What happens when people follow the will of God, no matter how strange or unexpected it may seem, and what ensues when they stubbornly insist on having their own way? Find the answer in these three stories of Fr. Dimitry Torshin, the priest of the Church of the Dormition in Ozerskoye (Podborki) Village near Kozelsk.
“Without Me ye can do nothing”
By chance, he once met Archdeacon Heliodorus from Optina Monastery and this meeting prompted a change in his way of thinking. Suddenly, he realized that there was a spiritual component to life and that this spiritual component was more important than the material one.
Once he asked Fr. Heliodorus, “How can I change my life?”
The Archdeacon referred him to Fr. Iliy (Nozdrin), the elder. Without beating around the bush, Fr. Iliy said to the businessman, “Leave your business and move to Belev.”
Hearing these arguments, the elder replied, “Leave that money to your partner.”
My friend whole-heartedly accepted the words of the elder, unconditionally believing that this was Divine Providence for him. So he signed all the papers required to transfer the title to his partner, got his wife (who happened to work in the Moscow City Hall) into his car, punched “Belev” into his GPS and set out on a journey toward the unknown.
One can easily imagine Belev, a little backwater town with two paved streets (the other streets are dirt roads). The elder gave the businessman’s family his blessing to move to Belev, but obviously they did not have any place to live in this unfamiliar town. So when they got there, they simply drove to the end of the paved street and then turned onto a dirt road. After driving by a few plain houses, they hit a dead end.
They got out and asked the passers-by if anybody was selling a house around there.
The passers-by answered, “It just so happens that this house near you is for sale.”
The family settled in this house. The former businessman set about renovating the nearby ancient monastery that had been desolate since Soviet times. He assembled a small crew of workers who used wheel-barrows to remove debris from the deserted buildings of huge two-storied churches. Elder Iliy helped this crew by praying and they got sponsors almost immediately. With the sponsors’ support, the construction advanced at a much faster rate, still managed by the former businessman. He was a good architect, as his background was in architecture.
He remembered the things he used to know and let his architectural talent shine. He also started learning how to pray, and his life flourished and became more meaningful. His eyes were full of light, there was no sign of depression and his wife who loved him very much was glad that her husband was happy and no longer depressed.
It goes without saying that at first they didn’t have the abundance and material wealth they enjoyed in Moscow, but eventually God managed everything in a miraculous way.
For example, once his neighbor offered him several old, prerevolutionary brick houses in a village at a ridiculously low price. He used these bricks to build an excellent house. All other issues were resolved in a similar way.
With time, Fr. Iliy gave him his blessing to apply to the correspondence department of the theological seminary and he gladly did. Concurrently, they found out that the house he initially bought was earlier owned by a priest and that in the adjacent area there used to be a church that was destroyed in Soviet times.
Everything fell into place. Now he is planning to restore that church and serve there, God willing.
When I run into him these days, I see bright light in his eyes. It is obvious that he is living his life to the fullest, without any frustration, and that he has so much spiritual joy that he can easily share it with others.
However, such a blessing is not bestowed upon just anybody; people earn it by abandoning their self-reliance and putting their trust in God and His ways.
Regrettably, this doesn’t happen always, for sometimes people decide that they can build their happiness on earth all by themselves, even against the will of God. No matter how tempting such a decision may seem, unfortunately it always ends tragically, for God said, Without Me ye can do nothing.
The next story is about such a tragic choice.
“The one intended for you will come to you in ten years”
When I was a teenager, our family was once awakened by our neighbor, an old lady. She implored us to hide her from her own son who was threatening to kill her. There was no doubt that the situation was indeed serious because many times I saw with my own eyes how her son was wielding an axe, threatening to hit her and moving the axe away only at the last moment. Besides the problem with her alcoholic and unruly son, she also had problems with her husband, also an unruly alcoholic. All her brothers and sisters who lived nearby were in the same miserable situation.
The old lady stayed with us for several days, never lamenting her fate. On one occasion she told us her story. She and her siblings knew why such a fate befell them.
