Orthodox America

  Discussions With Youth

27 December 1909

Glory to Thee, O Lord! Once again we have gathered together. I like these evenings; they refresh my soul. I also like to sit alone in this cell. Many have found here spiritual peace. Our great writer Gogol was spiritually reborn under the influence of his conversations with Elder Macarius, which took place here in this very cell. He underwent a real crisis. His was an integral nature, unbroken, and he was incapable of compromise. Realizing that he could not go on living as he had been, without a backward glance he turned to Christ and strove for the Jerusalem on high. From Rome and various holy places which he visited, he wrote letters to friends. These letters comprised a whole book, which was severely criticized by his contemporaries. Gogol had not yet begun to live according to Christ, he only desired such a life, and already the world, which is at enmity with Christ, stirred up a persecution against him, declaring him to be half-cocked.

      At a time when in Russia various literary inconsequentials such as Chernyshevsky and Ko expressed their regret at the demise of Gogol's genius, such a great mind as the literary historian Scherer evaluated him quite differently. Scherer was a Lutheran, a German; he was unacquainted with Russian life, with the Russian soul. Nevertheless, he expressed amazement that at a rime when Gogol's genius was flowering, when his horizon was broadening and his thoughts were straining towards infinity, his fellow-countrymen did not understand him and condemned him. It's true, every soul that strives towards a new life, towards life in Christ, experiences external persecution from the world and a great warfare with its internal foes. These trials are inevitable, according to the words of the Saviour: They have persecuted me and they will persecute you. But in the same breath the Lord offers consolation: They have kept My word; they will keep yours also.

      ... I'll say it again: those who so much as think of entering upon the right path will have to endure a whole host of various temptations. Blessed and thrice-blessed are those who enter upon the right path. But how is one to hold one's course when the enemy attacks from all sides? By fulfilling the Gosl~el commandments, and with the Jesus Prayer. If someone offends you, endure it. The enemy teaches us to take revenge, but Christ whispers to us from on high, "Forgive. forgive." "I don't want to listen to Thee, Lord, it's too hard for me"---and the person lets out with something which later he regrets. The Jesus Prayer habituates us to meekness, gentleness, patience. Lord, grant us, if not to love our enemies, at least to forgive them.

      While staying in Mukden, I became acquainted with an engineer who was constructing a tunnel through the mountains. This Razgildeyev had finished university with two degrees, in medicine and philology. As if this wasn't enough, he joined the department of communications. When he finished that, he wanted to study art. His father was wealthy and he was an only son, so he had liberty to do as he wished. He went to Italy to study voice. It turned out that he had a wonderful voice and he became a performer. Returning to Russia, he entered the conservatory. He also spoke nine languages. But in spite of his broad education, Razgildeyev sensed a certain dissatisfaction and strove after still more learning. We often had talks together. We would go into the mountains and talk and talk.

      "Batiushka," he once said to me," I want to study, but I haven't quite decided what. What would you advise?"

      "There is one great science which you must learn."

      "No doubt you mean astronomy. Indeed, this is interesting. At one time I wanted to enroll in the Pulkov Observatory."

''No, I have in mind ... the science of the salvation of the soul and the attainment of the Kingdom of Heaven. This 'is what you should undertake."

"Let's assume this is true, but how?

Fasting, for example; I simply can't fast."

"Have you tried?'

"Let's suppose I haven't. You'll say: Go to church. But to be honest, it doesn't give me any satisfaction. It's true, I like it when you serve; you serve without any pretensions, simply; nevertheless, it doesn't impress me.""But you believe in God?"

      "Yes, at least I should like to believe. I recognize the dogmas of the Church totally, but how can one acquire real faith?"

       "Genuine faith can be acquired only through fulfilling all of Christ's commandments. In the Gospel of Saint John, the Lord says, "Test my teachings and see." This is what every unbeliever should be advised. Test and see, is Christ God or merely a great prophet, a philosopher?"

      We frequently had such discussions. I don't know what became of Razgildeyev. About three years ago I wrote to him but received no answer.

