The following account comes to us from 19th century Russia. Although some distance away in time and space, it offers some striking
parallels to our own day when we see materialism giving way before a growing
fascination with spiritism. How
will it end? Tragically, if the world continues to ignore the lessons which history has so
Back in my early childhood I heard frightful tales of terrifying manifestations of the powers of unclean spirits over people, who cooperated through willfully serving sin and the devil. My memory, even to this day when I am approaching the sunset of my life, has preserved in its treasure house recollections of those impressions gathered under the influence of my old nanny and those other elderly women to whom even relatively recently the doors to the nurseries of houses belonging to the old Russian nobility stood open. They had not yet lost their ties with the vast crowd of simple people, with its simple, guileless and childlike faith. What mysteries of the unseen world were revealed to this faith! How much in this foreign world was accessible to the eyes of these “children”! Who among us, Orthodox Russian people, whatever his profession or rank, was not acquainted in his formative years with that mysterious unseen world – full of wonders and also fearful – where the unclean powers operated and worked on the destruction of the Orthodox soul? Who does not remember all these “wood demons,” “water sprites,” “house spirits” (a “fantasy” according to the wisdom of this world) and their agents and slaves from the human race – “sorcerers,” “witches” and their unclean colleagues of the same ilk? What child’s heart did not tremble, listening to these stories in the dim light of an autumn or winter evening, illumined by the flickering of a vigil lamp? And how it believed them! How it beat from a dread perturbation – it seemed it could burst were it not for old nanny’s calm and triumphant assurance that her charge had nothing to fear, for the powers of evil could not touch him because he was protected by his Guardian-Angel, his pure, child’s soul and its prayers and, finally, by all that grace present – in the form of Theophany water, Athonite incense, holy oil from the relics of God-pleasers, and various other holy things – in her icon corner which flickered with the flame of her perpetually burning vigil lamp. Yes, and what child’s soul, sensitive to every truth, would not believe these stories, when nanny herself and her interlocutors were even more convinced of them than her young listener; some of them were half-dead with frihgt having witnessed that which they related.
And I, too, believed them with all my child’s heart – until the spirit of the times, the spirit of skepticism all but suffocated any faith in that which “smart” people called “old wives tales”…I had to submit to the directive of the “smart” people, and for a long time, in place of my childhood belief in the spirital world, to set up another faith in other gods and in other idols before whom the “smart” people themselves boewed down….
But what a struggle in my soul I had to pay for my disenchantments and the acquisition of that desired truth which was so simply given and so simply accepted by the “ordinary” folk in the Orthodox Church, through her Sacred Scripture, Tradition and Lives of God-pleasers.
My soul stubbornly refused to be satisfied with materialism alone, which tried to substitute for the life of the spirit the “liberation” movement or the “great” reforms of the ‘60’s and the ensuing years. During this intense struggle in my soul, I became aware of a sharp discord: at the same time that the entire spiritual world was subject to scorn and derision (and later even denial), “smart” people, who stood at the head of the “social” movement, by some totally illogical jump, leapt from “transmutation of species” and “cells and protoplasmas,” into that very sphere which they had ostracized: materialsm extended a hand to spiritism, and “smart” people considered it possible to join these “unjoinables” into a general “kasha.” They “ate this kashka, licked their spoons and said -- ‘Thanks’.” What powerful, unseen hand threw the very cream of educated society, even professors toward spinning tables and saucers, and turned yesterday’s despairing materialists into today’s materializers of unseen spirits?
And now, for the first time since my evening sessions with nanny, I heard from the lips of educated people – who scoffed at nanny’s prejudces and supersitions – convincing stories about that which was familiar to me from my childhood: “haunted” houses, premonitions, the influence of the dead upon the living; how in “haunted” houses dishes and glasses floated about in the air; knockings were heard at night; someone’s footsteps sounded, bringing chills to the spine. Policemen and frightened inhabitants were not the only illfated witnesses of these outrageous happenings; entire streets, blocks and even whole towns crowded around to stare at the mysterious events.
“Smart” people, familiar with the phenomenon of mediums, attributed these appearances to the activity of “playful spirits”; ardent nihilists – to pranksters; simple people of simple heart and faith – to an unclean power. Thus, the majority were in favor of spirits, and in my eyes this confirmed by childhood beliefs which were destroyed by this same majority in the days of my youth – when I arrogantly scorned aloud simple people.