In the early twentieth century, this old lady, who was an 18-year-old girl then, met a good and hard-working young man. They decided to get married. Since the girl’s parents lived close to Optina Monastery, they told their daughter to go to the elder Anatoly (Potapov) and ask him to bless the marriage, for with his spiritual vision he could see things better and more clearly than they could with their earthly mindset.
The girl and her sister went to the elder and asked him to bless her marriage. However, the elder didn’t give his blessing. Instead he warned her very sternly not to go ahead with it and added, “God’s blessing is not on this marriage. Do not marry him. The one intended for you will come to you ten years later.”
The elder’s words seemed very strange to the young girl and she couldn’t accept them. On their way back, the sisters decided to lie to their parents and tell them that the blessing for the marriage was received. Both hoped that their lie would never be discovered.
The girl got married and had children, but then their life began to crumble. They were plagued by incessant sorrows. Her husband was exiled. She couldn’t raise the children the way she wanted. Her life was very sad.
Exactly ten years later, a man came to visit her. He used to live in her village and had to leave for some important reason. The man said that he had been in love with her since he was young and that he could never forget her. He wanted to marry her and adopt her children.
She refused because she didn’t know whether her husband was still alive in exile, but at that moment she understood what the elder was talking about ten years ago.
This is what happens when people think that their own point of view is the best and do not follow the ways of God in their lives, or even go against them.
“Holy Fr. St. Nicholas, keep us in your prayers!”
Last spring, on St. Nicholas Day, I got a call from one of the nearby villages. The villagers noticed that one lonely old lady who lived on the outskirts of the village had not been seen outside her house recently. When they came to check on her, they found that she was sick in bed, unable to get up. The neighbors called an ambulance and just in case called me as well. So, I put on the epitrachelion (priest’s stole) and cuffs, took the Holy Gifts and went to visit her.
They showed me her house. It was a small, old house that stood almost in the middle of a field. The door wasn’t latched. The place was lonely and musty. It was obviously the proverbial case of a sick person being so lonely that there was no one around to fetch a glass of water. I found the old lady on a couch in one of the rooms.
“Oh, Fr. Nicholas, thank you, dearest, for sending me your messenger!” the old lady cried out joyfully when she saw me.
It is difficult to describe the joy I saw on her face. I started talking to her. Her name was Maria. All her life she worked as a dairymaid in a collective farm. She didn’t go to church because there were no churches nearby; however she knew that she was baptized, as her mother used to tell her about it.
The war started in 1941 and Maria’s husband was drafted. She was very depressed about it. She was distraught and restless, crying all the time. One night when she felt particularly bad, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker appeared to her, looking just like she had seen him on her mother’s icon.
Having cheered her up, he left. Everything happened just as the saint foretold. Her husband returned home safe and sound and throughout her life she felt St. Nicholas’s support and protection. She always asked him to pray for her.
I couldn’t convince Maria that, far from St. Nicholas’ messenger, I was only the simple village priest Dimitry Torshin, from the Church of Dormition in Ozerskoye Village (Podborki) who came to visit her by pure chance.
The old lady listened with great attention and reverence to every word I said about faith, God and eternity. Afterwards, I heard her honest confession as she tried to remember all the things she ever did wrong since her youth. Then she received Holy Communion.
I think it was Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh who described the saints as people who renounced themselves, opening their hearts to God, and received so much of His grace that, as if overflowing from the blessed vessels, this grace poured onto the people who surrounded them. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said, when one is being saved, thousands around him are saved.
On my way home, I thought about St. Nicholas and this grace that emanates from him, transcending the boundaries of countries and ages. I contemplated this incredible connection between an archbishop from Asia Minor who lived at the turn of the fourth century and a Soviet dairymaid from a remote little village who never really knew anything about God.
By the way, Maria never knew that this remarkable day, the day that became her day of glad tidings, repentance and Holy Communion, was also the day of her heavenly protector.
Later, I learned that soon after my visit Maria passed away. It turned out that the purpose of my accidental visit (I wonder if it was really accidental?) was to administer the last rites before her departure to the eternal life…
Holy Fr. St. Nicholas, do not abandon us in your prayers!!!