HIS BROTHER-BISHOP HERMAN AND THEIR LETTERS
Commemorated June 8 (†1942)
Glory to the limitless mercy of God.
Life is a struggle and suffering for the
sake of the ultimate good and the Lord.
The more we suffer with humility, the
more we become purified and become
transcendent in spirit.
men, who according to Lenin's system had to be "exterminated like insects" so as to give way to a new breed: the communist class in the "classless society."
In total, grave silence he lay there in his loneliness for a long, long time, apprehending the solemn mystery of human suffering in this "vale of tears," our earthly domain, listening to the pulse of his life, which soon, like the dying echoes of the death pangs of his brethren, would come to an end....And only the seemingly-warm, soft blanket of falling snow, covering the bloody deeds of evil men, concealed all that was harsh and evil and reflected in its whiteness the purity of the age to come.
Tambov, an old partriarchal province in the heart of Holy Russia, was the home of two outstanding brother-bishops, whose significance lies not only in the fact that they gave their lives as confessors of Christ, but also in their patristic teaching concerning suffering as a sure means of acquiring purification, self-knowledge, and deification. In a time of historic and abrupt change, when an anti-Christian, materialistic philosophy was universally propagated as the only truth, allowing no room for Christianity even as a minority view, many people found themselves on the brink of despair. Then such soul-consoling teachers as these brothers, well-grounded in patristic knowledge of the human soul and its spiritual laws, rendered indispensable help in coping with the bleak reality of Soviet daily life, so hostile and unnatural to the thousand-year-old experience of Holy Russia.
The future hierarch Barlaam was born on June 8, 1878, in the well-to-do pious merchant-class family of Stephen Riashentsev, and was named Victor at baptism. In 1896 he graduated from the Tambov Classical Gymnasium and entered Kazan Theological Academy, while his younger brother Nicholas, the future bishop Herman, evidently under his brother's influence, went right away into the local Tambov Theological Seminary and upon graduation in 1902 followed his brother also to the same Kazan Academy.
When Victor arrived at the Academy its rector, Anthony Khrapovitsky, had just been consecrated bishop, and the school atmosphere was then at its best. All students lived a full life of theological and ascetic inspiration. All had oneness of mind, dominated by the enthusiastic rector, who was both a dynamic missionary educator and an intellectual who kept abreast of the currents of the times. The heart of this academic family was the monastically-oriented church services in the chapel, where often occurred the monastic tonsure of students who wished to dedicate their life to service in the holy Orthodox Church.
Victor at once immersed himself in this torrent of activity, and became indispensable as an altar acolyte. Their spiritual director, a disciple of Optina Elder Ambrose, was Schema-archimandrite Gabriel from nearby Seven-Lakes Monastery of the Theotokos. Guileless and childlike, this elder was a profound seer to whom the future was revealed; in his formative years he was bedridden for a long time, something that gave him ample opportunity to practice the Jesus Prayer and acquire from it considerable experience. He was quite open about this, and his attractive and loving personality only sealed for life the bond of the spiritual father-son relationship with those who were fortunate enough to know him. He continued to keep close contact with all his spiritual sonse until his repose in 1915. One of Victor's classmates, the future hieromartyr Archimandrite Symeon, composed the elder's biography, a wonderful book of literary merit, drawing a vivid picture of a holy man totally immers
ed in God. Another classmate of his was the future Archbishop of Chernigov, Pachomius.
The rector, young Bishop Anthony, the future first patriarchal candidate of 1918 and first Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, left on Victor a deep impression. At first his duty was serving in the altar during the Divine Liturgy, standing with the bishop's staff, deeply engrossed in the meaning of the services as God's grace descending upon life on earth. In 1900 he graduated, and the next year, on October 8th, he was tonsured a monk by his rector, being led to tonsure by his elder Gabriel. The very next day he was made a deacon, and the following day a priest-monk. He was given the name of Barlaam, the ancient saint who converted the prince of India, Ioasaph, and inspired him to become a monk.
The new monk was very close to his rector-bishop, and when in 1903 the latter was transferred to become bishop of Ufa, he took his young disciple with him and made him Inspector of the Ufa Seminary, entrusting him with all the old-believer churches that had just joined the Orthodox Church. That must have been quite a task, considering the unpredictability of the people of that orientation, with their passion for "correctness."
Bishop Anthony was first of all a fearless defender of the Church, an apologist aggressive in his approach, direct in his statements, loving, quick, and charming. He longed to see the revival of patriarchal church government, and was enthusiastic about the Byzantine roots of Russian civilization, different from those of the West; yet he remained himself a true man of his century.
His young disciple, Barlaam, on the other hand, while following in his footsteps, was distinguished by his carefulness in action and gentleness in dealing with people, something that earned him great respect from his colleagues, as well as the students. In 1906, already an Archimandrite, he was made rector of Poltava Seminary, where he published his apologetic works-among others, "Faith and the Cause of Unbelief," "The Christian Upbringing of Children," "Work as Life," a work against Theosophy, etc. The whole intent of his teaching was to draw his listeners and readers to the otherworldliness of Christianity. Here is an example of his sermons; it was published in 1911 in the periodical The Russian Monk (March, no.6), on his favorite subject: seeking the City on high.
Heaven is our true homeland, eternal, holy, safe from all enemies, from every destroying act of the elements, which themselves will be burned and destroyed (II Peter 3:10). No foe will come near to heaven: fire will lnot devour it, as often happens with our earthly settlements; water will not inundate it; it is not subject to destruction as is everything on earth, but it stands unshaken for endless ages (Heb. 12:28). No poor or rich are there, because there will be no one there eaten up by greed for wealth; there are no sickness, sorrow, or sighing, but an eternal blessed state, eternal joy, everlasting joy shall be upon their heads, says the Prophet Isaiah, foreseeing by the Spirit of God the blessedness of the righteous (Is. 51:11).
Fathers and brethren in the Lord! Let us strive towards the mansions above by means of a virtuous life, so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (II Peter 1:11).
