Elder Lev (Nagolkin) of Optina Pustyn Monastery had a remarkable sense of humour and often peppered his advice with a few jokes. Father Anthony (Medvedev), the abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and Saint Sergius, remembers this episode from his days as a novice at Optina Pustyn: "Sometimes, I would argue with my brother and begin to justify myself, blaming the incident on the brother. Eventually, my disturbed conscience would bring me to the elder for a conversation. He listened and nodded his head from time to time in agreement. That seemed reassuring and made me even less inhibited to puff myself up.
"How nice to hear that!" said the elder at last. "You are right, and he is wrong. You have made yourself righteous, so go with peace, you are saved. I do not need to spend my time and effort on you, let me spend them on the sinners." To correct the situation, I continue to explain why I was right and give more details to prove my point. "So you are even more righteous than I thought. Go. A crowd of sinners are waiting behind you. Give them a chance."
I turned back and left, but my heart was not at peace. I felt paralysed with an inner sense of guilt. I returned to my cell hoping to find some relief, but I could not. One hour in my cell lasted like a year. So I went back to the elder. Again, I explained to him why I thought I was right and my torment was unjust, only to become even more confused. The elder listened and congratulated me on my innocence, but the conversation ended in the same way: he asked me to leave the room. I tried again and again until I learned to recognise my wrongs and have sincere remorse.
A criminal once came knocking on the door of a monastery and pleaded with the elder Zosimas: "I have killed many people. Tonsure me as a monk so I will break with my evil past and start a new life. The elder gave him guidance and tonsured him to the Ryasophore. After a while, he came to the criminal and said: "Let me be honest with you. I cannot let you stay here. If the authorities find out, you are a dead man. The people you hurt will want revenge. I will take you to a faraway monastery. Please listen.” The elder led him to the Monastery of Abba Dorotheus.
The criminal had stayed at that monastery for nine years. He learned the Psalter and memorised the monastic rule. Unexpectedly, he packed up and went back to Elder Zosima and said, "Please, elder, give me back my worldly habits and take back my monastic ones." "But why, child?" asked the saddened elder. "As you know, I have been a monastic for nine years; I fasted to the best of my ability, I lived in obedience, in silence and the fear of God. I know He has forgiven me many of my transgressions by His mercy and grace. But the vision of that poor boy I killed years ago keeps coming to me all the time. I see him in my sleep, at church, and during meals. It gives me no peace, not even for an hour. I wish I had spared him..."
He changed into his worldly dress, left the monastery and went to Decapolis. He was caught and beheaded two days later.
One day, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh received a man who accidentally shot a young woman who he loved and wanted to marry. That one shot destroyed the couple’s shared dreams of a happy life after the war about raising their children, studying and doing exciting and enjoyable jobs. He was responsible for it. He took the life of his dearest, most beloved person.
The man lived many years tormented by guilt. He confessed it at church many times, and the priest read a prayer of redemption over him. Nothing helped. The sense of guilt was not going away, after six years of that terrible shooting accident. Metropolitan Anthony gave him an unexpected recommendation.
He said: "You have asked forgiveness from God, whom you have not harmed. You repented before the priests, whom you did not kill. Now try asking your fiancée for forgiveness. Tell her how sorry you are, how much you have suffered. Ask her to pray for you."
Eventually, the man sent the Metropolitan a letter. He wrote that he had done as Anthony of Surozh had advised. The pain of his guilt was finally relieved. The prayer of his fiancee turned out to be more powerful than his prayers.
Abba Ammon was travelling and stopped for the night at a monastery. Everybody knew him as a righteous man and an exemplary ascetic, and the brethren at the monastery welcomed him with gladness. On the night of his arrival, a scandal broke out over a monk accused of bringing a harlot to his cell. Outraged, the brothers were anxious to teach the adulterous monk a lesson. But because they had Abba Ammon with them, they decided to ask him to be the judge. Abba Ammon agreed to come into the suspect monk's cell and investigate.
Frightened, the guilty monk asked the woman to hide under an empty barrel. Abba Ammon realised where she was the moment he entered the cell. But he did not denounce the monk; instead, he sat on the barrel and directed the brothers to search his cell. As expected, they did not find anyone. "So why did you bring me here?" exclaimed the Abba. The embarrassed brethren asked for forgiveness and left. When they were alone, Abba Ammon took the adulterous monk by his hand and waved towards the barrel. "Think about your soul, brother," he said and left his cell, shutting the door behind him.
Saint Macarius of Egypt was a desert monk. He prayed by night, and during the day he weaved baskets from the reeds and sold them in the village market. A young pregnant woman slandered him before her fellow villages. She claimed that Macarius had seduced her and was responsible for her pregnancy. Her indignant relatives came and beat him up.
Macarius did not argue his innocence. Instead, he said to himself, "God sent me this woman with a child. Now I must work twice as hard to provide for them." He continued to live in the wilderness and pray, weaving twice as many baskets, selling them at the market and sending the money to the poor woman who had lied about him and disgraced him before the village.
But when the baby was coming, she could not give birth until she gave the name of the child's real father. Shaken by the revelation, the villagers went to his cave to ask Macarius for forgiveness. But Macarius had already left the village and settled in another part of the desert.
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