“Why Are You Surprised? This is Optina!”

On Miracles and Encounters

Photo: spb.optina.ru Photo: spb.optina.ru   

“Why are you surprised? This is Optina!” Fr. Lev said, smiling at me.

How many things have happened to me here over the course of nearly twenty years? How many miracles and amazing, inexplicable events?... And I still haven’t gotten used to it.

I can’t get used to the fact that Optina is a place where Heaven meets Earth; where grace is felt as you approach it; where the soul sings; and where the impossible becomes possible.

If I had my way, I’d build a hut here, right by the monastery wall, and live there, like the Apostle Peter: Lord, it is good for us to be here (Mt. 17:4).

“You’re dreaming! Get to work!” the Lord told him, to put it simply.

“And you have a husband and five children”—this was for me. “Your hut is elsewhere.”

Indeed, elsewhere… But I come here again and again, and I encounter miracles.

So on this day, having met Fr. Lev in our village near the monastery (he serves in the small local church), I told him about what happened, and I was surprised…

In Heaven, they know not only names, but also thoughts

This time, all my older daughters stayed back in Moscow—they had their graduations. I came to the village just with Masha, and we went to our beloved monastery together.

It was a weekday—Monday, I think. There weren’t very many people. We went to the service and communed. We venerated the relics of the Elders and went to the chapel of the New Martyrs. Then we just wandered around Optina, admiring everything and taking it all in.

When we were leaving, we noticed one of the monks. I didn’t know him at all, but I had heard that he’s a man of high spiritual life. They say many good things about him, in general. Some even consider him clairvoyant.

Batiushka was surrounded by several laypeople who were asking him about something. They were walking and as they got close to us, I brought my daughter to him for a blessing. He raised his hand, held it in the air for a second, looked somewhere through me, and suddenly asked:

“And who do we have here? Masha?”

He didn’t know me or her—there was no way. I only confessed to him once, two years prior, very briefly, and we didn’t talk about Masha at all. He’s an old man, and has more important things to think about than us. He doesn’t use social media; he doesn’t read my articles on Vkontatke.1 His one gadget was an antediluvian push-button phone. Fr. Lev told me that later.

It’s very emotional to think about, but it seems to me that Someone up above told him my daughter’s name. Why? I don’t know… But simultaneous with the joyous feeling that the Lord is near, I was also afraid. I thought that there in Heaven they know not only our names, but also our every thought. Not to mention words and deeds.

“Yes, this is Maria,” I said.

The old monk laughed like a child, as though he were rejoicing with me that God exists. And He simply showed us just like that.

“It’s Optina, Lena,” Fr. Lev repeated as we were leaving.

I won’t mention the monk’s name. There’s no need for that…

Actually, that was my hundred rubles”

In general, Optina greeted us more warmly than ever on this trip with Masha.

Another monk befriended Masha and carried her in his arms with great trepidation. She clung to him and nearly fell asleep. And he just stood there, afraid to even move, so as not to disturb her rest.

Looking at them, I thought that if we trusted God the way Masha trusted this monk and clung to Him, He would carry us in His arms through our entire life. Gently, carefully, afraid to disturb…

A third monk, seeing my daughter, whispered in my ear:

“Come at such-and-such a time, and I’ll open the reliquary of Batiushka Ambrose for you. I can see you’re a special case…”

We were in an empty church: the monk, myself, Masha, and Batiushka Ambrose. And in this silence at the open reliquary, all words and requests fell away. There was only: “Glory to God!”

We went to Optina again the next day. I took Masha to Communion again, and then we went to warm up in the sun.

“Do you have fifty rubles?” a loud voice suddenly sounded in my ear. It was a hieromonk whom I knew a little. And there was some woman fussing around behind him.

“Only a hundred,” I replied, confused.

“Okay, then a hundred,” he agreed magnanimously.

He took it and handed it to this woman, and she fervently started thanking him.

“It’s nothing, it’s nothing,” he said, waving her off, and went on his way.

And she went around me and followed after him to thank him some more.

“You’ve settled in here fine,” I thought. “Actually, that was my hundred rubles.”

It’s not that I was pitying myself, but it was kind of weird. But it’s Optina. You go there and try to understand…

Would you like to join us?”

And then a miracle happened to us.

Only please don’t think that I’m some kind of exalted person around whom everything sparkles and myrrh flows. But for me it was a real miracle. Seriously.

Masha and I went to our favorite trapeza (what would we do without it?!), and then I suggested that we go to the skete:

“Batiushka Ambrose lived there,” I explained. “Do you remember, we venerated his relics?”

My daughter nodded in agreement, but I don’t think a small child with Down syndrome can quite make sense of all of this.

We headed for the skete, and I started telling her what Elder Ambrose was like, how he loved people. They would come here to see him and he would help them, console them, and give them advice. And I thought to myself: “What can I do for her to understand all this the right way? Or feel it. The second is even more important.”

Then a family I didn’t know appeared—father, mother, grandmother, and daughter. After some time, a monk came and led them towards the skete.

“Would you like to join us?” he suddenly asked me.

Of course I wanted to. It turned out that this family had ordered an excursion to Elder Ambrose’s house. And that’s how Masha and I “accidentally” ended up there.

But the most interesting thing is that I’ve been going to Optina for nearly two decades, and I always dreamed of going to the skete, but I was sure it was impossible.2

Although, to be honest, I had been in the skete once.

God always gives more than we deserve

It happened twenty years ago, on my very first trip to Optina.

I wasn’t married then. I came with a friend. I don’t remember how it happened, but we wound up in the skete. We were just walking, wandering around, until some monk caught us and pointed sternly at the sign: “It’s not blessed for women to enter.”

“Okay, so it’s not blessed—so what?” I thought then. “It’s not forbidden.”

But we obediently left.

So I lived twenty years with the knowledge that “it’s not blessed for women to enter,” even to the house of Elder Ambrose.

And here was such a gift, just when I was telling Masha about him.

The young monk led his excursion. He didn’t say anything supernatural. It was probably the usual speech. But I suddenly realized that particular phrases of his were answering the inner questions I had come to Optina with this time. And it was so obvious that I dared to wonder if Batiushka Ambrose himself was answering me through him as he once answered the hundreds and thousands of people who came to him with questions, grief, doubt, perplexity, or with joy and gratitude.

Why did this happen to me? I don’t know. And that indescribable feeling of peace and love that literally covered me in that house—what for? It was probably an advance, and later I’ll have to give it away somehow…

Masha was walking around the house, shining all over. The Elder probably put something in her little heart that I couldn’t even explain in words. That’s how it was.

Leaving, I thought with a smile: “See, Lena, you were grumbling about a hundred rubles that you didn’t get any thanks for. And the Lord as if said to you: ‘Yes, here! Take more in exchange! And don’t get worked up!’ He always gives more than we deserve. And we all get worked up…

1 A popular Russian social media site—Trans.

2 The Skete of St. John the Forerunner located in the woods just outside Optina Monastery is generally closed to women, with limited access to all laypeople.—OC

Elena Kucherenko
Translation by Jesse Dominick



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