope and made the sign of the cross with it. Immediately it became light, but the magician writhed on the ground in convulsions.

As the elder himself said of spiritists: "Finally, when the unfortunate soul with Satan's help has reached the last step in leading himself astray, he either takes leave of his senses - the man becomes literally irresponsible - or he commits suicide."

On leaving prison, Fr. Nectarius settled in the house of a peasant in the village of Kholmischchi in Bryansk region. Here, although many of his spiritual children visited him, life was very difficult for him. The authorities threatened him with exile to Kamchatka.

Elder Nectarius also worked miracles of healing. Eugenia Grigorievna Rymarenko, the wife of Fr. Adrian, later Archbishop Andrew of Rockland, recalls: "I remember during Lent the unusual case of Fr. Adrian's healing by Batiushka's prayers. Every evening I sent medicine (powders, mineral water) - from the beginning of Lent he had unbearable abdominal pains. Fearfully, the people were talking among themselves that he would probably be so sick that he wouldn't even be able to carry out the Cross. He didn't want to eat non-lenten food, and I didn't know what to do with him! I wrote to a certain nun in Kozelsk, Anastasia, so that she would ask Batiushka to pray. And then (for, when Fr. Adrian went in the morning to liturgy on the day of the bringing out of the Cross, he still had pains), toward evening everything went away, and the evening church service, with the bringing out of the Cross, passed without his having pains. The pains stopped for a long period of time and didn't return. Mother Anastasia told me that Batiushka had arranged a short moleben and everyone heard how he prayed for 'the sick priest Fr. Adrian'."

In 1927 Fr. Nectarius foretold to Professor I.M. Andreyev that very heavy trials and sufferings lay ahead for him, but that in the end everything would turn out well and he would be free and have the opportunity of working actively for the Orthodox Church.

In February, 1929, the professor was arrested for being a member of the Catacomb Church, was exiled to the Solovki labour camps, and then was in exile. But everything turned out well and after the war of 1941-45 he emigrated to America, where he became a professor in the Jordanville theological seminary.

Once a young girl came to ask the elder's blessing to become a nun. But he said:

"No, you will have a bridegroom, you will marry, you will bear a child and he will weigh ten pounds."

It turned out exactly as he said. And two years later the girl brought her son to the elder to be blessed.

One of Fr. Nectarius' constant visitors relates the following: "Patriarch Tikhon did not visit Fr. Nectarius, and Fr. Nectarius did not visit the patriarch. It seems that there was no correspondence between them. However, it seems that many questions were decided by the patriarch in accordance with the elder's opinion. People close to both men would convey the elder's opinion to the patriarch. And he always acted in accordance with his advice."

Or almost always. We know of one case in which the elder criticized a decision of the patriarch's - his decision in 1922 to allow the church valuables - with the exception of the most sacred vessels used in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy - to be given to the Bolsheviks, supposedly so that they should be sold and the proceeds given to the starving in the Volga region. "You see now," said the elder to Matushka Evegnia Rymarenko, "the patriarch gave the order to give up all valuables from the churches, but they belonged to the Church! Only don't say anything about this to Fr. Adrian, please, don't say anything..."

Of course, as I.M. Kontzevich writes, "the position of the patriarch was exceptionally difficult. The authorities were trying to destroy the foundations of Christianity. At this time Optina, under the direction of the elders in general and the last elder, Batiushka Nectarius, in particular, went firmly ahead without deviating to either side. Through the authority of the elder Optina spread its influence into every corner of Russia; for people devoted to the Church poured to it from all sides in spite of the difficulties and dangers. Bishops, priests and laymen addressed the elder both personally and in writing and orally, through other people. They sought the resolution of spiritual, ecclesiastical and everyday questions. The elder's opinion on this or that question was absolutely authoritative and quickly spread among the truly believing people, who were a support for the patriarch in all his initiatives.

"A quite different situation arose with the coming to power of Metropolitan Sergius: between the latter and Fr. Nectarius there was no communication.

