Christ’s Light in Tolstoy’s Prison

 

 

the prisoner

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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Bearing our Three Crosses

crucifixion

Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) What does it mean to take up our cross daily? This is a question that St. Theophan the Recluse addressed in a series of homilies in 1885.

First, let’s examine what is meant by the Cross. St. Theophan says the following:

The Lord accomplished our salvation by His death on the Cross; on the Cross He tore up the handwriting of our sins; through the Cross He brought upon us grace-filled gifts and all heavenly blessings.”

But there is more, as the above is Christ’s Cross, and we must take up our personal cross. St. Theophan says:

When the personal cross of each of us is united with Christ’s Cross, the power and effect of the latter is transferred to us and becomes, as it were, a conduit through which “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17)  is poured forth upon us from the Cross of Christ.

The message is clear that there is more to our salvation than just believing in Christ, His Incarnation, His Crucifixion and Resurrection. In addition to His Cross, our personal cross is equally essential for our salvation.  

But, what is our personal cross? Saint Theophan outlines three kinds.  One is outward, another is inward and a third is spiritual.

1. The outward cross involves the trials and tribulations of our life. St. Theophan describes them as follows:

These are sorrows, misfortunes, the loss of loved ones, failures at work, every sort of deprivation and loss, family troubles, adversities related to outward circumstances, insults, offenses, wrongful accusations, and, in general, our earthly lot… Neither eminence, nor riches, nor glory, not any kind of earthly greatness will deliver one from them.

He makes the important point that we must make use of these difficulties in life in accordance with God’s intention for our salvation. So, why does God allow us these difficulties in life? Saint Theophan says he gave them to us “so that we would live on earth, not as someone in his own land, but as a stranger and a foreigner in a foreign land.” As foreigners, we are to seek our return to His kingdom. To understand this we must refresh our understanding of the story of Adam and Eve told in Genesis, and how they were originally living in Paradise in union with God. But they disobeyed Him and suffered the consequences of death and sorrow and sickness, and were ousted and banned from Paradise. This is our outward cross to bear, the difficulties of a mortal life outside of Paradise. And how are we to bear them?  St. Theophan tells us to “endure them and don’t be annoyed…bear your lot with equanimity.”

Remember, these difficulties encountered in life are similar for all of us. We are all subject to misfortune and sorrow. God allows them for our benefit.  St. Theophan tells us,

The Lord wants to wash away some sin, or to lead us away from a sinful deed, or to cover up a greater sorrow with a smaller one, or to give us an occasion for patience and for demonstrating faithfulness to the Lord, so as to show forth the glory of His mercy on us later… If you don’t clearly see precisely what God wanted to give you through sorrow that has overwhelmed you, raise up in your heart  the general, non-speculative belief that everything that comes from the Lord is for our good, and give a shove to your disturbed soul: this is what is pleasing to God. Endure! He whom punishes is like a son to Him!

Enduring your sorrows with faith are what it means to bear your personal cross. Enduring with the love of God, giving thanks for all He gives us, you are bearing your cross in a way that will bring salvation.  Saint Theophan says,

“Arouse gratitude within yourself, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, repent, and correct your life.” 

2. The second kind of cross is inward. This is the struggle against the passions. Saint Paul says, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:14). Saint Theophan says,

There is a cross upon which these passions and lusts are crucified. To crucify the passions means to weaken them, suppress them, and uproot them… When someone is fighting against the passions, sometimes it seems as if his hands were nailed, as if he is wearing a crown of thorns on his head, as if his living heart is pierced.

The culprit is self love, advises Saint Theophan. He writes,

Anger burns, envy dries one up, lust enfeebles one, miserliness does not let one eat or sleep, and offended pride murderously eats away at one’s heart… Everyone has them. As soon as there is self love, there are all the passions, for this is the mother of the passions…

So what is one to do?  Saint Theophan says,

One has only to turn the knife around and, instead of satisfying the passions, to strike oneself with it, to strike the passions with it, beginning the fight against them and contradicting them in everything… One must say to every passionate person: “You’re perishing on the cross of passions. Destroy that cross and set up another: the cross of the fight against it. And you’ll be crucified on it unto salvation!”…. go courageously to the cross of self-crucifixion, through the crucifixion and uprooting of the passions and lusts. Let us turn away from self-pity and become inflamed with zeal for self-accusation… the Cross is the tree of life.

