On October 23 we celebrate the memory of Elder Ambrose of Optina
“>St. Ambrose of Optina—a disciple of Sts. Leo and Macarius, the most well-known and glorified of the Optina elders, who had an enormous influence on the spiritual life of all nineteenth century Russia.
St. Ambrose of Optina
St. Ambrose could talk with any person in his own language—he could help the illiterate peasant who complained that her turkeys were dying and the mistress might kick her out of the yard, and answer Feodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and other most educated people of that time. I am made all things to all men, that I might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). The elder’s words were simple, on-target, and often with a sense of humor:
“We should live on earth like the wheel turns: as soon as one spot touches the earth, the rest of the wheel goes upward. But as for us, when we lie down, we can’t get up.”
“Where there’s simplicity, there’re angels in multiplicity; but where complexity’s begun, there’s not a single one.”
“What makes a person feel bad? When he’s forgotten that God is over him.”
“Whoever thinks he’s got something will lose it.”
“It’s best of all to live simply. Don’t bust your brains. Pray to God. The Lord will set all aright, just live more simply. Don’t torture yourself by mulling over how and what to do. Let it be as it will be. And this is what it means to live simply.”
“We have to live and not grieve, not offending anyone or tormenting them, and to all—’my respects’.
“Live and not grieve, be happy as it is. It’s really not co complicated.”
“If you want to have love, then do works of love, even if they’re done at first without love.”
And when someone said to him, “Batiushka, you speak very simply,” the elder smiled and said, “Yes, for twenty years I asked God for this simplicity.”
Through the grace that God gave to him, St. Ambrose healed a multitude of the sick and suffering. Even today, we still have recourse to his intercessions. Miracles happen at his relics, people are healed, often from incurable illnesses.
Much testimony of miraculous help from St. Ambrose has been preserved, and this reveals a little of the countenance of this wondrous man who consoled everyone.
St. Ambrose of Optina
A teacher from Moscow, Mrs. M. P-a, nee Princess Da-ya, had great faith in the elder. Her only son was near death from typhoid fever. Tearing herself away from him, she flew to Optina and begged Batiushka to help her son. “Let’s pray together,” said the elder, and they got down on their knees together. After several days, the mother returned to her son, who met her on his own two feet. At the very hour when the elder prayed for him there was a change in his condition, and a rapid recovery began.
Again, this same lady, now with her healthy son, was in Optina in 1881 and lived there longer than they had intended. Her husband, who was in the southern governates, was worried about them and finally appointed a telegram day, when he would send a horse to meet them at the station. M. P-a went to say goodbye to Batiushka. Fr. Ambrose, who never held restrained anyone without a special reason, announced that he does not bless her to go. She started explaining to him why she couldn’t stay any longer in Optina, but he said, “I don’t bless you to leave today. Tomorrow is a feast day—attend the late Liturgy to the end, and then we’ll see.”
She returned to the guesthouse, where her son who was waiting for her was very displeased with Batiushka’s decision, especially since there was no reason at all to stay; but his mother obeyed the elder. On the next day Batiushka said, “Now go with God.” After passing Kursk they learned that the Kuryevsky (Tcherny) catastrophe had happened to the train that they were supposed to take the day before [this was one of the worst train derailment accidents in Russian history, with forty people killed].
Healing from illness
The state serf from the village of Manaenok, Lebedyanksaya region, Tambov governate, Anisia F. Monaenkova, had such a terrible pain in her lower belly that she couldn’t walk or lie down. No medical means helped. The midwife who checked her said that she had an ulcer, and advised her to go to Moscow for surgery if she wants to remain among the living. But she went first to Elder Ambrose in order to get his blessing on this trip, and he quickly received her. “Silly!” said the elder. “Why should you go to Moscow? I’ll give you some herbs.” Soon he sent a monk to her with some herbs. She started drinking it, and her illness passed.
In the summer of 1898, the noblewoman from the Dankov region of Ryazan governate, a maidan named Maria Timofeyevna Turchanova, gave the Optina hieromonk Fr. Benedict in the Kaluga St. Tikhon Hermitage a letter in which she explained that from her childhood she suffered from nosebleeds, but in 1890 she was healed by the elder, Fr. Ambrose.
“Well, was I nimble?”
