I can barely remember myself at seven years of age, only flashes connected with certain upheavals in my childish world.
One of such upheavals took place when I was five years old. Mama came and took me out of the kindergarten, trembling as she told me that her aunt, whom she called Baba Nastya, had hung herself the night before. These words were for me, a child, absolutely incomprehensible, but very strange. “Hung herself?.. What is that?” I thought. And I just repeated those strange words over and over again.
I don’t remember the funeral; possibly they didn’t take me to it, but the memorial meal did sharply impress itself in my mind. All of our relatives gathered around a large table. They talked over in detail how this could have happened. I just listened to the grownups’ words… I clearly remember my state of shivering and fear before something incomprehensible and inescapable. They read Baba Nastya’s suicide letter.
The middle-aged woman wrote that her loneliness and melancholy had become unbearable. She felt that no one needed her and she has nothing more to live for. She had never been married, had no children. In her youth she had loved an officer, but nothing came of it.
That evening, as her neighbor in the communal apartment recalled, Baba Nastya washed all of her laundry, and then occupied the bath. Her neighbor found her the next morning.
For some reason I often recall that letter of Baba Nastya’s, her soul’s pre-death cry of loneliness and melancholy. And each time I do, I think, why didn’t she turn to God?.. But then I quickly answer myself, “It was the times, no one went to church.” I was often left with Baba Nastya and I remember well her room: rugs on the walls, an embroidered picture of an unclothed woman taking a swim, a television with a long antenna—and not a single icon.
For us, the faithful, it is so natural in moments of total despair and seemingly complete catastrophe to fall down before the Crucifix in the church and ask the Savior for consolation with our whole soul. And it immediately comes. Peace, calm, and joy return once again to the soul. You look around and you suddenly see that you are not lonely at all, that you are in a great big family. And whatever comes—glory to God for all things!
Why then even now, when there are churches in practically every neighborhood, do people suffer from melancholy, and the word “depression” has firmly entered the lexicon of modern man?
The loss of a close one, prolonged illness, divorce, problems getting work, debts, housing problems, the inability to realize one’s potential… The list could go on and on. Emotional angst enmeshes modern man like a thick cobweb from which it seems impossible to break free. But people don’t look for help from the Lord; they gulp down handfuls of anti-depressants, sedatives, and in the worst cases alcohol and drugs. And beyond that… Beyond that it’s very frightening. Just thinking about it makes me go cold. Just like when they read Baba Nastya’s suicide letter.
For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them (Matt. 13:15), says the Savior in Holy Scripture.
Below you will read the stories of people who, on the brink of total emotional emptiness, entrusted their lives to the Lord. Having no hope for salvation in the world, they came to the monastery.
All the names of the people I talked with have been changed. They agreed to tell me about their greatest secrets in the hope that these stories will help people understand that no matter how dark the night, there is always a path to the light.
The first story
The dark powers don’t let one go so easily
Yegor is a young, successful entrepreneur. Now he drives to the monastery in a beautiful new car and distributes packages of food and clothing to the laborers, but earlier he himself was performing his obedience in the vegetable garden.
I look him over with curiosity. He’s a charming, cheerful fellow. What problems could such a man have? What made this young financial success live in a monastery?
A lucky guy
“Lucky guy”—that is what his former classmates called him and it seems they even envied him a bit. Truly, this young lad with no particular education seemed to be successful in every worldly endeavor. He had his own business, expensive cars, attractive women…
Yegor never particularly hid his secret from his friends—he was from a family of a long line of sorcerers and knew how to attract money and luck. He was seriously into parapsychology and magic, knew how to easily gain others’ trust, persuade and manipulate people. This knowledge helped him to quickly find the contacts he needed and to successfully conduct any business negotiations. “My clients were all just in love with me!” Yegor remembers.
True, sometimes he would notice that certain people easily came under his magic spells while others would not at all, as if he were running into an invisible wall. But the former were really the vast majority, and nothing got in the way of his financial rise. Money flowed in in an endless stream, but was quickly spent on entertainment in the company of accessible women, drunken debauches with his friends, and later also on drugs.
“Despite the fact that everything seemed fine on the outside, inwardly I was always nagged by a feeling of melancholy, despair, emptiness, and dissatisfaction. I tried to stifle it with alcohol, and then tried other escapes from reality. But every time it would only get worse. However, it never affected my work, none of my clients ever knew that I was a drug addict. In one moment, despair and depression bowled me over with such force that I made my first attempt to leave this life with the aid of those same drugs. But by some miracle they revived me in the hospital, and it’s amazing that there were no serious consequences for my health. After a dose like that people are invalids for the rest of their lives—if they live. Maybe that is when I began to understand that I was doing something wrong,” Yegor relates.
In order to return to normal, sober life, he went through treatment at a drug rehab clinic and began to think seriously about starting a family.
Soon he met Olga. She was young, pretty, and successful in her work. And out of some strange set of circumstances, she was also seriously into magic. They immediately understood each other, as if they were made for each other. Without thinking very long about it they were legally married and started living together.
Isn’t this what most people dream of?
At that moment, Yegor was made an offer to head a large government enterprise, which at that moment was losing a lot of money. Yegor accepted the offer. All week he went through the financial records in order to understand how to bring the company out of its crisis. Finally he decided to have recourse to magic rituals. Performing various rites, he spent all night invoking certain powers for help in increasing the profits of the company entrusted to him.
“You know,” Yegor said, “I had no idea who I was calling upon. It was only here, in the monastery, where they explained it all to me. Just turn on the television and you’ll see all kinds of programs and films on parapsychology, astrological prognoses, wizards and magicians… Open the internet browser and you can freely find ads for so-called white magicians who promise to get you your husbands back or make you magic amulets for good luck in business. It’s everywhere, and therefore you don’t even think of it as anything bad. I am sure that probably one out of every three has turned to fortune tellers, psychics, or astrologers at least once in their lives.