3. The third cross is the devotion to the will of God. It is not enough to crucify the passions. This is only preparatory for this step which involves our obedience to God’s will. We are now ready to offer ourselves up as a sacrifice to God. We follow Christ’s example in the Garden of Gethsemane before His Crucifixion. Christ prayed that He be spared, but was resolute in saying, “Nonetheless not as I will, but as Thou will” (Mark 26:39). CHrist as fully man bound his will with that of God. It is as Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lies in me” (Gal 2:20). Saint Theophan says this is the “height of Christian perfection… It is the beginning of he future state after the resurrection, when God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). Those who are perfect live and act through God alone.”

Saint Theophan further says,

Many have the idea that Christianity is the same as other kinds of life, but this is not so. It begins with repentance, ripens through the fight against passions, and is perfected when  the pure, inner man, immersed in God, is crucified with Christ… If Christians do have pleasures they are purely incidental. The most distinguishing characteristics of their existence are sufferings and sickness––inward and outward, voluntary and involuntary. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom, and into that which is within it.….If you want good for yourself, get rid of pleasures and enter on the path of the cross of repentance, burn up in the fire of self-crucifixion, be tempered in tears of heartfelt contrition––and you’ll become gold, or sliver, or a precious stone, and in due time you’ll be taken by the Heavenly Householder as an adornment for His most bright and most peaceful mansions.

Reference: Three Homilies of the Bearing of the Cross by Saint Theophan the Recluse in The Orthodox Word, No. 285, 2012, pp 187-202.

St. John of Kronstadt: The Circle of Grace (2)

St. John of Kronstadt: The Circle of Grace

How fascinating to see a Saint through the eyes of another!

Who would have thought that St. John of Krostandt had helped finance, all the way from Russia and in very difficult times, the construction of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York! A Saint worthy to meet St. Seraphim Sarov in a vision in January of 1901, in order to warn him of the impending Russian ‘Golgotha’. A spiritual father to Abbess Thaisia and founder of numerous women monasteries under her godly administration. St. Theophan the Recluse, himself a remarkable ascetic of the faith, spoke of him with wonder: “Father John of Kronstadt is a man of God. His prayer has reached God by virtue of his great faith. May the Lord keep him in humility and devotion to His holy will, and in self-sacrifice.”

The Athonite starets St. Silouan asked for St. John‘s  prayers to become a monk. Having finished his military service, before departing for home, Symeon (his name before tonsure) and the company clerk went to visit Father Ioann of Kronstadt to ask for his prayers and blessing. However, Father Ioann was absent from Kronstadt, so they decided to leave him letters instead. The clerk began to write a long letter in his best handwriting, but Semyon wrote only a few words: “Father, I wish to become a monk. Pray that the world does not detain me.” They returned to their barracks in St. Petersburg and, in the words of the Elder, the very next day he felt that all round him “the flames of hell were burning.” St Silouan recalled later in his life: “I still marvel at the power of his prayer. Almost 40 years have passed, yet I have not seen anyone serve the way he did.”

New martyr Alexander Hotovitzky, a Russian Saint living and serving in the United States from 1895 to 1914, also had the blessing to meet St. John of Krostandt and work together! Specifically, St. Alexander traveled to Russia in 1903, and while there, he paid a visit to Fr. John Sergiev — known even then as the wonderworker John of Kronstadt. After his return to America, St. Alexander spoke with a reporter from the Wilkes-Barre Times.  did the research and reprinted the resulting, fascinating article, one of the best things I have ever read in a newspaper, at Orthodox History. (The original date, incidentally, is April 7, 1904.)

 

*The Circle of Grace