Mar 31, 2009


Leo Tolstoy, as well as Fyodor Dostoyevski, was deeply influenced and moved by the eremitic legacy of the Russian startsy (elders), and they were all too familiar with tales of wondrous incidents in the lives of these Russian hermits.  Here is one of them.
Tolstoy wrote of the encounter between a Russian Orthodox bishop and three hermits.  The bishop was traveling by boat with other pilgrims from Archangel to the Solovetsk monastery.  On the way he heard rumors that on an obscure little island along the way there were three old hermits that had spent their entire lives trying to save their souls.  The bishop became intrigued and implored the captain to stop the ship so that he could visit them.  The captain reluctantly agreed and dropped anchor near the island.  The bishop was then placed on a boat and with a group of oarsmen sent ashore.  The three hermits were dressed raggedly with long white beards to their knees.  In total humility they welcomed the bishop, making deep bows.  After he blessed them he asked them what they were doing to save their souls and serve God.  They replied that they had no idea how to serve God.  They just served and supported each other.  The bishop realized that the poor hermits didn't even know how to pray, since all they did was lift their arms up towards heaven and repeat, "Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us."  The bishop considered it his ecclesiastical duty to teach the illiterate hermits the Lord's Prayer.  They, however, were poor learners and required a whole day of instruction.  At dusk and before returning to the ship, the bishop even offered them a short and simple lesson on Christian theology.

But lo and behold!  During sunset as the boat left the island, all the passengers saw a sight in the distance that filled them with fright.  The three hermits were running on water as if it were dry land.  When they came by the side of the ship they implored the bishop to remind them of the Lord's Prayer because, poor fellows, they had already completely forgotten it.  The bishop crossed himself in awe and told the hermits to continue their own prayers, for they had no need for instruction.  Then he bowed deeply before the old men and asked them to pray for him as they turned and ran back across the sea to their island.  "And a light shone until daybreak on the spot where they were lost to sight."

- from The Mountain of Silence, by Kyriacos C. Markides, p. 146.

Mar 23, 2009

Judging Others

Even in His pain on the cross, the Lord Jesus did not condemn sinners but offered pardon to His Father for their sins saying, “They know not what they do!”(St. Luke 23:34). Let us not judge anyone so that we will not be judged. For no one is certain that before his death he will not commit the same sin by which he condemns his brother. Saint Anastasius of Sinai teaches, “Even if you see someone sinning, do not judge him for you do not know what the end of his life will be like. The thief, crucified with Christ, entered Paradise and the Apostle Judas went to Hell. Even if you see someone sinning, bear in mind that you do not know his good works. For many have sinned openly and repented in secret; we see their sins, but we do not know their repentance. That is why, brethren, let us not judge anyone so that we will not be judged.”

from the Prologue of Ohrid

Mar 1, 2009

New Pastures

My understanding is that shepherds will move their flocks of sheep in order to find good pastures on which they can feed. As winter approaches, the shepherd takes the sheep to a lower altitude. When spring is in the air, the flocks head to higher ground. Getting to these new pastures may require a great expenditure of physical energy. Once in a new location, however, the sheep will stay in a certain valley or on the side of a mountain for a period of time - feeding, resting, giving birth to new lambs and growing stronger. The sheep aren't capable of making these decisions - when to move and where to go. The shepherd is the only one wise enough to chart sheep_springtimeout the paths and to know what the sheep need to thrive and stay healthy. Staying by a mountain lake for their entire lives is not the best thing for sheep.

For my husband and I, the past two years have been filled with continual travels to very different pastures. At various times, the journey has been frightening, delightful, inconvenient, exhausting, and exhilarating. There have been months where we were just resting by the mountain lake, absorbing the warmth of the sun and resting. But then we were off to new horizons. We still do not know what the Shepherd's plan is. And that's the whole point. We don't need to. Our contentment comes, not in our situation or our surroundings, but in being with the Shepherd.

Imagine a parent telling a child,

We're going on a long trip. There will be exciting times, difficult moments, confusing situations and interesting people. But don't worry or be afraid. I will be with you at every moment. You will never be out of my sight or care at any time. I will show you amazing and beautiful things, and you will grow strong and experience great joy. Just take my hand and walk with me.

What child would refuse and invitation like that?