“I invoked certain powers all night to get them to help me bring this government organization out of its crisis and I didn’t even consider that I was doing anything wrong. To the contrary, I was sure that I was being useful. Only by morning I was feeling bad; I lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital.”
“The doctors gave an absolutely unexpected and terrible diagnosis. Just the day before I had been hale and hearty! But now, back to the hospital to the people in white jackets, with an I-V needle in my arm. And again the thought that I’m doing something that’s not quite right. Again, that poignant pain and terrible depression.”
But again, by some miracle Yegor quickly recovered, regained his strength, and within the month he was back to his management job. There he discovered to his surprise that the company entrusted to him had come out of its crisis and was turning unexpectedly large profits. Everyone was just amazed and shook the hand of the successful manager, saying, “Congratulations! How did you do it?”
Yegor himself didn’t entirely understand how, but at some moment it seemed to him that he could run the world and get anything he wanted.
A classy office with an enormous desk, an attractive secretary, a beautiful wife, his own driver, an expensive foreign car… An mainly, so much money that he could buy whatever he wanted with no thought for the price, and entertain himself however he pleased. Isn’t that what most people dream of?
Just the same, the depression, pain, and despair in his soul increased with every day. His young wife no longer made him glad—to the contrary, she even scared him for some reason. When he would come home from work and see her with her hair down with her tarot cards spread out on the table he would shiver.
At home it was not warm and cozy but cold and dark. And just as before, Yegor found comfort in the noisy company of his buddies, sinking into a drug-induced euphoria. Again came the thoughts of suicide as the only way out of this hell.
“It’s even hard for me to explain it now…” he admits. It’s as if everything was fine on the outside—I had money, a family, by that time we had a child, but my soul was heavy…”
An accidental meeting
Yegor decided that he couldn’t go on living like that. He bought a huge dose, so that he wouldn’t mess up this time. But as it turned out that day, he ran into an old classmate. Kirill, the old friend, had become religious; he went to church every week and made regular pilgrimages to different monasteries.
The two men unexpectedly ran into each on the road—one had served the dark powers for many years, the other had been living his life with God for five years now, not missing a single important service.
Kirill immediately felt that he needed to save Yegor. As best he could, he briefly told him using his own example of how good it is to live with God, that he needs to go to confession and receive Communion. But in order to escape external temptations, which would definitely come, Yegor needed to live for a while in a monastery and labor to the glory of God.
“The dark powers don’t let one go so easily,” Kirill added anxiously. “But in the monastery, God is close; it will be harder for them to influence you.”
Although this last remark seemed strange to Yegor, he for some reason quickly assented to everything. He went home, took some things, turned off his telephone, and allowed Kirill to take him to the monastery.
In the monastery
“To be perfectly honest, I have but a vague memory of that period and the road to the monastery,” says Yegor. “My soul felt so bad that it seemed it couldn’t be worse… I had made the decision that day to take my own life, and if not for Kirill I wouldn’t be here. But where would I have ended up? In a much worse place. And then Kirill showed up! I looked at him then, listened to him, and suddenly believed everything—I believed that he could help me. Not Kirill, of course, but God.”
Thus did Yegor find himself in a monastery, where he had his first, awkward confession, his first conversations with priests. There they explained to him that he has come into contact with dark powers, who are not likely to let him go very easily. They told him the Life of Holy Hieromartyr Cyprian.
Everything there was new for Yegor. After confession tears flowed by themselves, and in his soul for the first time in many long years something moved and came alive, as if burning incense had been pressed to his heart. Comfort and calm came to him, and his first Communion brought him such joy that he felt once again as light and carefree as he did as a child. He, a successful entrepreneur, only recently conducting serious business negotiations, was joyfully hopping around the monastery vegetable gardens, watering the cucumbers…
“After only one week in the monastery I felt God’s presence everywhere, and such grace came and abode in my soul that I jumped to fulfill the monastery obediences with sincere alacrity. And I suddenly become aware of my whole life… How could I have voluntarily deprived myself of the true Source of life—Communion,” Yegor says.
Return to the world
When he returned home, Yegor learned that he had been fired from his job, and his wife had filed for a divorce. However, acquaintances with whom he had long lost contact quickly turned up, and they offered him ideas for a new business.
“My story is probably not yet over,” Yegor admits. I have only made my first steps to God; perhaps there are sorrows and temptations yet to bear… But I know one thing: I do not want to return to that hell. The Lord is stronger than all, and man can only have true happiness if he abides with Him. People strive to make as much money as possible, to take vacations by the sea, go to nightclubs, acquire fashionable things, buy the good graces of pretty women… But this brings only a temporary euphoria; real feelings can only be obtained by feeling the presence of God’s grace in yourself.
“I will pray for my wife. I don’t want a divorce; after all, we have a little one. But let it all be in God’s hands…”
While this story was being written down, a strange melancholy and feeling of hopelessness began to attack me. And there was always something distracting me from my work.
Later I learned that Yegor began to feel very bad and was taken in an ambulance to the nearest hospital. What exactly happened, no one explained to me.
“I can’t tell you what, but believe me, it’s terrible. And it’s better that you don’t write about it; what if it touches you…” is what my friend told me.
I told my spiritual father all about it, and he told me to take Communion as soon as possible, but to definitely finish writing the article.
All of this of course serves to confirm what they told Yegor in the monastery: “The dark powers do one let one go so easily.”
(To be continued.)