Even for many believers, monasticism is an incomprehensible phenomenon. Why should someone suddenly consciously complicate his life: constantly praying and obeying his spiritual guide in everything. Hieromonk Athanasy (Deryugin), the dean of Sretensky Monastery, speaks about how he made his own choice.
—Sometimes I feel a little envious of those who came to God at a conscious age. Such people have a livelier faith, and it’s easier for them to convey the faith to others, as they have the experience of acquiring it. Personally, I find it extremely difficult to talk with people who don’t belong to the Church yet, because I’ve never thought like them. On the other hand, most people who came to God at a conscious age regret that they weren’t churched from childhood. They understand that many mistakes, many sins could have been avoided had they gone to Church from an early age. Therefore, I thank God for what I have. The Lord leads everyone in a unique way and gives all what they need for salvation.
—Fr. Athanasy, tell us about your life before you entered seminary. Did you ever grow cold towards the Church, as often happens with teenagers and young men?
—Surprisingly, I never had such a period. Everything was simple and smooth for me. As Orthodox Christianity was instilled in me from childhood, so I remained in it, and I can’t recall any periods of cooling off. Of course, it can be easier, it can be harder—but there was no “spiritual desert” as such. I think it’s thanks to my mother, Olga Alexeevna—may God grant her health—who instilled faith in me, and prayed, and now prays for me constantly.
—What can you say about the monastic life at Sretensky Monastery? How did you imagine the monastery before you met the brethren?
—When I first entered seminary, I had no idea what monasticism was. Moreover, I never had a desire to connect my life with a monastery. On the contrary, I thought I would get married and be a lay priest. And when I came to seminary, we students would sometimes ironically discuss monasticism in the center of Moscow. We thought, “Is it really a monastery? It seems more like a dormatory for unmarried men—an ‘asphalt’ monastery.” Only later, having looked closely at how the monastery lives, did I realize that you can dedicate your life to God in any conditions—even in the center of the capital city.
—So you wanted to be a lay priest, but became a monk? How did you make this step?
—I had a certain period, for about six months, where I was frantically seeking an answer to the question of which way to choose. Which way is for me? I made my choice by trying to pray every day for the Lord to reveal His will to me, and at the same time to cut off all my own thoughts on the matter.
Sometimes in this period, you’ll meet a girl—beautiful, pious—and you start thinking: “I’d like to marry her…” Immediately cut this off and say, “Lord, help me to do Thy will!” Or, on the contrary, you communicate with some monks in the monastery, you look at their riassas and klobuks… and you begin to have dreams of another sort. But here too: “Lord, help me to do Thy will!”
Then, at some point, I realized that my path is monasticism. I can’t describe how it was; of course, there wasn’t any angelic appearance from Heaven, but I think it was an answer to my prayer. When I got the answer, I no longer looked for anything else.
There were other strokes that influenced this too—the brothers of the monastery whom I met—first of all, of course, Vladyka Tikhon, then Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov). His concern for the brothers and the students, his simplicity in conversation, and his willingness to devote time to everyone touched me very much. Two other monks had an affect on me: Hieromonk Matthew, who is now at Pskov Caves Monastery and whose asceticism was an inspiration for me, and Hieromonk Luke, one of our monks, who spoke with me about monasticism for literally two minutes, and this conversation was also an important stage for me.
Of course, I’ve only been in the monastery eight years, and I can’t sum up any results yet. But what I can honestly say is that I haven’t regretted the choice I made for even a second.