Book 2. Ringing cedars of Russia (1997)
The moment arrived when I finally managed to pay a visit to Father Feodorit. Back in the taiga, in response to my ques-tion as to whether there were any people in our world with knowledge and abilities similar to hers, only living closer to home, Anastasia had replied:
“There are people in various corners of the Earth whose lifestyle is not caught up in the prevailing technocracy. They all have different abilities. But in your world there is also one person whom you will find it easy to approach, whether it be winter or summer. The power of his spirit is very great.”
“Do you know where he lives? Can I see him and talk with him?”
“Yes, you can.”
“Who is he?”
“He is your father, Vladimir.”
“What do you mean? Oh, Anastasia, Anastasia! I so much wanted to hear proof that you’re right about everything, and here it’s all coming out the wrong way! My father died eight-een years ago and was buried in a little town in the Briansk region.”
Anastasia sat on the grass, her back leaning against a tree, her knees drawn up close to her chest, and silently looked me in the eye. She seemed a little sad, as though she were taking pity on me. Then she lowered her head to her knees. I thought she might be feeling upset over her mistake regarding my father, and I tried to comfort her.
“Don’t get too upset, Anastasia. It’s probably because, as you said yourself, you don’t have that much strength left.”
Anastasia didn’t speak for a while, then raised her head and, once more looking me right in the eye, said:
“My strength has indeed lessened, but not to the point where I could be mistaken.”
She then proceeded to relate events that had taken place twenty-six years ago. She recounted the past not only with great accuracy and in minute detail, but was even able to convey nuances of inner feelings.
It is understandable how one can pick up clues from the outward appearance: a barely noticeable facial expression, a body position, even the eyes, can all give clues as to what an interlocutor is thinking. But how she was able to discern the past as though it were simply a documentary newsreel is still a mystery to me.
Anastasia herself was not able to explain this phenomenon in a standard, comprehensible manner. But this is what she had to say:
“Not far from Moscow is the Trinity-Sergiev Monastery complex in the town of Sergiev Posad. Behind Trinity-Ser- giev’s massive, ancient walls there is a seminary, an academy and several cathedrals, in addition to the monastery proper. The cathedrals are open to the public, and anyone who wishes can come and pray in this holy place of Rus.2 It was not destroyed even during the campaigns of persecution against believers; indeed, right through this period, the institutions behind these walls continued to function uninterrupted, providing a place where the monastic brethren could serve God.
“Twenty-six years ago, on the very day I came into this world,” she continued, “a young man in his late teens walked through the gates of the Trinity-Sergiev Monastery. He toured the museum, and then proceeded to visit the main cathedral, where a sermon was being read by a tall, grey-haired monk. Both the monk’s height and his rank were well above average. This was Father Feodorit, archimandrite of the Trinity- Sergiev Monastery The young man listened to his sermon. Later, when Father Feodorit withdrew, he followed him into one of the treasury-rooms, unhindered by the temple staff. Going up to Father Feodorit, he started talking to him about the sermon. And Father Feodorit spoke with him for a long time. The young man had been baptised, but did not have much inner faith. He did not observe the fasts, did not take communion, and did not attend church regularly. But that day marked the beginning of a friendship between Father Feodorit and the young man.
“The young man started paying visits to the monastery Father Feodorit would talk with him and show him the sanctuaries normally off-limits to ordinary parishioners. The monk gave him books, which he lost. The monk placed a little cross on a chain around his neck, and it was lost as well. The monk gave him a second cross, a most unusual one — it opened like a tiny case, but it too was lost.
“The monk would even take the young man into the refectory and seat him at the same table as the monks. Each time he would give him a little money He never rebuked him for anything and always looked forward to his arrival.
“This went on for a whole year. The young man visited the monastery every week, but one day he left and did not return the following week. He did not come after a month, even after a whole year. The monk still waited. Now twenty-five years have passed already The monk is still waiting. Twenty- five years, Vladimir, your spiritual father has been waiting for you — that great Russian monk, Father Feodorit.”
“I went far away from the monastery To Siberia. I some-times thought of Father Feodorit,” I responded, as though justifying my actions to myself or to someone else.