"Even before the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, in the same summer of 1927, Professors Komarovich and Anichkov were visiting the elder. During the conversation the elder called Metropolitan Sergius a renovator. When they objected that Sergius had repented, the elder replied:

"'Yes, he has repented, but the poison is in him still.'"

And according to Archbishop Lazarus of Tambov, the elder said: "Sergianism is worse than renovationism... It is worse because the renovationists repented, but these will not repent, they will become hardened of heart."

Elder Nectarius sent some of his spiritual children to the churches of those who had separated from Metropolitan Sergius, both in Moscow and in Petrograd. And when he was dying, he said that his body should not be sent to Kozelsk for the burial service, since the brothers in Kozelsk recognized Metropolitan Sergius.

"Kozelsk has set off on a false path," he said.

They say that at the time of his arrest, when the authorities demanded that batyushka refuse to receive visitors, all the Optina elders appeared to him and said:

"If you want to be with us, do not refuse your spiritual children."

And he did not refuse.

The Optina elders appeared to him for the second time when they wanted to take him away from Kholmishchi. At that time they forbade him to leave.

Elder Nectarius died on April 29 / May 12, 1928 in Kholmishchi. The last rites were given to him by Fr. Adrian Rymarenko, later Archbishop Andrew of Novo-Diveyevo. At the moment of death Fr. Adrian placed his stole over the dying elder. He reposed quietly. He was buried in the local cemetery on May 3/16 by five priests led by Fr. Sergius Mechiev, the future hieromartyr. It was a bright spring day, and a great joy was felt in the hearts of his weeping spiritual children.

The elder foreknew his death and bade farewell to his close ones already two months before he died. He blessed them for the last time, gave them some parting counsels and gave them over into the care of this or that spiritual father. After his death he appeared in dreams to his spiritual children.

In 1935 some village hooligans dug up his grave one night. They tore the lid off the coffin and the covering from the face of the dead man, and then leaned the open coffin against a tree. In the morning, as little children were leading horses from their nightly grazing spot, they saw the coffin and galloped to the village, shouting:

"A monk arose from the grave!"

The collective farm worker ran to the cemetery and said: "The elder was standing incorrupt - his skin was wax-coloured and his arms and hands were soft."

One woman brought a white silk covering and with it they covered the face of the elder. Then they closed the coffin and lowered it into the grave, singing "Holy God".
The elder prophesied that his relics would not remain in Kholmishchi, and on July 16, 1989, they were returned to Optina and placed in the cathedral of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple.

Arsenius Malyutin writes: "For a long time the honourable remains of the blessed one remained in oblivion. And only on July 16, 1989, the day of the commemoration of Metropolitan Philip of Moscow, were the relics of Elder Nectarius transferred to Optina Hermitage. The brethren of the community arrived at the elder's grave at about 6 o'clock in the morning, and in about one-and-a-half hours, at a depth of two metres, they found the coffin in which the relics of the saints were resting. When they opened it, everyone senses a fragrance; the mantia of the elder was incorrupt, and his relics of an amber colour..."

Sources: 
Zhitiya Prepodobnykh Startsev Optinoj Pustyni, Jordanville, 1992; 
The Orthodox Word, July-August, 1971;
The Orthodox Word, July-August, 1986; 
Archbishop Lazarus, "Out of the Catacombs", Orthodox America, June, 1990; 
Eugenia Grigorievna Rimarenko, "Remembrances of Optina Staretz Hieroschemamonk Nektary", Orthodox Life, vol. 36, no. 2, March-April, 1986, pp. 38, 44; 
Orthodox Life, vol. 36, no. 3, May-June, 1986; 
Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', vol. 41, no. 6 (485), June, 1990;
 I.M. Kontzevich, Optina Pustyn' i yeyo Vremya, Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1970; 
Living Orthodoxy, vol. XIV, no. 3, May-June, 1992, pp. 27-29; 
Arsenius Malyutin, "Starets Nektarij Optinskij, Novij Ispovednik", Svyataya Rus', N 2, 1993, pp. 59-67; 
Tsvetochki Optinoj Pustyni, Moscow: Palomnik, 1995; 
"K.P.", letter to Russkij Pastyr', 30, I-1998, p. 102)