      I had similar discussions with Doctor Valyashko. Here too was a man who was searching. But there weren't many like that. With others it was impossible to have a conversation about spiritual things; they were stuck fast to the earth. "What's that you're talking about?" they would say. "Come, let's have a drink, something to eat." Their whole life was centered in base pleasures. It didn't occur to them that there could be other joys, other delights. This happens because the soul has become callous, because the person knows nothing about the Gospels, because he is indifferent towards the Church.

      When I was still a high school student, there were in my class two students who were hopeless jokers. Overall they were good lads, and their joking was never malicious. But then a noticeable change came over them. They no longer played pranks and spent their free time reading. You'd ask them, "What are you reading?" and the answer would come, "Pushkin, Nikitin,' or another of our literary greats. Under the influence of this reading, even their faces changed; they became more serious, thoughtful.

      If the reading of great writers has such a positive effect on the soul, how much greater benefit and enlightenment can be gained from reading the Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers? By immersing himself in the Holy Scripture, a person is brought into a depth of awareness of God, and he is granted blessedness far beyond any earthly happiness. The beauties of the external world have a salutary effect on man, and the soul which is capable of finding pleasure in the beauty of the world, is a soul that is elevated.


29 March 1912

Recently there came to me some students from the Theological Academy, and they recalled their first visit to me, the unworthy one. There were quite a number of them, and among them were several hieromonks. All of them had a theological education, many of them gave eloquent sermons. Along the way they reasoned among themselves, "What can he say that would edify us; after al!, Igumen Barsanouphy doesn't have a theological education."

      "We came to you," the students later told me, "and you posed a question which none of us could answer. Opinions were divided. When we asked you, you gave a straightforward answer which at first surprised us, but on second thought we all agreed with it. You asked, What is life? And you defined it in two words: Life is blessedness. At first the students protested: What do you mean, blessedness?

At every step of the way them are misfortunes, sicknesses, aggravations. You said that life is blessedness, and not only that we believe in the blessedness of eternal life, but that here, on earth, life can be blessed if we live with Christ, if we fulfill His commandments. If a man is not attached to earthly goods but relies completely on the will of God, lives for Christ and in Christ, then his life becomes blessed even here on earth. Christ Himself said that there are gates to the attainment of blessedness. This was a rather original analogy, and we did not understand you and were perplexed as to what gates you could be referring to.

     Then you explained: blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy; blessed are the pure in heart, for they will receive even greater blessedness."

      What I said to those students, I can say lo you; Christ calls all to blessedness. It is now Pascha, and the Royal Doors are open, but no one who is not consecrated may enter; only priests and deacons. But anyone who so desires may enter the gates of blessedness. Just how one enters is another matter, but one can and must enter. Nowadays many people live according to the flesh and do not seek spiritual happiness. What do they want to attain? Wealth, primarily, then glory. They neglect nothing in pursuit of their aim. The Lord said that because lawlessness would increase, love would wither away. A majority of people have turned aside, they have gone away from Christ, and those people who do not share their views, the people of this age call old-fashioned, backward, impractical....The Lord preserve you from being "practical" people! Always be with the Lord. Christ is in our midst, He was and will be.

       Impractical people are often accused of being prideful. He's a proud one, they say, and they honestly believe it. The first Christians were accused of being proud. They are brought before the leader, let's say, and he gives the order, "Bow down to the idols!" "No, we won't bow down; we're followers of the One God, Who created heaven and earth, the Lord Jesus Christ."

      "You're full of pride. Humble down before the gods."


      And they are taken off to be tortured. The leader demands a false humility. To fulfill his command would be to renounce Christ, which is, of course, impossible. In our own lives we hear people say, "Humble down, live like everyone else; don't be so proud, don't stand out from the rest of us." Don't listen to such advice. Those who give in and fall away from Christ perish eternally.

      I sometimes ask my visitors: "Do you have children?"

"Certainly," they answer. "Sons and daughters.''

"Have you plans for their future?"

      "I'd like to see my son as an engineer; he himself is so inclined. My daughters I'd like to see married to someone who is well off and of good social standing."

"And you think they will be happy?"

      "Of course!" they answer confidently. And they don't give a moment's thought as to how to help their children acquire Christ. They say money can buy everything, but all the money in the world cannot buy Christ. And without Christ there is neither life nor salvation. 

Translated from Besedi Startsa Arkhimandrita Varsonofiya; samizdat.

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