An elder called Zosima lived in a monastery. People believed that he was so pure by the soul that God endowed him with the gift of performing miracles. It was said that the miraculous healings happened by his word, people’s lives changed, and the souls became transformed! And a lot of people came to the elder with their requests…
* * *
Once a man entered this small town where the monastery was by the usual for Russia broken and dusty road.
He was not young but yet not old. He had a strong body and a stature much higher than the average one. The remarkable strength can be seen in his body, while in the soul restlessness and brokenness were evident to attentive eyes.
… A beggar was sitting near the road on a pile of dirty rags.
The man asked him where he could rent a room or find an inn and gave him a ruble — a lot of money in those days.
The beggar saw the ruble and changed suddenly, as if something woke up in him for a moment because of surprise! He said:
“It will be better if you go to Aksinya! In the inn — there are drunken fights, racket… But in her house those who come to the elder Zosima often stay.
“Aksinya is a kind woman! When I’m not drunk, I ask her for soup — and she gives it to me! Her soup is delicious, though always lean…”
“Wait, what elder are you talking about? I didn’t come for any elder… Uh, it doesn’t really matter! It’s all the same! So, how to get to your Aksinya?”
“Go there! And tell her that Nicodemus sent you!”
Having said this, the beggar switched his thoughts to the ruble and vodka with a lot of snacks…
* * *
The traveler came to the house of Aksinya and knocked.
A slightly plump woman of middle-age opened to him. Her face was lit up from within with calm kindness. She looked at the traveler tenderly, as if she met an old friend whom she was waiting.
“May I rent a room, Aksinya? I was told that you rent rooms…”
“Why not? I’m always glad for a good person!”
“Why do you think, Aksinya, that I’m a good person? What if I am the opposite,” — the traveler said with certain sarcasm and deep bitterness.
“Well, if you are not good, then at least tell me how to call you?” — the hostess said without any fear and in a playful tone.
“Call me Nicholas.”
The traveler by the name Nicholas examined the cozy, clean and simply furnished room. He paid the rent for a week ahead, having given twice of that amount of money which the landlady asked.
He was about to go to his room, but Aksinya said gingerly:
“Don’t go to the elder Zosima on the first day! Think alone first, in calm, what and how! Walk along the river… To be able to hear his words — it’s necessary to calm down a little bit.”
“What an elder do you have here? I didn’t come to him… I don’t go to the monasteries! God doesn’t help people! Look, what’s going around!…”
At this point, the conversation was interrupted: someone knocked at the door — and Aksinya went to open it.
* * *
A pale and tired woman with a child in her arms came in. The child was not small and apparently seriously ill. It was a thin boy of about five or six years of age. The child was conscious but not completely, as if the ability to live in this body had left him partly.
The woman was holding him in her arms with her last effort.
“Why don’t you do anything?” — Aksinya asked Nicholas. — “Hold the child!”
When Nicholas took the boy in his arms, he groaned slightly and opened his eyes. Nicholas very carefully and cautiously carried the boy to the room — next to that one in which he stayed.
… Falling asleep, Nicholas heard a soft chest voice of Aksinya and muffled sobbing of another woman.
“Zosima will help!” — Aksinya was trying to calm her down. — “Don’t doubt! Go to him the next morning! And don’t worry that you have no money! He doesn’t take any money! The one who wants to may donate then to the hospital or to the monastery. And here you can live without paying! I’ve got a generous guest! So everything will fit together nicely!”
* * *
The next morning Nicholas was woken by hushed voices and by the sound of preparations behind the wall.
“What a ‘quiet’ place Nicodemus recommended to me,” — he thought.
Yet for some reason he felt no irritation. On the contrary, there was warmth in the heart, as in his early childhood, when falling asleep, he heard his mother’s voice…
It was still dark outside.
Aksinya knocked at his door:
“You’ll have to excuse me, Nicholas! The sick boy can’t go by himself, and his mother is completely out of her strengths! Could you accompany them to the elder?”
Nicholas agreed without hesitation. Now this distraction from his oppressive thoughts seemed unexpected and joyful to him. The elder Zosima from yesterday increasingly piqued his curiosity.
