“There were spiritual fathers in those times”

A talk with Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov), reposed May 7, 2020. Part 1

Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov): September 10, 1938—May 7, 2020 Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov): September 10, 1938—May 7, 2020 I met with Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov), the father-confessor of the Convent of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple in the city of Ivanovo (Russia), a famous pastor and preacher, at its dependency in Moscow, in a homey atmosphere, to write down his recollections. I hadn’t seen him for over fifty years before that meeting. Fr. Ambrose had blessed me when I was a baby in my parents’ arms at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, in Sergiev Posad, the town where I was born and raised. Back then he was a monk at the Monastery of St. Sergius, and my father worked as the assistant inspector at the Moscow Theological Academy. Fr. Ambrose was the spiritual father of the famous Radonezh Orthodox Radio Station; he often spoke on the radio, recorded numerous programs, answering questions from listeners. He published many books and booklets, which in a simple and surprisingly bright language testify to the truth of Orthodoxy, to the beauty and significance of the Orthodox faith and worship. Nourishing many spiritual children, Fr. Ambrose belonged to the circle of legendary pastors whose names are on everyone’s lips: Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov), Archimandrite Naum (Baiborodin), Archimandrite Tikhon (Agrikov) and a host of other elders who were his teachers. With simple, often popular and ingenuous words, Fr. Ambrose not only denounced sin, but penetrated into the penitent’s soul, expelling tears of repentance from the sinner and the readiness to trust completely the father-confessor, who, behind outward severity always had complete and perfect love. And this love was not unrequited. He lived simply, attracting many to Christ by this simplicity.

—Everything in my life has been so interesting since childhood and school. I was summoned to the teachers’ room and to the principal’s office because I wore a cross and went to church.

Did you come from a religious family?

—My mother had seven children, but my father was killed in 1941 in WWII. We lived in a dug-out and almost died of hunger. But the Lord saved us.

But since you wore a cross, you had probably heard something about God before...

—My mother believed in God. I served in the army, was an athlete and participated in many sports. When I returned from the army, I began to go to church frequently. And the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the City Executive Committee of the Communist Party became interested in me and wrote in newspapers: “Why is it that such a young person goes to church?” It was a terrible persecution.

Now one might think: “Why did it bother them? What did they want from you? After all, it was possible to be free if society was free.”

—Those people were in the power of the devil, who acted through them. They were good, but unrepentant. So they did evil things, but what was meant for evil the Lord used for good. They invited an atheist to talk to me. After I had talked with him for four hours, he said jokingly: “It is useless to talk to you. You have only one way out—to go to seminary!” I asked him: “What is seminary?” I lived in Siberia, I didn’t know... “It’s where future priests are trained!” I took it seriously. I went on vacation, travelled to the St. Sergius Lavra, and they said to me there: “Prepare the documents.” It is a very long story.

The Lavra had been reopened shortly before [in 1946.—Trans.], right?

—Yes. So the authorities, though very reluctantly, “let me go.” I entered the seminary and studied for ten years. True, for this I took a sabbatical leave to extend the period of my studies. There were many temptations... At first there was Pochaev Lavra, and there were temptations there too—hordes of demons attacked and persecuted us. The time came when fifteen priests and forty novices were “escorted” from the monastery. By that time I had been almost totally exhausted because from morning to evening there were a lot of people around (I was a guide). So I had to go to the village of Zharki to restore my health.

Archimandrite Naum (Baiborodin) Archimandrite Naum (Baiborodin) Please tell us about the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra: what kind of people were there? You’ve described many in detail, so maybe you have special memories of some of them?

—As a seminarian I thought that I must have a spiritual father. One day as I was praying in the church to St. Sergius I thought: “I’ll go below the Dormition Cathedral (there was an underground church there)—maybe the Lord will send me a spiritual father there.” I went inside when all the father confessors were in their places. I thought: “Whoever I come across first will be my spiritual father.” I was standing, waiting, and looking. Suddenly Father Naum (Baiborodin) came out, and I heard a voice inside me: “Here’s your spiritual father!” And by the grace of God he became my spiritual father.

He was still young, wasn’t he?