No man with a hard heart, or one who serves his sinful passions, will ascend into the Kingdom of Heaven. How can one ascend to heaven if for his whole life he has served worldly vanity, if he has been daily languishing in a burning thirst for earthly pleasures or has given his heart over to them and attached himself to them as a magnet to iron, while he has not developed the slightest taste for spiritual and heavenly good things? (I say not that he has failed to strengthen it, but that he does not have it at all). Just conduct such a one, if only for an example-if such a thing were permitted-into the mansions on high, and he will be bored there, because there are not there such things as are here below: there are none of his favorite objects, none of the earthly treasures by means of which he lullabied and fooled his heart. The dispositions and inclinations of soul which have been acquired here go over with us into that world, and what torment will be there beyond the grave for everyone who died with his sinful earthly inclinations, wo always choked and suffocated the heavenly needs of his soul without succeeding in offering heartfelt repentance for them? This why there will be an undying worm there, as our Saviour so often says in the Gospel: this worm is our sinful inclinations, living and not dying even after death, which can be satisfied by nothing. But to this undying worm will be joined also an unquenchable fire, a most fierce fire; for it is said: Thier worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched (Matt. 9:44, 46, 48).
And so, if we hope for the heavenly kingdom, for the sake of which we have left the world and settled in the wilderness, we must also acquire a heavenly way of life; if we sincerely desire to live after death in heaven, we must live in a heavenly way on earth.
The heavenly kingdom is opened, the righteous Judge awaits our conversion to Him, He mercifully calls us to Himself, shows us already the mansions prepared for all who love Him and strive towards Him, and says: Come unto Me, all ye that labor, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:27).
Here everything is temporary, but there, eternal; Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come (Heb. 13:14). Amen
In 1913, on January, 13, he was made a vicar bishop of Gomel. His vicariate was in the south, in the shadow, so to speak, of the famed Pochaev Lavra. The consecration took place in Petersburg, in the Holy Trinity Cathedral of the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra. At the solemn moment when the bishop-elect delivers his first sermon, after which he is to be consecrated, he uttered the following words:
Your Holiness, Divinely-wise archpastores and fathers!
The will of God, through your holiness, calls me, a sinner, to the highest service in the Church of Christ-the service of bishop. I do not know what to utter and what to say in this fearful hour. One thing I will not hide: the height of this truly apostolic service, and the greatness of the responsibility before God for each soul of the pastors and flock fill my heart with great disturbance and fear, and I stand as if without any answer. I know my spiritual infirmities, I see my spiritual disorder, but I also know that the Lord often calls without looking upon the worth of a man. He chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and...things which are not, to bring to nought things that are (I Cor. 1:27-28). Out of a persecutor He made for Himself the first of the Apostles. Therefore I humble myself, and in my unworthiness I submit to the call of God: may the will of God be done also in my humility. I follow it with fear, but also with readiness, for I believe that the Lord arranges everything for our good, seeking our salvation; with fear, but also with readiness, I take upon myself the struggle, and the Cross which are inseparably bound with the service of bishop.
This struggle consists first of all in renouncing one's private life. A bishop must separate himself from his own interests and cares for himself. He must live not for himself, but for his flock; he must receive into his soul and his attitude the souls and attitudes of his flock with all their infirmities, sorrows, and sufferings; upon his own shoulders he must as it were raise up the crosses of all and in himself experience for everyone the tormenting battle of good with evil: weep over the falls, restore the fallen, be (in the expression of the Apostle Paul) in the travail of spiritual birth (Gal. 4:19), being weak and burning for every Christian soul (II Cor. 11:29).
But in order to renounce one's personal life, one must die to self-love, die also to the passions, for both of these separate us from Christ and from our neighbors; one must be filled with the attitude that was in Paul when he said: To me to live is Christ, and to die to gain (Phil. 1:21).
This struggle is inexpressibly difficult for a sinful man, but it is essential. Otherwise there would be no fruit in pastoral activity; otherwise the pastor himself will be a hireling and will hear the voice of condemnation from Him Who laid down His life for the sheep and called His followers to do the same.
To This inward struggle of a pastor there is always joined an outward one, consisting of the difficult outward situation of pastoral activity. The world and the devil rise up against the servants of Christ, and from this come every kind of slander, offense, vexation, and even persecution. If even a simple pastor often grows faint under this cross, what must an archpastor suffer? Who can describe his torments of soul, and his frequent tears, seen and unseen? Moreover, terrible times have now come: many go away from the Faith, rise up
against Christ and His Holy Church. Now, when many speak evil of the path of truth (II Peter 2:22), a pastor can no longer be silent and endure sorrows in silence; he must defend the truth and loudly testify of it, he must be a kind of confessor. And to be a confessor means to be a priest-martyr. This is precisely the path of a bishop.
Again I remember the divine Paul, who describes thus his confessor's path: For Christ and His work, he says, I was in wounds above measue, was often in prison and near death; many times I was in danger from my fellow countrymen, frjom the heathen, from false bethren; many times I was in labors and weariness, often in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness-all while in ceaseless care for the churches, in the daily presence of many brethren (II Cor. 11:23-28).
What faith and hope one must have in God, what purity of personal life, what renunciation of oneself and love for the flock, in order to endure in a fitting way this struggle: to fearlessly declare the truth of Christ, to endure sorrows and sufferings with joy, not lose courage even in persectuons, to burn with zeal according to God, seeking the salvation of one's brethren! Finally, what good sense and experience one must have to guide safely the ship of the Church into the harbor of salvation! The bishop is the pilot of the ship.
A true pilot, says St. John of the Ladder, is one who has received from God and through his own struggles such spiritual strength that he can save the ship of the soul not only from violent storms, but even from the abyss itself ( Homily to Pastors, ch. 1:2),
Again, I acknowledge my infirmity and I see all my unworthiness, but all the same, with humility, I submit to the will of God and banish despondency from myself, for it is God which worketh in us (Phil.2:13), and the pastor is not alone; with him and through him the almighty grace of God works, healing the infirm and making up what is lacking. God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of chastity (II tim. 1:17).
