“A grace-filled elder, anyone?” mysteriously whispered in my ear a strange-looking old lady, looking like a medieval pilgrim in disguise.
I was standing in line to get food at the refectory of a convent in the Kaluga Region. Our family had a summer cottage located nearby. That’s where I was approached with this phenomenal offer.
“Well….errr…I’m not sure….” I said in bewilderment.
“Okay, take your time, sweetie, think it over,” the medieval granny consoled me.
I put my thinking cap on while she went on to lure other women standing in line in front of me.
“Sister, need a blessed elder? Really huge on miracles,” she whispered to a hefty woman in a beautiful printed scarf. “A true man of prayer, one in a million. He’s fresh from seclusion.”
“And how much do you want for your elder?” out of the blue asked a lady in front of me
“And how much do you want for your elder?” suddenly asked the hefty lady.
The old woman sheepishly pulled on her prayer beads and, darting awkward glances, mysteriously tipped her the wink. Or, maybe it was just some kind of a mimic spasm.
“No, really, how much do elders go for these days?” a lady in a colorful scarf wouldn’t quiet down.
“The blessed elder works for free,” murmured the old woman. “You can’t serve God and the mammon. But you can make donations for vestments, or a meal, or the sick and the suffering…”
“Aha, I see now…” uttered the woman. Then, she suddenly grabbed hold of the old lady and carried her outside as if she were light as a feather.
I have no idea what they were talking about out there but I saw in a window how the elderly sales agent with elders for sale took off and fled the monastery grounds at top cruising speed. A portly lady returned and nonchalantly took her place in the line. All you could see were her cheek muscles flexing.
You can understand that I simply couldn’t leave it be—my curiosity was oozing over. And, when I was finally able to get my food, I joined the formidable lady at her table.
“I am sorry, but what was that all about? Why did you chase her away?” I asked her using my sweetest voice—just in case, so I wouldn’t be next to be carried outside.
“Well, I happened to have trouble in the past. After that, every time I hear about “grace-filled elders,” I am on the verge of committing homicide…”
That’s how I met Olga.
Each and every new word is a new prophecy
Olga divorced fifteen years ago. Her daughter was only a few months old. Her ex left her for another woman and never took any interest in the life of his child.
She took time to cry out her sorrow and let it fizzle out. But then she had to start her life anew and bring up her daughter. She got her act together and began working from home at first. A few years later, Olga was already a small business owner. She didn’t have a seven-figure income, but, to put it mildly, there was money and some more to spare. It also helped that her baby went to pre-school at the time. So, she got it all under control.
That was when Olga took her first steps as an Orthodox Christian, with all the consequences that come with being a neophyte. Prayer beads three feet long, a skirt to the floor, fasting till you faint, endless akathists read in a monotone, a sin here and even more sins there. And not a breath without your spiritual father’s blessing. Spiritual life on the verge of death.
Olga has learned that in some parts unknown, there are real God-pleasing elders who can scan you inside out as if with an X-Ray machine
What’s more, she heard all kinds of stories about elders. These stories were mostly generated in the minds of well-meaning women. She was delighted to learn that in some parts unknown, there are real God-pleasing elders who can scan you inside out as if with an X-Ray machine. Any word they say is a prophecy. Once they begin to pray, mountains melt and turn to open seas.
So, Olga resolved that she’ll die if she doesn’t see one. In terms of making financial investments, the times weren’t too easy in a down economy. Her small business was at risk and she had no other income sources. Thus, she wanted to find out from the elder what she should do next.
It’s not that she was chasing after mammon—God forbid! As a newly minted Christian, she already heard about the camel and the needle’s eye and was terrified at the prospects of missing her chance to get to the Kingdom of Heaven. But she also wanted to know about God’s will in her life. Should she continue in the same direction or start working elsewhere?
Another thing: She was afraid to admit it to herself, but she did want to be married again. But this time around, everything has to be different and strictly in line with the Orthodox traditions. A husband who is a practicing Orthodox—ideally, a bearded one. And so that they would become one flesh right away, they will be saved by childbearing and build their home church at its finest. No, not just a church, a full-blown cathedral!
“But who will take you, a single mother,” grandma Manya, the candle-seller in her church, sighed sympathetically.
But what if an elder says a prayer—and someone will only be too happy to marry her! Fr. Boris was the local parish priest, but although a man advanced in years he didn’t quite look like an elder. Nothing of the sort—no clairvoyance or miraculous healings… He’d just say a couple of banalities and that’s it. Not a single miracle according to his prayer. And who knows, is it actually prayer, or what if it’s not?! No energy exchange, no Orthodox vibes. Nothing but deadly boring lukewarmness.
“You should chase after an elder…”
And so Olga decided to seek out those mysterious miracle workers. Suddenly, as if on cue, an elderly woman came to their church—quite an airy-fairy. And she wouldn’t quit ranting about a certain mighty and grace-filled elder. An elder to die for! One with all possible and impossible spiritual blessings.