“But you did not write him even one letter,” observed Anastasia. “I want to see him.”
‘And what will you tell him? Perhaps about how you made money, were happy in love and simply went astray? Flow many times were you at death’s door, but at the last moment you were delivered from your woes? Fie will see all that for himself, just by looking at you. He prayed for forgiveness of your sins and time after time saved you through his prayers. He still believes, just as he did twenty-five years ago. He was hoping for something different from you.”
“What was it, Anastasia? What does Father Feodorit know, what does he want?”
“I cannot comprehend it, at least not now It was some-thing he felt intuitively. Tell me, Vladimir, do you remember the conversations you had with him, do you remember what you saw in the monastery treasury-room?”
“It’s all very fuzzy in my mind. After all, it was so long ago. I can only remember isolated scenes.”
“Try to remember them. I shall help you.”
“Father Feodorit would talk with me each time in various places in the monastery. I remember some underground rooms — at least they were partially underground. I remem-ber the refectory, the long table where the monks took their supper, and I had supper with them. It was during a time of some sort of fast. The food was especially prepared for the fast, but I liked it.”
“Did you have any unusual impressions or feelings during your visits to the monastery?”
“Once after supper I left the refectory and went through a passageway to an inner courtyard of the monastery complex, heading for an exit. The gate was already closed to parish-ioners. The courtyard was empty Those massive high walls blocked out the noise from the city beyond. All I could see around me were the cathedrals. Everything was completely silent. I stopped. It seemed as though I could hear solemn music playing. I needed to leave. There was a monk on duty at the gate to let me out and bolt the gate shut after me. But I just stood there and listened to that music, and eventually, slowly, made my way over to the gate.”
“You never heard that music again? You never experienced the same impression?”
“Did you ever try to hear that music — to call up the im-pression of it from within?”
“Yes, but I never managed to. I even tried standing on that same spot the next time I came, but, alas...”
“Try thinking of something else, Vladimir.”
“Now you’re interrogating me. You recounted everything so accurately — everything that happened to me twenty-six years ago — you tell me how I felt back then.”
“That is not possible. Father Feodorit did not formulate any specific plans, he was hoping for something intuitively But he did do something great and significant for you. Some-thing known only to him. I can only feel it intuitively myself: he thought up something significant and did a lot toward this end. A great deal, in fact. But why he associated his desire with you — you who did not have the basic abilities to come quickly into the faith — remains a mystery And why he has not broken this faith even after twenty-five years of your profligate life — that too is a mystery. And why are you, who have received so much, still sitting on your hands? Why? I cannot understand that. After all, nothing in the Universe ever disappears without a trace. Please see if you can remember even isolated scenes from your meetings and conversations with your spiritual father.”
“I remember a salon, or perhaps it was some sort of treas-ury-room, in the academy or seminary, or maybe it was one of the underground rooms in the monastery itself. Some kind of monk opened the door for Father Feodorit, but didn’t go in himself. The Father and I went in alone. There were some pictures on the walls, and things standing on little shelves.”
“You experienced two surprises there. What were they?”
“Surprises? Yes, of course, it did surprise me. Astounded me...”
£A particular picture. It was black and white, as if drawn with a pencil. It was a meticulously executed portrait of some person.”
“So, what surprised you about it?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Think, Vladimir! Please, try to recall it — I shall help you. There was the small salon, you were standing alone there with Father Feodorit in front of this picture. You were standing just a little way in front of him, and he told you: ‘Step a little closer to the picture, Vladimir.’ You took one step forward, then another...”
“I remember! Anastasia!”
“This picture of a person was drawn with a single line. A fluctuating spiral line. It was as though the artist had put his pencil or whatever in the middle of a blank sheet of paper, and without taking it off the paper, had made it go in a spiral, alternately pressing hard on it to make the line thicker and easing up, barely touching the paper, to make a fine, delicate line, but still continuous. The spiral fine ended at one edge of the page. The result was an amazing picture, the portrait of a person.”
“This picture,” Anastasia advised, “should be put on public display for all to see. Someone will be able to decipher the information concealed in it. That pulsating line portraying a person has something to say to people.”