St. Ambrose sometimes liked to hide his wondrous help with a jocular word or movement in order to distract people’s attention away from it. For example, one monk came to the elder with a terrible toothache. The elder walked past him and with all his might, punched him in the teeth. He then asked him gaily, “Well, was I nimble?” “Nimble, Batiushka,” replied the monk as everyone laughed, “but awfully painful.” However, when he left the elder, he felt that the pain was gone—and it never came back.
Peasant women took good note of this trait of Fr. Ambrose’s, and those who suffered from headaches would come to him and ask, Batiushka Abrosim, beat me a little, I have a headache.”
There were even more amazing incidents. Although elder Ambrose was too sickly to leave the monastery, he nevertheless appeared to people hundreds of miles away—people who had never even seen or heard of him before. He would warn them of some danger, or give the sick instructions on how to get rid of their ailments—or heal them then and there.
The story of Fr. Benedict, a hieromonk of the Skete
“Mrs. A. D. Karbonier was seriously ill and lay on her bed for several days without getting up. At one time she saw how Fr. Ambrose entered her room, walked up to her bed, took her by the hand, and said, “Get up! Enough of being sick!” And then he disappeared from sight. At the same time, she felt so strong that she rose from her sickbed and the next day set off on foot from the town of Kozelsk to Shamordino (where Batiushka was living at the time) to thank him for the healing. Batiiushka received her, but did not bless her to tell anyone about it until his death.”
The story of Anisia Andreyevna Shishkova
“In 1877 I was very sick for almost a year with a serious throat ailment, which resulted after catching a cold some time ago on the peaks of the snowy Pyrenees Mountains, and I was barely able to swallow even liquids. I was living then in the village and treating it. Seeing that my ailment was only getting worse, the doctor advised me to go to Moscow, call a concilium and live abroad in a warm climate.
“At that time, to the neighboring Troekurov Convent arrived Mrs. Kliuchareva, who lived with her grandchildren at Optina Monastery where she had an nearby estate. When she learned that I was so sick, she suggested that the nuns of that convent take me her advice—to turn to the Optina Elder Ambrose in a letter and ask his prayers, for she knew of their great miracle-working power. At first I did not pay any attention to these words. But seeing my sickness progress, I decided to write the elder (although I didn’t know him), asking his prayers for me, a sick one.
“Batiushka soon answered me. ‘Come to Optina, and have no doubts; only have a moleben to the Savior, the Mother of God, Holy Martyr John the Soldier, and St. Nicholas the Wonderworker.’ The invitation to Optina made me terribly frightened, for I know what a difficult and long trip I would have to make; meanwhile my strength was so drained that I was unable to rise. ‘How will I go there?’ I thought to myself. But the words, ‘Have no doubts,’ were underlined, and this strengthened my spirit and powers; regardless of my children’s pleas and the doctor’s persuasions not to go, I invited a priest, served a moleben, and the next day quietly left in the carriage for Efremovo, from there by train to the city of Kaluga, and from there by horse to Optina Monastery. Everywhere along the way I of course rested a long time due to my great weakness and fatigue.
“When I arrived at Optina I requested that Batiushka in the Skete be asked when I may come to him. He ordered them to tell me that I should rest now, and on the next day go to the Liturgy and from there to him. I was barely able to walk, but I did it all through the elder’s prayers, which apparently gave me the strength. When I went in to Batiushka’s room with Mrs. Kliuchareva, she knelt before him and asked him tearfully, ‘Batiushka! Heal her, like you know how to heal.’ The elder was very angry at these words and ordered Mrs. Kliuchareva to leave right away. But to me he said, ‘I don’t heal, it’s the Queen of Heaven who heals; turn to her for help.’ In the corner of the room hung an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Then he asked where my throat hurt. I pointed to the right side of it. The elder with prayer made the sign of the cross three times over it. Immediately, it was as if I received a certain vigor. Receiving a blessing from Batiushka and thanking him for mercifully receiving me, I departed.
“I came to the guesthouse, where my husband and my acquaintance, Lady V. D. Musina-Pushkina, were waiting for me. With them I tried swallowing a piece of bread, in order to make sure that I had gotten better at the elder’s prayers. Before, I was unable to swallow any solid food. And suddenly—to my great joy!—I was able to eat it all easily, without pain, and the pain has not returned since. It has now been fifteen years since that time.”
To be continued…