The First Question Over There Will Be: Were You Human?

More Wisdom from Hierodeacon Iliodor of Optina

See Part 1

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Won’t God stop us?

What doesn’t man screw up in life. But does he turn to God—no way! It’s all because of his pride. But how? The soviet regime perverted us in that way. And when such godless people get into power now… We can only cry for help!

Listen to Zyuganov:1 “I’ll give you this, I’ll provide you with this.” And who are you exactly?! Did you create any natural resources? We already know this, we’ve already been through this, we know what and how you can promise—a bright future and so on. Tomorrow, they’ll carry any such promise-makers out dead. That’s what’s become of all your promised gifts. The world has seen such people: Hitler, Stalin, Lenin… and they’re gone.

But God is, was, and will be—that’s the whole axiom. He is the Almighty One.

Power corrupts a man; man is weak. You should take an example from the Optina Elders—how meek they always were. The powers that be listened to them, and the Elders themselves remained humble. But the communists declared the Optina Elders “enemies of the people.” And who was the enemy in the end?

For us, any way you slice it, until we condemn all the evil that happened in the country in the twentieth century, all these commie crimes against the people, until we remove all these idols from their pedestals across the country, until we remove the names of the executioners-terrorists from the names of streets, squares, the metro, libraries, and so on, what kind of revival can we have? So what do we have now—a car isn’t a car, a resort isn’t a resort…2 Where are we headed? Won’t God stop us? It won’t last that long. The same thing happened already, before the revolution. We still haven’t sorted out this legacy.

They walk on God’s earth, breathe God’s air, bask in God’s sun… and they glorify this idol? They go to venerate his corpse in the mausoleum and lay wreaths? “But, look, I have a pension...” What kind of pension do you have if this idol of yours rotted millions of people? What kind of pension do you want, drenched in their blood?

They’re beginning to defend this ideology again. “Do you even know what communism is in action?” I asked a chubby, well-dressed man. “A bright future,” he replied. And he wasn’t ashamed.

Everything’s peaceful with us. Well, a man doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t believe. It’s not given to him. What can you expect from him? It’s like asking a communist: “You don’t believe in God?” “No, I don’t.” “Are you a communist?” “Yes, I am.” “Well, may God grant you 1,000 years of health. But I believe in God.”

And what comes next? “I myself don’t believe, and I’ll beat the faith out of you. If you believe, our Felix Edmunodvich3 will shoot you. You are an ‘enemy of the people.’”

“Well, okay,” I remember asking the communist, “do you believe?” “We don’t believe; we have our ideals.” “Yes, yes, of course. Faith is a man’s free choice. Should we force children to believe in God?” “No.” “And adults?” “Of course not.” “So, can we force someone not to believe?!” I looked, and he was blushing… “Ah, I see how you are,” I thought, “There’s no God, but you exist, right?” It’s useless to talk with them.

To love everyone and all

We Christians must always remain steadfast, according to the image of Christ. No matter what we’ve done to the Lord, how we betrayed or mocked Him, He continues to love everyone and all. And the guilty will be punished. They punish themselves. We must not answer evil with evil. And even more than that, we are called to pity these poor things. They missed the most important thing in life. All the New Martyrs, who were tortured and shot, prayed for their executioners: They know not what they do (Lk. 23:34).

Even Tsar Nicholas said: “Tell them not to take revenge on anyone for me, for I have forgiven everyone and pray for them all. Tell them not to seek revenge; they should remember that there is evil now in the world and it will become yet more powerful, and it is not evil that will conquer evil—only love,”—Grand Duchess Olga relayed. Such heights! And all this anger and hatred is, of course, a sickness. If a man denies God, does not see the sun, does not admire the beauty of the sky, of nature, has no feelings of kinship or tenderness, even towards strangers, even if they are children… The communists also left children without parents, or drove everyone out into the cold, or took them to Siberia without any belongings, without food. Women with babies in their arms, the elderly were dropped off in the middle of nowhere… If someone doesn’t even have compassion, then what kind of person is he? Worse than a beast.

