Saturday, May 31, 2008

An edifying, true story: How the Word of God renews a man

From "The One Thing Needful", by Archbishop Andrei of Novo-Diveyevo.

The Word of God has the wonderful power to renew the soul of a sinner. I will not explain to you how this happens, but will simply tell you something that happened in St. Petersburg. Here it is:

There lived a family — a grandmother and grandson. The grandson was an Imperial Guardsman. His parents had died when he was still young, and his grandmother took their place. They were magnates, incalculably rich, millionaires. Vladimir, as this officer was called, while still a young man become satiated with everything that only the life of wealthy Russians could provide at that time. Like the life of the rich man in today’s parable, his life was spent in gaiety and carousing. He had a good heart and his friends loved him as a person from whom they could always get anything they wanted. The word "no" did not exist for him.

But once his grandmother called Vladimir and said: "Vladimir, after my death, you will have no one. Your friends will strip you of everything, and you will perish a lonely, unfortunate man. Get married."

Vladimir answered, "All right, Grandmother, I will get married."

The grandmother found a fiancée for him — a princess from an impoverished family. Vladimir danced with her two or three times at parties and proposed to her. And then, because the wedding was set for only after the Christmas season, and Vladimir’s life went on in its routine way — in a fog of merry-making and revelry — he wouldn’t even have been able to remember her name right away. And if he had met her on the street, he probably wouldn’t have recognized her.

Yet the closer the wedding day approached, the more troubled his soul became. And finally came the second day after the Baptism of Christ. He had to go to his army office in order to get his salary and his vacation for the honeymoon. This was the first time he had gone out in St. Petersburg at such an early hour and, moreover, in a sober state. Usually, when he was traveling in Petersburg at this hour or still earlier, it was after a night spent in extreme debauchery, and then he was usually dozing off, oblivious to his surroundings. But today, as if for the first time, he saw Petersburg during working hours. On everything lay the impression of the businesslike seriousness of a morning in a metropolitan city. And upon his soul there lay, like a heavy stone, something unusually businesslike and serious: marriage, family life, obligations which he never had, never knew.

Upon arrival at his office, he received his papers and money — his large purse was filled with gold coins. When he went out, he wanted to be alone and walk. He ordered the driver to follow him on the roadway, and he himself walked on foot. Without noticing it, he reached the cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. Just at that moment the bell rang. And for the first time, he felt drawn to enter church. Of course, he had been to church services, moliebens and pannihidas, but only because this was required by his social standing. But now, an inner need manifested itself. The cathedral was plunged in a cozy half-darkness. The Miraculous Icon was simply shining in brilliance. In spite of the winter season there were white lilies. The reading of the Akathist (Molieben — a petitionary service. Pannihida — a requiem service for the dead. Akathist — a service in honor and praise of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, or one of the saints.) was still going on. There was a deep prayerful singing, a multitude of candles and devotion lamps, and more and more people — praying, weeping. Vladimir froze. He had not prayed for a long, longtime. All he could say was: "O Mother of God! I am coming to a turning point in my life. If it has to be so, help me. But if all this is not necessary, stop it." And here, he himself thought that this was no way to pray, that he didn’t even know how to pray.

Suddenly someone tenderly touched his sleeve. It was a beggar woman with a child in her arms. "Sir, help me," she whispered.

He thrust his hand into his pocket, pulled out his large purse, and put it in her hand. Because of the weight of the purse, she almost dropped it.

"Sir," she exclaimed, "I cannot take it. People will say I have stolen it."

"Don’t be afraid, my card is in the purse. Say that I gave it to you."

"Sir, and what about you? You are giving away everything...and yourself?"

"Don’t you understand, I have everything, I don’t need anything."

"All right, I will take it. But know this: you are saving two lives — mine and my child’s. How can I repay your kindness?"

"You know what? Yes, you can help me. I don’t know how to pray; but I am in need of prayer, right now, for my soul. Otherwise I will perish." She looked at him with a long, compassionate look. She bowed and disappeared into the crowd.

But then he saw her again. She approached the Miraculous Icon, put her baby on one of the steps before the Icon, and started praying and making prostrations. Tears were streaming down her pale face. A shiver ran down his spine. He understood. This was a prayer for him. He quickly walked out of the church, went one block until he reached Great Konushenna Street. After the semi-darkness of the cathedral, the bright sun on the white snow blinded him. He felt a sharp, sudden pain in his eyes, then in his head, and he lost consciousness.

When he recovered, he sensed that he was lying on a table in his full Guard’s uniform. He had fallen into a lethargic sleep (Lethargic sleep — a comatose condition in which all bodily functions become undetectable and the person appears to be dead), and now he was starting to wake up. He still couldn’t move, couldn’t open his eyes, but he heard everything. Only he thought that he had died, and everything he heard he accepted as if he were dead. And everyone around him was sure that he was dead, and they prepared him for burial.

And now he understood the reverse side of life. He heard two voices — male and female. The man’s voice said: "At least for the sake of decency, put your handkerchief to your eyes. After all, he was your fiancé."

And the female voice said: "Papa, you know how I hated and despised him. Only your debts made me agree to this marriage. I cannot continue this comedy."

And then his friends approached. All of them were in debt to him. "How wonderful that Vladimir died, and I don’t have to pay back what he, good man that he was, loaned to me."

And so more and more all the hypocrisy of the life he had been living was revealed to him. The tears of only one person were sincere. His nurse, who had taken the place of his father and mother, was sobbing.

Then they started to read the Psalter. Before, he had not understood them; but now, each word of the Psalms excited his awakening soul. All the depth of God’s Mercy was revealed to him. God’s Truth was revealed against the background of human lies. And then he heard a movement. He understood, the clergy had come and they were starting to serve the pannihida. And when they began to sing: "With the Saints give rest...," and when they lifted his body to put it in the coffin, he caught his breath, recovered consciousness and began to move. Out of fear, the bearers dropped the coffin and ran out of the room. Vladimir remained alone. But by now he was not the same. In the middle of the empty room stood the renewed Vladimir.

When everything had calmed down, he divided all his property. Half he gave to his fiancée and all the rest to the poor. And he forgave all the debts. Soon afterwards, he became a monk and finished his ascetic life as archimandrite of the Kostroma Monastery.

This is how the Word of God renews a man!