Orthodox America


 The Best Inheritance 


A story from the life of Elder Zosima (Verkhovsky) (1767-1833)

Zosima's parents had many children. Of three sons, Zosima was the youngest, and in baptism he was named Zachary. The sons were officers in the elite guard in St. Petersburg. Their father was the governor of the Smolensk region. The brothers were living in the capital when they received news of their father's death. Their loving hearts were anxious to get to their father' funeral as soon as possible and to see their mother, who was stricken with grief, but they did not dare to go home before receiving a letter from their mother, in which she called them to come home and to secure a prolonged leave of absence in order to settle the estate. When the three brothers arrived at their parents' home, the father had already been buried.

After the first days of grieving and tears, the mother called her sons and said to them, "You see, my children, I am now old and weak, and I may not live much longer. While I am still alive, I want you to divide the estate in my presence. Then I will die peacefully, knowing that all of you will live in harmony and love when I'm gone. You know that family conflicts occur mostly because of property."

The good children, who had been brought up in the fear of God, desired to fulfill their mother's will as if it were the will of God. They wanted to start right away, but the mother proposed that they invite their uncle, her brother, as a mediator. "No, dear mother," responded the sons, "let us have only your blessing and our brotherly love as mediator. There is no need for others. Be assured, we won't hurt each other."

The mother said a prayer, blessed them, and they began. The mother took nothing. The three married sisters had already received their share from the father. The three sisters who were not married had also already received what was theirs. Therefore, the remaining estate was to be divided only among the three brothers. The brothers were working on the division of their property in a big room, separated only by a partition from the room where the mother was, so she could hear everything that the brothers were saying. As she listened to how the brothers were dividing the estate, she crossed herself, and with tears thanked God that her sons were handling this so peacefully and with brotherly love. The arrangements were all but completed, when suddenly the mother heard a loud quarrel among her sons. Philip, raising his voice, spoke firmly:

"I am the oldest. I want to take it alone."

"I'm not going to let you have it," interrupted Ilya with fervor, "Half belongs to me, and we won't give anything to the youngest."

"But, really, am I not his son, not his heir?" objected Zachary sadly.

The mother became frightened and hastened to enter the room. With tears in her eyes she said to them, "Well, children, didn't I advise you to invite your uncle as a mediator?"

The boys rose with respect before her and said, "No, dear mother, you yourself be our mediator and solve our dispute."

"I am the eldest," said Philip. "I wish to take care of father's debt by myself. It is not large, and for me this sacred burden will not be too heavy."

"It will be even easier and more pleasant if we divide it in half," interrupted Ilya.

"But why do you want to deprive me of participating in this sacred burden, as you call it," said Zachary, "Am I really an unworthy son of my most worthy parent?"

The happy mother was touched by the love her children showed for the memory of their late father. She fell down with tears before the icon of the Mother of God. Then she began embracing and blessing her kind sons, and solved their dispute so that all three would have an equal share in their father's debt. That was how these exceptional brothers divided the estate in an exemplary and amiable manner. While they had been dividing the estate, they had been doing it in a peaceful, agreeable and loving way. Each tried to let the other brother have the better part. But when it came to the father's debt, a truly surprising dispute erupted!

Those are happy parents to whom God gave such kind children. Are not such children a reward to parents from the Lord? Yet if they had not educated their children in the fear of the Lord, the parents would not have seen such love from them...

Translated from the Russian by Peter Zarechnak from Starets Zosima Verkhovskiy, Life and ascetic struggles, excerpted in Kupel', Detskiy Pravoslavnyi Zhurnal, No. 2, 1997.

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