At once the forgotten world of children’s stories and the stories of nanny was resurrected in my memory. But how much more complete was the unlearned world view of my dear old nanny – a worldview illumined and made intelligible by the light of faith – than the chaos in which the educated and “enlightened” conducted their examinations of spiritist and mediumistic spheres. My nanny knew of such occurrences, and with her all the common Russian people, at a time when there was as yet no talk of psychic “science” and these occurrences were attributed to the activity of the man-destroyer, God’s arch-enemy and man-hater, the devil. They knew the purpose behind these occurrences: the destruction of God’s creation, man’s soul, and its eternal torment in that place prepared by Satan and his army…
Just look dear reader, at what the loss of this knowledge has cost humanity! Take a look around you, and if your soul isn’t yet devoid altogether of the ability to respond to the activities of your contemporaries with grief at the loss of Christian faith, then you will understand that nothing could have benefited the Evil One more than this, and that it is now he who is in reality the king of a depraved and possessed humanity.
Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. (Rev. 12:12)
From one of the elders of the great Optina Hermitage, God granted me to receive a manuscript which, already in the days of the great Optina Elder Ambrose of blessed memory, was under his care and editing. The person from whom I obtained the manuscript assured me that it was destined by the Elder himself to be printed for the edification of contemporaries, but for some reason it wasn’t done. By God’s unfathomable providence it is only now, fifteen years later, after the death of Elder Ambrose, that the time has come for it to be brought to light. Perhaps it will shed a little light on the darkness of the evils and distresses under which the Russian land now groans. Here it is – the manuscript, already yellowed with age. In a fine hand there is set forth the following:
Among simple people one not infrequently hears stories such as might seem strange and even unbelievable. One such story, which we recorded from the words of an eye-witness, we offer to the reader. The extraordinary nature of the story makes it hard to believe, but neither can one completely dismiss it, because hundreds of people were eyewitnesses of the events we describe. We purposely indicate the place where this event took place and give the names of those persons who in whatever way were involved in order that those who are curious and who have the opportunity, can themselves verify what happened.
The case we describe is not unique. He who is interested may hear similar stories among the common people, and if he listens to them carefully and without bias, he will find good reason to believe them.
There was in the province of Novgorod, in the village of Mindiukin, a boy Michael belonging to the family of the serf Trudnikov. He was a healthy and fun-loving lad, though rather naughty at that. In 1850, or perhaps a year eariler, when Michael turned 15, the poor parents thought of sending him to be a shepherd; but the boy, being accustomed only to pranks and childish amusements, to whom even the slightest bit of serious work was a trial, began to grumble loudly against his mother when she announced her intention. The boy’s grumbling turned into impudence which in turn awoke fierce indignation in the heart of his mother. In a fit of anger the unthinking peasant woman cursed her son and harassed him as was possible only under such provocation. Willingly or unwillingly, Michael finally had to yeild to his mother’s demand. He was soon sent to his appointed task, 35 versts from his village, to the country village of Lentevo in the province if Ustiug.
The boy lived there for some days. Time passed in its usual course without any particular incidents, and one could assume that he had come to terms with his unenviable destiny.
One day the head shepherd, Ivan, left his flock in the care of his young assistant. The day was drawing to a close and Ivan returned to his flock, only to find Michael gone. He began calling for him loudly but only an ominous echo came in reply.
Near the place where the flock was pastured was a lake on whose shore stood a small boat. Perhaps Michael was there, thought Ivan. The boy – spoiled – probably thought of taking a boat-ride. What if he had met with some calamity! With such thoughts Ivan went to the place where the boat was moored. There, not far from shore, he saw on the surface of the water the corpse of the unfortunate Michael, already devoid of any signs of life. Stunned by this tragedy, the shepherd ran to his village, a distance of four versts, with the story of his comrade’s wretched fate. News of the drowning soon spread throughout the entire village and brought the curiosity-seekers – both old and young – to the scene of the disaster. The corpse, already stiff as a board, was taken out of the water. It was arranged to inform the local militia and Michael’s mother who took no time in coming: the first – to conduct an investigation of the accident, and the second – to certify the truth of the matter and to mourn the unfortunate death of her son.
