Christ’s Light in Tolstoy’s Prison

 

 

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A Vision granted to Nun Maria concerning her brother Leo Tolstoy. Also, his apostasy, his excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church, his tragic final days, the torturous struggle that went on in his soul at his last breath, and St. John’s of Kronstadt and St. Theophan’s the Recluse ‘examination’ of his spiritual condition

 

“I have renounced the Church that calls itself Orthodox… I renounce all the sacraments… I have truly renounced the Church, I have stopped fulfilling its rites, and I have written in my will to my close ones that they should not allow any clergymen from the Church near me when I will be dying…” (Lev Nicholaevich Tolstoy). Yet, in his final days, Tolstoy sought the most famous Russian monastery, Optina Hermitage, where ascetic elders were living. He wanted to meet with them, but at the last minute he lost his resolve, about which he regretfully told his sister, a nun of Shamordino Convent near Optina. When at Ostapovo station he felt his approaching death, he asked that a telegram be sent to Optina Hermitage with the request that they send him Elder Joseph. However, when two priests arrived in Astapovo, the writer’s followers would not allow them to meet…”

 

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“Throughout the history of Russian literature there has never been a more tragic personality than Lev Nicholaevich Tolstoy, the “great writer of the Russian land,” in the words of Ivan Turgenev. His literary works reach the heights not only of Russian, but world literature. Therefore, the pain and perplexity of many people who respect his works are understandable; these include Orthodox Christians, for whom the reason for the decision on February 20, 1901 by the Holy Governing Synod to excommunicate him may still be unclear.

The Holy Synod simply cited by its decision a fact that had already taken place—Count Leo Tolstoy excommunicated himself from the Church and completely broke off ties with it. This is something that he not only did not deny, but even resolutely emphasized at every convenient opportunity: “It is perfectly justifiable that I have renounced the Church that calls itself Orthodox… I renounce all the sacraments… I have truly renounced the Church, I have stopped fulfilling its rites, and I have written in my will to my close ones that they should not allow any clergymen from the Church near me when I will be dying…” These are just a few of the great writer’s numerous proclamations in this regard.

Furthermore, when Leo Tolstoy was twenty-seven years old, he nurtured the idea of creating a new faith, which his diary entries of the time witness. In his old age, when he felt that his aim was nearly accomplished, the writer created a small sect of his fans and wrote “The Gospel according to Tolstoy.” The main object of Tolstoy’s attacks became the Orthodox Church. His words and actions directed against the Church were horrifying to the Orthodox consciousness. Furthermore, Leo Tolstoy’s activities during the final ten years of his life were, unfortunately, truly destructive for Russia, which he loved. They brought misfortune to the people whom he so badly wanted to serve. It is no accident that the leader of the Bolsheviks extremely valued the aim of Leo’ Tolstoy’s activity, and called the writer “the mirror of the Russian revolution.”

Great ascetics of the Russian Orthodox Church—St. John of Kronstadt, St. Theophan the Recluse, and many others, admitted with regret that Count Tolstoy purposefully used his great talent to destroy Russia’s traditional spiritual and social order.

The writer’s final days speak to us about the torturous struggle that went on in his soul. He fled his family nest, Yasnaya Polyana—not to his like-minded friends, the “Tolstoyans,” but to the most famous Russian monastery, Optina Hermitage, where ascetic elders were living. He wanted to meet with them, but at the last minute he lost his resolve, about which he regretfully told his sister, a nun of Shamordino Convent near Optina. When at Ostapovo station he felt his approaching death, he asked that a telegram be sent to Optina Hermitage with the request that they send him Elder Joseph. However, when two priests arrived in Astapovo, the writer’s followers would not allow them to meet…

Nevertheless, because the writer himself never made peace with the Church (Leo Tolstoy never publicly renounced his tragic spiritual error), the excommunication by which he separated himself from the Church cannot be removed. This means that canonically he cannot be commemorated in the Church. But the compassionate heart of any Christian who holds the literary works of this great writer in high regard cannot be closed to sincere, humble prayer for his soul. (Archimandrite Tikhon, Shevkunov) Source: OrthoChristian

 

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John the Blessed

Gianniis-o-Vlogimenos«S. Drekou»aenai-epAnastasi

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A New Year’s Eve Tale by Photios Kontoglou with audio and video links

 

The Nativity Feast having passed, St. Basil took his staff and traversed all of the towns, in order to see who would celebrate his Feast Day with purity of heart. He passed through regions of every sort and through villages of prominence, yet regardless of where he knocked, no door opened to him, since they took him for a beggar.

