How the Elders taught us
Schema-Archimandrite Gregory (Davydov) Vladyka Alexei was strict, especially when it came to Communion. Schema-Archimandrite Gregory (Davydov), his first spiritual father, taught him this when he was still young in the spiritual sense. And he wouldn’t let him in! Sometimes he would even drive him away. “I would stand at the door for three hours,” Vladyka recalled, “and he wouldn’t receive me. He would drive me out, and I would cry. As I was leaving, I’d turn around, and he’d be standing there, blessing, and I’d start weeping…”
Sometimes I’d ask Vladyka:
“Do you know how much pain you cause?”
And he would stare at me:
“I don’t know? I don’t know that?!”
“Well, if you knew, you wouldn’t be so hurtful…”
And his eyes were laughing. He knew exactly what he was doing, precisely because he’d experienced it all himself. But he sensitively regulated the level of pain. At first he would just lightly scrub... I remember, we were sitting, talking with Vladyka, and some soldiers were supposed to come see him. He pointed to me and said:
“Just sit here while they’re here.”
He’d respect you this way, and you’d just be bursting [with pride]. He’d wait for the right moment, and then suddenly say:
“You’ve had enough of sitting here, now go.”
You’d get up in front of everyone and leave, and they’d just watch you go, silently.
Or I’d approach Vladyka to commune in the first week of Great Lent, on Wednesday (he’d bless me beforehand), and I’d think: “I’ll commune now just to regain my strength, and then I’ll commune again on the Triumph of Orthodoxy.” It was time for Communion soon, and I approached the Crucifix: “Lord, if he [Vladyka Alexei]doesn’t commune me, give me strength and patience to not be offended and to endure the test.” I was the last one to approach the chalice, and Vladyka said:
“When are you going to commune—now or on the Triumph of Orthodoxy?”
“As you bless,” I mumbled.
“On the Triumph of Orthodoxy.”
I turned around, and the whole church was looking. I was trying to restrain myself as I was walking back with a smile on my face. I didn’t even approach the table with the warm wine after Communion. I should have at least taken a drink with some prosphora. But I was trying my best to hold on, smiling, and then I finally got to my cell, whereI don’t even know how much I cried.
It’s as if all this moisture is squeezed from your soul, you’re squeezed dry—and then you’re completely different.
Reproved on the Sunday of the Cross
But actually, we were used to all of this kind of testing since childhood. Vladyka would sometimes tell us: “You know everything yourselves, you’ve seen elders; you understand who to take an example from. Don’t ease up, looking around at the behavior of others.” Once, my sister and I went to see Elder Hilarion of Glinsk. At first Vladyka wouldn’t let us go, but I explained:
“Fr. Hilarion called for us.”
Then he blessed us to go.
St. Andronik (Lukash) Fr. Hilarion wasn’t a simple man. He was the first spiritual child of Fr. Andronik (Lukash). I remember when we arrived it was during a strict fast, the week of the Veneration of the Cross. They’d bake a cross out of flour and water for Fr. Hilarion, and give him a glass of water too. He himself was nothing but bones and a cassock. He always sat in a separate room—God forbid he would sit with women at the table, like Vladyka Alexei. Fr. Hilarion was very strict.
He was in charge of the choir at the Glinsk Hermitage. He was about 6.5 feet tall. We called him “Little Ivanchik” (he was named Ivan in the world). His voice was incomparable—you couldn’t hear such a voice anywhere else. How he would sing, “Let my prayer arise…”—falling to his knees in the little Glinsk Hermitage church with all his height! His head in the altar, and his feet closer to the exit of the church.
He would read all twenty kathismas in his cell at night, and then the services would last all day when he served. He always read the entire Psalter every day. He would hear Confessions without stopping. And not one, but two at a time. He’d say:
“Don’t be shy. Tell me your sins.”
And then he’d shame you:
“But you broke the fast!”
We had been munching on a loaf of bread on the way to see him.
And he explained that it had oil on it. Oil isn’t called for on the Sunday of the Cross, but they put oil on top the loaf when baking it. Such strictness the fathers had! And we all wondered, what was the need to nitpick? He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much (Lk. 16:10).
It was like in Paradise, where even the beasts fasted. And outside the fraternal meals, the bishops ate nothing
Schema-Archimandrite Vitaly (Sidorenko) Schema-Archimandrite Vitaly (Sidorenko) never spoke at all on Holy Friday. And food was out of the question. The rule at Novospassky Monastery was, in comparison with the Glinsk Hermitage and its “branch” (as the fathers called the settlement of Glinsk fathers in Tbilisi), a little freer.