“I do not know yet. You are aware, for example, how dots and dashes can represent an alphabet or musical notation. I can only guess it could be one or the other of those, or something else besides. When you return, ask them to put it on public display or to publish it somewhere. Someone will turn up who is able to decipher that spiral line.”
“But who will listen to me?”
“They will listen to you. But back then you experienced a second most unusual feeling. Can you recall what it was?”
“It was in the same room or in the next room... Yes, it was a rather small room where a beautiful carved wooden chair was standing on a raised platform. Perhaps it was an arm-chair, something like a throne. Father Feodorit and I stood and looked at it. The Father said that nobody ever touched it.” “But you touched it. And even sat on it.”
“It was Father Feodorit himself who suggested I sit on it.” ‘And what happened to you when you did?”
“Nothing. I sat there, looking at Father Feodorit, and he stood there silently looking me in the eye. Just looked, that’s all.”
“Please remember, Vladimir, try to recall your inner feel-ings. They are most important.”
“Well, there was nothing special... It was just that, you know, some thoughts began running through my head lickety- split, like an audiotape in fast-forward mode, and the words all blurred into a stream of unintelligible sounds.”
‘And you never tried deciphering them, Vladimir? Did you ever have the desire to stop that tape so you could listen to it at normal speed and understand what it was saying?”
146 BOOK 2: THE RINGING CEDARS OF RUSSIA “How could I?”
“By pondering the essence of your being.”
“No, never tried that. You’re not making any sense.”
‘And the things that Father Feodorit told you, did you understand everything? Can you recall precisely even a single phrase, even a phrase without any connection to the rest?” “Yes, but I really can’t remember what it was connected with.”
“Tell me what it was.”
“...You will show them...”
At this point Anastasia, who had been sitting under the tree, suddenly sprang up, her face beaming. She put her hands on the trunk of the cedar, and pressed her cheek against it.
“Yes, of course!” she exclaimed, waving her arms with joy and delightedly crying out:
“You are truly great, Monk of Russia! You know, Vladimir, there is one thing I can tell you for certain about Father Feodorit. He has made a mockery of a lot of the world’s teachings by showing what is the most essential thing.”
“He and I never discussed any teachings. We talked about everyday things.”
“Yes, of course! Everyday things! Father Feodorit spoke about things you were interested in. He showed you sacred creations, and treated them with veneration, but avoided making a big show of it. Even though he had risen to a high rank, he was a very simple man, most importantly, a think-ing man — perhaps he was even meditating during the time you were with him. And he was not one to expound dogmas. How silly the preachers of conventional dogmas that flocked to Russia from abroad look by comparison with him! They only distract one’s attention from the most essential thing. He was so successful at protecting you from dogmas that you see me too as a naive recluse. It does not matter who I am. What matters is that you stick to the most essential thing.”
“What most essential thing?”
“The thing that is in every Man.”
“But how can every Man know the teachings of the gums of the West and the East, India and Tibet, if he has never even heard of them?”
‘Ml essential information has been included in Man, Vladimir, in every man right from the start. It is something he is given on the day of his creation, just like arms, legs, hair and a heart. All the teachings of the world, along with all discoveries, are taken exclusively from this Source. Just as parents try to give their child everything, so the Grand Creator gives everything to each one right off. Nothing man-made. Not a multitude of books, nor the latest computers and the computers of the future all taken together, can ever encompass even a part of the information contained in a single Man. One has only to know how to use it.”
“Then why doesn’t everybody make discoveries? And why doesn’t everyone formulate teachings?”
“Let us say one person manages to extract a grain of truth from the whole. And he keeps talking about it enthusiasti-cally, thinking it was given to him alone. And that it con-tains the most essential thing. He talks it up to others, try-ing to make them see it as the one and only important thing. But by talking like this, he is blocking the basic complex network of information already existing within himself. Knowledge of the truth consists not in proclaiming it but in living it.”
‘And what way of living it is characteristic of those who best know the truth?”
‘A happy one!”
“But to know the truth, one must have a conscious aware-ness and purity of thought?!”
“That is visionary! Fantastic!” Anastasia shrieked with laughter, and merrily added: “You read my thoughts?”
