Orthodox America

  Holy Russia Waits .. .and Prays

O my God, in Thee have I trusted; let me never be put to shame, nor let mine enemies laugh me to scorn. Yea, let none that wait on Thee be put to shame (Psalm 24:1-2)

A Serbian monk from Mt. Athos visited the Soviet Union in 1981. Below are excerpts from an article he wrote describing his visit to the Pskov-Caves Monastery. It is an inspiring testimony of the vitality and depth of faith in Russia today.

The Pskov-Caves Lavra was founded under miraculous circumstances. Long ago the surrounding inhabitants often heard "angelic singing" coming from a large ravine. There was discovered an underground church; the singing was that of some hermit monks nearby...

We began the tour of the monastery with this very church. Its outward appearance already makes a striking impression. The church itself, the altar, the small entrances and corridors are all carved out from the cliff. In the church Fr. Neophyte gave us candles and led us into the cold, dark under ground passageways which form a complex labyrinth. One comes across doors, slabs with inscriptions, altars set in niches. Every Saturday in the chapels of this unique under ground monastery, memorial Liturgies are served during which those buried here are commemorated...

The order and cleanliness of the monastery is exemplary. There are elderly people working everywhere. We were told they were pensioners who worked voluntarily "for their souls." During vacations children of clergy also work here; they help in the church as readers, or in the dining room. It is hard to imagine a closer or more sincere bond between the monastery and the people. We asked Fr. Neophyte if the government aided the monastery. He answered with a smile: "That is not necessary. The people help the monastery; the government only takes taxes.

What we saw that evening at the All-night Vigil and at the morning Liturgy cannot be expressed in words. Those who took part- the hieromonk, the deacon, the choir, the people in the church-all came together into one; they were transformed in to one breath, one thought! The hearts of the people burned with prayer, like myriad candles. In front quietly stood some children; like the adults they made prostrations and crossed them selves with wide sweeping motions in the Russian manner, standing thus throughout the entire service which lasted four hours!

During the service on this day the rite of tonsure was performed. We were told that a few days before, six men were tonsured monks. This time a young doctor was tonsured (he was the fourth doctor to be tonsured in the monastery.) Tall, handsome, with a concentrated expression, he walked through the crowd of believers in a long white robe. This was an unforgettable experience both for us, and especially for those present who gave to the world yet another warrior of Christ...

The following day we arose at dawn to attend the early service in the underground church... Above us were the blue cupolas sprinkled with gold stars, as though at night's end the stars from the entire heavens descend upon the cupolas, and the blue of the cupolas rise into the heights of heaven. Beneath the main cupola the morning light greets the divine face of Christ...

Inside, the Liturgy was beginning. We moved slowly among the crowd in the direction of a quiet voice. Fr. Cosmas was preparing people for confession. He spoke about the family, about lines in stores, about work, about church; he gave spiritual a d v i c e on everyday life, but the illustrations he used sounded like a veritable catechism, rousing one to think about life, about cleansing the soul, weaknesses, self-delusion-so as to prepare oneself as much as possible worthily to partake of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Fr. Cosmas read the prayer before confession and placed his epitrachelion over the head of the first person inline. There flowed words and muffled sobs. The epitrachelion covered first one head, then another... .The choir sang the communion hymn. Those who had had confession began to go upin turn for Communion, and at the back of tbe church the confessions continued. So as not to interrupt the service, Fr. Cosmas asked those who were left to hold onto one another's shoulders. When they dispersed, Fr. Cosmas called us over and pointed to the floor in front of him: the marble glistened as though someone had just spilled water over it; the wet floor shone with the reflection of the burning candles and the flames of the red vigil lamps. "There are the repentant tears of the Russian people," said Fr. Cosmas. "Our Church lives by them."

There was no better testimony of the deep faith of those gathered than the atmosphere of spiritual concentration and humility in the church. The people did not talk to one an other, nor did they gaze from side to side. Each stood individually before God. At the same time, they were all closely united by to another, and to the Source of life-God. ~his unity produce~ such a spiritual force and created in the church such an atmosphere, that if an unbeliever had entered, he would either have to come to repentance, or leave the church. One must also mention that the church services in Russia are very crowded and lengthy and there is no place for the spiritually weak.

I thought that what is most beautiful in Russia today are the faces of those praying in church. I shall never forget the reading of the Gospel at the monastery. One could see how the words of Christ's Sermon on the Mount came alive on the faces of those pre sent. And this was not just on one or several faces; all without exception reacted to the reading in unison, as though directed by some unseen conductor. Here was manifest the essence of the people, living with Christ in their hearts.

Blessed are they that mourn...

When the distinct voice of the deacon triumphantly proclaimed: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" -the faces of the people were suffused with blessedness. At the exclamation, "Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be com- forted"-tears ran down their faces and sighs were heard. At the words, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteous- ness"-heads gently nodded in assent. "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven"-and a wondrous expression of humility and joy lit their faces; - yes shone with hope.

Struck by this spiritual strength, I truly experienced for the first time the reality of the Church of Christ on earth. The Church as the mystical Body of the God-man Christ stood before me in its fullness. And even more: if the Orthodox temples a true unity of two worlds, a place where the boundaries between time and space are erased, where heaven and earth are joined, then the faithful souls of the Russian people during the time of the Divine Liturgy appear to our still un schooled eyes as the embodiment of the in visible Heaven.

And how does the Soviet government look upon all this? A monastery resident replied:

"For the time being, they demand only one thing of our hierarchs: to openly affirm that we have 'freedom of religion.' The authorities need this for the sake of international prestige and tourists. And foreigners think we have freedom. In Moscow you probably saw the All Saints' Church. It's in desperate need of repair, but the authorities only o~ struct any such work. They wish we no longer existed. They are awaiting their hour, and we are awaiting ours-and the ensuiig struggle is fierce."

(Translated and condensed from "Possev," Sept., 1982)