Nicholas always wanted to help people. He saw the meaning of his whole life in this. And from this he got his greatest disappointment, failing in his attempts to transform human lives…
* * *
It was cold outside.
Nicholas was carrying the child in his arms. The woman, being out of her breath because of a brisk pace, was telling him how it had happened that her son Ilya hurt his leg.
“Maybe it’s better to go to the hospital?” — Nicholas asked. — “A doctor would examine him and cure! Here, it is said, there is a good hospital.”
“We already went to different doctors, spent so much money, but no one could help… They say that an amputation is necessary and that it may be too late already… The elder, on the other hand, does miracles from God! He will certainly heal him!”
Then the woman began to recount in detail their lives and troubles…
Nicholas was carrying carefully the child and was hardly listening… Holding a fragile body, in which a speck of life still was, he was thinking: “This is a child who most likely is going to die soon… or to be lame for the rest of his life… So maybe to die for him would be even better… Why is it so? For what reason? Why is it impossible to change anything in this terrible and senseless human life?… I am, for example, an adult and a strong man, who does not see any sense in continuing this existence. I will live… but this boy will die… If only I could give my life and my strength to him so that he could live and be in good health?… But it’s impossible… So, where are You, ‘Almighty God’? Why do You allow this?!…”
They came to the monastery, but the monks did not want to let them in:
“Come tomorrow! Then the elder receives people. Today you can’t come in!”
In spite of this, Nicholas confidently passed by as if they did not try to stop him. He decided that today, after the “audience with the holy elder”, he would persuade the mother to carry the child to the hospital. Maybe, it was not too late…
* * *
Nicholas quickly walked through the garden to the monastic cell of the elder. The path to the cell was clearly visible since it was trodden by numerous people who came to the elder.
Nicholas with the child firmly entered the cell. The boy’s mother followed after him.
Zosima was not old and decrepit, as Nicholas imagined.
On the contrary, it was a slender man, full of particular peace. Only his hair and beard were completely white. And his eyes…
Nicholas only for a moment met his eyes and realized that he had never seen similar eyes before… They radiated warm, soft, and quiet light, special confidence, strength, peace, and kindness.
The mother of the boy knelt down and began to tell the story about the misfortune of her son. She was wailing and asking to heal the boy…
The elder interrupted her:
“Is your name Alexandra? Go to the chapel and pray, dear!”
She fell silent being surprised, then bowed and went out meekly.
Nicholas put the boy on a broad bench near the wall, bowed slightly without crossing himself, and wanted to go out too…
“Help me, Nicholas!” — the elder said. — “Do you really want Ilya to be well?”
“Yes,” — Nicholas said without having time to wonder about what was happening. He recalled what he was thinking on the way to the monastery while carrying the boy…
The elder put the hands of Nicholas on the body of the boy: one — on his chest, another — on his injured leg. Zosima did not take his own hands away…
… But what happened after that, Nicholas could not comprehend for a long time…
He and everything around became submerged into theLight. It was pure white-golden Light, like that of the morning sun… Nicholas saw the gently moving streams of this Light… Then it looked like he had blacked out, as if he fell asleep…
* * *
When Nicholas came to himself, he was sitting in the corner of the cell, and the elder Zosima was talking with the boy’s mother. The boy was not there…
“You’re a widow, you say…” — the elder asked her.
“Yes, widow, for five years already… I will pray for you for the rest of my life! And I will teach Ilya to pray for you, our savior!…”
“What are you saying!… It’s not I but God Who healed him!”
“I’ll pray to God!… I will thank God!”
“This is good — to give thanks!…
“I’m going to teach you how you can express your gratitude. Here’s a little note from me. Go to the hospital to a doctor Fyodor and tell him that I asked you to work three or four months as a nurse with severe patients. He will pay you for this and that will help you and Ilya get home.”