“Nothing visionary there, it is simply an attentive attitude to Man. You’re always relating everything to purity of thought and conscious awareness.”
“Visionary! Visionary!” she repeated, still laughing. “You read my thoughts. Oh, how fantastic!”
Upon hearing her cheery laughter, I too could no longer restrain myself and broke into peals of merriment. Later I asked:
“What do you think, Anastasia, will my spiritual father, Father Feodorit, receive me if I go see him? Will he talk with me? He won’t be upset?”
“Of course he will receive you! He will be most happy to see you there! He will accept you any way you are. Only he will be even happier to see you if you have done at least something using the information within you, if he perceives some indication that you are aware of it. Stop the fast-forward, Vladimir, and you shall understand a great deal.”
“Does my spiritual father still live in the same place? At the Trinity-Sergiev Monastery?”
“Your spiritual father, that great elder ofRus, is now living in a small monastic priory in the forest, not far from the Trinity- Sergiev Monastery The priory’s regulations are stricter than those in the monastery, and your spiritual father is the prior there. The priory is situated in the forest, in a compellingly beautiful setting. There are just a few little houses there, each with its own monastic cell.
“This priory situated in the green forest has a small wooden church. It is not ornately decorated and it does not have a gilded dome, but it is very, very beautiful, cosy and clean, heated by two stoves. Candles are not bought or sold there, as in most other churches. In fact nothing is bought or sold there. There is nothing and nobody to desecrate it, and parishioners are not allowed access. Even to this day your spiritual father, Father Feodorit, is praying in this church. He is praying for the salvation of everyone’s soul, including yours. He is praying for children who have forgotten their parents, and praying for parents forgotten by their children. Go to him and bow before him. Ask for forgiveness of your sins. The power of his spirit is very great. And give my deepest respects to Father Feodorit.”
“Fine, Anastasia. I shall do that. And, you know, I shall first try and do what you have asked me to.”
Upon arriving at Sergiev Posad, the town outside Moscow which used to be called Zagorsk, I entered the gates of the Trinity-Sergiev Monastery just as I used to do twenty-seven years ago. I first headed for the gate to the active part of the monastery. Before, all I had to do was introduce myself and ask for Father Feodorit. But this time the monk on duty replied that the archpriest was no longer Father Feodorit. There was a Father Feodorit at the monastery, living in the forest outside the monastery grounds — but parishioners did not go there.
I told the monk that I was an acquaintance of Father Feo-dorit’s, and in proof of this I named the monastery sanctuar-ies which the Father had showed me so many years ago. Then I was told where the forest priory was situated, and with an inexplicable shiver of excitement I approached the little wooden church in the forest. It was indeed extraordinarily beautiful, and blended in harmoniously with the natural environment. There were paths leading to the church from several little wooden cell-houses situated around it.
Father Feodorit met with me on the small wooden porch of the forest church. I was a bit at a loss for words. I remem-bered Anastasia’s counsel: “Only do not be embarrassed and try not to act surprised when you meet your spiritual father!” Still, I couldn’t get over an inexplicable feeling of trepidation. Father Feodorit was old and grey, but no older than he had appeared twenty-seven years ago.
We sat on some blocks of wood on the porch of the little forest church without a word between us. I tried to speak, but couldn’t manage to come up with the right thing to say It seemed as though he already knew the whole picture and there was no sense in uttering words. It was as if the twenty- seven years since we last met had not gone by at all. It seemed as though we had parted only yesterday.
I had brought along a copy of my book on Anastasia to give to Father Feodorit, but I felt reluctant to actually hand it to him. I had been showing the book to various clerics. Some just took one look at it and said they didn’t read books like that. Others asked what it was about, and after my brief explanation pronounced Anastasia an infidel. I didn’t feel like upsetting Father Feodorit and certainly didn’t want him to reject her out of hand. Each time someone had tried to speak ill of Anastasia, a feeling of resistance had welled up in me. I even had a row about it with the deacon of the Novospassky Monastery Fie pointed out two women wearing dark clothing and black head-scarves and said:
“That is how God-fearing women should be.”