The cause of Michael’s death was evident to all and therefore, without further ado, the deceased was given the usual Christian burial…The corpse, judging from the age of the deceased, was not large and did not give the impression of weighing much. For this reason all those accompanying the drowned boy to the village were amazed that the horse was exerting such great effort in pulling him, as if the cart held an enormous load. All wondered at such an unusual circumstance and no one could offer any explanation.
Meanwhile, according to the statutes of the Holy Church, the burial service was performed over the deceased and his body was returned to the earth.
The poor mother wept over the remains of her Misha, and the witnesses of her unexpected grief also mourned and returned home, preserving a sorrowful remembrance of the tragic event.
Time had not yet succedded in calming Mme. Trudnikov’s agitation when one night her son revealed himself in a dream and related something so frightul and unbelievable concerning his supposed death that had there not already been examples of such occurrences in people’s minds, it would have been difficult to believe. Here is what happened.
Night fell. Mme. Trudnikov went to bed and in a heavy sleep she saw her son Michael. He approached her as if alive and said:
“Mother, do not think that I have died; I am alive, but because you cursed me I am presently under the control of demons. If you want me to return to you, repent of your sin, pray to God for me more often and give alms for my sake.”
Mme. Trudnikov saw this dream on three consecutive nights.
The great anguish over the loss of her son, the terrifying news of his death as a result of her curse, hope – although slight – of seeing him again among the living, all this led Mme. Trudnikov to seek the advice of a certain wise peasant who was deemed trustworthy by all the peasants in the area.
“Do not believe,” he counseled, “that your son is alive, but to pray to God for him, to give alms for his sake and repent of your sin – this is your duty. Whether your son is dead or alive, in any case your repentance, prayers and almsgiving will benefit both you and him.”
The counselor had reason to speak thus; stored in his memory was the following case.
In the village of Kurilov in the province of Cherepovets, there lived two merchant brothers, one of good character and the other given over to a dissolute life. Such a contrast in their characters led to their separation. The kindly brother began to prosper, while the other soon became completely rotten. Once the latter went for some reason to his brother’s and found him with a serf distributing a rather large sum of money. Noticing this, he lay in wait for this serf one evening in the woods through which there was a desolate path to his house, robbed him of the money, killed him and, as though nothing had happened, went to get drunk at a bar. The peasant, however, had not been mortally wounded. Upon recovering, he made his way to his village and told the proper authorities what had transpired. The crime was revealed, and the guilty one imprisoned.
The criminal had a wife. When this misfortune befell her, the unhappy woman wept for days on end. But then, as if to comfort her, her husband began to come to her at night. In response to his wife’s astonishment – how this was possible for him, a prisoner – he answered:
“My friendship with the prison guard has given me total freedom. But why I come at night – this is so that people wouldn’t see; if they don’t see they won’t imagine things.”
In time the wife herself thought of visiting her husband. During the meeting she asked him about the night-time visitations. The husband at once suspected that something wasn’t right. Leaving his wife’s question unanswered, he wrote a letter and asked her not to delay in delivering it to his brother. Returning home, she postponed fulfilling her husband’s behest until the morrow. In the morning a crowd was drawn by the cries of the young daughter; they found the poor woman dead. Upon being questioned, the young girl said that some man had come to them at night and had strangled her mother. On the icon stand they found the husband’s letter which had never reached the brother and which confirmed the daughter’s testimony concerning the secret nightly visitations to the deceased by some personage taking upon himself the image of the strangled woman’s husband.
The counselor related this story to Mme. Trudnikov and persuaded her not to trust in nighttime visions, but to pray and give alms for the soul of her son. The mother heeded the good advice and began to pray to the Lord for her son and to give alms to the poor, as much as her scanty means would allow.
A year passed and then another. She again began to have dreams similar to that described above, although no longer as clear as before. The mother sincerely repented of her sin and did not cease to pray to God and give alms.
Twelve whole years passed since Mme. Trudnikov had been overtaken by grief. Not a word was heard about the son; even the dreams themselves, offering a glimmer of hope about his return, had long since ceased.