“Wait, I haven’t finished! Listen to me! There is one man in the hospital by the name Gregory. He underwent a difficult operation. The life for his body was saved, but he lost his leg. He doesn’t want to be lame. He’s already tried to kill himself… If you manage to heal this soul, this will be your first expression of gratitude to God! And your son will help you. Sometimes it happens that when patients see children, hope for a happy life arises in them again…
“Ilya, come here!” — Zosima called.
… What Nicholas saw next amazed him more than everything else: the healed boy ran — not even walked — into the cell from the monastery garden. He changed in an incredible way!
The child could not only walk now! But he seemed to be awakened from the death! There was real life in him — pure and sunny! This rarely can be seen even among healthy people… Joy and light shone from within his body! That radiant pure Light, which was seen by Nicholas during the healing, was now in the body of the boy!
“Mummy, mummy, I’m completely healthy now! And my leg doesn’t hurt anymore! I can even run!”
They both bowed before the elder with gratitude and went…
* * *
The elder Zosima stood on the threshold of the cell and followed them with his eyes.
He looked into their future with affection and the Power of God. He saw… the man by the name Gregory quietly lying on his bed… with the unseeing eyes full of pain and despair… Zosima saw Alexandra, the mother of Ilya, whispering gentle words to Gregory. Zosima saw how little Ilya ran into the hospital ward, looking for his mother and how love kindled in the child’s heart when his main dream came true:
“Mummy, mummy! You’ve found our daddy!” — Ilya said with joy and embraced Gregory with these words… And Gregory tearfully embraced the boy… Love and hope returned to these souls and healed them…
Zosima saw three happy people leaving the hospital. They were cured despite the fact that the man walked on crutches. And people looked at them out of the windows, wishing them happiness…
“Let it be, oh Lord! According to Your Will — let it be!… The hearts full of love will fulfill Your Will!…” — Zosima whispered.
* * *
Nicholas and the elder remained in the cell alone.
“How often do you perform such wonders?” — Nicholas, being amazed, asked without yet comprehending completely all that had happened.
“This happens quite rarely… Yet it is not only I, but you too, in Mergence with God’s Will, healed Ilya! It’s obvious that for you too it was necessary, so that the greatness of God’s Power can be revealed before you!
“Go now! Think about what you want to ask and why you don’t see the meaning of your life… Think — and then come back! Come tomorrow if you want! We will talk! You will be able to do what you dreamed to do for people! You will do this not by yourself only, but merging with God’s Power!
“Go now, I’m tired…” — Zosima said quietly…
* * *
Returning from the elder, Nicholas was thinking about what had happened.
Everything had changed in an incredible way… Death, about which he thought as the exit from the blind alley of futility and hopelessness of life, suddenly stepped back — and the expanse, unknown before, opened for him…
Now he should understand and formulate for himself how to live further…
Disbelief in the existence of God, which became firm during his difficult life, was apparently easily crushed by the elder…
But the faith did not fill the empty place yet, since Nicholas was searching not for the faith but for the clarity of understanding and for the fullness of knowledge.
All the questions that plagued him during his entire spiritual search rose in him once again.
These were the questions that he had rejected as those “which have no answers”. All these questions were rejected together with the belief in the existence of God.
… In those times he decided to look by himself — without God — for the means of helping people to become happy… And a lot of his initiatives failed completely… And many of his friends betrayed him… And many of his bright ideas were perverted by his former fellows and used for evil ends…
All his previous activity helped a lot of people but brought sorrow and destruction to many people as well…
… The thoughts of Nicolas returned to the miracle of healing and to that Light which he himself saw. “Well, could it mean that there is real Power capable of changing human destinies? Could it be God?”
He realized that he should visit the elder tomorrow once again.
* * *
Nicholas was walking to the monastery being yet oppressed by doubts and thoughts. “What do I hope for? What changed yesterday when I saw the Shining Lightunited with the elder who healed the boy?… What do I want? To confess? To unburden my heart? Or do I want to obtain the ‘faith in Christ’? Or to ask my questions? Or, perhaps, to find the meaning of my life? However, maybe this elder really knows the Truth for the sake of which it makes sense to live on the Earth…”
Approaching the monastery, Nicholas overheard the talk between a mother and her daughter who were returning from the elder.