It is in this grace that I have hope; I have hope also in your holy prayers. Pray, O hierarchs of God, that the Holy Spirit might cleanse every defilement of my soul, that He might grant me wisdom and power to shepherd well the flock of Christ to the glory of God and for the salvation of the Church's children, that I also might be vouchsafed at the Last Judgment to stand at His right hand and hear that unutterable voice calling the faithful to the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
Hardly had he begun his archpastoral activity when the First World War broke out, with sorrowful consequences especially for the south, which became the war front. However, prior to this, his participation in the missionary activity of the Pochaev Lavra was the happiest time in his whole llife as a bishop. The Lavra of St. Job had just seen a great spiritual revival due to the printing Brotherhood within it, headed by another of his classmates-Archimandrite Vitaly (later of Jordanville, NY). With his apostolic zeal, Father Vitaly stirred up the local people, who for years had been forced to be Uniates, and led thousands of them into the Orthodox Church. Bishop Barlaam took an active part in this truly Orthodox phenomenon and used to lead huge crowds of pilgrims to the Pochaev festivities, delivering flaming sermons calling the Orthodox people to be genuine Christians striving during their earthly life towards the heavenly homeland. Stirring indeed were the moments when a crowd of a thousand or more pilgrims spent all-night vigils on the monastery grounds, singing hymns with one heart and soul either before the Pochaev icon of the Theotokos or to St. Job, or a special "Vitalian" Our Father, while enormous slide projections were shown on the walls of the Cathedral, illuminating the glorious Orthodox past of the Lavra and the whole of Holy Russia as a bastion of pure, unadulterated Christianity. One, Bishop, Seraphim, walked to these Pochaev festivities with his whole flock in a procession with banners for a hundred miles-such was the fervor of the Orthodox people then. The whole of Russian monasticism at that time was on a very high level; many monasteries had saints within their walls, and the monastics, inspired by Egyptian and Athonite ascetic practices, treasured the coenobitic discipline for the sake of mystical experience, quite unlike the politial orientation of the bickering Orders of the West.
But the Revolution was not far behind. It stormed across the nation like some nightmarish whirlwind. Bishop Barlaam knew well the significance of what was going on in Russia; the satanic nature of the uprooting of Christianity was apparent. The very system of utilizing spying and lies and the reign of terror, at first by the GPU and then the NKVD, was undeniably patterned after the activity of the demonic powers, which exist in a slavish hierarchy of domination and subordination, as is revealed in patristic literature (see, for example, the revelation of the Fallen Theophillus in the Lives of the Saints). Lenin's blaspehmous plan to change humanity by destroying the dignity of man as the image of God was clear enough, and it was effective on many who were not rooted in patristic wisdom. He understood that what was going on was a spiritual and not only a political change in Russia. This is where the White Army failed, not recognizing this sufficiently. Wherever he could, he spoke out, but concentrated mostly on mobilizing the spiritual powers of himself and those of like mind, growing in the wisdom of humility.
From September 3, 1923, Bishop Barlaam was placed in Pskov, a town dear to him because his brother, the future Bishop Herman, who afer completing the Kazan Academy in 1906 became administratively involved in the Pskov Seminary. The town also reminded them of their mutual elder from Kazan, Father Gabriel, who spent his last years in the St. Eleazar Monastery near Pskov. But Elder Gabriel did go to die in Kazan amidst his beloved spiritual children, and Herman went there to take part in his burial.
Herman's life was not much different from his brother's. Before the Revolutiion he was rector of the Vladimir Seminary and then was transferred to the Bethany Seminary in the vicinity of St. Sergius' Lavra and the Moscow Theological Academy. There he was in contact with local saints, men of high spiritual striving, and he remembered this whole region of the vanishing Holy Russia years later in the remote northern plains of Siberia with warm feelings and tears-as if the Bethany Seminary had been Paradise for him.
In the winter of 1924 Bishop Herman was arrested and exiled to Tobolsk, and then followed a perpetual way of the Cross, by way of concentration camps in Solovki, Central Russia, Sarov, and Kulma, ending in 1937 in the Far North. But he was well prepared to accept his lot.
Bishop Herman had always been drawn to the solitary life of an ascetic. While in exile in Arzamas he met holy clairvoyant women of the closed Diveyevo Convent, and one of them prophecied that his dream of solitary ascetic life would be fkulfilled-only in banishment instead of in a monastery. His was preciously refined soul, endowed with a poetic outlook on life. His Academy dissertation, "The Moral Teaching of St. Symeon the New Theologian," highly praised in Academy circles, had undoubtedly much to do with the formation of spiritual outlook on life. With what humbleness and humor he recounts in his letters how he was scooping and cleaning out outhouses, thereby receiving the honor if imitating St. John Damascene! Together with his brother he left a multitude of letters, addressed to his spiritual daughters, members of the catacomb convent, where much was concealed in code due to the strict postal censorship. But what a wealth of spiritual refinement and wisdom are conta ined in these letters! What beautiful classic language, exalted and lyrical! Truly, these are treasures coming out of the 20th-century catacombs.
From December, 1924, for a year Bishop Barlaam was bishop of Mogilev in the South. How everything had changed by then! He was moved because of the constant arrest of bishops. By July 13, 1927, he was bishop of Perm, and while he was temprarily in Yaroslav, the infamous Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius came out. This document was not a surprise to him, but it was entirely unacceptable for any Orthodox soul. Together with the local hierarchs, Bishop Barlaam signed this document of protest:
From The Epistle of the Yaroslav Bishops
To Metropolitan Sergius, Feb. 6, 1928
In your appeal to the children of the Orthodox Church of July 29, 1927, you declare in categorical form a program of your future leadership, the realization of which would inevitably bring the Church new misfortunes and would deepen the infirmities and sufferings which have possession of it. According to your program, the spiritual and Divine principle in the Church's economy is entirely subordinated to the worldly and earthly principle, whose cornerstone is not a concern by all means possible for the defense of the pure faith and Christian piety, but a totally unnecessary pleasing of those who are "outside," leaving no room for the most important condition for the ordering of internal church life in accordance with the commandments of Christ and the Gospel-the freedom given to the Church by her Heavenly Founder which is a part of her very nature. You oblige the children of the Church, and first of all, of course, the episcopate, to have a loyal attitude to the civil authority .
