The second part of this conversation with Fr. Pimen is dedicated to the miraculous help of the Mother of God and non-condemnation of your neighbor.
—“Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved,” said St. Seraphim of Sarov.
—Yes. One girl told me about how she was hired as a notary’s assistant at a large notary office in Bucharest. She wasn’t the only one—there were ten assistants. Being naturally cheerful and optimistic, and seeing how strict and unapproachable her co-workers were, she thought she wouldn’t be able to work with them. But, by the providence of God, it turned out that she became the boss of her co-workers, and then she decided to change the atmosphere and started responding to everyone kindly, with a smile. Thus, she managed to change everything in just a year, and today this notary office enjoys a reputation as the most popular in Bucharest. See how just one man of God can grant “peace to all!”
—I have noticed, Father, that those of us who are of the world have a great problem with judging our neighbors.
—It happens because we stop seeing our own mistakes. We always see others “beams,” but never our own. But this is not humility.
—Well, I know this theoretically, but how can we deliver ourselves of this sin in practice?
—By silence. The holy fathers say that “as many times as I have spoken, so many times I have sinned.”
—Yes, and that “no one has repented of being silent.”1
—Let’s begin with silence. And so as not to break it, make a law for yourself: I won’t speak more than is absolutely necessary.
—Here, Father, in the “inner desert” it’s possible. But what if you’re in the world and, let’s say, you work, like this girl, in a notary office? What should you do when you have to receive people?
—You have to seek the middle path. When you absolutely have to talk, talk. At work, yes, there’s no way out of it. But don’t look for a reason yourself—like going out for a beer, going out with your friends, going to clubs.
As for condemning one’s neighbor, the Holy Fathers say that they themselves reasoned like this: “I am accursed. What right do I have to judge my brother before God begins to judge him?” After all, where two are talking about a third who is absent, it’s already a matter of condemnation.
After all, we don’t justify the one we’re discussing—on the contrary, we throw stones of heavy words at him. As Elder Thaddeus says, “We’re not aware of what power even our thoughts have.” If several people start judging someone and send their evil thoughts his way, he’ll come to disarray. All the malice of others is poured out upon him. And vice versa. Look: You are here, you pray for your brother who’s at home, and he’s recovering! And we say: “Did you hear what bishop so-and-so did?” And instead of helping him with prayer, so he would be corrected (if he sinned), you inflict harm upon him. But when hundreds of thousands of people begin to think as badly about this hierarch, then he, the poor man, no longer knows why he’s so sick, why his legs don’t even work. And you made him so unfortunate.
And no one will say: “Let’s kneel in prayer for him!” But if we did this, God would change him (if he sinned). But it’s easier for us to condemn someone than to make ten prostrations for him and stand for a few moments with hands raised in prayer for him. But let us, several thousands of people, stand up to pray for the hierarch and you’ll see how God will say to him: “Wake up and correct yourself! Do you see how many people are crying out to Me?”
I think this also happens because our conscience torments us for our evil deeds, so we find “justification” for ourselves in the fact that someone else also sins. But look, what did the Holy Fathers do? They took note of the greatest virtues that they saw in others, and when the demon of vainglory whispered that they reached the measure, they quickly cut off this thought, comparing themselves to one of the saints. But we do the opposite: If we drink too much, then we immediately start thinking that we still haven’t become like those who are wallowing in the gutters.
Everyone judges according to their own condition, according to the passion that possesses him. For example, some unknown woman is walking down the street at night. If a believer sees her, he might think she’s returning from Vigil, from a church or monastery. If a regular secular person sees her, he might think she went for a walk. But if some rabble-rouser sees her, he might think her husband kicked her out of the house. If a passionate man sees her, he might think she was out painting the town red and is returning from who knows where.
So that was about an ordinary woman who was walking down the street, and look how much judgment it could cause! And she could be completely innocent: She just went out for a walk, but everyone sees her according to his own condition, his own passions. There’s a saying: “The pure eye sees all things as pure.” Even in the worst people it finds something good—a part of the image of God. If you judge yourself, you’ll always find a reason to cover your neighbor’s transgressions.
—Father, what was your residence like in Lacu Skete?
—I lived in the skete the first two years and everything started from scratch. As I already told you, I ate what grew in the garden, and I had to work hard to clear the area of thickets and get the land in order, because it was a rocky place. Then I lived at St. Paul’s Monastery for two years to learn Greek. When I returned to the skete nineteen years ago, I took the Cell of St. Artemius and restored it.
At first I lived alone, and then my brother Dosifei came. We built the cell from scratch. I mean, from absolute scratch, because there was nothing on that spot—just rocks and forest. We spent a year huddled in a tent. We didn’t even have enough food, but we would go to the monastery and bring back canned food and bread in a knapsack.
From the very beginning, we built three rooms to have a place to live, and then we added more until it looked as you see today. This is how the Mother of God directed us to erect a cell to the saint without a penny’s savings. I also made prayer ropes and went around to the monasteries, giving them away, and coming away from each monastery with some building materials.
After finishing the cell, I lived there for twelve years, but when the “fullness of time” came, I started building this one that we’re sitting in now. I wanted to build it first, but the monastery wanted us to build cells around the large church first, and only then start the ones on the hill. Since this was the furthest from the kyriakon, I had to put it off till the end.