The mother was a plump big woman, evidently of a high income.
She angrily shouted:
“How is he not ashamed to entice people with his healings and miracles! He can’t do anything! Only deception is all around!”
“Don’t worry, mom!” — the daughter tried to calm her down. The girl was holding her partly paralyzed left arm by her right healthy arm.
“I told you, mom, that all this was nonsense, fairy tales for fools and children! But you didn’t believe me!”
In spite of the efforts of her daughter, the mother couldn’t calm down and continued speaking with excitement:
“How could he invent this?! Every morning you should knead dough using your almost paralyzed arm, then bake bread, and give it to the poor! And thus during three years! What kind of holy man is he!? Deceiver of deceivers! And I’m amazed that there are fools coming to him for advice!”
“Well, calm down, mom, calm down!…” — the daughter kept trying to soothe her.
… Nicholas heard their voices fading into the distance…
Then he sat for a long time among people who waited to be received by the elder, examining the faces of those who were coming out…
… When no one was left, he entered the cell.
Zosima was waiting for him and, seeing Nicholas entering, rejoiced as if not an accidental traveler, who hadn’t believed in the existence of God for half of his life, came to him, but the closest friend or son.
* * *
“And what for?”
“I myself do not know… Maybe I only need to talk… Maybe to understand how you live and for what purpose… For what do you perform your miracles?”
“It’s not I who works wonders! It is God Who manages all affairs, although man himself participates as well…”
“You didn’t succeed in the healing of the girl with the paralyzed arm, did you?”
“No, I didn’t,” — Zosima said with a touch of sadness.
“But if she had agreed to knead dough for three years, would she be healed?”
“It depends on how she would carry it out… If her spiritual heart became awakened when she was giving bread to hungry children, if she began to think about how to relieve human grief while kneading dough, and not about how to heal her paralyzed arm, in this case she would be healed! Hands that do good and give the good always become healthy!”
“But I — with my own hands and with my own thoughts — worked for my whole life trying to do good… And I have come to the point when I began to think that it would be better for me to leave this life completely rather than to live with the understanding of my own incapability to change something in it for the better…
“Do you think, Zosima, that the boy healed by you will be happy or, as everyone else, become older and finish his earthly journey in sins and vices? Why have you healed him then?”
“I’ve healed him for the future, for love! And how it will be in the future — depends on many things…
“You, for example, when you were little, loved God very much… And as a young man, you also had a pure heart!”
“Yes, I loved and believed… I believed but lost faith!… It was a long time ago. I believed fervently and prayed fervently… But God did not answered my prayers!…
“And later I saw human afflictions and suffering and decided that good, all-powerful and merciful God could not create this hell on the Earth for His children! I decided that I, by myself, would do for people all that I could do within my power… Yet it didn’t turn out as I planned…”
“I can see many things that happened to you… You lived as if you were in a boat moving against the current of a river. You worked hard, hoping to reach the ocean, but you reached only a small source from which the river starts… However, you haven’t worked in vain: your strength has developed! And your abilities have developed too, you’ve learned a lot! And now you can direct your boat in the right direction. And all the power of the river will help you. Do you want this?”
“I do not know yet what I want… This is why I came to you probably… Can you heal me of the disbelief and meaningless emptiness in the soul?”
“But God has already healed you of your disbelief! If not, you wouldn’t have come back here!
“I can teach you, if you want, how to obtain the love for God and silence in your spiritual heart.”
“First explain to me why I came back to you!”
“To learn to do the work for God with God and with understanding instead of doing it as your mind wants to!”
“Tell me another thing: you yourself believe in what?”
“I believe in One Almighty God-the-Father, the Creator of everything visible and invisible… And although I say to you the usual words of prayer, I always feel God in my heart, and His presence is as evident for me as your presence here. However, I cannot teach all people to do this…”
“Do you really see Him?”
“I see and hear Him…”
“But I don’t see Him and don’t believe you… almost…”
“Do you see now Aksinya’s house, in which you rented a room?”