We welcome this demand and testify that we have always been, are, and shall be honest and conscientious citizens of our native land; but this, we affirm, has nothing in common with the politics and intrigue with which you have bound it up, and it does not oblige the children of the Church to voluntarily refuse the rights which have been given to it by the civil authority itself (the election by communities of believers of spiritual leaders for themselves).
In place of the internal Church freedom which had been restored, you make broad use of administrative arbitrariness, from which the Church suffered much even earlier. At your own personal discretion you practice a purposeless, unjustifiable transferral of bishops, often against their own desire and that of their flock, you assign vicars without the knowledge of the ruling bishops of the dioceses, you suspend bishops who are not pleasing to you, etc.
All this and much else in your governance of the Church which is, we are profoundly convinced, a clear violation of the All-Russian Council of 1917-1918, and ever more increases the disorders and destruction in chuch life, compels us to declare to Your Eminence:
We, the bishops of the Yaroslav church region, acknowledging the responsibility which lies on us before God for those things which have been entrusted to our pastoral guidance-the purity of the Holy Orthodox Faith, and the freedom for the ordering of inward church-religious life which Christ has given us as a testament-in order to calm the disturbed conscience of the faithful, having no other way out of the fatal situation which has been created for the Church, from this time onwards separate from you and refuse to acknowledge for you and your Synod the right to the higher administration of the Church.
Our present decision will remain in effect until you acknowledge the incorrectness of your acts and measures as leader and openly repent of your errors, or until His Eminence, Metropolitan Peter, should return to power.
Agathangelus, Metropolitan of Yaroslav Seraphim, Archbishop of Uglich (Vicar of the Yaroslav Diocese, former Substitute of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens) Archbishop Barlaam, formerly of Perm, temporarily governing the Lyubinsk Vicariate Eugene, Bishop of Rostov (Vicar of the Yaroslav Diocese)
As a reaction to this protest, Metropolitan Sergius did not find anything better to do than to issue an ukase in which all those hierarchs who disagreed with his Declaration were automatically proclaimed " counter-revolutionaries," and as such quite legitimately were to be arrested by the GPU agents as enemies of the people. Bishop Barlaam, together with the others, issued immediately another epistle, stating that they did not protest against Metropolitan Segius' right of administration but that they disagreed with his policy. Nevertheless, all the hierarchs who in some way or another disagreed and did not blindly follow Metropolitan Sergius were indeed arrested and most of them vanished forever without a trace. Bishop Barlaam was then temporarily governing the Liublin diocese, a vicariate of Yaroslav. In November of that same year, he was officially relieved of his archpastoral duties. In 1930, however, for his opposition to Metropolitan Sergius, he was arrested and imprisoned , and his sufferings began in earnest-lasting, with short intervals of relative freedom in exile, for the rest of his much-suffering life. Yaroslav prison in later years was considered one of the most cruel and sadistic places of the Soviet system, but his exile was not much better. In 1931 he was in Solovki, and in 1933 on Bear Mountain near Petrozavodsk.
The state of utter despair which was experienced especially by clergymen in these years was so intense that few made any distinction between it and death. They knew that they had been condemned to execution, and it was only a question of time before the sentence would be fulfilled. In that respect it was the happiest time in their life-for the meeting with Christ so close.
One witness, who years later knew Fr. Dimitry Dudko, stated: "In the camps we often encountered our brother-clergymen and secretly served Liturgy, sometimes on a wooden crate, sometimes on somebody's back; at that time we did not stop to think whether such things were persmissible. The thirst to be in union with Christ was stronger than any hinderance. Sometimes our people from outside would send us the Holy Gifts. There, behind the bars and barbed wire, as in some Orthodox mission, we secretly performed all the church sacraments. I baptzied, performed weddings and burials, and preached. It has been recorded that a certain anti-Sergianist priest, Father Alexander, every day would come to work early, at dawn, and on a tree stump, kneeling, would serve the Divine Liturgy. Several people saw how a beam of light descended from heaven and entered his chalice, transfiguring him and those around him." (Memoirs of N. Urusova).
An innocent man, a humble and kind monk, a man with a soft, loving heart who loved long church services according to the monastic typicon, Archbishop Barlaam suffered terribly at being separated from his spiritual children, who regarded him as an elder and irreplaceable spiritual instructor. He wrote letters of instruction to them whenever possible. For those in "freedom" these letters exuded a breath of fresh air in the stifling Soviet reality. They breathe the spirit of true Christian humility. Together with the letters of his brother, they constitute what today might be called a Christian teaching on the enduring of suffering in a society that has grown hostile and hateful towards just plain human beings.
The letters which have survived and reached the free world, thanks to Samizdat, were written from 1923 up to 1936, after which there is no trace whatever of Bishop Herman. There are seven letters of Archbishop Barlaam and 39 of his brother. They were written to encourage their spiritual children, having one main theme: sobriety and guidance in acquiring the principle virtue-the humility of wisdom. They also reveal, in a disguised form, some bits of information about their authors: their perpetual harassment, from prison to exile and back again to prison, and their amazing absence of bitterness. Here are some major points of their teaching:
1. The letters contain a perceptive analysis of the behavioral patterns of our fallen nature from the patristic, spiritual, and psychological points of view.
2. The lessons they give come from personal experience in the deeply tragic situation they were forced to endure: exile, a constant lack of daily essential needs, harassements, perpetual banishment (in the case of Bishop Herman) and physicall ailments (Archbishop Barlaam).
3. There is demonstrated in them a remarkable peace, a deeply poetic inward inspiration, interspersed with paraphrases (due to the absence of books in exile) of exalted patristic writings on ascetic life, or with melanchoy lyrical retreats into past reality or into the hidden beauty even of the present. In short, the letters give an ascetic philosophy of love for God and for life.
4. The meaning of suffering: Suffering is when our spirit or "self" must separate itself from its own righteousness and must accept God's righteousness, which is hard and confining to our soul-in other words, it means to accept God's will rather than our own, so that we might become instruments of God.