At this time, 70 versts from the village of Midiukin, not far from the town of Cherepov, there appeared from out of the blue a very strange young man from the peasant class. He was of medium height and very lean, what you would call “skin-and-bones”; his clothing consisted of rags. But what astonished everyone the most was his extraordinary savagery; truly he was a creature from some other world. He was afraid of everyone, tried to hide from eveyone, and only extreme necessity – so as not to die of hunger – forced him to go to the houses of some peasants. “He comes,” related eyewitnesses, “and stands by the door, not saying a word. And so he stands for several minutes. If he’s given something to eat, he eats, if not – he just leaves, likewise without saying anything.”
This mysterious stranger directed his steps towards the village of Mindiukin. About four versts from Mindiukin he stopped for a rest in the town of Vorotishin at the house of the peasant Vasily Yakovlevich, where he was received and comforted in a way in which until quite recently the common Russian people knew how to receive strangers, God’s people. The heart of the old Russian peasant, always compassionate towards his neighbor’s distress, lead the host to offer the stranger a meal and to treat him to whatever God had provided. Since Vasily Yakovlevich had just heated the bathhouse, he offered his guest a bath.
And here in the bathhouse, the host was struck and even frightened by the strangeness of his guest: first he would let loose a very spooky laugh, then he would begin as if to hide from someone, crawling under the benches, behind the stove…Having somehow washed himself, he dressed, left the bathhouse and ran off somewhere. While running he made such enormous leaps that is appeared as though he were not running but flying through the air. Each leap lifted him three fathoms into the air.
Soon, however, this astonishing phenomenon ceased and he headed towards Mindiukin, leaving his kind host, it must be said, utterly terrified and bewildered.
Now I would ask my dear reader to forgive me if I interrupt the account of the manuscript lying before me and turn to some personal recollections.
Although a faithful copier of the document entrusted to me, I cannot but feel that the event described herein is so unusual, so terrifying, that to the reader who is ill-prepared to take in such stories of the mysterious otherworld, it may produce not only bewilderment but, God forbid, suspicion… I hasten to assure you, my dear reader, I not only believe in that which is here brought to your amazed consideration, but I recall from my childhood a conversation which I by chance overheard between my late mother and her sister, also now deceased.
They were both brought up in the liberal spirit of the gentry in the ‘40’s; both were educated according to the latest word in education; they tasted and even got their fill of the materialism of the ‘60’s, and, of course, did not believe in anything supernatural or miraculous. Nevertheless, I heard from their own lips about a boy of 6 or 7 – it must have been my mother’s brother, my uuncle -- who fell into some mysterious state during which he had the most amazing and incredible visions: without knowing how to play any instrument, he took into his hands the violin belonging to the first violinist of grandfather’s home orchestra and played -- to the astonishment and even fright of all – the most exquisite, hitherto unheard-of melodies; he spoke in foreign languages of which had had no knowledge or understanding; he would jump from one bank to another of a stream several yards wide and, in general, did such highly unusual things (not only for his age but for anyone) that he baffled all those around him. The simple people among the servants were horrifed, seeing – as they firmly believed in the simplicity of their hearts – this evidence of an unclean power. The educated and learned, of course, thought differently, but just what it was they thought didn’t make much sense – they couldn’t explain it themselves. Afterwards, when people became absorbed in spiritism, “smart” people came to the idea of a “fourth dimension.” But here, it seems, they came against a wall.
This is what I heard in my childhood.
And what is now going on in the realm of spiritist appearances, which “smart” people have given themselves over to, not knowing with whom they are dealing – there, perhaps, you would come across stories even less credible than Mme. Trudnikova’s. But they believe those stories, they are followed up, written about, talked about; intelligent people – professors even – are given over to them heart and soul; they put their complete faith in them. It’s amazing. They don’t believe those cases when devils act openly as devils under their own clearly devilish guise, but they place their entire faith in these same devils when they appear as “angels of light”, the light of psychic “sciences” – in spiritism, mediumism, motivism, or social sciences – “freedom, equality, brotherhood”…
Forgive me, dear reader, for this involuntary digression. I shall resume my story.
It was a Sunday before the Apostles’ Fast in the year 1863. In front of the cottage of the Mindiukin peasant Feodor Ivanovich Grishin, his young children were playing about with their companions. Here also was Feodor himself with one of his elderly neighbors. They were approached by the mysterious and silent stranger.
“Where are you from?” asked Feodor.