“No, I don’t…”
“So, this means that this house doesn’t exist, right?…”
“No, it exists…”
“So, you don’t see it now, but you say that it exists…
“In the same way, you don’t see God and don’t feel His Love, although He is.
“When Jesus lived among people like an ordinary man — He could always converse with the Heavenly Father, and He could always feel the Great Power coming from the Father. And He did a lot to show people how man can live on the Earth! And the most important was that He commanded us to become like Him: ‘Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect’*. But how many people are trying to live so?
“While the soul lives in despair, disbelief, and anger — God cannot help this person in the best way, since that person denies God’s Almighty Love, Help, and loving Care!
“What can we change in this world? Where to start?
“First of all, we should straighten and correct ourselves: cleanse the souls, fill the spiritual hearts with love, and live not by our will but by God’s Will. Only then will we be able to really help our neighbors!
“Everyone can do this because God gives us this possibility.
“And in this case the soul ascends, illumined by the heart love, to another life, although it keeps its body. The body remains the same, the hands are the same; but the soul is transformed and lives now as if in another world, in paradise! It lives being full of love and having the advice of God about everything! Everything seems to be the same around — but the life of such a person is completely different now!
“You wanted, through irrepressible speeches and disputes, to pour out to me during confession all your hot thoughts and heavy doubts, yes? You thought that it would make you feel better, right?
“But there is no peace in you since you have not cognized the silence of the heart!
“Moreover, God already knew and knows all that you wanted to tell me during confession!
“He knows your past and your every thought!
“Everyone is always on the Palm of God, so to speak! But only when we know about this, we can get great benefit from it! Because if we know that God sees all our thoughts, even the most secret, and all our actions, and even the motives of these actions, then we will be more attentive to how we live!…
“It is said that we must have fear of God in order not to sin. But I don’t think so. When we choose the good instead of the evil because of fear — God sees that fear in us instead of love… And such decisions do not improve our destinies…
“The purity of the soul before God should be kept not because the punishment may follow the sinful actions and thoughts! Our intentions are not a secret for God, and we cannot hide them from His sight!
“But if God sees my imperfections — then I should be ashamed of that. And it’s indecent for the soul to live in shame and disgrace…
“If someone knows that he or she thought badly or did something wrong, and it was shameful before God — then this person will try not to sin next time!
“It is important to prevent falsehood from appearing in us! I speak about that internal falsehood that makes us blind to our flaws… When such a falsehood appears in us, we begin to ignore the quiet voice of our consciences and try to justify ourselves, blaming others around us!
“On the contrary, when we truly start longing to correct ourselves as souls — it is great joy for God! God then begins working together with us, helping us to improve ourselves.
“While we do not know that God observes us constantly — we are likely to consider the evil and the good offered to us as equal… The souls that live in this way — live very slowly as if they were asleep or blind and deaf… And there is not much benefit from such a life…”
“Tell me, elder, you yourself — what do you live for? Do you live without seeing the evil, lie, and crimes? How can you forgive all these awful things that happen around?”
“I can’t answer all your questions…
“You have a lot of reproaches to people who call themselves servants of God. You want to tell me about what happens in different religions, about all those things that shake their own principles — and this is what constitutes your disbelief, as you call it. But Jesus said the same about the faith of the scribes and Pharisees. What you think is nothing new! The ‘scribes and Pharisees’ haven’t disappeared!…
“Look, the wall in this cell was built badly; even a crack has appeared in it. Maybe, a mason was unskillful. Maybe, it’s because of time, which inevitably destroys people’s material constructions… How many churches of different faiths were built by people! It’s impossible to count! Many of them were destroyed long ago; many others will be built instead…
“Yet only that temple is indestructible which is raised by us in our spiritual hearts! Here there is a real throne of the Lord before which we can lay our sacrifices: vices that we have renounced in order not to sin anymore! Those vices are pride, envy, anger, condemnation, sloth, sadness, fear, self-love and lack of attention to others, as well as many other vices…
“The spiritual heart is that altar on which the lamp of undying love is lighted!
“And only that soul which has been cleansed of wickedness can work for God! This is our first perfect gift for Him!
