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Thursday, February 10, 2005

An Example for Instruction and Emulation


Once, in the latter days of the Russian Empire, there was an archbishop
named Gurias. In addition to heading the Novgorod archdiocese, he also was
for a while locum tenens of the Kaluga diocese, in which the famous Optina
Hermitage was located. During this time, he gave his blessing for the
cleaning, repair and touch-up of the Tikhvin icon of our all-holy Lady Mary,
the ever-virgin Birthgiver of God -- a work of Saint Luke the Evangelist,
according to ancient tradition, highly venerated by all Russians.

Some balked that this restoration was actually a "desecration" and stirred
up a public scandal over it. One man in particular felt he could not let
this activity go on unchecked. He wrote a rather sharp letter to a General
Skvorchov, an important official he knew in the Holy Synod (the Imperial
Russian government's ministry for church affairs), and sent it off in the
mail. Then he wrote a second letter to Bishop Andronicus of Perm, another
acquaintance of his, asking him to intervene in the matter.

But before sending the second letter to the bishop, he remembered that a
good and zealous Christian ought not to do anything -- particularly
something directly related to his place in the Church or his own spiritual
life -- without seeking the advice of his spiritual father. His spiritual
father was Elder Barsanuphius of the Optina Hermitage, so he visited him,
read the letter to him and asked his blessing to send it to the bishop and
continue his campaign.

After listening to the man with great attention, Elder Barsanuphius asked
him: "How did you write that letter? Did you get a blessing from our
all-holy Lady?"

"What, Father?" the man responded, bewildered. "A blessing from our all-holy
Lady? I don't understand what..."

"What I am asking you?" the elder said, finishing the man's question in a
firm voice. "Did our all-holy Lady give you a blessing to take these actions
to preserve her icon?"

"Of course not," the man said. "Our all-holy Lady did not directly give me a
blessing for my actions. But I think it is the duty of every good Christian
who has some measure of zeal to protect the sacred and holy things of his
faith from every sort of desecration."

"I agree," answered Elder Barsanuphius. "But not when it means coming into
conflict with a bearer of that supreme authority that the holy apostles
possessed. Who are you to confront a bishop in order to dictate to him what
he should do as a responsible shepherd of the diocese of the local Church
allotted to him? Don't you know he has the fullness of episcopal and
apostolic authority? Put aside all thoughts of any kind of action. Leave the
matter in the hands of God and the all-holy Lady -- let them deal with it as
they wish. Be obedient in this matter. And when the Lord, who crowns us for
our intention when we seek good, will reward you abundantly for your
obedience and your good intention. But in the name of God, do not allow
yourself to come into conflict with the bishop for any reason. Otherwise,
the all-holy Lady will punish you."

"And what about the letter that I sent to the Synod, to the general?" the
man asked.

"It is your job to find a way to retract it," Elder Barsanuphius replied.
Any lay person -- even a general, even a person in charge of the offices of
the Holy Synod -- does not constitute, for the Church, for us, an authority
from God. Never forget such things."

Moral: A Christian's zeal must be kept in check by obedience to and guidance
from one's spiritual father and must never lead him into conflict with his
bishop.

(source unknown)