“I’m a native of these parts,” came the answer. “I know you, old man.”
“And who are you?” Feodor continued.
“Did you ever know Misha Trudnikov?” asked the stranger.
“What do you mean, of course I knew him!”
“Well, that same Misha – that’s me.”
“How’s that? Misha drowned; his body is buried.”
“No, I didn’t really drown,” the stranger replied assuredly.
They began to examine the stranger’s face and actually found a resemblance to the face of him who had drowned long ago. The only difference was that he had grown from a boy into a big fellow and on the bridge of his nose he had a scar, as if from some injury.
News of this unheard-of occurrence spread quickly through the entire village, and a large crowd gathered around Michael. Not believing their own eyes, the astonished peasants and especially the playful children, vied with each other in climbing over to him, each with his own probing question:
“And what’s my name?” “And mine, and mine?….”
That’s all that could be heard in the crowd. Michael answered all questions accurately… The crowd’s astonishment reached a high pitch of intensity. Then a certain Grishkinskaya stepped up:
“And do you know me?”
“How could I not know you,” replied Michael.
“In your family you have a blind old woman who knows only how to complain about everyone, and for this reason’we’ were often at your house and did all sorts of mischief.”
“And what kind of scar have you there on your nose?” someone asked.
“I came by this scar when I was walking in the woods with ‘Gramps’. Suddenly I remembered about God. As a punishment for this ‘Gramps’ grabbed me by the legs and struck me so hard against a pine tree that even now the scar remains.”
“How did all this happen to you? Tell us, tell us!”
“Well then, listen.” And in this way Michael began his story.
“After my mother cursed me -- this was the principal reason for my misfortune – I was sent off to herd sheep. As you yourselves know, the Lord endured my sins only one short week. The week went by. Suddenly there came up to me some old man with a long, grey beard and said to me: ‘Your own mother cursed you, and this maternal curse has given me full power over you.’ Here he began to strip me of all my clothes until I was completely naked. The only thing I had left on me was my cross; the old man was unable to touch it and told me to remove it myself. Willing or unwilling, I had to submit to him. Then he took an aspen log, lying hearby, put all my clothes on it, and instantly there where my face should be (on the log) he drew a face – the resemblance to my own was like two drops of water – and threw this log into the lake. I saw how the people came running to look at the corpse, how the militia arrived and how my mother came. I saw everyone’s amazement at the horse’s great difficulty in dragging the dead body. And do you know the reason for this?”
“What was it?”
“It was because,” continued Michael, “there were about twenty such as myself sitting on the cart in addition to our ‘Gramps’.[*] And since then, since the old man stripped me, I became like a bodiless one. Right up to the burial of my supposed body, I stayed near it. I saw all the people who were there, heard all their conversations, but no one saw me. Since that time I no longer felt either hunger or cold and, although I sometimes ate and drank in great quantities, I did so only out of habit. I ate and drank, just as those like me, where people drink and eat without saying prayers or without the sign of the cross. This gave us the opportunity to defile the very dishes in which the food was served. The people couldn’t understand why the food and drink didn’t taste good; they would have had no cause for surprise had they known that we had defiled the dishes.
“I could fly over great distances in an instant; nothing could obstruct my path. Like a bird, I flew over sleeping forests and inaccessible mountains; I walked on water as if on dry land. And I shall tell you: there are a fair number of people like me. I remember that at one place up to a thousand of us gathered. Our favorite places to get together were various kinds of parties and indecent spectacles, and likewise where there were quarrels and abuse – in a word, wherever people sinned without any fear [of God]. During such gatherings I chanced more than once to meet with a blind girl from the village of Lipenki of the Ustiug province, who also took part in all our rouguery.[**]
“In our actions and our wicked campaigns against people a certain order was observed. When we gathered, ‘Gramps’ divided us into squadrons and gave each squadron a special assignment designed to harm people. We were always zealous in executing the promptings of human passions and lusts, and speedy collaborators in people’s wickedness and misfortunes. For example, should somone think of drowning or strangling himself, we would help him by all means available to us. Here’s the case of the merchant Ivan Ryabinka (seven versts from Mindiukin in the village of Davidov) who strangled himself in the corn-kiln just because it seemed that his manager, Petr Andreyevich Bekhter, wanted to give him a light punishment for some minor deception. We helped him to fulfill his intent. Or another case: Akulina Potapova (six versts from Mindiukin in the village of Supranov) for some trivial reason began to grow despondent, and from despondency she strangled herself in her cottage. Her children, in order to avoid suspicion and trouble with the law, secretly took her dead body out of the noose, drove it into the forest and there hung it on a birch tree. And in this case we were also participants. We were also present at fires and tried to intensify the disaster. By the way, if the houses of pious people were burning and the fire was not the result of God’s chastisement – allowed because of sin, we could in no way interfere. If the opposite was the case, we very actively particpated. For example in the village on Zimnin a peasant woman was carrying a light as she went to feed the sheep one night, and she dropped a small spark. She was quarrelling with her father-in-law and this gave us power to blow the spark into a great fire which destroyed their entire property. Vorotishino burned in the same way. I recall it was in the morning; the weather was fine, calm, but during the fire such a whirlwind blew up as to scatter whole logs in different directions. We tried to do all this.