“If Anastasia is happy and enjoying life, that may well be pleasing to God. It is more pleasant to see people enjoying life than being dull and downcast like that.”
So it was with some trepidation that I finally got out my book and handed it to Father Feodorit. He took it quietly and held it in the palm of one hand.
He began gently stroking it with his other hand, as though feeling something with his palms, and asked:
“Do you want me to read it?” And, without waiting for an answer, added: “Fine, leave it with me.”
Two days later, I paid a morning visit to Father Feodorit. We sat there in the forest on a tiny bench near the Father’s cell. And we talked about all sorts of things. While his man-ner of speaking was pretty much the same as twenty-seven years ago, one thing bothered me: why did Father Feodorit look just a hit younger than twenty-seven years ago? And all at once he broke off his train of thought and said:
“You know, Vladimir, your Father Feodorit has passed on.” At first I was speechless, but then managed to ask:
“Then who are you?”
“I am Father Feodorit,” he replied, looking at me with just a faint trace of a smile. I then asked him:
“Tell me, where is his grave?”
“In the old cemetery.”
“I’d like to see it. Can you tell me how to get there?”
He didn’t say anything about the grave, only:
“Come and see me again whenever you have the time.” And then an incredible experience began taking place. “Time for dinner,” said Father Feodorit. “Come, I’ll give you something to eat.”
In a small hut which served as a refectory I sat down to table. The table was set out with a tureen of borsch, mashed potatoes, fish and a drink with stewed fruit. He poured some borsch into a bowl for me, and I began eating. The Father himself did not eat. He simply sat at the table.
As soon as I started in on the potatoes, I felt a delightful taste in my mouth. It brought back memories. The potatoes tasted exactly as they had done in the monastery refectory twenty-seven years ago. I had remembered it all my life since then. My head began spinning. On the one hand, here was a different Father Feodorit sitting beside me; on the other hand, he talked and behaved exactly as I remembered from before.
I recalled how one time, many years ago, when we were together in one of the rooms of the monastery, Father Feodorit had suggested I have my picture taken with him. I agreed. He called over one of the monks who had a camera and he took our picture. Now I decided to use this to introduce some clarity to my present situation. I knew that monks did not like to pose for pictures. And the thought came to me to ask Father Feodorit if he would mind if I had a colour picture taken of us and that I also wanted to take one of the little forest church. If he refused, that would mean he was not the same Father Feodorit, not my Father Feodorit. And so I suggested:
“Let me have my picture taken with you.”
Father Feodorit did not refuse, and we had our picture taken. And I also took a snapshot of the little church. It turned out rather well, even though I had a very simple camera.
As I was leaving, Father Feodorit gave me a small travel Bible. It was not laid out in verses, like all the other Bibles I had seen, but simply in running text, as in an ordinary book. He advised me:
“When you cite the Bible in your book, you should indi-cate the precise chapter you are quoting from.”
I asked him whether he would be open to receiving and talking with people who wished to meet with Anastasia, so they wouldn’t have to travel such a long distance to the Siberian taiga. To which he replied:
“You know, I still haven’t fully understood myself. So, for now, just come alone, whenever you have the time.”
I was disappointed by Father Feodorit’s refusal to see other people, but I wasn’t about to press the matter. My conversation with him on a variety of subjects led me to the following conclusion: in Russian monasteries there are to be found certain elders whose wisdom and simplicity of expression far surpasses the art of countless numbers of denominational preachers, either of the home-grown or imported variety But why are you silent, you elders of Russia that have been endowed with such wisdom? Is this something to which you have been led on your own, or are there dark forces of some kind that are preventing you from speaking out? People come to a church service, and it turns out to be in a language they don’t understand.5 And then people flock in droves and even pay money to hear preachers talk in a language they can understand. Maybe that is why so many Russians flock to foreign holy places and ignore their own.
I always felt a sense of peace in my heart after speaking with Father Feodorit. The way he talks is a lot simpler, clearer and more understandable than the vast majority of the preachers I went to hear after meeting with Anastasia in my efforts to make some sense of what she said. I want others to have a good experience, too. But when will you speak out, wise elders of Russia?