Still, even beasts can have pity. How many cases are there where wolves nurse the cubs of some other kind of animal, save them, lick them, and feed them with their own milk. What can you say about those for whom the laws governing all things are invalid? These people are already dead while still living. You can only pity people like this. The saints, the elders prayed for them.

Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna would go and bandage up people. She went around to the back alleys, specifically looking for them. Who among the fashionable career-driven girls of society is now capable of such a thing? Long eyelashes, long nails… Although, there are such podvizhniks today, in the St. Alexei Hospital.4 There are those who bear their crosses.

Only the hopeless and those who are ready are taken from here

Do you remember how St. Macarius sent his disciple ahead? He met a pagan priest, scolded him good, and the pagan beat this philosophizing neophyte. Then the elder came and pitied this deluded man… He greeted the hard-working man, and he was touched. He confessed that he had beaten the disciple for calling him a “demon.” Then St. Macarius saw his disciple for what he was…

All the same, all of us are God’s creations. If the Lord extends someone’s life, it means that person still has a chance at salvation. Only the hopeless or those who are ready (if they don’t have a special assignment here) are taken from here. Our whole life is in the hands of God.

We are all humans, so we have to treat one another as human beings. It’s the principle of coexistence. At least, that’s how to build a society. Don’t deceive, don’t steal, don’t kill one another—these are common human ethics. And the Lord stated it all very simply: Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them (Mt. 7:12). To love everyone—this is for the perfect.

But we Christians are called to perfection (cf. Mt 5:48). We are the light of the world (Mt. 5:14). As the sun shines upon all, whether good or evil, so we should try to do good to all. We can’t pray together with the non-Orthodox and non-Christians—this is a crime against the faith, but to do good to all—that we can and must do: to Muslims, and Catholics, and Jews, and atheists, and communists. Just treat everyone like a human being.

Birth into eternity and the first cry of the soul

Hierodeacon Iliodor (Gairiyants) Hierodeacon Iliodor (Gairiyants) When each of us finds ourselves in that other world, the first question will be: “Were you human while on earth?” The first commandment is to be human. That’s what we will be asked first of all, I think. When the soul enters the realm of eternity, it sees the Creator, and the first thing it cries out will be: “Lord, have mercy!” Whether you believed or didn’t believe during your lifetime, simply cry out to Christ… When a child is born, it spontaneously lets out a cry—it screams! It’s the same with the soul, and it is Christian.

And now it’s yelling and screaming: “Lord, have mercy!” And in response—it’s all set forth in the Gospel: Did you show mercy to others? Did you give water, food, shelter; did you visit and help those in trouble? Even if you’re a Samaritan—believing somehow incorrectly—couldn’t you at least do that?

So, in World War II, for example, a Muslim risked his own life, dragging his comrades from the battlefield one after the other, crawling back for another one, and he himself is blown up. Did he not lay down his life for his friends? Did he not fulfill the commandment? But an Orthodox Christian might even say he had to wait for a blessing in this emergency situation… Which of these was a Christian in practice?

The Lord will first of all ask about our HU-MAN-I-TY. The second question will be about faith. That will be asked too, of course, but first will be humanity. Why? Because we are humans.

A dog comes up to you growling, “Grrrrr”. “Stay there,” you say. It eats the treat but not all of it, and walks off. Then another dog comes, also eats, but no more than it is able. It took what it needed and left. That’s how dogs are. But a man who isn’t hungry knows what he has. He has food for today, for tomorrow, and for decades to come… But he grabs and grabs and gathers it all to himself. This is also written in the Gospel: Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (Lk. 12:20).

Even in the life of one man, all sorts of cataclysms occur: Right now you’re on the crest of a wave, and what happens to you the next moment? And did you think of others when you yourself had everything in abundance? Today the calm, tomorrow the storm…

Don’t people read fairy tales? Don’t they know history?

