I believe that the Lord, having called them through martyrdom
on the first day of the holy Resurrection of Christ,
will make them participants in the eternal Pascha
in the never-ending day of His Kingdom.
Patriarch Alexei II, April 18, 1993
Two or three days passed, and I hadn’t been able to talk with any of the fathers who had known the monks killed on Pascha. One promised to talk, but later, after the Fast, because he was very busy. Another refused, noting that he had already told everything he knew and that his story was included in Nina Pavlova’s well-known book Pascha of Beauty…
Every day before starting my obedience I try to venerate the relics of the Optina elders and the murdered brethren—Hieromonk Vasily and Monks Trophim and Therapont. And then today, entering the chapel of the Resurrection of Christ, the resting place of those murdered, I asked, “Dear fathers! Forgive me for daring to ask for your help! I clearly feel my unworthiness, but I so want to remind people about you, to honor your memory, and to venerate you… If it be possible, help me, please!”
The Optina monks know by experience how Fathers Vasily, Trophim, and Therapont, who are quick to hear, want that no one would leave the monastery unconsoled. And further events can become another page in the chronicles of the prayerful aid of the murdered brethren for all who turn to them.
Then that day I immediately recorded the memories of three people about the brothers.
“I spoke with Monk Therapont twice. It was obvious he was very focused. He was deep within himself. He was actively engaged in the Jesus Prayer, and it was immediately obvious. How was it so obvious? By his concentration… When someone intensely maintains prayer, when he tries to stand in prayer before God, you can feel it… You cut off your thoughts and preserve silence… internally and externally.
“I know people who have maintained the Jesus Prayer; there were then, and are now, many brothers in Optina who try to maintain the prayer, but none of them had such a tangible inner focus as did Fr. Therapont. I was striving for inner work, I was seeking such people, and he was such a man. Only God knows how far he had progressed in prayer, but that he dwelt in such activity is beyond question.
“I went to Optina during Great Lent, and, in speaking with Fr. Therapont, I asked him for some advice about myself. He didn’t say anything from himself, but sent me to Elder Iliy. The elder blessed me to stay in Optina for a year and told me to go to seminary.
“I was contemplating it, but after the murder I felt such a spiritual upsurge! You know, when people suffer for Orthodoxy, it’s very inspiring! You understand: They paid with their lives, and you haven’t done anything at all…
“So, there’s the story. I shared it. But now, excuse me, I have to go serve a panikhida.”
Several minutes later, Hieroschemamonk Seraphim (Hieromonk Michael in1993) shared his recollections with me:
“Fr. Vasily, Fr. Trophim, and Fr. Therapont are people who labored ascetically, sought God, and ripened for eternal life. Fr. Vasily was a bright man, and the Lord gave him a powerful gift of preaching—the gift of word. And what spiritual verses he wrote! A man of prayer. There was such grace upon him… He went ahead of us all!
“Fr. Therapont was praying. He was silent because he was praying. When you pray, you don’t want any vain conversations… The last entry in his journal was the words of St. Isaac the Syrian: “Silence is the mystery of the future age.” He had the strength of a king both physically and spiritually. Every night he arose and prayed the Optina five-hundred1—at night—taking time from sleep. Not many do the five-hundred at night…He had a padded jacket on the floor to muffle the sound of his prostrations.
“All three were killed in a cowardly way—stabbed in the back.
“Many people felt that something terrible had happened. After the Paschal Matins in the Entrance of the Theotokos Church, I walked to the skete to get ready for the second, early morning Liturgy. I was walking, as usual, along the path to the skete in predawn darkness, and suddenly I felt a horror. It grabbed me so strongly! I never felt such a horror in all my life! Fr. Melchizedek later shared that he had felt a terrible despair.
“And even before that, at the church, three people suddenly came out towards me in leather jackets. They walked right up to me, and they had such vitriolic looks that I immediately thought, “Killers!” although I didn’t know anything about the coming murders. They were making a film there about Optina, and suddenly there was a powerful ray of light, and these three pulled back, turned around, and left into the darkness. Now I think I could have been killed too. But I wasn’t ready then, and the Lord didn’t permit it.
