Elder Barsanuphius of Optina is commemorated today on the new calendar. Since I was in an OCA church this weekend, I’ll get to celebrate him twice this year! Perfectly appropriate, since I’m reading (and probably will not finish) his book for lent. Read a short description of his life here.
In looking for a quote to post, however, I was drawn to the section on his disciples. The elder’s spiritual children demonstrate the infinite ways in which one can lead an ascetic life. I was particularly struck by very short life of one of his disciples, St. Nikon, confessor and hieromonk of Optina:
One time, serving a Moleben in our monastery, Bishop Nektary read from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, the passage concerning the Beatitudes, ending with verse 23: Rejoice ye in that day and leap for joy. For behold, your reward is great in heaven.
Then he said: “As I was reading this Gospel I remembered an incident from my beloved Optina. When the evil revolution broke out, a so-called ‘liquidation commission’ was sent to the Monastery to destroy it. I remember one hieromonk, Nikon, who had tuberculosis, and this hieromonk was arrested. He was the kindest of men, meek and humble. He was seized, shaved of all his hair, mocked and spat upon, and in the end was sent to a concentration camp in the far north. He was close to death when he wrote a letter to my mother, later a secret nun, Nectaria. With trepidation she read it to us children as we sat at her feet. I would like to share this letter with you. He wrote: ‘There is no limit to my happiness.’ How could there be happiness in the Gulag? He came to Optina for the sake of Christ, and the sorrows he endured, he endured for the sake of Christ. ‘We have the words of the Savior that if men will hate you and separate from you and reproach you for the sake of Christ, He – Christ- gives this promise: ‘Rejoice and leap for joy, for your reward is infinitely great in heaven.’ And so I believe my Lord, that these words apply to me, and therefore I impatiently await that happy moment when I will be dissolved from this corruptible body and be united with the Lord.’
“We sat there and wept. He died soon afterwards.”
– Elder Barsanuphius, p.121
Or to quote from Elder Barsanuphius himself (Homily on the New Year):
Sorrows are that very threat of fire, or trial, but we must not fear them; rather we must be like the godly children and sing unto God in our sorrows, believing that they are sent to us by God for our salvation.
Just finished: Nineteen Minutes