On April 18, 1993, amidst the abundant joy of the bright Resurrection of Christ in the newly resurrecting Orthodox Russia, the shocking news of a triple murder at Optina monastery spread throughout the world—a deranged satanist's only claim to fame. The three Optina brothers, Hieromonk Vasily (Roslyakov), monk Ferapont (Pushkarev), and monk Trophim (Tatarinov) died fulfilling their monastic obediences: Fr. Ferapont and Fr. Trophim were ringing the Paschal bells after the night services, and Fr. Vasily was walking to the Skete of St. John the Baptist to confess the brothers before the morning Liturgy, when a man carrying a knife with the inscription 666 walked into the famous Russian monastery to fatally wound the three monks. As the disturbed man, Nikolai Averin, said later in a televised interview, "Sure, I feel sorry for the fellows, but I had to do it." He was following the orders of the ancient man-killer.
Compare this pitiful self-justification for a deeply despicable deed to the depth of repentance of one of the righteous sufferers, Hieromonk Vasily. Fr. Vasily was educated as a journalist, and showed great talent as a writer and poet. While the inner world of the other two martyrs remains to some degree a mystery, Fr. Vasily left us his journal entries and other notes, which provide an insight as to how the Lord proved his heart, and found him worthy of a martyr's death. For while satan is capable only of destruction and hate, our Lord Jesus Christ as God brings love and resurrection to fallen man.
The following is an excerpt from the book, Thou Hast Proved Me, O God and Knowest. The Life of Hieromonk Vasily.
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Why do the same words, which yesterday I did not even notice, today astound me by their magnitude and wisdom, so much so that I want to hold them forever in my heart? It is because of the inconstancy of my heart. Yesterday it was like ice, and therefore everything sophisticated and austere made it ecstatic, while today it is like melting snow that rejoices in light and warmth. What takes place in the depth of my heart where neither my sight nor my mind penetrates? There, like the sun rising and setting, repentance is born and dies.
It is frightening to see in yourself a readiness to commit any of the most onerous sins. This is a bottomless abyss, a hellish precipice; it is eternal torment and death. Seeing this in yourself, you must unceasingly call out for help and mercy. I live, and I uphold faithfulness only outwardly, by God's mercy, but the Lord sees my infirmity and does not allow circumstances and burdens beyond my strength. While washing yourself in the bathhouse, think: "I am preparing my body for burial, washing and anointing it," and, "as I wash the dirt from my body, so do Thou also, O Lord, create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me" (Ps. 50:10). In this way, you will always conquer the indulgence of your body.
When you judge someone else, you must pray thus: after all, Lord, it is I who have sinned. Forgive me and have mercy on me!
By the waters of Babylon, there have we sat down and we wept (Ps. 136:1) The rivers of Babylon flow from my heart—the rivers of judgment of my brothers, ambition; the rivers of faintheartedness, fear and dread before various obediences; rivers of self-pleasing and self-pity; rivers of love of glory and anger, despondency, laziness, sadness; the rivers of all impurity, blasphemy, faithlessness, cunning, and uncleanness. I sit by my heart and weep over the endless flow of these rivers. Underground abysses feed these rivers, and the rivers of my passions feed the bottomless gulf of my sinful heart.
Lord! It is an abyss, the abyss of hell. In it there is no support, no comfort. All is clamor, all is wickedness, all is emptiness. God, in Thy name save me and give me Thy hand, as Thou didst to Peter.
Don't you see how daily you add sin to sin? Why do you return every day to the slimy excrement of your passions and vices? Don't you see how everything you do reproaches you, your ignorance, impurity of mind and heart, your imperfection? Everything you have-your deeds, thoughts and feelings-are detrimental, flawed, mixed with vice and impurity; all is impoverished and orphaned.
Don't you see how the passions surround you and play with you, handing you around to each other? Don't you see how they leave you alone for a time and, standing a little distance away, watch how you, a weak person give yourself over to vainglory, forgetfulness, carelessness? They laugh, because one touch from them is enough to destroy all your peace and quiet and make it disappear; they laugh, because you are their inheritance, their slave, even a slave who thinks himself free. The sight of a slave with such high self-opinion, considering himself to be a master, gives them particular pleasure. Do you see your sin-flowing heart? How it slanders your brothers, all people, the entire world, night and day?
Heal me, Lord! Seal the flow of impurity, sin and vice. Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Ps. 50:10). Because of my deeds I deserve eternal torments, but the Lord secretly nourishes a hope in my soul for His mercy. Otherwise, it would be beyond my strength for me to live.
St Poemen the Great said, "Believe me, children, wherever Satan is, there will I be". He did not only think this way, he felt it.
The Lord allows you to see your heart as it slanders the brothers-the Lord, and the whole world, day and night. Then you see all the impossibility of correcting yourself, the endlessness of your fall, the abyss of hell. Then you quite admit that wherever Satan is, there will you be. This is an awareness, a thought. But for St Poemen the Great, it was a feeling. The difference is like night and day. Therefore you only lament over your sinfulness, while St Poemen the Great pours forth endless tears. His soul felt the reality of the torments of hell and knew them.
We need to love everyone as we love ourselves, and be ready for death at any hour.
But another thing is possible: to love your neighbour as yourself, to pray for him as for yourself; thus, seeing that the sins of your neighbour are your sins, you descend into hell with these sins for the sake of your neighbour's salvation.
"Lord, Thou gavest me love and changed everything for me, and now I cannot act in any other way; I can only go to torments for the salvation of my neighbour. I moan, I weep, I am terrified, but I cannot do anything else, for it is Thy love which leads me, and I do not want to part with it; in it I gain hope of salvation, and seeing it within me, I do not despair utterly."