We need to get back to a traditional way of life. When a family has harmony, there’s no need for treasure. A woman should take up her role. How many children did they use to bear? Because there was humility. The Bolsheviks corrupted women with their emancipation. It started like this: “I don’t want to be a noblewoman, I want to be a mighty queen…” “I don’t want to be a mighty queen, I want to be a sea empress…” But are all men chasing after golden fish?5

Behold, a woman will be saved by childbearing (cf. 1 Tim. 2:15). And where are they, these children?

They’re all links in the same chain: Godlessness leads to extinction. Who was the first in human history to legalize abortion? Lenin. In our country. And now the nation is dying, and he’s being honored?

It’s all from those same post-revolutionary years: “Down with shame” and all that. There is no god, so do what you want. You get “married” to a person, then you stop liking her, so you marry another person, then a third starts to grow on you. Same-sex perversions; freedom—everything is possible. Carefree.

“What, your mother’s yelling at you? Your father said something wrong? Make the call. It’s juvenile justice.” Pavlik Morozovs—we’ve been through all this already!6

What, don’t people read fairy tales? Don’t they know history? If they don’t have time for the Gospel, shouldn’t they at least know something? Here’s a poem:

A tiny son went to his father,
and the little one asked:
What is good?
What is bad?

What idea of good and evil should we have? It’s like when you go to a prison and the prisoners say: “Oh, they didn’t teach us about any commandments… We didn’t go to church…” “Okay, so what now?” I ask. “Did you have to steal? Kill? What are you in jail for?” They look at you, the conversation is so direct, and they don’t try to prevaricate: “For a crime,” they answer. “Why did you do it? Because you didn’t have the Gospel?” They sit silent, blinking. “Are you a human or what? Don’t you have a conscience?” He nods.

Everything is great here! Glory to God! And how are things there in the world?”

Hierodeacon Iliodor Hierodeacon Iliodor A godless ideology gives rise to crimes, obviously—there’s nothing to say here. They killed the tsar—the head of the people. They ravaged the Church—the soul of the people. They cut off the head, the soul leaves—and the body starts to stink. So I find it funny when they ask: “So why did you leave the world and go to a monastery?” What do you think I left in the world? Misery and sadness. You can’t look at it without tears: “Sasha! It’s Vasya. Hello! What are you doing?” “Nothing. You?” “Me too.” “Alright, goodbye!” “Goodbye!” “Hello, Masha! What are you doing?” “Nothing.” “Me too.” “Take care!” “Yup, see ya!” And the same thing hundreds of times? Movies, wine, dominoes? All kinds of cursing. Misery and sadness… I call everyone in the world “martyrs.”

You go to a monastery, and everything is fine. “Batiushka! How are things there?” “Everything is great here! Glory to God! And how are things there in the world?” “Oi, we came to see you in Optina. Just for two days. We’re already leaving. We have to gather our things real quick. We’re running off already. How nice it is in Optina. It’s so good.” Well, then stay.” “No, no, no, we’re in a rush. We have things to do.” Yeah, I know your things. You leave: business, business, and then you return with eyes as big as saucers: That’s business in the world—God forbid!

May God grant us repentance.

Hierodeacon Iliodor (Gairiyants)
Translation by Jesse Dominick


1 Gennady Zyuganov—a Russian communist politician who has been the General Secretary of the Communist Party and a member of the State Duma since 1993—Trans.

2 Meaning these things can’t really be enjoyed as they are intended because of the continuing problems—Trans.

3 Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky—leader of the Cheka and one of the architects of the Red Terror—Trans.

4 A Church-run hospital in Moscow—Trans.

5 This is a reference to Pushkin’s “A Tale about a Fisherman and a Fish,” in which a woman continually sends her husband to go find a golden fish that grants wishes, but she is never satisfied.—Trans.

6 Pavlik Morozov: a 13-year-old boy who informed on his father and was killed by his family for it. He was praised as a soviet martyr and his story was used to teach children to inform on their relatives.—Trans.

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