5. The meaning of spiritual happiness: "What happiness and what endless and everlasting joy, to be at least partial participant in those Wounds by which all have been healed, and to be at least a minute particle of that mighty eternal Power which indicates to all creation the eternally ancient and eternally new path to the Resurrection through self-denial and love"-writes Bishop Herman.
Here are some excerpts from the teaching of the brother-bishops.
(Letter to Archbishop Barlaam to Abbess M.)
You wish to see your correction from weakness and negligence and thereby to be justified; but this is not quite correct. Study again what I wrote earlier; your soul has not taken in everything I said there. But don't be surprised-this can't be done all at once; it becomes clear gradually with God's help. I will repeat briefly:
1. We are not justified by correcting ourselves, not by good deeds; all this is undermined by our common sinfulness, and in any case we are obliged to do it by our God-like nature. But we are justified by humility and repentance: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a heart that is is contrite and humble God will not despise. Your will find this somewhere in the letters of Optina Elder Macarius. Therefore, it is good that you have failings and weaknesses; with repentance and contrition they will lead you into Paradise. But if you do not have any, then a trust in your own correctness can hinder you greatly through secret self-esteem and a pharisaical trust in the labors and virtues you have borne: "I have earned it-pay me."
2. Further, you write: "I am afraid to receive Communion often; I do not get better; my sins are always the same." Well and good, but you wash your clothes often, and do you get angry because they don't get better but are always covered with the same dirt? Is it not the contrary? So look in the same way at the purity of the soul: the more a man takes care of it, the more often he washes away the dirt, the more pleasing it is to the Lord. And do not be disturbed if the dirt is always the same-it is good enough it if only doesn't get worse. It makes no difference what it is that has soiled the purity of the soul; the time comes and one must clean it and wash away the uncleanness with repentance. And to the Lord a single repenting sinner is more pleasing than ten self-satisified righteous men.
3. "I would like to be like M., but now I am afraid of being beneath even laymen." This means, again, that you want to be included among the righteous; you do not have humility; you are always striving for the heights. It is the evil one who wants by every means to make you think of yourself: "I am not as other men." And why do you think so ill of laymen: Don't you know that many laymen will be higher than monks?In laymen there is much of the humility of the publican, much patiernce and contrition:while in monks there is often self-esteem, hardness of heart, a pharisaical righteousness ("I have labored-pay me"). A humble person does not compare himself with anyone; he sees everyone as better than himnself and closer to God; in some respects he considers himself worse than the demons. Of course we can't attain to such humility, but at least we can reproach ourselves in our heart in everything and for everything (not just in words; this is often only a proud posturing), we can not condemn anyone and not exalt ourselves above anyone.
4. "I omit my rule, I become tired." Well, so what? We are saved not by a rule, but by humility and sighs to God. You seem to plce great signifigance in the quantity of prostrations and whatever else is read. No; all this can be just a "sounding brass"; but the whole matter lies in contrition of heart. It is profitable for you to set up a rulenot of quantity, byt of time; for example: in the morning you can pray for one or two hours. Without hurrying, with contrition of heart, and sometimes with interruptions if your heart experiences delight and softening-perform something from your rule without thinking of fulfilling anything. Thus it might be that you go through only half or three-quarters of your previous rule, and the assigned time is finished, and then there are works of obedience (cleaning the stove, etc.) And what of it? Don't be disturbed; finish with what you have managed to do, and know that the Lord will not demand more of you, but that He does not praise hurrying. He needs your heart, not a count of prostrations nor the mechanisms or reitation (of prayers). One person, it may well be, will read a single Canon or Akathist for a whole hour, but with tears and interrupting it for heartfelt cries to God-that is real prayer. One can read the Gospel and the Psalter as well, without paying attention to chapters and schedules, but to one's strength and time, being concerned for quality-to read with concentration, and not hastily. For the sake of works of obedience and concern for one's neighbor one must always shorten the time of one's prayer, since obedience is above fasting and prayer, and not be disturbed by this, but recognize the importance of serving one's neighbor. The quantity of prostrations and a certain correctness in the in the rule in indispensible for beginnersso as to accustom them to pray; but when they have to a certain extent become accustomed to prayer, one should not bind one's feelings to a number of prostrations, but it is beter to pray freely, depending only on the ammount of time.
5. "Scold me ahd point out my shortcommings." First of all, I have to praise you for your openness and zeal for salvation. but I have ot scold you for your exaggerated love of correctness, for counting your good deeds and labors and for trusting in them, which is why you do not see the unlimited value of humility, which surpasses all our works and our limping virtues. This is a weaks foundation, made, one might say, out of sand, and it ca be tolerated only at the beginning of spiritual life, but later on it harms those who are struggling. It is easy with outward correctness (the reading of rules, the keeping of fasts) and with freedom from outward falls to pass over to spiritual self-esteems and to pride, and from there to "sanctity" and "clairvoyance" from the left side [demonic]. Quickly throw this foundation out of your head and heart; leave off giving value to labors, the correction of rules, and so forth. Do every good thing that is accessibleto you, and bear every labor as an order from God, without evaluating it; for the value is not in them, but in the acquisition through them of humility, faith, profound purity, repentance, contrition, and finally, love for God and neighbor. No one praises a student when he is still studying, but when he receives a diploma. Al labors are onlt lessons (props), while the diploma is in humility, contrition, purity (to the extent posible). One prson might come to all this through sorrows and illness, without special labors and rules, and he will not be lower than those who have labored.
And so, make your own foundation of the soul, seeking self-reproach, repentance, patience, contrition, and firm and undeceived trust in God's mercy. At the Last Judgement the righteous will be recognized only by their humility and their cinsidering themselves worthless, and not by good deeds, even if they have done them. This is the true attitude.
He who is gloomy does not believe in the mercy of God, but bases his own spirituality on his own rotten ascetic achievements and seeming external improvements; he boasts in them and being overwhelmed with self-importance, measures his feelings as if a thermometer-alas, the fruits of self love!
