A lot of us assume that holiness is something that happened long ago, in the distant past. Frankly, I also happen to think this way. Anytime I read about the lives of the saints, sure, I do believe everything I am reading, but once in a while, a passing thought would cross my mind: “Of course… People lived differently at the time. They weren’t exposed to all that filth, all-encompassing sin, and that consumerism. That’s why the earth was still able to produce such great ascetics. They were lucky… As for us, the people of modernity… What about us? We’ve got nothing but a load of indecencies. There’s nothing good left to generate saints.”
And then I go back to reading… But I also regret that we happened to be born in time when there is no longer room left for holiness.
Yet, the Spirit bloweth where it listeth. A well-worn phrase, but true. And Christ is always One and the Same. Born in the manger, He walks the earth and dies on the Cross. In our times! He touches the people’s hearts, and they in become open up to Him. And then suddenly a faint spark of holiness lights up the horizon in the midst of complete darkness. Or it could even be a fire! And then you understand that everything depends on us, not the times. And so, you send thanks to God…
I heard this story not long ago…
I stopped by a Moscow church to see someone who works there and against all odds, I happened to sit at a table in the refectory with the church’s rector, a well-known and respected priest.
I felt somewhat ill at ease, being out of my element, but batiushka happened to be kind and unfussy. As a result, I finally felt at ease, and we ended up talking about one thing and another… The current political situation, the people we both knew here and there, about believers in general. It just so happened that our conversation smoothly segued to the topic of holiness in the modern world.
“I was still a very young priest at the time,” the rector began his story. “I ended up at some monastery. Soon enough, one monk caught my interest. It looked as if he exuded light. Advanced in years, he would always try to help others, doing simple assignments or warmly talking to people. You instantly sensed his warmth and longed to stay next to him for a while.
The future rector, once he had the chance, asked the abbot who this man was.
“Oh! This is a man of a wondrous and truly complicated fate,” was the answer. “He is no longer serving, in retirement… But long ago…”
Long ago, he was a simple hieromonk. At least, that’s what everyone thought of him, a simple hieromonk. He served, heard confessions, gave communion, and probably sermons, too. Until one day, a woman carrying a nursing daughter came to see his ecclesiastical superiors. She announced that this young hieromonk had fathered her baby, that he had seduced her and he should now “come and take his offspring.”
They sent for that monk… He was very surprised and tried to vindicate himself saying that he bears no relation to this woman or her daughter. But she kept insisting. And at some point, the accused said: “Alright. If the Lord sends me this cross, I will take it up. She’s my daughter!”
Naturally he was defrocked and forced to leave the monastery; he found some secular job… He took care of the girl, nurturing and loving her. And the child loved him in return. She grew up a devout Christian and upon reaching adulthood she entered a monastery herself. While he kept on living as before…
But then, many years later, the church authorities found him and summoned thim again. As it turned out, that woman who had given up her child visited them one more time. She had grown old and weak… Suffering from cancer, she was to die soon… So, she came to repent and announced that she maligned an innocent man. He wasn’t her child’s father!
He was restored in his priestly rank. But he went into retirement soon afterwards. He spent the latter years of his life in peace and all humility, living in his monastery, giving thanks to God and bestowing all his love and faith upon people. He had so much love and faith that he was able to forgive the slander, accept that woman’s child and bring her up as if she were his own. He consented and made peace with everything that the Lord handed down to him. He accepted it all as His holy will, like Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his own son to God. But he offered up his ministry and his own life as a sacrifice to Him…
The rector finished. We sat there in silence. What else can you add? The saints walk in our midst, even though this happened some time ago. Quite possibly this monk is no longer alive. But he is up there, in Heaven. And I believe that there are others who are like him, and they still live today. And such hearts as his still go on beating.