And they write about Batiushka Vitaly that even his cat didn’t eat meat. And who would have offered meat to the cat when Batiushka never even smelled meat? It was known that even as a child, he wouldn’t eat even lenten soup if his mother stirred with a spoon that had been used in meat. With Fr. Vitaly, we ate fish and eggs only on Nativity. We thought it was so nourishing. Trapeza would be just tomatoes and cucumbers. Even his cats were fasters—they didn’t want to fast but they did.
Vladyka Alexei had a lot in common with Fr. Vitaly, even externally: how they ran, or how they would extend their hand—it was a one-to-one comparison. He would sit with the women at table just like Batiushka. But where else would you see a bishop eating at the same table as women? We were surprised: How is it that Vladyka is sitting with us? And he would eat without any frills. I remember they gave him borsch that was sour, not good at all. He took a spoon, but he couldn’t eat—apparently he had stomach problems.
“Bless, Vladyka, I’ll eat your borsch,” I said with a hankering for soup.
He ate some macaroni and left. One time he was served pelmeni, and he asked:
“Did the brothers eat pelmeni?”
They were silent, and he just left them there.
“Never has Vladyka welcomed me like he did this time…”
And the refrigerator in Vladyka Alexei’s chambers was always empty too. One time I arrived from the train, seven in the morning, and the monastery hotel was locked. I had nowhere to stay. I sat down in the garden among the bushes, waiting. Vladyka didn’t return to the monastery till close to four in the afternoon. I went out to meet him, and he said:
“Where are you coming from? When did you arrive?”
“In the morning.”
“Let’s go, and don’t bring this bag,” he said, and we left it with the guards.
We went up to his chambers; I opened the refrigerator and saw a bottle of kefir and two small rolls, already getting stale. Other than that, there was nothing in the fridge.
“Eat,” he said.
I somehow felt ashamed.
“You must be hungry too…”
“I told you to eat.”
And I saw he was already pouring the kefir. He put a roll on the table, and I ate it. Vladyka grabbed the key to the guesthouse and took me there. He carried my bag and put it down there. “Never,” I thought, “has Vladyka welcomed me like he did this time…” I fell asleep and slept until about eight. Apparently my blood pressure wasn’t quite right then. I didn’t feel well.
Then he came to check on me:
“How is she?”
“She’s sleeping,” they told him.
So of course, Vladyka also took care of us.
We were sitting in the trapeza one time, for some feast:
“Andronika, would you like some salmon? On white bread?”
“I’m just having borsch.”
“Eat. No one but me is going to give you anything.”
So I ate it. That’s how my whole life went. Vladyka saw and understood everything.
Help always arrived
And things like this happened too. I remember telling him:
“Vladyka, we have no money. Our nephew took a loan to buy a car, and now they’re demanding he pay it back. We don’t know where to borrow the money from.”
“I don’t have any money,” Vladyka said.
“I know, I’m not asking for money. I’m asking for your prayers.”
“You know better how to pray. Go to the Mother of God and St. Nicholas.”
I went to the icon of the Queen of All and prayed. As I was walking away, I saw a woman coming from England, Maria:
“Can you tell me how to find Andronika?”
“Here’s some money for you.”
It was quite a lot for that time. Vladyka just laughed when heard about it:
“I see you’re good at weeping!”
But in fact, he prayed and immediately someone appeared.
Or, I remember once I didn’t have enough to buy a ticket to Glukhov in Ukraine.
“Fr. Jacob, lend me some money.”
“Go ask Vladyka.”
I went up to see Vladyka.
“I’m leaving,” I said. “Bless me.”
He looked carefully:
“Is that everything?”
“Well, yes, basically… I came to say goodbye…”
“And I’m asking you: Is that everything?”
“I’ll ask you for the last time: If that’s everything, why’d they send you here?”
“I wanted to borrow some money from Fr. Jacob, but he didn’t give me any.”
Then I saw Vladyka writing: “Give Andronika 500 rubles.”
“What, you wrote 500? I only need 200.”
“It’s for you to come here again,” he said, kissing my head and giving me the piece of paper.
The Lord always arranged everything. I have a meager pension, but still, when times were tough, help always came. How many of his boots and sweaters Vladyka gave us; how many cassocks, icons. As soon as some problem arose—it was all somehow resolved.
“You don’t have to get tonsured by the Glinsk fathers—there’s Fr. Alexei”
“How can I get to see him?”
“Come tomorrow at eleven and I’ll take you.”
I got there, and things had changed for Vladyka:
“You know, I can’t go. Go yourself.”
“And where can I find him there?”
“You’ll find him yourself. Ask someone there where Batiushka is receiving people. Take his blessing.”
