Category Archives: quotes

A monk learns a lesson.

A story I found in my files:

The Importance of Reading
the Gospels Every Day

A Monk’s Story

During my initial monastic service at the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow, there was a period when I stopped reading the Gospel. At that time I had a lot of work, and there was not enough time to concentrate, open the Holy Scriptures, plunge into the meaning of words. I did not attach much importance to this, but simply continued to perform obediences, working from four in the morning until late at night. There were no external changes, but I gradually began to notice that I was more and more burdened by a feeling of strong spiritual and bodily fatigue, which I could not “throw off” neither with sleep, nor food, nor rest. I fell asleep and woke up, went to services, worked, but the feeling that someone seemed to be digging into my neck and sucking all the strength out of me did not leave. I walk – my legs buckle, I sit behind the wheel – my hands are shaking. Body and soul were exhausted every day, and I still could not understand the reason.

Once, in this state, I came to the office of the abbot, father Agaphodor, to discuss some labor issues. He, as an insightful person, as soon as I started a conversation, asks me: “What is happening to you?” In an almost exhausted voice, I quietly answer: “I don’t know … Something is wrong with me, it’s hard.” He fixed his gaze on me, as if in a couple of seconds he could see my soul and find the source of the disease, and suddenly asked the question: “Have you been reading the Gospel?” I began to think: indeed, I had stopped reading the Gospel. How could this have happened? How long have I been living without the main spiritual food? I began to remember and with horror discovered that I did not remember the last time I took the Bible in my hands.

With the strongest inner excitement, I ran to my cell, grabbed the Gospel and began to read. I opened it and, like a man dying of thirst, I read and read, read and read… An amazing impression: the more I read, the more acutely I felt that I was getting better. The teeth, which dug into my neck and sucked my strength, gradually unclenched, I breathed more freely. With each new chapter (and I read about ten at once) it became easier and easier. I turned page after page until I realized that I was completely free of the disease. The feeling of depression is gone. The enslavement that I was in all that time was a great lesson for me, which does not need to be repeated twice. Since then, I read 365 chapters a year – that is, I read one chapter every morning.

Man consists of two parts – soul and body. We saturate our flesh, but the soul remains hungry. The main food for the soul is the Gospel. We do not forget to charge our cell phone in the evening, but we forget about the soul. When we read the Gospel, we receive grace. In the morning we read the chapter – grace for the whole day. And the day will go in a completely different way – with grace. We will also reflect on what we have read, and some of this will come true, although the Gospel is not a fortune-telling book. This is the book of life that every Christian should live by.

We sometimes do not even think about what great power is hidden in this book. If we ever saw how the devil shies away, like from fire, when we take the Gospel in our hands, we would hug it and never let it go. For my confessor, Father Kirill (Pavlov), the Gospel has always been in the first place: he found it in the ruins of Stalingrad during the Great Patriotic War and went through the whole war with it. So I too, but much later, had to visit my battlefield to understand: without the Gospel you cannot win.

To be near the fountain.

“If anyone happened to be near the fountain which Scripture says rose from the earth at the beginning of Creation and was large enough to water the earth’s surface, he would approach it marveling at the endless stream of water gushing forth and bubbling out. Never could he say that he had seen all the water…. In the same way, the person looking at the divine, invisible beauty will always discover it anew since he will see it as something newer and more wondrous in comparison to what he had already comprehended.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Song of Songs

Tenaya Creek in Yosemite Valley, 2010

That is no God, but a demon.

“A God that should fail to hear, receive, attend to one single prayer, the feeblest or the worst, I cannot believe in; but a God that would grant every request of every man or every company of men, would be an evil God — that is no God, but a demon. That God should hang in the thought-atmosphere like a windmill, waiting till men enough should combine and send out prayer in sufficient force to turn his outspread arms, is an idea too absurd. God waits to be gracious not tempted. A man capable of proposing such a test, could have in his mind no worthy representative idea of a God, and might well disbelieve in any: it is better to disbelieve than believe in a God unworthy.”

-George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons

Contentment outweighs fatigue.

Partly because of Annunciation this second week of Lent has been as busy as the first. Personal remembrances have given me a lot to do outside of church, too. I didn’t stay home all day even one day in the last seven; normally that kind of activity wears me out, but at the moment the contentment outweighs any fatigue. The outings and events have filled my cup with love and friendship and grace.

For my birthday I tried to perfect the honey-lemon-ginger cake baked in my Nordic honeycomb pan. But I didn’t. The friends I served it to were quite pleased, but to my taste it was doughy. It was vegan and lacked eggs, but those challenges can’t be the whole problem, and I will keep trying, because I’ve had plenty of vegan cakes that were nice. Maybe it needs more baking powder, or less flour. The picture shows it with the honey-lemon glaze poured on.

I also made a big pot of soup for that Friend Gathering. It was one of those unrepeatable concoctions, with most ingredients unmeasured, a vegetable bean soup into which I impulsively threw all the lemon juice that was left over from the cake (which uses a lot of zest). I should have added a little at a time. It made the soup too lemony, but eventually I hit on the idea of adding coconut milk to smooth it out, and that worked very well.

While I was cooking for a couple of days, I kept getting phone calls from children and grandchildren, wishing me a happy birthday. We had long chats that filled me to bursting. Each time I hung up after one of these calls, it would take me a while to reorient myself to the tasks waiting for me.

I am not going to show you all the interesting gifts I received, only this one, which includes a quote. A quoting candle! I hadn’t seen this kind of thing before; in this case the giver picked one of my own favorite quotes to personalize it.

Several hours this week were devoted to prepping vegetables for that soup and just to eat by themselves. The asparagus must be growing 2-3 inches a day, because I have to pick it morning and evening!

This month marks six years since the death of my husband. Bella went to the cemetery with me and my freesias, and at church prayers were offered in his memory. Having so many services to participate in means that the sensory input is laid on in layers day after day, in images of human and botanical beauty, and hymns that melt my heart. Incense is a joy you can’t experience through the computer; that and hugs are rounding out the experience of a worshiping community again.

Waiting for confession.

Today, the day after Annunciation, is given to the commemoration of the Archangel Gabriel, who announced to Mary, “The Lord is with thee!” And in such a way was He with her, that He is also with us, ever since, and unto ages of ages. That fact is of course connected to the message on the candle:

Wherever there is beauty,
Christ the Word is speaking to your heart
of the love the Holy Trinity has for you.