12 July 2011
Life of Elder Zosimas
Life of Elder Zosimas
The Life and Labors of Schemamonk Zosima
by his disciple
Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society 1979
Table of Contents
1. The Parents of Father Zosima
2. The Birth of Father Zosima
5. In the Tsar's Service, and Life in the Capital
6. The Death of Their Father, and the Division of the Estate
7. A Temptation and a Miraculous Apparition
8. The Death of His Mother
9. Concerning the Brothers of Father Zosima
10. A Final Temptation, and Renunciation of the World
1. The Desert Dwellers
2. The Beginning of Father Zosima's Monastic Life, and Elder Basilisk
3. The Konevits Monastery
4. Elder Basilisk Moves to Konevits
5. Eremitic Life of the Island of Konevits
7. Adventures in the Siberian Forest
8. The Life of Silence in the Siberian Forest
9. The Beginning of the Sisters' Community
10. The Turinsk Monastery
1. Father Zosima Travels to St. Petersburg2. The Meeting of the Elders
3. The Beginning of Difficulties
4. Father Zosima is Sent Away
5. The Death of Elder Basilisk
6. Father Zosima's Life in Tobolsk
7. The Move to Moscow
8. The Convent Near Moscow
9. His Illness and Blessed Repose
10. The Trinity-Hodigritria Convent is Established
by Fr. Seraphim Rose
The life of the great Siberian Elder Zosima, one of the treasures of the Russian Orthodox literature of recent centuries, is offered here to English-speaking Orthodox Christians. In a sense, this offering is premature: English-speaking Orthodoxy has no desert-dwellers, and in its present state of immaturity it is probably incapable of producing any; this is a kind of life above or measure. In this sense the present book is too "advanced," and might even serve to increase self-esteem and pride that are sadly fostered by premature thoughts of "hesychasm" and the highest kind of angelic life.
On the other hand, however this book well describes an essential "missing dimension" of our poor Orthodoxy in the West: the sufferings of true Orthodox Christian spiritual life, without which all attempts at monasticism are only pretentious and empty. At the same time, the book shows the part played in these sufferings by an element that is, alas, already too present in the Orthodox life of Western converts: gossip, rumors, slanders, petty jealousies and other passions which do such incalculable harm to tender young Christian sprouts. The humble suffering of these temptations by Fr. Zosima and his community of sisters, and their Christian triumph over them, should be a source of great encouragement to all those who find themselves caught in the net of similar temptations.
The simple-hearted Christianity that breathes from every page of this book should be a source of inspiration for every Orthodox Christian reader who sincerely loves Christ and longs for His Heavenly Kingdom, whether he be a layman or monastic. Indeed, the examples of "lay" Orthodox life in these pages are just as instructive as the monastic examples. How deeply genuine Christianity penetrated the soil of Holy Russia may be seen, not merely in the monastic heros of the book, but even in the touching story of Fr. Zosima's brother, the monastic "failure" Elias, whose passionate nature did not erase the longing for God in his heart or prevent him from living a practical Christian life that puts us today, whether monastic or lay, to shame.
And what shall we say of the profound, deeply-committed and long-suffering Christian love revealed in the pages of this book? The mutual love of the Elder Basilisk and his disciple Zosima is so far above or paltry half-heartedness that it should make us ashamed even t speak of "hesycham" and "elders" and all the outward forms of a way of life which we are incapable even of understanding, let alone touching, because of our own lack of such burning love.
Thus, this book is very "down to earth" and recognizable to us at or level, filled with the spirit of simple and basic Christianity, at the same time that it exalts and inspires us with its realistic accounts of true God-poleasers in the highest form of monastic life: the life of the desert, in the true spirit and tradition of the Orthodox Church.
Let us, then, be inspired by the desert life of Elders Basilisk and Zosima [even while realizing how far it is above us], but let us even more be humbled by seeing the sufferings they had to undergo, both those they imposed upon themselves and those sent or providentially allowed by God. Above all, may this book bear fruit in encouraging us even today to live the daily life of simple Christianity in practice, without which we can hardly hope to be saved.
Hieromonk Seraphim Rose
Sunday of All Saints of
Russia and Mount Athos
June 11/24. 1979
Make note: The love of a spiritual son for his Elder is similar and even deeper than that of an infant for his mother. There is deep trust and and deep intimacy. In no way is this to be interpreted as a carnal love, but instead it is to be interpreted spiritually, a parallel of man's love for God. It is marked by obedience and by longing. -jh
The Beginning of Father Zosima's Monastic Life, and Elder Basilisk
VISITING the Bryansk desert dwellers several times more while Father Adrian was still there, each time living with them for awhile, Zacharias [Zosima's name before tonsure] came to love above all Father Basilisk, one of Adrian's disciples. His quiet and meek character, his simple but pleasantly affectionate manner and sound reasoning so attracted the heart of young Zacharias that he desired, if it were possible, never to part with this Elder. However, at that time he did not yet reveal his special love for Basilisk, and directed all his efforts towards freeing himself from the world as quickly as possible in order to come to live with the desert dwellers. For this reason, as we have mentioned above, he set out for St. Petersburg, where he was granted complete freedom from civil service and obtained all the necessary papers and certificates. Having completed all his duties, he flew like a bird freed from a cage to the desert forests of Bryansk. He did not find Father Adrian there, however, for he had already settled in the Konevits Monastery, fulfilling the commandment of Christ, Give way to anger; and if you are driven from one town, flee to another Matt. 10:23.