“But they were ready. The seal of God was upon them—the Lord took the best of us. When they brought them in a car, they were lying as if alive—soft, with peace and calm on their faces. People sometimes say, ‘They killed the first they happened upon…’ No. They were God’s chosen ones. To die for Christ is an honor that must be earned.
“Okay, now we’re having the Rite of the Panagia.2 May the Lord help you!”
After my obediences today, I had to go to the post office. I arrived to find a huge line. It was stuffy and hot. And there was a very talkative elderly woman standing in front of me… I was tired and answering reluctantly, but then I listened closely to her words and I realized this encounter was not by chance. She was telling me about the miraculous help of the murdered brethren! This is what Galina Dmitrievna, a resident of Kozelsk told me:
“It’s hard to stand, it’s hard… Well, anyways… And you, sweet daughter, are at Optina—probably you’re working? How did I know? Well, you, Optina-ites, are obvious: The youth rarely wear long skirts and head scarves now… I used to go to the monastery a lot… Yes… Now I rarely go, but I used to go often… Why rarely? You’re wondering how old I am? No. Not seventy. I’m eighty! So it’s hard for me… I go to the nearest church with my husband. I found a husband three years ago! Maybe it seems funny for you to get married at that age… But first just listen…
“I have had many sorrows in life. I grew up with my stepmother. She did not love me. She resented me very much. Then I got married and my husband began to drink. He also really resented me. Then our children grew up, moved far away, and my husband died. I was completely alone. This was my sorrow—loneliness…
“I went to Optina three years ago, and I saw people surrounding Fr. Iliy. Do you know Elder Iliy? I quietly approached, and he suddenly turned to me: ‘How are you, Matushka?’ I was confused and answered, ‘I’m old already, but I want to keep living…’ He smiled and asked, ‘Is twenty years enough?’ And I had just turned seventy-seven. I blurted out, ‘Then, Batushka, twenty-three—to live to exactly one hundred years!’ He smiled. I was despondent, but my soul suddenly became light thanks to his smile.
“I went to the chapel to the murdered brethren. I looked, and there was a girl putting a note behind one of the crosses. I asked her, ‘What are you doing?’ She got embarrassed, but still answered: ‘I’m asking the fathers for help… They help… The Lord hears them…’ And she left the chapel.
“I thought, and thought, and I also decided to write a note. I read aloud: ‘Our dear, beloved fathers! While there’s no one here in the chapel, I will tell you… It’s so hard for me to be alone, so lonely! Help me, please! You know, my life has not been sweet, and it has passed so quickly! Maybe I’ll live on, even another twenty years… Only, it’s very hard for me alone…I wanted to sell my house too, but I can’t seem to sell it… It’s been a long time already… Help me, if you can…’
“That’s what I said, but in the note I only wrote: ‘I’m very lonely. Handmaiden of God Galina.’
“What do you think, dear daughter?! Not a week passed, and I sold my home quite favorably! And that same week I met my husband! Where? In church! You know, such a good husband I have! George! In honor of St. George the Victorious! He’s a believer and a kind man; a war veteran…
“I’ve healed so well with him that now I don’t want to die… We’ve been living together for three years… I’m eighty, and he’s eighty-six. Maybe someone will think that a companion in life isn’t necessary at such an age… It’s just that we’re so good together! It was so comforting for me after my loneliness! He gets up in the morning and always drinks Holy Water and eats a piece of prosphora, and brings me some (I often forget, but he never does). We always go to church together. We still go out together, we love nature… Sometimes he gets up at night, and I also wake up, and I look and see my husband at the icons, quietly praying… So we live together peacefully and amicably—Fr. Vasily, Fr. Trophim, and Fr. Therapont took care of me!
“It’s my turn now… See how much I’ve told you?...”
There’s the three stories. I would like to close with Fr. Vasily’s verses on the death of Hieromonk Raphael. The verses sound like they were written about himself and Fathers Trophim and Therapont:
I would find harsh words
About life, about the cold of the grave,
And my speech would be so bitter,
That I couldn’t even say the half of it.
But I want to weep in silence
And go out into the world with bright eyes.
He who dashes like lightning along the Earth,
The same is vested under the Heavens.
Fr. Vasily, Fr. Trophim, Fr. Therapont, pray to God for us, sinners!