The year 2020 brought us an avalanche of inconceivable events, the source (something we’re not likely to find out anytime soon) and the consequences of which was the worldwide epidemic of a mysterious flu, particularly dangerous for the elderly. It took from us the best, the most beloved, and truly popular Russian priests known probably all over the Orthodox world. One of them was Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov). He had over eighty years allotted to him—an age the Bible deems sufficient to prepare a man’s soul for eternity—and batiushka made the most of his time giving himself wholeheartedly to God and people. As Fr. Ambrose used to say, he couldn’t remember a time in his life when he had no faith in God, because he was born to religious parents who raised their children in faith from birth.
The village where he was born had the heartwarming name of Ogny (meaning “lights” in Russian.—Trans.), but he had to endure cold, hunger, and deprivation from a very young age. His father died during the first months of the war and then, as batiushka would explain later, their mother and her small children had to spend the winter in a dugout. They had practically nothing to eat but potato peels and they felt lucky when they had at least that.
Batiushka was tonsured a monk at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra before he was twenty-eight and passed away at eighty-one in the rank of archimandrite. With the blessing of his father-confessor he resided in the Pochaev Lavra, but when the communists threatened to close the Lavra, he received his father confessor’s blessing to stay with some monks in the Caucasus Mountains for a while
He lived in a few other places, but at the beginning of the 1980s he was assigned to serve at a parish church in a small village of Ivanovo Province bearing another heartwarming name—“Zharki” (derived from the Russian word “hot.”—Trans.). Orthodox faithful from Moscow would live there during the summer months, and that’s where the now well-known Radio “Radonezh” was conceived. Batiushka blessed this landmark initiative and remained its father confessor to the end of his life. He held weekly live broadcasts on “Radonezh”, in which he would patiently answer questions from listeners and often, to make a point, shared wondrous stories from his life and spiritual practice. Here is one of them.
Anytime he visited Moscow, batiushka stayed in the apartment of one of his spiritual children. One day he was at home alone and needed to call someone. People only had landline telephones at the time. Batiushka picked up the receiver, brought it to his ear, and was about to dial the number when he suddenly heard a conversation between two unknown callers. This sort of thing would happen, albeit rarely, due to certain disruptions at the telephone exchange—phone lines would intersect and you could hear people talking. He was about to put down the receiver when he suddenly heard his name as the subject of an emotionally charged exchange. It got Fr. Ambrose interested, so he tuned in.
Two men were talking about his recently published book, and one of them was arguing heatedly that one of the described events was absolutely impossible since such a thing could never happen in the first place.
“I’ll never believe such a story!” he insisted dramatically. “It simply can’t happen because it’s impossible!”
His counterpart was trying to argue in favor of the described event but he didn’t fare too well.
“It’s sheer nonsense and you naively believe it! No one can convince me otherwise!” His opponent was all worked up. “I’m not a child to believe in such a coincidence. Sure, such things do happen but nothing like the ones invented by the author of this book. Besides, we are supposed to believe that by sheer chance, some hardened atheist turns up at the entrance of a church! Listen, it’s nothing but undiluted and painfully obvious propaganda. My advice to you: Stop getting taken in by these fairy-tales—no good will come of it!”
That’s when Fr. Ambrose decided it was time for him to join the conversation
And he went on and on like this. That’s when Fr. Ambrose decided it was time for him to join the conversation:
“I beg your pardon,” he said, “but everything written in this book is true and none of the stories are made up.”
The people on the other line lost their breath and then fell silent for a moment.
“And who are you?! Why did you butt into our conversation?” the hot-tempered one had obviously gathered his forces and now attacked batiushka.
“All I wanted to do was to make a phone call, so I picked up the receiver and then heard you talking. I am sorry, but it seems it was God’s will for me to be able to proclaim the truth to you. I am ready to explain in great detail everything related to the story you were discussing.”
“All right, even if we can believe you were connected to our line by chance and happened to read the book we were discussing, you can’t say that everything we just discussed isn’t a lie! Only the author of the book himself can make that claim!”
“But I am the author, no matter how odd that may sound to you,” Fr. Ambrose said. “Besides, I have to admit, I am no less surprised than you by such a fortuitous coincidence. But as believers, we know that there is no “random chance”, not even the smallest.
“Well, but it’s unthinkable! You are a charlatan!” fumed the hotheaded debater with renewed vigor, and even his counterpart voiced his discontent: “Who are you taking us for? Isn’t it already a one-off event when two people holding a telephone discussion about a particular book encounter a cross-talk problem—only to find out they were overheard by no less than the author of that book himself? Seriously? Tell me another one!”
By the end of the conversation, Fr. Ambrose’s interlocutors indicated their willingness to meet him in person
“I fully understand your bewilderment and indignation,” batiushka replied. “Nevertheless, this is what has happened. We can discuss the book right now, and not only I am willing to do everything in my power to settle the confusion regarding the contents of this book, but I can also attest to my authorship using all means available in the current situation.”
They talked for over an hour, and by the end of their conversation, not only did Fr. Ambrose’s interlocutors’ mien change from indignation to genuine interest and gratitude, but they also indicated their willingness to meet him in person.
Their meeting did take place and it soon produced rather significant results.
“As Holy Hierarch Philaret (Drozdov) said, ‘Whoever believes in chance doesn’t believe in God.’ There is another expression: ‘Chance is one of God’s pseudonyms.” My personal experience gives me compelling reasons to agree with these two statements.” With this, Fr. Ambrose concluded his exceptional story.