The Sun of Optina Hermitage. Part 1Much 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.
The story of Varvara Dimitrievna Musina-Pushkina
St. Ambrose of Optina “I will allow myself to tell, as best as I can, the story of God’s goodness shown to my son through the prayers of the ever-memorable elder of The Mysteries of Optina MonasteryHundreds of people come to Optina every day. Why do they come? They spend money for the road, are wearied by travel… They are coming to the Optina elders! Remember the saying, “People don’t go to an empty well”?
“>Optina Monastery, St. Ambrose of Optina: Spiritual Care of Monastics and LaypeopleSchema-Hieromonk Ambrose loved the Lord infinitely; and he gave all the love that his whole being could contain to His Creator through His creation—that is, his neighbors.”>Fr. Ambrose, which the now reposed loving man of prayer I recall with a profound feeling of compunction and gratitude. On May 27, 1878, our fourteen-year-old son Dimitry came down with a strange illness: pain in the ear, head, and jaw, with voluminous seeping from the right ear, and a fever that reached at times 40 degrees (C.). He even lost his hearing. During the night he moaned, cried out with pain, and became delirious. His sleep was anxious and fitful, but some nights he didn’t sleep at all. We ascribed these sufferings to an abscess inside the ear and were very fearful of the consequences.
The doctor we called, a specialist in illnesses of the ear named Belyaev, after a thorough examination announced to us that our son had a very serious case of ear catarrh, which resulted from an inflammation of the middle ear, and that this stubborn catarrh has punctured the ear drum. This illness is considered incurable. Doctor Belyaev meanwhile tried to console us, saying that there is hope in the patient’s young years, that great patience is needed in such an illness, and that he can hope for correction in the distant future, and so on. He positively rejected the theory of an abscess. After two weeks of the suffering waxing and waning, the doctor advised us to take our son to the countryside for clean air, because the patient was manifesting serious anemia, terrible paleness, and lack of strength; he also had an unusual lack of appetite, and from all this came displeasure and irritability.
Following the doctor’s advice, we carefully transported our son to the village (in Mozhaisk region of Moscow governate), hoping in the beneficial effect of a change of air. On the very day of the move, the boy’s suffering increased so greatly that his face was contorted, he had difficulty opening his eyes, and torturous cries were ringing throughout the entire house. Although the initial fever that manifested in Moscow often and periodically almost went away, his suffering and weakness increased to such an extent that the patient could barely raise his head from his pillow, and the slightest noise or even sound caused him extreme suffering. In all his condition seemed hopeless, but the Lord is great and merciful.
On June 24, my husband came from Moscow to the village and suggested that I and the whole family go to Optina to pray and prepare for Communion, and ask there the blessing and holy prayers of the elder, Fr. Ambrose. We left our sick son to the care of his teacher and elderly nanny, both of whom loved him, and whom we trusted.
Arriving on June 26 to Optina Monastery, my husband, two daughters, our nephew, our ward, the maid, and I—we all set off for the Skete to Fr. Ambrose and informed Batiushka of the state of our sick son, who was enduring unbearable torments, and asked for his holy prayers for the sick one. Batiushka calmly answered us, smiling amiably, “Now, now, don’t worry—it will all pass; only pray to God.”
We visited Fr. Ambrose every day; Batiushka was so merciful that he talked with us for a long time and thus strengthened all of us, saying that “parental prayers reach God: Only believe in His mercy and pray, and the Lord will console you.” We told him that we have no hope in our own sinful prayers, but rely on his intercessions and holy prayers. He gave us to understand that the Lord will gladden us.
At the elder’s advice and blessing we stayed in Optina for three more days, in order to prepare ourselves for Holy Communion. Confession with him left a deep impression on us. Having fasted and then communed of the Holy Mysteries of Christ on the very day of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, we went to Batiushka again, at his blessing remaining for three more days, despite having received unsatisfactory news about our son’s condition. Every day repeated Batiushka, “Do not worry, the Lord will console you, only believe in His mercy.”
