I remember a conversation I had with Fr. John (Krestiankin), who said that elders are given by God. “Eldership is a gift of God, and it is only given when there are those who will listen and obey the direction given to them through the elders. However, man is full of infirmities; for instance, he will ask for a blessing from someone, then another, a third, a fifth, a tenth, and so on… But he doesn’t fulfill any of this advice. The Lord will correct such a foolish man, because he takes too much upon himself out of his foolishness. The ancient fathers would say, if you have chosen an elder for yourself, stay with him to the end.”
One woman asked me to bless her to make prostrations and pray the Jesus prayer. Before she met me she had practiced a purely monastic prayer rule. I asked her, “Are you a nun?” She replied, “No, I am only planning to be one. Maybe Fr. Raphael will tonsure me.” That often happened in Soviet times— nuns would be tonsured in parishes. “Well, if you want to practice the Jesus prayer: say the prayer once in the morning with a prostration, once at noontime with a prostration, and once in the evening.” She said, “Are you making fun of me? What do you take me for?” “I am not taking you for anything. God bless you—if you can fulfill this obedience then come back in a month.” A month later she returned, weeping. “Please forgive me for getting angry with you. I can’t do it—whenever I only think about having to make prostrations ever fiber in me rises up against it, and I can’t.” “Well, you’ve taken the path of experience and seen that you can’t do it. What if you take monastic vows—then what will you do? Then you will have to fulfill the rule whether you want to or not,” I answered her.
Three years ago I served a funeral for the last old lady who signed a denunciation to the Cheka against Fr. Mikhail Elagin, who was the rector of the Church of the Nativity of Christ after the war. Thanks to this old lady that priest spent ten years in a prison camp in Vorkuta. But good for her—she repented. When she came to me during Great Lent I asked her, “Maria, where will you go with that unrepented load? You could die any day.” She broke into tears and said, “I repent, and have repented all my life. When Fr. Mikhail comes I hide, I lock myself up at home, because I am ashamed to see him.” I replied, “This time when Fr. Mikhail comes ask his forgiveness.” After Pascha, on the feast of Pentecost, when Fr. Mikhail came Maria went to him and asked his forgiveness. Fr. Mikhail could have guessed who wrote the denunciation. He truly forgave her, kissed her, and said, “Mashenka, be at peace, I have forgiven you.” Glory be to God, her soul departed clean, without that sinful burden. Fr. Mikhail also departed in tears. One day he came to me and wept. I asked him what he was weeping about. Fr. Mikhail was feeling that the time of his death was near. “Well, father, I have to depart soon.” I said, “This is ordinary business for us, father. With all the dead we have buried, what do we have to fear?” “No,” he said, “I am not afraid of death, but of sins.” “Go ahead and tell me the sins you can remember.” We confessed each other. Fr. Mikhail departed this life quietly, and peacefully. He was buried next to his wife in the graveyard at the Church of the Holy Myrrh Bearers in Pskov.
~Hieromonk Nilus (Gregorie)
hat tip: Sunday Bulletin Holy Theophany Orthodox Church