In general, we had access everywhere where the Name of God and the sign of the Cross were disregarded. Blasphemy and the deliberate scorn of what was holy gave us power to enter into communion with people who did this, and mock them just as we wanted and our state allowed. By the way, prayer itself and the sign of the cross received their power only with people of good Christian morality, while a sinner who had no desire to abandon his sin couldn’t save himself from us either through prayer or the sign of the cross. It happens occasionally that even a pious peasant will forget about prayer or the sign of the cross. However, we could not get to such a person; it was not ours even to know the houses of such people For example, we couldn’t enter the village of Vanskoe. Why? Because there was a pious old woman there who had the custom every evening of going around her village praying.”
“And you no longer prayed to God?” someone asked Michael.
“We prayed; we had a daily rule of prayer, morning and evening. But the prayers we recited were a blasphemous mockery of your prayers. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, we read as follows: Father who isn’t ours, may Thy Name not be hallowed…and other prayers, all in the same spirit.
“So this is how the Lord punished me for my brazenness and rebellion against my parents’ will. For twelve whole years I led this miserable life, and I should never again have seen God’s light as a Christian if the prayers and almsgiving of my mother hadn’t helped to save me from perdition.
“When the time drew near for my release from the power of the devil, our ‘Gramps’, unwilling to let such a prey out of his hands, intended to do me in. He prepared a noose and told me to get into it myself. But no matter how bad my life was, I still had no desire to die. Well, I thought, they might shove me into a noose against my will – but no matter what the consequences I won’t climb into it myself for anything. I don’t know how it all would have ended if at the last minute there hadn’t appeared to defend me a kindly old man; he was wearing a pointed cap with a cross. ‘The mother’s threads[***] have pulled him out from your power,’ said the old man to ‘Gramps’, and pushed him away from me. ‘Gramps’ disappeared.
“Then my benefactor turned to me and said: ‘Your mother cursed you, your mother prayed you out!’ And with these words he put a cross around my neck. After this I no longer saw the old man, and found myself in a field. I had no clothes on and began to feel cold – not once in the past twelve years had I experienced this. Fortunately, just then some women passed by. They took me for a crazy man and, taking pity on me, took me to their village and gave me some clothes. And then the Lord helped me to find my way here.”
“Why don’t you go home?” his stupified listeners asked.
“I’m afraid!” answered the poor man.
Meanwhile, news of Michael’s miraculous return reached his mother, and as soon as she heard about it she rushed to her son.
At the sight of his mother, Michael was seized with a kind of terror and some unseen power shook him, as it happens with one possessed.
The mother immediately recognized the stranger to be her son and took him home.
Having recovered from his terror, Michael asked those near him to send quickly for the parish priest, Fr. Alexey, in the village of Grishkino. His desire was fulfilled.