On July 1, having received word that my son’s unbearably painful condition was worsening with every day, and that apparently we must expect an end soon, we decided to receive Fr. Ambrose’s blessing and hastily prepared for our return trip. But Batiushka blessed us to leave only the next day. On July 2, right after the early Liturgy, at 9:00 a.m., we all came to the elder. He blessed us all affectionately with parting words, and turning to my husband and I, said, “Do not worry and do not grieve, go in peace; hope in God’s mercy, and you’ll be comforted. Pray to God, pray to God! You will be made glad.” Then he gave me two small crosses on little sashes with two prayers embroidered on them: one to St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, and the other to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker—for me and for my son, with the words, “Give your son my blessing.” As we left, we once more fervently asked for his prayers. “Alright, alright,” he answered and then quickly added, “and you also pray to God.” After blessing us all, he let us depart.
An hour later we set off on the return trip home, to our son. We arrived at the station (ten versts [about 6.6 miles] from our estate) on July 3, at four o’clock in the morning. The courier waiting for us with the carriage conveyed to us that our son’s suffering had increased from the time of our departure and his health was deteriorating with each day. On July 2 he suffered unbearably, and his cries rent the hearts of every one they reached. He hadn’t slept all day, just as he hadn’t for two days previous, and the patient’s strength had completely waned. The teacher and nanny were getting ready to send to Moscow for a doctor when they received our telegram that we were returning from Optina.
With inexpressible trembling and languishing hearts, we left the station. I related to everyone around me unconsciously. Everything had frozen inside me, some terrible feeling was stealing into my soul and taking possession of it. I didn’t believe that he could be worse, but at the same time I was afraid that he would die, that this would be how his torturous pains would end, and that is what Batiushka’s words, “All will pass,” could mean.
Suddenly, just two versts from our estate, my thoughts were abruptly cut off by our carriage’s sudden stop. Our son’s teacher was riding horseback up to us in full gallop, and in that minute I thought, it’s all true, it’s all over and he’s no longer in this world… But the teacher G. M., to whom we had entrusted our sick son, announced to us with amazing joy that our son had undergone some extraordinary event or crisis (as he called it), and that at the present moment he was completely healthy. “Healthy?” We couldn’t believe our ears. “Yes,” he repeated, “glory be to God, Dimitry is completely healthy.”
He conveyed to us in brief words how the miraculous recovery took place. After two torturous days (July 2), the dying boy, worn out and crushed, suddenly fell into a deep sleep—at eleven o’clock at night (from the second to the third of July), and his sleep was quiet and peaceful. He slept this way until 4:30 in the morning (July 3). When he awoke he was completely healthy, hale, and strong. The seeping ceased from his ear, and his hearing returned; only the paleness remained. “Now he rises from his bed,” the teacher added in conclusion, “and dresses himself. He wants to greet you on his own two feet. He is so happy that you’ve returned!”
It is difficult to convey what we felt at hearing this news. Tears of joy and profound gratitude to the Lord flowed from our eyes. In our souls we fervently glorified and thanked God and His loving man of prayer, Fr. Ambrose. We remembered everything that had gone before: all our son’s horrible suffering over those long five weeks, his terrible exhaustion, his inability not only to dress himself and rise from his bed, but even to lift his head from his pillow; his loss of hearing, the sleepless nights, the groans and painful cries, and finally, our tormented worry about his life or at the least his loss of education and the ability to study anything—and then we quickly recalled the words of our father and benefactor. Inexpressible On Gratitude and Human HappinessThe idea of being eternally and abundantly thankful seems unpleasant and ridiculous to non-believers; though sometimes they can’t formulate the reason clearly, this idea “creates problems” to them. The need to thank our neighbors here on earth often bothers us as well. Why?
“>gratitude and deep appreciation filled our hearts. These were not simple feelings; they were mixed with an inexplicable spiritual ecstasy. We hastened home. We didn’t ride, but flew.
When we entered the hall of our home, the door to Mitya’s room opened, and on the threshold appeared our still terribly pale but healthy and happy son. His head was wrapped in white scarves. At that moment he reminded us of resurrected Lazarus. He joyfully ran to embrace us, and there was no end to our mutual “whats” and “hows”. I gave him the cross from Fr. Ambrose, and Mitya venerated it and put it on himself with reverence. From that day on his strength increased, his appetite returned, his ear no longer seeped, and his hearing was equally good in both ears.
A week later he was already able to take up his intellectual work and ride horseback; he began preparing himself for examinations, which after his illness had been postponed to August. At the beginning of August our son passed his examinations with flying colors (in the fifth grade of military gymnasium). And on the 25th of the same month we set out with him to Optina monastery and visited the elder together—our dear Fr. Ambrose, who affectionately received my son several times in his cell.
