3.18: Lent (Великий Пост)

A very small story, in honor of the first day of Orthodox Lent.

In the year 1907 at Optina Pustyna Monastery, two twenty-year-old Sisters came to a cell deep in the forest to confess to Father Varsonofii, their spiritual elder. After a long evening of spiritual counsel, the two young women say goodbye and set out for the walk back through the dark forest of fir trees.
Question: What’s the big drama in that? a modern reader might ask. What can two girls in a midnight Russian forest possibly encounter that can frighten them?
Answer: Anything; anything.

(Русский текст следует ниже — The Russian original follows, below.)

“Our conversation is over. Night has long wrapped the cell, the forest, the little path that we must travel back. Father [Varsonofii] stands from his armchair and prays, prays for us. Then he gives a blessing for our sleep.
It’s late.
Father is visibly tired, but for each of us he finds some little word of affection: Are we dressed warmly? Not chilled, are we? Not frightened of the walk back?

We’re sorry to leave this gracious cell. Quietly, one at a time, we step out to the wing. Father comes out after us. He raises his head to behold the starry sky, the sleeping forest… “Peace and salvation,” he bows to us.
The door closes behind him. We stand and wait for the sound of the latch, and for Father’s candle to disappear in the window.

But the light doesn’t go out. His silhouette appears in the window. He holds the little candle high. Brightly it illuminates the forest path.
We bow to him. He makes a sign of the cross over us once more.
We set out into the woods, turning back for another look at the light.

And so it was, all our lives after: Father holding high the little flame, and we his powerless children wandering the path of worldly life. But when we turn back, when we catch sight of that flame — then life is not so terrible, so frightening. Not when you know that somewhere the flame still burns.

But it flickers out at last; our Father’s gone to rest.
So it is with our lives now: frightening indeed, in this forest, making our way. Now that the flame in the window is gone.

O Lord, help us!”

— Novice Elena Shamonina, “Recollections of Father.”
Blessed Optina: Pilgrim’s Recollections about the Monastery and its Elders [Russian]
Otchii dom, Moscow, 1998?
“Кончена беседа. Ночь уже давно окутала скит, лес, дорожку, по которой нам надо идти.

Батюшка (Варсонофий) встает со своего кресла и молится, за всех нас молится. Потом благословляет нас, на сон грядущий.

Поздно. Отец видимо устал, но всем находится у него ласковое словечко: тепло ли одеты? Не простудились бы, не боимся ли идти?

Жалко уходить из этой благодатной келлии, и тихо, одна за другой, выбираемся мы на крылечко, и батюшка вышел за нами, поднял голову, любуясь звездным небом, спящим лесом… “Мир вам и спасение,” — кланяется нам, и дверь захлопывается, а мы стоим и ждем, когда щелкнет крючок, и огонек свечи, с которой провожал нас батюшка, исчезнет в окне.

А свет-то не уходит: фигура батюшки появляется за окном. Высоко держит он свою свечечку, и она ярко освещает лесную дорожку, по которой мы должны идти. Поклонимся мы батюшке, он перекрестит нас еще раз, и пойдем по дорожке, оглядываясь на огонек в окне.

Ведь, собственно говоря, и вся жизнь-то наша так шла: батюшка стоял с огоньком в руке, а мы, немощные дети, ковыляли по дорогам и распутьям мира, — и нет-нет, да оглянемся на огонек — и не так страшно станет жить, когда знаешь, что где-то горит этот огонек. Страшно идти лесом, когда не светится окошко его домика. Вот и теперь: ушел наш батюшка на отдых, и огонек погас в окне, — страшно идти нам лесом!

Господи, помоги нам!”

— Послушница Елена Шамонина, “Воспоминания о батюшке,” 1907
Благословенная Оптина: Воспоминания паломников об обители и ее старцах. Издательство “Отчий дом,” Москва (1998?)

About maryangelis

Hello Readers! (= Здравствуйте, Читатели!) The writer lives in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and the English and Russian languages, working in an archive by day and writing at night. Her walk in the world is normally one human being and one small detail after another. Then she goes home and types about it all until the soup is done.
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2 Responses to 3.18: Lent (Великий Пост)

  1. Robb Scott says:

    What a moving tribute.

    • maryangelis says:

      Hello, Dear Robb,
      For months I’ve been studying Russian sources about the monks at Optina (before and after it was destroyed under the old regime). It was a real growth process, to appreciate the incredible importance of the Starets (Elder) in the life of the country. There are so many remarkable stories about their wisdom and the fondness of the people. Anyway, it is very nice to see your message here on this Easter Sunday.
      Heartfelt holiday wishes to you and all the kin,

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