On learning from the messengers all that had happened with Michael, the priest was thrown into bewilderment by such an extraordinary occurrence. “Could it be that a demon, appearing in the guise of a man, is fooling the people?” the priest wondered, and he hastened to Mme. Trudnikov’s. There the priest read over Michael the prayers of exorcism from Peter Mogila’s Book of Needs [Trebnik], but could discover no evidence of an evil spirit present in him. The only strange thing was that ever since Michael had seen his mother a certain timidity had not left him. To be perfectly certain that Michael had no demon, that he himself was not an evil spirit simply taking the form of a man, the priest took him into church and there served a service of intercession to the Saviour, to the Mother of God and to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker; and in the altar he had Michael make before the Lord a full-hearted repentance of all his sins, according to the rite of the Orthodox Church. From a sincere heart Michael confessed to his spiritual father all that he could remember from his former life, when his mother’s curse weighed upon him. The prayer was read absolving him of all sins. All this time the priest was expecting this “vision” to disappear, but Michael remained Michael. Nevertheless, even after all this the priest was not freed of doubt, and he was afraid of allowing Michael to receive the Holy Mysteries. Soon afterwards Michael was taken to the nearby Modensky Nikolaevsky monastery and there, having twice more confessed his sins – first in front of the superior and then before the monastery’s father confessor – he was granted, finally, to approach the Fearful Mysteries of Christ.
The curiosity of Michael’s mother, and even more the desire to assure herself of the truth of her son’s appearance, led her to Lentevo, to the grave of the one she had buried as her son. She wanted to ask that the grave be opened and to see what lay there, but time had worked its own: there where the body – or that which had passed for the body – of Michael had been buried some buildings had been constructed and the grave could not be found.
For three weeks after his appearance Michael lived at home. Then he was called to the district police for questioning – was he really the person he claimed to be? Here also Michael held fast to his story, and in order to convince the police more strongly of its veracity he began in front of all those present to list the policeman’s secret sins. The peasants, before whom Michael revealed the policmena’s dark secrets, affirmed that he spoke the truth and were only amazed how he could know all this, but the policeman was so offended by the truth that he ordered his accuser to be beaten with rods and then shackled him like a criminal.
Having completed the trial and investigation, the policeman went to Mindiukin to check up on Michael’s story.
“Is this your son?” he asked Michael’s mother.
“Mine!” she answered firmly.
“Is this your resident?” he asked the other Mindiukin peasants.
“Ours!” answered the crowd in one voice.
“Oh, you fools, you fools!” admonished the policeman. “It’s time now to go to work: you’ll all go into the fields and he’ll set fire to your village. Then you can claim him as yours. You’ll repent, but it will be too late.”
The peasants lost courage; they scratched their heads and no one said a word. Alexis Kuptsov, the wealthiest peasant in Mindiukin, was the first to reject Michael; others followed. One by one everyone joined Kuptsov, and in a short time Michael was hidden away in a home for the insane.
The day after he had renounced Michael, Kuptsov fell ill and soon dried of dropsy. The Mindiukin residents immediately saw here God’s chastisement, but, of course, they didn’t lift a finger to have Michael released from the crazy house. Nevertheless, there is a proverb, “The voice of the people is the voice of God”. Yes, and it is also said that the proverb itself will never be destroyed, but those who scorn God’s truth and righteous judgment are destroyed and wrecked like rotten boats, like decayed trees.
Here ends the manuscript.
In those same years of the ‘60s, if my memory does not fail me, in the magazine The Pilgrim, there was printed the case of a coachman from the village of Kostin, Petersburg province. This coachman was leading his horses to a river for a drink when suddenly, to his unspeakable terror, he saw that the branches of some trees on the bank were bowed down with what looked like a countless flock of ravens – they were demons. On account of their weight the branches bent down to the very surface of the water. Out of his mind with fright, the coachman left his horses and ran as fast as he could to the village, while the devils called out after him:
“Our time – our will!
Our time -- our will!”
Whether he related this to his spirtual father or to another, what is certain is that in its day the story appeared in the religious press. But, of course, it was soon forgotten through the careless memory of contemporaries; and with them we, too, forgot.
One of our contemporary righteous men, Father Ambrose of Optina of blessed memory, revived this story in the minds of those few observant people who looked with sorrowful eyes at the events taking place in the world and begotten in Orthodox Russia. These events were born since the evil days of the ‘60’s, but the spirit of faith penetrated the secret of their lawlessness and trembled before its threat. Father Ambrose did not comfort his widespread flock, his children according to the spirit, with hopes for the enlightenment of Russia’s horizon, for even then Russia was troubled by the rotten breath of wind from the West. Caling to mind the Kolpinsk coachman, he gravely repeated the ominous demonic threat of the victory of the demonic will, demonic times.