That year we invited the doctors for a concilium, and after a long examination of our son, Dr. Belyaev could not even determine which ear had the punctured eardrum. Only after we pointed to the right ear did he notice a small scar, and had to admit that this was a supernatural case. This is my absolutely true, albeit perhaps artless conveyance of that miraculous event, which took place in our family through the prayers of our loving elder of Optina Monastery, our dear batiushka, Fr. Ambrose, whose memory will never be erased from our appreciative hearts.
St. Ambrose of Optina St. Ambrose with his holy prayers delivered some from various bad and destructive habits.
Told by Monk Porphyry of Optina Monastery.
Once a peasant from Tula governate who suffered from drunkenness came to the elder, and because the man was unable to drop this destructive habit, he came close several times to taking his own life. He came to Batiushka, but he couldn’t say a word. But the elder himself said to him in reproach that he suffers from drinking because as a boy, he had stolen money from his grandfather who was a church warden, and with this money he bought wine. He gave him some herbs to drink at home. I know this peasant; he was freed from drunkenness and is alive and well to this day.”
Deliverance from the passion of tobacco smoking
A resident of St. Petersburg, Alexei Stepanovich Maiorov, had become a passionate tobacco smoker, and he could feel that it was harming his health. When his Petersburg friends’ advice against this passion proved unsuccessful, he wrote a letter to Elder Ambrose asking his counsel on how to give up this passion.
In reply to this request, the elder sent Maiorov a letter dated October 12, 1888, in which was written the following:
“You write that you cannot give up tobacco smoking. What is impossible for man is possible with God’s help, only you have to firmly resolve to give it up, recognizing its harm to the soul and body, since tobacco enervates the soul, multiplies and accentuates the passions, darkens the mind, and destroys physical health with a slow death. Irritability and melancholy are the results of tobacco’s pernicious effect on the soul.
“I advise you to apply spiritual treatment against this passion: Make a detailed confession of all the sins of your whole from the age of seven and receive Communion of the Holy Mysteries. Read the Gospel, a chapter or more a day, standing. And when melancholy overcomes you read it again until the melancholy passes; if it overcomes you again, again read the Gospel. Or in place of that make thirty-three full prostrations—in remembrance of the earthly life of the Savior, and in honor of the Holy Trinity.”
After receiving this letter in the mail, Alexei Stepanovich read it and puffed on a cigarette, as he explained in a special note written in his own hand—but suddenly felt a sharp pain in his head along with a repugnance to tobacco smoke; and that night he didn’t smoke. On the next day he started smoking again out of habit but now only mechanically, four times, but he couldn’t take in the smoke due to the sharp pain in his head. And he easily quit smoking, although for the previous two years he couldn’t drop it no matter how hard he tried to force himself to do so, even getting sick from it but nevertheless smoking seventy-five cigarettes a day.
Maiorov writes, “Only when I began to feel sick and understood my powerlessness to uproot this passion did I turn for help by correspondence, at the advice of good people, to the elder Fr. Ambrose, with sincere repentance and a request that he pray for me. Then, when I came to him in order to thank him personally, he touched my aching head with a stick, and from that moment on I have not felt any pain whatsoever.”
Told by Monk Pambo of Optina Monastery
“One day in the summer I needed to be in Kaluga. On the return to Optina Monastery a priest with his wife and eleven-year-old son caught up to me. We talked about Batiushka Fr. Ambrose, and the priest Fr. Ioann said that his parish is not far from Podborodok station, in the village of Alopov, and that this boy, his son, was born at the holy prayers of the elder, Fr. Ambrose. The priest’s wife confirmed her husband’s words. ‘This is God’s truth,’ she said to me. ‘We had no children. We grieved and often came to Batiushka, who consoled us, saying that he is praying for us to the Lord God. And this very boy was born to us. We have no other children besides him.’
“The priest also told me the following: ‘Once our son had an illness of the eye. My wife and I brought him to the doctor in Kozelsk, but we first stopped in Optina Monastery to see Fr. Ambrose. Blessing the boy, the elder tapped the ailing eye. My hair stood on end because I thought that the elder would harm the boy’s eye. Mama started crying. But what happened? We left the elder and when to the guesthouse, and the boy tells us that his eye is better, and the pain was going away and was then completely gone. After thanking Batiushka we returned home, glorifying and thanking God.’”
Holy Father Ambrose, pray to God for us!