In his disciple Basilisk, Father Adrian saw true humility which preserves the soul from every deception of the enemy, and a sound sense of spiritual reason combined with great patience and strict asceticism. Father Adrian also knew of his disciple's constant
and fervent desire to live a life of complete silence in the desert, and so leaving for Petersburg, he blessed him to remain in the desert in his cell, for Basilisk was not the object of anyone's envy: he had not been ordained a priest, and was a simple desert dweller. The other elders of the desert continued without Father Adrian, living a certain distance from Father Basilisk. Upon returning from Petersburg, Zacharias came to these very elders. They greeted him with joy and love, and when they learned that he had decided resolutely to remain with them in the desert, they all with one voice said to him: "You would be truly blessed, O good youth, if Father Basilisk would agree to take you as a disciple. He is our desert star; he is an example to us all. Truly God's mercy would be upon you if he would agree to this, for although many of us have begged and tried to persuade him to be our teacher, having true humility he has firmly refused everyone, saying that he is an unenlightened ignoramus and can be an instructor to no one. He added that he himself leads such a wretched and feeble existence that he would certainly be of benefit to no one. Furthermore, he prefers to live in complete silence and to be always alone with God."
Hearing all of this, the wise youth Zacharias was inflamed with an even greater love for this wondrous Elder and an even stronger desire to be his disciple. He entreated him so relentlessly and convincingly that the God-loving Basilisk himself did not know what to do. It was difficult for him to resist this youth's so fervent plea, for from the first time that the Elder saw him he himself felt an involuntary love towards him. At the same time, however, he did not wish to follow the desires of his heart, fearing lest through this he would deprive himself of complete silence. He dared not sin by refusing, fearing to incur God's wrath for the soul of Zacharias if he rejected so strong a fervor for the monastic life and so strong a love for his Elder, a refusal which might cause the impetuous youth to be drawn once again to life in the world. However, he dared not accept him yet as a disciple so as not to seem unfair and disdainful towards the rest whom he had previously refused. In this state of perplexity and facing such a dilemma, he did not yet give a decisive answer. Nevertheless, he did let Zacharias stay with him for awhile, and, showing him special favor, he established his mind firmly in the desire for the desert life and sweetened his heart with love for God. He did much in word and deed to set the youth on the saving path of monastic life. While speaking of himself, among other spiritual discussions, with no specific intention, Father Basilisk mentioned that he was from Kalyazinsk county of Tver Province, revealing that he had been a government peasant. He said that he was in great sorrow since his term of dismissal had expired and that he had to return home again. This presented a great difficulty, both because he wished to be dead to his family and friends and also because he had no money and was ill. It would not only have been difficult for him to renew his term of dismissal, but also to endure such a long and difficult journey, for spring was just begin ning and the roads were flooded. Immediately, like a young eagle, Zacharias saw his prey. With great joy and fervor of spirit he promised to help Elder Basilisk, giving his word to obtain a passport for him, and he immediately set out on his way.
The more difficulties he encountered on the road and in various bureaus, the more he rejoiced, wishing thus to prove his warm love for his Elder. Obtaining the desired passport for Father Basilisk, he returned to him joyous in spirit, but physically exhausted. Having shattered his health, he fell so ill that he could barely move, for due to floods, the roads had been in such a bad condition that they were unfit for vehicles, and he therefore travelled most of the way on foot. It is not difficult to understand why Zacharias, who was very young and had received a tender upbringing, who was unused to the damp weather and to the pedestrian mode of travel, returned to his Elder quite ill and remained so for some time, until the prayers of the holy man restored him to his former health. It is then that the Elder Basilisk, touched by such love and realizing that the youth had been ready to sacrifice his life for his Elder's peace of mind, promised to let Zacharias live with him. However, being wise and experienced in spiritual matters, he advised the youth to begin his monastic life in some coenobitic monastery in order to learn patience and acquire humility by performing monastic obediences in the company of many brothers; otherwise, he said, it would not only be futile, but very dangerous and perhaps harmful to begin a life of silence.
"Test yourself for at least a short time in the common life, O child of God, and then return to me," said the Elder. "I myself, who from my very youth have dedicated myself to the service of God, spent at first many years in monasteries performing various obediences. Later, although living in seclusion, I remained obedient to Father Adrian.
Only after this did the Lord grant me the much-desired life of silence." Then he frankly described to him how much one suffers in the desert solitude from hideous demonic temptations and visions. He also told of the great labors and sorrows of both body and soul, adding that at times one experiences boredom, despondency and fear, and at other times receives comfort and protection from the Lord, "Therefore," continued the Elder, "one should not undertake these labors of desert life without having first passed through the obediences of coenobitism." In this manner reassuring, comforting and instructing the youthful warrior of Christ, Father Basilisk sent him to a holy regiment which was then under the direction of a leader whom they both loved for at that time— against his will, but out of obedience to Metropolitan Gabriel and according to the desire of all the brothers, Father Adrian had assumed leadership of the Konevits Monastery. Thus, the meek and obedient Zacharias set out for Konevits. Although he wept and was very sad upon parting with his beloved desert dweller and peaceful desert, he comforted and reassured himself with the hope that his Elder had promised in the future to let him live with him for good.
Run, then, O good youth! Run, warrior of Christ, to join and to wholeheartedly serve in the good regiment! Then, adorned with the laurel of obedience and a crown of patience, be bold, and with God's help dare to undertake the lofty task of a life of desert silence; for indeed many writings of the holy Fathers, as well as the vast experience accumulated from ancient times to this very day testify to the fact that one cannot hope to be skilled in solitary spiritual combat if he has not first learned to combat the enemy in the ranks of a regiment of Christ's warriors. In order to acquire true humility in Christ, one must first bear the humiliation of Christ, one must be the least amongst his brothers and a servant to them, in order to be a true disciple of Jesus. Only by washing the feet of every man can one be vouchsafed to taste with Christ the sweet supper of silence, and, if possible, to lay his head upon the breast of the Most Beloved -- that is, attain to Divine vision and contemplation.