Do not exalt yourself above any sinner, and do not place trust in your correctness, for self esteem can devour all your feats and good deeds, if you have any. Meekly enduring other people'ssins, although most difficult, is the most rewarding and surest way.
Where there is endurance, there is bound to be salvation. A relatively peqaceful life, even with a good prayerful attitude, is still lower than a life of tribulation with a good prayerful attitude, if one is patient with others.
One must fear not faults, but coldness of heart, se;f satisfaction, an unrepentant attitude.
We are all insane over self esteem, and thereforewhen we correct oursleves alittle in some small way or other, we at once give value to ourselvesand unnoticeably become refined pharisees: we praise ourselves for what grace has done, according to God's mercy, and not because of our achievements. Therefore, in spiritual matters correctness can do us more harm than incorrectness with a feeling of repentance. You will say: "With correctness one can also repent." Repent of what, if we see oursleves as correct? It is just a step away from deception. True correctness can not exist. Therefore, the Holy Fathers teach that deeds do not justify us, even if we are obliged to do good deeds (by the power of God), as a bird is obliged to sing, for that is why it was created. We are created to do good deeds; such is our nature. It would be come sily to become proud that we have two arms and two legs-such is our nature. And if we do not do good deeds, then we err severly against our nature and God's will. Therefore, it is good to do the deeds, but not in order that to boast in our struggles and achievements, but in order to acquire a greater degree of humility and repentance. He who fasts and prays to not acquire humility and repentance, but for pleasing God and for self-justification is quite mistaken.
Do not become dispondent over your infirmities, and do not consider them your enemies. Quite the contrary: although ugly, they are our spiritual friends, our tax collectors.
Sorrows are both proofs and pathfinders of the eternal, unearthly joys and experiences where our Lord, the Theotokos and the saints are.
It seems that the time has come when the Lord is calling His people and is purifying them with sorrows in order to cross over into heavenly life; after all, this is the purpose we live for. May the will of God and His mercy be done! Let us hope for that, and let us prepare ourselves every day to meet God, and to live as during Passion Week.
The seeing and evaluating of one's own achievements and deeds will only increase sinful and deceitful self-esteem and diminish our sole hope on God's mercy. What is more reliable and pleasing to God from us is the following: "Oh Lord, I have nothing and dare not even lift up my eyes; have mercy on me according to Thy great mercy!" The more there will be contrition and trust in God, and not in deeds or in osmething else of our own, the more God's mercy will increase in us.
There is no need to weep much over the destruction of a church; after all, each of us, according to God's mercy, ahs or should have his own church-the heart; go in there and pray, as much as you have strength and time. If this church is not well made and is abandoned (without inward prayer), then the visible church will be of little benefit.
You and I have not reached the spiritual condition when what is purely spiritual, or rather, when grace-gven energy not only conquers the weakness of our flesh and the body, but also gives wings to our spirit, which is bound up with the burden (of the flesh) and is also not all-powerful, and without God has no wings. Up to now, by means of the natural physical and spiritual resources given to us by nature and our parents, the Lord and the Spirit act through this physical suppleness and energetic psychic nature of ours. But life itself at this time does not yet reveal to us its whole face; this is why there is so much vigor in us, and even more often, so much good idealistic and every other kind of passion.
But this zone sooner or later comes to an end, and there comes for everyone his Gethsemane with its battles and exhaustion, all the way to bloody sweat, and then also Golgotha. Both the one and the other cause torment and suffering, and suffering all the more often because our spirit has to seperate itself from its iwn righteousness (no matter how pure and ideal it may seem to us), and be reconciled with the righteous will of God, which for our psychic nature is very confining and difficult.
You write that by May 1st "such and such" is to happen, and because of this your heart groans and you say "This is the will of God, and in it there can be nothing tormenting"-and all the same you are tormented. Remember the bloody sweat of Gethsemane; remember those constant words of our Teacher, that one can follow after Him only by "taking up the cross." All this should tell you that the passage of our spirit into the will of God is always tormenting, as in general is every passage from a simpler form to a more perfect and higher form, such as is every physical and, all the more, every spiritual birth. We have here on earh only the begining of this entire rebirth of our will into the Will of God, of our mind (even that of a believer) into the Mind of God, of our small and imperfect love into the Perfect and All-embracing Tri-hypostatical Love. When a man more fully and positively (that is, loving it, considering it as the only truth in life)turns to the side of this eternal Truth, or else completely turns away from it, he no longer lives and is obliged to die. He has gone through everything that this life can give and has become ripe for the future.
The meaning of ones personal Gethsemane is: suffering and trembling inwardly, to fulfill patiently what has been commanded us, without upsetting oneself over the question why is it this way and not otherwise; for sometimes one is brought equally to God by the powerful shocks coming from a heartfelt acceptance of good, and by frightful falls. Judas was with Christ all the time, and he betrayed him; the thief was without Christ the whole time, and he came to believe in Him. If neither in the life of the Lord nor in the history of our faith had there been celar indications of these alternatives between light and darkness, and of the final triumph of light, then of course it would be frightful. But we must cheer up our hearts with the words of the Apostle Paul, spoken about the Jews and the Gentiles, and perhaps applicable also to those now alive: "For God hath concluded them all in disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all" (cf. Romans 11:32). Further we do not know how near or far from us is sorrow.
Ours is a time when too great shocks are needed, not only to wake up the minds of men, but also to return man to the centerla point of all that is tuly human-to his heart.
Thus, your exhausstion of body and soul is understandable. Let us bear submissivly His Cross, awaiting, if not here, then there, rest from the Lord and a full revelation of the profound meaning of everything that wounds and beats us now so painfully.
Here August will soon be at an end. Involuntarily, despite the daily cares, thoughts and worries, which push away somewhere deep into the depths of the soul everything that has gone before, one remembers the Feast of Gethsemane (the Dormition of the Theotokos, August 15), the quiet skete filled with people, the prolonged and moving service around the tomb of the Most Pure One, the triumphal procession with her Shroud along the paths of the skete with the beautiful ringing of the bells, the abundant meal with purple cabbage and fragrant kvas made with currants, and Bethany with its splendid rector, and the cozy town with the little house not far from the Lavra. In this rememberance purely spiritual experiences are interwoven with worldly and earthly ones, and it is difficult to separate them from each other, just as it is impossible to cut the soul away from the body and alter their mystical unity.