—Yes, he was about fifty. But he was very strict. I will tell you one story. Once I was told to conduct general confessions at night. In the evening after the service when I was conducting a general confession, I saw five or six analogions (lecterns) in church. After the general confession, priests were coming in. I thought that I should hear everyone’s confessions and open the St. Sergius Church in the morning. I heard confessions for a long time, but the number of people kept growing. I saw that the priests had already gone because they had to serve, but I was to stay there till the morning!

Then I heard Fr. Naum call all to confession. I left the people and went below the Dormition Cathedral, and there were 200 people there! He suddenly said in front of everyone: “Father Ambrose, shame on you! You are asleep! Look, 200 people are standing here. If you need an hour for each one, then you need 200 hours!” I replied: “I’m sorry!” And I hadn’t even slept yet.

Didn’t you make excuses to him?

—There was no point. I began to hear confessions, and stayed there until two in the morning. Then I had a meal and quickly proceeded to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where I was to stand on duty. And I didn’t sleep at night at all. The altar had to be tidied up: when the clergy came on Sunday, the akathist hymn to St. Sergius was read. I went to St. Nikon’s side-chapel, took the vestments and prepared them. Then we served and sang the akathist together and I brought all the vestments back to St. Nikon’s side-chapel. Now the church needed to be tidied up inside: All the icon lamps had to be cleaned, oil had to be poured into them, the St. Sergius shrine had to be prepared and wiped down—soon the midnight service was to start. I came to my cell at eleven o’clock without having any sleep—for a whole day!

Fr. Naum would say: “You’re an athlete, a Siberian—you have to be strong, so it’s okay.1 Choose one of two alternatives: Either work in the mines or work for God, enduring all this!” I said: “Bless and forgive me…” In the end I had only ten percent of my health left. And Fr. Naum told me, “Help me hear confessions!” It got to the point where I could no longer stand on my feet. I told him about that, and he replied: “Why are you so weak?”

The shrine with the relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh The shrine with the relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh So, by the grace of God, I had to obey.

There was another story. Our Prof. Igumen Mark (Lozinsky) died aged about forty. One day I saw him in a dream, in which I was standing at the table of oblation and praying, “Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy departed servant, Igumen Mark, and forgive him all sins both voluntary and involuntary.” Then I saw him open the altar door, come in and make three prostrations in front of the altar table. I realized that he had come from another realm and decided to ask him what I should do to be saved. Then he kissed the altar table, the cross on the altar table, and made three prostrations again.

I went up to him and said: “Fr. Mark, what should I do to be saved?” He looked at me and said, “Obey your spiritual father in everything—and you will be saved!” And I had to obey him for ten years.

Did Fr. Naum have many spiritual children?

—He had very many spiritual children. Now many of them are dead. When both Fr. Naum and I were given Church awards, I saw that first the gold cross was removed from the elder and a jeweled cross was given to him. Then they came up to me, took Fr. Naum’s cross (though there were many other crosses) and put it on me. I thought: “Well, that means that I will have to bear all the burdens. As Fr. Naum endures, so will I.”

It was still the USSR. How did the Lavra and the monks live? Was there any harassment by the authorities?

—It was not so obvious. It used to be like this: Two people would stand in the middle of the Lavra, one looking in one direction, and the other in the opposite direction. I saw right away that these were KGB officers.

What were they looking for?

—Well, they were making sure that people did not approach priests in great numbers. And if a priest had many spiritual children, he was persecuted—they would say something negative about him.

Archimandrite Tikhon (Agrikov) Archimandrite Tikhon (Agrikov) You wrote about Fr. Tikhon (Agrikov)—he was later driven out of the Lavra. He too had many spiritual children, didn’t he?

—He had so many spiritual children that whenever he went to St. Sergius’s relics, he was accompanied by two students. Because about five women (aged about thirty) didn’t give him peace, pestering him all the time. So much so that he even covered his face with a mantle and walked like that.

Once he spent a night at the academy. It was spring, and the windows were open. One of his “fans” found a ladder somewhere and climbed it up to get into his cell. Then she took a razor and cut the veins in her arm! Fr. Tikhon ran downstairs, called an ambulance and the woman was taken away. So he had terrible temptations.

Do you think it was a provocation organized by the authorities, or were they just sick people?

—I think they were insane.