According to her, this mighty elder resided in an unremarkable church on the outskirts of one of the Golden Ring towns near Moscow where Olga, without thinking twice, took off with all the ardor of a neophyte soul. But her “elder agent” warned that it’s not that easy for newcomers to have an audience with him, much less to be a part of his spiritual flock. Moreover, he handpicked them among the most enlightened ones. Whenever they misbehaved—he would part with them without regret. He couldn’t tolerate the godless. But Olga firmly decided to achieve a longed-for audience and rushed to see him, taking her daughter with her.
This priest did present himself like a true elder: His silky beard was broad and thick, he walked steadily and his voice sounded like thunder. But when he glanced at you—you could easily melt into the ground. And there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t scan you even down there.
At first he treated Olga icily. Especially when her little daughter ran around the church childishly breaking all possible and impossible Orthodox rules of behavior. He casually blessed her as he staidly went by. He frowned at her little girl and uttered something indistinct, only to keep marching on, minding his special elder’s business, his black vestments flowing behind.
He grew seriously interested in talking to Olga as soon she mentioned her business. He became quite animated once he heard about it
“The old lady said this is how he checks out all the newcomers,” Olga recalled. “It’s the same when Christ tested the Canaanite woman when He compared her with a dog. But since she acted with humility, Christ used her as an example to everyone else. We must chase after the blessed elder with all our might, and then he, God willing, will show mercy.”
So Olga chased after him shouting:
“Batiushka, batiushka, I came from Moscow to see you.”
That’s when the elder finally took pity on her. She had come all the way from the capital city of Moscow! She was no local. So, he asked questions—who she is, where from, and what’s her job. He took interest in her business. Once he heard about it, he noticeably lightened up. He took Olga’s concerns to heart about the future stability of her business. But he didn’t share her pessimism over the ongoing economic crisis. That’s how steadfast he was in his faith, the true elder!
“Do you see where I am going with this?”
“Haven’t you heard, handmaiden of God, that the Bible tells us: he that giveth shall not lack!?” he said, staring right into her eyes. “You should do deeds of mercy! That’s when your business problems will dissolve on their own!”
“But I do,” she tried to rehabilitate herself. “I give to the sick and the needy people in our parish. I also take care of my elderly neighbor.”
“Well, if your business is crumbling, it means you’re not helping enough.”
“I do it to the best of my ability… You know, I work by myself and then, my young daughter…”
“I am quite on it, this ability of yours… Have you forgotten the apostle’s words? He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Also, the Scripture says, the Lord is the Father of the fatherless. Including all those who suffer. He will take care of them anyway, without you. Including your elderly neighbor. But you, you should give to God!”
That’s when the elder uploaded all of God’s problems for her to review. That his vestments were worn out, and the chandelier at his church was rusty, and the parish car drove slower than a walking passerby…
“Do you understand, my child, what I’m talking about? Do you perceive the will of God?”
But once Olga heard how this God-pleaser called her “my child,” she as if lost her mind from joy. For it had been drilled into her neophyte mind that to become his spiritual child is a wonder of all wonders.
“I did, batiushka…”
“So, here is the list of our church needs, and don’t be concerned with anything else. Your goal is to save your soul! For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul… Keep your eyes open wide: Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.”
From the elder’s words she concluded that once a new chandelier was hung inside his church, all her problems would be settled in a flash
He also cited many other references for her and it meant that once she buys a new chandelier and a car, all her problems would be settled in a flash, and her business would be in a tippy-top shape.
She did make an attempt to break through the thick blanket of his charms using what was left of her mental capacities and to explain to the holy elder that she doesn’t have even close to the amount of money needed for such expensive purchases unless she were to withdraw everything from her fledgling business account. And that would be gravely dangerous.
“All you care about is mammon, mammon… But who will think about your soul!” the elder rumbled out. “The Lord said: “Do not be afraid.” May the Lord bless you, my child!”
He made a sign of the cross over her—so valiantly, almost fiercely, that her last doubts instantly melted away. He said “my child…” He’s a real godsend…
She went back home, and the elder returned to pray in seclusion. That’s what he told her at parting.
“That’s why you have no reward from God!”
Olga returned to Moscow to do what she was blessed to do. Naturally, she was racked by vague suspicions. How could she withdraw and spend such a huge amount of money? What will she do next? What will happen to her business? But she would keep saying her new mantra over and over: He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. You get it, my child?”
How could she not get it! The elder would occasionally leave his seclusion to call her on her cell phone:
“How is it, are you working to fulfill the will of God? Shame on ye of little faith!”
Olga recruited all her willpower, prayed, mentally shut her eyes from fear, withdrew the remainder of her money in the bank and bought the chandelier and vestments. She then delivered everything to her grace-filled elder, adding some more to benefit various of the downtrodden. She didn’t have enough to buy a car. At first, the elder reproached her only to be generously excused later for missing the target. He took the gifts and returned to his prayer in seclusion, wishing Olga all possible blessings of the Lord and his holy intercession.
But there were no blessings. Her fledgling business lay in ruins and yet another misfortune hit her soon—her daughter got sick. It’s not that it was a life or death issue, but she were to wait for government-sponsored help and medicine, they would have faced irreversible consequences. If she had the required amount right away, her daughter would be healed. But where could she get the money now?