On the eve of the New Year, he came upon a certain hamlet, which was the poorest of the poor villages in all of Greece. There, he beheld in front of him a small knoll, below which there was secreted away a sheepfold. St. Basil went into the pen and, knocking on the door of the hut with his staff, called out: “Have mercy on me, a poor man, for the sake of your deceased relatives, for even Christ lived as a beggar on this earth.” Awakening, the dogs lunged at him.

But as they drew near him and sniffed him, they became gentle, wagged their tails, and lay down at his feet, whimpering imploringly and with joy. Thereupon, a shepherd, a young man of twenty-five or so, with a curly black beard, opened the door and stepped out: John Barbákos—a demure and rugged man, a sheepman. Before taking a good look at who was knocking, he had already said, “Enter, come inside. Good day, Happy New Year!”

John’s flock was sparse and he was poor; yet, he was blessed. Anyone who happened to pass by their hut they cared for as though he were a brother. And it is thus that St. Basil found lodging in their home. On that night, he was awaited, in all of the cities and villages of the known world, by rulers, Hierarchs, and officials; but he went to none of these. Instead, he went to lodge in the hut of John the Blessed.

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 “Elder, I am greatly joyful. I wish to have you read to us the writings [i.e., hymns] about St. Basil. I am an illiterate man, but I like all of the writings of our religion [ie. Church]. In fact, I have a small book from an Hagiorite [ie. from Mount Athos] Abbot, and whenever someone who can read and write happens to pass by, I get him to read out of the booklet, since we have no Church near us.”

In the East, it was dimly dawning. St Basil rose and stood, facing eastward, making his Cross. “Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” John the Blessed went and stood behind him, and his wife, having nursed their baby, also went to stand near him, with her arms crossed [over her chest]. St. Basil said the whole of Matins and the entire Liturgy, and blessed the household. As they sat at the table, having eaten and finished their food, the wife brought the Vasilopita [a sweet bread or cake baked in honor of St. Basil on the New Year] and placed it on the serving table. Then St. Basil took a knife and with it traced the sign of the Cross on the Vasilopeta, saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He cut a first piece, saying, “for Christ,” a second, afterwards, saying, “for the Panagia,” and then “for the master of the house, John the blessed.” John exclaimed, “Elder, you forgot St. Basil!” The Saint replied, “Yes, indeed,” and thus said, “And for the servant of God, Basil.” After this, he resumed: “…and for the master of the house,” “for the mistress of the house,” “for the child,” “for the farmhand,” “for the animals,” and “for the poor.” Thereupon, John the Blessed said, “Elder, why did you not cut a piece for your reverendship?” And the Saint said, “But I did, O blessed one!” But John, the Blessed one, did not understand.

Then John the Blessed said: “I wonder if you can tell me, Elder, since you know many things, to what palaces did St. Basil go this evening? And the rulers and the monarchs—what sins do they have? We poor people are the sinners, since our poverty leads us into sin.” “O Lord my God,”, said St. Basil with tears, “ I have seen that Thy servant John the simple is worthy and that it is meet that Thou shouldest enter into his shelter. He is a babe, and it is to babes that Thy Mysteries are revealed.” And again John the Blessed, understood nothing….

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Transl. Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna.

Ad. Kleio Kechagia

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story

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The Gleaner by Alexandros Papadiamandis

… In the morning, after the liturgy (it was Christmas Eve), the parish priest, Papa-Dimitris, suddenly appeared at the door of the humble dwelling:

‘Glad tidings!’ he addressed her with a smile.
Glad tidings indeed. Who could she expect glad tidings from? ‘I received a letter for you, Achtitsa,’ said the old priest, brushing the snow from his cassock and shawl.
‘Come in, Master!’
‘If only I had a fire,’ she whispered to herself, ‘or a sweet and raki to offer him.’
The priest climbed up the four steps and went over to sit on the stool. He reached into his cassock and pulled out a large envelope covered with a variety of official seals and postage stamps.

‘A letter, you said, Father?’ Achtitsa repeated, just beginning to register what the priest had said.

The letter which he had pulled out from his breast appeared to be open at one end.

‘The ship arrived this morning,’ the priest resumed, ‘and they brought me this now, just as I was leaving church.’

And putting his hand into the envelope, he pulled out a folded paper.

 

‘The letter is addressed to me,’ he added, ‘but it concerns you.’ ‘What, me? Me?’ repeated the old woman with surprise. Papa-Dimitris unfolded the letter.
‘God saw your suffering and has sent you a little relief,’ said the good priest. ‘Your son has written to you from America.’
‘From America? Yannis! Yannis remembered me?’ the old woman cried for joy, making the sign of the cross and then adding, ‘Glory be to God!’

For the rest of this classic, ‘bittersweet’ Greek Christmas story by Papadiamandis, go here

 

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