All this is lingered over by a sweet kind of melencholy that eats at the heart, as if seeing blue smoke in the distance on a clear summer day; and everything present, despite its spiritual advantages over the past, seems so cruel, crude and severe. Will there ever be a chance to bring together this past without its sin, and the ppresent without its cruel shocks and misfortunes, into a single bright whole, where everything there would be Christ. His unsettling light and mutual love, without which one feels so homeless and dispondent nowadays. And at the present time His sword of division cuts away those who were once close and one in mind, and His meek humility and peace are absent even among those who are equally called by His Name.
But I believe that this will be, and the soul of each one who has gone through the torment of despressions, falls, betrayals, faintheartedness, and denial will again, not merely through the lips and the passing movement of feelings, but with all their life will sing out "Hosanna" to Him, as to the Conqueror of death and evil.
It seems to me that what is happening now is not merely the destruction of a fortress and of what for many of the holy of holies. What is happening is the cleansing of these holy things, their sanctification through fire of cruel trials and testings, through the destruction of forms which in their unique but in many respects earthly beauty crush the meaning and content which are chained within them. New forms are being forged that make easier for them to be penetrated and filled by precisely the spirit and life which are are often denied by their creators, and which often, in the name of an admitted and premeditated battle against Him are denied in principle, in order that through the Golgotha of annihilation they might be resurrected in power.
Look and see how life in actual fact has become ascetic, how slef renunciation an unheard-of-self-renunciation, is becoming not an axception, but a rule for everyone, how urgently everything that has become seperated in the most unlike spheres of life is coming to unity through collectivization, and so forth.
You will say that all this is not in His Nane, but against Him. Yes, that is true. Now everything that has His seal is in sorrows, in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. This is true. But it is just as true that all efforts and creativity are being directed to the creation of the very forms of life which have all, in their idea, been predicted by Him, cannot be realized without Him, and unfailingly lead to Him. "All things are through Him, by Him, and unto Him," and only excessive griefor a superficial reflection on these great words of the Apostle hinder one from seeing that all this is being accomplished. Involuntarily one recalls the words of Chrysostom: "God acts through those very men who hinder and resist; He uses His enemies as an impplement of His glory, so that you may know that no one can frustrate the decrees of God or avert His high right hand."
Ancient Israel had to come through the ruins of its marvellous temple, through long yeaars of being deprived of the Divine services that make the heart contrite, and through a whole sea of tears, before reaching another house of God, in wich they saw Himof Whom both their sacrifices and prophecies spoke. Mary Magdelene came to Him through the horror of demonic posession. Mary of Egypt through a furnace of immorality and raging fornication., the theif through the torments of the cross. These, it seems to me, are the signposts that should be placed in front of every grief and especially before one's intolerably sad recollections. You and perhaps the majority of us were near Him when He was fragrant with goodness and was surrounded by the grandeur of miracles, the light of reverence; now do not be afraid of His dishonour, of Gethsemane and Golgotha, so that, if not around you, then at least in you, you might see the unconquerable light of His truth and resurrection.
May the Lord help you in the approaching winter with all its cares and worries. The life of everyone is now going through the narrow gates, and he who submissively accepts this as the unavoidable and only path to salvation is much happier than one who is upset, who complains about the inconvenience, and asit were waits for someoneto push and shove him through the gates.
I think that what you are experiencing is being experienced now in some degree by very many, and only the noise of the present reality. and the grandious rebuilding, which demands an extreme concentration of all man's powers of soul, is drowning out these quiet froans of the soul and hindering men from understanding their prophetic meaning. Your condition is a reflection of the common disease and by no means is it something hopeless, because of which one must allow himself to become hysterical. It is not without the will of God that we have been placed in this whirlpool of passions, of warfare, and of every kind of brazen undertaking and fall. He never tempts by means of evil, and if one were to take away from the reality that surrounds us the spirit of excessive pride and sensuality, in everything we would see reflections of His Truth and His commandments. His laws have been placed on the hearts and minds of men. They are ineradicable, like nature. And although those who are building (i.e. the Soviets) in every way ignore Him and wish to remove Him and even the memory of Him from life, still He remains the cornerstone and the powerr of the fundamental ideas of the new society. In this is a pledge of a dawning and conversion and spiritual renewal, while for those who suffer and are pained over the "apostasy" it is encouragement, peace, and patience.
Do not be despondent. Without Him we are always naked and powerless. He is both yesterday, today and tomorrow the same. Can He be not with us, when around us and within us rages such a storm? And with Him we can endure anything and can valiantly encounter any temptation. He has power to take away instantly all pain from your heart, but does not do it, because it is better to let the pain take its course, and for this it is necassary to ask from Him only endurance.
The information we have on Archbishop Barlaam's last years comes from the scanty mention of it in the letters of his brother, based on what his spiritual daughters wrote him after their infrequent visits to Archbishop Barlaam.
In 1931 Bishop Herman writes: "I am now in Great Ustiug. Nicholas (meaning himself) has had to endure and see in these parts a lot of hard things, but now he lives more oe less pecefully. Victor (meaning Archbishop Barlaam) recently went to take his place at Zosima's (meaning St. Zosima's Solovki concentration camp)."
1932: "Barlaam is now at the Bear Mountain Station near Petrozavodsk (a fierce concentration camp)."
1993: The other day I was overjoyed that the true dove of God B (Barlaam) has been set free from captivity, but I still don't knoe any details. It is so much more joyous because there was so little hope for this and they even said that he had died. And so many, so very many of my bretheren and colleagues (bishops and clergy), especially there from whence God delivered me, have already gone to eternal rest. Only yesterday I recieved a letter from there, and it was horrible, from the human standpoint, to read, and more than that, to feel how death stands over everyone with whom you are not only united in a common path (clergy), but also in oneness of expectation (salvation). But from another point of view, in this process of dying I sense also redemption and resurrection... Give my greetings to Victor." In december of the same year: "Victor is all right in Volgoda (exile)."