“Where is Peredelkino?” I thought indecisively. “Where should I go?” We’re not Muscovites.
“Go with God,” he blessed.
I went to the Kiev Train Station and took a train to Peredelkino. I saw a nun, and I followed her. She turned off somewhere, and I saw a boy chopping ice.
“I’m going to see Fr. Kirill,” I said.
“People wait three days for Fr. Kirill there. He’s receiving people over there by the baptismal font,” he said pointing.
I went in—there were a gazillion people. I was standing there, the sweat pouring down me—wearing a coat inside the building. I arrived at 12:00, and it was already 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 5:00… Batiushka got up and said:
“I’m going to eat, and then I’ll see more people.”
They took him away. By 6:00 he wasn’t back, 7:00… Batiushka returned at 8:00. People were standing there. It should have been my turn. There was a girl standing in front of me. I had no strength left.
“I’m from Ukraine,” I babbled hopelessly.
“We’re from far away too, from the north,” she said, turning around. “I have a traumatic brain injury, and I have to ask for a blessing for an operation. But I’ll wait for you then,” she promised, scrutinizing my modest appearance. “I have a car; I’ll give you a ride.”
She went in, and a priest went in right after her. They let him in without waiting. Then I saw that Fr. Kirill had confessed both the girl and the priest, and the people were pressing, pushing me aside:
“I’m from Fr. Vitaly!” I blurted out.
Fr. Kirill suddenly perked up when he heard me. He pushed everyone to the side. We worked out all my issues. And I asked my final question—about monasticism. Fr. Kirill replied:
“You don’t have to get tonsured by the Glinsk fathers, there’s Fr. Alexei,” that is, he recognized him as the heir to the Glinsk tradition.
Schema-Archimandrite Iliy (Nozdrin) later
told said to me there in Peredelkino about Vladyka Alexei:
“He’s a statesman . Why are you asking him to pray for you? Work it out yourself.”
Then everything went like clockwork for me afterwards. The people who had promised to give me a ride took me all the way to my door (I was staying with some friends in Vykhino then). The next day, I went to see Fr. Alexei, and he laughed, as if he’d already known everything.
“Thanks for taking me,” I said sarcastically.
“No, no, I’m going by train.”
We arrived in Murmansk and sold the apartment within five minutes. The guy found us himself; he came to give us the money. We just signed the papers, got on the train, and rode back.
I was praying to the She Who is Quick to Hear Icon of the Mother of God the whole time—as Fr. Andronik blessed.
One in black among those in gold
His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II and Archbishop Alexei (Frolov). Procession on Red Square on the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Here’s my final story. On the feast of the Equals-to-the-Apostles Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Vladyka Alexei was serving at Novospassky Monastery, and then the people gathered for the cross procession—citywide—but he didn’t take me with him. I rushed to the Kremlin myself. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill was serving there. Although the Liturgy was already over, some people were waiting for the Patriarch and then followed after him. Wherever he went, we went. We walked to Red Square, and there was a special rope set up. I saw all the fathers were lifting it up and going under, and I went after them…
And everything was fine, but suddenly all the fathers turned around all at once—and we were all in plain view. But I didn’t immediately understand why Vladyka Alexei was staring at me like that, standing there in the distance with all the bishops. He was standing and looking. I bowed my head, praying. I lifted my eyes, looked at His Holiness, and lowered them again. Then someone tapped me on the shoulder and said:
“Where did you come from? How’d you get here?”
“From the Kremlin,” I said.
I turned around, and froze: “It’s-the-po-lice…” But before I could even be scared, he himself suddenly shot up straight. He even faltered when he heard about the Kremlin and pulled his hand back. Then I looked around: It turns out all the fathers (many, many of them) were standing all around me in golden vestments, and only I stood out. “One in black one among all them in gold,” as my sister later said to me. “Oy,” I thought, but I didn’t know what to do: The fathers were standing around me like a wall, and I didn’t want to rush around the front flank in front of everyone. So I just stood there.
The cop was also standing nearby, as with an important guest, and didn’t know what to do.
“Aren’t you hot?” he suddenly asked.
“I am,” I said.
Then he went to get me some water. And Vladyka was watching all of this.
But the moleben was already ending, and then I asked the policeman:
“Walk me out.”
He led me all the way to the subway, and even let me enter for free. I rode to Proletarsky Station, I was walking calmly, and I was already approaching the holy gates of Novospassky, when suddenly… a familiar car, and the window rolling down so slowly. Vladyka shook his fist at me, and I smiled at him. That’s how our life was.
He talked all about overcoming himself—this is important in ascetic terms. But when we parted for the final time, realizing that we wouldn’t see one another again in this life, he said:
“Stay just the way you are.”