What was Fr. Tikhon like? Did he have any special gifts of the Holy Spirit?

—I followed him a little—when he went upstairs to the lecture hall, he would stand on the first step with such attention, then on the second, then on the third… I realized that he probably had such inner prayer, the prayer of the heart, that he didn’t want to get distracted.

He would come to our classes at six in the evening when everybody was gathering. He would talk with us as a good pastor on various topics. For example, what should a priest do if he has come to a dying person? If he or she is lying there, barely breathing and unable to speak. We admitted that we didn’t know what should be done in such cases.

“You must take a mirror, place it against his lips and find out whether he is breathing and has a pulse or not. Then you must establish contact with this person, asking, ‘Can you hear me?’, So he would at least give a sign with his finger that he can hear you. Then confession can be done.” He explained such critical moments to us.

He said that one must endure both reproaches and insults from people and pay no attention to anything like that because evil spirits can speak through people.

This is what I once saw: a woman came to confession to Fr. Tikhon and shouted in everybody’s presence: “Father Tikhon, you’ve healed me!” He said to her: “Get out, don’t tempt people! Only the Lord heals, not me!” These were provocations.

As for students of that time, were they for the most part believers? Or were there outsiders?

—I know that students had experienced this demonic and satanic power, having already been through the mill and suffered much. So their faith was strong and firm. And Fr. Tikhon helped greatly—he gave them good instructions. Of all the teachers, Prof. Alexei Osipov helped the most. Especially when seminarians would return from vacations and many were relaxed. He would give a talk that would encourage them, so that they would all begin to read the Gospel again and pray. And, of course, Fr. Tikhon taught and gave very good advice.

Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov) Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov) At the beginning of a lesson, he would be silent for a while, pray, and then he would say: “Fathers, just imagine: a desert. A man walks in the wilderness, with his sheep following him. He has a staff in his hands. He leans on this staff, searching for water. He Looks everywhere around, and when he finds water, he goes there to water the whole flock. The staff is pastoral guidance—we priests must master it and rely on it; the sheep are people—we must help them to be saved.”

Was Fr. Konstantin (Ruzhitsky) the rector of the academy at that time?

—No, the rector was Vladyka Philaret (Vakhromeev), later Metropolitan of Minsk, and he was succeeded by Vladyka Vladimir (Sabodan), later His Beatitude Metropolitan of Kiev.

How were services celebrated at the Academy?

—By the grace of God, first I settled in, and then I asked the inspector: “May I go to the St. Sergius Church for the midnight service?” He said, “Yes, you may.”

I would run there, stand through the midnight service, and then come to the church of the academy just before the beginning of the Liturgy. I would stand through the Liturgy, after which I had a little time to get ready. My memory is poor. So I would prepare, and when they asked me I answered them. The Lord helped me.

Then the deputy abbot, Archimandrite Theodorit (Vorobyev), who tried to size me up and saw that I attended the midnight service, said to me: “Do you want to join the monastery?” I said: “Bless me, father!” So I joined the monastery.

They say that Fr. Theodorit was a very good preacher.

—Very good. He had a physical handicap, his tongue was slightly damaged. He may have suffered from the authorities—he was in prison at one time.

He gave very good sermons. I always came (I knew what time he would speak) and wrote something down for myself. I thought, “It may come in handy someday.”

So there were preachers, there were spiritual fathers in those times. And I really don’t know what kind of students and spirit are in the academy now.

You have already spoken a little about Fr. Naum. What was special about him? They say that he was very strict and sent many to monasteries. Was it really so?

—I heard about it, sometimes it was the case. He told me that he had revelations from God. And people felt the genuine spirit of Orthodoxy and flocked to him.

And at that time he was already praying the Jesus prayer without ceasing?

—He just had this prayer in his heart. He didn’t reveal this to anyone. He advised even to those travelling to work to read the Jesus Prayer frequently. He told me personally: “You can read simply: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ But you can also read in a different way—just as a hungry person asks for bread: ‘Give me bread! I am hungry!’ So it comes from the bottom of your heart: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ Such a prayer will be especially useful for a person.”

Part 2

Nicholai Bulchuk
spoke with Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov)
Translation by Dmitry Lapa



1 Fr. Naum, incidentally, was also from Siberia.—OC.

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