And when you now lift from the earth your gaze, downcast and sorrowful, when you look around with fright at that demonic activity to which the young energies of this country are given over, a country which only recently was Holy Orthodox Rus’, only through the story of Michael Trudnikov, related here, will you be able to explain the satanic hold upon our unfortunate, perishing, destructive youth.
Is it not upon it and upon us, their fathers and mothers, that there lies heavy the almost universal curse of our fathers and mothers, whose will and obedience we repudiated with such cruel hatred, scorning and trampling all that was holy, all that they lived by, all they believed and prayed and upon which they built in bygone days that which we destroyed with such furious hatred -- a destruction we are now in the process of completing? But in Michael Trudnikov the demonic power which took possession of him through his mother’s curse acted secretly, concealing for twelve whole years both itself and its weapons; now it acts openly: then it operated in the carelessness of a “backward” mass of simple people, but with fear before the light of [this people’s] faith; now it operates in the “educated” crowd and its leaders, openly and boldy in the darkness of its apostasy and disbelief. But Satan and his dark powers are still the same as they were 7500 years ago. Alas! Those people who have been seduced by them, who have fallen away from Christ, are also the same, and just as once in Paradise before their expulsion, so also now they sell the blessedness of eternity for the fruit of knowledge -- of evil.
Wretched, pitiable, blind, foolish Michael Trudnikovs! Who is there to pray for you? Whose “thread”, offered for you in Christ’s name, can tear you from the devil’s claws? The majority of your fathers and mothers have forgotten how to pray, how to believe!…
Have mercy on us, O Lord! Lord, have mercy!
Nikola-Babeyvsky Monastery July 13, 1906
I hadn’t had time to prepare my manuscript for the printer before there burst upon the unfortunate Sizran a terrible misfortune: The large flourishing city with its fifty thousand inhabitants was enveloped by flames and in a single night burnt to the ground, carrying away in its destruction many human victims. Let us look at the following excerpt from the official news story of a Count A. Tolstoy:
“A part of the city was burning, but although this was a great disaster it was not a catastrophe. Suddenly, about five o’clock in the afternoon, there appeared over the city, travelling from north to south, a tornado, a cyclone or hurricane – in a word, something unimaginable. It flattened haystacks in the fields and carried metal sheets from the roofs of houses a distance of fifteen versts from the city. It is hard to say what meteorological phenomenon this storm should be classified as, but the testimony of the stunned inhabitants in this case is unanimous – it was something altogether unimaginable. Lifting all the dust and heat from the burning part of the city, the hurricane in some 30 minutes set fire to the entire central part of the city simultaneously, so that within an hour the whole city was enveloped in flames…” “It seems to me,” writes the author of this news story, “that this brief description is sufficient to convince the reading public that this catastrophe should be attributed to the category of elemental disasters…”
And you, dear reader, to which category of disasters or meteorological phenomena would you assign Sizran’s punishment after having read my manuscript? Do you not hear in the belfries’ booming alarm, floating over the scene of the conflagration, the mischievous satanic laughter: “Our time, our will! Our time, our will!”….
Have mercy, O Lord! Lord! Have mercy!…
“Repent, O ye people, or you all will likewise perish!”
(Translated and slightly abridged from Sila Bozhiya i Nemoshch Chelovecheskaya by S. Nilus; St. Herman of Alaska Brother hood, 1979)
*In the Life of Elder Shema-hieromonk Ambrose
[of Optina], there is described an incident in which a massive chain fastened to
the beam of the Optina ferry snapped and flew up, hitting in the head a
gentleman who was crossing on the ferry in a carriage.
Everyone was amazed how such a chain could possibly break.
Fr. Ambrose setttled their bewilderment with these words:
“Many of them (demons) sat on it.”
this blind girl the local residents related the following.
Cursed by her parents, she, like Michael, fell under the power of evil
spirits and suddenly disappeared. The
increased prayers of her parents did not allow her to remain long under this
dreadful power: About two months
after her disappearance, she was discovered abandoned in a field; it was winter
and both her legs froze. When she
was asked where she had been during those two months, she told a story similar
to Michael’s. At that time hers
was a unique case in those parts, and no one believed the girl.
poor, Mme. Trudnikov’s principal form of charity was to give passing soldiers
thread that she had spun.