There were a lot of rocks here, and the skete wanted to build a house for the laborers. In ancient times, there was a large church here, dedicated to the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. And since there were too many of them in St. Artemius’—ten monks—and the church was a little small, I thought the time had come to ask the monastery for this cell. But before asking, I prayed to the Mother of God to give it to me, so I had no doubts at all that I would get it. Others have asked for this place and didn’t get it. But since there was nothing here except for piled-up rocks, many of the brothers said: “Either he’s nuts, or he has a bag of money! There are ten of you in St. Artemius’, more than anywhere else in the skete. What are you lacking?” they asked. At that time, there were eight monks with Fr. Ștefan Nuțescu, six in another cell, and another three or four.
—Well, I knew one kellia could have a maximum of nine monks—except Burazeri, perhaps (a cell with more monks than many Athonite monks, like Stavronikita, Konstamonitou, and others, as its brotherhood has thirty-five monks).
—According to the ancient laws, the monasteries registered six people per cell. But the cells belonging to sketes have different laws than those of the monasteries. It’s the same with Burazeri.
As I said, first I started pulling up the weeds and leveling this place. There was a Greek bulldozer driver then who did a lot of work in Lacu, and we got along well with him. I started working with him since I had no money, and he said: “You’ll pay when you can.” I only started paying him back a year or two later. We dug up everything here. There were four other workers then. I had one friend, a Greek, who kept calling and asking how I was doing. And I would tell him we were working; the only problem was how to pay for it—my debts had already reached ten, twenty, 30,000 euros. “The workers will kill you; you’ll have nothing to pay them with!” he said, “encouraging” me. “I’m doing everything humanly possible to pay them. The Mother of God is handling the rest. I have hope that she won’t abandon me this time either.”
And she didn’t abandon me. On the same day that I decided not to take on any more debts, a rented land rover stopped at the cell. Five people got out, and one came right up to me: “May God help you, Father!” “May God bless you.” “How’s it going; are you making progress?” “We’re moving ahead,” I said. “Do you have any money?” “No.” “Debts?” “30,000 euros.” “Ioanic, bring the bag with the money here. Father, take 30,000 from here and be healthy!” He turned and left.
When I came to myself, I ran to the car and started pulling on one of their sleeves: “Who is this Christian who is so merciful, so we can commemorate him at the Divine services?” “How could you not know him, Father? It’s Gigi. Gigi Becali.2 Haven’t you heard of him?” “Never heard of him in my life,” I said, still shaken by this wonderful event.
Can you imagine? This man gave me 30,000 euros, without even asking my name or knowing anything about me! He just shoved the money into my hand, turned around, and left! And he did this in all the Romanian cells, paying all their debts.
A few days later, the Greek called me again: “Well, how are your debts?” “I don’t have any more debts.” “How?” So I told him about what happened. “A miracle!” he said. “How is it possible that he gave so much money to a stranger?” he said in astonishment. “Friend, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God,” I told him.
—So, Gigi really helped you, Father!
—Yes. Forty percent of everything you see here was built with his money, and the rest was the widow’s mite, from the faithful.
The roof was also very expensive: 25,000—just for the cell, not counting the slate on the church, which I had already laid down earlier. I covered the cell with roofing paper and nailed slats on it, but since I had a 25,000 debt, I couldn’t get another 25,000. Meanwhile, the slats had already begun to crumble, the roof was leaking and rain started to pour through the ceiling. Then I again called out to the Most-Pure Theotokos: “Mother of God,” I said, “do as thou wilt, but help me cover the cell before winter, for the rain is flowing into our house!”
I must say that I never asked the Theotokos for money—always only for the necessities. Then one night I was standing in Vigil by the kyriakon, outside, to do prostrations so sleep wouldn’t overcome me. Then someone came up to me to ask if I had covered my cell! I answered: “No, because it cost 20,000 to cover the church with slate, and the cell is larger, so it will definitely cost more.” He left and returned after a while: “How much do I have to give to become a benefactor of your sanctity?” he asked. “Well, it should be a substantial sum in order for it to be remembered at the holy altar forever,” I said. “Is 25,000 enough?” “Of course!” And he left again.
Finally, when the service ended and I headed home, this Christian came up to me and put a thick envelope the size of a brick in my hand and said: “Father, you have 25,000 euros here to roof your home. I spent a long time collecting this money and still couldn’t decide where to invest it. I had two options and I didn’t know which to choose. Then I called upon the Theotokos to teach me what to do with the money. And she told me: ‘Go and give it to Fr. Pimen so he can roof his cell.’”
In my joy, I thanked the Mother of God for this help she sent me and immediately began to look for the roofer who did my church roof, because I knew that he had orders scheduled a year in advance. But the Greek told me he had two free weeks before the next order. “Let’s get to work,” I said. I quickly ordered the tiles from Kavala,3 and we started the work.
I’m telling you this so you’ll know that everything you see here was done by the grace of God, by Divine intervention, with the help of God, the Most Holy Theotokos, and the saints.
—Yes. “Man labors in the sweat of his brow, and God acts.”
—Everything happens itself when man ceaselessly seeks God and fulfills His will. Then He bears your concerns—He and His Mother.