1935: "Victor lives as before in Volgoda." And later: "Victor, it seems, has become a real invalid; he can not walk for more than a few minutes due to the excessive exhaustion of his heart."
In May 1936: "They went to Volgoda in order to see the sick one. Two of the closest ones visited him. A tiny room with dirty wallpaper, thinly seperated from the living quarters of the landlord by a curtain in place of a door. A poorly covered bed, near it a little table, and two other tables against the wall. And that is all its furnishings. They write to me that he is thin, pale and totally grey. In everything there is deprivation, as it seemed to them, which is correct, but this poverty is pleasing to him. He received them very lovingly, was interested in the life of his brother, and advised him to spend more time occupying himself with the inward world, rather than with external things, even if they be good. There is much truth in this. Then he gave them spiritual counsel and consoled them greatly/ May C(hrist) save him. He is pleased with his ailment, which ahs chained him to his bed and has almost made him an invalid. I myself deeply believe in the providence of this: it saves him from the exhausting changes of places (prisons) and undoubtedly helps him to accumulate more of that spiritual warmth which is so indispensible in our cold time. His brother (Bishop Herman) so far lives in the same situation. You have probably heard of the sickness (arrest) which took hold of his relatives. For him it is a great sorrow, although it occured not without the will of God, Who knows better than we what best leads each of us to our final and eternal goal." And in December he writes with great envy: "Perhaps it is better for me to imitate Victor, who lives like a recluse." These were Bishop Herman's last known words."
There is even less mention about himself in Archbishop Barlaam's own letters; we can guess what was in his heart: "It is very good for the soul's salvaton to be a cell-attendant. As for myself, I would have gone to someone as a cell-attendant, but alas, I have no strength and no opportunity. My legs feel better however... But my general condition is worse. Before Cheese-fare week I had a stroke. The doctor saw me twice. Now, glory be to God, it is better. Everything tiring is harmful for me, so I had to shorten my prayer rule. I need fresh air, but all I can go outside for is ten minutes... I read the whole Psalter during Great Lent and am shortening the Hours. The Psalmist says: "I rememebred the days of old and gained knowledge of all thy works (Ps. 142:5). For you too it is very profiting to remember holy things in your life. It is not vanity, but a consoling relief for the soul; it is a substitute for spiritual reading.
After these few words, dating apparently from 1936, Archbishop Barlaam was abandoned. The letters from his brother came more and more rarely, until there were none, indicating either that he had been killed byshooting or had perished in the nightmarish labor camp system, which as then headed by the maniac Yazhov. Visitors to Archbishop Barlaam also decreased considerably, for the also were given over to the same fate. The pain in his legs and actually over his whole body inccreased until he had a constant and penetrating cold, which settled deep inside his almost immovable body. The years of dying lingered on. His ailing heart still continued ot beat.
Outside the world was now at war. The hope inb the Russian people of being liberated from the athiest yoke was growing more intense with each day of war and deprivaton. The people's sufferings increased as the authorities, out of fear, put on mpre pressure. No one had time for Archbishop Barlaam. And in his forlorn state he understood all and ceaselessly prayed for the world. He knew of the glorious crowns God will bestow upon those who have suffered, upon those who have cultivated kindness of heart, forgiving love, and adeep understanding of human weakness... and he prayed for all.
He was not dead yet in the horrible Volgoda prison... Listening to the majestic singing of the blizzard's howling wind, a many-voiced choir that rolled like billows over the ever-changing sea of life, he could not but pray to his patron saint, Monk Barlaam, that wonderous ascetic of old. Before a man dies, it is said, his patron saint along with his guardian angel comes to accompany the soul to the other world. This saint had gone to India and met the fair prince Ioasaph, who was to inherit all the earthly riches of a great kingdom. But Barlaam, filled with divine zeal to make him an inheritor of the heavenly kingdom, converteed him to Christ. And the heavens opened unto him, and he beheld the meaning of human existence and what is prepared for those who love God, the giver of Life. Oh, what a blissful state he beheld when he was taken out of his body and was palced in the heavenly Kingdom of Christ! He saw what unutterable joy awaits mrtal men for all the suffering endured in this vale of tears, our earthly realm! The original Life of these saints presents a true revelation of Paradise, which the suffering hierarch Barlaam, now half frozen to death and covered with snow in his pitiable shelter, had read so many times in his younger days and now could not help to remember.
Now when he had prayed in tears for many hours, and often bent the knee, he sunk down upon the pavement... and he saw himself carried off by certain awesome men, and passsong through paces he had never heretofore beheld. He stood in a mighty plain, all abloom with fresh and fragrant flowers, where he beheld all manner of plants of diverse colors, charged with strange and marvellous fruits, pleasant to the eye and inviting ot the touch. The leaves of the trees rustled clearly in the gentle breeze, and as they shook, sent forth a gracious perfume that never ceased to please the senses. Thrones were set there, fashioned of the purest gold and costly stones, throwing out never so bright a luster and radiant settlers among wonderous couches too beautiful to be described. And beside them there were running waters exceeding clear, and delightful to the eye. When these awesome men had led him through the great and wonderous plain, they brough him to a city that glistened with an indescribable light, whose walls were of dazzling gold, with high unpreared parapets, bult of gems such as man hath never seen. Ah, who could describe the beauty and brightness of that city? Light, ever shooting from above, filled all her streets with bright rays; and wiged angelic squadrons, each of them itself a light,dwelt in the city, making such melody as mortal ear never heard. And he hearda voice crying: 'This is the rest of therighteous; this is the gladness of them that have pleased the Lord...'"
Sources: Posky, Russia's New Martyrs, Vol. II; "Russian Monk", March 6 1911;
Archbishop Nikon, Biography of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, Vol. I;
Archimandrite Symeon, Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel, Elder of Pskov;
Regelson, Tragedy of the Russian Church;
Saint John Damascene, Life of Sts. Iosaph and Barlaam;
"Nadezhda", No. 5;
"Vestnik", Nos. 107 and 109.