“In this case, the rules of life, established by people’s laws, will be replaced by the Laws of God, which we can and should comprehend only with our heart love.
“God’s Love has no boundaries, and there is no power that can hinder the Will of God!
“We, as souls, can open ourselves to God! We can open our hearts so that they become filled with His Love! Only having cognized this, we will be able to see and receive evidence that we always have been before the Loving Eyes of God!
“Only then the human pride finally surrenders!
“For the present, the thoughts about the just and unjust are raging in your mind… Instead of this, peace and love should be in your spiritual heart, but you can obtain them only when you open your cleansed spiritual heart for Christ — and Christ enters in!
“… Yes, everyone can change his or her condemning mind with the help of all-forgiving Love of God!
“Something similar to your situation once happened to me.
“I was looking for justice among people. I expected them to quickly begin putting into practice the Teachings of God as soon as they hear the Words from Him… And when they behaved contrary to what I dreamt about — despair overwhelmed me sometimes. I did not understand what I should do when I saw hypocrisy even among the ‘pastors’ and when I could not manage to change anything in human souls… And I prayed fervently and passionately asking God to help me and tell me how to live.
“Then for the first time I saw Jesus and heard from Him only two words: HUMILITY and GRATITUDE!
“I comprehended the Lord Jesus and humbled my pride… And afterwards I learned to accept everything that comes into my life with humility and gratitude.
“A lot changed when I learned this, since the great love grows in the soul when it understands what the true humility means and practices it. In this case, the gratitude for all that Heavenly Father sends fills the spiritual heart. This gratitude extends to all beings through whom this or that thing comes from God!
“It is when my rebellious mind became replaced forever by the great silence of my spiritual heart!
“Since then I live so, understanding what I can understand and doing what I can do for the glory of the Lord!
“And when I am ready, God will reveal to me what I don’t know now and teach me how to do that for which I don’t have enough strength yet…
“I live — being free — among the rules that restrain the freedom and try — to the extent of my strength and understanding and being always in harmony with the Will of God — to manifest His Almighty Love…
“This is what I can teach you if you stay with me.
“This can be done not during one conversation, but during a monastic life in the constant interaction with God.
“And what I can’t teach you — the Lord will teach…
“What is not in my power to change and is not covered by my understanding — I will not speak about… And when I have the understanding and knowledge from God about what to say and how to act — the power will be granted to me for the transforming acts…
“To live in concord with the Will of God brings the great happiness to the soul!
“Humbleness purifies the soul from selfness and pride, and after that the understanding and forgiveness come.
“The Infinite Source of Love then opens in the vast spiritual heart!
“The one who has found this Source in the depths of oneself-soul — in the depths of the spiritual heart connected with God — cannot be saddened by the external anymore! This person has obtained the great happiness because the Heavens were opened for him or her on earth! And God is always with and inside this person!
“This is the monastic Path.
“This is how I live and serve to the Lord. This is how I try to help people. If some soul kindles with love, it is similar to lighting a candle for the glory of God! And after this those souls will shine, illuminating everything around! And other souls will be able to receive from them the sparks of love!”
* * *
Nicholas was surprised to realize that as the elder was speaking, he didn’t hear only words. Particular understanding was entering him, and he got the main answers to all his questions that he wanted to ask!
Completely new and unusual warmth filled his chest inside… He realized that his life might begin “again”, as if everything that had happened was nothing but a rough draft… But now he stands as the naked soul before God, not only before the wise elder, but before the Great and Almighty Divine Power, Which controls everything and, as it turned out, has been always near…
At that moment he knew for sure that the heart love, felt by him, is the true lamp that illuminates the entire Path up to the full cognition of the Truth!
It was like a prodigal son returning to his loving father.
Now he was totally ready to start the new life — the life on the Palm of God, the life for God!
Written down by Anna Zubkova
Under the editorship of Vladimir Antonov
and with his commentary
Translated into English by
Anton Teplyy and Vladimir Antonov
Correctors of the English translation
Hiero Nani and Keenan Murphy
© Anna Zubkova, Vladimir Antonov, 2013